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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 2

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter is a continuation of Moses’ first address. It presents the great Lawgiver as speaking in the first person and recounting certain events of his forty-year leadership of the Jewish people, events with which his audience was already familiar and thus not requiring any such thing as a verbatim, in sequence, recounting of all the events mentioned. Nobody but Moses could have produced a speech like this. The speculative and unbelieving enemies of the Holy Bible, vainly endeavoring to make all revelation from God nothing of any more substance than human imagination operating in some kind of a spiritual evolution, have proposed many theories about Deuteronomy, but the key to all of them is that which makes Deuteronomy, fraudulently forged in the name of Moses, hidden in the temple, “discovered” in 621 B.C., during the reign of Josiah, etc., to have been the very first part of the Bible ever committed to writing! To this nucleus, dozens of redactors, editors, revisers, etc., added the rest of the material that constitutes what is commonly called the Pentateuch. Such foolish and unsupported theories have no possibility whatever of being true, and “Today, the majority of scholars believe that Josiah’s law book contained (at least) the whole Book of Deuteronomy (and possibly also the entire previous books of Moses) `in its original form!’“(F1)

Verses 1-3

“Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea, as Jehovah spake unto me; and we compassed mount Seir many days. And Jehovah spake unto me saying, Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward.”

“Ye have compassed mount Seir many days” Orlinsky stated that “compassed” here is erroneous, and that the accurate rendition is “skirted the hill-country of Seir.”(F2) An undetermined part of the “many days” mentioned here was spent at Kadesh, and Blair was of the opinion that this was because of “a copious supply of water at that location.”(F3) As for those “many days” of this whole period, “There is an approximate thirty-seven year interim between Deuteronomy 1 and Deuteronomy 2, and this reached thirty-eight years by the time they reached the Zered river (Deuteronomy 2:14).”(F4) We have already noted the reason for the fact that not much is given in the Bible with regard to Israel’s activities during the greater part of that entire forty-year period. Of course, scholars like Von Rad seem to be distressed because the sacred account “is completely insufficient to fill up this period adequately!”(F5) Critical scholars are blind to the reason why Israel’s activities were thus passed over by the sacred narrator. Having already rebelled against God, nothing that that generation did afterward was worth reporting.

Verses 4-7

“And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the border of your brethren the children of Esau, that dwell in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. Take ye good heed unto yourselves, therefore; contend not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession. Ye shall purchase food of them for money, that ye may eat; and ye shall also buy water of them for money, that ye may drink. For Jehovah thy God hath blessed thee in all the work of thy hand; he hath known thy walking through this great wilderness: these forty years Jehovah thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing. So we passed by from our brethren the children of Esau, that dwell in Seir, from the way of the Arabah from Elath and from Ezion-geber.”

Critical scholars complain that, “This story differs markedly from that in Numbers 20:14-21!”(F6) Phillips even stated that, “Israel twice petitioned the king for permission to pass and was refused!”(F7) Von Rad declared that their petition was “hard-heartedly rejected.”(F8) So what? Where is any contradiction? This passage does not say that Edom granted Israel permission to pass through their borders, or that they sold either food or water to the Israelites. What is stated is that Israel did indeed pass through the borders of Edom. It cannot be denied that they actually did so. It is not stated here whether the children of Esau later changed their minds and sold supplies to Israel, or whether Israel was able to buy from someone else. What is emphatically stated here is that Moses offered to PAY for all supplies. Now Deuteronomy 2:7 here states that God “blessed” Israel, and this has the meaning that they did indeed receive supplies from some source. The people whom Moses addressed knew the answer, and there was absolutely no need whatever for him to have elaborated it here for people who already knew it. Kline pointed out that, “There is no contradiction between Numbers and Deuteronomy on this matter.”(F9)

“These forty years” “From the fifteenth day of the first month in which their fathers came out of Egypt (Numbers 14:33), to the tenth day of the same month in which they went over Jordan into Canaan (Numbers 33:3; Joshua 4:19), was but five days short of a complete forty years,”(F10)

“Contend not with them” might be better translated, “Though they will be afraid of you, be careful not to start a fight with them.”(F11)

“I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession” Inherent in this is the truth that God gives all nations their inheritance and the boundaries of their habitations. “God made of one…every nation, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation!” (Acts 17:26).

Verses 8-13

“And we turned and passed by the way of the wilderness of Moab. And Jehovah said unto me, Vex not Moab neither contend with them in battle; for I will not give thee of his land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for a possession. (The Emim dwelt therein aforetime, a people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakim: these also are accounted Rephaim, as the Anakim; but the Moabites call them Emim. The Horites also dwelt in Seir aforetime, but the children of Esau succeeded them; and they destroyed them from before them, and dwelt in their stead, as Israel did unto the land of his possession, which Jehovah gave unto them). Now rise up, and get you over the brook Zered.”

Moses here gave another example of a nation (Moab) to whom God had given land as a possession, noting also that God would not allow Israel to take any possession that God had not given to Israel. Here is another example of what was mentioned above relative to the statement in Deuteronomy 2:5. Moses also enhanced this reference to God as the sovereign of all the earth (Acts 17:26) by throwing in the statement in Deuteronomy 2:10-12. The mighty race of the Rephaim had preceded Moab in that territory, but when they proved themselves no longer worthy of God’s blessing, the Moabites were empowered by God to drive them out “as Israel” had already driven out the Trans-jordanian peoples to make room for the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh.

Now, who on earth could possibly have known about this bit of history except Moses? Some editor, “long after the conquest?”(F12) Ridiculous! Nobody but Moses in the whole world of that entire millennium was as QUALIFIED as Moses to have added a historical note like this. He was the adopted son of Pharaoh, a presumptive heir to the throne of Egypt, and adequately skilled in the knowledge that a world ruler was expected to have. What is the excuse for making such portions of this chapter “a later addition?” As Davies put it, the words “as Israel betray the writer as living long after the conquest.”(F13) Here again it is blind ignorance that produces such a critical denial. The mention of “as Israel” here “doubtless refers to the conquest of Trans-jordan,”(F14) a conquest already completed for the settlement of the tribes that chose to live east of Jordan. Alexander likewise saw the truth of this explanation, saying, “It must refer to the conquest of the land east of Jordan.”(F15) This is another of countless examples of the way Bible critics base what they call “a contradiction,” or “an anachronism” upon one of their false interpretations of the text.

“The Moabites called them Emim” “This word Emim means the terrible ones.”(F16) The very meaning of this word thus gives a definite clue as to why God threw them out of the land in order to give it to the Moabites. Both this and the other examples of such a thing found in Deuteronomy 2:20-23 were very probably intended by Moses to provide a warning to Israel that when they should at last enter Canaan, their tenure there would depend upon the kind of people they would be. The Rephaim and the Anakim of this passage “were an ancient race of large stature dwelling in an extensive area around the Dead Sea.”(F17) They appear to have been a race of marauding plunderers, preying upon the peoples around them. “It appears that the Anakim, the Rephaim, and the Emim are merely several names for the same people.”(F18) Other Biblical references to these people are found in Gen. 11:27,28; 19:30:38.

“The Horites also dwelt in Seir aforetime” The Horites were “cave-dwellers.”(F19) Like the Emim, these people also are mentioned in Genesis (Genesis 14:5-6). It is Moses, therefore, who possessed the information about these people that led to his illustrative mention of them here.

“Rise up, and get you over the brook Zered” “These words connect with Deuteronomy 2:9, and form the conclusion of what God said to Moses.”(F20)

Verses 14-15

“And the days in which we came from Kadesh-barnea, until we were come over the brook Zered, were thirty and eight years; until all the generation of the men of war were consumed from the midst of the camp, as Jehovah sware unto them. Moreover the hand of Jehovah was against them, to destroy them from the midst of the camp, until they were consumed.”

