The third part of the book of Numbers begins with the battle against Sihon. Part 1 is Numbers 1-10:10, in which the preparation of the journey is described. Part 2 is Numbers 10:11-21:20, in which the journey itself is described. The third part, which contains the rest of the book, takes place in the plains of Moab. The spiritual meaning of the journey is that as we go through the world, we are discovered to ourselves and that we learn about the faithfulness of God through the high priest, for us the Lord Jesus. He wants us to learn to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and no longer according to the flesh.
‘The plains of Moab’ also has a spiritual meaning. The special thing about the plains of Moab is that the people are no longer in the wilderness, but they are not yet in the land either. The Jordan has still not been crossed. Spiritually speaking, we are not yet seen as in the letter to the Ephesians, where we see how we are blessed with all the spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. That is the land for us. But we are not there yet. But we are also no longer in the wilderness. Spiritually, we have understood what the letter to the Romans teaches us: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We no longer walk according to the flesh, “but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:1-41Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.3For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God [did]: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and [as an offering] for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,4so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.).
The area of the plains of Moab gives the picture of the Christian that we have in the letter to the Philippians. This Christian is still on earth, he has not yet gone through the Jordan, so to speak, but his whole heart goes out to heaven, to which he presses. We learn this in the rest of Numbers and the whole book Deuteronomy. The heart of the people will be completely focused on the land they will soon enter, so that they will love to enter.
The first thing we encounter in the plains of Moab, is battle. The first enemies are Sihon and Og. So this is not yet the battle in the land. There are different types of battle:
1. In the wilderness there is a defensive battle that cannot be escaped. It is a battle where the people have to fight, but which the LORD takes for his account (Exo 17:8,16b8Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim.16and he said, “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”).
2. In the land there is an attacking battle to conquer the land.
3. In the plains of Moab, it’s a battle they don’t seek and try to avoid, but they can’t escape either. Then they also take possession of the cities of the Amorites, something that has never been the case in their struggle in the wilderness.
The cities on the wilderness side of the Jordan are taken possession of. That is not yet the actual land, because that is on the other side of the Jordan. Later, two and a half tribes will ask for and receive their inheritance in this area. It turns out that they do not appreciate an inheritance in the land. Moses later blames them for this. Just as the land of Canaan speaks of the heavenly places and the spiritual blessings therein, so the territory on this side of the Jordan, the plains of Moab, speaks of the earthly blessings.
The blessing of the Christian consists of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places and not the earthly blessings. To really enjoy the spiritual blessings, we first have to conquer the earthly ones. This means on the one hand that we can accept the earthly blessings gratefully from God’s hand. It also means, on the other hand, that we rule over it and not that we allow ourselves to be dominated by the earthly blessings. Only when we give the earthly blessings their true place, we can occupy ourselves with the heavenly.
Many Christians, and in fact Christianity as a whole, are like the two and a half tribes. They are so satisfied with the earthly blessings that they are not interested in the spiritual blessings and do not worry about them. They focus on the earthly as if the earth is their actual home. This also leads to political efforts to ensure a long and pleasant stay on earth.
That is not God’s intention of earthly blessings. If that’s all, we don’t distinguish ourselves from the unbelievers who also (want to) have these blessings, without, by the way, thanking God for them or involving Him in them. God wants us, His children, to reach out to our real inheritance: the spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, which is the eternal life in Christ.
Sihon and Og are unbelievers. They represent people who possess blessings in the power of the flesh. With them there is no gratitude to God. The characteristic of Sihon is his honor, his fame. He did not conquer the land from the Ammonites for the glory of God, but for his own glory. This is expressed in the song by the poets of proverbs that Moses mentions here. Og uses the land for its own enjoyment. This is reflected in the only characteristic given of him: his giant bed (Deu 3:1111(For only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bedstead was an iron bedstead; it is in Rabbah of the sons of Ammon. Its length was nine cubits and its width four cubits by ordinary cubit.)).
In Sihon and Og we see the dangers that the earthly blessings have for us. If we do not keep the flesh in the place of death and walk through the Spirit, we will forget our actual spiritual blessings. The result is that we look for our own honor and pleasure that are connected to the earthly blessings.
After this digression about the spiritual meaning we return to the text. Israel has revived and rejuvenated at Beer. A people who are happy in the LORD is strong (Neh 8:10b10Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”). Through the joy of the well they can successfully fight against enemies. But first they send messengers to Sihon, as well as to Edom (Num 20:1414From Kadesh Moses then sent messengers to the king of Edom: “Thus your brother Israel has said, ‘You know all the hardship that has befallen us;). Sihon reacts just like Edom. Unlike with Edom, Israel is now ordered to fight against the enemy and to take its land. Already in Genesis 15 God foretold the judgment of the Amorites, but it will only be carried out when their iniquity is full (Gen 15:1616Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”). That moment has now arrived.
In verses 27-3027Therefore those who use proverbs say,
“Come to Heshbon! Let it be built!
So let the city of Sihon be established.
28“For a fire went forth from Heshbon,
A flame from the town of Sihon;
It devoured Ar of Moab,
The dominant heights of the Arnon.
29“Woe to you, O Moab!
You are ruined, O people of Chemosh!
He has given his sons as fugitives,
And his daughters into captivity,
To an Amorite king, Sihon.
30“But we have cast them down,
Heshbon is ruined as far as Dibon,
Then we have laid waste even to Nophah,
Which [reaches] to Medeba.”
, those who use proverbs are quoted to prove that this area first belonged to the Ammonites and was conquered by the Amorites. Some say they are poets of proverbs of Israel, others think they belong to the Amorites. In any case, it is a victory song. In the first case the Ammonites, and in the second case the Amorites are challenged to rebuild their conquered and fire-destroyed capital. The song sings of a total over-winning.
About Moab the “woe to you” is proclaimed. Chemosh, the main god of the Ammonites (Jer 48:77“For because of your trust in your own achievements and treasures,
Even you yourself will be captured;
And Chemosh will go off into exile
Together with his priests and his princes.
) and of the Amorites (Jdg 11:2424Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God has driven out before us, we will possess it.), is a worthless god who is unable to protect the people who have taken him to be their god. The Ammonites were overpowered by the Amorites and the Amorites were destroyed by the Israelites.
If the area where Sihon reigns had been of the Ammonites, Israel would not have been allowed to take it. Now they are allowed to do so and they can even live there. Jephthah appears to be well aware of this historical data. He can later use this to refute the claim of the king of the Ammonites (Jdg 11:13-2313The king of the sons of Ammon said to the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up from Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok and the Jordan; therefore, return them peaceably now.”14But Jephthah sent messengers again to the king of the sons of Ammon,15and they said to him, “Thus says Jephthah, ‘Israel did not take away the land of Moab nor the land of the sons of Ammon.16For when they came up from Egypt, and Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh,17then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let us pass through your land,” but the king of Edom would not listen. And they also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh.18Then they went through the wilderness and around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, and came to the east side of the land of Moab, and they camped beyond the Arnon; but they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon [was] the border of Moab.19And Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land to our place.”20But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people and camped in Jahaz and fought with Israel.21The LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country.22So they possessed all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and from the wilderness as far as the Jordan.23Since now the LORD, the God of Israel, drove out the Amorites from before His people Israel, are you then to possess it?).