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Tuesday, May 28th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 21

Hawker's Poor Man's CommentaryPoor Man's Commentary

Verse 1


In this chapter, as Israel is now approaching the frontiers of the promised land, here is related an account of the first campaign in the contest with Arad at Hormach. Interspersed with this history, is the relation of the people's murmuring afresh, and the LORD'S chastisement of them, by sending among them fiery flying serpents; the account of the brazen serpent appointed by GOD for their recovery; several journeys are recited; and the account of Sihon king; of the Amorites, and Og the king of Bashan; with Israel's conquest over them, and taking possession of their land.

Numbers 21:1

Reader! remark how every hand is against the LORD'S people. What had Arad to do with Israel? It was thirty years before this, that Moses had sent out those spies, and what evil had they done to merit this cruelty. But Reader! remember the spiritual sense of this. GOD'S people are not of the world, and therefore the world hateth them. Ye shall be hated of all men (saith CHRIST) for my sake. It hath been always so, and must be so. And it is a sweet testimony to the truth, when that hatred is not for our improper behavior at anytime, but for the truth's sake. Make this proper distinction, and consult those scriptures, which speak of it. Matthew 5:11 ; Luke 21:16-17 ; John 15:18-19 .

Verses 2-3

Such should be our conduct, with all our spiritual foes. Nothing but the total destruction of them can bring us peace. Reader! let you and I long for that hour, when we shall sing that song; Now is come salvation and strength, for the accuser of our brethren is cast down. Revelation 12:10 .

Verse 4

It was no doubt fatiguing to the people to go round Edom, when by going through it the way would have been shortened. But, as it was the LORD'S way, was it not the right way? And, Reader, is it not so now? You and I are sometimes prompted to think, why not taken home to our GOD and Saviour at once, after we have tasted of his preciousness: and wherefore is it that we are thus kept in the wilderness, in the ups and downs of a spiritual warfare so long? No doubt, your soul like Israel's is sometimes discouraged by reason of the way. But it is happy for us, that we are under a wiser and better direction than our own. GOD doth by us as he did by Israel. Exodus 13:17-18 .

Verse 5

What perpetual proofs doth Israel's history afford of the corruption and deceitfulness of the human heart? Reader! do not overlook, in the instance of this people, the universal conduct of mankind. Alas! how often may we detect our hearts loathing a fulness of divine mercies.

Verse 6

There is a striking connection between the sin and the punishment. The people murmured for want of water; and here the LORD sent them a thirst which no water could satisfy. It should be observed that those fiery flying serpents were nothing new; the wilderness was full of them. So Moses tells us: Deuteronomy 8:15 . But it should seem, that by the divine interposition, never before this had they annoyed the LORD'S Israel. Reader, do not forget that it is sin which hath thrown down the sovereignty of man over the inferior creatures. Genesis 1:25 , compared with Genesis 3:17-19 . But we must not stop here, in our view of this subject, the LORD JESUS hath given us so sweet and precious a comment upon this part of Israel's history, that I venture to persuade myself the Reader will not be disposed to pass it over too hastily. Reader! I would beg you to remark with me somewhat more particularly, the striking affinity in this case of Israel of old, to the Israel of GOD in all ages. The people were bitten with fiery serpents, of which many died. And what is sin in all its various shapes, but the venomous bite and poison of that old serpent the devil. So he is called. Revelation 12:9 and Revelation 20:2 . As a serpent he appeared to our first mother. Genesis 3:1 . And his darts are called fiery darts. Ephesians 6:16 . And what are the effects of his deceptions, but death, temporal death: for sin hath entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death hath passed upon all men because that all have sinned: Romans 5:12 . Spiritual death: for unless quickened by the LORD, all are by nature dead in trespasses and sins: Ephesians 2:1 . And eternal death; for the separation both of soul and body from GOD, which is the sure consequence to those who live and die unawakened and unregenerated in time, is the eternal death of the miserable forever. And all these are the effects of the serpent's fiery darts, like the bite of the serpent in the wilderness.

Verse 7

In Moses praying for the people, observe a lively type of JESUS in his glorious mediatorial character. Job is another lively type of the same. Job 42:8 .

Verses 8-9

We cannot possibly err in considering this whole service, as wholly and altogether typical of the redemption by JESUS, since he himself hath so explained it. John 3:14-15 . But Reader, it is sweet as well as profitable to analyze, and, like the bee, gather out of this precious flower of scripture, the several precious parts of it. As first, observe, the plan of it did not originate in Moses, for it was wholly GOD'S appointment, Make thee, saith GOD, a fiery serpent, etc. Such is our redemption. GOD the FATHER, is all along in scripture represented as the founder and contriver of our salvation by his dear SON. Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 42:6 ; John 3:16 ; 1 John 4:14 . Secondly, The LORD JESUS is the whole cause of our redemption. He was anointed as the most holy, to finish transgression and to bear all the iniquity of his people. Daniel 9:24 ; Isaiah 53:6 ; Ephesians 1:7 . Thirdly, It is GOD the HOLY GHOST who lifteth up the LORD JESUS, both in his Gospel, and in the hearts of every true believer. John 12:32; John 12:32 . And no man can say that JESUS is the LORD, but by the HOLY GHOST. 1 Corinthians 12:3 . After this view of the subject, I only detain the Reader just to observe, that as the faith of the Israelite in the camp, when bitten by the serpent, carried with it an evident proof of the work of GOD in the heart; so, in the present hour, the faith of the true Israelite of GOD in the church of JESUS, when under the raging effects of sin, in looking alone to him for salvation, carries the same evidence with it, that it is not by human might, nor by power, but by the SPIRIT of the LORD. For as naturalists tell us, that to a person labouring under the disease of the bite of a venomous reptile, the sight of anything bright or shining appears more likely to aggravate than assuage their misery: so to the eye of human reason, untaught of GOD the HOLY GHOST, how should the bare looking unto JESUS cure the soul of sin? Nothing, surely, but the power of GOD, and the wisdom of GOD, working in the mind, both to believe, and to do, of his good pleasure can be competent to such an act of faith. Reader! let you and I beg of GOD for this grace, to believe the record that GOD hath given of his dear SON. And as the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness, would not be efficacious to any unbelieving Israelite, who refused to look unto it for healing, but had recourse to human art for a cure: so neither now, will the lifting up of the LORD JESUS on the cross, be effectual to those who, trusting in their own righteousness, despise or neglect this great salvation. LORD! give us to look unto thee, and be saved among the ends of the earth, for thou art GOD and there is none else, and beside thee, there is no Saviour. Isaiah 45:22 .

Verse 10

Oboth hath an allusion to bottles or vessels; probably the people carried water from it in their vessels.

Verses 11-13

These were several marches, and it should seem quickly made. Canaan was almost now in their view, and the people longed to be there. Even waters in their progress when they approach the mouth of the sea will rush with greater velocity. And ought not true believers in JESUS, when they approach the borders of the grave, long more earnestly to pour their souls into the bosom of JESUS? See Philippians 3:20-21 .

Verses 14-15

It is probable, that Israel, upheld by the arm of JEHOVAH, accomplished some mighty acts here. But the record of them is not come down to us. See Exodus 17:14 . But some have thought, and not without reason, that as the Red Sea is mentioned here, the children of Israel, in the view of the brooks of Arnon, were prompted to sing again the song of triumph, which they had sung near forty years before at the Red Sea. Exodus 15:1 , etc. Reader, it is sweet at every renewed instance of mercy, we meet with in our pilgrimage, to look back and rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD. You and I shall find enough, like Jacob, to sing of in the recollection of every stage we have come. The GOD which fed me all my life long unto this day; the angel (JESUS) which redeemed me from all evil. Genesis 48:15-16 .

Verse 16

If, as some suppose, the name of Beer, which means the ^four t-e! or well of life, was given in this place to intimate the well of life; we may learn a sweet lesson from this journey. All our pilgrimage here is but as from one Oboth to another; where the sweet enjoyments of creature comforts are but as in vessels. When we come to Beer, to the well of life, even to heaven itself; from thence will flow that river, the never ceasing streams whereof make glad the city of GOD. Revelation 22:1 .

