Deuteronomy--Moses' first speech, Part 11
Jun 26, 2012
When Israel approached the territory of Sihon king of Heshbon on their way to the Jordan River, God told Moses that God intended to make war with Sihon. That was the plan, which God revealed to Moses ahead of time, much like years earlier when He told Moses that He intended to harden Pharaoh's heart before releasing Israel from Egypt.
Any time that God reveals His plan to us, we cannot assume that we know the process by which that plan will unfold. Moses did not immediately declare war on Sihon after learning God's intent. There was a lawful procedure to follow. To declare war was not yet justified by the biblical laws of war. Israel could not simply attack Sihon, but had to wait until Sihon declared war on Israel.
In other words, one must have lawful cause, or "occasion," to make war. We see the same situation in the days of Samson when God intended to make war on the Philistines for their offense against Him. We read in Judges 14 that God caused Samson to fall in love with a Philistine woman. His parents objected, saying in 14:3, "Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?" But then we learn of the divine plan in verse 4,
(4) However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an OCCASION against the Philistines.
God follows His own law, because the law is an expression of who He is, and God will always be true to Himself. Even God cannot deny who He is. Who He is establishes the rules for His behavior and the standard of law for the universe. That law means that He would not bring judgment upon the Philistines until He had "occasion" against them.
So also with Sihon the Amorite king of Heshbon. Moses was directed to send a peaceful message to Sihon to ask permission to cross his land. Sihon's reaction was to declare war and mobilize his troops to come against Israel. Sihon thus violated the will of God, much like Pharaoh violated the will of God by refusing to let Israel go. In this manner the divine plan was fulfilled.
Israel then followed the laws of war. Deut. 2:36, 37 says,
(36) From Aroer which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon and from the city which is in the valley, even to Gilead, there was no city that was too high for us; the Lord our God delivered all over to us. (37) Only you did not go near to the land of the sons of Ammon, all along the river Jabbok and the cities of the hill country, and wherever the Lord our God had commanded us.
This was how Israel acquired the land of Gilead, which was the mountains overlooking the Jordan River from the east. Its southern border was the Arnon River, where Moab's territory began. Its northern border was Bashan, now known as the Golan Heights, not far from Damascus.
After defeating Sihon, Israel took Gilead for the inheritance of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. The city of Gilead itself was given to one of the families of Manasseh (Num. 32:40). The king of Bashan was the next king to assume that Israel was a threat to him. Deut. 3:1-4 says,
(1) Then we turned and went up the road to Bashan, and Og, king of Bashan, with all his people came out to meet us in battle at Edrei. (2) But the Lord said to me, "Do not fear him, for I have delivered him and all his people and his land into your hand; and you shall do to him just as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon." (3) So the Lord our God delivered Og also, king of Bashan, with all his people into our hand, and we smote them until no survivor was left. (4) And we captured all his cities at that time; there was not a city which we did not take from them: sixty cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan.
The territory of Bashan was given to the tribe of Manasseh. God's purpose in causing Og of Bashan to make war on Israel was to destroy the giants (Rephaim). Deut. 3:11 tells us, "For only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim." The same verse says that he slept in a bed that was nine cubits long and four cubits wide, giving us some indication as to how tall he was. The bed itself was fifteen feet long, so it is possible that King Og of Bashan was 10-12 feet tall.
Canaan and the surrounding areas seemed to be full of Rephaim, Nephilim, Anakim, and other descendants of the unlawful marriages of Genesis 6:4. Because God vowed not to destroy them by flood, He used Israel to bring judgment upon them. Even so, some escaped divine judgment, including the family of Goliath who remained among the Philistines even centuries later.
Getting back to Israel's war against Bashan, we find that Israel destroyed their 60 cities. These did not include the small towns, for Deut. 3:5 says,
(5) All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides a great many unwalled towns.
In other words, there is a large population, and the record implies that they had intermarried with the Rephaim for many centuries. Hence, it is likely that virtually all of them by this time could trace some descent from these Rephaim. For some reason, they seemed to congregate in Canaan and the surrounding territory. Perhaps they were aware that this land had an important role in the divine plan and that the Messiah would eventually be born there. Their occupation of Canaan may have been an attempt to thwart the divine plan.
(6) And we utterly destroyed them, as we did to Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women and children of every city. (7) But all the animals and the spoil of the cities we took as our booty.
Apparently, they had not learned to do genetic modifications on animals, and so they were given to the Israelites.
(8) Thus we took the land at that time from the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, from the valley of Arnon to Mount Hermon. (9) (Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, and the Amorites call it Senir).
Verse 9 appears to be another one of Ezra's editorial notes, explaining the various names by which Mount Hermon was known by the fifth century B.C. Sirion means "breastplate," and also Senir, "coat of mail."
Another name was Sion, for Deut. 4:48 says Israel conquered Bashan "as far as Mount Sion (that is, Hermon)." Sion appears to be a shortened form of Sirion. At any rate, the Hebrew spelling of Sion is different from Zion.
Sion was also the Greek Septuagint spelling of the Old Testament Zion, a hill in Jerusalem. This makes it somewhat confusing, because this means that there are two mountains called Sion. A dispute has thus arisen over which mountain is meant in Heb. 12:22,
(22) But you have come to Mount Sion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels.
Jesus was transfigured on Mount Hermon after visiting Caesarea Philippi, which was located at its base (Matt. 16:13; 17:1). This adds credence to the view that Mount Hermon had become the symbol of the New Jerusalem. The old Mount Zion was part of the old Jerusalem that God's presence had forsaken in Ezekiel 10 and 11, and so the place of God's presence was symbolically represented by Mount Hermon--the new Mount Sion.
This is the eleventh part of a series titled "Moses' First Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.