This chapter starts as the Israelites turn back toward the desert as the Lord commanded. Then God begins to give specific direction as to which way they should go, how long they should travel, and how to behave when they encounter certain groups of people. The Lord reminds them that he has blessed them and has been with them, but clearly instructs them and tells them three different times that He will not give the people that they are encountering into their hands. Finally in verse 24, the Lord tells then that He is giving Sihon, King of Hesbon into their hands. He begins to tell them to take possession of it, engaging in battle; and that this very day, He will begin to put terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. God made the Spirit of Sihon stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him over to their hands. The Lord reminds them what he has just done and tells them to go and take possession of the land. Verse 33 states “The Lord our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down”; even after this victory, at the very end of this chapter, the Lord reminds them in v. 37 that in accordance with the command of the Lord our God, you did not encroach on any of the land of the Ammonites, neither the land along the course of the Jabbok not that round the towns of the hills”.
Well, putting the geography lesson aside, I think the basic message of this chapter is once again obedience. I can also see it as a possible test from God. After these people refused to listen to God in the first place that sent them back into the desert, He is checking to see if they are really ready to repent and put on their listening ears. It must have been frustrating for them to travel to all these different locations and not be able to take possession of them, even stating that he had given that right to others. I think that would have been a really hard pill to swallow; to have traveled and finally learn to obey, yet not reap any reward for it. I think at this point the lessons can be that obedience is primary, and that just because you are instructed to obey, don’t expect it to become like a magic wand for what you want to get. How many times do we go to God with this same attitude of “God if you just deliver me from this mess this time, I’ll never do it again”? And how many times, have you found yourself breaking that very promise? So perhaps God here is testing their true obedience to them? Perhaps when we think we are obeying and fail to see the fruit, we need to not give up, or get discouraged, but let it be a time of learning, and character building, and perseverance, and really showing God that our heart wants to obey for the right reasons, which is hopefully out of love and remembrance for all his has done for us; much like He reminded the Israelites in verse 7. I find it interesting too that God, in this verse not only reminds them that he has been with them, but also for the entire 40 years! I think that speaks volumes. I think God is trying to tell them “hey, I haven’t left you, and I provided all your needs, and watch over you, keeping you safe during this long period of time; so what’s the problem here?” And yet in Verse 9 God again does not let them take possession of the Land. He reminds them back in verse 7, chooses not to bless them in verse 9 and finally sees that perhaps they do trust and believe enough that He goes ahead and hands over the King, starting in verse 24, but even with that, and God hardening the Kings heart, at the end He still reminds them of their consequences; not being able to take over the land of the Amorites and the area of the Jabbok. Here, I think the application is that even though God may honor our obedience and bless us with victories in life, there are also root consequences of our prior actions that are still in place. I am sure we can all attest to this at some level. God is full of mercy and love, he is a God of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 200000th, chances, but that doesn’t take away the consequences of our messes in the first place. This is a very humbling chapter for me, it helps me to remember the sovereignty of God, and yet be reminded that he will always come to our rescue and want to give us his good gifts. It also reminds me of going around the mountain, how many times do we have to keep re-learning our lessons for God to see that we are really serious about making a change in our lives?