Devarim: Give peace a chance

“And I [Moses] sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to King Sihon of Heshbon with words of peace.”  (Deut. 2:26)

Moses does this even though God had already said “I have handed over to you King Sihon the Amorite of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession by engaging him in battle”  (2:24).  Instead, Moses asks Sihon if he can travel through his land in as peaceful,  “low-impact” and self-sufficient  a manner as possible:  “If you let me pass through your land, I will travel only along the road; I will turn aside neither to the right nor to the left. You shall sell me food for money, so that I may eat, and  supply me water for money, so that I may drink.”  (2:27-28).

Sihon refuses, and the battle is joined, but we have to assume that had he accepted the terms, Moses would have honored them, even though this goes against the express command of 2:24.  In examining Moses’ actions, the ancient interpreters turn to Psalm 34:15, which not only says “seek peace” but adds “and pursue it.” This imparts a special urgency to acts done for the sake of peace, which not only justifies Moses’ action, but makes it exemplary.

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