ISRAEL’S DISOBEDIENCE FLIES IN THE FACE OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS AND ASSURANCES
Michael Grisanti: After arriving in Kadesh Barnea (1:19), Moses commissioned twelve spies to survey the Promised Land, but ten of them brought back a discouraging report, which caused the children of Israel to reject the Lord’s promise of a victorious conquest. Consequently, God’s punishment on these rebels was that no adult from that generation (except Joshua and Caleb) would enter the land. Their rebellious attempt to enter Canaan on their own strength was thwarted by the Amorites.
Gerald Gerbrandt: A boundary location presents opportunity and risk. Beginning a new job, leaving home to start university studies, entering a marriage covenant—all these are contemporary examples. The opportunity is to enter the future in trust and receive that which God is giving. The risk is more complex. Too little faith in God may lead to overly cautious action; too much confidence in one’s own ability may lead to reckless decisions. The story of Israel’s first arrival at the Promised Land exhibits both possibilities in dramatic fashion.
Paul Barker: As Israel obeys, it goes towards its goal, realizing God’s promise. As it disobeys, it goes away, or at best remains stationary. Israel’s obedience is to be a means of bringing about the fulfilment of God’s promises. Israel is not to sit down and await God’s fulfilment but is to be the means for bringing that about. Israel is therefore to co-operate with God in bringing about his purposes.
Though 1:19 simply recounts an episode of obedience, the focus of the rest of chapter 1 is on a stationary Israel in Kadesh (1:20–46). Moses gives this incident a great deal of attention because it is so important for teaching a crucial lesson. Israel at Kadesh is essentially in the same position as the next generation in the Plains of Moab forty years later, now being addressed by Moses in Deuteronomy. Though Kadesh is to the south of the Promised Land and the Plains of Moab are to the east, both are on the border. Moses is most concerned to see that Israel does not repeat the mistakes of Kadesh, for if it does, the people may well be back in the wilderness for yet another generation.
I. (:19-33) HISTORY LESSONS CAN BE PAINFUL BUT NECESSARY
A. (:19-21) The Historical Challenge to Trust God and Possess the Land
1. (:19) Command to Journey to Kadesh-barnea Obeyed
a. Departure from Horeb
“Then we set out from Horeb,”
b. Journey Through the Wilderness
“and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, just as the LORD our God had commanded us;”
c. Arrival at Kadesh-barnea
“and we came to Kadesh-barnea.”
Duane Christensen: The opening verse of this section, with its statement “we set out from Horeb,” is a direct response to YHWH’s command in 1:6–7. It is also a connecting link to the next of the travel notices in 2:1 with which it functions as a frame around the episode of Israel’s “Unholy War.” The journey took the Israelites more than a hundred miles through an arid and barren wilderness, “that great and fearful desert,” in response to YHWH’s command to enter the Promised Land, “the hill country of the Amorites.” The journey from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea was mentioned in 1:2 as a journey of eleven days. In 8:15 we learn that the wilderness (el-Tih) was a place of “fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there is no water.” Num 13:26 describes the location of Kadesh-barnea as “the wilderness of Paran.” According to Num 34:4 it is on the southern border of the Promised Land. It is likely that the Israelites spent virtually the entire period of their wilderness sojourn in this general vicinity.
2. (:20-21) Charge to Take the Promised Land
a. (:20) Encouraging Vision of God’s Good Gift of the Land
“And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites which the LORD our God is about to give us.’”
b. (:21a) Entreaty to Appropriate God’s Good Gift
“See, the LORD your God has placed the land before you;”
c. (:21b) Exhortation to Possess the Land by Stepping Out in Faith
“go up, take possession,
as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you.”
Eugene Merrill: There could not be any hesitation in order that Israel might capitalize on the element of surprise but, more importantly, because the Lord, “the God of your fathers,” had thus commanded.
d. (:21c) Essential Prohibition Against the Show-Stopper of Fear
“Do not fear or be dismayed.”
Eugene Merrill: These two verbs, “afraid” and “discouraged,” occur commonly in parallel or are juxtaposed to create a stock expression conveying the idea, in the positive, of complete confidence in the Lord and his ability to save (Deut 31:8; Josh 8:1; 10:25; 1 Sam 17:11; 1 Chr 22:13; 28:20; 2 Chr 20:15,17; 32:7; Jer 23:4; 30:10; 46:27; Ezek 2:6; 3:9).
B. (:22-33) The Historical Failure of Disbelief and Fear
1. (:22-25) Reconnaissance Mission
a. (:22) Mission Proposed
“Then all of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may search out the land for us, and bring back to us word of the way by which we should go up, and the cities which we shall enter.’”
Daniel Block: Under normal circumstances such a reconnaissance mission might have made good sense (Josh. 2:1; 7:2; Judg. 18:2), but coming immediately after God’s command, the proposal itself seemed to betray a lack of faith (cf. 9:23). The outcome of the mission reinforced this conclusion.
Eugene Merrill: The account in Num 13 suggests that it was the Lord who prompted Moses to send out the advance party (Num 13:1-2). This apparently conflicting view of events is by no means antithetical to Moses’ recollection in Deuteronomy, for clearly the idea originated with the people, was sanctioned, and then ordered by the Lord and implemented by Moses (Num 13:17). . .
Though the plan to send spies may have bespoken a lack of total trust in God and, in fact, resulted in an undermining of Israel’s resolve to enter Canaan at all (vv. 26-28), one can hardly criticize it as imprudent or impractical in such circumstances. In fact, the command (or at least permission) of the Lord in the first place (Num 13:1-2) is sufficient to show that the procedure was not totally lacking of divine support.
b. (:23) Mission Embraced
“And the thing pleased me
and I took twelve of your men, one man for each tribe.”
c. (:24) Mission Executed
“And they turned and went up into the hill country,
and came to the valley of Eshcol, and spied it out.”
d. (:25) Mission Reported
“Then they took some of the fruit of the land in their hands and brought it down to us; and they brought us back a report and said, ‘It is a good land which the LORD our God is about to give us.’”
Daniel Block: His recollection illuminates the ironies of the situation.
(1) They went out to gain information to be used to determine military strategy, but their report focused on fruit, concrete evidence of the fertility of the land.
(2) They reported that the land was good, but promptly demonstrated they did not think it worth the risk of an invasion.
(3) They referred to the land as “a good land that the LORD our God is giving us,” but they refused to accept it from his hand. God’s promises concerning the land were true, but the obstacles loomed too large in their minds.
2. (:26-28) Rebellion Resulted
a. (:26) Fearful Rebellion – Choosing Fear over Faith
“Yet you were not willing to go up,
but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God;”
Michael Grisanti: This refusal to move forward toward Canaan represented nothing less than covenantal treachery, an abhorrent offense against their loving covenantal Lord.
b. (:27) Irrational Grumbling – Denying the Goodness and Love of God
“and you grumbled in your tents and said,
‘Because the LORD hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us.’”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The people’s perspective leads them to a distorted picture of God’s nature. For them God becomes an enemy rather than a friend (1:27). They interpret God’s leading them out of Egypt as an action motivated by hate rather than by love. The people’s words are countered directly a few chapters later (4:34–37). Fear and sin blind the people to the truth, leading to the ultimate distortion.
Patrick Miller: God has given the land plus words of assurance plus a report of the goodness of the land—these do not add up to a negative and fearful reaction. But the people are fearful, immediately and dramatically contrasting the power and promise of God with the weakness and lack of trust of the people. The story builds as Moses characterizes several components of the response of the people: they are unwilling; they rebel against the Lord’s command; they murmur in their tents; they impugn the Lord’s motives.
c. (:28) Defeated Disputing – Focusing on the Obstacles
“Where can we go up?
Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying,
‘The people are bigger and taller than we;
the cities are large and fortified to heaven.
And besides, we saw the sons of the Anakim there.’”
