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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 3

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


A). The Preamble and Historical Prologue to the Covenant (chapters 1-4).

As we come to the commentary itself we should perhaps summarise what lies before us. Having declared in Whose Name Moses is acting, the first four chapters act as a historical prologue to the covenant and very much deal with Israel’s history and its current consequences, and lead up to his announcing the stipulations of the covenant as a command from Yahweh.

Having introduced Yahweh as their God and Overlord (Deuteronomy 1:3; Deuteronomy 1:6), Moses goes on to point out how He had offered the land to their fathers who died in the wilderness and how they had failed Him, even though He had given them every opportunity to succeed (Deuteronomy 1:6-46), so that they were a grim warning for the future. Yahweh had commanded that they enter the land and possess it (Deuteronomy 1:6-8), He had made them a numerous people (Deuteronomy 1:9-12), He had established them as a just and well governed nation (Deuteronomy 1:13-17), and given them clear instructions on what they should do and how they should behave (Deuteronomy 1:18). They had first entered the land through their scouts, through whom they had received its firstfruits. But on seeing the spectre of the enemy in the land they had forgotten what He could do and had turned back to unbelief (Deuteronomy 1:19-40). In that unbelief they had then in desperation again entered to take possession of the land (Deuteronomy 1:43). But this had resulted in them being driven from the land (Deuteronomy 1:44) to wander in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:46 to Deuteronomy 2:1), for they had lost their right to the land. For the land was Yahweh’s, and only those could possess it who did so through belief in Yahweh, and who were ready to respond to His covenant.

We can thus see in this first chapter a summary of the whole message of the book. That God was offering them the land, that He was making them a numerous and just people, that if they would enter they must enter in faith and obedience, and that if they turned away in unbelief they would be driven from the land, just as their fathers had been.

This description of what their fathers had done was therefore both an invitation and a warning. An invitation to re-enter the land, again with Yahweh’s approval, and a clear warning to the new generation, a warning which will be repeated in the heart of the book, to remember that this land was Yahweh’s. It was a pure land, a holy land, a land for those who believed, a land for those who were in covenant with Yahweh. It was a land which spued out its inhabitants if they disobeyed Yahweh (Leviticus 18:27-28; Leviticus 20:22), as it had spued out their fathers.

That was why those who now possessed it, the Canaanites/Amorites, were also to be driven out of it (Deuteronomy 4:38; Deuteronomy 7:1; Deuteronomy 11:23) because of their idolatry and gross sin (compare Genesis 15:16). The land was such that it could only be dwelt in by those who walked in faith and obedience. And these his listeners must also recognise that when they themselves have entered the land, if they too are found to be in unbelief, and are disobedient to the covenant, they too will be driven out and wander among the nations (Deuteronomy 4:26-28; Deuteronomy 28:64-68). Instead of being like the stars for multitude they will be few in number (Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 28:62). For this is Yahweh’s land, a land which can only be permanently occupied by those who are in a loving covenant with Yahweh.

The idea of ‘the land’ is important in Deuteronomy. But it was not just because it was land, valuable as that might be, it was because it was Yahweh’s land. We could have said here, ‘Moses came to them preaching the land of God, for that was why he was sent’. For this was the land where Yahweh would reign. It would be where the kingly rule of God was to be established, and where righteous rulers were to establish justice, and where everyone was to prosper. That was the dream, even if the fulfilment was a little different simply because of their refusal to obey.

So even as they go forward to receive the promises the warning from their fathers hangs over their head that they must have faith in Yahweh, and that when they enter the land that faith must continue, and that if they turn to unbelief, they too will be cast out of the land.

The consequence of the failure of their fathers was that He had allowed that generation to pass away, wandering around aimlessly, cast out of the land and dying in the wilderness, before another attempt was made (Deuteronomy 1:34-35; Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 1:46 to Deuteronomy 2:1; Deuteronomy 2:14-16). It was as though the future history of Israel, which would witness a similar failure and expulsion, had been performed in microcosm. It is a foolish thing to say ‘no’ to God.

We should note in all this how closely these thoughts pattern the purpose of the Book of Numbers which also seeks to prepare for entry into the land, stresses the judgment on the first generation, and encourages the new generation to go forward (see Commentary on Numbers).

But now the time had come for the second attempt (Deuteronomy 2:3). This involved going by Edom, Moab and Ammon, who were brother tribes to the east of Jordan, skirting their borders (Deuteronomy 2:4-23). These had had to be left alone (Deuteronomy 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19), for Israel must also recognise what land was not theirs. God did not want them to attack their related brother tribes, but to pay their way as they went by and remain at peace with them. For their land was not to be seen as available to Israel, but as belonging to these peoples because Yahweh had given it to them (Deuteronomy 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19). The land that was to belong to Israel still lay ahead. It is that land only that they have a right to take by conquest. That land alone is their inheritance, although extended by permission to parts of Transjordan when their kings proved belligerent and attacked Israel.

By this means it was made very clear that it is Yahweh Who apportions out the lands and Who gives what He will to whom He will, and that their own land, the chosen land, was specific and clearly delineated (compare Deuteronomy 32:8).

But let them now recognise that He had given them the land of Sihon, the Amorite (Deuteronomy 2:24) and of Og, king of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:2-6), and had commenced the process by which all who heard of Israel would tremble, as He had promised so long before (Deuteronomy 2:25, compare Exodus 15:14-16). Thus they had totally defeated Sihon and possessed his land (Deuteronomy 2:24-36). And the same was also true of Og, king of Bashan, with his mighty cities. They had also overcome him and destroyed all his cities (Deuteronomy 3:1-7). And thus had the whole of that side of Jordan, from the borders of Moab in the south, northward to Gilead and Bashan, been delivered into their hands, being possessed by Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh (Deuteronomy 3:8-17), a firstfruit of what was to come.

It is difficult for us in reading this to gain the atmosphere of the moment. As they stood to hear his words in the plain of Moab no one was more aware than them of the truth of what he was saying. For they were present there, having themselves just been involved in it. They had just returned from fighting a powerful enemy. Great dangers had just been faced, successful battles had been fought with seemingly powerful armies, they had approached great cities with trepidation, but through Yahweh’s help they had brought them crashing down. The dead had been counted and were being mourned as heroes, for it was through their sacrifice in the Holy War they had been victorious. The land of Gilead and Bashan was theirs, and they had returned back to camp weary and triumphant. They had tasted the good taste of victory.

And now here they were gathered to hear Moses, to learn that Yahweh was now about to give them the land of the promises for them to possess, the land of Canaan itself. So he rallied the soldiery of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, calling on them to play their full part in the invasion of Canaan (Deuteronomy 3:18-20), and encouraged and strengthened Joshua on whom the main responsibility for the invasion would fall (Deuteronomy 3:21-22; Deuteronomy 3:28). As one man they were to be ready, poised for the entry into Canaan over the River Jordan, although sadly he, Moses, would not be a part of it, having been forbidden by Yahweh (Deuteronomy 3:23-27).

Thus was it now necessary for them to listen to Yahweh’s covenant requirements and do them, so that they might ‘live’ and possess the land (Deuteronomy 4:1 compare Deuteronomy 30:15; Deuteronomy 32:47). This was basic to all that lay ahead. They must remember that they had survived because of their obedience, while others had died in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 4:3-4), and that he had given them Yahweh’s statutes and commandments (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 4:5-9) (as contained in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers). It was on the basis of their obedience to this covenant that their success was guaranteed (Deuteronomy 4:9), and to this end he reminds them again of the awesome experience at Sinai, and the way in which Yahweh had revealed Himself to them (Deuteronomy 4:10-14), and had declared His covenant requirements (Deuteronomy 4:14). And he warns in the light of this against foolish behaviour, and especially idolatry, once they are in the land (Deuteronomy 4:15-20). They must be faithful to their sovereign Lord and yield themselves to no other. Let them not forget that it was He Who had delivered them out of the fiery furnace of Egypt (Deuteronomy 4:20).

And they must remember how even he, Moses, was forbidden to enter the land because of his disobedience (Deuteronomy 4:21-22). Thus they must take to heart the lesson that the One Who is giving them the land can just as easily take it away from them again. It is ever theirs on probation. He has taken it from their fathers. He has taken it from Moses. He will take it from the Canaanites, driving them out because of their vile behaviour and idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:38). And He will give it to Israel. But let them be ever aware that He can just as easily take it from them too if they fail to respond in full obedience, and make images for themselves (Deuteronomy 4:23-25), driving them too out into exile among foreigners until they repent of their failure Deuteronomy 4:26-28.

But Moses could not leave it there, for he knew that in the end it was God’s purpose through Abraham’s descendants to establish blessing for the world. So he knew that such rejection could not be the end. Though men may fail God would not. So he declares that then if they repent He will restore them (Deuteronomy 4:29-31), for they are the people through whom His purposes must be worked out as promised to their forefathers.

