What is Deuteronomy about? It’s a great question, specifically because it seems like a redundant book in the Old Testament. Moses taught the Israelites the law once in Exodus. Now, again in Deuteronomy, Moses repeats God’s law for the people to hear.
So, what’s the point of that? Didn’t they get it the first time?
There is a big reason why Moses had to repeat the commands of God in the book of Deuteronomy before he died. And it had nothing to do with the fact that the people couldn’t remember. In reality, it may have been the first time this group of people had actually heard the entire law spoken.
To understand that and to answer the question “What is Deuteronomy about?”, we have to look back at one of the worst moments in Israel’s history. It changed lives and altered the destiny of so many. And it delayed a moment that the nation had been looking forward to for such a long time.
After God rescued the nation of Israel from 400+ years of living and slavery in the nation of Egypt, they had their sights on a new home. God instructed them to journey towards a new land, the region known as Canaan. It was the Promised Land he had told the early patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob they would possess as their own.
The journey from Egypt to Canaan was not an easy one. It was tiring. Additionally, the climate wasn’t great. There were times with little food. Water was scarce.
Yet God sustained the great number of people in miraculous ways during the journey. And along the way, the nation made a pit stop at Mount Sinai where God gave Moses and the nation the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20). The rest of the laws followed and Moses taught them to the people.
By the time they reached the borders of Canaan, the people were ready. But before they went any further, Moses sent out 12 men to spy out the land (Numbers 13). It seemed like a great idea to get a layout of the land before entering. However, what should have been a routine mission, turned out to be disastrous upon the return of the spies. (Also see Deuteronomy 1 and 2 for recap.)
“We Are Not Able to Go Up”
When the men returned after 40 days of walking through the land, they had glowing reviews. They carried back some of the produce of the land – grapes, pomegranates and figs. They told the people “…It truly flows with milk and honey…” (Num. 13:27).
But they also said,
“…the cities are fortified and large…We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we…the land devours its inhabitants…all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature…we were as grasshoppers in our own sight...”(Num. 13:28-33)
Sadly, only two men of the group, Joshua and Caleb, tried to calm the people. They knew with God’s help they could conquer anything. Furthermore, they had seen all the miraculous workings of God that allowed them to escape Egypt and travel through the wilderness. These people of Canaan would be no match for Israel with God at their side.
But the 10 remaining spies were so persistent in their dissent that the people followed them. They complained against Moses and against God:
“If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in the wilderness” they cried (Num. 14:2).
They were so upset and mad, some started making plans to return to Egypt.
And then God showed up. His response would lead to what the book of Deuteronomy is about.
God’s Judgment for Rebellion
This time the nation of Israel had gone too far. They were questioning God’s ability to protect, guide and provide for them, all things he had demonstrated he could do. Even deeper though, they were rejecting the one who had a glorious plan for their existence.
God steps into the crisis in Numbers 14:11 and is ready to wipe out the entire nation for their rebellion. But Moses intercedes with a fervent prayer on the people’s behalf and God relents. But the incident does not go without its consequences.
God’s judgment on the people was that none of the generation that rebelled would enter the Promised Land. Instead, the entire nation would wander in the wilderness for 40 years – one year for each day they had spied out the land. Once all the rebellious generation had died out, their children would be the ones to go up and possess the land. Only the two faithful spies of that generation – Joshua and Caleb – would survive.
It was devastating news. The Bible tells us the people mourned greatly (Num. 14:39). How could they not? They had lost out on an incredible dream and blessing through their sinfulness.
What is Deuteronomy About and Why You Should Care
So the book of Deuteronomy is about the re-telling of the law. Moses begins by telling the story of the rebellion that happened 40 years earlier to whom else – to the now grown children of that event. Their parents are gone. It is their turn to go up and possess the land.
But first, Moses has to instruct them in the commands of the Lord. They need to know God’s expectations for their daily living. They need to be reminded of all that God did for them. Some of them were probably too young to even remember.
And that is why we should care. It is one of the major lessons we can pull out of this book. Parents need to teach their children what a relationship with God is all about. They need to teach it AND they need to live it out. And that teaching must happen continually.
At the beginning of Moses instructing this generation in the law of the Lord, he writes this,
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6)
What Moses is getting at here is central to the Christian life. We are to respond with devotion to the love God shows us. We are to choose Him with all our being and live that out in our daily life. It is a continual and ongoing process, not a one time event.
The Greatest Commandment
Ironically, the command to teach children follows perhaps the core verse in all the Old Testament. That is not a coincidence. As Moses launches into his discussion about the law, he issues the greatest commandment from the Bible. Jesus would quote this verse later when asked by someone which commandment was the greatest (See Matthew 22:36-40). It’s found in Deuteronomy 6:4:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
So the greatest commandment is followed by instructions to parents to teach their children. Why? For three reasons:
- To be reminded of all God had done for them
- So the children could learn from the victories and mistakes of their parents
- Because they would also one day be gone. And they would need to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.
Put simply, there is no greater legacy that an adult can leave than to impact the next generation for God. It is a calling that cannot be ignored. The stakes are too high.
Talk it Up!
God should be so central to our lives that there is continual dialogue about Him as we perform our daily activities. It should come naturally as we grow closer to him. And from this passage we learn one of the main targets for these discussions should be children. It is why we have this book.
Are you passing on our love for God in this way? Are you teaching the next generation about all that God has done for you? If not, you are missing one of big lessons from the book of Deuteronomy. And more importantly, you are missing out on leaving a godly legacy that will live on once you are gone.
Leave a Comment or Answer a Question Below: How does the passage in Deuteronomy 6:6 impress you? Do you talk about God with your children on a regular basis? What topic do you most often talk about with them? Do you find yourself ever doubting God even though you know He has been there for you in the past?