Deuteronomy: The Prologue 1:1-5
Deuteronomy begins with a prologue (Deut 1:1-5). The effect of this prologue is to emphasize that this book contains the last word on the words of Moses. The setting is “beyond the Jordan” (from the perspective of being in the Promised Land). And the timing is “in the 40th year, on the 1st day of the 11th month” – in other words, at the very end of their time in the wilderness and the text makes clear that this is after defeating Sihon and Og. For some context, Aaron died in the 40th year, on the 1st day of the 5th month (Num 33:38). This was before the defeats of Sihon and Og and the episode with Balaam. [cf. Deut 4:44ff]
It is interesting that the author picked the defeat of Sihon and Og to mention here [and 4:47] but not the events after it. In Numbers, after all, there was the episode with Balaam afterwards and the text of Numbers makes it clear that Moses would be gathered to his people after defeating Midian (which included the death of Balaam) (cf. Num 31:2ff).
So why highlight Sihon and Og? In terms of the Second Edition, because Og is one of the giants, a point that the editor brings out in the aside at Deut 3:11. See our blog about the giants in Deuteronomy. But the original reason to stress Sihon and Og in the First Edition was simply because the conquest of the land has begun (the Transjordan land is fully integrated into the Promised Land in Deuteronomy whereas it was less so in Numbers).
That this is the last word on the words of Moses is highlighted as well by comparing the end of Numbers: “These are the commandments and the rules that YHWH commanded through Moses to the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.” Thus Numbers ended with a very similar statement to this beginning of Deuteronomy (see the theme verse quoted below). This means that Deuteronomy and not Numbers gets the last say on Moses’ words.
And a sort of theme verse might be, “Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that YHWH had given him in commandment to them.”
In fact the prologue is a chiasm with that at the center:
A These are the words that Moses spoke
B Beyond the Jordan in the wilderness…
C It is 11 Days’ Journey from Horeb…
X. Moses spoke…commandment
C’ After he had defeated Sihon…
B’ Beyond the Jordan in the land of Moab
A’ Moses began to explain this Torah
The effect of this pattern is to highlight the geographical and historical context of this message by interspersing this information into the prologue. The theme of “words” is at A, X, A’. This allows the author to tie together “the words that Moses spoke” (A) with the idea of “commandment” (D) and the concept of “Torah” (A’). The word Torah means instruction, that is not merely laws but also teaching what God has done (you cannot separate these things — the laws are always given in a historical context).
“Moses began to explain this Torah, saying” is part of the prologue and tells us what the whole book means to do, but it also introduces the first speech (each of the speeches have a brief introduction). Remember that the Levites would continue to have this task and would become the wisdom teachers in Israel. “Of Levi he said…they shall teach Jacob your rules and Israel your Torah” (Deut 33:8, 10). Moses is the original wisdom/Torah teacher.
We have argued in an earlier post that the structure of the First Edition of Deuteronomy follows a Hittite covenant-treaty formula (dating the text to the second millenium B.C.). We saw this format in Leviticus 18 and more loosely with the whole of the Holiness Code. Deuteronomy is the full expression of this formula.
Deut 1:1-4 is the preamble of the treaty. The historical prologue is the first speech (1:6-4:40) plus the narrative that follows (41-49), although we will argue later that chapter 4 really is more likely added for the Second Edition rather than a part of the First Edition.
These kinds of treaties began, “These are the words that X spoke.” Just as when you read a list, “milk, eggs, bread” and know it is a grocery list today, by reading the first sentence of Deuteronomy you would have known you were reading a treaty. Normally these treaties identified the speaker as the one declaring his lordship and demanding the vassal’s allegiance. The preamble is meant to create awe and “fear.”
Deuteronomy is different than this only in that Moses is the speaker but he is not the one declaring his lordship but instead Moses is serving as the mediator of YHWH who is the heavenly Lord of this covenant demanding the allegiance of His vassal Israel.
