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the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 1

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel.—The first two verses and the three that follow form a kind of double introduction to the book, and perhaps more especially to the first portion of it, which ends with Deuteronomy 4:40.

On this side Jordan.—Literally, on the other side Jordan from the writer’s or reader’s point of view.

In the wilderness.—These words define still further the expression which precedes: “on the wilderness side of Jordan,” or “before they crossed the Jordan, while they were still in the wilderness.” Strictly speaking, the words “in the wilderness” cannot be connected with what follows, for “the plain” described is on neither side of Jordan, but below the southern end of the Dead Sea.

In the plain—i.e., the ‘Arâbah. Usually the plain of Jordan; here the valley that extends from the lower end of the Dead Sea to the head of the Gulf of Akabah.

Over against the Red Sea.—Heb., opposite Sûph. In all other places in the Old Testament, when we read of the Red Sea, it is Yam Sûph. Here we have Suph only. On these grounds some take it as the name of a place. (Comp. Vaheb in Sûphah, Numbers 21:14, margin.) But we do not know the place; and as the Jewish paraphrasts and commentators find no difficulty in accepting Suph by itself as the sea, we may take it of the Gulf of Akabah. The plain between Paran and Tophel looks straight down to that gulf.

Between Paran, and Tophel . . .—Literally, between Paran, and between Tophel and Laban, &c.: that is, between Paran on the one side, and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab on the other. This is the literal meaning, and it suits the geography so far as the places are yet identified. The small map at p. 239 of Conder’s Handbook to the Bible shows the desert of Paran stretching northward from Sinai on the left, and on the right, Tophel and Hazeroth (the only other places identified among these five) at the two extremities of a line drawn from the southeast end of the Dead Sea in the direction of Sinai. Tophel is taken as Tufîleh, and Hazeroth is ’Ain Hadra. Laban must be some “white” place lying between, probably named from the colour of the rocks in its neighbourhood. Dizahab should be nearer Sinai than Hazeroth. The Jewish commentators, from its meaning, “gold enough,” connected it with the golden calf. And it is not inconceivable that the place where that object of idolatry was “burned with fire,” and “stamped” and “ground very small,” till it was as “small as dust,” and “cast into the brook that descended out of the mount” (Deuteronomy 9:21), was called “gold enough” from the apparent waste of the precious metal that took place there; possibly also because Moses made the children of Israel drink of the water. They had enough of that golden calf before they had done with it. If this view of the geography of this verse be correct, it defines with considerable clearness the line of march from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea. It lies between the mountains on the edge of the wilderness of Paran upon the west, and the Gulf of Akabah on the east, until that gulf is left behind by the traveller going northward. It then enters the desert of Zin, called here the plain, or ‘Arâbah. This desert is bounded by ranges of mountains on both sides, and looks down to the Gulf of Akabah. Behind the western range we still have the wilderness of Paran. On the east are the mountains of Edom, which Israel first had on their right in the march to Kadesh-barnea, and then on their left in a later journey, in the last year of the exodus, when they compassed the land of Edom. Tophel lies on the east of this range, just before the route becomes level with the southern end of the Dead Sea.

But the whole of the route between Paran on the left and those other five places on the right belongs to Israel’s first march from Sinai to Kadesh. It takes them up the desert of Zin, and, so far as these two verses are concerned, it keeps them there.

Verse 2

(2) Eleven days’ journey from Horeb . . .—In our English Version this verse forms a separate sentence; but there seems nothing to prevent our taking it as completing the first verse. The route between Paran on the one side and the line from Tophel to Hazeroth on the other is still further defined as “a distance of eleven days’ journey from Horeb in the direction of Mount Seir, reaching to Kadesh-barnea.” The position of this last place is not yet determined with certainty. But the requirements of the text seem, upon the whole, to demand that it should be placed high up in the wilderness of Paran, not far from the border of the wilderness of Zin. It must be close to some passage out of the wilderness of Zin into the Negeb, or south of Judah.

Kadesh-barnea.—In the regular narrative of the exodus we read of the place to which the twelve spies returned as Kadesh (Numbers 13:26), and of the place at which the period of unrecorded wandering closed (Numbers 20:1), in the first month of the fortieth year, as Kadesh. The name Kadesh-barnea first appears in Moses’ speech (Numbers 32:8), where he refers to the sending of the twelve spies. And with the exception of three places where the name is used in describing boundaries, Kadesh -harnea is always found in speeches. This first chapter of Deuteronomy is the only one which contains the name both with and without the appendage -barnea, which connects it with the wanderings of Israel (Deuteronomy 1:32). Upon the whole, it seems most likely that only one place or district is intended by the name.

We have now obtained the following view of this first short introduction to the Book of Deuteronomy. It consists of words spoken (in the first instance) to all Israel on their march from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea. But the following verses show that the Law was further “declared” to Israel in the plains of Moab, at the close of the fortieth year of the exodus and of Moses’ life. It does not seem possible for us to separate entirely what was spoken earlier from what was declared later. In several places we have the record of words spoken: for example, in this very chapter (Deuteronomy 1:9; Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 1:18; Deuteronomy 1:20; Deuteronomy 1:29; Deuteronomy 1:43), and Deuteronomy 5:5, &c. And the very name Deuteronomy implies the repetition of a law previously given. Further, the exhortations contained in this book are all enforced by the immediate prospect of going over Jordan and entering the promised land. But when Israel marched from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, it was with this very same prospect full in view. It does not appear, by what Moses “said” at that time (Deuteronomy 1:20), that he had any thought of their turning away from the enterprise. But if so, what supposition is more natural than this—that he delivered the same kind of exhortations in the course of that earlier journey which he afterwards delivered in the plains of Moab? And although the distance is but eleven days’ march, the Israelites spent something like three months on the way, and in waiting for the spies to return from Canaan.

We conclude, then, that the first two verses of Deuteronomy are an editorial introduction, stating that the substance of this book was first delivered to Israel by Moses between Sinai and Kadesh-barnea. The further introduction which follows (in Deuteronomy 1:3-5) shows the words to have been re-delivered in the plains of Moab, and preserved in their later rather than their earlier form. But it is also possible that the two first verses of Deuteronomy are an introduction to the first discourse above. (See Note on Deuteronomy 4:44.)

Is it possible to advance a step further, and conjecture with any degree of probability to what hand we owe the first two verses of the book? The expression “on the other side Jordan” (which some take to be a technical term) seems strictly to mean on the opposite side to the writer. The writer must also have been acquainted with the places mentioned (three of which are not named in the previous books); he could not have drawn his knowledge from the earlier part of the Pentateuch. And so entirely has the geography of Deuteronomy 1:1 been lost by tradition, that all the Targums and Jewish commentators agree in spiritualising the passage, and say, “these are the words of reproof which Moses.spake to all Israel in respect of their behaviour at these various places.” Laban points to their murmuring at the white manna. Dizahab to the golden calf, and so on. Even Rashi, usually a most literal commentator, says, “Moses has enumerated the places where they wrought provocation before the PLACE “—a Rabbinical name for Jehovah: for “the whole world is His place, though His place is more than the whole world.” This introduction to Deuteronomy seems the work of one who had known the wilderness, and yet wrote from Palestine. Joshua, the next writer to Moses, and possibly also his amanuensis, may have prefixed it to the book. If he did not, it is wholly impossible to say who did.

Verse 3

(3) And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month.—The “and” is the real beginning of Deuteronomy, and connects it with the previous books. The moral of these words has been well pointed out by Jewish writers. It was but eleven days’ journey from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea—the place from whence Israel should have begun the conquest of the promised land; but not only eleven days of the second year of the exodus, but eleven months of the fortieth year found them still in the wilderness. “We see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”

Verses 3-4

(3, 4) Moses spake unto the children of Israel . . . after he had slain Sihon . . . and Og.—The conquest of these two kings and their territories was one of the exploits of the fortieth year. (See Numbers 21:21-35.) Before the eleventh month of that year, not only Sihon and Og, but also the five princes of Midian, “who were dukes of Sihon, dwelling in the country” (Joshua 13:21), had also been slain (Numbers 31:0). This completed the conquest, and was the last exploit of Moses’ life. In the period of repose that followed he found a suitable time to exhort the children of Israel, “according unto all that the Lord had given him in commandment unto them” From Deuteronomy 34:8, we learn that “the children of Israel wept for Moses thirty days.” These days would seem to be the last month of the fortieth year, for “on the tenth day of the first month” (probably of the next year, Joshua 4:19) they passed over Jordan. Thus the last delivery of the discourses recorded in Deuteronomy would seem to lie within a single month.

Verse 5

(5) On this side Jordan, in the land of Moab.—This would be on the other side of Jordan from the stand-point of the writer, or of the readers for whom the book was intended, which is Palestine.

Began Moses.—“Began,” i.e., “determined” or “assayed.”

To declare.—The emphatic reiteration of what had been already received from God and delivered to Israel may be intended. But the Hebrew word here employed occurs in two other places only, and in both is connected with writing. (See Deuteronomy 17:8, “thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly” (bâêr hêtêb, in writing and in making good). Again, in Habakkuk 2:2, “write the vision, and make it plain upon tables.” The etymological affinities of the word also suggest the idea of writing. It would seem, then, that at this period Moses began to throw the discourses and laws that he had delivered into a permanent form, arranging and writing them with the same motive which influenced the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:15), “Moreover, I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.”

In this discourse the history of Israel, from the time of their departure from Sinai, is briefly recapitulated (Deuteronomy 3:29), and with a short practical exhortation. This portion of history comprises three periods of the exodus: (1) The march from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, with the sending of the twelve spies and its results, related more at length in Numbers 10:11—end of Deuteronomy 14:0. The characteristic feature of this period is failure on the part of both leaders and people to rise to their high calling. Moses (Numbers 11:0), Aaron and Miriam (Num. xii), Joshua (Numbers 11:28), the spies, who were also rulers (Deuteronomy 13:14), and the people throughout, all in turn exhibit the defects of their character. In the end the enterprise is abandoned for the time. (2) The thirty seven and a half years that follow are a period of disgrace, as appears by the absence of all note of time or place in the direct narrative between Numbers 14:0 and Numbers 20:0. Certain places are mentioned in Numbers 33:0 which must belong to this period, but nothing is recorded of them beyond the names. A single verse (Deuteronomy 2:1), is all that is assignable to that period in this discourse of Moses. This long wandering was also a period of training and discipline. (3) The fortieth year of the exodus, in which the conquest of Sihon and Og was effected, and Israel reached the banks of Jordan. The sentence of death pronounced against their elder generation having been executed, a new life was now begun.

Verse 6

(6) The Lord our God spake unto us in Horeb.—The “Lord our God,” “Jehovah our Elohim,” is the watchword of the whole book.

Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount.—From the beginning of the second month of the first year of the exodus (Exodus 19:1) to the twentieth day of the second month of the second year (Numbers 10:11). This was the period of organisation, in which the people received the Law and were organised as a church militant, an army encamped around the tabernacle of God. This year and its institutions fill up exactly one-third of the text of the Pentateuch.

Verse 7

(7) Enter the mount of the Amoritesi.e., the southern part of Judah, from which the five kings of the Amorites, the southern confederacy of Joshua 10:0 (which see), arose to attack Gibeon. Israel would have marched into the heart of this territory had they entered from Kadesh, “by the way of the spies.”

And unto all the places nigh thereunto.—The rest of the promised land is thus described: In the plain—of Jordan. In the mountain—the hill-country of Judah in the south, Mount Ephraim in the centre, and the mountainous district further north. In the Shephêlah—Philistia. In the Negeb—the land afterwards assigned to Simeon, in the far south of Judah. And by the sea side to the north of Carmel (see Joshua 9:1; Judges 5:17), the coasts of the Great Sea over against Lebanon, and in the territory of Asher and Zebulun, as far as Phœnicia (Genesis 49:13).

The land of the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon.—The Canaanites held the plain of Esdraelon and the fortresses in the north. From Lebanon, the conquest would extend ultimately to the north-east, even to the great river, the river Euphrates,

Verse 8

(8) To give unto them.—Note that the land is promised to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob, not only to their seed. The promise is not forgotten, though the three patriarchs are in another world. (Comp. Acts 7:5, and Hebrews 11:16. See also Note. on Deuteronomy 11:21.)