“Generation of the men of war” This refers to the people from twenty years of age and upwards, especially the men.

“Hand of Jehovah was against them” “This means that, not by natural causes alone, but by special penal judgments also, they were troubled and destroyed.”(F21) There may be instances in which God still shows His displeasure with extremely wicked men by cutting their lives short. Certainly, He did it here.

Verses 16-25

“So it came to pass when all the men of war were consumed and dead from among the people, that Jehovah spake unto me, saying, Thou art this day: to pass over Ar, the border of Moab: and when thou comest nigh over against the children of Ammon, vex them not, nor contend with them; for I will not give thee of the land of the children of Ammon for a possession; because I have given it to the children of Lot for a possession. (That also is accounted a land of the Rephaim: Rephaim dwelt therein aforetime; but the Ammonites call them Zamzummim, a people great, and many, and tall as the Anakim; but Jehovah destroyed them before them; and they succeeded them, and dwelt in their stead; as he did for the children of Esau, that dwelt in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites from before them; and they succeeded them, and dwelt in their stead even unto this day. And the Avvim, that dwelt in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim, that came forth out of Caphtor, destroyed them, and dwelt in their stead). Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the valley of the Arnon: behold, I have given into thy hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle. This day will I begin to put the dread of thee upon the peoples that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of thee, and tremble, and be in anguish because of thee.”

This entire chapter gives glimpses of God’s sovereignty over the earth that are unsurpassed in the Bible. Note: Seir once belonged to the Horites (the cave-dwellers), but the wickedness of the Horites caused God to give Mount Seir to Esau. Moab once belonged to the Emim (the terrible ones), but their terrorism caused God to give the area to Moabites, descendants of Lot. The area of the Ammonites also once belonged to the Rephaim, but God gave it to the Ammonite descendants of Lot. Both the Emim and the Rephaim were evil. In the case of the Philistines, we have three successive examples of God’s replacing peoples because of their wickedness:

(1) The Avvim once lived along the Palestine coast. They became wicked.

(2) They were driven out by the Caphtorim who were the Philistines of later tunes, and who also became wicked.

(3) The Philistines were also driven out by Israel in the time of David king of Israel.

Also, Sihon and Og were driven out to make room for Reuben, Gad and Manasseh!

“The Caphtor” whose people drove out the Avvim from Philistia. “Is usually identified with the island of Crete.”(F22) However, Asimov confidently identified Caphtor with the island of Cyprus.(F23)

“The brook Zered” This was the southern boundary of Moab, and the significance of this was that Israel entered an area claimed by the king of Moab. “Og the king of Bashan (the Amorite) ruled from the Zered northward to the river Amon; and Sihon (the Amorite) king of Heshbon ruled from the Arnon northward to the Jabbock.”(F24) This entire area was known as Gilead.

In the light of what is visible here, it is clear enough why Moses injected this information into his final discourses. It was his way of trying to enlighten Israel as to just how long “their land” would be theirs, and it was clear enough from what Moses here said that Israel would, if they rebelled against God and became grossly evil, be displaced in keeping with the principles that God has always followed in his rule over the nations. Many suppose that God no longer rules over men, but he most assuredly does. “The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Daniel 4:25).

Also, in light of the urgent need for just such information as this to be conveyed to Israel at that strategic time, how ridiculous is the snide assertion that “These historical references in Deuteronomy 2:10-12 and Deuteronomy 2:20-23 have been inserted into the original text of Moses’ address.”(F25) Alexander thundered the answer to all such suggestions: “There is no sufficient reason for supposing that this paragraph (Deuteronomy 2:20-23) is an interpolation, or gloss, inserted by some later hand.”(F26) Every line of Deuteronomy testifies to its Mosaic authorship. Here the Zamzummim, for example, are generally admitted to be the very same people that Moses mentioned in Genesis 14.(F27) Such facts strongly suggest that the passage is Mosaic.

