Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. GOD BRINGS NATIONS INTO CONTACT FOR RECIPROCAL MINISTRATION. SO long as the conviction prevails that distinct nations are natural foes, it is best for them to remain apart. Mountains and seas and languages are God's bulwarks of peace. Yet this is but a temporary arrangement. Nationality has its use, but is liable to great abuse. God has given a monopoly of blessing to no one nation, that all may feel mutual interdependence. The products of nature are the property of all; yet personal interests are to be respected. The life-long enjoyment of Divine bounty should make us grateful, modest, and benevolent.
II. COMMERCE WITH OTHERS AN OCCASION FOR SELF-CONTROL. We are often ignorant of the selfishness and arrogance of our own hearts, until our material interests come into seeming conflict with the interests of others. In the presence of a stalwart foe, our courage or our cowardice is made manifest. We know not whether good seed or bad lies in our fields, until the summer sun makes them spring. On the wheel of the lapidary the qualities of the jewel are revealed. Such occasions for knowing ourselves - testing ourselves - disciplining and controlling ourselves, must be highly prized. The ruler of his own nature, especially under sore provocation, is a genuine victor.
III. OUR SUPERIOR STRENGTH AFFORDS NO WARRANT FOR VIOLENT INVASIONS. Might has a terrible proneness to warp our sense of right. Unless might is penetrated through and through with a spirit of righteousness, it is a body without a soul; it soon becomes a despicable corpse. Mere strength gives to no man, and to no body of men, warrantable authority to rule. It is base and self-degrading for strength to trample on weakness. Real strength displays its latent reserves when it stoops to protect - when it endures rather than contends. Violence is essential weakness, the scarecrow of power.
IV. OUR NATURAL RELATIONSHIPS HAVE A CLAIM UPON OUR REGARDS. What God hath constructed, man may not wantonly destroy. We are to "honor all men," but to "love the brotherhood." We may send our portions of sympathy to the uttermost circumference of the human circle, but we are to reserve a double portion for kindred. Spiritual ties are superior to all the bonds of nature, but they need not be separate and distinct. The natural may, yea ought, to be the foundation on which the spiritual relationship is built. He who affirmed that "all who did the will of his Father were his mother, sisters, brothers," said also as he commended his human mother to his disciple's care, "Behold thy mother!"
V. A SENSE OF GOD'S PRESENCE FOSTERS SELF-ABNEGATION. Because we have so many proofs that God is about us, safeguarding our interests, we shall not be so anxious to extort our fancied rights. "He is at my right hand: I shall not be moved." "Let your moderation be known unto all men: the Lord is at hand." We have an all-wise, all-mighty, and omnipresent Defender; therefore we will not fear. We will not avenge seeming injuries: the Lord doth fight for us. "Vengeance is his."
VI. THE DISPLACEMENT OF SUCCESSIVE HUMAN RACES IS AN ORDINANCE OF GOD. Throughout the entire plan of God's providence the same law is manifest. In the formation of the earth's crust we see that one order of life passed away - another order appeared. This phrase of God's procedure science has labeled "the survival of the fittest." Is man the final link in this magnificent series? All oracles are dumb. Yet this law of successive development is apparent everywhere. History and ethnology record the facts; the Bible ascribes them to the personal God. Whatever were the motives or the passions which prompted Esau to evict the Horims, or Moab to displace the Emims, or the Caphtorims to dislodge the Avims, this much is plain - that the hand of the Lord wrought behind the human machinery. Bad as some of these races seem to have been, they were, without doubt, an improvement on the preceding. "First that which is natural; afterward that which is spiritual." The world's amelioration may be waiting for our removal.
VII. THE DEATH OF UNITS PROMOTES THE WELFARE OF THE NATION. The patience of Jehovah is conspicuous in that he did not destroy the murmurers and recusants in Israel with a stroke. He used them still as the natural protectors of the younger members, and when these reached maturity of courageous faith, the older portion fell away, like useless husk and chaff. As in the human body, so long as cellular tissue dies and is replaced by fresh development, there is health; so in the race, the removal of effete elements secures the advancement of the whole. Yet it is not inevitable that the separate units of mankind should absolutely perish. The same law of development may prevail in each separate person. The inferior parts of our being may minister to the growth of the higher. The outward man, like the husk, may perish, while, withal, the inner man may be renewed daily, and be fitted for a higher plane of existence. Death is the gate of life.
