Scripture: And Israel took all these cities, and Israel settled in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages. Therefore the ballad singers say, “Come to Heshbon, let it be built; let the city of Sihon be established. For fire came out from Heshbon, flame from the city of Sihon. It devoured Ar of Moab, and swallowed the heights of the Arnon.Woe to you, O Moab! You are undone, O people of Chemosh! He has made his sons fugitives, and his daughters captives, to an Amorite king, Sihon. So we overthrew them; Heshbon, as far as Dibon, perished; and we laid waste as far as Nophah; fire spread as far as Medeba.” Numbers 21:25, 27-30 ESV
Observation: While the king of Arad provoked Israel, his outnumbered army posed no real threat. Here, Sihon, king of the Amorites, presented a formidable opponent. His part of the Transjordan region extended from the Arnon River at the midpoint of the Dead Sea (northern border of Edom) to the Jabok River (which flows west into the Jordan River twenty-four miles north of the Dead Sea). Sihon’s land plus the territory of Og to his north comprised the future region of the Promised Land east of the Jordan occupied by Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. So this victory stood in Jewish history as monumental and worthy of celebratory songs.
While Edom was off limits per God’s promised provision for Esau’s descendants, the Amorites were fair game. And Sihon’s arrogance would cost him dearly. Perhaps Sihon’s overconfidence stemmed from a previous victory over Balak, king of Moab (taking possession of all his land as far as Arnon, v.26). Regardless, as the above text (v.25) states, Israel took all the cities of the Amorites. Thus, Sihon’s utter defeat stirred fear in Balak, who would later summon Balaam to curse Israel.
Of note, the first three stanzas of the song (vv.27-29) are a taunt from a well-traveled chorale of the Amorites that had become familiar to Israel. The last stanza is Israel’s addition, intended to instill fear in Balak by reminding him that they had triumphed over the king who defeated Balak.
Takeaway: The concluding verses of this section tell us that Israel settled in the territory of the Amorites—a dramatic mark of accomplishment after sojourning forty years in the desert of Sinai. Still, even though part of their future Promised Land, this region provided only a foretaste of the land flowing with milk and honey. Many more battles were yet to be fought and won, and now was not the time for deepening roots. Indeed, the king of Og would not rest in peace with his new neighbor and would soon spark a war, which Israel would convincingly win (vv31-35). Finding its stride, Israel needed to keep marching under Moses’ and, eventually, Joshua’s leadership by the strength of their God, for the battles would never cease until all their enemies were “devoted to destruction.”
Our takeaway? The same applies to us. While taunting our enemies is outside the purview of following in the footsteps of King Jesus, the rest applies to us. When the Lord grants us victory and expands our territory, we must be careful not to deepen our roots and build walls of protection, for there will always be new spiritual battles to win to our last breath. Meanwhile, along the way, we would do well to sing songs of victory by the mighty hand of our King Jesus.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who has gained the victory over sin’s death sentence and has prepared a place for us in your eternal Promised Land. Would you please help us to resist the temptation to set roots and fortify boundaries here on earth and instead follow your Holy Spirit’s lead in pressing on in the spiritual battles of this life, singing songs of victory along the way? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling