Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
These verses are prefixed as a connecting link between the contents of the preceding books and that of Deuteronomy now to follow. The sense of the passage might be given thus: "The discourses of Moses to the people up to the eleventh month of the fortieth year" (compare Deu 1:3) "have now been recorded." The proper names which follow seem to belong to places where "words" of remarkable importance were spoken. They are by the Jewish commentators referred to the spots which witnessed the more special sins of the people, and the mention of them here is construed as a pregnant rebuke. The Book of Deuteronomy is known among the Jews as "the book of reproofs."
On this side of Jordan - Rather, "beyond Jordan" (as in Deu 3:20, Deu 3:25). The phrase was a standing designation for the district east of Jordan, and at times, when Greek became commonly spoken in the country, was exactly represented by the proper name Peraea.
In the wilderness, in the plain - The former term denotes the Desert of Arabia generally; the latter was the sterile tract ('Arabah,' Num 21:4 note) which stretches along the lower Jordan to the Dead Sea, and is continued thence to the Gulf of Akaba.
Over against the Red Sea - Render it: "over against Suph." "Sea" is not in the original text. "Suph" is either the pass Es Sufah near Ain-el-Weibeh (Num 13:26 note), or the name of the alluvial district (the Num 21:14 note).
Tophel is identified with Tufileh, the Tafyle of Burckhardt, still a considerable place - some little distance southeast of the Dead Sea. Paran is probably "Mount Paran" Deu 33:2; or a city of the same name near the mountain. Compare Gen 14:6.
Laban is generally identified with Libnah Num 33:20, and Hazeroth with Ain Hadherah (Num 11:34 note); but the position of Dizahab is uncertain.
For Kadesh see Num 13:26 note; and for Horeb see Exo 3:1.
Astaroth - On this place compare Gen 14:5 and note.
In Edrei - These words should, to render the sense clear, come next after "slain." The battle in which Sihon and Og were defeated took place at Edrei.
In the land of Moab - This district had formerly been occupied by the Moabites, and retained its name from them: but had been conquered by the Amorites. Compare Num 21:25, note; Num 22:5, note.
Declare - Render, explain the Law already declared.
The first and introductory address of Moses to the people is here commenced. It extends to Deu 4:40; and is divided from the second discourse by the Deu 1:4 :41-49. A summary of the address is given in the chapter-headings usually found in English Bibles.
To the mount of the Amorites - i. e. to the mountain district occupied by the Amorites, reaching into the Negeb, and part of the territory assigned to the tribe of Judah.
This appointment of the "captains" (compare Exo 18:21 ff) must not be confounded with that of the elders in Num 11:16 ff. The former would number 78,600; the latter were 70 only.
A comparison between this passage and that in Exodus makes it obvious that Moses is only touching on certain parts of the whole history, without regard to order of time, but with a special purpose. This important arrangement for the good government of the people took place before they left Horeb to march direct to the promised land. This fact sets more clearly before us the perverseness and ingratitude of the people, to which the orator next passes; and shows, what he was anxious to impress, that the fault of the 40 years' delay rested only with themselves!
That great and terrible wilderness - Compare Deu 8:15. This language is such as people would employ after having passed with toil and suffering through the worst part of it, the southern half of the Arabah (see Num 21:4 note); and more especially when they had but recently rested from their marches in the plain of Shittim, the largest and richest oasis in the whole district on the Eastern bank near the mouth of the Jordan.
The plan of sending the spies originated with the people; and, as in itself a reasonable one, it approved itself to Moses; it was submitted to God, sanctioned by Him, and carried out under special divine direction. The orator's purpose in this chapter is to bring before the people emphatically their own responsibilites and behavior. It is therefore important to remind them, that the sending of the spies, which led immediately to their complaining and rebellion, was their own suggestion.
The following verses to the end of the chapter give a condensed account, the fuller one being in Num. 13-14, of the occurrences which led to the banishment of the people for 40 years into the wilderness.
The sentence on Moses was not passed when the people rebelled during their first encampment at Kadesh, but some 37 years later, when they had re-assembled in the same neighborhood at Meribah (see the Num 20:13 note). He alludes to it here as having happened not many months previously, bearing on the facts which were for his purpose in pricking the conscience of the people.
Ye were ready to go up into the hill - Rather, perhaps, "ye made light of going up;" i. e. "ye were ready to attempt it as a trifling undertaking." Deu 1:43 shows the issue of this spirit in action; compare marginal references.
The Amorites - In Num 14:45, it is "the Amalekites and the Canaanites" who are said to have discomfited them. The Amorites, as the most powerful nation of Canaan, lend their name here, as in other passages (eg. Deu 1:7) to the Canaanite tribes generally.