Deuteronomy 1

The Word Made Fresh

1This is what Moses told the people of Israel while they were in the wilderness on the plains of Moab east of the Jordan River across from Suph and between Paran, Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab 2(it only takes eleven days to travel from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea, using the route that goes by Mt. Seir).

3By the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year, Moses had told the Israelites everything the LORD had instructed him concerning them. 4This was after he had defeated the Amorite king, Sihon, who reigned at Heshbon, and also king Og of Bashan, who ruled in Ashtaroth.

5So it was in Moab, east of the Jordan River, that Moses undertook to explain the Law to the people. He said, 6“The LORD our God told us at Horeb, ‘You have been here long enough. 7It is time for you to move on, and go into the hill country of the Amorites, and also into the neighboring lands of the Arabah, the Shephelah, the Negeb and the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites. And also to Lebanon and to the great river, the river Euphrates. 8See, the land is before you. Go and take possession of it. I promised your ancestors – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – that I would give it to them and their children after them.’

9“I told you then that you are too heavy a load for me to carry by myself. 10The LORD your God has multiplied you until there are as many of you as there are stars in the sky. 11May the LORD, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times and bless you!

12“But I can’t handle all your problems and disputes by myself, 13so I wanted each tribe to pick wise and understanding leaders. 14You agreed, 15so I gathered the ones you chose and appointed some of them over a thousand, some over a hundred, some over fifty, and some over ten, and gave them authority to lead you and settle your disputes. 16I instructed your judges to listen to your disputes and give fair rulings. They can hear cases between two of you or between one of you and a foreigner. 17I told them not to show any partiality, but to be fair to everyone no matter how important they are, and not be afraid of anyone, because judgment ultimately belongs to the LORD. I told them to bring me only those situations they feel they can’t judge, and I will hear it. 18I told you then all the things you should be doing.

19“Then we followed the orders of the LORD our God. We left Horeb and went through that wide expanse of wilderness that you saw between Horeb and the hill country of the Amorites to Kadesh-Barnea. 20It was then that I told you that you had reached the hill country of the Amorites which the LORD our God was giving us. 21I said, ‘Look, the LORD, the God of your ancestors is giving the land to you; go up and take it!’

22“Then you came to me and said you wanted to send some men ahead to scout out the land and bring back information about approaches we could take and towns we would confront. 23That seemed like a good idea to me, so I picked twelve of you, one from each tribe, 24and they went up into the hill country and explored it to the Valley of Eshcol. 25They came back, carrying some of the produce of the land and told us the LORD our God is giving us a good land.

26“But you wouldn’t go! You rebelled against the orders of the LORD your God. 27You sat around in your tents and complained and said, The LORD hates us! That’s why the LORD brought us out of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to put an end to us! 28Where are we heading? The fellows you sent out have scared us half to death! They say the people over there are bigger and stronger than us; that the cities are huge and protected with fortified walls that reach to the sky! They actually saw the Anakim over there!’

29“I told you not to be afraid of them, 30that the LORD your God is going ahead of you and will fight for you just as you saw in Egypt. 31Then in the wilderness you saw how the LORD your God took care of you like a father takes care of a son, every step of the way to this place. 32But you still don’t trust the LORD your God, 33who went ahead of you in the fire during the nighttime and in the cloud during the daytime, and found the places for you to camp, and showed you which routes to take.

34“The LORD was angry at your words and declared 35that not a single man of that generation would live to see the wonderful land God swore to give your ancestors 36except for Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see the land, and the LORD your God will give him and his children the land he chooses because he was true to the LORD your God.

37“The LORD was even angry with me because of you! And said to me, ‘You shall not enter the land, either! 38But encourage your assistant Joshua, son of Nun, because he is the one who will go over and secure Israel’s inheritance.’ 39But the children, your children, that you cried and said would be prisoners – your children who are not yet old enough to understand the difference between good and evil – they will enter the land and God will give it to them to possess. 40As for the rest of us, God said to turn around and head back toward the Red Sea.

41“Then you admitted you had sinned. ‘We’ll go up and fight as the LORD our God commanded!’ You armed yourselves. You thought it would be an easy thing to do, to go up into the hill country.

42“But the LORD told me to tell you, ‘Don’t go up there and fight because I will not go with you and your enemies will defeat you.’ 43I told you, but you wouldn’t listen. You ignored the LORD’s will and arrogantly marched up into the hills 44where the Amorites came out and chased you like a swarm of bees and struck you down in Seir as far as Hormah. 45You straggled back and cried out to the LORD, but the LORD paid no attention to your tears and ignored you.

46“So, you stayed there at Kadesh for many days.”

Commentary

Welcome to Deuteronomy!

Deuteronomy tells again the story of Israel’s 40 plus years of wandering. It represents another source of information than what we have in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. One clue that we are looking at another source of information is that most of Deuteronomy is told in the first person singular: it is written as if Moses is telling the story of the exodus and the wilderness wanderings as he remembers it, and he remembers it a little differently from the way it is recorded in the other books. In previous books God is being quoted; here Moses is being quoted.

Another important clue that we are reading a different source is that the mountain of God is referred to as Horeb instead of Sinai. Horeb is the name Moses used for the mountain in the book of Exodus when he came upon the burning bush. However, throughout most of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and all of Numbers the mountain is referred to only as Sinai.

1-5: It has been 40 years since they left Egypt, and Moses begins to tell the story of the exodus to this second generation of Israelites, many of whom hadn’t been born yet when they crossed the Red Sea.

6-8: He reminds them that it was God who called them to leave Mt. Horeb and resume their journey. The boundaries he outlines for them – from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates – is considerably larger than the borders outlined in Numbers 34.

9-18: He describes the legal system he put into place for judging disputes in the community. We read about that in Exodus 18, but in Exodus 18 it was his father-in-law, Jethro, who came up with the system. Here, Moses himself is claiming credit for the idea.

19-21: He reminds them that when they reached the hill country of the Amorites he told them to go in and take possession of the land.

22-25: However, the people asked for spies to be sent into the land before they invaded it. That’s not the way the story is told in Numbers 13; there, God told Moses to send spies. Moses remembers here that the spies brought back a good report, but the people refused to go up. That’s not the way it happened earlier (Numbers 13:25-29), where the majority of the spies voted against going up.

Ah, well, don’t be hard on Moses. He’s 120 years old!

26-33: He remembers that the people rebelled against going up and conquering the land because they saw giants there.

34-40: That is why, he said, the LORD made them stay in the wilderness for forty years, because God decided that none of that generation, except Caleb and Joshua, would enter the land, including Moses himself.

41-45: He recounts the first unsuccessful attempt to enter the land (see Numbers 14:39-45).

Takeaway

Deuteronomy Chapter One is a quick recap of the events described in the previous three books. Leviticus relied heavily on the priestly interpretation of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, with exhausting details of everything that had to do with the religious practices of the Israelites. Numbers was also very heavy with details the modern reader finds exhausting. Deuteronomy provides a fresh approach to this important chapter of Israel’s formative experiences.