Sunday, May 28th, 2023
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ deuteronomy-1.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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A). The Preamble and Historical Prologue to the Covenant (chapters 1-4).
As we come to the commentary itself we should perhaps summarise what lies before us. Having declared in Whose Name Moses is acting, the first four chapters act as a historical prologue to the covenant and very much deal with Israel’s history and its current consequences, and lead up to his announcing the stipulations of the covenant as a command from Yahweh.
Having introduced Yahweh as their God and Overlord (Deuteronomy 1:3; Deuteronomy 1:6), Moses goes on to point out how He had offered the land to their fathers who died in the wilderness and how they had failed Him, even though He had given them every opportunity to succeed (Deuteronomy 1:6-46), so that they were a grim warning for the future. Yahweh had commanded that they enter the land and possess it (Deuteronomy 1:6-8), He had made them a numerous people (Deuteronomy 1:9-12), He had established them as a just and well governed nation (Deuteronomy 1:13-17), and given them clear instructions on what they should do and how they should behave (Deuteronomy 1:18). They had first entered the land through their scouts, through whom they had received its firstfruits. But on seeing the spectre of the enemy in the land they had forgotten what He could do and had turned back to unbelief (Deuteronomy 1:19-40). In that unbelief they had then in desperation again entered to take possession of the land (Deuteronomy 1:43). But this had resulted in them being driven from the land (Deuteronomy 1:44) to wander in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:46 to Deuteronomy 2:1), for they had lost their right to the land. For the land was Yahweh’s, and only those could possess it who did so through belief in Yahweh, and who were ready to respond to His covenant.
We can thus see in this first chapter a summary of the whole message of the book. That God was offering them the land, that He was making them a numerous and just people, that if they would enter they must enter in faith and obedience, and that if they turned away in unbelief they would be driven from the land, just as their fathers had been.
This description of what their fathers had done was therefore both an invitation and a warning. An invitation to re-enter the land, again with Yahweh’s approval, and a clear warning to the new generation, a warning which will be repeated in the heart of the book, to remember that this land was Yahweh’s. It was a pure land, a holy land, a land for those who believed, a land for those who were in covenant with Yahweh. It was a land which spued out its inhabitants if they disobeyed Yahweh (Leviticus 18:27-28; Leviticus 20:22), as it had spued out their fathers.
That was why those who now possessed it, the Canaanites/Amorites, were also to be driven out of it (Deuteronomy 4:38; Deuteronomy 7:1; Deuteronomy 11:23) because of their idolatry and gross sin (compare Genesis 15:16). The land was such that it could only be dwelt in by those who walked in faith and obedience. And these his listeners must also recognise that when they themselves have entered the land, if they too are found to be in unbelief, and are disobedient to the covenant, they too will be driven out and wander among the nations (Deuteronomy 4:26-28; Deuteronomy 28:64-68). Instead of being like the stars for multitude they will be few in number (Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 28:62). For this is Yahweh’s land, a land which can only be permanently occupied by those who are in a loving covenant with Yahweh.
The idea of ‘the land’ is important in Deuteronomy. But it was not just because it was land, valuable as that might be, it was because it was Yahweh’s land. We could have said here, ‘Moses came to them preaching the land of God, for that was why he was sent’. For this was the land where Yahweh would reign. It would be where the kingly rule of God was to be established, and where righteous rulers were to establish justice, and where everyone was to prosper. That was the dream, even if the fulfilment was a little different simply because of their refusal to obey.
So even as they go forward to receive the promises the warning from their fathers hangs over their head that they must have faith in Yahweh, and that when they enter the land that faith must continue, and that if they turn to unbelief, they too will be cast out of the land.
The consequence of the failure of their fathers was that He had allowed that generation to pass away, wandering around aimlessly, cast out of the land and dying in the wilderness, before another attempt was made (Deuteronomy 1:34-35; Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 1:46 to Deuteronomy 2:1; Deuteronomy 2:14-16). It was as though the future history of Israel, which would witness a similar failure and expulsion, had been performed in microcosm. It is a foolish thing to say ‘no’ to God.
We should note in all this how closely these thoughts pattern the purpose of the Book of Numbers which also seeks to prepare for entry into the land, stresses the judgment on the first generation, and encourages the new generation to go forward (see Commentary on Numbers).
But now the time had come for the second attempt (Deuteronomy 2:3). This involved going by Edom, Moab and Ammon, who were brother tribes to the east of Jordan, skirting their borders (Deuteronomy 2:4-23). These had had to be left alone (Deuteronomy 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19), for Israel must also recognise what land was not theirs. God did not want them to attack their related brother tribes, but to pay their way as they went by and remain at peace with them. For their land was not to be seen as available to Israel, but as belonging to these peoples because Yahweh had given it to them (Deuteronomy 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19). The land that was to belong to Israel still lay ahead. It is that land only that they have a right to take by conquest. That land alone is their inheritance, although extended by permission to parts of Transjordan when their kings proved belligerent and attacked Israel.
By this means it was made very clear that it is Yahweh Who apportions out the lands and Who gives what He will to whom He will, and that their own land, the chosen land, was specific and clearly delineated (compare Deuteronomy 32:8).
But let them now recognise that He had given them the land of Sihon, the Amorite (Deuteronomy 2:24) and of Og, king of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:2-6), and had commenced the process by which all who heard of Israel would tremble, as He had promised so long before (Deuteronomy 2:25, compare Exodus 15:14-16). Thus they had totally defeated Sihon and possessed his land (Deuteronomy 2:24-36). And the same was also true of Og, king of Bashan, with his mighty cities. They had also overcome him and destroyed all his cities (Deuteronomy 3:1-7). And thus had the whole of that side of Jordan, from the borders of Moab in the south, northward to Gilead and Bashan, been delivered into their hands, being possessed by Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh (Deuteronomy 3:8-17), a firstfruit of what was to come.
It is difficult for us in reading this to gain the atmosphere of the moment. As they stood to hear his words in the plain of Moab no one was more aware than them of the truth of what he was saying. For they were present there, having themselves just been involved in it. They had just returned from fighting a powerful enemy. Great dangers had just been faced, successful battles had been fought with seemingly powerful armies, they had approached great cities with trepidation, but through Yahweh’s help they had brought them crashing down. The dead had been counted and were being mourned as heroes, for it was through their sacrifice in the Holy War they had been victorious. The land of Gilead and Bashan was theirs, and they had returned back to camp weary and triumphant. They had tasted the good taste of victory.
And now here they were gathered to hear Moses, to learn that Yahweh was now about to give them the land of the promises for them to possess, the land of Canaan itself. So he rallied the soldiery of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, calling on them to play their full part in the invasion of Canaan (Deuteronomy 3:18-20), and encouraged and strengthened Joshua on whom the main responsibility for the invasion would fall (Deuteronomy 3:21-22; Deuteronomy 3:28). As one man they were to be ready, poised for the entry into Canaan over the River Jordan, although sadly he, Moses, would not be a part of it, having been forbidden by Yahweh (Deuteronomy 3:23-27).
Thus was it now necessary for them to listen to Yahweh’s covenant requirements and do them, so that they might ‘live’ and possess the land (Deuteronomy 4:1 compare Deuteronomy 30:15; Deuteronomy 32:47). This was basic to all that lay ahead. They must remember that they had survived because of their obedience, while others had died in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 4:3-4), and that he had given them Yahweh’s statutes and commandments (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 4:5-9) (as contained in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers). It was on the basis of their obedience to this covenant that their success was guaranteed (Deuteronomy 4:9), and to this end he reminds them again of the awesome experience at Sinai, and the way in which Yahweh had revealed Himself to them (Deuteronomy 4:10-14), and had declared His covenant requirements (Deuteronomy 4:14). And he warns in the light of this against foolish behaviour, and especially idolatry, once they are in the land (Deuteronomy 4:15-20). They must be faithful to their sovereign Lord and yield themselves to no other. Let them not forget that it was He Who had delivered them out of the fiery furnace of Egypt (Deuteronomy 4:20).
And they must remember how even he, Moses, was forbidden to enter the land because of his disobedience (Deuteronomy 4:21-22). Thus they must take to heart the lesson that the One Who is giving them the land can just as easily take it away from them again. It is ever theirs on probation. He has taken it from their fathers. He has taken it from Moses. He will take it from the Canaanites, driving them out because of their vile behaviour and idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:38). And He will give it to Israel. But let them be ever aware that He can just as easily take it from them too if they fail to respond in full obedience, and make images for themselves (Deuteronomy 4:23-25), driving them too out into exile among foreigners until they repent of their failure Deuteronomy 4:26-28.
But Moses could not leave it there, for he knew that in the end it was God’s purpose through Abraham’s descendants to establish blessing for the world. So he knew that such rejection could not be the end. Though men may fail God would not. So he declares that then if they repent He will restore them (Deuteronomy 4:29-31), for they are the people through whom His purposes must be worked out as promised to their forefathers.
These are the initial warnings of the covenant, preparing for the blessings and possible cursings ahead (Deuteronomy 27:15 to Deuteronomy 28:68), typical of the overlordship covenants (suzerainty treaties). The point is being continually emphasised that the land was Yahweh’s and could only belong to those who were true to the covenant
Let them then now consider. Was ever people like them? Had any ever had experiences like theirs? Was ever any god like their God in His greatness, Who had so wonderfully delivered them and was now about to give them possession of His land? (Deuteronomy 4:33-39). That is why they were to obey His commandments and laws (Deuteronomy 4:40). He was seeking to keep them steadfast to the end.
Chapters 1-4 thus contain all that is necessary for the establishment of a covenant. Preamble, declaration of what they owe to their Overlord, offer, requirement to obey His statutes and ordinances, and warning of what will follow if they do not, followed by an emphasis on the witness of heaven and earth to the covenant and on their own witness to the power and faithfulness of Yahweh. Yet it is also a preliminary introduction to a more detailed exposition of the covenant, for the requirements are not spelled out in detail.
For this will lead on into Deuteronomy 5:0, which is the commencement of ‘the renewal of the covenant’ speech (Deuteronomy 4:44 to Deuteronomy 29:1) in what is almost a re-enactment of what had taken place at Mount Sinai. In it Moses will bring the Sinai experience right into the present in all its vividness (Deuteronomy 5:2; Deuteronomy 5:22-29). As he declares, ‘Yahweh did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even all of us who are alive here this day’ (Deuteronomy 5:3). And then he brings what happened at Sinai before them as though it were something that had happened to them and as something in which they had taken part (as the eldest among them had as children), including the very declaration of the covenant words, slightly but deliberately altered to suit their situation (Deuteronomy 5:5-29). And he does it in such a way that it stresses that they are as much involved in the covenant of Sinai as their fathers had been (Deuteronomy 5:3; Deuteronomy 5:23-30). They must see what had happened there as having happened to them. And now therefore they must bind themselves in that covenant to do all that was commanded in it. For Yahweh has sent him with details of the requirements of that covenant which he is now about to pass on to them (Deuteronomy 5:31-33). And it is at this point that he begins to outline the requirements of the covenant, the covenant stipulations (chapter 6 onwards), which he will follow up with cursings and blessings (Deuteronomy 27:11 to Deuteronomy 28:68) and the sealing of the covenant.
We must now review these first chapters in more detail.
Deuteronomy 1:0 . Preamble, History and Failure.
The Preamble (Deuteronomy 1:1-5 ).
Deuteronomy 1-5 of the chapter set the scene for the whole book. They are carefully constructed so as to form a literary unit. Note the chiastic literary pattern which opens and closes the two sections. ‘These are the words - which Moses spoke to all Israel - in Beyond Jordan --- in Beyond Jordan - in the land of Moab began Moses to declare - this instruction.’ (Deuteronomy 1:1 a, Deuteronomy 1:5). In between we are given the whereabouts of the place in which they were given, the dating of the event, what the event was (the declaration to the children of Israel of all Yahweh’s commands), and the particular historical event that brought it about, the defeat of Og and Bashan and the seizing of their lands. It was this last which was to be their incentive for going forward. They had seen it happen, and partaken in it, and they were to recognise that what Yahweh had done once He could do again.
From this we may learn certain lessons. Firstly that God has everything dated. In His own time will come about His own will. Secondly that while we may sometimes find ourselves ‘in the wilderness’, often a wilderness of our own deserving, as long as we keep going forward in faith we can be sure that the victories that He gives us there will lead us on into greater victories, so that we will be able to possess all that He has for us in the spiritual realm (see Ephesians 6:10-18). And thirdly that in order to obtain those blessings we must walk in the way of obedience to His will as revealed in His word, in His New Testament (Covenant).
We may analyse these verse as follows:
a ‘The words -- which Moses spoke -- in Beyond Jordan’ (Deuteronomy 1:1 a).
b In the wilderness, in the Arabah over against Suph, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab (Deuteronomy 1:1 b).
c It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea (Deuteronomy 1:2).
c In the eleventh month in the fortieth year, on the first day of the month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel, in accordance with all that Yahweh had given him in commandment to them (Deuteronomy 1:3).
b After he had smitten Sihon the king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who dwelt in Ashtaroth, at Edrei (Deuteronomy 1:4).
a In Beyond Jordan -- began Moses to declare -- this instruction (Deuteronomy 1:5).
We note that in ‘a’ we have a description which in the parallel is similar but in reverse order stressing that we have here the words of Moses given in Beyond Jordan. In ‘b’ we have a geographical description of where they were safely encamped and in the parallel how they came to be safely encamped there, with geographical descriptions. In ‘c’ the number ‘eleven’ is mentioned and the same occurs in the parallel. They look back on their ‘eleven day’ journey, and in the ‘eleventh’ month they look forward to the future.
‘ These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel in Beyond Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah over against Suph, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab. It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.’
Note the connection back to Numbers 36:13. This is a continuation of what he has written before. But these words are looking forward. The purpose of the book is said to be in order to present ‘the words of Moses’ spoken to ‘all Israel’ (compare Exodus 18:25; Numbers 16:34). The phrase ‘All Israel’ is used fairly regularly in this book, and is used throughout the historical books. It simply indicates the nation as one whole including all who have been incorporated within the covenant. ‘All Israel’ are at this stage one people. Its use here may reflect among other things the requirement that Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh maintain their loyalty to the one Israel. They must all be one together.
In the first twenty eight chapters (including Deuteronomy 29:1) ‘All Israel’ occurs four times on the lips of Moses and three times in narrative, and is used where a stress is required on the fact that Israel as a whole is involved, and ‘children of Israel’ occurs twice on the lips of Moses and six times in narrative when no such stress is required and the reference is to Israel in general, although it usually also indicates all Israel. In chapters Deuteronomy 29:2 to Deuteronomy 34:12 ‘All Israel’ occurs once on the lips of Yahweh and five times in narrative, again where there is a stress on the whole of Israel, while ‘children of Israel’ occurs once on the lips of Moses, three times on the lips of Yahweh, three times in the poem in Deuteronomy 32:0 and five times in narrative. Again it is more general in significance. Sometimes ‘all Israel’ would have been unsuitable, but in other cases either expression could have been used. Both expressions are therefore clearly equally satisfactory to the writer, one stressing Israel (‘thou’) as one whole, the other regularly referring to the whole of Israel (‘ye’) but without quite the same stress on oneness. It was important to recognise that ‘all Israel’ were involved in the covenant. There were to be no exceptions.
The place where this first speech was given is here carefully described in language reminiscent of someone who knew exactly where it was and was at pains to pinpoint it fairly accurately, and yet wishes to stress that all that they have gone through is behind them. It is intended to bring out the excitement of the situation. Here they were after all that has passed, on the very verge of the promised land. They were in ‘Beyond Jordan’, eleven days journey from Sinai, with Paran, Kadesh-barnea and Hazeroth behind them, and the promised land before them. Now, whatever the past, they could begin again.
“Beyond Jordan”. This was a technical description of the land in the Arabah valley through which the Jordan flowed, together with its wider surrounds, (much as we might use Transjordan today, although it is not the same area as Transjordan, being on both sides of the Jordan). It merely signified being ‘in the region around the Jordan’. It could refer to land either side of the Jordan. It does not necessarily signify that the writer was west of Jordan looking east. He could have said to anyone who was with him, ‘we are in Beyond Jordan’ (compare Joshua 9:1). See Numbers 32:19 which refers to ‘Beyond Jordan eastward’, and compare ‘Beyond Jordan westward’ in Joshua 5:1; Joshua 12:7. See also Joshua 9:1 where ‘this side of Jordan’ is strictly ‘Beyond Jordan’ so that the writer is there speaking of them as being in ‘Beyond Jordan’).
