The Saddest Verse in the Bible

Yael Eckstein  |  July 21, 2020

Open road

(It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.) — Deuteronomy 1:2

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Devarim which means “words,” from Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22.

I once took a Bible class¸ and when we began studying Deuteronomy, our teacher stated that the second verse of Deuteronomy was the saddest verse in the entire Torah. Really? The verse simply states a fact: “It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.” How can that possibly be construed as sad?

For the answer, we need to go all the way back to when the Israelites left Egypt and follow them through the next 40 years until this very moment standing at the border of the Promised Land.

Seven weeks after the Israelites left Egypt, they stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and experienced the revelation of God and the giving of the Torah. But as we remember, things didn’t turn out well. Moses was up on Mount Sinai for 40 days, and when he came down with the Ten Commandments in hand, the people had constructed a golden calf to worship. As a result, Moses smashed the tablets, and it took another 80 days for him to receive the second set.

The Israelites spent another six months building the Tabernacle and learning how to serve and worship God. Just over a month after that, the people once again embarked on their journey. However, they were delayed another month when, after complaining about the lack of meat, God rained down quail upon them.

Next, Miriam caused another week’s delay after speaking inappropriately about Moses. At this point, the Israelites could have continued just a few more days and entered Canaan. Unfortunately, the people’s refusal to enter the Promised Land after hearing the negative report from ten spies led to 38 more years wandering in the desert.

The people who Moses addressed at the beginning of Deuteronomy were an entirely new generation. The men who left Egypt had all died in the desert as punishment for believing the ten spies. Our verse teaches us that what should have been an eleven-day journey to Canaan took over 38 years and a tremendous loss of life. And why? It all boils down to a lack of faith in God.

How sad indeed. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way for us.

Let’s not waste a minute longer. Trust God, hold on tightly to your faith, and replace complaints with gratitude. That’s the shortest path to our own great destiny.

Your turn:

When has a lack of faith detoured you? How did you get back on track?