What Are Some Themes in the Book of Deuteronomy?

James Coakley
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The presence and influence of Deuteronomy is evident throughout the Bible. It provides orientation for what happens in the rest of the OT and even influences the NT. Seven facts may be noted in this connection.

1. Joshua and the Judges

First, Deuteronomy explains the success of Joshua and the failure of the period of the judges. To have success, Joshua was instructed (Jos 1:8) to meditate and keep “this book of the law” (i.e., Deuteronomy). Joshua faithfully executed the teaching of this book, even to the point of conducting a covenant renewal ceremony at the end of his life. He certainly impressed the Word on his children, because at the end of his life he boldly proclaimed, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Jos 24:15). Joshua was successful because he knew and lived Deuteronomy. The complete opposite happened in the period of the judges. It was a chaotic period, full of flawed leaders when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 21:25). In that time period Israel was not doing what was right according to “the book of the law,” and so it experienced failure.

2. The Israelite Kings

Second, Deuteronomy explains the success and failure of the Israelite kings (Dt 17:14-20). Each king was to handwrite his own personal copy of the “book of the law” (a phrase which might refer only to Deuteronomy since it is the only book in the Torah to use it (29:21; 30:10; 31:26).). That way he could not feign ignorance of God’s commands. King David most likely followed this injunction (Ps 1, 19, 119), whereas his son Solomon did not (cf. Dt 17:16-17 with 1Kg 10–11). Jeroboam clearly violated the commands of Deuteronomy in 1Kg 12, and this was later true of other evil kings (1Kg 15:34; 16:26).

3. God’s Grace in the Prophets

Third, Deuteronomy explains the existence of many prophets in the eighth to sixth centuries BC. Israel’s spiritual decline caused God in His grace to send prophets, who in essence said: “Read and heed Deuteronomy.” The nation needed to hear the message that if they listened and lived by Deuteronomy God would bless them and forestall His judgment against them. If they responded correctly, they would receive the blessings of Dt 28, and if not they would reap the curses of Dt 28. In essence the prophets’ repeated message was the book of Deuteronomy. All the prophets, especially Hosea, Jeremiah, and Daniel, all beat with the same heartbeat of Deuteronomy. For readers to understand the prophets they must understand the message of Deuteronomy.

4. The Babylonian Exile

Fourth, Deuteronomy explains the reason for the Babylonian exile (Dt 28:36): “The Lord will bring you and your king, whom you set over you, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods, [gods of] wood and stone.” In summary the exile of 586 BC happened because no one heeded Deuteronomy.

5. New Testament Context

Fifth, Deuteronomy greatly influenced the NT. Deuteronomy is one of the four books most frequently quoted in the NT (Psalms, Genesis, and Isaiah are the others). Paul’s epistles are loaded with quotations from and allusions to this book.

6. The Bible of Jesus

Sixth, Deuteronomy was an integral part of the “Bible” Jesus read and lived. Jesus astounded the teachers at the temple with His knowledge of the law at the age of 12 (Lk 2:46-47). After He was baptized, He was driven by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness to be tempted by the devil, where in Mt 4 (vv. 4, 7, 10) He quoted three times from Deuteronomy. The first Adam fell to temptation in a garden by doubting God’s Word, and the Last Adam resisted temptation in a desert by reciting what God said in Deuteronomy. This shows that Jesus is the ideal perfect King, for He “knows” Deuteronomy (cf. Dt 17:18-20).

7. The First Great Commandment

Seventh, Deuteronomy summarizes the first great commandment. When Jesus was asked “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” He replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:36-37; Dt 6:5). Deuteronomy is the first book in the OT to command believers to love God, and it mentions this repeatedly. “Love the Lord your God” (Dt 11:1; 30:16).

For Further Reading:

The Moody Bible Commentary

by Michael A. Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham

Imagine having a team of 30 Moody Bible Institute professors helping you study the Bible. Now you can with this in-depth, user-friendly,...

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