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: Daniel Block, quoted from his book, “The Gospel According to Moses: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy,” published by Cascade Books. 

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 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!

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.

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.