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 1:1-2:29 Introduction to Israel’s Story
II. Deuteronomy 4:1-11:32 The Commandments of God
A. 4:1-43 The Great Summons to Obedience
B.4:44-5:5 Introduction to the Covenant Law: Notice how this links covenant and the ten commandments. The covenant is not simply something that happened in the past with generations. Recall that Horeb is another name for Sinai and that the people at Sinai are not the people standing at the edge of the Jordan.
C.5:6-21 The Ten Commandments, The Covenant Rule: This is the second time the Ten Commandments are given (Exodus 20). They are basically the same but the wording is different. Scholars think that the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy are an earlier text. You can find more information in the commentaries about that. Some believe that there was an earlier independent list of the Ten Commandments but the history is complex and unclear. What is not unclear is the importance of the Ten Commandments in Torah and Jewish thought. They are a list, that can be remembered and while the ideas are probably not original with Israel, their importance as basic for human living is. The Ten Commandments contain ones’ duties to God and to other humans. They offer a spiritual understanding of life. They are the voice of God to Israel. Also notice that there are not punishments associated with them. They are part of a basic education, and a morality that cannot be easily subject to legal action.
Notice that the first commandment does not suppose that other deities do not exist. In other portions of the Bible, it is asserted that other deities do not have the power to impede the will of God. As Israel’s understanding develops, eventually we find the denial of the existence of other gods.
The presence of icons and images was widespread and commonplace in the ancient Near East. Israel’s refusal to have images is noteworthy. Why do you think that was?
D. 5:22-11:32 Mosaic Exhortations:
5:22-33 The Request for a mediator and the authority of the Commandments:Notice how God’s revelation and the hiddenness of God are both present here. Also notice the texts insistence on there words as coming from God. Again notice that no punishments are listed. Disobedience threatens Israel’s relationship with God. Remember that the audience reading this text is exilic or post exhilic, when Israel is wondering why it has been defeated as a nation and the temple destroyed. In these verses we start to see how Israel via the deuteronomists is beginning to answer that question.
6:1-25 The call to diligent observance: Land, Torah, and the Exodus. Notice the repeated themes. Notice the emphasis on teaching the children.Notice that being in covenant with God demands much.
7:1-26 When you live in the land. Beginning in the last chapter and continuing into this one, is the notion of love, Israel’s love of God and God’s love of Israel. For modern persons this juxtaposition of love and destruction is difficult to grasp. Again there is the concern for forgetfulness and complacency. As we talked about earlier when reading about war, these texts are more theological than historical. Scholars do not think such genocide on such a scale actually occurred. Here we read that Israel is to destroy all the inhabitants of the land and yet are not to make a covenant with them nor intermarry with them! And in Deuteronomy 21:10-14 we read of the conditions for taking war brides. So what do you think this talk of destruction is truly about?
Holiness is both a quality persons have but also a power and is based in the covenant relationship. The covenant relationship was God’s action and not earned by Israel. But being chosen does entail responsibility.
Recall again, that the readers of this text no longer have the Temple and their religious structure to depend on. As exiled and defeated people the temptation of worship other gods or to “add” the worship of other gods to the worship of God was strong. Israel was always a small nation and it would be not difficult for Israel to be subsumed into other cultures and religions.
8:1-20 Take care to remember God’s commandment: Israel is exhorted to remember all that God has done for them and who Israel is dependent upon.
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.