Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 3, 2009

Deuteronomy 2:1–3:17

• Wanderings and Victories in Trans-Jordan | Deuteronomy 2:1–3:17

2:1-7 | Deuteronomy 2:1 is one of the saddest statements in the Bible: “Then we turned and set out for the wilderness.” The Promised Land was no longer before the people. Someone noted that the saddest words ever written are these: “What might have been.”

What might have been. | Edgar Guest wrote a poem entitled “Tomorrow.” Although his poem is about procrastination, it speaks to the subject of what might have been. Deuteronomy 2 is about the generation of unbelieving Israelites that missed out on what might have been.

   He was going to be all that a mortal should be — tomorrow.
No one should be kinder or braver than he — tomorrow.
A friend who was troubled and weary he knew,
Who’d be glad of a lift and needed it, too;
On him he would call and see what he could do — tomorrow.

   Each morning he stacked up the letters he’d write — tomorrow.
And thought of the folks he would fill with delight — tomorrow.
It was too bad, indeed, he was busy today,
And hadn’t a minute to stop on his way;
More time he would have to give others, he’d say — tomorrow.

   The greatest of workers this man would have been — tomorrow.
The world would have known him, had he ever seen — tomorrow.
But the fact is he died and faded from view,
And all that he left here when living was through
Was a mountain of things he intended to do — tomorrow.

The Israelites traveled from Kadesh-barnea to the area of Mount Seir, a mountain range in Edom (2:1). After an unspecified period of time God instructed the people to leave and travel north (2:2-3) through Edom (2:4). Verse 4 states, “and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful.” The Edomites (who were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother) were a settled people who were concerned about protecting their fields and water supplies from nomadic peoples. That is one reason why God had instructed the Israelites to be peaceful in their interactions with the Edomites (2:5) and to purchase their supplies from them rather than plunder the people (2:6). Another reason for the prohibition against molesting the Edomites is because God had given them their land as a possession (2:5). Moses used this historical account as an illustration of God’s providential care for His people (2:7). Numbers 20:14-21 record a parallel account in which Israel asked and was denied permission to pass through Edom.

Where God leads God provides. | Moses recounted Israel’s journey towards Edom, Moab, and Ammon. He asked but was denied permission to pass through these lands. In spite of the unwillingness of these peoples to allow Israel to pass through their lands, God providentially cared for and provided for the needs of His people. Moses reminded the people, “These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing” (2:7b).

2:8-13a | Moses continued his travelogue by recounting the next stage of their journey. The people journeyed north (2:8) towards Moab (descendants of Lot, as recorded in Genesis 19:37). The Israelites were again prohibited from harassing the Moabites who had received their land as a possession (2:9). Upon reaching the brook Zered, which served as the border between Edom and Moab, Moses asked permission to peacefully pass through Moab. His request was denied so he led the people on a longer circuitous route to the east along the edge of the desert.

2:13b-23 | These verses record the end of one of the saddest chapters in Israel’s history, the death of the entire generation of unbelievers who had refused to possess the Promised Land thirty-eight years earlier (2:13b-15 and Jude 5). Once this generation died, the people were instructed to advance north towards Ammom. The Ammonites were also descendants of Lot (see Genesis 19:38). The Israelites were prohibited from harassing the Ammonites (2:19).

2:24-37 | Moses apparently asked but was denied permission to pass through Ammon. So, he led the people westward towards the lands which Sihon (King of Heshbon – a Canaanite king) and Og (King of Bashan) had seized from Moab and Ammon. Moses asked Sihon for permission to peacefully pass through his land (just as he had asked the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites) but was denied permission (2:26-31). Rather than finding another route, Moses and the people engaged Sihon in battle (2:24), defeated him (2:32-35), and took possession of the lands specified by God (2:36-37). Moses was given permission to engage Sihon in battle because he did not occupy land given to him by the Lord (unlike the previous peoples). This is the beginning of the actual conquest. Read Numbers 21:21-31 for a parallel account of this event.

3:1-11 | These verses recount the victory of Moses and the Israelites over Og, King of Bashan. The parallel account of this battle is found in Numbers 21:33-35.

3:12-17 | With the victories over Sihon and Og, the Israelites controlled the land bordered by Ammon on the east, Jordan on the west, Moab on the south, and as far as Mount Hermon on the north. This territory east of the Jordan was allotted to the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 32:33).

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