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Deuteronomy: The Second Law - Speech 1

A commentary on the first speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 1-4. The book of Deuteronomy is a series of 12 speeches that Moses gave just before his death at the end of Israel's wilderness journey.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Introduction to Deuteronomy

The Hebrew title for Deuteronomy is taken from the first phrase of the book:

These are the Words (Speeches)

Deuteronomy means “the second law.” The first law was the book of Exodus, given at Mount Horeb about seven weeks after Israel departed from Egypt. The second law was given 40 years later just before Moses died and just before Israel crossed the Jordan River under Joshua.

Two Covenants in the Law

There was not only a second law, but also a second covenant, which Moses revealed in Deut. 29:1,

1 These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb.

Hence, the Old Covenant could actually be divided into two parts. Part One was the Exodus Covenant; Part Two was the Deuteronomy Covenant. Prophetically speaking, the second covenant represented and foreshadowed the New Covenant.

These two covenants, given 40 years apart, reveal the two parts of the New Covenant, separated by 40 Jubilees of Church history. The Exodus covenant correlates with Christ's death on the cross, in which He established it by His blood nearly 2,000 years ago. The Deuteronomy covenant has come after the Church has experienced its 40-Jubilees in the wilderness.

When we look at the Exodus account more closely, we see a further division which again speaks prophetically of these two covenants. In Exodus 31:18 God gave Moses the stone tablets of The Ten Commandments. Those, however, were broken in Exodus 32:19, and so God then gave Moses a second set of tablets containing the same law (Exodus 34:1).

These two laws were the same, but the second was not broken. Furthermore, that experience caused Moses’ face to be glorified as he returned from the Mount. Hence, it represents the New Covenant wherein the law is to be written on our hearts, so that we may reflect the face of Jesus Christ. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 4:6,

6 For God who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure [light] in earthen vessels. . .

We see, then, that the Ten Commandments were broken under the Old Covenant, but retained and kept under the New Covenant. The difference is that in part one of the divine plan, men were given the law while most of them had no ears to hear. Part two shines the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the hearts of men, and this is then seen visibly in their faces.

Likewise, in the bigger picture, the Old Covenant as a whole could not succeed, while the New Covenant could not fail.

Yet even as the Old Covenant was subdivided into two parts, so also is the New Covenant. The Church under Pentecost also broke the law under Part One of the New Covenant, but the overcomers at the end of the age of wilderness wandering will have the law written upon their hearts and will receive the inheritance of the Promised Land.

It is this particular understanding of the book of Deuteronomy that is of interest to us today, as we are the generation that is living at the end of the Church’s 40 Jubilees of wandering. That wilderness period began in 33 A.D. with the Exodus Covenant that Jesus made at the cross. It began to end in 1993-1994, which was 40 x 49 years later.

There have been many overcomers throughout Church history, who are comparable to Caleb and Joshua in the days of Moses. All of them would have liked to receive the inheritance as individuals. But the story of Caleb and Joshua shows that the overcomers must await the fullness of time when the body reaches its fullness. All of them have to wait until the body receives it together.

The main difference is that Caleb and Joshua were looking at a mere 40 years in the wilderness. The New Testament Church has had to wait 40 Jubilees. For that reason, the overcomers of past generations could not live to see the end of the wilderness. However, that is also the purpose of the First Resurrection. It is to bring back the overcomers on the Feast of Trumpets, so that they will be alive on the earth to inherit the Promised Land with the rest of the body in the Feast of Tabernacles two weeks later.

Hence, the New Testament apostles and all overcomers of the NT era were subjected to 40 Jubilee cycles in the wilderness. It is only now at the end of those 40 Jubilee cycles that we are able to receive this Deuteronomy Covenant as Christ’s final words before entering the Promised Land as a body.

Deuteronomy is the Book of Kings

The kings of Israel were instructed to make a copy of this book of Deuteronomy and study it all the days of their lives. Deut. 17:18 says,

18 Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or to the left; in order that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel.

In writing it himself, the king was sure to ponder every letter, every word, and every sentence. The priests were also there to instruct him in its meaning and application, as well as to check his work to be sure that it was “letter perfect.”

Our primary purpose in publishing this study of Deuteronomy is to provide instruction in the law so that the leaders and rulers of the church might gain an appreciation of the mind of God. It is our hope that those who are called to various levels of spiritual authority will follow Moses’ admonition and study each word. It is my intent to act as a “priest,” not of the Levitical order, but that of Melchizedek, so that the law might be understood in the light of New Covenant revelation.

I believe that this New Covenant revelation would have been well known had the Israelites been willing to hear God’s voice at Sinai. However, their refusal to hear limited their revelation until the time of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. More importantly, we are now situated at the brink of the Jordan River, ready to enter the next developmental phase of the Kingdom. Hence, it is as if Moses’ instruction to the kings has peculiar application to us today.

It is certain that David followed this instruction to write out his own copy of the law, because he obviously understood it and had great appreciation for it. His praise of the law is seen everywhere in the psalms—particularly Psalm 19. Unfortunately, in the years after his reign, Deuteronomy appears to have been lost at some point, because many years later a copy was found by Hilkiah the priest when they were cleaning out the neglected temple. Hilkiah gave the copy to Shaphan the scribe, who took it to King Josiah (2 Kings 22:8). They may have found David’s personal copy of the law, written by his own hand.

Josiah was shocked, because reading the law told him why God's judgment was upon the nation. It was obvious that he had never seen a copy of the law and certainly had not obeyed the instruction to write his own copy. When he read the law, he called for national repentance and reformation, but it was too late to avert judgment. All he could do was postpone it until after his own death (2 Kings 22:14-20).

