We have now come to the place in the historical prologue where Moses points to the success of Israel’s cousins—Edom, Moab and Ammon—in fighting and displacing giants (2:1-23). This is given as a very kind encouragement. “Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed mount Seir many days . . .” (Dt. 2:1-23).
We have to deal in the first place with the fact that there are different kinds of giants. Ambrose Bierce once gave a wonderful defintion of mythology which many moderns need to take to heart. He said that mythology was the “body of a primitive people’s beliefs concerning its origins, early history, heroes, deities and so forth, as distinguished from the true accounts which it invents later.” With this firmly in mind, the following terms are translated as gigantes in the Septuagint (and occasionally as titanes). And of course we need to know that anybody who doesn’t believe all this probably doesn’t believe in dragons either.
First, there were the Nephilim. The Nephilim proper were the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men (Gen. 6:1-4). The second category were the Rephaim; these were among the original inhabitants of Canaan (Gen. 15:20). They were likely descendants of a certain Repha (1 Chron. 20:4-8). Third were the Anakim. The Anakim are said to have their descent from the Nephilim (Num. 13:33). This means either that they were named after them because they were like them (most likely), or that one of Noah’s sons married one of them (unlikely), or that the flood didn’t kill everybody (not possible). Last are the gibborim: this can be rendered as “mighty men,” among whom Nimrod was numbered. Remember also that the Amorites were also giants (Amos 2:9-10). All these terms are used commonly together. In short, Canaan was a land full of giants.
The cousins of Israel had done well against the giants. Edom was the land given to Esau. The Lord commanded them to head north from Mt. Seir to the land of Edom (vv. 1-3). God said not to meddle with them at all (vv. 4-5). God had given that land to them (v. 5). This means two things—first, that God can do the same for Israel, giants or no giants, and secondly, that God is no tribal deity; He not the “god of the hills.” He is the God of the nations. They were to buy their food and drink from Edom, not take it (v. 6). God would supply as He had thus far (v. 7).
Moab was the land set aside for the sons of Lot. They came to the regions of Moab (v. 8), where the same restrictions applied (v. 9). The Moabites had whipped the Emmim—who related to the Anakim because both were Rephaim (vv. 10-11). The Horim were probably giants too, and yet God had given this land to Moab (v. 12).
The brook Zered was the place where Israel was poised on the brink of invasion, thirty-eight years after the provocation (vv. 13-14). The time elapsed was necessary for all the warriors of the previous generation to be consumed and die (v. 14-16), just as the Lord had sworn.
The Ammonites were also for Lot. When Israel passed by Moab (vv. 17-18), they came to the children of Ammon, and the same conditions applied here (v. 19). The Ammonites had defeated the Zamzummim, also among the Rephaim (v. 20). They also were big, but the Ammonites took them (v. 21). And of course, there were other miscellaneous giants—Edom fought Horim too (v. 22), along with the Avim and Caphtorim (v. 23). The Caphtorim are probably Philistines from Crete. The implication in all this is “go thou and do likewise.” If the Moabites, and Edomites, and Ammonites can all take on the giants, then Israel, adopted by the Lord God, could certainly take on the giants.
We have to recognize the importance of fighting giants. It is truly odd that pictures of this (in Bible story books, and so on) do not record the fact that Joshua led Israel into the land of giants, in order to displace those giants. This is a motif throughout Scripture. In addition to the battles we are considering here, we should note how the war against giants continues through to the end of the Bible. We all know the particular story of David and Goliath, but it must also be seen as part of a larger, ongoing war on giants (2 Sam. 21: 19-22). David was privileged to take out one of the last of these adversaries.
Christ bound the strong man: what we find in the life and death of Jesus Christ is not an example of a godly giant fighting a puny devil. Rather, Christ became one of us, and, as a son of David, He bound and defeated the Goliaths of that age (Luke 11:21-22). Christ takes all the strong man’s armor (panoply), and divides the spoil.
And here is the point of the metaphor for us. Who is it that overcomes? Is it not the one who has faith? If this is the case, and it is, then what are the giants in your life? What are you called to do about it? The Great Commission says what it says very plainly. The Christian faith is a religion of world conquest through evangelization. Are the giants here big enough to qualify as giants? There are two approaches to take with giants — the first is that of unbelief and the second is one of faith. Unbelief says that the giants are too big to defeat. Faith says that giants are too big to miss.