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)
Continuing his exposition of categories generally related to the sixth commandment (“You shall not murder”—Deuteronomy 5:17), Moses looks at five case laws that appear to fit within the general category of caring for human life.
The first deals with the issue of murder when the killer is unknown (vv. 1-9). The second case regulates how an Israelite man treats a woman captured in battle (vv. 10-14). The third commands the Israelite man who has two wives to give a double portion of his inheritance to the firstborn son, even if his mother is less favored than the other (vv. 15-17). The fourth case provides guidance to parents as to how to deal with a stubborn and rebellious son who continuously disobeys his parents (vv. 18-21). The fifth case deals with the case of the dead body of a person who committed a capital offense and has been put to death (vv. 22-23).
All five of these sections are in the form of conditional statements (“if” or “when,” followed by a prescribed response). These case laws serve to ensure that the Israelites live righteously before their Suzerain (Ruler) God. These are detailed laws that prescribe how to apply the principles of self-governance and “love your neighbor.”
Deuteronomy 21 can be outlined as follows: