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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 1

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-4


The author of Deuteronomy is Moses. This is mentioned in various places in the New Testament in connection with quotations from this book (Deuteronomy 25:5-Joshua : in Matthew 22:24; Deuteronomy 18:15-Psalms : in Acts 3:22; Deuteronomy 9:19 in Hebrews 12:21). Moses wrote the book shortly before his death (Deuteronomy 31:24). The last chapter, in which his death is recorded, is probably written by Joshua.

The book describes the special situation of the people. On the one hand it has the wilderness journey behind it. On the other hand, it is about to be given what God has promised the patriarchs. The LORD wants to prepare the people to conquer and take possession of the land.

The book has its own special character. The names of the five books of Moses were given by the translators of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. They have placed a Greek title above each book. ‘Deuteronomy’ means ‘second law’, in the sense of repetition. However, the book is not a repetition. Many of the topics that have been covered in previous books are recurring, but they are presented in this book for a special purpose that the other books do not have.

In Deuteronomy something new is added. The people have the experiences of the wilderness behind them. It has experienced what is in their hearts. In the forty years they have travelled in the wilderness, they have learned nothing, neither about themselves nor about God Who has carried them and has cared for them. In a few long speeches, Moses presents these experiences in this book, both with themselves and with God. He also presents them the future.

Before they cross the Jordan, Moses calls them with this long book to contemplate. He presents them the blessing, but also the curse. They have experienced God’s grace, what will they do with it? The urgent question that gradually comes to the people is this: Do you intend to serve God or do you want to go your own way?

It is tragic that it is clear from the beginning that they have learned nothing from the past and that they also will corrupt it in the future. Deuteronomy 28-29 show this. But there is a turning point in the last verse in Deuteronomy 29 where we read about “the secret things” (Deuteronomy 29:29). “The things revealed” also mentioned in that verse are discussed in the previous chapters. In it obedience is presented as the sure way to the blessing, and disobedience as the sure way to the destruction. In “the secret things” we see what God has in store when the people have corrupted it. After God has scattered them among the nations because of their unfaithfulness, He will bring them to repentance. God wants to deal with them, even though they do not want to deal with Him. That is still the future.

In the Old Testament we are dealing with typological representations in which God illustrates certain truths from the New Testament. To this end, everything that has happened to Israel has been recorded. It even happened “as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved” (1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11).

In Genesis, the first half of Exodus and in Numbers we have many histories. The second half of Exodus and the book of Leviticus give precepts. These precepts indicate how the people can be in connection with God and have fellowship with Him. This can be done on the basis of the offering, which is the central theme of the regulations. These precepts also have meaning for us in the first place, because in practice Israel has never kept to these precepts (Amos 5:25-Ezekiel :). In the letter to the Hebrews the meaning to us is mentioned: they are “the copies of the things in the heavens” (Hebrews 9:23).

In this book we also look back to who we have been and what God has been for us. We learn how the blessings that are already our part can become reality for us. Heaven is already in us. The question that comes to Israel also comes to us: What is our inheritance worth to us? The shortest way from Egypt to the promised land is eleven days (Deuteronomy 1:2). But just like Israel, we too need a lot of time to learn who we are and Who God is. If we have learned that a little bit through the sometimes hard and long-lasting experiences of everyday life, it is possible to focus our hearts on the land before us, where the Lord Jesus is.

The whole book is set in the plains of Moab by the Jordan (Numbers 36:13; Deuteronomy 1:1). To know the meaning of the book for us, we must understand the spiritual meaning of these plains of Moab for us. We can learn something from the letters of Paul. In the letter to the Romans he explains how someone is redeemed from the world, of which Egypt is a picture. He speaks in Romans 6 of baptism as the transition to a new life: “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). In the picture we see that in the passage through the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-Exodus :).

The baptized believer no longer belongs to the world. It has become a wilderness for him. In that wilderness he, just like the people of Israel, has all kinds of experiences, both with himself and with God. As he lives more by faith in the Son of God and less by circumstances, he approaches, so to speak, the plains of Moab. There is spiritual growth when the Holy Spirit is given the opportunity to increasingly focus the Christian’s heart on Christ.

Someone has, spiritually speaking, arrived in the plains of Moab, when his heart is full of Christ. We see that in the letter to the Philippians. There we hear someone say, not as a doctrine, but learned by experience: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Why is it that every time we are hungry and in danger, we are upset? Because, spiritually speaking, we have not yet arrived in the plains of Moab. Someone who is no longer impressed by the dangers and problems of the wilderness has arrived in the plains of Moab. Such a person looks back upon the experiences of the wilderness as an experience of the Lord’s goodness. Such a person is Paul in the letter to the Philippians. There he is full of “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

The book Deuteronomy is the Old Testament counterpart of the letter to the Philippians. The hearts are made warm for the land in Deuteronomy. In the letter to the Philippians, the hearts are made warm for heaven by the Holy Spirit through Paul. In Deuteronomy Moses does that. He is here a picture of the Lord Jesus as the One Who experienced the wilderness journey. He knows all the circumstances, He has preceded us, we may press His footsteps. This Teacher is perfect. In Philippians 2 we see Him as the true Moses, tested in the wilderness where His mind and obedience become clear. In Philippians 3 our eye is turned to the Lord Jesus in glory, He Who contains the blessings for us, to gain Him.

Also in the literal sense the Lord has been in the wilderness. He spent forty days there, while being tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-2 Samuel :). He has answered every temptation with a quote from this book (Deuteronomy 8:3 in Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 6:16 in Matthew 4:7; Deuteronomy 6:13 in Matthew 4:10). As we can see, the quotations come from the first part of the book, in which a review of the wilderness journey is given.

If we read this book and allow it to affect us, we will recognize ourselves in every part of Israel’s history. Each time a different viewpoint is taken. The people are a whole new people, for the old generation – consisting of all twenty years and older – have perished in the wilderness, except Joshua and Caleb. Moses addresses his speeches to this new people in this book. This new generation needs to hear the history of the people to know what happened so they can learn the lesson.

Division of the book

1. First great speech of Moses: looking back on the wilderness journey (Deuteronomy 1:1-4:43)
2. Second great speech of Moses (Deuteronomy 4:44-26:19), which can be subdivided into three parts:
a. Events at the Horeb (Deuteronomy 4:44-5:33).
b. Commandments and statutes, obedience as a condition for enjoying the blessing of the land (Deuteronomy 6:1-11:32).
c. Statutes for the life in the land around the place that the LORD has chosen to establish His name there for His dwelling (Deuteronomy 12:1-26:19).
3. Third and fourth speech of Moses, his song and the message of his death (Deuteronomy 27:1-34:12), with subdivision:
a. Third speech: blessing and curse (Deuteronomy 27:1-28:68).
b. Fourth speech: renewal of the covenant, repentance and redemption, the choice to make (Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20).
c. Moses designates Joshua as his successor (Deuteronomy 31:1-8).
d. Every seven years the law must be read out to all people (Deuteronomy 32:1-33:29).
e. Song and blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:9-13).
f. The death of Moses (Deuteronomy 34:1-12).

Introduction on Deuteronomy 1

The book gives practical and spiritual lessons on the subject of the inheritance. We see a people being prepared for the inheritance that lies before them and that they are about to take possession of it. It is the land that God looks upon with joy. Moses knows what he is talking about when he wants to make their hearts warm for that land. In the first chapters he gives an historical review of the way in which the people have already dealt with the land. They have despised “the pleasant land” (Psalms 106:24). Then a new generation and a remnant, presented in Kaleb, come and take possession of it.

For us Christians, the land of Canaan is the picture of the heavenly places. Therein we are “blessed with every spiritual blessing … in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). The Lord Jesus, our true Moses, wants to focus our hearts on this. If there is real fellowship with God, it will be reflected in the interest we show in the things in which He is interested. God’s heart is full of Christ and everything He has done.

Place and Date of Moses’ Speech

Moses addresses “all Israel”, no one excepted. The place and date at which he speaks are indicated. He speaks his speech on the banks of the Jordan, the river that separates the people from the land. The environment, the wilderness, recalls the journey. They are located “in the Arabah”, which means “on the Plain”, a place where no one can hide and from where they can clearly perceive the surroundings.