Peter Craigie: In contrast, the people’s vision had been not on the goodness of the land, but on the difficulty they would experience in possessing it. Hence they were rebellious and unwilling to go up and possess the land. As they saw the land, its conquest was full of difficulty—as Moses saw it, it was the promised land that the Lord was about to give them as he had promised. The “facts” were the same for both, but Moses, the man of vision and faith, could minimize the difficulties because of his strong conviction in the Lord’s promise; the people, with little vision, could not lift their sight above the formidableness of their opponents.
3. (:29-31) Reassurance Attempted
a. (:29) 2 Pastoral Exhortations
“Then I said to you, ‘Do not be shocked, nor fear them.’”
Duane Christensen: “Do not be in dread and do not be afraid.” Deuteronomy has an extensive vocabulary of words connoting “fear” for encouraging military courage (as here), for warning as to the consequences of disobedience to God (cf. 28:66), and for proper worship with the meaning “to love (God)” (10:12). Moses encouraged the people by repeating words from the tradition of Holy War, urging them not to be afraid. What YHWH did for them in Egypt in times past will be repeated in the future as he continues to wage Holy War on their behalf (v 30).
b. (:30-31) 4 Arguments of Reassurance
1) Your Leader Goes Before You into Battle – Divine Guide
“The LORD your God who goes before you”
2) Your God Will Fight on Your Behalf — Divine Fighter
“will Himself fight on your behalf,”
3) Your God Proved His Faithfulness in the Exodus – Divine Savior
“just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes,”
4) Your God Proved His Faithfulness in the Wilderness — Divine Father
“and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked, until you came to this place.”
These verses [:29-31] lie at the heart of the passage and represent the key lesson.
Eugene Merrill: The reference to Israel as God’s son is also covenantally significant, for when the Lord instructed Moses to return to Egypt from Midian to lead Israel from bondage, he referred to the slave people as his “firstborn son” (Exod 4:22). Such familial language was common in ancient Near Eastern treaty texts where the maker of the covenant would be “father” and the receiver “son.”
Duane Christensen: At the structural center of Deut 1:19—2:1 stands a “summons not to fear” (vv 29–31). YHWH, as Divine Warrior, protects his people and wages war in their behalf. As we become aware of the reality of evil in the spiritual realm, we also become aware of our need for God’s power to cope with forces of darkness. The human response is that of fear. Like the spies, we conclude that the enemy is too strong for us; and that is precisely the point. If we are to prevail over the forces of evil, we must wage battle with a power greater than our own. Therefore, in the words of Paul, we must “Put on the whole armor of God . . . for we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against . . . spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:10–12). It is this spiritual battle to which this text speaks.
To enter the “promised land,” one must trust God to defeat the forces of evil. If we fear the enemy, that very foe will increase in stature before our eyes to become “giants in the land.” As we engage the foe in spiritual battle, we must constantly be aware that it is God who fights in our behalf. The moment we step forth in our own strength alone we will be smitten “as far as Hormah” (i.e., back to the outskirts of our own camp from which we set out to engage the enemy in combat).
Daniel Block: Trying to correct the people’s flawed perspective, Moses’ response focused entirely on Yahweh. After an opening call for calm and confidence (v. 29), he tried to encourage them with three arguments (vv. 30–31):
(1) Yahweh was present with them and going before them;
(2) Yahweh, the divine Warrior and Captain of his hosts (cf. Josh. 5:13–15), would fight for them;
(3) Yahweh had taken care of them in the past by defeating the Egyptians before their very eyes and sustaining them through the great and terrifying desert (v. 19).
With sensitive pastoral touch, Moses compared Yahweh’s care to that of a father who carries his son through danger to safety.
Patrick Miller: The combination of the saving, fighting activity of God with the caring, supporting relationship conveyed by the parental image is a fundamental paradigm of Scripture for portraying God vis-à-vis the human community, both individual and corporate. It is intended to declare that in the deepest of troubles and in the face of the largest of threats you do not have to be afraid, for God is there with you to watch over you and will be at work to deliver you from trouble and threat. In this instance, Moses underscores the exemplary character of this promise of salvation by identifying God’s saving activity here with what the Lord did in the exodus and God’s caring protection with the way God bore Israel through the wilderness. In other words, the primal events and experiences of the people demonstrated the dual grounds for assurance in the future. Moses says, in effect, As God redeemed you at the beginning and was with you along the way, so it will be in the future; therefore, you need not fear.
4. (:32-33) Rejection of the Lord Despite His Demonstrated Faithfulness, Guidance and Power
“But for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God, 33 who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go.”
II. (:36-40) DISBELIEF AND REBELLION HAVE CONSEQUENCES
A. (:34-36) Evil Generation Judged Except for Caleb
“Then the LORD heard the sound of your words, and He was angry and took an oath, saying, 35 ‘Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and to his sons I will give the land on which he has set foot, because he has followed the LORD fully.’”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The willingness to punish is part of the nature of God in Deuteronomy. The reference to God’s wrath (v. 34) reminds one of Israel’s earlier accusation that God hated Israel (v. 27). But the two are very different. Whereas hate and love may be opposites, anger and love are not. Israel’s loss of faith leads to God’s anger, but the love of God that lies behind the original election of Israel is not lost. The very next verse (1:35) again includes a reference to the ancestral covenant and the promise of land (v. 35). The purpose of the punishment is to make fulfillment of the promise possible.
B. (:37-38) Moses Judged but Joshua Elevated
1. (:37) Moses Judged
“The LORD was angry with me also on your account, saying,
‘Not even you shall enter there.’”
2. (:38) Joshua Elevated
“Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you,
he shall enter there; encourage him,
for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.”
C. (:39) Younger Generation Promised Possession of the Land
“Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey,
and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil,
shall enter there, and I will give it to them, and they shall possess it.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Perhaps there is even a subtle reminder that just as God carried Israel like a child in the wilderness, so God will continue to carry and protect Israel’s little ones, … your children, or perhaps that in order to receive that protection, Israel must become trustful like children (cf. v. 31; cf. Matt 19:14; Luke 18:16). Again, words of hope for an exilic audience.
D. (:40) Moses Dispatched to Wilderness Delay
“But as for you, turn around and set out for the wilderness
by the way to the Red Sea.”
III. (1:41 – 2:1) PRESUMPTION AND SELF-CONFIDENCE CAN NEVER BE SUBSTITUTED FOR GENUINE FAITH AND OBEDIENCE
A. (:41) Presumption and Self Confidence
“Then you answered and said to me, ‘We have sinned against the LORD;
we will indeed go up and fight, just as the LORD our God commanded us.’
And every man of you girded on his weapons of war,
and regarded it as easy to go up into the hill country.”
Eugene Merrill: True to human nature, as soon as access to Canaan was denied that early rebellious generation (vv. 35, 40), they decided that that precisely was what they would do. To justify their decision they donned a cloak of hypocritical repentance (“we have sinned against the LORD,” v. 41; cf. Num 14:40) and announced that what they were about to do was in compliance with the perfect and explicit will of God. But they had completely misread the mind of the Lord, for he had closed that window of opportunity once and for all.
B. (:42-44) Defeat and Retreat
1. (:42) Clear Warning
“And the LORD said to me, ‘Say to them,
“Do not go up, nor fight, for I am not among you;
lest you be defeated before your enemies.’”
2. (:43) Costly Rebellious Presumption
“So I spoke to you, but you would not listen.
Instead you rebelled against the command of the LORD,
and acted presumptuously and went up into the hill country.”
Michael Grisanti: Their actions in the face of God’s explicit statement represented the epitome of presumption and arrogance. Just as their refusal to march in battle against Canaan after hearing the report of the spies signified treacherous rebellion against their covenantal Lord (1:26), their refusal to heed his warning and their decision to march against Canaan after God’s announcement of judgment also demonstrated their rebellious spirit. (The same wording occurs in both places.)
Patrick Miller: Thus while seeming at this point to obey the Lord, they are again disobeying. The divine command is no longer to fight but to leave. The people, however, decide not to leave but to fight. Three times, with increasing intensity (vv. 22, 26–28, and 32–33), the people have refused to go up into the land. Then when God announces punishment and Moses says turn and journey, implying that this unhappy episode is over and it is time to move on, the people disobey again. So obedience became disobedience and the weeping and penitential rites of a faithless generation were not heard by the faithful Lord (v. 45).
3. (:44) Crushing Defeat
“And the Amorites who lived in that hill country
came out against you, and chased you as bees do,
and crushed you from Seir to Hormah.”
Daniel Block: From a military standpoint this misadventure was a fiasco (vv. 44–45). The Amorites of the hill country11 responded like wild bees in a disturbed hive. The Israelites discovered that the land “flowing with milk and honey” also produced stinging bees, which swarmed around them, chased them off, and struck them down at Hormah in Seir. The spiritual consequences of this event were more tragic than the physical. Having swung emotionally from despair to self-confidence, the people returned to the base camp and wept before Yahweh. But Yahweh’s ears were stopped; he refused to listen. God demanded obedience, not tears.
C. (:45-46) Remorse and Stagnation
1. (:45) Remorse
“Then you returned and wept before the LORD;
but the LORD did not listen to your voice, nor give ear to you.”
2. (:46) Stagnation
“So you remained in Kadesh many days,
the days that you spent there.”
Peter Craigie: Like spoiled children, whose insolence had achieved nothing for them, the Israelites returned to Kadesh and wept before the Lord, to no avail. In the recollections of Kadesh-barnea, it would have been very easy for those listening to Moses’ address (and for the modern reader!) to be astonished and critical at the sheer perversity of the Israelites; in a sense, such a reaction is called for in Moses’ address. But the words of Moses held out warning, for the events at Kadesh-barnea typified man’s natural tendency to perversity. It was easy looking back to see the errors and failures, but at that time and in those circumstances it was not so easy. And it was just because the Israelites, gathered in the plains of Moab, would soon be faced with similar temptations to rebellion that now—before crossing the Jordan—it was important to warn them of the dangers lying ahead.
D. (2:1) Transition – Aimless Wandering of Delay Due to God’s Judgment
“Then we turned and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea,
as the LORD spoke to me, and circled Mount Seir for many days.”
Eugene Merrill: Finally after thirty-eight years the people of the Lord were ready to do what he had commanded them to do long before, “turn around and set out toward the desert” (Deut 1:40). Thus Moses said, “We turned back and set out toward the desert” (2:1), clearly a literary way of establishing a connection between the original instruction and its greatly postponed fulfillment. The Hebrew formula is exactly the same in both passages (except for verb forms), one consisting of the juxtaposition of the verbs “turn” and “set out.” Once this is recognized, the statement that Israel “turned back” (better, “turned about”) makes good sense inasmuch as it imitates a command that long since should have been obeyed.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The story of the spies begins and ends with a travel narrative, but what happens in between changes everything (1:19; 1:46–2:1). The opening verse is full of hope and anticipation. Israel arrives at the land, ready to take possession. In the concluding verses Israel is headed back into the wilderness and the Red Sea, to wander around Mount Seir (southeast of the Dead Sea). God still dictates Israel’s travel plan, but now it is a “journey in reverse” (McConville 2002: 82), or an “Anti-Exodus” (Moran 1969). Israel’s loss of faith at the border results in Israel traveling again, but with no place to go. The awkward language (You stayed at Kadesh as many days as you did, 1:46), and the absence of any destination despite the reference to a lengthy journey (we journeyed back into the wilderness … and skirted Mount Seir for many days, 2:1) highlight the aimlessness of the wandering. For the next thirty-eight years Israel wanders in the wilderness, not too far from Kadesh-barnea and the Promised Land (cf. 2:14). The land remains in sight but is lost to this generation.