Part 1 of my overview of Deuteronomy with some commentary featuring chapters 1-7.
The Israelites were in the wilderness east of the Jordan River, waiting to enter the promised land. It normally takes 11 days to get from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea by way of Mount Sier, however, because of their stubbornness and lack of trust in God, God made them spend 40 years in the wilderness. In the 40th year, in the eleventh month, Moses gave them a speech. This took place after the defeat of King Sihon of the Amorites and King Og of Bashan. Moses gave this speech as a final reminder of God’s instructions before they go in into the land.
Moses recounted when the Israelites left Sinai and follow God’s leading to Canaan. God showed them all of the lands they were to be given, from the hill country of the Amorites and to all the neighboring regions, to the Jordan Valley, and western foothills as well as the Negev, and the coastal plain. All the way up to Lebanon and the Euphrates River in the north. This is the land promised to the Israelites by God through their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Moses recalls complaining that they were such a burden to him because God had multiplied them as numerous as the stars. They were stingy and quarrelsome and hard to subdue. Moses chose some leaders to help him manage the people, leaders over 1000, 100, 50, and 10 groups of people each. Then when they got to Kadesh-barnea from Sinai they sent the 12 scouts, one from each tribe to scope out the land. Unfortunately, 10 of them came back with a negative report about giants and fortified cities, and rather than trusting God the people rebelled and said God brought them out of Egypt to die. Joshua and Caleb tried to encourage the people that the covenant promise was secure but their hard hearts rebelled. The Israelites had no reason to fear since they saw what God did to Egypt and should have trusted he would do the same to the Canaanites as he promised. So God killed off the 10 scouts and condemned that generation to die in the wilderness and only their children and Joshua and Caleb would enter. Moses himself would later sin against God, which caused him and Aaron to be prohibited from entering the land as well. God redirected them back to the Red Sea because they didn’t trust him to give them the promised land. However, the Israelites confessed their sins and decided to go and fight the Amorites but God was not with them because he already made up his mind to restrict them from entering, so they lost the battle and wandered for the next 40 years.
Deuteronomy Chapter 2:
Moses continued reviewing their wilderness journey. After their failure to trust God and their loss to the Amorites the Israelites trekked back to the Red Sea in the wilderness and wandered around Mount Seir. After 40 years God instructed them to go towards the land of Seir which now belonged to the Edomites. God instructed them not to fight the Edomites because God gave them that land. Edom is Jacob’s brother and is blessed as a descendant of Abraham. Any food or resources they use while going through Edom they must pay for and God will bless them with the means to pay for it. Moses asked the Edomite King for safe passage but he said no and threatened to fight them. So they bypassed the land of Edom and avoided the road through the Arabah Valley that comes up from Elath and Ezion-geber. As they turned north toward Moab, God warned them not to fight with Moab because they are descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and they were blessed with the land of Ar by God. A race of giants called the Emites once lived in Ar, and they were strong and as tall as the Anakites. Both the Anakites and Emites were giants known as Rephaites (Giants). The Horites too lived in Sier before the Edomites, but God gave the land to Edom just like he gave the rest of Canaan to Israel.
After 38 years of sojourning, God sent them out of Kadesh-barnea, across the Zered brook, and by this time all the men of fighting age from the previous generation had all died off except for Joshua and Kaleb (plus Moses and Aaron). As they crossed the border of Moab at Ar, they approached Amon, and God warned the Israelites not to fight Ammonites because they are also descendants of Lot (Ammon was the brother of Moab), and their land was their reward from God for being related to Abraham. Their land once belonged to some Rephaites called the Zamzummites and they too were giants like the Anakites. God gave the Ammonites favor to destroy them and take their land as he did with Esau against the Horites in Sier. A similar thing happened when the Caphtorites from Caphtor(Crete) invaded and destroyed the Avvites, who had lived in villages in the area of Gaza.
