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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Deuteronomy 2

 

 

Introduction

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, 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 2 There Are Others To Whom Yahweh Has Given Land And They Are To Be Left Alone; The Defeat of Sihon, King of the Amorites.

So their fathers had failed to receive the land. But now the people are stirred up to go forward and take the land which God is giving them. He stresses, however, that there are also others to whom He has given land, and that that land is not theirs for the taking. That land belongs to the nations to whom Yahweh has given it. Israel cannot have it because it has been given to those nations by Yahweh. These are Edom, Moab and Ammon, all descended from Terah, Abraham’s father, and connected with Abraham.

The first are related to the children of Esau, and ‘Mount Seir was given to Esau for a possession’ (Deuteronomy 2:5) while the other two are ‘descended’ from Lot and receive their land as from him. Theirs is the land which He has given to the children of Lot for a possession (Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19). To all three He has given their land for the sake of their fathers, for the sake of Abraham. For it is He Who disposes of land in accordance with His will (Deuteronomy 32:8). Although Israel (Jacob) are special, for they are His portion.

By this means it is emphasised to Israel that when Yahweh gives land to a nation it is under His protection. He is the Lord of all land and can give it to whom He will. Here is a shining example to them of what it means to dwell in land given by Yahweh. Let them then go forward to claim their own. The land that Yahweh gives them will be as secure to them as the land of Edom, Moab and Ammon are secure to those nations if only they are obedient. But they must not touch what Yahweh has given to others.

However, the same was not true of the Amorites. The land that they were in possession of did not belong to them. They were among those whose iniquity was now full (Genesis 15:16). They had forfeited the land. Thus the land of Sihon was Israel’s for the taking.

Note how interspersed with the information about Edom, Moab and Ammon are two statements concerning Israel. The first confirms the way that Yahweh has blessed the second generation in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 2:7) and the second that He has destroyed all the first generation who were disobedient in Israel (Deuteronomy 2:14-15). If His people are, in His will, to enjoy blessing in their land like Edom, Moab and Ammon have, they must remember both, that God blesses those who obey Him and curses those who do not.


Verses 1-3

Chapter 2 There Are Others To Whom Yahweh Has Given Land And They Are To Be Left Alone; The Defeat of Sihon, King of the Amorites.

So their fathers had failed to receive the land. But now the people are stirred up to go forward and take the land which God is giving them. He stresses, however, that there are also others to whom He has given land, and that that land is not theirs for the taking. That land belongs to the nations to whom Yahweh has given it. Israel cannot have it because it has been given to those nations by Yahweh. These are Edom, Moab and Ammon, all descended from Terah, Abraham’s father, and connected with Abraham.

The first are related to the children of Esau, and ‘Mount Seir was given to Esau for a possession’ (Deuteronomy 2:5) while the other two are ‘descended’ from Lot and receive their land as from him. Theirs is the land which He has given to the children of Lot for a possession (Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19). To all three He has given their land for the sake of their fathers, for the sake of Abraham. For it is He Who disposes of land in accordance with His will (Deuteronomy 32:8). Although Israel (Jacob) are special, for they are His portion.

By this means it is emphasised to Israel that when Yahweh gives land to a nation it is under His protection. He is the Lord of all land and can give it to whom He will. Here is a shining example to them of what it means to dwell in land given by Yahweh. Let them then go forward to claim their own. The land that Yahweh gives them will be as secure to them as the land of Edom, Moab and Ammon are secure to those nations if only they are obedient. But they must not touch what Yahweh has given to others.

However, the same was not true of the Amorites. The land that they were in possession of did not belong to them. They were among those whose iniquity was now full (Genesis 15:16). They had forfeited the land. Thus the land of Sihon was Israel’s for the taking.

Note how interspersed with the information about Edom, Moab and Ammon are two statements concerning Israel. The first confirms the way that Yahweh has blessed the second generation in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 2:7) and the second that He has destroyed all the first generation who were disobedient in Israel (Deuteronomy 2:14-15). If His people are, in His will, to enjoy blessing in their land like Edom, Moab and Ammon have, they must remember both, that God blesses those who obey Him and curses those who do not.

Approach to Edom (Deu Deuteronomy 2:1-8).

The first people who would be approached by Israel were Edom, described here as ‘sons of Esau’ (compare ). Esau was Jacob’s elder brother and had made his home in Mount Seir gathering around him a band of men and combining with others to form the nation of Edom (Genesis 33:16; Genesis 36:6-9). They were thus seen as a ‘brother’ tribe.

This passage can be analysed as follows:

a They went round in Mount Seir for a number of years (Deuteronomy 2:1 b).

b Until Yahweh said that they had gone round Mount Seir long enough and were to turn towards the north (Deuteronomy 2:2-3).

c They were to pass by the borders of their brothers, the children of Esau, who dwell in Seir. Esau would be afraid so that must be careful about their behaviour (Deuteronomy 2:4).

d They were not to contend with them, for Yahweh would not give Israel their land even to tread on (Deuteronomy 2:5 a).

d The reason for this was that Yahweh had given Mount Seir to Esau for a possession (Deuteronomy 2:5 b).

c They were therefore to purchase their food and water with silver so that they might eat and drink (Deuteronomy 2:6).

b For He reminds them that He has blessed them in all that they have done as they have travelled in the wilderness for ‘forty years’, so that they have lacked nothing (Deuteronomy 2:7).

a So they passed by their brothers the children of Esau who dwelt in Seir as they came from Elath and Ezion-geber in the Arabah rift valley (Deuteronomy 2:8 a).

