| Back to Home Page | Back to Book Index |


Introduction to Deuteronomy


Summary of the Book of Deuteronomy

This summary of the book of Deuteronomy provides information about the title, author(s), date of writing, chronology, theme, theology, outline, a brief overview, and the chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy.


The Hebrew name of the book is elleh haddebarim ("These are the words") or, more simply, debarim ("words"; see 1:1). The word "Deuteronomy" (meaning "repetition of the law") arose from a mistranslation in the Septuagint (the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT) and the Latin Vulgate of a phrase in Dt 17:18, which in Hebrew means "copy of this law." The error is not serious, however, since Deuteronomy is, in a certain sense, a "repetition of the law" (see Structure and Outline).

Author and Date of Writing

The book itself ascribes most of its content to Moses (see 1:1,5; 31:24 and notes). For that reason, the OT elsewhere ascribes the bulk of Deuteronomy and other Pentateuchal legislation to Moses (see, e.g., Jos 1:7-8; 23:6; 1Ki 2:3; 8:53; Mal 4:4 and notes). Similarly Jesus attributed Dt 24:1 to Moses (Mt 19:7-8; Mk 10:3-5), Peter attributed Dt 18:15,18-19 to Moses (Ac 3:22-23), as did Stephen (see Ac 7:37-38 and notes), and Paul attributed Dt 32:21 to Moses (Ro 10:19). See also Mt 22:24 and note; Mk 12:18-19; Lk 20:27-28. At the same time, it seems clear that the narrative framework within which the Mosaic material is placed (e.g., the preamble [1:1-5] and the conclusion [ch. 34]; see also 5:1; 27:1,9,11; 29:1-2; 31:1,7,9-10, 14-25,30; 32:44-46,48-52; 33:1-2) comes from another -- and unknown -- hand. See Introduction to Genesis: Author and Date of Writing.

Historical Setting

Deuteronomy locates Moses and the Israelites in the territory of Moab in the area where the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea (1:5). As his final act at this important time of transferring leadership to Joshua, Moses delivered his farewell addresses to prepare the people for their entrance into Canaan. In them, Moses emphasized the laws that were especially needed at such a time, and he presented them in a way appropriate to the situation. In contrast to the matter-of-fact narratives of Leviticus and Numbers, here the words of Moses come to us from his heart as this servant of the Lord presses God's claims on his people Israel.

Special Function in the Bible

The trajectory of the story that unfolds in Genesis-Numbers seems to call for an account of the conquest of Canaan as found in Joshua to bring closure to the movement from promise to fulfillment (see Introduction to Joshua: Title and Theme). But Deuteronomy intervenes as a massive interruption. Here there is very little forward movement. At the end of Numbers, Israel is "on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho" (Nu 36:33) and at the end of Deuteronomy, the people are still there (Dt 34:8) waiting to cross the Jordan (see Jos 1:2). All that has happened is the transition from the ministry of Moses as God's spokesman and official representative to that of Joshua in his place (Dt 34:9; see Jos 1:1-2). But Moses' final acts as the Lord's appointed servant for dealing with Israel are so momentous that Deuteronomy's account of them marks the conclusion to the Pentateuch, while the book of Joshua, which narrates the initial fulfillment of the promises made to the patriarchs and the conclusion to the mission on which Moses had been sent (see Nu 17:15-23; Jos 21:43-45), serves as the introduction to the Former Prophets.

So Deuteronomy creates a long pause in the advancement of the story of redemption:

    1. of deliverance from bondage to a world power (Egypt) to a place in the earth where Israel can be a free people under the rule of God;
    2. of deliverance from rootlessness in the post-Babel world (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) to security and "rest" (see Dt 3:20 and note; 12:10; 25:19) in the promised land;
    3. of deliverance from a life of banishment from God's Garden (Ge 3) to a life in the Lord's own land where he has pitched his tent (Jos 22:19).

But in that long pause on the threshold of the promised land Moses, in this renewal of the Sinaitic covenant, reminded Israel at length of what the Lord required of them as his people if they were to cross the Jordan, take possession of the promised land and there enjoy the promised "rest" in fellowship with him. It was a word that Israel needed to hear over and over again. Upon reading the Pentateuch, Israel was brought ever anew to the threshold of the promised land and its promised "rest" to hear again this final word from God through his servant Moses (see also Ps 95:7b-22). For this reason, all the history of Israel in Canaan as narrated in the Former Prophets is brought under the judgment of this word.

