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Deuteronomy 1:1–3:29

The Place of the Passage

The first three chapters of Deuteronomy situate the book within the epic story of the Bible. In the past 40 years, Israel has gone from Mount Sinai (known in Deuteronomy as “Horeb”) up to the plains of Moab, just east of the Promised Land. But in between these two locations were 40 years of wilderness wandering, the result of Israel’s failure to enter the land when they were first offered it at Kadesh-barnea. Now that God is offering Israel a second chance to enter the land, Moses shows what the past teaches them: Israel’s previous refusal to enter the land was a heinous rebellion against God, motivated by fear and unbelief. The new generation will succeed where the previous generation failed only if they trust that God is both (1) still committed to his promise to give Israel the land and (2) able to keep this promise.

The Big Picture

In the face of fears about conquering the Promised Land, Israel must remember God’s constant faithfulness and not repeat their fathers’ sins.

Reflection and Discussion

Read through the complete passage for this study, Deuteronomy 1:1–3:29. Then review the following questions and record your responses. (For further background visit esv.org.)

1. The Command to Possess the Land ( 1:1–8)
Moses begins by recounting events 40 years prior to his writing, when Israel was still at Horeb (Mount Sinai). God commanded them to go up to the land that he had promised to Abraham more than 400 years before. What incentives does Moses give in these verses to motivate Israel for this journey?

2. A Growing Nation (1:9–18)
Even though Moses grieves at the burden the people have become ( Deuteronomy 1:9,12), what is encouraging about the people’s great numbers? (Consider Deut. 1:10 in light of Gen. 15:5.)

3. The Failure at Kadesh-barnea ( 1:19–46)
Israel was offered the land by God, but they refused to enter. What specific reasons did they give for their refusal?

What was it about the failure of Israel at Kadesh-barnea that made this sin especially grievous? Be sure to note the further debacle in verses 41–46.

God responds to Israel’s sin in a way that is simultaneously just (Deut. 1:34:40; note also the repetition of the word “listen” in Deut. 1:43, 45) and yet also uncompromising in regard to his promise to give the land to Abraham’s descendants. How does he achieve both purposes at the same time?

4. The End of Israel’s Wandering (2:1–15)
After Israel’s failure at Kadesh-barnea, this section quickly skips over the many years of wandering and recounts only the final stops in the lands of Edom (Deut. 2:1-7) and Moab (Deut. 2:8-15). Each of these nations had received their land from the Lord as a possession (Deut. 2:5,9), and they did so by first fighting off giants like the ones Israel will face in the Promised Land (Deut. 2:10-12, 22; note also what is said about the “people of Ammon” in Deut. 2:18-23). How do these stories of other nations encourage Israel?

5. The Beginning of the Conquest ( 2:16–3:17)
The kings Sihon and Og controlled territories to the north of Edom and Moab. Unlike Edom, Moab, and Ammon, whose ancestry derived from near relatives of Israel (from Esau and from Lot’s children), these two kings were Amorite, a word synonymous with “Canaanite” in this context (Deut.  3:8). They are therefore of the people group whom God promised to judge in due time (Gen. 15:16). The victories over these two kings follow a pattern: (1) God’s command to take possession Deut. 2:24–25, 31; 3:1–2); (2) the utter defeat of the enemy (Deut. 2:32–33, 36; 3:3, 6); (3) the capture of the enemy’s wealth (Deut. 2:34-35; Deut. 3:4-5,7); and (4) the giving of the conquered territories as permanent possessions to individual Israelite tribes (Deut. 3:12-17). One of the Amorite kings is even a giant (Og; see 3:11). How does this recent history give Israel even more encouragement than they had at Kadesh-barnea?

Read through the following three sections on Gospel Glimpses, Whole-Bible Connections, and Theological Soundings. Then take time to consider the Personal Implications these sections may have for you.

Gospel Glimpses

All of our hopes are riding on God’s character, on whether he will be true to himself. As Israel wavers as to whether they will be successful in conquering the Promised Land, Moses directs their eyes to God and his faithfulness, not to Israel and their strength. In 1:30, Moses reminds Israel of how God fought for them in Egypt, which climaxed in the utter destruction of Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea. Moses reminds them of how God then provided for them in the wilderness: God carried them “as a man carries his son” (Deut 1:31), and for 40 years they lacked nothing (Deut. 2:7). And most recently, as they have begun the conquest with the defeat of Kings Sihon and Og, they have seen with their own eyes the power of God to give them complete victory (Deut 2:31-3:11). Even when the Israelites themselves underwent judgment, as they did for their 40 years of wandering, they were encouraged by seeing that God keeps his word (Deut 2:14). To have hope for their present challenge, they must believe that God will continue to be faithful as he has been in the past. He has never given them a reason to think otherwise. In the same way, Christians derive genuine hope when we recall God’s past faithfulness: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

God does not promise merely to cooperate with Israel in their battles. He is the divine warrior who fights on Israel’s behalf and wins the victory for them (Deut. 1:30, 3:22, 20:4). When he fights for them, they have absolute certainty of success, and when he does not fight for them, the result is total failure (Deut 1:42-45). Thus, when Israel goes into battle, what matters is their trust in and obedience to the Lord, not their military might (20:8; Judg. 7:1–8; Ps. 20:7–8). In the same way, Christ comes as a warrior, singlehandedly vanquishing the powers of death and hell in his death and resurrection (Col. 2:13–15). Our victory over sin comes not from our own fighting prowess but by trusting Christ and entering into his victory by faith (Rom. 8:37).

Whole-Bible Connections

God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob loom large in Deuteronomy. These promises motivated God to initiate his saving work in the exodus from Egypt (Ex. 2:24), and he has already shown himself faithful to some of what he promised (e.g., making Israel as numerous as the stars in the heavens, as he promised to Abraham; Gen. 15:5; Deut. 1:10). Now his unfulfilled promises explain the great next steps he commands Israel to take. As we examine God’s word to Abraham in Genesis 15:1–21, two major purposes must be accomplished: (1) Israel’s possession of the land (Gen. 15:18; notice how Deut. 1:7 echoes this description), and (2) the judgment of the Amorites for their iniquity (Gen. 15:16). These two purposes will be accomplished simultaneously: by removing the Amorites, Israel will be able to possess the land. And yet, the timing is the Lord’s: Israel can enter into blessing only when they are moving toward what God has promised (e.g., they cannot take the lands of Edom, Moab, or Ammon, which were not promised to them; see Deut. 2:5, 9, 19, 37) and only when God determines that the time is right. For Israel in Deuteronomy, the time of fulfillment is now at hand.

In the New Testament, the author of Hebrews identifies the church as being in a place very similar to Israel when they stood outside the land in Deuteronomy. Like Israel, we look to enter the rest that God promises to us, only this time the rest is even better than the Promised Land: we seek a heavenly country (Heb. 4:9; 9:24). As with Israel, our ability to enter the land depends not on ourselves but on faith in God’s provision (Heb. 4:2). But unlike Israel’s situation, our mediator is not forbidden from entering (Deut. 3:26–27). Where Moses fell short, Christ succeeds. He is our forerunner and has already entered into our heavenly rest ahead of us, now beckoning us to follow in his footsteps (Heb. 4:14; 6:19–20).

Theological Soundings

Deuteronomy presents a robust and unsentimental view of sin. On the surface, sin presents itself as rebellion, such as Israel’s refusal to enter the land when God commanded (Deut. 1:26) and then their attempt to take the land when God condemned them to wander for 40 years (Deut 1:43). But sin is subtler than mere outward refusal to obey. Sin has its roots in unteachability, in a proud insistence that God is not who he says he is (Deut. 1:27: “Because the LORD hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt”), and in an incapacity to listen to correction (Deut. 1:43). And still deeper, sin springs from unbelief: the unwillingness to trust God’s word and to believe that he is capable of giving what he has promised.

Although the Lord has a special relationship with Israel, he remains the God of all creation. Even nations who do not worship him receive their respective lands from him (Edom, Moab, Ammon), and they can lose their lands at any time if the Lord wishes (as in the cases of Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan). In contrast to the polytheistic view that the world is controlled by many different spiritual forces that are basically on the same level, Deuteronomy puts forward the Lord as the supreme unrivalled God of all things.

Personal Implications
Take some time to reflect on what you have learned from your study of Deuteronomy 1:1–3:29 and how it might apply to your own life today. Make notes below on the personal implications for your walk with the Lord of the (1) Gospel Glimpses, (2) Whole-Bible Connections, (3) Theological Soundings, and (4) this passage as a whole.

1. Gospel Glimpses

2. Whole-Bible Connections

3. Theological Soundings

4. Deuteronomy 1:1–3:29

As You Finish …
Take a moment now to ask for the Lord’s blessing and help as you continue in this study of Deuteronomy. Then look back through this unit to reflect on key things the Lord may be teaching you.


Elise H said…
A little late... sorry! But what I loved was God's faithfulness to Abraham's kin. He did not forget Lot's family or Esau's. Even though Israel is the chosen nation, God can and will take care of all nations based on His good grace.