Picking Fights with the Right -ites (Deuteronomy 2:1-23)

I’ll grant that some of the passages of Scripture – like this one today – are more tedious than others. A prime example is the “begats” sections of Matthew and Luke – those genealogies of Christ. But we need to remember that all the Scriptures are God’s revelation to us and have instructive and practical value. Really? Yep! When you understand it and why it is there, it contains important truths and lessons. For example, the genealogies teach of God’s faithfulness over generations to see that at the perfect “fullness of time” Christ came into the world with all the rights to be the King of Israel, the King of Kings, and our perfect savior.

But here today we get into a section that talks about a vast variety of nations and people groups – all of what me might call the “-ites” of the Scriptures – you know, like Amalakites and Hittites … that sort of thing. But why does our nice narrative need to get so muddled with all of these termites, helgramites, or whatever? Not wanting you to get uptight or think I’m “obsessivite,” let me put a brief spotlight on it.

The Kadesh ‘epic fail’ happened about two year after the exodus from Egypt. The next 38 years of wandering around is covered in verse 1 today. Then, Moses rehearses their more recent history of being directed to enter the land as a new generation. If you reference the map at the bottom, you can see that Kadesh is straight south of the Promised Land. Following the arrows to the east of that, you can see how this conquest will skirt to the east of the Dead Sea, passing through some of the lands talked about today. We may note also that ultimately the Israelites would cross the Jordan from east to west (which gets talked about in the next book – Joshua).

As the children of Israel – all 2-3 million of them – are travelling through these habitats of various people groups, the text today tells us of three with whom the Israelites were NOT to pick a fight. These groups (nations) are the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites. The first of these were the descendents of Jacob’s brother Esau; and the latter two nations were related to Abraham’s nephew Lot.

Now understand that these are not God-fearing monotheists walking in covenant fellowship with the Lord. But here’s the point – God had made covenant promises to these people (see Genesis 19:36-38 for example), and God was going to keep his word. Centuries later, God would bring judgment upon these groups for their wickedness, but now was not that time.

How might this have practical benefit for us? Well consider this: God made promises to people who in short order walked in a direction away from him. It is not like God did not know that would happen, but he established their places of habitation with a promise during times when they intersected with the redemption story God was crafting through the nation of Israel. If God is this faithful to his word with such, why should we not trust him to be faithful to his word with us – his adopted children in Christ Jesus? Should not such a thought stir revival in our hearts?

Deuteronomy 2:1-23

Wanderings in the Wilderness / Beginnings of the Conquest

Then we turned back and set out toward the wilderness along the route to the Red Sea, as the Lord had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir.

Then the Lord said to me, “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.’”

The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.

So we went on past our relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. We turned from the Arabah road, which comes up from Elath and Ezion Geber, and traveled along the desert road of Moab.

Then the Lord said to me, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.”

10 (The Emites used to live there—a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. 11 Like the Anakites, they too were considered Rephaites, but the Moabites called them Emites. 12 Horites used to live in Seir, but the descendants of Esau drove them out. They destroyed the Horites from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did in the land the Lord gave them as their possession.)

13 And the Lord said, “Now get up and cross the Zered Valley.” So we crossed the valley.

14 Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. 15 The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp.

16 Now when the last of these fighting men among the people had died, 17 the Lord said to me,18 “Today you are to pass by the region of Moab at Ar. 19 When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.”

20 (That too was considered a land of the Rephaites, who used to live there; but the Ammonites called them Zamzummites. 21 They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The Lord destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place.22 The Lord had done the same for the descendants of Esau, who lived in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites from before them. They drove them out and have lived in their place to this day. 23 And as for the Avvites who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorites coming out from Caphtor destroyed them and settled in their place.)

Exodus Map

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That Grasshopper Sort of Feeling (Deuteronomy 1:26-46)

Frankly, grasshoppers creep me out. Even as a kid, I really didn’t like picking them up and feeling them squirm around in my hand. But the world through the eyes of a grasshopper in the weeds must be even creepier still. Everything from that perspective would look gigantic.

And that is how 83.3% of the spies of Israel felt about the Canaanite inhabitants of the Promised Land. Though all 12 of them had agreed that the land was truly a fruitful and beautiful place, they could not help but see the masses of people, the walled cities, AND especially the sons of Anak – giants in the land. It gave them that grasshopper sort of feeling.

