You will find an introduction and outline to Deuteronomy, here.
A prayer to use before reading:
God of mercy, you promised never to break your covenant with us. Amid all the changing words of our generation, speak your eternal Word that does not change. Then may we respond to your gracious promises with faithful obedient lives; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (from the Book of Common Worship)
I. Deuteronomy 1:1-3:29 Introduction to Israel’s Story : These chapters are the introduction to the book of Deuteronomy and also to the six books which follow- sometimes referred to at the “Former Prophets”. As the introduction to Deuteronomy, these chapters set the stage for the giving of the law. Moses is shown as a central, important figure. The reader is reminded that Israel’s history begins before entering the promised land.
A. 1:1-5 Editorial Preface: These words are described as Moses’ words which are given to him by God. Notice how the people, the land and the word of God are all intertwined.
B. 1:6-45 Faith Affirmed, Tested, and Judged: Remember that Horeb is the same place as Sinai. Why do you think these particular incidents are retold? Land, a fair legal system not dependent on a king, trust and faith in God. Notice how often the phrase “the Lord your/our God” appears.
C. 1:46-3:29 The First Campaigns- Peaceful and Military: Israel passes by three nations peacefully and two with conflict which results in Israel taking possession of the land. Notice how the military victories are understood to be a gift from God. Once again we must think about the role of war and especially “holy” war. What is most required from Israel is faith and courage, victory is a gift from God. Modern readers wonder about the defeated peoples and how “in each city utterly destroying men, women, and children” (3:6) can be the will of God. Here it is important to understand Deuteronomy as a theological text first and historical text second. Also we need to recall the situation of the audience for this final version of Deuteronomy. From the middle of the eighth century to the middle of the sixth century, Israel and Judah suffered serious defeats by the imperial powers of Assyrian and Babylon.. Deuteronomy can be understood as a theological response to Israel’s military weakness. The authors are trying to put together an understanding of war and of Israel’s failures. Therefore the emphasis on the necessity of God’s power for victory. Also it was important to develop a clear claim to the land.
“So we can understand, even if we cannot justify, that Deuteronomy responded to such a threat by a new harshness and severity of its own and by reasserting with a passionate zeal the conviction that the Lord God was greater than all the powers ranged against them. So this book idealized the past in order to compensate for the inadequacies of the present.Most striking of all, the deuteronomic authors sought to rearm faith as a means for combating the sense of helplessness they so readily associate with their readers. All was not lost, and a new commitment of faith could bring a new age in which even the great achievements of Joshua would no longer appear strange and out of place. …Even allowing its presence in other parts of the biblical literature, there exists within it a great consciousness of the cruelty and barbarity of war and of the irreplaceable gift of peace and security.” (Clements, 308,310-311)
Also it is important to recognize that the descriptions of annihilation of entire populations very likely did not happen. This was a theological rather than strictly historical account. Other Biblical texts tell us that the pre-Isrealite inhabitants of the land were not all killed. Later history found in the Bible tells us that Israel was repeatedly led to worship other gods and adopt pagan practices by those pre-Isrealite inhabitants who remained in the land. Notice as soon as the next chapter, the emphasis on not worshiping anyone or anything else other than God.
II. Deuteronomy 4:1-11:32 The Commandments of God
A. 4:1-43 The Great Summons to Obedience: Scholars think that this speech of Moses is one of the very late additions to the book. The speeches and prayer in Deuteronomy come out of serious theological reflection. Try to read this speech imagining yourself as hearing Moses on the bank of the river, but also as a person much later in time, an exile, away for the promised land, the temple is destroy and Israel has been soundly defeated and the future is uncertain. What are you exhorted to do? How does it explain what has happened to Israel? What is the remedy?
B.4:44-5:5 Introduction to the Covenant Law Verses 4:44-49 prepare for the divine law.
C.5:6-21 The Ten Commandments, The Covenant Rule
D. 5:22-11:32 Mosaic Exhortations
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of the Torah.
Anderson, Bernhard W. “Leviticus” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Clements, Ronald E. “The Book of Deuteronomy”, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.
Hallo, William W. “Deuteronomy and Ancient Near Eastern Literature” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.
Nelson, Richard D. “Deuteronomy” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Plaut, W. Gunther “Deuteronomy” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.
“Weinberg, Dudley, Gunther Plaut, “Introducing Deuteronomy” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.