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Deuteronomy 2:4-20 -

Edom, Moab, Ammon.

The Israelites are strictly enjoined not to molest these three peoples, or to attempt to rob them of any portion of their territory. The ground of this injunction is that God had given them the territory they possessed, and had not given it to the Israelites. Additional reasons why Israel was not to molest them lay in the facts that they were kinsmen ( Deuteronomy 2:4 ) and that Israel was amply provided for already ( Deuteronomy 2:7 ). God's people have little need to covet the possessions of the worldly. Apart from questions of their rights, kinsmen are entitled to be treated with special kindness and forbearance. We learn from this passage—

I. THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IS MINUTELY CONCERNED IN THE SETTLEMENT OF NATIONS . ( Deuteronomy 2:5 , Deuteronomy 2:9 , Deuteronomy 2:19 .) It is not by accident that they are where they are. God marks out for them the bounds of their habitation. This is a fundamental idea in Scripture ( Genesis 10:1-32 .; Deuteronomy 32:8 ; Acts 17:26 ). In the verses before us the territories of Edom, of Moab, and of Ammon are spoken of as being a gift to them from God, as directly as Canaan was a gift to the Israelites. It does not alter this fact, though it renders the comprehension of it more difficult, that men's own violent and aggressive dispositions are often the means by which these secret purposes of God are fulfilled ( Deuteronomy 2:12 , Deuteronomy 2:22 , Deuteronomy 2:23 ). The barbarian incursions which overthrew the Roman empire were prompted by mere love of conquest, with the hope of enrichment by slaughter and pillage; but we may trace the providence of God working through them for the formation of modern Europe. Our own acquisition of India was not without blame; but we may see in our present possession of it a gift of God which, with our other territories in different parts of the globe, we are bound to use for his glory. This is the highest view we can take of the possession of territory, and one which, so far from justifying unlawful aggression, leads us to refrain from it. It is to be remarked, however, that the possessions which God gives to nations are not irrevocable—not forever. Instances of dispossession occur in these verses, and Edom, Moab, and Ammon themselves have long since been dispossessed. "Be not high-minded, but fear" ( Romans 11:20 ).

II. THAT THE RIGHTS OF NATIONS ARE TO BE SACREDLY RESPECTED . These verses teach lessons which might be pondered with advantage by the most advanced modern nations. They teach:

1. Scrupulous respect for international rights . It can never be our duty wantonly to invade the territories of those at peace with us, or, from motives of ambition, to seek pretexts of war with them. They are as entitled to the peaceable possession of what they have, as we are to the peaceable possession of the lands belonging to us. The fight of the stronger is not to rule our policy.

2. Scrupulous justice in international transactions . The Israelites might have used force, but they were to deal justly, and honestly to pay for everything they received ( Deuteronomy 2:6 , Deuteronomy 2:29 ).

3. Scrupulous self-restraint under circumstances of provocation . The Edomites had refused the Israelites a passage through their mountains, and had entailed on them a long, painful, and circuitous journey; Moab had employed Balsam to curse them, and had, with Midian, done them yet worse evil ( Numbers 25:1 ); but not even these provocations were to tempt them to retaliation. How many modern nations would have made a casus belli of far less? Forgiveness of injuries should have a place in our international as in our private dealings, and it is strange if we have to be sent back to the Jews of Canaan-conquering notoriety to learn it. It is to be added—


1. It taught them to recognize the Divine gift as the ground of their own tenure of Canaan . If the Divine providence so guarded these neighboring peoples, and would not allow one foot of their land to be taken from them against his will, how much more might the Jews, if obedient to the covenant, depend on being preserved in theirs! If God gave, who could take away?

2. It taught them to distinguish their commission to destroy the Canaanites from one of rude conquest . It teaches us also to take a just estimate of those acts of the Israelites in destroying the Canaanitish nations on which so much indignation has been expended. Their conduct here shows how far they were from being actuated by the motives often ascribed to them. This high sense of honor, this scrupulous justice, this exemplary self-restraint prove that it was in no bloodthirsty, slaughter-loving spirit they were proceeding to their work; and show how at every step they were guided by God's will, fell in with the lines of his providence, and wrought out his wishes and purposes. They help us to conceive of the destruction of the Canaanites, not as a barbarous massacre, but as the execution of a long-delayed, deliberately pronounced, and most justly deserved sentence of Heaven.—J.O.

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