Deuteronomy 3: Visions of a Future Land

James Tissot, Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar

James Tissot, Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar

Deuteronomy 3: 1-17 Preparing the Way for the Conflict across the River

When we headed up the road to Bashan, King Og of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, for battle at Edrei. 2 The LORD said to me, “Do not fear him, for I have handed him over to you, along with his people and his land. Do to him as you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.” 3 So the LORD our God also handed over to us King Og of Bashan and all his people. We struck him down until not a single survivor was left. 4 At that time we captured all his towns; there was no citadel that we did not take from them– sixty towns, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. 5 All these were fortress towns with high walls, double gates, and bars, besides a great many villages. 6 And we utterly destroyed them, as we had done to King Sihon of Heshbon, in each city utterly destroying men, women, and children. 7 But all the livestock and the plunder of the towns we kept as spoil for ourselves.

 8 So at that time we took from the two kings of the Amorites the land beyond the Jordan, from the Wadi Arnon to Mount Hermon 9 (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, while the Amorites call it Senir),10 all the towns of the tableland, the whole of Gilead, and all of Bashan, as far as Salecah and Edrei, towns of Og’s kingdom in Bashan. 11 (Now only King Og of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. In fact his bed, an iron bed, can still be seen in Rabbah of the Ammonites. By the common cubit it is nine cubits long and four cubits wide.) 12 As for the land that we took possession of at that time, I gave to the Reubenites and Gadites the territory north of Aroer, that is on the edge of the Wadi Arnon, as well as half the hill country of Gilead with its towns, 13 and I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh the rest of Gilead and all of Bashan, Og’s kingdom. (The whole region of Argob: all that portion of Bashan used to be called a land of Rephaim; 14 Jair the Manassite acquired the whole region of Argob as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and he named them– that is, Bashan– after himself, Havvoth-jair, as it is to this day.) 15 To Machir I gave Gilead. 16 And to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the Wadi Arnon, with the middle of the wadi as a boundary, and up to the Jabbok, the wadi being boundary of the Ammonites; 17 the Arabah also, with the Jordan and its banks, from Chinnereth down to the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, with the lower slopes of Pisgah on the east.

At the end of the previous chapter I spent a lot of time talking about the command of the LORD to the people of Israel to wipe out the people and take possession of the land of King Sihon. In chapter three we see the completion of this theme with the people now taking possession of the land of King Og of Bashan and the occupation of the land of the Amorites and the elimination of the people and the threat of these two kings.  There are some differences in this and the previous narrative, where King Sihon was offered terms of peace which, by God’s hardening of the king’s heart, King Sihon and his people refuse the terms of peace which are never offered to King Og as he and his people draw up battle lines against these Israelite invaders. There is a tension in Deuteronomy between the way that the people of Moab and the descendent of Esau are treated and the manner in which the Amorites will be, between the people who are to be the neighbor and those who are to be the enemy. Within Deuteronomy things that may evoke question are given definitive answer, the Ammonites are not the enemy but the Amorites are and for the Deuteronomist what is important is the obedience of the people. It is obedience that is the life and death issue for the people of Deuteronomy to understand. It is obedience that will separate them from their ancestors who failed to enter the Promised Land and who died in their sojourn in the desert. They are called to hear and obey the LORD and those the LORD is speaking through.  If we put aside for a moment the trouble that this passage may cause modern followers of the LORD for its practice of genocide, at least within the text, and look at what is happening to the people who are being prepared to cross the Jordan, who after a lost generation are preparing to take possession of the Promised Land. The things that caused the previous generation to turn away, the well fortified cities and the presence of people bigger and stronger than themselves are now proving to be insignificant obstacles as they quickly overcome the ‘giant king’ Og and the fortresses with high walls and double gates. The doubts and fears of the past are being overcome through the demonstration of the power of the people in the present.  The close relationship between God’s action of handing over Og and his lands is paired with the reality that there are real armies and fights that the people engage in, ‘we struck him down, we did not leave a single survivor, and we captured all his towns.’  As the people in the story follow they are seeing the concrete ways in which the LORD is working through them in this fight. As they stand at the edge of the Promised Land experiencing the first spoils of the conflict to come, they will find that they have experienced the LORD’s power precisely in the midst of their own perceived lack of strength. They can see in their own triumph the triumph of the LORD. And that in their own obedience they can see the blessing as the previous generation bore the curse of disobedience.

