Highlights from the Book of Deuteronomy
This page describes some of the important passages from the Book of Deuteronomy and their significance in the study of the rest of the OT and the NT.
The place the LORD will choose
The three festivals
Rules for kings
A prophet like Moses
The place the LORD will chose (ch 12)
There was to be one place only in the Promised Land where the Lord was to be worshipped. Sacrifices
were not to be offered anywhere else. The actual location of the place is not specified in Deuteronomy.
All other forms of religion and worship are to be destroyed.
Chapter twelve gives a contrast between the places (plural) (v2) where the nations serve their gods, and the place (singular) (v5) that the LORD will choose. It is in this location where the tabernacle will be set up. The tabernacle is mobile, so the location of the place will change. Sacrifices and offerings shall be brought to the tabernacle, and eaten there, and nowhere else.
The tabernacle was set up in several different locations. The first was at Gilgal (Josh 4:19), immediately after they had crossed the Jordan. There may have been other locations. However, the most important location during the time of the judges was at Shiloh (1 Sam 4). This was during the time of Eli and Samuel. Shiloh was destroyed by the Philistines and the ark was captured. This destruction was
mentioned by Jeremiah in his temple sermon (Jer 7 / 26), as a warning about what will happen to
Jerusalem. The final location was Jerusalem, following David's conquest of Jebusites (2 Sam 5:6). He
the brought the ark brought into Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:12ff). During the reign of Solomon the tabernacle
was replaced by a permanent temple.
The main purpose of this command was to avoid idolatry. The main places of worship for the Canaanites
in the land was on the tops of the hills, known as the high places. The temptation for the people of Israel was to follow religious practices of Canaanites, and worship on these high places.
The Canaanites had a system of fertility religion, believing that if they worship the gods such as Baal and Asherah then rain will come and crops will grow well. The challenge for the Israelites was whether they could they trust God to provide rain and bring prosperity when they are in the promised land. This was what God promised as the blessings in the Book of Deuteronomy.
The mentality of people at that time was that gods were regional, with power over small geographical
areas. This is seen when the servants of the king of Aram thought Israel's gods were only gods of the
hills, not of the valleys, so wanted to fight against them in the plain (1 Kg 20:23).
The Israelites had to learn to trust that Yahweh was God of the whole world, not only the Sinai
If the Israelites disobeyed, and worshipped the Canaanite gods, then the curses of Deut would come into effect, with the end result that the people would be thrown out of the land into exile. This is described in the Book of Kings (2 Kg 17:7-8).
The central place of worship became a problem for Jeroboam I, the first king of northern kingdom of
Israel after division of Kingdom (1 Kg 12:27ff). Jerusalem, the place that the Lord chose, was now in
the other kingdom of Judah. Jeroboam could not allow his people go and worship in Jerusalem, in case
they defected to Judah, which many actually did. This led to what is described in the Book of Kings as
the “sin of Jeroboam”, effectively declaring religious independence. This rebellion was the beginning
of the end for the northern kingdom of Israel, meaning that judgement was inevitable sooner or later (1 Kg 14:15-16).
The Three Festivals (ch 16)
Chapter sixteen gives a summary of the three major festivals that all male Israelites were expected to
attend. These became the centre of the Jewish Calendar.
Each of these festivals were based on events in the agricultural year. This is significant because God was causing and reminding his people to look to him, trust him, and be grateful to him at times in the year when they would be particularly be tempted to worship local fertility gods. Each of the festivals was also linked with God's great acts of salvation. Each were to be held at “the place the LORD will choose”.
The first was the Passover (16:1-8) held in the first month of the year. It was originally called Abib, from the Canaanite dating system, but later became known as Nisan from the Babylonian system. It is around the month of April.
More details of the Passover are given elsewhere (Ex 12, Lev 23:5-8, Num 28: 16-25). It was combined
with Festival of Unleavened Bread. The 14th of Abib was the Passover, and the 15th - 21st of Abib was
the Unleavened Bread (Ex 23:14).
The Passover caused the people to look back and remember God’s great act of deliverance from Egypt,
and to re-enact that event with their families. It also looked forward to celebrating the feast at place God will choose in the land.
The second was Pentecost (16:9-12) held in Sivan, the third month of the year, fifty days after the Passover, in late May or June. In Deuteronomy it is normally called the Feast of Weeks. It is also called the Feast of Harvest (Ex 23:16), and the Day of Firstfruits (Num 28:26). More details are also given elsewhere (Ex
23:16, 34:22, Lev 23:15-21, Num 28:26-31).
The name ‘Pentecost’ was a later name, from the LXX (Greek) translation of the fifty days (Lev 23:16),
counted following the Passover. It was celebration of God's provision and blessing at the start of the time of the harvesting of crops, and a time of rejoicing in God's goodness (v11).
