The opening verses of this chapter set the stage for the remainder of the book. Israel, the greatly-blessed people of God, was called together east of the Jordan River to hear Moses’ message for them (1:1).
Time element – In Israel’s history, this was near the end of their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. In fact, from this time it was only a little more than two months before they would enter the land of Canaan (1:3; Joshua 4:19). Another interesting truth is that it was only an eleven-day journey from Horeb (Sinai) to Kadesh Barnea, which was near the border of Canaan (1:2). Reaching Canaan was a journey that could have lasted less than two weeks from Mt. Sinai, but it turned into over 38 years!
Go and possess – When God told Israel to leave Sinai, He gave them a clear charge: “go in and possess the land which the LORD sware to your fathers” (1:8). What an exciting thought that was! That was Israel’s mission, and they must not lose sight of it, just as we must keep our focus on entering heaven.
Faith and fearlessness – Through the wilderness and inside Canaan, these two items would be essential ingredients for Israel’s success. As Israel contemplated the task of entering and conquering Canaan, God’s message to them was, “do not fear or be discouraged” (1:21). Sadly, some were overcome with fear and “did not believe the LORD” (1:32). Such folks ultimately could not enter into the promised land due to unbelief (Hebrews 3:19).
Israel’s rebellion against God – In this section, we see it in two aspects. First, God’s command was to go up and possess Canaan (1:8). Hear Moses’ accusation against Israel: “Nevertheless you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God” (1:26). Second, on a later occasion God told Israel, “Do not go up nor fight” (1:42). So what did Israel do? They “would not listen, but rebelled against the command of the LORD” (1:43). When God said “Go,” Israel said, “No.” When God said, “No,” Israel said, “We will go anyway.” It is formula for disaster when people “have a mind of their own.” Israel did.
Ignorant kids – Listen to how God described Israel’s small kids: “Moreover your little ones and your children . . . who today have no knowledge of good and evil . . .” (1:39). Like those in the city of Nineveh who could not discern between their right and left hands (Jonah 4:11), without the capacity to have such knowledge, those kiddoes in Israel and elsewhere were innocent in God’s sight, not being capable of understanding right and wrong or breaking His law. The same is still true of all little ones today.
— Roger D. Campbell