About DEUTERONOMY: a Book of Practical Applications

Deuteronomy is the last book of the Pentateuch, completing the five books of Moses. The Jews called it “five-fifths of the law.” It follows logically after Numbers; Numbers carries the history of the nation Israel to the events in the Plains of Moab to the East of Jericho, and Deuteronomy winds up the Mosaic age with three discourses from Moses just before his death and the entrance of the people into the land of Canaan.


The name Deuteronomy comes from the LXX through an inaccurate translation of Deuteronomy 17:18, which is correctly rendered, “This is the copy (or repetition) of the law” (cf. NASB, KJV, NIV). It is apparent that the book is not a “second law” distinct from the law given at Sinai, as the name of the work might suggest. It is simply a partial restatement and exposition of former laws to the new generation that had been reared in the wilderness. Perhaps its most important contribution to Scripture is that it provides detailed, practical application of God’s Law. The Jewish name of the book is ’Elleh haddevarim, “These are the words” or simply Devarim, “Words.” In Jewish tradition it is called Mishneh Torah, meaning “repetition” or “copy of the law” (Deuteronomy 17:18).


In the most explicit terms the book itself asserts its authorship by Moses. “So Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:9). “And it came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, ‘Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you’ ” (Deuteronomy 31:24-26). No other book of the Pentateuch bears so emphatic a testimony of its Mosaic authorship.

Treaty Form

Second millennium b.c. Near Eastern treaties imposed upon a vassal by an overlord or a great king such as a Hittite ruler had a remarkably consistent form: (1) a preamble, identifying the author of the covenant; (2) historical prologue stating previous relations between the two parties (if any), and past benefactions by the overlord; (3) basic and detailed stipulations stating the obligations imposed by the sovereign ruler upon the vassal; (4) deposit of a copy of the covenant in the vassal’s most sacred repository; (5) periodic public reading of the covenant by the vassal; (6) witnesses, generally the gods of the countries involved; (7) curses for breaking the covenant; (8) blessings for keeping it; (9) a formal oath of obedience; (10) a solemn ratification ceremony; (11) a formal procedure for acting against rebellious vassals. Covenants coming from first millennium b.c. sources are the same except that they do not have the historical prologue.

The covenant form was Hittite in origin

Not every element has survived in Scripture, but when Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are put together, one can get an excellent idea of how the treaties worked. As far as Deuteronomy is concerned, it can be analyzed on the basis of the covenant form common in the second millennium b.c.: (1) preamble: Deuteronomy 1:1-5; (2) historical prologue: Deuteronomy 1:6-3:29; (3) stipulations: Deuteronomy 4:5-11 (basic) and Deuteronomy 12-26 (detailed); (4) provisions for depositing a copy in a sacred repository: Deuteronomy 31:9, 24-26; (5) provision for periodic public reading: Deuteronomy 31:10-13; (6) identification of the witness: Deuteronomy 31:26 (the law book itself as witness); (7) curses: Deuteronomy 28:15-68; (8) blessings: Deuteronomy 28:1-14; (9) oath of obedience: not specific in Deuteronomy, but see Exodus 24:7; (10) provision for a ratification ceremony, specified in this case as a covenant-renewal ceremony: Deuteronomy 27:5-7; (11) provision for dealing with rebellious vassals: foreshadowed in Deuteronomy 30:17-19; this is the so-called “controversy” (Hebrew rîb) procedure; see Hosea 4:1; Hosea 12:2, and elsewhere.

(Information Source: Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s Through the Bible Commentary and The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary)

Notes and Audio Lessons

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