This is how Moses dies.
He calls the 12 tribes of Israel together to remind them one last time that if they want to capture and keep the land God is giving them, they need to stay on the good side of the Landowner.
They need to follow his Law. They signed onto that contract.
“If you make a promise to the LORD your God, you need to bring your words to life. Do what you said” (23:23).
Moses had 40 years to teach them the law. Or he had thereabouts, if 40 is a number with wiggle room instead of 40-on-the-dot. But he had a generation, because the first one died in the desert (2:14).
It’s a fair guess that Gen Two grew up learning the laws of God. Still, Moses decides before he dies he will give his people a refresher course in the law.
He does this in a series of three talks with the full crowd:
Then he closes by blessing each of the 12 tribes, in prayers spoken as a poet (chapter 33).
Moses doesn’t review every law he delivered during the past generation—laws that show up in the Bible books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But he hits some of the highlights. And he wraps up with a list of good things God will do for the people if they follow the law. Then he gives them what could seem like an excessive list of painful punishments for breaking the law.
More than half a millennium later, in 586 BC, Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq erase the Jewish nation from the political map. Those invaders level the cities and the walls around them. They kill or deport most survivors.
Moses warns about that.
“These are the consequences you’ll face for breaking the law and for refusing to obey the LORD your God. Your suffering won’t quit until you’re dead…Invaders are coming from a faraway land with a language you don’t know. The LORD is sending them. They’re going to swoop down on you like an eagle on a mouse…These invaders will lay siege to all of your walled cities. They’ll stay as long as it takes to tear down those walls you thought would protect you” (28:45, 49, 52).
Babylonians stayed long enough to dismantle the Jewish nation and scatter the Jews. Since then, most Jewish people have made lives for themselves in other countries.
“Moses wrote down all the laws he taught the people. Then he gave it to the priests, Levites entrusted with carrying the sacred Box of Law [Ark of the Covenant]” (Deuteronomy 31:9).
Moses didn’t write the account of his death, which included this line: “Israel has never seen another prophet like Moses” (34:10). That sounds like an observation from long after of Moses.
Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, according to ancient Jewish tradition. However, some Bible scholars say they doubt he wrote them.
There are no surviving records of anyone writing anything in Hebrew until centuries after Moses. Did he write in Egyptian hieroglyphics? Some scholars say that the teachings found in Deuteronomy, along with Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, weren’t initially written. Instead, they were passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth and were only later written.
There’s a story in 2 Kings 22 about a priest finding a long-lost copy of the “Law Book,” which some scholars say probably refers to the laws Moses delivered in his Deuteronomy speeches—the laws he wrote and gave to the priests for safe keeping.
After Jewish King Josiah (ruled about 640-609 BC) heard these laws read to him, he was horrified. The nation had been ignoring those laws. So, he started a revival. He destroyed idols and shrines in the southern Jewish nation of Judah (2 Kings 22:8).
The revival was apparently too little, too late. Babylonian invaders leveled Jerusalem and erased the Jewish nation from the map.
There’s nothing solid to hang a date on for the exodus out of Egypt—a story preserved in the Bible books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
But many Bible scholars have estimated that the trip took place roughly sometime between 1355 and 1275 BC. One supporting clue: “Egyptians forced the Hebrews to build two of Pharaoh’s warehouse cities: Pithom and Rameses” (Exodus 1:11). Rameses II, known as Rameses the Great (ruled about 1279-1213 BC), built extensively throughout Egypt.
Some scholars date the story to the 1400s BC. That’s based on the note in 1 Kings 6:1, which says King Solomon (ruled about 970-931 BC) started building the Jerusalem Temple 480 years after the exodus began. Construction started during the fourth year of his reign, in about 966 BC. A little math: 966 plus 480 equals, 1446 BC. Forty years later, Moses writes the speeches of Deuteronomy, in 1406 BC.
Israelites camped in the sprawling plains of Moab, a few miles or kilometers east of the Jordan River. They camped and across the river from Jericho—an oasis city that would become their first target in the land of Canaan.
Shortly before Moses dies, he leaves the Israelites with a reminder: You made a contract with God. If you want to capture the land and keep it, don’t breech the contract. Follow the laws. If you do, God will keep you safe and give a good and long life in land. If you don’t, there’s a penalty clause in the contract. You’ll forfeit everything: your land to invaders, your health to disease, and your life to sickness, famine, and sword. So, follow the law. That’s the message of Deuteronomy.
The Jewish people don’t have a formal statement of belief. Christians have creeds—short, bulleted statements that sum up their key beliefs. Like the Apostles Creed. Or the Nicene Creed. People in the Jewish faith don’t have that. But if they did, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 would be it.
Moses tells the people to recite the words every day. It begins:
“The LORD is our God. No one but the LORD. Love the LORD your God with everything you’ve got in you. All your heart, soul, and might” (6:4-5).