The Arabah was the name for the Jordan rift valley in that area, coming down from the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee), through the Dead Sea valley, and into Seir (Edom). As the area in which the speech took place was not settled, and would not have a specific name recognisable to all, he designates it in terms of places more identifiable and with significance to Israel. Indeed the difficulty in describing precisely where it was comes out in the description. This is in itself an evidence of authenticity. They had entered the Wilderness of Paran from Hazaroth, and if Hazaroth here is to be identified with the Hazaroth in Numbers 11:35; Numbers 13:1 with Numbers 26:0; Numbers 33:17 it was the last staging post before the wilderness of Paran and Kadesh. So it is saying that all that was behind them. The same may be true of Laban if it is the same as Libnah (Numbers 33:19). Suph was the closest place to where they were, the nearest local identifiable site. It may have been near the River Arnon but any current identification is speculative. Tophel and Di-zahab are unknown, but were probably to the north. Thus they were between the past and the future. Others have sought to identify all the names with local sites, which is very tentative, but equally possible. Many duplications of names occurred as local peoples gave similar names to places in their localities.
The sites of the different places named cannot be definitely identified by us, as we would in fact expect in view of the nature of the area, although noble attempts have been made, often based on places with similar sounding names. Such identifications are notoriously difficult and always tentative until some more definite evidence is found. There are indeed even now few sites that we can identify with absolute certainty. It is a rare thing to find the name of a city written down on something at the site as at Gibeon. They would, however, have been identifiable to those who had recently traversed the area. They were thus identifiable at the time. The mention of such unknown places confirms that Deuteronomy is very ancient.
“It is eleven days” journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.’ Horeb is the area around Sinai which included where Israel encamped. (There is no mention of a Mount Horeb in Deuteronomy - it is only in fact found in the Pentateuch in Exodus 33:6 where it could be any local mountain). The ‘way of Mount Seir’ was clearly an identifiable ‘highway’ which led through the wilderness, a rough wilderness track used by caravans and travellers. Kadesh-barnea was a large oasis (or group of oases) in the Negeb south of Canaan, which they visited twice in their wandering and stayed at for some time. ‘Eleven days’ is a specific description which indicates exactness (unlike, say, ‘seven days’ or ‘forty days’ which could simply indicate a general period of time), and it is actually accurate. Whoever wrote this knew how long it took. He had travelled that way. It is an unusual enough number to demonstrate that it was not an invention. An inventor would have used a round number.
The indication of the length of journey from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea of eleven days, contrasts strongly with the fact that it was now the fortieth year and they were still not yet in the land. What then had caused the delay? The reason for it will shortly be brought out.
‘ And it came about in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel, in accordance with all that Yahweh had given him in commandment to them, after he had smitten Sihon the king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who dwelt in Ashtaroth, at Edrei.’
The time of this first speech, going up to Deuteronomy 4:40, is precisely dated. Such dating was common in ancient records long before the time of Moses, and its form bears comparison with other ancient records, Egyptian and otherwise. It was seemingly thirty nine years and ten months after the original Passover (on the fourteenth day of the first month). The necessary ‘forty years’ had passed (Numbers 14:33-34). His final purpose was to summarise all the historical events which had revealed Yahweh’s overlordship, to call them to response, and then to outline all the commandments that Yahweh had given them, but this would necessarily involve abbreviation, and not covering all the detail. Thus is the One Who is making this covenant with them introduced. It is Yahweh Who speaks.
This took place after the defeat of Sihon and Og, kings of the Amorites (Numbers 21:21-35). The defeat of those kings, which would eventually lead to the possessing of their land, brought home to Israel that the dream was now becoming a reality. They had achieved their first victories in the process of possessing the land, and their hearts were lifted high. Unlike their fathers they were going forth in belief and obedience.
Heshbon was the royal city of the Amorites in the area (Numbers 21:25-26). It has not yet been clearly identified. It became a levitical city (Joshua 21:39). It was restored by Reuben (Numbers 32:37), came into the possession of Gad, and then was later in the times of Isaiah and Jeremiah taken by Moab, before again being captured by Israel. Ashtaroth was a city probably connected with the worship of the goddess Asherah and dating back to the third millennium BC, and was the royal city of Og in Bashan. It was mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions, the Amarna letters and in Assyrian inscriptions. The city was again taken by Joshua (Joshua 12:4) but not retained (Joshua 13:12) although it later became a levitical city (Joshua 21:27), for the conquest was not a straightforward process. The original inhabitants did not just give up. They fled and came back, and had to be driven out again. For Edrei (probably modern Der‘ah) see Deuteronomy 3:1; Numbers 21:33; Joshua 12:4; Joshua 13:12; Joshua 13:21.
‘ In Beyond Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare (expound, make clear) this instruction (torah - law), saying,’
This verse basically recapitulates Deuteronomy 1:1 in reverse and stresses that his speeches took place in the region of Beyond Jordan, on the very verge of the promised land, ‘in the land of Moab’, a general designation of the area. The ‘land of Moab’ was not just the area occupied by Moab. Sihon had seized part of the land of Moab, and Moab still saw it as theirs centuries later (see Judges 11:13-26).
Moses’ Recapitulation Of Their History (Deuteronomy 1:6 to Deuteronomy 4:43 ).
Moses’ instruction will now commence, recapitulating their history, and describing what Yahweh had commanded. He will first demonstrate how their fathers had been satisfactorily established by Him as a populous nation enjoying righteous government, but had failed through unbelief and disobedience to capture the land He had wanted to give them, and because of that unbelief and their refusal to respond to covenant instructions had been driven from it. Thus they had been sentenced to wander for ‘forty years’ in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:6 to Deuteronomy 2:1).
But now He commands them to go forward, avoiding their brother nations (Deuteronomy 2:2-23), (for there was no point in fighting for what could not be theirs). He had already delivered kings into their hands along with their great and mighty cities, so that parts of the land had already become theirs, and they had thus been able to recognise in their own experience what Yahweh could do for them (Deuteronomy 2:24 to Deuteronomy 34:12). He wants them to recognise how much they owe to their great Overlord. But this is not just a series of battle speeches prior to the great conflict ahead. The whole book is part of a solid covenant which guarantees Yahweh’s activity on their behalf and in return makes firm demands on them, and warns of the consequences of future failure, sealing it with a written document in the presence of witnesses (chapters Deuteronomy 27:1 to Deuteronomy 31:27). It can also be seen as composed of mini-covenants incorporated within the larger covenant.
We could also liken it to a leasehold of the land. Yahweh is taking His land from others who have broken the terms of their lease, and is ‘giving’ it to them for their use. But if they too fail to obey the terms of their lease, they too will be expelled.
Note in all this how he speaks to them as being one with their fathers. What their fathers had done, they had in some sense done. There was a huge sense of community oneness. Yet they were also their own men. Like their fathers they were faced with a choice. What they must ensure was that they broke the mould, and did not behave as their fathers had done. So in one sense they were one with their fathers, and shared in the same covenant promises, and participated in their experiences, but in another sense they were free to make their own choice. They would not thus be able to blame their fathers for what they decided. This brings out the important point that community responsibility did not necessarily blight all in the community. One generation, once they came of age, could throw off what the previous generation had done.
The Command From Yahweh To Go Forward (Deuteronomy 1:6-8 ).
This is a simple, balanced, initial command in three parts:
a “You ave dwelt long enough in this mountain (Mount Sinai)” (Deuteronomy 1:6).
b “Turn you, and take your journey” (Deuteronomy 1:7 a).
c “Go to the hill-country of the Amorites, and to all the places near to it, in the Arabah, in the hill-country, and in the lowland, and in the South, and by the seashore, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (Deuteronomy 1:7 b).
b “Look, I have set the land before you” (Deuteronomy 1:8 a).
a “Go in and possess the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their seed after them” (Deuteronomy 1:8 b).
Here we have both progression and chiasmus. We have the command to leave the Mount where they have been encamped for so long, to enter the whole of the land, and to go in and possess it, because He had sworn to give it to their forefathers. The chiasmus lies in ‘a’ in the parallel between ‘You have dwelt long enough in this mountain’ and ‘Go in and possess the land’, with the description of the whole land central. In ‘b’ “Turn you, and take your journey” parallels “Look, I have set the land before you.” And ‘c’ describes the perimeters of the land which they are going to possess.
‘ Yahweh our God spoke to us in Horeb, saying, “You have dwelt long enough in this mountain, turn you, and take your journey, and go to the hill-country of the Amorites, and to all the places near to it, in the Arabah, in the hill-country, and in the lowland, and in the South, and by the seashore, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.” ’
Moses opens his speech with the covenant name which is the essence of the book, ‘Yahweh our God’. This is what the book is all about, Yahweh their covenant God (here and Deuteronomy 5:2), Yahweh their only God (Deuteronomy 6:4), Yahweh to Whom they owe all (see below), Yahweh Who spoke to them in Horeb.
He looks back to Yahweh’s instruction at Mount Sinai in Horeb (see for this period Exodus 19:0 -Numbers 10:0). The One in Whose name he speaks is ‘Yahweh, our God Who spoke to us in Horeb’, that is, the One Who spoke at Sinai. He is the One Who had chosen them as His own set apart (holy) people, revealing it especially in that devastating encounter. Horeb includes Sinai and the surrounding area. ‘This mountain’ referred to Sinai, where they had first received the covenant.
At this point Yahweh had told their fathers that they had been in Horeb (at Sinai) long enough. They must leave this place where they had experienced the wonder of their powerful God and were to journey on into the land that He had prepared for them, ‘the hill-country of the Amorites’ (the long range of mountains west of Jordan), and all connected with it; the Jordan Valley (the Arabah), the lowlands (the Shephelah), ‘the South’ (the Negeb; compare Genesis 12:9; Genesis 20:1; Numbers 13:17), the seashore (the coastal plain), where the Canaanites dwelt, Lebanon, north of Canaan, even to the great river, the River Euphrates. (For Lebanon see Joshua 1:4; Joshua 13:5-6. Although in ancient days ‘Lebanon’ was also sometimes used to include a part of Canaan where there was a valley of Lebanon - Joshua 11:17; Joshua 12:7). The vista was large, from the Euphrates in the north to the Negeb. This is regularly given as the land which Yahweh had set aside for them if only they had been willing to take it (Genesis 15:18; Exodus 23:31; Joshua 1:4). In a sense it was the range of David’s empire if we include treaty nations, but because of disobedience it never became a reality, and at other times the land promised is depicted in less full terms.
The mention first of ‘the hill-country of the Amorites’, here and also in Deuteronomy 1:20, must be seen in the light of Deuteronomy 1:43-44 where it was in that very place that the Amorites would defeat their fathers. Thus his hearers must now face up to their victorious enemy in the very place of their previous humiliation and defeat them in turn. Such a victory would then give them confidence for the future. God very often has to bring us back to a place where we have suffered defeat in order that we might triumph and thus restore the balance, and our confidence in God.
“Yahweh our God.” This is emphatic in the sentence. He is the One Whose covenant this is. It designates Yahweh in His uniqueness and distinctiveness, the God Who has a special relationship with Israel, the One to Whom they look, the God to Whom they have a special responsibility. Compare its use in Exodus (Exodus 3:18; Exodus 5:3; Exodus 8:10 etc.) where it is used only in solemn declarations to Pharaoh.
As the covenant title it occurs eleven times in Moses’ first speech, where after its emphatic use as the opening words of Moses, having reference to His speaking to them in Horeb (Deuteronomy 1:6, compare Deuteronomy 5:2), it connects with Yahweh’s personal commands to them (Deuteronomy 1:19; Deuteronomy 1:41; Deuteronomy 2:37), Yahweh’s giving of the land to them (Deuteronomy 1:20; Deuteronomy 1:25; Deuteronomy 2:29), and Yahweh’s power to deliver their enemies into their hands (Deuteronomy 2:33; Deuteronomy 2:36; Deuteronomy 3:3), being finally used to emphasise His special nearness to them (Deuteronomy 4:7). It occurs nine times in Deuteronomy 5-6 at the commencement of his second great speech, again to emphasise His making of a covenant with them (Deuteronomy 5:2, compare Deuteronomy 1:6), His oneness as their God (Deuteronomy 6:4), the hearing of His voice at Horeb (Deuteronomy 5:24-25; Deuteronomy 5:27 (twice)), His direct commands given to them (Deuteronomy 6:20) and with the need to fear Him and keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 6:24-25) and then not until Deuteronomy 29:15; Deuteronomy 29:18; Deuteronomy 29:29 in Moses’ third covenant speech where reference is to their standing before Him in making the covenant, a warning against turning away from Him, and to His being the One to Whom secret things are known. It stresses His mightiness and uniqueness and sovereignty as their covenant God.
Compare its use in Joshua (only in Joshua 18:8; Joshua 22:19; Joshua 22:29; Joshua 24:17; Joshua 24:24) in solemn declarations when the covenant is being emphasised, and its only use in Judges in Deuteronomy 11:24; and in 1 Samuel in Deuteronomy 7:8 where the same applies. Compare also 1 Kings 8:57; 1Ki 8:59 ; 1 Kings 8:61. These are all the uses in the former prophets (the historical writings up to Kings), save that it is exceptionally used outside of speech in 1 Kings 8:65, but that simply stresses its significance, for there the covenant emphasis is central and it is actually in the nature of a declaration. It is thus used for a distinct purpose and is not simply ‘a mark of style’. It stresses the close personal covenant relationship between Him and His people. It also occurs nine times in the Psalms, and it occurs fifteen times in Jeremiah, where it could be described as a mark of style, or possibly as indicating the influence that Deuteronomy has had on him. On the other hand ‘Yahweh your God’ (addressed either to singular Israel (196 times in Deuteronomy out of 257 times in the whole Old Testament) or the plural children of Israel (46 out of 138) occurs in Deuteronomy 242 times out of 395 in the Old Testament as a whole, and is especially a common address from Exodus to Joshua.
As Israel had settled down at Horeb, we too can tend to settle down in a place where God has blessed us or revealed Himself to us. But the warning is that we must not do so any longer than God knows is good for us. Rather we must lift up our eyes and ask ourselves, ‘what is it about the future that God is preparing me for?’ Then we must go forward into the ‘unknown’, knowing that our hand is in the hand of God, and that ahead lies great blessing for us as long as we trust Him and obey.
‘ Look, I have set the land before you. Go in and possess the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their seed after them.’
And to trust and obey had been what God desired of Israel. They had been told to look at the land that was before them, recognising the great privilege and opportunity that was theirs, and to go forward. This was His land, the very land that Yahweh had sworn to give to their fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to themselves (who were ‘their seed after them’). It was the land where He would dwell among them as their king. Thus the gift of the land is confirmed, and is closely linked with the patriarchal covenants given in Genesis. They were to behold it, and then to go in and possess it, for it was theirs, a gracious gift from their great covenant Overlord.
Yahweh was offering them the thing that men then coveted most and would die for, land! What men dreamed about was available to them, a gift from Him. And not only land but His land, watched over and protected by Him. And this was not because of their own merit but because He had chosen out Abraham and through him would bless his ‘descendants’, so that through them He might bless the world (Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7). It was the symbol of a glorious future. And they had reason to know what He could do, for He had done it against the Egyptians.
As we consider this in relation to ourselves we must, however, beware of putting emphasis on the land. The emphasis should be on what the land symbolised, a fruitful and blessed future with God under His Kingly Rule. Today the land of Canaan/Israel no longer matters. It is no longer the promised land. Those who see it as such hope in vain. The promised land is the heavenly rule to which it pointed, and that should be men’s aim. We may safely leave the land to those who want it to fight over it. There is no Holy War in Israel today. God has moved on to something more important, the war against evil and death and Satan.
For what God really guaranteed to Abraham was a glorious and fulfilled future expressed in terms of a fertile country. The writer to the Hebrews saw this for he explained that Abraham was looking for a city with foundations whose builder and maker was God (Hebrews 11:10). A fertile land, a well founded city, both were pictures of a blessed and sure future, in our terms a heavenly hope, and it was this that was promised to Abraham. It was only expressed as it was because Abraham could have had no conception of such a heavenly hope.
And we may be sure of this. If Israel today are to be blessed it will not be by being in the land, but by their responding to Jesus Christ, their true Messiah, and finding salvation and a heavenly inheritance in Him (Romans 11:26; Hebrews 11:14-16; Hebrews 13:14). To draw up a great plan for the future of Israel in the physical land of Palestine is to go backwards. That is not to deny that God may have brought some parts of Israel back to Palestine in order that there they may eventually recognise in Jesus Christ their Messiah in some possible great outpouring of the Spirit. It is only to deny that there is to be a future, earthly, Jewish kingdom acknowledged as such by God. Any blessing to Israel must now come through the Gospel, through the Kingly Rule of God as described by Jesus, and through the heavenly kingdom where He reigns over all.
He Points Out That There Should In Fact Have Been No Problem With Their Possessing Canaan Because Yahweh Had Made Them A Great Nation, Justly and Wisely Watched Over By Their Rulers, And Had Led Them Safely Through The Wilderness. Their Failure Was Not Yahweh’s Fault (Deuteronomy 1:9-18 ).
He now draws attention to the fact that there was no excuse for the failure of their fathers to possess the land, because Yahweh had made them a great nation with an established and satisfactory system of justice. And they are still so, he confirms. They have become a great and well regulated nation through Yahweh’s goodness.
This section follows a chiastic pattern:
a I spoke to you at that time saying, “I am not able to bear you myself alone” (Deuteronomy 1:9).
b Yahweh your God has multiplied you and may He do so a thousand times more and bless you as he has promised (Deuteronomy 1:10-11).
c How can I myself bear the weight of your encumbrance, burden and strife? (Deuteronomy 1:12).
d Take wise men, and understanding, and known according to your tribes and I will make them head over you (Deuteronomy 1:13).
e You answered and said, ‘The thing which you have spoken is good to do.’ (Deuteronomy 1:14).
d So I took the heads of your tribes, wise men and known, and made them heads over you -- according to your tribes (Deuteronomy 1:15).
c I charged your judges to hear your cases and judge righteously(Deuteronomy 1:16).
b (I charged your judges) ‘You shall not respect persons in judgment but shall hear all fairly for the judgment is God’s and any cause too hard you can bring to me’ (Deuteronomy 1:17).
a I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do (Deuteronomy 1:18).
The parallels here are not as distinct as in the next section, but they are nevertheless there. In ‘a’ and parallel reference is made to ‘at that time’ and in ‘a’ his concern was at his inability to bear the burden of them while in the parallel he commands them to do what was necessary in order to relieve that burden. In ‘b’ he emphasises their great numbers and in the parallel tells how such great numbers are to be judged. In ‘c’ he is concerned that he cannot carry the weight of judging them and in the parallel he appoints judges to assist him. In ‘d’ he instructs the appointing of suitable persons and in the parallel sets as heads the suitable persons whom they have appointed. And central to all in ‘e’ is that it is with their full agreement.
‘ And I spoke to you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone. Yahweh your God has multiplied you, and, behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.’
God had blessed Israel, and they had grown apace. Indeed because of the growing largeness of their numbers Moses had had to acknowledge that he had been made to recognise that he could not act as their judge on his own. They had become metaphorically too heavy for him to carry. For Yahweh had multiplied them to such an extent that they were as numerous as the stars in the night sky.
Note the hint of the Abrahamic covenants in mention of ‘the stars of heaven for multitude’ (Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:17; Genesis 26:4; Exodus 32:13; compare Deuteronomy 10:22; Deuteronomy 28:62). Compare also the reference to ‘the River Euphrates’ mentioned earlier (Deuteronomy 1:7) and note Genesis 15:18. Genesis is in mind here. This description was not, of course, intended to be taken literally. He looked up and saw the multitude of stars, and then he looked round and saw a similar multitude of people and tents, and was greatly impressed at their numbers in both cases. He tried to count neither.
Later, if they were disobedient, instead of being like the stars for multitude, it is stressed that they would become few in number (Deuteronomy 28:62). But it was hoped that that would never be.
Note how he is personalising the whole story by speaking to them as though it was they who had been there originally, something most natural to someone who constantly spoke to them as ‘his people’ despite their changing make up. These were still the people whom he had delivered from Egypt and who had gone through all the subsequent experiences.
‘ Yahweh, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times as many as you are, and bless you, as he has promised you!’
And he prayed now that Yahweh, ‘the God of their fathers’ would make them a thousand times as numerous as they then were, and bless them as He had promised, in accordance with His promises to the patriarchs (Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 15:5; Genesis 17:5-6; Genesis 22:16-18; Genesis 26:24; Genesis 27:14). That in itself showed that they were without excuse. It was not through any failure of Yahweh to fulfil His promise about the number of descendants that the problems had arisen. Their numbers were continually increasing. They were part of an inevitable process resulting from Yahweh’s sovereign activity which would be irresistible. Their failure lay in themselves.
This tender touch revealed that his unwillingness to bear the weight of their needs was not due to any lack of love, but simply to the requirements of the situation. He had still prayed and longed for the very best for them.
‘ How can I myself alone bear your heavy load, and your burden, and your disputes?’
Indeed his very vision of their success and their rapid growth in numbers had made him recognise that he alone could not bear the weight of having to be judge over them, or of having to deal with their problems and their difficulties. He had recognised that he was insufficient to bear so great a weight. The threefold description - your heavy load, your burden, your disputes -is intended to indicate a complete picture of the problems involved. It had become all too much for him. We too must never be afraid to acknowledge when a task has become too great for us. There is no shame or faithlessness in seeking assistance under God, as long as we stick to our task. Thereby it may be done the better.
Compare for this description Numbers 11:14 which was immediately followed by the appointment of the seventy elders. Moses was ever aware of his dependence on the assistance of others raised up by God.
‘ Take for yourselves wise men, and understanding, and well known, according to your tribes, and I will make them heads over you. And you answered me, and said, “The thing which you have spoken is good for us to do.”’
So they will remember that he had arranged for them to appoint their own wise men over them, suitable men, men of understanding and high reputation, tribe by tribe, to be heads over them, something which they had recognised was a good idea and which they had agreed to do. For they too had recognised how numerous they were. Note again the threefold description indicating completeness of provision.
‘ So I took the heads of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads (rosh) over you, captains (sar) of thousands, and captains of hundreds, and captains of fifties, and captains of tens, and officers (shoter), according to your tribes.’
Thus he had set up a system of leaders and men of authority, to act as judges and magistrates, leaders in military activities, and general advisers and mediators, covering all levels of their society from highest to lowest. Note the use of different words for the leaders, ‘heads’ (rosh - those of high position), ‘captains’ (sar - usually with military leadership in mind. Discipline was necessary in the running of their camp and they must ever be ready to resort to arms), and ‘officials’ (shoter - probably more those with administrative authority, and clerks of the court. Its root meaning is ‘to write’). He was covering every aspect of leadership. The actual carrying out of this initially is partly outlined in Exodus 18:0, see especially Exodus 18:25, but it would be a continuing process as further illustrated in Numbers 11:14-30. He does not here mention the part that his father-in-law had played in it. He wants them to recognise their own full part in it. (Such subtle distinction emphasises that these really are the words of Moses). But he does want them to recognise that they had seen themselves as mature enough and numerous enough to do it. It presumably also combines the appointment of the seventy elders (Numbers 11:14-30, see Numbers 11:14). Note the differing size of units, ‘thousands’, ‘hundreds’, ‘fifties’, ‘tens’, not literal numbers but descriptive of different sized tribal units. They had been catered for even down to the smallest group.
Moses was possibly conscious as he said this of the fact that these who were before him also needed to have confidence in their leaders if they were to succeed in what lay ahead. They needed to see them as wise and understanding and qualified for their responsibility. Then they would follow them the more readily.
(This use of number words is a reminder that very often in ancient days what seem to be ‘numerical expressions’ are often in fact descriptive of something else. A ‘thousand’ was a large group, a’ hundred’ and ‘a fifty’, medium sized groups, and a ‘ten’ a small group, regardless of actual quantity. And these leaders would not only act as judges and mediators, but also as military leaders. Thus a ‘thousand’, or ‘a hundred’, or ‘a fifty’, or ‘a ten’ could be a military unit, or the leader of it).
‘ And I charged your judges at that time, saying, “Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother, and the resident alien who is with him. You shall not respect persons in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike; you shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s. And the cause that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.” ’
He explains that he had then exhorted all the appointed ‘judges’ (people placed in authority) to judge rightly and fairly, treating equally both native-born and foreigner. They were to have no respect of persons in their judgments, but to judge small and great alike, and to judge righteously. And if they found that they had a case which was too hard for them, or they did not know what decision to come to, they could come to Moses for him to hear the case. For he had not been deserting them. They always had him to turn to, as the representative of the King. And the king was always the last court of appeal.
“Judges.” In those days there was no separation between the ruling authorities and the system of justice. The rulers were the judges. The military leaders in the Book of Judges were mainly called judges because having gained their victories they then began to rule their section of Israel. Deborah ‘judged’ Israel even though she was not a military leader (Judges 4:4).
The constant reference that we find to ‘resident aliens, sojourners’, that is foreigners who lived among them without actually joining the covenant, although expected to keep the ordinances and statutes and not to openly worship other gods, is a reminder of the conglomerate make-up of the camp. Most present at Sinai appear to have responded to the covenant and become ‘true’ children of Israel, but there would always be the odd one or two who did not, and others may well later have joined them later in the journey through the wilderness once they had left Sinai and have partly held aloof. There would probably be a small but constant stream of people who liked the idea of joining with them as they journeyed through the wilderness, and who seemingly were welcomed. Israel were ever to remember that they had been in bondage in Egypt and were on the whole to refrain from doing the same to others, and were to show hospitality to strangers. They were to treat all fairly, as they would have liked to be treated in Egypt.
So as a people they had been established in justice and righteousness, and the law of Yahweh had been firmly but fairly applied. They had experienced a level of justice which was the lot of very few outside Israel. And they had become an established people. The point that he is making is that all that could be done for them had been done.
‘ And I commanded you at that time all the things which you should do.’
And having appointed the judges he had told them all the things that they should do. He had outlined to them God’s commandments, and His statutes, and His ordinances, and had made clear what was required of all. And the same for the people. Moses here therefore claims to have brought to them previous revelation, as found in Exodus to Numbers.
So they had gone forward confident in themselves as a people, and satisfied with their position as a nation. All had appeared ripe for a successful invasion of the land. But as so often happens it is when we become complacent that danger lurks.
So They Had Journeyed Safely To The Edge Of The Land With God’s Help And Had Sent Out Spies To Assess The Land Who Had Reported That It Was A Good Land (Deuteronomy 1:19-25 ).
‘ And we journeyed from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw, by the way to the hill-country of the Amorites, as Yahweh our God commanded us; and we came to Kadesh-barnea.’
The result was that they had been able safely and successfully to negotiate that great and terrible wilderness that lay before them, with its scorching heat and shortage of water, and its many hazards and the hardness of the way, following the ‘highway to the hill country of the Amorites’ that led to the hill-country of the Amorites in Canaan, just as ‘Yahweh their God’ had commanded them. And thus they had come to Kadesh-barnea, an oasis (or group of oases) in the Negeb immediately to the south of Canaan, a place where water was comparatively plentiful.
So everything had appeared successful. They were numerous and plentiful, they were wisely governed, and they had experienced God’s mercies on the way. They should have been ready for anything. The worst was surely behind them, and they had survived.
“The Amorites.” This is a description which can have different meanings which must be decided in context. Sometimes it is used to describe all the inhabitants of Canaan (e.g. Genesis 15:16). Sometimes, as here, it is used to describe the dwellers in the hill country in contrast with ‘the Canaanites’ who dwelt in the plain. At others it describes particular groups such as the Amorites over whom Sihon was king (compare Judges 1:34-35). Descriptions in those days were often general rather than specific, and could be applied loosely. The ‘Amorites’ were in fact mentioned in what are called the Egyptian Execration Texts, small pottery and figurines on which were written the names of Egypt’s enemies so that they could be smashed to release a curse (c 1900 BC).
‘ And I said to you, You are come unto the hill-country of the Amorites, which Yahweh our God gives to us. “Behold, Yahweh your God has set the land before you, go up, take possession, as Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you, do not be afraid, nor be dismayed.” ’
Then Moses had turned to them and informed them of their whereabouts. He had told them that they were just south of the hill-country of the Amorites, the mountain ranges that formed the backbone of Canaan. And that it was that land that Yahweh had given them. He had set it before them and all they had now had to do was go forward trusting in Him, and He would give them possession. He would be with them, but He would not do it all Himself. It was their responsibility therefore to have confidence in Him and take possession of it. For as it was at the command of Yahweh, the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they would not need to be afraid. He Who had proved Himself faithful would be so again. It was Yahweh’s gift. (But they had refused it. Let the present generation therefore not make the same mistake).
Note the three alternative ways of describing Yahweh; ‘Yahweh our God’, ‘Yahweh your God’, ‘Yahweh the God of your fathers’. The titles all draw attention to the fact that He is their unique and distinct covenant God, and the threeness stresses His divine completeness. ‘Yahweh our God’ is the God of the covenant (see verse 6 above). ‘Yahweh your God’ is the God in Whom they can trust. ‘Yahweh the God of your fathers’ is the God Who is bringing them into His continuing covenant and purposes, Who had promised this land to their forefathers. The change from ‘our’ to ‘your’ is made with the intention of boosting their sense of dependence on Him. Thus they were not to be afraid or dismayed (compare Joshua 1:9), even though they were again facing the hill-country of the Amorites (compare verses 43-44), because Yahweh was their God.
In our own case God has many things which He wishes to give us, but sadly we often also refuse them because we will not respond. If we refuse He will not force them on us but will pass them to others.
Note that in verse 21 we find the first use of the singular ‘thou’ throughout. ‘Behold Yahweh thy God has set the land before thee. Take possession as Yahweh, the God of thy fathers has spoken to thee. Fear not nor be dismayed’. The purpose of ‘thy, thee’ here would seem to be because of the reference to the relationship with the fathers and it is in the form of a declaration to Israel as a nation as a whole. The idea is to bring out the oneness of Israel as a whole, trueborn and adopted person alike, within the covenant. It is because those who have been adopted have become one with Israel that they can look back to their ‘fathers’.
‘ And you came near to me every one of you, and said, “Let us send men before us, that they may search the land for us, and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up, and the cities to which we shall come.” ’
The response of their fathers had been good. They had suggested sending scouts in order to spy out the land so that they would know which way to take and what point to attack from. In Numbers 13:1-3 it is emphasised that it was Yahweh Who commanded the scouts to go forth, but this is simply a reminder that God’s side of things and ours must go hand in hand. It may be that the Israelites in fact first approached Moses with the idea, which he then put to God in order to obtain His commands on the subject. Or it may have been the other way round. But Moses is here summarising the situation and looking at it from their point of view, seeking to give as good a picture of the failure as possible. He does not want to shame their fathers unnecessarily. Indeed, possibly the plan had first come from Yahweh, and when it had been put to them they had concurred, and even come to him pressing him to carry it out. But considering what had happened in Numbers, and the behaviour of the people, we must see this account as being deliberately very tactful. Moses was wooing his listeners. He was trying to win them over to becoming believing and successful.
Very often we find that when God speaks to someone about doing something that person discovers when he goes forward that others have already been coming to the conclusion that it is what they too must do, for God often prompts different men’s minds in this way when He has a purpose to carry out. Thus it is no surprise that they had suggested what God had intended, even possibly in their eagerness interrupting Moses before he had finished. After all, the sending out of scouts was normal military strategy, and they would know it had to be done. They would have had some experience of it in the wilderness. Scouts would have moved in all directions, and especially ahead, so that they were aware of what was happening around them, and what lay before them. Thus they would have expected it in this situation.
“Let us send men before us.” Perhaps this is intended to be a little ironic. It was Yahweh Who should have gone before them. Had Yahweh gone ahead success would have been guaranteed. But they sent only men.
‘ And the thing pleased me well; and I took twelve men of you, one man for every tribe, and they turned and went up into the hill-country, and came to the valley of Eshcol, and spied it out. And they took of the fruit of the land in their hands, and brought it down to us, and brought us word again, and said, It is a good land which Yahweh our God gives to us.’
Moses describes how he had been pleased that the inclinations of their fathers had tied in with God’s demands, and explains how he had taken twelve men, one from each tribe, to act as scouts, and that they went up into the hill-country and came to the valley of Eshcol (possibly in the region of Hebron). Quite incidentally we have confirmation that all twelve tribes were present. Numbers tells us that their expedition was in fact somewhat more involved than this (Numbers 13:21-25), but Moses is not trying pedantically to cover the whole story. Rather he is concentrating on the essentials. (Nothing is worse than a speaker who feels that he must leave no detail out when telling a story. A speaker regularly has to decide when to abbreviate in order to stress his point). He reminds them of the wonderful fruit that had been brought back, which had been collected from Eshcol, and had demonstrated what a good land it was. Indeed all had admitted that it was indeed a good land which Yahweh was giving them. Here was the fruit of the land before them.
All had seemed bright. They were at the border of the land. The land had been scouted and had proved good. All that was now required was to advance with faith in God and begin to take possession of it.
‘ Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of Yahweh your God, and you murmured in your tents, and said, “Because Yahweh hated us, he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our heart melt, saying, The people are greater and taller than we, the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.” ’
But in spite of their appreciation of the land, and their recognition that it was a good land, their fathers had refused to go forward. They had rebelled against Yahweh’s command, and had come together in their tents (note the stress on their clandestine muttering) muttering and murmuring in an attitude of total antagonism. ‘Returning to tents’ was a description of cessation from mobilisation (Joshua 22:8) and of withdrawal from authority (1 Kings 12:16). They were declaring themselves not ready for service.
This had resulted in their looking back and declaring that the deliverance from Egypt which had so delighted their hearts two years earlier, and over which they had been so jubilant, had only really occurred because Yahweh ‘hated’ them. The word for ‘hate’ can simply indicate lack of special consideration or an attitude of ‘not-loving’ (see Genesis 29:31), rather than positive hatred, but here they were being childish and imputed to God unworthy sentiments as though He had acted petulantly like the gods of other nations as revealed in mythology. There is a deliberate contrast here on Moses’ part of their faithless attitude as compared with Yahweh’s constant love for them (Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:7-9) and the love for Yahweh that the covenant demands (Deuteronomy 6:5). They were seeing Him as the exact opposite of what He actually was to them.
The words ‘love’ and ‘hate’ are covenant words. When a suzerain had made his treaty with a conquered people he called on them to show their ‘love’ for him, and ‘hate’ towards his enemies (compare Psalms 139:21-22), and described those who rejected the covenant as those who ‘hated’ him. They were thus here charging Yahweh with failure to keep His covenant. They were suggesting treachery. We too always see God as ‘hard’ when He does not let us have our own way.
So their fathers had begun to claim that He had simply delivered them from Egypt in order to put them in an even worse situation, indeed, in order to destroy them, because of His malice against them. Better to be in bondage in Egypt than to be dead at the hands of the Amorites!
We are all familiar with how such ideas can spread. For their minds had been gripped by the pictures outlined to them by the scouts, and they had continued to magnify them until they imagined large armies of larger than average people (Numbers 13:32), vast cities with great, insurmountable walls (Numbers 13:28), and even worse, the sons of the Anakim, of fearsome reputation and renowned for their huge build, and even more fearful when seen in the imagination (Numbers 13:33 where the fearful described them as ‘the Nephilim’, and saw them as semi-divine - compare Genesis 6:4). They had panicked. In their disappointment their imaginations had run riot, and they had asked themselves, ‘what on earth are we being expected to face?’. It was the opposite of faith.
And unless we exercise faith we too are all very good at magnifying difficulties. Let us learn from this never to so build up difficulties in our minds that they become seemingly insurmountable.
“The sons of the Anakim.” These were famed for their great size (compare Deuteronomy 2:10; Deuteronomy 2:21) and were connected with Hebron (Numbers 13:22; Joshua 15:13) from where they spread, and some went to Gaza (Joshua 11:21). Because of their size they would be valuable as mercenaries. Joshua in fact destroyed them and drove the remnants from their territory (Joshua 11:21). This destruction was probably connected with the description in Joshua 14:12-15; Joshua 15:13-14; Judges 1:10. It may be these who are mentioned in the Egyptian execration texts under the reference to “the ruler of Iy-‘anaq”.
How easy it is for us as well to declare ourselves ready to obey God, and then to change our minds as soon as difficulties begin to arise. Better a cosy useless life, we decide, rather than to have to face up to problems and overcome them. But we must beware. It is then we risk losing ‘the land’. For it is as we do face up to these problems that the difficulties begin to melt away before us, even though it might take time.
‘ Then I said to you, “Do not be in such dread, nor be afraid of them. Yahweh your God who goes before you, he will fight for you, in the same way as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you (thou) have seen how Yahweh your God bore you (thee) , as a man bears his son, in all the way in which you (ye) went, until you came to this place.’
Moses assures them that he had immediately stepped in to give them confidence. Let them lose their fears, he had said. Let them remember that Yahweh would go before them. Let them recognise that it was the same Yahweh Who had delivered them from the Egyptians ‘before their very eyes’, Who would go with them. The same Yahweh Who had protected them in the wilderness, and had borne them as a man carries his young son in the face of difficult circumstances, feeding them with manna and quails and providing them with water, and giving them a father figure in Moses, and He had done it in all the ways in which they went. If they thought back they would recognise that He was dependable in every way. He had performed the miraculous for them against the Egyptians in such a way that they had been able to watch it, and He had continually strengthened and comforted and fed them in their journey through the wilderness. This was indeed the same Yahweh as they had described as a ‘Man of War’ in Exodus 15:3. As long as they fought on His behalf, He would fight for them.
Note in Deuteronomy 1:31 the use of the singular ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ which is primarily because of the illustration. Israel is likened to a son borne by his father. The singular is therefore appropriate. But the application is then immediately to ‘ye’.
‘ Yet in this thing you did not believe Yahweh your God, who went before you in the way, to seek you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, to show you by what way you should go, and in the cloud by day.’
But they (in their fathers) had not believed Yahweh their covenant God. God had constantly gone before them in the cloud by day and the fire by night, showing them the way in which they should go and selecting the best camps sites at night, and guiding them to the essential water that was so needed, and feeding them with manna. But they still would not accept that He was capable of defeating these fearsome enemies, by now as large as giants in their imagination. They had refused to believe.
‘ And Yahweh heard the voice of your words, and was angry, and swore, saying, “Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land, which I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh, he shall see it, and to him will I give the land that he has trodden on, and to his children, because he has wholly followed Yahweh.” ’
The result was, that after waiting and giving them opportunity to make up their minds fully, which they did in terms of a refusal to go forward, Yahweh was ‘angry’. That is, in His moral righteousness He held their attitude in aversion and determined to punish them.
Thus He swore that not one of the mature men would see or enter the land, with the exception of Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, who had urged them to go forward, (literally ‘he was completely full after Yahweh’). He alone of all who had received the command to go forward would see it, (apart also from the leadership itself who had given the command), and what was more, he would receive at God’s hand the very land that he had trodden on, because he, and he alone, had fully followed Yahweh in the infighting among the eleven scouts. Joshua is not mentioned because, having taken his place at Moses’ side, and having had discussions with him as his deputy, he would not be in the argument. It is clear from the narrative in Numbers 13:30 that Caleb had stood firm and alone in the case of the ‘people versus Moses and Joshua’, for Joshua was not seen as ‘of the people’ but as ‘on the other side’. He was known to be Moses’ right hand man. Thus he had wisely kept quiet, and was not standing among them, although later adding his witness. This description tells us that Moses clearly remembers the sight of Caleb standing there on one side with the others baying on the other, a sign of authenticity. he is remembering what he saw.
But it may be asked, ‘What about Joshua?’ The answer is simple. Neither Moses nor Joshua were under examination. Moses was God’s chosen one, and Joshua was his right hand man, ‘standing before him’. They were the ones who had conveyed Yahweh’s commands. At this stage it was fully acknowledged that both of them would enter the land. So the fate of Joshua had not been in question.
‘ Also Yahweh was angry with me for your sakes, saying, “You also shall not go in there, Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall go in there. Encourage you him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it.” ’
But Moses own right to enter the land had also later been lost. He reminds them of what to him was a harsh fact. That he too now could not enter the land. And the reason that he could not enter the land was because he himself had sinned, partly as a result of Israel’s disobedience. This disobedience is the connecting point with the previous verse. For in the end he too was forbidden entry into the land because of his later sin at Meribah (Numbers 20:12) when they were coming to Kadesh for the second time. That was due to the people’s unbelief as well. And it was the possible unbelief of the people that he was speaking to now! Let them remember what their unbelief has done to him, and learn from it.
Such an abbreviated reference fits well with these being Moses’ actual words to the actual people who had been the cause of his behaviour. He did not need to remind them of the circumstances. They remembered them all too well. No one who had been present in the camp would forget that dreadful day when the news spread around of God’s judgment on Moses because he had got annoyed at their intransigence. With all their mutterings he was the one figure on whom they knew that they could always rely. And Moses knew that they would still feel guilty about it. But he wants them to recognise that his loss is Joshua’s gain, so that they must faithfully support Joshua in order to demonstrate their sorrow at what they had done to him.
Up to that point at Meribah then (humanly speaking) it had been in God’s mind that he should enter the land to possess it for Yahweh. But then he had lost that privilege. Now that privilege was to go to Joshua, the one who ‘stood before him’, that is, was his second in command. That being so there had been no need to mention Joshua previously because all knew that he was destined to lead them into the land, and he, with Moses, would also have been responsible for giving the command to go forward in the previous situation. Thus he did not have to debate the question like Caleb did. He was firmly with Moses in his actions, and was the one who was to cause Israel to inherit (receive as a gift) the land. He does not want Joshua to be seen as having been just another scout. His appointment was from Yahweh.
Forgetting that this is a speech in which he is seeking to get over basic facts without worrying about the chronology causes some commentators difficulties. But Moses is simply bringing out salient facts. Their father’s could not enter because of unbelief, he cannot enter because he had sinned when he was provoked. Both were excluded because of sin. Thus it is Joshua who will lead them forward. Joshua’s official appointment was not until Numbers 27:18, although Moses was no doubt aware that he was grooming him for leadership right from his appointment of him as his ‘servant’, and from his success against the Amalekites in Exodus 17:0. However this is a speech and he would not hesitate to put everything together without regard to time. It was the facts which mattered not when they happened. That is why he ignores Aaron. He is irrelevant to the point he is making.
(It is, of course, psychologically possible as some have suggested that Moses had a guilt feeling about his failure to persuade the unbelievers to go forward at that time, and dated his rejection back to that fact, but there is no other indication of it and it is not required as an explanation in a context like this).
“ Moreover your little ones, whom you said would be a prey, and your children, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, they will go in there, and to them will I give it, and they will possess it.”
Here Yahweh is seen as speaking to their fathers. They had said that if they entered the land and fought the Amorites their little ones would become a prey to the enemy (Numbers 14:3). Well, had said Yahweh, as for their young children and their babes, of whom they had said that they would become a prey, paradoxically they would be allowed to enter the land. It would be given to them and they would possess it. Where the fathers had refused to obey, the children would obey. Thereby would Yahweh’s faithfulness be revealed. Rather than becoming a prey they would enter as the victors.
“Have no knowledge of good or evil.” That is, at the time had no real knowledge at all and were therefore not in a position to make a decision either way. Thus they could not with Caleb choose the good, nor with the others choose the evil.
“ But as for you, turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness by the way to the Reed Sea.”
So God had then given their fathers a new command, to ‘about turn’, and go back into the wilderness from which they had come. They were to turn round and return to the wilderness by ‘the way to the Reed Sea’.
(We are incidentally learning something of the geography of the area. They had already used ‘the way of Mount Seir’ (Deuteronomy 1:2), followed by ‘the way to the hill-country of the Amorites’ (Deuteronomy 1:19), now they were to use ‘the way to the Reed Sea’. They were travelling the highways and byways).
‘ Then you answered and said to me, “We have sinned against Yahweh, we will go up and fight, in accordance with all that Yahweh our God commanded us.” And you girded on every man his weapons of war, and were in eager readiness to go up into the hill-country.”
The command to ‘about turn’ had brought them up sharp. The thought of the horror of going back into that wilderness had been too much. They had decided that between that and the choice of going forward, going forward and fighting was the best. But it had been too late. They had laid bare their hearts, and revealed their true condition. They could no longer claim that they were going forward in obedience to Yahweh, in faith and loving response to His covenant, they were rather going forward as the slightly better of two desperate alternatives. It would no longer be a march of faith, triumphantly led by Yahweh, but a desperate attempt to do their best in the face of the difficulties and get themselves out of a hole. They were not now thinking in terms of victory in Yahweh’s name, but of simply doing what they could. But Yahweh’s powerful activity was not available for them in that way, for it revealed that they were just not spiritually and psychologically geared up for all the battles that would lie ahead. It would thus not have been a kindness to let them go forward, for they would not be going forward as Yahweh’s people but as their own people, taking with them all their fears and weaknesses.
So this turning back was really a kindness to them. Had they gone forward they would never have survived all the battles that lay ahead. They would have been slowly massacred man by man. For they lacked the faith to achieve. And it was this very requirement of faith, that alone could have ensured success, that humanly speaking Moses was now in Deuteronomy seeking to build up in their successors.
“All that Yahweh our God commanded us.” Note their use of the covenant title ‘Yahweh our God’. They had been seeking to suggest that they were responding to the covenant after all, but it had not been so.
‘ And Yahweh said to me, “Say to them, Do not go not up, nor fight, for I am not among you, lest you be smitten before your enemies.”
So Yahweh, Who knew the truth of what would lay ahead, had now commanded them not to go forward. The command was clear. They were not to go forward, they were not to fight, because Yahweh would not be fighting for them. Thus the danger was that they would be smitten by their enemies.
‘ So I spoke to you, and you did not listen, but you rebelled against the commandment of Yahweh, and were presumptuous, and went up into the hill-country.’
And Moses had given their fathers Yahweh’s command, but as ever they had been disobedient. Having rebelled when He said ‘Go forward’, they had now rebelled when He said, ‘About turn’. Whatever God said ‘do’ they would not listen to. They ‘were presumptuous and went up into the hill country’. They were presumptuous because they went up without God’s permission, indeed in spite of His refusal to allow it. They would certainly be without their general Joshua. They would be without Moses whose faith and confidence had previously sustained them in battle. They would be without the staff of God which symbolised His powerful activity on their behalf. Thus they would be ill prepared for what lay ahead. They had really only gone because they could not bear the thought of facing the wilderness again. They just assumed that somehow God would help them as He always had. But they forgot that they were no longer the people that God had brought up to this point. Their hearts had become set in unbelief.
‘ And the Amorites, who dwelt in that hill-country, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and beat you down in Seir, even to Hormah.’
The net result could only be disaster. They had met the Amorites on their own territory, men who had had plenty of experience at defending it and knew every inch of the ground, while their own leaders were inexperienced. Thus the Amorites had come out like a swarm of bees and had driven them back so that they were beaten down in Edom (Seir), and then fled to Hormah. ‘As bees do’ probably refers to a descending swarm. All had known of cases of people who, being attacked by a swarm of bees, could not get away from them. And that was how it had felt before these fierce Amorites who did not stop until they were well clear of the hill country. ‘Seir’ would be the part below the Dead Sea. Hormah was probably a town north east of Kadesh. It means ‘devoted to destruction’ and may therefore refer to a ruin, although, if it was the same town as is mentioned in Judges 1:17, the name was given to it when the Israelites captured it and dedicated it to destruction. if that is the case ‘even to Hormah’ may be a note added by a later scribe. But it is probable that there were a number of Hormahs, for the word simply means ‘a ruin’, and may have applied to a number of desolate sites. It is probably not accidental that that was named as the terminus for the people, for they were ‘devoted to destruction’ in the wilderness.
Thus on entering the land in unbelief they had immediately again been driven out of it. There had been no place in Yahweh’s land for unbelief, a lesson that was also important for the future. For God was not bringing them to the land just for their own good, but because He had a purpose to perform through them, and if they were not fitted for that purpose they would be excluded. This doctrine of those who were unfit being turned out of the land is ancient. Once the land had been promised to Abraham and his descendants it was indeed inevitable. For the very basis of the covenant with Abraham was that all those who failed to respond to the covenant would eventually be excluded from the land (Genesis 15:16).
‘ And you returned and wept before Yahweh, but Yahweh did not listen to your voice, nor did he give ear to you.’
The result had been deep sorrow, so much so that they came and wept before the Tabernacle, ‘before Yahweh’. But they had wept in disappointment, not because they were repentant of how they had let Yahweh down. So Yahweh did not hear, for their hearts and intentions were not right, and they had disobeyed Him. His ears were thus now closed to them. His head was turned away. We may think that we can continue praying when we have been disobedient to God, but the truth is that until we truly repent He will not listen to us. The word He wants to hear is a genuine ‘sorry’, and for these it was not possible. Their hearts had become set in the wrong direction. They might express remorse, but they would not be ‘sorry’.
‘ So you abode in Kadesh many days, according to the days that you abode there.’
Thus for many days they had remained at the oasis at Kadesh. Moses could not remember how long it was, and so he adds ‘for the number of days that you abode there’. But eventually they had had to move on. Possibly their large numbers had affected the waters of the oases round about so that they were for a time no longer usable or sufficient. Or perhaps there were too many of them for permanent residence there. Compare Numbers 20:2.
Deuteronomy 2:1 a
‘Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea, as Yahweh spoke to me.’
Then finally they had had to submit to what God had said, and they had begun their wanderings. Whether it was because Moses had insisted at God’s command, or because conditions had made it inevitable, they had left Kadesh and taken the route by ‘the way to the Reed Sea’, just as Yahweh had said. And for a considerable time they had wandered around Mount Seir, the range of mountains south of the Dead Sea. They had not, however, been very happy about it and it had resulted in the attempted coup by Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:0).
So the parameters have now been laid down. Although his hearers did not realise it the whole history of Israel has been laid out in microcosm. Moses has laid down the foundations for the future. The land and the future is Yahweh’s. It is available for all who will respond to Him in belief and will obey Him. He has done His part. He has multiplied them. He has established them as a righteous nation. Now it is up to them. If they respond to His covenant they may enter into it and enjoy its blessing and Yahweh’s protection. If they do so respond He will lead them and fight for them. He will be to them like a father bearing his son. But if they fail to go on believing, if they fail to go on obeying Him, then He will also drive them out of the land, as He drove out their fathers, so that they too will be for ever wandering around, getting nowhere. The choice lies with them.
The principles that lie behind this first chapter will be continually repeated throughout the book. He is giving His people the land, but if they fail to respond truly to Him they will lose it.
It should be stressed that nothing of all this determined the eternal destiny of these people. As with us that was determined by their own personal individual response to the way of forgiveness that God had laid open to them. He had not forsaken them completely. But we may see in this chapter a parable of the Christian life. For the newly converted Christian, life often seems like a wilderness journey, but as he learns to trust Christ more he can enter into rest, the rest of trust and obedience. Sadly, however, many fear what obedience to God will result in and so do not go forward, thus sentencing themselves to a life in the wilderness. The writer to the Hebrews used it as an illustration of life as an unbeliever in contrast with life as a believer (Hebrews 3-4).