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Deuteronomy 2:16-23

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Deuteronomy 2:16
  • Deuteronomy 2:17
  • Deuteronomy 2:18
  • Deuteronomy 2:19
  • Deuteronomy 2:20
  • Deuteronomy 2:21
  • Deuteronomy 2:22
  • Deuteronomy 2:23

The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of the first 4 books and picks up exactly where the book of Numbers ends (with the people on the plain of Moab). Therefore, as we set the context for the book of Deuteronomy, it is important that we briefly summarize the theme of the previous books to see how the story of God unfolds.

Genesis describes God’s plan to bless the Israelites and the world through one man named Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Exodus focuses on God’s loving act by which He rescued the Israelites from Egypt in order to have a covenant relationship with them. Once the children of Israel are redeemed, Leviticus instructs them to live a holy life that reflects the life of their covenant redeemer (cf. Lev. 19). Since the first generation of the Israelites failed to obey God wholeheartedly, the book of Numbers displays a strong contrast between God’s faithfulness and the nation’s failure. That is why the book of Deuteronomy reiterates and expands on the covenant to a new generation of Israelites poised to enter and conquer the Promised Land. The message of the book is centered around two key terms: love and loyalty (Deut. 6:4-5).


In Chapter 2, the Israelites resume their journey to Canaan from Kadesh, the place where they “remained” many days after their defeat at Hormah by the Amorites (1:41-46). Instead of entering the land of Canaan straight from the wilderness, as they could have done thirty-eight years earlier, the people of God must now take a different route. This new geographical path requires them to pass through five countries east of the Jordan River: Edom, Moab, Ammon, Heshbon, and Bashan.
As the Israelites proceed, God asks them to protect the Edomites, the Moabites, and the Ammonites, because these three people groups are Israel’s kinsmen (2:1-23). God has already promised them their land as their own possession (Deut. 2:5, 9, 19). Nevertheless, God asks the Israelites to destroy King Sihon of Heshbon since He has already hardened Sihon’s heart to deliver him over to His people (vv. 24-31). This chapter, ending with Israel’s victory over Sihon and the Amorites (vv. 32-37), demonstrates God’s care for other families of the earth besides Israel, as well as His willingness to fight for His people when they trust and obey Him. The chapter can be outlined as follows:

I. God instructs the Israelites concerning their Kinsmen (2:1-23).

1. He instructs them concerning Edom (vv. 1-8).
2. He instructs them concerning Moab (vv. 9-15).
3. He instructs them concerning Ammon (vv. 16-23).

II. God Instructs the Israelites to confront Sihon. God hardens Sihon’s heart to deliver him over to His people (2:24-37).

1. He commands the Israelites to defeat King Sihon (vv. 24-25).
2. He hardens the heart of King Sihon (vv. 26-31).
3. He delivers Sihon over to the Israelites (vv. 32-37).


In recounting Israel’s history up to this point, Moses reminds them of the time when God told them not to molest the Ammonites because, like the Edomites and the Moabites, they are Israel’s kinsmen. Their land was given to them by the LORD.

The destruction of the disobedient generation, described here as men of war, represented a crucial moment in the journey toward the conquest of Canaan. The evidence is clear from the repetition of the statements “until all the generation of the men of war perished” (v. 14), “until they all perished,” (v. 15), and “when all the men of war had finally perished” (v. 16). In all these three instances, the reference was about the rebellious people of whom God had said, “Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers,” (Deuteronomy 1:35; Numbers 14:30).

In Numbers 1, those who were numbered were men “twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war in Israel.” And in Numbers 14:29, those disallowed from entering the Promised Land were counted according to their “complete number from twenty years old and upward.” Thus, the men of war were the same as those twenty years and older at the time of the census. The message was clear: those who were disallowed the possession of their inheritance were those who had refused to fight for it, as God had directed. He raised up a new generation and asked them to enter and fight. It takes courage to walk in obedience. Allowing fear to keep us from obedience causes a loss of rewards.

Therefore, when all the men of war had finally perished from among the people, the LORD spoke to Moses to instruct him on how the new generation of Israelites was to behave as they pressed on to conquer Canaan. The LORD said, “Today you shall cross over Ar, the border of Moab.” Here, the text alludes to a region in Moab called Ar to refer to the whole land of Moab.

In this section, the instructions concerned the sons of Ammon. God said to His people, “When you come opposite the sons of Ammon, do not harass them nor provoke them.” The verb translated as “to harass” basically means “to treat someone as an enemy,” or “to show hostility to someone.” The verb “to provoke” means “to engage in strife with someone.” God used these two verbs together to strengthen His command to His people so that they would not engage in war with the sons of Ammon. Israel was to show respect to the Ammonites because they were Israel’s kinsmen, just like the Edomites and the Moabites (2:1-15). God said, “For I will not give you any of the land of the sons of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot as a possession.” It was just as important to walk in obedience to whom God had said not to fight as it was to walk in obedience to whom God had instructed them to fight.

It will be recalled that when the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their evil deeds, Lot and his daughters “escaped to the mountains”(Genesis 19:17). The daughters of Lot made themselves pregnant by the drunken Lot and gave birth to children. The older daughter gave birth to a son named “Moab,” who became the Moabites, and the younger gave birth to “Ben-Ammi,” who became the Ammonites (Genesis 19:30-38). Thus, like the Moabites, the Ammonites were closely related to the Israelites. God instructed His people not to harass them, nor provoke them, because He was the one who gave them the land as their inheritance.

Then, like the previous section, Moses again interrupted the flow of the narrative to give some background information about the first inhabitants of the land of Ammon. Like Moab, the land of Ammon had been regarded as the land of the Rephaim, for they were the ones who formerly lived there. But whereas the Moabites called them Emim (v. 11), the Ammonites called them Zamzummin. As in the previous section (vv. 9-15), the narrator tells us that these people were great, numerous, and tall as the Anakim. However, the all-powerful God destroyed them in order to make room for the Ammonites (and for the Edomites, as indicated in v. 22). Since it was the LORD who destroyed the Zamzummin to give the land to the Ammonites, He told the Israelites to be favorable to the Ammonites.

Moses compared what the LORD did for the Ammonites to what He did for the sons of Esau. He said, “just as He [the LORD] did for the sons of Esau, who live in Seir, when He destroyed the Horites from before them.” The implication of the comparison is that the sons of Ammon too had the right to dispossess the Zamzummin and settle in their place, becauseGod was the one who gave them their land, just as He gave Seir to the sons of Esau.

The purpose of this background information was to remind the Israelites of the inviolability of the land of Ammon because it was allocated to their current inhabitants by the LORD (Deuteronomy 32:8). This contrasts with the treatment God prescribed for the Amorites. In Genesis 15, God told Abraham his descendants would return from Egypt to deal with the Amorites after four generations, because “the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). God provided a substantial window of time for the Amorites to repent before imposing judgment.

Before transitioning to the Amorites with whom Israel was to fight (vv. 24-25), the narrator briefly introduced new peoples (the Avvim and the Caphtorim). The Caphtorim (from Caphtor) destroyed the Avvim and lived in their place. It is interesting to observe that the Avvim were also from the Rephaim since the text says they lived in villages as far as Gaza (Joshua 11:22). Human history is filled with various groups displacing other groups. In some instances, God was dispensing justice through other peoples, even though it is unlikely their motives were righteous. All this information shows the power of God at work.

Biblical Text:

16 “So it came about when all the men of war had finally perished from among the people, 17 that the Lord spoke to me, saying, 18 ‘Today you shall cross over Ar, the border of Moab. 19 ‘When you come opposite the sons of Ammon, do not harass them nor provoke them, for I will not give you any of the land of the sons of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot as a possession.’ 20 (It is also regarded as the land of the Rephaim, for Rephaim formerly lived in it, but the Ammonites call them Zamzummin, 21 a people as great, numerous, and tall as the Anakim, but the Lord destroyed them before them. And they dispossessed them and settled in their place, 22 just as He did for the sons of Esau, who live in Seir, when He destroyed the Horites from before them; they dispossessed them and settled in their place even to this day. 23 And the Avvim, who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and lived in their place.)

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