The book contains the words that Moses has spoken (Deuteronomy 1:1), entirely as the LORD wants (Deuteronomy 1:3) and that Moses unfolds or explains (Deuteronomy 1:5). That makes the whole book a direct authoritative speaking of God. He is the source of it. We would do well to realize this while reading and thinking about this book. Moses is the mediator – and the type of the Lord Jesus who speaks God’s Word with authority – through whom God’s words come to us. He does everything to make the Word of God clear to the people and to make them understand it correctly.

The journey could have lasted eleven days. That time is needed for the journey from Horeb, which is Mount Sinai, to Kadesh-barnea, the southern entrance in the land. Because of unbelief, however, it took them forty years, counted from the exodus from Egypt to the entry into the land (for ‘forty years’ see Numbers 14:29-Habakkuk :; Numbers 32:13; Deuteronomy 8:2-:; Deuteronomy 29:5-Joshua :; Hebrews 3:7-Psalms :). The number ‘forty’ speaks of trial, testing. It speaks of a period in which one’s heart and qualities are tested. For us it is not literally forty years, nor is it a literal wilderness. The spiritual lesson is that by our own failure and unfaithfulness we often take longer to take possession of blessings than if we had remained faithful.

The dating in Deuteronomy 1:3 shows that the end of the fortieth year is in sight. This means that there are a completely different people stationed in the plains of Moab than the people who have left Egypt. At that moment it is time for a review.

Heshbon is the capital of Moab, but was conquered by Sihon, a king of the Amorites. Og is also a king of the Amorites. Sihon rules over the southern part of the wilderness side of the Jordan and Og over the northern part of it. The defeat of Sihon and Og is described in Deuteronomy 2:24-3:11.

The reference to defeating these two kings is a spiritual condition for understanding what Moses is going to say. The spiritual blessings of the heavenly land will not be known to us if we have not properly taken possession of the earthly blessings. (See further explanation of Numbers 21:21-35 in ‘Numbers – Explained & Applied’.

Verses 5-8

Command to Enter the Land

Before the conquest of the land begins, Moses undertakes to expound God’s law. He does not present the people with an artfully devised war plan. The only sure method of taking possession of and keeping the land is obedience to God’s commandments. That also applies to us. If we want to know the blessings that are our part in Christ, it is not by incorporating them into our minds. We will only get to know them if we submit our lives in obedience to God’s Word.

The start of the journey is at the Horeb. The people have spent about a year there. Moses cites God’s command to leave the Horeb and go to Canaan. He also explains the reason: they have now been there long enough to be prepared for the upcoming journey. If God finds something long enough, it is because He has achieved His goal. He then lets His own move on to the next experience with Him. In Numbers 10 we read about the command to set out: “So they moved out for the first time according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses” (Numbers 10:13). Now they are told where to go.

Before there is talk of actual setting out in Deuteronomy 1:19, Moses recalls two events at the Horeb. The first is what God has said about the land. He presents it in its vastness. Now the enemies still live there, but He has given it to His people. Moses joins God in swearing to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that He will give them and their descendants the land (Genesis 15:18-Ecclesiastes :; Genesis 22:16-Esther :Genesis 26:3-Deuteronomy :; Genesis 35:12). The ‘land’ is mentioned about 160 times in this book. Now they are just before the fulfilment of the promise.

The land was not chosen by them, but for them. God has chosen this land for them and He has chosen them to live there. God’s heart is full of the land. If their hearts were filled with the love of God, they would be just as full of His land. But their hearts are filled with other things. That is the second thing Moses talks about, which we hear between the lines when he talks about appointing judges.

Verses 9-18

The Appointment of Leaders

At the same time that God was talking about the inheritance, Moses had to speak to them about their troubles, which he could not bear alone, and about their quarrels. It is with him like the letter-writer Judas who “was making every effort to write you about our common salvation”, but was forced “to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” (Jude 1:3).

The people had increased in crowd. As a result, the quarrels among them also increased. The church is no different (Acts 6:1). To overcome the difficulties between the members of God’s people, Moses proposed to appoint leaders. The people agreed. Thus, the burden was shared among more people. If there were any disputes, they could go to their judges.

