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Deuteronomy: What and Why it is

Sinai covenant, Law of Moses, Moab covenant, Levite Levites, Levitical Priesthood, Moses, curses of the covenant, covenant confirmation, the Law

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"These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain opposite Suph... (vs. 3) in the Fortieth year in the eleventh month...Moses spoke, according to all that the Lord had given him as commandments to them" (Deu 1:1-3).


So just slightly over two months before they crossed the Jordan, (about the 10th day of Abib, the first month) Moses assembled Israel and "spoke... according unto all that the Lord had given him...". He did not read the entire five books of the law, but spoke the 'Words' by and large of Deuteronomy, which is a pretty good summary of the adventures of Israel and all the instruction Moses had received from God, particularly that which applied to the general population.


The conclusion of this address starts about chapter 29 with:


"These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb" (Deuteronomy 29:1). "24So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, 25that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying: 26Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you" (Deuteronomy 31:24-26).


The Hebrew name for Deuteronomy is 'Davarim' which means 'Words', as in 'words of the covenant'. The core of the Moab covenant was significantly larger than the core of the Sinai covenant. It was addressed to a people that were unable to understand the spirit or intent of the Covenant of the Lord, confirmed in Exodus 24.


If the Covenant of the Lord, which the Sinai judgments helped clarify, was to be replaced, modified, enlarged or enhanced, the original tablets should have been removed from the arc of the covenant. Deuteronomy 31:24-26 is quite clear. They were not. The words of the Moab covenant were placed beside the arc of the covenant of the Lord, as a covenant under which Israel was also to live.  It was not the covenant of the Lord or it would have been in the arc which contained the covenant of the Lord.  The words of the Covenant of the Lord did not change, since they, alone, were in the arc containing the covenant of the Lord. Since one doesn't add to a covenant, and considering all the problems, and dead brethren, Israel left in its wake, the Creator set forth a second covenant to help them remain connected with Him. Otherwise their sins would have demanded their death.


A major purpose for this covenant was to help Israel stay in compliance with especially the Covenant of the Lord, but also the whole Sinai covenant. Deuteronomy confirmed a human priesthood in Levi, those who stood with Moses in the episode of the golden calf . The people of Israel would have a local representative with whom they could consult on matters of appropriate conduct. This was not God's original intent. He wanted them all to be His representatives, priests (Ex 19:5-6), but He recognized they could not do this (Deut 5:29, 29:4). They didn't have the heart to obey even though the patriarch's did.


This covenant of Moab also established guaranteed forgiveness with the offering of an appropriate sacrifice. It also allowed for punishments or curses in the event of non-compliance. Under the Sinai covenant death would have been the likely penalty.


"The Covenant of the Lord" was in the ark. 'This covenant', the Moab covenant, was outside, beside the arc, not necessarily attached to the ark in any physical way. It did not replace the Covenant of the Lord nor was it merged with the Covenant of the Lord, but it was made binding on Israel as the Covenant of the Lord was binding.


The Hebrew word zo'th translated 'this' covenant, in Deuteronomy 29:9, 14 & 5:3 is not a passive word. It denotes a specific thing. It is a 'Demonstrative Pronoun'. In Hebrew, "It is used to point out and designate certain objects in distinction from others." (emphasis ours) (The Complete Word Study of the Old Testament" p.2274) It is intended to identify and isolate something specific. 'THIS covenant', as distinct from the Covenant of the Lord, or Horeb covenant with which they were already familiar. The demonstrative pronoun in English is typically used to distinguish objects in relation to the speaker or listener. So 'this' does not convey the exact sense of the Hebrew word zo'th.


Deuteronomy 29:20, 21, 30:10 & 31:26 designate 'this book'. Deuteronomy 29:29, 31:9, 11, 12 & 24 designate 'this law'. Also 'these words' in ch. 31:1 & 28 are handled the same way, as is "These are the Words" in Deuteronomy 1:1 & 29:1, and "observe these statutes" in Deuteronomy 26:16. The references to the Covenant of the Lord in Deuteronomy 29:25, 31:9, 16, 20, 25 & 26, are not distinguished this way. Israel was already familiar with that covenant and that law. 'These Words, this book, this law are being distinguished from the Covenant of the Lord and any other words, book or law, with which they may have already been familiar.


Deuteronomy makes reference to the covenant made at Horeb, or Sinai a number of times besides those just indicated above. Often it is clearly designated as having been made in the past. There is no indication that His covenant is one and the same covenant as 'this covenant' that is being made that day in Deuteronomy. (Deut 4:13, 23, 9:9, 8:18)


Of all the scrolls found in the Dead Sea area, the book of Deuteronomy is second in number only to Psalms. (The Dead Sea Scroll Bible, by Abegg, Flint & Ulrich, P.145) This is a reasonable indication of the importance placed on this book by Jews of the first century AD/CE. They recognized the completeness of the instruction and its application to them. It contained all the important precepts of the law and the essence of the Sinai covenant as well. They evidently didn't find any of the other books quite so practical.


Deuteronomy is very much in the format of a covenant between a people and their Lord, from the prologue, all the way down to and including the final chapters. This is well described in Treaty of the Great King, by Meredith G. Kline. Mr. Kline states, "For Deuteronomy 31-34 is consistently concerned with the continuity and perpetuation of the covenant relationship and all the elements in this section serve to corroborate the identification of Deuteronomy in its entirety as a unified suzerainty treaty." (p 34) The Sinai covenant fits the pattern of a covenant to a large degree as well.


The Creator made two covenants with Israel in the wilderness. Deuteronomy is the Words of the second covenant, distinct from the Horeb covenant, which was completely based on the Covenant of the Lord. The Words of the Horeb covenant are the words Moses read from the book of Exodus 20-23 (Ex 24:7-8). The Words of the Moab covenant are the book, Words, Davarim, known to English speakers as Deuteronomy. The purpose of the Book of Deuteronomy is to lay out in detail the conduct God expected of Israel in the Promised Land and make it of equal weight with the Sinai covenant. It allowed them to live as opposed to being ‚Äúconsumed‚ÄĚ after the Golden calf.


The name 'Deuteronomy', comes from the name given the book when it was translated into Greek, 'Deuteronomion', which is a composite of 'deutero' meaning second and 'nomos' meaning custom or law, (Arndt & Gringich). So 'deuteronomion' would typically mean 'second law'. Some think this became the name of the book because 'deuteronomion' is used in Deuteronomy 17:18 in the Septuagint text. However, this is hardly a pivotal scripture in the book, deserving of the entire book being named in its honor. It is far more likely that the translators simply translated another common Hebrew reference to this book, 'mishneh torah', or second law.


'Mishneh torah' can also designate a repetition or copy of the Torah as in Deuteronomy 17:18. To make a 'second' of a particular document (this Torah) would certainly imply a copy. However, if you make a 'second law' this implies an additional law. It is evident that Deuteronomy is not a repeating of the Sinai torah, but another set of instructions that add a number of things nowhere indicated by the Sinai covenant and sometimes runs contrary to the intent of the Sinai covenant. Hence 'mishneh torah' and the Greek translation Deuteronomion, 'second law'.


It is indeed a second law. It assumed the existence of the other books of Moses and thus included the text of the Sinai law. Over the years it all became known as simply 'the Law'.


In some cases it seems to simply clarify pieces of the Sinai covenant, i.e. Sabbaths. In other cases it recommends actions nowhere indicated by the Sinai covenant, i.e. sin offerings. In still other cases it runs against the intent of the Sinai covenant, i.e. the designation of a particular tribe as the priestly tribe. The terms of the Sinai covenant had been fixed and could not be changed (Ex 24:1-8, Gal 3:15). If God is going to propose a new plan with new regulations for Israel and options for the Creator, it could not simply be tacked on to the previous agreement. A second covenant is the only option.


Deuteronomy is the 'words' of the Moab covenant just as Exodus 20-23 are the words of the Sinai covenant. It assumed the existence of the rest of the law, Genesis though Numbers, for some of the details. Moses did not speak all detail, but only generally "according to all that the LORD had given him as commandments to them" (Deu 1:3c). 'This Book of the Law' referred to in Deuteronomy 31:24, was the final book of the Law, Deuteronomy.That contained, "the words of the covenant" (Deut 29:1a). There would be no additions since covenants do not permit that.


How does that fit with the New Testament?


What relationship does all this have with the covenants of the Patriarch's?