Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed mount Seir many days.II.
(1) Then.—In the original simply “And.” There is no note of time.
By the way of the Red sea.—i.e., in the direction of the Gulf of Akabah, southwards.
Many days.—Until near the close of the thirty-ninth year of the exodus.
Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward.(3) Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward.—Apparently this command must have been issued when they were in Kadesh the second time, at the commencement of the fortieth year (Numbers 20:1). It was from this encampment that Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom asking permission to pass through his territory. It would be interesting to know when it was decided that Israel should enter the land of promise by passing over Jordan, instead of going through the Negeb. Did Mount Seir, or the territory of Edom, lie wholly on the east, or partly on the west of Israel when they were encamped in Kadesh? If Edom had acquired any territorial rights to the westward during the thirty-eight years’ wandering, it might have been necessary for Israel to ask his permission to go by the way of the spies, and in that case the decision to pass Jordan may have been taken in consequence of Edom’s refusal. But if, as Conder (Bible Handbook, p. 250) appears to think, the permission asked was to go eastward between the mountains by the W. el Ghaweir to the north of Mount Hor, or the W. Ghurundel to the south of it (see Stanley’s Map in Sinai and Palestine for these), then the decision to pass the Jordan must have been taken before this period. The reason for the step would then be similar to what we find in Exodus 13:17, that the people might not have to fight their way into the country through the land of the Amorites. The miraculous eisodus across Jordan would thus become still more analogous to the miraculous exodus from Egypt.
And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore:(4) Ye are to pass through the coast.—Literally, Ye are passing through the border. This was apparently said before the permission was asked, and in view of the request made for it (Numbers 20:17). But Edom refused to let Israel pass through his coast or border (Numbers 20:21).
They shall be afraid of you.—According to the prophecy in the song of Moses (Exodus 15:15), “Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed.”
Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession.(5) I have given mount Seir unto Esau—It is worthy of notice that the development of Ishmael preceded that of Isaac, and the inheritance of Esau was won earlier than that of Jacob. (Comp. Genesis 25:16 with Genesis 35:23-26, and Genesis 36:31 with Genesis 37:1.) Isaac and Israel were still strangers and sojourners, while the Ishmaelites were princes, with towns and castles, and the Edomites dukes and kings.
Ye shall buy meat of them for money, that ye may eat; and ye shall also buy water of them for money, that ye may drink.(6) Ye shall buy meat . . . and . . . water.—Comp. Genesis 14:23, “Lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich,” and Deuteronomy 15:1, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”
For the LORD thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand: he knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness: these forty years the LORD thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing.(7) The Lord thy God hath blessed thee.—There is nothing unreasonable in the view suggested by these words, that the Israelites acquired wealth by trade or by ordinary occupations during their wilderness journey. They had skilled workmen among them.
And when we passed by from our brethren the children of Esau, which dwelt in Seir, through the way of the plain from Elath, and from Eziongaber, we turned and passed by the way of the wilderness of Moab.(8) When we passed . . . from . . . Esau . . . through the way of the plain from Elath.—The route from Seir, after Esau’s refusal, was southward to Ezion-geber, at the head of the Gulf of Akabah, and Elath, a few miles south-east of Ezion-geber, on the same coast. They then turned northward, and going round the territory of Edom, reached the country of Moab.
And the LORD said unto me, Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle: for I will not give thee of their land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for a possession.(9) Distress not the Moabites . . . I have given Ar unto the children of Lot.—The children of Lot, like those of Ishmael and Esau, had their earthly inheritance before the children of Abraham.
The Emims dwelt therein in times past, a people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakims;(10-12) These three verses which follow should be read parenthetically.
The Emims.—See Genesis 14:5-6, for the first mention of Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim, and Horim. (The termination im is plural in Hebrew, and, like cherubim, does not need the additional s.) These tribes were flourishing in the time of Abraham, but were conquered before the exodus.
As Israel did unto the land of his possession.—On the east of Jordan in Moses’ lifetime, as well as on the west of Jordan under Joshua. It is not necessary, therefore, to make the parenthesis (Deuteronomy 2:10-12) editorial, though it forms no essential part of Moses’ speech.
Now rise up, said I, and get you over the brook Zered. And we went over the brook Zered.(13) Now rise up, said I.—A continuation of the order in Deuteronomy 2:9. The words “said I” are not needed.
The brook Zered is not yet identified. (See Numbers 21:12.) Several streams run into the Dead Sea on its eastern side south of Arnon; Zered is possibly one of these. Or it may be a tributary of Arnon, which has one large tributary running from south to north.
And the space in which we came from Kadeshbarnea, until we were come over the brook Zered, was thirty and eight years; until all the generation of the men of war were wasted out from among the host, as the LORD sware unto them.(14) Until we were come over the brook Zered.—The root zârad in Chaldee means to prune. The name “Zered” signifies the luxuriant foliage and the young shoots, especially of the willow, which are cut off with the knife: so the Targum takes it (Numbers 21:12). Probably the valley was so named from the “willows of the brook” which grew there. But it was the “valley of pruning” to the “vine” which God had “brought out of Egypt” in another sense. The last of the fruitless branches was here taken away, and the vine “purged, that it might bring forth more fruit.”
Thirty and eight years; until all . . . men of war were wasted out from among the host.—The census did not take place until some months later. A plague intervened, which cut off twenty-four thousand. The observation that at the brook Zered all the men of the older generation were “wasted out of the host” indicates an intimate knowledge of the incidents of the exodus. But it is quite natural to suppose that, as the survivors of that generation became fewer, those who remained would become marked men. Every man of the twelve tribes (excluding Levi? ) who passed the census at Sinai was doomed. The fortieth year of the exodus had more than half expired when they came to the brook Zered. All who remained alive in that year knew that they had a short time to live. Probably more notice was taken of the last few deaths than of all the rest of the six hundred thousand put together.
For indeed the hand of the LORD was against them, to destroy them from among the host, until they were consumed.(15) The hand of the Lord was against them.—The best comment on this discipline is to be found in Psalm 90:8-9, “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance; for all our days are passed away in thy wrath.”
Thou art to pass over through Ar, the coast of Moab, this day:(18) Ar.—According to Conder, “Rabbath-Moab,” the present ruin Rabba, north of Merah.
And when thou comest nigh over against the children of Ammon, distress them not, nor meddle with them: for I will not give thee of the land of the children of Ammon any possession; because I have given it unto the children of Lot for a possession.(19) And when thou comest nigh.—Compare Note on Deuteronomy 2:9.
(That also was accounted a land of giants: giants dwelt therein in old time; and the Ammonites call them Zamzummims;(20) In old time.—See Genesis 14
Zamzummims = Zuzims (Genesis 14:5).
A people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakims; but the LORD destroyed them before them; and they succeeded them, and dwelt in their stead:(21) The Lord destroyed them before them.—It is noticeable that the conquest of Canaan is here brought into the domain of common history, by comparison with the conquests of gigantic races accomplished by Edom, Moab, and Ammon. The value of this analogy to Moses and Israel is plain. If the children of Lot, Ishmael, and Esau—who were but Gentiles, although they were Abraham’s seed—were able to dispossess these gigantic races, how much more would Israel be able to dispossess the Canaanites under the personal guidance of Jehovah?
And the Avims which dwelt in Hazerim, even unto Azzah, the Caphtorims, which came forth out of Caphtor, destroyed them, and dwelt in their stead.)(23) The Avims which dwelt in Hazerim, even unto Azzah, the Caphtorims . . . destroyed.—“In Hazerim” should apparently be rendered “in villages.” It does not occur elsewhere as a proper name; it is plural in form, and is found in this sense in some other places. “Azzah,” i.e., Gaza. The Caphtorim: comp. Amos 9:7 : “The Philistines from Caphtor.” (See Genesis 10:14.) Some make the country of Caphtor to be Cyprus or Crete. But at least this statement makes Philistia the scene of a conquest, and the Philistines of the time of Joshua would thus appear to be a mixed race.
Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the river Arnon: behold, I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle.(24) Pass over . . . Arnon.—The territory from Arnon northward to Jabbok had been taken from Moab by the Amorites, and was to be possessed by Israel. (See on Numbers 21:24.)
This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee.(25) The fear of thee.—Compare Exodus 15:15-16 : “All the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away, fear and dread shall fall upon them.”
And I sent messengers out of the wilderness of Kedemoth unto Sihon king of Heshbon with words of peace, saying,(26) Kedemoth.—Mentioned as a city in the plain of Jordan, belonging to Heshbon (Joshua 13:18).
Words of peace.—By this message Sihon was excepted from the catalogue of the doomed kings and nations, according to the distinction drawn in Deuteronomy 20:10-11; Deuteronomy 20:15-16. He therefore brought his fate upon himself. He was offered the privileges of the Moabites whom he had conquered, and refused to accept the position.
(As the children of Esau which dwell in Seir, and the Moabites which dwell in Ar, did unto me;) until I shall pass over Jordan into the land which the LORD our God giveth us.(29) Until I shall pass over Jordan.—This was already determined.
But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the LORD thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day.(30) The Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate.—Jehovah gave the strength to Sihon, as He had done to Pharaoh, and as He does to all. Sihon was responsible for using the strength which God gave him in opposition to the Divine purposes. To “harden” a man’s spirit is not necessarily a moral process any more than the hardening of steel. “Made obstinate” is the same verb used in Joshua 1:6, for “Be of a good courage.” An unyielding spirit and a courageous heart are good or bad according to the use made of them. Sihon used them badly, Joshua used them well. God’s gifts were the same to both. (See also Joshua 11:20.)
And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land.(31) Behold, I have begun to give Sihon.—Notice that in all the conquests of Israel Jehovah gave the order to begin the attack. (See Deuteronomy 7:2, and Note on Joshua 13:1.)
And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.(33) And his sons.—As the Hebrew is written, it should be his son (possibly a person of distinction).
And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain:(34) And utterly destroyed.—i.e., devoted to destruction. They made them chêrem, like the spoil of Jericho. This could only be by Divine direction. The word implies nothing less. It will be seen, therefore, that the narrative asserts in this case an extermination of Sihon’s people by the express command of Jehovah.
From Aroer, which is by the brink of the river of Arnon, and from the city that is by the river, even unto Gilead, there was not one city too strong for us: the LORD our God delivered all unto us:(36) Aroer.—According to Conder, “the ruin ‘Ar ‘Air, on the north bank of Wâdy Môjib.” (But he makes the Aroer of Numbers 32:34 a different place, and marks it as unknown. Why?)
The city that is by the river.—The description suggests Rabbath-ammon, but this cannot be referred to here.