(Background – The history being rehearsed in today’s passage was fairly recent in the memory of those hearing the sermon of Moses. Again, those events of the Exodus from Egypt nearly 40 years earlier was but a story in the minds of about 75% of the people on this day. We might estimate that perhaps only about 25% of the people, if that – those ages about 45-60 – would have any memory of the Red Sea and God’s incredible deliverance.)
Two years ago in Maryland high school athletics, the state revised the system of divisional competition. And for the first time in many years, my school where I’ve coached cross country went from being a large fish in the smallest pond (of divisions) to the next higher division of larger systems. We were now to compete while being the very smallest of a category of about 50 schools. We made a lot of bluster – calling ourselves “the new beast of the west in 2A running.” But the fact remained that we had a distinctively David-like feeling in a world of Goliaths. Though we had success, the situation has now gotten even worse. In the reshuffling for next year, we remain at the same bottom-of-the-barrel place, but a much larger school has dropped into our division. It just happens to be the very best running school in all of Maryland, ranked even among all east coast schools. They are indeed “the new kid on the block.” They are so much bigger and better that they look entirely invincible.
That is how the nation of Israel looked to some of these localized people groups near the Promised Land. Remember that these areas are largely very arid in terms of climatic conditions. Water, crops, livestock and pasture are valuable resources. The thought of seeing multiple millions of people traipsing across your property under the alleged statement of “hey – don’t mean no harm – we’re just passing through” was hard to swallow at face value. It seemed to the natural mind of folks 1500 B.C. that the thing to do was just wipe them out and avoid the risk and problems. Adding to the invisibility fear factor of these nations was the work of the Lord in placing that fear of his people within them.
Sihon, the King of Heshbon, was the first to choose poorly when Moses offered him a peace treaty – basically telling the King, “we’re just so passing through that we won’t even get off of the interstate highway.” The king’s heart was hardened. It got into that brittle condition all by himself, though God added as well to the hardness of it. The result was that Sihon lost his only chance of survival by his refusal of the treaty. In the end, his nation was destroyed down to the last person, while the plunder was carried off. This may seem overbearingly harsh for the character of God, though we must remember that God is accomplishing both redemption and judgment in his sovereign plans. (A fuller discussion of this topic and its implications will be found in the resources section of the series at a later time.)
The major lesson to be learned for the children of Israel at this point was the manner by which God would fight for his people, against all odds and visible circumstances. He was for them; he was on their side; it did not matter what other big bad boys were in their division. You might say, “I sure wish God was for me … like that!” Well he is. How else are we to understand Romans 8 where it says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Let us be revived by these words!
Defeat of Sihon King of Heshbon
24 “Set out now and cross the Arnon Gorge. See, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country. Begin to take possession of it and engage him in battle. 25 This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.”
26 From the Desert of Kedemoth I sent messengers to Sihon king of Heshbon offering peace and saying, 27 “Let us pass through your country. We will stay on the main road; we will not turn aside to the right or to the left. 28 Sell us food to eat and water to drink for their price in silver. Only let us pass through on foot— 29 as the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir, and the Moabites, who live in Ar, did for us—until we cross the Jordan into the land the Lord our God is giving us.” 30 But Sihon king of Heshbon 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.
31 The Lord said to me, “See, I have begun to deliver Sihon and his country over to you. Now begin to conquer and possess his land.”
32 When Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz, 33 the Lord our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army. 34 At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors.35 But the livestock and the plunder from the towns we had captured we carried off for ourselves.36 From Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge, and from the town in the gorge, even as far as Gilead, not one town was too strong for us. The Lord our God gave us all of them. 37 But in accordance with the command of the Lord our God, you did not encroach on any of the land of the Ammonites, neither the land along the course of the Jabbok nor that around the towns in the hills.