The judges had to meet four conditions:
1. judge righteously, whether it be a brother or a stranger;
2. judge without regard to the person, not taking into account someone’s position;
3. judge without fear of human retribution, knowing that they were speaking justice on behalf of God;
4. acknowledge that there are also too heavy things (own weakness and limitation) that they could bring to Moses.

Also in the church there are leaders, that is, believers who have been given responsibility (1 Thessalonians 5:12-1 Chronicles :). As Moses appointed them in Israel, so the Lord Jesus does now. Such believers will meet the four conditions mentioned above. It is good to go to such believers with certain things and to ask their advice. There may also be things that require us to go directly to the true Moses. Lawsuits are the result of quarrels along the way.

Verses 19-21

In Kadesh-barnea

The terrible wilderness served to long for the land. The refreshments of the wilderness are bitter refreshments. We must learn to “exult in our tribulations” (Romans 5:3-Deuteronomy :). The result will be that the love of God increases and with it the love for the brothers and sisters. Then the quarrels disappear and we enter the plains of Moab where we are filled with the love God has for us.

Moses does everything to encourage the people to take possession of the land. He tells them not to fear or be dismayed. This indicates that the people were not insistent on taking possession of the land. This is also clear from the next section, where the people ask to send spies. Moses points out that God has spoken that they will have the land, and if God has spoken, no power can turn it back. The only thing that causes not take possession of what God has promised is unbelief.

God makes everything available to us, we may take possession of it. God’s grace can grant us it. The Word of God’s grace is enough to give us the inheritance (Acts 20:32). How come if someone does not take possession of it? Because in such a man is an evil, unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:7-2 Kings :). It is about a difference in heart: is it evil and unbelieving or is the love of God poured out by the Holy Spirit in it?

Verses 22-25

The Twelve Spies

Despite all the promises of God, the people want spies to be sent out first. The core of this request is distrust of God and His Word. What will the spies be able to tell beyond what God has already said?

In Numbers it says that God commands spies to be sent out (Numbers 13:1-Exodus :), while here we learn that the people wanted it. Their question came from a lack of trust in God. When God sees that their will is fixed in this, He gives what they ask for. It is like the question the people later ask to have a king. In so doing they reject God. Yet God gives them a king because He wants to teach them a lesson.

Moses agreed to the request. The spies travelled through the land and returned with the evidence of the land’s wealth. The mention of “the valley of Eshcol” reminds us of the enormous bunch of grapes they have brought from the land (Numbers 13:23-Jeremiah :). They have also recognized that the land God gives is “a good land”, an expression that appears ten times in this book.

Verses 26-28

Refusal to Go up

Moses reminds the people of the insurmountable problems they saw in taking possession of the land. In so doing they rejected God. They even talked about God hating them (Deuteronomy 1:27).

Verses 29-33

God’s Faithfulness and the People’s Unbelief

Moses speaks to a generation that can hardly or not at all be aware of what happened forty years ago. Yet he speaks to them as if it about themselves: they were rebellious and did not want to go up, they grumbled in their tents. He can do this because he knows the germ of unbelief is also present in this generation. They are not better than their fathers. This new generation has also shown its unbelief and rebellion at the end of the journey (Numbers 21:5).

The believer is a new creation in Christ, but his old nature is incorrigibly evil. If he does not keep it at the place of death (Romans 6:11), even the believer will be able to come to the worst sins.

We can blame God for not providing sufficient resources to occupy ourselves with the blessings. But the real question is whether we appreciate the blessings. If we do that, we will have the resources and the time for it. Generations in previous centuries have had to work much harder and longer than we do today. Yet they knew the Scriptures through and through. How is that possible? They appreciated the blessings, while we let ourselves be wrapped up in earthly things. In Christ are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). As we engage with Him, we will increasingly enjoy all that has been given to us in Him. A longing heart will learn from the truth that is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21).

In Deuteronomy 1:31 we see how God has led His people through that ‘great and terrible wilderness’. What Moses was not able to do (Numbers 11:14), God did: He carried them like a man carries his child. In his speech in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, Paul points out how God has cared for His people with the tenderness of a nurse: “For a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness” (Acts 13:18; cf. Isaiah 66:13; Psalms 103:13). This is His answer to their accusation that He hates them, an answer that should bring them to shame.

The people have sent out spies before them. Moses recalls that the LORD Himself had gone out before them every time as a spy to find a suitable place for them to camp there (Deuteronomy 1:33). It is better for them to rely on Him than to determine their way as a result of human perceptions.

Verses 34-39

The Anger of the LORD

The reaction of the LORD is in line with the rebellion of the people. Do they refuse to enter the land? The LORD swears in his wrath that no one of that generation will come there. Of the two exceptions, Joshua and Caleb, only Caleb is mentioned here. Joshua occupies a special place. He will follow Moses as the leader of the people. In Caleb we have an ‘ordinary’ Israelite, someone to whom we can mirror ourselves.

His heart is full of the love of God. His name means ‘wholeheartedly’. He has not spoken of a God Who hates. He was convinced of the love and goodness of God to introduce His people into the land of promise. In Joshua 14 he refers to his account of the land (Joshua 14:7). He then is still full of it. He knew the pleasure of the LORD and appreciated the inheritance of God. He has taken it in possession, while the others have perished in the wilderness.

God’s love was active in his life. He had to go with the people through the wilderness, but in his heart that love worked, by which he persisted in following the LORD with an eye on the goal. Do we belong to the generation of Caleb? That is so when our heart is directed toward Christ, just as the heart of Caleb was directed toward the blessing of the land, for the blessing of the land is for us Christ. If our hearts are full of the goodness and love of God through the Holy Spirit, our desire will also be to follow the Lord completely.

The Holy Spirit is also called ‘pledge’ (Ephesians 1:14). That He is the pledge means that we do not yet possess the inheritance. A pledge is a kind of guarantee that in the future we will receive what we do not yet have. The fact that the Holy Spirit is called ‘pledge’ only has to do with the certainty that the rest will follow. Because He has been given to us, we can already enjoy the inheritance, although we cannot yet actually take possession of it.

The anger of the LORD also came upon Moses for their sake. This is reminiscent of the Lord Jesus who underwent the anger of God for the sake of His people. Moses does not speak here about his own failure, but about the cause of the anger. It was with the people. This did not happen when the people first reached the border, but only forty years later. Moses is not concerned with chronology, but he connects God’s anger over himself with God’s anger over the people in order to underline the holiness of God’s judgment.

Moses points to Joshua as the new leader. Joshua was in his service. Here we see the picture of the Lord Jesus who sent the Holy Spirit, that He may lead us into all the truth (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit does not lead the old man, but the new man, just as Joshua does not bring the old generation, but the new generation into the land.

The new generation is referred to here as “your little ones …, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil”. It are those who will never reach the land by their own power, who depend on the help of others and who are ignorant. They are not informed about the land, but they want to be taught about it and about the conditions for getting there and living in it.

So it is with the things God makes known: He does so to little children, not to those who trust their minds (Matthew 11:25-Daniel :). The mind of a child is necessary to enjoy the blessings for us in the heavenly places of Christ.

Verses 40-43

The Presumption of the People

The old generation is commanded to turn around and set out for the wilderness, in the direction of the Red Sea. For man there is only one possibility to participate in God’s blessings: to go to the place that speaks of salvation from the power of Egypt, that is the cross. There the old man is judged (Romans 6:6).

In stubborn rebellion, the old generation again went against what God has said. The flesh “does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able [to do so]” (Romans 8:7). If the confession “we have sinned” sounds from their mouths, it is only a formula with no real meaning. Thus it is more found in the Bible, for example with Pharaoh, Saul, and Jude (Exodus 9:27; Exodus 10:16; 1 Samuel 15:24; Matthew 27:3-Numbers :). When they call to the LORD in this mind, He does not listen (James 4:3).

Verses 44-46

The People Crushingly Defeated

The inheritance is despised by the people, the confession is not sincere, the inheritance is taken away from them. They also despised God’s government, for they acted against His command not to go up. God then gave them up in the hand of the enemy. These are pictures of satanic powers (Ephesians 6:12). They have been crushed by them. As a result, they had to spend thirty-eight years in the wilderness.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Deuteronomy 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/deuteronomy-1.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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