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Numbers 21:1 . King Arad; that is, Arad king of Arad. The way of the spies, is understood to be the route of the twelve spies sent from Kadesh-Barnea. But the LXX not understanding it so, render it, ‘by the way of Athairm;’ and as the Israelites did not follow the route of the spies, they seem to have rendered the words properly.
Numbers 21:2 . I will utterly destroy their cities. I will utterly devote, raze, or anathematize their cities. When a city or a nation was devoted, no spoil could be taken, as is exemplified in the case of Jericho, and of Amalek. Now, though they utterly destroyed those cities, yet the king of Arad and of Hormah escaped, it is thought, for the present, with part of their people, and were afterwards destroyed: or if they did not escape, they are enumerated among the vanquished kings. Joshua 12:14.
Numbers 21:6 . Fiery serpents; this text is cited, Deuteronomy 8:15, which the LXX render biting serpents. Here they read it, deadly serpents. St. Paul merely says, that they were destroyed of serpents. Herodotus says that he saw some preserved flying-serpents in Egypt, which resembled water- serpents. Their wings were destitute of feathers, and resembled those of the bat. Euterpe. These semi-wings were designed to assist them to leap on their prey.
Numbers 21:14 . The book of the wars of the Lord. A book of poetry, containing the fugitive odes, which celebrated the victories that the Lord had accorded to his people. It is presumed that some of those songs are still extant in the Psalms. This book of the wars was in high repute among the Hebrews, and was more ancient than the Pentateuch. It was lost by the Jews, as also the book of Gad, of Nathan, of Iddo, and of others. From odes of this kind, as well as histories, Homer composed his Iliad.
Numbers 21:28 . A fire; the flame of war, as in Isaiah 47:14. Amos 1:7.
In the destruction of Arad, of Sihon, and of Og, a man of gigantic stature, we see realized an adage of the heathen. “He whom God is about to destroy is first mad.” These men seemed successively infatuated to rush into immediate destruction. They commenced this war as wild beasts, without having the slightest recourse to treaty. Let us beware of rash and ill advised steps; and let the wicked fear, lest their iniquities being full, they should be hurried away by passion into the vortex of destruction.
In the murmuring of the Israelites, because of the wants and difficulties of travelling in the dreary desert, we see at last on a full scale the incorrigible character of certain wicked men. Surely the race redeemed from Egypt were deeply wicked both in heart and habit, or by so many miracles, and by so many deliverances they would have become resigned to the disposal of God, and confident in his care. Yet so far were they from having acquired these dispositions, that the moment fatigue, hunger or thirst, assailed them, they opened their mouths in the most venomous and malignant speeches against Moses and against God. What had they profited by all those judgments, and all those mercies which fell to their lot. Would no grace soften, no judgments humble hearts so hard and proud? Then they must perish, for the Most High must be glorified in all his ways. Behold now a multitude of serpents biting the people, whose mouths had emitted the poison of asps. Behold the subtle venom, freezing, even in their boiling blood, destroying life in its progress; and terribly announcing that, without a miraculous pardon, their souls would become a prey to the old serpent who is called the devil and Satan, and endure everlasting burning far more intolerable than that by which they were now consumed. It appears from St. Paul that they had tempted, or invoked the Lord to destroy them. He in anger answered their prayer, and now they fall vanquished at his feet.
In their distress they applied to Moses, whom just before they perhaps had openly cursed. The Lord, ever waiting to be gracious to the penitent, directs him to make a serpent of brass, and put it on a pole, that the wounded might be healed on beholding it by faith. This serpent was a most striking figure of our crucified Redeemer, and a proof not less striking of the truth of our religion. Let us illustrate the parallel. Israel was justly punished for his sin; and so it is with the whole human kind. No mediator being able to avail, a supernatural mode of healing was prescribed. We are of ourselves in the same situation, helpless, hopeless and dying. Christ, crucified on Calvary, is graciously set before us. There he was elevated in a conspicuous place. Proclamation was made throughout the camp, that the wounded should look and be healed. Christ also is exalted in the gospel, that all the ends of the earth may look to him and be saved: thus the means of the cure were free, easy, and well adapted to the helpless situation of the people. On looking, the cure was effectuated by a secret virtue from God, and instantaneously; and the moment a wounded sinner properly beholds the Saviour, all his guilt and all his fears subside, and the love of God is so shed abroad in his heart as to heal his disorderly propensities by sanctifying grace. The serpent continued to convey the virtue, or to be a sacramental test of conveying it, till all who looked were healed; and if any man despised it, he perished without remedy. The parallel is exactly true with regard to Jesus Christ and the gospel. This was the last miracle Moses performed for the people; and it was on the cross that our Saviour finished transgression, and presented his oblation to the Father for the healing of the nations. The comparisons might be far more enlarged; but they are so many and so striking, that it is morally impossible they should have happened by accident or chance. We will therefore glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Galatians 6:14. If the Jews stumble, if they pity us, and wonder that we should believe in a man crucified for salvation, we will rise higher in confidence; we will hurl back the feeble javelins of an infidel and infatuated sneer. We will ask how their offending fathers could rely on a serpent of brass to be healed of their deadly wounds. We will rest our faith on the letter of their own scripture, and force them to attest that the Old Testament is full of the Messiah crucified for us.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 21". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany