Continuing in this series on Deuteronomy, in this post, we will begin looking at the text itself.
These verses act as a historical anchor, tying Deuteronomy to the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and setting the stage for the introductory address that follows. This passage serves as a literary transition from the period of wandering that began with the rebellion of Israel to the initial settlement east of the Jordan River.
This section gives a brief recounting of the escape from Egypt, through the judgement of God for Israel’s fear to the initial settlement of certain tribes on the western side of the Jordan. Given the rebellion of a previous generation, Moses takes time to deliberately describe and admonish those before him to stay faithful and obedient.
Moses sorrowfully tells of the judgement that he faced for his own disobedience and dishonoring of God as an example to the people as to what is at stake.
Deuteronomy begins with a historical outline that reflects a number of facts directly related to matters of authorship.
We often take for granted the fact that Deuteronomy is bound together in a single volume with other books. The historical recounting demonstrates that, at one time, it stood alone. This means that it will seem, at some points, repetitive. The author’s (authors’?) intention seems to be that everything that follows is supposed to be viewed in light of the experience of the people of God.
Layered in with the mentions of rebellion are mentions of repentance. God, while often being severe in his punishment, does so with the intention of separating the rebellious from the righteous among the people of God. The rebellious would be quick to forget, while the righteous would humbly submit and correct their ways. This demonstrates God’s use of means and multiple effects to accomplish his purposes.
Lastly, it demonstrates God’s resoluteness. God is not unreasonable, he desires to interact with his creatures and rejoices when they reflect his image in mercy and in justice, when they seek to please him because of who he is, and when they obey him. However, when God has had enough, when his patience is at an end, he will not suffer a rebellious heart.
Moses had constantly been trying God’s patience. From the moment that God made himself known to Moses in the burning bush, God had been patient, but when Moses, speaking as God’s representative, dishonored him before his people, that was the final straw. God could not let Moses enter the promised land, and would not even give Moses a hearing on the matter.
We may look at this as an incidence of God not being fair, but God has already promised that only two of the rebellious generation would be allowed to proceed: Caleb and Joshua, because they had been faithful. Moses, in spite of everything, still had a rebellious streak that was present in the generation that had been condemned to die out, and when it finally expressed itself, it had to end.
This should cause even the one who believes himself to be the most faithful and devoted believer pause to consider their beliefs and their actions and tread carefully. Do not assume upon the mercy of God, for he is most severe upon those whom he loves and who he has chosen to represent him. The danger of the faith is to assume that God will accept anything from his people, but the truth is that he will not.