Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
SPEECH AT THE
END OF THE
1. These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel--The mental
condition of the people generally in that infantine age of the Church,
and the greater number of them being of young or tender years, rendered
it expedient to repeat the laws and counsels which God had given.
Accordingly, to furnish a recapitulation of the leading branches of
their faith and duty was among the last public services which Moses
rendered to Israel. The scene of their delivery was on the plains of
Moab where the encampment was pitched
on this side Jordan--or, as the Hebrew word may be rendered "on
the bank of the Jordan."
in the wilderness, in the plain--the Arabah, a desert plain, or steppe,
extended the whole way from the Red Sea north to the Sea of Tiberias.
While the high tablelands of Moab were "cultivated fields," the Jordan
valley, at the foot of the mountains where Israel was encamped, was a
part of the great desert plain, little more inviting than the desert of
Arabia. The locale is indicated by the names of the most prominent
places around it. Some of these places are unknown to us. The Hebrew word, Suph, "red" (for "sea," which our translators have inserted,
is not in the original, and Moses was now farther from the Red Sea than ever),
probably meant a place noted for its reeds
Tophel--identified as Tafyle or Tafeilah, lying between Bozrah and
Hazeroth--is a different place from that at which the Israelites
encamped after leaving "the desert of Sinai."
2. There are eleven days' journey from Horeb--Distances are computed in
the East still by the hours or days occupiesd by the journey. A day's
journey on foot is about twenty miles--on camels, at the rate of three
miles an hour, thirty miles--and by caravans, about twenty-five miles.
But the Israelites, with children and flocks, would move at a slow
rate. The length of the Ghor from Ezion-geber to Kadesh is a hundred
miles. The days here mentioned were not necessarily successive days
[ROBINSON], for the journey can be made in a much shorter period. But
this mention of the time was made to show that the great number of
years spent in travelling from Horeb to the plain of Moab was not owing
to the length of the way, but to a very different cause; namely,
banishment for their apostasy and frequent rebellions.
mount Seir--the mountainous country of Edom.
3-8. in the fortieth year . . . Moses spake unto the children of
Israel, &c.--This impressive discourse, in which Moses reviewed all
that God had done for His people, was delivered about a month before his
death, and after peace and tranquillity had been restored by the
complete conquest of Sihon and Og.
4. Ashtaroth--the royal residence of Og, so called from Astarte ("the
moon"), the tutelary goddess of the Syrians. Og was slain at
Edrei--now Edhra, the ruins of which are fourteen miles in
circumference [BURCKHARDT]; its general breadth is about
5. On this side Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare
this law--that is, explain this law. He follows the same method here
that he elsewhere observes; namely, that of first enumerating the
marvellous doings of God in behalf of His people, and reminding them
what an unworthy requital they had made for all His kindness--then he
rehearses the law and its various precepts.
6. The Lord our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long
enough in this mount--Horeb was the general name of a mountainous
district; literally, "the parched" or "burnt region," whereas Sinai was
the name appropriated to a particular peak
About a year had been spent among the recesses of that wild solitude,
in laying the foundation, under the immediate direction of God, of a
new and peculiar community, as to its social, political, and, above
all, religious character; and when this purpose had been accomplished,
they were ordered to break up their encampment in Horeb. The command
given them was to march straight to Canaan, and possess it
7. the mount of the Amorites--the hilly tract lying next to
Kadesh-barnea in the south of Canaan.
to the land of the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon--that is,
Phœnicia, the country of Sidon, and the coast of the
Mediterranean--from the Philistines to Lebanon. The name "Canaanite" is
often used synonymously with that of "Phœnician."
8. I have set the land before you--literally, "before your faces"--it
is accessible; there is no impediment to your occupation. The order of
the journey as indicated by the places mentioned would have led to a
course of invasion, the opposite of what was eventually followed;
namely, from the seacoast eastward--instead of from the Jordan westward
9-18. I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you
myself alone--a little before their arrival in Horeb. Moses addresses
that new generation as the representatives of their fathers, in whose
sight and hearing all the transactions he recounts took place. A
reference is here made to the suggestion of Jethro
In noticing his practical adoption of a plan by which the
administration of justice was committed to a select number of
subordinate officers, Moses, by a beautiful allusion to the patriarchal
blessing, ascribed the necessity of that memorable change in the
government to the vast increase of the population.
10. ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude--This was
neither an Oriental hyperbole nor a mere empty boast. Abraham was told
(Ge 15:5, 6)
to look to the stars, and though they "appear" innumerable, yet those
seen by the naked eye amount, in reality, to no more than three
thousand ten in both hemispheres. The Israelites already far exceeded
that number, being at the last census above six hundred thousand
It was a seasonable memento, calculated to animate their faith in the
accomplishment of other parts of the divine promise.
19-21. we went through all that great and terrible wilderness--of
Paran, which included the desert and mountainous space lying between
the wilderness of Shur westward, or towards Egypt and mount Seir, or
the land of Edom eastwards; between the land of Canaan northwards, and
the Red Sea southwards; and thus it appears to have comprehended really
the wilderness of Sin and Sinai
[FISK]. It is called by the Arabs El
Tih, "the wandering." It is a dreary waste of rock and of calcareous
soil covered with black sharp flints; all travellers, from a feeling of
its complete isolation from the world, describe it as a great and
22-33. ye came . . . and said, We will send men before us, and they
shall search us out the land--The proposal to despatch spies emanated
from the people through unbelief; but Moses, believing them sincere,
gave his cordial assent to this measure, and God on being consulted
permitted them to follow the suggestion (see on
The issue proved disastrous to them, only through their own sin and
28. the cities are great, and walled up to heaven--an Oriental
metaphor, meaning very high. The Arab marauders roam about on
horseback, and hence the walls of St. Catherine's monastery on Sinai
are so lofty that travellers are drawn up by a pulley in a basket.
The honest and uncompromising language of Moses, in reminding the
Israelites of their perverse conduct and outrageous rebellion at the
report of the treacherous and fainthearted scouts, affords a strong
evidence of the truth of this history as well as of the divine
authority of his mission. There was great reason for his dwelling on
this dark passage in their history, as it was their unbelief that
excluded them from the privilege of entering the promised land
and that unbelief was a marvellous exhibition of human perversity,
considering the miracles which God had wrought in their favor,
especially in the daily manifestations they had of His presence among
them as their leader and protector.
34-36. the Lord heard the voice of your words, and was wroth--In
consequence of this aggravated offense (unbelief followed by open
rebellion), the Israelites were doomed, in the righteous judgment of
God, to a life of wandering in that dreary wilderness till the whole
adult generation had disappeared by death. The only exceptions
mentioned are Caleb and Joshua, who was to be Moses' successor.
37. Also the Lord was angry with me for your sakes--This statement
seems to indicate that it was on this occasion Moses was condemned
to share the fate of the people. But we know that it was several years
afterwards that Moses betrayed an unhappy spirit of distrust at the
waters of strife
(Ps 106:32, 33).
This verse must be considered therefore as a parenthesis.
39. your children . . . who in that day had no knowledge between good
and evil--All ancient versions read "to-day" instead of "that day";
and the sense is--"your children who now know," or "who know not
as yet good or evil." As the children had not been partakers of the
sinful outbreak, they were spared to obtain the privilege which their
unbelieving parents had forfeited. God's ways are not as man's ways
[Isa 55:8, 9].
40-45. turn you, and take your journey into the . . . Red Sea--This
command they disregarded, and, determined to force an onward passage in
spite of the earnest remonstrances of Moses, they attempted to cross
the heights then occupied by the combined forces of the Amorites and
but were repulsed with great loss. People often experience distress
even while in the way of duty. But how different their condition who
suffer in situations where God is with them from the feelings of those
who are conscious that they are in a position directly opposed to the
divine will! The Israelites were grieved when they found themselves
involved in difficulties and perils; but their sorrow arose not from a
sense of the guilt so much as the sad effects of their perverse
conduct; and "though they wept," they were not true penitents. So the
Lord would not hearken to their voice, nor give ear unto them.
46. So ye abode at Kadesh many days--That place had been the site of
their encampment during the absence of the spies, which lasted forty
days, and it is supposed from this verse that they prolonged their stay
there after their defeat for a similar period.