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These are the words which Moses spake
These are the most important words in the Book of Deuteronomy, and until these words are properly understood, there is no such thing as understanding the whole book. The words as they stand in the sacred text are either true, or they are untrue, and we wish to register at the outset here our conviction that the words are true. Deuteronomy is the Sacred Scripture to which Jesus Christ himself made appeal when assailed by Satan himself in the wilderness of our Lord's temptation, and the proposition that the eternal Son of God in his contest with the prince of evil would have relied upon a human book full of lies is itself a preposterous falsehood!
No educated Christian can be unaware of the allegations of unbelieving enemies of the Bible to the effect that neither the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy, nor the 15th century date of its production can be allowed. The arrogant claim of such Biblical critics is that devout priests during the reign of Manasseh wrote Deuteronomy, hid it in the temple, and then had it "discovered" in the days of Josiah! That little fairy tale is not half as credible as those written by Hans Christian Andersen! Now, it is not so much the impossibility of swallowing such a Gargantuan lie that we wish to emphasize just here. It is the somewhat subtle insinuation that those "wonderful, devout priests" did this monstrous forgery "in the service of God," that what they did was acceptable as morally justified by their entire generation, despite the obvious fact of its being deceitful, fraudulent, immoral, untruthful, and as crooked as anything hell ever desired! Now it is precisely this postulation of the Biblical enemies that we wish to explore a little further.
Note that they approve of the fraud, duplicity, and dishonesty of the alleged priesthood that concocted Deuteronomy "in the name of Moses." The critics do not often state this approval, but it invariably appears in the "motives" assigned for the fraud and deception. Thus, it is alleged that this colossal act of fraud and deception was for "the purpose of rooting out the idolatry that had become rampant in the long reign of Manasseh!" Indeed, how noble, and commendable such a worthy purpose appears! We have a specific example of this "approval" by Edgar Goodspeed, one of the 20th-century modernists. He denied the Matthew authorship of that Gospel, saying, "It was written by a Jewish Christian of insight and devotion!" (at a time long after Matthew lived).F1 The prominent point in all this is that the unbelieving enemies of the Bible approve the fraudulent and crooked devices alleged to have been practiced on the sacred text of the Bible. From this, we are required to be doubly suspicious of all their arguments. How many forgeries, deceptions, and false statements are to be expected in the writings of men who have such a loose conception of morality that they can refer to the crooked deceiver who palmed off his "Book of Matthew" as that of an apostle, as "a Christian of insight and devotion"? Therefore, we believe that such allegations against the Bible tell us far more about those who make the allegations than they tell us about the Bible. Certainly, the light shed on the Bible by those who deny the truth of it is nil.
This first verse is supported by another passage in Deuteronomy, as follows:
"And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel ... And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto priests the sons of Levi ... And it came to pass when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished that Moses commanded the Levites that bear the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, saying, Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of Jehovah your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee. For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against Jehovah; and how much more after my death." (Deuteronomy 31:1,9,24-27)
Also, notice Deut. 31:22, "Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it the children of Israel." No other Biblical book is so specifically assigned to its author as is this one, and these statements are "either true or false,"F2 as bluntly stated by Robinson, who added a statement of his acceptance of these scriptural affirmations.
Robinson also backed up his conviction that these statements are true with the following reasons:
(1) The whole nature of the book, including its contents, declarations, and historical references are appropriate to the times of Moses, and to those of Moses only.
(2) The Word of God emphatically declares that Moses is the author.
(3) There is nothing unreasonable about Moses' having put his five books in writing. Hammurabi wrote such a book centuries before Moses, and Moses had the necessary training and education to have written it.
(4) The military exhortations and the whole atmosphere of the book are appropriate to a nation standing upon the threshold of a war of conquest.
(5) There is a paternal vein running through the whole book that defies all identification with any age or any leader except that of Moses.
This student of the Sacred Scriptures accepts without reservation both the age and the person of Moses as having produced Deuteronomy.
(See the Introduction for further discussion of this.)
Unto all Israel
This expression is characteristic of Deuteronomy, occurring not only here at the outset, but in Deut. 5:1; 13:11; 21:21; 24:2; 31:1,7; and Deut. 34:12. Also, there are a number of other similar expressions: all the men of Israel (Deuteronomy 19:10), all the tribes of Israel (Deuteronomy 2:21), all the elders of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:9), and all the congregation of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:30).
Unbelieving enemies of God's Word never overlook an opportunity to attack Mosaic authorship. T. Witton Davies, for example, concluded from this expression that The writer of Deuteronomy lived WEST of the Jordan!F3 Of course, like so many unbelieving arguments, this one is based upon ignorance. The expression beyond Jordan never invariably means either west of Jordan, or east of Jordan. The phrase means nothing more than Trans-jordania ... The use of this expression in Num. 32:19 and Josh. 12:1,7; and 1 Sam. 14:4 for each side alternately indicates that the expression itself affords no conclusive evidence of the standpoint of the particular writer. In Deuteronomy the expression `beyond Jordan' refers twelve times to the eastern and six times to the western side of Jordan.F4 Here the reference is to the EASTERN side of Jordan, not to the WESTERN side. These distinctions are clearly set forth in the KJV.
In the Arabah
the long rift extending from Lake Galilee to the Gulf of Aquabah. Over against Suph ... Probably an abbreviation of [~Yam] [~Cuwph], which has the meaning of end sea and was the name of all the great southern oceans as well as of all their gulfs and extensions. (See the full discussion of this in my commentary on Exodus, pp. 177-179.) The other place names in Deut. 1:1 correspond roughly with those in Num. 33:18-20, which are on the route from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea.F5
Distances were counted by the time required to travel. A day's journey was about twenty miles if one traveled on foot, or thirty miles (at three miles and hour) by camel, and twenty-five miles by caravan.F6 It appears very likely, however, that a great company like Israel would not have been able to move as rapidly as a smaller company might have traveled. The actual distance indicated here was only about 100 miles.
Deut. 1:3 places the event of the writing of Deuteronomy almost at the end of the period of Israel's wilderness sojourn and just before the death of Moses. It was an opportune time indeed for the aged commander to turn the mantle of authority over to Joshua and to pour out his heart in the eloquent and moving words of this remarkable book. Great military victories had just been won over the Amorites and the people of Bashan, and the general weakness of the whole area in a military sense gave Israel the ideal opportunity to take over the promised land. Their tragic failure to do so led to their forty-year delay during which God waited for the rebellious generation to die, and this, of course, gave the citizens of Canaan time to fortify themselves and improve their strength greatly before the delayed confrontation with Israel actually took place. Some lost opportunities never return.
Deut. 1:6 is actually the beginning of the first address featured in Deuteronomy. It extends to Deut. 4:40 and is divided from the second address by Deut. 4:41-49.
THE FIRST DISCOURSE (Deut. 1:6--4:40)
The subject matter of this first speech of Moses is presented in the chapter headings usually found in English Bibles, as follows: Moses briefly recounts God's promises to Israel, reminds them of God's anger at their incredulity and disobedience, recalls their instructions not to meddle with the Edomites, nor with the Moabites, nor with the Ammonites, rehearses their victory over Sihon king of the Amorites, reminds them of their victory over Og king of Bashan, recalls the size of Og's bed, recounts his own prayer to enter the promised land and God's granting him the privilege of seeing it, gives a powerful admonition to Israel regarding the necessity of their obedience, and concludes with a powerful dissuasive against idolatry.
Obviously, a great deal of this material has already been related in the preceding Books of Moses.
Cousins called these verses "an apparent interpolation";F7 but, of course, they are no such thing, having a very close connection with Deut. 1:8b, and thus showing the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham that his descendants would be like the stars and the sands of the seashore. It is exactly the type of historical reference that should be expected of an aged man on such an occasion as this.
The material here is recorded in Num. 13 and Exo. 18, but, as any senior citizen would do in recalling past history, certain events are not precisely separated as to time and place. "It is obvious that Moses only touched on certain points of the whole history, without regard to order of time, but with a special purpose."F8 That purpose was clearly that of demonstrating to Israel that the long forty-year delay was due solely to themselves for their unbelief, disobedience, and intolerable behavior.
There is a fuller account of all this in Num. 13 and Num. 14. This is something in the nature of a summary that Moses gave here. One feature of this speech and of all of Deuteronomy is that Moses speaks in the first person throughout! Can it be supposed for a moment that an impersonator seeking to have a book accepted as coming from Moses when indeed it did not, would have made this radical change to the first person instead of following the pattern of the other Books of Moses, in which God is invariably represented as speaking through Moses? It is impossible to imagine such a thing. Only Moses could have made this change, certainly not some forger trying to sound like Moses!
Fortified up to heaven
This is supposed to be a reference to the unusually high walls of many fortified places in that area in those times. Jamieson relates how the prevalence of marauding Arabs on horseback led to the building of very high walls of St. Catherine's monastery at the foot of Sinai, which are, so lofty that travelers are drawn up in a basket by a pulley.F9
Deut. 1:37 here seems to tie the sin of Moses to the occasion when the whole nation rebelled and would not go up to possess the land, but actually, the sin which prevented Moses' entry into Canaan was committed at Meribah (Num. 20). Another evidence of the hand of Moses himself in this chapter is the peculiar separation of the names of Caleb and of Joshua. Here the mention by Moses of the fact that he would not enter Canaan separates the two names which in earlier references appear together. No forger or impersonator would have done a thing like this.
As for you, turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea
This was the doom of the adult population of Israel to the frustrations and heartaches of that dreadful forty-years, at this time, at last about to end. Very little is recorded in the Pentateuch concerning those bitter years of frustration. Why? When people have rebelled against God, all of their activities lose the quality of significance. What Israel did during this period of condemnation made no difference in the future of the nation. The few events recorded, it appears, were noted because of some significant lesson to be derived from their behavior. As stated in the N.T., those things were written for our admonition (1 Corinthians 10:11).
The repeated rebellions of that generation at last reached a crisis, the crisis that Moses recalled in this paragraph. No superficial show of repentance could restore the loss of confidence that God might once have had in the people. They had failed the Lord far too often for the maneuver which Israel here suggested to restore their status in the eyes of God. They said, "We have sinned, and now we will fight." Would they then obey the Lord? Certainly not! God commanded them NOT to go, but they presumed to go anyway!
The weeping of the nation here is extremely pathetic. The love and forgiveness of the Father which had so often been available to them in the past was now no longer available. They had passed the point of no return. There would be nothing else for that generation except the burning memories of what might have been if they had obeyed the Lord. There is something here for every man to ponder; for we cannot suppose that what happened to Israel here was in any manner different to what happens to any man who trifles with the love and forgiveness of the Lord.
As already noted, Moses could have had only one motive in this rehearsal of the dreadful history of Israel which had ended in such a tragedy for the whole people, and that was to emphasize the truth that they had brought it all upon themselves by their intolerable behavior.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.