I started reading Deuteronomy today and would like to share with you some thoughts regarding the first chapter.

If you’ve read the book of Numbers, then you’re familiar with the sending of the 12 spies into the Promised Land. Here’s what Numbers tells us:

The Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”

Numbers 13:1-2 (NIV)

However, when we read Deuteronomy, we get a better picture of what happened.

See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.” The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe.

Deuteronomy 1:21-23 (NIV)

If we only had the account in Numbers, we would presume the Lord told the people to scout out the and before entering into it. How do we receive what we read here in Deuteronomy? Is it a contradiction?

This is what I see here in Deuteronomy.

Moses was ready to go into the Promised Land, but the people wanted to send out spies into the land first. Moses didn’t think this was a bad idea, so they sent out spies.

When I couple what we know of in Numbers with this passage in Deuteronomy. I think that Moses, after the people came to him, and agreed that the idea was a good one, went to God and asked him. Hence, Numbers 13:1-2.

The people wanting to send spies into the Promised Land coincides with their unbelieving, fearful, and doubting character. Something I think Moses didn’t pick up on at the time. Certainly, Moses knew the people to be grumblers and complainers, but they were his people, and I don’t suspect he saw them the same as he did after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness with them. Therefore, we could say Moses lacked the discernment to accurately see their motivation in wanting to send out spies.

We can also determine something else from what we read here in Numbers.

See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

Numbers 13:18-20 (NIV)

Knowing that the impetus behind sending the spies was due to the people’s request and not a command by God, we could say Moses shared in their unbelief. Or we might say Moses was curious. Deuteronomy tells us Moses was ready to go into the Promised Land without spying it out first. It wasn’t until the people put the idea into his head that he agreed. Before we come to a conclusion one way or another, if we are so bold, let’s continue a little way into Deuteronomy and see if other verses might help us on our way.

Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them.

Deuteronomy 1:29 (NIV)

Moses claims that he told the people, forty years earlier, not to be afraid. What did Moses write in Numbers about this?

Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good…do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

Numbers 14:5-7,9 (NIV)

If we just read this account from Numbers, we would think that only Caleb and Joshua told the people to not be afraid. What Moses tells us in Deuteronomy isn’t necessarily a contradiction. Caleb, Joshua, and Aaron could have all said the same thing. Moses and a thousand additional people could have said, “don’t be afraid.” Moses, forty years later saying, “I said don’t be afraid” would still be accurate.

The reading of this next verse has caused quite a stir and raised many questions.

Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either.”

Deuteronomy 1:37 (NIV)

Most of us will read this verse and think back to Numbers 20:1-13 and the incident at Meribah. There Moses struck the rock to get water from it instead of speaking to it as instructed by the Lord. I even have notes back to 2011 where I question the meaning of this verse and what’s being said here. As I researched this verse and read through every commentary on it I could find, I have some thoughts to share with you about it.

I just have to say that Moses was 120 years old when he wrote this. He wrote Numbers when he was 80 years old, and like all of us who view events from our past, he might have seen the incident at Meribah differently after 40 years. It’s easy to forget that 40 years pass as we read through Numbers into Deuteronomy.

When we read about the Meribah incident, we feel sorry for Moses, and many of us might think the penalty may not fit the crime. I’ve already discussed this in earlier writing, so I’m not going to cover it again. However, when we consider some new information, namely, who it was that suggested sending the spies out, we might have more light on the subject.

When the Lord pronounced judgment against the people and sentenced them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, what did he say?

In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

Numbers 14:29-30 (NIV)

God did not include Moses or Aaron in the list of people who would enter the Promised Land. Only those people under twenty, Caleb, and Joshua. I am certain God didn’t error and accidentally leave Moses and Aaron out. Is it possible that God counted Moses amongst those who didn’t believe because he agreed to send out the spies? This, more than the people’s rebellion at Meribah, would account for the Lord being angry with Moses enough to not let him enter into the Promised Land.

Psalm 106 mentions something similar to what we read here in Deuteronomy 1:37.

By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord, and trouble came to Moses because of them; for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’s lips.

Psalm 106:32-33 (NIV)

These verses, unlike Deuteronomy 1:37, don’t appear to exempt Moses from his culpability in the Meribah incident. No one can deny that Moses was angered by the people and disobeyed the Lord at Meribah. Furthermore, it was after this incident the Lord told Moses he wasn’t entering the Promised Land. However, was it just this incident at Meribah, or was it a combination of incidents? Such as agreeing with the people to send out spies?

Most of the commentaries I read regarding these verses suggest that Deuteronomy 1:37-38 are parenthetical and should be read as such. Some also add verse 36 to this. It’s also suggested that Moses added these later or that someone else edited Deuteronomy and added them. From a narrative standpoint, they don’t flow with the text without parenthesis. Let’s take a look at the passage as if verses 36-38 were not included (parenthetical).

34 When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: 35 “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, 39 and the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it. 40 But as for you, turn around and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.

Deuteronomy 1:34-35,39-40 (NIV)

When we introduce verses 36-38 into the text without parenthesis, as seen here (Deuteronomy 1:34-40), the natural flow of the narrative becomes disjointed. Furthermore, if read these verses parenthetically, it makes more sense that they would be a comment on the narrative rather than something Moses actually said to the Israelites.

If we compare this passage in Deuteronomy (34-40) to Numbers 14:30; “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun” (NIV). It looks like someone might have added verses 36 and 38 to Deuteronomy to coincide more with Numbers 14:30.

When it comes down to it, I don’t see Moses not owning up to his shortcomings. That’s what I think bothers most of us who read Deuteronomy 1:37. We’re confused because it doesn’t make sense with what we’ve read before, and the last place any of us expect to be confused and see an apparent contradiction, is in the word of God.

Do you know God? God knows you, and He loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, right now, and He wants you to know Him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.