Meditations in Deuteronomy : 5 : End of Wanderings
(Focus: Deut 2:1-23)
Deut 2:1-3 Then we turned back and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea, as the LORD had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir. Then the LORD said to me, “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north.
There are parts of Scripture which, to be honest, are not as alive and vibrant as others. In other words, the temptation may be there for us to think they are boring and uninteresting, but the truth is that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16) So what is this present, apparently mundane passage from verse 1 to verse 23 of Deuteronomy going to tell us?
Moses reminds Israel of the consequence that followed their disobedience and refusal to enter the land forty years ago. So they “turned back and set out towards the desert.” What a contrast. Instead of entering the land of plenty, they were going to live in the desert for forty years. So, “for a long time” they wandered in the desert until the Lord had decreed the time was up. Now Moses is going to cover the period between leaving the desert wanderings and arriving where they are now – and there are some significant things that happened during that time. We’ll only cover the first of them in this meditation.
Observe the instructions that the Lord had given them: “Give the people these orders: `You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir.’”(v.4) So, to approach Canaan from half way up the Jordan they have to pass through the lands of various other peoples, but look what the Lord says about them: “They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.’” (v.4-6) Summarised, the Lord’s instructions are that you are to respect and honour them. They will be afraid of you but you are not to provoke them to fight you for I will not support you. In fact you are to honour them and pay for any food or water you take from their land.
Sometimes people think the Lord was looking for any excuse to deal violently with any godless peoples, but this passage shows that this is just not so! In case Israel feel negative about paying the inhabitants, the Lord reminds them that they have plenty: “The LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.” (v.7)
Thus Moses then reminds them how they passed peacefully through the first lands: “So we went on past our brothers the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. We turned from the Arabah road, which comes up from Elath and Ezion Geber, and travelled along the desert road of Moab.” (v.8) Note also, in the light of our earlier considerations in these meditation, the geographical locations that tie this all into history.
We then find the same instructions were given by the Lord to pass peacefully through the land of the Moabites: “Then the LORD said to me, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.” (v.9). That was the second nation they were to pass through without provoking war. But it goes on: “When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.” (v.19) So there was a third nation through whose land Israel had to pass without giving cause for attack.
So three times the Lord had instructed them to pass through lands without attacking the peoples there. Israel were NOT on a ‘kill anyone in sight” campaign! God was NOT bringing judgment on these three people groups and so Israel had passed through these countries without upset.
So why was Moses reminding them of this? First because it had happened! This was part of their recent history. It showed that they were not total isolationists, they were not enemies of every nation. No, they had passed peacefully through these three areas without there being war. God’s intent was not willful destruction. Where there were nations to be fought against, there was a reason for it. Where a nation did not rise up against them, they were not to fight it. This further historical recollection should give a further dimension of understanding to who they were and what they did. The lesson is, let the Lord lead and often the outcome will be peace.