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Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy was originally part of the historical books such as 1 and 2 Kings, but was later reassigned to the Torah.[1 p.173]

Collins[1 p.159] considers the name "Deuteronomy" (from Greek Deuteros nomos, meaning second law) apt. He analyses the book's structure as:

  1. "Motivational speeches, including some recollection of Israel's history (1–11)
  2. The laws (12–26)
  3. Curses and blessings (27–28)
  4. Concluding materials, some of which have the character of appendices (29–34).

"Apart from the closing chapters, the book has a far more consistent and distinctive style than the other books of the Pentateuch. Even if it was composed in stages, the scribes who contributed to its growth must have come from the same school or tradition. The style is distinctive in the use of direct address, and a highly personal tone." He adds that the structure and style loosely follow that of 7th century BC middle eastern treaties, suggesting a treaty between the Israelites and YHWH. Also this parallel suggests implying composition around the date when the book of the law was "discovered" and read to King Josiah. Was it Exodus or Dueteronomy that they read to him? The comment on 2 Chronicles 34:14 suggests it was Deuteronomy, which is more humane. Perhaps older verses such as Exodus 22:29 were being used to justify human sacrifice; "...underlying all the minute detail is a grand plan, which was to create a society that was fair and honoured God." [7].

Collins is developing the thinking of W M L de Wette in 1805, who argued that Deuteronomy is the "Book of the Law" that was "discovered" during Josiah's reign in 2 Chronicles 34:14, which was a revised version of Exodus 21–23 taking into account the centralisation of worship.[6 p.765] See also Old Testament regarding authorship.

The structure of many of the laws in this books is "first, there is a crisp statement of the law, then there is an explanation of how the law is to be carried out, and finally there is an expansion of the law." [10]

Under Josiah control was centralised at Jerusalem, as required by Deuteronomy 12. Ancient shrines such as Bethel were closed, and the poles altars and trees established by the patriarchs were destroyed. Country people could only sacrifice a few times a year, and even the Passover had to be celebrated at Jerusalem (16:2); Deuteronomy 12:15 allows them to eat meat in a family setting, in contravention of Leviticus 17. The levites of the ancient shrines were unemployed; Deuteronomy 18:6–8 provides for them, and Ezekiel 44 promises their conversion to monotheism.

The book has two introductions, one from 1:1–4:43 (which introduces the entire Deuteronomic history) and the other at 4:44 (which introduces this particular book); 12:1 (the start of "the statutes and ordinances") opens the core of the book, and suggests that this might be the part that was read to King Josiah.[2] Deuteronomy 17:14–20 makes rules for kings, such as not having many horses or wives, which Solomon broke. Deuteronomy 17:18 requires the King to have his own copy of the law provided by the priests, which is what the "second law" was meant to be; but instead of providing a duplicate of Exodus and Leviticus, the priests expanded it into the book we have today.

Commentary

1:1

The ascription stops short of claiming that these are God's words, hence we speak of "The Law of Moses". cf. Deuteronomy 4:12f.

1:6

"Horeb" simply means "the wilderness".[1 p.164]

1:31

cf. Hosea 11:1.

1:36

Caleb: see Appendix 1.

3:13

Half-tribe: see Appendix 2 "half-tribe".

3:17

Pisgah means summit.

3:27

Pisgah means summit.

4:7

God is close when we pray.

4:12–13

The Ten Commandments come from God; the rest of the deuteronomic law is from Moses. See comment on Deuteronomy 1:11. That is why Jesus felt able to heal on the sabbath, etc.

4:24

This idea appears again at Deuteronomy 9:3 and is quoted in Hebrews 12:29. The fire consumes what is unholy leaving what is holy—​a refining process. See comment on Isaiah 6:6.

4:34

The experience of being rescued by God from Egypt should have shown the Hebrews that the old theology of a different god being over each country, so exile meant excommunication without possibility of rescue, was inadequate.

4:44

This is the beginning of the introduction to this particular book.[2]

4:49

Pisgah means summit.

5:3

See Jesus's comment in Luke 20:38.

5:6–21

This version "differs from the version in Exodus 20, probably because it was recorded at a later time. Later writers were trying to express the basic laws in the way that the people of their time would find most helpful".[3–p.60] The people are reminded of their relationship with God before being told how to apply it to their situation. The only significant difference from the Ten Commandments in Exodus is the motivation for keeping the Sabbath Day; imitation of God resting on the seventh day is replaced with compassion.[1–p.164] See Decalogue.pdf for a comparison.

5:22

The Ten Commandments were written by God, but the rest of the Law was not.

6:4–5

These two verses are recited frequently by Jews, and known as the Shema. God told the disciples to hear Jesus at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).

The word "one" might mean there is only one God, or that only one god is worshipped, or that the Jews uniquely worship one God; many commentators favour the third option[6 p.768]. Jesus quoted it in Mark 12:28–31 and re-interpreted it in Matthew 22:37. A lawyer's interpretation is given in Luke 10:27.

The fact that this slogan was quoted to Jesus but does not appear in scripture about the time before Josiah supports a late date for this section, and perhaps the entire book[6 p.778].

The ambiguous use of the word "one" enabled those arguing for the centralisation of worship in Jerusalem to say, in effect, that one God is worshipped in one place by one people[6 p.776, 779].

6:6–9

cf. Deuteronomy 11:18–21, Jeremiah 31:31 and Matthew 23:5.

6:8–9

An Orthodox Jew takes these verses as literal commands and places a Philactery on his forehead and a Mezuzah on each door-frame. Surely these words were intended to remind us that God's word should guide our private thought life and our public life with its goings in and out.

6:13

This appears to be the verse that Jesus referred to in Matthew 5:33.

6:16

God's people should follow his plans, not introduce their own. See Matthew 4:7. But perhaps if he isn't your acknowledged God (yet), you can put him to the test for confirmation.

6:25

cf. Deuteronomy 7:12. This sums up the Mosaic Covenant: obedience is credited as righteousness. This differs from the covenant with Abraham, whose belief was credited as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Neither actually achieved complete righteousness in itself, but they were covenants under which God agreed to treat people as righteous.

7:7–8

cf. 1 Peter 2:9–10.

7:12

cf. Deuteronomy 6:25, and see comment on Luke 1:55.

7:25 f

This foretells the dreadful repercussions of Achan's sin (Joshua 7).

8:2

The Israelites' 40 years of wandering (cf. Index of numbers: 40) is reminiscent of Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11). Each was followed by a vivid demonstration of God's power. This verse rationalizes the testing desert experience as an opportunity to learn absolute trust and obedience, a pre-requisite to co-operating with the Father in miracles.

8:3

Jesus quoted this verse in the wilderness (Matthew 4:3–4, Luke 4:4).

8:7–10

The good things promised are necessities rather than luxuries; gold silver and precious stones are not mentioned. They appear to be symbolic rather than literal, in that the land west of the Jordan has no iron or copper ore.

9:3

cf. Deuteronomy 4:24.

9:4

See comment on Deuteronomy 20:17.

9:23

Kadesh: see Appendix 3 Kadesh.

10:16

Circumcision is sign to the Jews to act as "a reminder that life itself is his gift, they were not immune to his judgment".[4]

10:22

The promises made to Abraham in Genesis 15:5 and Genesis 22:17 have been fulfilled.

11:8

cf. Psalm 37:9–11.

11:17

Rain was equated with blessing, and drought with cursing; cf. 1 Kings 8:35, 1 Kings 17, Isaiah 5:6, Amos 4:7–8, Zechariah 14:17, and Revelation 11:6.

11:18–21

cf. Deuteronomy 6:6–9 and Matthew 23:5.

12:5

This verse justifies the controversial centralisation of worship in Jerusalem and the closure of the earlier shrines including Shiloh.

14:1

This chapter reads like a sermon rather than prose[8 p.57].

14:21

= Exodus 34:26; see comments there.

14:22

See comment on Leviticus 27:30.

15:1

There is no evidence that these laws were ever followed.

15:4–7

There will be no poor (:4) provided neighbours step in to meet any need (:7).

15:11

cf. Matthew 26:11.

16:13f

cf. John 7:37 f.

16:20

The Hebrew duplicates the word "justice"; some rabbis interpret this as meaning "Do not use unjust means to secure the victory of justice"[9 p.820].

17:7

See comments on John 8:5.

17:14

cf. Nehemiah 9:37, 1 Samuel 8:17.

17:18

See general remarks on this book at the Top of this page.

18:15

This verse may be the source of references to a prophet who was to come, e.g. John 1:45. See Appendix 2:Law.

19:14

cf. Deuteronomy 27:17 and Proverbs 22:28 and 23:10.

