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Story. Deuteronomy consists primarily of three speeches at the conclusion of Israel's 40 years wandering in the wilderness that are collectively organized as a five-part treaty ceremony in a pattern common to the ancient near east:
- Chapters 1-4a: First Speech: (1) Preamble and (2) Historical Prologue and Exhortation to Obedience.
- Chapters 4b-11: Second Speech: (2) Historical Prologue and Exhortation to Obedience. Exhortation to obey the law and key terms of the law stated.
- Chapters 12-26a Second Speech: (3) Law of the Covenant: The Deuteronomistic Covenant. The detailed terms of the law.
- Chapters 26b-28: Second Speech: (4) Statement of Covenant Cursings and Blessings.
- Chapters 29-30: Third Speech: (5) Renewal of the Covenant with Generation 2.
- Chapters 31-34: Epilogue: Provisions for Perpetuation of the Covenant. Moses finishes writing the Law and commands that it be read periodically to the entire congregation of Israel. He delivers his Sing of Moses and commands that it be sung and remembered by Israel. Moses leaves his last blessing upon Israel. Moses blesses Joshua as his successor, dies, and is mourned by Israel.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Deuteronomy include:
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The events related in Deuteronomy all occurred during about the last month of Moses's life and of Israel's wandering in the wilderness. Deuteronomy begins with Moses addressing the people on Year 40, Month 11, Day 1 (Deut 1:3). Over the next 70 days, the book of Deuteronomy concludes as Moses dies and the people mourn him for thirty days (Deut 34:5-8), and the book of Joshua begins as Joshua leads Israel across the Jordan River on Year 41, Month 1, Day 10 (Josh 4:19).
The majority of Deuteronomy consists of the covenant renewal speech that fills chapters 1-30.
Deuteronomy concludes with a few additional events, most of which are designed to ensure that Israel's covenant relationship with God will continue after Moses is gone. Joshua is appointed to succeed Moses and is blessed with a portion of Moses's spirit (Deut 31:3-8; 34:9). Moses finishes writing the Law and commands that it be read to the entire congregation of Israel so that it will not be forgotten during the Feast of Tabernacles in every seventh or Sabbatical year (Deut 31:9-13). Moses delivers his Song of Moses that is to be remembered and sung by Israel (Deut 32:44-47). Moses also leaves his last blessing upon the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Deut 33).
Because the events of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are so closely related, that shared historical setting is addressed in more detail in a single combined discussion at Five Books of Moses. A broader treatment of the history of ancient Israel covering the entire Old Testament is found at Historical Overview of the Old Testament.
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- Four components to establish Zion. Zion can be thought of as requiring four components: (1) a king; (2) a people; (3) a place; and (4) a law.
- King: God. God is identified in Genesis as not merely a king, but as creator and God. In Exodus, Israel subjects itself to God as their king by entering into the Sinai Covenant.
- People: Israel. In Genesis, the Adam-Noah cycle explains the origin of mankind. The Abraham cycle then sets forth the Abrahamic Covenant that makes his descendants God's people. The Abraham and Jacob cycles relate how the birthright of Abraham then passed to Isaac and Jacob-Israel. Finally, the Joseph cycle explains how the House of Israel was established as a people who remained together rather than splitting up as had occurred in each of the three previous generations.
- Place: Canaan. In Genesis, Abraham was promised that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan. In Exodus and Deuteronomy the Israelites are promised that they will enter the Promised land.
- Law: Ten Commandments. In Exodus, the standards of the law that Israel was to live were set forth in the Sinai Covenant, especially in the Ten Commandments. (See this discussion of the Ten Commandments and Zion). In Leviticus ritual practices were set forth. Now Deuteronomy sets forth the the conditions under which Israel will obtain and retain possession of the land of Canaan.
Identifying the principal blocks of text
Five major breaks are typically identified in the text of Deuteronomy. This yields six major blocks of text. The relationships between these six major blocks of text can be seen in the outline of Deuteronomy below.
There is widespread consensus that the final four chapters of Deuteronomy form a separate unit that functions as an epilogue. As for the main portion of Deuteronomy (Chapters 1-30), two competing frameworks are most often proposed. One emphasizes that these chapters consists of a series of three speeches. The other emphasizes that these chapters follow the same pattern of organization as a typical ancient near eastern treaty. Between them, these two approaches identify four major breaks in the narrative continuity of the text and/or the substantive content of the text.
- Deut 1:1: Beginning of first speech.
- Another break is often found at Deut 1:__, but the resulting initial block of __ only verses would be too short for consideration at this level.
- Deut 4:44: Beginning of second Speech.
- Deut 12:1: Shift from narrative history and exhortation to the laws of the covenant.
- Deut 27:1: Shift from the laws of the covenant to treaty renewal and covenant cursings and blessings.
- Deut 29:1: Beginning of third speech.
- Deut 31:1: End of the third speech. Beginning at Deut 31:1, the action moves from Moses's long extensive treaty renewal speeches to a series of activities that are intended to prepare Israel for Moses's imminent departure and to perpetuate Israel's covenant relationship with God after Moses is gone.
Outline and page map
This section contains an outline for the entire book. Items in blue or purple text indicate hyperlinked pages that address specific portions of the book. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →
● Terms of the Deuteronomistic Covenant (Chapters 4b-28)
- ● Principles of the Covenant (Chapters 4b-11) to 11:32
- ● Rules of the Covenant (Chapters 12-26a) to 26:19
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Prompts for life application
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Prompts for further study
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Translations and Lexicons.
Related passages that interpret or shed light on Genesis
- The Joseph Smith Translation made changes to the following verses in Deuteronomy. This list is complete:
- Deuteronomy 2:30
- Deuteronomy 10:1-2
- Deuteronomy 14:21
- Deuteronomy 34:6
References cited on this page.
- Wayment, Thomas A., ed. The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 128-29. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009. (ISBN 1606411314) BX8630.A2 2009
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.
- Wayment, The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 128-29.