GOD GRANTS VICTORY AS HIS PEOPLE FIGHT THE BATTLES TO POSSESS THE PROMISED LAND
Daniel Block: This section consists of three parts: two battle reports, the first describing Israel’s defeat of Sihon king of Heshbon (2:24–37), and the second recounting the victory over Og king of Bashan (3:1–7), followed by a summary statement and footnote (3:8–11).
Gerald Gerbrandt: So far so good. But what if the indigenous population is not as accommodating, comes across as fearsome, or threatens violence? The struggle to obtain or to defend a homeland echoes down the millennia of recorded human history. People desperate for resources are willing to kill to accomplish their needs. For the people of Israel, the Wadi Arnon marks the transition from peaceful encounters with distant relatives to violent confrontations with kings whom they totally destroy (2:2–3:11). Within the larger story of Israel, this passage depicts the beginning of an important new stage in its history with God. The long history without land, beginning with Abraham and Sarah, and continuing through the period of Egyptian bondage and wilderness wandering, is finally over. Israel has returned to the Promised Land and now begins to receive it. The lands of Sihon and Og become the first installment, or first-fruits, of the land promised to Israel’s ancestors. The language—the rhetoric of Yahweh war—underscores that it is God giving the land. For Israel of the Old Testament, the story of these two encounters draws attention to the faithfulness and generosity of Yahweh [Yahweh War, p. 566]. . .
Deuteronomy opens the section on the hostile confrontations by drawing attention to Israel’s offer of peace, by noting Sihon’s arrogant rejection of this offer, and by placing the whole under God’s sovereignty.
Paul Barker: Moses is teaching that the fears at Kadesh about a tall and strong people with heavily fortified towns are not valid fears. Moses never downplays the strength of the opposition. Rather the strength of the opposition highlights the power of Yahweh. The conquests of Sihon and Og demonstrate that size, number and strength are no obstacle when Israel acts with faith and obedience. God is faithful. God is sovereign.
Earl Kalland: While Israel was not to disturb the Edomites, Moabites, or Ammonites, such prohibition did not extend to the Amorites. The Lord declared that he had put Sihon and his kingdom into Israel’s hands (v. 24). The conquest was certain; it was only for Israel to accomplish it.
I. (2:24-37) DEFEAT OF SIHON, KING OF HESHBON
A. (:24-25) Commissioning to Target Sihon, King of Heshbon, and His Land
1. (:24a) Divine Travel Instructions
“Arise, set out, and pass through the valley of Arnon.”
Daniel Block: Yahweh’s command to the Israelites consists of six imperatives (the first is not represented in the NIV): “Arise! Set out! Cross the Wadi Arnon! Begin! Take possession! Engage him in battle!” This charge is accompanied by two significant promises: Yahweh had already given Sihon into the Israelites’ hands, and from this day on, he would send shockwaves throughout the earth, causing people to tremble in fright when they heard of Israel’s triumphs. Remarkably the statement highlights Israel’s actions and places Yahweh in the background.
Gerald Gerbrandt: “Get up! Get going! Cross the Wadi Arnon!” With these words Deuteronomy ushers in a new, exciting era in Israel’s story. The Hebrew of the verse opens with three consecutive imperatives, giving the verse an abrupt start, an element that is lost in the smooth translation of the NRSV, Proceed on your journey and cross the Wadi Arnon (v. 24).
The tendency of translations not to begin a new paragraph at this point hides the fact that this verse represents a key juncture in the narrative. The period of wilderness wandering is over. The report of the death of all the warriors who had lost faith at the first arrival at the land signals the end of the previous generation (2:16). Now Israel is to get going. Finally, after hundreds of years of waiting, according to the logic of the story, Israel will receive the land. The new era begins now!
2. (:24b) Divine Gift that Must be Seized
“Look! I have given Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land into your hand; begin to take possession and contend with him in battle.”
3. (:25) Divine Intimidation that Weakens the Opposition
“This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under the heavens, who, when they hear the report of you, shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.”
Michael Grisanti: Once the Israelites crossed the Arnon River, they entered the region controlled by the Amorites (and part of the Promised Land). The Lord commissioned the Israelites to engage the Amorites in battle, who served King Sihon of Heshbon, and promised to bring fear to the enemies’ hearts and to give victory to Israel. . .
“all the nations under heaven” — is a hyperbolic statement; it emphasizes that Israel has no need to fear since their God is the ultimate sovereign of the world. Any nation that Israel encountered would not be able to resist their advance (cf. 11:25; 28:10; Ex 23:27–29; Jos 2:8–11), and all other nations who heard this report would tremble in fear.
