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Michael Grisanti: Toward the end of Israel’s wilderness wanderings the Lord commanded the children of Israel to begin their journey to the Promised Land, thus causing them to leave the region surrounding Kadesh Barnea and to pass near the territory held by the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites. Although the ensuing narrative (2:1–3:11) shares the basic details of the parallel account in Numbers 20–24, the present narrative demonstrates greater interest in theology than in the details of geography and chronology.

With regard to the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites, Yahweh prohibited Israel from taking any land from these peoples (2:1–25). Yahweh is the owner of the entire “estate” of the world. He allocates his properties to those he desires. God was orchestrating all these events for the Israelites. At this point in time in biblical history, the blood relationship of these three peoples with Israel protected them from the destruction that God promised to bring on the Amorites, Bashanites, and Canaanites.

Daniel Block: After thirty–eight years of aimlessly circling the desert, Israel was on the march, passing successively through the territorial possessions of Edom, Moab, and Ammon.

Moses does not explain why Yahweh had the Israelites enter Canaan from the east across the Jordan rather than relaunching the campaign from Kadesh Barnea in the south. But to get to the eastern shore of the Jordan, the Israelites needed to negotiate their way carefully through a series of states, all of which were related to the Israelites by blood and were themselves just coming into their own. The Edomites living in Seir were the closest relatives, being descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob (cf. Gen. 36). The Moabites and Ammonites were descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot by his two daughters (Gen. 19:30–38; cf. Deut. 2:9, 19).

Gerald Gerbrandt: Edom, Moab, and Ammon were three recently established nation-states east of the Jordan River. Surprisingly, in its description of Israel’s encounters with them, Deuteronomy announces loud and clear: these nations have a right to exist. The God of Israel and the exodus has given them their land; Israel must not try to take it away from them. Each subsection (2:2–8, 9–15, 16–23) has at its center a pronouncement of God: I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession (2:5); I have given Ar as a possession to the descendants of Lot (2:9); I have given it to the descendants of Lot (2:19). Since animosity and tension existed between Israel and each of these states at various times throughout their history, these are unexpected and radical announcements.

Duane Christensen: Travel notices are a key to the structure of Deut 2:2–25 since the unit as a whole is framed by such notices, which take the Israelites from the wilderness of Mount Seir (Edom) to the Arnon Valley (Wadi Mujib) and the edge of the Promised Land. A similar pair of travel notices frames the center of the whole unit (vv 9–12), with the journey from Elath to the southern border of Moab (v 8) set over against the crossing of the Zered Valley (Wadi el-Hasa) into Moab (vv 13–14).


(:2) Divine Revelation

“And the LORD spoke to me, saying,”

A. (:3-5) Travel Instructions and Warning

1. (:3-4a) Travel Instructions

“You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north, 4 and command the people, saying, ‘You will pass through the territory of your brothers the sons of Esau who live in Seir;’”

2. (:4b-5) Warning

“and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful; 5 do not provoke them, for I will not give you any of their land, even as little as a footstep because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession.”

Duane Christensen: The command to “turn yourselves northward” marks the beginning of the march of conquest which brought Israel into the Promised Land.

Gerald Gerbrandt: The opening directive includes no rebuke or hint of anger for the earlier failure at Kadesh-barnea. God even selects an alternative route to the land. God and Israel are ready for a new beginning, a new chance at taking possession of the land.

Peter Craigie: The exact route the Israelites took is uncertain, but it may have been around the southern border of Edom (i.e., the land occupied by the sons of Esau) and then up the eastern border following the caravan route alongside the desert.

Michael Grisanti: Although the narrative mentions Israel was about to “pass through” Edomite territory, the Numbers account makes clear that the Edomites prohibited Israel from taking the customary route through their region (the King’s Highway) and required that they skirt the borders of Edom (Nu 20:14–21). As predicted in Exodus 15:14–16, the Edomites (among others) had heard of Yahweh’s great deeds in Israel’s behalf and feared the Israelites as a result. This fear explains the Edomites’ refusal of safe passage through the midst of their territory and the need for Israel to be extra careful in their relations with the Edomites during their time in the area.

B. (:6-7) Providential Provision

1. (:6) Acquisition of Food and Water

“You shall buy food from them with money so that you may eat, and you shall also purchase water from them with money so that you may drink.”

2. (:7) Acknowledgment of God’s Provision

“For the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done;

He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness.

These forty years the LORD your God has been with you;

you have not lacked a thing.”

C. (:8) Travel Report

“So we passed beyond our brothers the sons of Esau, who live in Seir, away from the Arabah road, away from Elath and from Ezion-geber. And we turned and passed through by the way of the wilderness of Moab.”

Eugene Merrill: In summary Moses repeated that he and his people bypassed their brother nation, Edom, by leaving the Arabah Road (that is, the Red Sea route of 2:1) at Elath and Ezion Geber and then taking the desert route east of Edom that connected Moab with the Gulf of Elath and pointed south (v. 8).


(:9a) Divine Revelation

“Then the LORD said to me,”

A. (:9b) Warning

“Do not harass Moab, nor provoke them to war,

for I will not give you any of their land as a possession,

because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot as a possession.”

Eugene Merrill: The reference to this territory as Ar (v. 9) is a case of synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part stands for the whole. That is, the city Ar (el-Misna?), perhaps the capital of Late Bronze Moab, is just another way of speaking of the whole nation.

B. (:10-12) Historical Background

“(The Emim lived there formerly, a people as great, numerous, and tall as the Anakim. 11 Like the Anakim, they are also regarded as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. 12 The Horites formerly lived in Seir, but the sons of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did to the land of their possession which the LORD gave to them.)”

MacArthur: The Emim – Apparently a Moabite term (see v. 11) meaning “terrible ones.” This people, numerous and tall, were the pre-Moabite occupants of the land of Moab.

Duane Christensen: A series of explanatory notes inserted into the text provide comments of historical interest about legendary matters of the distant past. The prosodic analysis suggests that these notes are not secondary additions, but are essential parts of the original poetic (or even musical) composition. In epic poetry, blocks of traditional material are sometimes inserted for various reasons.

Daniel Block: Verses 10–12 function as a footnote (cf. vv. 20–22; 3:9, 11, 13), clarifying ethnographic and geographic issues raised in Moses’ speech. As noted earlier, the relatives of the Israelites in the Transjordan (Edom, Moab, Bene Ammon) were not indigenous to the region. While the circumstances of the displacement of populations is unknown, in verse 21 Moses credits Yahweh with destroying them and delivering the territories into the hands of the newcomers, even as he would do for Israel in Canaan. Verse 10 suggests that the earlier inhabitants of Moab, the Emites, were as fearsome as the Anakites, their counterparts west of the Dead Sea, for they too were great, numerous, and tall. Whereas the Moabites identified these gigantic races of people as Emites, the Israelites called them Rephaites (cf. vv. 20–21).

Eugene Merrill: The Bible is clear in its witness to the universal sovereignty of God and to his allocation to the nations of their territorial jurisdictions (cf. Deut 32:8; Acts 17:26), but nowhere is the point more clearly made than here, especially with regard to the allotments to Israel’s “brother” nations (Deut 2:5,9,19). Esau and the Edomites therefore had as much right to expel the Horites from Seir as Israel did to expel the Canaanites, Amorites, and others from the land of promise, a point that is at least implied in the comparison “just as Israel did in the land the LORD gave them as their possession” (v. 12).

C. (:13) Travel Instructions and Report

1. Travel Instructions

“Now arise and cross over the brook Zered yourselves.”

2. Travel Report

“So we crossed over the brook Zered.”

MacArthur: A brook that ran into the Dead Sea from the SE. It seems to have constituted the southern boundary of Moab. In contrast to the disobedience associated with Kadesh, the people obeying the command to cross over the brook Zered. There was a new spirit of obedience toward the Lord among the people.

D. (:14-15) Review of Wilderness Period

1. (:14a) Duration

“Now the time that it took for us to come from Kadesh-barnea, until we crossed over the brook Zered, was thirty-eight years;”

2. (:14b-15) Disciplinary Purpose

“until all the generation of the men of war perished from within the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them.

Moreover the hand of the LORD was against them, to destroy them from within the camp, until they all perished.”

Daniel Block: Syntactically verses 14–15 also function as a parenthetical footnote. It seems that for Moses, crossing the Wadi Zered was a significant milestone. The recollection of Yahweh’s charge to cross the Zered (v. 13) triggered a reflective glance backward. The generation that had been lost in the desert perished not for lack of water or food, but because Yahweh had become their enemy and had taken action against them, just as he had sworn.

Peter Craigie: The crossing of the Zered marked an important point in the history of the wilderness wanderings. Thirty-eight years had elapsed since the departure of the Israelites from Kadesh-barnea, and during that time the rebellious generation, who had been debarred from the promised land by the oath of the Lord (see 1:35), had all died. The language with which they are described is slightly sarcastic; they are called the men of war, which is just what they should have been, had they not failed to obey the command of the Lord. The crossing of the Zered here seems to mark a new beginning. Just as the crossing of the Reed Sea had marked a new beginning of freedom from Egyptian bondage, so the crossing of the Zered marked freedom from the oath of the Lord against the “men of war.” And beyond the plain of Moab, where Moses addressed the people, the crossing of the Jordan would mark the beginning of a new era in the freedom of the Promised Land.

Jack Deere: Thus because of their rebellion against the Lord this first generation of Israelite warriors actually found themselves objects of God’s “holy war.” They left the protective care of His hand in their arrogant rebellion only to find that hand turned against them as they endured painful deaths outside the Promised Land. By reminding the people of this, Moses said in effect that God is faithful to His promises and His threats, and has the power to execute both.


(:16-17) Generational Transition

“So it came about when all the men of war had finally perished from among the people, 17 that the LORD spoke to me, saying,”

Eugene Merrill: Deuteronomy 2:16 marks a major turning point in the book thus far in several different respects. It divides between desert sojourn and permanent settlement, between the old rebel generation and the new, obedient one, and between defensive warfare and noninvolvement and a policy of aggressive conquest led by the Lord against hostile powers destined to defeat and displacement. The line of demarcation is particularly evident in the emphatic repetition of vv. 14 and 16, “that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp” and “when the last of these fighting men among the people had died.” This is an unmistakable sign that something new and better is about to begin.

A. (:18-19) Travel Instructions and Warning

1. (:18) Travel Instructions

“You shall cross over Ar, the border of Moab, today.”

2. (:19) Warning

“And when you come opposite the sons of Ammon, do not harass them nor provoke them, for I will not give you any of the land of the sons of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot as a possession.”

B. (:20-23) Historical Background

“(It is also regarded as the land of the Rephaim, for Rephaim formerly lived in it, but the Ammonites call them Zamzummin, 21 a people as great, numerous, and tall as the Anakim, but the LORD destroyed them before them. And they dispossessed them and settled in their place, 22 just as He did for the sons of Esau, who live in Seir, when He destroyed the Horites from before them; and they dispossessed them, and settled in their place even to this day. 23 And the Avvim, who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and lived in their place.)”

MacArthur: Zamzummin – Apparently an Ammonite term used to describe their precursors in their land. They were characterized as being as tall as the Anakim. But the Lord had destroyed them and given their land to the Ammonites. This was an encouragement to the Israelites that God could also defeat the Anakim in the land of Canaan and give that land to Israel.

Eugene Merrill: The perspective from which the past is viewed in Deuteronomy is clearly that of remote times. Moses reached way back to describe the native peoples of the various lands he mentioned and then spoke of the ethnic, cultural, and political changes that took place long before his time thanks to the coming of these newer elements. It is not unrealistic at all that here he reflected back on the coming of the Caphtorites, known to the patriarchs as Philistines, who eventually expelled and replaced the Avvites.

Michael Grisanti: As with the Moabites and Edomites (2:10–12), the Ammonites and the Caphtorites had gained their territory by dispossessing peoples who had earlier inhabited this region.