Discovering Deuteronomy: Chapter 1 Commentary

Welcome, to an enlightening exploration of the first chapter of the sublime and captivating Book of Deuteronomy, stimulated by a spirit of biblical inquiry and deep-seated love for God’s Word.

Grounded in the New King James Version (NKJV), this discourse seeks to shed fresh light on the hallowed scripture, unwrapping the rich theological and historical tapestry of Deuteronomy 1 in a way that elucidates what it meant in Moses’ time and what it continues to signify for us today. As a charismatic Christian writer and theologian, inspired by the vibrant and empowering spirit the Apostle Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11,

I invite you on this journey to delve deeper, traverse challenging terrains of interpretation, and uncover the divine wisdom enshrined in this profound book of Law, History, and Covenant.

Discovering Deuteronomy: Chapter 1 Commentary

An Introduction to the Book of Deuteronomy Chapter 1: Setting the Scene

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The first chapter of the book of Deuteronomy is a powerful introduction to one of the most significant books of the Old Testament. It sets the scene by taking us back to a momentous time in the history of the Israelites, in the year that Moses re-emphasized the law to the new generation of Israelites, on the brink of entering the Promised Land.

Here, we find a prologue (Deuteronomy 1:1-5) to the three sermons of Moses; a directive for reviewing past experiences (Deuteronomy 1:6-8); and an account of the appointment of Judges (Deuteronomy 1:9-18) which represents early steps in the nation’s formation.

A reference to location, time, and authorship (Deuteronomy 1:1-5) sets the stage for the narrative. “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness…” (Deut 1:1, NKJV). Moses retells the commandments and the laws to the children of Israel, elaborating on them and explaining their significance. He invites listeners to put the laws into practice, and this appeal forms the crux of his preaching.

The chapter is replete with important signifiers as Moses catalogues the journey of the Israelites from Horeb (Deut 1:6-8) and the appointment of leaders (Deut 1:9-15). It recounts mistakes made by the ancestors — notably the incident of the spies (Deut 1:19-33), and the subsequent punishment from God (Deut 1:34-40).

Apart from historical and theological importance, the chapter strikingly illuminates human character and God’s divine plans. The main themes of the chapter can be summarized as:

  • History modulated by Divine Will
  • Mosaic authorship and authority
  • Necessity and relevance of obedience to God’s law

Throughout the Book of Deuteronomy, and particularly in this first chapter, the dynamic between divine guidance, human free will, and moral choices is beautifully expounded, laying the groundwork for the subsequent chapters.

A Closer Look at Moses’ Initial Discourse in Deuteronomy 1

Moses’ initial discourse in the first chapter of Deuteronomy gives us a glimpse into his leadership style and strategy. In his address to the Israelites, he masterfully weaves together the past, present, and future to build faith and inspire commitment to God’s covenant. The central themes resonating through his speech are responsibility, obedience, and God’s faithfulness.

Reflecting on the past, Moses recalls the events at Horeb, where God had commanded them: “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey…” (Deuteronomy 1:6-7, NKJV). This indicates Moses’ skill in using past experiences to underscore the need for the Israelites’ obedience and for moving forward.

Yet, Moses doesn’t spare the grim reality of their past disobedience, particularly the incident involving the alleged spies and the consequent punishment from God. Subsequently, he acknowledges the God-given victory over the Amorites as an affirmation of God’s faithfulness.

Moses then pivots towards the future, making it clear that the task is far from finished. Before the Israelites lay the mission to possess the land which the Lord had sworn to their forefathers.

To this he adds, “Look, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to your fathers…” (Deuteronomy 1:8, NKJV). His words were full of reassurance, emphasizing that with God’s guidance they were not embarking on this task alone. Through this discourse, Moses effectively uses narrative to remind the Israelites about God’s commandments, their history, consequences of disobedience, and the rewards of faithfulness and obedience to God.

The Appointment of Leaders: Deuteronomy 1:9-18

Moses, at God’s direction, selects leaders from each tribe to help him govern and judge the people. In Deuteronomy 1:9-18, Moses recounts how he could not manage the Israelites’ affairs alone due to their increasing number, and therefore called for wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men from each tribe whom he appointed heads over them.

These shared leaders would bear the burdens of governance and adjudication with him, evidently making leadership a shared and not a lone responsibility.

The leaders were to be courteous and impartial in their judgment. According to Deuteronomy 1:16-17, they were told, “Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s.”

This gave the Israelites a system of authority and justice, where every case—big or small—was important and was to be heard. Every leader was to show fairness, fearlessness, and non-discrimination in every judgment and decision they made.

  • Moses delegated responsibility, but accountability remained his.
  • Leaders were chosen based on wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.
  • Leaders should judge righteously, not showing partiality nor fearing anyone.

The appointment of leaders thus respects God’s directive. It highlights the importance of servitude, fairness, righteousness, fearlessness, and non-discrimination in leadership. Moses’ account in these verses set the tone for godly leadership—not just for the Israelites, but for anyone who has been called to lead.

It is crucial to understand that leaders must consider their position a privilege to serve the people while embodying these characteristics. Furthermore, leaders, while having the power to make decisions, bear the heavy responsibility of answering to God for their actions.

Reflection on Israelites’ Journey from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea: Deuteronomy 1:19-21

In Deuteronomy 1:19-21, Moses recounts to the Israelites their journey from Horeb, the mount of God, to the desert of Paran at Kadesh Barnea. He reminds them that God had directed them to go and possess the land that He had promised them. Despite the arduous journey through the “great and terrible wilderness” (Deuteronomy 1:19, NKJV), God remained faithful, leading them to the brink of the promised land. This reflection serves as a reminder of God’s unfailing guidance and provision, even in the most difficult circumstances.

The Israelites were instructed to:

  • Not to fear or be discouraged (Deuteronomy 1:21, NKJV)
  • Trust in God’s promise to go before them as a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 1:21, NKJV).

However, the Israelites struggled with fear and doubt, which delayed their entry into the promised land. This serves as a warning for believers today to trust in God’s promises and guidance, and resist the temptation to allow fear and doubt to derail our spiritual journey.

Through Moses’ reflection, the significance of obedience and trust in God’s promise becomes paramount. When God commanded, “see, the Lord your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it” (Deuteronomy 1:21, NKJV), it was a divine decree and assurance that He would enable them to conquer the land.

The evident fear and doubt that plagued the Israelites led to a delay in receiving the promised inheritance. This section poignantly underlines the importance of wholehearted trust and obedience towards our God’s commands and the faith to believe in His promises delivered to us.

Doubt and Disobedience: Dissecting the Spies’ Report in Deuteronomy 1:22-40

The episode in Deuteronomy 1:22-40 contains explicit accounts of the Israelites’ doubt and disobedience, primarily evidenced through the negative report of the spies sent to scout the land of Canaan. Upon returning to Moses and the whole Israelite community, they roused fear by exaggerating the strength and size of the people living in Canaan.

Although two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, countered with a positive report, the majority of the spies heeded the negative report. “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” (Numbers 13:31, NKJV)

The act of disbelief demonstrated by the Israelites had severe consequences as God brought judgment upon them. “The Lord heard this and was furious, so a fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp.” (Numbers 11:1, NKJV). This moment of doubt led to a period of wandering in the wilderness for an entire generation“The Lord’s anger was aroused that day and He swore this oath: ‘Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land of which I swore to give to your fathers…'” (Deuteronomy 1:34-35, NKJV)

The passage not only reports the disobedience of the Israelites, but also raises crucial lessons about trust and obedience that are applicable to modern-day Christians. It encourages believers to trust in God’s plans, not being swayed by intimidating circumstances or negative reports.

This narrative also invokes the importance of obedience to God’s commandments, regardless of apparent insurmountable challenges. The instance reflects that disobedience can lead to unfavorable consequences similar to the Israelites’ penalty of wandering in the wilderness.

Applying Deuteronomy 1 to Modern Christian Life

As we delve into Deuteronomy 1, we can derive several lessons applicable to our contemporary Christian walk. Primarily, the chapter emphasizes faithfulness, obedience to the commands of God, and the need for community. The Israelites’ experience vis-à-vis the Promised Land provides us with a pivotal lesson in trust and obedience, essential in our day-to-day experiences.

Deuteronomy 1 reveals to us that God is faithful and His promises are sure. He promised the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey, a promise He completely fulfilled (Deut 1:25 NKJV). By extension, we’re reminded that:

  • We must always trust Him.
  • His promises to us are unfailing and based on His goodness and love, not our perfection or lack thereof.
  • God’s faithfulness is not dependent on our circumstances but rather His character.

When we extrapolate these lessons to our modern Christian life, we realize that God’s promises to us are still relevant and stand as assured today as they were to the Israelites.

One of the significant lessons Deuteronomy 1 imparts on us is the importance of obedience to God’s commands. When the children of Israel disobeyed God and chose not to immediately take possession of the land He had promised, it cost them a 40-year delay (Deut 1:26-46 NKJV). This teaches us that:

  • Obedience is critical in our journey of faith.
  • God’s directives and instructions are not to restrict us but rather to guide us into His perfect plans for our lives.
  • Our disobedience may lead to delays or detours in realizing God’s promise for our lives.

We are, therefore, challenged to always lead lives of obedience, keeping God’s commands and walking in His ways, as this paves the way for us to fully live in God’s promise.


In summing up this journey of commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 1, it is clear the whole experience is a metaphorical pilgrimage that every Christ-follower is invited to embark upon. The central themes resonate profoundly with our daily lives, offering guidance, perspective, and wisdom. Deuteronomy 1 urges us to reflect on our past, rise above our failures, unflinchingly stride into the future, and above all, trust and heed God’s commands.

The Spiritual lessons extracted from this initial chapter of Deuteronomy are not meant to solely reside in the realm of the abstract, but to be applied concretely in the life of every believer. Amidst life’s triumphs and trials, the book calls us to maintain fidelity to God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 1:3, NKJV) and to be fearless in the face of daunting adversities, for the Lord you God is the one who fights for you (Deuteronomy 1:30, NKJV).

As we continue this journey of exploring the depths of Deuteronomy, let’s carry with us the lessons from chapter 1: the reminder of our past, the revelation of God’s faithfulness, the call to obedience, and the assurance of His guidance in our journey of faith. May these words impact our lives, and the Holy Spirit open our hearts and minds to these divine truths revealed in this timeless book, for the glory of God and the furtherance of His kingdom.

Remember, the Bible is not simply a book to be read, but a life map to be lived out. Let us come, then, to the Scripture with expectation and hunger, for in so doing, we commune with the Living God. The journey forward into the rest of Deuteronomy promises to be riveting, enlightening, and transformational. Keep walking, keep seeking, and keep living according to His Word. God bless you as you continue to study and apply His word in your life.

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