Today’s passage can be divided into two parts. There’s verses 10 to 20 which recounts part of the Israelite’s travel itinerary. And then there’s verses 21 to 35 which tells us about the defeat of Sihon, the king of the Amorites and of Og, the king of Bashan. As the people made their way to the Promised Land, they relied on the Lord to provide for them and they relied on the Lord to defend them from their enemies. But there’s more to this passage than that, because as we read in verse 31, the Israelites settled in the land of the Amorites. Thus, they’re beginning to receive their inheritance, which the Lord had promised to give to them, which was a place in the Promised Land where they would enjoy the presence of the Lord.
Verses 10 to 20
We read in verses 10 to 20 about some of the places they passed through in this, the fortieth year since they left Egypt. We don’t know very much about most of the places mentioned in this section; and the location of many of these sites is unknown to us today. We do know something about the River Arnon which we’re told in verse 13 formed the border between Moab and the Amorites. One writer says it formed an enormous trench which was about 1,700 feet deep and two miles across in parts. And so, it formed a natural border between these two territories; and reaching it — as the Israelites did — was no doubt regarded as a major milestone on the way to the Promised Land. Moses includes in verses 14 and 15 a bit of verse from the Book of the Wars of the Lord. That book no longer exists, but no doubt — if it described all the ways the Lord had led them from victory to victory over their enemies — it would have made fascinating reading.
From Arnon they travelled to Beer. According to verse 16, the Lord commanded Moses to gather the people together, because he was going to give them water. The story of the origin of this well and where it’s located is not known, but from the song — which the Israelites sang in verses 17 and 18 — it appears that princes and nobles had dug it; and now the Lord led his people to this well for water.
And the travel itinerary ends in verses 19 and 20, but no one knows the location of the places mentioned in these verses.
Verses 21 to 35
In verse 21, Moses takes us back to when they were near the area occupied by the Amorites. And — as they did when they approached Edom in chapter 20 — they sent messengers to the king of the Amorites to ask permission to pass through their territory. Once again they made clear that they would not cause any trouble for Sihon’s people. They would keep out of their fields and vineyards, and they wouldn’t take any of their water, but would merely travel along the main road through the land until they reached the other side. So, Sihon shouldn’t regard them as a threat or a nuisance, because they only wanted to get to the other side as quickly as possible.
But, just as Edom refused, so Sihon refused their request. However, he did more than refuse. He gathered his army and marched out into the desert to attack the Israelites. But you’ll see from verse 24 that the Israelites defeated them. They put them to the sword and they took over their land and their cities.
We’re told in verse 24 that they stopped at the border with the Ammonites, because their border was fortified. In Deuteronomy 2:19 we’re told that another reason they did not attack that land was because the Lord had given it to the descendants of Lot who, of course, was Abraham’s nephew. Since the Lord had allocated it to them, they did not try to take it from them.
Verse 25 mentions Hesbon, which was the capital city of the Amorites. The Israelites occupied it as well as the surrounding settlements. And in verse 26 Moses recounts some of the history of Sihon and how he had taken land which had once belonged to the Moabites. In other words, Sihon was a mighty king who had extended his territory in the past. In fact, the poets wrote a song of praise to Sihon which is quoted from verse 27. It says that fire went out from Hesbon, Sihon’s capital city, to consume Moab. In other words, Sihon and his army was like a fire which destroyed Moab.
Furthermore, the poem tells us that Moab’s sons and daughters were taken captive by Sihon. And so, Sihon was a mighty king and a successful king. However, he has now been defeated by the Israelites and his mighty capital city has been destroyed. Whereas once the Israelites were afraid of their enemies, because they had only ever been slaves in Egypt, and had no experience of fighting, they had now become a mighty army with the help of the Lord.
And so we read in verse 32 how the Israelites captured the surrounding area around Jazer, which was further north. Then they turned towards Bashan. Og, the king of Bashan, came up against them with an army. According to Deuteronomy 3, Og was a giant, because his bed was more than 13 feet long and it was six feet wide. Well, if a giant led an army in battle against you, you’d be scared, wouldn’t you? And yet, the Lord told Moses not to be afraid of Og, because he — the Lord — had handed Og over to Israel along with his army and his land. It was the Lord’s will for the Israelites to defeat Og and to take over his land. And so, with the help of the Lord, the Israelites struck him down and his sons and his army, so that there were no survivors. And they took possession of the land.
Years before, when the Israelites got to the border of the Promised Land, and sent men to spy out the land, the spies came back and said they wouldn’t be able to take the land, because the people in the land were too big and too strong and made them feel like grasshoppers. But now, with the help of the Lord, they were able to conquer giants and destroy mighty armies. And the land which became theirs was eventually given to the tribes of Reuben and Gad to be their portion in the Promised Land. So, not only did the Lord help them to overcome their enemies, but the Lord had begun to give them the Promised Land, where they would be able to enjoy his presence in their midst.
In today’s passage we read how the Israelites went from place to place. We should remember, of course, that the Lord went before them in the pillar of cloud and fire to show them the way. We don’t know where many of these places are; and, of course, none of them had ever been to these places before; but the Lord knew where they were and where they were going; and the Lord was leading them on. So long as they trusted in him and followed him, he would bring them to the Promised Land.
And, of course, they needed to trust in him to provide for them. In the previous passage, the people complained that they had no water. And because of their sinful rebellion, the Lord sent those poisonous snakes to bite them, so that many of them died in the wilderness. But they should have trusted in the Lord and relied on him, because whenever they needed water, the Lord gave it to them, as he did in this passage. Though they were in a wilderness, the Lord ensured that there was water for them. And everyday he provided them with manna. They had all that they needed, as they made their way to the Promised Land.
And then, when they faced mighty enemies, the Lord was with them to fight on their behalf and to hand their enemies over to them. With the help of the Lord, they were able to conquer giants and no one was able to stand in their way. In fact, even before they began to attack King Og, the Lord announced what the outcome would be, because the outcome was in his hands; and he is the one who determines what will happen. In fact, according to Deuteronomy 2, Sihon’s refusal to let them pass through his land was also determined by the Lord.
And so, the Lord led his people through the wilderness, and he provided for them, and he helped them overcome their enemies. And, just as he promised Abraham all those years ago, he gave them the Promised Land as their inheritance.
And the Lord has promised to bring us to the new heaven and earth, which is our Promised Land. So long as we trust in him, he will lead us through the wilderness of this fallen world and along the narrow path that leads to life in his presence. He promises to provide us with all that we need to sustain us on the way and to keep us from falling; and we can look to him for all the help and strength we need to sustain our faith so that we will persevere. And even though the Devil comes at us with his wicked schemes, and even though he appears as a roaring lion to frighten us, we know that the Lord has promised to protect us and to keep us; and by God’s mighty power, we’re able to stand firm against the Devil’s schemes. And so, as pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land, we can trust in the Lord to help us and to bring us into the new creation to be with him forever.
And we can be confident of this, because Christ our Saviour has gone before us. He too had to make his way through this fallen world; and he faced the temptations of the Devil and opposition from his enemies who hated him and who killed him. But, even though his enemies killed him, he overcame them all, because he was raised triumphant from the grave and he then entered his glory. And just as Christ was raised from the dead to live forever, so God promises that whoever believes in him will likewise be raised from the dead to live forever in glory. As Paul says in Romans:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Furthermore, while the Lord Jesus was on the earth, he spoke of how he’s the way, the truth and the life; and since he’s the way, he’s able to lead us all the way to the presence of God in glory. And he spoke of how he able to give us living water so that all who believe in him may have eternal life. In the same way, he spoke of how he’s the Bread of Life and he’s able to give life to the world. And while he was on the earth, he overcame all the wicked schemes of the Devil and he has promised to never to leave or forsake us, but to help us to stand firm. And he’s promised that even now he’s preparing a place for us; and that, when the time is right, he will come for us so that we will be with him and with his Father in heaven for ever and for ever in glory.
Just as the Lord God Almighty went before the Israelites and helped them on the way, and brought them at last to the Promised Land, so the Lord Jesus Christ has gone before us; and he has promised to help us as we make our way to the true Promised Land, where we will enjoy the presence of God forever.