Last week we saw that the things we read in the book of Deuteronomy where spoken by Moses to the people of Israel as they camped in the desert near the River Jordan and across from Jericho in the fortieth year after they left Mount Sinai. So, before they entered the Promised Land, Moses spoke these words to the Israelites. He’s speaking, of course, to the new generation of Israelites. The previous generation — the ones who had been rescued from Egypt — had died in the wilderness, because they did not believe the Lord when he promised to give them the land to live in. Instead of trusting in his promises, and going in to take the land, they refused to go in and even talked about returning to Egypt.
And because of their unbelief, the Lord was angry with that generation and announced that none of them — apart from Caleb and Joshua who believed — would enter the land. All the rest — including Moses — would die in the desert. And so, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years until that generation had died. And so, Moses addressed the words of this book to the new generation who were about to enter the Promised Land.
And I said last week that this book is a book about God’s grace, because again and again Moses highlights the Lord’s kindness to his sinful people. Though the Israelites were a small and insignificant people, though they were as sinful as the other nations, the Lord had graciously and freely chosen them to be his own special people; and he had promised to be their God and to regard them as his treasured possession, to love and care for them and to give them their own land to live in. And he promised to renew their hearts and to enable them to love and serve him.
So, it’s a book about God’s grace, his kindness to sinners who deserve nothing from him, but condemnation. And therefore it reveals to us the good news of the gospel and the hope of glory which God gives to all who trust in his Son, because God is gracious to his people today, promising to forgive our sins and to give us a new heart to love him; and he promises to bring us into the new heaven and earth, which is our Promised Land, to live with him forever and ever in glory.
In today’s passage, Moses spoke to the Israelites about their time in the wilderness; and how the Lord gave them victory over two powerful kings; and how he gave the land of those two kings to some of the tribes of Israel. And, as we’ll see, the reason Moses said these things to the Israelites was to encourage that new generation of believers, so that they would trust in the Lord and have confidence in him and in his ability to give them the land. In the same way, we remind ourselves week by week of all that God has done for his people by his Son Jesus Christ, so that we will continue to trust in him and have confidence in him as we make our way to the Promised Land to come. So, let’s turn to the passage now.
Verses 1 to 8
Verse 1 of chapter 2 begins with the words:
Then we turned back….
This follows on from what we read in chapter 1 about the time the previous generation had refused to trust the Lord and obey his command to go into the Promised Land when they were in Kadesh Barnea. At that time, they talked about returning to Egypt. But when the Lord swore to them that none of them would ever enter the land; and that they should turn around and head back into the desert, the people once again did not listen to the Lord. By themselves, they went up against their enemies and tried to conquer them in battle, even though the Lord warned them that he would not help them. And their enemies defeated them and chased them away like a swarm of bees. And so, having been beaten by their enemies, they finally turned back; and they set out towards the desert, along the route to the Red Sea, as the Lord had directed Moses.
For a long time — it says at the end of verse 1 — they made their way around the hill country of Seir. Moses says ‘for a long time’. How long was it? This one verse covers the whole of the wilderness wanderings which lasted almost 40 years. I think we noticed — when we were studying the book of Numbers — that we’re told very little about what happened in those forty years. In the book of Numbers, we’re told how they escaped from Egypt and went through the Rea Sea; and how they arrived at Mount Sinai and received the law. Then we’re told how they travelled to Kadesh, where they rebelled against the Lord and refused to go into the Promised Land. Then we’re also told about the rebellion of Korah and the others with him. And then, the next thing we know, it’s the first month of the fortieth year. Moses tells us very little about those years in the wilderness.
But then, according to verse 2, the Lord spoke to Moses and said to him that they’ve been in the wilderness long enough. It’s time now to turn north and to head towards the Promised Land. The route they’re to take will take them through the land belonging to the descendants of Esau. Esau, of course, was the brother of Jacob. And so, the people of Israel, who were all descended from Jacob, were related distantly to Esau and his descendants. The descendants of Esau are known as the Edomites. ‘They will be very afraid of you’, the Lord warned.
Once Jacob was afraid of his brother, Esau. Now, though, we read that Esau’s descendants will be afraid of Jacob’s descendants. As we’ll read in verse 25, the Lord had begun to make the other nations afraid of his people, because he was with them. Hadn’t he demonstrated his great power when he rescued his people from Egypt? Hadn’t he performed great signs and wonders on their behalf? Hadn’t he brought them safely through the Red Sea while causing the Egyptian horses and their riders to perish in the sea? The nations had heard of these things; and even forty years later they remembered what the Lord had done and they were afraid.
Nevertheless, the Lord prohibited the Israelites from going to war against Edom and taking their land. The land of Edom was not part of the Promised Land; and the Lord — who rules over all the nations — had given this land to Esau and his descendants.
Numbers 20 tells us what happened. The Israelites asked permission to pass through the land. They made clear that they would do so peaceably; and that they would pay for any water they took. But the Edomites refused to let them pass through; and so, the Israelites had to take a detour around the land of Edom, because the Lord had commanded them not to attack the Edomites.
Verses 9 to 25
In verses 9 to 23 we read how they Israelites came to land belonging to the Moabites and the Ammonites. The Moabites and the Ammonites were descended from Lot, who was Abraham’s nephew. So, like the Edomites, the Moabites and Ammonites were distantly related to the Israelites.
When they came to their land, the Lord forbade the Israelites from harassing them or provoking them to war. They were not to take their land, because the land belonging to the Moabites and the Ammonites had been given to them by the Lord.
Verses 24 to 37
However, according to verse 24, the Lord had decided to give the land of Sihon, king of Heshbon, into the hands of the Israelites. He said to the Israelites about Sihon’s land:
Begin to take possession of it and engage them in battle.
In the verses which follow, we read how Moses sent messengers to Sihon, offering peace and asking permission to pass through their country. They offered to stay on the main road, so that they wouldn’t destroy their fields. And they offered to buy whatever food and drink they needed. And then Moses made clear that they weren’t at all interested in Sihon’s land, because their intention was to cross the River Jordan to enter the land beyond it.
But look at verse 30 where Moses wrote:
But Sihon … 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.
We saw something similar in the book of Exodus, where we were told that the Lord hardened the Pharaoh’s heart, so that the Lord could display his great power in saving his people out of Pharaoh’s hand. Well, on this occasion, the Lord hardened Sihon’s heart, so that he would go to war against the Israelites. And then, the Lord would help his people to conquer Sihon and take over his land.
And so, in verse 31, the Lord said to Moses that he had begun to deliver Sihon and his country into their hands.
Now begin to conquer and possess the land.
And so, we read that Sihon came against them in battle, but the Lord their God delivered Sihon into their hands, so that the Israelites were able to strike his men down. While the Israelites held swords in their hands, the only reason they won the victory was because the hand of the Lord was with them. He gave them the victory and enabled them to be successful that day against the king and his sons and his whole army. And so, they were able to take all their towns; and they destroyed the towns and the people, leaving no survivors. But they were able to keep the plunder for themselves.
Verses 1 to 11
In verses 1 to 11 of chapter 3, we read how the Lord also enabled his people to defeat Og king of Bashan and to conquer his land too. When Og came to attack them, the Lord reassured Moses in verse 2:
Don’t be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you with his while army and his land.
And sure enough, the Lord gave them the victory; and they were able to take over all 60 of the cities. These cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, but the Israelites were able to destroy them completely; and they kept the plunder for themselves.
If you look at verse 8, you’ll see that Moses refers to Sihon and Og as being kings of the Amorites. That’s a very important verse, because it recalls what the Lord said to Abraham in Genesis 15, when he promised to give Abraham the land of Canaan. At that time, the Lord foretold how Abraham’s descendants would live as slaves in Egypt for 400 hundred years; and how they wouldn’t be allowed to enter the Promised Land until the sin of the Amorites had reached its full measure. The Lord was announcing that when the sin of the Amorites had reached its full measure, he would punish them for their sins.
And so, in the days of Moses, when the Lord sent the Israelites to attack and kill the Amorites, it was not an act of terrorism or genocide; it was an act of justice. The Lord was using the Israelites to punish the Amorites for their sin. And, in years to come, the Lord would use the Assyrians and the Babylonians to punish the Israelites for their sin. As Paul tells us in the book of Romans, every day, in different ways, God reveals his wrath from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men and women and children who suppress the truth by their wickedness. The destruction of Sihon and Og and their people was just one of the ways God reveals his wrath from heaven.
And their destruction points forward to that great and terrible day of judgment, when the Lord will judge the living and the dead — everyone who has every lived — and he will condemn and punish forever all those who never trusted in his Son. He will punish them for their wickedness. Right now, he’s being patient with everyone, withholding the full force of his judgment, and giving sinners time to repent and be saved. But the day is coming, when the Lord will send his angels to gather the people from every nation, so that he can judge and condemn the wicked once and for all.
And so, the Lord calls on everyone to repent. Turn from your sins. And ask God to forgive you for your sins, for the sake of Christ who died for sinners. Ask him to forgive you, so that when that great and terrible day of judgment comes, you will not be condemned, but will be pardoned, for the sake of Christ the Saviour.
Verses 12 to 20
All who repent and believe will not be condemned, but will be brought in to enjoy everlasting life in the Promised Land to come. And as a foretaste of that, we have verses 12 to 20 of Deuteronomy 3 where we read that the Lord was willing to allocate the land of Sihon and Og to some of the tribes of Israel to be their share in the Promised Land. Look at verse 12 where Moses tells the Israelites that he gave some of that land to the Reubenites and the Gadites. And, according to verse 13, he gave some of the land to the half-tribe of Manasseh.
We read about this in Numbers 32. The people of these tribes asked if they could take this land for themselves, because it was good land and suitable for their livestock. They said they would give up any claim to the land on the other side of the Jordan, so long as they were allowed to keep the land of Sihon and Og. At that time, Moses was angry with them, because he thought they were repeating the sin of their parents by refusing to go up into the Promised Land. And Moses was worried that the Lord would be angry with them once again. But they reassured Moses that they would go up and help the rest of the Israelites to take the Promised Land; and only after the land had been conquered, would they return to the farms and fields on the east side of the Jordan.
And so, verses 18 to 20 of Deuteronomy 3 record the decision that was taken at that time: until the Lord has given rest to the other tribes of Israel, the Reubentites and Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh must fight with them, but their wives and families can stay on the land on the east side of the Jordan.
This was a sign of the Lord’s generosity, because the land of Sihon and Og was not part of the Promised Land originally. But the Lord was willing to give his people even more land than he had originally promised. And all the land he gave them was good. It was a paradise, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land like the Garden of Eden, full of good things to enjoy. The Lord is not stingy or mean, but generous and good. And he has promised you — if you trust in his Son for salvation — he has promised to deliver you from the coming wrath — which is what we all deserve for our sin — and to give you everlasting life in the new heaven and earth, which is your Promised Land. And it too is a paradise, a land like the Garden of Eden, where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore; where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain; where you may drink from the river of the water of life and live forever; where you may eat from the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. The Lord is not stingy; and just as he was willing to give this extra land to these tribes, so he is willing to give you life in the Promised Land to come.
Verses 21 to 29
But look now at the final part of today’s passage, verses 21 to 29. First, Moses records how he spoke to Joshua to encourage him, for Joshua was to take over from Moses as leader of God’s people at that time. And Moses recalls in verse 23 how he himself pleaded with the Lord to let him go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan. ‘Let me see it for myself’, he asked. After all, Moses had led the people out of Egypt; and he had led them through the wilderness; he had brought them to the very edge of the Promised Land. All that time, he had waited to experience the Promised Land for himself. So, please let me see what I’ve been waiting for!
But look. The Lord said:
That’s enough. Don’t speak to me anymore about this matter.
The Lord, you see, was angry with Moses and would not listen to him. Back in Numbers 20, the people complained and quarrelled with Moses because they were short of water. At that time, the Lord commanded Moses to speak to a rock and water would pour from it. But Moses was angry with the people and he spoke rashly; and by his words he dishonoured the Lord in front of the people. As a result, the Lord was angry with Moses and announced that Moses would not be allowed to lead the people into the Promised Land. And so, here in Deuteronomy 3, Moses reminded the people that the Lord was angry with him because of their sinful rebellion at that time.
However, while Moses was not allowed to enter the land, the Lord allowed him to climb to the top of a high mountain where he could look to the west and north and south and east and see the land. He was not allowed to enter it, but he could see it from afar. Moses would not lead the people in; instead he was to commission Joshua who would lead the people in.
Moses had been a great leader. He had faced the terror of Pharaoh. He had led the Israelites in the wilderness. He had spoken to the Lord face to face; and was able to make clear to the people the will of the Lord. He reminded them of God’s promises and taught them God’s laws. He has prayed for them when they went astray and had pleaded for them before the Lord. He was a great leader. But despite his greatness, he too was a sinner who fell short of doing God’s will and he was not able to lead the people into the Promised Land.
