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
III. Deuteronomy 12:1-26:19 The Deuteronomic Law Code
F. 23:1-25:19 Matters of General Conduct:
23:1-18 The Boundaries of the Community: Because Israel had specific promises and tasks for its members, knowing who was a member of the community mattered. As extended families became larger, Israel needed a way to determine who was a member of the community. Scholars think that some of this concern over boundaries reflects anxiety over the large scale movement of people especially after the fall of Jerusalem. Military camps, because of Israel’s understanding of war, needed to be places where God was present. Hence the concern for what happens there. The rule protecting slaves (v.15-16) is surprising. In other societies, slaves were to be returned to their masters. Cultic prostitution was common in the ancient near east. What is interesting here, is that the practice of cult prostitution is assumed. Israelites are forbidden from temple prostitution and the wages from that activity cannot be used in the Temple but the practice is not outlawed entirely.
23:19-25:4 Justice and Compassion in the Community: As civilization developed and Israel moves from tribal groups and a tribal economy to cities and an more complex economy, new rules need to be developed to hold Israel to its traditional protection of the poor, widows, orphans and aliens. These laws try to balance necessary commercial practices with the well being of the poor and marginalized. There are a few of these laws that are difficult for us to understand, such as 24:1-4. Commentators are not sure why this is important. The law which exempts the newly married from military service reflects both the importance of marriage and the importance of children so the father’s household would continue. One generation was not expected to sacrifice their future. Mill stones were basic household utensils. Without them households could not support themselves and would need to beg. In this section there are several laws concerning loans. The concern is not so much for the person who loans the money as it is to preserve the dignity and ability of the poor person to support themselves. Verses 16-18 put limits on revenge killings. Notice the concern for the poor, widowed, orphaned and even animals.
25:5-19 Protecting the Family: Verses 5-10 concern levirate marriage. Again there is a concern to balance competing interests. A childless widow would be in serious financial straits, but on the other hand, providing an heir for his brother could could the surviving brother’s property and status to be reduced. Commentators point out that levirate marriage was probably not practiced very often. If it had been, the problem of destitute widows would not be a continuing concern in the Old Testament. Verses 11-12, commentators think that this law refers to a situation where injury which prevents procreation is what the law is concerned about, not simply immodesty. Honest weights matter. The remarks about Amalekites refers to Exodus 17:8-17, but may reflect a situation where the Amalekites were once again a threat.
Often the laws of Deuteronomy are characterized as trivial or obscure or meaningless. But the laws we have read today, while culturally conditioned, seem to uphold some important values. What does this section of the Law hold as valuable?
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.