10 And the people of Israel set out and camped in Oboth. 11 And they set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness that is opposite Moab, toward the sunrise. 12 From there they set out and camped in the Valley of Zered. 13 From there they set out and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that extends from the border of the Amorites, for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord,
“Waheb in Suphah, and the valleys of the Arnon,
15 and the slope of the valleys
that extends to the seat of Ar,
and leans to the border of Moab.”
16 And from there they continued to Beer; that is the well of which the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together, so that I may give them water.” 17 Then Israel sang this song:
“Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!—
18 the well that the princes made,
that the nobles of the people dug,
with the scepter and with their staffs.”
And from the wilderness they went on to Mattanah, 19 and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20 and from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of Moab by the top of Pisgah that looks down on the desert. – Numbers 21:10-20 ESV
Having been denied safe passage through the land of Edom, the Israelites had attempted to make their way through the Negev. But their efforts were hampered by the Canaanites who occupied that territory. So, they reversed their steps and headed east around the borders of Edom and on to the western borders of Moab. This would have been a long and circuitous journey that left the Israelites frustrated by their slow progress. It was an unexpected and unwelcome detour that required the people of God to extend their time in the wilderness. But there was a reason for this delay. God was waiting for the last of the rebellious generous that had refused to enter Canaan the first time to die off. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses recalls the nearly 40-year death march the Israelites were forced to make because of their disobedience to God’s command.
“Thirty-eight years passed from the time we first left Kadesh-barnea until we finally crossed the Zered Brook! By then, all the men old enough to fight in battle had died in the wilderness, as the Lord had vowed would happen. The Lord struck them down until they had all been eliminated from the community.” – Deuteronomy 2:14-15 NLT
And as that earlier generation slowly died off, the time was growing closer when the next crop of Israelites would face the decision to obey God and enter the land of Canaan. But as they drew closer to Canaan’s border, God warned the people to give the people of Moab a wide berth.
“Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:9 NLT
When the very last member of the earlier generation died, the Israelites were given permission to cross the border of Moab and enter the land of Ammon,
“Today you will cross the border of Moab at Ar and enter the land of the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot. But do not bother them or start a war with them. I have given the land of Ammon to them as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.’” – Deuteronomy 2:18-19 NLT
As before, the Israelites were to refrain from taking any land from the Ammonites. These people were close relatives of the Israelites and God declared their property to be off limits. God had awarded Lot’s descendants this land and the Israelites had no claim to it.
But the day came when God ordered the Israelites to begin their conquest of the land of Canaan. The older generation was gone and, after a nearly 40-year delay, it was time for God’s people to obey His command and enter the land of promise.
“Then the Lord said, ‘Now get moving! Cross the Arnon Gorge. Look, I will hand over to you Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and I will give you his land. Attack him and begin to occupy the land. Beginning today I will make people throughout the earth terrified because of you. When they hear reports about you, they will tremble with dread and fear.’” – Deuteronomy 2:24-25 NLT
Moses attempted to negotiate a treaty with Sihon, the king of the Amorites, but he was not interested in peace talks. That’s when God informed Moses to drop the peace overtures and have the people pick up their weapons.
“Look, I have begun to hand King Sihon and his land over to you. Begin now to conquer and occupy his land.” – Deuteronomy 2:31 NLT
And the victory was overwhelming. Moses indicates that “the Lord our God handed him over to us, and we crushed him, his sons, and all his people. We conquered all his towns and completely destroyed everyone—men, women, and children. Not a single person was spared” (Deuteronomy 2:33-34 NLT).
Moses refers to “the Book of the Wars of the Lord” (Numbers 21:14 ESV. This was a record of Israel’s victories in the form of songs. The people were just beginning to witness the overwhelming power of God on their behalf. This victory over the Amorites was to be the first of many and it was intended to promote a sense of hope and confidence among the people of God.
After their defeat of the Amorites, the Israelites continued on to Beer, where God quenched the thirst of the people with refreshing water. And the people responded in grateful song.
“Spring up, O well!
Yes, sing its praises!
Sing of this well,
which princes dug,
which great leaders hollowed out
with their scepters and staffs.” – Numbers 21:17-18 NLT
Israel was experiencing a sense of renewed confidence as they witnessed firsthand the power and providence of God. He was graciously preparing them for the days ahead and helping them to understand that anything was possible when they placed their faith in Him.
But while they were getting closer to the land of Canaan, they were not quite ready to take on the challenged that lie across the border. So, God continue to prepare them for the difficult days ahead.
Their enthusiasm, while admirable, would not be enough to bring victory against the nations living in Canaan. What the Israelites really needed was increased confidence in the power of God. Ultimately, the conquest of the land would be up to Him. They were going to need to learn to trust Him implicitly. Cockiness was not an acceptable substitute for confidence in God.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.