Have you ever wondered where the earliest sermons in the Bible are found? Moses’ final speech to Israel, found in Deuteronomy, is the first time we see what is essentially a modern sermon—a long speech meant to communicate God’s truth. Just as Israel is about to enter the promised land, Moses reminds them that, just like their ancestors, they have the choice to live by their own wisdom or to follow Yahweh’s life-giving commands. Join Tim and Jon as they dive into the final scroll of the Torah and explore the choice before Israel—and the choice we face today too.
We all have moments of choice before the tree of knowing good and bad or before Mount Sinai where Yahweh is saying, “Don’t give your allegiance to things of your own creation. Choose life, choose wisdom, follow my commands.” Every one of us is to see ourselves at that moment every day. That’s the function of the book of Deuteronomy.
In part one (00:00-20:00), Tim and Jon kick off the first movement of the last scroll in the Torah, Deuteronomy. Up until this point, the plotline of the Torah has moved relatively quickly, but now it comes to a halt. The entire scroll of Deuteronomy is a speech Moses makes to Israel before he dies and the people enter the promised land. In fact, the narrator only speaks a handful of times in Deuteronomy—in the first paragraph and the last chapter—rarely interjecting into Moses’ long farewell speech.
Within the Torah, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers form their own literary unit, and Genesis and Deuteronomy act as bookends—in parallel and contrasting. Genesis ends with Israel in Egypt, outside the land, and Jacob prophesying over his twelve sons. In Deuteronomy, Israel is still outside the land, but under a different leader, Moses. Moses stands before the twelve tribes in Deuteronomy as the archetypal prophet of Israel, proclaiming the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis and predicting Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness and the consequences that will follow.
In part two (20:00-40:38), Tim and Jon discuss the structure of Deuteronomy.
Like most of the scrolls of the Torah, Deuteronomy has three movements. Chapters 1-11 comprise the first movement of Deuteronomy, made up entirely of sermons from Moses. Chapters 12-26 are the second movement, and they cover laws for living in the land. The third movement starts in Deuteronomy 26:16, where Moses warns Israel of the curses they’ll bring upon themselves if they break their covenant with Yahweh.
In the first movement, we’re tracing the words “listen” and “love.” In the second movement, we’re tracing the theme of the law. And in the third movement, we’re tracing the theme of blessing and curse.
The name Deuteronomy is a Greek compound word meaning “second law.” And the entire scroll is a commentary on Israel’s laws.
In part three (40:38-1:02:14), Tim and Jon dive into Deuteronomy 1. The opening line of the scroll is where its Hebrew name comes from. Verse 1 begins with, “These are the words Moses spoke to Israel in the wilderness.” Deuteronomy’s Hebrew name is Devarim, which means “words”.
The narrator describes Moses as speaking from “across the Jordan,” which means the narrator is writing at a later date from within the promised land (Deut. 1:1).
It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the Lord had commanded him to give to them.
Before Moses speaks, the narrator reminds us that the journey from Egypt to the promised land should have taken eleven days. Instead, it took forty years. This sums up the entire plot from Exodus to Numbers—things have not gone according to plan.
In Deuteronomy 1:5, the narrator tells us that Moses is about to explain the Torah. The translation “explain” comes from the Hebrew word be’er, which means “to bring understanding”. Deuteronomy is not a collection of new laws. It’s a commentary on the laws and instruction Yahweh has already given Israel up to this point. This reiteration honors the wisdom of the laws previously given but applies them in new ways. In later years, the prophets will perform a similar duty to Moses, calling Israel back to covenant faithfulness according to age-old laws applied in new ways for each generation.
Before Moses reminds Israel of the laws, he retells their history as a nation, highlighting the choices of their ancestors who wandered the wilderness after leaving Egypt. It’s as if he’s saying that this generation will repeat the sins of their forefathers, even if not intentionally. This perspective is the opposite of Western individualism that suggests each person is in charge of their own direction in life. Of course, the biblical authors recognize individual responsibility too, but they see each individual as living out part of a communal story that is only alterable through close, personal attention to Yahweh’s covenant.
Moses speaks to the new generation of Israel as if they were present at Mount Sinai when God first gave the laws. What he’s implying is that humans of every generation (including modern students of Scripture like us) are the intended audience for the Torah. Deuteronomy is meant to bring us all to a recognition that we have a choice before us every day. We can choose allegiance to things of our own creation, or we can choose life and wisdom by following Yahweh’s commands.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz with Associate Producer Lindsey Ponder. Edited by Dan Gummel, Tyler Bailey, and Frank Garza. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by MacKenzie Buxman.
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