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These are the words Moses spoke to all the people of Israel who were gathered in the wilderness in the Arabah Valley east of the Jordan River, across from Suph. They’d traveled through many places on their way here, from Paran through Tophel and on to Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab.

These places serve as various destinations along Israel’s wilderness route before they reach the plains of Moab, facing the Jordan River, just outside the land of Canaan.

It’s only an 11-day journey by the Mount Seir road from Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai), where God made a covenant with Israel, to Kadesh-barnea, where the people first tried to enter the promised land. 3-4 Now on the first day of the 11th month, 40 years after the nation left Egypt and sometime after Moses had defeated Sihon (king of the Amorites who ruled in Heshbon) and Og (king of Bashan who ruled in Ashtaroth and Edrei), Moses began to give to a new generation of the Israelites each word the Eternal had commanded him to tell them. Beyond the Jordan River in the land of Moab, Moses tried to explain this law and its outworking for the people.

Moses now explains to the current generation of Israelites what the Lord has done for them, so the Israelites can confidently give their full allegiance to this One God, who has already proven Himself as their protector and guide. Even today it’s helpful for us to remember God’s faithfulness to earlier generations in our own families and nations. Our confidence in God is strengthened most when we recall how He has worked directly in our own lives to protect, provide for, and guide us.

Moses: The Eternal, our True God, spoke to us back at Horeb. He told us, “You’ve stayed long enough at this mountain! Break camp, and head up into the Amorite highlands, into the territories of all their neighbors—into the arid valley,[a] the hills, the lowlands, the southern desert,[b] and the Mediterranean seacoast. Go into the land of the Canaanites, as far north as Lebanon and all the way east to the great Euphrates River. Look! I’ve brought you right to the edge of the land that I, the Eternal, swore I’d give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to their descendants after them. Go in, and take possession of it!”

I had to tell you at the time, “I can’t bear you as a people and deal with all of your cases by myself anymore. 10 The Eternal your God has kept increasing your numbers, and just look at you today! There are as many of you as there are stars in the sky! 11 I hope the Eternal, the God of your ancestors, makes you a thousand times more numerous and blesses you just as He said He would. 12 But how can I alone handle your problems and burdens and cases? 13 Choose some wise, perceptive, knowledgeable men from your tribes, and I’ll put them in authority over you.” 14 You told me you thought it was a great plan, 15 so I took some leaders from your tribes who were wise and well respected; I chose them as authorities over you all—of groups of thousands or hundreds or fifties or tens, and I appointed some as tribal representatives. 16 Then I gave your judges careful instructions: “Listen to the disputes between your neighbors that are brought to you, and judge them fairly regardless of who is involved—two Israelites or an Israelite and a foreigner. 17 Don’t show any favoritism when you judge; whether a person is important or unimportant, hear him out. Don’t be intimidated by anybody because it’s really God who is the judge; you are just His agents. If any case is too difficult for you, bring it to me, and I’ll handle it.” 18 At that time, I told you everything you needed to do.

19 Then we left Horeb, as the Eternal, our True God, commanded us; and we went through that awful, vast wilderness—none of us will ever forget the sight! We headed toward the Amorite highlands until we got to Kadesh-barnea. 20 I told you, “You’ve reached the Amorite highlands, and the Eternal our God is going to give them to us soon. 21 Look! The Eternal, your True God, has put this land within your grasp! Go up into these highlands, and take possession of them as the Eternal, the God of your ancestors, promised you would. Go! Don’t be afraid, and don’t be intimidated!”

