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
A. 12:1-14:21 Laws dealing with the Unity and Purity of Worship
B. 14:22-16:17 Regulations concerning the Sacred Divisions of Time
C. 16:18-18:22 Public Authority and Leadership:Now we move to a new section which is concerned with authority and leadership. In a basic way these grow out of the commandment to honor one’s parents. The family was the basic kin group and serves as the basis for other societal structures. Israel had four basic areas of public authority, the Judiciary, the Levitical priests, the monarchy and the prophets. Each of these was thought to be necessary but how they related to each other was not made clear. There was a need to figure out how to resolve conflicts of authority between these groups. Notice how the monarchy is not privileged over the other groups.
17:1-17:13 Judicial Authority (cont.) Notice again the seriousness with which Israel takes its covenant with God. But also notice the emphasis on “thorough inquiry” and multiple eyewitnesses. Justice and righteousness both matter. The “rules” of Deuteronomy are not just human inventions to aid living in society, rather these are gifts from God which show Israel how to life.
17:14-18:22 Kings, Priests, and Prophets: The appointing of a king is the people’s idea, not God’s. It is a concession by God which comes with substantial limits places on the king. Recall that in most kingdoms, the king is not seen as an emissary of God, a son of God or anointed by God. There is no divine right of kings as far as Israel is concerned. The king is understood in Deuteronomy to be a human person who is chosen for a particular task but subject to the God of Israel. The king is required to write a copy of the law for his own use and to read it daily. Remember that this text takes its final form around or after the time of the exile when Israel had experienced excesses by its kings. Those experiences may have influenced this practical and limited approach to kingship.
The priesthood is the next institution discussed. Again the priests do not inherit and are dependent on the sacrifices of the people. Israel has the priesthood and its rituals. The people are not to “imitate the abhorrent practices” of other nations.
Kings and priests had an inherited status and so could become unresponsive to the people and concerned with their own status. To counter this is the role of prophet. Prophets are chosen by God and speak the truth, the word of the Lord.
Judges, kings, priests and prophets all have a leadership role. The lines of authority are not completely clear to us but do seem to have a rough checks and balances aspect. Power is restricted and justice and fairness are valued.
D. 19:1-21:23 Matters of Life and Death: Now we come to a series of laws that fall under the sixth commandment. “You shall not murder”. The ancient world realized that an accidental death and premeditated murder and not the same sort of crime. Notice again the concern for evidence and witnesses. The cites of refuge create a place where the alleged crime can be assessed apart from a families desire for revenge.
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.