Deuteronomy Chapter 2: Seven Lessons on God’s Character from the Jews’ Wilderness Journey

Introduction: Chapter 2 continues the three-part prologue to the Law. The first three chapters all discuss the themes of faith, God’s character, and Spirit-led leadership. The second chapter focuses on His mercy and grace. Moses tells us of seven important lessons regarding God’s character that we can rely upon in our own struggles in life. First, through Christ’s blood, God is faithful to blot out our sins. Second, where God guides us, He will provide for us. Third, He is faithful to keep His promises. Fourth, He is faithful to provide for all of our needs in life. Fifth, He is slow to anger and does not want any to perish. Sixth, for those who rebel, He may eventually discipline them out of love. Finally, when we take refuge in Him, He can protect us from our enemies. These are lessons that we can take to heart as we journey through the wilderness to the eternal Promised Land.

1. God is Faithful to Blot out Our Sins. Dt. 2:1.

  • Moses’ omission of the 38-year march and the Jews’ many rebellions in the wilderness. Sometimes what is not said in the Bible is as important as what it records. Deuteronomy chapter one ends with the Jews’ rebellion at the edge of the Promise Land. Chapter 2 begins after the Jews had returned from their 38-year exile march. Moses omitted any description of Korah’s rebellion against him (Nu. 16:1-40). He omitted the subsequent rebellion of the 14,700 Jews who revolted after Korah and his followers died from their rebellion (Nu. 16:42-50). He omitted the Jews’ rebellion when they returned from their 38-year march to a place where there was no water in the wilderness of Zin (Nu. 20:1-5). He also omitted their rebellion which caused God to send fiery serpents to punish the Jews. The serpents bit and killed those who revolted. In a foreshadowing of Jesus, only those who looked upon a raised bronze serpent in faith would be saved (Nu. 21:4-9; Jo. 3:14-15). In exhorting the people, Moses omitted these painful memories. He instead picked up the story with the Jews circling around Mount Seir in the deserts of south-western Jordan. This was immediately after the Edomite King denied Moses’ request to travel the direct route from Southern Jordan to the river Jordan along the King’s Highway. This was also after Aaron’s death (Nu. 20:14-29). “Then we turned and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea, as the Lord spoke to me, and circled Mount Seir for many days.” (Dt. 2:1). The Jews had reason to rejoice. Moses’ omission symbolized God’s willingness to blot out the Jews’ transgressions in the wilderness. “[S]earch will be made for Israel’s guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare.” (Jer. 5:20). The Jews, however, did not earn this privilege. Many allege that God in the Old Testament is more filled with wrath than in the New Testament. Yet, if God was filled with only wrath, would He purge these rebellions from His account of the Jews’ journey in the wilderness?

  • Rejoice that your sins will be blotted out. We also have reason to celebrate. Like the Jews, God will blot out our transgressions in the wilderness: “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” (Heb. 8:12). “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Is. 43:25). “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:34). “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro. 8:1). Self-doubt and loathing are Satan’s tools to silence believers. Are you letting your old sins hold you back? If so, you lack faith in the power of Christ’s blood and God’s promises.

  • Blot out the sins that others have done to you. Paul says that the lessons from the Exodus were recorded for our instruction (1 Cor. 10:10-11). By God’s example, you should also forgive and forget the sins that others have made against you. If you don’t, God will not forgive your sins (Matt. 6:15; Mk. 11:26). Is there anyone you need to forgive?

2. God Can Keep You From Walking In Circles in Life. Dt. 2:2-3.

  • The Holy Spirit will not guide us when we are in sin. Moses begins by pointing out that the Jews were lost in the wilderness, wandering in circles. “And the Lord spoke to me, saying, ‘You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north.” (Dt. 2:2-3). The Moabite king denied Moses’ request to cross his land (Nu. 20:14-21). Going around Edom added 100 miles to the Jews’ trip. Until this point, God guided the Jews by a visible pillar of light both by day and by night (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19). Now, they were left to guess which route to take. At other times, God guided Moses through people like his first wife Zipporah’s brother, Hobab (Nu. 10: 29-32). His first father-in-law, Jethro, also advised him (Ex. 18:17-27). Now, he had neither God nor wise counsel to guide him. This can only mean that God’s pillar of guidance had disappeared. It may be that God temporarily withdrew because of the people’s many rebellions (1 Ch. 5:20; Prov. 15:29). Or, God may have wanted to test the Jews. “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” (Dt. 8:2). He might have wanted to show them that they were lost as a people without Him. There is a lesson here for us. We too are lost without God. You have the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to be a light unto your path. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:26). “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). Have you found yourself wandering through life? If you will submit and obey the Spirit, God will guide you on your path.