VIII. GOD EXTENDS A WATCHFUL SUPERINTENDENCE OVER ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH. The children of Ammon rose in arms against the Zamzummims, and defeated them, yet (though they knew it not) it was Jehovah who destroyed their foes. God has a thousand various methods for ruling a nation's career and destiny. Because Britain has come into a larger heritage of blessing than other empires, or because many of the British people consciously recognize the scepter of Jehovah, we may not conclude that the Zulus or Papuans are not equally overruled by him. "His kingdom ruleth over all." Respecting Cyrus, King of the Medes, God said, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." There is an unseen and an unrecognized scepter directing all the movements of the world, controlling and restraining even wickedness itself! The errors of the heathen are, after all, partial truths, and God is leading their minds onward from obscurer to clearer light. Sometimes, we must admit, there is a temporary sub-mergence-the advancing light is for a time eclipsed by a wave of darkness. Nevertheless, through long periods of human history, we can for the most part discover progress. Eternity is God's abode, and we discern but fragments of his work. - D.
I. GOD IS A RIGHTEOUS GOVERNOR AMONG THE NATIONS. It is in equity that he rules. His judgment is always according to truth. Having written the law of conscience upon every human heart, he can justly judge men thereby. They are laws unto themselves, and so will be held accountable for their relation to their law, or, as we might call it, inward light (cf. Romans 2:14, 15).
II. TEMPORAL ADVANTAGES ARE GIFTS OF GOD. The laws which regulate nature are, we believe, the ordinances of God. Hence the benefits irreligious nations receive through the laws of nature are really the gifts of his bounteous hand. Though the nations may not so regard them, the people of God can form no other notion of them. As gifts, they are undeserved. Hence it is part of God's scheme of mercy so generously to treat the race of men. We must look to Christ's atonement for an explanation on the ground of justice of this merciful treatment of mankind. The death of Jesus purchased temporal as well as spiritual blessings, and its vast application should be recognized and known. In this sense he did "die for every man."
III. THE CONSTANCY OF THE LAWS OF NATURE Is TO BE TRACED TO THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD. No other hypothesis can be offered so consistent with the facts. The promises treasured up in nature are promises of God, and the laws which secure their fulfillment are the ministers of his faithfulness.
IV. THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD IN THE CASES REFERRED TO WAS NOT RECOGNIZED BY THE TRIBES PROFITING BY IT. In seizing the places allotted to them by God, the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites fought each for his hand and in no religious spirit. They overcame and exterminated races of giants who formerly possessed the land. All the while, God's plan and faithfulness were receiving illustration and fulfillment. The exercise of human freedom did not militate against, but secured the Divine pleasure. V, GOD'S BOUNTY TO NATIONS OUTSIDE THE COVENANT IS INTENDED TO ENCOURAGE HIS OWN PEOPLE. The Israelites would be the better prepared to meet and master the giants in Canaan after seeing the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites snugly dwelling in the inheritances of gigantic predecessors. If these tribes, without any sense of dependence upon the Almighty, overcame the giants opposing them, what will not be possible to faith? And the whole government of the world is really intended to foster confidence in God's covenant faithfulness and to forbid all despair. - R.M.E.
not given it to the Israelites. Additional reasons why Israel was not to molest them lay in the facts that they were kinsmen (ver. 4) and that Israel was amply provided for already (ver. 7). God's people have little need to covet the possessions of the worldly. Apart from questions of their rights, kinsmen are entitled to be treated with special kindness and forbearance. We learn from this passage -
I. THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IS MINUTELY CONCERNED IN THE SETTLEMENT OF NATIONS. (Vers. 5, 9, 19.) It is not by accident that they are where they are. God marks out for them the bounds of their habitation. This is a fundamental idea in Scripture (Genesis 10.; Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26). In the verses before us the territories of Edom, of Moab, and of Ammon are spoken of as being a gift to them from God, as directly as Canaan was a gift to the Israelites. It does not alter this fact, though it renders the comprehension of it more difficult, that men's own violent and aggressive dispositions are often the means by which these secret purposes of God are fulfilled (vers. 12, 22, 23). The barbarian incursions which overthrew the Roman empire were prompted by mere love of conquest, with the hope of enrichment by slaughter and pillage; but we may trace the providence of God working through them for the formation of modern Europe. Our own acquisition of India was not without blame; but we may see in our present possession of it a gift of God which, with our other territories in different parts of the globe, we are bound to use for his glory. This is the highest view we can take of the possession of territory, and one which, so far from justifying unlawful aggression, leads us to refrain from it. It is to be remarked, however, that the possessions which God gives to nations are not irrevocable - not forever. Instances of dispossession occur in these verses, and Edom, Moab, and Ammon themselves have long since been dispossessed. "Be not high-minded, but fear" (Romans 11:20).
II. THAT THE RIGHTS OF NATIONS ARE TO BE SACREDLY RESPECTED. These verses teach lessons which might be pondered with advantage by the most advanced modern nations. They teach:
1. Scrupulous respect for international rights. It can never be our duty wantonly to invade the territories of those at peace with us, or, from motives of ambition, to seek pretexts of war with them. They are as entitled to the peaceable possession of what they have, as we are to the peaceable possession of the lands belonging to us. The fight of the stronger is not to rule our policy.
2. Scrupulous justice in international transactions. The Israelites might have used force, but they were to deal justly, and honestly to pay for everything they received (vers. 6, 29).
3. Scrupulous self-restraint under circumstances of provocation. The Edomites had refused the Israelites a passage through their mountains, and had entailed on them a long, painful, and circuitous journey; Moab had employed Balsam to curse them, and had, with Midian, done them yet worse evil (Numbers 25:1); but not even these provocations were to tempt them to retaliation. How many modern nations would have made a casus belli of far less? Forgiveness of injuries should have a place in our international as in our private dealings, and it is strange if we have to be sent back to the Jews of Canaan-conquering notoriety to learn it. It is to be added -
III. THESE INSTRUCTIONS WERE A VALUABLE DISCIPLINE TO THE JEWS THEMSELVES.
1. It taught them to recognize the Divine gift as the ground of their own tenure of Canaan. If the Divine providence so guarded these neighboring peoples, and would not allow one foot of their land to be taken from them against his will, how much more might the Jews, if obedient to the covenant, depend on being preserved in theirs! If God gave, who could take away?
2. It taught them to distinguish their commission to destroy the Canaanites from one of rude conquest. It teaches us also to take a just estimate of those acts of the Israelites in destroying the Canaanitish nations on which so much indignation has been expended. Their conduct here shows how far they were from being actuated by the motives often ascribed to them. This high sense of honor, this scrupulous justice, this exemplary self-restraint prove that it was in no bloodthirsty, slaughter-loving spirit they were proceeding to their work; and show how at every step they were guided by God's will, fell in with the lines of his providence, and wrought out his wishes and purposes. They help us to conceive of the destruction of the Canaanites, not as a barbarous massacre, but as the execution of a long-delayed, deliberately pronounced, and most justly deserved sentence of Heaven. - J.O.
I. THAT THE PRESENT MAY LEARN FROM THE PAST. History, sacred and secular, is a powerful influence in forming the characters of the living race. The brave deeds, the conquests, the self-sacrificing endurances of those who have lived before us, are of use to rouse from apathy, and to inspire with courage and enthusiasm. The early conquests of the gospel help us to believe in its power to overcome existing oppositions.
II. THAT THE CHURCH MAY LEARN FROM THE WORLD. The holy nation is here incited by pointing to what other peoples have done in pursuit of their secular ambitions. If the Moabites could drive out the Emims, "a people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakims" (ver. 10), and if the Edomites and Ammonites could do the like in their respective districts, why should Israel fear the enemies to be encountered in his? We may learn much from men of the world - from the boldness of their plans, their ingenuity in surmounting difficulties, their admirable perseverance, their self-denial in working out their ends, etc. Were the Church half as diligent, wise, and determined in the prosecution of her work, as they are in making the schemes which they adopt succeed, it would be the inauguration of a day of splendid spiritual successes.
III. THAT THE DESPONDING MAY LEARN FROM THE SUCCESSFUL. It is something to feel that we are not the first who have had to face giants. What has been done once can be done again, and it is a great matter to be able to point to cases in which the very difficulties we are contending with have been successfully surmounted. - J.O.
I. IN ITS WAST OF HISTORY. History is meant to preserve that which is of permanent worth. The unessential, the evanescent, are not held deserving of its record. But from the spiritual standpoint there is no life of permanent worth but that which is lived in God and for his glory. Relatively to this world, the godless man may have a history; but relatively to eternity, he has lived to no end which ensures his being held in remembrance. He will be forgotten, and his life be a blank in the records which alone will interest a heavenly society.
II. IN ITS ESSENTIAL UNPROFITABLENESS.
1. It is without proper purpose. That thirty-eight years was one of purposeless existence. It had no right end. Men might engage in various pursuits, but their existence as a whole had lost its value. They were there but to draw out their profitless days till death came to end the scene. The godless man is in the same position - his existence as a whole has no proper end, and he is made to feel this the more keenly the longer he lives.
2. It is without proper joy. There could be no true joy in men's hearts during that wretched time of waiting for the grave. Is there any in the life of the worldling, or of any ungodly man? Ask Byron, Goethe, Rousseau, or whoever else has given confessions on the subject, and we will need no other witness.
3. It is without hope. For what is there to give it?
III. IN ITS BEING SPENT UNDER GOD'S WRATH. The feeling that it is so darkens life, troubles conscience, makes death terrible, and awakens fearful and well-founded presentiments of future evil. - J.O.
the art of war" in the Israelitish host on leaving Egypt. Moses was versed in it, as in so much more, and the mixed multitude which accompanied the exodus would also contain men skilled in arms. And experience of opposition on the part of Amalek, etc., would elicit a martial spirit throughout the host. Moreover, the presence of seasoned men, or "veterans," gives confidence to young troops in actual conflict. The world would say," By all means retain the veterans for the purpose of invasion." Yet, strange to say, God kept the host wandering till the warriors were all weeded out, and buried in the wilderness. The invasion is to be made by the rising generation, which had never seen the military art or reviews in Egypt. From this we learn -
I. THAT GOD'S WAYS ARE NOT OUR WAYS, NOR HIS THOUGHTS OUR THOUGHTS. In fact, his plans are often constructed so as to baffle worldly wisdom. We see this in this invasion of Canaan; we see it in his way of salvation by Jesus Christ; we see it in his providential dealings.
II. THE ART OF WAR IS NOT SO IMPORTANT AS THE ART OF FAITH. The experience of the veterans was as nothing in comparison with the courageous faith in God. This made heroes of the children who would, they thought, be a prey. All wisdom of man becomes vain when unsustained by confidence in God.
III. SOLDIERS' GRAVES HAVE OFTENTIMES BEEN THE MELANCHOLY CONDITION OF SUCCESS. It was really after sacrifice, the sacrifice of the whole fighting army of Israel, that success came. There grew out of their graves warning and inspiration. And it has been over the graves of soldiers that almost every progress of the world has been made. Multitudes had to be buried on the battle-fields before the Promised Land of peace could be entered. The buried warriors constituted the holocaust which was presented before the blessing came.
IV. THE DESTRUCTION OF FALSE TRUSTS IS OFTEN THE PREPARATION FOR TRUE ONES. The temptation to trust in the veterans and their military ideas is taken away by the death of the warriors. So is it that God removes from us every false refuge. Thus we learn to trust in the living God, and to fight his battles in his own way. Providence is oftentimes just the removal of the warriors who were so wise in their own eyes and so able to take the best course, that the people may follow the Lord only. Happy for each soul it is to be deprived of every false support, and to be led to trust Christ alone! Into real rest the soul enters by faith - the Promised Land lies open to the trustful soul, while its gates are closed against the self-confident ones. - R.M.E.
I. THE NECESSITY FOR WAR. The question whether war is ever just and legitimate must be answered in the affirmative. Still, this does not justify all war. The majority of wars are indefensible. War is a barbarous instrument, and, as intelligence advances, can be replaced by better methods of conquest. But it sometimes becomes the last and desperate alternative. If war has been tolerated in heaven, it may be tolerated on earth. Even a war of extermination may be, under some conceivable circumstances, a necessity. In this case we may look:
1. At the human side of the war.
(1) There was an arrogant rejection of equitable demands. No man, and no State, holds an absolute and irresponsible right to the surface of the globe. "The earth is the Lord's." We may acquire, by inheritance, or purchase, or culture, personal interests in the land, which others are bound to respect. Yet personal interests are to be subservient to a nation's good. The lesser must yield to the greater. Israel justly demanded a right of way to his own possessions. The terms proposed by the Hebrews were fair and equitable, and the onus of war fell on him who rejected them.
(2) Israel could point to his pacific and honorable conduct in passing through the territories of Ammon and Esau. A reputation for trustworthiness in observing a treaty had been already established.
(3) The rejection of Israel's proposal involved a deprivation of Israel's natural rights. The patriarch Jacob had acquired by purchase and by culture much land in Canaan; and now, released from prolonged captivity, the people claim their ancestral estates. If we leave out of view the commands of Jehovah, there was ample reason, founded in common justice, why the Hebrews should demand a passage into Canaan.
2. Let us contemplate the matter on the Divine side. This invasion was a plain intimation of Jehovah's will.
(1) It is not man's place to sit in judgment on his God. We are largely ignorant of all the factors in this case. There are vaster considerations than we can reach - problems which we cannot solve. Our moral judgments are often warped by weak and morbid sentiments. Righteousness, in its very nature, is superior to pleasure. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
(2) We are assured that the guilt of the Amorites was great. What forms this guilt assumed we are not fully told, but certain it is that most flagrant corruptions flourished among them. He who uses elemental forces and angelic agents to execute his judicial verdicts, is equally at liberty to employ men as the officers of his vengeance.
(3) Very probably this was a signal act of retributive justice. Possibly they had acquired the. territory by violence and bloodshed, and had now to yield it again to the arbiter of war. "They that take the sword shall perish with the sword."
(4) Certainly this calamity was in the line of the world's progress. Mankind has been benefited by the overthrow of corrupt empires. This was the rough pathway along which Israel fulfilled its beneficent destiny.
II. THE PRECISE OCCASION FOR THIS WAR. This is attributed to the stolid perverseness of one man - Sihon, King of Heshbon. Is it to be tolerated that the march of a nation's destiny is to be baffled by the ignorance, or lust, or stupidity of one man?
1. This obstinacy of the royal will must be attributed to natural causes. God never compels a man to be bad. Human nature was the same in Sihon's day as in ours. Insolent arrogance is a growth. Sihon had for many years repressed nobler instincts, stifled generous feeling, pampered selfishness and pride; hence blind obstinacy became in him despotic. Corrupt principles spring from tiny seeds.
2. There are stages in a man's career when his choice becomes his fate. By the operation of God's unseen laws and mysterious forces, habits become as fixed as granite. The hardening process becomes irreversible, and truly it is said that God does it. We can choose whether or not to prepare our artillery, manufacture our explosives, or light the fuse, but at that point human control ends; the cannon-ball wings its way by laws imposed by God, and it is now entirely at his disposal. So in the moral sphere, there is a point at which human choice ends, and in his judicial capacity God steps in and fixes irreversibly the matter. "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still." We slowly and imperceptibly harden our sentient natures; then God fixes them with his judicial act, and we are held in the iron manacles of doom.
III. THE SECRET OF SUCCESS IN WAR.
1. God's promise of success does not exclude human exertion. His promise always presupposes man's wise activity. His pledge of help is intended to stimulate, not supplant, brave endeavor. We can only move successfully in the line of God's promise.
2. God's initial processes should be closely followed by our activity. "I have begun," said God (ver. 31), therefore "begin to possess." We should follow hard upon God's path, then his right hand will uphold us. If tardiness enchain our feet, we may soon lose the trace of his footprints.
3. One brave deed is the forerunner of many successes. The report of Israel's martial prowess flew as on the wings of the wind, and the widespread fear it induced made further conquests easy. The fruits of good or evil deeds may reproduce themselves through all time. The first step in a new course is pregnant with importance.
4. Strict obedience is the highway to large success. When the command of God is plain, there is no place for hesitation. Bravery grows and flourishes in an atmosphere of loyalty. During the last thirty-eight years of wilderness life, the faith and love of the young Hebrews had immeasurably grown, and their prompt obedience was the early firstfruit. They were wedded in faithful love to God. Speaking of this period at a later date, God says by his prophet, "I remember thee... the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness." In keeping all the "commandments" of God, they found a large reward. - D.
I. GREAT VICTORIES OF THE CHURCH WOULD SPEEDILY GET NOISED ABROAD. The world has too roach lurking fear of the truth of Christianity not to be sensitive to such reports. They would soon spread. They would find their way into circles little thought of.
II. GREAT VICTORIES OF THE CHURCH WOULD BE THE SUREST TOKEN THAT GOD WAS WITH HER. Were there a return of Pentecostal days, and conversions by thousands at a time; or were there such revivals as the Church has sometimes seen at special times and places; - were these becoming general, and multitudes were filled with the power of God's Spirit as the result - it would have a marvelous effect in producing widespread conviction that the religion of Christ was true, and that God's might was being exerted through it. It would be the best "evidence" of Christianity. Why should not the Church work, pray, and hope for such glorious successes? They are possible; they are promised; they will yet come.
III. GREAT VICTORIES OF THE CHURCH WOULD INSPIRE WIDESPREAD FEAR. Anything does that which brings the Divine sensibly near to human beings (Luke 5:8). But sinners in particular fear any near manifestation of God. They know, like the devils who besought Christ to let them alone, what that means for them. One result of the conquests of the early Church was that "fear" fell on those who witnessed them (Acts 2:43). The Church is never so safe as when she is bold, aggressive, and successful. - J.O.
I. THE REASONABLE PROPOSAL MADE TO SIHON THE KING. (Vers. 26-29.) This was for permission to pass through his land to Canaan, undertaking to disturb nothing and to pay for all supplies. Nothing could be more reasonable. The onus was thus thrown on Sihon of determining whether he would befriend God's people or oppose them. And this reminds us of the most reasonable offers God, in his gospel, makes to men. He acts the friendly part, and if men take it in good faith, all is well.
II. THE REFUSAL OF THE HARD-HEARTED KING. (Ver. 30.) Sihon quite needlessly resolves to oppose their passage to Canaan. He likely had heard of or remembered the former unsuccessful attempt thirty-eight years before at Kadesh, and so he imagines that a little opposition will deter them and turn them from their purpose. The hardening of heart, here attributed to God, means simply that the providences, instead of softening Sihon's nature, had through his own self-will an entirely opposite effect, The heart gets hardened through the corruption of the will. It is similarly with those who reject the offer of salvation.
III. BATTLE IS THUS FORCED UPON THE PILGRIMS. (Vers. 31, 32.) This battle of Jahaz was a decisive one. The pilgrims were so numerous that Sihon had to bring out all his host. Into it the Israelites entered with the assurance of victory, and this largely secured it. It is so in the spiritual warfare. The enemies of God's people are met by a host confident in success, because promised by God. This of itself is half the battle.
IV. THE PENALTY OF OPPOSITION TO GOD'S PLANS IS EXTERMINATION. (Vers. 33, 34.) If men will oppose God, they must take the consequences. God must be supreme. He can allow no victorious opposition. His enemies must lick the dust. It is a mortal combat into which they must enter who fight against him. The propriety of the extermination rests in the Divine command. God has the right to dispose as he sees fit of his creatures. If they oppose his will, which is always right, they may justly be taken away with a stroke, and that without remedy.
