Moses continues his historical review of the journey from Egypt to the east side of the Jordan. His listeners heard in Chapter 1 how their parents rebelled against the command of the Lord and refused to enter the land 38 years ago. Moses now rehearses for them in Chapters 2 and 3 the journey from Kadesh – the site of the rebellion – to where they are now. This is the history these people have lived.
The story of Chapter 1 was of God’s faithfulness in the midst of the people’s continual sin. These two chapters recount how God has been merciful to the new generation and has spent the last ten months – the time since they left Kadesh to travel to the Jordan – preparing the people to enter and possess Canaan. Unlike their parents, this generation has seen God go before them in battle. God has mercifully given them confidence so they will not wilt under fear as they prepare to enter the Promised Land.
It appears that the timing of this part of Moses’ story is after the 38 years spent in Kadesh after the rebellion. Verse 46 of Chapter 1 seems to imply that they stayed in Kadesh (and this goes along with Numbers 20 and 33:38) for the majority of the 38 years it took for the rebellious generation to die. Beginning in verse 1, Moses traces the nation’s steps from Kadesh to the Jordan River.
God tells Moses to go to Canaan by way of Edom – the land of their brothers, the sons of Esau. Israel is related to the Edomites because Jacob and Esau were brothers. The nations are effectively cousins. However, Edom and Israel never get along in the Old Testament and Numbers 21 records that Edom refuses to let Israel pass through its land.
Moses tells the people not to take anything from the land without paying for it. He does not want them plundering the Edomites. He also says they effectively have no needs because God has taken care of them. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing.
Though God punished them dramatically for their rebellion and cursed a whole generation to die in the wilderness, He never stopped being their God and caring for them. Notice that Moses calls God the Lord your God twice in verse 7. He is not only Yahweh; He is Yahweh, Israel’s God. Israel belongs to Him. Moses says, “He has known your wanderings; He has blessed you in all that you have done.” God never left them and never forsook them. Even in the midst of their punishment He never deserted them. Note: we serve a merciful God who will not desert His people even when He has to punish them. The discipline of a good father does not change his relationship with his son.
Israel passes through Moab. God instructs the people not to dispossess the Moabites because God has given their land to them just as He did with Edom. The reason for this is because Moab is related to Israel also – through Lot. Moab (along with Ammon) is the product of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughter after Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed (Gen 19:30-38).
In verse 14 Moses explains the time of their wandering. It has taken 38 years since the rebellion at Kadesh to get to Moab. During that time all the generation of the men of war perished from within the camp [interesting to conjecture if the curse only applied to the men (see Num 14:29) – are there women over the age of 60 still alive?]. It has taken 38 years for all the people who were 20 years old and older to die and be purged from the people who will possess Canaan. God has done what He said He would – make Israel wait until that generation perished so no one defiled by the rebellion would enter the land.
It is hard to know for sure, but perhaps the last of the people of the rebellious generation die in Moab after the nation crosses the brook Zered. Verse 16 seems to imply that it is at Zered that the curse of God is finally completed and God tells Moses to continue the journey.
Israel moves from Moab and approaches Ammon – another nation related to it because of Lot (see above). For the same reason God did not allow them to harass Moab, the people are instructed to leave the Ammonites alone also. God has given Ammon its land and Israel will not possess it. (It appears that they do not actually enter Ammon – just go by it on their way to battle Sihon and Og.)
In verse 24 God tells them of the first land they WILL possess – the land of Sihon the Amorite. Sihon is the king of Heshbon and his land will be the first possession of the Promised Land. Though it lies east of the Jordan it will belong to Israel.
God says something very interesting to the people in verse 25. He says, “This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under the heavens, who, when they hear the report of you, shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.” He not only prepares Israel to enter the land, He prepares the enemies it will face. He goes to battle for the people in these early conquests to give them confidence but also to terrify the Canaanites. Rahab will later tell the spies sent to Jericho, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed” (Josh 2:9-11).
Notice His mercy to Israel. He knows fear is the biggest enemy – the generation that just died in the wilderness was defeated by it. So He will not allow this generation to be overcome with fear. He shows them how He will fight for them but also makes sure they understand that their enemies actually fear them instead. He reassures them that the evil and powerful Canaanites – who were so scary to their parents – shall tremble and be in anguish because of you. God is not remote to the people – He deals with them as the weak human beings they are. He understands their emotions and relates to them accordingly (just like US!).
Israel begins its first real dress-rehearsal for Canaan. For the first time the people are going to fight for a land that will actually belong to them. This is not a battle of self-defense or one to allow them to proceed on their way – this is a battle for what will be their home.
Moses knows he is about to battle against Sihon – because God told him – but he sends a mission of peace to him anyway. Moses asks if Israel can pass through the Amorites’ land and purchase food from them as they go. He asks for the same arrangement that worked with Edom and Moab. Moses knows Sihon will not accept, but there is no reason to think the offer is not sincere.
In verse 30 the narrative says Sihon is not willing to allow Israel to pass because God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him into your hand. God wants this land for Israel so He makes sure Sihon refuses Moses’ request. God sovereignly controls events so Sihon decides to fight Israel rather than allow it safe passage. God’s plan requires Sihon to be destroyed so He ensures Sihon signs his own death warrant.
This kind of verse can be hard to understand. How can God hold Sihon responsible for a decision he has no choice in making? If it is not really a choice, how can it be held against him?
It is instructive to bring into this story knowledge from other texts. We know the people of Canaan and the surrounding areas are extremely pagan. They worship idols, they burn their children, they engage in cult prostitution – there is almost nothing ungodly they do not practice (12:31, 18:9-13). With this in mind it is not hard to imagine that Sihon has hardened his heart against God his whole life. Similar to Pharaoh in Exodus, God does not harden his heart until he has hardened it himself many times (see Ex. 7:22, 8:15, 8:19, 8:32, 9:7, 9:12). This goes along with what Paul says in Romans 1 – when the sinner repeatedly pursues unrighteousness and refuses to repent, God eventually gives him over to his own sin where repentance is no longer possible (Rom 1:24-32).
The hardening was a fruit of sin, a consequence of that self-will, high-mindedness, and pride which flow from sin, and a continuous and ever increasing abuse of that freedom of the will which is innate in man, and which involves the possibility of obstinate resistance to the word and chastisement of God even until death. – Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Pentateuch
Sihon is responsible for his actions because he is in the state he ultimately wants – totally on his own and apart from God. In this case God makes his decision for him, but it is only because his heart is so far from God that God ensures the choice brings his own judgment.
The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes. Proverbs 21:1
Israel battles with Sihon and destroys him. The people capture every city and take possession of the animals and the spoils. They also destroy every living person under Sihon’s rule – every man, woman and child. We left no survivor.
This is another verse that is hard to understand and hard to justify. How can God have His people kill women and children in the midst of war? How can God condone utterly destroying EVERY person so there is not one survivor? It is one thing to take over a land because God promises it – it is another to murder defenseless people in the process.
It is important to understand that this is more than a military victory. It is God’s judgment on the Amorites. It is similar to Sodom and Gomorrah and the Genesis Flood. No one survives when God judges sinners. Sin must be destroyed root and branch. [It also increases the terror the Canaanites have because of Israel – note again Rahab’s comments.]
Also – God cannot risk the Amorites influencing Israel. This generation has already been seduced by the women of Moab into idolatry and immorality (Num 25). God will not allow His people to mix with pagans and be drawn away into the worship of other gods. It is impossible to overstate how seriously God takes the first two commandments. He is jealous for His own glory – it is why Moses will not enter the land – and will not share it with any false god. His people must be kept pure from the pagan influence of the Canaanites.
Israel meets Og, king of Heshbon (another Amorite king – verse 8), and destroys him and his people in the same way it destroyed Sihon. The people take the spoil of the cities but kill every man, woman, and child.
Interestingly, the narrative tells us that Israel captures 60 cities in Heshbon, all of which are fortified with high walls, gates and bars. These are exactly the types of cities that intimidated the rebellious generation (1:28). The high-walled cities were thought to be impenetrable by the weak Israelites and they used it as a reason for turning back. God shows this generation how easily the cities fall when He fights against them. The high-walled cities are no match for Yahweh and the people will not fear them as their parents did.
Even more, the story gives us a description of Og himself (11). Og is a descendant of the Rephaim – the giants of the country. Og is so large that his bed is made of iron and is over thirteen feet long and six feet wide. Og is the perfect example of the large people who scared Israel at Kadesh. The spies who went through the land told the people, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim; and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Num 13:32-33). God again is merciful to this generation and shows them that giants fall when God fights for Israel. In these two battles God addresses both fears the rebellious generation had before entering the land – giants and fortified cities. God has shown this people they have nothing to fear while He is with them.
Thought: The lesson here is obvious. We really have nothing to fear when God is with us. If God is for us, who is against us? (Rom 8:31b). Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (I Jn 4:4). Our Father is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He called it into being. He is sovereign over all things and rules over all men and all powers. Nothing stands before Him. We have no reason to fear when we are His. AND YET – as we have shown He also does not hold fear against us. He ministers to us in our fear. We have no justifiable reason to fear when He is with us, but He is so merciful and loving that He understands when we do and relates to us in our weakness.
Moses gives the conquered land to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The people of Manasseh will divide and half will settle east of the Jordan and half will settle west. Moses instructs the three tribes that their men of war will continue with the rest of the nation and fight until the whole land is settled. Only then will they be allowed to return to their settlements. They can, however, leave their wives and children and livestock in their new homes. Their families will settle the land while they cross the Jordan and fight.
Moses gives a charge to Joshua. He tells him to note what they have done to Sihon and Og and understand that God will do the same to the nations they are about to face in Canaan. He says, “Do not fear them, for the Lord your God is the one fighting for you.” After Moses’ death God will tell Joshua to be strong and courageous (He will repeat it three times in one charge) and that no man will be able to stand before Joshua as long as he lives (Josh 1:1-9). God not only prepares the people to enter the land but He prepares their leader. He goes out of His way to make sure Joshua will not be felled by fear and will lead the people courageously. God leaves no stone unturned in making sure Kadesh never happens again.
Now that the people possess the land of the Amorites on the east side of the Jordan and are ready to enter Canaan, Moses decides to appeal to God to allow him to enter too. “Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.”
He precedes his appeal with a statement of God’s greatness and sovereignty and how God has performed mighty acts. He says, “You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand.” Moses has seen what God is going to do for the people and he wants to be a part of it. He has witnessed God’s power more than perhaps any man, but he now sees how God will lead Israel and fight for it and he does not want to miss it. He also may be thinking that he has seen so much of the wrath of God and the failure of the people that he now wants to be part of the successes of the people under the power of God.
God very clearly answers Moses. He says to him, “Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter.” God is angry with him on account of the people (same thing Moses said in 1:37) and thus will not listen to his appeal. Instead, God tells him to go up Mount Pisgah and look at the land but that Joshua will lead the people into it (Moses will do this right before his death – 34:1).
It is interesting that God has Moses include this in his history. Perhaps it is His way of making sure the people know that Joshua is clearly their leader and that it will be no mistake when Moses is taken from them. It also shows again how jealously God guards His glory and that NO ONE who is tainted by the rebellion at Kadesh – or guilty of the same sin – will enter the land.
Moses ends the narrative somewhat meekly – “So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor.”
Summary of God’s Mercy in This Passage
In these chapters God clearly shows how merciful He is to His people. Even though Israel is entering the land 38 years after they should have, He still leads them and fights for them and cares for them. They still eat His manna. They still have the provisions they need. We know from other passages that their shoes and clothing do not wear out.
Even more, however, He reassures them and prepares them for what lies ahead. The people rebelled 38 years ago because they were scared of the Canaanites. They were scared of their size and intimidated by their fortified cities. Thus God has this generation defeat two kings east of the Jordan and take their land as practice for the conquest of Canaan. He makes sure that one of the kings they defeat is a huge man with numerous fortified cities – just like what exists in Canaan. He directly addresses what made their parents turn back. It is interesting to note that the very first city they will conquer west of the Jordan is the most fortified city of all – Jericho. And the people will go right at it and not hesitate when God tells them it will be theirs. God prepares them well so they do not repeat the mistakes of their parents.
The other thing God does gives perhaps the clearest picture of His mercy and concern. He makes sure Israel knows its enemies fear it. What better way to reassure a fearful people than to tell them how terrified their enemies are? How good must it feel to the Israelites to know the countries across the Jordan are in anguish because of them?
The lesson from these accounts is that God KNOWS us! He knows how fragile we are and knows how much babysitting and reassuring we need. He knows we are emotional and irrational and have short memories and attention spans. Like a tender Father with a small child He ministers to us in our weakness at our own level. He does not expect us to change our makeup or stop being human. He loves us because of His nature and out of that love tends to our very human needs.
One other thought. The battles with Sihon and Og are most likely scary trials for the people. Yet it is these trials that God uses to reassure them that He is with them and will lead them to victory. Because of these two battles the people will cross the Jordan confident in God and ready to follow Him. It is often the trials of life that enable us to know God more deeply and enjoy Him more fully. What is at first awful to us often turns out to be just what we need to see that God stands with us and will not desert us. It is impossible to fully know how God fights for us if we never endure any battles.