3. God is Faithful to Keep His Promises, Even to People Who Don’t Deserve It. Dt. 2:4-6.

  • God’s graceful protection of the sons of Esau. The descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau, the Edomites, did not worship Yahweh. Yet, God ordered the Jews not to harm them: “You will pass through the territory of your brothers the sons of Esau who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful; do not provoke them, for I will not give you any of their land, even as little as a footstep because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession.” (Dt. 2:4-5). They were not even allowed to take food from them without proper compensation: “You shall buy food from them with money so that you may eat, and you shall also purchase water from them with money so that you may drink.” (Dt. 2:6). God did not do any of this out of a love for the descendants of Esau. To the contrary, the Bible says that God “hated” Esau (Mal. 1:2-3). Esau was “immoral,” “godless,” and “he found no place for repentance.” (Heb. 12:16-17). He and his descendants were symbolic of a life of the flesh and Satan’s evil reign on Earth. Why then would God protect them? Because He is faithful to keep His promises, even to the undeserving. Through Isaac, God blessed Esau’s descendants (Gen. 27:39-40). Mount Seir in Jordan was part of this blessing, and God is faithful to keep His promises. This should give us great hope. He loves us so much that He sent His only son to die for us. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jo. 3:16). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Ro. 5:8). Should we have any reason to doubt His promises to us?

  • Don’t fight unless God leads you to do so. The Jews had no reason to think that their related kinsman would threaten to go to war with them merely because they wanted to cross their territory. If the Jews were being led by their pride or their flesh, they might have felt tempted to fight their way through. But God told them not to attack or provoke them. Without clear direction from God, we also should never attack others or fight them.

  • Let God avenge those who wrong you. Later, God condemned Edom “because he pursued his brother with the sword.” (Amos 1:11). Thus, God promised that it would be “cut off.” “Because of violence to your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame, and you will be cut off forever. On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth, and foreigners entered his gate and cast lots for Jerusalem- You too were as one of them. Do not gloat over your brother's day, the day of his misfortune. And do not rejoice over the sons of Judah in the day of their destruction; yes, do not boast in the day of their distress.” (Obed. 1:10-12). He will also avenge the wrongs committed against you. “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Ro. 12:19). Have you tried to set right the wrongs against you? Or, will you let God do that?

4. Where God Guides, He Provides. Dt. 2:7.

  • God blessed and provided for the Jews. God reminded the Jews that they were a blessed people. He provided for them, even after they rebelled. They no more deserved His blessings than Esau’s descendants did: “For the Lord your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing.”’ (Dt. 2:7). He freed the Jews from Egyptian bondage (Ex. 7:6-11:10). He crushed the Egyptian army (Ex. 13:7-15:21). He defeated the Amalekites in battle (Ex. 17:9-12). He made water come out from a rock at Horeb (Ex. 17:6). He also transformed the waters of Marah to provide drinking water (Ex. 15:22-27). He then provided both manna and quail after they grumbled about their food (Ex. 16:1-8). He provided the “rabble” (half breeds) meat when they grew tired of His manna (Nu. 11:4-6, 32-33). Near the end of their journey, He also caused the waters to gush out of a rock at Meribah (Nu. 20:10-11; Ps. 81:16; 106:41; Isa. 48:21). He was also guiding the Jews by a visible pillar of light both by day and by night (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19). He even protected their feet from swelling (Dt. 8:4). Thus, they had no reason to doubt that He would provide for them as they prepared to enter the Promised Land.

  • Jesus will bless and provide for you as well. Jesus cares for us in the wilderness (Hos. 13:5). He is our manna and our food (Jo. 6:35; Matt. 6:31). He is the “rock” who gives us the water of contentment in our wilderness (Jo. 4:14; 6:36; 7:37-38; 1 Cor. 10:3-4). He clothes us (Matt. 6:30). He is also “the rock of our salvation” (Ps. 95:1; Dt. 32:3-4; Isa. 26:4). Likewise, He is a rock and a shield for all who take refuge in Him (Ps. 18:30; 2 Sam. 22:3, 31). Thus, He tells us not to worry about our provision (Matt. 6:34). If we complain about our provisions, we are not trusting Him. Are there areas of worry or doubt in your life? If so, repent of these things. You must “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33).

  • Do not covet your neighbor’s possessions. In addition to reminding the Jews that He would provide for them, God also reminded the Jews that they had no need to covet the Moabite land. The sin against coveting violated the Tenth Commandment (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21). Non-believers who “covet” will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:3-6). Once you give in to coveting, the sin can never be satisfied (Hab. 2:5). This is an “entrée” sin to other sins that has ruined many believers (1 Tim. 6:9-10; Jam. 1:14-15). If you covet, how much trust do you have for God to provide for you?

