Why did the Jews conquer the land of Og and Sichon? Mentioned in parshas chukas at the end of it.

We see they didn't intend to inherit the land and settle there, since Moshe rabainu was very angry when he heard that the tribes of Reuvain and Gad wanted it. So, without Reuvain and Gad's wanting it, it most likely would have been left desolate, either forever or until some other people took it. Since Moshe didn't want it, why did he go to war with Og and Sichon at all?

  • Was it because they are considered among the seven nations which have to be wiped out although they were not living in Israel?
  • Or because he couldn't bypass them en route to Israel.
  • Or were the people of the land of Canaan paying tribute to Og and Sichon to stop the Jewish people getting to Canaan (as it seems Bolok was doing)?
  • Or was Moshe scared they would afterwards join up with kings of the land of Canaan and fight against him so he put them away first?

Does anyone have any documented reason for it?

  • If Balak was paying Sichon and Og tribute to stop the Jews from getting to K'naan, doesn't that answer your question?
    – msh210
    May 31, 2013 at 16:18
  • Why was this downvoted? Seems like a good question to me
    – Daniel
    May 31, 2013 at 16:56
  • Daniel I AGREE. Balak was king of Moab (not of Canaan) which the Jews didnt 'touch'so that doesnt answer my question. Unless like I wrote the kings of Canaan were paying tribute.
    – expern
    May 31, 2013 at 17:12
  • @Daniel I downvoted it because (a) it was written so poorly as to be hard to read ("unclear" is one of the reasons in the downvote button's tooltip) and (b) it has no context (indication of when Jews conquered the land of Og and Sichon, or how we know they did).
    – msh210
    May 31, 2013 at 17:43
  • Well it is mentioned in the chumash in parshas chukas next week at the end of it.
    – expern
    May 31, 2013 at 17:51

2 Answers 2


Read Bamidbar 21:21-23, where it says that Bnei Yisrael wished to pass through the land of Sichon and Og peacefully and without conflict. However, Sichon gathered an army and attacked first. We simply had to defend ourselves.

  • If you read between the lines in the posuk this was only a ruse. Moshe rabainu knew in advance they would come and fight. My question was it seemed for some reason that he had to fight them. I gave possible ones, there may be others.
    – expern
    May 31, 2013 at 17:16
  • Alex has quoted a ramban which give the correct reason.
    – expern
    Jun 2, 2013 at 16:59
  • 1
    I didn't see the Ramban, but I find the idea that this was a ruse very unconvincing. The Midrash Tanchuma on this story uses the pasuk "seek peace and chase after it” (Tehillim 34:15), to justify what Moshe did. In Halacha L'Ma'aseh, Rambam rules that that we cannot start wars without first offering peace (Hilchot Melachim 6:1). With so much emphasis on peace and making treaties, is it really fair and pashut to say that Moshe just wanted a pretext for war? Jun 3, 2013 at 1:56

The land in question is indeed part of the land promised to Avraham (and hence of halachic Eretz Yisrael). We see this from the fact that the Torah describes this area as "the land of the Rephaim" (Deut. 3:13, see Rashi there) - where the Rephaim are one of the nations listed in the covenant that Hashem made with Avraham (Gen. 15:20). Indeed, the very reason that Hashem allowed Sichon and Og to conquer those territories from their former owners (the nations of Moab and Ammon) was to "purify" them and make them available for the Jews to take them without violating the commandments to leave Moab and Ammon alone (Num. 21:26 and Rashi; Judg. 11:16ff; Gittin 38a).

So even without the Gadites and Reuvenites making their claim, it still was going to be Jewish territory. One possibility, then, is that it would have been considered a common area for all of the tribes to use for grazing their animals. Indeed, we find reference (II Sam. 18:6) to a "forest of Ephraim" on that side of the Jordan, where the commentaries to that verse explain that this was an area regularly used for that purpose by the Ephraimites, whose land was across the river.

  • Just because it was going to be one day Jewish territory like moab will be in the time of moshiach is no reason to conquer it now. I think the ramban says it would have been left desolate. When I find it I shall put it into the question.
    – expern
    May 31, 2013 at 17:54
  • 1
    @expern: only the first three nations listed in Genesis (Keini, Kenizi, Kadmoni) are reserved for Moshiach's times; the other seven (including Rephaim) were for the Jewish people in that time.
    – Alex
    May 31, 2013 at 20:24
  • 1
    Also, okay, I see the Ramban you're referencing - Num. 21:21-22. Indeed, then, he says something along the lines of Eilu V'Eilu's answer: that far from a ruse, Moshe indeed expected Sichon to sue for peace, and for him and his people to become vassals of the Jews (while retaining control of their land); when indeed Sichon went to war against them, there was no choice but to fight (and end up conquering the territory). Incidentally, too, Ramban's "desolate" (לחרבה) might well fit with my suggestion that it would have been used for pasture.
    – Alex
    May 31, 2013 at 20:29
  • Thanks. This does answer the question. Becoming a vassal is not my idea of peace and certainly not to be expected. This doesnt sound like Moshe's words of just passing through the land which can only be a ruse. Looking at the ramban this is something new. They were Emorites one of the seven nations and even though not in Canaan so didnt have to be 'wiped' out they still had to become a vassal even before moshiach.
    – expern
    Jun 2, 2013 at 5:53
  • @expern: see Deut. 20:10ff (Ramban cites these verses), which describe just that situation: "If you approach a city to fight against it, you shall first make an offer of peace. If they answer in peace and open [their gates] to you, then all the people in it shall be tributary to you and serve you. If they do not surrender, and fight against you, then you shall besiege it..." Nothing to do with whether they're from the Seven Nations or not - see ibid. 20:15.
    – Alex
    Jun 2, 2013 at 15:52

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