Verse 9

(9) I am not able to bear you myself alone.—Repeated almost exactly from Numbers 11:14.

Verses 9-18

(9-18) In these words Moses appears to combine the recollection of two distinct things: (1) the advice of Jethro (Exodus 18:0), by following which he would be relieved from the ordinary pressure of litigation; (2) the still further relief afforded him by the appointment of the seventy elders. These last received the gift of prophecy, and were thus enabled to relieve Moses from some of the higher responsibilities of his office by representing his mind and reproducing his personal influence in many parts of the camp at once. Jethro’s advice was given on their first arrival in Horeb: when it was carried into effect we are not told. The seventy elder were appointed (Numbers 11:0) between Sinai and Kadesh-barnea, shortly after they left Sinai. It is quite possible that both institutions came into existence at the same time. The seventy elders would have been of great service in the selection of the numerous judges and officers who were required.

Verse 11

(11) The Lord God of your fathers . . . bless you.—This appears to belong distinctly to the Book of Deuteronomy. It can hardly be a record of what was spoken long before. It brings the living speaker before us in a way that precludes imitation.

Verse 12

(12) Your cumbrance.—The original word is found only here and in Isaiah 1:14 : “They are a trouble unto me, I am weary to bear them.”

Deuteronomy 1:13-15 recall very exactly what is said in Exodus 18:0

Verse 16

(16) And I charged your judges . . . saying.—These instructions given by Moses are an admirable expansion, but only an expansion, of those of Jethro(Exodus 18:21), that the judges must be “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness”—a sentence older than the Decalogue itself.

Verse 17

(17) The judgment is God’s.—Comp. St. Paul in Romans 13:1-4, which is, again, only an expansion of this sentence. For the latter part of this verse comp. Exodus 18:22-26.

Verse 18

(18) And I commanded you at that time all the things which ye should do.—“At that time,” i.e., after your departure from Horeb. This is as much as to say that the exhortations given in Deuteronomy had already been given on the way from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea. (Comp. what has been said above on the two first verses of this chapter.) This verse goes far to justify the view taken there.

Verse 19

(19) By the way of the mountain of the Amorites.—Rather, in the direction of the mount. They did not pass the Mount of the Amorites, but went through the “great and terrible wilderness” from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea. So Moses says in Deuteronomy 1:20, “Ye are come unto the mount of the Amorites.”

Verse 21

(21) Fear not, neither be discouraged.—The last clause of this verse reappears in St. John 14:27, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Verse 22

(22) And ye came near . . . and said, We will send.—A new aspect is here given to the sending of the twelve spies. In Numbers 13:1 the incident is introduced thus: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Send thou men.” We learn here that the proposal in the first instance came from the people. Moses would naturally refer it to Jehovah; and, when approved, the scheme was carried out.

They shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come.—We read in Deuteronomy 1:33 that the Lord “went in the way before them to search out a place” for them to encamp in. But here the spies and Israel proposed to take the guidance of their march into their own hands. It is noticeable that in the campaigns of Joshua, not one step was taken without Divine direction. Thus the sending of the twelve spies, in the light in which the people intended it, was an act of unbelief. “In this thing (Deuteronomy 1:32) ye did not believe the Lord your God.” (See also Note on Joshua 2:1.)

Verse 24

(24) The valley of Eshcol.—See Numbers 13:24.

Verse 25

(25) It is a good land.—In Numbers 13:27 they all say, “Surely it floweth with milk and honey, and this is the fruit of it.” In Numbers 14:7 Joshua and Caleb describe it as an “exceeding good land.”

Verse 27

(27) Because the Lord hated us.—A most astounding commentary on the events of the exodus up to that date. It is a stronger expression than any recorded, even in Numbers 14:3.

Verse 28

(28) Whither shall we go up? our brethren have discouraged our heart.—So Caleb says in Joshua 14:8, “My brethren made the heart of the people melt.” For the rest of the verse see Numbers 13:28.

