“These Are the Words”

Written on: March 1, 2024

Article by: Paul Birston

An Introduction to Deuteronomy

Moses Introduces Deuteronomy

These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness” (Deuteronomy 1:1).

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Moses spoke “in the fortieth year” (1:3).

Moses spoke to the children of Israel” (1:3).

Moses spoke “according to all that the LORD had commanded him to give to them” (1:3).

Moses undertook to explain this law (torah)” (Deuteronomy 1:5).

In five verses we see who, where, when, why and what Deuteronomy is about.

The LORD, His people and their leader, have travelled together 40 years in the wilderness to arrive across the Jordan on the threshold of the Promised Land to recall God’s leading and to hear words, His commandments, law, teachings and directions, that prepare them to enter. It ends after Moses dies. His successor Joshua leads them in.

We are standing in a wilderness on the threshold of God’s ultimate promised land: His new heavens, new earth and new Jerusalem. He has given His Words to prepare us to enter. “These are the words” that prepared Israel. They prepare us too. Jesus leads us in. (Profoundly, Jesus is Greek for Joshua, “the LORD is salvation,” “the LORD saves.”)

Torah

Moses undertook to explain this law (torah)” (Deuteronomy 1:5).

Throughout the First Covenant Scriptures (Old Testament), torah has many important dimensions beyond what we think of by the Greek translation, nomos, for law in the New Covenant Scriptures (New Testament).

Torah is instruction, direction, teaching and law. The root verb is to cast with emphasis on the one casting.

Our Father instructs His children. Parents in turn instruct their children in His torah (“My son do not forget my torah,” Proverbs 3:1).

Prophets, including Moses, direct and instruct God’s people to remember His spiritual and moral laws, to live accordingly in the present, and to anticipate what He promises to do in the future.

God gives clear instructions for atoning sacrifices, worship and priestly duties in specific laws in the Torah.

God’s torah also defines the terms of our covenant relationship with Him and our relationships with one another. First and New Covenants give us instructions that are perpetually valuable in this life and the next.

Israel knows the book appropriately by its opening phrase, “These are the words.” These inspired words of God are to be heard and obeyed for the present and eternal well being of His people. “Deuteronomy” is the title in the Greek Septuagint translation of Hebrew 17:18, “copy of this law.”

It’s been said that the brilliance of Deuteronomy is the way in which God through Moses “interprets the external law in the light of its desired effect on man’s inner attitudes.”1

This is true of all Scripture. God’s Word is an objective gift by which He transforms the hearts, souls and minds of all who are willing to hear Him and do His will.

Moses Explains

Moses undertook to explain this law (torah)” (Deuteronomy 1:5).

The phrase, “Moses undertook,” is reflexive, meaning that He took the task God gave upon himself willingly. He was pleased and determined to do it.

For Moses to explain the torah embodies making it distinct, making it plain. The verb is intensive. It embodies the process of making writings on stone distinct and clear, easy to read at a quick glance.

To this point through Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, God has spoken many things to Moses often in dialogue with Him. In Deuteronomy, Moses in turn speaks many things to Israel in several speeches which include what the LORD has spoken to him:

Chapters

1–3 Israel’s leaders, travels and trials

4 Obey God

5–26 God’s Covenant Commandments

Love God, His “Prophet Like Me” (Jesus)

27–30 Blessings and Curses

Love God, Obey and Walk in His Ways

Moses then,

31

  • Exhorts the people and Joshua to be “strong and courageous”
  • Passes leadership to Joshua
  • Prophecies of the LORD’s deliverance of Israel
  • Completes writing the Torah
  • Prophecies Israel’s disobedience

32

  • Spoke the words of his song of God vengeance and vindication (see Revelation 15:3–4)
  • Sees the Promised Land
  • Listens to the LORD about the land and his death

33

  • Blesses Israel

34

  • Dies on Mount Nebo at age 120
  • Is succeeded by Joshua who is filled with the spirit of wisdom
  • Is exalted as God’s prophet who knew Him face to face

Moses did a marvelous work. He made everything plain. His explained the results of obedience and disobedience. God is gracious. He explains the way clearly. When He identifies problems, He gives the answers. He exhorts His people to be fully aware of consequences and choose wisely.

Deuteronomy Looks Forward

All five books of Torah look forward as God advances His eternal purposes to redeem, reconcile and restore people from sin to Himself.

In Genesis God takes His people from Eden to Egypt, in Exodus from Egypt to Sinai. At Sinai in Leviticus God gives His people His Law. Numbers takes them from Sinai to spy out the Promised Land then to Moab across the Jordan.

From there in Deuteronomy God reminds His people of His providential leading and His Torah instructions, teaching and laws preparing them to finally enter the land He promised to them by Abraham centuries earlier in Genesis.

Into the Promised Land of Israel, God will send the “Prophet like me,” Jesus (18:15), God’s final and complete answer to sin through Jesus’ death, resurrection and blood that will redeem all who hear His voice and obey.

Deuteronomy in the New Testament

Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, Jacob (James) and the Hebrews writer quote Deuteronomy in many powerful ways, prophetically and prescriptively, that is in prophecy fulfilled, promises, commandments to obey today including from the Ten Words (Commandments) and the power to defeat temptation.

Jesus’ answers the devil’s three temptations with three quotations from Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:13, 16 and 10:20).

Jesus affirms God’s greatest commandment from Deuteronomy 6:4–5, Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Peter and Stephen confirm Jesus is The Prophet of whom Moses spoke, “Moses said, The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your countrymen; to Him you shall listenregarding everything He says to you.23 And it shall be that everysoul that does not listen to that prophetshall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’” (Deuteronomy 18:15–16, 19 in Acts 3:22–23; 13:37). Deuteronomy 18 also provides the test of a true prophet and prohibits spiritism occult practices so popular in our world today. The problem is consulting the creation rather than the Creator and His Prophet who saves and guides us.

Jesus, His brother Jacob (James) and the Hebrews writer jointly uphold the Ten Commandments in fact and principle directly quoting all of them that particularly deal with relationships between people (Commandments 5–10), including commanding children to honour father and mother (5).

In a primarily Gentile city, Paul uses Deuteronomy prescriptively, commanding the Corinthians to “purge the evil from your midst” (1 Corinthians 5:13) and the importance of “two or three witnesses” not one (2 Corinthians 13:1). Jesus quotes the latter in Matthew 18:16 on church discipline.

Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9 and 1 Timothy 5:18, affirming workers are worthy of their wages, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.”

In a profound statement about the extreme extent of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice for us, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 21:23 in Galatians 3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” This is an extraordinary truth, especially for a Jew. Jesus became cursed with the curse we deserve so He could save us from what we deserve. This is the very heart of the gospel.

The Hebrews writer encourages us by quoting God’s promise from Deuteronomy 31:6, “He will not fail you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

From Moses’ song, Paul and the Hebrews writer assure us of God’s protection and vindication, “Vengeance is Mine…” (32:35 in Romans 12:19 and Hebrews 10:30) and “The LORD will vindicate (judge) His people” (32:36 in Hebrews 10:30).

Finally, Paul and the Hebrews writer command us to rejoice in thanks to God for His vindication, Rejoice, O nations, with His people” (32:43 in Romans 15:10 and Hebrews 1:6).

Deuteronomy continues to teach and prepare us for our journey into God’s eternal Promised Land. While we are here we listen: God has acted, God has spoken, we obey. “These are the words.” “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Note 1 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament