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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 21

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-3


Verses 1-3:

"Arad" was the name of a Canaanite king who lived in the Negev (the south, see Nu 13:17). It was also the name of the place where he lived, Jos 12:14; Jg 1:16. Scripture indicates it lay in the southernmost part of the territory assigned to Judah. Eusebius locates it about twenty Roman miles south of Hebron. Modern geographers place it as Tel-Arad.

"Spies," atharim, "places or districts," so translated in Ezr 5:15, 6:3, 5, 7; Da 2:35. This term implies that a specific place is meant; note that spies brought a report to the king. It appears that this place was so named because it was the route the spies took when sent by Moses to scout the Land.

Arad learned that Israel proposed to travel this route. He launched a surprise, unprovoked attack, and took a number of them prisoner. This attack was not a Divine judgment for disobedience.

Israel vowed to destroy Arad’s cities if Jehovah would give victory in battle. God heard their prayer, and delivered the Canaanites into their hand. Israel kept their vow, and utterly destroyed the cities of Arad.

"Hormah," meaning "a devoted place," one set apart for destruction. The site is today Tell es-Sheriah, about midway between Gaza and Beersheba. This name denotes the site of Israel’s defeat by the Amalekites, Nu 14:45; De 1:44. But in the encounter with Arad, Israel was victorious!

Verses 4-6

Verses 4-6:

The journey from Mount Hor was probably begun in the month Elul, corresponding to August-September. This was the hottest and driest part of the year. The route lay along the Arabah, toward Ezion-geber, at the head of the Gulf of ’Akabah, a gulf off the Red Sea. From there they turned to the east and north, up the Wadi el then toward the steppes of Moab.

"Discouraged," qatsar, "to be or become shortened;" also translated "straitened, grieved, vexed."

"Because of the way," refering to the route along which they traveled. The Arabah is a rocky, barren plain hemmed in on either side by mountains, and is subject to sandstorms. Also, the direction of their march was away from their goal, Canaan.

Once more the people spoke against God and Moses. They charged that Moses had brought them from the abundance of Egypt to die in the barren wilderness. There was no "bread" to eat and no water to drink. This complaint was unjustified. There was a supply of manna each morning. And God furnished them with water from the rock.

"Loatheth," guts, "to be vexed, weary," also translated "distressed, grieved."

"Light bread," lechem qeloqel, "very light food" in contrast to the rich, succulent food of Egypt.

"Fiery serpents," nachash saraph, serpents of a fiery red (copper) color. The term describes the appearance of the snakes, rather than their venomous bite.

These brilliantly colored serpents invaded Israel’s camp, biting many of the people. Their victims died in large numbers.

Verses 7-9

Verses 7-9:

The people confessed their sin, and asked Moses to intercede with God for them. God heard his prayer, and provided a remedy for those bitten by the serpents. This illustrates a Divine principle: when a sinner confesses his sin and cries out for mercy; God hears and forgives and cleanses, 1Jo 1:7-9.

The remedy was simple: Moses fashioned a snake of brass (copper or bronze), and attached it to a pole, which he erected where all could behold it. Anyone bitten by one of the serpents could look upon this "brazen" serpent, and he would be instantly healed.

"Pole," nes, "sign, banner, ensign, standard." The term denotes the most conspicuous of the military banners, usually placed on an elevation and serving as a rallying point for the various groups

Jesus refereed to this event as a type of salvation, Joh 3:14, 15. Jesus was to be "lifted up" in the same manner that Moses "lifted up" the serpent. The Lord describes His "lifting up" as His death, Joh 8:28; 12:32-34, which was crucifixion on a "pole" or "tree." One need only to look to Jesus in faith, and be healed immediately and completely of the fatal "bite" of sin.

The brazen serpent in later years became an object of worship, but Hezekiah destroyed it, referring to it as "Nehushtan," a "piece of brass," 2 Kings 18:4.

Verses 10-11

Verses 10, 11:

Nu 33:41-43 lists two other stops between Mount Hor and Oboth. The present location of many of these stations is uncertain. But what may be known for certain is that Israel passed around the southern border of Edom, then turned north along Edom’s eastern border along the route to Damascus.

Israel’s willingness to take this circuitous route apparently set at rest some of the hostility of the king of Edom, as he realized that Israel had no hostile designs upon his territory. De 2:6 appears to imply that Israel was able to purchase supplies from the Edomites on this leg of their journey.

"Ije-abarim," ridges of heaps or ruins, present location uncertain, appears to refer to the region on the east of Moab.

Verses 12-16

Verses 12-16:

"Valley of Zared," literally, "brook of Zared," the upper part of Wadi Kerek, a stream flowing into the Dead Sea.

"Arnon," a sizeable stream flowing to the Dead Sea through a steep ravine, known today as Wadi Mojeb. The text indicates that Israel was keeping well to the east of the territory of Moab, in keeping with the command not to fight against them, De 2:9.

Arnon was the boundary at that time between Moab and the Amorites. The latter had wrested control of part of Moab, and occupied the territory between Arnon and the Jabbok.

