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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 21

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



We find a difficulty here in assuming that we have the chronological order of events. For reasons stated in comment on Numbers 21:1, we believe that there is a transposition of the natural order. The king of Arad, being notified by his spies of a muster of all Israel at Kadesh, and surmising that this was preliminary to an attack upon himself and other Canaanites in southern Canaan, by an easy route from Kadesh, (Ain Gadis,) skirting the western slope of Mount Azazimeh, decided not to stand on the defensive, but to attack the invaders. After the battle, in which some Israelites were taken prisoners, the Israelites, vowing vengeance, continued their march southward along the parched Arabah, murmuring at the hardships of the journey. As a punishment, Jehovah sent fiery serpents. When the people repented, Moses was instructed to lift up on a standard the brazen image of a serpent. They then continued their journey, going around the southern end of Mount Seir, passed the stations of Oboth and Ije-abarim, the valley of Zared, and reached the banks of the Arnon. Here the historian inserts a poetical quotation from the Book of the Wars of Jehovah. Numbers 21:14-20. Sihon, king of the Amorites, refused the request of a passage through his dominions, and made unsuccessful war upon Israel. Thus the way was cleared from the Arnon to the Jabbok. Then follows a little Amorite ballad containing a scrap of history. Numbers 21:27-30. The campaign against Og and the conquest of Bashan conclude the chapter.

Verse 1


1. King Arad The Authorized Version is mistaken in making Arad a person and not a place. It is mentioned in Joshua 12:14, between the names Hormah and Libnah. In Judges 1:16, we read: “The wilderness of Judah lieth in the south of Arad.” Robinson identifies it with a hill, Tell-Arad, twenty miles south of Hebron, “a barren looking eminence rising above the country around.”

By the way of the spies The word אתרים , translated spies, occurs only here, and is regarded by Furst and Gesenius, following the Septuagint, as the name of an unknown place, Atharim. This removes the difficulty in the way of identifying Kadesh with Ain Gadis, or Kadis, fifty miles west of Mount Hor, since the routes from these two places into Canaan must be different. See note on Numbers 20:1. The Authorized Version, Vulgate, Syriac, and Targum, translate this word spies as if it were written without the initial aleph, and were a participle of the verb תור , because it has the article. But names of places, especially if celebrated, generally take the article in prose. (Nordh., Gram., § 721.)

Fought against Israel It is not probable that the king of Arad made this attack after Israel had left his borders and marched east-by-south fifty miles, and was encamped at the foot of Mount Hor. The attack would naturally take place when the camp in Kadesh was breaking up, and the king suspected that his territory was to be immediately invaded. “The order of the narrative in these chapters, as occasionally elsewhere in this book, is not that of time but of subject-matter; and the war against Arad is introduced here as the first of a series of victories gained under Moses which the historian now takes in hand to narrate.” Speaker’s Com.

Took… prisoners A slight repulse is often beneficial in its effects. This taught Israel to look to Jehovah for help, as we find in the next verse.

Verse 2

2. Vowed a vow The Hebrew has two verbs to express a vow, one to do, and the other to abstain from doing, a certain act. The former is used here.

Utterly destroy their cities Consecrate or devote them all to destruction. The person or thing thus devoted could never be redeemed. The cities were razed to the foundations, and the inhabitants, both man and beast, were slain. See note on Leviticus 27:28-29. Up to this time we find no command to exterminate the Canaanites by the sword. But we have in the promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:16) an intimation of great judgments when the iniquity of the Amorites should be full. As this was the divine purpose, we are prepared for the record that the Lord hearkened granted their desire.

Verse 3

3. They utterly destroyed them and their cities It is supposed by some that the actual destruction of the cities did not take place then, for two reasons: 1.) It would have required an entrance into Canaan in order to destroy Arad and its allied cities; and, 2.) it was standing after Joshua led in the nation, and its king was destroyed by him. Joshua 12:14. The difficulty all disappears when the word destroyed is rendered, as it should be, anathematized, or put under the ban. The identification of Hormah with Sebaita, (see below,) only twenty-five miles north of Kadesh, (Gadis,) leads others to interpret the ban as executed at that time. But when the Israelites retired the fugitive Canaanites returned and rebuilt the city, which was again taken and destroyed in the conquest of southern Canaan by Judah and Simeon after the death of Joshua.

Hormah Derived from a Hebrew word signifying to anathema, or a devotement to destruction. Its earlier name was Zephath. Judges 1:17. Robinson identifies it with the pass Es-Sufa, both on account of the name and the situation in the mountain, which, running southwest and northeast, completes the plateau of southern Palestine. But the true identification is Sebaita, twenty-five miles southwest of Beer-sheba. See notes on Joshua 12:14, and Judges 1:17. It is evident, if it was not destroyed now, that till its actual conquest by Judah and Simeon it was called Hormah proleptically. Keil suggests that it may have been captured in the time of Joshua and retaken again by the Canaanites, who restored its old name, Zephath, and that it was subsequently permanently conquered by Judah and Simeon, and received its new name once for all.

Verses 4-5


A glance at the map will reveal the necessity of this countermarch down the Arabah to the head of the eastern arm of the Red Sea, called the Elanitic Gulf. From Mount Hor the march into southern Canaan was impracticable on account of the mountains. The short cut through Wady-el-Ghuwier, fifteen miles north of Petra, or through some other pass farther north, as Seil Dhalal, or Wady T’lah, had been refused by the king of Edom, who held Mount Seir. There is no reason given in the Book of Numbers why they could not have marched northward along the Arabah and descended by the Acrabbim (see note on Joshua 15:3) into the soft and fertile plain called the Ghor, at the south of the Dead Sea, and thence through one of several wadies turned eastward, and thus compassed Edom on the north. But in Judges 11:17-18, we learn that Moab, who controlled these wadies, had also refused a passage to Israel. It was not expedient to meet the enemy in one of these ravines, as narrow as the pass of Thermopylae. The only other course was to march round Mount Seir on the south, and thus avoid a war with Moab at such a disadvantage, or with Edom in his impregnable fastnesses.

4. Discouraged because of the way Hebrew, short, impatient, vexed. The Arabah is a horrible desert, shut in by the limestone cliffs of the Tih on the west, and the granite range of Mount Seir on the east. The soil is loose sand and drifts of fine granite and other stones, and is exposed to suffocating sand-storms. The heat in this deep, treeless trench is at times intense. There is little vegetation except at the mouths of the valleys opening into this desert. All this was enough to discourage the people; but the reflection that every step was taking them farther away from the Land of Promise was still more disheartening.

5. Spake against God This is the new Israel raised up in the wilderness. Their disobedient fathers have perished since the sentence of exclusion from Canaan, pronounced at Kadesh-barnea thirty-eight years before. But the new Israel is strikingly like the old, faltering and murmuring in hardships, blaming their leaders, and distrusting God. But the sequel will show that there was faith and courage in them sufficient to fight their way into Canaan and partially conquer it.

This light bread Hebrew, exceedingly vile. The manna is thus contemned. Similar language will be found in chap. Numbers 11:6, where a description of the manna is given. Says Professor Bush: “This was not only a wicked disparagement of the material gift which the Lord bestowed upon them from heaven, but it was a virtual turning away with loathing from that spiritual or heavenly manna which we are taught to recognize in the Lord our Saviour, whose words authenticate this interpretation.” John 6:48-51. The manna had fallen upon the encampment during thirty-eight years, an almost daily miracle of goodness, and yet, because of its commonness, it was despised. Even miracles, repeated for a long time, cease to convince men, and come to be regarded the same as the operations of nature. There is no record that any Hebrew perished in the wilderness from hunger or thirst.

Verse 6

6. The Lord sent fiery serpents The Alexandrine Septuagint renders “fiery” by θανατουντες , deadly. Popularly this “serpent” is erroneously identified with the fiery flying serpent of Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6. As all the plagues of Egypt were the intensification of natural evils, so we may suppose that these serpents existed in the region of the camp, and were gathered to this place to afflict the murmuring Israelites. They are called fiery because of the inflammation resulting from their poisonous bite. The Greeks have three different names for snakes, derived from verbs signifying to burn. These serpents may have had a fiery appearance also. Schubert saw in that vicinity a very mottled snake of a

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large size, marked with fiery red spots, which belonged to the most poisonous species, and he was told by the Bedouins that they were very common there. The region east and south of Mount Seir still abounds in venomous reptiles, especially lizards, which raise themselves in the air and swing from shrubs, and scorpions lying in ambush in the grass, which sting the barelegged, sandalled natives. It is not possible to point out the species of deadly serpents which afflicted Israel. According to Niebuhr, there is in the Arabian desert a small, slender species called baetan, spotted black and white, whose bite is instant death causing the body to swell in an extraordinary manner. The cerastes is another venomous species frequenting Arabia.

Much people… died With these few words before us, it needs no very strong imagination to portray the magnitude of this calamity and the intensity of the suffering. The agonies of the bitten, the vain attempts to heal, the groans of the dying, the burial of the dead, the torturing terrors of the living, in momentary dread of the fatal wound, all come vividly before our minds. We are prepared for the penitence expressed in the next verse.

Verses 6-9


Though human probation is not the theatre for the display of exact justice in the punishment of sin and the reward of obedience, yet we see in divine providence the intimations and outlines of a perfect future state, so that no man can have any reasonable ground for doubting that God smiles upon righteousness and frowns upon iniquity. Hence his frequent interpositions by the infliction of suffering upon the wicked are rather educational and disciplinary than penal. Hence natural evil is merciful, inasmuch as it is designed to deter from that eternal punishment which awaits incorrigible sinners.

Verse 7

7. We have sinned Man’s moral nature is so constituted that he instinctively ascribes natural evil to a moral cause suffering to sin. This judgment was designed to arouse the torpid conscience. The awakened moral sense unerringly discovers the sin.

We have spoken against the Lord The quickened memory brings back every word which has impeached the divine goodness and wisdom. So it may be in the judgment.

Against thee The thoroughness of the confession is proof of its sincerity. It is easier to confess our sins against God than it is to make acknowledgment of wrong to man.

Pray unto the Lord The religious nature of man shines out in the darkness of great calamities. He turns to some power above nature and implores its interposition. The pagan rushes to his temple, the Hebrew turns toward the tabernacle or temple, the Christian to the throne of grace.

And Moses prayed There is scarcely any record of Moses’s prayers for himself; his prayers are generally for others. He was the mediator of the old covenant as Jesus is of the new. Galatians 3:19. The burden of Moses’s prayer was, that the fiery serpents might be taken away. Like many of our prayers, it was not answered in form but in fact.

Verse 8

8. Make thee a fiery serpent This was an astonishing answer to the prayer. Moses doubtless expected that the serpents would disappear, as the plagues had vanished from Egypt when he interceded in behalf of Pharaoh. But instead of this he is directed to provide an antidote for those who may be bitten now or in the future. It was to be set upon a pole or standard, that it might be seen in the extremities of the camp, probably two miles distant from the tabernacle.

When he looketh The healing involved, 1.) A confession of inability to heal himself; 2.) The exercise of his own volitions in a manner arbitrarily prescribed by God, and for which no reasons are assigned; 3.) Simple faith in God was requisite for putting forth the action necessary to the cure. The condition was so simple that every one could perform it. Even the apparently dying could turn his languid eye toward the brazen serpent and be healed. It is evident that every one who, being bitten, perished in the camp after this great antidote was devised died as wilful a death as the suicide.

Verse 9

9. Serpent of brass The material was not prescribed in the command. Brass was selected, doubtless, because its lustre would enable it to be seen at a great distance. Possibly the fiery serpents may have had a coppery hue, like the copperhead of America. The size of this piece of brass was probably many times that of the fiery serpent, in order to be seen from afar. That the Israelites had abundance of metals is seen from the amount contributed to the tabernacle.

If a serpent had bitten any man This would imply that the antidote was only for those bitten previous to the lifting up of the brazen serpent; but a critical examination shows that the merciful Healer provides also for those who may be bitten subsequently. Nordh. ( Gram., § 1090, 2) translates the passage thus: “And it came to pass when a serpent bit a man, and he looked at the serpent of brass, that he survived.” See Furst’s Lexicon. “It ( אם ) is but seldom a sign of the actual past.” This justifies the conclusion that the fiery serpents were not taken away, but that they continued to annoy the people and to kill such as despised the remedy, while the virus was harmless in the veins of him who immediately looked toward the antidote. How long the brazen serpent continued to be “lifted up” in the camp we know not; but it is probable that it continued during the remainder of the march to Canaan, and that it had a conspicuous position near the tabernacle after it was set up in the Land of Promise. We find it existing eight hundred and twenty-five years afterward (2 Kings 18:4) as an object of idolatrous worship, when the reformer, Hezekiah, because of this, broke it in pieces. He stigmatized it as “Nehushtan,” a mere piece of brass. Rationalistic writers, both Jewish and Christian, have endeavoured to divest the cure by looking at the brazen serpent of its miraculous character by the theory that Moses, by his knowledge of astrology, devised this as a talisman or charm to operate on the imaginations of the people. The more pious Jews regard the cures as the result of a lively faith in Jehovah. See Targum of Onkelos. Evangelical writers ascribe the healing power of this serpent-form to its great Antitype, lifted up in crucifixion for the salvation of all believers.

Verse 10

10. Oboth Hebrew, hollow passes. The exact site is unknown, but from the fact that the next station was in the border of Moab, it is probable that Oboth is east of Moab. In the full itinerary, Numbers 33:41-43, two stations, Zalmonah and Punon, of doubtful identification, intervene between Mount Hor and Oboth.

Verses 10-20


The journey from Mount Hor was southward to the end of Mount Seir, around which the Israelites swept, then marched northward along the eastward border of Edom. In this narrative there is at this point a wide gap. We are told nothing of the march along the eastern edge of Edom, but suddenly find ourselves transported to the borders of Moab. But we do not need to draw upon our imagination for a description of the journey, since the natural features of the country remain unchanged. In passing northward from a point a few hours north of Ezion-geber ( the giant’s backbone) the Israelites would enter the mountains, marching to Moab by the road which runs between Edom and the limestone plateau of the great eastern desert. Comp. Deuteronomy 2:8. Their route was in part the same as that of the caravans from Mecca to Damascus. The researches of modern travellers enable us almost to accompany the Hebrew host on its march. “The wonderful tenacity with which the old names keep their hold in the far East helps us to discover the exact spots of biblical scenes, while the descriptions of the localities throw most vivid light on the scriptural narratives, and afford evidence of their trustworthiness.” Edersheim.

Verse 11

11. Ije-abarim Literally, the ruins of the further regions. In chap.

Numbers 33:45, it is abbreviated to Iim, or “the hills of the passages.” It was on the south-east boundary of Moab, not in the pasture grounds of modern el-Belka, but in the uncultivated wilderness at some point which has not been identified. If there is any connexion between this place and Har-Abarim, the range opposite Jericho, then Abarim is doubtless a general appellation for the whole plateau east of the Dead Sea. See Numbers 21:20, note.

Verse 12

12. The valley of Zared More accurately, Zered. Deuteronomy 2:13. Literally, the willow brook. It is a boundary stream between Moab and Edom, flowing into the Dead Sea, supposed to be mentioned in Isaiah 15:7. It is identified by Robinson, Palmer, and Tristram as the Wady-el-Ahsa, at the very south of the Dead Sea. From this time the trials of wilderness life may be said to have ended. Crossing streams shaded by abundant vegetation, they left Edom and the desert behind them and entered on the rich uplands of Moab. To reach a region of flowing water must have put new life into the host. Memorable, indeed, was the order of the day: “Up and cross the stream Zered.” Deuteronomy 2:13. They could now dig wells and dip their pitchers in fountains.

Verse 13

13. Arnon “The rushing river,” dashing through a tremendous chasm, was the first river they had seen since leaving the Nile. “Looking across its width of about three miles from crest to crest, and into its depths over two thousand feet below, its sides rich with permanent verdure, and floods of bright water sparkling far underneath, the joy after a long life in the thirsty and barren wilderness must have been indescribable.” Geikie. The Arnon rises in the mountains of Arabia, flows westward about eighty miles through the desert, and falls into the Dead Sea. Joshua 12:1, note. The Arnon is the modern Wady Mojib. Israel encamped on its south side waiting the return of the embassy to Sihon sent to ask for a passage through his territory. Tristram has given a most vivid description of the gorge through which the Arnon flows. From crest to crest is three miles, the height of the southern bank is 2,150 feet, and that of the northern is 1,950. “Of course, the army of Israel could not have passed the river here, but higher up, to the east, ‘in the wilderness.’” The Revised Version translates Numbers 21:14-15; Numbers 21:18 in poetical form, also Numbers 21:27-30.

Verse 14

14. Book of the wars of the Lord This was probably a collection of ballads composed beside the watchfires of the camp in commemoration of the victories of the Israelites over their enemies. From the title we infer that religious inspiration mingled largely with the poetic. In the spirit of true piety the victories are ascribed, not to the prowess of Israel, but to the might of Jehovah. Possibly this book is referred to in Exodus 17:14-16. The fragment here quoted is obscure because it is sundered from the context. It is quoted simply to confirm the statement that the Arnon is the boundary of Moab.

What he did This is an erroneous translation of והב , Vaheb, the name of a place on the border of the Amorite and Moabite territories where Israel conquered in battle.

In the Red Sea This is another erroneous translation of Suphah, mistaken for Suph, the Red Sea. The exact location of Suphah is as little known as is that of Vaheb, both being found in no other place than in the following fragment of the old song:

“Vaheb in Suphah.

And the valleys of Arnon,

And the slope of the valleys

That inclineth toward the dwelling of Ar,

And leaneth upon the border of Moab.”

Verse 15

15. Ar is identified by Dr. Robinson with the modern Rabbah. But Ritter, Hengstenberg, Keil, Kurtz, Dietrich, and Raumer in his later view, all agree that it was situated near Aroer, on the Arnon. Dr. Ridgaway sustains Dr. Robinson. “The ruins here are second in extent and interest only to those of Rab Ammon. The Roman road appears to have divided the city into two parts. The more extensive ruins lie on the eastern side. On the west are two Corinthian columns, very graceful indeed, and about two hundred feet apart. If these belonged to the same building, as they probably did, it must have been very large and grand. Among the ruins on the east side are several large mounds, which probably cover fallen buildings. I observed one large depression into which access was gained by what at first seemed to be a succession of steps, and in the bottom of which was an extensive pavement. This I took to have been a theatre.” The Lord’s Land.

Verse 16

16. Beer, so called because of the well which was there dug by the princes, is possibly the modern Beer-elim, or “well of heroes.” Isaiah 15:8.

Gather the people together They were to be witnesses of the last miraculous production of water. According to Jewish tradition a spot, dry and sandy, was pointed out by Moses. The princes surrounded with their staves the place where the water was to burst forth. The parched soil was pierced by the staves and a cooling stream gushed forth. Later commentators think that there is no trace of a miracle in this account. I will give them water According to the tradition in part adopted by St. Paul, this was one of the appearances, the last before crossing the Jordan, of the water which had “followed” the people from Rephidim through their wanderings. After Miriam’s death special acts were necessary to evoke the water. See especially 1 Corinthians 10:4, note.

Verse 17

17. Israel sang this song

“Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it;

The well which the princes digged,

Which the nobles of the people delved

With the sceptre and with their staves.”

