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Wednesday, June 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 21

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-3

The Journey around the Land of Edom. the king of arad subdued.

v. 1. And when King Arad, the Canaanite, literally, "the Canaanite, king of Arad," which dwelt in the south, in the extreme southern part of Canaan, next to the Wilderness of Paran and the Desert of Zin, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies, along the road which the Israelitish spies had taken more than a generation ago, then he fought against Israel, made a sudden attack upon their army, and took some of them prisoners.

v. 2. And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord and said, If Thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.

v. 3. And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, He heard their earnest prayer, in which they placed their entire trust in Him alone, and delivered up the Canaanites, gave them into the hands of Israel; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities; and he, Moses, called the name of the place Hormah (utter destruction). Cf Numbers 14:15. Thus the Lord, even before the children of Israel moved away toward the south, in order to march around the country of Edom, gave His people evidence of His almighty assistance, lest they should become too disheartened at the prospect of the long journey before them.

Verses 4-9

The Fiery Serpents

v. 4. And they journeyed from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, southward, along the western border of Edom, through the Wilderness of Paran, to compass the land of Edom, whose dominion extended almost to the Elanitic Gulf, the eastern arm of the Red Sea; and the soul of the people was much discouraged, filled with impatience, because of the way. To turn back once more, after reaching the boundary of the Land of Promise, imposed too great a strain upon their trust in God.

v. 5. And the people spake against God and against Moses, not rebelling openly, but murmuring against the divine guidance and the leading of Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread, the manna. The Hebrew brings out the peevishness of the complaint: "For not is there bread, and not is there water, and our soul feels nausea over this miserable bread. " They saw before them only a hopeless existence, an endless desert journey, ending with a miserable death in the midst of the dreary wastes.

v. 6. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, whose bite filled the wound with a burning venom, very deadly, and they bit the people, who were unable to rid themselves of the plague; and much people of Israel died.

v. 7. Therefore the people came to Moses and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against thee; the punishment which the Lord visited upon them worked a knowledge of their sins in them, brought them to repentance. Pray unto the Lord that He take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people, assumed the role of mediator, as he had done so often.

v. 8. And the Lord said unto Moses, in a command which was adapted to the situation and was of great typical significance, Make thee a fiery serpent, cast a figure which is an exact reproduction of one, and set it upon a pole, like a standard; and it shall come to pass that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. The reference is, of course, not to a casual glance, which even an unbelieving Israelite might cast upon the figure, but to the look of faith resting upon the divine promise. For such a look was an acknowledgment of sin, a longing for deliverance from its penalty, and a trusting in the means appointed by God for healing.

v. 9. And Moses made a serpent of brass, as much in form and appearance like the fiery serpents as possible, and put it upon a pole. And it came to pass that, if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, that is, if he looked at it with the faith which the occasion required, he lived. It was because the Israelites, with their sin, tempted Christ, that they were destroyed by the serpents, 1 Corinthians 10:9. And, on the other hand, because they had faith in the promises of God, they were healed. Note that the figure made by Moses was a type of Christ, John 3:15-16. God sent His Son in the form of our sinful flesh, but without sin. And Christ, the Holy One of God, was lifted up on the cross to expiate the sin of all mankind, which lay upon Him. No matter who it is among sinful men, if he but looks upon the crucified Christ in faith, he will not perish, but have everlasting life.

Verses 10-20

From Oboth to Jeshimon

v. 10. And the children of Israel set forward and pitched in Oboth, somewhere on the eastern side of the Land of Seir.

v. 11. And they journeyed from Oboth and pitched at Ijeabarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sun rising, on the eastern boundary of the land of Moab.

v. 12. From thence they removed and pitched in the Valley of Zared, a small river which flows into the southeastern corner of the Dead Sea.

v. 13. From thence they removed and pitched on the other side of Arnon, a small river which flows into the Dead Sea from the east, midway between its northern and southern extremities, which is in the wilderness that cometh out of the coasts of the Amorites; for Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. Their camp here was beyond, that is, on the south side of, the river Arnon, and east of the territory of Moab.

v. 14. Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the Lord, probably a collection of epics dealing with the adventures of the children of Israel during their desert journey and until they gained possession of the Land of Promise, What He did in the Red Sea and in the brooks of Arnon, the various tributaries which unite to form the Arnon,

v. 15. and at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar and lieth upon the border of Moab. The quotation offers some difficulties, since it is taken out of its connection, but may probably be rendered as follows: And onward (Jehovah led them) unto the Red Sea, and to the brooks of Arnon, and to the slope of the brooks which extends to the dwelling of Ar and flanks the boundary of Moab. The words reflect, in a measure, the heroic mood which possessed the children of Israel as they came near the end of their journey.

