For forty years, Moses had led the people of Israel around present day Saudi Arabia and Jordan. God had revealed that he would die soon and commanded him to prepare the people to go into the land of Canaan. While the last chapters of Numbers focus on the physical preparations, Deuteronomy focuses on the spiritual and emotional preparation. Moses will review the record of what has happened to them and how God has cared for them, laying a foundation for them to trust God when they enter the land.
At the same time he reviews the agreement between them and God and stresses the importance of keeping their part. That God will keep his part of the agreement is obvious from his repeatedly having fulfilled it even when they broke their part. He also reminds them of the consequences they have already suffered for breaking the agreement.
“These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain over against the Red sea, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab. (There are eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir unto Kadeshbarnea.)
And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spake unto the children of Israel, according unto all that the LORD had given him in commandment unto them; After he had slain Sihon the king of the Amorites, which dwelt in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, which dwelt at Astaroth in Edrei: On this side Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare this law, saying, The LORD our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the mount of the Amorites, and unto all the places nigh thereunto, in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale, and in the south, and by the sea side, to the land of the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon, unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” (Deuteronomy 1:1-7)
In the eleventh month of the fortieth year after leaving Horeb, the area around Mount Hor in Arabia, also known as Sinai, Moses spoke to the people about what they were to do. They are on the East side of the Jordan river in the desert that swings northeast from the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea, just across from Jericho. Numbers 33 describes their coming to that particular place. The census they took there showed that not one of the old men had survived, and God told them they had been in the wilderness and that area long enough.
“Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.” (Deuteronomy 1:8)
God had promised the land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and now Moses has brought them to place where they can take possession of it as he had promised.
“And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone: The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. (The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!) How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife?
Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do.
So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes.
And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God's: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it. And I commanded you at that time all the things which ye should do.” (Deuteronomy 1:9-18)
When they first started their journey, Moses had been overwhelmed by the constant bickering and demands on his time. His father-in-law, Jethro had suggested selecting leaders to take judge and deal with such issues, freeing Moses to lead the congregation. After a brief period the people found it a satisfactory process and when God instructed them to always follow that program with only minor changes the people readily agreed.
Much of the Old Testament Law was devoted to how disputes and conflicts were to be handled in an equitable manner. While many scholars credit Hammurabi with codifying the first set of laws and believe the Jews copied the idea, accepting the biblical time record leads to the conclusion that Moses had received the Law before Hammurabi came to power.
“And when we departed from Horeb, we went through all that great and terrible wilderness, which ye saw by the way of the mountain of the Amorites, as the LORD our God commanded us; and we came to Kadeshbarnea.
And I said unto you, Ye are come unto the mountain of the Amorites, which the LORD our God doth give unto us. Behold, the LORD thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 1:19-21)
Traveling northward from Horeb they had passed through the Amorite homeland. they had turned northwest to Kadesh Barnea, an eleven day journey by the time they went around the Edomite land of mount Seir. At Kadesh Barnea, God told them they had come to a part of the land God would give them and they were to proceed in and take the land, with no fear because God had given it. Numbers 34 tells us Kadesh Barnea was to be one of the points on the southern boundary.