Verse 19. Sihon king of the Amorites. Let the name be mentioned that the mercy may be the better remembered. Sihon smote Moab, but he could not smite Israel, for the Lord smote him. He was valiant and powerful, so as to be both great and famous; but as he wilfully refused to give a peaceful passage to the Israelites, and fought against them in malice, there was no choice for it but to let him run into that destruction which he courted. His fall was speedy and final, and the chosen people were so struck with it that they sung of his overthrow in their national songs.
For his mercy endureth for ever. His mercy is no respecter of persons, and neither the greatness nor the fame of Sihon could protect him after he had dared to attack Israel. The Lord will not forsake his people because Sihon blusters.
Come what may
By night or day,
Still most sure,
His love shall dure.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 19. Sihon occupied the whole district between the Arnon and Jabbok, through which the approach to the Jordan lay. He had wrested it from the predecessor of Balak, and had established himself, not in the ancient capital of Moab Ar, but in the city still conspicuous to the modern traveller from its wide prospect and its cluster of stone pines -- Heshbon. The recollection of his victory survived in a savage war song, which passed into a kind of proverb in after times: --
"Come home to Heshbon;
Let the city of Sihon be built and prepared,
For there is gone out a fire from Heshbon,
A flame from the city of Sihon.
It hath consumed Ar of Moab,
And the lords of the high places of Arnon:
Woe to thee, Moab; thou art undone, thou people of
He hath given his sons that escaped, and his daughters,
To the king of the Amorites, Sihon."
( Numbers 21:27-29 , repeated, as is well known, in
Jeremiah 48:45-46 .)
The decisive battle between Sihon and his new foes took place at Jahaz, probably on the confines of the rich pastures of Moab and the desert whence the Israelites emerged. It was the first engagement in which they were confronted with the future enemies of their nation. The slingers and archers of Israel, afterwards so renowned, now first showed their skill. Sihon fell; the army fled (Joseph. Ant. iv. 5, 2.) (so ran the later tradition), and devoured by thirst, like the Athenians in the Assinarus on their flight from Syracuse, were slaughtered in the bed of one of the mountain streams. The memory of this battle was cherished in triumphant strains, in which, after reciting, in bitter irony, the song just quoted of the Amorites' triumph, they broke out into an exulting contrast of the past greatness of the defeated chief and his present fall: --
"We have shot at them: Heshbon is perished:
We have laid them waste: even unto Nophah:
With fire: even unto Medeba." ( Numbers 31:30 .)
--Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, in "The History of the Jewish Church."