Deuteronomy 2 “Then at last the LORD said to me, ‘You have been wandering around in this hill country long enough; turn to the north. Give these orders to the people: “You will pass through the country belonging to your relatives the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. The Edomites will feel threatened, so be careful. Do not bother them, for I have given them all the hill country around Mount Seir as their property, and I will not give you even one square foot of their land. If you need food to eat or water to drink, pay them for it. For the LORD your God has blessed you in everything you have done. He has watched your every step through this great wilderness. During these forty years, the LORD your God has been with you, and you have lacked nothing.”’… “Then as we turned north along the desert route through Moab, the LORD warned us, ‘Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.’”… “When all the men of fighting age had died, the LORD said to me, ‘Today you will cross the border of Moab at Ar and enter the land of the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot. But do not bother them or start a war with them. I have given the land of Ammon to them as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.’”… Moses continued, “Then the LORD said, ‘Now get moving! Cross the Arnon Gorge. Look, I will hand over to you Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and I will give you his land. Attack him and begin to occupy the land. Beginning today I will make people throughout the earth terrified because of you. When they hear reports about you, they will tremble with dread and fear.’” Moses continued, “From the wilderness of Kedemoth I sent ambassadors to King Sihon of Heshbon with this proposal of peace… “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Look, I have begun to hand King Sihon and his land over to you. Begin now to conquer and occupy his land.’ “Then King Sihon declared war on us and mobilized his forces at Jahaz. But the LORD our God handed him over to us, and we crushed him, his sons, and all his people. We conquered all his towns and completely destroyed everyone—men, women, and children. Not a single person was spared. We took all the livestock as plunder for ourselves, along with anything of value from the towns we ransacked.
One aspect of the Israelite story that is hard to digest is God's authorization for murder for the purpose of establishing His people in the promised land. Is that not cruel and self-serving and what can we learn out of this passage?
Growing up, I read many war comics because my Dad had a great collection of them. Stories from both the world wars inspired me to want to join the armed forces and fight to protect good from evil. Nazi Germany was always the enemy and under much duress, the allied forces won many battles.
Years later, I had the privilege of living in the Middle East for more than a decade and became friends with people of different nationalities. While cultural differences were many, the person within was much the same. Everyone had dreams, goals, futures, fortunes, riches, loses, hurt, joys, etc. and the blood that flowed within our bodies was the same red.
It then struck me that I was one-sided in my judgment of right from wrong. What did the German kids grow up learning about their victories and loses, what about the Palestinians, Israelis, Pakistanis, Afghanis, Iraqis, Iranians, Indians, Aboriginals, Vietnamese, Cambodians… The list goes on and the definition of good and evil is limited to one's perspective. How then are we to judge right from wrong when we are coloured in our judgement? There certainly is evil in this world and we would like to believe it is not in us but in 'them'.
In today's chapter, God directs the Israelites through the lands of their relatives, the Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites and clearly instructs His people not to touch their lands but to only pass through graciously. The only people they were called to attack were the residents of Heshbon and that too after they made a peace offer to pass through their lands. King Sihon attacked the Israelites with all His might and the Israelites crushed him and his entire kingdom by the strength of God.
God is the only one who can judge the right from wrong because He created us. The yardstick we use to measure good from evil is a far cry from that God uses and we need to be warned because God's yardstick is one, none will measure up against. In God's sight, sin is not scaled based on how grievous it is but instead all sin is considered unrighteousness. Paul reminds us:
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God Romans 3:22b-23 (NIV)
Jesus Christ helped us see the reality of right from wrong when He lived on this earth. He lived a perfectly pure life by the high and unreachable standards of the Old Testament law and was considered pure and blameless. The world around Him could not accept Him and His vision, accused Him falsely, flogged Him and finally killed Him in the most inhumane way possible in those times. Yet He shone like a bright light through all His struggles because He knew that His death was much needed to save the world from oblivion at the hands of the prince of this world, satan.
Jesus lives today and His shed blood gives you and me the access to God and His eternal kingdom that we can never find in this world. The question we need to ask is are we willing to give up our self-centred view of what is right and wrong and accept His way as the only and right way forward? The question of what God did to achieve His will is not for us to judge because Jesus reminds us:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV)
In His Loving Service,