These are the initial warnings of the covenant, preparing for the blessings and possible cursings ahead (Deuteronomy 27:15 to Deuteronomy 28:68), typical of the overlordship covenants (suzerainty treaties). The point is being continually emphasised that the land was Yahweh’s and could only belong to those who were true to the covenant

Let them then now consider. Was ever people like them? Had any ever had experiences like theirs? Was ever any god like their God in His greatness, Who had so wonderfully delivered them and was now about to give them possession of His land? (Deuteronomy 4:33-39). That is why they were to obey His commandments and laws (Deuteronomy 4:40). He was seeking to keep them steadfast to the end.

Chapters 1-4 thus contain all that is necessary for the establishment of a covenant. Preamble, declaration of what they owe to their Overlord, offer, requirement to obey His statutes and ordinances, and warning of what will follow if they do not, followed by an emphasis on the witness of heaven and earth to the covenant and on their own witness to the power and faithfulness of Yahweh. Yet it is also a preliminary introduction to a more detailed exposition of the covenant, for the requirements are not spelled out in detail.

For this will lead on into Deuteronomy 5:0, which is the commencement of ‘the renewal of the covenant’ speech (Deuteronomy 4:44 to Deuteronomy 29:1) in what is almost a re-enactment of what had taken place at Mount Sinai. In it Moses will bring the Sinai experience right into the present in all its vividness (Deuteronomy 5:2; Deuteronomy 5:22-29). As he declares, ‘Yahweh did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even all of us who are alive here this day’ (Deuteronomy 5:3). And then he brings what happened at Sinai before them as though it were something that had happened to them and as something in which they had taken part (as the eldest among them had as children), including the very declaration of the covenant words, slightly but deliberately altered to suit their situation (Deuteronomy 5:5-29). And he does it in such a way that it stresses that they are as much involved in the covenant of Sinai as their fathers had been (Deuteronomy 5:3; Deuteronomy 5:23-30). They must see what had happened there as having happened to them. And now therefore they must bind themselves in that covenant to do all that was commanded in it. For Yahweh has sent him with details of the requirements of that covenant which he is now about to pass on to them (Deuteronomy 5:31-33). And it is at this point that he begins to outline the requirements of the covenant, the covenant stipulations (chapter 6 onwards), which he will follow up with cursings and blessings (Deuteronomy 27:11 to Deuteronomy 28:68) and the sealing of the covenant.

Chapter 3 The Defeat of Og and the Division of Transjordan.

The first three verses of this chapter are an almost exact reproduction of Numbers 21:33-35) with slight changes to fit it into speech (altering ‘they’ to ‘we’). They describe the defeat of Og, king of Bashan. This is then followed by a more full description of the defeat, and the dividing up of the land between Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. After this the call goes out to these tribes to fulfil their covenant to provide troops for he conquest. It ends with a plea from Moses that he be allowed to enter the land, which is refused.

Intrinsic to all that is mentioned is the certainty that Yahweh is about to give them their land to possess. The Amorites have been initially defeated, a foretaste of what is to come, the two and a half tribes have been settled on their land, their fighting men have been prepared for the invasion across the Jordan, Joshua has been commissioned, and Moses has been permitted to see the land that is to be theirs from Pisgah. The land now awaits.

Verses 1-7

Chapter 3 The Defeat of Og and the Division of Transjordan.

The first three verses of this chapter are an almost exact reproduction of Numbers 21:33-35) with slight changes to fit it into speech (altering ‘they’ to ‘we’). They describe the defeat of Og, king of Bashan. This is then followed by a more full description of the defeat, and the dividing up of the land between Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. After this the call goes out to these tribes to fulfil their covenant to provide troops for he conquest. It ends with a plea from Moses that he be allowed to enter the land, which is refused.

Intrinsic to all that is mentioned is the certainty that Yahweh is about to give them their land to possess. The Amorites have been initially defeated, a foretaste of what is to come, the two and a half tribes have been settled on their land, their fighting men have been prepared for the invasion across the Jordan, Joshua has been commissioned, and Moses has been permitted to see the land that is to be theirs from Pisgah. The land now awaits.

The Defeat of Og, King of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:1-7 ).

This passage may be analysed as follows:

a They went on ‘the way of Bashan’ and Bashan came out to do battle with them with all his army (Deuteronomy 3:1).

b Yahweh tells them that they need not be afraid of him for Yahweh will deliver him into their hand as He had Sihon, King of the Amorites, and Yahweh delivered them into their hands and they smote Bashan and his army until none remained (Deuteronomy 3:2-3).

c They captured all his cities (60 of them), not one remained untaken (Deuteronomy 3:4).

d These were cities with high walls, and gates and bars (Deuteronomy 3:5 a).

c As well as these they captured a great many unwalled towns (Deuteronomy 3:5 b).

b They utterly destroyed them as they had Sihon and his Amorites and devoted them to Yahweh, for each was ‘a city of men’ (they resisted) and this ‘devotion’ to Yahweh included the women and children (Deuteronomy 3:6).

a But all the cattle and flocks, and the spoils of the cities, they took as a prey for themselves (Deuteronomy 3:7).

Note how in ‘a’ the commencement of the battle finally results in the parallel in great booty (compare how previously the booty had been the central point in the previous analysis (Deuteronomy 2:35). This was important to Israel as it was preparing them for possession of a good land. In ‘b’ Yahweh says he will deliver from Og as He had from Sihon and in the parallel it is stated that He had done this. In ‘c’ they captured all the walled cities and in the parallel the unwalled towns. And central in ‘d’ to all this was the size and strength of the cities they captured. It was a great boost to Israel.

Deuteronomy 3:1

Then we turned, and went up the way to Bashan, and Og, the king of Bashan, came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei.’

The next road that they took was ‘the way to Bashan’. This immediately brought the Amorite king Bashan out to fight them with his armies. It will be noted that both in this case and in the case of Sihon the belligerency was on the part of the enemy. Until they crossed the Jordan this current Israel never initiated an attack unless they were first attacked.

Deuteronomy 3:2

And Yahweh said to me, ‘Do not be afraid of him, for I have delivered him, and all his people, and his land, into your hand, and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon.’

When this great king with his armies appeared there were no doubt some fearful hearts in the ranks of Israel. But Yahweh immediately assured Moses that he was with them, and that He would deliver Og, his armies, his cities and his land into the hands of Israel.

Here again Moses is being seen as ‘king’ over his people (compare Deuteronomy 2:27-28), and the people are included with him in intent, thus the second person singular is used.

Deuteronomy 3:3

So Yahweh our God delivered into our hand Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people, and we smote him until none were left to him remaining.’

The result was a resounding victory. God was acting on their behalf. The whole of Og’s armies were slaughtered. As far as was possible not one was left alive. They were carrying out God’s requirements to the letter.

Deuteronomy 3:4-5

And we took all his cities at that time. There was not a city which we did not take from them, threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides a great many unwalled towns.’

Every city was taken. Not one was strong enough to stand up against them. There were threescore cities with high walls, gates and bars, and a great number of unwalled towns. ‘Threescore’ (3 x 2 x 10 is three heavily intensified) probably indicates the completeness of the success. Bashan was a very fertile area and there were many small cities and towns in it.

Deuteronomy 3:6-7

And we utterly destroyed them, as we did to 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 to ourselves.’

And the principle of the devotion of all humans to Yahweh was carried out. Every man, woman and child was put to the sword. Only the cattle and spoils of the city were spared. God’s judgment on gross sin and idolatry of the worst kind was fulfilled. These were executions, not slaughter. Each of these worshipped false gods in Yahweh’s own land, and the penalty for that was death. It is a reminder to us that in the end God will call all men into judgment even though it be delayed, as it had been for the Amorites for hundreds of years.

Verses 8-17

A Description of the Whole Land That Is Captured (Deuteronomy 3:8-17 ).

a They took out of the hands of the two kings of the Amorites in Transjordan the land from Mount Hermon in the north to the River Arnon (the border with Moab) in the south, all being in Beyond Jordan eastwards (Deuteronomy 3:8-9).

b This included Sihon’s cities in the plain (tableland), and all Gilead, both north and south, and all Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:10).

c Included in this was the kingdom of Og who was a giant of a man and ‘of the demi-gods’ (Rephaim) and had a huge iron bedstead (or basalt sarcophagus) (Deuteronomy 3:11).

d The land taken in possession included from Aroer on the Moabite border with (going northward) the southern half of Gilead and its cities (Deuteronomy 3:12 a).

d This last was given to the Reubenites and to the Gadites (Deuteronomy 3:12 b).

c The northern part of Gilead and all Bashan was given to the half-tribe of Manasseh. It is called ‘the land of the demi-gods’ (Rephaim) (Deuteronomy 3:13).

b General Jair of the half-tribe of Manasseh was given a wide region in Bashan which was called ‘the encampments of Jair’, while Machir, a sub-tribe of the half-tribe of Manasseh, was given Gilead proper (northern Gilead, the land in Deuteronomy 3:13). (Deuteronomy 3:14-15).

a The Reubenites and Gadites received the southern part of Gilead down to the border of Moab, to the banks of the river Arnon which flowed through the valley of Arnon. They also received the Jordan rift valley east of Jordan from the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) in the north to the Dead Sea in the south (Deuteronomy 3:16-17).

Deuteronomy 3:8

And we took the land at that time out of the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were in Beyond Jordan, from the valley of the Arnon to mount Hermon,’

Thus the whole of the land of the two kings of the Amorites was taken and possessed, from the River Arnon in the South (the border river of Moab) to Mount Hermon in the north. All of them being in Beyond Jordan.

Deuteronomy 3:9

(which Hermon the Sidonians call Sirion, and the Amorites call it Senir),’

A note is added here to make clear which mountain was indicated. It was called Sirion by the Sidonians, (mentioned in the Ugaritic texts), and Senir by the Amorites (mentioned in Assyrian texts). This note could have been added at any time. Or it could be an aside by Moses showing off his knowledge, possibly learned from scouts or travellers or Amorite prisoners prior to execution, with a view to indicating that there God’s land came in contact with the greater world.

Deuteronomy 3:10

All the cities of the plain, and all Gilead, and all Bashan, to Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan.’

The whole extent of the land is then described. It took in all the cities of the Moabite plain, ‘all Gilead’, a wide ranging region above the Moabite plain extending to Bashan, and ‘all Bashan’, and included the great cities of Salecah and Edrei. (Gilead can sometimes refer to a region in the north adjacent to Bashan, but ‘all Gilead’ was a wider expression and covered much of Transjordan. It is also possible that the geographical term ‘Gilead’ could sometimes be used as an overall term to refer to the whole of the land north of Moab including some parts or all of Bashan (Deuteronomy 2:36; Deuteronomy 34:1; Judges 10-12; Judges 20:1; 2 Kings 15:29). This is confirmed in external archaeological records.

Salecah was a city in the extreme east of Bashan possibly modern Salhad, on a southern spur of Mount Hauran. Edrei is probably modern Der‘a, occupying a key point for communications in the Bashan area.

Deuteronomy 3:11

(For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his sarcophagus (literally ‘resting place, place of lying down’) was a sarcophagus of basalt. Is it not in Rabbah of the children of Ammon? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, after the cubit of a man).’

Here we learn that in Bashan Og was the only surviving remnant of the Rephaim. His great size was probably one reason why he had been made king. He would be a fearsome war-leader. He was buried in a sarcophagus of basalt (the colour of iron), the great size of which was well known, nine cubits by four cubits (roughly four metres/thirteen and a half feet, by two metres/six feet). This did not mean that he was that size. In death as in life kings liked to exaggerate what they were. Similar sarcophagi have been discovered in Phoenicia. It was possibly carried to Ammon to prevent anticipated degrading treatment.

This was possibly a footnote (but see analysis where it is balanced by Deuteronomy 3:13) added later by a discerning writer, although if he had had his sarcophagus ready, and it was swiftly carried to Ammon once he was dead, in order to escape desecration, news easily could have reached Moses of where it was. Men loved to carry such information to rulers, hoping for a reward.

Some translate ‘bedstead of iron.’ This is equally possible. The words mean ‘a resting place of iron’ (therefore possibly the colour of iron), a ‘place of lying down’, which makes possible both translations. If it was a bedstead its being made of iron would emphasise Og’s greatness and possibly his overall size. At this time iron was comparatively rare.

Deuteronomy 3:12-13

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 its cities, I gave to the Reubenites and to the Gadites, and the rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh; all the region of Argob, even all Bashan.

He emphasises that they took overall possession of a large area of land, and then he caused the land to be divided up between the Reubenites and Gadites, who appear to have worked very closely together, and the half-tribe of Manasseh which included the sub-tribes Machir and Jair. From Aroer on the River Arnon, probably to the River Jabbok (half the hill-country of Gilead), together with its cities was given to the Reubenites and Gadites, the rest of Gilead from the Jabbok to the Yarmuk, and the whole of Bashan was given to the half tribe of Manasseh.

Deuteronomy 3:14

(The same is called the land of Rephaim. Jair the son of Manasseh took all the region of Argob, up to the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and called them, even Bashan, after his own name, Havvoth-jair, to this day).’

This land was called ‘The land of Rephaim.’ This was possibly because it was ruled over by Og, the giant of a king, who was seen as descended from the Rephaim, who like the Anakim were a genetically huge people. They were seen as very sinister. Or it may signify that it was a ghostly land. The term is later applied to ghosts.

Argob, probably from regeb ‘a clod’, probably refers to a fertile area of arable land and appears to be the name of Og’s territory, which included all Bashan. This appears to have been allocated to Jair of Manasseh, the general who captured it, right up to the Golan Heights (the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites). He renamed it Havvoth-jair (‘the camps (tent-villages) of Jair’). In the time of Solomon these tent-villages were said to be in Gilead (1 Kings 4:13). This may have been due to migration, they bred cattle and sheep and may well therefore have moved territory, but it is more likely due to a different use of the designation Gilead, which has in fact various definitions geographically (see above and compare Numbers 32:41). Gilead was a name very fluid in its use as we know from external sources.