Deuteronomy 3: 18-22 the First Portion of the Land

 18 At that time, I charged you as follows: “Although the LORD your God has given you this land to occupy, all your troops shall cross over armed as the vanguard of your Israelite kin. 19 Only your wives, your children, and your livestock– I know that you have much livestock– shall stay behind in the towns that I have given to you. 20 When the LORD gives rest to your kindred, as to you, and they too have occupied the land that the LORD your God is giving them beyond the Jordan, then each of you may return to the property that I have given to you.” 21 And I charged Joshua as well at that time, saying: “Your own eyes have seen everything that the LORD your God has done to these two kings; so the LORD will do to all the kingdoms into which you are about to cross. 22 Do not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who fights for you.”

This portion receives a longer telling in Numbers 32, where the tribes of Reuben, Dan and the half tribe of Manasseh receive their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The story alludes to what is explicit in the narrative in Numbers, that the people of Reuben and Dan raised more cattle which require plains with larger amounts of feed than the sheep that many of the other tribes predominantly raise. It is true that different types of livestock require different types of property which is why Bandera, Texas where my family lives in the hill country is more frequently used for raising goats and sheep while the vast areas of plains in Texas typically are used for cattle. It is interesting that there is no reason given why the half tribe of Manasseh (the two half tribes of Joseph’s sons which were both large were known by the son of Joseph’s name rather than the other tribes bearing the names of Joseph’s eleven brothers) is also given possession on the east side of the Jordan, but the primary concern of this and it’s parallel in Numbers is that the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh now that they have their land will not feel compelled to fight on behalf of the other ten and a half tribes.  The agreement is set that the warriors of these two and a half tribes are to be the vanguard, the troops at the front of the fight once the people are ready to cross the Jordan under Joshua and carry on the fight to take possession of the Promised Land. The people are to see the way the LORD has acted in their own time as well as the stories they have from their parent’s generation to see the way the LORD has provided for them up to this point and will continue to provide for them as the go forward to take possession of the land.

Deuteronomy 3: 23-29 Glimpses of the Promised Land

 23 At that time, too, I entreated the LORD, saying: 24 “O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! 25 Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon.” 26 But the LORD was angry with me on your account and would not heed me. The LORD said to me, “Enough from you! Never speak to me of this matter again! 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and look around you to the west, to the north, to the south, and to the east. Look well, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. 28 But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession of the land that you will see.” 29 So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor.

 

Moses, as the leader of the people, has often stood between the people and God. There have been times throughout the story where God was ready to turn God’s back on the people and Moses would call upon God to be the God who would fulfill God’s end of the covenant even in the midst of the people’s continuing unfaithfulness. Moses enjoys a close relationship with God and has borne the weight of leadership for the people throughout this journey but will not be there to cross the Jordan. Moses again appeals to God, knowing God’s verdict from earlier in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 1.37) that Moses will not enter the land and yet as Moses has done before he calls upon God to change God’s mind. This time the LORD will not change course, Moses will not enter the land and Moses is commanded not to pray about this again but is, in concession, given a preview of the land. Climbing to the top of Pisgah, Moses is able to look out and see from a high point the lands that the people will enter. This is a part of the transition of leadership and power from Moses to Joshua. Moses is the one who has stood between the people and God, who led them out of slavery, through the wilderness and to the edge of the Promised Land but Moses is now linked with the disobedience of the previous generation. Even though Moses may not have been the one who was disobedient he is pulled down in the weight of the disobedience of the people of that generation.  Moses’ role now becomes to lift up the leadership of Joshua, to encourage and strengthen him for the conflict ahead and to pass on one final exhortation to the people so that they may know how to live as the people of God in a new day. Moses bears the cost of the disobedience of the previous generation and now he must charge the new generation to choose the blessings of obedience and not the curse of disobedience. Blessing and curses, life and death, prosperity and famine lie in the choices the people must make in his absence. Until now he has been their leader, their judge, their advocate and the one who could stand between them and the LORD. Now the people must take on these promises and the possibilities of new life for themselves.

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One Response to Deuteronomy 3: Visions of a Future Land

  1. Pingback: Exodus 23: Justice, Celebration and Presence | Sign of the Rose

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