The Wilderness Years
2 “Then we turned and journeyed into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea, as the LORD told me. And for many days we traveled around Mount Seir. Then the LORD said to me, ‘You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward and command the people, “You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful. Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. You shall purchase food from them with money, that you may eat, and you shall also buy water from them with money, that you may drink. For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.”’ So we went on, away from our brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir, away from the Arabah road from Elath and Ezion-geber.
“And we turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the LORD said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession.’ (The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. The Horites also lived in Seir formerly, but the people of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, as Israel did to the land of their possession, which the LORD gave to them.) ‘Now rise up and go over the brook Zered.’ So we went over the brook Zered. And the time from our leaving Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation, that is, the men of war, had perished from the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them. For indeed the hand of the LORD was against them, to destroy them from the camp, until they had perished.
“So as soon as all the men of war had perished and were dead from among the people, the LORD said to me, ‘Today you are to cross the border of Moab at Ar. And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.’ (It is also counted as a land of Rephaim. Rephaim formerly lived there—but the Ammonites call them Zamzummim—a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim; but the LORD destroyed them before the Ammonites, and they dispossessed them and settled in their place, as he did for the people of Esau, who live in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites before them and they dispossessed them and settled in their place even to this day. As for the Avvim, who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim, who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and settled in their place.) ‘Rise up, set out on your journey and go over the Valley of the Arnon. Behold, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession, and contend with him in battle. This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.’
The Defeat of King Sihon
“So I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon the king of Heshbon, with words of peace, saying, ‘Let me pass through your land. I will go only by the road; I will turn aside neither to the right nor to the left. You shall sell me food for money, that I may eat, and give me water for money, that I may drink. Only let me pass through on foot, as the sons of Esau who live in Seir and the Moabites who live in Ar did for me, until I go over the Jordan into the land that the LORD our God is giving to us.’ But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day. And the LORD said to me, ‘Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to take possession, that you may occupy his land.’ Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Jahaz. And the LORD our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people. And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. Only the livestock we took as spoil for ourselves, with the plunder of the cities that we captured. From Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and from the city that is in the valley, as far as Gilead, there was not a city too high for us. The LORD our God gave all into our hands. Only to the land of the sons of Ammon you did not draw near, that is, to all the banks of the river Jabbok and the cities of the hill country, whatever the LORD our God had forbidden us.
Deuteronomy 2 Commentary
by Hank Workman
Even in the desert, the place Israel’s rebellion had led them, God still looked out for His people.
This is quite a statement. It’s actually astounding when you think about it. The people of God rejected His ways for taking the land, virtually sentenced to desert wanderings, God still had His eye and even provided for them. He still took care of their needs. Actually, the verse says, he blessed them.
“The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. These 40 years the Lord your God has been with you and you have not lacked anything.”Deuteronomy 2:7
This shows the very character of God even when His people have made horrific life-changing decisions which were against His will and showed a lack of faith. God still had a plan for them, even though wandering in discipline as it would be for their lack of belief, He never left them hanging. This is particularly true as Moses continues to remember their journey through Edom, Moab, the land of the Ammonites and the conquest of the Amorites.
God had been faithful to them through these times. He called them to treat the Edomites with character and respect, although they could have dominated. He told them not to harass or battle the Moabites. He specifically told them which land and people groups they were to respect and move forward.
Oh, this was not just an issue of God’s character revealed, this was an issue of them personally reflecting the character of God on their journey. You see it wasn’t just about their journey but their character that must reflect Him while on it.
Even in the overtaking of Amorites, they requested safe passage but were refused. The Lord was already working behind the scenes on this one as he hardened the heart of the King. Yet, they did the right thing. This was important as God led this wicked man to his demise so that the people could take that land. God simply let the King’s heart embrace the evil that was within so that His plan and glory would be seen. The story itself is told in Numbers 21.
As one commentator pens, “38 years before, Israel refused to go into the Promised Land because they felt they were over-matched militarily. Here, when they began to enter the land by faith, God showed them how it could have been 38 years before – if they had only believed.”
The desert wanderings had been punishment, there is no doubt. But it also was making of them for when they would move forward. God had provided for them again and again. Even in their rebellion, He was still there. These acts of mercy would trigger their response to move in faith after learning such a costly lesson. The crazy thing is all those years before they thought it impossible. Now with their eyes on God, their faith in what He was calling, “not one town was too strong for us” (verse 36).
There are many times we find ourselves in the same place where rebellion has brought discipline. The hope found in Moses’ recounting God’s mercy and grace are still there. He still is watching over us and yes even providing. When we have learned what we must from such experiences, God makes the way clear to move forward. He renews His plans when we have repented and moves us forward in victory.
Deuteronomy 2 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
It is a unique time in Israel’s history. Moses continues to lead and teach the people even though *spoiler alert* he will die before making it to the Promised Land. This time of transition accomplishes several significant goals. First, Moses will teach the people how to trust God. Moses could have titled the class Obedience 101.
Keep in mind, they have received the Law (10 Commandments) already. However, they have failed miserably to keep those commandments, and all throughout Deuteronomy, God will provide the practical guidance needed to live in a covenant with Him. Their journey outlined here provides opportunities to obey the Law by putting their faith and trust in God. First, the old generation needed to go.
This was thirty-eight years after we had left Kadesh Barnea. All the fighting men of that generation had died, as the LORD had said they would.  The LORD kept on opposing them until he had destroyed them all.  “After they had all died,  the LORD said to us,  ‘Today you are to pass through the territory of Moab by way of Ar.Deuteronomy 2:14-18 GNB
Kadesh, if you remember, was where the Israelites failed to trust in God. After sending spies into the Promised Land, they grumbled about everything including their leadership. They wept in their tents and wished they were back under the persecution of Egypt. They even wanted to stone Moses and Aaron. It was the sin of unbelief that stirred all of this up, so God intervened.
The verses here describe that generation as “fighting men” who had to be removed. Fighting men? What does this mean? These men were divisive in their spirit and attitude and had influence over the entire nation. The text says, “The Lord kept on opposing them until he had destroyed them all.” This is a significant point. Why do you think the New Testament is littered with verses warning about divisive people?
By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you, my friends, to agree in what you say, so that there will be no divisions among you. Be completely united, with only one thought and one purpose.1 Corinthians 1:10 GNB
I urge you, my friends: watch out for those who cause divisions and upset people’s faith and go against the teaching which you have received. Keep away from them!  For those who do such things are not serving Christ our Lord, but their own appetites. By their fine words and flattering speech they deceive innocent people.Romans 16:17-18 GNB
Dependence vs Rebellion
A significant reference to these fighting men of Deuteronomy is found right at the beginning of Jude.
For some godless people have slipped in unnoticed among us, persons who distort the message about the grace of our God in order to excuse their immoral ways, and who reject Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord. Long ago the Scriptures predicted the condemnation they have received.  For even though you know all this, I want to remind you of how the Lord once rescued the people of Israel from Egypt, but afterward destroyed those who did not believe.Jude 1:4-5 GNB
Jude reminds us that the same God who rescues us is the same God who can dismantle us. False, divisive “believers” will be judged in the same way as the fighting men of Deuteronomy. The Lord knew the plan could not go forward with a divisive generation, so He took matters into His own hands.
Rebellion is the opposite of dependence. The wilderness was a time of learning to depend on God, and there was no way they could survive the upcoming battles they would face without learning dependence. Israel experienced an incredible beginning to their journey when they were led out of Egypt. Sadly, many of those same people did not finish strong. What does this mean for your family, your church, and your community? Are you moving forward with dependence or dragging your feet in rebellion?