Moses addresses “all Israel”, no one excepted. The place and date at which he speaks are indicated. He speaks his speech on the banks of the Jordan, the river that separates the people from the land. The environment, the wilderness, recalls the journey. They are located “in the Arabah”, which means “on the Plain”, a place where no one can hide and from where they can clearly perceive the surroundings.
The book contains the words that Moses has spoken (verse 11These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab.), entirely as the LORD wants (verse 33In the fortieth year, on the first [day] of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the LORD had commanded him [to give] to them,) and that Moses unfolds or explains (verse 55Across the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law, saying,). That makes the whole book a direct authoritative speaking of God. He is the source of it. We would do well to realize this while reading and thinking about this book. Moses is the mediator – and the type of the Lord Jesus who speaks God’s Word with authority – through whom God’s words come to us. He does everything to make the Word of God clear to the people and to make them understand it correctly.
The journey could have lasted eleven days. That time is needed for the journey from Horeb, which is Mount Sinai, to Kadesh-barnea, the southern entrance in the land. Because of unbelief, however, it took them forty years, counted from the exodus from Egypt to the entry into the land (for ‘forty years’ see Num 14:29-3529your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me.30Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.31Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected.32But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness.33Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer [for] your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness.34According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, [even] forty years, and you will know My opposition.35I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.’”; 32:1313So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the entire generation of those who had done evil in the sight of the LORD was destroyed.; Deu 8:2-52You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.3He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.4Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.5Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.; 29:5-65I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandal has not worn out on your foot.6You have not eaten bread, nor have you drunk wine or strong drink, in order that you might know that I am the LORD your God.; Heb 3:7-197Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice,8Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness,9Where your fathers tried [Me] by testing [Me], And saw My works for forty years.10“Therefore I was angry with this generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they did not know My ways’;11As I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’”12Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.13But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is [still] called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.14For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,15while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.”16For who provoked [Him] when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt [led] by Moses?17And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?18And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?19[So] we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.). The number ‘forty’ speaks of trial, testing. It speaks of a period in which one’s heart and qualities are tested. For us it is not literally forty years, nor is it a literal wilderness. The spiritual lesson is that by our own failure and unfaithfulness we often take longer to take possession of blessings than if we had remained faithful.
The dating in verse 33In the fortieth year, on the first [day] of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the LORD had commanded him [to give] to them, shows that the end of the fortieth year is in sight. This means that there are a completely different people stationed in the plains of Moab than the people who have left Egypt. At that moment it is time for a review.
Heshbon is the capital of Moab, but was conquered by Sihon, a king of the Amorites. Og is also a king of the Amorites. Sihon rules over the southern part of the wilderness side of the Jordan and Og over the northern part of it. The defeat of Sihon and Og is described in Deuteronomy 2:24-3:11.
The reference to defeating these two kings is a spiritual condition for understanding what Moses is going to say. The spiritual blessings of the heavenly land will not be known to us if we have not properly taken possession of the earthly blessings. (See further explanation of Numbers 21:21-35 in ‘Numbers – Explained & Applied’.