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Bible: What Does Deuteronomy 1-2 Teach Us About Israel's Wanderings?

Updated on September 15, 2016

Moses with the Ten Commandments


The Plains of Moab

Moses introduces this final book of the Pentateuch by recording the specific location whence he spoke “these words”; Israel still dwells in the wilderness “on this side of the Jordan,” on the plain opposite the Red Sea and between various towns (v. 1).

Verse two reveals that the journey from Sinai to Kadesh Barnea normally took less than two weeks (“eleven days”) [v. 2].

[This statement indicates that Israel could have begun possessing Canaan a very short time after their “salvation,” but their disobedience changed the timetable].

Israel’s elder statesman now speaks the LORD’s commandments to His people more than forty years after the Exodus, the two Canaanite kings Sihon and Og having already been killed (vv. 3-4; cf. Num. 21:21ff).

He begins his historical discourse in Moab (the place where the descendants of Lot settled) by rehearsing what God had said forty years earlier in Horeb (Sinai) [vv. 5-6].

In a word, the LORD had commanded Israel to survey the full extent of the Land, and then enter and possess their inheritance (vv. 7-8).

The Elders of Israel


Perceiving at that time that he could not manage national affairs alone, Moses informed a greatly multiplied Israel that they must choose gifted, spiritual leaders whom he would then appoint over them (vv. 9-13).

The people wisely agreed with this plan, chose their rulers, and Moses gave these men authority over groups of various sizes (vv. 14-15).

He also instructed “judges” to hear the lesser cases and render impartial decisions; only those trials too difficult for them they should bring to Moses (vv. 16-18; cf. Ex. 18:18-26).

Continuing his historical recollections, Moses reminds Israel of their departure from Sinai, their trek through the desert, and their arrival at Kadesh (v. 19).

He indicates that he encouraged them while in Kadesh to enter the Land and dispossess its inhabitants, for Yahweh had promised victory (vv. 20-21).

Thinking it a reasonable step, Moses agreed with Israel’s plan to send spies into the Land to learn the best way to approach the task (vv. 22-23; cf. Num. 13).

The twelve men whom Moses appointed searched the Valley of Eschol, and brought back its good fruit (vv. 24-25a).

Despite their leaders’ report of the Land’s goodness, however, Israel sided with their decision not to “go up” because of the great size of its inhabitants as well as of their strong fortresses (vv. 25b-26, 28).

Moses relates that instead of obeying God’s word, they rebelled and complained that the LORD hated them and wanted the Amorites to kill them (v. 27).

Again, Moses recounts that he attempted to encourage them in the LORD’s strength, providing them with examples of how Yahweh fought for them in Egypt and cared for them in the wilderness (vv. 29-31).

The speaker sadly reports that their parents did not believe the One who guided them all the way with His fire by night and His cloud by day (vv. 32-33).

Having heard their choice, Yahweh vowed to prevent that generation of Israelites (except for Caleb and his family, who fully followed Him) from entering the Land (vv. 34-36).

“Even I,’’ Moses says, in essence, “God did not allow to go in ‘for your sakes’ ”(v. 37).

Instead, Joshua would replace him and lead the people into their inheritance (v. 38).

Yet not those who rebelled will enter, but only their children (v. 39); sadly, the remaining sinners will wander about the wilderness (v. 40).

Moses explains that their parents did not accept this punishment, but tried to invade the Canaanites without the LORD’s presence and power, thus rebelling against God’s command not to go up or fight (vv. 41-43; cf. Num. 14:39-45).

As the result of their disobedience, the Amorites drove them back from Seir to Hormah (v. 44).

God turned a deaf ear to Israel’s weeping, and they stayed in Kadesh many days (vv. 45-46).

Giants in the Land


Giants in Canaan

Do you believe there were giants in the Land?

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Deuteronomy 2

Israel’s wandering took them around Mount Seir repeatedly—the text says “for many days”—until the LORD told Moses to go north and traverse Esau’s territory (Seir) [vv. 1-4].

God warned them to be careful of the fearful Edomites; they may buy food and water from them, but not “meddle” with them (vv. 5-6).

[Perhaps some Israelites thought that Yahweh was going to give them Esau’s “Promised Land”].

Verse seven indicates that Israel’s forty-year journey is coming to an end; even while under discipline, they still experienced the LORD’s blessing (His presence and provision) while trudging through the wilderness.

Having passed beyond Esau, Israel turned and went by Moab’s wilderness (v. 8).

[Notice that the text reports that they traveled “away from” certain locales, undoubtedly to avoid any confrontations].

As God warned them not to “meddle” with Esau because He had given Seir to him, so He admonishes Israel not to “harass” Moab, for Ar is Lot’s permanent possession (v. 9).

[In a parenthetical aside, Moses offers some more information about the Emim—a race of giants who lived in Moab after Esau had dispossessed them from his land (vv. 10-12)].

Finally crossing the Valley of the Zered, Israel had spent thirty-eight years traveling from Kadesh Barnea; the LORD, true to His word, allowed none of the six hundred thousand plus warriors to survive (vv. 14-15; cf. Num. 1:46; 14:34-35).

At this stage Yahweh commanded Moses to pass over Ar, the boundary of Moab, into Ammon, Lot’s possession; as with the other two peoples, He instructed Israel not to bother the Ammonites either (vv. 16-19).

[Again, Moses pens a short parenthetical statement about certain giants, the Zamzummim, who once lived in Ammon before Esau’s descendants dispossessed them.

He also mentions Avim and Caphtorim, the Avim’s conqueror (vv. 20-23)].

From Ammon Israel crossed the River Arnon and, according to the LORD’s directive, began to dispossess Sihon the Amorite from his land (v. 24).

This major offensive marked the date upon which God started to put His fear into the hearts of the nations who hear about Israel’s exploits (v. 25).

Before warring with King Sihon, Israel offered to pass through his land, and buy food and water from him as they had from the Edomites and Moabites; Sihon, however, refused to cooperate (vv. 26-30a).

[The text reports that the LORD had “hardened his spirit” and “made his heart obstinate” (v. 30b).

Sihon had a hard heart already; God merely confirmed its obstinacy, for He determined to deliver him into Israel’s hand.

A similar hardening took place in Pharaoh’s heart forty years earlier (see Ex. 4:21)].

Understanding Sihon’s stubbornness as God’s work, Israel confronted the king’s armies as they met them at Jahaz (vv. 31-32).

God’s people, of course, successfully routed Sihon, killing every human being, but taking the livestock and spoil from the cities (vv. 33-35).

Moses comments about how the LORD delivered all of the strong cities over to His people, and how Israel avoided confronting Ammonites along the River Jabbok or in the cities of the mountains (vv. 36-37).

[God sanctioned the complete annihilation of a people already doomed to destruction because of their paganism; He righteously used Israel as His instrument of judgment].

© 2013 glynch1


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    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 4 years ago

      No, I believe Jesus ratified the New Covenant in the upper room; He "cut the covenant" with the disciples at that time (See Genesis 15 for another unilateral "cuttting" during Abraham's time.) Christ will fulfill that covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah when He returns to the Earth to set up His millennial kingdom. The Church participates in the covenant by virtue of our being the body of Christ.

    • BLACKANDGOLDJACK profile image

      Jack Hazen 4 years ago from Blitzburgh area

      It was my understanding that the "new covenant" of Jeremiah 31:31-34 has already occurred, as in with Jesus and the cross.

    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 4 years ago

      The "children" include people from both the Southern and Northern kingdoms. God will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31-34), choose the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel (excluding Dan and including Joseph instead of Ephraim).

    • BLACKANDGOLDJACK profile image

      Jack Hazen 4 years ago from Blitzburgh area

      While I would agree the “children of Israel” includes the Jews, doesn’t it include the other tribes as well?

      Many Jews returned where they came from after the Babylonian captivity. Most of the other tribes, and their descendents, are likely dispersed all over the world. As stated in Deuteronomy 4:27, “And the LORD shall scatter you among the nations . . .”

      Leviticus repeatedly says, “Speak unto the children of Israel” while Deuteronomy repeatedly says, “Hear, O Israel.”

      So, who are the words in Leviticus and Deuteronomy meant for?

    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 4 years ago

      "The children of Israel" are the Jews, and they are scattered throughout the world. In the future God will gather them all together to their homeland, and He will spiritually save His elect when Christ returns.

    • BLACKANDGOLDJACK profile image

      Jack Hazen 4 years ago from Blitzburgh area

      With respect to "Israel's wanderings" in terms of us today, who do you think the "children of Israel" are now and where are they?