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Meaning of Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy, Hebrew Devarim, (“Words”), fifth book of the Old Testament, written in the form of a farewell speech by Moses to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land of Canaan.

The speeches that constitute this address recall Israel’s past, reiterate the laws that Moses had communicated to the people at Horeb (Sinai), and emphasize that observance of these laws is essential to the welfare of the people in the land they are about to possess.

The title Deuteronomy, derived from the Greek, therefore means a “copy” or “repetition” of the law rather than “second law,” as the etymology of the word seems to suggest.

It consists mainly of three discourses given by Moses shortly before his death. They were spoken to all Israel on the plains of Moab, in the eleventh month of the last year of their wanderings.

The first discourse ((1-4: 40)) recapitulates the major events of the last forty years in the wilderness, with heartfelt exhortations to obedience to divine ordinances, and warnings against the danger of abandoning the God of their fathers.

The second discourse ((5-26: 19)) is indeed the body of the whole book. The first address is introductory.

It contains virtually a recapitulation of the law already given by God on Mount Sinai, along with many warnings and commands about the course of conduct they were to follow when they settled in Canaan.

The final discourse (chapters 27-30) relates almost entirely to the solemn sanctions of the law, the blessings for the obedient, and the curse that would befall the rebels.

He solemnly summons them to adhere faithfully to the covenant that God had made with them, and thus secure for them and their posterity the promised blessings.

These farewell discourses of Moses to the tribes of Israel, which he had so long carried in the wilderness, “shine forth in every line with the emotions of a great leader, who tells his contemporaries the wonderful story of their common experience.

The enthusiasm they ignite, for the day, though obscured by the translation, reveals their incomparable adaptation to the circumstances in which they were first spoken. Confidence in the future is evoked by remembering the past.

The same God who had done great works for the tribes since the Exodus would cover his in the day of battle with the nations of Palestine, which will soon be invaded.

His great lawgiver stands before us, vigorous in his graying age, severe in his abhorrence of evil, fervent in his zeal for God, but softened in all relations for earth by his nearness to heaven.

The dominant wisdom of his representations, the dignity of his position as the founder of the nation and the first of the prophets, make his statements come true.

By the human tenderness that he breathes in all his words. Standing at the edge of life, he speaks like a father giving his farewell advice to his loved ones; ready to leave and be with God, he has served so well, but extending his last farewell to the loved ones of earth with affection.

No book can compare with Deuteronomy in its sublimity and mixed tenderness.

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