  • The road to destruction is a highway, the path to salvation is narrow. Traveling the “king’s highway” was the route that seemed the quickest and the safest. Yet, Moses realized that God had not called them to go down this path and fight their kin. Moses did not want to make the “sin of presumption” that some Jews made in trying to force their way into the Promised Land after God had told them not to enter. The Amalekites and the Canaanites killed those Jews (Nu. 14:39-45). The path that they took also was not easy. Solomon warned: “There is a way that seems right to a man. But it ends in the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). Jesus also warns: “. . . the way is broad that leads to destruction . . . the way is narrow that leads to life.” (Matt. 7:13-14). Are you traveling down the broad “king’s highway”? Or, are you traveling down the narrow path of the “king of kings”? If you are looking to follow the people around you, which path are you taking?

5. God Does Not Desire For Any to Perish. Dt. 2:9-13.

  • God’s attempt to protect the Ammonites. Like the Moabites, the Ammonites were not deserving of God’s protection. They were the descendents of incest between Lot and his daughters (Gen. 19:36-38). Yet, Abraham gave Lot’s descendants portions of modern day Jordan to resolve a land dispute between their herdsmen (Gen. 13:10-13). God did not call Abraham to take Lot with him out of Ur (Gen. 12:1-4). God, however, attempted to keep Abraham’s promises: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab, nor provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot as a possession.’” (Dt. 2:9). Moses then compared the Ammonites to the Jews, both would dispossess the local peoples. “The Horites (aka the “Hurrians”) formerly lived in Seir, but the sons of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did to the land of their possession which the Lord gave to them.” (Dt. 2:12). Although the Ammonites were not deserving of God’s protection, He did not want them to perish. God loves even the undeserving. He does not want anyone to perish: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). The Jews were meant to be a light to the nations. “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations,” (Is. 42:6). A blessed people should seek to bless others with the blessings that they have been given. Do you share your light and blessings with others?

  • We too should be burdened for the unsaved. By God’s example, we should also be burdened by the unsaved. We are called to be a light to them (Matt. 5:14). We are also commanded to make disciples throughout the nations (Matt. 28:29). Are you supporting a missionary? Are you burdened for the unsaved? Are you praying for them?

6. Out of Love, God May Discipline Believers Who Openly Rebel. Dt. 2:13-15.

  • Excluding salvation, some of God’s blessings are conditional. Before examining God’s discipline, we can first give thanks that, through the blood of Christ, our sins will not cause us to lose our salvation: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth . . . and into an inheritance that can never perish . . . ” (1 Pet. 1:3-4). The Bible is also clear that we are saved by our faith alone and not by our works (Eph. 2:8; Rom. 3:28-30; 4:5; 10:4; Gal. 2:16; 3:24). But that doesn’t mean that your works don’t matter to God. A believer who rebels can still have certain conditional blessings removed. Being left to face the evil one without protection can also be called a curse. Those who rebelled against God were condemned to wander for 38 years and die in the wilderness: “Now arise and cross over the brook Zered yourselves.' So we crossed over the brook Zered. Now the time that it took for us to come from Kadesh-barnea until we crossed over the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until all the generation of the men of war perished from within the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them.” (Dt. 2:13-14). For those who rebelled, God’s hand was also against them: “Moreover the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from within the camp until they all perished.” (Dt. 2:15). There are certain conditional blessings for obedience (Lev. 26:1-13; Dt. 28:1-14). Yet, there are even more penalties or curses for disobedience (Lev. 26:14-39; Dt. 28:15-29:28). “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7; Ps. 111:10). “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; . . .” (Prov. 8:13). If you find yourself wandering in a spiritual desert, suffering from heart aches, ask for God to reveal any rebellion in your heart (Ps. 139:23). Unless you fear the Lord by hating evil, you might drift into rebellion, like the Jews did.

  • Before judging others, God judges His own children. God planned to use the Jews to be his instruments of justice to the Ammonites (Ro. 13:4). Yet, because He is fair and just, He judges His people before He judges others: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God . . .” (1 Pet. 4:17). Even saved Christians shall still stand before the judgment seat of Christ to account for our deeds (Ro. 14:10). “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10). If you know the truth and do nothing for His Kingdom, your time at the judgment seat of Christ will be uncomfortable. Don’t make your time there filled with regrets. Make your life a living sacrifice to God (Rom. 12:1). And do not boast about your sacrifices for Him for others to praise you. This will give your Heavenly Father lots to reward you for in heaven (Matt. 6:1).