This description of the activities of Jair is intended to be a stimulus and a reminder that everyone in Israel must play their part in the possession of the land. It was God’s gift, but all must participate in claiming it, just as Jair did.

Deuteronomy 3:15-18

And I gave Gilead to Machir. And to the Reubenites and to the Gadites I gave from Gilead even down to the valley of the Arnon, the middle of the valley, and its border, even to the river Jabbok, which is the border of the children of Ammon, the Arabah also, and the Jordan and its border, from Chinnereth even to the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, under the slopes of Pisgah eastward.’

Gilead (or Upper Gilead) was given to the sub-tribe of Machir, (another section of the half-tribe of Manasseh); from the River Arnon up to Upper Gilead, including Lower Gilead was given to the Reubenites and the Gadites. This latter included the Arabah (the Jordan valley) between the sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) and the Dead Sea (the Salt Sea). The eastern border was the River Jabbok. It is clear that the whole area had been scouted, probably after the victory over Og, in order to root out opposition and to deal with fleeing refugees. It was necessary to make the whole area safe before crossing the Jordan.

That the Gadites were still a recognised group in the area in the 9th century BC is testified to by the Moabite stone of Mesha, king of Moab. All this detail helps to confirm that this was spoken at the time when all this information was directly relevant and needed to be communciated to the people so as to keep them informed.

Verses 18-22

The Charge To The Two and a Half Tribes Settling In Transjordan (Deuteronomy 3:18-22 ).

The great victories over Sihon and Og having been described, along with the giving of their land to the two and a half tribes of Israel, the charge is now given for the advancement on the land proper. It is given, first to the two and a half tribes in response to their reception of their land, and then to Joshua on behalf of all the people.

When Moses had agreed that the land west of the Jordan which had been taken from the Amorites should be given to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh , it was on condition that their warriors of over twenty years of age would pass over Jordan with their fellow-Israelites to assist in settling the land (Numbers 32:0). He now charged them to be faithful to that promise.

This passage may be analysed as follows:

Yahweh has given Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh their land to possess it (Deuteronomy 3:18 a).

a They were commanded that, having been given their land, all their men of valour must pass over armed before the children of Israel when they enter Canaan (Deuteronomy 3:18).

b Meanwhile their wives, little ones (children under twenty) and cattle (of which they have much) will abide in the cities that they have been given in Transjordan (Deuteronomy 3:19).

c And this is to be until the other nine and a half tribes are also given rest by Yahweh (Deuteronomy 3:20 a).

c And possess their land in Beyond Jordan westwards (Deuteronomy 3:20 b).

b Then they may return every man to his possession which they have been given (Deuteronomy 3:20 c).

a Joshua is informed that what Yahweh has done to the two kings, so He will do to all the kingdoms in the place where they are going over the Jordan, and they need not fear for it is Yahweh Who fights for them (Deuteronomy 3:21-22).

Note that in ‘a’ it was Yahweh Who gave their land to the two and a half tribes so that they could possess it, and in the parallel it is confirmed that He will do the same beyond the Jordan. In ‘b’ their families will settle in to their new cities, and in the parallel when the conquest is completed their menfolk can return to the land of their possessions. In ‘c’ the remainder of the tribes are also to be ‘given rest’ and in the parallel they are to possess their land.

Deuteronomy 3:18

And I commanded you at that time, saying, “Yahweh your God has given you this land to possess it. You shall pass over armed before your brethren the children of Israel, all the men of valour.’

In return for Yahweh giving them the land west of Jordan, the ‘men of valour’ of the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh were to pass over Jordan ahead of their brothers the children if Israel. That is, they were to go forward ready for battle, along with the fighting men, ‘the men of valour’ of the remaining tribes.

Deuteronomy 3:19-20

But your wives, and your little ones, and your cattle, (I know that you have much cattle), shall abide in your cities which I have given you, until Yahweh give rest to your brethren, as to you, and they also possess the land which Yahweh your God gives them beyond the Jordan. Then shall you return every man to his possession, which I have given you.’

Meanwhile their womenfolk and youngsters, together with their cattle, would settle the land and take possession of it. Protection would be afforded by Yahweh watching over them, by those under twenty able to fight, and by the older men who would be considered too old for battle, but would still be able to fight and defend cities if called on. Once all the tribes had found rest in the land they would then be able to return to the land of their possession (compare Joshua 22:9). The dangers would not be too great. Their neighbours Edom. Moab and Ammon had had plenty of opportunity to see the victorious nature of the Israelite army and would hesitate to bring their wrath down on themselves.

