Study Guide

The Israelites in Book of Deuteronomy

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The Israelites

Before and After

In case you managed to skip over Genesis and Exodus—don't. Go back and read them. And throw in Numbers if you have the time. We'll wait.

Now, in the spirit of Deuteronomy, we'll give you a quick recap of Israel's history up until the Israelites reach the banks of the Jordan at the beginning of the book:

  • In Genesis, God promised Abraham both a big family and a lot of land. Abraham's grandson Jacob eventually became known as Israel.
  • During a famine, the Israelites (Jacob's descendants) went down to Egypt, where some of the family got into the royal consulting business. Eventually, the Egyptians enslaved them. Bummer.
  • Moses appeared on the scene in Exodus to lead the people out of Egypt. You know, "let my people go."
  • After a lengthy process involving lots of tax forms, looting of the Egyptian houses, plenty of death, and the parting of the Red Sea, they made it.
  • Unfortunately, the Israelites who left Egypt in Exodus were a bunch of whiners. They wanted to go back to Egypt, and they were afraid to conquer the Promised Land. They also built a golden calf and worshipped it when they thought Moses had bailed. 
  • Because of their unbelief, God made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, which we hear all about in Numbers. World's longest time out for whining.

And now, here we are in Deuteronomy, ready for the lecture of a lifetime.

Lecture of a Lifetime

You know that one teacher you had who would always read every single word of the syllabus or handbook out loud in class? The one who basically assumed you were terrible at following rules and so repeated them to you over and over? Yeah, the Israelites feel your pain.

Of course, the Israelites kind of deserved this type of treatment—they were repeat offenders, after all. Well, at least their ancestors were. See our handy list above for reference.

When Deuteronomy opens, we're listening to Moses's speech to the new generation of Israelites. And what do we learn? These guys are going to screw up, too, even after God gives them the Promised Land. Why all the depressing foreshadowing?

Well, the writers of Deuteronomy were probably coming at it from a post-crisis perspective. Maybe they had been thrown out of the land, exiled, conquered, or beaten. Linking all the religious laws in the text with the catastrophe on the readers' minds would remind people to play by the rules: "Guys, you know why we lost so badly? Because we failed to live up to God's law. Because we messed up. Now we should take a good, long look at what Moses told us before all of this happened."

Meanest pep talk ever.

Being an Israelite in Deuteronomy is a lot like being a teenager. Remember, most of the Israelites here are part of a new generation. They didn't come out of Egypt, but were actually born in the desert. They need a review of their parents' and grandparents' history, and there are a ton of rules to go over. After all, Moses doesn't want the new Israelites to make the same mistakes as their ancestors.

But just like any good teenager, they apparently won't be listening.

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