The Word Made Fresh
1“We wandered around the hill country near Seir for years 2until the LORD said to me, 3‘Israel has wandered around long enough. Go northward. Tell the people to be watchful because they will be going through lands that belong to their relatives – Esau’s descendants. They are afraid of you, 4but do not fight with them because I have given that land to them. 5I won’t give any of it to you, not so much as a single footprint. 6Buy food and water from them as you travel through their land. 7I have been very good to you in every way and have taken care of you all these forty years. You have wanted for nothing.’
8“So we skirted around our relatives of Esau’s lineage in Seir. We left the Arabah road and put Elath and Ezion-Geber behind us. As we followed the route through Moab 9the LORD instructed me not to bother the Moabites or start any trouble with them because the LORD said, ‘I will not give you any of their land; it belongs to the descendants of Lot.’ 10It had been formerly inhabited by the Emim, a people who were as tall as the Anakim. 11Along with the Anakim they are usually thought of as a branch of the Rephaim, but the Moabites call them the Emim. 12In addition to them, the Horites had inhabited Seir, but Esau’s descendants ran them out and took over their place, just as Israel has been doing in the land the LORD is giving them. 13‘Now then,’ the LORD said, ‘it is time for you to cross the Zered creek bed.’ So, we did.
14“It took us thirty-eight years to go from Kadesh-Barnea to the Zered. That whole generation of our men passed away, which was exactly what the LORD had ordered, 15for the LORD was determined that, because of their rebellion earlier, they would not enter the land the LORD was giving the people.
16“But when that generation was gone 17the LORD told me, 18‘Now you are going to cross Moab’s boundary at Ar, 19and as you approach Ammonite territory you are to remain at peace with them. I will not give their land to you because I have already given it to Lot’s descendants.’ 20The Rephaim used to live there (the Ammonites call them Zamzummim) 21and they were as tall as the Anakim, and strong, and there were a lot of them, but the LORD destroyed them so the Ammonites could live there. 22The same thing happened to the children of Esau now living in Seir; the LORD destroyed the Horim and Esau’s people settled there. 23The Avvim used to live near Gaza, but the Caphtorim did away with them and settled there.
24“The LORD said, ‘Continue the way you are going and cross the Arnon creek bed and engage king Sihon the Amorite from Heshbon. I have already handed him and his land over to you. Fight with him and take possession of it. 25This is the day I will begin to make people everywhere afraid of you because they will receive reports about you and will cower in fear.’
26“So, when we were still in Kedemoth I sent a message to king Sihon of Heshbon and offered him terms of peace. 27I told him that if he would let us pass through his land we would not wander from the road but stay on it, 28and that we would buy food and water from him if he would let us walk peacefully through.29I told him the descendants of Esau let us go through Seir on those terms, and also the Moabites in Ar. ‘We are going to cross the Jordan,’ I said, ‘and enter the land the LORD our God is giving us.’ 30But Sihon would not hear of it; the LORD your God made him stubborn in order to hand him over to you, as you see has now happened.
31“The LORD told me, ‘See, I am giving Sihon and his territory to you. Go now and take possession of it’ 32When Sihon and his army attacked us at Jahaz 33the LORD our God gave him into our hands, and we cut him down with his sons and his whole army. 34We took over all his towns and killed every man, woman, and child. None of them survived. 35All we kept for ourselves was the livestock and whatever we could find of any value in those towns. 36From Aroer on the banks of the Arnon creek bed, and the little town in the creek bed, as far over as Gilead, we found no fortifications that could hold us back. The LORD our God gave it all to us. 37But none of you set foot in Ammonite country and you stayed away from the Jabbok stream bed and the settlements in the hill country, just as the LORD ordered.”
1-8: Moses continues his recounting of the last 40 years. Much of what we are reading in chapter 2 is nonetheless new information for us because it was not mentioned in Numbers. Moses says that from Kadesh they returned to the wilderness, then turned north to Mt. Seir, the territory of Esau. In Numbers we read that they sought permission to go through Edom and were denied. (Edom and Esau/Seir are synonymous). However, Moses now says that God told them not to go through Seir/Edom because they were kin, but to buy food and water from them.
8-13: A similar command is given concerning the territory of Moab, east of the Jordan. Both Edom and Moab are reckoned as relatives of Israel because the people there are traced to settlements during the time of the patriarchs – Abraham’s nephew Lot settled Moab and his grandson Esau settled Edom.
13-15: Moses says that the length of time between departing Kadesh to arriving at Moab is 38 years. All the warriors (men 20 years old and older) that were alive when they left Egypt have died (save Caleb and Joshua).
16-25: Moses remembers that God then ordered them through Ammonite territory, again telling them to go peacefully, and again reciting the background of God’s having given that land to their relatives, in this case the descendants of Lot. While they were passing through Ammonite territory, Moses says, God ordered them to conquer the Zamzummites, for God had determined to give Israel that territory east of the Jordan. Moses’ recollection here is embellished a bit with hindsight. They defeated their enemies and later three of the tribes asked to stay on the east side of the Jordan. Moses granted their request reluctantly at the time, but now looking back he sees that their defeat of the Zamzummites was ordained by God from the beginning.
26-30: Still, Moses says that he tried to traverse the Amorite kingdom peacefully and sent envoys to King Sihon requesting permission. God had “hardened his spirit,” however, and Sihon refused, setting up the battle for the conquest of Amorite lands.
31-37: Moses describes the campaign against King Sihon of Heshbon in a little more detail than was given in Numbers 21:21-31. The statement that they killed the entire population, including women and children, is not verified by the account in Numbers and Moses does not say that God ordered such an indefensible slaughter.
The violence is the part that always bothers me. But these were difficult times, and God is about the process of establishing a particular people as God’s own people – so that the day would come when God could use this fickle and wayward people to present to the world a king who was never crowned, but who extended God’s blessing and protection around the world. A stable in Bethlehem is in the shadows behind all the stories of the Old Testament.