The "book of the Lord," a book of which nothing today is known. It was likely a volume written to commemorate special events, historical but not inspired. The reference here appears to be to an event in the history of the people of that region.

"Ar," the Hebrew word for city.

"Beer," meaning "well," where Israel was instructed to dig for water, rather than to wait for God to give them water from the rock. Here God supplied their needs by natural means, rather than by a miracle. But even this natural supply was at the command of God.

Verses 17-20

Verses 17-20:

Israel expressed their joy for the well in a song of praise. This was in contrast to their former complaining.

Moses and the princes of Israel entered joyously into the task of digging the well. For this the people rejoiced.

"By direction of the lawgiver," literally, "with the scepter." This implies that the princes, including Moses, used the insignia of their office to initiate the work.

"Mattanah," meaning "a gift," the next stop after leaving Beer. From there they traveled to Nahaliel, probably the Wadi Zerqa Main which flows into the eastern part of the Dead Sea, about midway.

"Bamoth," meaning "high places." This was likely the Bamoth­Baal mentioned in Nu 22:41; Jos 13:17, the place Balak took Balaam.

"Pisgah," a mountain on the northeast shore of the Dead Sea, today known as Ras es-Siaghah. It was from the top of this mountain that God allowed Moses to view the Promised Land, De 3:27; 34:1. It is closely identified with Mount Nebo, a nearby peak.

"Jeshimon," meaning "a waster or desert," often used to refer to the desert of Sinai. In this instance, it is likely the plain to the north of the Dead Sea, overlooked from Mount Pisgah. It is a barren, desolate land whose hills are historically the home of outlaws, 1Sa 23:19-24; 26:1-3. Israel apparently remained at this site a considerable time.

Verses 21-23

Verses 21-23:

The Amorites were of Canaanite descent, Ge 10:16, and thus were not kin to Israel as were the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites. They were among those whom Israel was commanded to drive out of the Land because of their iniquity, Ge 15:16.

Sihon and his people were intruders into the region. They had only recently taken from Moab all of his territory north of the Arnon. Their occupation of this region led to Israel’s possession of the Trans-Jordan region.

Israel requested permission from Sihon to be allowed to cross his territory, as they had earlier done with Edom, Nu 20:14-17. As in the case of Edom, permission was denied. Sihon assembled his military forces to resist any attempt by Israel to cross his land.

"Jahaz," the site of Israel’s encounter with Sihon. Nothing further is known of this locality.

Verses 24-30

Verse 24-30:

This was the first major military operation of Israel’s new generation. It was a critical campaign, against a powerful army which had only recently occupied a portion of the territory of Moab. It is likely that Joshua was now their commander. Israel was victorious in this campaign.

The Jabbok runs in a large, curve northward, northwest, and west, emptying into the Jordan about forty-five miles north of the Arnon. It formed the boundary of Sihon’s territory, with the kingdom of Og, and the land of the Ammonites. Sihon did not attack the Ammonites, as their city Rabbah was a strong fortress which afforded protection as late as David’s reign, 2Sa 11, 12.

Israel captured and occupied the cities of Sihon’s territory. The most prominent was Heshbon, a city situated half way between Arnon and Jabbok, about eighteen miles east of where Jordan flows into the Dead Sea. Sihon had made this city his capitol when he conquered that territory.

"They that speak in proverbs," a class or group of those with poetic gift who expressed in poetry the significance of important events. Their song at the overthrow of Sihon is a taunt against the Amorites, who were victorious over Moab but were now themselves overthrown.

Chemosh was the national deity of Moab. This song also tells of the inability of Chemosh to deliver his devotees in time of trouble.

"Dibon" is a city whose present site is unknown.

"Nophah," the city mentioned in Jg 8:11.

"Medeba," about six miles south by southeast of Heshbon. In David’s time it was a fortress, 1Ch 19:7.

Verses 31-35

Verses 31-35:

"Jaazer," the present es-Szir, a city to the north of Heshbon. With the capture of this city, the conquest of Sihon’s territory was complete.

No explanation is given. of the reason for the campaign against Bashan. This was a territory north of the Jabbok.

"Og" was from a race of giants famous in that region, De 2:10-12, 20-23; Jos 12:4; 13:12. He is listed with Sihon as a king of the Amorites, Jos 2;10.

"Bashan," the plain known today as Jaulan and Haulan beyond the Mandhur, a large stream flowing into the Jordan a few miles below the Sea of Galilee.

Og’s kingdom included the major portion of Gilead, a region much more fertile than Bashan. The cities of this kingdom were strong and well fortified. They could not have been captured without Jehovah’s enabling.

"Edrei," probably Edhar’ah, about twenty-four miles from Bozrah.

God assured Moses of Israel’s victory over Og. Israel was not to fear him, regardless of his size or the strength of his fortified cities. They smote him just as they had done to Sihon and the Amorites.

Israel’s victories over Sihon and Og were intended to prepare them for the campaign to conquer Canaan. As God had given them victory over these two strong kings, so would He give victory over the fierce tribes of Canaan.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Numbers 21". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/numbers-21.html. 1985.
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