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
G. 26:1-19 Liturgy and Thankfulness: You may wish to re read chapter 12, the beginning of the Law Code to see how chapter 26 balances chapter 12.Chapter 12 gives the pattern, location and structure, chapter 26 gives ideas, content and prayers. In chapter 26 notice how worship is central to each person’s life. Israel worships out of thanksgiving to God for all God has done for Israel. Notice how verses 1-4 describe the physical act and 5-10a are a sort of confession of faith, telling Israel’s story. Verses 10b-15 are a second confession, while more action oriented, affirms Israel’s duty to care for the poor, aliens, orphans, and widows. Notice verse 13, this was not voluntary! Verses 16-19 affirm the covenant between God and Israel. Israel is bound to God, but God is also bound to Israel.
IV Deuteronomy 27:1-30:20 Epilogue This section appears rather random to modern eyes. There is a broad theme of blessing and curse. Curses were in the ancient world a sort of “negative” prayer designed to cause harm. The curses in this section are, “[A] stylized confessional reflection on the historical experience of Israel. It contains much that is a shrill cry of pain for all that Israel has suffered and brings this cry to God in confession, since the commandments have been grievously neglected. It even goes so far as to pinpoint specific events and sufferings that can quite readily be related to known historical events.” (Clements, 485)
A. 27:1-10 The Law is Both Blessing and Curse: Here are instructions for setting up a monument. These sorts of monuments were made in the ancient world. The Code of Hammurabi is the most famous. These sorts of monuments were memorials but also served as boundary markers for territory. They told what sort of rules were practiced in that land. Notice how land, covenant, God, Israel, territory and government are all interconnected in the mind and life of the people of Israel.
B. 27:11-26 Behavior Not Permitted in Israel: Scholars think these verses may have existed independently from the rest of the text. But it also shows what happens to those who are disobedient. Notice how worship is used to reinforce moral behavior. Noticed also how these are, for the most part, actions that take place in secret and thus are difficult for the community to take action against.
C. 28:1-68 God’s Order: Blessing and Curse: Remember that Deuteronomy takes its final form after the devastation of the Babylonian conquest and exile. The grim, even horrifying nature of these curses reflects Israel’s sense of failure to keep the law and the consequences of that failure. This sort of list did occur on other Ancient Near East vassal treaties. The authors of Deuteronomy may, then, have been familiar with this kind of list. But also note how this list has a different nature and tone from the rest of Deuteronomy. By verses 47-57 the text is referring to events which have happened to Israel and is trying to make some sort of sense of them. Recall that Jerusalem was under siege and then destroyed in 588-87 BCE. Verses 58-68 are even worse and this is related to post 587 BCE life when many became refugees. This section wonders, is there a future for Israel?
Notice how God is in charge, not the gods of Mesopotamia. Israel’s God is all powerful.
This is a rather unpleasant place to stop reading. But now we turn from law back to narrative. Chapter 29 is Moses’ great farewell address and then there is the commissioning of Joshua and the song and blessing and death of Moses in chapter 34.
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.