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Moses: Finally we did as the Eternal had commanded me, and we headed back into the wilderness toward the Red Sea.[a] For a long time, we wandered around Mount Seir, until at last I got new instructions from the Eternal: “You’ve wandered around this mountain long enough. Turn north, and give the people these directions from Me: ‘You’re going to cross into the territory of a people who are related to you. They’re the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They’ll be afraid of you, so be very careful what you do. Don’t incite a fight with them because I won’t give you even a square foot of their land. I gave Mount Seir to Esau, and I want his descendants to live there. ‘You may purchase food from them with silver and eat; you may buy water from them with silver and drink.’” You are not to plunder this nation because the Eternal your God, has blessed you in every way. He’s watched over you as you’ve journeyed through this vast wilderness. Throughout these 40 years, the Eternal your God has been with you, and you haven’t lacked a thing.

So we traveled peacefully past our relatives, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. We left the road through the arid valley,[b] bypassing Elath and Ezion-geber, and took the desert road to Moab. There the Eternal gave me more instructions: “Don’t attack the Moabites, and don’t fight any battles with them because I’m not going to give you any of Moab’s land. I gave Ar to these descendants of Lot, so it belongs to them.”

10 The Emim were formerly living in Ar. They were a large and powerful nation, and they were as tall as the giant Anakim were. 11 They and the Anakim are usually known as “Rephaim,” but the Moabites call them just “Emim.” 12 The Horites were formerly living in Seir, but the descendants of Esau drove them out. The Edomites destroyed them and took their place, just as Israel did in the land the Eternal gave them as their possession, saying, 13 “Now cross the Wadi Zered into their territory.”

Moses: So we crossed the Zered Valley. 14 At that point, we’d been traveling for 38 years, from Kadesh-barnea to the Zered Valley. The last of the people in our camp who had been old enough to fight back then, those men of war, finally died. The Eternal had sworn to them that none of them would be left among us when we did enter the land, and this happened just as He said. 15 The Eternal struck them with one disaster after another inside the camp until they were all dead.

16 Just as soon as the last man of war was gone, 17 the Eternal spoke to me: 18 “Today you will pass into the territory of Moab when you cross Ar. 19 When you get to the other side, you’ll be facing the descendants of Ammon. Don’t attack them, and don’t fight any battles with them because I’m not going to give you any of Ammon’s land. I already gave this land to these descendants of Lot, so it belongs to them.”

20 The land of the Ammonites is also considered the land of the Rephaim because the Rephaim (whom the Ammonites call the Zamzummin) were formerly living in it. 21 They, too, were a large and powerful nation, as tall as the Anakim, but the Eternal destroyed them so the Ammonites could take their place. 22 He did the same thing for the descendants of Esau who now live in Seir: He destroyed the Horites so the Edomites could take their place. Esau’s descendants are still living in Seir. 23 In the same way, some Caphtorim came from Caphtor[c] and destroyed the Avvim, who were the first to live in villages as far away as Gaza, and took their place.

Moses: 24 The Lord continued, saying, “Get up, get going, and move on through the Arnon Valley. Listen: I’m going to defeat Sihon, the Amorite king of Heshbon, for you; I’ll give you his land as the beginning of your new territory. Go get it, and attack him! 25 Starting today, I’m going to make every nation under the sky terrified of you. When they hear about you, they will tremble and despair.”

Episodes like the one described in 2:34-35, in which entire populations are wiped out, are among the most deeply troubling parts of the Bible. Particularly when this is done under the leadership of people appointed by God, or even on God’s direct instructions, many serious questions are raised. How is this consistent with God’s mercy? Interpreters have taken different approaches to try to account for episodes like these, but many problems still remain.

Perhaps the best that can be done is to acknowledge that the Bible presents us with a mixture of materials. Mostly God’s mercy, kindness, and forgiveness are stressed; but sometimes we do see judgments of God, whether through natural forces such as flood and fire, or through human armies, carried out against entire populations. Which of these attributes, mercy or justice, most essentially characterizes God? Which passages should we consider normative for our own guidance today, and which ones should we see as exceptional and interpret in light of the others? Discerning why and how these exceptional circumstances arose remains a matter for thoughtful students of the Bible to reflect on with reverence and concern.

