Deuteronomy means second law. It was so named because this law is recorded in the Bible after all the laws found in the books of Leviticus and Numbers. Nevertheless, it was partly written before those books. It was the first attempt at unifying commands and customs in order to give Israel the Law in which it would find life.
When Deuteronomy was edited in the 7th century before Christ, more than five hundred years had passed since Moses’ encounter with God. The land of Canaan had been conquered, the Kingdom of David and Solomon had been established, then, divided. The largest and most prosperous area to the north, called the Kingdom of Israel, had ceased to exist and the same destiny was, at that time, threatening the Kingdom of Judah, the southern province.
It was then that this Law of Yahweh became known, a law which revealed to the people the cause of their defeats and which offered them an opportunity for salvation. Left and forgotten in the Temple during the persecution of Manasseh, its discovery in 622 (2 K 22) was at the root of Josiah’s reform.
Moses and Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy was welcomed by the people of Israel and their shepherds as the word of God and the teaching of Moses, but the authors were priests and prophets who summarized in these pages the experience the Israelites had acquired throughout their history.
As happens in other books of the Bible, the authors of Deuteronomy placed on the lips of Moses the very discourses they themselves wanted to address to their people. In a fictitious way they imagine that, before his death, Moses foresaw the tragic fate awaiting his people. They attribute to Moses the warnings and the laws which could still save Israel. Deuteronomy, in fact, uses the preaching of the prophets concerning justice and love: it is the first effort ever made in the world to establish a responsible and fraternal society.
Love of God and the Promised Land
Moses had ordered the conquest of the land of Canaan. Deuteronomy says that, since this land is a gift from God, Israel must obey the Law in order to keep the land. Moses had spoken only of serving God. Deuteronomy now makes known the great laws of the love of God.
God is the one who loves first. God does not give his love indiscriminately to everyone, but loves especially those whom he chooses to serve him (Dt 7:6-8). And the proof that he has chosen Israel is found in the supernatural interventions of God in their favor, when he took them out of Egypt (Dt 4:32-40).
Israel must respond to God with love from the heart (which was not found in the ten commandments). See Dt 6:1-9.
The Israelites must preserve solidarity; they must be able to love and forgive each other (Dt 15). They must also be united around the only Temple in Jerusalem (Dt 12).
The way to love God is to love him faithfully (Dt 13).