Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 3

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Chapter three is a continuation of Moses’ historical prologue, which is the principle feature of his first address. The slaughter of Og king of Bashan and his people is recounted, along with an interesting comment on the size of Og’s bed. The territories of the two defeated kings were distributed among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and Moses specifically reminded the tribes settling east of the Jordan that they were solemnly obligated to give themselves unreservedly to the conquest of the rest of Canaan.

Moses then spoke of his prayer to God for permission to enter the Promised Land and of the fact that God denied his request but did allow him to view it from afar before his death. At the same time, God ordered the commissioning of Joshua to lead the people over Jordan. All of these matters are mentioned in Numbers, some in less detail, some in more, and it is a hopeless task to seek out the exact synchronization of these accounts, due to human ignorance of many of the place-names, and also to a number of inferences by the speaker which were clear enough to the Israelites but which, here and there, leave us somewhat in the dark.

Verses 1-4

“Then we turned, and went up by the way to Bashan: and Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, unto battle at Edrei. And Jehovah said unto me, Fear him not; for I have delivered him, and all his people, and his land, into thy hand; and thou shalt do unto him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon. So Jehovah our God delivered into our hand Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people: and we smote him until none was left to him remaining. And we took all his cities at that time; there was not a city which we took not from them; threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan.”

The defeat of those two mighty kings, Og and Sihon, was a tremendous event in Israelite history. This twin victory delivered all of Trans-Jordania into the hands of Israel, securing both their rear and their right flank against any military operation whatever. Also, the total amount of the cattle and the spoil of all those cities amounted to an almost incredible store of wealth for Israel. They never forgot these great victories nor the means by which they had won, not in their own power, but in the power of God. They always gave God the full credit for these mighty victories, as witnessed by the hymnology of the nation:

I know that Jehovah is great,
And that our Lord is above all gods....

Who smote many nations,
And slew mighty kings,
Sihon king of the Amorites,
And Og king of Bashan,
And all the kingdoms of Canaan.
(Psalms 135:5; Psalms 135:10-11).

(Also see a similar passage in Psalms 136:17-21.)

Blair gives the following neat summary of how the extensive territories of Sihon and Og were distributed:

“The conquered territories were assigned to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Reuben received the southern half of Sihon’s kingdom, and Gad received the northern half; and the half-tribe of Manasseh received the kingdom of Og.”(F1)

“Battle at Edrei” This stronghold was apparently about halfway between the southern boundary of Og’s domain and Mount Hermon in the north. “It was a city located on one of the tributaries of the Yarmuk, and was apparently one of the royal residences of Og.”(F2) This army of Israel which slaughtered these kings and all of their subjects was actually one of the most terrible military forces ever to appear in human history. They took no prisoners, but slaughtered man, woman, and child without mercy. They did this, of course, under divine orders, and, in this, we are able to read the utter abhorrence in which God beholds sin. When Israel relented in this policy and absorbed rather than destroyed the conquered peoples, they soon were corrupted by their pagan subjects, being seduced by their gods. When this happened, Israel lost “their land,” and were removed from their status of being “God’s chosen people.” They themselves, in turn, suffered the same fate that they had at first imposed upon others.

“All the region of the Argob” “Some think that it was this region of the Argob that was later called Trachonitis.”(F3) This was that portion of Palestine of which Herod Philip was tetrarch at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 3:1).

Verses 5-11

“All these cities were fortified with high walls, gates, and bars; besides the unwalled towns a great many. And we utterly destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying every inhabited city, with the women and the little ones. But all the cattle, and the spoil of the cities, we took for a prey unto ourselves. And we took the land at that time out of the hand of the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, from the valley of the Arnon unto mount Hermon (which Hermon the Sidonians call Sirion, and the Ammonites call it Senir); all the cities of the plain, and all Gilead, and all Bashan, unto Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. (For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the Rephaim; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbah of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man).”

“Fortified with high walls” “The ruins of these cities remain until this day.”(F4) Cook gave the literal meaning of the Hebrew in Deuteronomy 3:5 as “with double gates and a bar.”(F5) “The height of the stone doors of Bashan point to a race of great stature, and numerous deserted cities (now in ruins) illustrate the statements of these verses.

