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Events at Horeb Recalled
These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan—in the wilderness, on the plain opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab. 2(By the way of Mount Seir it takes eleven days to reach Kadesh-barnea from Horeb.) 3In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the Israelites just as the Lord had commanded him to speak to them. 4This was after he had defeated King Sihon of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and King Og of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei. 5Beyond the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law as follows:
6 The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7Resume your journey, and go into the hill country of the Amorites as well as into the neighboring regions—the Arabah, the hill country, the Shephelah, the Negeb, and the seacoast—the land of the Canaanites and the Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. 8See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them.”
Appointment of Tribal Leaders
9 At that time I said to you, “I am unable by myself to bear you. 10The Lord your God has multiplied you, so that today you are as numerous as the stars of heaven. 11May the Lord, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times more and bless you, as he has promised you! 12But how can I bear the heavy burden of your disputes all by myself? 13Choose for each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning, and reputable to be your leaders.” 14You answered me, “The plan you have proposed is a good one.” 15So I took the leaders of your tribes, wise and reputable individuals, and installed them as leaders over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officials, throughout your tribes. 16I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. 17You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” 18So I charged you at that time with all the things that you should do.
Israel’s Refusal to Enter the Land
19 Then, just as the Lord our God had ordered us, we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrible wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, until we reached Kadesh-barnea. 20I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21See, the Lord your God has given the land to you; go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you; do not fear or be dismayed.”
22 All of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring back a report to us regarding the route by which we should go up and the cities we will come to.” 23The plan seemed good to me, and I selected twelve of you, one from each tribe. 24They set out and went up into the hill country, and when they reached the Valley of Eshcol they spied it out 25and gathered some of the land’s produce, which they brought down to us. They brought back a report to us, and said, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.”
26 But you were unwilling to go up. You rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; 27you grumbled in your tents and said, “It is because the Lord hates us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to destroy us. 28Where are we headed? Our kindred have made our hearts melt by reporting, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified up to heaven! We actually saw there the offspring of the Anakim!’ ” 29I said to you, “Have no dread or fear of them. 30The Lord your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, 31and in the wilderness, where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place. 32But in spite of this, you have no trust in the Lord your God, 33who goes before you on the way to seek out a place for you to camp, in fire by night, and in the cloud by day, to show you the route you should take.”
The Penalty for Israel’s Rebellion
34 When the Lord heard your words, he was wrathful and swore: 35“Not one of these—not one of this evil generation—shall see the good land that I swore to give to your ancestors, 36except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his descendants I will give the land on which he set foot, because of his complete fidelity to the Lord.” 37Even with me the Lord was angry on your account, saying, “You also shall not enter there. 38Joshua son of Nun, your assistant, shall enter there; encourage him, for he is the one who will secure Israel’s possession of it. 39And as for your little ones, who you thought would become booty, your children, who today do not yet know right from wrong, they shall enter there; to them I will give it, and they shall take possession of it. 40But as for you, journey back into the wilderness, in the direction of the Red Sea.”
41 You answered me, “We have sinned against the Lord! We are ready to go up and fight, just as the Lord our God commanded us.” So all of you strapped on your battle gear, and thought it easy to go up into the hill country. 42The Lord said to me, “Say to them, ‘Do not go up and do not fight, for I am not in the midst of you; otherwise you will be defeated by your enemies.’ ” 43Although I told you, you would not listen. You rebelled against the command of the Lord and presumptuously went up into the hill country. 44The Amorites who lived in that hill country then came out against you and chased you as bees do. They beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah. 45When you returned and wept before the Lord, the Lord would neither heed your voice nor pay you any attention.
The Desert Years
46 After you had stayed at Kadesh as many days as you did,
De 1:1-46. Moses' Speech at the End of the Fortieth Year.
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 (Nu 21:14).
Tophel—identified as Tafyle or Tafeilah, lying between Bozrah and Kerak.
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 two leagues.
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 [see on Ex 19:2]. 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 [De 1:7].
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 (see on Nu 20:1).
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 (Ex 18:18). 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 [Nu 26:51]. 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 terrible wilderness.
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 Nu 13:1). The issue proved disastrous to them, only through their own sin and folly.
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.
Anakims—(See on Nu 13:33). 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 (Heb 3:19); 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 Amalekites (compare Nu 14:43), 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.