7. God Will Protect Us From Our Enemies. Dt. 2:16-37; Nu. 21:21-25.

  • God’s destruction of the Ammonites. God’s protection of the Ammonites was also conditional. They elected to attack God’s people. By doing so, He removed the protection that they enjoyed. The Jews crossed over “Ar” on the border of Moab. “So it came about when all the men of war had finally perished from among the people, that the LORD spoke to me, saying, ‘Today you shall cross over Ar, the border of Moab.”’ (Dt. 2:16-18). God told the Jews not to harass or provoke the “sons of Ammon” because they were the sons of Lot. “When you come opposite the sons of Ammon, do not harass them nor provoke them, for I will not give you any of the land of the sons of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot as a possession.’” (Dt. 2:19). God had previously honored this undeserving people by clearing the land of the other inhabitants for them. “(It is also regarded as the land of the Rephaim, for Rephaim formerly lived in it, but the Ammonites call them Zamzummin, a people as great, numerous, and tall as the Anakim, but the LORD destroyed them before them. And they dispossessed them and settled in their place, just as He did for the sons of Esau, who live in Seir, when He destroyed the Horites from before them; they dispossessed them and settled in their place even to this day. And the Avvim, who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and lived in their place.)” (Dt. 2:20-23). Yet, knowing their hearts were evil, God put fear into the Amorite king’s heart. “Arise, set out, and pass through the valley of Arnon. Look! I have given Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land into your hand; begin to take possession and contend with him in battle. This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under the heavens, who, when they hear the report of you, will tremble and be in anguish because of you.’” (Dt. 2:24-25). Like the King of Edom, Moses wrote a letter to request to peaceably cross the land of the Amorites: “So I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon king of Heshbon with words of peace, saying, ‘Let me pass through your land, I will travel only on the highway; I will not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (Dt. 2:26-27; same Nu. 21:21-22). Moses only asked that they sell him food and give him water as the Jews passed by on foot. “You will sell me food for money so that I may eat, and give me water for money so that I may drink, only let me pass through on foot, just as the sons of Esau who live in Seir and the Moabites who live in Ar did for me, until I cross over the Jordan into the land which the LORD our God is giving to us.’” (Dt. 2:28-29). Yet, unlike the Edomite king, King Sihon, whose name means “sweeping away” attacked Israel (Nu. 21:23). Once he decided to attack, God hardened his heart so that His glory could be revealed: “But Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through his land; for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him into your hand, as he is today.” (Dt. 2:30). Through God’s hand, he was soundly defeated, and Israel took possession of his cities. “The LORD said to me, ‘See, I have begun to deliver Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to occupy, that you may possess his land. Then Sihon with all his people came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz. The LORD our God delivered him over to us, and we defeated him with his sons and all his people. So we captured all his cities at that time and utterly destroyed the men, women and children of every city. We left no survivor. We took only the animals as our booty and the spoil of the cities which we had captured. From Aroer which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon and from the city which is in the valley, even to Gilead, there was no city that was too high for us; the LORD our God delivered all over to us. Only you did not go near to the land of the sons of Ammon, all along the river Jabbok and the cities of the hill country, and wherever the LORD our God had commanded us.” (Dt. 2:31-37; Nu. 21:24-31; Jdgs. 11:19-22). God also promises to protect you from your enemies. “When my enemies turn back, They stumble and perish before You.” (Ps. 9:3; 56:9; 118:6; Ro. 8:31). If you are doing His will, you should fear no man or woman. Let God be your shield by taking refuge in Him. “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5). If you have an enemy, have you taken refuge in Jesus?

  • God revealed the Jews’ defeat of the Amorites 400 years earlier. The defeat of the Amorites should have come as no surprise to the Jews. Exactly 400 years earlier, God revealed to Abraham that the sins of the Amorites would be ripe for judgment only after the Jews spent 400 years in oppression. ““God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” (Gen. 15:13-16). By the time the Jews reached the Amorite kingdom, exactly 400 years had passed. At that time, the Amorites had engaged in sins including temple prostitution, sacrificing children, and other hideous sins. Today, the US exports pornography, it celebrates abortion, and it imports more illegal drugs than any other country. Popular culture celebrates sorcery and witchcraft. It is now also popular to condemn defenders of traditional marriage as bigots. Isaiah once warned: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness . . .” (Is. 5:20). Malachi likewise warned: “You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, ‘How have we wearied Him?’ By saying, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them’ . . .” (Mal. 2:17). If we continue in our sins, should we expect our faith to be any different than the Amorites?

  • Pray for those who persecute you. Like Moses, we should never attack unless the Holy Spirit directs us to do so. In addition to taking refuge in Jesus and trusting in His promises, He also wants you to pray for and show love to your enemies. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5:44). “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Lk. 6:27). “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;” (Prov. 25:21; Ro. 12:20). “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Ro. 12:21). Are you praying for and showing love to your enemies?

  • Praise God for His deliverance from your enemies and His provision. Like Moses did in recounting the Jews’ journey in the wilderness, we are commanded to recount God’s provision for us and the many times that He has delivered us from our enemies. “I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old.” (Ps. 77:11). You are also encouraged to teach your children and grandchildren what God has done for you: “One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” (Ps. 145:4). Have you shared God’s blessings in your life with others? Have you praised Him for your provision and your protection?