What is the Book of Deuteronomy About?

Read this 3-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read Deuteronomy!


Historical Context

Deuteronomy presents itself as a record of addresses delivered orally by Moses on the verge of Israel’s crossing over into the Promised Land, a series of speeches that were immediately committed to writing (Deuteronomy 31:9). However, in accordance with ancient Near Eastern literary convention, strictly speaking the book as we have it is anonymous. We can only speculate when the individual speeches of Moses were combined, arranged, and linked with their present narrative stitching. Certain stylistic and literary features, the content of a series of historical notes in the book, and the resemblances of the present structure of the book to second millennium BCE Hittite treaty documents suggest that this happened much earlier than critical scholars admit.

—Daniel Block

Source: Block, Daniel I. The Gospel According to Moses: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2012. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers,

From Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Deuteronomy for your good and to lead you into joy.

The book of Deuteronomy does not indicate when it was written. The date of authorship may be 1220 BC, at the time of, or just after, Moses’ death.

—Henrietta Mears

Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.  

The historical setting is that of Israel encamped on the plains of Moab, just outside of the Promised Land. For forty years, Israel wandered in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. During this time, the first generation perished except for Caleb, Joshua, and Moses. Deuteronomy is Moses’ final address to second-generation Israel.

The Setting of Deuteronomy

c. 1406 BC

The book of Deuteronomy records Moses’ words to the Israelites as they waited on the plains of Moab to enter Canaan. Moses begins by reviewing the events of Israel’s journey from Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab.  

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Message Series

Choose Life by the Pastors at NCBC

A handful of excellent pastors at New Covenant Bible Church (NCBC) in Illinois preached a phenomenal message series on the book of Deuteronomy. As they open God’s Word, you will get to know the heart of God and his character as revealed in the book of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy Dictionary

As you read through Deuteronomy, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know! Note that this dictionary was created for the New International Version (NIV) Bible.

A place where sacrifices were made to worship God. An altar could be a pile of dirt or stones, or a raised platform of wood, marble, metal, or other materials. The bronze or brazen altar was used for burnt offerings in the tabernacle’s courtyard. It was a large box, eight feet square and four-and-a-half feet high, made of wood covered with bronze. A much larger altar replaced it when Solomon built the temple. The altar of incense (also called the golden altar) was smaller, covered with gold, and placed just in front of the veil to the Holy of Holies. Every day, both morning and evening, incense was burned here, symbolizing the prayers of the people.

A Hebrew word that means “Let it be so!” or “This is the truth!” Amen is often said after a prayer to show that people agree with what has been said and believe that it will happen.

A special wooden chest that was covered with gold. God told Moses exactly how to make the ark because it was to show the people of Israel that God was with them. The ark was about four feet long, two feet tall, and two feet wide. On top, two golden figures of angels faced each other. The two tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written, a pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded were kept inside the ark. The ark was placed in the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle.

To make up for a wrong act; to become friends again. In the Bible, atonement usually means to become friends with God after sin has separated us from him. In the Old Testament, the Israelites brought sacrifices to atone for their sins. The New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ made atonement for our sins when he died on the cross. Because Jesus died to “make up” for our sins, we can have peace with God.

To praise or make holy. The word bless is used in different ways in the Bible: (1) When God blesses, he brings salvation and prosperity and shows mercy and kindness to people. (2) When people bless, they (a) bring salvation and prosperity to other persons or groups; (b) they praise and worship and thank God; (c) they give good things or show kindness to others.

A sacrifice, or gift, to God that was burned on an altar. The offering was a perfect animal, such as a goat, sheep, lamb, or ram. Burnt offerings were always given for cleansing, or atonement, for sins.

A rule or teaching that people are to follow. Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. The Bible gives commandments for Christians to follow because they love God and want to obey his Word.

An agreement. In the ancient Near East, sometimes covenants were made between two people or groups of people. Both sides decided what the agreement would be. However, in the Bible, the word usually refers to agreements between God and people, when God decides what will be done and the people agree to live by the covenant. The old covenant of law set standards of behavior in order to please God. The new covenant of grace presents God’s forgiveness based on faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

An order or law given by a king or ruler. A decree was often read in a public place so that many people would hear the new law.

(1) In the Old Testament, an older man in a family, tribe, or town. (2) Also in the Old Testament, a member of a group of older men in a town. The town elders made major decisions for the town. (3) In the first four books of the New Testament, the Sanhedrin—the group of men who governed the Jewish people in Jesus’ time. (4) In the Early Church, the church leaders.

A statue or other image of a god that is made by people and then worshiped as if it had the power of God. Idols are often made of wood, stone, or metal. Sometimes the Bible calls anything that takes the place of God in a person’s life an idol. God tells us not to worship idols but, rather, to worship only him.

Money, property, or traditions received from another person. Often a person receives an inheritance after another person’s death. The Bible tells us that everything that is God’s belongs to Jesus Christ. By his death on the cross, Jesus made it possible for us to share his inheritance with him.

The major river in Israel. The main part of the Jordan River flows from the Sea of Galilee southward into the Dead Sea. Numerous biblical events involved this famous waterway, including Jesus’ baptism.

(1) All the rules God gave to help people to know and love him and to live happily with each other. The Ten Commandments are part of God’s law. (2) The first five books of the Bible. These five books are often called the Law. (3) The entire Old Testament. Sometimes the Old Testament is referred to as the Law. (4) Any rule that must be obeyed, whether it was decided by God or by people. (5) God’s rules in the Old Testament plus other rules added by Jewish religious leaders. (6) The conscience of an unbeliever who knows he or she has not followed his or her own moral code (see Romans 2:14-16).

A serious promise that what a person says is true. In Bible times, people often made an oath by saying “God is my witness.” The oath often asked for God’s punishment if what was said was not true. Jesus taught that people who love and obey him do not need to make oaths, because they should be known for saying only what is true.

Thinking and doing what is correct (or right) and holy. God is righteous because he does only what is perfect and holy. A person who has accepted Jesus as Savior is looked at by God as being free from the guilt of sin, so God sees that person as being righteous. People who are members of God’s family show their love for him by doing what is correct and holy, living in righteous ways.

To give God one-tenth of what you earn. For example, if you had ten dimes, you would tithe by giving one dime to God.

(1) Dirty. (2) Any action, thought, food, person, or place that God has said is displeasing to him. A Jewish person can become unclean by eating food that God had said not to eat, by touching a dead body, or by getting a skin disease called leprosy. A person can become clean again by going through certain ceremonies.

(1) A person who tells what he or she has seen. (2) To tell others what has been seen. Jesus told his followers to be witnesses. We are to tell what we have seen Jesus Christ do in our own lives.

Anything a person does to show love and respect. Some people worship idols. Some people worship the one true God.

Dictionary Source

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions

We have found answers to some tough questions that we anticipate may arise as you read this book of the Bible. We know we can’t answer every question you will have; therefore, we have written this article, so you know how to find answers for your kids: How Do I Answer Tough Questions About the Bible?


The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy isn’t a set of rules. It’s the story of the path we all choose. We all have chosen wrong over right. So we have all earned death over life. And it’s because we too have these hard hearts whatever sin offers we willfully pursue. And without some kind of inward change, this is all we will ever do.

—Spoken Gospel

Source: Spoken Gospel, quoted from the video, “The Bible Explained: Deuteronomy,” published at  

The book of Deuteronomy is exactly that—it’s a treaty between a king and his subjects. It begins with an introduction of the Lord God of Israel. Then you have four chapters or so of historical prologue, where all of the work of God’s redemption in delivering his people out of Egypt and settling them in Canan is all revisited and recapitulated. Then you have a restatement of the stipulations (all the laws) that you find in the Ten Commandments and the holiness code and so on. Then you have the section of Deuteronomy that covers the blessings and the curses—the sanctions of the covenant. Then the end of the book is a ceremony of covenant renewal between Moses and the people.  

—R.C. Sproul  

Source: R.C. Sproul in his message, “The Book That Grieved Josiah,” published by Ligonier Ministries at  

Although in later chapters Moses will integrate many prescriptions given at Sinai into his preaching, contrary to prevailing popular opinion Deuteronomy does not present itself as legislation, that is, a book of laws. This is prophetic preaching at its finest…Here Moses’ role is that of a pastor, not a lawgiver. Like Jacob in Genesis 49, Joshua in Joshua 24, and Jesus in John 13-16, knowing that his death is imminent, Moses gathers his flock and delivers his final homily (sermon), pleading with the Israelites to remain faithful to YHWH (The Lord).  

The book of Deuteronomy represents the heart of the Torah, which priests were to teach and model, which psalmists praised (Psalm 19:8-10 [Eng 7-14]; 119), to which the prophets appealed (e.g., Isaiah 1:10; 5:24; 8:20; 30:9; 51:7), by which faithful kings ruled, and righteous citizens lived (Psalm 1). In short, this book provides the theological base for virtually the entire Old Testament and the paradigm for much of its literary style. 

