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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Deuteronomy 1





Moses, in the plains of Moab, briefly relates what had happened in the wilderness, as well to himself, as to the Israelites from the time they left mount Horeb.

Before Christ 1451.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. On this side Jordan—in the plain, over against the Red sea Houbigant well observes, that the original here should properly be rendered, on the bank of Jordan, בעבר beeber: and that the word ףּסו suph, when used without ים iam, never signifies the Red Sea; and therefore, here, is the name of a place, and should be rendered, in the plain over against suph; the same place with that mentioned Numbers 21:14. and with him Dr. Waterland agrees. The places mentioned in this verse must have been near the plains of Moab.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. Eleven days journey from Horeb This verse seems to have been thrown in to shew, that though the direct way from mount Horeb to the plains of Moab is but a few days' journey, even to those who make a circuit about by Kadesh-barnea, yet it was so ordered by the Divine Providence, that the Israelites should not accomplish this same short space of way in less than thirty-eight years, as a punishment for their iniquities.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. Began Moses to declare, &c.— Houbigant very properly renders this, It seemed good to Moses, when on the bank of Jordan, in the land of Moab, fully to explain this law: he makes use of the word באר beer, to explain (a word he has never before used), because he does not now establish fresh laws dictated by God, but undertakes to explain to the children the laws which were given to their fathers. The original word, rendered began, is never used in that sense.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. The Lord our God spake unto us in Horeb, &c.— Rather by, or near Horeb. In this first speech, which ends at the 43rd verse of the fourth chapter, Moses reminds the Israelites of the travels of their fathers towards Canaan; dating his account from the transactions at mount Sinai or Horeb, at which place they stayed almost a year, receiving the law, erecting the tabernacle, numbering the people, ranking them under standards, &c. For all these particulars we refer our readers to the margins of our Bibles. Mr. Locke observes, that the first thirteen chapters of this book are an exhortation of Moses to the Israelites, to strict loyalty to God their king.

Verse 7

Ver. 7. Go to the mount of the Amorites This mountain, situated on the south of Canaan, was inhabited by the Canaanites and Amalekites, but principally by the Amorites, (see the 19th, 20th, and 44th verses following;) and it was to this mountain that Moses sent the spies, Numbers 13:17. We have no account of this order in the book of Numbers, any more than of a great many other things, which we should have been ignorant of, but for this supplemental book of Deuteronomy. Moses, in the subsequent part of the verse, sets forth the several quarters of the land of Canaan: the southern part lying towards the mount before mentioned; the western upon the Mediterranean sea, where dwelt the Canaanites, properly so called; the northern towards Lebanon; and the eastern towards the great river of Assyria, the Euphrates; for so far they might extend their territory, if Canaan should not be able to contain them. See on Numb. chap. 34: and Callim. Hym. ad Apoll. ver. 108. As in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale, denote the nature of the country through which they were to pass, and what follows, the boundaries of the country; it would be more properly rendered, even by the south, and by the sea side—and by Lebanon.

REFLECTIONS.—Moses is now about to part from the people whom he had so tenderly and faithfully served; and therefore he leaves them his solemn charge, that, after his death, they might have these things always in remembrance. They were now in the plains of Moab over against Suph; and just forty years had elapsed since their departure from Egypt, during which they had received the punishment of their murmurings, and were ready to receive the fulfilment of the promises: it highly imported them now to be obedient, since this would ensure them the necks of their enemies. It was at God's command that he spoke, and he begins his discourse from their departure from Sinai. 1. He mentions their order to depart. They had dwelt long enough under the mount Sinai, and its awful thunderings, and are now to go to possess the land of promise. Note; God will not suffer his people to continue mourning ever under the spirit of bondage and distress; but when he has made them feel their deserts, he will shew them the riches of his grace, which begets the spirit of adoption. 2. The assurance that God gave them of success. We fight not when under Christ's banner as uncertainly.

Verses 9-11

Ver. 9-11. And I spake unto you That is, to your fathers, as being alive at the time here referred to. We may observe here, once for all, that Moses, throughout this book, frequently speaks of the fathers of this generation as if they were now living; which is the common style of all writers who are used to speak of a people or commonwealth as one and the same person still subsisting through several ages. They must be extremely dull who can be insensible to the affecting energy of the fine apostrophe in the 11th verse.

Verse 13

Ver. 13. Take ye wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes Houbigant renders this, Take from among your tribes, men endued with wisdom, understanding, and experience: wise men, says he, signifies those who had obtained knowledge by study and labour, as Moses was learned in the wisdom of the Egyptians; understanding men, those who excelled in genius; skilful men, those who had learned many things by experience. Known among your tribes, he observes, is an erroneous translation, into which many have been led by the authority of Buxtorf the father.

Verse 15

Ver. 15. So I took the chief—and made them heads Persons of the first rank, and who consequently were least liable to bribery and corruption, were appointed by Moses to their respective offices, and by him charged to a faithful and conscientious discharge of them. It is probable, that these officers had civil as well as military authority, and were a council of state in things relating to the peace and welfare of the public, as well as a council of war to direct the military affairs of the tribes, and command them as an army; for the princes of the tribes were chief military officers, Numbers 2:2-3 and these same were the persons who were to assist Moses, and whom he consulted when he did not summon the whole congregation, Numbers 10:4. And that they were not summoned only as a council of war, appears from Numbers 36:1 where the question in law, concerning the succession of females to inheritances, was brought before Moses, and the princes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel. And upon the whole, it is most likely, that the heads, or captains of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, were vested with civil as well as military authority; that the officers of lower command were the elders and senate of the cities; and that the officers of higher and more general command were the princes, elders and senate of the tribe or province. See Lowman's Dissert. chap. 5:

Verse 16-17

Ver. 16, 17. I charged your judges, &c.— It was ordered by Solon, that all the Athenian judges should take this oath, "I will hear the plaintiff and defendant both alike." The Jews understand the words in the 16th verse as enjoining, that a judge was not to hear any man when the adversary was absent; but both parties were to be there present. Respecting the stranger, see Leviticus 24:22 and against partiality in judgment, Leviticus 19:15. Plutarch tells us, in his treatise of Isis and Osiris, that at Thebes were placed the statues of their judges, without hands, with their chief or president at their head, having his eyes turned downward; signifying thereby, that justice ought neither to be accessible to bribes, nor guided by favour or affection. See Isaiah 11:3-4. For the judgment is God's, means, that as they were God's ministers, and acted by his authority, therefore they ought to give judgment with perfect equity, resolution, and impartiality, always remembering that they were the representatives of the Almighty, and accountable to him. The expression denotes, that their integrity ought to be in some sort incorruptible, like that of God himself, in whose place they acted; and provided they behaved with courage and uprightness, they might be assured that God would protect them in the discharge of their duty. See 2 Chronicles 19:6 Spencer de Leg. Heb. lib. i. c. 4. See also Callim. Hymn. ad Jov. ver. 81. translation, ver. 128.

Verse 19

Ver. 19. That great and terrible wilderness So called on account of its vast extent, and because it had few other inhabitants than the wild beasts.

Verse 27

Ver. 27. Because the Lord hated us One cannot conceive a greater degree of corruption, than that which could accuse the great and good God in such a manner; and which could suppose him to have done that from sentiments of hatred, which proceeded only from a principle of love. See chap. Deuteronomy 4:37, Deuteronomy 7:8.

