Wanderings and Victories in Trans-Jordan
Moses continued by recounting the events after the failed attempt of the people to enter into the Promised Land. 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 them. Someone noted that the saddest words ever penned are these: “What might have been.” 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 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 contains a parallel account in which Israel asked and was denied permission to pass through Edom.
Practical Consideration: Where God leads God provides. Moses recounted Israel’s journey towards Edom, Moab, and Ammon. They asked and were 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).
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 and he led the people on a longer circuitous route to the east along the edge of the desert.
These verses record the end of one of the saddest chapters in Israel’s history, the death of the entire generation of unbelievers who refused to possess the Promised Land thirty-eight years earlier (2:13b-15 and Jude 5). Once God’s death sentence was carried out, the people were instructed to advance north towards Ammom. The Ammonites were also descendants of Lot, as recorded in Genesis 19:38. The people were again prohibited from harassing the Ammonites (2:19).
Moses apparently asked and was denied permission to pass through Ammon. He consequently led the people westward towards the lands that 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 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 only 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.