“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…’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)…’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 of great and many, and tall as the Anakim; but the Lord destroyed them and settled in their place, as he did for the people of Esau…)
-Deuteronomy 2:1-5, 9-10, 18-21
We have three themes to work out of this last installment that I started previously; God shows His people His goodness, God is sovereign fully and keeps Israel within their boundaries He laid before them, God blesses even those who are not His people for His purpose.
So here Moses is recounting the way God showed Israel His faithfulness and goodness, in summary. If you read all of chapter two you realize that Moses covers the entire 40 years from beginning to its conclusion (they begin entering Canaan at verse 26) in one single chapter. He is recalling to mind the most important points of their wanderings for 40 years, he doesn’t bring up the snakes and how God delivered them from snakes (Numbers 21:4-9), or how he provided water where there was none (Exodus 17:6), rather Moses recounts the specific encounters quoted above. Moses brought to mind how God showed them these different nations and how he was able to give these people a land that was previously inhabited by a great people, tall, large and in great number. The Israelite’s used these very qualities of the Canaanites to justify their disbelief in God’s goodness and ability to fulfill His own promise (Numbers 13:28-29 & 14:1-12). God showed both the rebellious generation and the Promised generation His goodness through these people; nations not chosen by Him, not called His People, whom He gave good land too. Like any double-edged sword the pruning God did over His people was two-fold. He rebuked and showed the rebellious generation their foolishness without hope for an excuse. God is faithful indeed; He is so good He gave the gentiles success in conquering a seemingly unconquerable nation! And for the Promised generation He gave encouragement in the same blow, showing them how faithful He is and the trust they can have in Him to give them the promised land of Canaan.
In the same vain though, God also showed His power to preserve the inheritance of those He gives to. He commanded His people to not contend against any of these Gentile nations, He protected these Gentile nations from His own people! He shows His people His power to preserve a people and their gift, as well as to preserve the sufferings/discipline over those whom He chooses (namely here His people). Sure the Israelite’s could’ve theoretically ignored God and attacked these nations, and like their failed attempt to do this very thing with Canaan (Numbers 14:39-45), they would inevitably be driven away by the nation they attack. Here we see the tension between our freedom to make choices individually and collectively and God’s sovereignty to see through His will being accomplished. So no matter what Israel did, how they did it, they would inevitably wander the desert for 40 years, and would not conquer a single nation until God gives them the command to go and conquer.
But lastly let us approach this facet of this section of Scripture. Here is God giving good things and success to gentiles! We are after all in the Old Testament right? Where everything is about the Israelite’s and how they were given all these promises and blessings but just couldn’t measure up so God finally gave up on them and moved onto the Gentiles…right? Well we have two problems that confront this idea squarely in the nose, God is giving a land the Israelite’s despite them being stubborn and stiffed neck and He has given land to gentile nations whom are not a part of His people. On both sides of this deal God is giving good things, wonderful things, to people who are fully undeserving. The nations conquered are done so because the wrath due to them is at its fullest, while the nations conquering them are stubborn and rebellious (Israel, Esau was rejected for Jacob, and Lot was willing to give up his daughters to be raped and probably murdered in place of the angels who came to his own home.). Do any of these three themes sound familiar yet?
It is by our understanding of God in the Old Testament that we can see God more clearly in the New Testament. How can we trust that God preserves the saints (John 6:35-40) if we haven’t seen God do this consistently through all time? When we avoid the Old Testament like it has leprosy? How can we understand the relationship between our choices but God’s predestining hand if we do not see this as a part of His relationship with man through all time? How can we trust that we are truly His children and part of His family though we were wretched sinners before if we do not have a comprehensive familiarity of God’s free grace towards undeserving sinners? Indeed, God has allowed the consequences of our sins to invade our lives after our salvation so that He may walk us through His passion and grace towards ourselves, He has hedged us in righteousness with His Holy Spirit and our consciences, and He has chosen us and given us a free gift despite our exhaustive list of worthlessness we have portrayed up till our salvation.
Indeed our God is good.