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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 8–23
Verses 8–23

It is observable here that Moses, speaking of the Edomites (Deut. 2:8), calls them, “our brethren, the children of Esau.” Though they had been unkind to Israel, in refusing them a peaceable passage through their country, yet he calls them brethren. For, though our relations fail in their duty to us, we must retain a sense of the relation, and not be wanting in our duty to them, as there is occasion. Now in these verses we have,

I. The account which Moses gives of the origin of the nations of which he had here occasion to speak, the Moabites, Edomites, and Ammonites. We know very well, from other parts of his history, whose posterity they were; but here he tells us how they came to those countries in which Israel found them; they were not the aborigines, or first planters. But, 1. The Moabites dwelt in a country which had belonged to a numerous race of giants, called Emim (that is, terrible ones), as tall as the Anakim, and perhaps more fierce, Deut. 2:10, 11. 2. The Edomites in like manner dispossessed the Horim from Mount Seir, and took their country (Deut. 2:12. and again Deut. 2:22), of which we read, Gen. 36:20. 3. The Ammonites likewise got possession of a country that had formerly been inhabited by giants, called Zamzummim, crafty men, or wicked men (Deut. 2:20, 21), probably the same that are called Zuzim, Gen. 14:5. He illustrates these remarks by an instance older than any of these; the Caphtorim (who were akin to the Philistines, Gen. 10:14) drove the Avim out of their country, and took possession of it, Deut. 2:23. The learned bishop Patrick supposes these Avites, being expelled hence, to have settled in Assyria, and to be the same people we read of under that name, 2 Kgs. 17:31. Now these revolutions are recorded, (1.) To show how soon the world was peopled after the flood, so well peopled that, when a family grew numerous, they could not find a place to settle in, at least in that part of the world, but they must drive out those that were already settled. (2.) To show that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Giants were expelled by those of ordinary stature; for probably these giants, like those before the flood (Gen. 6:4), were notorious for impiety and oppression, which brought the judgments of God upon them, against which their great strength would be on defence. (3.) To show what uncertain things worldly possessions are, and how often they change their owners; it was so of old, and ever will be so. Families decline, and from them estates are transferred to families that increase; so little constancy or continuance is there in these things. (4.) To encourage the children of Israel, who were now going to take possession of Canaan, against the difficulties they would meet with, and to show the unbelief of those that were afraid of the sons of Anak, to whom the giants, here said to be conquered, are compared, Deut. 2:11, 21. If the providence of God had done this for the Moabites and Ammonites, much more would his promise do it for Israel his peculiar people.

II. The advances which Israel made towards Canaan. They passed by the way of the wilderness of Moab (Deut. 2:8), and then went over the brook or vale of Zered (Deut. 2:13), and there Moses takes notice of the fulfilling of the word which God had spoken concerning them, that none of those that were numbered at Mount Sinai should see the land that God had promised, Num. 14:23. According to that sentence, now that they began to set their faces towards Canaan, and to have it in their eye, notice is taken of their being all destroyed and consumed, and not a man of them left, Deut. 2:14. Common providence, we may observe, in about thirty-eight years, ordinarily raises a new generation, so that in that time few remain of the old one; but here it was entirely new, and none at all remained but Caleb and Joshua: for indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, Deut. 2:15. Those cannot but waste, until they were consumed, who have the hand of God against them. Observe, Israel is not called to engage with the Canaanites till all the men of war, the veteran regiments, that had been used to hardship, and had learned the art of war from the Egyptians, were consumed and dead from among the people (Deut. 2:16), that the conquest of Canaan, being effected by a host of new-raised men, trained up in a wilderness, the excellency of the power might the more plainly appear to be of God and not of men.

III. The caution given them not to meddle with the Moabites or Ammonites, whom they must not disseize, nor so much as disturb in their possessions: Distress them not, nor contend with them, Deut. 2:9. Though the Moabites aimed to ruin Israel (Num. 22:6), yet Israel must not aim to ruin them. If others design us a mischief, this will not justify us in designing them a mischief. But why must not the Moabites and Ammonites be meddled with? 1. Because they were the children of Lot (Deut. 2:9, 19), righteous Lot, who kept his integrity in Sodom. Note, Children often fare the better in this world for the piety of their ancestors: the seed of the upright, though they degenerate, yet are blessed with temporal good things. 2. Because the land they were possessed of was what God had given them, and he did not design it for Israel. Even wicked men have a right to their worldly possessions, and must not be wronged. The tares are allowed their place in the field, and must not be rooted out until the harvest. God gives and preserves outward blessings to wicked men, to show that these are not the best things, but he has better in store for his own children.