Deuteronomy 2:33–34 (HCSB)
33 The Lord our God handed him over to us, and we defeated him, his sons, and his whole army. 34 At that time we captured all his cities and completely destroyed the people of every city, including the women and children. We left no survivors.
Moses continues his recollection of previous events here. This pericope is focused on the Israelites defeat, and taking of the land, of Sihon the Amorite. A couple things, on first read, seem odd, but I think have satisfactory explanations.
- In Deut 2:24 God tells Moses “engage [Sihon the Amorite] in battle.” Yet, in Deut 2:26, we read that Moses offers peace! At first read it seems that Moses is going against God’s command. And this reading might even seem to be reinforced when we read in Deut 2:31, where God says, “See, I have begun…” as though He was chastising Moses a bit for not doing as commanded originally. But it seems it would make more sense to assume some additional details of the process Moses was to take, such as offering peace before battle, were simply left out, either due to familiarity of the events of the original audience, or simply for brevity. A couple reasons to think this is true are:
- Moses does not mention any sin, any wrong-doing, in how he proceeds. In fact, quite the opposite is the vibe of the remaining passage: it seems like Moses was doing just as commanded.
- There is no punishment mentioned. Everything proceeds as if it was done exactly as God had commanded. We should expect some sort of punishment, or something going wrong, or something delayed, or some other outcome or event that would have suggested some sort of rebelliousness on the part of Moses and the Israelites. But none of that occurs.
So it seems reasonable that Moses did in fact follow God’s command, and the details were not listed out explicitly, but instead left for us to infer from the description of the events.
- In Deut 2:34 we read about the total extermination of the people in the cities of the defeated cities. Scripture goes so far as to explicitly state “women and children” were included in the killing. This seems harsh and extreme to us today, in fact we would consider this flat out evil if a modern state were to treat the women and children of an enemy in this fashion. But this is a recurring thing with the Old Testament, and often pointed to by those opposed to God: the seemingly indiscriminate, or at least extreme, killing of “innocents”. But is that really the case? Let’s consider a couple things that might warrant such an “extreme” act:
- Note that Moses description here seems to suggest that it was just those people in the cities that were killed completely: “completely destroyed the people of every city.” So it seems likely that there were plenty of survivors, they just were not city-dwellers. And it would make sense that the cities would be the sites of focused punishment, as these would be the strongholds, the places with walls and defensive advantages, the control of which generally defines the control of the surrounding land. So the extermination is already likely less comprehensive than initially made out to be. In fact, it would seem that anyone that left the city prior to a battle might have been spared. The remainder of the pericope focuses on the cities.
- The end goal here was this land was to be inhabited by the Israelites. Since that was the goal, it seems reasonable that God would want to ensure His chosen people would not be “corrupted” by a people opposed to God, who worshipped pagan gods. After all, the Israelites had a track record of turning from God. These were a people in these lands that were pagans, choosing false gods over the true God, and with a large contingent of women, who inevitably would be taken into homes of Israelite men, and children, the scene is set for a corruption and falling away of the Israelites. A spiritually pure Israel certainly seems like an important goal.
- Finally, following from the previous point, it is safe to say that there was no shortage of sin in these lands, among these people. We should not be surprised when God implements judgement, or just punishment, for sin in present time. After all, were it not for the grace of God, for the atoning sacrifice of Christ, we shouldn’t expect anything less for ourselves. In fact, we still should not be so certain a same fate is not deserved by us due to the sin we continue to practice despite Jesus’ sacrifice!
Lord, thank You for Your continued mercy! How wonderful to know that You have had this plan for millennia to save each of us, to save me! And despite my constant failure to follow You, my continual sin, You love me, You extend Your grace, and You call me Yours. Thank You! Amen.