AN UNDERSTANDING OF GOD’S COVENANT REQUIREMENTS PREPARES ISRAEL TO CROSS THE JORDAN AND TAKE POSSESSION OF THE PROMISED LAND
Duane Christensen: The long sojourn in the wilderness has ended. The conquest of the two Amorite kings in the Jordan Valley has set the stage for a new phase in the epic journey of faith. Moses is about to pass the torch of leadership to his successor Joshua, who will bring them into the Promised Land (see also Deut 3:23–28; 31:1–8; 34:5–9). This moment of transition forms an inclusion around each section of the outermost frame (Deut 1–3 and 31–34). The exodus is now past history. The eisodus is both a present reality and the hope of the future.
MacArthur: Like Leviticus, Deuteronomy does not advance historically, but takes place entirely in one location over about one month of time (cf. Deut. 1:3 and 34:8 with Josh. 5:6–12). Israel was encamped in the central rift valley to the E of the Jordan River (Deut. 1:1). This location was referred to in Num. 36:13 as “the plains of Moab,” an area N of the Arnon River across the Jordan River from Jericho. It had been almost 40 years since the Israelites had exited Egypt.
Peter Craigie: These verses form a preamble to the entire book and serve a function similar to that of the preamble in the Near Eastern treaties. The great covenant, which was made at Sinai between the Lord and his people, is to be renewed prior to the transference of the leadership from Moses to Joshua and the Israelites’ entry into the Promised Land. In this renewal of the covenant, the persons involved, the place, and the time are all specified explicitly. . .
The importance of history has two focal points: (a) there is the covenant tradition of promise, from Abraham to Moses; (b) there is the experience of God in history working out in deed the content of the promise. Thus, for the renewal of the covenant described in Deuteronomy, the prologue recalls not only the covenant’s history, but also the ability of the Lord of the covenant to fulfill his promise. What God had done in the past, he could continue to do in the future. There is thus a presentation of a faithful God, whose demand was for a faithful people.
Patrick Miller: These verses [:1-5] introduce the book as a whole. Two things stand out as one reads this section: the degree of geographical and temporal detail and the impression of repeated introductions (vv. 1, 3, and 5) with a clear focus on Moses. Both aspects merit attention.
The precise information about time and place serves two purposes. One is transitional and introductory. It connects the Book of Deuteronomy with the preceding books and with the narrative of the journey through the wilderness, and it anticipates in very concise fashion the salient features of the opening chapters. Here is an indication that Deuteronomy does not stand alone; it is meant to be read with and out of the preceding books, thus creating that body of literature known as the Torah, or Pentateuch (see Introduction).
The second purpose is to root this book in very specific ways in history. It does not stand before us as a general statement about human conduct but has grown out of the life and experience of a people in their journey with God. That experience impinges upon, affects, and shapes the words and the instruction that follow.
David Guzik: Moses’ heart was passionate because he knew that if this new generation – a generation of faith, unlike the generation which perished in the wilderness – if this new generation did not obey the Law of God, then God’s covenant would work against them and curse them. So, the LORD passionately pled through a passionate Moses in Deuteronomy, pleading for Israel to choose life! (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Deuteronomy is therefore a book of reminding and a book of preparation.
I. (:1-5) INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF DEUTERONOMY
David Malick: Setting (1:1-5): Through a historical setting of Israel in the transjordan of Moab after wandering for forty years since their exodus from Egypt, the context is provided for the unfolding of a necessary renewal of the covenant for the nation to experience blessing in the land.
A. (:1-2) Geographical Setting for the Final Messages of Moses
1. (:1) The Staging Area for Entering the Promised Land
“These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel
across the Jordan in the wilderness,
in the Arabah opposite Suph,
between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab.”
Duane Christensen: Moses is described as speaking before the assembly of leaders, elders, priests, men, women, children, and resident aliens in a covenant assembly, such as those that were convened regularly in the festivals of ancient Israel.
Daniel Block: The syntax of verse 1b creates the impression that Moses delivered these addresses in the desert, somewhere in the Arabah. The following list of place names supposedly clarifies the location: “opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab.” Since those places that can be identified are located south of the Dead Sea, this list seems to refer to a series of way stations along the route the Israelites took from Sinai/Horeb to Kadesh Barnea. Verse 2 notes that under normal circumstances the journey could be completed in eleven days. However, because the people had rebelled at Kadesh Barnea—the point of entering the Promised Land (Num. 13–14)—their entrance into Canaan had been delayed almost forty years.
Eugene Merrill: Moses, the covenant mediator, was the spokesman here. His role as such is clear from the fact that he spoke “to all Israel” (v. 1) “all that the LORD had commanded him” (v. 3). That is, he provided the prophetic linkage between the initiator of the covenant (i.e., Yahweh) and all its demands and the recipient of that gracious overture, Moses’ own people Israel. . .
Moses’ audience, “all Israel,” is not to be taken literally as though the entire population of the nation was assembled in one place and at one time to hear his address. Given a postexodus population of over 600,000 men of twenty years and older (Num 26:51; cf. 26:4), the nation as a whole must be numbered in the several of millions. Moses therefore was speaking to representatives of “all Israel,” probably the elders (cf. Num 11:16-30; Deut 27:1; 31:9, 28), though obviously the message was intended for all and would become accessible to all when it finally was committed to writing.
In establishing the setting, the historian focused first on the geographical arena in which the message of covenant renewal took place. It was “in the desert east of the Jordan” (v. 1) in what is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. More particularly it is the Arabah, a word for desert that usually refers to the section of the Great Rift Valley between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Elath (or Aqabah) but occasionally to the Jordan River valley itself. Here the section immediately north of the Dead Sea is in view, for elsewhere the place of assembly is designated as “the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho” (Num 35:1; 36:13).
John Maxwell: This sermon is delivered at a place where God’s people had previously failed (Nu 25:1-3ff). They are surrounded by reminders of their earlier disobedience to God. Imagine the emotional war raging within their minds. Moses continues to exhort the people because they need assistance in making their decision to cross over into the Promised Land.
2. (:2) The Shameful Delay of 40 Years for an 11 Day Journey
“It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb
by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.”
Michael Grisanti: “Horeb” is an alternative term for “Sinai” favored by the book of Deuteronomy, in which “Horeb” occurs nine times (1:2, 6, 19; 4:10, 15; 5:2; 9:8; 18:16; 29:1), compared with a single instance of “Sinai” (33:2).
Patrick Miller: At Kadesh-barnea (1:2) the redeemed people failed to trust in their redeeming God. There they found that the promise would not come to those who were afraid and did not trust in the power of their God to keep the promise made. That story is told in the latter part of this chapter to indicate that if there is a relation between law and land, as Deuteronomy surely seeks to declare, there is also a direct connection between trust and promise. In both cases, one cannot expect the latter without the former. Reference to the fortieth year anticipates the fate of the fearful generation that was not allowed to enter the land; forty years is the approximate length of a generation (cf. 2:14–15). That period is described in chapter 8 as a time when the Lord humbled Israel, testing them (v. 2) but also providing for them (v. 4).
B. (:3-4) Historical Setting for the Final Messages of Moses
1. (:3) Marked by Specific Calendar Reference
“And it came about in the fortieth year,
on the first day of the eleventh month,
that Moses spoke to the children of Israel,
according to all that the LORD had commanded him to give to them,”
Peter Craigie: Now the date of the address of Moses and the renewal of the covenant is added: the beginning of the eleventh month of the fortieth year of wilderness wandering since the Exodus. It is the only exact date given in the book and presumably it was the only date that was necessary, since it specifies the starting point of all the words and events contained in the book.
Michael Grisanti: Moses begins addressing the Israelites slightly less than forty years (thirty-nine years, nine months, sixteen days) after they departed from Egypt (first year, first month, and fifteenth day—the day after their first Passover celebration; Ex 12:18), ca. 1406 BC.
Constable: The name “Yahweh” appears for the first time in verse 3, in Deuteronomy, and it occurs more than 220 times. This name is most expressive of God’s covenant role with Israel. Its frequent appearance helps the reader remember that Deuteronomy presents God in His role as sovereign suzerain and covenant-keeper. In contrast, the name “Elohim” occurs only 38 times in this book.
2. (:4) Marked by Encouraging Military Accomplishments
“after he had defeated Sihon the king of the Amorites,
who lived in Heshbon,
and Og the king of Bashan,
who lived in Ashtaroth and Edrei.”
Daniel Block: Verse 4 adds a second chronological marker: Moses delivers these addresses after the defeat of the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan. The victories over Sihon and Og provide concrete proof that when Israel is faithful to Yahweh, he will fight for them.
Bruce Hurt: This is an important historical milestone, for these past fulfilled promises were somewhat like a pledge or down payment assuring that God would fulfill His promises to enable Israel to conquer the Canaanites. Israel had to do the fighting, but God provided the power and victory. They were 100% responsible and at the same time were 100% on God’s sovereign power and provision to attain the victory. This is the same pattern we see in the victorious Christian life in the New Testament.
C. (:5) Thematic Focus of the Final Messages of Moses: Explaining and Applying God’s Revealed Covenant Requirements in Preparation for Taking Possession of the Land
“Across the Jordan in the land of Moab,
Moses undertook to expound this law, saying,”
Daniel Block: The expression “this Torah” (hattôrâ hazzōʾt) characterizes what follows as instruction rather than legislation. This interpretation is confirmed by the way the book depicts Moses. He “teaches” (limmēd) the people (4:5, 14; 5:31; 6:1; 31:19) and they “learn” the Torah (4:10; 5:1; 17:19; 31:12–13). The bulk of the book consists of pastoral instruction and exhortation, and even when earlier laws are cited, they are surrounded with hortatory appeals.
Peter Craigie: The word expound (bēʾēr) has the sense of making something absolutely clear or plain; the same verb is used in 27:8 to indicate the clarity or legibility with which the words of the law were to be inscribed in stone. . . It is important to stress that the content of Deuteronomy is an exposition of the law; the book does not simply contain a repetition of the earlier legal material known in Exodus and Numbers, to which a few new laws have been added. It is true that there is a common core of law with the earlier books, but here the law is to be explained and applied by Moses to the particular situation of the Israelites. They were about to enter the Promised Land, and the law of the covenant could not lie as a dead letter. It had to be expounded and emphasized to all the Israelites, for the success of the events lying ahead of them depended on this critical point. Success in possessing the Promised Land lay not in military prowess and strength, but in an unbroken covenant relationship with the Lord, who alone could bring further victories like those over Sihon and Og (1:4).
Gerald Gerbrandt: Chiastic structure of vv. 1-5
A1 These Are the Words That Moses Spoke., 1:1a
B1 Place: Beyond the Jordan …, 1:1b
C1 Time: Eleven Days …, 1:2
D Moses Spoke … as the LORD Had Commanded, 1:3
C2 Time: After He Had Defeated …, 1:4
B2 Place: Beyond the Jordan …, 1:5a
A2 Moses Undertook to Expound This Law …, 1:5b
II. (:6-8) INITIAL CHARGE TO TAKE POSSESSION OF THE LAND
(:6a) Authority of Divine Revelation
“The LORD our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying,”
A. (:6b-7) Finish the Journey
1. (:6b) No More Delay
“You have stayed long enough at this mountain.”
Eugene Carpenter: Israel camped at Sinai (“this mountain”) for about eleven months. They arrived at Sinai three months after exiting Egypt (Ex. 19:1) and departed from Sinai one year and two months after leaving Egypt (Num. 10:11).
Gerald Gerbrandt: The story opens with God instructing Israel to leave Horeb and resume the journey (v. 6). Each of the vignettes in the Retrospect [1:6-18] opens in a similar manner, with God directing Israel to move forward (1:19; 2:2–3, 24). Israel is a people on the move, on a journey directed by God. At each point in the journey, Israel faces challenges (administrative overload, entering the land, opposition from hostile kings), with each challenge raising the question: how will Israel respond?
2. (:7) Time to Move Out and Engage with the Inhabitants of the Promised Land
“Turn and set your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites, and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negev and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.”
Duane Christensen: Moses begins his address by quoting the words of YHWH, commanding the people to enter the Promised Land. The dimensions given for that land are enormous, an area far larger than Israel ever possessed, even during the Davidic empire.
Eugene Merrill: The following description of the land (v. 7) is remarkably comprehensive in its scope and in its precision in marking out regional and topographical features. The “hill country of the Amorites” refers to the interior of Canaan and the Transjordan, an area inhabited by the Amorites since at least 1800 B.C. The “neighboring peoples in the Arabah” (lit., “all its neighboring [places] in the Arabah and elsewhere”) no doubt refers to settlements in the Jordan Valley and in the eastern deserts that adjoined the hill country. The “mountains” describes hill country outside that of Samaria and Judah, most likely that of the Galilee area and the upper Negev; the “western foothills” are the lowlands between the Mediterranean coastal plain and the hills of Judah; the Negev was the vast desert south of Judah; and the seacoast obviously the Mediterranean littoral that has always formed Israel’s western border. The “land of the Canaanites” speaks of the valleys and plains, especially those of Jezreel to the north, that remained in Canaanite control well into the time of the Israelite judges (Judg 4:1-3).
