God reveals that he left the Canaanites in the lands to test the Israelites: Will they drive the Canaanites off on their own, or start mixing with them and worshipping Baal? The northern tribes completely fail the test, and so God feels compelled to send down “judges” to save them. The judges, whom this book is named after, are basically spiritual and military leaders that will try to straighten out the rebellious Israelites.
They abandoned the Lord, and worshipped Baal and the Astartes.
The tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half of Manasseh who are to live to the east of the river Jordan, leave for their lands. But they first create an altar by the Jordan. This infuriates “the Israelites” (whom the people east of Jordan are apparently no longer counted among), since there should only be one altar in Israel (at the moment, the one outside the Tabernacle), and they prepare for war. But Reuben, Gad and Manasseh explain that they only built the altar as a witness to future generations that they do, indeed, worship God, and not the other gods of the land.
“The Lord, God of gods! The Lord, God of gods! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith toward the Lord, do not spare us today…”
Moses tells a poem right before he dies, where he oddly refers to himself in the third person. It is very similar to Jacob’s poem on his own deathbed at the end of Genesis, in that it describes each of Jacob’s children (each of the tribes of Israel). There are, however, some changes: The Reubenites are apparently on the brink of extinction, the role of leader is changed from Judah to Joseph, and Dan is changed from a snake to “a lion’s whelp”. Simeon is strangely left out altogether.
The poem’s description of God sounds like some kind of pagan war god.
There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your
majestic through the skies.
He subdues the ancient gods, shatters the forces of old;
he drove out the enemy before you,
and said, “Destroy!”
This chapter is a quite long song about how awesome God is, how the Israelites in Canaan deserted him for other gods, how God considered destroying them, and how he changed his mind because it might look bad to other peoples and gods. It is framed in the previous chapter as being prophetic, but it seems more likely to simply have been written after the Jews were actually exiled to Babylon from Canaan in the 6th century BC.
It also describes how the emperor god Elyon allotted peoples and lands to all the gods, including the Israelites to God. Most of the explicit polytheistic references were apparently at some point removed from the received Hebrew text; they have been restored in modern times using other, older texts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Praise, O heavens, his people,
Worship him, all you gods! …
The next 14 chapters or so are Moses’ (highly revised) summary of the rules God have set forth in the preceding books. In this chapter, he commands the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites’ shrines, and to only perform sacrifices in a specific place in Israel (presumably the Temple in Jerusalem, which is yet to be built). However, since everyone will be scattered in a huge country, it is no longer necessary to ritually sacrifice all animals that you are going to eat at the central shrine, which was prescribed in Leviticus 17.
…do not inquire concerning their gods, saying: “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.”
Moses rewinds, and starts recounting how God gave them the first Ten Commandments. The original Exodus story used the name “Ten Commandments” only for the later Ritual Decalogue from chapter 34, which left me really confused. In Deuteronomy, however, the first list of commandments are explicitly called “the ten commandments”. This partly explains why most Christian accounts refer to the first ten commandments as “the Ten Commandments”; they give the Deuteronomy text precedence, and ignore the Exodus account.
This chapter also contains one quote with a seemingly polytheistic outlook – “For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him?” – and one with a seemingly monotheistic outlook – “So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” Perhaps these two quotes were written by different people, at different times?
He declared to you his covenant, which he charged you to observe, that is, the ten commandments; and he wrote them on two stone tablets.
List of places where the Israelites camped during the Exodus through the desert, with some short descriptions of important events. Most of the place names are unimportant, some have not even been mentioned before.
God reminds the Israelites to drive out all the original inhabitants from Canaan when they get there. If they do not, the Canaanites will be “as thorns in your sides”.
They set out from Rameses (…) while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn (…). The Lord executed judgments even against their gods.