V. THE LIMITATIONS SET BEFORE THE CONQUERORS. (Vers. 35-37.) They took the cattle and a certain portion of the land, but they did not overrun the whole country. The land of the children of Ammon was exempt from the invasion. It was forbidden ground. So is it always. God sets limits to success. It is well he does. Ambition must abide by his decree, and not overstep due bounds. When his will is thus respected, and self-repression and self-discipline rigidly enforced, all is well. The dangers of success are thus avoided, and real elevation of spirit is experienced. - R.M.E.
I. SIHON'S OPPORTUNITY. (Vers. 26-30.) It was not given him in the hope that he would avail himself of it; for it was foreseen that he would refuse it and be hardened by it. But the sinner's hardness of heart is not a reason why the opportunity of securing his salvation should be withheld from him, or why every gracious means should not be employed to overcome his hardness. It is, indeed, necessary that this should be done, in order that the responsibility of his ruin may rest entirely on himself. It lay in the counsel of God that this king's territory should be given to the Israelites, but only on condition of his refusal of the request made to him. It was otherwise with the gift of Canaan, which was absolute, and permitted of no overtures of peace being made to the inhabitants. Their day of grace was past: to Sihon there still remained this last momentous and decisive opportunity. The last opportunity will come some day to all who harden themselves in sin (cf. Matthew 24:37, 38; Luke 19:42). This message of Moses to Sihon was:
1. Peaceable (ver. 26). Peaceful means should be exhausted in a cause before resorting to force. They should be exhausted even with those who are not likely to be influenced by them. This is due to the cause, due to ourselves, and due to the person approached. Men must at least have the opportunity given them of acting reasonably and generously.
2. Courteous (vers. 27, 28). No message could have been couched in more modest or conciliatory terms. A courteous tone is to be adopted towards men, even when we foresee that they will not reciprocate it.
3. Perfectly sincere. This was proved by the justness of Moses' dealings with Edom and Moab, to which he makes reference (ver. 29).
4. Justified by necessity. Only thus could they reach the land which God had given them (ver. 29).
II. SIHON'S OBSTINACY. "The Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate" (ver. 30); not, indeed, by any evil influence exerted on his soul, but by giving him up to his naturally obdurate disposition, and by placing him in circumstances which he knew would have a hardening effect, though in themselves of a character fitted rather to soften.
1. The hardening of the heart, so far as it is a result of evil courses, is a work of God operating in the laws of our mental and moral mature. Sin naturally operates to blind the mind, sear the conscience, destroy the generous affections, etc. But these effects are as truly a judicial operation of God in the soul, of a punitive nature, as was the Flood, the destruction of the cities of the plain, or any other outward expression of his wrath.
2. The hardening of the heart, so far as it is the result of acts of providence, is a work of God operating in the moral government of the world. Both mercies and judgments have a hardening effect on those who refuse to be taught by them. This result, foreseen by God, may be also willed, as a just punishment for voluntary transgression (Isaiah 6:9, 10); while, as a foreseen fact, a sinner's hardness of heart may be taken up as a link in the further development of God's purposes.
3. The hardening of the heart, as flowing from influences which ought rather to have melted and subdued it, is a result for which the sinner himself is justly held responsible. God wills not the death of any. The mingled goodness and severity of his dealings with men are meant to lead them to repentance. But the very things which are designed to produce a softening and converting effect on souls, are those which frequently harden and sear them - the discipline of sorrow, the preaching of the gospel, warnings and expostulations, etc. Hardness induced by such causes is the most invincible of all, and brands the obdurate transgressor as ripe for God's judgments (Proverbs 29:1).
III. SIHON'S DESTRUCTION. (Vers. 32-87.)
1. It was stir-sought. "Then Sihon came out," etc. (ver. 32). The sinner's destruction is of his own seeking.
2. It was achieved by Divine aid, "The Lord our God delivered him before us" (ver. 33). So are all spiritual victories. It is the Church's comfort in her conflicts to know that she has this power to depend on.
3. It was total. "Utterly destroyed" (ver. 34). A type of the utter destruction awaiting all who resist and oppose the Divine will; said of the Church, "The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish" (Isaiah 9:12); of Christ, "Every soul which will not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people" (Acts 3:23; cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:9, 10). - J.O.