Just as with the fruit of the land, all 12 spies agreed about the other realities they had witnessed. There were surely many tribes and nations; the cities were built with high walls; there were giants in certain parts of the region. Ten of the spies saw the obstacles and compared them to themselves; whereas the other two – Joshua and Caleb – saw the obstacles and compared them to the power and promises of God.

Of course, the people believed the report of the majority. When we read this story in Numbers 13 and 14, the wailing of the Israelites really does make you want to reach through the pages of Scripture and slap them! Yep, God felt the same way, and he did it for you. The people, realizing they had blown it, even attempted then to recapture the opportunity in their own strength … Epic Fail!

So off into a wandering around the wilderness for 40 years went the Israelites. Of the generation over 20 years old, only Joshua and Caleb would enter the Promised Land. And here is a humorous note of Scripture – those Giants in the land … Caleb and his own clan would whip them simply by themselves, recorded almost as a sort of footnote with the account of the conquest of Canaan. It is given but a couple of sentences of mention within the historic record – that’s how easily it was accomplished in God’s power.

It is easy to have the circumstances of life make us feel like we are but a grasshopper deep in the weeds of our suffering. But with God, we are always a majority; he is the ultimate high trump over every situation. On our own, we are small indeed. But in the end, we always win with the Lord. May we be revived with this realization!

Deuteronomy 1:26-46

Rebellion against the Lord

26 But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 You grumbled in your tents and said, “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.’”

29 Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

32 In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, 33 who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.

34 When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: 35 “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, 36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.”

37 Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either. 38 But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. 39 And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.40 But as for you, turn around and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”

41 Then you replied, “We have sinned against the Lord. We will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us.” So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country.

42 But the Lord said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies.’”

43 So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country. 44 The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah. 45 You came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you. 46 And so you stayed in Kadesh many days—all the time you spent there.

The Mother of All Epic Failures (Deuteronomy 1:19-25)

Describing something as an “epic fail” is a pop culture phrase often used.  The Urban Dictionary defines the phrase as communicative of “a mistake of such monumental proportions that it requires its own term in order to successfully point out the unfathomable shortcomings of an individual or group.”

Truly the mother of all “epic fails” was the situation described in today’s (and tomorrow’s) passage – the failure of Israel at Kadesh Barnea. The Scriptures repeatedly look back to this moment in Israel’s history as the pinnacle event of unbelief.

They had recently crossed a forbidding desert in a 100-mile waterless experience that must have been grueling. But God’s miraculous supply was with them – as it had been with the parting of the Red Sea, the cloud of God’s presence by day and pillar of fire by night, the water from the rock, and the manna and quail from the sky. One would think this would be enough to have confidence that if God has done this much, surely any other obstacles are not such a big deal.

So then, at the door of entry to the Promised Land – at a place called Kadesh Barnea – a group of 12 spies was sent to scout out the land before them. One from each tribe was chosen. God approved this endeavor as a wise move to learn about this unseen land toward the goal of possessing it according to his promise.

All the spies saw the same thing – “a good land” – which is a phrase used 10 times in Deuteronomy. They all reported that indeed the land was as advertised – a good and prosperous land; and they brought proof in the fruit carried back. We are borrowing from the passage for tomorrow to make a point today, but you know the full story of the ultimate lack of belief based upon the further reports of the giants in the land.

We all like to imagine ourselves as among those who, in that situation, would have been numbered with those who believed – surely not among the grumblers and merchants of fear and unbelief. Man, if we saw the Rea Sea waters stand up, witnessed bread falling daily from the sky, and had a daily experience of a visible presence of God to follow … surely we would be counted among the conquest hawks rather than the shirking doves! Really? Well, we don’t know. But we can probably all sadly recall too many times when we’ve not believed, but have rather halted at the very door of opportunity and faith. The fact is that none of us can ever look back and point to any time that God was not faithful in the past. So why should we fear anything about the future?

Lord give us a revival of our faith!

Deuteronomy 1:19-25

The spies sent into the Promised Land

19 Then, as the Lord our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful wilderness that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. 20 Then I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

22 Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”

23 The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. 24 They left and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshkol and explored it. 25 Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.”

kadesh barnea

The area of Kadesh Barnea

How Many Stars are in the Sky? (Deuteronomy 1:9-18)

In today’s reading, Moses continues his rehearsal of the historic situation that had occurred with the nation of Israel’s disobedience to trust God and possess the Promised Land.

stars of the skyThe number of people in the exodus from Egypt is really quite astounding. Only the men age 20 and over were counted, and they numbered about 600,000. A handy expression in the ancient world to capture the scope of such a multitude was to compare it to the innumerable number of stars in the sky. An estimate of the size of the entire nation would likely be in the range of 2 million to 3 million people. That is a lot of food, a lot of water, a lot of grumbling, and a lot of problems. Wherever there are people, there are problems and controversies and difficulties. It was more than Moses could handle.

In fact, the people and their problems were just about killing him. We read in Exodus 18 that he was busy from morning until evening dealing with all the issues, teaching God’s ways, and judging in situations of dispute. His father-in-law Jethro intervened by essentially saying to him, “Son, you are nuts killing yourself like this; here’s what you need to do.”  And so Moses took the advice and set up a multi-tiered system of judges and leadership.

I’ll admit that the inclusion of this story at this point seems a bit odd. Remember, this is an odd situation for these recent escapees from Egyptian slavery. They were not used to independence and living in a scenario where their provision was entirely dependent upon miraculous intervention. But what it teaches and reminds the hearer, then and now, are several things:

  • that there were a lot of people …
  • that these people had a lot of controversies …
  • that God provided in the midst of it all …
  • that Moses was an esteemed leader under God’s blessing …
  • that God’s truth is timeless and effective in every situation.

People have not changed; we are the same over the centuries and the millennia. Apart from a God-oriented eternal perspective, we will be self-centered grumblers. Then and now, God desires our complete trust in Him. His faithfulness to fulfill his covenant promises to us are indeed new every morning, ready to be picked up and applied. They are ready for us to revive our hearts and lives.

Deuteronomy 1:9-18

The Appointment of Leaders

At that time I said to you, “You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone. 10 The Lord your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky. 11 May the Lord, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised!12 But how can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? 13 Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.”

14 You answered me, “What you propose to do is good.”

15 So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you—as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials. 16 And I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. 17 Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.”18 And at that time I told you everything you were to do.

Are We There Yet? (Deuteronomy 1:1-8)

One of my favorite scenes in all of filmmaking is from the Shrek 2 movie when Donkey says to Shrek, “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?”

To which Shrek responds, “The Kingdom of Far, Far Away is far, far away!”shrekdonkey

And Donkey moans, “I’m just so darned bored; there’s no in-flight movie or nothing!”

And the “pop, pop, pop (sounds)” leads Shrek to yell “DONKEY, can you just stop being yourself?”

After nearly 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Promised Land must have seemed like ‘The Land of Far, Far Away!’ And the Israelites were more than just a bit Donkey-ish with their continuous grumbling to Shrek Moses! To this generation of whom he had led from bondage in Egypt, Moses appeared worse than some old ogre from a swamp – being accused of leading them into the wilderness to die.

That is what they ended up doing there – dying because of unbelief. If you run the numbers, one person from the unbelieving generation died about every 20 minutes. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, they turned what we read in today’s passage was an 11-day journey, into a 40-year wandering.

But now in the 40th year, here on the plains of Moab at the door to the Promised Land, Moses delivers a series of sermons / teachings on God’s covenant law with His people – this being a sort of “second law” (the meaning of ‘Deuteronomy’) to the new generation. Note the word in verse 5 where it says that Moses began to “expound” the law to them. This is a very descriptive Hebrew word that literally means “to dig.” Moses was being very explicit with very clear instruction. And what he is beginning to do is to rehearse with this generation the history of all that had brought them to this place and time.

Fresh off the defeat of several kings and their peoples (see Numbers 21 about Sihon and Og), there was every reason for this new generation of Israelites to trust God’s provision – poised to reward their obedience and faith. But there was also every reason for the previous generation to have done the same – having been miraculously delivered from Egypt and given God’s law at Sinai (called here Mt. Horeb). It was time to inherit the long-promised land.

This very large area of land (far larger than where Israel is today) was promised to the patriarchal fathers generations before. Note how the land’s acquisition is spoken of in terms of a “done deal.”  It was essentially already given to them; their role was to take possession of it in God’s strength.

God has given us promises as well – in fact, better promises in Christ than those given to the Israelites. Yet the challenge is the same – to believe and obey … as it says in 1 Corinthians 7:1 “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

Deuteronomy 1:1-8

The setting for Moses’ teaching

These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)

In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them. This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.

Rehearsing Israel’s Recent History Since Leaving Egypt

East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying:

The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”