Deuteronomy 1:1-5

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Deuteronomy 1:1
  • Deuteronomy 1:2
  • Deuteronomy 1:3
  • Deuteronomy 1:4
  • Deuteronomy 1:5

The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of the first 4 books and picks up exactly where the book of Numbers ends (with the people on the plain of Moab). Therefore, as we set the context for the book of Deuteronomy, it is important that we briefly summarize the theme of the previous books to see how the story of God unfolds.

Genesis describes God’s plan to bless the Israelites and the world through one man named Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Exodus focuses on God’s loving act by which He rescued the Israelites from Egypt in order to have a covenant relationship with them. Once the children of Israel are redeemed, Leviticus instructs them to live a holy life that reflects the life of their covenant redeemer (cf. Lev. 19). Since the first generation of the Israelites failed to obey God wholeheartedly, the book of Numbers displays a strong contrast between God’s faithfulness and the nation’s failure. That is why the book of Deuteronomy reiterates and expands on the covenant to a new generation of Israelites poised to enter and conquer the Promised Land. The message of the book is centered around two key terms: love and loyalty (Deut. 6:4-5).

Deuteronomy mainly consists of messages from Moses to the second generation of Israelites, in contemplation of their imminent entry into the Promised Land. God judged the first generation of Israelites who were delivered from Egypt for covenant violation by preventing them from entering the Promised Land. God led them to the edge of the Promised Land and told them to conquer it. The Israelites refused, saying God had led them there to die. God then judged that generation by decreeing that the Israelites fate would be as they had spoken: every numbered person twenty years and older will die in the wilderness.

Now all those decreed to die in the wilderness are dead. God prepares the second generation to enter the land by exhorting them. Deuteronomy is the record of that exhortation.

Deuteronomy begins with Moses reiterating God’s covenant, or agreement, with the people of Israel. Moses identifies each party in this covenant. He recounts the Israelites’ experiences in order to encourage them to press on to conquer the Promised Land. He reviews Israel’s history since the departure from Mount Horeb (also called Mt. Sinai), where they were given the Law, to Kadesh-barnea, at the border of the Promised Land. He reminds the Israelites of God’s command to leave Horeb.

Moses had appointed wise and respected men chosen by the people as leaders because the Israelites had become numerous. He called the judges to conduct their legal procedures with equity, knowing that every judgment belongs to the LORD. At Kadesh-barnea, he commanded the Israelites to go up and occupy the Promised Land. But due to lack of trust in the LORD, the Israelites rebelled against the command to conquer the land of Canaan.

Moses sets the historical and geographical context of the covenant message he is about to deliver to the Israelites. He intends to tell them all that God has commanded him.

Deuteronomy 1:1-5 provides the historical and geographical context of the covenant message Moses was about to deliver to the Israelites. This section identifies God as the initiator of the covenant (v. 3), Israel as the recipient of the covenant (v. 1; v. 3), Moses as the covenant mediator between God and Israel (v. 1; v. 3, and v. 5), and the covenant text itself which is referred to as “words” (v. 1) or “this law” (v. 5).

The text tells us that Moses delivered this speech to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness. Precisely, it is in the Arabah opposite Suph. The Arabah, a term used as a virtual synonym for “desert” is the continuation of the Jordan rift between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Elath, approximately 110 miles long. Today, the region across the Jordan in the wilderness (in Transjordan, east of the Jordan river) is called “the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”

Besides the Arabah opposite Suph, we are told that Israel’s place of gathering was between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab. These names, except for the unknown Tophel, likely refer to places in the Sinai Peninsula. They might be included here to show Israel’s itinerary from Mount Sinai to Moab.

It was eleven days’ journey from Horeb, another name for Mount Sinai, to Kadesh-barnea by the Mount Seir route. The place called “Mount Seir” here likely refers to the entire land of Seir, that is, Edom. Furthermore, the text mentions the exact date of the delivery of the speech. It is in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month. This date is given in reference to the exodus departure from Egypt which occurred about 1446 BC. Thus, this fortieth year corresponds to 1406 BC, a time around which Aaron the priest died, according to Numbers 33:38.

Now, Moses did not preach whatever came to his mind. Rather, he preached according to what the LORD had commanded him. As the narrator connects the dots for us, he says that the speech took place after Moses and the Israelites had defeated two enemy kings: Sihon of the Amorites who lived in Heshbon and Og of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth and Edrei. The Amorites were the inhabitants of a kingdom centered east of the Jordan river in central Transjordan (Numbers 21:33-35). Bashan was a rich and fertile land in what is now the Golan Heights, east of the Sea of Galilee. Ashtaroth was the capital of Bashan and Edrei was a city of the kingdom of Og in Bashan.

The purpose of Moses was to expound this law. The term translated as law is the Hebrew word “Torah,” a noun that refers primarily to instructions or teaching (whether legal or intellectual). It is sometimes used by New Testament writers to refer to the first five books of the Old Testament, as in Matthew 5:17-20; Luke 16:16. In our context, however, this law refers to the covenant text, that is, the precepts and stipulations Moses was about to teach the Israelites (see also Deuteronomy 4:8, 44). As such, the law refers to the whole book of Deuteronomy, not just individual laws therein.

It is noteworthy to say that this law (teaching) was presented in the form of a suzerain-vassal treaty where the suzerain such as a king or a ruler sets his own expectations of the covenant to the vassal who is the subject. Thus, throughout the book of Deuteronomy, we will see that the Suzerain/Ruler God chose Israel to be His own vassal and provided them with instructions concerning how to behave in order to please Him. This is another way of saying that these instructions were intended to shape the behavior and attitudes of Israel as vassals in a way that reflected their Suzerain/Ruler God.

Thus, other than introductory and conclusive comments by a narrator, Deuteronomy will consist of this speech of Moses to Israel, preparing them to enter the Promised Land. God had made unconditional promises to Israel, through Abraham, making the people of Israel His people, and granting them title to the land. Deuteronomy will remind the people of God’s faithfulness, but also of their responsibility. God’s gift of accepting Israel as His people is irrevocable (Romans 11:29). But God’s blessing and reward will depend upon the people’s obedience.

Biblical Text:

1 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. 2 It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. 3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the Lord had commanded him to give to them, 4 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. 5 Across the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law, saying,

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