THE HISTORICAL PROLOGUE
A. OUTLINE OF THIS SECTION.
Rehearsal of the Journey
Sinai to Kadesh
Kadesh to Moab
Appeal of Experience
Appeal of Warning
Appeal of Relationship
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. (Deuteronomy 1:1).
Literally, this says, "These are the words which Moses worded..." or "this is the speech that Moses spoke..."
Moses is getting ready to speak to the new generation that is getting ready to enter the land. He will review what has happened with the older generation. He will communicate truth - truth about God and about His works.
Every time there is a new generation, we must proclaim Godís truth to that generation. Such truth must always be proclaimed, not in the terms of the old generation, but in a way that can be understood by the new generation. We have to make it relevant to them. We have to speak so that they can understand.
1. The Place of Mosesí Address.
It is eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. (Deuteronomy 1:2).
Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai. Kadesh-barnea was the place where the people had failed to enter the promised land because of their unbelief.
The sad thing is that it is only eleven days journey from the place where they received the law to the place where they failed. It had not taken them 11 days. It had taken them 40 years. This was the price of their failure.
But they were not now at Kadesh-barnea. They were now upon the plains of Moab. They had skirted around the lands of Edom to approach the promised land, not from the south, but from the east.
2. The Time of Mosesí Address.
And it came about in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the Lord had commanded him to give to them, 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. (Deuteronomy 1:3-4).
Moses is about to speak to the people of Israel. But this is not a speech which he has prepared. Although he is the communicator, he is not the originator of his message. He is going to speak "according to all that the Lord had commanded him." This is Godís message.
It is the same for us. When we share the gospel, we need to be careful that it is HIS message we communicate and not one of our own.
C. FROM SINAI TO KADESH (1:5-46).
1. A Promise in the Wilderness.
"The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, `You have stayed long enough at this mountain.
"íTurn and set your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites, and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negev and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.
"`See, I have placed the land before you; go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to them and their descendants after them.'" (Deuteronomy 1:6-8).
Moses wants this new generation to know that the God of whom he is speaking has not been dealing with them for only the past generation. They are a part of something very old, going back before the Exodus and before the Israelites even entered Egypt to the time of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
The promise which they are now to claim is not a new promise. It had been given many hundreds of years earlier, before there were a people of Israel.
It had been given to Abraham (Genesis 15).
When we tell people about the Lord, we need to let them know that He is not something new. He has been around for a very long time. He is the Creator of all that is.
2. The Command to Take the Land.
"Then we set out from Horeb, 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; and we came to Kadesh-barnea.
"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.
"íSee, the Lord your God has placed the land before you; go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed.'" (Deuteronomy 1:19-21).
The Israelites were told to go in and take the land. They were not to "pass GO or collect $200." They were to obey NOW. But that isnít what happened.
3. The Spies.
"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.'" (Deuteronomy 1:22).
God had not told them to send in spies. He did not need to be told what was in the land. But the Israelites were not so confident - so trusting. And so, they formed a committee. They decided to get an expert opinion.
This was their first mistake. They should not have been sending in these spies in the first place.
Notice that the stated duty of these spies was not to tell them whether on not they would be able to take the land, but only which route they ought to take. Do you see what happened? These spies greatly overstepped their authority.
"And the thing pleased me and I took twelve of your men, one man for each tribe." (Deuteronomy 1:23).
Even Moses was convinced by this reasoning. He bought into this plan. He did not ask the Lord whether this was to be done. Instead, he went along with the plan because it pleased him.
"Yet you were not willing to go us, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your 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.
"`Where can we go up? Our brethren have made out 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."'" (Deuteronomy 1:26-28).
This passage shows the results of discouragement. Discouragement does two things:
a. It diminishes the love of God.
Instead of remembering how the Lord had loved them and delivered them from Egypt and protected them in the wilderness, they stood there and said, "God hates me!"
b. It exaggerates our difficulties.
Notice how they described the cities of their enemies. "Large and fortified to heaven." They adopted a grasshopper mentality.
4. A Question of Faith.
"The Lord your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 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." (Deuteronomy 1:30-31).
Notice the imagery that is used here. It is of a father and his little boy. The boy grows weary during the long walk and so, the father picks him up and carries him. God says, "I did that for you. You didnít notice it, but I was carrying you."
