Written around 1400 BC, Deuteronomy
is Moses's speech to the Israelite people as they reach the end of their forty-year wanderings in the wilderness and prepare to enter the promised land of Canaan. God promised the land to the Israelite forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses reminds the Israelites of their past, but also tells them what is to come as they go into the land of Canaan without him.
The Israelites that Moses is speaking to in this book are the grandchildren of those who were brought out of Egypt. Moses begins by reminding them of the great things God has done for them. He has fed and clothed them in miraculous ways and saved them from slavery.
Their ancestors' lack of faith kept them wandering in the desert for so long. Forty years ago, God told their grandparents to attack the Amorites. They asked Moses to send spies ahead to see the land, so Moses picked one man from each of the twelve tribes to observe the area. The men returned and said the land was good and fruitful.
The Israelites were afraid to attack because the Amorites had giants among them and tall, impenetrable walls. Moses assured them that God would carry them through like he had so many times before, but they were not swayed. Their lack of faith angered God, and he told them to go back to the wilderness. Hearing this, the Israelites decided to attack the Amorites after all, and God warned them that he would not assist them. They lost the battle, and God told them that their evil generation, including Moses, would never reach the Promised Land. Only Caleb, Joshua, and this generation's little children would enter.
They cried out to God, but God didn't hear them. The group went into the wilderness and compassed the mountain until God told Moses to head north. While in the desert, Moses, overwhelmed by the needs of the Israelites, had established officers, captains, and judges. The officers and captains were to govern over the tribes. The judges were to rule fairly regardless of anyone's social standing.
After forty years have passed, the new generation of Israelites is told to fight Sihon, the Amorite king of Heshbon and to take his land; with this victory, God will put fear into any nations that oppose Israel. The Israelites prevail, killing men, women, and children and taking their cattle. God delivers all of the cities along the river Arnon, including Gilead, into the Israelites' hands, only avoiding the cities that God forbade them to battle.
Heading into Canaan, the Israelites are to battle the seven nations that live there and eradicate them. They must not take Canaanites for wives, and they have to dismantle the Canaanite places of worship. The nations will be defeated because of their wickedness, not because of Israel's righteousness.
Moses reminds them of when he went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments and came back only to see the people making a golden idol. Moses tells them that God wanted to destroy them, but Moses prayed and fasted on their behalf. Moses, having broken the first tablets with the Ten Commandments on them out of anger, is instructed by God to chisel out two more tablets and to build the ark in which to place them.
Moses then reviews all of the laws, including the Ten Commandments: have no other Gods, do not worship idols, do not misuse God's name, keep the Sabbath holy, honor your father and mother, don't commit murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't give false evidence, and don't covet. He asks the Israelites to impress the laws and commandments upon their children and to love the Lord their God with all their hearts.
Other laws Moses mentions are sometimes referred to by scholars as the "Deuteronomic Code" and deal with several aspects of Israel's daily life. He lays out laws on sexual morality, clean and unclean foods, sacrifices, religious observances, tithing, the king's duties, care of the poor and widowed, sentences for criminal acts, and instructions for the priesthood, as well as civil laws concerning slaves, property, intermarrying, divorce, and cleanliness.
Moses also mentions an unknown prophet that will come to them and guide them as Moses did. Most Christians believe the prophet the text refers to is Jesus, while Muslims believe it refers to Mohammed.
Moses tells the Israelites their future. When they obey God, he will open his rain stores, and they will be prosperous, but when they disobey, He will bring drought upon their lands. Should they worship idols again, God will scatter them among the nations.
As Moses cannot enter the Promised Land, he encourages Joshua, the new Israelite leader, and sings a song. He blesses the tribes and goes to the boundaries of the land of Canaan where he dies at age 120.