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Introduction to Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 1) July 6

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, 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). And Abraham, we are told, observed God's commandments, statutes and laws (Genesis 26:5) 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). 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. Tyndale adds, "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 (30:19)."

Israel's Original Refusal to Enter the Land (Deuteronomy 1)

In verse 2 we see the mention of Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai. With the exception of 33:2, Deuteronomy 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; 15:15). 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) 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). 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). Moses was pleased with this idea (verse 23), and God told him to go ahead with it (compare Numbers 13:1-2). Except for Joshua and Caleb, however, the returning spies discouraged the nation from trying to conquer the land (Deuteronomy 1:28). 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 (3:7-19). 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). As Israel's human leader and teacher, Moses was under a stricter judgment from God (compare James 3:1) in order to serve as an example to the people (Deuteronomy 1:37).

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). 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)—and suffered the consequence of bitter defeat (verses 44-45). Then they returned and wept before God (verse 45; compare Matthew 25:30), 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).

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