Following this event, Moses and Aaron themselves disobey God. The people continue to complain about the lack of water and express their longing to be back in Egypt. God instructs Moses to speak to a rock and command it to produce water. Moses, instead, hits the rock angrily with his staff. The rock proceeds to pour forth water, but God tells Moses and Aaron that they, too, will never enter the promised land because of this brash act. Aaron dies soon after, and the priesthood passes on to Aaron’s son Eleazar.
Israel wanders in the lands southwest of Canaan, requesting safe passage from the surrounding nations but receiving little hospitality in return. With God’s help, Israel conquers the Amorites and settles in their lands. Learning of the overthrow, the king of Moab summons a renowned sorcerer, Balaam, to come and pronounce a curse on the Israelites. The angel of God intercepts Balaam on the road to Moab, frightening Balaam’s donkey. When Balaam strikes the panicked animal, the donkey miraculously speaks, rebuking Balaam. The Lord points out the angel’s presence. The angel of God forbids Balaam to curse the Israelites before the king of Moab. Balaam arrives in Moab and delivers four cryptic oracles to the king, blessing Israel and predicting Moab’s destruction.
The Israelite men succumb to the surrounding native peoples by fraternizing with the local women and worshipping the pagan god Baal. God sends a plague on Israel that ends only when Eleazar’s son, the priest, kills an Israelite man and his Midianite mistress, stabbing them before all of Israel with a single thrust of his spear. Eleazar’s son’s impassioned act earns God’s approval, and God leads Israel in destroying the Midianites, plundering their wealth in the process. As the forty-year waiting period draws to a close, God appoints Joshua to eventually succeed Moses as the people’s leader.
The Book of Deuteronomy begins in the final, fortieth year of Israel’s wandering in the desert. Stationed east of the Jordan River, Moses addresses the new generation of Israelites in preparation for entering the promised land. He summarizes the events of the past four decades and encourages the young Israelites to remember God’s miracles and covenant with Israel. He forbids the worship of other gods or idols in the new land and repeats the Ten Commandments given by God at Mount Sinai. Most importantly, Moses gives explicit instructions to the Israelites to destroy all the native inhabitants of the promised land so that the Canaanites do not interfere with Israel’s worship of God. Moses restates many of the social laws and rules of conduct outlined in Leviticus, adding a few new laws, such as the requirement for the Israelites to cancel debts every seven years.
Moses stresses God’s love for Israel, describing God as someone who protects orphans, widows, and oppressed people. Israel is to love God intensely in return, with absolute devotion. The words of God’s laws are very important. Moses instructs the Israelites to meditate on these words and to write the laws on their bodies and on the doorframes of their homes. Moses argues that the love of God and a commitment to his laws will be considered goodness for Israel (6:25). While Moses predicts that Israel will eventually grow disobedient, he notes that God will welcome Israel back with abundance and prosperity whenever Israel returns to obedience.
At God’s direction, Moses composes a song that recounts Israel’s history of unfaithfulness and extols God’s everlasting compassion. Moses says the song will be a reminder to future Israelites of their covenant with God. He writes the song in the Book of the Laws and places the book with the Ark of the Covenant. Afterward, Moses ascends a mountain where God shows him a vision of the promised land. Moses dies and is buried by God. The author praises him as the only prophet in Israel’s history who performed such impressive miracles and who knew God “face to face” (34:10).