What Is the Book of Deuteronomy About?

Time: 3 Minutes

Hey Friend!

Our editorial team wrote this book introduction for you. We hope it helps you find your bearings in the Bible story and inspires you to open this book of the Bible!

Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), written by Moses.

Back in the first book of the Pentateuch (Genesis), God promised a man named Abraham that his offspring (the Israelites) would live in a special land and enjoy a covenant relationship with God (Genesis 17:6-8). Before that, God promised Adam and Eve that their offspring would destroy Satan and God’s enemies (Genesis 3:15).

When we come to the book of Deuteronomy, the promised offspring seems to be the nation of Israel—and they’re about to inherit the promised land and defeat their enemies. Are God’s promises to Abraham going to be fulfilled?

Deuteronomy builds our anticipation. God’s people are on the brink of the promised land and Moses gathers them to give them God’s law.

Because of Israel’s sin, a whole generation of Israelites was not allowed to enter the promised land. So, after that generation passed, Moses, the leader of the Israelites, gathers the Israelites to speak to them. He reminds them of their history as a nation and gives them God’s Law. Then he begins instructing people on what life in the promised land should look like.

God lovingly provides all his people need to live righteously and obediently. Will they?

For instance, Deuteronomy 15 instructs the Israelites to cancel debts, to lend generously to the poor, and release slaves after seven years of work. Just as we saw in Leviticus, the Israelites are to be concerned about how they live before God. They are to be holy, as God is holy (Leviticus 19:1, 2).

We wonder: Can the Israelites obey God? Given their checkered history of obedience, we have a right to doubt if they can fulfill God’s commands.

Moses ends his instructions with this, “See, today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I am commanding you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the Lord your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16 CSB). We see here that God lovingly provides all his people need for them to live righteously and obediently. God, through Moses, presents the way of life and death before the Israelites—what will they choose? Will they live righteously?

Unfortunately, we know that God’s people are unable to live righteously or obediently. At the end of Deuteronomy Moses predicts, “For I know that after my death you will become completely corrupt and turn from the path I have commanded you” (Deuteronomy 31:29 CSB).

What, then, should the reader take away from this ambiguous ending?

We should recognize that nobody enters God’s promises by virtue of their own merit. Even Moses, God’s chosen leader of Israel, wasn’t allowed to enter the promised land (Deuteronomy 32:24-52). Though they stood on the edge of the promised land with Moses’ successor, Joshua, the Israelites were still waiting for the promised offspring of Abraham who would deliver them from sin and lead them into God’s blessing. He would come many years later.

The perfect leader of God’s people, the Lord Jesus, is the only hope for entering into God’s promises. God himself came to us in the person Jesus and fulfilled all of God’s commands and promises for us by perfectly obeying God’s law (Matthew 5:17-18). Although Jesus deserved God’s blessing as God’s sinless Son, he bore the curse we deserve by dying on a cross, as a substitute for all who put their faith in him. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:21-22 NIV)

Jesus opened a new way for us to become righteous through his death and resurrection. We become right with God by putting our faith in Jesus.  Jesus also presents to us the way of life and death.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)

Will we believe in Jesus—that he is truly the Son of God who alone can save us from our sin and give us eternal life, experienced now and in eternity (John 17:3)? Will we choose Jesus and have eternal life? Or will we reject Jesus and perish? God offers us life through Jesus. The question, then, just like Deuteronomy asks us: Will we choose life or death?