—Daniel Block 

Source: Block, Daniel I. The Gospel According to Moses: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2012. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers,

The Biblical writers seem to have considered Deuteronomy to be a very important book; they used it all the time. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart say that “Deuteronomy has perhaps had more influence on the rest of the biblical story (both Old and New Testaments) than any other book of the Bible.” They point out that “Deuteronomy… had considerable influence on Israel’s and Judah’s prophets, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah, and through them influenced the major figures of the New Testament (especially Jesus and Paul).” Chris Wright says, “The book of Deuteronomy lies close to the very heartbeat of the Scriptures. It is to the Old Testament something like the book of Romans to the New Testament. It deals with many of the key themes that inform the rest of the Bible.” It is quoted over eighty times in the New Testament, and references to it occur in all the New Testament books except John, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, and 1 and 2 Peter. Thus it belongs to a small group of four Old Testament books—Genesis Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah—to which early Christians made frequent reference. When Jesus was tempted, he quoted from Deuteronomy in each of his three responses to Satan. 

—Ajith Fernando 

Content taken from Deuteronomy: Loving Obedience to a Loving God by Ajith Fernando, ©2012. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Behind the voice of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy we hear the voice of YHWH, for Moses repeatedly declares that all his instructions were given as YHWH his God had charged him. But YHWH, the God of Moses and Israel, is incarnate in Jesus Christ. When Moses speaks of YHWH, he speaks of Jesus (cf. Luke 24:44). Deuteronomy was not only Jesus’ favorite book in the Old Testament (judging by the frequency of quotations); he also stands behind the Torah left for our meditation and nurture by Moses. 

 —Daniel Block  

Source: Block, Daniel I. How I Love Your Torah, O LORD. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers,

This book [Deuteronomy] presents the law as a gift of grace to guide the redeemed in the way of righteousness, leading to life (cf. Deuteronomy 4:6-8; 6:20-25).   

. . .

It is within this covenantal context that we must understand the nature and role of the law and the importance of obedience:   

(1) Obedience to the law was not viewed as a burden, but as a response to the unique privilege of knowing God’s will (Deuteronomy 4:6-8), in contrast to the ignorance of nations who worshiped gods of wood and stone (Deuteronomy 4:28; Psalm 115:4-8).   

(2) Obedience to the law is not a way of or precondition to salvation, but the grateful response of those who had already been saved (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).  

(3) Obedience to the law is not primarily a duty imposed by one party on another, but an expression of confidence covenant relationship (Deuteronomy 26:16-19).   

(4) Obedience to the law is the external evidence of the circumcision of one’s heart and the internal disposition of fearing and loving God (Deuteronomy 10:12-11:1; 30:6-9).   

(5) Obedience to the law involves a willing subordination of one’s entire being to the authority of the gracious divine suzerain (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 10:12-13).   

(6) While obedience to the law is not a prerequisite to salvation, it is evidence of righteousness, which is a precondition to Israel’s fulfillment of the mission to which they have been called and the precondition to their own blessing (Deuteronomy 4:24-25; Deuteronomy 11; Deuteronomy 28).   

(7) Obedience to the law is both reasonable and achievable (Deuteronomy 30:11-20).   

—Daniel Block 

Source: Block, Daniel I. The Gospel According to Moses: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2012. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers,

Why do we call this book the book of Deuteronomy? It’s a combination of two Greek words: deuteros and nomos. Deuteros means “second,” as opposed to “the first.” And nomos is the Greek word for law. So the book of Deuteronomy is called “the second book of the law.” And what Deuteronomy gives us is a summary of all of the laws and dimensions that are found in the rest of the Torah [first five books of the Bible]. It’s like the CliffsNotes on Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers. It’s a condensation, a recapitulation of everything that was given to the people of Israel at Sinai and in the covenant that God makes with Moses.  

 —R.C. Sproul   

Source: R.C. Sproul, quoted from his message, “The Book That Grieved Josiah.” © Ligonier Ministries 2023. Used by permission of Ligonier Ministries. Source: Themes from Deuteronomy

The book of Deuteronomy is one long plea for hearty obedience to God based on the grand motives of love and fear: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12 ESV).  

—Henrietta Mears  

Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Deuteronomy Playlist

Discover music inspired by the message and content of the book of Deuteronomy.

He’s Always Been Faithful
by Sara Groves | Folk 
Remember to Remember
by Steven Curtis Chapman | Contemporary 
Yes (Obedience)
by David & Nicole Binion feat. MDSN | Praise & Worship 
Deuteronomy 6:5
by Slugs & Bugs | Children’s 
Deuteronomy 31:6
by JumpStart3 | Children’s 
We Praise Your Righteousness
by Sovereign Grace Music | Praise & Worship 
Shema (A Prayer for Israel)
by Misha Goetz & Shae Wilbur | Praise & Worship
As a Father Carries His Son
by David Baloche | Chill & Relax
More Songs