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Deuteronomy 2-3 show what the land is not. The people – and we – must learn to distinguish between what God’s land is and what is not. Of additional importance is knowing how they – and we – should deal with it. Our land, our inheritance, is heavenly. The life of the land is the eternal life and that is already our part. This will be elaborated further on in the book. We can already enjoy its richness in our hearts. But then we should not despise or confuse that heavenly land with other countries.
First they go along the countries of Edom – descendants of Esau – and of Moab and Ammon – both descendants of Lot. They are not allowed to attack them. Then come the kingdoms of Sihon (Gilead) and Og (Bashan). They must attack them and begin to inherit them, even if that is not yet the promised land. Both kinds of countries do not represent the heavenly blessings. From this there are lessons to be learned for our dealing with things on earth, how they relate to heavenly things. Some things we have to accept as they are, other things we have to conquer, subject them to ourselves, because they are a danger to our heavenly blessings.
Edom, Moab and Ammon are related people. God’s providence has occupied itself with these peoples and has destined an inheritance for them that He has given them. Israel was not allowed to interfere with them, even if they would treat them as enemies.
Gilead and Bashan are hostile peoples. They are not part of the promised land, but they are close by. They are a constant danger and therefore they had to be overcome first, so that they would no longer be a danger to the enjoyment in the land. The immediate surroundings of the land have thus come under the rule of God’s people.
Command to Set out from Seir
By speaking in Deu 2:1 about “we”, Moses includes himself in this. Due to the unbelief of others, all of them, including Joshua and Caleb and Moses, had to ‘turn’. The unfaithfulness of the whole has consequences for everyone who is faithful to conform to what the LORD gives. Grumbling is not good, nor are outbursts of criticism. That’s why they have to roam the wilderness for thirty-eight years. In a single sentence, this is indicated: they circled Mountain Seir “for many days” – every day of the thirty-eight years is felt. Until the LORD deems it sufficient time (cf. Deu 1:6).
This circling is not only a punishment for disobedience; it is also a preparation for entry into the land. This preparation meant the death of the whole old generation who refused to enter the land. A new generation is about to enter the land. This new generation has also spent a certain time in the wilderness. When this preparation is ready in God’s eye, He commands to set course to the north.
Attitude Towards Esau
Moses had to inform the people about the route to follow. They had to pass through the area of the sons of Esau. Moses also told the people how to behave towards these relatives. They were not allowed to take possession of this land, for the LORD had committed it to Esau .
For us, this means that there are relationships that are established by God and that we have to acknowledge as established by Him. Even if people treat this in a totally wrong way, it does not change God’s intention. When people marry, for whatever reason, an institution of God is met. We have to acknowledge that. A believer should never insist on its dissolution, for then he touches something of which God has said: “Let no man separate” (Mt 19:6).
If Israel were to ask Esau’s favor, they should not beg for it, but pay for it. They were amply able to do so. In spite of all the grumbling and complaint, God had been with them, and they did not lack anything (Lk 22:35). If we look back on our journey through the wilderness, we can only say that the Lord has fulfilled His promise that He is with us (Mt 28:20).
Israel is a people interested in the land of promise. In this way it is distinct from other peoples who do not have this interest. But this must not exalt the people of God above the other peoples. God also has His involvement with these other peoples. He also gave the nations land (Deu 2:9; 19). So God is not only concerned with Israel. Israel has to respect what God has given others.
If by grace we may be among those who have understood anything of heavenly blessings, we must not look down upon or behave in an overbearing manner towards other believers. God has also given something to others, even though they do not know for example (spiritual) sacrifice service. In Christianity one meets regularly to listen to God’s Word, but the general priesthood of believers is hardly exercised. God gave a lot through the Reformation. Certain truths came to the fore at the time, such as the justification based on faith alone. Still, the heavenly part of that truth which can be enjoyed by believers here and now – the blessing of eternal life – was only later (at the beginning of the nineteenth century) again put forward as truth.
In certain circumstances, the people could be dependent on related nations. They asked if they could use their land, not to live there, but to go through it. The call for a favor did not make them charge a debt on themselves. God’s people, on the way to the blessing of the land, are a rich people. They can use their wealth to give something back for what related nations have given them. If we may benefit from believers who do not know the blessings of heaven, we in turn may give them of the riches God has given us in knowing the things of heaven.
Attitude Towards Moab
Israel’s attitude towards Moab should be like that towards Esau. Moab was also a related nation. The LORD reminds of their origin by calling them “the sons of Lot”.
Emim and the Horites
Here Israel is informed about the original inhabitants of the area where the Moabites and Edomites now live. From this they can see that God governs everything and gives each nation its own place to live (Deu 32:8; Acts 17:26).
The Moabites called the inhabitants “Emim”, which means “terrible” or “frightening”. They were a formidable foe to be deeply impressed by. The fact that these terrifying peoples had been driven out of the land should have been an encouragement to Israel. As God had helped Israel’s relatives to expel large and numerous nations, so He would help Israel do the same. Unfortunately, it underscores Israel’s cowardice of forty years ago, because even with God’s help they were afraid of these enemies (Deu 1:28; Num 13:28; 33). Now, however, they get a new opportunity.
He also used these conquests as a chastisement for the original inhabitants. The lesson is that God takes away a blessing in the event of unfaithfulness and can give it to another who then must undergo testing too. Additionally highlighted here is that acquired property is of a temporary nature.
The Thirty-Eight Year Journey
The memory of the thirty-eight years journey through the wilderness should lead the people to humiliation. It should make them aware that they will not get the land on the basis of their faithfulness.
The hand of the LORD was against them as long as there was any of the unbelieving generation alive. They had despised His caring hand; therefore they were given to do with His disciplining hand. When the last one had died, His hand was no more against them. This also means that these people often did not die a natural death. Now, the LORD could move with them once more on the way to the promised land.
Attitude Towards the Ammonites
Israel’s attitude towards the Ammonites had to be the same as towards the Moabites and Edomites. The Ammonites were also related to the Israelites via Lot, the nephew of Abraham.
The Rephaim and the Caphtorim
The area that now belongs to the Ammonites, used to belong to the Rephaim (or: giants). Despite their imposing size and vast number, the LORD intervened to rid them of the land, so that the Ammonites could take up residence there. That too should serve an encouragement for Israel, who were also confronted with giants. For the LORD, no opponent is too big or too numerous. He exceeds everything in size and number.
Sihon Given into the Hand of Israel
In their dealings with their related nations, Israel has had to respect their possession. They were not allowed to take possession of anything from the inheritance that those related nations had received from the LORD. Nevertheless, there are also nations whom they have met on their way to the promised land to whom they have had to adopt a very different attitude. With such nations they had to fight if they were not willing to give the land. Despite this, to these nations too, the Israelites were not allowed to approach with haughtiness.
Sihon, initially, was given a chance to capitulate without battle. He refused to, and thus, through his obstinacy lost his land, his empire and his life. The hardening of his heart by the LORD only confirms the already present inflexible attitude.
Sihon was the king of the Amorites. Heshbon originally belonged to the Moabites, but the Amorites had conquered it (Num 21:26-29) and expelled the Moabites. Already in the area on the wilderness side of the Jordan, the Amorites had to be destroyed and the land inherited.
The LORD has given his people the land. His people only had to take possession of it. What God gives must be conquered by us. He could have thrown it into our laps without a fight, but He has chosen that we have to conquer it. He wants us to show that we appreciate what He gives, by striving to acquire it. He also teaches us that we are to depend on Him for the battle.
We must learn where to fight and where to avoid fighting. It is not a fight against believers, but against systems and teachings. The area before the Jordan is as much the inheritance as the promised land on the other side of the Jordan. The actual blessings of the land are not the only blessings reserved for us. Besides the blessings of the land – for us: the heavenly blessings – there are also earthly blessings, such as food, clothing, health. Of such blessings, the area before the Jordan, that is the area on the wilderness side of the Jordan, is a picture.
There are spiritual blessing like the new birth counted as earthly blessings too; a blessing to be enjoyed on the earth. Such spiritual blessings can be found for example in the letter to the Romans. When we read there about justification and other consequences of the death of the Lord Jesus, it has to do with our life as a righteous person on earth which has become for us a wilderness.
When the Lord Jesus speaks in John 3 of “the earthly things” (Jn 3:12), He does so in response to what He has said earlier about being “born again” (Jn 3:3-8). Then He goes on to speak of “heavenly things” and tells us of eternal life (Jn 3:13-16). God wants us to receive the earthly blessings from His hand as well.
Taking possession of the area before the Jordan is presented here as the will of God. The end of the book of Ezekiel describes the division of the land in the future, when the Lord Jesus will reign. There we see that all tribes have a large part of the land and also a part of the area in the wilderness side of the Jordan.
The problem of the two and a half tribes is not that they wanted the area before the Jordan, on the wilderness side thereof, but that they only wanted that area and nothing of the land. All the people despised the land thirty-eight years ago and because of that, wandered in the wilderness all this time. The two and a half tribes did not learn anything and they did not want to enter the land even now. It is God’s intention that we own the ‘area before the Jordan’, but according to the manner He provides it.
In the Reformation there was little eye for the heavenly blessings; only the earthly blessings were seen. How about us? How is the relationship between enjoying the earthly blessing and the heavenly blessing with us? Our prayers give an indication of this. What are the topics? Are we praying primarily for health, work and family, or are we talking to the Lord mainly about the spiritual growth and well-being of ourselves, our family members and the members of God’s church? It’s easy to point a finger of blame at the two and a half tribes, but what about us?
We can possess the earthly blessings in the manner of Sihon and Og. Then, we possess the earthly blessings as the world possesses them. Many unbelievers also have good health and clothing, while believers can be ill and suffer lack. Taking possession of the heavenly blessings begins with taking possession of the earthly blessings as the LORD provides. Therefore the LORD says in Deu 2:24 and in Deu 2:31: “Begin to take possession” and “begin to occupy”.
God gives Sihon over to Israel. In this way we too can continue in spiritual strength in the awareness that no spiritual city is too high for us (Deu 2:36). The Lord also makes everything available to us. That is not dogma, but something we learn in practice. Paul is at the end of his life, as it were, in the plains of Moab, looking back on his wilderness journey and can say: “I have fought the good fight” (2Tim 4:7), where no city was too high.
The Obedience of Israel
Israel did not go near to areas of which the LORD had given specific prohibition. Here Moses underlines Israel’s obedience. There is not only a pointing to unbelief and its consequences. Also the doing of the will of God is remembered.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Deuteronomy 2". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19