Moab and Midian
As we noted earlier, Moses' first speech was interrupted by a parenthetical insertion from Ezra in Deut. 2:10-12 in order to give us background data about the former inhabitants of Moab and Mount Seir. The Moabites were allies with the Midianites in those days. The land of Midian was further south on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba. But apparently a large settlement of Midianites had moved to Moab, for we find both groups being advised by Balaam at the same time (Num. 22:7).
When Balaam gave counsel to cause Israel to sin, it was “the daughters of Moab” (Num. 25:1) who invited them to sacrifice and commit fornication. However, the account then focuses upon “a Midianite woman” (Num. 25:6) whom an Israelite leader named Zimri had taken (Num. 25:14). The woman was likewise the daughter of one of the leaders in Midian (Num. 25:15). It is likely that this arrangement between two leaders was meant to cement a political alliance.
It appears that their leadership role also made them more accountable before God. God said in verses 17 and 18, “Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them, for they have been hostile to you with their tricks.” Moses then conducted the second census of the men of war in the wilderness (Num. 26) to prepare for war.
War with Midian
Strangely enough, in the ensuing war in Numbers 31 we find that Moab is not even mentioned. Instead, the war is directed at Midian.
1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites. . .” 7 So they made war against Midian. . . 8 And they killed the kings of Midian. . . the five kings of Midian; they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.
It is almost as if Moab has morphed into Midian. We get the impression that the Midianites were the dominant population, especially when we read that there were five Midianite kings.
The name Midian means “strife.” As a prophetic type in this incident, it speaks of the strife in the Church toward the end of the Pentecostal Age. The strife is entwined with the immorality of Moab and the teaching (or counsel) of Balaam (Rev. 2:14). At its root, all strife in the Church is caused by lawlessness in some area, for lawlessness (Gr., anomia) is anything that does not conform to the image of Christ and His character.
I believe it is significant as well that there were five kings of Midian. Five is the number of grace, and so the kings of strife in the Church specifically use grace as a weapon against the law and to justify their supposed “right” to sin (transgress the law).
Crossing the Brook Zered
Deut. 2:13, 14 continues,
13 Now arise and cross over the brook Zered yourselves. So we crossed over the brook Zered. 14 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. 15 Moreover, the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from within the camp, until they all perished.
The brook Zered was on the frontier between Moab and its northern neighbor, Ammon. In crossing Zered, Israel moved from Ije-abarim (Iim for short) to Dibon-gad, their 38th encampment in the list (Numbers 33:45). No doubt Moses saw the numerical connection between 38 years and their 38th encampment.
The 12 spies had given their report a year and a half after Israel left Egypt, leaving just 38-1/2 years for them to remain in the wilderness according to the judgment of God. They left Egypt in April of the year 2448 (from Adam), erected the tabernacle a year later in the same month, and then marched to Kadesh-barnea. The 12 spies searched the land 40 days and brought back the first ripe grapes (Num. 13:20), showing that it was now September of 2449. This was the time of the autumn feasts, technically the start of the next year (2450), and the 50th Jubilee from Adam (50 x 49).
So although their total time in the wilderness was 40 years, their time of judgment was just 38 years, dating from Kadesh-barnea. This number 38 is the biblical number for work or labor, either in the positive or the negative sense. Because Israel's judgment was linked to Adam by the 50-Jubilee cycle, Israel's judgment was similar to the labor that God imposed on Adam in Gen. 3:19.
Likewise, in both cases this sentence of labor was to end with a Sabbath-rest. Adam and his children and estate were to labor for 6 days (i.e., 6,000 years) before entering into God's rest. Likewise, Israel refused to enter God's rest at Kadesh-barnea, so their rest in the Promised Land was postponed while they labored in the wilderness for 38 years. This foreshadowed the wilderness period of the New Testament Church, for Heb. 4:8, 9 says,
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. 9 There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
Hence, we see the contrast between labor (38) and rest (7 and 50). Moses also emphasizes the fact that most of the people were sentenced to die in the wilderness for refusing to enter into God's rest. Each year, the Day of Atonement was their reminder, for they were required to set aside that day as a day of fasting, mourning, and repentance for their loss of Jubilee.
This sentence carried over into the New Testament Church as well, for once again every generation from the day of Pentecost to the present time has died in the wilderness without seeing the promise of God, the fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles. Nonetheless, as with Israel of old, there have been a few overcomers throughout the years who, like Caleb and Joshua, will be raised from the dead at the blowing of the Trumpet (Tishri 1), so that they will be alive when the feast of Tabernacles is fulfilled two weeks later.
We are told in Num. 33:45 that Israel crossed the Brook Zered to their 38th encampment at Dibon-gad. This later became a city, built by men of the tribe of Gad (Num. 32:34) and became part of the inheritance of that tribe east of the Jordan River. It was named to distinguish it from another settlement in the territory of Reuben that was also called Dibon (Joshua 13:9). Recall that Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh inherited land east of the Jordan River.
Do not Harass Ammon
Moses continues in Deut. 2:16-19,
16 So it came about when all the men of war had finally perished from among the people, 17 that the Lord spoke to me, saying, 18 You shall cross over Ar [Arnon], the border of Moab, today. 19 And 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.
Moab and Ammon were the two sons of Lot. God had given them land as a possession, and so they were not to be dispossessed. According to A Dictionary of the Bible, by John Davis, p. 507,
“Shortly before the arrival of the Israelites, Sihon, king of the Amorites, had wrested from them the pasture land north of the Arnon, though the country was still remembered as the land of Moab, confining Moab for a time to the country south of the Arnon (Num. xxi. 13-15, 26-30).”
So when Israel went around Edom, they remained on the north side of the Arnon River. They were technically in the land of Moab, but it had been occupied by the Amorites. This is the territory that Israel took for the inheritance of Reuben. The border with Moab was respected at the Arnon.