Israel & the Road Home—The Removal of the Obstacles in the Road

Posted: December 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

So far we have seen potential obstacles in Israel’s road home turn out to be present obstacles in the road. Israel has requested safe passage through Sihon’s land (2:27–29) and Sihon has refused to allow passage (2:30). Now, Yahweh responds by assuring Israel that he has given Sihon into their hand and thus calls them to wage war against Sihon and the Amorites (2:31).

The response of Sihon to the request of Israel meant that the obstacle in the road to the land needed to be removed. Once again the children of God were faced with a decision. Like their ancestors, would they fail to trust the Lord and refuse to move forward (1:32; cf. Num. 14:11)? Or would they believe Yahweh’s word; namely, that Sihon and the Amorites had been given into their hands (2:24, 30)? The obstacle needs removing. Would Israel rise to the task?

The messengers have requested peaceful passage; Sihon has refused to allow Israel to pass through his land; and now Yahweh will have the last word. Before calling Israel to move out and fight, Yahweh reminds Israel of the ordained end. He says, “Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you” (2:30a). Just as Yahweh had fought for Israel at the Red Sea, so he would fight for them today (cf. Ex. 14:13–14).

Yet, as Jim Hamilton notes, “There is also divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the taking of Sihon’s land. In Deuteronomy 2:31, Yahweh announces that he has given Sihon over to Israel—divine sovereignty. But it is also true that Israel must take possession and occupy his land—human responsibility.”[1] The need for Israel to respond in faithful obedience was not negated by the fact that the Lord had already determined the outcome of the battle. J. G. McConville writes, “This decision of Yahweh [to give Sihon over] must be matched by Israel’s faith and obedience to begin to inherit the land.”[2]

In light of Yahweh giving Sihon and the Amorites into their hands, Israel is commanded to “begin to take possession, that [they] may occupy his land” (2:31b). Literally, the Hebrew text reads, “begin, possess, to possess his land.” The use of two imperatives (הָחֵ֣ל, רָ֔שׁ) in rapid succesion suggests an emphatic order to conquer the Amorites. Block writes, “As Commander-in-Cheif Yahweh ordered the attack…”[3]

The victory is a foregone conclusion. Yahweh has stated twice that Sihon and the Amorites were given over to Israel. First, before messengers are sent to Sihon, Yahweh assures Moses and Israel that “this day [he] will begin to put the dread and fear of [them] on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of [them] and shall tremble and be in anquish becaue of [them]” (2:25). Second, regardless of the obstinance of Sihon, which is ultimately God’s doing anyway (2:30), Israel is assured that Sihon and his land is theirs for the taking (2:31). Thus, the potential obstacle that proved to be a present obstacle, is an obstacle that Yahweh, the warrior-King, will remove if Israel will respond in faith and trust.[4]

[1] James M. Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2010), 121-23.

[2] J. G. McConville, Deuteronomy, 87.

[3] Block, Deuteronomy, 91.

[4] Though this element is not found explicitly in the text, I am adding it because of the implicit need for Israelite obedience. Just as the previous generation would possess the land if they went in and took possession, this generation must move into the land in obedience to Yahweh’s command. The parallel with the wilderness generation seems to suggest that the taking of Sihon’s land was sure from the side of Yahweh, but dependent upon human obedience. See my discussion of human responsibility and divine sovereignty in coming posts in this series.

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