Later, God sent them to the Arnon Gorge where they had their first victory in Canaan against King Sihon and that would be the first land they seized from Canaan. Moses asked King Shion for a safe passage just as he did the Edomite and Moabite King, but King Sihon refused. God says from that point on the people of the land will be terrified of Israel when they hear about their victories. Moses said he sent ambassadors to Sihon to propose peace and just wanted safe passage through the land and the Israelites would even pay for anything they eat or drink. However, the King rejected the proposal and attacked Israel. So God gave Israel victory over them and they were all destroyed and Israel took their land and resources as plunder. God also gave the Israelites victory in Aroer, and all of the Anon Gorge as far as Gilead. However, they avoided facing Moab, Ammon, and Edom.
Comment: In Numbers 20:14-21 Moses asked the Edomite King for safe passage but he said no and threatened to fight them. Later on, in Num 21:21-26, the Israelites asked King Sihon of the Amorites for safe passage but rejected and attacked Israel. However, when Moses recounts this story in Deut 2:26-29 he says that he asked King Sihon for safe passage and told King Sihon that, “descendants of Esau who live in Seir allowed us to go through their country, and so did the Moabites, who live in Ar”. This suggests that the kings of Edom and Moab have already given him safe passage. However, Edom’s King did not give them safe passage before he encountered King Sihon. So did Moses lie to Sihon in his peace proposal? Taking a look closer at Num 21:21-26 it says Moses asked the “King of Edom” for safe passage and he said no and threatened him with war. However, the people of Edom (the Edomites) had no problem giving them safe passage and even did business with Israel. The Israelites were told by God to pay for everything they eat and use in Deut 2:6, and so they engaged in commerce with the people of Edom and Moab. Moses told King Sihon in Deut 2:29, “The descendants of Esau who dwell in Seir and the Moabites who dwell in Ar. Let us pass through until we cross the Jordan into the land the Lord our God is giving us.” He was talking about the actual civilian people (or the descendants) of Edom and Moab, not the kings. It was only the kings that resisted, the king of Edom threatened them with war, and the Moabite King Balak tried to curse them through Balam. The citizens were generous and hospitable and did business with Israel.
The Rephaites in Deuteronomy 2 are referred to as a group of Giants in the Ancient Near East at the time of Moses. There are the Aankites in Canaan that the Israelites were supposed to face. Then there are the Emites that were defeated by the Moabites, the Zamzummites defeated by the Ammonites, and the Horites (not sure if they were giants) driven out by Edomites (Esau). Three Gentile nations drove out Giants in the same region, and all of them were related to Abraham. Ammon and Moab were the sons of Abraham’s nephew Lot, and Esau (Edom) was the brother of Jacob (Israel). Israel was told to conquer the Canaanites and leave these three nations alone because God had blessed them with the land they had because they were relatives of Abraham. God wanted all of those giants defeated, and used relatives of Abraham to do it. Israel comes to the region after the Exodus from Egypt to finish off the Giants in the land. Maybe this contributed to why God was annoyed with the negative report of the 10 scouts in Numbers 13 – 14, and the lack of faith in him from Israel. I think the point being made here is that if God can use Gentile nations who are simply related to Abraham to get rid of giants, imagine what he can do for his chosen people whom he rescued from Egypt and brought through the wilderness. They had nothing to fear and they had the greater blessing because they descend from Isaac (the promised seed) and Jacob (who inherited the blessing from the promised seed).
Deuteronomy Chapter 3:
[Measurements are estimates from NLT translation]
Moses continues and reminds them of the victory against King Og of Bashan in Edrei after the defeat of King Sihon of the Amorites. The Israelites destroyed all 60 of the cities under Og’s rule throughout the Argob region of the Bashan kingdom. This included fortified cities as well as unwalled towns, and they wipe out all of the people but kept the livestock as plunder. In summary, they took the land of two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, King Sihon and King Og, all the way from the Arnon Gorge to Mount Hermon. They conquered all the cities on a plateau from Gilead and Bashan to towns like Salecah and Edrei, all part of Og’s kingdom. King Og was the last of the Rephaites (giants), in fact, his bed was 4.1 meters long by 1.8 meters wide. His bed is still in the Ammonite city of Rabbah (at the time of writing Deuteronomy).
Moses gave to the tribes of Reuben and Gad the territory beyond Aroer along the Arnon Gorge, plus half of the hill country of Gilead with its towns. In addition, they got part of Gilead that extended from the middle of the Arnon Gorge in the south and to the Jabbok River on the Ammonite frontier. Lastly, they also got the Jordan Valley, from the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea, with the Jordan River as the western boundary and the slopes of Pisgah to the east. Moses gave the rest of Gilead and all of Bashan to the half-tribe of Manasseh (this land used to belong to the Rephaites). Jair, a leader from the tribe of Manasseh, conquered the whole Argob region in Bashan, all the way to the border of the Geshurites and Maacathites. He renamed this region after himself, calling it the Towns of Jair (Havvoth-jair).
Moses reminds the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half Manasseh, that they must help the rest of Israel conquer the land west of the Jordan, as they promised. Until the job is finished they cannot go home to their lands east of the Jordan, otherwise, they are breaking their oath. Moses also encourages Joshua that God will be with them and will defeat their enemies just like he did Kings Sihon and Og, so he shouldn’t have any doubt or fear.
Moses prayed and thanked God for what he has done and asked God if he could cross the Jordan to see the land himself. God rebuked him and reminded him that because of his sins from before he was not allowed to go into the land. God told Moses he could go up to Pisgah Peak and look over the land and see it, but he may not cross the Jordan. God told Moses to focus on encouraging Joshua to be his successor and lead the Israelites into the land after he dies. The Israelites would then stay in the valley near Beth-peor, until it was time to take the land.
Deuteronomy Chapter 4:
Moses then asks Israel to pay close attention as he reminds them of God’s laws and regulations for them in the land. He warns not to add to or subtract from God’s commands. He reminded them of how God punished those who got caught up in idolatry (with the Midianite women) at Baal-Peor, but those who kept God’s law were spared.
He said if they keep the commands of God and stay in his favor and they will successfully conquer the promised land. When they follow these laws they will be an example to the nations. The other nations will be in awe of how wise and powerful they are, and this will bring glory to the God of Israel. No other nation has a god as close to them as the Israelites have YHWH God. No other nation’s laws are as fair and as just as the laws their God YHWH gave them. They must be careful to stay humble and remember the wrath and favor of God that they have experienced. They must never forget what God has done for them and must teach their descendants. They must remember that God called to them from Mt. Sinai and gave them his degrees. The mountain was shrouded in the darkness surrounding a fire, and God spoke from that fire his 10 commandments, which have been transcribed onto stone tablets.
Moses reminds them that they did not see any shape on the mountain that could be replicated with human artistry. Therefore they must not carve or cast any images of God for themselves. Not as a human, animal, or anything on earth, nor anything in the heavens like the sun, moon, or stars. It was YHWH God, that rescued them from Egypt, not anything from creation itself, so they must worship him and him alone. Moses reminds them that God was angry with him because of his response to their rebellion, so he is forbidden from going into the land with them, however, the people must remember his words and heed his warning not provoke God to be like a jealous husband by worshiping idols. They must make sure their descendants know not to make idols, otherwise, they will arouse God’s anger. Moses calls on heaven and earth as a witness against the Israelites as he calls for loyalty to their God. If they break the covenant, they will be destroyed in the land and only a remnant will be preserved, and they will be scattered among the nations. In foreign lands, they will be forced to worship false gods made with man’s hands of wood, stone, and metal. However, when they remember their true God, repent, and call on him, he will show them mercy and rescue them.
They must look to the past for guidance. No one else has ever heard the voice of God speaking to them out of the fire like the Israelites have and lived, so they have no reason to chase after any other god. Has any other nation been brought out of another nation by God with such great signs and wonders? This was all done for them so that they would have no doubt that their God, YHWH, is the true living God and that there is no one else like him. It was because he first loved them that he rescued them from Egypt and brought them to Canaan which was promised to their ancestor Abraham so that he could drive out the wicked nations and have them inherit the land. Therefore since the one true God is with them and loves them, they must trust him and keep his commandments. In doing so they will have long and prosperous lives in the land.
Moses called out three cities east of the Jordan to function as cities of refuge for a person that accidentally killed someone. Bezer on the wilderness plateau for the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead for the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan for the half-tribe of Manasseh.
Moses starts a second address by saying that this body of instructions is for the Israelites whom God called out of Egypt and camped at Beth-peor east of the Jordan. God helped them conquer Canaanite nations like that of King Sihon of the Amorites and King Og of Bashan. This was the beginning of their conquest of Canaan, it started with the entire area from Aroer at the edge of the Arnon Gorge all the way to Mount Hermon, as well as the eastern bank of the Jordan River as far south as the Dead Sea, below the slopes of Pisgah.
Deuteronomy Chapter 5:
Moses called to Israel to remind them of God’s instructions and to keep his covenant. He reminds them that God made this specific covenant with them and not their ancestors, but with those who are alive now. Moses recounts how God spoke from the fire of Mt Sinai and gave his commands while Moses mediated. Then Moses reiterates the 10 commandments. 1) YHWH God brought his people out of the land of Egypt as slaves, therefore they must not have any other gods. 2) Nor must they make idols based on images of things on earth or in the heavens. This is because God is a jealous God and will not tolerate them cheating on him with false gods and idols, the parent’s sins will affect the children until the third and fourth generation. However, there will be love and blessing for 1000 generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. 3)They must not use his name in vain. 4)They must rest on the weekly Sabbath, which is the seventh day of the week based on God’s rest on the seventh day of creation. 5)They must honor their parents, and they will receive long life. They must not commit: 6) murder, 7) adultery, 8) theft, 9) slander, or 10) covet their neighbor’s property or spouse.
Moses reminds them that when the Israelites heard these commands spoken from God’s fire on Sinai, they were terrified of dying so they ask Moses to speak to God on their behalf from now on. They were right, their wicked hearts would not stay clean long enough to endure God’s presence so God spoke to them through Moses. God gave Moses his degrees and regulations and they were etched into the stone tablets. Therefore, the Israelites must be careful to reverence these commands as holy from the terrifying voice of God and keep them in order to prosper in the land.
Deuteronomy Chapter 6:
Moses warned them to fear God and follow these teachings for future generations so that they will be blessed in the land. Then he said, “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” They are to commit themselves to all of these commands and teach them to their children every day when they get up and at night when they go to bed, whether are traveling or at home. They are to bind these things to their hand bind them and their forehead (metaphorically) and write them on the doorpost of their houses and gates.
He told them when God brings them into the blessed land of cities they didn’t build, and crops they didn’t produce, they must not forget the God that rescued them from Egypt. They are to submit to YHWH alone and have no other gods. Nor should they put him to the test as they did at Massah (water from the rock). If they keep the laws and do what is right all will go well with them, and their enemies will be scattered. When their children ask why they must follow these laws, they must tell them about how God delivered them out of Egypt to bring them into the promised land, and these laws are what will keep them safe, and successful, and give them favor in God’s eyes.
Deuteronomy Chapter 7:
Moses said that when God brings them into the land he will clear out the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater than the Israelites, but God will hand them over to Israel. The Israelites are required to wipe them out by destroying all of the temples and altars, and they must not make any treaties with them or intermarry with them. If they do they will be drawn into their false religions and worship their false gods, which will violate their covenant with God. God chose Israel to be his special possession and he alone is exclusively their God. Moses makes it clear that God didn’t choose Israel because of their power or might, in fact, they are smaller than these other nations. It was simply because God loves them and was keeping his promise to their ancestors. This is why God used such great miracles to rescue them from Egypt. God is faithful and will keep his covenant and will lavish those who keep his covenant for 1000 generations with love. However, he will destroy those who hate him and reject his ways.
If the Israelites keep God’s commands they will have blessings. They will have many children and no one will be no one infertile among their women or livestock. Their harvest and livestock will be plentiful and they will be more blessed than any other nation on earth. There will be no disease or illness among them, they will be safe from diseases like the ones they saw in Egypt. However, their enemies will be afflicted with these diseases. They must destroy the nations that God tells them to destroy, show no mercy, and do not worship their gods or they will be trapped. God ensures them that don’t need to fear the size of these nations, they just need to remember what God did to Egypt for them. God will drive the nations out in advance, but he will do it little by little because he doesn’t want the land to become desolate with wild animals. God will cause confusion among those nations and put their kings in the hands of the Israelites until they are removed from the land. The Israelites will truly be unstoppable. Israel must reject their idols and burn them up. Their silver and gold idols will be tempting and must be destroyed. If they bring these detestable objects into the community, they will receive the same destruction as the Canaanites.
Comment: Is God promoting genocide of the Canaanites? The first thing to understand is linguistic context. A lot of ancient conquest literature including those in the bible uses idioms to describe the downfall of another nation. So it is not that these people were literally deleted from existence but rather their community and cultural identity were destroyed. There is a use of idioms like when Sennacherib king of the Assyrians, in his Annals said he “shut up Hezekiah (king of Israel) like a caged bird”. There was no literal birdcage that the king and his country were locked into, this is an idiom. In the bible, there are exaggerations that involve saying things like “and they were completely destroyed”, even though there were many survivors of these sieges, some of whom were taken as slaves. In scriptures like Ex23:27-30, and Deut 9:1 we see the terms “driving out” rather than extermination. That means their death didn’t was not absolutely required but rather they had to be removed from the land. Many Canaanites were alive in cities like Hebron and Debir (Josh 10:36-39, and 15:35-15), but fortresses like Jericho, Ai, and Hazor were destroyed.
Israel was only told to wipe out the Canaanites, not every gentile nation in the world. In Deuteronomy 20:17 seven specific groups are named, the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. In Deut 20:10-18, they were told not to make peace with these local Canaanite nations and to wipe them out in order to avoid copying their practices. Meanwhile, for non-Canaanite nations that were further away, they could offer peace and subjection and only were to fight if that nation refused to submit. Most cities did not want peace with the Israelites except the Hivites of Gibeon. In the end, God always warns even Gentile nations, through dreams (Genesis 20:3-7, Genesis 40 and 41, Daniel 2) or by sending prophets (1 King 18 and 22, Jonah 3). How a person or nation responds to the warning will determine if they receive mercy or not. The Canaanites were a brutal group of savages and the rape hazing ritual in Sodom and Gomorrah should be evidence enough, considering they were taken out first. We must look at how they responded to God’s mercy and warnings, only the Gibeonites, Rahab, and a few others were spared because they recognized the true living God’s power and Israel as his people enough to turn away from their practices. Besides, many of the cities the Israelites destroyed were actually military strongholds, not population centers, which is why cities like Jericho had huge walls. Destroying capital cities where the government and military power were centered was enough to topple a nation a make them submissive to Israel’s culture governed by the Torah and God. God tell the Israelites multiple times not to mistreat foreigners living among them (Ex 22:20-21, and Ex 23:9). In addition, many of the civil laws were said to apply to native-born Israelites and foreigners living among them, so obviously, various people groups were allowed to live among them. So God doesn’t hate non-Israelites but he needed to destroy their corrupt cultures driven by sin and demonic forces with the Israelites to show the world his ways so that Israel could function as a nation of priests and example to the world (Exodus 19:6).