So we come at last to the final book of the Torah. And like it, the first portion (Deuteronomy 1-3:22) is called Devarim in Hebrew, meaning “words.”

Deuteronomy is the compilation of Moses’ farewell addresses to the nation of Israel as they were poised to enter Canaan. According to Deuteronomy 1:3-5 and Numbers 33:48-49, he began speaking to the people on the first day of the 11th month of the 40th year of the Exodus, as they camped on the east side of the Jordan across from Jericho in the plains of Moab, after the defeat of Sihon and Og.

According to Joshua 4:19, Israel officially crossed the Jordan on the 10th of the first month (Nisan) the following year, upon which they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. There they circumcised the second generation of Israelite men who’d been born in the wilderness, and kept Passover on the 14th. Then they ate the produce of the land the following day, upon which the manna ceased, and the settling of Canaan promptly began with the conquest of Jericho.

This tells us that things happened very quickly once Israel entered the land – literally in a matter of days – and Deuteronomy covers a period of less than 2 months (that is, if you exclude the events of chapter 34, which tells of Moses’ death and Israel’s 30-day mourning period); the Jewish sages say, in fact, that it was just slightly over 5 weeks, since they believe Moses died on the 7th of the 12th month.

Accordingly, Deuteronomy is packed with exhortation and warning, and characterised by a sense of momentousness and gravity. The English name of the book comes from the Greek word deuteronomion, meaning “second law,” and the sages refer to it as Mishneh Torah (מִשְׁנֵה תּוֹרָה), meaning “repetition/review/explanation of the Torah.” Because Moses couldn’t enter the land with the rest of the nation, he knew that this was his last chance to exert any influence on Israel’s ability to safeguard its future there. So he spent it reviewing the history of the people’s relationship with God over the course of the Exodus; expounded on the law again (the sages note that of the 200 laws listed in the book, more than 70 are new); stressed what would happen to the people if they didn’t love and obey God once they were living in the land; and prophesied doom and redemption to them, because he knew that inevitably… they wouldn’t.

Ultimately, Deuteronomy is such an important book that it’s quoted over 80 times in the New Testament. And throughout its pages, one can hear the strain in Moses’ voice as he earnestly tried to impress on Israel the weight of his final concerns and wishes for them. When he spoke, it was in tones that modulated between love, encouragement, tenderness, rebuke, remonstrance, heartache… even bitterness and regret, because on the one hand, he knew that this was what he had laboured 40 years to bring his people to – the threshold of the fulfilment of all the faithful, abundant promises that God had for them – and he burned with anticipation for their sake; but on the other, this was a future he could have no share in, no matter how personally invested he was in it… and he knew, as a prophet, that this bright and precious destiny would eventually crumble at the hands of a disobedient, stiff-necked people, strive and warn them against it as he might.

So in a nutshell, Deuteronomy is the final testament and manifesto of a faithful, sold-out shepherd of God to the children of his people… who loved, cared, hoped and sorrowed for his flock to the end. The first 3 chapters are basically a repetition of things we already know from Numbers, so I don’t have much of a commentary to make on them; but I thought I’d link to a couple of devotional articles from Hebrew for Christians that I felt were really good, pertinent reads before going to the second portion:

Judging “righteous” judgement – on judging well and with love
Harden not your heart – what it means to have a hard heart

Up next: Moses dives into his first discourse in earnest.