21:26 For Heshbon was the city of King Sihon of the Amorites. Now he had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken all of his land from his control, 1 as far as the Arnon. 21:27 That is why those who speak in proverbs 2 say,
“Come to Heshbon, let it be built.
Let the city of Sihon be established! 3
21:28 For fire went out from Heshbon,
a flame from the city of Sihon.
It has consumed Ar of Moab
and the lords 4 of the high places of Arnon.
21:29 Woe to you, Moab.
You are ruined, O people of Chemosh! 5
He has made his sons fugitives,
and his daughters the prisoners of King Sihon of the Amorites.
Heshbon has perished as far as Dibon.
We have shattered them as far as Nophah,
which 7 reaches to Medeba.”
1 sn There is a justice, always, in the divine plan for the conquest of the land. Modern students of the Bible often think that the conquest passages are crude and unjust. But an understanding of the ancient Near East is critical here. This Sihon was not a part of the original population of the land. He himself invaded the territory and destroyed the population of Moab that was indigenous there and established his own kingdom. The ancient history is filled with such events; it is the way of life they chose – conquer or be conquered. For Israel to defeat them was in part a turning of their own devices back on their heads – “those that live by the sword will die by the sword.” Sihon knew this, and he did not wait, but took the war to Israel. Israel wanted to pass through, not fight. But now they would either fight or be pushed into the gorge. So God used Israel to defeat Sihon, who had no claim to the land, as part of divine judgment.
2 sn Proverbs of antiquity could include pithy sayings or longer songs, riddles, or poems composed to catch the significance or the irony of an event. This is a brief poem to remember the event, like an Egyptian victory song. It may have originated as an Amorite war taunt song; it was sung to commemorate this victory. It was cited later by Jeremiah (48:45-46). The composer invites his victorious people to rebuild the conquered city as a new capital for Sihon. He then turns to address the other cities which his God(s) has/have given to him. See P. D. Hanson, “The Song of Heshbon and David’s Nir,” HTR 61 (1968): 301.
3 tn Meaning, “rebuilt and restored.”
4 tc Some scholars emend to בָּלְעָה (bal’ah), reading “and devoured,” instead of בַּעֲלֵי (ba’aley, “its lords”); cf. NAB, NRSV, TEV. This emendation is closer to the Greek and makes a better parallelism, but the MT makes good sense as it stands.
5 sn The note of holy war emerges here as the victory is a victory over the local gods as well as over the people.
6 tc The first verb is difficult. MT has “we shot at them.” The Greek has “their posterity perished” (see GKC 218 §76.f).
7 tc The relative pronoun “which” (אֲשֶׁר, ’asher) posed a problem for the ancient scribes here, as indicated by the so-called extraordinary point (punta extraordinaria) over the letter ר (resh) of אֲשֶׁר. Smr and the LXX have “fire” (אֵשׁ, ’esh) here (cf. NAB, NJB, RSV, NRSV). Some modern scholars emend the word to שֹׁאָה (sho’ah, “devastation”).