The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of the first 4 books and picks up exactly where the book of Numbers ends (with the people on the plain of Moab). Therefore, as we set the context for the book of Deuteronomy, it is important that we briefly summarize the theme of the previous books to see how the story of God unfolds.
Genesis describes God’s plan to bless the Israelites and the world through one man named Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Exodus focuses on God’s loving act by which He rescued the Israelites from Egypt in order to have a covenant relationship with them. Once the children of Israel are redeemed, Leviticus instructs them to live a holy life that reflects the life of their covenant redeemer (cf. Lev. 19). Since the first generation of the Israelites failed to obey God wholeheartedly, the book of Numbers displays a strong contrast between God’s faithfulness and the nation’s failure. That is why the book of Deuteronomy reiterates and expands on the covenant to a new generation of Israelites poised to enter and conquer the Promised Land. The message of the book is centered around two key terms: love and loyalty (Deut. 6:4-5).
Outline of Deuteronomy:
I. Introduction: Moses will explain the law (1:1 – 5)
II. Moses’ First Sermon – a Recounting of the LORD’s Faithfulness (1:6 – 4:43)
III. Introduction to Second Sermon on expositing the Law (4:43 – 49)
IV. Moses’ Second Sermon – an Exposition of the Law Given at Mt. Sinai (5:1 – 26:19)
V. Script for Covenant Renewal Ceremony Once they enter the land (27:1 – 29:1)
VI. Moses’ Third Sermon – a Call to Obedience (29:2 – 30:20)
VII. The Last Acts of Moses (31:1 – 34:12)
Chapter 12, which dealt with aspects of obeying the first commandment, ended with a general command to avoid the pagan practices of the Canaanites (Deut. 12:29 – 31). Chapter 13 extends this discussion by presenting three situations that could arise to tempt someone to paganism. At the same time, it can be seen as a sermonic treatment of the second commandment – You shall not make for yourself an idol… (Deut. 5:8 – 10). It presents three situations where a person could be tempted to fall away from the worship of the true God and instead serve and worship other gods (apostasy).
In the Hebrew Bible, Deut. 12:32 is the first verse of chapter 13. But this commentary follows the verse numbering of the NASB, in which verse 32 is part of chapter 12.
Deuteronomy 13 can be outlined as follows:
Dealing with prophets encouraging apostasy (Deut. 13:1 – 5)
Dealing with relatives and friends encouraging apostasy (Deut. 13:1 – 5)
Dealing with a town encouraging apostasy (Deut. 13:1 – 5)