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
C.5:6-21 The Ten Commandments, The Covenant Rule
D. 5:22-11:32 Mosaic Exhortations:
9:1-7 Be Prepared and Be Humble: This section warns against self-righteousness and complacency. It points out that God’s choosing of Israel is not based on merit and does entail responsibility on Israel’s part.
9:8-10:11 The Great Intercessor: These verses remind Israel of it’s propensity to rebellion. It also reminds the reader of Moses importance and of the power and necessity of intercessory prayer. This story, told before in Exodus 32 is now told from Moses’ perspective. What is the same? What is different? Notice how the Ark is presented differently here than in Exodus. Remember that Deuteronomy is a later text and reaches its final form after the destruction of the Temple (where the ark historically resided) and the Exile. In Deuteronomy the ark is not associated with the presence of God.
10:12-11:7 The Law Carries Both Curse and Blessing: Notice again the connection between love and behavior/actions. Also notice the connection between righteousness and how the weak and poor are treated. “Clearly love and law were in no way regarded as concepts that stood in contrast.” (Clements, 369).
11:8-32 Be Diligent to Keep the Commandments: Again Israel is reminded of the importance of keeping the Commandments. To the modern reader, this linkage between obedience and blessing seems mechanistic. But we need to remember the prevailing religious and cultural climate of the time. Fertility, of crops, animals and people, was essential for survival. In the Canaanite religion, Baal and his consort Anat were givers of life and fertility. Also Baal was lord of storms and master of rainfall. Anat was Baal’s helper and also the bearer of new life. It was important that Israel be clear about who was actually in control of rain and fertility and life. Again the authors are concerned about Israel turning to other gods, especially those associated with rain and crops.
Similarly, in the ancient Near East, blessings and curses were almost magical. Some people were believed to be able to speak effective blessing or curse. Recall the story of Baalam and Balak. Words spoken in the name of a god had power. The authors of Deuteronomy claim the power of blessing and curse for the God of Israel.
III. Deuteronomy 12:1-26:19 The Deuteronomic Law Code: This is a new section of Deuteronomy. It is difficult to assign a definite date to this section of Deuteronomy but in general, scholars believe that this material is later (newer) than the Book of the Covenant. The material in Deuteronomy, at least in some instances, is designed to expand, clarify and if needed (as situations changed) modify the earlier law.
While not a neat and tidy classification, we can thing of the material in this section as roughly organized around the Ten Commandments. (from Clement, 380)
First Commandment Deut. 12:1-13:18 No other gods to be worshiped
Second Commandment Deut. 14:1-21 God’s name to be honored
Third Commandment Deut. 14:22-16:17 The Sabbath to be remembered
Fourth Commandment Deut. 16:18-18:22 Parents and civil authority to be respected
Fifth Commandment Deut. 19:1-22:8 Issues of life and death
Sixth Commandment Deut. 22:9-23:18 Prohibition of adultery
Seventh Commandment Deut. 23:19-24:7 Prohibition of theft
Eighth Commandment Deut 24:8-25:4 Prohibition of False Testimony
Ninth Commandment Deut. 25:5-12 Prohibition of coveting a neighbor’s wife
Tenth Commandment Deut. 25:13-26:15 Prohibition of inordinate desiring
A. 12:1-14:21 Laws dealing with the Unity and Purity of Worship
12:1-28 The Law of the Central Sanctuary: Now it is assumed that the tribes of Israel are not living together as one large group but are spread out in the land.But there are not to be several places of worship. There is to be one place where the rituals and sacrifices are to be made. So again there is the concern about apostasy and following other gods. Their alters and sacred sites are to be destroyed. In addition, a provision was made for the slaughter of animals away from the central sanctuary and in a secular manner. There was an intention that the mixing or mingling of local customs and practices with the worship of God and the observance of Torah could be avoided.
12:29-13:18 The perpetual temptation: apostasy
12:29-32: This is the introduction to a section on what to do with people who seek to lead Israel into apostasy.
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.