Second: There is more than a bit of revisionist history going on here, not so much regarding the major events themselves as the motivations and details of intent and blame.
Third: Some of the rules that hadn’t been mentioned before are surprisingly specific. For instance:
If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.
It sounds to me like there’s a story there, possibly involving Moses fighting with a married man and getting grabbed by the wife.
Fourth: Oh the genocide. The amount of genocide that god is demanding is more than a little disturbing. It is explicit that God is “giving” the Israelites land that is already inhabited by other peoples and plans to either kill or enslave the current inhabitants. The killing of all the current inhabitants is a recurring theme throughout the whole book, but chapter 20 is particularly specific. For instance:
When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts our terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labor. If it does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword.
But as for the towns of those peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them – the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites – just as the Lord your God has commanded,
Fifth: In the U.S. we have (in theory at least) a rule of “innocent until proven guilty.” In Deuteronomy 31-32, by contrast, there appears to be the rule of “guilty even before you are guilty.” Moses, and in his recounting God as well, do this thing that I find extremely irritating: They go off on what their audience is going to do and how mad they (Moses and God) are with their audience regarding what they (the audience) are going to do. Moses is giving this speech to the Israelites before they cross the river Jordan in order to take over the lands (and commit a minimum of six different genocides*), but apparently they’re going to get rich and fat off the land and forget the lord their god and worship other idols and God is going to be so furious with them that he’ll cast them out of the land and let their enemies defeat them, while sending plagues and disasters to bring the Israelites down. Moses even makes up a song all about the disasters God is going to bring down on the disrespectful heads of the Israelites after they betray God after they’ve grown fat and forgetful in the land that they haven’t even entered yet.
I’m not quite sure how this message is supposed to be taken: Don’t worry about the future? Because the immediate future is going to be so wonderful that you’ll forget about your extremely temperamental God and in the long run he is going to beat you down into the dirt?
Sixth: God treats the Nation of Israel as a single entity rather than as a group of individuals. It’s possible (likely) that I’m biased by living in a society that focuses so much attention on individuality, but it’s kind of disturbing how little the concept of individuals seems to mean to this god, as anything other than a part of the whole. Thus, one person acting in a displeasing manner can cause God to abandon the whole Nation, while one person acting in a pleasing manner can cause God to change his mind. But, even more to the point, God has promised to make of Israel a great nation, but also seems to think that as long as there is one survivor, it doesn’t matter how many of them he kills, because he can just rebuild the bloodline from the single survivor. Not only does this point towards the necessity of unpleasant levels of incest (something that God had just made illegal!), but also seems to imply that God figured the whole flood/Noah/ark thing was a great idea and could definitely be repeated, by means of plague this time, because he wouldn’t be breaking any promises as long as there is a single surviving descendant.
Summary: Moses is about to die and so he gives three sermons on the past, the present, and the future of the Israeli tribe: how God rescued them from Egypt, the rules of society and sacrifice, and their future of wealth, betrayal, and punishment.
Moral: You (yes: you) are too stubborn to be blindly obedient like you should be, so you’ll be beaten down into the dirt for your sins.
* (1) Hittites, (2) Amorites, (3) Canaanites, (4) Perizzites, (5) Hivites and (6) Jebusites
Next up: Joshua