Youíve probably seen the story "Footprints in the sand." It imagines a man dying and going to heaven. From heaven, he was able to look back and review the course of his life, laid out as footprints in the sand. There were two sets of footprints - his and the Lordís. They had walked together for a long time and the footprints showed the course of that walk. Then he noticed that, in those periods when things were at there worst and when there seemed no hope, there was only one set of footprints. He asked the Lord, "Father, why did you leave me in those times when things were so hard and so difficult?" The Lord answered, "I never left you. At those difficult times when you saw only one set of footprints, I was carrying you."
God still carries us. That isnít the question. The question is whether you will continue to believe He is carrying you, even when you canít see Him.
"Then the Lord heard the sound of your words, and He was angry and took an oath, saying,
"`Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers, 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.'" (Deuteronomy 1:34-36).
Our choices always result in consequences. If they are right choices, then those consequences will be good. And if they are bad choices, then we will suffer the consequences for those bad choices. This isnít merely a natural law. This is Godís law.
The Israelites made a choice to disobey the Lord. Their disobedience resulted into that which had been a blessing for them being turned into a curse. God had entered into a covenant relationship with them, and that was good. But when they broke the terms of that covenant, then it turned into a covenantal curse.
The legacy of Caleb stood in strong contrast to the rest of the Israelites in his generation. He was a man who "followed the Lord fully."
This is what I hope people say about me when I die. Not, "He was eloquent or powerful or handsome" (Iím none of those things). But, "He was a man who followed the Lord fully."
"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." (Deuteronomy 1:39).
The Israelites had blamed some of their unbelief upon their children. They said, "If we try to go in and take the land we will be defeated and not only will we die, but our children will also be taken."
And so God says, "Since you were so concerned about your children's welfare, I will take the land away from you and give it to them."
D. FROM KADESH TO MOAB (2:1 - 3:29).
"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." (Deuteronomy 2:1).
Saying that they "circled Mount Seir for many days" is a bit of an understatement. They spent 38 years circling Mount Seir.
Can we learn something from the failures of the past? I think we can. Indeed, the purpose of these first two chapters of Deuteronomy is to show the failure of the old generation and to teach the new generation so that they will learn from the previous failure.
1. Detour around Edom.
"And the Lord spoke to me, saying,
"`You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north, and command the people, saying, "You will pass through the territory of your brothers the sons of Esau who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful; do not provoke them, for I will not give you any of their land, even as little as a footstep because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession."'" (Deuteronomy 2:2-5).
Seir is not merely a single mountain. It is a double mountain range running from the southern tip of the Dead Sea to the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. Between these double mountain ranges lies a great rift valley. The mountains on either side range to a height of 6000 feet while, at the northern end, the valley drops down to a point 1200 feet below sea level.
The ancient Nabatean city of Petra was later built in this region. The ancient Horites had formerly lived in this region, but they had been pushed out by the Edomites, descendants of Esau.
The Horites formerly lived in Seir, but the sons of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did to the land of their possession which the Lord gave to them. (Deuteronomy 2:12).
Godís instructions to Israel was that they were not to fight against the Edomites. Why? Because they were distant relatives. They had also been blessed by God.
2. Detour around Moab.
"Then the Lord said to me, `Do not harass Moab, nor provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot as a possession.'" (Deuteronomy 2:9).
In the same way the Israelites were to avoid a conflict with the Edomites because they were the descendants of Esau, so also they were to avoid a conflict with Moab and Ammon (see verse 19) because these were the descendants of Lot.
Lot had been Abraham's nephew. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he had children through an incestuous relationship with each of his two daughters and those children gave rise to the nations of Moab and Ammon.
Why this command to avoid conflict with Moab and Ammon? As in the case of Edom, it was because they were family. Not only that, but it would be from Moab that a young woman would come who would be the ancestor of the Messiah. Her name is Ruth.
3. Conquest of the Amorites.
"`Arise, set out, and pass through the valley of Arnon. Look! I have given Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbom, and his land into your hand; begin to take possession and contend with him in battle.'" (Deuteronomy 2:24).
The word "Arnon" is Hebrew for "rushing stream." This was an ancient river which flowed from the hills of Arabia down into the Dead Sea opposite En-gedi. Over many thousands of year, this river cut a huge canyon measuring as much as two miles wide and 1700 feet deep.
This canyon and its river formed the boundary between the Moabites in the south and the Amorites in the north.
As the Israelites approached the land of the Amorites, there was a change in plans. Up to this point, the Lord had been telling them not to fight the peoples of the land. But now there is a change. Now they are told that they WILL fight.
Why? Perhaps the answer is found in the pages of Genesis. When God gave His promise to Abraham, He stated that the land of Canaan would not be given to him until after many hundreds of years had passed because "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete" (Genesis 15:16).
Apparently, the iniquity of the Amorites was now complete. It was time for judgment to come. And that judgment would come through the agency of the nation of Israel.
"`This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under the heavens, who, when they hear the report of you, shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.'" (Deuteronomy 2:25).
Although the Israelites were now being commanded to fight, the Lord had already prepared the way before them.
You are going to face some struggles. Some of them will be so bad that they would curl your toes. The good news is that the Lord has already gone before you and has prepared the way for you. All you have to do is to follow Him.
God not only brought fear into the hearts of the Amorites, He also brought a hardening of the kingís heart.
"But Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through his land; for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him unto your hand." (Deuteronomy 2:30).
God is in the hardening business. He did this with pharaoh during the plagues of Egypt. And He does it here with Sihon.
This does not mean that Sihon was wringing his hands and saying, "I would really like to let God's people come through my land, but I can't do it because God is hardening my heart." Rather, God hardens rebellious heart. Steve Brown says that He "greases the tracks in the direction you determine to go."
The result was a complete defeat for the Amorites and a complete victory for the people of God.
"From Aroer which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon and from the city which is in the valley, even to Gilead, there was no city that was too high for us; the Lord out God delivered all over to us." (Deuteronomy 2:36).
There was no city that was able to withstand the Israelites. This was not because the Israelites were so big and strong. It was because God is so big and strong.
What obstacle are you facing in your life? Does it seem too high or too wide? It isn't. God is bigger than your problems.
4. The Fall of Bashan.
Deuteronomy 3 tells of the Israelite conquest of the land of Bashan, located to the north of the River Jabbok and extending all the way to Mount Hermon (3:8). These are the lands to the east of the Sea of Galilee and include the Golan Heights.
E. SPIRITUAL APPLICATIONS (4:1-49).
1. A Godly Example.
"See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it.
"So, keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, `Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.í" (Deuteronomy 4:5-6).
The Israelites were given one good reason (among others) to be obedient to God after they enter the Promised Land. They were to be a witness for God; other nations will want to know what makes them unique.
Likewise I am to be obedient to the Lord, for my words will have little credibility if my actions don't follow closely. My witness for Jesus Christ can be either a positive or negative.
2. A Spiritual Experience.
Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, `Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.'
"And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom.
"Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form - only a voice.
"So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.
"And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it.
They were to remember that there was a time when they stood before God and heard the heavens roar and the earth melt and the sun grow dark.
It was at that time that God spoke to them. They heard only a word - a voice.
He remains the invisible God. That is why no images are to be made of Him - but weíll speak of that in a later chapter.
At that time, the people were given ASERET HaDeBARIM - the "Ten Words" These were written on two tablets of stone.
3. A Fiery Warning.
"So watch yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the Lord your God has commanded you. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." (Deuteronomy 4:23-24).
What does it mean when the Bible says that God is "a consuming fire"? (Deuteronomy 4:24). The context would indicate that this is a reference to the destructive wrath of God against sin.
In the verse immediately before this one, Moses is warning the children of Israel to not forget their covenant with God, and particularly God's injunction against idols.
In the two verses immediately following, Moses tells them that if they do make any kind of idol, it will provoke God to anger, and He will destroy them.
In Deuteronomy 9:3, the same terminology is used in reference to God's destroying the nations that inhabit the land that He is giving to Israel: "the LORD thy God is He which goeth over before thee; as a consuming fire he shall destroy them, and he shall bring them down before thy face..." According to verses 4 & 5, God is destroying them because of their wickedness.
Moses is stating that if Israel walks in wickedness, God will utterly destroy them as well, as fire destroys everything in its path. The warning is this... Donít become firewood!
This phrase, "God is a consuming fire" is repeated in Hebrews 12, in the context of the discipline of the Lord and of the shaking of the heavens and the earth. This is a concept found throughout the Bible. The simplest analogy I could give would be the purification process of metal. As it goes through fire, the impurities in the metal rise to the surface, where they can be removed. The longer the metal stays in the fire, the purer it becomes. Peter compared our faith to gold that is refined by fire (1 Peter 1:7).