How to Read Deuteronomy

The Book of Deuteronomy

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

Deuteronomy reviews God's commands for the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Deuteronomy, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 

Now that you have an overview of  Deuteronomy in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Deuteronomy. Read the greatest commandment outlined in Deuteronomy 6:1–6. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Deuteronomy 6:1–6.   

Deuteronomy 6:1-6 (ESV)

The Greatest Commandment

1“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules —that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it,2that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.3Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

4“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Moses reminds Israel that God is one.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Deuteronomy 6:1–6? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Moses reminds Israel that God is one. (Interpretation) Yahweh is the one true God—no other gods or idols stand against or compare to Him.

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Deuteronomy 6:1–6? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Deuteronomy? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative.

Example: The people of God battle idolatry throughout the entire story of the Bible. Deuteronomy warns what will happen if they fall into idolatry and the judges and prophets spoke against Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of the Jews who valued prestige over obeying God. In Revelation, the church in Ephesus forgot their first love and succumbed to the ways of the world instead of the ways of God.

Contextualize: What themes does Deuteronomy 6:1–6 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Deuteronomy? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: I fall into idolatry when I elevate my job, family, money, or reputation to “god-status” in my life. To put God in His proper place, I need to surrender my false gods to Him, which could play out as changing jobs or giving money away to the church.

Apply: How does the truth from Deuteronomy 6:1–6 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Deuteronomy to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Deuteronomy, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Deuteronomy this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.