Verses 17-18

Oh! how sweet are songs of praise to the highest! I hope the Reader will not need that I should point out to him in this place, the evident traces we have in it of GOD the HOLY GHOST. It is well known, that through the whole of the Bible, GOD the SPIRIT is uniformly pointed out under this delightful emblem of water. One evidence above a thousand, we have John 7:37-39 . And I hope the Reader will feel, what I desire both to feel and cherish in my soul, grateful thanks to the eternal SPIRIT, that he hath in one and the same chapter, and in a period of the church so distant as the one we are now reviewing, so graciously held up to our view a type of our dearest JESUS in the brazen serpent, and an emblem of himself in the well of Beer. Reader, there are two lovely songs in GOD'S word, very short but very sweet. This is one, the other you will find, Isaiah 27:2 . The first is of regenerating mercy. The other is of dying love.

Verses 19-20

Here we are come to the end of Moses' journey; for from the heights of Pisgah, he was permitted to see, but not go over, to the promised land. Deuteronomy 34:1-5 . It is somewhat singular, but worthy to be observed in this place, that although we have several chapters more to go through, in this book, as well as the whole book of Deuteronomy, concerning Moses; yet there was but a short space between the death of Miriam, Aaron, and Moses; they all died in one year.

Verses 21-25

If you consult Deuteronomy 2:9 , you will find that Moab was not to be fought with, being descendants of Lot: and therefore, when Israel passed before Oboth, they did not attack Moab; see Deuteronomy 2:11-13 . But the Amorites had no such privilege of exemption; and hence became a prey to Israel.

Verse 26

Moab it should seem had heretofore those cities, but now being in the possession of the Amorite, they were to be conquered by Israel by the divine appointment. Genesis 15:18-21 . But, Reader, it is sweet to trace all mercies to their fountain head. Hence, therefore, if you consult another scripture on this occasion, you will discover that it was the LORD who gave Israel the victory. See Deuteronomy 2:30-37 .

Verses 27-30

It should seem that these words were a kind of saying, well understood, no doubt, in those days, like proverbial sayings with us now.

Verses 31-35

The same observation meets us, concerning the king of Bashan and his courts, as the king of the Amorites and his. The victories of Israel were all of covenant engagements, and all accomplished by the LORD GOD of Israel, in confirmation of covenant promises. But what these things were in history, have been and will be spiritually accomplished for the LORD'S people, in the conquest of that country for the redeemed of the LORD, of which Canaan was but a type. And as Israel of old sung their song of triumph for the same, so may Israel now. To him which led his people through the wilderness, who smote Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, the king of Bashan; "for his mercy endureth forever." Psalms 136:16-20 .

Verse 35


IN the perusal of this chapter, I would charge it upon my soul, to fix her meditation more intensely, while paying due respect to all the other interesting circumstances of Israel's history, upon that beautiful and most gracious type of the LORD JESUS, as explained by himself, which I beheld in the brazen serpent. What a delightful view doth it afford of the complete salvation by JESUS? Who would have expected, in an age so remote from the days of JESUS'S ministry, and so many generations before the SON of GOD became incarnate, who would have looked for such a striking display of his great redemption in a figure! But it was thou, Holy, and eternal SPIRIT of all to whose office it peculiarly belongs, to take of the things of JESUS and show unto the people! It was thou that thus wast pleased to instruct the church then, and to comfort thy people now, with such sacred and soul-comforting representations of JESUS! Blessed be GOD the HOLY GHOST, for the mercy! And no less do thou, precious JESUS, who art still lifted up in thy gospel for the purposes of salvation, from the FATHER'S love, and by the SPIRIT's application of thy merits and blood to the souls of thy people, do thou ever more become the blessed object of my faith and hope, until faith is lost in the enjoyment of thee in glory. May my soul gaze on thee, and thee only, for all supplies of grace while here below, and for all the enjoyments of glory, when surrounding thy throne above. Yes, dearest JESUS, on thee would my soul fix her wondering eyes, amidst all the diseases of sin, and under all the venomous wounds of Satan, that great serpent, the devil. I would forever look unto thee, as thou hast graciously enjoined me, and be saved; for thou alone canst heal the fiery darts of the wicked: it is thy blood which is the true balm of Gilead. Oh grant by the sweet influences of thy SPIRIT, that my soul may be constrained to look stedfastly unto thee with the eye of faith, now thou art lifted up on the pole of the everlasting gospel: and may I so look, that, beholding thee in thy person and righteousness, and in all thy covenant characters, my soul may be saved with an everlasting salvation, until I awake up, after thy likeness, to be fully satisfied with it.

Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 21". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pmc/numbers-21.html. 1828.
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