Davies’ comment on the first seven verses here is an amazing commentary on the inconsistency of critics. He said: “A shorter account of the victory over Og occurs in Numbers 21:33-35. It is based on the present (longer) passage!”(F6) But, in the N.T., it is the invariable claim of critics that the shorter passage is the original. It is by this dictum that they make Mark the original Gospel. As a matter of fact, there is no dependence whatever to be put in such rules of interpretation.

The several names of Mount Hermon are of interest. These different names might all refer to the great snow covered peak that terminates the Anti-Lebanon range, or they could be names of different peaks, of which there are several, that make up this spectacular range of mountains in the vicinity of Hermon. “It is not so much one high mountain as a whole cluster of mountain peaks, the highest in Palestine, several near 9,000 feet in altitude, and the largest going past 9,200 feet.”(F7)

All of the names mentioned here could easily apply to Hermon.

“Sirion” “This means, glittering like a polished shield, and corresponds, therefore, to the name Mount Blanc.”(F8) “In Deuteronomy 4:48, Hermon is called Sion, which means the same thing.”(F9) “Senir (Deuteronomy 3:9) has the meaning of `coat of mail.’“(F10) All of these names appear to be descriptive of the brilliant snow-capped mountain that shines perpetually in northern Palestine.

“His bedstead was a bedstead of iron” (Deuteronomy 3:11), and the dimensions are also given. Taking a cubit as 18 inches, the bedstead measured 13.5 feet X 6 inches. This was cited by Moses as an indication of the stature of the mighty Og. Scholars are sharply divided over the question of whether “bedstead” is the right translation, many giving preference to “sarcophagus.” It appears to us that the size of the crypt, cave, or sarcophagus in which a man might have been buried would be no reliable indicator of his size. Several people could enter the grave of Jesus. This and other reasons persuade us to honor our own version (ASV) here and read it as “bedstead.” One thing that raises some question is the meaning of the word rendered “iron.” “It not only means `iron’, but also that black basalt stone which is in reality iron ore with an 80% iron content.”(F11) The words of Alexander on this are: “A sarcophagus affords no measure whatever of the size of the person whose remains were placed in it.”(F12)

Even Von Rad could not swallow the popular fad of changing “bedstead” to “sarcophagus” here, pointing out that, “It can hardly have been originally a sarcophagus in view of its length (about fourteen feet), for it is more than double the length of the famous sarcophagus of Ahiram of Byblus.”(F13) Oberst observed that, “Sarcophagus is a very unlikely rendition. Israel did not have great `funeral services’ (let alone elaborate coffins) for the heathen kings it defeated.”(F14) More important than settling a question such as this is the implication that Moses wrote this passage (along with all the rest of the Pentateuch). Nobody can even suggest any motive whatever that could have prompted anybody else to have written it.

Verses 12-17

“And this land we took in possession at that time: from Aroer, which is by the valley of the Arnon, and half the hill-country of Gilead, and the cities thereof, gave I unto the Reubenites and to the Gadites: and the rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, the kingdom of Og, gave I unto the half-tribe of Manasseh; all the region of Argob, even all Bashan. (The same is called the land of Rephaim. Jair the son of Manasseh took all the region of Argob, unto the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and called them, even Bashan, after his own name, Havoth-jair, unto this day). And I gave Gilead unto Machir. And unto the Reubenites and unto the Gadites I gave Gilead even unto the valley of the Arnon, the middle of the valley, and the border thereof, even unto the river Jabbok, which is the border of the children of Ammon; the Arabah also, and the Jordon and the border thereof, from Chinneroth even unto the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, under the slopes of Pisgah eastward.”

A glance at any good map showing the distribution of Palestine among the tribes of Israel will clarify all these references. One of the several names for Lake Galilee, “Chinnereth,” is found here, also an alternative name for the Dead Sea, “the Sea of the Arabah.” The Arabah was the name of the whole Jordan valley from Mount Hermon southward past the Dead Sea.