A Scribe’s Introduction

The introduction to the book is given in the first five verses:

1 These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab.

The Arabah was the valley from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. It marks part of the fault line extending from Turkey through the Jordan Valley to the Gulf and on down to Eastern Africa.

The Location of Mount Horeb

The Israelites were at Mount Horeb, located on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba in the land of Midian. Moses had taken Israel to the very place where he had tended sheep for Jethro, his father-in-law, who was also the priest of Midian (Ex. 2:15; 3:1). Midian can be seen on the map below.


About the year 500 A.D. Mount Horeb was thought incorrectly to be located in the Sinai Peninsula. But this was still part of Egypt, not Midian, for Egypt’s territory extended to the Gulf of Aqaba. Egypt had copper mines in the Sinai, defended by their army. Sinai means “bush” or bush country, which can apply to the deserts of Midian as well as Egypt. But Moses took Israel to the same mount where he had seen the burning bush. It was in the land of Midian, known by its more proper name, Horeb.

In later years Midian and eastward was known as Arabia. Hence in Galatians 4:25 Paul speaks of “Mount Sinai in Arabia,” not “in Egypt.” The same mount is now positively identified as the blackened peak of Jebel al-Lawz, which today is in the Northwest part of modern Saudi Arabia.

For Israel to leave Egypt under Moses, they actually had to cross the Gulf of Aqaba.

The Red Sea

The Red Sea is Yam Suph, which means either the Sea of Reeds or Sea of Land’s End. Suph means a termination point, and reeds were known for their sharp points that could be used as pens for writing. Applied to geography, Yam Suph refers to the far eastern border of Egypt, and perhaps the point of the Sinai Peninsula was known as Land’s End, or Termination Point. If so, they could have crossed the Gulf of Aqaba at its southernmost point, the Straits of Tiran.

The name Termination Point might also be a reference to the destruction and end of the Egyptian army. It is likely that God led Israel to that particular spot as a prophetic sign of that event.

Israel started their journey in Goshen. There is a small “Sea of Reeds” not far from Goshen, where some insist that Israel crossed the Red Sea. It is not likely that this was the location of the Red Sea crossing.

Israel’s celebration song in Exodus 15:10 says, “They sank like lead in the mighty waters.” The Sea of Reeds was a lake and could hardly be described as “mighty waters.” The Hebrew word addiyr means “large, very great, mighty” (Gesenius Lexicon). The water at the point of the Sinai peninsula—the end of Egyptian territory—was a very great and deep body of water, the Red Sea.

Many years after the Exodus, Solomon built a fleet of ships at Yam Suph. We read this in 1 Kings 9:26,

26 King Solomon also built a fleet of ships in Ezion-geber, which is near Eloth on the shore of Yam Suph, in the land of Edom.

No one in their right mind would have built a fleet of ships at the Sea of Reeds in Egypt. Instead, we see that Eloth (modern Eilat) was on the north end of Yam Suph, which in this case is the Gulf of Aqaba. It is located “in the land of Edom.” Edom’s territory extended south to the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. The small “Sea of Reeds” near Goshen was north of the Gulf of Suez, while Edom extended north from the Gulf of Aqaba.

Furthermore, the Sea of Reeds was separated from Edom by the Wilderness of Paran. It is plain that the Yam Suph of 1 Kings 9:26 is not the Sea of Reeds near Goshen.

Israel’s First Journey to Kadesh-barnea

When Israel left Horeb to begin their journey to Canaan, they had to travel north along the eastern shore of Aqaba, past Eloth, and through the wilderness of Paran (Num. 12:16) in order to arrive at Kadesh-barnea. We read in Deuteronomy 1:2,

2 It is eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.

From Kadesh the twelve tribal leaders were sent to Canaan to spy out the land. Numbers 13:3 says,

3 So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran at the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the sons of Israel.

The Israelites waited for them at Kadesh (Num. 13:26).

If the twelve spies had given a unanimous good report, Israel would have entered Canaan from the south without crossing the Jordan River. However, ten spies gave an evil report, and the people believed them rather than the good report of Caleb and Joshua (Num. 14). For this reason, Israel had to remain 40 years in the wilderness (Num. 14:34).

Israel’s Second Journey to Kadesh-barnea

After spending 39 years in the wilderness, Moses led Israel back to Kadesh-barnea to make final preparations for Canaan.

3 And it came about in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the Lord had commanded him to give to them….

The eleventh month was around February of that year. They would spend just over a year at Kadesh before continuing their march to Canaan. God told them to enter the land from the east on the north side of the Dead Sea, but Edom would not allow them pass through their land. Therefore, they had to go the long way, marching south to Aqaba and then swinging east around Edom.

Once they had traveled around Edom (going south through Eloth), as we will see, they encountered other nations that stood between them and the Jordan River. Hence they fought many battles before Jericho. The defeat of Sihon and Og alone gave Israel possession of most of the land on the east side of Jordan.

4 ….after he had defeated Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth and Edrei.

A fuller account of these battles is given later in Moses’ first speech, so we will not comment upon this now.

The scribe giving this introduction then leads into Moses’ speech by telling us in verse 5,

5 Across the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law, saying….

Moses’ speeches were thus given after the great battles had been won on the east side of the Jordan against Sihon and Og. Israel was then ready to cross the Jordan and to begin the battle of Jericho. While in the plains of Moab, Moses learned that he was to die and that he was to consecrate Joshua to lead Israel into the Promised Land.

The twelve speeches of Moses are his final words to Israel, designed to summarize their history and the law by which they were to base their Kingdom way of life and culture.