B. (:26-31) Conflict with Sihon Escalates
1. (:26-29) Attempt at Peaceful Diplomacy
“So I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon king of Heshbon with words of peace, saying, 27 ‘Let me pass through your land, I will travel only on the highway; I will not turn aside to the right or to the left. 28 You will sell me food for money so that I may eat, and give me water for money so that I may drink, only let me pass through on foot, 29 just as the sons of Esau who live in Seir and the Moabites who live in Ar did for me, until I cross over the Jordan into the land which the LORD our God is giving to us.’”
Peter Craigie: The main body of the people remained in the wilderness of Kedemoth while the ambassadors took the message of peace to Sihon. Kedemoth was probably a few miles inside Sihon’s territory, north of the Arnon and quite near to the eastern border of the Amorite state.
Eugene Merrill: Moses apparently used Kedemoth as a base of operations, for it was from there that he sent his envoys to Sihon’s capital city, Heshbon, twenty miles north. Like Dibon, Heshbon occupies a place of prominence in the Old Testament (Num 21:25-34; 32:3, 37; Deut 29:7; Josh 12:2, 5; 13:10-27) and in extrabiblical literature as well as in archaeology. It was one of the forty-eight Levitical cities (1 Chr 6:81), claimed first by Reuben (Num 32:37) and later by Gad (Josh 13:26). Prior to Sihon’s rise to power Heshbon and everything south had belonged to Moab. The energetic Amorite had then destroyed Heshbon, made the site his own capital, and pushed Moab’s border all the way to the Arnon (Num 21:26-30). The Israelites under Moses were therefore asking to traverse territory that had recently fallen to Sihon’s control. This may in part explain his sensitivity about allowing this to happen (v. 30).
2. (:30) Antagonism from Stubborn Sihon
“But Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through his land; for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him into your hand, as he is today.”
Peter Craigie: Whether his unwillingness stemmed from fear, or whether it was confidence in his own military strength, is uncertain. It may well have been confidence, for he had already experienced military successes against the Moabites. The spirit (rûaḥ) and heart (lēḇāḇ), in this context, probably refer respectively to the “will” and “mind” of Sihon. It should be noted that the words here express an understanding of Sihon’s action in retrospect. In the account in Numbers (21:23), Sihon’s actions are attributed to unfriendliness. But beyond the event, it was possible to look back and see the event in the context of the plan of God. Thus the statements about Sihon (the Lord your God had made his spirit stubborn …) do not reflect a view of determinism, but reflect rather a part of the Hebrew theology of history. Man is free and responsible in action, but the actions of all men are set within the sphere of history, and God was the Lord of history.
Duane Christensen: God works in history, but he also works in and through the unconscious mind—what the ancient Hebrews called the “heart.” When the text insists that YHWH “hardened” Sihon’s spirit and “made obstinate his heart” (2:30), the author is describing profound spiritual truth. Like the pharaoh of the exodus, Sihon was not free to act in simple logic and follow his own best interest. Instead, with reckless abandon he acted so as to bring about his own demise. If we had eyes to see, most of us could see ourselves in the person of Sihon. All too often we are our own worst enemies, because we are not in fact free to act on our conscious desires.
The ancient Greeks explored this phenomenon in depth in their literature and mythology. Oedipus could not escape killing his own father, which the gods had said must happen. The forces of “history” worked relentlessly to bring about his destiny. Is the case any different with Sihon, or with any of us who glory in our apparent freedom? We are never truly free until our conscious minds are brought into alignment with our “hearts” (the unconscious mind), where God is to be found. Like the little train of the children’s story, which wanted so much to be free that it jumped the tracks, our pursuit of freedom is often self-destructive.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The text presents the hostile confrontations as beginning in a manner similar to the peaceful encounters, with Israel offering to pass through the land without any hostile intentions, wishing only to buy food and water.
The two requests are explicitly compared (v. 29), with Israel’s offer to Sihon characterized as terms of peace (v. 26). The difference between the two sets is not in how Israel initiates the meeting but in the response of the other side. Whereas Edom and Moab accept Israel’s peaceful proposal, Sihon (and by implication, Og) rejects it. Indeed, both kings take the initiative in coming out to meet Israel in battle (2:32; 3:1). The opening paragraph defends Israel against the possible accusation that it initiates the battles or that it enters the lands of Sihon and Og with unfriendly intentions. Israel is not the aggressor.
3. (:31) Advance Towards Occupation and Conquest
“And the LORD said to me, ‘See, I have begun to deliver Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to occupy, that you may possess his land.’”
Daniel Block: In verses 31–37 Moses describes the battle against Sihon. The narrative provides few details, but in its general structure it provides a model for how the Israelites would engage the Canaanites in their battles for the Promised Land. As Commander-in-Chief Yahweh ordered the attack, offering words of encouragement and promises of victory, to which Israel responded by defeating the enemy forces, utterly destroying the population, and claiming the territory promised. The sevenfold repletion of “all” in verses 32–37 emphasizes the completeness of Israel’s obedience and the totality of victory. This pattern continues in the sequel (3:3–10).
Michael Grisanti: God had set everything in place. Now Israel had to believe God had given the victory and engage Sihon and his army on the battlefield.
C. (:32-37) Conquest of Sihon Accomplished
1. (:32-36) Scope of the Conquest
a. (:32-33) Scope of the Conquest Summarized
“Then Sihon with all his people came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz. 33 And the LORD our God delivered him over to us; and we defeated him with his sons and all his people.”
Daniel Block: In verses 33–34 Moses summarizes the outcome of the battle. His description reflects two key principles involved in the biblical perspective on historical events.
(1) As Sovereign over all nations and over all historical events, Yahweh delivered Sihon into Israel’s hands. It is assumed that Sihon’s gods could not defend him.
(2) The victory was achieved by concentrated human effort.
Moses notes three specific actions:
– they captured every one of Sihon’s fortifications,
– they completely annihilated the populations of every town,
– but they excluded the animals and the property from the law of ḥērem and claimed them as booty.
b. (:34-35) Scope of the Conquest in Destruction and Booty
“So we captured all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, women and children of every city. We left no survivor. 35 We took only the animals as our booty and the spoil of the cities which we had captured.”
Eugene Merrill: This outcome is, of course, in line with Moses’ own policy outlined later in Deuteronomy, a code of conduct that specified that cities, houses, wells, vineyards, and olive groves—all would become Israel’s without their expending any labor at all in their construction (Deut 6:10-11; cf. 19:1). Following the conquest, Joshua was able to report that the Lord had given Israel “a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build, and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant” (Josh 24:13). In the absence of evidence to the contrary, one must assume that this included the cities of the Transjordan as well. Their populations were exterminated according to the canons of holy war, but the physical facilities themselves remained intact for later Israelite occupation. Subsequent allotment of these areas to the two and a half eastern tribes includes reference to their having received the cities and towns scattered throughout (cf. Josh 13:8-33), a rather meaningless prize if the urban structures no longer existed.
c. (:36) Scope of the Conquest Geographically
“From Aroer which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon and from the city which is in the valley, even to Gilead, there was no city that was too high for us; the LORD our God delivered all over to us.”
Duane Christensen: That none of the towns was “inaccessibly high for us” (v 36) is to be contrasted with the response of the rebellious generation at Kadesh-barnea when they heard from the spies that the cities of Canaan were “fortified to the heavens” (1:28).
2. (:37) Sheltered from the Conquest — Restraint Shown to the Ammonites
“Only you did not go near to the land of the sons of Ammon, all along the river Jabbok and the cities of the hill country, and wherever the LORD our God had commanded us.”
Peter Craigie: The theme of obedience is reiterated in this concluding verse. The Israelites did not, in the elation of victory, exceed their orders and grasp more territory for themselves than had been permitted by the Lord, The territory described in this verse is that of the Ammonites; the Israelites had already been commanded not to attack it (Deut. 2:19).
II. (3:1-7) DEFEAT OF OG, KING OF BASHAN
A. (:1) Conflict Engaged with Og, King of Bashan
“Then we turned and went up the road to Bashan, and Og, king of Bashan,
with all his people came out to meet us in battle at Edrei.”
Eugene Merrill: The campaign of offensive holy war continued with Israel’s penetration of Gilead, the territory to the north of the Jabbok River, all the way to the land of Bashan. This heavily forested and productive high plateau was famous in ancient times for its oaks (Isa 2:13) and livestock (Deut 32:14; Amos 4:1). It lay north of Gilead, whose southern border was the Jabbok and with whom it shared a common border, the Yarmuk River.
