Is it better to be feared or loved?
In Deuteronomy, the Israelites act like the humans they are, freaking out when they see giants protecting the land they're supposed to conquer. But God wants the Israelites to fear him. And if they do that, they don't need to worry about the giants.
Deuteronomy is like AP Israelite History for the ancients. Why does Moses retell all this stuff that we already heard in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers? Well, as your history teacher has told you a million times, we can better understand our current situation by looking at what's come before us.
Example? Your ancestors were afraid of giants so they missed out on the Promised Land. Lesson: don't be afraid of giants.
The writers of Deuteronomy are conjuring up these shared cultural memories to give Israelite culture a new lease on life and to remind them that their community shares a cultural narrative and set of laws. But this memory stuff applies to the Big Guy, too. When the Lord wants to wipe out the Israelites and start over, Moses reminds God of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis. And so they live to see another day.
Deuteronomy wants to have its cake and eat it too—be nice to strangers, massacre your enemies, and go home happy. This tension between local law and political rhetoric drives the whole book, but we notice it most when Moses & Co. run into other groups. Some of their travel meet-ups are with allies, but sometimes they're enemies who need wiping out. Bottom line, if you're not an Israelite, you haven't been chosen by God. And that puts you squarely in the outsiders club.
Picture this: you're driving through Minnesota in the dead of winter with no heat. Suddenly, you come upon a magical place where it's 72 and sunny, there are warm-water beaches, all Apple products are free, and all utility bills are paid. Sounds nice, right?
In the Promised Land, the Israelites won't have to work for anything. The plan, as it's laid out in Deuteronomy, is for them to evict the people living in the Promised Land. That way, they won't have to build houses, plant trees, or wait for anything to grow. They'll just take over, and prosperity will abound—as long as they obey God, of course.
Unfortunately, the Israelites will be victims of their own success. Because life will be so easy peasy, the Israelites will begin worshipping idols, and God will evict them from the Promised Land. What can we say? Utopias are a tough sell.
Take a deep breath, because we're about to get technical for a second. Ready? Go.
There are at least two different types of laws in Deuteronomy: apodictic and casuistic. Wait, don't freak out. We're about to explain. Apodictic laws are pretty obvious and common-sense friendly like, say, "Thou shalt not kill." Casuistic laws, on the other hand, are based on actual cases. That means some event had to occur that demanded the creation of the law. Example: the Internet was invented, and suddenly we need laws about music piracy.
But things get messy sometimes. "Thou shalt not kill" seems simple enough, but what happens in cases of war or self-defense? Law is just never easy and the contradictions are everywhere in Deuteronomy.