The book of Deuteronomy is the second telling of the Law. Often, what it provides is more detail from the narrative of the previous books that comprise the 5-volume Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). We get a good dose of that in the first two chapters and learn some very interesting details about the prior inhabitants of the lands surrounding Canaan that God had sent the Israelites to conquer and inhabit.
In their wilderness wanderings during the Exodus, the children of Israel spent their many years east of the Jordan River. The possessors of those lands south to north included Edom (Esau), Moab (Lot), Ammon (Lot), and the Amorite kingdoms of Heshbon and Bashan.
When God first directed the Israelites to cross the Jordan into the hill country of Canaan, ten of the men sent on that spying expedition came back with a bad report. Numbers 13:28-29 tells us what the majority of the spies said:
“However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.”
They had seen the sons of the Anakim inhabiting the land, and they completely freaked out. Why?
The sons of Anak included these different tribes noted above. They were considered Rephaim, descendants in some fashion of the Nephilim. We know from Genesis 6:1-4 that the Nephilim were the offspring of the union of the sons of God (bene Elohim) with human women. They were the mighty men of old, giants in the land, and the reason for every nation on earth having mythologies about various gods with their enormous prowess and sexual appetites. The Israelites encountered the Amorites, failed to remember Yahweh was with them and, in their human frailty, convinced the people the Amorites were too powerful for them to conquer as Numbers 13:33 notes:
“And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”
Where at this time were these giants in the southern lands of Edom, Moab, and Ammon? Scripture doesn’t record the conquests, but these descendants of Abraham had previously encountered the giant clans and, with the Lord’s help, defeated them. Look at these verses that describe this:
“And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession.’ (The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim.)”
“(The Horites also lived in Seir formerly, but the people of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, as Israel did to the land of their possession, which the Lord gave to them.)”
“And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.’ (It is also counted as a land of Rephaim. Rephaim formerly lived there—but the Ammonites call them Zamzummim— a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim; but the Lord destroyed them before the Ammonites, and they dispossessed them and settled in their place, as he did for the people of Esau, who live in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites before them and they dispossessed them and settled in their place even to this day.)”
“(As for the Avvim, who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim, who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and settled in their place.)”
Edom, Moab, and Ammon had all previously fought and destroyed the many sons of Anak, i.e. the giant Rephaim which so frightened the ten spies and the rest of the children of Israel. God had been in the midst of these tribes (Israel’s “brothers,” i.e. relatives, of Israel by descent from Esau and Lot).
But, giants remained on the east side of the Jordan. In order to prepare the new generation of Israelites for the battles ahead in Canaan, God had them march north to encounter the remaining Amorite tribes in Heshbon – led by King Sihon; and in Bashan – led by King Og.
All of the first generation of Israelites had died in the wilderness, so God was starting out with a fresh slate of leaders. Yahweh told Moses and the people in Numbers 2:24:
‘Rise up, set out on your journey and go over the Valley of the Arnon. Behold, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession, and contend with him in battle.”
Israel obediently followed Yahweh’s commands this time. King Sihon couldn’t stand against God’s people, and Moses reported in Deuteronomy 2:34:
“And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors.”
King Og would be next as Deuteronomy 3 records. However, look at the language of this last verse. The Israelites devoted their enemies to destruction; they left no survivors. This is critical to our understanding of God and His purposes. Why?
The Rephaim, i.e. all these tribes mentioned in this narrative, were descended from the Nephilim. Satan, along with his cohort – the sons of God – determined to cause God’s Word to fail. If His Word wouldn’t come to pass, they knew that their ambitions to replace Him as God Most High could be realized. By their procreating with human women, these rebellious spiritual entities corrupted humanity’s DNA. The Nephilim as their descendants were no longer fully human. Jesus came to redeem mankind. These creatures couldn’t be redeemed. If all the earth were populated with these beings, God would be a liar, as Jesus (the Seed of the woman in Genesis 13:15) would have none to save. This is why God determined in Genesis 6:5:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
It was because of this overwhelming depravity that God brought the flood to destroy all corrupted creatures on the earth, finding only Noah and his sons as having pure human blood.
The Israelite conquest of the east side of the Jordan was critical for them to have the confidence to take the land of Canaan – also populated with giant clans – for themselves as the people of God. By successfully defeating the Amorites on the east of the Jordan with God’s might, they learned they could likewise accomplish what He had for them to do west of the river.
Yahweh was always with His children, but they had short memories. Trusting Him was something they could never fully do for any length of time.
A day is coming when all surviving Israelites will turn to God in that trust He has longed for since the very beginning. The remnant of Israel at the end of the Tribulation will trust Jesus as their Messiah, Savior, and Lord. It will be a difficult lesson learned as 2/3 of the people of Israel will perish. However, of that remaining 1/3 all Israel will be saved. At that time, they will truly be God’s people who follow Him with heart, soul, mind and strength. God’s purpose for His children Israel will be achieved. What a glorious day that will be!