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)
Deuteronomy 15 continues the exposition of the fourth commandment (remember the Sabbath day) that was begun in Deut. 14:22. The chapter can be divided into two main parts. The first contains three provisions to help and protect needy fellow Israelites who fall into severe economic hardships such as inability to pay off debts, inability to get loans, and obligation to work as servants for many years (vv. 1-18). In each of these cases, provisions are made to ensure there is no systemic poverty among the community of Israel. The second part of the chapter deals with the consecration of the firstborn male livestock (cattle, sheep, and goats). The Israelites are commanded to offer unblemished firstborn animals to the Suzerain (Ruler) God at the central sanctuary (vv. 19-23).
Deuteronomy 15 can be outlined as follows:
• The Cancellation of Debts (Deut. 15:1 – 11)
◦ The Law of Cancellation Declared (Deut. 15:1)
◦ The Law of Cancellation Explained (Deut. 15:2 – 6)
◦ The Law of Cancellation Obeyed (Deut. 15:7 – 11)
• The Freeing of Servants (Deut. 15:12 – 18)
• The Law of the Firstborn (Deut. 15:19 – 23)