“The arrival in Moab marks, indeed, the first outburst of Hebrew poetry. Ordinary words would no longer suffice to give expression to the joy at entering on fertile regions, and leaving the desert behind them.” Geikie. This song, first sung at the digging of the well, was afterward, no doubt, commonly used by those who came to draw water. The maidens of Israel chanted it one to another, verse by verse, as they toiled at the bucket, and thus beguiled their labour. But its peculiar charm lies in the characteristic touch which manifestly connects it with the life of the time to which the narrative assigns it. The leaders were not above doing some part of the work. “This little carol is fresh and lusty with long life; it sparkles like the water of the well whose springing up first occasioned it; it is the expression of lively confidence in the sympathy of their leaders, which might be relied on in all emergencies.” Ewald.

Verse 18

18. Mattanah cannot be identified. Le Clerc suggests that it may be the same as the mysterious Vaheb, (Numbers 21:14, note,) since its meaning in Arabic is the same as that of Mattanah in Hebrew. Neither this nor the other names occurring in this context are found in the catalogue of stations in chap. 33. This discrepancy may arise from the fact that the same station had several names, or from two contiguous stations being occupied at the same time. Kurtz thinks that the object of the writer in the thirty-third chapter is statistical, that is, to set forth, not all the halting places but the regular camps where the tabernacle was erected, while in earlier passages the object is historical. Hence more places are enumerated, as in Numbers 21:11 and Numbers 22:1, seven places are mentioned between Ije-abarim and the plains of Moab; in Numbers 33:44-48, only three places.

Verse 19

19. Nahaliel to Bamoth Neither of these can be certainly identified.

The former is supposed to be some wady north of the Arnon, and the latter Knobel identifies with “the high places of Baal,” or Bamoth-baal (Numbers 22:41) on the modern Jebel Attarus, the site being marked by stone heaps. See Joshua 13:17, note.

Verse 20

20. In the valley Rather, to the valley, which is in the fields of Moab upon the top of Pisgah. The height of Pisgah is in grammatical apposition with the field of Moab, a portion of the perfectly treeless table-land stretching from Rabbath Ammon to the Arnon. Among biblical problems on the east of the Jordan the solution of none has enlisted deeper interest than the identification of long-lost Pisgah. The great mistake for ages was in the attempt to find some peak higher than the general level of the table-land of Moab, from which all the Land of Promise can be seen. But Dr. J.L. Porter, on the south bank of Wady Hesban, about seven miles west of Heshbon, recently noticed some projecting swells of the range, not higher than others, but shooting out farther west, so as to command the Jordan Valley, and suggested that one of these might be Nebo. Professor Paine, in the third statement of the Palestine Exploration Society, in 1873, in an elaborate monograph of nearly ninety pages, entitled, The Identification of Pisgah, cogently argues, after a month’s investigation of all the district, that a double peaked hill or swell called Jebel Siaghah is the true Pisgah. The view from the southwest peak, 2,360 feet above the sea, extending from Dan on the north to the far distant Negeb, fulfils every requisite of the view which Moses beheld from Pisgah, unless it be all Judah unto the Mediterranean Sea, for which there is no peak east of the Jordan high enough. See Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan., 1876. Dr. Ridgaway dissents from the conclusion of Professor Paine, and sides with Tristram and M. de Saulcy, in the identification of Jebel Neba as the true Pisgah, chiefly because this affords an eastward view, which Jebel Siaghah does not. See Deuteronomy 3:27. “My own impression is, that Abarim was the name of the whole cluster of hills immediately overlooking the Jordan in this region, as the term signifies ‘borders;’ that Nebo was the title of a particular mountain, with one or more peaks, and that Pisgah was the special summit of Nebo. I remember very clearly that its top looked, as we rode by, just like a hill, and seemed relatively so little elevated, as we approached from the east, that we hardly thought it worth while to go on to it. Taking the itinerary of Israel, as given in Numbers 33:46-48, nothing can seem more natural.” Ridgaway.

Jeshimon Literally, the wilderness. It is doubtful whether it is a proper or a common noun.