By this Moses emphasised to them the need for them all to work together if they were to achieve their object of peace and security in the land. It was also a statement of confidence that their aim would be achieved. It was not a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’. He was seeking to build up confidence and loyalty.

“I know that you have much cattle.” They had brought cattle through the wilderness, but these had been hugely added to by the conquests of Sihon and Og (Deuteronomy 2:35; Deuteronomy 3:7). This was already a sign of how Yahweh was providing for His people in readiness for their entry into the land, further evidence that He was intending to carry His purposes through. To have much cattle was to the ancients’ the sign of being wealthy.

We learn from all this that if we are faithful to God all our enemies will finally be thwarted, and as a result we will enjoy great spiritual wealth. However great our enemies may seem none will finally be able to stand against God.

The Charge To Joshua (Deuteronomy 3:21-22 )

Note the combination of singular and plural verbs. The charge to Joshua is a charge to all the people.

Deuteronomy 3:21-22

And I commanded Joshua at that time, saying, “Your (thy) eyes have seen all that Yahweh your (of ye) God has done to these two kings. So shall Yahweh do to all the kingdoms to which you (thou) go over. You shall not fear them, for Yahweh your (of ye) God, he it is who fights for you.”

He then applied the lesson of the two kings of the Amorites, which he had previously applied to Joshua, to his hearers. They are to remember what God did with respect to those two kings and their armies. He had brought about their total defeat and extinction. So would Yahweh their God do to all against whom they had to fight in the land as they conducted their holy war. They need not fear them, because Yahweh would be fighting for them. For through them He was bringing his judgment on those nations.

Joshua is naturally spoken of as ‘thou’, but this immediately moves to ‘your (of ye)’ as his people are brought to mind.

Verses 23-29

Moses’ Plea To Be Able To Enter The Land (Deuteronomy 3:23-29 ).

But one of the things that grieved Moses most was the fact that through his own sin of impatience, carelessness, petulance and uncontrolled anger in smiting the rock at Meribah when he had been told only to speak the powerful word of Yahweh, and as a result cloaking Yahweh’s act of compassion and mercy in providing water in a garb of petulance and anger (Numbers 20:1-13), he was to be prevented from entering the land by death.

He and Aaron had come from the presence of Yahweh having successfully been promised His mercy. But instead of approaching the people with joy over God’s provision, and rejoicing over His mercy, he and Aaron had been possessed by a spirit of animosity, anger, petulance and superiority, and even of arrogance, at a time when Yahweh was seeking to reveal love and compassion. They had given the people the impression that he and Aaron were the ones who were in control, and who were dispensing the gift, and not Yahweh, and that Yahweh was reluctant to offer His mercy. They had besmirched the holiness of God (see Deuteronomy 32:51). It was a sign that they had grown too big for their own positions. They had become too important in their own eyes. No longer was Moses meeker than any other man on earth (Numbers 12:3). No longer did he fully represent Yahweh before the people. And God had clearly recognised that this was a permanent defect which now rendered them unsuitable for the next stage in His great deliverance. They would need to be replaced by those who were more submissive, and more obedient. It proved that no one is indispensable.

Those who are appointed to the highest positions in His service should ever be aware that they have the greatest responsibility. They must never treat God’s work as though it were their own. And that is what Moses had done. Great privilege requires great responsibility. And Moses was now reaping the consequences of irresponsibility. He explains how he had sought to reverse God’s sentence, only to be told that it could not be.

We may analyse this passage as follows:

a Moses besought Yahweh ‘at that time’ (Deuteronomy 3:23).

b He declared how Yahweh had begun to show him His greatness and ability to do what He would (Deuteronomy 3:24).

c He pleaded with Yahweh that he might go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan (Deuteronomy 3:25).

d But Yahweh was angry with Moses for their sakes and would not listen (Deuteronomy 3:26 a).

d He said, Speak no more to Me of this matter’ (Deuteronomy 3:26 b).

c Yahweh commanded Moses to climb to the top of The Pisgah so that he may see the land in all directions, but he would not be allowed to cross the Jordan (Deuteronomy 3:27).

b Instead he was to charge Joshua and encourage and strengthen him with his vision of Yahweh for he would go over and cause the people to inherit the land which Moses would see from afar (Deuteronomy 3:28).

a So they remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor (Deuteronomy 3:29).

