Moses is recounting the first steps in battle that Israel takes. God started with building their reputation on this side of the Jordan.
When I first started reading this section I realized that God had intended for Israel to settle on both sides of the Jordan. I originally thought that the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh were making a mistake settling in the near side of the Jordan. I thought God wanted them all on the far side together. But He told Moses He was giving “into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his lands” (verse 24). This was the first territory that would belong to Israel.
I also thought it very interesting that God made sure Israel wasn’t the aggressor. “So I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon the king of Heshbon, with words of peace” (verse 26). Moses KNEW that God was giving them this land but he didn’t command the people to march in there and take it over. Instead he sent a peaceful message and let God work from there.
God used the same tactics He used against Pharaoh; He hardened his heart. He didn’t make Pharaoh or Sihon do anything they didn’t want to do, he just made it easier for them to follow their own natural tendencies. Sihon followed his own inclinations and came out spoiling for a fight.
This was this generations’ proving ground in battle. Their fathers had fought against Amalek. Their fathers were present when God destroyed the armies of Egypt. Their fathers were also the ones who got chased back like bees when they tried to enter the Promised Land themselves. Now it was time to build the reputation of this group.
One thing remained consistent throughout both generations; their God fought for them. God never left Israel to their own devices. He watched over them even when they were in rebellion. He brought them back time and time again. Now it was His time to show this generation what they could do when they fully put their trust in Him. This was the first step.
It pains me reading that they “left no survivors” (verse 34b) but God explained why earlier. He said that those who remained would be a thorn in Israel’s side for all time. Only what was useful to Israel could be left. The livestock and the plunder of the cities was all that remained. Everything else was destroyed by the sword or fire.
In all this fighting Israel didn’t get carried away and keep going. They stayed within the boundaries God had set for them. They did not go after the lands of Ammon. This was the area that God gave to Lot’s descendants. They also remembered who was the one fighting the battle. “The Lord our God gave all into our hands” (verse 36b). I wonder what spoils they turned over to the Levites as tribute and a tithe to God.
Father God You are so faithful. You took the time to train up a new generation as they walked around and around and around in the wilderness. You brought them closer to You until they were ready to follow where You would lead. You have done the same with me and continue to do so on a daily basis. Only by trusting in You, following where You lead, staying within the boundaries of what You have set before me, and placing my faith in You to prepare the way can I be victorious too. Little by little every day. Learning and leaning on You to show me the way. Thank You Father that You are just as faithful today as You were while Israel was wandering in the wilderness and coming out to receive Your promises.