“The mention of Machir in Deuteronomy 3:15 should be understood as a reference to a part of the tribe of Manasseh.”(F15) We appreciate the lesson which Scott drew from this chapter. He noted that:

“This whole attack against Og would not be accepted by pacifists today. Yes, Og was a gross materialist and an utter heathen, but today we send missionaries to such. We do not exterminate them! But Og would not have struck the Israelites (or even us) as a subject of missionary zeal. Also, Israel had no gospel to preach to people like Og. Thus, the procedure of Israel here was the only possible one for them, however wrong it would be for us. Og stood a gigantic and ghostly terror, the impersonation of brute force blocking Israel’s path… Before any man can enter the Promised Land, there may be some gigantic evil to be met. There is always the elusive giant Self, but once defeated the evil may become an unfailing source of inspiration.”(F16)

Verses 18-22

“And I commanded you at that time, saying, Jehovah your God hath given you this land to possess it: ye shall pass over armed before your brethren the children of Israel, all the men of valor. But your wives, and your little ones, and your cattle (I know that ye have much cattle), shall abide in your cities which I have given you, until Jehovah give rest unto your brethren, as unto you, and they also possess the land which Jehovah your God giveth them beyond the Jordan: then shall ye return every man unto his possession, which I have given you. And I commanded Joshua at that time, saying, Thine eyes have seen all that Jehovah your God hath done unto these two kings: so shall Jehovah do unto all the kingdoms whither thou goest over. Ye shall not fear them; for Jehovah your God, he it is that fighteth for you.”

This passage is concerned principally with admonitions to the tribes to be settled east of Jordan, reminding them of their sworn promise to give their full military support to the remaining portion of Israel in their projected conquest of Canaan. The record of this obligation assumed by the eastern tribes is found in Numbers 32:28-32. It is our conviction that the action of those eastern tribes was sinful. They made promises that it would be impossible for them to keep, and the reason why Moses finally acceded to their request probably lies in the fact that the whole of the twelve tribes probably supported the suggestion whole-heartedly. Why? By settling the two and one-half tribes east of Jordan, there would have been considerably more land for the remaining tribes west of Jordan! At any rate, that is the way they did it.

Did those eastern tribes keep those glorying promises? Certainly not! All of their wives and their children and their cattle, and all their property - what about all that? Would it have been possible for all that to have been left unprotected? Anyone can see that it would have been impossible for the eastern two and one half tribes to have left such treasures unprotected. So what did they do? The number of fighting men accredited to those eastern two and one-half tribes was 110,580 fighting men. How many supported Joshua? Only 40,000 men actually crossed Jordan to aid the conquest (Joshua 4:13). That means that 70,580 men had no part in aiding Joshua and the other nine and one-half tribes.(F17) Right here we have the key to Israel’s failure to drive out “all the inhabitants” of Canaan. The simple truth is, they did not have sufficient forces to do it, and that remnant of the pagan world that remained in Canaan eventually seduced the whole nation of Israel and led to their destruction and captivity. The whole dark tragedy began right here with the GREED of those eastern tribes. It is always thus when men have a big eye on what is their immediate benefit rather than upon what is the will of God.

“The subsequent history of the trans-Jordanic tribes is a melancholy commentary upon the foolishness of the choice made by those eastern tribes.”(F18) In the later history of Israel, those two tribes of Reuben and Gad “were the very first to go into captivity because they transgressed against the commandment of the God of their fathers and went a-whoring after strange gods.”(F19)

God, of course, would deliver Canaan to Israel, but God did not choose to do it without the full cooperation of all Israel. G. Ernest Wright accurately discerned the connection between God’s election and the human means by which His sovereignty is executed:

“It seems contradictory, but it is typical of the Biblical way of thinking. God’s sovereignty and His election are joined together, but God works through chosen instruments whose calling carries with it great responsibility.”(F20)

The understanding of this reveals the tragedy of those two and one-half tribes’ defection from the armies of Israel. When God’s people do not cooperate by full obedience to His will, the intended blessings are short-circuited and denied, not because of God’s unwillingness to bless, but because of man’s unwillingness to obey.

Verses 23-29

“And I besought Jehovah at that time, saying, O Lord Jehovah, thou hast begun to show thy servant thy greatness, and thy strong hand: for what god is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy mighty acts? Let me go over, I pray thee, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. But Jehovah was wroth with me for your sakes, and hearkened not unto me; and Jehovah said unto me; Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter. Get thee up unto the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold with thine eyes: for thou shalt not go over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him; for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land thou shalt see. So we abode in the valley over against Beth-peor.”