B. (:8) Fulfil the Divine Mission to Take Possession of the Promised Land
1. Casting the Vision
“See, I have placed the land before you;”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The NIV more helpfully translates verse 8, I have given you this land (similarly NABRE, NJB). The expression likely has a legal background, as property is transferred from one party to another. The verse thus not only announces what will happen but already reflects the official transfer (Mayes: 120).
2. Command to Take Possession of the Promised Land
“go in and possess the land”
Eugene Merrill: That it was theirs by right and not by might is clear from the verb “take possession” (v. 8), for in context of the covenant promise the Heb. y ra (“take possession of”) connotes inheritance. Yahweh the Great King owns all the earth, and it is his to bestow upon his peoples as he wishes. His people, therefore, were not about to take the land of other people but to receive the land as a gift from its divine owner, coming into their own rightful claim as vassals who work the royal estate of the Lord their God (cf. 1:39; 3:20; 10:11; Josh 1:15; 21:43).
Peter Craigie: The charge the Lord gives to his people is one that requires vision, but now it must be vision that prompts action: Go and take possession of the land. In 1:7, the land was described according to its geographical divisions. Here it is described as a part of the plan and promise of the Lord: the land which I promised by oath to your fathers. The vision required of the people of the Lord is one that sees more than the mundane, physical regions of the land; it is the significance of the land in the promise, soon to be realized, that provides the strength necessary for commitment and obedience.
3. Covenant Promise
“which the LORD swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to them and their descendants after them.”
Michael Grisanti: Moses presents both sides of the conquest endeavor: God’s part and Israel’s part. God “set before” Israel this land of promise. The unique combination of the verb “to give” (ntn) and the preposition “before” (lipnê) highlights God’s action of placing the land of promise before the nation of Israel. Yahweh first promised this land to Abraham (as a pledge) in Genesis 12:7. His reaffirmation of this promise to Abraham (Ge 15:18) and Jacob (28:13–15) regarded this promise as a reality (“I have given/I gave”). In his reaffirmation to Jacob (Ge 35:12), the Lord affirmed that the land he gave to Abraham and Isaac he will give to Jacob and his descendants. The Lord promised this land to Abraham and his descendants by oath (1:8—“the land that the LORD swore he would give”).
In Moses’ day, God is placing the land of promise at the disposal of the Israelites, the anticipated descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In conjunction with the interjection “See,” Yahweh is declaring: “I hereby give/place . . .” (Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 1–11, 134).
God required that Israel “take possession” of this land of promise. Although this verb can signify a peaceful occupation of land (cf. Pss 25:13; 37:9), in covenantal contexts it highlights taking possession of a land by dispossessing the former inhabitants (Dt 4:14, 26; 6:1; 7:1; 8:1; 11:8 et al.). Just as God directed other nations to “possess” certain lands (2:12, 21–22), God demands that Israel take possession of what he has allotted to them.
Paul Barker: This is the land of promise, promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (1:8). It is where Abram and Sarai went in Genesis 12:5. A crucial feature of Deuteronomy is illustrated here. Land “sworn to your ancestors” is a recurring theme (e.g. 1:35; 6:10, 18, 23; 7:13; 8:1; 9:5; 10:11; etc.). It is not any land that Israel is about to enter. It is Promised Land. It is sworn land. God, indeed Yahweh, the covenant name for God (1:6), has promised this land. This appeal to Yahweh’s promise is meant to encourage Israel to enter and conquer the land. The dilemma is, can God’s promise be trusted?
Gerald Gerbrandt: The first two qualities reflect a paradox consistent in Deuteronomy. On the one hand, Deuteronomy affirms that God has given Israel the land—Israel cannot earn it. God freely and graciously gives it to Israel. The land never loses this gift quality. In fact, a critical question will be whether Israel will remember that the land is a gift and not a commodity it can do with what it wants. But on the other hand, it is not a gift forced upon Israel. Israel will only receive the land if it steps out in trust to take possession of it. The next story in this chapter (1:19–2:1) demonstrates what happens when Israel fails to do this. A cooperation or synergism between God and the human is expected. The passage giving journey instructions already sets the tone for the whole book.