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?
Wanderings in the Wilderness / Beginnings of the Conquest
2 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.
2 Then the Lord said to me, 3 “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. 4 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. 5 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. 6 You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.’”
7 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.
8 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.
9 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.)