In this passage, we see God teaching His grace to the Israelites as they march closer towards Canaan. Those who oppose them and have worked against them stand in their way, but God reminds us of His grace as we pursue His visions and deliverance.
NOTES ON THE TEXT
1 Then we turned back and set out toward the wilderness along the route to the Red Sea, as the Lord had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir. 2 Then the Lord said to me, 3 “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. 4 Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. 5 Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. 6 You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.’ ” 7 The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.
As the Israelites approached Seir, God gave them strict instructions on how they are to conduct themselves in the country. Even considering the fact that the Edomites refused the Israelites passage through their country (Numbers 20:21), and that the Edomites feared the advantage of the Israelites, God still called them to have grace upon their land and their people. On their road to Canaan, God used the Edomites to teach forgiveness and also to cast away any entitlement.
There will often be people and entities that try to stand in our way as we follow the direction and guidance of God. There will be those who had no mercy and forgiveness upon us in our times of hardship. However in our bitterness, God still calls us to forgive those who trespass against us. Even though the Israelites had the capability and advantage required to overthrow Seir, God reminds them that they are by no means entitled to this land. Instead, God reminded the Israelites of the grace and mercy He has had over them during their forty year journey.
8 So we went on past our relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. We turned from the Arabah road, which comes up from Elath and Ezion Geber, and traveled along the desert road of Moab. 9 Then the Lord said to me, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.” 10 (The Emites used to live there—a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. 11 Like the Anakites, they too were considered Rephaites, but the Moabites called them Emites. 12 Horites used to live in Seir, but the descendants of Esau drove them out. They destroyed the Horites from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did in the land the Lord gave them as their possession.) 13 And the Lord said, “Now get up and cross the Zered Valley.” So we crossed the valley. 14 Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. 15 The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp. 16 Now when the last of these fighting men among the people had died, 17 the Lord said to me, 18 “Today you are to pass by the region of Moab at Ar. 19 When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.” 20 (That too was considered a land of the Rephaites, who used to live there; but the Ammonites called them Zamzummites. 21 They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The Lord destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place. 22 The Lord had done the same for the descendants of Esau, who lived in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites from before them. They drove them out and have lived in their place to this day. 23 And as for the Avvites who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorites coming out from Caphtor destroyed them and settled in their place.)
The Israelites then made their way to Moab. In this passage, we are reminded of the origins of the country. Just as in Seir, in which God destroyed the Horites to make a place for the Edomites, God also made a way for the Ammonites in Moab by destroying the Zamzummites (Giant people). He again tells the Israelites that they are not to seize their advantage for iniquity, but to have grace and forgiveness even though the Moabites had previously cursed them and tried to destroy them (Numbers 22). Although a wicked people, God had not designed this land for Israel, so it was not for them to take.
God is revealing many things to the Israelites as they travel into Moab. For one, He is showing us that He has very intentionally placed the Moabites in this land. These ordinary people overcame huge obstacles, literally. They faced fierce giants yet still overcame and took the land because doing so was in God's will.
It is sometimes difficult to believe that God has mercy even for those who have greatly wronged us amidst our pursuance of His will. However, we are reminded in this passage that God's plan is greater than ours. Through many generations, God paved a way for the Moabites and had intentionality in placing them in this land. When we find it difficult to forgive those who have hurt us so badly in the past, even while we were trying to do God's work, we must remember that God calls us to love our neighbors and have mercy upon them. Although He will deliver us past those who trespass against us, He still calls us to follow his commandments of love and forgiveness.
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.”
Seeing that the Israelites practiced self-denial and forgiveness as they passed through the rich countries of Seir and Moab, in which they had a great advantage, God delivers the Israelites to the country of Sihon King of the Ammorites.
We see here that because the Isrealites showed obedience by having mercy upon the people of Seir and Moab, God kept His promise to His people.
So what can we learn from the Israelites practice of forgiveness?
We can see that even with God's promises, we must be willing to fight and contend to have them come into reality. The Israelites had to fight the bitterness and anger that the enemy was trying to put in their hearts, even though they knew what God had promised them. It is not enough for us to hear God's promises, yet succumb to the lies and deceit of the enemy as we pursue such promises. Instead, God calls us to fight for our blessings, and to remain in love and patience, even when people try to hinder His work in our lives. From the Israelites, we can become encouraged that God will deliver us as He has promised as long as we are willing to contend for His blessings and remain obedient to Him.
God's plan is greater than ours. Practicing self-denial can help us to further understand the work He is doing not only in our lives, but the lives of those who trespass against us.
Although God has empowered us and provided us with strength, we must not use it to fulfill a hardened heart. He has called us to forgive out of love, and not use the power He has given us to condemn and destroy.
God's promises over us are always true. Yet for them to come into fruition, we must be willing to contend for them. This means denying ourselves, forgiving those who have trespassed against us, and being obedient to His guidance.
Let us remember to have hearts of forgiveness and humility and to contend for His promises today! God bless!