In a Holy Spirit inspired history lesson, Moses was speaking to a new generation of Israelites. These were the adult children of the people God had led out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, and to the edge of the Promised Land — but they never entered in and took possession because they did not trust the Lord. In fact, they stubbornly refused to obey Him. In response to their rebellion God made them turn back toward the Red Sea (v.1) to wander in the wilderness for forty years. God would wait for their children to grow up to do what their parents would not. This explains why a journey that should have taken eleven days took four decades (see 1:2).
In this chapter Moses recalled the general route of their wilderness wandering, a slow circle that took them through the territory of the Edomites, the Moabites, and the Ammonites. At each of these places on their painfully tedious journey of punishment, God reminded the Israelites that they could not settle in and make that place their home (v.5, 9, 19). Their home was in Canaan, a fertile, beautiful homeland that God had given and they had refused to receive.
Don’t get the idea that these wilderness years were lived in a time-warp of frowns and depression. The wandering was a punishment, but there was always the hope of God’s promise which was still in force. I can imagine that as the elders talked to their children and grandchildren around the family fire and as they tucked them in at night, they often told them, “God is leading you to a new home! Don’t miss it like I did. When the time comes, be brave and trust the Lord…I sure wish I had.”
And don’t miss the statement in verse 7: all through the years of wandering, as one generation grew up and another grew old, God graciously provided for their needs and lovingly guided their steps. He did not abandon them; He did not stop loving them. That is encouraging, isn’t it? Even when we fall and fail and disappoint — God never stops loving us and teaching us and leading us to a better tomorrow.
After 38 years (v.14) the generation that had refused to enter the Promised Land had died in the wilderness. Once they were gone God led their children to conquer some of the “trans-Jordan” territories (east of the Jordan River) before they crossed over to conquer Canaan (this was land that would be settled by the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh). God led them to a decisive victory in the battle against King Sihon’s army (v.31-36). This new generation of Israelite warriors discovered what we must learn: when we trust God and obey His word, “there is not a city too high (or strong) for us” (v.36). There is no obstacle you will face today that is too big for God! So trust Him, step out on faith, stand on His promises, and live in victory!