But in Christ Jesus, we have a perfect leader, who has kept the law of the Lord perfectly; and who has fulfilled all righteousness on our behalf; and who have done everything God commanded him to do; and who honoured his Father in heaven in all he said and did. And, in obedience to his Father, he bore our sin and guilt and suffered and died in our place, taking the punishment we deserve, so that all who trust in him are pardoned. And having died for sins, he was raised from the dead; and he has gone before us into the presence of God. Moses fell in the desert and did not enter the Promised Land; he only saw it from a distance. But Christ has gone before us into the presence of the Lord to prepare a place for all his people. He is the perfect leader, the perfect Mediator, the perfect king.
And when the time is right, he will come and get you, if you trust in him, and bring you into the true Promised Land. He is the Way, the Way to Eternal Life in the presence of God. No one comes to the Father except through him. And so, he calls on you to follow him. He is the Light, and like the Pillar of Fire which led the Israelites in the wilderness, so he will lead you all the way to glory if you trust in him and follow him. He is the gate, and all who enter in through him are saved. Moses was a great leader, but he was not able to lead the people into the Promised Land. He had to leave that privilege to Joshua. And Joshua points us to Jesus, who has gone before you and who will lead you to God the Father if you will trust in him and follow him all the days of your life.
But notice one more thing before we finish. The reason Moses recounted all these things to the Israelites who were waiting to cross the Jordan to enter the Promised Land, the reason he recounted all these things was to encourage them and to make them confident in the Lord. Look back to verse 7 of chapter 2 where Moses reminded them of how the Lord blessed them and watched over them and had been with them, so that they lacked no good thing. He was with them in the past, so you can trust in him for future.
Look at verses 10 to 12 of chapter 2 where Moses mentions that the Emites — who had a reputation for being giants — used to live in the land of the Seir. But the Lord gave that land to the Edomites. So, the Lord had helped the Edomites overcome these giants. Well, back in chapter 1, Moses has reminded them of how their parents were afraid to enter Canaan, because the Canaanites were stonger and taller than them. Well, giants are not a problem to the Lord. So, you don’t need to be afraid.
We have the same thing in verses 20 to 23 where it says explicitly that the Lord destroyed the Rephaites, who were regarded as giants. And he gave their land to the Ammonites. If the Lord was able to destroy those giants, he’ll help you when you come into Canaan.
And then Moses reminded the Israelites of how the Lord gave them victory over Sihon and Og. Sihon and Og weren’t able to stand up to the Israelites, because the Lord was with his people to help them against their enemies. Since the Lord helped them against those two kings, they can trust him to help them against the Canaanites.
Look at verse 5 of chapter 3: the cities of Og were fortified with high walls and gates and bars. Back in chapter 1, Moses reminded them of how their parents were afraid to go into Canaan, because the city walls went up to the sky. Well, high walls aren’t a problem for the Lord.
And look at verse 11 of chapter 3 where we’re told about Og’s bed. Or perhaps it was his tomb. In any case, it was 13 feet long, which suggests that he too was a giant. But the Lord struck him down.
And then, all through these two chapters, the Lord made clear that he’s the one who rules over the nations of the world. He gives land to this nation and takes it from another. He raises up one nation and tears another down. Truly he has determined the times set for the nations and the exact places where they should live. He rules the nations and so he’s able to take the land from the Canaanites and give it to his people.
Moses wanted to remind the Israelites of all that God has done for them in the past, so they would trust in him for the future. And when we come to church on Sundays, what do we do? We open God’s word and read all that he has done for us by his Son. We read about his victory over sin and over Satan and over death on our behalf. These were formidable foes, giants, which we by ourselves are powerless to conquer. And yet, on our behalf, the Lord Jesus has conquered them; and he gives to all who trust in him the victory, so that we don’t need to fear the penalty of sin anymore, or the tyranny of the Devil anymore, or the power of death anymore, because Christ has overcome them for us.
Throughout the week, we struggle against sin, don’t we? Throughout the week, the Devil tries to frighten us. Throughout the week, we’re reminded of our own frailty and weakness and of the inevitability of death. And perhaps we become anxious and afraid, because of these foes. But then, on Sundays we gather before the Lord; and we read his word; and we’re reminded of all that he has done for us in the past to conquer our enemies. And so, we’re encouraged and we’re given confidence for the days that lie ahead. So, trust in the Lord. Lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge him always. And he will direct your paths to the Promised Land to come.