The third was Tabernacles (16:13-15) held in Tishri, the seventh month, in September or October. In
Deuteronomy it is called the Festival of Booths because the people were required to build booths on the
roofs of their houses in order to remember and re-enact their days camping in the wilderness. It is also
called the Feast of Ingathering (Ex 23:16, 34:22). Further details are also given elsewhere (Lev 23:33-43, Num 29:12-38).
Tabernacles was a celebration of harvest, like Feast of Weeks, but later in the Autumn, when all the
harvest has been gathered in, including the grain and grapes. In the Sabbatical year (every seventh year)
this festival also included the public reading of the law (31:9-13). Again, it lasts for seven days, with a closing ceremony on the eighth day, known as the Great Day.
All adult males were required to attend these three feasts. It was a time to affirm their faith in
Yahweh as the LORD of Israel, to remember God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt, and to rejoice in
God’s faithful provision.
Rules for kings (ch 17)
In this passage it is clear that God could foresee the time that the people would want a king, in order to to be like the nations around. This is a law giving permission, rather than making a requirement. God would allow them to have a king, but the nation would still be a theocracy, with God as the only true king, and the king would have to obey God and be subject to the law.
The people demanded to have a king because the sons of Samuel were corrupt (1 Sam 8:5). As predicted
by Moses, they wanted to be like the other nations. God allowed them to have a king, and Saul was
chosen. However he was a disaster.
The main requirement was that God will choose the king (v15). God chose Saul (1 Sam 10:1), where
God anointed Saul as ruler over his people Israel. Later God chose David (1 Sam 16:11), when God told
Samuel to anoint David.
In this passage, the king was prohibited from doing three things (v16-17).
The first was not to acquire many horses. Horses represented both wealth and military power, especially because they were used for pulling chariots. The enemy nations used horses to pull a chariot force. Israel mostly used foot soldiers, who were weaker against chariots. Again, the challenge was for Israel to trust in God, rather than military might. It was God who gave victory over the Egyptian chariots at the Red Sea (Ex 15:1). Once in the land, it was God who threw Sisera and his chariot into a panic (Judges 4:15). Israel needed to learn that God won the victories for Israel and that battles were not won by military might alone.
The second was not to acquire many wives. This especially prohibited the king from marrying foreign
wives. Acquisition of many wives would refer to political marriage alliances. Two nations would make
peace, and seal that peace by making a marriage alliance, in which the kings would marry each other's
daughters. This was a common system in Ancient Near East. This became a big problem in Israel and
Judah through the time of the monarchy. Foreign alliances were not allowed by God, because they were
in covenant relationship with God, and God alone.
The third was not to acquire great quantities of gold and silver. The king was not to have great personal wealth which would separate him from his people, and give him too much personal power.
The downfall of King Solomon was that he broke all three of these rules (1 Kg 11). He acquired many wives, horses and wealth which led to the division of the kingdom. Solomon married foreign wives, and worshipped their gods, leading him away from God.
By contrast, an ideal king should have a copy of the law, and he should read it and do it, and live in the fear of the Lord, obeying the commandments (v18-20). The important principle is that the king was to
live under the law, like his subjects, and not to think he was above the law, and could do what he liked.
The prophet like Moses (ch 18)
When God spoke from Horeb, the people requested that Moses was a mediator, because they were fearful
(Ex 20:18-22, Deut 5:22-27). Moses was the first in a long line of people who served as God's prophet.
Listening to God and speaking his word to the people.
Over the centuries this prediction was understood to have a fuller meaning, that a special anointed
prophet of God would come, and that the people will be called to obey him.
There are several striking parallels between the ministry of Moses and of Jesus.
Moses, the leader of the people and spokesman for God, was God's instrument in establishing the nation
of Israel, under the kingship of God. Moses was followed by many great prophets, but none had the same
standing as him. Jesus was God's instrument in bringing in a new kingdom, a kingdom not of this world.,
but the Kingdom of God.
Moses was the mediator of the covenant between God and his people made on Mt Sinai, and repeated
in Deuteronomy. Jesus was the mediator of the new covenant (Heb 9-10).
Peter quoted this passage in his second message after healing the lame man at the Beautiful Gate connecting the prediction with Jesus. Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me.” (Acts 3:22-23).
In John’s Gospel, following the feeding of the 5000, the people declared that this is the prophet who is to come into the world (Jn 6:14). The popular understanding by that time was that the Messiah would
be like Moses. Just as Moses had fed the people miraculously in the desert, the Messiah would also do
that. So when Jesus fed 5000 men miraculously in a deserted place, the people exclaimed that the prophet
they had expected had come, and tried by force to make him king.