Note that in ‘a’ they wandered around Mount Seir, but that in the parallel they avoided the places where Esau dwelt. In ‘b’ they have been travelling around Seir long enough, and in the parallel while they have done so for almost forty years Yahweh has blessed them and ensured that they lacked nothing. In ‘c’ they were to recognise that Esau were frightened of them and were to pass by their borders, and in the parallel they were to ensure that they paid for any food or drink that they required, thus quieting their fears. And in ‘d’ they were reminded that they must not fight with them because their land was not for Israel. Indeed, in the parallel, they learn that it is Yahweh Himself Who has given it to Esau for a possession.

The Command To Go Forward (Deu Deuteronomy 2:1-3).

(Note: For commentary on Deuteronomy 2:1 a, see the comments for Deuteronomy 1:46.)

Deuteronomy 2:1 b

‘And we went around in mount Seir many days.’

This section begins with their weary wandering around the region of Mount Seir while the period of judgment of thirty eight years passed (Deuteronomy 2:14).

Deuteronomy 2:2-3

And Yahweh spoke to me, saying, “You have wandered round this mountain long enough, turn you northward.”

Again it is stressed that we have the words of Moses as received by revelation from Yahweh. The period of waiting was over. Now they were to cease their wandering around the mountainous wilderness and move northward. It was time for them to possess the land in order to fulfil His promise to their forefathers. This northward movement is in direct contrast to their previous ‘movement’ southward as they fled from the Amorites and then returned to the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:44-46).

“Long enough.” Compare Deuteronomy 1:6. There their fathers had remained at Mount Sinai in Horeb long enough. That had been the sign to their fathers to move on. Here they had been travelling around Mount Seir long enough. This is a sign for them to move on. But we should note that Moses does not make this distinction between them and us. He speaks of ‘us’ and ‘you’. Although two generations they are one people, and many of the children who were now men had also been there with their fathers.

“Turn you northward.” Once again they can do an ‘about turn’, but this time in obedience to Yahweh and in order to enter the land (contrast Deuteronomy 1:40).


Verses 4-8

The Children of Esau in Seir (Edom) Their Brother Tribe Was To Be Left Alone (Deuteronomy 2:4-8).

The first to be approached were the children of Esau who dwelt in Seir. It is interesting that Edom is not mentioned by name, although they would later be known as Edomites. The emphasis is on their relationship to Abraham and Isaac. Their land was given to them by Yahweh and was their possession. It must not be trespassed on.

Deuteronomy 2:4-5

And command you the people, saying, “You are to pass through the border of your brothers the children of Esau, who dwell in Seir, and they will be afraid of you. Take good heed to yourselves therefore, do not contend 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 to Esau for a possession.”

In order to reach the land they must pass through or along the borders of Edom. But Edom would be afraid of them. However, they were not to seek a quarrel with them for Edom lived in the land given to their forefather Esau by Yahweh as a possession. Indeed Israel did not have permission to set even one foot on Edom’s soil. Not an inch of it is given to them.

“I have given mount Seir to Esau for a possession.” The fact that Esau’s descendants were in possession of the land which Yahweh had given them because they were descendants of Abraham augured well for the future. What Yahweh had done for Edom He would do for Israel, who were also descendants of Abraham. This should have instilled them with confidence.

That the gods were seen as giving land to their favourites, especially land blessed with abundant water, comes out in the pre-Moses Canaanite legend of King Keret. It is about a place called ‘Udum the Great, ‘Udum abundant in water’ which seeks to buy off the forces of the invading King Keret, and in his plea Udum’s king cries, “Do not harm Udum the Great, even Udum abundant in water, Udum is the gift of El, the present of the Father of men” (lines 60-64). King Keret, however, rather claims not ransom but the king’s beautiful firstborn daughter. But note the many contrasts, especially in that the claim is made by the king of Udum himself, not by the king who sought to conquer it. Every nation thought that their land was given to them by their god (compare Judges 11:24), but that did not impress other nations. In this particular case it was seen as El’s special gift because of its abundance of water (some have tried to relate Udum to Edom but this was hardly a picture of Edom where water was short and needed to be bought and sold - Deuteronomy 2:6). Men ever saw water as a divine gift. But Moses sees the lands of Edom, Moab and Ammon as gifts not of their gods, but of Yahweh, because of their relationship with Abraham, and therefore inviolable. That being so other nations had received their lands as gifts from Yahweh, even though they did not acknowledge Him. For Yahweh worked His sovereign will. How much more then could Israel be confident that Yahweh would give them their land if they did acknowledge Him. It was different with the Canaanites. They had forfeited their land by their behaviour. Their tenancy from Yahweh was at an end.

From Numbers 20:14-21 we gain a little more insight into what happened. Moses had wanted to take his people through Edom along the King’s Highway, the main trade route. But Edom were so afraid of them (‘they will be afraid of you’, verse 4 compare Exodus 15:15) that the king of Edom gathered his army to resist them. Thus Moses led them round the borders of Edom, but still showed friendship towards them. Moses was totally non-belligerent except where necessary.

We must recognise in seeking to trace the actual route taken that we are hampered by lack of knowledge. In spite of huge efforts made to identify sites most are still very tentative. We need to be humble enough to recognise that our knowledge is so scanty that we will probably never know whether, for example, Israel used the eastern border of Edom or the western border. The problems include the identification of sites which produces innumerable insoluble difficulties and the meaning of Hebrew directions which are vague and open to various interpretation.

Deuteronomy 2:6

You shall purchase food of them for silver, so that you may eat, and you shall also buy water of them for silver, that you may drink.”

Rather than fight with Edom they were to demonstrate their friendly intentions by offering silver in exchange for food and water. While they still had the manna (compare Deuteronomy 8:15-16; Numbers 11:9; Joshua 5:12) they would be delighted to have what they no doubt saw as ‘proper food’ as well (compare Numbers 11:6). Water would be short in Edom, and wells and springs carefully guarded. There must be no raiding, all was to be done circumspectly. Both food and water were to be bought. This behaviour prevented a build up of hostility and no doubt contributed to the fact that Edom did not later seek to take advantage of the time when the warriors of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh were mainly away from home.

It is to be noted from this that in their activities, Israel sought to avoid bloodshed, apart from when they were dealing with the condemned people of Canaan whom they were commanded to destroy (compare Deuteronomy 20:10-18) or with those who positively sought to lead Israel astray after false gods.

Deuteronomy 2:7

For Yahweh your (thy) God has blessed you (thee) in all the work of your (thy) hand. He has known your (they) walking through this great wilderness. These forty years Yahweh your (thy) God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.”

That this purchase of food and water was possible was because Yahweh had prospered them. ‘The work of their hand’ may well have included pottery, jewellery and ornaments, weaving, metalwork and so on, which had been sold on to passing traders, and even to friendly desert tribes. This, along with treasures brought from Egypt and not used, had ensured that they were wealthy enough to purchase food for all. Although He had refused them entry into the land God had not utterly forsaken them. He had watched over their walking in the wilderness, and had been with them. We gather elsewhere that it was for Abraham’s sake. This is one of the rare places where we are given an insight into their thirty eight year wandering.

So as they consider Edom, safely settled in the land given to them by Yahweh, the second generation of Israel are to recognise themselves as a people whom Yahweh has blessed even in the wilderness, so that they can be sure that He also has blessings in store for them.

The use of the singular ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ here is because the purpose is to bring out the covenant position between Yahweh and Israel as a whole. It is somewhat similar to the distinction between ‘Israel’ (thee) seen as one and ‘the children of Israel’ (you) seen as many. They are distinctly and genuinely one people whatever their origin. There is also a connection with Deuteronomy 1:31 as Yahweh has clearly ‘walked’ with them as ‘they went’, supporting them and caring for them like a father bears his son.

Deuteronomy 2:8 a

‘So we passed by from our brothers the children of Esau, who dwell in Seir, from the way of the Arabah from Elath and from Ezion-geber.’

This friendly description of Edom fits well with first impressions on approaching the land, and having avoided conflict with them. It fits ill with later centuries. ‘Our brothers.’ They were related because Esau was Jacob/Israel’s brother (compare Deuteronomy 23:7). The land of Seir was where he had lived with his tribe (Genesis 32:3; Genesis 33:16; Genesis 36:8-9).

Because of the opposition, instead of taking the King’s Highway (Numbers 20:17), they took ‘the way of the Arabah’ (the rift valley through which higher up the Jordan ran), passing Edom either on its eastern or western border, having previously been near Elath and Ezion-geber on the Reed Sea, although the mention of these may only indicate general direction when looking from the plains of Moab. These latter were possibly districts of the same place, town and island, (compare Numbers 33:35-36; 1 Kings 9:22; 1 Kings 22:48; 2 Kings 14:22). The small island Jazirat Faraun, with an inner harbour and a strait providing sheltered mooring, is located opposite the mainland from which ancient quays are running out from the shore. These may well have been Ezion-geber and Elath.

But the vague descriptions (to us) make all uncertain. We do not know their exact route, only that it skirted Edom. They then followed ‘the way of the wilderness of Moab’ which possibly went along the eastern border of Moab skirting the desert.

Numbers tells us of an attack at this stage by the Canaanite king of Arad, from the Negeb, and his partial victory, and ultimate defeat after Israel prayed to Yahweh (Numbers 21:2). He and his ‘cities’ were devoted to destruction. They were Canaanites. But Moses concentration in Deuteronomy is on the advance into, and possession, of the land, and on others whose land has been given to them by Yahweh, not on minor victories.


Verses 9-17

Their Dealings With Moab (Deu Deuteronomy 2:8-13 a).

Moab too had been given possession of their land by Yahweh, because of His love for Abraham. Thus they too were not to be molested. And they were to note that in giving them the land He had dealt with the Emim, a people the equal of the Anakim.

This passage can be analysed as follows:

a They turned and passed by the way of the wilderness of Moab (Deuteronomy 2:8 b).

b They were not to vex Moab or contend with them for Yahweh would not give Israel their land (Deuteronomy 2:9 a).

c For Yahweh had given Ar to the children of Lot for a possession (Deuteronomy 2:9 b).

d The Emim had previously dwelt in it who were a people great, numerous and tall like the Anakim (of whom Israel were afraid - Deuteronomy 1:28) (Deuteronomy 2:10).

d Indeed these are accounted as Rephaim, like the Anakim, but Moab call them Emim (Deuteronomy 2:11).

c The Horites had previously dwelt in Seir, but Esau had defeated them and dwelt in their land (Deuteronomy 2:12 a).

b But Israel would dwell in the land of their possession (which they had taken from Sihon and Og) which Yahweh had given them, and eventually in the whole land (Deuteronomy 2:12 b).

a They were now therefore to rise up and cross the Wadi Zered (Deuteronomy 2:13 a)

Note that in ‘a’ they took ‘the way of the wilderness of Moab’ and in the parallel they were to rise and cross the Wadi Zered. In ‘b’ Yahweh would not give them Moab as their land and they were therefore not to attack them, but in the parallel He would give them their own land, the land of the Canaanites and Amorites, for a possession, (and had already partly done so). In ‘c’ It was Yahweh who had given Ar to the children of Lot for a possession, and in the parallel He had give Seir to Esau for them to dwell in. And in ‘d’and parallel it is emphasised that they had driven out the Emim who were as fierce as the Anakim, and were equally seen as ‘Rephaim’ (possibly demi-gods).

Deuteronomy 2:8 b

‘And we turned and passed by the way of the wilderness of Moab.’

Leaving Mount Seir they took ‘the way of the wilderness of Moab’. This would bring them into the vicinity of Moab. Although not as closely related as Esau these two were a ‘brother-tribe’.

Deuteronomy 2:9

And Yahweh said to me, “Do not annoy Moab, nor contend with them in battle, for I will not give you (thee) of his land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the children of Lot for a possession.” ’

The same principle applied to Moab as to Edom. Their land too had been given to them by Yahweh. In their case it was because they were the children of Lot, Abraham’s nephew (Genesis 13:5-11). Through Abraham blessing had come on many. Seeing these people also would be an encouragement of the fact that land which Yahweh gives to the peoples whom He chooses because they are sons of Abraham becomes theirs and remains theirs.

Thus they were not to fight with them or show belligerence towards them. Their land was not for Israel. Ar, their chief city, (compare the ancient poems in Numbers 21:15; Numbers 21:28) must remain unmolested.

Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:16-19; Deuteronomy 2:37 are interesting in that ‘thou, thee’ is used of their relationship with Moab and Ammon whereas ‘ye, you’ was used of their relationship with Edom (Deuteronomy 2:4-6). But the historical facts demand the mention of both Edom and Moab, even if not of Ammon, for both were prominent on the journey. Thus the distinction would appear again to be stylistic, and to reflect the distinctions made in Deuteronomy 23:3-8, with Ammon and Moab being more remote than Edom in their relationship, (nation to nation rather than brother to brother), reflecting a very early period before the relationship with Edom soured and became one of antagonism.

Deuteronomy 2:10-12

The Emim dwelt in it previously, a people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakim, these also are accounted Rephaim, like the Anakim, but the Moabites call them Emim. The Horites also dwelt in Seir previously, but the children of Esau succeeded them, and they destroyed them from before them, and dwelt in their stead, as Israel did to the land of his possession, which Yahweh gave to them.’

It is often disputed whether these are the words of Moses or a later note put in by a copier, but their significance suggests that they are an important part of the speech, and this is confirmed by the chiasmus. Such asides are commonplace with many speakers. We must remember that Israel had been in terror of the Anakim (Deuteronomy 1:28; Numbers 13:28). Thus Moses assured them that a similar people to the Anakim once dwelt in the land now possessed by Moab, but Moab had defeated them. There they were called the Emim, but they were seen as Rephaim just as the Anakim were, and they were as great, and as many, and as tall. Rephaim were later seen as ghostly figures (Psalms 88:10; Isaiah 14:9; Isaiah 26:14; Isaiah 26:19). This may have arisen from the seeing of these tall figures flitting through the dark shadows of the trees prior to attacking the enemy and thus gaining a reputation for ghostliness, for Canaan was heavily forested. At Ugarit a parallel word rpu’m refers possibly to a class of minor gods or a sacred guild, and in Phoenician tomb inscriptions rp’m appears as signifying ghosts.

Furthermore, as well as being able to defeat them, Moab had been able to defeat the powerful Horites. We know little about the Horites, but see Genesis 36:20; Genesis 36:29-30. They were probably not Hurrians for they have Semitic names. They were defeated by Chederlaomer and his fellow-kings, as were the Rephaim and the Emim (Genesis 14:5-6), which may have contributed to their downfall. Thus Moses wanted his people to know that none of these peoples were invincible, and that God could do the same for Israel.

“As Israel did to the land of his possession, which Yahweh gave to them.” At first sight this would seem to suggest that this was a later note inserted in the text, for it appears to look back to Israel taking the land of their possession as having happened in the past. But we must remember that at this stage Israel had already taken over a considerable part of the land of their possession in Gilead and Bashan. This may therefore simply be Moses’ (or Joshua’s) way of reminding them that not only had Moab overcome the equivalent of the Anakim but they too had already been victorious in the name of Yahweh and had successfully destroyed their enemies the Amorites and had received land as their possession. This is especially so as Israel did not in fact later destroy their enemies as they should have done.

Deuteronomy 2:13 a

“Now rise up, and get yourselves over the wadi Zered.”

Having passed by Esau, and having been given their instructions concerning Moab, they were to rise and cross the Wadi Zered which was the southern border of Moab.

Having passed by Edom they crossed the Wadi Zered between Edom and Moab.

The Crossing of the Zered (deu Deuteronomy 2:13-17).

This was clearly seen as a crisis point and is dated. Between the first visit to Kadesh and their arrival at the Zered thirty eight years had passed because of Yahweh’s ban on the men of war who had failed to respond to His command to enter Canaan. Note the emphasis on their obedience. They crossed the Zered as He had commanded. This new generation obeyed Yahweh explicitly. It may be that they also used the Zered valley as a passageway, moving along between Edom and Moab.

This can be briefly analysed as follows:

a They obediently crossed the River Zered in response to the command of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 2:13 b).

b Their journey from the first visit to Kadesh to their arrival here had taken 38 years, until that whole generation of men of war had been consumed as Yahweh had sworn would happen (Deuteronomy 2:14).

b The hand of Yahweh was against them, to destroy them from the midst of the camp, until they were consumed (Deuteronomy 2:15).

a And when all of them were consumed and dead from among the people Yahweh gave His further instructions to Moses (Deuteronomy 2:16-17).

Note that in ‘a’ they crossed the River Zered at Yahweh’s command, and in the parallel the command comes to move on. In ‘b’ the length of their time in the wilderness is given which was to last until all the men at arms were dead, and in the parallel that had occurred.

Deuteronomy 2:13 b

‘And we went over the wadi ( intermittent river) Zered.’

The crossing of the Zered is seen as a significant event. They were now approaching their first conquests in that part of the land that was east of Jordan. Their new beginning had commenced. So they immediately obeyed Yahweh and crossed the Zered.

Deuteronomy 2:14-15

And the days in which we came from Kadesh-barnea, until we were come over the river Zered, were thirty eight years, until all that generation of the men of war were consumed from the midst of the camp, as Yahweh swore to them. Moreover the hand of Yahweh was against them, to destroy them from the midst of the camp, until they were consumed.’

Thus since leaving Kadesh the first time thirty eight years had passed. In those thirty eight years the hand of Yahweh had ensured the deaths of all who had refused to enter Canaan who were of military age. None were left in the camp. Note that this only required the death of the males.

This solemn statement placed here in the midst of the descriptions of nations who had possessed their lands as a result of Yahweh’s goodness towards them, and because of their relationship to Abraham, again brings home the lesson that Israel’s similar possession will be dependent on obedience.

Deuteronomy 2:16-17

So it came about that when all the men of war were consumed and dead from among the people, Yahweh spoke to me.’

Until the unbelieving men of war were dead Yahweh would do nothing positive about the invasion of Canaan, but as soon as this had occurred, and the last man had died, Yahweh gave His command to move forward.


Verses 18-23

Passing By Ammon (Deuteronomy 2:18-23).

Ammon, Moab’s brother tribe, had also been given possession of their land by Yahweh, because of His love for Abraham. Thus they too were not to be molested. And they were to note that in giving them the land He had dealt with the Zamzummim, a people of the Rephaim, the equal of the Anakim. Yahweh had had no problem with dealing with the Anakim.

The passage may be analysed as follows:

a They were ‘this day’ (at this time) to pass over Ar, the border of Moab (Deuteronomy 2:18).

b They must not vex Ammon or contend with them, for He would not give Israel their land (Deuteronomy 2:19 a).

c For the land of Ammon had been given by Him to the children of Lot for a possession (Deuteronomy 2:19 b).

d It was accounted as the land of the Rephaim who had dwelt there previously, although the Ammonites had called them Zamzummim (Deuteronomy 2:20).

e They were a people great, and numerous and tall like the Anakim but Yahweh had destroyed them, and Ammon had succeeded them and dwelt there instead of them (Deuteronomy 2:21).

e This was in the same way as he had done for the children of Esau who dwelt in Seir when He destroyed the Horites from before them, and they also had succeeded them and dwelt there instead of them (Deuteronomy 2:22).

d And the Avvim who dwelt in villages as far as Gaza were destroyed by Cretans who then dwelt there instead of them (Deuteronomy 2:23).

c They were therefore to rise up and cross over the Arnon valley, through which the River Arnon flowed) for He had given Sihon , the king of the Amorites into their hand, together with his land, and they were to possess his land (Deuteronomy 2:24 a).

b They were to contend with him in battle (Deuteronomy 2:24 b).

a For at this time He was going to put the fear of them into the hearts of all peoples, who would hear about them and tremble, and be in anguish because of them (Deuteronomy 2:25).

Note that in ‘a’ they were to cross over the border of Moab. This was the commencement of their military campaign (see Deuteronomy 13-17). Thus in the parallel Yahweh was about to spread the terror of their reputation. In ‘b’ they must not contend with Ammon, but in the parallel they are to do battle with Sihon. In ‘c’ that land of Ammon is for Ammon’s possession, but in the parallel the land of Sihon is to be possessed by Israel. In ‘d’ the land of Ammon had been accounted as the land of the Rephaim who had dwelt there previously, (although the Ammonites had called them Zamzummim). In the parallel the Avvim (a parallel tribe) had been destroyed by the incoming Cretans (the Caphtorim and Philistines, compare Genesis 10:14). In ‘e’ the Zamzummim were a people great, and numerous and tall like the Anakim but Yahweh had destroyed them, and Ammon had succeeded them and dwelt there instead of them, while in the parallel he had done a similar thing for the children of Esau who dwelt in Seir when He destroyed the Horites from before them, and they also had succeeded them and dwelt there instead of them (Deuteronomy 2:22).

We note here not only the chiasmus but also the repetition in the second part of ‘had succeeded them and dwelt there instead of them’. This is a pattern (chiasmus containing repetition in the second part) that can also be observed in Exodus 18:21-22 a with Exodus 18:25-26 a; Numbers 18:4 with Numbers 18:7, and Numbers 18:23 with Numbers 18:24.

Deuteronomy 2:16-17

So it came about that when all the men of war were consumed and dead from among the people, Yahweh spoke to me, saying,’

We have repeated these verses in order to retain the connection, although strictly this passage begins with the last word, ‘Saying’.

Once the last of unbelieving Israel died (with the exception of Caleb, Joshua and Moses), their bodies buried one by one in the wilderness, the order came to advance across the Zered and along the border between Moab and Ammon.

Deuteronomy 2:18-19

You (thou) are this day to pass over Ar, the border of Moab, and when you (thou) come nigh over against the children of Ammon, do not annoy them, or contend with them, for I will not give you (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.”

It would appear that Ar was on the southern border of Moab, and they passed it by on their journey round Moab and along the border until they reached the border with Ammon. Others see Ar as synonymous with Moab.

Ammon too were to be safe from molestation, for their land too had been given to them by Yahweh, and permanently belonged to them as their possession. They too were a reminder of Yahweh’s faithfulness to Abraham and his family, and the certainty of His fulfilment of His will. For the use of the singular pronoun see on Deuteronomy 2:9.

Deuteronomy 2:20-23

That also is accounted a land of Rephaim. Rephaim dwelt in it previously, but the Ammonites call them Zamzummim, a people great, and many, and tall, like the Anakim, but Yahweh destroyed them before them, and they succeeded them, and dwelt in their place, as he did for the children of Esau, who dwell in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites from before them, and they succeeded them, and dwelt in their place even to this day, and the Avvim, who dwelt in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim, who came forth out of Caphtor, destroyed them, and dwelt in their place.’

Once again it is stressed that peoples like the Anakim have been defeated, this time by Ammon. They were not invincible. Here they were called Zamzummim. These too were the dreaded Rephaim. But Yahweh had destroyed them from before them, and as with Edom, had enabled them to dwell safely in their land in their place (as He would with Israel).

“And the Avvim, who dwelt in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim, who came forth out of Caphtor, destroyed them, and dwelt in their place.” This possibly refers to similar tall people who had settled in the Coastal Plain, the Avvim. In their case their defeat was at the hands of the Sea People who came from Caphtor (possibly Crete or the Greek coastlands). These latter were possibly the first wave of the equivalent of the Philistines. Joshua came across them in his later life. Compare Joshua 13:2-3. If the full invasion of the Philistines was in mind then this last part may be a note made by Joshua at a later date. But note how it fits in with the analysis.

Thus while passing by these nations Israel were to learn from them a number of lessons. Firstly that God is able to give land to whom He will, and ensure their safe possession of it. And secondly that God is well able to deal with even the most fearsome of opponents, whether they be Horim (Deuteronomy 2:12; Deuteronomy 2:22), Emim (Deuteronomy 2:10-11), Zamzummim (Deuteronomy 2:20), or Avvim (Deuteronomy 2:23) even though they be as tall as the Anakim (Deuteronomy 2:10-11; Deuteronomy 2:21). And at the same time they are to remember that Yahweh has shown them great blessing in the wilderness, while at the same time dealing severely with their disobedient fathers. The point behind all this is, let the lessons be learned!


Verse 24

Rise yourselves up, take your journey, and pass over the valley of the Arnon. See, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession of it, and contend with him in battle.”

They were now therefore to rise and cross the River Arnon and its valley and approach the Amorites, under Sihon king of Heshbon, north of Moab. In spite of the fact that Israel would offer friendship the result would be fierce battle during which they would commence taking possession of the land which was to be theirs. This was Yahweh’s decision and His purpose. This land had been snatched from Moab by Sihon. It was not his, and he and his people were Amorites, due for destruction.

Heshbon was the royal city of the Amorites in the area (Numbers 21:25-26). It has not yet been clearly identified. It became a levitical city (Joshua 21:39). It was restored by Reuben (Numbers 32:37), came into the possession of Gad, and then was later in the times of Isaiah and Jeremiah taken by Moab, before again being captured by Israel


Verse 25

This day will I begin to put the dread of you and the fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who will hear the report about you, and will tremble, and be in anguish because of you.”

This day is the day when they ‘passed over Ar the border of Moab’. Serious battles were now beginning. Not only would they defeat the Amorites, but that defeat would echo and re-echo throughout the vicinity, including Canaan. People would begin to fear them and their approach, and tremble. That would mean that their enemies would be defeated almost before they started. Now the new generation were to benefit by what was previously promised to the previous generation if they were faithful (Deuteronomy 11:25; Deuteronomy 28:10; Exodus 15:14-16; Joshua 2:9; Joshua 2:11). Yahweh was again working for them.


Verses 26-31

Yahweh’s Dealings With Sihon, King of the Amorites (Deuteronomy 2:26-31).

There is no suggestion that Yahweh had given the land of Sihon, king of the Amorites to him. Sihon had rather taken it by force of arms from Moab and had no divine right to it, especially as he was an Amorite, and the Amorites were under sentence. It was Yahweh’s intention that Sihon and the Amorites should be destroyed and their land give to Israel as a possession. However, in spite of that, they were at first given the opportunity to prove their worthiness. They could have shown compassion to Israel. But in their response they simply indicated that they were ‘Canaanites’ to the core. The importance of this time comes out in that Israel were now to take their first possession of the land, and establish their reputation for the future.

Behind the treatment of the Amorites lies the concept of holiness. Israel were a holy nation (Exodus 19:6), and the land promised to Abraham was a holy land (Exodus 15:17; Zechariah 2:12), the land of Yahweh’s inheritance (Exodus 15:17), belonging to Yahweh. Thus nothing unholy could be allowed to remain in it. That was why the unbelieving Israel had been refused residence in the land (Deuteronomy 1:28). That was why the Canaanites must be utterly destroyed from it. They had defiled the land. That is why once the land has been taken in holy war by God’s holy nation, all the inhabitants, men, women and children, must be ‘devoted’ to Yahweh in death in order to purge the land. The stain of the sinfulness of the Canaanites must be removed by the shedding of blood. That is Yahweh’s sentence. And that is why if His people depart from holiness they too must be driven from the land. It is a holy land for a holy people.

This passage may be analysed as follows:

a Moses send messages out of the plains to Sihon, the king of the Amorites offering peace (Deuteronomy 2:26).

b His request is that Israel might pass through, and he promises that they will stick to the King’s Highway and not trespass from it either to right or left (Deuteronomy 2:27).

c He desires that the Amorites will sell them food and water. All they want to do is march past (Deuteronomy 2:28).

c He points out that the Edomites and Moabites had done precisely this for them, and it would simply be until they crossed the Jordan into the land which Yahweh their God was giving them (Deuteronomy 2:29).

b But Sihon would not let them pass because Yahweh had hardened his spirit and made his heart ‘strong’ so that He might deliver Sihon into Israel’s hand at this very time (Deuteronomy 2:30).

a And Yahweh said to Moses, “Behold I have begun to deliver up Sihon and his land before you.” They are to begin to possess and inherit his land (Deuteronomy 2:31).

Note that in ‘a’ Moses offers Sihon peace, but in the parallel Yahweh makes known His purpose that Sihon will be delivered into the hands of Israel. In ‘b’ Moses requests that they might pass through the land and in the parallel Sihon refuses to let them pass through. In ‘c’ he requests that the Amorites might behave in the same way as in the parallel Edom and Moab had done.

Deuteronomy 2:26-28

And I sent messengers out of the wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon king of Heshbon with words of peace, saying, “Let me pass through your land. I will go along by the highway. I will turn neither to the right hand nor to the left. You shall 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 who dwell in Seir, and the Moabites who dwell in Ar, did to me, until I shall pass over the Jordan into the land which Yahweh our God gives us.”

Emissaries were sent to Sihon with the reasonable request that they be allowed to pass along the highway, paying their way, and the promise was given that they would not stray from the highway. They would pay for all provisions required. The children of Esau and the Moabites had to a certain extent allowed their passage, for they had not attacked them, and they had suffered no harm. Would they not do the same? Their aim, Moses explained, was simply to reach the Jordan where they could pass over it and enter the land which Yahweh had promised to give them.

Note the kingly use of ‘I’ to include his nation. As far as the nations were concerned Moses was Israel’s king.

Deuteronomy 2:30

But Sihon, king of Heshbon, would not let us pass by him, for Yahweh your God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into your hand, as at this day.”

But Moses makes it clear that it was never Yahweh’s intention for Sihon to agree. Yahweh all along knew Sihon’s innermost thoughts. And He had assessed him correctly. By this approach Yahweh hardened Sihon’s spirit, and made his heart obstinate. But this was not an independent act. It was because of what Sihon was. He could not blame God. Had he been amenable it would not have hardened his heart. (Compare Numbers 21:23 where the blame is laid squarely on him). He may well have been angry at the thought that this people were intending to invade Canaan where many of his brother Amorites were. He was also no doubt suspicious of what would happen when such a large contingent suddenly arrived in the middle of his land. They could then fan out and attack, taking the Amorites by surprise. And he knew that neither Edom nor Moab had been quite as accommodating as Moses had made it sound. Thus he refused, demonstrating His refusal to respond to Yahweh’s request.

The ‘hardening of the spirit and the making obstinate of the heart’ paralleled the behaviour of Pharaoh in Egypt. It brought down total judgment.

Deuteronomy 2:31

And Yahweh said to me, See, I have begun to deliver up Sihon and his land before you. Begin possessing to possess, that you may inherit his land.’

Then God told Moses that if he would look he would see that the beginning of Sihon’s delivering up was taking place. He would see the army of Sihon coming to make war and prevent their access. They could now go forward and begin to possess the land.


Verses 32-37

The War With Sihon and the Amorites (Deuteronomy 2:32-37).

As a result of Sihon’s refusal and show of force Israel retaliate and capture their cities and their land, and thus take possession of the land and a multitude of flocks and herds.

We can analyse the passage as follows:

a Sihon comes out against Israel, he and all his people, to battle (Deuteronomy 2:32).

b Yahweh delivers them up to Israel and they smite them and all their people (Deuteronomy 2:33).

c All their cities are taken and destroyed with all their inhabitants (Deuteronomy 2:34).

d The cattle and the spoils of the cities are kept as a prey for themselves (Deuteronomy 2:35).

c Over the whole land no city had sufficiently high walls to resist them (Deuteronomy 2:36 a)

b And Yahweh delivered them up before them (Deuteronomy 2:36 b).

a But they did not touch Ammon or the Ammonites. Their land was left untouched because Yahweh had forbidden them to touch it (Deuteronomy 2:37).

Note how in ‘a’ Sihon comes out against Israel to battle, but in the parallel Ammon remains untouched. Both were in accordance with Yahweh’s stated purpose. In ‘b’ and its parallel Yahweh delivers up the Amorites to them. In ‘c’ all their cities are destroyed and in the parallel no city could resist them. And central to it all they accumulated much spoil and cattle.

Deuteronomy 2:32-35

Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Jahaz. And Yahweh 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 (‘devoted’) every inhabited city, with the women and the little ones. We left none remaining. Only the cattle did we take for a prey to ourselves, with the spoil of the cities which we had taken.’

Moses points out that Sihon came as described, with all his warriors, and there was a great battle at Jahaz at which Sihon and his forces were routed. And as far as Israel were concerned it was all Yahweh’s doing. This was then followed by a campaign in which each of the cities was subdued. All the cities were destroyed (‘devoted’) and every man, woman and child put to death, as Yahweh had commanded must be done with the Canaanites. Their corruption had gone so far that there was no other remedy. Only the cattle were spared, along with all the spoils taken. (Jahaz is mentioned in the Moabite Stone).

It should be noted that Sihon and his people had had two other options. The first was to accept the treaty offered, which would have done them no harm, indeed would have done them good, the other was to remain within their walled cities safe out of harms way. The treaty could be offered to them because strictly they were not in the promised land and so would not be a snare to Israel. But it is made clear that it was Yahweh’s purpose that His judgment should come on them.

We know now that the country was surrounded by fortified border posts. (It was one thing to capture the cities of a defeated army, another to capture those filled with armed men who have not suffered defeat). Thus Sihon brought his judgment on himself and his people by leaving his defenced cities and attacking Israel. It was also the law of warfare that if a city surrendered it would be spared. If it resisted its menfolk would be put to the sword (Deuteronomy 20:10-15). This went one step further because the Canaanites were under God’s sentence of judgment, and by choosing to take sides with them Sihon had put himself under the curse.

We understandably see this as very harsh. But before we presume to condemn God we must consider the situation.

1). Had the women been spared they would have led Israel into idolatry, as the women at Baal-peor had done (Numbers 25:1-3).

2). Had the children been spared they would have grown up with vengeance in their hearts against those who had destroyed their parents and their nation. And many of them would already have become submerged in idolatry. Furthermore this would have been repeated wherever they went in Canaan. They would have been sitting on a huge time bomb.

3). It was Yahweh’s purpose to destroy the Canaanites/Amorites as a judgment on them for centuries of evil and sin. He had withheld this judgment for over 400 years (Genesis 15:16) and more, but things had only got worse, not better. As the righteous Judge He had the right to determine what should be done and how it should be done (so as also to teach Israel a lesson about the severity of sin). What would be wrong for us was not wrong for the Judge of all the world. He could have destroyed them by plague or wild beasts or earthquakes or thunderbolts. He chose to do it through Israel. The only question we should ask is how could a holy God allow any sinners to live? Why did He stop at the Canaanites? That is the unanswerable question, for that reveals the depths of sin as it is, until we find the answer in the coming of His Son to save us.

It should be noted that the corollary of this is that Yahweh was seen as having the right to do what He would with all nations. He was not limited to Israel. The whole world was seen as subject to His judgment, as Abraham had made clear long before (Genesis 18:25).

Deuteronomy 2:36

From Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of the Arnon, and from the city that is in the valley, even to Gilead, there was not a city too high for us. Yahweh our God delivered up all before us.’

So of every city from south (on the banks of the Arnon) to north (the region of Gilead) not one city was too strong to prevent Israel from taking it. God delivered all of them up to Israel. The ruins of Aroer, a Moabite border city, do literally look down the huge ravine through which flows the Arnon.

“There was not a city too high for us.” Contrast Deuteronomy 1:28, where the complaint had been that ‘the cities are great and fenced up to heaven’. They now discovered that Yahweh did keep His promises and was able to deal with the worst possible situations, with cities great and ‘fenced up to heaven’, that is having high walls.

Deuteronomy 2:37

Only to the land of the children of Ammon you (thou) did not come near. All the side of the river Jabbok, and the cities of the hill-country, and wherever Yahweh our God forbade us.’

But those whom Yahweh had declared untouchable were not in any way molested, just as Sihon and his people would not have been molested had they not acted belligerently. The children of Ammon were not touched in any way. Everything their side of the River Jabbok was left alone, including all the cities of their hill-country. Israel touched nothing in the region that Yahweh their covenant God had forbidden. The emphasis is on the fact that they were totally obedient. How different they now were from their fathers, and from what they would be like in a few decades time. The River Jabbok left the Jordan going eastward. Then it turned south and marked the boundaries of Sihon’s kingdom and Ammon.

It may reasonably be asked how far this justifies religious wars. The answer is that it does not. This was a unique occasion. Nowhere did Jesus ever suggest that men should fight for Christianity. What they were called on to do was humbly die for it (or should we say, for Him). Violence was forbidden. Christians were to love their enemies and do good to those who hated them. No exceptions were stated, whereas at this period there was one exception, the evil and degraded Canaanites. This does not prevent a nation from defending itself from attack, that is another matter. What it forbids is deliberately and belligerently going to war. God has not given us a land or a city to fight for. The land and city He has given to us is where no one can touch it.

For the use of the singular verb see on Deuteronomy 2:9.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/deuteronomy-2.html. 2013.

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Wednesday, January 29th, 2020
the Third Week after Epiphany
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