The Book of Deuteronomy Introduction
The word “Deuteronomy” comes from Greek and means “second law” or “repeated law.” The book contains three discourses given by Moses, in chapters 1-4: chapters 5-26; and chapters 27-30. The setting is about one month before the children of Israel are to enter the land of Canaan (see 1:1). The beginning of the heading for chapter 1 summarizes the book well: “Moses begins the recitation of all that befell Israel during forty years in the wilderness.” He mentioned their rebellions in the wilderness and encouraged them regarding their entry into the land of promise, in addition to repeating the Lord’s commandments to them (the law of Moses).
After forty years of wandering, the Israelites have now arrived at a location near the southern part of the land of Canaan, needing only to cross the Jordan River (from east to west) to enter the land. Despite the “evil report” of the prospects for entering and successfully inhabiting the land of Canaan (as given by most of those who were sent 39 years earlier to investigate the land; see Numbers 13:17-33), here, in Deuteronomy 1:8, 21, Moses instructed the Israelites: “Behold, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them…. Go up and possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged.”
Deuteronomy 6-8 Hear and Remember
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 constitutes a beautiful affirmation, spoken by Moses to the Israelites in behalf of the Lord, for the people to take to heart and to live by. To this day, many devout Jews repeat these verses as a twice-daily confession of faith (along with Deuteronomy 11:13–21 and Numbers 15:37–41); calling it the “Shema,” which means “hear” in Hebrew:
- Read Deuteronomy 6:1-7 and 11:13, 16, 19, and make a list of things individuals and families today can take to heart, as they seek to draw nearer to God and His precepts.
- Read 6:3, 10-11; 7:12-15 and 11:14-15, 21, and make a list of the Lord’s promised blessings upon His children who will hear and obey.
- Read 6:12-14; 7:1-6, 25; 8:10-14, 19-20 regarding warnings from the Lord, and think about warnings we have received from our modern prophets (For example, what have our leader taught us to avoid, and why?
- Read 8:2-4, 15-16 regarding Moses’s recitations of some of the blessings the Lord had given the children of Israel during the previous forty years. Is it easy for you to recite the Lord’s blessings in your life?
- Note that the Lord’s instructions in Deuteronomy 6:8 led to the Jews’ practice of wearing a “phylactery” (also called “tefillin”), a small box strapped against the forehead, containing paper on which is written Exodus 13:1-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21.
- Also, Deuteronomy 6:9 led to the Jew’s practice of placing a “mezuza” near the front entry to their homes; which is a small container with paper on which is written Deuteronomy 6:4-11; 11:13-21.
Deuteronomy 15 “Thou Shalt Open Thine Hand Wide”
Although some people may consider the law of Moses to be mean-spirited, there are many elements that call for love and kindness.
- What things did the Lord command His people to do for the poor, in verses 1-15? For you, what stands out most in these verses, and why?
- How do verses 7-8, 12-15 remind you of things the Savior has done for you?
- For more commandments regarding the care of the poor and others, see Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 24:14-15, 19-21; 27:19 (see also Mosiah 4:16-27; Alma 34:28; D&C 104:11-18).
Deuteronomy 18 Avoid Abominations
Read verses 9-14 to see the “abominations” the Lord forbids (see also Mormon 1:19; 2:10). Do any such things exist in our world today? Also, as a counterpoint to the ways of the devil, note Moses’s prophecies of Jesus Christ in verses 15, 18.
Deuteronomy 29-30 “Stand This Day All of You Before the Lord”
Do you ever think back and ponder your life experiences? Have you tried to recognize the Lord’s hand and blessings in your life? In Deuteronomy 29, Moses reviews again the experiences of the children of Israel since their departure from Egypt forty years earlier. Most importantly, Moses encourages them to enter into and keep covenants with the Lord. Read 29:1-13, 18-28 and make three lists:
- The Lord’s blessings upon the children of Israel during their forty years in the wilderness.
- The aspects of the covenant the Lord offers to the children of Israel.
- The Lord’s warnings regarding things what will happen to the people if they turn away from Him.
After the children of Israel were “rooted” and “cast” out for disobedience (29:28), the Lord tells them in chapter 30 the things He would do for them in future generations, if they “return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice” (30:2). Find the following:
- Read 30:1-10, looking for the blessings the Lord promised for their future generations.
- Note especially the words of the covenant Moses invited the people to make, in 30:15-20.
Deuteronomy 34 No Prophet Like unto Moses
Verses 1-8 state the circumstances of Moses’s “death,” however we know that he was actually taken up into heaven without tasting death (he was “translated”; see Alma 45:18-19). At least one reason for this is so that Moses could appear in the body on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36; 2 Peter 1:16-18) and, along with Elijah (who was also translated; see 2 Kings 2:11), be able to physically lay hands upon Peter, James, and John and confer priesthood keys. (Moses and Elijah could not die and resurrect to fulfill this role, because the Savior—still living at the time of the Mount of Transfiguration experience—was to be the first to resurrect from death.) Moses was characterized as the greatest prophet among Israel (verses 10-12).
Setting the stage for the next book of the Old Testament, verse 9 states that Joshua succeeded Moses, being “full of the spirit of wisdom.”
Deuteronomy 4-5; 9-11; 17; 25-26; 31; 33 Additional Scripture Passages to Consider
In addition to the chapters designated in the Come, Follow Me curriculum, consider also these passages in the book of Deuteronomy:
- 4:22-40—More of Moses’s warnings before they enter the land, plus several choice promises; see also 28:1-68 (Note that in 4:39, Jehovah is proclaimed as not just the greatest God, but the only God).
- 5:1, 24, 29—We must learn, keep, and do the Lord’s statutes; the people reply, “We have heard his voice”; The Lord rejoins, “Fear me, and keep all my commandments always” (note also how verse 24 can be taken as an apt summary of our latter-day message to all the world).
- 9:1-4—An additional reminder that it is God who will lead them into the land and defeat the Canaanites; we are nothing and can do nothing without Him in our lives.
- 10:12—Fear the Lord, walk in all His ways, love Him, serve Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul; see also 26:16.
- 11:11-17, 26-28—More promised blessings, followed by more warnings (see also 2 Nephi 2:27).
- 17:14-20—Instructions for future kings.
- 25:13-16—Be honest in your business dealings.
- 26:18-19—The Lord has chosen Israel to be His peculiar and holy people.
- 31:1-8, 14-16, 20, 23—Moses designates Joshua as his replacement to lead the children of Israel into the promised land and to conquer the wicked Canaanites by the strength of the Lord; “Be strong and of a good courage; fear not” (verse 6); the Lord appears in the tabernacle to Moses and Joshua and tells Moses that the Israelites will go after other gods and corrupt themselves.
- 33:13-17—Moses blesses the descendants of Joseph above all other tribes; in the last days those of Ephraim and Manasseh “shall push the people together to the ends of the earth” (verse 17).