Deuteronomy: The History 1:6-3:29
After the preamble in such a treaty came the historical prologue. The point of such a history was to show the historical justification for the lordship of the more powerful king over his vassal. He would mention the benefits the vassal had enjoyed under his protection and encourage the vassal to be grateful. And the “historical prologue” would be written in an I-Thou kind of style as we see in this section.
When you updated a treaty, the historical prologue would be updated as well. Thus the historical prologue of the covenant at Sinai in its first two stages were as follows: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (19:4) and “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (20:2, before the 10 Commandments). Now this is updated with what happened since.
The history in Deuteronomy begins with leaving Horeb, “YHWH our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country…’ (1:6f).
So this history picks up from where the last covenant had been made and continues the story to the present covenant renewal in the plains of Moab.
As with any history it is selective. So we must ask the question of each part of the story, ‘Why is this here?’
The story begins by noting the Lord’s words, “See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that YHWH spoke to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them” (1:8). YHWH set the land before them and ordered them to take it. The land described (1:7) is that mentioned in Gen 15:18ff, “as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.”
Remember that this is summarizing what happened from Exodus-Numbers. And the next detail important enough to include is the appointing of elders for each of the tribes. Just as the leadership of Moses was being passed on to Joshua, he was concerned also to make sure that the authority of the elders of Israel was solid. The passing of leadership from Moses to Joshua also passed on the whole system of judges from the one administration to the next.
In the midst of telling the story about the appointment of judges, Moses makes some other important points. For example, we see now that the promise made in Genesis that the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be like the stars of heaven has been fulfilled. Thus verse 10, “YHWH your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are today as numerous as the stars of heaven” and the blessing (1:11), “May YHWH, the God of your fathers, make you a 1,000 times as many as you are and bless you, as He has promised you!”
In this kind of history it is fitting that it notes, “And you answered me, ‘The thing that you have spoken is good for us to do’” (1:14). The people should see the great benefit of how God set up this nation and how the judges were charged to be fair (both to the brother and to the sojourner/alien (1:16) a point made often in Leviticus).
The history continues, “Then we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrifying wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, as YHWH our God commanded us. And we came to Kadesh-barnea” (1:19). This is the 11 day journey mentioned in the prologue/preamble (contrasted there with 40 yrs, 11 mos). The people were told to take the land and they “came near to me and said, ‘Let us sent men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come’” (1:22).
“The thing seemed good to me, and I took 12 men from you, one man from each tribe. And they turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and spied it out. And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that YHWH our God is giving us'” (1:23-25). Thus the report of the spies verifies the goodness of the Lord YHWH.
But the people responded by refusing to go up and rebelling against the command of YHWH their God. They made the familiar accusation that YHWH hated His people and brought them out of the land of Egypt to kill them (1:27). And they pointed out that the sons of Anak are there (the Anakim being a race of giants) and the cities are fortified up to heaven. Here God responded by telling them the good He did in Egypt “before your eyes” and in the wilderness where you have seen how YHWH your God carried you, as a man carries his son” (1:30-31).
The history continues, “Yet in spite of this word you did not believe YHWH your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you what way you should go” (1:32-33). The failure to enter the land = unbelief. It is unbelief “in spite of this word.” The Torah is meant to teach Israel what they need to know so that they might believe. The words, including the history selected for Deuteronomy were chosen so that the reader might believe (it really is the OT Gospel of John, cf. John 20:30-31, 21:25).
The way that the narrative continues is interesting. God says that none of the men of that “evil generation” would see “the good land” (Gen 1 allusion and contrast to the evil generation), except Caleb. We would expect it to say, except Caleb and Joshua. Instead, the text contrasts that evil generation with Caleb and it contrasts Moses with Joshua. “Even with me YHWH was angry on your account and said, ‘You also shall not go in there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him…” (1:37-38).
Deuteronomy 2 almost sounds like Moses is shifting the blame for his sin of unbelief that kept him from entering the land to the people. “Even with me YHWH was angry on your account.” But Moses may simply be stating the occasion of his unbelief – it was their rebelliousness that was the occasion for him to fail as covenant mediator. The explicit reason Moses does not enter the land is never given in Deuteronomy (nor in Numbers). The other possibility is just that Moses is highlighting his solidarity with the evil generation, as they did not believe so too did their mediator fail to believe. No matter how you understand this, it allows Moses to highlight the passing of the position of covenant mediator from himself to Joshua.
A lot of the details of these stories are left out of this selective history. Caleb and Joshua are not mentioned as two of the 12 spies. The full report of the 10 spies is not given on their lips. You will find many similar omissions in this history. Deuteronomy assumes that you know the story of Genesis-Numbers and it is reflecting theologically on it from a different perspective. We can already see how it is the Gospel of John of the OT.
Take for example how the second generation is said to be “your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil.” The language of the 1st half of this quote from Deuteronomy 1:39 mirrors that of Num 14:31 but in Deuteronomy we were never told that they said this (cf. Num 14:3: “Our wives and little ones will become a prey”). The language of the 2nd half means they have not yet reached the age of discretion. This history in Deuteronomy is inviting you to compare it to Numbers (as well as Gen-Lev) and to re-read them.
The chapter concludes by relating their failed attempt to enter the Promised Land “presumptuously” (1:43). Formally things look right. It includes the only confession of sin in Deuteronomy. And they resolve to go up and fight in obedience to the command of YHWH. But it was in reality in disobedience to the words of Moses (1:43) which if you compare with Numbers is being equated with the command of YHWH (see Num 14:41-42).
As the history continues the arrangement follows a theological pattern: as McConville puts it, “Edom, Moab and Ammon possess their territories by the gift of YHWH, just as Israel will possess hers (2:1-23). The defeats of Sihon and Og (2:24-3:7) then take a more prominent position in the narrative than they do in Numbers (cf. Num. 21:21-35), becoming a kind of firstfruits of the dispossession of the inhabitants of the whole land…” (81).
“Do not contend with [Edom], for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession” (2:5).
“Do not harrass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a posssession” (2:9).
“Do not harrass [Ammon] or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.”
The editor notes that both Moab and Ammon were lands that had giant races at one time but that had been defeated by these sons of Lot. These asides in () prepare us for the encounter with Og the Giant (as the editor tells us by noting his size). See the post about the giants.
Numbers: Edom: refuses to let Israel pass through; Moab: hires Balaam to curse Israel
Deuteronomy: No hint of resistance by these kin to Israel, instead the emphasis is on how those close to Israel had been blessed with their own lands and therefore so will Israel.
Numbers: Sihon and Og defeated (21:21-35); Moses questions but agrees to give the land to Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh.
Deuteronomy: Sihon (2:24-37) and Og (3:1-7) defeated (a much more prominent story in Deuteronomy than Numbers); No hesistating by Moses, “When we took possession of this land at that time, I gave to the Reubenites and the Gadites their territory.”
These two different perspectives on the same events are meant to teach different points. Deuteronomy assumes you know the story of Numbers, but it leaves out many of the details in order to highlight something else. The main point in Deuteronomy is that YHWH God is the Lord of these lands and that He has given the people closely related to Israel their inheritances and so likewise He has now done for Reuben and Gad and will do so for the rest of the tribes too. The transjordan lands are fully incorporated into the Promised Land in Deuteronomy.
The history continues by telling us how Moses pleaded with YHWH to be able to enter the land. It was a model statement of devotion, “O Lord YHWH, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?” (3:24). Again it tells us, “But YHWH was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me” (3:26). Moses and his generation stood together as we remember the same was said of them before.
Thus begins the last words of Moses, including this selective history of what has passed from Sinai to the then-present. Already we can see that Deuteronomy is the OT Gospel of John, we can see that it theologically reflects from a different perspective on the events of Exo-Num, we can see that the history that is selected is for a particular purpose, we can see that the purpose of the words is that they might believe, and the overwhelming emphasis here is to prepare them in every way to enter the land in faith.