I am in Deuteronomy 2 today. Though the numbers are debatable, there were possibly over a million people--and that is a very conservative estimate--wandering through the wilderness together for those 40 years. Can you imagine being a settled nation and seeing in the distance a million people coming over the hill? Ummmm, yeah.
Remember the Israelites were in the desert for their unbelief--until the "evil generation" had died off. Finally it appeared that they were allowing God to lead. (Oh how this can be a picture of us--rebellious and proud until we must face the consequences, then we humbly follow. That we would only learn.)
When the time had come, after 38 years in the desert, He said, "This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the nations under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you, and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you." (2:25) God then led them to overtake Heshbon; and Moses recounted, "there was not one city too strong for us; the Lord our God delivered all to us. Only you did not go...wherever the Lord our God had forbidden us." (2:36b-37)
There was much I took from this chapter: God's faithfulness to His promises to Esau (2:2-9) and Lot (2:18-19), and that His promises can be considered done--no obstacle will destroy His plan. But the thing that really hit was a little verse, similar to other passages found in the Old Testament. It says, "and we utterly destroyed the men, women, and the little ones of every city; we left none remaining." (2:34b)
Why? Why did God lead in utter destruction? Why not save the little children? These are difficult questions. And when we are faced with difficult questions in this life we have to go back to what we know about God in order for us to answer with wisdom.
We know that God is completely Holy, full of love and mercy, and perfectly just. We can stand on this as truth. We know that He sees all and knows all. We know that His ways are not our own. We can trust His character and His leading--even when we do not fully understand.
Knowing all of this--looking back at this difficult text--I would say that His character demanded complete destruction. These were nations who worshiped other gods--false gods. The God of this universe is Holy--completely other-than. We do not see the spiritual realm. We do not understand the allowance of even a child from a "wicked" nation. So it is at these points we must stand and rest on the character of God.
Our God is good. His motivation in your and my life is love. He wants intimacy with each one of us--to lavish His grace and mercy over our days. But we have to choose Him. Trust His character today even when you do not fully understand His ways. Follow His lead. He is forever faithful!