The Scriptorium

The Promise Lost

Promised land, promise lost. Deuteronomy 1.34-46

From Egypt to Moab: Deuteronomy 1, 2 (4)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 106.24-27
Then they despised the pleasant land;
They did not believe His word,
But complained in their tents,
And did not heed the voice of the LORD.
Therefore He raised His hand in an oath against them,
To overthrow them in the wilderness,
To overthrow their descendants among the nations,
And to scatter them in the lands.

Psalm 106.13-43, 48

(Trust in Jesus: Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus)
Though Your works we’re oft forgetting, and Your counsels we despise,
though we often try and test You, yet You hear our plaintive cries!
Refrain, v. 48
Blessèd be our God and Savior, evermore His praise proclaim!
Let all those who know Your favor praise Your holy, glorious Name!

Today’s Text: Deuteronomy 1.34-46

1. What did unbelief cost the people at Kadesh Barnea?

2. Who were the only ones of that generation excepted from this plight?

Unbelief is as the sin of rebellion in God’s eyes. The people of that earlier generation did not believe the Lord’s promise, and at Kadesh Barnea they rebelled against His command to enter the land. God looked upon them as an “evil generation” (v. 35), because they refused to trust Him, spurned His promises, and thus cast doubt on His truth and faithfulness.

Caleb and Joshua alone of the twelve spies urged the people to go forward in faith and obedience. Of that generation, only they would enter the land of promise and the blessings God had prepared for His people there (vv. 36, 38). Even Moses would not be allowed to enter the land, because he lost patience with the people and with God, and disobeyed the Lord’s command at the waters of Meribah (v. 37; cf. Num. 20.1-13).

The people to whom Moses spoke in the book of Deuteronomy were the “little ones” and “children” of those who died after thirty-eight years of wandering in the wilderness (v. 39). They were not responsible for the rebellion of their parents (v. 39), and so God determined to give the land of promise to them, and commanded their parents to turn back into the wilderness (v. 40).

The people realized too late how serious their offense was against the Lord (v. 41). They tried to make amends by gearing up to enter the land, but God warned them He had already made up His mind, and that they should not go against Him (v. 42). But the people rebelled again, and tried to invade the land, only to be beaten and chased away by the Amorites (vv. 43, 44). They wept and mourned before the Lord, but He would not listen to them (v. 45). They didn’t even obey His command to “turn and take your journey into the wilderness” (v. 40); instead, they “remained in Kadesh many days” (v. 46).

All this history is intended as a warning to the people Moses was speaking to not to make the same mistake their parents had made. They must learn from the errors of their forebears to obey the Lord and keep all His Word (Rom. 15.4). By recounting these events, Moses hoped to drive any fear or rebellion from the hearts of those who heard him, so that they might enter the land and secure the promises of God.

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“…you would not listen but rebelled against the command of the LORD, and presumptuously went up into the mountain” (Deut. 1.43). King David knew about such things firsthand; but he also knew how to bring them to the LORD: “Keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me” (Ps. 19.13). In the description of the game “Chutes and Ladders” we learn that going up the ladders and down the chutes, a child will learn (by the pictures) the rewards of doing good deeds and the consequences of naughty ones. The Israelites were not learning by the pictures – the parted sea, the fire and cloud, the smoking mountain, the earthquake, the manna, the quail, the gushing rocks, the snakes, the healing bronze serpent, and so on. And because they were not learning, they embarked on an epic game of “Chutes and Ladders,” and they definitely were not the winners. We too have been give the opportunity to learn by the pictures. And the picture we see is Jesus – incarnate, suffering, exalted, reigning in glory, returning in judgment, victorious over all. And He tells us how to follow Him: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps…” (2 Pet. 2.21)


1. Why did Moses take the time to recount Israel’s history to the people on the plains of Moab?

2. How did the people of Israel act presumptuously? What does it mean to sin presumptuously?

3. How can we improve in our ability to “learn by the pictures”?

God so tempered His judgment that, whilst none of the guilty should escape with impunity, still His faithfulness should remain sure and inviolable, and that the wickedness of men should not make void the covenant which He had made with Abraham.
John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Deuteronomy 1.39

Help me always to obey Your Word at once, Lord, even today, as I…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 106.1-6
Recount the many good blessings of the Lord. Praise Him for all His mighty works on your behalf. Confess your sins and failures, and commit yourself afresh to following Him.

Psalm 106.1-6, 48
(Trust in Jesus: ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus)
Praise the Lord!  Give thanks and praise Him!  He is good, His love endures!
More His works than can be spoken; let His praise be ever sure!
Refrain v. 48
Blessèd be our God and Savior, evermore His praise proclaim!
Let all those who know Your favor praise Your holy, glorious Name!

Lord, when You Your people favor, help me, O, remember me,
that I may Your blessings savor and in joy and glory be!

We have sinned, just like our fathers; we have done iniquity.
Just like them, our hearts have wandered; we have acted wickedly.

T. M. and Susie Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore