Meditations in Deuteronomy : 6: Victories
(Focus: Deut 2:24-3:13)
Deut 2:24,25 “Set out now and cross the Arnon Gorge. See, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country. Begin to take possession of it and engage him in battle. This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven.
Moses now moves on with his historical reminders, from the three countries through which they passed peacefully, to the two nations who they had to fight. The Lord had warned that their first fight as the new nation (the older generation having passed away) was about to happen. It was a general warning and it came with a consequence: other nations “will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.” This will become a means by which the Lord will eventually seek to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, as we’ll see later. Now let’s see how that worked out.
“From the desert of Kedemoth I sent messengers to Sihon king of Heshbon offering peace and saying, “Let us pass through your country. We will stay on the main road; we will not turn aside to the right or to the left. Sell us food to eat and water to drink for their price in silver. Only let us pass through on foot- as the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir, and the Moabites, who live in Ar, did for us–until we cross the Jordan into the land the LORD our God is giving us.” (v.26-29) Moses had made a very reasonable approach to king Sihon – they would restrict themselves to the main road, and they would pay for food and drink and pass through without causing any trouble, just like they had done with the previous nations. But that was of no avail: “But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the LORD your God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands, as he has now done.” (v.30) Now we don’t know the history of Sihon and the Lord, but when we compare this with the story of Pharaoh in Exodus 1-12, it was actually that the king already had a hard heart and the Lord simply hardened it further by confronting him. So Sihon refuses to let Moses through and even more, “Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz.” (v.32) The result was as the Lord had declared: “the LORD our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army.” (v.33)
Now when we follow this through, it seems somewhat brutal and barbaric on today’s standards: “At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them–men, women and children. We left no survivors. But the livestock and the plunder from the towns we had captured we carried off for ourselves.” (v.34,35) Although today we, here in the West at least, try to avoid killing civilians, that hasn’t always been so, as the bombing of cities in the last World War shows, and the eventual bombing of Japan. Such action we see as evil but sometimes the lesser of two evils. On this occasion it does not seem that the Lord instructed Israel to do this but they simply carried out what was a common practice of those days in wars.
What followed was a simple repeat: “Next we turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan with his whole army marched out to meet us in battle at Edrei. The LORD said to me, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.” (3:1.2) This time we aren’t given any details of any approach Moses might have made to them, but the outcome was the same: “So the LORD our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors. At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them–the whole region of Argob, Og’s kingdom in Bashan. All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages. We completely destroyed them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying every city–men, women and children. But all the livestock and the plunder from their cities we carried off for ourselves.” (v.3-7)
Subsequently “Of the land that we took over at that time, I gave the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory north of Aroer by the Arnon Gorge, including half the hill country of Gilead, together with its towns. The rest of Gilead and also all of Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half tribe of Manasseh.” (v.12,13)
Thus they had settled the land to the east of the Jordan. In accordance with the ways of war in those days, they had completely cleared the land of its occupants and had settled some of their own people there. This must have built their self confidence immensely. Again, the lesson was simple: obey the Lord and He will give you victory.