Theological Teaching and Purpose

The book of Deuteronomy was cast in the form of ancient Near Eastern suzerainty-vassal treaties of the second millennium b.c. It contained the Great King's pledge to be Israel's Suzerain and Protector if they would be faithful to him as their covenant Lord and obedient to the covenant stipulations as the vassal people of his kingdom. There would be blessings for such obedience, but curses for disobedience (chs. 27 - 30). Deuteronomy's purpose was to prepare the new generation of the Lord's chosen people to be his kingdom representatives in the land he had unconditionally promised them in the Abrahamic covenant (see Structure and Outline below; see also notes on 3:27; 17:14,18).

The love relationship of the Lord to his people, and that of the people to the Lord as their sovereign God, pervade the whole book. Deuteronomy's spiritual emphasis and its call to total commitment to the Lord in worship and obedience inspired references to its message throughout the rest of Scripture. In particular, the division of the Hebrew Bible called the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) is thoroughly imbued with the style, themes and motifs of Deuteronomy. Among the Latter Prophets, Jeremiah also reflects strong influence from this book.

Structure and Outline

Deuteronomy's literary structure supports its historical setting. By its interpretive, repetitious, reminiscent and somewhat irregular style it shows that it is a series of more or less extemporaneous addresses, sometimes describing events in nonchronological order (see, e.g., 10:3). But it also bears in its structure clear reflections of the suzerain-vassal treaties of the preceding and then-current Near Eastern states, a structure that lends itself to the Biblical emphasis on the covenant between the Lord and his people. In this sense Deuteronomy is a covenant renewal document, as the following outline shows:

I.           Preamble (1:1-5)

  1. Historical Prologue (1:6;4:43)
  2. Stipulations of the Covenant (4:44;26:19)

1.    God's covenant Lordship (4:44;5:33)

B.   Supplementary Requirements (chs. 12-26)

IV.        Ratification; Curses and Blessings (chs. 27-30)

  1. Leadership Succession under the Covenant (chs. 31-34)

──《New International Version


Introduction to Deuteronomy

This book repeats much of the history and of the laws contained in the three foregoing books: Moses delivered it to Israel a little before his death, both by word of mouth, that it might affect, and by writing, that it might abide. The men of that generation to which the law was first given were all dead, and a new generation was sprung up, to whom God would have it repeated by Moses himself, now they were going to possess the land of Canaan. The wonderful love of God to his church is set forth in this book; how he ever preserved his church for his own mercies sake, and would still have his name called upon among them. Such are the general outlines of this book, the whole of which shows Moses' love for Israel, and marks him an eminent type of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us apply the exhortations and persuasions to our own consciences, to excite our minds to a believing, grateful obedience to the commands of God.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Deuteronomy


00 Overview




The name of the book

The ordinary name of the book is derived through the LXX ( δευτερονόμιον) and Vulgate (Deuteronomium), from the one sometimes employed by the Jews, mishneh hattorah, “repetition of the law.” This name was probably suggested by the text Deuteronomy 17:18, in which the expression rendered “a copy of this law” was anciently construed as referring to Deuteronomy only. This is probably not the right sense of the phrase, but the title borrowed from it indicates correctly enough the character and contents of the book. From another point of view, some of the rabbinical writers have styled Deuteronomy “the Book of Reproofs”; whilst others denoted this, as they did the other Books of Scripture, by the first two Hebrew words occurring in it. (T. E. Espin, D. D. , in Speakers Commentary.”)

The character of the book

The speeches exhibit a striking unity of style and character. They are pervaded by the same vein of thought, the same tone and tenor of feeling, the same peculiarities of conception and expression. They exhibit matter which is neither documentary nor traditional, but conveyed in the speaker’s own words. Their aim is strictly hortatory; their style earnest, heart-searching, impressive, in passages sublime, but throughout rhetorical; they keep constantly in view the circumstances then present, and the crisis to which the fortunes of Israel had at last been brought. Moses had before him not the men to whom by God’s command he delivered the law at Sinai, but the generation following which had grown up in the wilderness. Large portions of the law necessarily stood in abeyance during the years of wandering; and of his present hearers many must have been strangers to various prescribed observances and ordinances. Now, however, on their entry into settled homes in Canaan a thorough discharge of the various obligations laid on them by the covenant would become imperative; and it is to this state of things that Moses addresses himself. He speaks to hearers neither wholly ignorant of the law, nor yet fully versed in it. Much is assumed and taken for granted in his speeches; again, on other matters he goes into detail, knowing that instruction in them was needed. Sometimes, too, opportunity is taken of promulgating regulations which are supplementary or auxiliary to those of the preceding books; some few modifications arising out of different or altered circumstances are now made; and the whole Mosaic system is completed by the addition of several enactments (chaps. 12-26) of a social, civil, and political nature. These would have been wholly superfluous during the nomadic life of the desert; but now, when the permanent organisation of Israel as a nation was to be accomplished, they could not be longer deferred. Accordingly the legislator, at the command of God, completes his great work by supplying them, Thus he provides civil institutions for his people accredited by the same Divine sanctions as had been vouchsafed to their religious rites. (T. E. Espin, D. D. , in Speakers Commentary.”)

I. The date and authorship of the book.--The difficulties:--The difficulties in the way of accepting the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy, contained in Deuteronomy itself, are of two classes--

1. Those passages which plainly bear to have been written after the time of Moses, and after the people had settled in Canaan.

2. Other passages, which though not distinctly anachronisms, yet in their natural meaning imply that a considerable time had elapsed between the period at which the events happened and that at which they were recorded.

II. The difficulties which we encounter in attempting to reconcile the law as given in Deuteronomy with the law as given in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers are not in themselves very serious matters. They are considerably more serious, however, in their combined, or cumulative, than in their individual aspect; and then they are much less easily disposed of than the first class, because they are of a more systematic character, and inhere in the substance of the work.

1. The chief differences in the legal provisions are almost all connected with the priests and the Levites--their position with respect to each other, and the tithes and dues or perquisites by which they were maintained.

2. The tone of the laws in Deuteronomy, it seems to be admitted on all hands, is different from that of the laws in the previous books--being more advanced, more humane, more merciful, more spiritual.

3. Then the style of Deuteronomy differs undoubtedly from the style of the former books of the Pentateuch, in a way that gives the impression that the book is the work of a different writer, and of a somewhat different age. It is more rounded, more flowing and sustained, more cultivated, more modern--displaying, if with reverence it may be spoken, more literary art. The diction also, though not differing much from that of the previous books, is nevertheless marked by certain frequently recurring phrases which are not to be met with in those books. Explanations of all these discrepancies have been offered. It cannot be said, however, that any one of them is altogether satisfactory. Most of them are hypothetical or conjectural--drawn from what is probable rather than from what is known.

1. With regard to the discrepancies in the legal provisions--

(A) It is argued generally that these are such as, from the nature of the case, are likely to be found in a summary of the law delivered in a short parting address. On such an occasion it was only to be expected that the great lawgiver should overlook minute details and nice distinctions, and dwell only on the leading provisions.

(B) It was natural also, for two obvious reasons, that Moses should at the last opportunity make some alterations in the law and some additions to it.

(a) After forty years’ experience of their working some modifications in the laws would suggest themselves.

(b) Then the entire change in the condition and circumstances of the people consequent on the approaching change from the wilderness to Canaan would almost necessitate some corresponding changes in the laws. What suited the one condition would not suit the other.

2. A change in the tone of the laws was also most natural. The people were being gradually educated up to a higher moral and spiritual level, and forty years must have produced a considerable difference in their state.

3. As to style, there are two obvious reasons why the style of Deuteronomy should differ from that of the previous books, though the whole were written by Moses--

(a) The style of most writers changes with age and experience, and that of Moses could hardly be the same at the close of his long career as it had been in his earlier days. Certain improvements in the matter of ease and flow, and strict accuracy of expression were almost inevitable.

(b) Further, the solemnity of the occasion--that of Moses’ final address to the people at the close of their long wanderings, and on the eve of his own death, could not fail to lend a colour and complexion to his style, imparting to it increased warmth and flow.

These reasons for a difference in the laws and in the style and tone of Moses’ address seem so natural and probable that we are apt to take it for granted that they are, of themselves, quite sufficient to account for any apparent discrepancy or incongruity. But the critic takes nothing for granted. He examines the different books with the exact methods, and the great and ever-growing interpretative aids of the present day; and he inquires if the apparent discrepancies are such as are likely to have been caused by the above preconceived causes. His answer, in most cases, is in the negative.

1. As to the discrepancies in the Laws--

(A) The compression necessary in an abridgment would cause the occasional omission of details, but not the substitution of one thing for another. Nor can it be said that any space is saved by calling--

(a) The priests “sons of Levi, instead of “sons of Aaron”;

(b) Or by stating the priests’ portion of a peace offering as “the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the maw” (Deuteronomy 18:3), instead of as “the breast and the right leg” (Leviticus 7:31-34);

(c) Or by enacting that the people should eat the firstlings in a feast at the sanctuary (Deuteronomy 14:23; Deuteronomy 15:20), instead of assigning them entirely to the priests (Numbers 18:8). Such discrepancies cannot be explained as omissions of unimportant details due to compression.

(B) Neither can they be accounted for as alterations of the laws or additions thereto necessitated by the transition from the wilderness to Canaan.

(a) There is nothing in the nature of the discrepant provisions to give colour to such an assumption.

(b) Neither is it consonant with the tenor of the history of the legislation to expect that any changes should be made in the laws; those in the middle books as well as those in Deuteronomy were given for the use of the people when they entered Canaan; many of them, in fact, were incapable of being put in force in the wilderness.

2. As to the different, the more humane and spiritual tone of Deuteronomy, this, it is maintained, can hardly be accounted for on the supposition that the interval between the writing of the books was so short, as it must have been, if they were all written in the wilderness.

3. The difference of style, again, is such as to infer not only a much greater difference of time, but also a difference of writer. The last chapters of Numbers date from the same place (the plains of Moab), and within a few weeks of the same time as Deuteronomy.

(a) The style of these chapters differs as much from the style of Deuteronomy as does that of any other part of the middle books, and agrees with the latter rather than with the former.

(b) But again, it is denied that in point of fact the style of Deuteronomy does differ from the style of the middle books, as the style of an old man differs from the style of the same man when young, or as the style of the same man differs on an ordinary and on a solemn and affecting occasion. On the contrary, it differs rather as the style of one man differs from the style of another man of a different cast of mind, of a different degree of culture, and also of a different and probably a somewhat later age.

III. Difficulties which arise from the books which follow Deuteronomy in the canon. The argument here falls naturally under two heads--

1. The books which, so far as they refer to the law as given in Deuteronomy, appear to agree with the hypothesis that Moses was the giver of that law, and delivered it much as we now have it, to Israel at the close of the forty years’ wanderings.

2. The books following Deuteronomy in the canon, and which do not exhibit an agreement with it, are the historical books, which give account of the affairs of the people from the period of their settlement in Canaan by Joshua till the time of Josiah, and also the prophetical books which date from the same period. The difficulty is that the practice of Israel, as seen even in its leading men, its prophets, priests, judges, kings, does not accord with the precepts laid down in Deuteronomy, either in ecclesiastical or in civil matters. If the Deuteronomic law was known at all, it appears to have been almost entirely ignored in practice.

(i) Instead of there being only one altar for the nation, the people continued to offer sacrifice as they had done all along at a multitude of shrines--such as Shechem, Mizpeh, Bethel, Gilgal, Hebron, Bethlehem, Beersheba, Kadesh, etc., and all this while there was a central sanctuary at Shiloh, afterwards at Nob, and finally at Mount Zion.

(ii) And the offering of sacrifice, instead of being confined to the Levite priests, appears to have been practised almost indiscriminately by men of all the tribes--by kings, by leaders, by judges, by fathers of families. Separate answers are given by the upholders of the old views to each of the critical objections. Most of these answers, however, are purely hypothetical, based chiefly on the state of unsettlement and confusion which prevailed in Israel during great part of the period in question. As to the use of a plurality of sanctuaries, Keil and writers of his school refuse to admit the alleged fact, explaining away the instances which are cited in proof--some of them as being doubtful, others as being exceptional, “justified by the appearance of an angel of God”; but Principal Douglas, one of the very latest writers on that side, does not dispute the fact, though he explains it in a way which is not altogether satisfactory. He maintains that this sacrificing at a number of the old patriarchal shrines was an irregular expedient, to which Samuel and other pious men were driven by the necessities of the times, in order to prevent the total cessation of all public worship--a temporary falling back on the old law, when the new law had, by the fall of Shiloh and the captivity of the ark, become impracticable. It is possible that this explanation may be the true one; but it is altogether hypothetical. There is nothing in the history to afford it any distinct countenance or support. As to the offering of sacrifices by men not belonging to the Levitical priesthood, the natural impression which the history leaves on the mind is that this was the case. There are two general arguments, however, which to some minds appear sufficient to dispose of most of the cases in point.

(a) When a king or a prophet is said to offer sacrifice, this may mean no more than that he did so through the regular Levitical priest.

(b) Again, the greater includes the less.

Prophets like Samuel, Elijah, and even David--men inspired by God, and in continual direct communication with Him--were more than priests, and were exempt from ceremonial laws which bound ordinary men. They might at any moment obtain the Almighty’s direct Command or permission to offer sacrifice, or perform any sacred rite. The Almighty can at any time dispense with His own laws. There are, of course, some cases which do not come distinctly under either of the above heads, such as that of the sons of David, who are called priests (2 Samuel 8:18), and who performed sacrifice. Probably, however, the main defect in the evidence for the prevalence at this period of a knowledge and practice of the Deuteronomic law lies here, as under the last head, in the absence of all indication in the sacred text that there was in any of the cases referred to the slightest departure from law or ordinary practice.

(iii) The permission given (Deuteronomy 12:15) to kill and eat animals without first offering them in sacrifice. It is inferred from what Hosea says (Deuteronomy 9:3; Deuteronomy 4:1-49) that that prophet had no knowledge of any such permission. Thus far as’ to the disagreements in these books, between the ceremonial practice of the people and the ceremonial law laid down in Deuteronomy 3:1-29. In civil matters the only very important disagreement regards the law of the kingdom, which appears to have been altogether unknown. The law in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 17:14) not only sanctions the appointment of a king by the people of God, but lays down rules to regulate the appointment. Yet when, in course of time, the people demand to have a king appointed, the demand is treated as an unheard of thing, and a grievous insult to the majesty of Jehovah, who is regarded as the proper king of His people. The demand is so treated not only by the leaders of the people--Samuel and Gideon--but also by Jehovah Himself (Judges 8:23; 1 Samuel 8:7).

Unlocked for agreements

Thus far as to the disagreements that are met with in the subsequent books where agreements are looked for. The agreements that are met with, where not agreements but rather disagreements or contrasts are looked for, are the following--

1. Style. The style of Deuteronomy, instead of differing from the style of these later books, agrees wonderfully with the style of certain of them that date seven or eight hundred years after, or about the time of the captivity, especially with the style of Jeremiah, and the Books of Kings. It is the lofty, impressive poetical style of Jeremiah.

2. Diction and phraseology. There is a striking resemblance between the diction and phraseology of Deuteronomy and those of these books. The number of phrases and images common to both sets of books may be seen at full length (with chapter and verse) in several critical works (Davidson, Coleuso)

3. Then apart from laws--The subjects on which Moses dwells by precept and prophecy and warning seems to indicate that many of the events in the history of the kingdom of Israel and Judah bad already happened, and were known to the writer as facts--such as, for example--

(a) “The reference to the danger likely to arise to the state from the king multiplying to himself ‘wives’ and ‘silver and gold and horses.’” This warning, it is thought, was suggested by the case of Solomon.

(b) The reference to “the worship of the sun and moon and the host of heaven.” This again is believed to have been suggested by the idolatries of Manasseh s reign.

(c) Then Deuteronomy 4:25-28 is thought too distinct a reference to the captivity of the ten tribes to have been written before that event. The ten tribes were then “scattered among the nations, and left few in number among the heathen,” &c.


These alleged agreements are thus explained by the critics on the other side.

1 and 2. The agreement between the style, diction, and phraseology of Jeremiah and Deuteronomy arises merely from imitation. The Book of Deuteronomy had been rescued from its long neglect by Hilkiah when Jeremiah was a comparatively young man. It doubtless made a great impression upon him, as it did upon others, and nothing was more natural than that he should seek to form his style in every way upon such an excellent model.

3. As to the apparent references to events in the history of the kingdoms, they are simply prophecies. Moses, as an inspired prophet, saw into the future, and knew what transgressions the people would fall into, and warned them beforehand of the consequences.


1 and 2. To these answers the critics rejoin that if Jeremiah was so great aa imitator of Deuteronomy, it is strange that he makes no direct reference to the book--a fact which, however, would be very natural on the supposition that he was himself the writer of it.

3. As to the explanation of the historical allusions by prophecy, it is maintained that it is contrary to prophetic practice to predict with any circumstantiality of detail things which are yet in the womb of the far future. “A prophecy springs out of, or directs itself to meet, the circumstances of the time.”

The theories

1. The Interpolation theory. This theory assumes that Moses is the original author of Deuteronomy, and also of the other four books of the Pentateuch, yet the books have undergone many and great alterations since they left his hand; other inspired men having at different times introduced additions and modifications of the laws, to adapt them to changed times. This theory has probably been seldom carried beyond the stage of suggestion, and some of those who suggest it would apparently shrink from admitting its applicability to the explanation of any particular discrepancies. It is difficult to see how interpolation can be denied, except by the admission of the much more radical alternative of late authorship. Interpolation must, in fact, form part of any adequate theory that may be devised; but of itself, interpolation cannot explain some of the difficulties, such as the discrepancy between the style of Deuteronomy and that of the foregoing books, and the discrepancy between the precepts of Deuteronomy and the practice of the following books. The theory of interpolation may, however, be supplemented by what may be called--

2. The late Codification theory, generally known as the theory of Delitzsch, though in substance it was suggested two hundred years ago by Witsius. This theory assumes that Moses spoke and wrote down the Deuteronomic law, as in Deuteronomy he is represented to have done, but maintains that he did not write down the law as given in the foregoing books, having only delivered it orally to the priests, who, as several passages show (Deuteronomy 17:11; Deuteronomy 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:10; Leviticus 10:11; Leviticus 15:31), were bound to keep up and communicate to the people a knowledge of the law. The priests either committed the laws to memory, or took notes of them. In whatever way the laws were preserved, however, they were not fully written out, or reduced to a system, or “codified,” till some time after the people were settled in Canaan--perhaps “ages after.” Before the time for codification came, a number of changes may have been made in the laws by Divine authority; and thus there is shown a probable cause for the difference both of style and of law between Deuteronomy and the previous books. There are two facts which lend great probability to the chief assumption on which this theory rests, namely, that Moses did not himself write the law in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

(a) In the text of those books Moses is only said to have written small specified portions of them (Exodus 24:4-7; Exodus 34:27; Exodus 17:14; Numbers 33:2).

(b) The very fact of his delivering to the people and writing down the law in considerable detail on the eve of his death, seems to imply that he had not written it down before.

The only serious difficulties which this theory does not account for are the discrepancies between Deuteronomy and the subsequent books, namely, the want of agreement between the practice of the people and the precepts of Deuteronomy, and the want of contrast between the style of Deuteronomy and that of the subsequent books. The two sets of discrepancies pointing in the same direction, the latter set is regarded as corroborative of the former; and the united witness of the two is held by a large proportion of critics to be conclusive as to the late composition and authorship of Deuteronomy. This conclusion, it is admitted, is at first sight undoubtedly startling and unsettling. To deny that Moses is the author of a book, great part of which consists professedly of verbatim reports of Moses’ speeches, written down by Moses himself, is apparently to offer a flat contradiction to the plain testimony of the book itself. It is maintained, however, that this difficulty is, in reality, much less serious than at first sight it appears, and that in judging of it we are too apt to be misled by our modern notions and traditional prejudices. The difficulty is capable, it is argued, of an explanation which is in no way derogatory to the authority or the inspiration of Scripture. The mode of this explanation constitutes--

3. The literary expedient, or literary fiction theory. According to this theory, the chief part of Deuteronomy is put into the mouth of Moses--not because Moses actually spoke or wrote it, but because the laws are substantially the laws of Moses--laws for which “Moses left the materials,” and which it was expedient to continue to publish under the name of Moses. Some prophet (probably Jeremiah) was commissioned by the Almighty to prepare this new edition; and of course he was authorised and instructed to make certain alterations in the laws to adapt them to the changed times. Now ancient writers, in expounding a man’s ideas or principles, naturally threw their exposition into the form of a speech delivered by the man himself. Hence the many eloquent speeches in Livy and other ancient historians, which are plainly the composition of the historian himself, no report having ever been preserved of them. Again, ancient writers had no idea of the modern expedients of notes and appendices; and hence an editor simply interwove his corrections and additions with the text of his author, just as the author would have done had he re-published his work himself. Thus the modern prophet or editor re-cast the laws of Moses much as Moses himself would have re-cast them had it fallen to him to publish a new edition of them during his own lifetime; and the editor wrote them in Moses’ name, both because Moses was, under God, the real author of the laws, and because Moses’ name would carry greater weight than his own. If we have difficulty in accepting this view, it is because we are “guilty of the mistaken practice of taking our modern notions of literary form and propriety, and thrusting them back into the simplicity of early times.” No doubt there is much force in this reasoning. Yet this theory is so opposed to our modern notions of fitness and propriety, that only the most rigorous and conclusive demonstration of its truth will ever secure for it general acceptance by the Church. In the opinion of the writer the time has not yet come for pronouncing with any confidence on the comparative merits and claims of these three theories, far less for deciding that any one of them supplies a full and adequate explanation for all the complex facts.

1. It may, however, be safely assumed that the first or Interpolation theory will never be generally accepted as entirely adequate by itself.

2. The late Codification theory of Delitzsch, as accounting for a large proportion of the facts without any startling assumptions or bewildering reversal of established beliefs, commends itself naturally to all candid and earnest men who have weighed carefully the difficulties of the question. To see this theory established by irrefragable proofs would afford undoubted satisfaction to many anxious inquiring minds.

3. It must not be concealed, however, that the third or literary expedient theory is by far the more popular amongst critics. With them the Deuteronomic question becomes merged in the general question of the origin of the whole historical books. The writer of Deuteronomy, according to these authorities, was only one of at least four or five writers, who at different periods, as original writers or as supplementers, took part in the composition of the historical books, and he, like the others, can be tracked by peculiarities of style, diction, and phraseology through most of the books, from the commencement till near the period of the captivity. This theory is of a more sweeping character than any of those which have been framed for the solution of the Deuteronomic difficulty; but in reality it cannot be said to involve much if any additional difficulty. It is of comparatively small importance to what author or authors we are, under the guidance of the Spirit, indebted for the composition of those books which claim for themselves no particular author, one inspired writer being, for purposes of revelation, as good as another. Then as to the composite nature of the books--the alleged fact that different parts have been written by different prophets and at different times--this fact, keeping inspiration in view, can in no wise detract from the authority of the books; while it helps greatly to explain apparent anomalies and contradictions. In short, it is rather in its wider divergence from traditional belief than in any necessary consequences which are involved in it that the alarming feature of this theory consists. (W. Walker, LL. D.)

The contents of the book.--

(a) A title (Deuteronomy 1:1-5 inclusive). This title is twofold, and states

in the eleventh month of the fortieth year, immediately before they actually entered the country, and after Sihon and Og had already been overcome.

(b) An introductory discourse (Deuteronomy 1:6; Deuteronomy 4:40 inclusive), followed by the appointment of three cities of refuge on the eastern side of Jordan, in the territory conquered by Moses. In this discourse Moses reviews Israel’s journey from Sinai to the banks of Jordan, for the purpose of exhortation, dwelling upon those points only which bear directly on the enterprise in prospect--the passage of Jordan, the conquest of the seven nations, and the position of the chosen people in the promised land.

(c) The Deuteronomy proper, or repetition of the law (Deuteronomy 4:44 to end of 18). This contains--

(a) generally, as creating a certain relation between the people of Israel and their God, who had given them this law (chaps. 6 to 11);

(b) particularly, in relation to the land which God was giving them. This land is considered--

(c) As the seat of the worship of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 12:1-32; Deuteronomy 13:1-18; Deuteronomy 14:1-29; Deuteronomy 15:1-23; Deuteronomy 16:1-17).

(ii) As the seat of His kingdom (Deuteronomy 16:18 to end of 18).

(iii) As the sphere of operation of certain particular rules of person, property, society, and behaviour (chap. 19 to end of 26).

(a) The second covenant, which is to follow the Sinaitic covenant, and to redeem Israel from its curse, “the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which He made with them in Horeb” (chaps. 29, 30).

(b) Conclusion. Moses’ resignation of his charge to Joshua. Delivery of the law to the priest and elders, and of the book to the Levites (chap. 31). Moses’ last song (chap. 32), blessing (chap. 33), and death (chap. 34). (C. H. Waller, M. A.)

Gospel hints in the book

Hastily reading the whole book, it may be described as a Book of Law, and little else; yet, reading it more attentively, it will be found that even in Deuteronomy there are evangelical lines full of the very love and tenderness of God. The cities of refuge may be described as Gospel cities; the protection of the birthright as an interposition of mercy; the very battlement upon the house is the law respecting the neighbour exemplified rather than merely uttered in words; the protection of the dam is full of evangelical suggestion; and the measuring of stripes, so as not to exceed forty, shows that the law was restrained by wisdom and mercy. Unquestionably, the curses pronounced upon disobedience in the twenty-eighth chapter are like a very storm poured down from the heights of heaven; but in the same chapter the blessings pronounced upon obedience show that high above all law there reigns the spirit of love and pity. In the thirty-first and following chapters Moses prepares to give up his leadership, and, in doing so, he tenderly encourages the people to persevere, and in paternal tones cheers the heart of Joshua in view of the tremendous task about to be assigned him. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The book viewed in connection with the personal character of Moses

