Chapter 1


* Note: I like the way the NLT Illustrated Study Bible breaks up this book by address (or sermon). There are a total of three, which it further subdivides by topic, so my headings will reflect this format.

Preamble or Introduction/Setting (1:1-5)

      • Guzik writes, “Essentially, the Book of Deuteronomy was a sermon – or a series of sermons, preached by Moses to Israel, and preached with a heavy and passionate heart…The name Deuteronomy means ‘second law.’ It was the second giving of the Mosaic Law, the first being at Mount Sinai. Moses felt compelled to bring this reminder of the Law to Israel, because those ready to enter the Promised Land were only children – if born at all – when the Law was originally given at Mount Sinai…At this pivotal point in Israel’s history – on the threshold of the Promised Land, and ready to adopt a true national identity, Moses spoke to Israel in this book of Deuteronomy.”

    • Moses addressed all the Israelites while they were still in the wilderness east of the Jordan River. At this time they were camped in Arabah, across from Suph, and between Paran on one side and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab on the other.

      • On the location of Arabah, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “…a common word usually translated ‘wilderness’ or ‘desert.’ It generally refers to the Great Rift Valley that extends from the Sea of Galilee southward to the Red Sea (the Gulf of Aquaba). In this context, the Arabah is the wasteland of the lower Jordan River, just north of the Dead Sea.”

    • The journey from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea takes 11 days by the Mount Seir route. However, on the first day of the eleventh month, 40 years after the Israelites had left Egypt, Moses told the Israelites everything the Lord had told him to tell them. This address took place after he had defeated the Amorite King Sihon who ruled from Heshbon and King Og of Bashan who ruled from Ashtaroth at Edrei.

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The distance of Mount Sinai in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula to Kadesh-barnea in the north is only 150 miles. Even the massive Hebrew population could easily have covered this distance in eleven days had they proceeded without detour or interruption. Their rebellion against the Lord resulted in a 38-year delay and a circuitous route (Deuteronomy 2:14; Numbers 14:34)… The way of Mount Seir was the route from Mount Sinai to Mount Seir. Sier, another name for Edom, was located east-southeast of the Dead Sea. The ordinary route took travelers through the Arabah north from the Gulf of Aquaba and then west to Kadesh-barnea, sixty miles southeast of the Dead Sea.”

    • While the Israelites were still east of the Jordan River in Moab, Moses explained the law as follows:

      • Guzik writes, “Moses will now serve as an expository teacher to Israel. The Hebrew word translatedexplain’ comes from the ideas ‘to dig deeply’ or ‘to mine.’ Moses will mine out the riches of God’s truth to the people, and prepare them to enter in.”


God’s Guidance of Israel (1:6-3:29)

The Command to Leave Sinai

        • While we were at Mount Sinai (or Horeb) the Lord spoke to us saying, “You’ve been here at this mountain long enough, it’s time to continue your journey. Go into the hill country of the Amorites, then into the neighboring regions of Arabah, the hill country, the lowlands, the Negev, and the sea coast. Go all the way to the land occupied by the Canaanites, to Lebanon, all the way to the Euphrates River. This is the land that I swore to give to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I am giving it all to you. Go and take possession of it.”

          • Simply, God told Israel to move on. A year at Mount Sinai was enough; He did not bring them out of Egypt for them to live forever at Sinai. It was time to move on in faith and take the land of promise…Galatians 4 and Hebrews 12 symbolically identify Mount Sinai with the Old Covenant of works and law. For the Christian today, it is important to spend some time under the law as a tutor (Galatians 3:24-25), so we know the holy character of God and our need for a Savior. But God never intended the Christian to live their spiritual life at Mount Sinai. The believer must move on in faith to the Promised Land.” (Guzik)

Moses Appoints Leaders from Each Tribe

        • It was at this time that I told you to appoint respected leaders from each tribe who are known for their wisdom and understanding because you had become too large a responsibility for me to handle on my own. I could not deal with all of your troubles, burdens, and disputes by myself. The Lord your God had increased your population making you as numerous as the stars. And may He continue to multiply you a thousand times more and bless you as He promised. You agreed with my plan. So, I took the leaders that you selected and appointed them to serve over you. Some officials were responsible for 10 people, some for 50, some for 100, some for 1,000. I also set up judges to hear and decide your cases between yourselves (Israelites) and between you and foreigners living among you. These judges were to judge fairly, not showing partiality in decisions between the poor and the rich. These judges should not be intimidated by anyone because God is the one passing judgment. If any case is too difficult for you, bring it to me and I will handle it.

          • Guzik adds, “Moses experienced this crisis in Numbers 11 when the people complained again about the food God provided. To help Moses bear the burden, God directed him to appoint seventy elders to assist him in bearing up under the pressure of leading the nation…Some think that the appointment of leaders described in Deuteronomy 1 referred to the appointment of Judges in Exodus 18. Some others believe it refers to the appointment of elders described in Numbers 11. It could possibly be either, but from the flow of Moses’ context in Deuteronomy 1, it seems best to consider that it was the appointment of elders in Numbers 11.”

Scouts Explore the Land

        • Then we left Mount Sinai and journeyed through the vast and terrifying wilderness which you saw on the way to the hill country of the Amorites. When we got to Kadesh-barnea I told you: we have reached the hill country of the Amorites which the Lord is giving us. Don’t be afraid or discouraged. Go and take possession of this land as the Lord has commanded you. However, you all came and asked me if we could send out men to explore the land first and give us advice on the best route to take and what cities we’d come to. The plan seemed like a good one to me, so I chose one man from each tribe for a total of twelve scouts. These scouts set out toward the hill country and came to Valley of Eshcol. During their exploration there they picked some fruit and brought it back to us along with their report. They affirmed that the land the Lord our God was giving us was indeed very good.

          • Guzik reminds us of an issue skeptics sometimes cite, “From reading only Numbers 13:2 it might seem that this plan to send spies into Canaan originated with God, not the people. But a careful look shows that Numbers 13:2 dealt mainly with the number of spies to send (12) and how they should be chosen (one from each tribe). So though the plan did not originate with God (Deuteronomy 1 indicates that it started with the people, and was approved by Moses), the LORD essentially said: “If you are going to send spies, send twelve, and have them represent the whole nation by sending one from each tribe.” For more on this topic you can refer to the notes for Numbers 13.

Israel’s Rebellion Against the Lord

      • However, you rebelled against the Lord’s command, refusing to go in. You sat in your tents complaining, saying, “The Lord brought us out of Egypt just to give us over to the Amorites to be destroyed. He must hate us. Where can we go now? The scouts have reported that the people in those lands are bigger than us and their large cities are well protected with high walls. They even saw the descendants of the Anakim there!

      • But I told you not to be afraid of them! The Lord your God is going ahead of you and fighting for you just as you witnessed Him do in Egypt. You saw how He carried you through the wilderness, all the way here, just like a father carries his child. He went ahead of you finding the best places for you to camp, He guided you in a pillar of fire at night and in a pillar of cloud during the day. However, in spite of all of this, you didn’t trust the Lord your God.

        • Guzik writes, “God had done nothing but show Himself faithful to Israel. They could not point to one instance where He had let them down, though the journey had not been easy. Yet they answered God’s faithfulness with rebellion, murmuring, and unbelief…In essence, it was not sin that kept Israel out of the Promised Land. Instead, it was unbelief (though certainly, unbelief is sin). Israel’s sin could be covered through atoning sacrifice; but their unbelief and doubt of God’s love for them made them unable to trust God…We often think that it is really some sin that hinders us from going on with the LORD. It is true that the LORD wants to deal with the sin and get it out of the way, but the way that happens is by deepening the relationship of love and trust in the LORD. Unbelief and lack of trust is the real enemy.”

        • When the Lord heard your complaints He was very angry and swore this oath, “Not one person from this wicked generation will see this good land that I promised to give your fathers except Jephunneh’s son Caleb. Because Caleb followed Me, I will give him and his descendants the land that he scouted.” The Lord was also angry with me because of you and said, “Moses, you will not enter the Promised Land either. Instead, your assistant Joshua will lead the people into the land. Encourage him because he will be the one to lead the Israelites in taking possession of it. I will give this land to your little children who are not yet old enough to know good from bad instead of you. You were afraid these children would be captured, but now they will be the ones to inherit the land. Now, you all must turn around and go back to the wilderness by the Red Sea route.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “In his frustration against rebellious Israel, Moses had disobeyed God by striking the rock rather than merely speaking to it (Numbers 20:10-13).” HCSB adds, “God’s severe treatment of Moses for seems a minor incident does not expose Him to a charge of unfairness or of capricious administration of His judgment. Moses was the most privileged of men. As such he bore the greatest responsibility for his sin of failed leadership. His punishment was in direct proportion to what God had rightfully expected of him.”

      • After this you confessed that you had sinned against the Lord and the men gathered their weapons and agreed to go fight as the Lord had told you to do, thinking that attacking the hill country would be easy. But the Lord told me to tell you not to attack the hill country because He was no longer with you so you would be defeated. Even though I told you this, you refused to listen and rebelled against the Lord again. You attacked the hill country, the Amorites who lived there came out like a swarm of bees and chased you all the way from Seir to Hormah. When you came back, you cried to the Lord, but He did not listen or pay attention to you. This was the reason why you stayed at Kadesh as long as you did.