Another mark of the great antiquity of Deuteronomy is the reference to Sihon as “king of Heshbon,” his capital, instead of “king of the Amorites.” It was the universal custom in early times to refer to a king as king of the principal city of his domain and the seat of his government. In this light, how incorrect is the postulation of Dummelow in his vain efforts to disprove the authorship of the Book of Jonah that, “No writer at the time when Assyria was the greatest of world-powers would have described its ruler as `the king of Nineveh,’ any more than Napoleon at the height of his power could have been called `king of Paris.’“(F28) On the other hand, when Jonah was written and for centuries prior to that time, any mention of a monarch would most likely have followed the pattern we see in this chapter.

The repeated references in this chapter emphasizing God’s replacement of one people by another were made “to impress upon the minds of the Israelites a sense of the providence of God, which rules everywhere; displacing one people and settling another in their stead, and fixing their bounds also, which they shall not pass without leave.”(F29)

Verses 26-31

And I sent messengers out of the wilderness of Kedemoth unto Sihon king of Heshbon with words of peace, saying, Let me pass through thy land: I will go along by the highway, I will turn neither unto the right hand nor to the left. Thou shalt sell me food for money, that I may eat; and give me water for money, that I may drink: only let me pass through on my feet; as the children of Esau that dwell in Seir, and the Moabites that dwell in Ar, did unto me; until I shall pass over the Jordan into the land which Jehovah our God giveth us. But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him; for Jehovah thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as at this day. And Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have begun to deliver up Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land.

“The hardening of Sihon’s heart parallels that of Pharaoh’s (Exodus 7-14). In each case, refusal to accept the divine message plays a significant part in the process of deliverance.”(F30) God never takes freedom of choice away from any individual. True, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but this is said only AFTER it is recorded ten times that Pharaoh hardened his own heart! It was evidently the same with Sihon. “God is never spoken of as hardening the heart of a good man.”(F31) “As at this day” also, “even unto this day” (Deuteronomy 2:22). The implication of such statements is, “that the things described continued down to the writer’s day.”(F32)

Verses 32-37

“Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, unto battle at Jahaz. And Jehovah our God delivered him up before us; and we smote him and his sons, and all his people. And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed every inhabited city, with the women and the little ones; and we left none remaining: only the cattle we took for a prey unto ourselves, with the spoil of the cities which we had taken. From the Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon, and from the city that is in the valley, even unto Gilead, there was not a city too high for us; Jehovah our God delivered up all before us; only to the land of the children of Ammon thou camest not near; all the side of the river of Jabbok, and the cities of the hill-country, and wheresoever Jehovah our God forbade us.”

Nearly all Christians focus immediately upon the horrible aspect of this passage in that the Holy Scriptures approvingly speak of the utter destruction of whole populations “with the women and the little ones,” and a great many suppose that they have progressed far beyond what they consider to be such basic immorality as that which appears here. This is a mistaken view. When any culture has so polluted its spiritual environment as to make it impossible to rear children to believe in God and obey His Word, God always destroys that culture, and it will happen finally one more time in the holocaust preceding the Second Advent of Christ. (See Revelation 16 and the interpretation of it in this series of commentaries.) By their excessive wickedness the race of Sihon had forfeited their right of existence, and it would have been no act of mercy whatever for people to have been spared to live in that environment.

“Utterly destroyed” (Deuteronomy 2:34) has the meaning of “put under the ban.”(F33) This is the literal meaning of the Hebrew phrase here. There were three degrees of this “war ban,” as it came to be called:

(a) This was the most severe. Every man, woman, and child was destroyed, and all of their property of every kind was destroyed and none of it was permitted to become spoil or booty for the victors.

(b) This second degree of the ban stopped with the destruction of all the people and permitted their property to become the spoil of the conquerors.

(c) This third degree issued in the destruction of all the men, the women and children, along with the property becoming the property and slaves of the victors.(F34) The Deuteronomic law describing this is in Deuteronomy 20:10-15. It was the second of these bans that was executed against Sihon.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-2.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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