Verse 29

(29) Dread not, neither be afraid of them . . .—The reminder that “Jehovah went before them” did not avail, for they had already chosen men to go before them.

Verse 31

(31) The Lord . . . bare thee, as a man doth bear his son.—From this comes the expression in Acts 13:18, “He bare them as a nursing father in the wilderness.”—Rev. N. T., margin.

Verse 33

(33) Who went in the way before you, to search you out a place.—Comp. Numbers 10:33, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them . . . to search out a resting place for them;” and St. John 14:2, “I go to prepare a place for you;” and Hebrews 6:20, “Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus.” On the whole manner of this cloud-guidance, see Numbers 9:15-23.

Verse 34

(34) Was wroth, and sware.—See Psalms 95:11, “I sware in my wrath, that they should not enter into my rest.”

Verse 35

(35) Surely . . . Comp. St. Luke 14:24, “None of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.”

Verse 36

(36) Save Caleb.—Caleb is here placed by himself, as the one exception among the people. Joshua, as Moses’ substitute, the exception among the recognised leaders, is named separately.

Verse 37

(37) Also the Lord was angry with me for your sakes.—Here, again, Moses combines his own rejection. an event of the fortieth year of the exodus, with the rejection of the people in the second year. The reason was the same—unbelief. “Because ye believed me not” was the reason given to Moses in Numbers 20:12. “Ye did not believe the Lord your God” is the reason for the rejection of the people, given above in Deuteronomy 1:32. As the spies presumed to investigate the route and order of the conquest, a matter of Divine guidance, so Moses presumed to alter the prescribed order for the miracle in Kadesh. Like transgressions incurred like penalties. The fault for which the people had suffered could not be overlooked in the leader. (See also Notes on Deuteronomy 3:23-28; Deuteronomy 32:49.) This and Deuteronomy 1:38 should be taken as a parenthesis.

Verse 39

(39) Moreover your little ones.—This continues the sentence of Jehovah from Deuteronomy 1:36.

Which ye said should be a prey.—In Numbers 14:3, “that our wives and children should be a prey.” (See also Deuteronomy 1:31.)

Verse 40

(40) But as for you, turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness by the way (in the direction) of the Red Sea.—In Numbers 14:32 the parallel sentence is, “As for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.”

Verse 41

(41) We have sinned . . . we will go up and fight.—The emphatic we of this verse may be compared with the “we” of Deuteronomy 1:28. In both instances it was we, without Jehovah. It was a change from cowardice to presumption, not from unbelief to faith.

Ye were ready to go up into the hill.—Some render, Ye made light of going up.

Verse 43

(43) The last clause comes from Numbers 14:44.

Verse 44

(44) As bees do.—This should be observed as illustrating what is said of the hornet in Exodus 23:28-30, and further on in Deuteronomy 7:20; Joshua 24:12. The incidental mention of the bees in this place shows that the writer of Deuteronomy was familiar with the spectacle of a company of men pursued by bees.

In Seir, even unto Hormah.—Conder (Bible Handbook, p. 250) understands this Seir as the range of hills round Petra. There is another Seir in the territory of Judah (Joshua 15:10). As to Hormah, the Jewish commentator Aben Ezra says, “the name of a place or the verb,” i.e., either unto Hormah, or unto utter destruction. But in our version the word Hormah is always taken as a proper name. The situation of Hormah is unknown.

Verse 45

(45) And ye returned and wept before the Lord.—This fact is not related in Numbers 14:0. It shows the personal knowledge of the writer, and that the narrative is not simply drawn from the earlier books.

Verse 46

(46) So ye abode in Kadesh many days.—Better, and. In Numbers 14:25 the command was, “Tomorrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness.” This command was broken by the attack on the Canaanites, made on the morrow after the command. We cannot be certain that the many days spent in Kadesh were spent after the defeat. It may be merely a note of the fact that the time spent in Kadesh was considerable. The mission of the spies alone occupied forty days.

According unto the days that ye abode there.—The Jewish commentator Rashi, quoting from Sêder Olâm, says they in Kadesh, and nineteen in their wanderings.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/deuteronomy-1.html. 1905.
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