No examination of this latest portion of the Pentateuch can possibly be satisfactory which omits to view it in the closest connection with the character of Moses himself The personality of the great lawgiver is never absent from the pages of his work; and that personality is, with one only exception, the grandest in all history. Those rarest of characters among men, who appear at the great crises of human action--Noah, Abraham, Moses, St. Paul--are all characters of slow growth and late ripeness; and, which is remarkable, they are at their best at the very last. The slow growth gives toughness of mental fibre, just as the oak requires a century to attain its maturity, but then may last for five hundred years or more, whilst the quickly growing pine as quickly decays. So it is with men. The smaller and shallower the nature, the more quickly and easily it reaches its best. Rapid, precocious, facile, the performances of such are the wonder of their contemporaries. But in a few years, when the perfervidus vigor of youth, and the restless impulse which it gives, is spent, they subside into very ordinary specimens of human nature; whilst the larger and deeper nature goes on with added power and accelerating force till it reaches the confines of the end. Of such, it may be emphatically said, was Moses. His training had been long and various. He was “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” and shared doubtless every advantage of that hieratic culture of which modern research has come upon so many traces of late. The rich and varied life of the governing class in Egypt--the most highly cultured, probably, then existing throughout the world--in which he had luxuriated for forty years, must have drawn out and stimulated his faculties as the heat of the forcing house does flowers. His nature must have been fully developed by the end of this period. Nursed by indulgence and popularity and splendour into its fullest growth as it was, it says a good deal for its essential nobility that it bore without sourness or permanent distortion the piercing blast of adversity. Two shocks came upon him one after another--the utter and instant failure of his attempt to unite Israel under himself as their leader; and then the compulsory exchange of wealth and rank in Egypt for the solitary life and the humble labour of a shepherd wandering from oasis to oasis in the Arabian desert at the back of Midian. The one had developed, the other braced, his powers. And after this came to him the cares of leadership--the endurance of that vast strain of anxiety and care which attends the re-shaping of a nation. Such responsibilities make men grey before their time, and by this consideration we may judge in some degree of the magnificent elasticity and vital force of the nature of the man who was called by God to bear all this for forty years, and even then have it recorded of him that “his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.” It is the outcome of all this long and arduous experience that we are to see in the addresses which make up the Book of Deuteronomy. The patriot, the legislator, the founder speaks there in almost every line no less than the bearer of the law and messenger of Jehovah. The reminiscences of experience common to the speaker and his hearers; the quorum pars magna fuimus, which form the burden of almost every chapter, are characteristic--too characteristic to be overlooked, too natural and persistent to have been invented. The book forms unconsciously the eloge of the speaker. And therefore, let us say in passing, it is that we feel small sympathy with those who find in the supposed inability of Moses at the outset of his mission to speak to Pharaoh, the proof that these lengthy and rhetorical discourses cannot be his. It is not Moses the fugitive, the adventurer, it is not Moses the untried, or rather the unsuccessful, whom we have set before us in the opening words of Deuteronomy; it is Moses the aged, the tried in war and peace, the ruler over Israel for forty years--a king in all but name. Such responsibilities as he had borne crush feeble natures indeed, but they ennoble strong ones. And therefore, even had it been the case that Moses was originally a man of slow and hesitating speech (Exodus 4:10), we must look upon that weakness as having been eradicated by the slow lapse of years, by the habit of command, and the steady growth of all his powers The Book of Deuteronomy may be called a popular digest of the Mosaic Law. It includes a good many details, and all the great principles upon which that law is constructed. It is plain, simple, popular, not showing continual repetitions, because its author knew the exceeding density and “slowness of heart” of the people with whom he had to deal. If we compare one of the earliest of the Mosaic institutes, the Ten Commandments, with the “curses” in Deuteronomy 27:15-26, which are one of the latest, and are obviously modelled upon them, we shall see how great was Moses’ skill in statecraft, and how much he appreciated the advantages of perfect plainness, teaching by concrete instances and continual repetition. It is a further proof of this practical wisdom that the book is directed to be read aloud once every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles before the assembled tribes (Deuteronomy 31:10-11), i.e. in the Sabbatical year, when the usual culture of the land was intermitted, and the Israelites had leisure to assemble for the purpose. We cannot, indeed, suppose that this far-seeing intention of the lawgiver was carried out. This beneficent provision also, like so many parts of the Law, probably remained inoperative. But that such an expedient should have been enjoined is sufficient of itself to constitute an extremely strong prejudicium in favour of the early date of the book. Quite other modes of publication were in vogue by the time, e.g., of the captivity; the Sabbatical years themselves had ceased to be observed; and we may ask what conceivable forger would have invented a mode of publication of the Law of which no one (on the rationalistic hypothesis) had ever heard, and which would strike him as altogether inadequate to the requirements of a great, and by that time widespread, population? Similarly, the requirements to be fulfilled by a king of Israel, which are often quoted as a proof of the lateness of the date at which it was composed, seem to us, on the contrary, a proof of its antiquity. For in what age could such a list of postulanda have originated if not in the Mosaic? In the days of the early kings? But it is the exact point of the rationalistic case that the Law was then entirely unknown; and we presume no one would seriously maintain that a forger would compile the book with such great care and skill, and then put it by for a hundred and fifty years to mellow and get aged, as sham antiques are buried, with the intent that it should come out, say a hundred years later, after the writer himself was dead, to deceive every one into the belief that it was authentic. Nor could it well have originated under the later kings, who, for the most part, violated in their ascent to power and in their lives every one of its prescriptions. It would hardly have been a safe undertaking during those times of sudden and illegal violence, when the royal power was literally (like the Turkish power has always been) without any check save that of superior force, to have been known to have thrown a sort of doubt over the royal title in a book to appear during the life of the writer. If it did not appear at once, then motive would, as in the former ease, be wanting; and besides, we come upon admitted historical notice of the book by that time. And thus one line of investigation after another leads us back to the earlier date which the book itself claims. (Church Quarterly Review.)

──The Biblical Illustrator