Deuteronomy 1:2–3 (HCSB)
2 It is an eleven-day journey from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea by way of Mount Seir. 3 In the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month, Moses told the Israelites everything the Lord had commanded him to say to them.
The book of Deuteronomy starts by setting the scene of where the Israelites are. That is what the first pericope of the book is.
First off, it appears that this is written post-conquering of Canaan since Deut 1:1 and 1:5 are written from the perspective of the western side of the Jordan. I don’t know how important this is, but maybe it suggests that after the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring His people to the promised land, there was motivation for recording what had transpired prior to. Perhaps we have a lesson to learn in that reflecting on the past can help us to appreciate God’s work throughout our walk, and the position He has placed us in currently?
Note the authority of Deut 1:1 as well. This book records the words spoken by the prophet Moses to “all Israel”. The words recorded here are intended for all of God’s people, not just Moses, or some subset of the nation. And, if we look at Deut 1:3 we see that these are not even Moses words, but God’s. Thus we should read Deuteronomy as such, as the word of God, not simply the thoughts of the man Moses.
In the next two verses we get the first hint at what will be a significant topic in the book: Israel’s failure to follow God. Deut 1:2 states that it takes 11 days to travel from Horeb, or Mount Sinai, to Kadesh-barnea, which is the setting of Deuteronomy presumably, or at least somewhat nearby. And then in the next verse, Deut 1:3, we read how it took 40 years for the Israelites to get here! An 11 day trip turned into a 40 year ordeal, not because God could not deliver His people, but because His people refused to follow and obey Him. We often take the same journeys, wasting time and energy, not to mention increasing the space between us and God, trying to do things our way instead of His way. Note that there was no guarantee the 11 day route would have been easy, it was the same territory that had to be crossed, but when we walk with God we reach the goal faster and easier.
The pericope closes with the lead in to Moses’ explanation of God’s law, given to him and the Israelites. Is it significant that Deut 1:4 states, “Across the Jordan in the land of Moab,” as where this speech takes place? Perhaps it’s simply due to God’s forbidding Moses’ entrance into the promised land. Or, maybe it is significant, maybe it implies that the Israelites fully understand the covenant between God and them and that God is the sole reason they stand at the threshold of Canaan. Perhaps this is a model for us to return to God’s word regularly and be reminded of the special relationship we have with our God, and just all He has done, is doing, and will do, on our behalf, for His glory, and adjust our hearts accordingly to be aligned with Him.
Lord, thank You for leading us to our promised land, just as You did for the Israelites. I pray that we would not turn away, but walk with You. I am sorry for doing things my way instead of Yours, help me to submit and obey. Amen.