SOAP Journal – 27 March 2017 (Numbers 21:22-24)

“Let me pass through your land. We will not turn off into field or vineyard; we will not drink water from wells. We will go by the king’s highway until we have passed through your border.” But Sihon would not permit Israel to pass through his border. So Sihon gathered all his people and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. Then Israel struck him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the sons of Ammon; for the border of the sons of Ammon [was] Jazer.

Numbers 21:22-24

The Israelites, in their wanderings, had to pass through kingdoms. When they arrived at some of them — the kingdom of the Moabites and the kingdom of the Amorites, for example — the Israelites sent in messengers asking permission to pass through. The statement made was the same each time they asked permission and boiled down to a promise not to take any of the resource of the land or to pay for whatever they might need. The king of Moab refuses to let the Israelites pass through his kingdom, so the Israelites go around. The king of the Amorites, on the other hand, gets hostile and comes out with his army.

The mistrust shown by the king of Moab seems somewhat reasonable. A large group of wandering people presents a very real danger to a settled nation. So the king of Moab refuses. Twice. And the Israelites go around.

The king of the Amorites is a different story. By this time, word has probably reached him that the Israelites are wandering around and there had to have been reports that everything was fine while they were present and after they left. The Amorites had even taken land from the Moabites a generation prior, thus presumably had a stronger military and the Israelites went around when the Moabites told them they could not pass through. The king’s violent response seems out of proportion to the real and perceived danger.

So Sihon, king of the Amorites, brings out his army and fights against the Israelites. And he loses. The Israelites end up defeating Sihon and his army and wiping out the people living there and living in the cities.

There is a lesson on both sides of this exchange.

From the Israelites, I learn that starting with the peaceful option will not always result in a peaceful outcome. The Israelites tried to just pass through quietly. They sent in messengers and asked permission and would, presumably, have gone around if told that they could not pass through. Sihon did not leave them a peaceful option.

From Sihon and the Amorites I learn that I need to rightly understand the situation. Maybe Sihon thought that his army could take the Israelites — and the raw numbers might have backed his thoughts on the matter. Maybe Sihon thought that the Israelites presented a more dire threat to his people than they actually did. In any event, Sihon did not take the time to fully understand the situation and ended up defeated and dead.

So it is that I might try to do things peacefully and not be permitted the peaceful path by those with whom I am dealing. I might wrongly evaluate the situation and end up defeated. Let me begin with the peaceful solution, but be aware that it may not be permitted to proceed. Let me take the time to fully understand the situation in which I find myself and to act when I am as certain as I can be that I am acting from a place of prayer and thoughtfulness, not from a reactionary impulse.

Thank You, Father, for this account. Thank You for the reminder that the peaceful way is not always allowed  by everyone and for the reminder that not every situation is quite as dire as I might be inclined to think it is. Please slow my impulse to react and let me pray and think first. Please teach me to begin with the peaceful option but to be ready to deal with the alternative if the peaceful option is not pursued by those with whom I must deal.

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