v. 16. And from thence they went to Beer; that is the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water. The people, having dug a well under the direction of Moses, by the command of God, found excellent water, and therefore praised the Lord in a song of thanksgiving.

v. 17. Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it.

v. 18. The princes digged the well, or, well dug for the princes, the nobles of the people digged it, hollowed it out, by the direction of the lawgiver, that is, with their scepters, as the symbols of their authority, with their staves, since they directed the work. And from the wilderness they went to Mattanah,

v. 19. and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth,

v. 20. and from Bamoth in the valley, that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looketh toward Jeshimon. So they reached the wide valley which is in the fields of Moab, a plateau which on the one side overlooks the desert on the other slopes down to the Dead Sea. While the location of these camps, for the most part, is a matter of conjecture, the text plainly shows that the army of Israel, having marched around the Land of Seir and skirted the extreme edge of the land of the Moabites, pretty well out in the Arabian Desert, now turned westward, along the southern banks of the tributaries of the Arnon, until the host reached the more thickly settled portions of the lands under Moabitish dominion. So God had made good His promise to the people and led them safely and well to the very boundaries of Canaan, although they were still on the eastern side of the Dead Sea and the river Jordan.

Verses 21-35

The Overthrow of Sihon and Og

v. 21. And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon, king of the Amorites, the heathen nation which occupied the country north of the Arnon, saying,

v. 22. Let me pass through thy land; we will not turn into the fields or into the vineyards; we will not drink of the waters of the well, but we will go along by the king's highway until we be past thy borders. The message and its import agreed exactly with that sent to the Edomites some months before, Numbers 20:17.

v. 23. And Sihon would not suffer Israel to pass through his border; but Sihon gathered all his people together and went out against Israel into the wilderness, to drive out the invaders; and he came to Jahaz, a place in the southeastern part of his dominion, and fought against Israel. In this case, however, the children of Israel were not hindered by special considerations, as in the case of the Edomites, the Moabites, and the Ammonites, Deuteronomy 2:5-9; Deuteronomy 2:37, but had received the express command to give battle, Deuteronomy 2:24.

v. 24. And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, without giving quarter or showing mercy, and possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon, who lived mainly north of the Jabbok; for the border of the children of Ammon was strong.

v. 25. And Israel took all these cities; and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all the villages thereof.

v. 26. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon, the king of the Amorites, his capital, who had fought against the former king of Moab and taken all his land out of his hand, even unto Arnon, all the territory from the Arnon northward to the Jabbok, beyond which he was not able to penetrate on account of the strength of the border fortifications, v. 24.

v. 27. Wherefore they that speak in proverbs, the poets that were inspired to write of this victory, say, Come into Heshbon, let the city of Sihon be built and prepared, since Israel was now occupying the land which the Amorites had wrested from Moab;

v. 28. for there is a fire gone out of Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon, namely, at the time when this king had gone forth on his campaigns of conquest; it hath consumed Ar of Moab, the former capital of the entire domain of Moab, and the lords of the high places of Arnon, the men in command of the border fortifications.

v. 29. Woe to thee, Moab! Thou art undone, O people of Chemosh; the final destruction of Moab was only a matter of time. He, Chemosh, the chief god of the Moabites, Jeremiah 48:7, hath given his sons that escaped, and his daughters, into captivity unto Sihon, king of the Amorites, unable to save them from the hands of the enemy.

v. 30. We have shot at them, we came and overthrew them; Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon, and we have laid them waste even unto Nophah, which reacheth unto Medeba, or, with fire unto Medeba. The children of Israel had completely subdued the land, not only its capital, but the entire length and breadth of the country, to its extreme southern and northern boundaries.

v. 31. Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites, occupied the entire country and camped there.

v. 32. And Moses sent to spy out Jaazer, a city toward the northeast, near the territory of the Ammonites, and they took the villages thereof and drove out the Amorites that were there, thus completing the conquest of the nation.

v. 33. And they, the children of Israel, turned and went up by the way of Bashan, toward the north and west; and Og, the king of Bashan, went out against them, he and all his people, to the battle at Edrei.

v. 34. And the Lord said unto Moses, Fear him not; for I have delivered him into thy hand and all his people and his land; and thou shall do to him as thou didst unto Sihon, king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon. With this glorious promise of God to strengthen them the children of Israel went forth to battle, an invincible host.

v. 35. So they smote him and his sons and all his people, until there was none left him alive; and they possessed his land. Thus Israel, courageous through its confidence in Jehovah, was able to overthrow mighty kings, a fact which is so often referred to in later times, Deuteronomy 3:1-11; Psalms 135:11; Psalms 136:19-20. All this Israel wrought through faith, Hebrews 11:33. He that truly believes in the Lord has the strength to conquer all his enemies, and will gladly give thanks to God for His goodness and mercy.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Numbers 21". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/numbers-21.html. 1921-23.
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