Verse 28

Ver. 28. Walled up to heaven A strong hyperbole, usual with the very best writers, to express the height and strength of their enemies' walls. See Genesis 11:4 and Bochart's Phaleg. lib. 1: cap. 13. The author of the Observations remarks, that, "anciently if they raised up the walls of their cities so high as not to be able to be scaled, they thought them safe." The same simple contrivance is, to this day, sufficient to guard places from the Arabs, who live in that very wilderness in which Israel wandered, when the spies discouraged the hearts of the people, by saying the cities are great, and walled up to heaven; and who are a nation more inured to warlike enterprises than the Israelites were. To say that the height of the walls, which, by a strong Eastern way of speaking, are said to reach up to heaven, must have been supposed to have given pain to the people whom Moses was conducting out of Egypt,—and who were by no totals qualified to surmount this difficulty, though among us it would be very easily overcome—would be a just, but a cold and formal comment on these words, if compared with the liveliness and satisfaction the mind would receive from the setting down what modern travellers have said about the present inhabitants of these desarts, who must be supposed to be as able to overcome any obstruction of this kind as Israel when that nation came out of Egypt, and who are, by this means, oftentimes prevented from effecting their purposes on the inhabitants of these walled places. I shall, therefore, here set down two or three passages of this kind, as an amusing explanation of the force of this complaint of the spies. The great monastery at mount Sinai, Thevenot observes, "is well built of good free-stone, with very high smooth walls; on the east side there is a window, by which those that were within drew up the pilgrims into the monastery with a basket, which they let down by a rope which runs into a pulley, to be seen above at the window; and the pilgrims went into it, one after another, and so were hoisted up." These walls, he remarks in the next chapter, are "so high, that they cannot be scaled, and without cannon that place cannot be taken." The monastery of St. Anthony in Egypt, says M. Maillet, let. 8: p. 321 is inhabited by religious of the Coptic nation, to whom provisions are sent from time to time. It is a vast inclosure, with good walls, raised so high as to secure this place from the insults of the Arabs. There is no entrance into it but by a pulley, by means of which people are hoisted up on high, and so conveyed into the monastery. "By means of such their walls, these places are impregnable to the Arabs: the Israelites thought the cities of Canaan must be impregnable to them; for they forgot the divine power of their leader."

Verses 29-31

Ver. 29-31. Then I said unto you, &c.— This is omitted in the Book of Numbers. Moses here employed two arguments, the strongest possible to persuade the Israelites: the one taken from the promises of protection which God had made them; the second, from the happy proof which they themselves had so often experienced of his paternal care and defence. See Exodus 19:4. "Bare thee," says Dr. Beaumont, "means not a bearing of the body only, but a bearing of their infirmities in the education of them, as a father doth his children's: the apostle, Acts 13:18 follows the Greek of the LXX in this place."

Verse 34

Ver. 34. The Lord—was, and sware Moses makes God speak in the manner of the kings of the earth; and that, to accommodate himself to the feeble reach of our understanding. That God cannot be in a passion, is certain; when the Scripture represents him in this light, it is the better to make us comprehend how much he detests evil. In the same manner, if he is introduced swearing, it is to give the greater force and strength to his asseverations, agreeable to those forms which are established among men. It is well known, that the Pagans supposed that their gods might swear: even their supreme god Jupiter, as well as the rest; which shews, that the general idea which mankind have affixed to the term swearing means no more than giving the strongest and most awful assurances possible, and does not necessarily imply the invoking a superior. See Dr. Waterland's Script. Vind. part 2: p. 47 and Genesis 6:6.

Verse 37

Ver. 37. The Lord was angry with me for your sakes This might be rendered more agreeably to the original, and more consistently with the history, through, or by means of you; i.e. "You were the cause of that offence in me, which raised the Lord's anger against me."

Verse 39

Ver. 39. Which in that day had no knowledge, &c.— As the Lord is here speaking of things present, Houbigant with great propriety renders this clause in the present tense; et filii vestri, qui nunc sunt rerum omnium ignari: your children, who now have no knowledge of good and evil.