Deuteronomy 3:23

And I sought the mercy of Yahweh at that time, saying,’

He explains how he had come to Yahweh to plead for mercy and a reversal of the sentence. ‘At that time’ may indicate the same time as he had given his charge to the two and a half tribes about their necessary cooperation in possessing the land, compare ‘at that time’ in verse 18. The one having brought the other to mind. But it probably rather means simply at the time when he did it, whenever that was.

Deuteronomy 3:24-25

O Lord Yahweh, you have begun to show your servant your greatness, and your strong hand, for what god is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to your works, and according to your mighty acts? Let me go over, I pray you, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.”

Indeed, he had humbly approached Yahweh exulting in what God was doing, in the greatness that He was revealing, and the strong hand that He was laying bare, demonstrating His superiority and that there was none like Him. There was none on heaven or earth, no spiritual being of any kind, who could do what He could do, and reveal the power that He would reveal (compare Exodus 15:11). And he had declared his desire to be a part of it.

He had pleaded that he might be allowed to cross the Jordan and see the ‘good land’ for himself, the goodly hill country and that which was beyond.

“O Lord Yahweh.” He had come in submissiveness recognising God’s sovereignty and great power. See Deuteronomy 9:26; Genesis 15:2; Genesis 15:8.

“That goodly mountain.” The central part of Canaan consisted of the great mountain range that stretched from Galilee down to the Negeb.

“Lebanon.” This indicates the remainder of Canaan stretching northwards. Lebanon, like Gilead, can, depending on usage, indicate a particular part of northern Canaan which includes the valley of Lebanon, or a larger area going northwards, or the land to the north of Canaan. We must not assume that all geographical terms were too precise in those days.

Deuteronomy 3:26-27

But Yahweh was angry with me for your sakes, and did not listen to me. And Yahweh said to me, “Let it be sufficient for you. Do not speak to me about this matter any more. Get yourself up to the top of Pisgah, and lift up your eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.”

But Yahweh had firmly refused. He had been ‘angry’ with Moses, that is an anthropomorphism indicating that He looked on His sin and had a righteous aversion to it. We are probably to see in this that by his action at Meribah Moses was seen as having identified himself with the people in rebellion against Yahweh to such an extent that he had therefore to suffer the same fate if Yahweh was to be just. Yahweh could not judge them and yet let Moses be spared. That would indicate favouritism. Thus Yahweh could not listen to his plea. As far as He was concerned the matter was settled. However He showed His compassion by being prepared to let him see for himself the land for which he had sacrificed so much. He was to go to the top of Pisgah from where he would see it stretching before him. Thus having had a foretaste of the deliverance in the defeat of Sihon and Og, and the taking over of their land, He was to be allowed to see the full land that was to be Israel’s.

Various views are taken of what ‘the Pisgah’ (always with the article) represents, varying from ‘the Pisgah’ as the height above the precipitous slope going down into the Jordan valley, or the ridge at the top of a mountain, to ‘the Pisgah’ as a range of mountains which included Mount Nebo.

Paradoxically Moses probably intended this refusal to allow him to enter the land, while allowing him to see it from afar, to be seen as a further guarantee that the land would be given to Israel as a possession. His alone being forbidden indicating that those who were not forbidden would enter it.

Deuteronomy 3:28

But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him, for he will go over before this people, and he will cause them to inherit the land which you will see.”

However, although he was not to be allowed to enter the land himself, he had still been given a great responsibility. He had been told to charge Joshua with his responsibility, encouraging and strengthening him for the task ahead. For he was the one who would now go over before the people in Moses’ place, and it was he who would cause them to inherit the land which Moses would see from the Pisgah.

Deuteronomy 3:29

So we abode in the valley over against Beth-peor.’

At this point then they remained for a time in the valley over against Beth-peor.

Thus Israel were in many ways given the firm assurance that the land of Canaan would soon be their possession. This had been confirmed by reference to:

1) Three related nations, Edom, Moab, and Ammon, who had already been given land by Yahweh for the sake of their forefathers and had possessed it by defeating Anakim (Deuteronomy 2:4-23).

2) The land that they now already possessed which had previously belonged to Amorites, the peoples who had previously driven Israel back and from whom they had to seize the land (Deuteronomy 2:24 to Deuteronomy 3:17).

3) The rallying of the troops of the two and a half tribes who were to go over with the invaders, with the promise that they would return when the task was completed (Deuteronomy 3:18-20).

4) The command to Joshua and the people to go forward without fear because Yahweh fought with them (Deuteronomy 3:21-22).

5) Moses being granted the right to see the land from afar as an earnest of what was to come (Deuteronomy 3:23-27).

6) The fact that they had as their leader Joshua to whom the promise was given that he would possess the land (Deuteronomy 3:28-29). All the signs were good.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 3". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/deuteronomy-3.html. 2013.
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