26 We were in the wilderness of Kedemoth when I sent messengers to King Sihon in Heshbon and offered him these terms of peace: 27 “Allow me to go across your land. I’ll keep to the King’s Highway; I won’t turn off to the right or to the left. 28 I ask only for these rights: sell me food and water for silver, so that I can eat and so that I can drink. Just let me walk across your land. 29 The descendants of Esau who live in Seir let me pass through their territory this way, and so did the Moabites who live in Ar. I’ll keep going right to the Jordan River, where I’ll cross into the land the Eternal, our True God, is giving to us.” 30 But Sihon, king of Heshbon, refused to let us go through his land marching so close to his capital. The Eternal your God made him stubborn and obstinate so that he would fight and be defeated by you, and that’s just what happened. 31 The Eternal told me, “Look! I have already begun to hand Sihon and his land over to you. Go and take it! His land will be the first of your new territories.” 32 Then Sihon and his whole army came out to fight against us at Jahaz. 33 The Eternal, our True God, defeated him for us; we destroyed Sihon and his sons and his whole army. 34 We captured all his cities at that time, and we killed all the men, women, and children in each one of them. We didn’t leave a single survivor. 35 We kept only the livestock as our plunder, along with the loot from the cities we had captured. 36 Not a single city was strong enough to keep us out—from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Valley, including the settlement down in the valley, all the way to Gilead! The Eternal our God gave all of them to us. 37 But you didn’t go near the land of the Ammonites along the Jabbok River, or toward their cities in the highlands, or anywhere else the Eternal our God told us not to go.


  1. 2:1 Literally, Sea of Reeds
  2. 2:8 Hebrew, Arabah
  3. 2:23 Most likely the Isle of Crete

Wanderings in the Wilderness

Then we turned back and set out toward the wilderness along the route to the Red Sea,[a](A) as the Lord had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir.(B)

Then the Lord said to me, “You have made your way around this hill country long enough;(C) now turn north. Give the people these orders:(D) ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau,(E) who live in Seir.(F) They will be afraid(G) of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own.(H) You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.’”

The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched(I) over your journey through this vast wilderness.(J) These forty years(K) the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.(L)

So we went on past our relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. We turned from(M) the Arabah(N) road, which comes up from Elath and Ezion Geber,(O) and traveled along the desert road of Moab.(P)

Then the Lord said to me, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar(Q) to the descendants of Lot(R) as a possession.”

10 (The Emites(S) used to live there—a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites.(T) 11 Like the Anakites, they too were considered Rephaites,(U) but the Moabites called them Emites. 12 Horites(V) used to live in Seir, but the descendants of Esau drove them out. They destroyed the Horites from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did(W) in the land the Lord gave them as their possession.)

13 And the Lord said, “Now get up and cross the Zered Valley.(X)” So we crossed the valley.

14 Thirty-eight years(Y) passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea(Z) until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation(AA) of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them.(AB) 15 The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated(AC) them from the camp.

16 Now when the last of these fighting men among the people had died, 17 the Lord said to me, 18 “Today you are to pass by the region of Moab at Ar.(AD) 19 When you come to the Ammonites,(AE) do not harass them or provoke them to war,(AF) for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.(AG)

20 (That too was considered a land of the Rephaites,(AH) who used to live there; but the Ammonites called them Zamzummites. 21 They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites.(AI) The Lord destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place. 22 The Lord had done the same for the descendants of Esau, who lived in Seir,(AJ) when he destroyed the Horites from before them. They drove them out and have lived in their place to this day. 23 And as for the Avvites(AK) who lived in villages as far as Gaza,(AL) the Caphtorites(AM) coming out from Caphtor[b](AN) destroyed them and settled in their place.)

Defeat of Sihon King of Heshbon

24 “Set out now and cross the Arnon Gorge.(AO) See, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite,(AP) king of Heshbon, and his country. Begin to take possession of it and engage(AQ) him in battle. 25 This very day I will begin to put the terror(AR) and fear(AS) of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble(AT) and be in anguish because of you.”

26 From the Desert of Kedemoth(AU) I sent messengers to Sihon(AV) king of Heshbon offering peace(AW) and saying, 27 “Let us pass through your country. We will stay on the main road; we will not turn aside to the right or to the left.(AX) 28 Sell us food to eat(AY) and water to drink for their price in silver. Only let us pass through on foot(AZ) 29 as the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir, and the Moabites, who live in Ar, did for us—until we cross the Jordan into the land the Lord our God is giving us.” 30 But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the Lord(BA) your God had made his spirit stubborn(BB) and his heart obstinate(BC) in order to give him into your hands,(BD) as he has now done.

31 The Lord said to me, “See, I have begun to deliver Sihon and his country over to you. Now begin to conquer and possess his land.”(BE)

32 When Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle(BF) at Jahaz, 33 the Lord our God delivered(BG) him over to us and we struck him down,(BH) together with his sons and his whole army. 34 At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed[c](BI) them—men, women and children. We left no survivors. 35 But the livestock(BJ) and the plunder(BK) from the towns we had captured we carried off for ourselves. 36 From Aroer(BL) on the rim of the Arnon Gorge, and from the town in the gorge, even as far as Gilead,(BM) not one town was too strong for us. The Lord our God gave(BN) us all of them. 37 But in accordance with the command of the Lord our God,(BO) you did not encroach on any of the land of the Ammonites,(BP) neither the land along the course of the Jabbok(BQ) nor that around the towns in the hills.


  1. Deuteronomy 2:1 Or the Sea of Reeds
  2. Deuteronomy 2:23 That is, Crete
  3. Deuteronomy 2:34 The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them.