“What god is there…?” “These words do not prove that the writer believed in the real existence of heathen deities.”(F21) On the other hand, as Harrison said, “Moses is here making clear his conviction of the supreme power of God as the one and only true deity, but at the same time acknowledging that the worship of pagan gods was a possibility.”(F22) People should not misunderstand Moses’ mention of those pagan gods. The worship of such so-called “gods” was everywhere in the land of Egypt, and all over the world of that period. After witnessing the triumph of Jehovah over all the pagan gods of Egypt, Moses could have had NO faith whatever in the reality of any such “gods.” “There can be no doubt about the genuine monotheism of Moses.”(F23)

“Thou shalt not go over this Jordan” One’s heart goes out on behalf of Moses here. His experience is like that of many of the rest of God’s servants who behold the sun of life sinking upon their efforts while the great achievements they had hoped to finish are yet incomplete. Moses, like many another, was compelled to learn that God buries His workmen, but His work goes on. “All people must share the sense of incompleteness which belongs to the human condition.”(F24)

Evidently, Moses hoped to enter Canaan. He knew, of course, that God had already told him that he had forfeited this right, but he sought a change in God’s mind. The terse words of this passage have the meaning of, “No! Moses; my decree is unalterable.”(F25)

“For your sakes” The best way to understand this is that God’s impartiality regarding the sins of men would have been compromised by allowing Moses a special privilege. All Israel had been forbidden to enter Canaan because of the people’s sin, and Moses also had been forbidden to enter because of his sin. It could not have been viewed by all the people as righteous if God had simply permitted Moses to enter despite the Divine prohibition. That God truly loved Moses is indicated by the fact of his being permitted to view the whole expanse of Palestine from the top of Pisgah. Also, when Jesus took his apostles upon the slopes of Hermon for the transfiguration, Moses indeed entered Canaan, and stood on that “goodly mountain” with the Lord himself, and that was a far more wonderful thing than had been denied to him in this chapter.

“Get thee up unto the top of Pisgah” Harrison tells us what a wonderful view of the entire Holy Land is possible from such a vantage point:

“From this vantage point can be seen snow-capped Hermon to the north, the Dead Sea, the Negeb, and other areas of western Palestine. This Pisgah was that same mountain the crest of which was called Mount Nebo in Deuteronomy 34:1, which is opposite Jericho, most likely the mountain now called Jebel Osha.”(F26)

There are many typical resemblances between Moses and the Lord Jesus Christ, but we do not believe that “for your sakes” in this chapter is a reference to anything done vicariously by Moses for Israel’s benefit. This cannot take away the typical excellence of the Great Lawgiver as the unsurpassed O.T. type of Christ. Nevertheless, we fail to be impressed with what appears to us as a forced comparison as in the following quotation:

“`For your sakes…’ This prefigures Our Lord according to the flesh; Moses could not enter the land. He had to come under the Divine wrath on account of the people and endure, as it were, the suffering of death for their sakes.”(F27)

“Beth-peor..” mentioned here is located in the vicinity of Mount Peor (Numbers 23:28). “The name means `house of Peor,’ no doubt derived from a temple of the Moabite god Peor.”(F28) This location was no doubt near to the site of the shameful defection of Israel at Baal-Peor, as recorded in Numbers 25-26. It was from this area that the initial entry into Canaan occurred.

Near the end of this chapter (Deuteronomy 3:27), God commanded Moses to view all of Palestine in all directions from the top of Pisgah. Recent studies regarding the laws and customs of those times show that by this action of Moses’ viewing of the promises land, “Moses was here invited to take actual possession of the promised land on Israel’s behalf. The legal transfer of property took place when the purchaser looked it over.”(F29) Phillips also declared that, “This method of the transfer of land was also found in Roman law.”(F30) It is also a deduction of his that we have further evidence of this legal device in the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:8 f), when Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them, offering them to Christ in return for Christ’s worshipping him. This would mean that it was actually a sale, quid pro quo, that Satan there attempted to make. If such conclusions as these are allowed, they would also change the interpretation that men have been following for generations in the parable of Luke 14:18, in which the excuse-maker said, “I have bought a field and must needs go out and see it.” This has always been considered an idle and paltry excuse, being in fact a totally unnecessary thing, but Phillips’ view is that the man was actually in the process of “taking legal possession”(F31) of his purchase. It is a minor point, of course; because, even if that had been the case, it was no legitimate grounds for his turning down an invitation like the one he had received.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Ads FreeProfile