Iron Wall, Glass Chin (Devarim)
All things human hang by a slender thread; and that which seemed to stand strong suddenly falls and sinks in ruins. -Ovid
Moses recounts recent history to the generation about to enter the land of Canaan. He retells the very recent battle with King Sichon of the Emori and King Og of the Bashan and the lands they conquered. Moses adds a bit more detail about King Og, which is usually translated as follows:
“Only King Og of Bashan was left of the remaining Rephaim. His bedstead, an iron bedstead, is now in Rabbah of the Ammonites; it is nine cubits long and four cubits wide, by the standard cubit!”
The Rephaim were apparently a race of giants, and Og was the last surviving member of that group. To impress upon the listener how big Og was, Moses provides the dimensions of Og’s bed, implying Og’s massive size.
The key word is what we’ve translated as “bedstead” which in the original Hebrew is pronounced “Eres” and which does appear in other places in the Bible with the same meaning.
However, the Bechor Shor on Deuteronomy 3:11 has a completely different translation of the word “Eres.” He explains that “Eres” is not referring to a bed, but rather to a walled city. And that the dimensions provided are not the dimensions of Og’s bed, but rather of the height and thickness of the wall that protected Og’s city, which was as strong as iron. A loose translation of the verse according to the Bechor Shor would read as follows:
“Only King Og of Bashan was left of the remaining Rephaim. His fortified walls were like walls of iron, in Rabbah of the Ammonites; its walls are nine cubits high and four cubits thick, by the standard cubit!”
In this maverick interpretation of the word “Eres,” Moses’ description of Og becomes even more meaningful. Not only was Og the last of his race of giants, a formidable warrior and opponent, but he was also protected by perhaps one of the more fortified cities in antiquity, with walls of unusual height and width, making the walls as impenetrable as iron. Nonetheless, Moses and the nation of Israel are successful in repelling Og’s attack, vanquishing Og and his army and conquering his land.
For all of Og’s natural and engineered might and strength, he fell very quickly when God delivered him into the hands of Moses and Israel.
May giant opponents and iron obstacles never scare us.
To Herzog College for their fantastic Bible Study Days program (Yemei Iyun b’Tanakh).