The Book of Deuteronomy, even as it follows a covenant-treaty form, has almost a cinematic quality to it. Much of the action takes place in flashbacks as Moses recalls events and describes them to the Israelites in a drama. As we’ve been seeing in this opening historical section of the book, sometimes there are even layers of voices. At one point, Moses speaks in the voice of the people as they speak in the voice of the spies. Shortly we’ll see Moses speaking in the voice of the Lord as He speaks in Moses’ own voice! It begins by showing a storyteller and then shifts locations repeatedly in space and time to depict the various episodes he’s describing, with his voice providing continuity throughout. Deuteronomy has a timeless, ancient-modern feel because the story of God’s work on earth really is written and told by people as they struggle, with varying degrees of success, to understand God’s purposes and to join with those people of God who have gone before us.

22 But you approached me with ideas of your own: “Couldn’t we send a few people in to investigate first? They could explore the land, come back, and tell us what route we should take and what cities we’d come to along the way.” 23 I agreed this was a good idea, so I chose 12 of you to go, one from each tribe. 24 They went up into the highlands. They explored the Eshcol Valley 25 and picked some of the enormous fruit growing there. Then they came back down to us with the fruit and a report: “This is a wonderful land that the Eternal our God is going to give to us!”

26 But even after all this encouragement, you still weren’t willing to go up and fight. You rebelled against what the Eternal your God told you to do. 27 In your homes, you complained to each other, “The Eternal hates us! That’s why He brought us out of the land of Egypt—so He could hand us over to the Amorites. They’re going to destroy us! 28 He tells us, ‘Go up,’ but go up where? The report of the rest of those we sent out was terrifying: ‘The people there are bigger and taller than we are. Their cities are huge, with walls as high as the sky! We even saw giants there—descendants of the Anakim.’”

29 So I told you, “Don’t be scared! Don’t be afraid of them! 30 You won’t have to fight this battle yourselves; the Eternal your God, who always goes ahead of you, will fight for you just as He did in Egypt—you saw Him do it! 31 And here in this wilderness, all along the route you’ve traveled until you reached this place, haven’t you seen the Eternal, your True God, carrying you the way a parent carries a child? 32 But you still don’t trust the Eternal your God, 33 even though He always goes ahead of you as you travel and finds places for you to camp. In a pillar of fire by night and in a cloud by day, He always shows you the right way to go.”

34 When the Eternal heard your untrusting words, He angrily swore an oath: 35 “Not a single person in this wicked generation will see the good land I swore to give to your ancestors! 36 There’ll be only one exception: Caleb (Jephunneh’s son). He will see it. I’ll give the very land he walked through when he spied it out to him and his descendants because he remained completely loyal to the Eternal.” 37 And He was angry with me, too, because of the way you acted. He told me, “Not even you will go into the land! 38 It will be Joshua (Nun’s son), a man you’ve already entrusted with important responsibilities, who will enter it instead. Encourage him, because he will lead the people into the land and give it to Israel as their possession. 39 You said that if you fought, all your soldiers would be killed and your little ones would become plunder for your enemies. But it will be those children under age 20, who don’t know right from wrong yet, who will enter the land. I’ll give it to them, and it will belong to them. 40 But as for you, head back into the wilderness, toward the Red Sea.”[c]

41 After God’s judgment you responded, “We’ve sinned against the Eternal! We’ll go up and fight now, just as the Eternal, our True God, commanded us.” So each of you strapped on your weapons and prepared to fight. You thought it would be easy to get up into the highlands. 42 The Eternal tried to warn you that it was too late by telling me, “Tell them not to go up and not to fight! I am not with them. They’ll be crushed by their enemies.” 43 I told you everything, but you wouldn’t listen. You rebelled against the Eternal’s command, and you went up arrogantly into the highlands. 44 The Amorites who lived there came out and attacked you, and you ran away from them as if they were a swarm of bees! They crushed more and more of your soldiers all the way from Seir to Hormah, until they gave up the chase. 45 You came back and wept before the Eternal. But He wouldn’t listen to a word you said. 46 So you just stayed in Kadesh and didn’t leave for a long time.

Footnotes

  1. 1:7 Hebrew, Arabah
  2. 1:7 Hebrew, Negev
  3. 1:40 Literally, Sea of Reeds