Deuteronomy: The Source of Our Confidence

Commentary Highlight - Part 3

As Christians, it can be easy for us to mistake the purpose of humility. We know we are to avoid pride and arrogance; Satan was puffed up because of his pride, and it led to his corruption and will ultimately lead to his demise (Isa 14:12–15). We know that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6 and 1 Pet 5:5). However, we sometimes can think that having humility means we’re to always be downtrodden and defeated, and that’s not true at all. Our humility simply means that our confidence is in God’s power and not in ourselves.

King David understood this thoroughly. The boy who went to fight the giant wasn’t absorbed in his own ego; he trusted that God would give him victory. He would later sing in Psalm 33:16–18:

There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy;

When the Israelites came to the edge of the Promised Land, they knew they had the job of going in and conquering the enemy. They would be fulfilling the purposes of God, the promise given to their father Abraham more than 400 years earlier (Gen 15:13–16). However, their confidence was not in the fact that they were a vast multitude, and it was not in some idea that they were greater warriors than the giants in the land of Canaan. Their confidence came because they could trust in God’s faithfulness.

As we begin to read Deuteronomy chapter 2, we find constant reminders that God is able to give them the victory He promised:

Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed mount Seir many days. And the LORD spake unto me, saying, Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward.

Deuteronomy 2:1–3

Forty years have passed since God miraculously brought the children of Israel across the Red Sea. The LORD pronounced a 40-year judgment on the ungrateful and rebellious Israelites who refused to trust Him. Yet, God has not given up on His people. As we read through the Scriptures, we need to recognize the amazing patience of God. It should astonish us. This is the King of Eternity, the Creator of all the vast heavens, and we might expect Him to just wipe out anybody who causes trouble. But, that’s not how He operates. His patience with Israel should give us comfort, because it points to His patience in dealing with us. The Bible says that God is long-suffering. The term is a quaint old word, but it’s descriptive.

In spite of all his setbacks, Moses was still able to say “the Lord spake unto me” here at the beginning of chapter 2. God hasn’t given up. He is still dealing with the nation through Moses. He is still guiding the nation, and he has not abandoned His plan.

Being Neighborly

And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore: Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession. Ye shall buy meat of them for money, that ye may eat; and ye shall also buy water of them for money, that ye may drink.

Deuteronomy 2:4–6

This is interesting. Esau was Jacob’s brother, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. Esau had many failings, and God chose Jacob over Esau, but the LORD is still giving the children of Esau His protection. God isn’t interested in destroying every group of people in Israel’s path. They will defeat the people of Canaan, but there are people groups that God wants the Israelites to spare — people who are also related to His friend Abraham.

The Israelites have left the Arabian Desert behind, but Edom is still a dry place, and water is a commodity. The people of Mount Seir are apprehensive as they see this vast multitude passing through their land, and they certainly have concerns about the water supply. God isn’t only protecting the Edomites, however. He is protecting Israel’s relationship with Edom.

For the LORD thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand: he knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness: these forty years the LORD thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing.

Deuteronomy 2:7

That is truly remarkable. For 40 years nearly two million people wandered as nomads in the desert, and they lacked nothing. The LORD supernaturally provided water and food. Even their clothing and sandals did not wear out. This all should have been motivation to obey His immediate instructions.

And when we passed by from our brethren the children of Esau, which dwelt in Seir, through the way of the plain from Elath, and from Eziongaber, we turned and passed by the way of the wilderness of Moab. And the LORD said unto me, Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle: for I will not give thee of their land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for a possession.

Deuteronomy 2:8–9

The history lesson continues. God is also preserving the Israelites’ relationship with the Moabites. The people of Moab were descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot. Moses is reminding the Israelites of their progress until this point. The next line, however, was not original to Moses’ speech. It’s an editorial note added later, just as Moses’ death is added later.

Biblical Inspiration

The Emims dwelt therein in times past, a people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakims; Which also were accounted giants, as the Anakims; but the Moabites call them Emims. The Horims also dwelt in Seir beforetime; but the children of Esau succeeded them, when they had destroyed them from before them, and dwelt in their stead; as Israel did unto the land of his possession, which the LORD gave unto them.

Deuteronomy 2:10–12

A couple of comments need to be made here. First, the King James translators put a plural “s” on the end of the names of these people groups when the Hebrew words are already plural. The word Emim is plural — as indicated by the Hebrew “im” ending — but the translators added an “s” for our benefit in English. In effect, it’s like transliterating the word “children” as “childrens.” I’m going to entrust this understanding to you and leave off the “s” for the Emim and the Anakim and the Horim people groups. Just a small thing.

Next (and more importantly), this statement in verses 10–12 is an explanation that has clearly been added after the conquest of the land. Some people will say this proves that Moses didn’t write the book, but that’s not the issue. This is simply an editorial note. On the other hand, it does raise some questions about inspiration of the Scriptures.

Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that the Scriptures were breathed by God. We recognize this means the original texts of the Scriptures contained no errors, for God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). The books of Luke were the result of thorough research, as he tells Theophilus in Luke 1:1–4. Luke was not an eye-witness, but he tracked down those who were. The Holy Spirit was able to move through the people He chose to write the words. He superintended the work of editor of Deuteronomy just as He did the historical research of Luke, so that the final words of the text, though obtained by different methods, are the words intended by God. It was this final text that Jesus Christ pronounced perfect in Matthew 5:18 and John 10:35. We can be comfortable with the text, even including editorial insertions, because they were already in there when Christ authenticated the Scriptures.

The Bible does contain editorial insertions. Deuteronomy ends with an explanation of the death and burial of Moses. We do not know who polished off Deuteronomy in this manner, but it’s natural that Joshua would have finished the book for Moses as his successor in leading Israel. Deuteronomy 34:9 tells us that Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid hands on him. In the end, Moses wrote the books of the Torah, but He was not its ultimate author. That was the Holy Spirit. We rely on the Holy Spirit for the accuracy of the text, and we trust the authentication of Jesus.

Doomed Inhabitants

The editor describes the peoples who lived in the land in the days before conquest. He explains after-the-fact that the Edomites destroyed the Horim just as the Israelites destroyed those in the Promised Land.

We find repeated mention of giants in the Old Testament, especially in reference to the Canaanite tribes whom God sent the Israelites to destroy. The Hebrew word for “giants” here is רפאים — rephaim — a word used a total of 25 times in the Old Testament. The Moabites called the Rephaim the “Emim” which means “terrors” or the “dreaded ones.” The Horim were likely a non-Semitic Hurrian people once scattered across Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia. They occupied Edom before Esau, but Esau’s descendants were able to subdue them and take over.

The Edomites’ success in defeating the Horim should have given the Israelites another dose of encouragement. God had blessed the people of Mount Seir to defeat the Horim. Yes, the Israelites’ own enemies were formidable, but God was able to give them victory as well.

The editor has added this parenthetical note on the previous inhabitants of the land to underscore the fact that no enemy is invincible when God is on one’s side. Any fears they had were unfounded.

Now rise up, said I, and get you over the brook Zered. And we went over the brook Zered. And the space in which we came from Kadeshbarnea, until we were come over the brook Zered, was thirty and eight years; until all the generation of the men of war were wasted out from among the host, as the LORD sware unto them.

Deuteronomy 2:13–14

It’s interesting. It only took about three days to get Israel out of Egypt, but it took 38 years to get Egypt out of Israel.

For indeed the hand of the LORD was against them, to destroy them from among the host, until they were consumed.

Deuteronomy 2:15

Here we have a reminder of the results of stubbornly rejecting God. Notice that the unbelieving generation did not die naturally. The hand of LORD was against them. An entire generation of fighting men were destroyed by plague (Num 11:33; 14:37; 16:49; 25:9) and serpents (Num 21) and even an incident in which the earth opened up to swallow them (Num 16). The LORD destroyed them actively in response to their constant rebellion. He did not passively wait for them to die by the simple passing of years. He made His power and displeasure known immediately. Later, Jesus would go to the defense of an adulteress about to be stoned, but here we are in the training stage of Israel. During the early development of the nation, it was important the Israelites learned to take God seriously.

So it came to pass, when all the men of war were consumed and dead from among the people, That the LORD spake unto me, saying, Thou art to pass over through Ar, the coast of Moab, this day:

Deuteronomy 2:16–18

Remember, they were not to harm the people of Moab, the descendants of Lot. Not only were they to pass peaceably through Moab, but they were also to buy the food and water they consumed there. God wants them to be good neighbors. We see that the same is true for the land of Ammon. Ammon, or Benammi, was Moab’s half-brother, also the son of Lot.

And when thou comest nigh over against the children of Ammon, distress them not, nor meddle with them: for I will not give thee of the land of the children of Ammon any possession; because I have given it unto the children of Lot for a possession.

Deuteronomy 2:19

After this, we find another editorial addition, again about the giants that lived in the land. This time, the editor focuses on those that lived in the land of Ammon and the Promised Land along with those in Edom — all destroyed by the invasion of relatives of Abraham.

(That also was accounted a land of giants: giants dwelt therein in old time; and the Ammonites call them Zamzummims; A people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakims; but the LORD destroyed them before them; and they succeeded them, and dwelt in their stead: As he did to the children of Esau, which dwelt in Seir, when he destroyed the Horims from before them; and they succeeded them, and dwelt in their stead even unto this day: And the Avims which dwelt in Hazerim, even unto Azzah, the Caphtorims, which came forth out of Caphtor, destroyed them, and dwelt in their stead.)

Deuteronomy 2:20–23

There were a variety of giants in the area in those days, but they appear to be different names for the same folks. They were all large, and they were all doomed to destruction. The Zamzummim were Rephaim that lived in Ammon. The Horim lived in Edom. According to Jeremiah 47:4 and Amos 9:7, the “Caphtorim” were the Philistines. They came to Canaan from Caphtor, believed to be either the island of Crete or Phoenicia on the coast. The Philistines themselves had replaced the Avim who dwelt in the area of Gaza before they arrived.

Setting Boundaries

The destruction of the Anakim is always attributed to God, no matter which people group were involved in that destruction. That’s important to recognize. Paul writes in Acts 17:26 that it’s God who sets the times and the boundaries of all the peoples on the earth. Psalm 75:7 tells us God sets up one person and takes down another.

We also need to remember that as we watch what’s going on in the world today. There are border disputes around the world, but the most well-known is the dispute in Israel. Remember that God is the one who sets the borders. However much the United Nations fusses, God makes the final decision about the Land of Israel.

Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the river Arnon: behold, I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle. This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee.

Deuteronomy 2:24–25

Moses is still reminding them of recent events. God had given the Israelites the green light go and conquer Sihon, the king of the Amorites! God gave them victory the capital city of Heshbon, and He used this battle to put fear into the hearts of the inhabitants of the land. Moses keeps encouraging the Israelites with these reminders.

And I sent messengers out of the wilderness of Kedemoth unto Sihon king of Heshbon with words of peace, saying, Let me pass through thy land: I will go along by the high way, I will neither turn unto the right hand nor to the left. Thou shalt sell me meat for money, that I may eat; and give me water for money, that I may drink: only I will pass through on my feet; (As the children of Esau which dwell in Seir, and the Moabites which dwell in Ar, did unto me;) until I shall pass over Jordan into the land which the LORD our God giveth us.

Deuteronomy 2:26–29

Whose Sovereignty?

We see here the interesting interplay between the sovereignty of God and the decisions of humankind. The Israelites did not simply attack the city of Heshbon. They went with an expressed willingness to pass through Sihon’s land peacefully, as they had just done for the people of Edom and Moab. They offered to buy their food and water. Sihon sealed his doom, however, by refusing to give them safe passage.

But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the LORD thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day.

Deuteronomy 2:30

King Sihon rejected the offer, just as Pharaoh had refused to let the Israelites leave. It’s not simply that God had determined to destroy Sihon and the Amorites. It’s that Sihon was already obstinate and hard. We find throughout the Bible that God hardens those who have already stubbornly resisted Him. Consider Romans 1:21, “…when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” God is confirming and solidifying what was already in the heart of Sihon. It is the same rhetorical device used regarding Pharaoh: God hardened his heart. God didn’t put that hardness in there; He simply gelled or solidified the intentions that Pharaoh himself had embraced.

With Sihon’s arrogant refusal, he throws away his one chance of survival. God controls all of history, and under God’s hand the Israelites wiped out Sihon and his armies.

And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land. Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to fight at Jahaz. And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people. And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain

Deuteronomy 2:31–34

“And All His People”

Moses reminds us that Israelites destroyed every man woman and child of the Amorites. That sounds harsh to us. That sounds like tribal genocide, and it shocks many people. The command to destroy them totally — men, women, and children — has often been considered unethical and brutal for a loving God. However, several points must be kept in mind concerning these people.

  • First, they deserved to die for their sin. Studies of their religion, literature, and archeological remains reveal that they were the most morally depraved culture on the earth at that time. They were idolaters (1 Kings 21:26), which was bad enough. But, consider the extreme evil things they were involved in: witchcraft and sorcery, consulting with demons and child sacrifice (Deut 18:10–12), and every kind of sexual immorality (Lev 18:24–25).
  • Second, they persisted in their hatred of God. Had they repented, God would have spared them as He spared the people of Nineveh who repented at the preaching of Jonah. God waited 400-plus years to give the Promised Land to the descendants of Abraham, not just because they needed time to grow in numbers (as God doesn’t need great numbers of people to do His work) but because the sins of the Amorites weren’t great enough in Abraham’s time (Gen 15:16). By the time of Joshua, repentance seemed to be out of question for these people (Deut 7:10).
  • Third, the Canaanites constituted a moral cancer and even one of them — even a child left alive — had the potential of introducing idolatry and immorality. Remember in The Godfather movies how the little child Vito Corleone (né Vito Andolini) grew up to slaughter those who had murdered his family? Children turn into men, and even children can be determined to choose evil over good. In the Canaanite culture filled with incest and idolatry and witchcraft, it appears everybody was corrupted. Leaving any infected with this moral cancer meant the cancer would spread rapidly among the Israelites and bring about the destruction of God’s own people (Deut 20:17–18; Num 33:55; Josh 23:12–13).

Jesus Christ died for our sins and He loves to show mercy. However, one day He is going to return to destroy the unrepentant on the earth. On that day, He will make the conquest of Canaan look like a picnic. Our Kinsman Redeemer is also our Avenger of Blood. These are the same term in the Hebrew: the גאלּ — go’el. Because He became a man, born of the blood of Adam, Jesus became our kinsman. He is able to redeem us as our next of kin, and He will be our avenger — also as our next of kin. (See Deut 19:6, 12; Job 19:25; Psalm 19:14; Proverbs 23:11; Isaiah 44:24, and the book of Ruth to understand the range of responsibilities of the go’el.) Jesus has already redeemed us, and He will avenge all unrepentant evil, as we see in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and Revelation 19:11–21.

Only the cattle we took for a prey unto ourselves, and the spoil of the cities which we took. From Aroer, which is by the brink of the river of Arnon, and from the city that is by the river, even unto Gilead, there was not one city too strong for us: the LORD our God delivered all unto us: Only unto the land of the children of Ammon thou camest not, nor unto any place of the river Jabbok, nor unto the cities in the mountains, nor unto whatsoever the LORD our God forbad us.

Deuteronomy 2:35–37

God demonstrates tremendous long-suffering in the Bible. He puts up with wicked and rebellious people much longer than any of us would. However, after centuries of growing evil and deepening corruption, the LORD is preparing the Israelites to cleanse the land. He has already delivered the enemy into their hand, and no city has been too strong for them as they have moved forward in trust and obedience.

God has people He wants the Israelites to spare. Soon, they will protect Rahab the harlot and all her family in the conquest of Jericho. However, God does not allow evil and corruption to continue unchecked forever, and a time for change is ahead. There are mighty giants in the land of Canaan, but the Israelite can have confidence that by God’s strength they will win this war.

Thus ends chapter 2 and our three part series on Deuteronomy.

This excerpt was adapted from Dr. Chuck Missler’s Expositional Commentary on the book of Deuteronomy.