Stephen Cook in Reading Deuteronomy makes something of the differences in the Golden Calf story between Exodus and Deuteronomy.
According to Exodus–the E account, which is a source for Deuteronomy in Cook’s analysis–Moses pleads with God for mercy upon Israel (Exodus 32:11-14). However, in Deuteronomy 9:14 God is at first finished with Israel. And Moses lets that stand. Moses smashes the commandments (v. 17).
I have read both Deuteronomy 9 and Exodus 32 and I don’t see as much difference as Cook does. The sequence is a little different. He sees much significance in that.
To Cook Deuteronomy’s account has to do with the smashing of the covenant in the late monarchy. This is why Jeremiah prophecies a new covenant. God ended his old way of dealing with Israel. It is time for a completely new start. So Moses prays, fasts, and comes down from the mountain with a fresh covenant.
The role of Moses in Deuteronomy has a lot to do with his death. He must die on a mountain before the people can cross the river. But the account of Moses going back up Horeb to receive a new covenant prefigures his death. He not only goes without bread and water forty days (9:9), but when put together with 9:18, 9:25 and 10:10, it appears he did it at least twice, possibly three times. This is a symbolic death. He starved himself to death on the mountain, as he perhaps literally did on Mount Nebo.
Also Moses prostrating himself before God may mean he took the position of a dead man (see 9:18 and 25). Cook says “the Hebrew rings with connotations of falling down in death.”
Moses becomes the exemplar for a life-style of self denial for Israel and, especially, for Levites.
Deuteronomy 10:11 concludes the section of the book recounting the wilderness experiences of Israel. This section has been a historical prelude to the core law code. But in 10:12-13 Moses shows that this law is not to be just a rigid regulating of life. Moses calls on the people to seek what God truly desires.
Five verbs in these verses take in Israel’s response to the God who has led them to the edge of the land: “fear”, “walk”, “love”, “serve” and “keep”. That love is at the center of these responses refers back the the Shema’s call to “love the Lord your God.”
And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good? (NKJV).
Cook makes a significant point about the call to walk in his ways. Deuteronomy is more a way than a law. The Message translates “follow the road he sets for you.” The book of Deuteronomy reveals that road. This is in line with Cook’s argument that Deuteronomy is more about emulating God’s lifestyle than following arbitrary rules.
One of the interesting things about Cook’s approach is that he puts Deuteronomy within a tradition that goes back to earlier works like the Elohist, Hosea, Micah, and the Psalms of Asaph. If you look at Micah 6:8, for instance, you will see a prefiguring of Deuteronomy 10:12.
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you,
But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (NKJV)
The point of view of Deuteronomy may even go back to one of the sources behind Samuel who saw his ministry as to instruct Israel about the “good and the right way” (1 Samuel 12:23).
There seems to be a question behind this whole tradition: What does God require of man? Priests and Kings had their answers to that question. But there seems to have been another movement that answered the question in a more practical way for ordinary Israelites. That movement led to Deuteronomy.