The Scriptorium

Thirty-Eight Years

A little disobedience goes a long way. Deuteronomy 2.1-25

From Egypt to Moab: Deuteronomy 1, 2 (5)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 95.1, 2, 6
Oh come, let us sing to the LORD!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

Psalm 95.1, 2, 6

(Tidings: O Zion, Haste, Thy Mission High Fulfilling)
Come, let us sing with joy to God, our Savior!
Let us with joy to Him, our Rock, bow down!
Come now before Him, grateful for His favor;
let joyful psalms break forth from all around.
Refrain, v. 6
Come let us worship, kneel to our Lord;
worship our Maker: Father, Holy Spirit, Word.

Today’s Text: Read Deuteronomy 2.1-25

1. Which nations were the Israelites not to harass? Why?

2. What did God promise His people?

These verses recount the thirty-eight years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, waiting for the last of the unbelieving and rebellious generation to die off (v. 14). The book of Numbers gives more detail on these years (chapters 14-36).

God cautioned Israel not to trouble the people of Edom and Moab. He had given them their land, and Israel was to respect that and “pay their way” en route to their own land (vv. 2-12). That didn’t mean that those nations would be friendly to the people of God; quite the opposite, in fact, as time would tell.

Two curious historical asides appear in this text. The first, in verses 10-12, explains about the people called the Emim and those called the Horites. Notice what is said here: “The Horites formerly dwelt in Seir, but the descendants of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them, and dwelt in their place, just as Israel did to the land of their possession which the LORD gave them” (v. 12). This is important because it gives us an insight to the culture of the times. The descendants of Esau “dispossessed and destroyed” the Horites, because that’s what people did in those days. That’s why God would instruct Israel to do the same. International affairs was not a game for sissies in those days; it was kill or be killed. Period.

The second historical aside, verses 20-23, deals with the people called the Zamzummim, “a people as great and as numerous and tall as the Anakim.” But they, too, became victims of the way of things in those days. It was apparently the Ammonites whom God enlisted to destroy and dispossess them. Then, in verse 23, we read about the Avim whom the Caphtorites destroyed and dispossessed (v. 23).

This was the way of things in those days. And if Israel was to gain and keep the land promised to them, it would not be by diplomacy or treaties or fond hopes. They would have to fight to the death for it, and they did (v. 25). God promised to be with them, just as He had promised to be with their unbelieving parents (v. 25). The implied lesson was clear: Don’t make the same mistake they did.

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
As Jesus would say it in His day, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8.31, 32). Trust and obey – that’s the only way for believers to gain entry to the promises of God:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” (Sammis and Towner, 1887)

“Therefore watch yourselves carefully” (Deut. 2.4).


1. Why does a lack of trust in the Lord invariably lead to failing to obey?

2. Does God sometimes leave us to wander from Him? How can we know when that happens to us?

3. Why was it important that Moses should rehearse the history of their parents to the generation of Israelites before him? What’s the lesson here for us?

He says, then, that after thirty-eight years they had at length returned to the land from whence they had been obliged to retire; and briefly reminds them how long the course of their deliverance had been interrupted through their own fault, since they had gone forth to enjoy the promised land.
John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Deuteronomy 2.13

Lord, I know that we must lay hold on the promises through faith and obedience, so help me to believe and obey as I…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 95.6-11.
Worship the Lord, and rejoice in His salvation! Prepare in prayer for the temptations, trials, and distractions of the day, and resolve before the Lord to obey Him in all your ways.

Psalm 95.6-11.
(Tidings: O Zion, Haste, Thy Mission High Fulfilling)
You are our God, we are Your sheep, Your people:
Speak, Lord, and let us hearken to Your Word.
Let not our hearts grow hard through sin, and feeble,
as when our fathers sinned against You, Lord.

Long years You loathed that wicked generation,
who in their hearts, rebelled against Your path.
Them You forsook, and kept from Your salvation;
them You subjected to Your fearsome wrath.

T. M. and Susie Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore