Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy 1

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Deuteronomy 1

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Introduction to Deuteronomy 

By the time Moses addresses the messages contained in the book of Deuteronomy to the new generation of Israelites, he is 120 years old. The Hebrew name for the book, Haddebharim,means “The Words,” derived from the first verse, which reads, “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel….” The Jews have also referred to this book as Mishneh Hattorah, “The Repetition of the Law,” taken from Deuteronomy 17:18 Deuteronomy 17:18And it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
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, which uses a phrase that the New King James Version translates as “a copy of this law.” The Greek Septuagint translation rendered this as To Deuteronomion Touto, that is, “This Second Law,” from which we have the English title, Deuteronomy.

The book does not, however, set forth a “second” law, but merely repeats and expands on the law that had been given in a codified form more than 40 years earlier in the book of Exodus. In fact, much of God’s law predated even the book of Exodus, as the Ten Commandments, for instance, were already in force since the creation of Adam and Eve (compare Romans 5:12-13 Romans 5:12-13 [12] Why, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on all men, for that all have sinned: [13] (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
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). And Abraham, we are told, observed God’s commandments, statutes and laws (Genesis 26:5 Genesis 26:5Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
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) long before Moses was born. Therefore, some Bibles, such as most Protestant German Bibles, identify this last book written by Moses simply as “The Fifth Book of Moses.” It should be noted, however, that its last chapter, Moses’ obituary, was probably written by someone else, Joshua being the most likely candidate—especially when we see other obvious additions by others in Moses’ books (e.g., Numbers 12:3 Numbers 12:3(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were on the face of the earth.)
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). While God could have inspired Moses to write this last chapter before his death, that seems unlikely.

The Tyndale Old Testament Commentary on Deuteronomy states: “Deuteronomy is one of the greatest books of the Old Testament. Its influence on the domestic and personal religion of all ages has not been surpassed by any other book in the Bible. It is quoted over eighty times in the New Testament and thus it belongs to a small group of four Old Testament books to which the early Christians made reference.” The other three books are Genesis, Psalms and Isaiah. Tyndaleadds, “The book comes even to the modern reader in much the same way as a challenging sermon, for it is directed towards moving the minds and wills of the hearers to decision: choose life, that you and your descendants may live (Deuteronomy 30:19 Deuteronomy 30:19I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live:
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).”

Israel’s Original Refusal to Enter the Land 

In verse 2 we see the mention of Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai. With the exception of Deuteronomy 33:2 Deuteronomy 33:2And he said, The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir to them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them.
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, this book uses Horeb rather than Sinai. The word Horeb literally means “desolation,” “desert” or “drought.”

At the outset, it is emphasized that Moses is, throughout the book, “explaining” the law (verse 5). This explanation is not based on his own will and ideas, but on “all that the Lord had given him as commandments to them” (verse 3)—reminding us of Jesus Christ, who only spoke what the Father told Him to speak (John 8:26 John 8:26I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him.
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; John 15:15 John 15:15From now on I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known to you.
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). Yet before actually reiterating the law, Moses reviews Israel’s prior opportunity to enter the Promised Land, their refusal and the resulting penalty, and, to bolster their faith, the recent victories that God had given them.

First, Moses reminds his audience how he established an organized administrative legal structure within the nation (Deuteronomy 1:9-18 Deuteronomy 1:9-18 [9] And I spoke to you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone: [10] The LORD your God has multiplied you, and, behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. [11] (The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as you are, and bless you, as he has promised you!) [12] How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife? [13] Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. [14] And you answered me, and said, The thing which you have spoken is good for us to do. [15] So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes. [16] And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brothers, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. [17] You shall not respect persons in judgment; but you shall hear the small as well as the great; 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, bring it to me, and I will hear it. [18] And I commanded you at that time all the things which you should do.
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) before Israel was asked to possess the Promised Land (verses 8, 19-21). This shows that an organization, in order to be successful in its dealings with the world, must first be properly set up and smoothly functioning internally. The selection of “heads” (verse 13) or tribal leaders involved a process similar to the selection of the first deacons of the Church in Acts 6. The people were told to give Moses the names of worthy candidates and Moses made the formal appointments (Deuteronomy 1:9-15 Deuteronomy 1:9-15 [9] And I spoke to you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone: [10] The LORD your God has multiplied you, and, behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. [11] (The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as you are, and bless you, as he has promised you!) [12] How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife? [13] Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. [14] And you answered me, and said, The thing which you have spoken is good for us to do. [15] So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes.
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). In Acts, the apostles appointed men as deacons after asking for congregational input.

Before entering the land of the Amorites, the people requested that spies first be sent into the land (Deuteronomy 1:22 Deuteronomy 1:22And you came near to me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come.
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). Moses was pleased with this idea (verse 23), and God told him to go ahead with it (compare Numbers 13:1-2 Numbers 13:1-2 [1] And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, [2] Send you men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give to the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall you send a man, every one a ruler among them.
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). Except for Joshua and Caleb, however, the returning spies discouraged the nation from trying to conquer the land (Deuteronomy 1:28 Deuteronomy 1:28Where shall we go up? our brothers have discouraged our heart, saying, The people is greater and taller than we; the cities are great and walled up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakims there.
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). Although they confirmed God’s word that the land was good (verse 25), they exaggerated physical obstacles as insurmountable and proclaimed that God must have hated them and didn’t really want to give the land to them (verse 27). As a consequence, because of their unbelief (verse 32), in spite of all the visible proofs that God was with them (verses 25, 33), they rebelled against Him (verse 26) and refused to enter the land. The New Testament book of Hebrews explains that the Israelites were not allowed to enter the rest of the Promised Land—symbolic of our future rest in the Kingdom of God—because, although they had heard God’s Word and had seen His mighty wonders, they hardened their heart in rebellion and refused to believe and obey Him (Deuteronomy 3:7-19 Deuteronomy 3:7-19 [7] But all the cattle, and the spoil of the cities, we took for a prey to ourselves. [8] And we took at that time out of the hand of the two kings of the Amorites the land that was on this side Jordan, from the river of Arnon to mount Hermon; [9] (Which Hermon the Sidonians call Sirion; and the Amorites call it Shenir;) [10] All the cities of the plain, and all Gilead, and all Bashan, to Salchah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. [11] For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man. [12] And this land, which we possessed at that time, from Aroer, which is by the river Arnon, and half mount Gilead, and the cities thereof, gave I to the Reubenites and to the Gadites. [13] And the rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, being the kingdom of Og, gave I to the half tribe of Manasseh; all the region of Argob, with all Bashan, which was called the land of giants. [14] Jair the son of Manasseh took all the country of Argob to the coasts of Geshuri and Maachathi; and called them after his own name, Bashanhavothjair, to this day. [15] And I gave Gilead to Machir. [16] And to the Reubenites and to the Gadites I gave from Gilead even to the river Arnon half the valley, and the border even to the river Jabbok, which is the border of the children of Ammon; [17] The plain also, and Jordan, and the coast thereof, from Chinnereth even to the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, under Ashdothpisgah eastward. [18] And I commanded you at that time, saying, The LORD your God has given you this land to possess it: you shall pass over armed before your brothers the children of Israel, all that are meet for the war. [19] But your wives, and your little ones, and your cattle, (for I know that you have much cattle,) shall abide in your cities which I have given you;
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). Thus, God pronounced His sentence. Later, even Moses was included in the sentence (verses 25-26; 4:21), as he did not follow God’s explicit instructions when he struck the rock at Kadesh (Numbers 20:7-13 Numbers 20:7-13 [7] And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, [8] Take the rod, and gather you the assembly together, you, and Aaron your brother, and speak you to the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and you shall bring forth to them water out of the rock: so you shall give the congregation and their beasts drink. [9] And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. [10] And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said to them, Hear now, you rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? [11] And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. [12] And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, Because you believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them. [13] This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.
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). As Israel’s human leader and teacher, Moses was under a stricter judgment from God (compare James 3:1 James 3:1My brothers, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
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) in order to serve as an example to the people (Deuteronomy 1:37 Deuteronomy 1:37Also the LORD was angry with me for your sakes, saying, You also shall not go in thither.
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).

After they realized their sin and the penalty it had earned them, a contingent of the people decided to go ahead and enter the land in an attempt to conquer it according to God’s original instructions—but it was now too late. For us, too, there will come a time when it will be too late to enter the “Promised Land” of God’s Kingdom (compare Matthew 25:1-13 Matthew 25:1-13 [1] Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened to ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. [2] And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. [3] They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: [4] But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. [5] While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. [6] And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go you out to meet him. [7] Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. [8] And the foolish said to the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. [9] But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go you rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. [10] And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. [11] Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. [12] But he answered and said, Truly I say to you, I know you not. [13] Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man comes.
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). Moses told the Israelites not to invade Canaan, as God would not be with them this time. But again, they did not believe and rebelled against God’s Word (Deuteronomy 1:42-43 Deuteronomy 1:42-43 [42] And the LORD said to me, Say to them. Go not up, neither fight; for I am not among you; lest you be smitten before your enemies. [43] So I spoke to you; and you would not hear, but rebelled against the commandment of the LORD, and went presumptuously up into the hill.
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)—and suffered the consequence of bitter defeat (verses 44-45). Then they returned and wept before God (verse 45; compare Matthew 25:30 Matthew 25:30And cast you the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
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), but He would not hear them.

The throng of people who eventually did enter the Promised Land (who were all age 59 or younger) first had to endure the “great and terrible wilderness” (verse 19). We might consider this a physical type of the trying experiences that Christians sometimes endure in this life prior to entering the Kingdom of God (see Acts 14:22 Acts 14:22Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
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).

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