Edersheim says that it is the tract of land which extends to the northeastern shore of the Dead Sea. Tristram identifies it with “the barren plain of the Ghor,” about the mouth of the Jordan. But Professor Paine, from every mention of the place, comes to the following conclusion: “So Jeshimon is the wilderness where a line drawn to the north from Maon (1 Samuel 23:24) intersects another drawn west from Pisgah, and just there is a region every way worthy of the name.”

Verse 21

21. Sihon “The Destroyer,” literally, “He who swept all before him.” This formidable chieftain was evidently a man of great courage and daring. He did not hesitate or temporize like Balak, but at once gathered all his people, and attacked Israel as soon as he appeared on his borders.

Amorites See Joshua 2:10; Joshua 3:10, notes.

Verses 21-35


The Moabites and the Amorites having refused to Moses passage through their countries, an entrance to Palestine could now only be gained by war, a resort which he much desired to avoid, especially a collision with Moab, whom Jehovah forbade Israel to “distress.” Deuteronomy 2:9. But the result was decisive. The Amorites under their king Sihon, who had years before invaded both Ammon and Moab, and wrested from them almost the whole country between the Arnon and the Jabbok, bore the brunt of the fight with the Israelites, and were defeated with great slaughter.

Verse 23

23. Jahaz “A place trodden down.” See Joshua 13:18, note.

Fought against Israel According to Josephus the Amorite army contained every man in the nation fit to bear arms. Being unable to fight when away from the shelter of their cities, and being galled by the slings and arrows of the Hebrews, in their intense thirst the Amorites rushed to the stream, and to the shelter of the ravine of the Arnon, and were slaughtered in vast numbers.

Verse 24

24. Jabbok This is one of the two important streams flowing into the Jordan on the east. It was the scene of Jacob’s wrestling with the angel, and of his meeting with Esau. See Genesis 30:22; Joshua 12:2, notes.

Unto the children of Ammon This difficult passage is thus explained. The Ammonites at one time possessed the whole country between the rivers Arnon and Jabbok. Being driven out by Sihon they took possession of the eastern plain and the eastern defiles of Gilead, around the sources and upper branches of the Jabbok. For this reason the border of the children of Ammon was strong, that is, well fortified, so that Sihon had only been able to push his conquests to the upper Jabbok, not into the territory of the Ammonites which Israel was forbidden by Jehovah to enter. See Deuteronomy 2:19.

Verse 25

25. Heshbon See Joshua 13:17, note.

Villages Hebrew, daughters, that is, lesser towns.

Verse 27

27. They that speak in proverbs The ballad-singers. Here we have a scrap of Amorite poetry in three strophes:

“Come ye to Heshbon,

Let the city of Sihon be built and established!

For fire went forth from Heshbon,

A flame out of the stronghold of Sihon,

Which devoured Ar of Moab,

The lords of the high places of Arnon.

“Woe to thee, Moab!

Thou art undone, O people of Chemosh!

He hath given up his sons as fugitives,

And his daughters into captivity,

To Sihon, king of the Amorites.

“Then we cast them down; Heshbon perished even unto Dibon,

And we laid (it) waste unto Nophah, with fire unto Medeba.”

If this song be of Hebrew origin, then the former part of it is a biting taunt: “Come, ye Amorites, into your city of Heshbon and build it up again. Ye boasted that ye had burnt it and driven out the Moabites; but now we are come in our turn, and have burnt Heshbon and driven you out.”

Verse 28

28. Ar See Numbers 21:15, note. The high places of Arnon are mentioned as the limits to which Sihon had carried his victorious supremacy. The lords are the Moabites.

Verse 29

29. Chemosh was the chief god of the Moabites and of the Ammonites, akin to Milcom, Baal, and Moloch. He was both a war-god and a sun-god, being found in both these characters upon the coins of Areopolis, standing upon a column, with a sword in his right hand and a shield in his left, and with two blazing torches by his side. Children were sacrificed to him in times of great distress. 2 Kings 3:27.