19:21

cf. Matthew 5:38f.

20:5–7

cf. the excuses given in Luke 14:16–24.

20:8

Gideon did what Moses commanded in Judges 7:3.

20:17

The genocide of the invasion of the promised land sounds inconsistent with a loving God, but Deuteronomy 9:4 confirms that the Israelites were to execute God's judgement on the inhabitants in response to their evil deeds. Perhaps he had given them plenty of warnings and opportunities to repent.

21:22–23

This passage may have inspired St Peter's references to Jesus's cross as "the tree" in Acts 5:30, Acts 10:39, Acts 13:29, and 1 Peter 2:24.

21:23

This verse is quoted in Galatians 3:13, but contrasts with 1 Corinthians 12:3.

22:5–6

See also Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:27, 1 Timothy 1:10.

22:11

This command illustrates purity.

22:19

Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.

22:29

Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.

23:15

cf. Proverbs 20:10 and see also Philemon.

23:24

See comment on Psalm 80:12.

24:1

The NRSV translation is weak in this verse; the Hebrew is about indecency, which was historically interpreted as meaning adultery.

In New Testament times there was dispute between Rabbis not only about resurrection but also divorce, because this verse is not particularly clear (though Malachi 2:16 is!). Job said in Job 14:14, "If man dies, will he live again?" The hard-liners led by Shammai allowed no divorce apart from cases of unchastity; the liberals led by Hillel allowed divorce for almost any dissatisfaction (see Matthew 19:3). Matthew 19:7 agrees with Shammai; in Mark 10:4 Jesus recognises a rule that allows separation, but not remarriage. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul agrees with Mark's recollection of what Jesus said.

24:14–16

cf. Leviticus 19:13, Luke 10:7, James 5:4.

25:4

Paul analyses this command in 1 Corinthians 9:9.

25:13–16

cf. Proverbs 20:10 and 20:23.

26:7

This verse shows that the covenant made in Genesis 15:7 has been fulfilled.

26:10f

See comment on Luke 17:8.

27:17

cf. Deuteronomy 19:14 and Proverbs 22:28 and 23:10.

28:1–6

cf. Psalm 23, Psalm 121, Isaiah 30:21. Some of those references promise blessing, some adversity; perhaps we should not regard them as opposites.

29:1

This verse records that the Giving of the Law was a two-stage process.

29:8

Half-tribe: see Appendix 2 "half-tribe".

29:19–20

The "unforgivable sin" here is to reject God's covenant and salvation, due to proudly trusting instead in one's own strength. Forgiveness is available to the humble and weak (Deuteronomy 32:36). This may be different from most New Testament references to an unforgivable sin into which Christians might slip (Matthew 12:31, 1 John 5:16) though Clarence Jordan is said to have suggested it is hypocrisy that claims to be subject to God but is not; this idea seems to unite both the Old Testament and New Testament concepts.

30:11

The word "you" is singular; we each have to make up our own mind where our allegiances lie.

31:5

cf. Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34, Hebrews 13:5.

31:6

cf. Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5.

32:13

High Places: see comment on Numbers 33:52.

32:17

Apparently false gods are in fact demons.

32:35

In Romans 12:19 Paul quotes this verse, but the same idea appears in Leviticus 19:18. The fulfilment is promosed in Deuteronomy 32:41–43.

32:43

See comment on Hebrews 1:6.

32:48–52

See comment on Hebrews 11:13.

33:29

High Places: see comment on Numbers 33:52.

34:1

Pisgah means summit.

References:

  1. Collins, J.J. "Deuteronomy" in Introduction to the Hebrew Bible Fortress Press 2004
  2. Helen Julian CSF in New Daylight 27 October 2013 & 1 November 2013
  3. Hinson, David History of Israel London: SPCK, 1990
  4. Winter, David in New Daylight 16 November 2007
  5. Jordan, Clarence
  6. Nathan MacDonald "The Date of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4–5)", in Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 136 no 4 2017 (Atlanta, USA)
  7. Lowson, Geoff in New Daylight 3 December 2019
  8. Coggins, R Introducing the Old Testament Oxford: OUP, 2001
  9. Hertz, Dr J. The Soncino Edition of the Pentateuch and Haftorahs (2nd Edition 1970)
  10. Lowson, Geoff writing in New Daylight 4 October 2020

© David Billin 2002–2021