Verse 44

Ver. 44. Chased you, as bees do The Syriac, Onkelos, and an Arabic MS. which Bochart saw in Sweden, have it, as bees do when irritated by smoke. It is well known, that smoke is applied to drive these insects from their hives; and as then the bees, being enraged, unite, and fall with impetuosity upon those who venture thus to dislodge them, Moses draws thence an elegant comparison to express the number and vivacity of the Amorites, who came suddenly upon the Israelites, boldly purposing to dispossess them. The Psalmist makes use of a similar expression, Psalms 108:12 and profane authors have, as it were, emulously striven to imitate the metaphor. See Virg. AEn. 12: ver. 587. Q. Smyrnaeus, lib. 3: cap. 220. Lycophron. ver. 180, &c. It is also very expressive. The bee, though small, is an animal full of fire and courage: the Raucians, a people of Crete, were formerly obliged to give place to them, by yielding to them their city. AElian de Animal. lib. 17: cap. 35. When Lucullus besieged Themiscyrus, the besiegers opposed its underminers with swarms of bees; (Appian, de Bell. Mithrid.) and afterwards the same artifice was more than once renewed on similar occasions, with the like success. See Bochart Hieroz. pars 2: lib. 4 cap. 10 and Scheuchzer's Physique Sacree, tom. 4:

And destroyed you in Seir The Amorites did not attack the Israelites in Seir, but in their own mountains, to which they had ascended. It should, therefore, be rendered, from Seir; to express, that, after the Amorites had driven the Israelites from their mountains, they pursued them flying into Seir, even to Hormah. The LXX, Vulgate, and Syr. render it from Seir.

Verse 46

Ver. 46. In Kadesh—according unto the days that ye abode there This should rather be at or near Kadesh, which gave name to that part of the desart southward of Kadesh. By the phrase according unto the days that ye abode there, some understand to mean, as long as ye abode at mount Sinai, i.e. nearly a whole year. But the most simple explication is, that they stayed here as long after this as they had done before it, which was at least forty days, the time spent by the spies in searching the land. Houbigant renders it, many days, even so many as ye had passed there before. Calmet, ye abode in Kadesh all the time ye were in that part of the desart. Without fixing the number of the days, says Mr. Chais, we may render it, as ye abode in Kadesh some time before this rebellion, so ye continued there some time after. We are instructed by St. Paul what use to make of the history recapitulated in the present book: he tells us in the epistle to the Hebrews, that as the murmurings and rebellions of the children of Israel caused God to swear that they should not enter into the land of Canaan; so we should take care that we be not excluded by our unbelief, and disobedience to the Gospel, from the heavenly Canaan, and from that rest which is reserved for the people of God.

REFLECTIONS.—They were now in a fair way for possession of the promised land; but Moses reminds them of their perverseness, and the dire consequences which ensued thereupon. They were safely led through the terrible wilderness, and nothing remained but to go up and possess their inheritance. God's protection had been an earnest of future mercies, and his promise their security. But then their unbelief began to break forth, 1. In sending spies. They should have taken God's word, and not have desired sight, when they were called to walk by faith. Nothing so dangerous as indulging our own wisdom where God's word has already decided. 2. In the credit they paid to the lying representation that the spies made. They acknowledged the goodness of the land, but they exaggerated the difficulties of conquering it. Heaven is allowed to be a desirable place, but the straitness of the way deters the carnal and unbelieving heart from going up to it. 3. In their disregard of Moses's earnest encouragement. Much had they experienced of God's care of them in Egypt, more in his protection and guidance through the wilderness, and therefore sure they need not now fear; but, blind to their own mercies, they murmur, refusing to go up, reflecting invidiously on God himself, as their destroyer instead of preserver: and thus, under the power of an evil heart of unbelief, departed from the living God. Note; (1.) Unbelief is at the root of all our sins. (2.) Every sin is greatly aggravated, when committed against experience of past mercies. He reminds them of the consequence of this unbelief, in the condemnation which passed upon them all, except Caleb and Joshua. All their other sins had not destroyed them but for this. Unbelief is the only damning sin. He himself also suffered under their provocations, and was excluded from Canaan. Not that God hereby intended to disinherit them: he was ordered to encourage Joshua, and to assure their children that they should possess what their fathers forfeited. Happy for them, if they took warning by their fathers' examples, to do more after their works. Finally, he mentions their perverse attempt in opposition to the divine command, and the ill success of it. Their tears then were fruitless; the decree was gone forth, and they had nothing to do but to submit. Note; (1.) When the door of mercy is shut, it is too late to knock. (2.) Many weep for their sufferings, not for their sins; and this is no better than the sorrow of the world, which worketh death.


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 1:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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