Verse 30

30. Dibon See Joshua 13:17, note.

Which reacheth Here there is supposed to be an error in the Hebrew אשׁר , which, being written for אשׁ עד , with fire unto. Thus the Masoretic mark. The Seventy render it πυρ επι , fire upon.

Medeba “Here,” says Dr. Ridgaway, “are some of the most remarkable ruins of the country.” See Joshua 13:16, note.

Verse 32

32. Jaazer See Joshua 13:25. After this reconnaissance it was captured and destroyed, as we infer from Numbers 32:35.

Verse 33

33. Bashan is thus bounded: on the north by Mount Hermon, on the east by Salcah, the Geshurites, and the Maachathites, on the south by the “border of Gilead,” and on the west by the Jordan valley. This, with “half Gilead,” was allotted to the half-tribe of Manasseh. Recent explorers have discovered in this region almost fabulous wonders in the number of ruined cities, their cyclopean architecture and surprising preservation confirming the scriptural statement that the Rephaim, the giants, once flourished here. “The cities built and occupied some forty centuries ago by these old giants exist even yet. I have traversed their streets; I have opened the doors of their houses; I have slept peacefully in their long-deserted halls.” J.L. Porter. “The richness of the whole district was of itself sufficient attraction for the invaders, for the oaks of Bashan and the vast herds of cattle that roamed its forest glades and green meadows were its boast and glory, while the landscapes and pastoral wealth of Gilead were hardly less famous. Lovely natural parks, frequent glades covered with heavy crops of wheat and barley, and with trees and shrubs grouped in charming variety, dark forests forming the background, charm the traveller even now.” Geikie. Og, the last representative of the giant race, was lord of sixty fenced cities. Himself, his sons, and his people were defeated and exterminated by Israel at Edrei after the conquest of Sihon, his friend and ally according to Josephus. His enormous stature is corroborated by an appeal to a relic still existing in the time of the author of Deuteronomy 3:11. His unusual size and prowess as a warrior excited among the Israelites a dread which God himself alleviated by his special encouragement to Moses before the battle, “Fear him not.”

Edrei “The Strong.” There were apparently two towns in Bashan of this name. One is mentioned in Deuteronomy 1:4, and Joshua 12:4, identified as the modern Dera, or Draa, on the east of the pilgrim-road between Remtha and Mezareib. At this southern Edrei Keil supposes that the great battle was fought, from the improbability that King Og would suffer Israel’s invading army to march to the northern frontier of his kingdom, the site of the other Edrei, without contesting his advance. See Joshua 13:31, note. The capital of Og was almost unassailable, being built in a hollow artificially scooped out of the top of a hill, which the deep gorge of the Hiero-max isolates from the country around. Its streets may be still seen running inall directions beneath the present town of Adraha.

Verse 34

34. I have delivered The promise is strengthened by the past tense. Israel’s fidelity is the implied condition. Israel’s unbelief would have lost the battle.

Verse 35

35. There was none left him alive As in the case of Sihon and his kingdom “We utterly destroyed the men and the women and the little ones of every city; we left none to remain.” Deuteronomy 2:34. Such was the command, Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 7:2, and the promise, Exodus 34:11; Leviticus 26:6-8. No fewer than sixty cities, “fenced with high walls, gates, and bars,” (Deuteronomy 3:4-5,) had to be taken, but they all fell before the vigorous assaults of the invaders, who trusted in Jehovah, their great ally. A notable trophy of this campaign, (Deuteronomy 3:11,) the gigantic iron bedstead, or, as some think, sarcophagus, of King Og, was laid up in Rabbath.

That the whole of the country was not conquered before the invasion of Western Palestine is evident from notices of a later date, but it was so thoroughly subdued that preparations could now be safely made to move on the enemy’s fortified cities west of the Jordan. Hence the camp was pitched, apparently for a long time, in the fertile trench of that river immediately above its entrance into the Dead Sea.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 21". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/numbers-21.html. 1874-1909.
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