Overview of Deuteronomy as a “Vassal-Suzerainty Treaty”:
Deuteronomy means “second law,” or a copy of the law. Deuteronomy recaps Genesis through Numbers and previews Joshua’s conquest through 2 Kings. Deuteronomy is Moses’ parting speech, addressed to the second wilderness generation of the Israelites on the plains of Moab before his death. It is of utmost importance. It is the final and definitive form of God’s Covenant with Israel; Israel’s theological and political constitution. After the Israelites’ successive rebellions and covenantal renewals, Deuteronomy gives, not the familial covenant of Mt. Sinai, but the basic contours of a second-millennium vassal, suzerainty treaty – that is, a king-servant binding covenant. Whereas the original Covenant is given on the mountaintop, Mt. Sinai, this new covenant is on the “plains of Moab.” The Covenant with God is no longer at the holy mountaintop but down on the plains, indeed even the “valley opposite of Beth-peor.” Israel’s relationship with Yahweh has degenerated from a family relationship to a vassal covenant. Its emphasis is on Israel’s obligation to obey God’s laws under the threat of mortal curses. Israel is now treated more like a servant than a first-born son.
Moses’ Overview of the Exodus:
“The Lord our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain; turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites, and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland, and in the Negeb, and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. Behold, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them.’” (Deut. 1:6-8) Moses reiterates God’s promise to them of the land. Yet, Moses listened to the Israelites and sent spies into the land to get a glimpse of it. Their report back brought fear into the Israelites.
Israel Refuses to Enter the Land:
They murmured and complained against God saying: “Because the Lord hated us he has brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Whither are we going up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ (Deut. 1:26-28) So, Moses addressed their rebelliousness: “Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night, to show you by what way you should go, and in the cloud by day.” (Deut. 1:32-33)
God’s Anger at the Israelites’ Rebellion and Unbelief:
“And the Lord heard your words, and was angered, and he swore, ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land which I swore to give to your fathers..” (Deut. 1:34-35) None shall enter the Promised Land, except Caleb and Joshua. The Israelites went up into the hill country to attack the Amorites, but Moses advised against that because the Lord “was not in the midst of you.” Yet, the Israelites attacked anyway and we’re beaten back by the Amorites. “And you returned and wept before the Lord.” (Deut. 1:45)