Peter Craigie: The conquest of Bashan took the Israelites off their route slightly, in that the land lay considerably to the north of the point at which they would cross the Jordan for the conquest of western Palestine. From a military point of view, the conquest of Bashan was wise, for it meant that the right flank of the Israelites would be protected when they prepared to cross the Jordan for the main assault. The battle took place in the vicinity of Edrei, a city located on one of the tributaries of the Yarmuk, and apparently one of the royal residences of Og (Deut. 1:4).
B. (:2) Confidence Based on Prior Conquest
“But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have delivered him and all his people and his land into your hand; and you shall do to him just as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’”
C. (:3-7) Comprehensive Conquest
1. (:3) All the People
“So the LORD our God delivered Og also, king of Bashan, with all his people into our hand, and we smote them until no survivor was left.”
Peter Craigie: In the concise nature of this recollection, the entire battle is virtually reduced to this one verse. The Lord our God delivered into our power even Og. The theology is important; there is no doubt that the people were involved in the reality of the battle, but in the recollection of military success, that success was seen as the Lord’s doing. Hence in this verse, God’s action is referred to first; he delivered Og into the Israelites’ power. Man’s action is stated second: and we smote him until not a single survivor was left to him.
2. (:4-6) All the Cities
“And we captured all his cities at that time; there was not a city which we did not take from them: sixty cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. 5 All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates and bars, besides a great many unwalled towns. 6 And we utterly destroyed them, as we did to Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women and children of every city.”
3. (:7) All the Booty
“But all the animals and the spoil of the cities we took as our booty.”
(:8-11) SUMMARY AND ANECDOTAL FOOTNOTE
A. (:8-10) Summary of Both Conquests
“Thus we took the land at that time from the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, from the valley of Arnon to Mount Hermon 9 (Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, and the Amorites call it Senir): 10 all the cities of the tableland and all Gilead and all Bashan, as far as Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan.”
Daniel Block: Moses concludes his recollections of the battles against Sihon and Og with a summary statement of the Israelites’ conquests (v. 8). They took the Amorite region east of the Jordan from the Wadi Arnon in the south to Mount Hermon in the north (cf. Josh 12:5; 13:11). Verse 9 interrupts the review with another parenthetical comment, this time clarifying the reference to Mount Hermon. Apparently Mount Hermon was the Israelite name for a mountain that the Sidonians (representing the Phoenicians) called Hermon Sirion, and one that the Amorites (who previously controlled it) called Senir.
Michael Grisanti: The victory over Sihon and Og gave Israel control over the territory in Transjordan that extended from the Arnon River as far as Mount Hermon (also called Sirion or Senir by the Sidonians and Amorites, respectively, and spanning a distance of ca. 140 miles). The Israelites captured and were able to inhabit all the cities in this region.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The land is first described in terms of its natural boundaries (v. 8), and then largely in terms of political regions (v. 10). The Transjordan is divided into three traditional parts:
– the central plateau, or tableland;
– Gilead, the region north of the plateau up to the Wadi Yarmuk;
– and Bashan, a rich agricultural area north of the Wadi Yarmuk.
Jack Deere: These verses summarize the conquest of the territory controlled by the two Transjordanian Amorite kings, Sihon and Og. The Israelites needed the encouragement of repeated reminders of God’s past faithfulness to them. Two aspects of this summary particularly heartened the Israelites. First, these verses stress the extensive nature of the Israelite conquest: from the Arnon Gorge to Mount Hermon (called Sirion by the Phoenicians of Sidon and called Senir by the Amorites). Second, Og was one of the last of the Rephaites the Israelites would face in battle.
B. (:11) Anecdotal Footnote
“(For only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bedstead was an iron bedstead; it is in Rabbah of the sons of Ammon. Its length was nine cubits and its width four cubits by ordinary cubit.)”
Daniel Block: A final footnote at the end of Moses’ recollection of the defeat of Sihon and Og notes that as a Rephaite, Og was one of the last survivors of the gigantic pre-Amorite aboriginal peoples in this region. As concrete evidence of his size Moses refers to Og’s bed, which apparently was on display in Rabbah of Bene Ammon (the Ammonite capital) at the time this note was written. Og’s bed was impressive. It was huge: nine cubits long by four cubits wide (13.5 feet by 6 feet). And it was made of iron. Since iron was a precious metal in the Late Bronze Age, this was probably a bed made of wood and adorned with iron, similar to Solomon’s great throne, which 1 Kings 10:18 describes as (lit.) “a throne of ivory.” This note invites the ancient reader to check the narrator’s veracity and to confirm the magnitude of Israel’s victory.