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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Deuteronomy 2

Verses 1-25

Through Southern Transjordan (2:1-25)

Israel’s long stay at Kadesh-barnea is to be explained by the copious supply of water there. It appears that these wanderers in the wilderness were not camel-nomads but ass-nomads, who therefore could never stray far from oases. Unable to storm Canaan from the south, they temporized for a generation until courage and fighting power moved them to an assault on the land from the east.

Their wanderings, according to this passage (see also Numbers 20:22-23; Numbers 21:4-9), took them southward along the great depression below the Dead Sea, known as the Arabah (2:8), to the vicinity of Ezion-geber (Elath), where Solomon later constructed copper smelters. Then they turned northward. They were expressly forbidden to molest three peoples, each bound to them by family ties: the sons of Esau in Mount Seir (Edom); the Moabites, descendants of Lot; and the Ammonites, also Lot’s progeny. Prudence, if not ties of family, would have dictated a "go slow" policy. We now know from archaeological exploration that the borders of Edom and Moab were secured by numerous strong fortresses in this period. The unbrotherliness of Edom’s king (Numbers 20:14-21) must have galled the hungry and thirsty travelers.

Though the exact line of march northward cannot be determined, it is likely that the Israelites made their way eastward along the Brook Zered, the boundary line between Edom and Moab, and that they then detoured Moab on the east.

The antiquarian notes in verses 10-12 and 20-23 inform us about Israel’s beliefs concerning the aborigines of the area. These were given various names (here listed) by the various peoples. The large stone structures, called dolmens, of the New Stone Age, found in many areas of the world, are in part responsible for the origin of traditions concerning aboriginal giants.

Several notes of importance are sounded in this section: (1) God can work out his gracious purposes only with people who are ready to work with him. When the new generation heard the command "turn northward" and set its feet resolutely in that direction until the battle for the Promised Land was won, the nation became a hinge on which the divine purpose in history turned. (2) God is gracious even to those who spurn his call: "these forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing" (2:7). The Father of all "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). The evil share God’s goods but not his Good. They are not forgotten in the present, but they cannot share in the blessed future he has planned for his people. (3) God’s purpose embraces other peoples besides the Israelites. He not only gives Israel its homeland but gives other peoples (Edom, Moab, Ammon) theirs as well. (4) He is a covenant-keeping God; his promises to Abraham’s family and descendants were to be honored perpetually. He is forever loyal to his people and to his word.

Conquest of Heshbon and Bashan (2:26-3:11)

Israel’s first victories converted the territories east of the Jordan (except for Moab and Ammon, which, as we have seen, were spared) into a base for military operations west of the Jordan.

The two kingdoms which first fell to Israel were the Amorite kingdoms of Sihon of Heshbon (immediately east of the north end of the Dead Sea) and of Og of Bashan (east and southeast of the Sea of Galilee).

The Amorites (from Amurru, meaning "Westerners") originally came from northwestern Mesopotamia and northern Syria. They overran Mesopotamia and Palestine early in the second millennium B.C. and therefore were established in the latter area before the coming of Abraham (see Genesis 14:7; Genesis 14:13; Genesis 15:21; Exodus 3:8). According to Numbers 21:26-30 the kingdom of Sihon consisted of territory wrested from the king of Moab. It appears from archaeological evidence that between about 2000 and 1300 B.C. there was a gap of varying proportions in the sedentary occupation of Transjordan, southern Transjordan remaining especially open until the thirteenth century B.C. It is likely that both these Amorite kingdoms were of fairly recent origin when the Israelites invaded them.

It is significant that Moses offered Sihon terms of peace. Moses’ objective is declared to be the territory west of the Jordan; he wished only to pass through Sihon’s land. But Sihon’s refusal made it necessary for Israel to besiege his fortified towns and capture the entire kingdom. The Deuteronomic writer in retrospect regards Sihon’s refusal as providential. He even writes that God "hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate" (2:30). In the Old Testament, before the rise of the idea of Satan, evil attitudes and acts are sometimes attributed to divine instigation. What is struggling for expression here is that, in the providence of God, good often comes out of evil: God makes the wrath of men to praise him. Men may choose what course of action they will; but they cannot determine the consequences of their choices. These are determined by him who is the Lord of history.

The second kingdom to fall to the invaders in Transjordan was that of Og, king of Bashan. He is described in 3:11 as a giant, the last of the Rephaim (one of several names in the Old Testament for the alleged aboriginal giants; see 2:10-11; Numbers 13:33). It is probable that the "bedstead of iron" was a sarcophagus of black basalt, some thirteen and a half feet by six feet, which in later times was pointed out as the coffin of Og.

The destruction of the two kingdoms was thoroughgoing. The cities and their inhabitants were "utterly destroyed" (2:34; 3:6). Only the cattle and certain booty from the cities were appropriated by the victors. We have here the first mention in Deuteronomy of what is known as "holy war." For Israel, as for other ancient peoples, war was from first to last a religious act. The victory was accomplished by the tribal deity. Since the enemies and their property belonged to a foreign deity now opposing himself to Israel’s God, both must be obliterated before the face of the conquering deity.

In actuality, there was some variation in the extent of the destruction wrought by Israel. The instructions for the obliteration of Jericho (Joshua 6:17-19) exempted Rahab and all in her house, as well as the silver and gold and the vessels of bronze and iron. The valuable objects mentioned were to be turned over to the treasury of the Lord. Saul spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, and the best of the livestock, to the wrath of Samuel, who believed that everything should have been destroyed (1 Samuel 15). It is probable that humanitarian and material considerations, in addition to special agreements and covenants, affected the application of the principle of complete destruction, although in the main it was rigorously carried out. Laws governing the destruction of conquered peoples are set forth in some passages of Deuteronomy (7:1-5; 20:10-18). (For the theological issue involved in the oft-recorded command of God concerning the extermination of conquered peoples, see the comment on 7:1-26 and 20:1-20.)

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Deuteronomy 2". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/deuteronomy-2.html.