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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Numbers 21



Verse 1

And when king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners.

King Arad the Canaanite , [ ha-K

Verse 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.

Israel vowed a vow. Made to feel their own weakness, they implored the aid of Heaven, and, in anticipation of it, devoted the cities of this king to future destruction. The nature and consequence of such anathemas are described, Leviticus 27:1-34; Deuteronomy 13:1. This vow of extermination against Arad gave name to the place Hormah (slaughter and destruction), though it was not accomplished until after the passage of the Jordan (Joshua 12:14.)

I will utterly destroy - [ w

Verse 3

And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah.

And they utterly destroyed them and their cities - [ wayachareem (Hebrew #2763), devoted to destruction; Septuagint, anathematisen.] It is clear that this is the import of the statement, because the overthrow of these doomed cities did not take place until a period considerably later (Joshua 12:14).

Hormah - [ Chaar

Verse 4

And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.

They journeyed from mount Hor. On being refused the passage requested, they returned through the Arabah, "the way of the Red Sea," to Elath, at the head of the eastern gulf of the Red Sea, and thence passed up through the mountains to the eastern desert, so as to make the circuit of the land of Edom, (Num. 33; 41; 42


The soul of the people ... Disappointment on finding themselves so near the confines of the promised land without entering it, vexation at the refusal of a passage through Edom, and the absence of any divine interposition in their favour-above all, the necessity of a retrograde journey by a long and circuitous route through the worst parts of a sandy desert, and the dread of being, plunged into new and unknown difficulties-all this produced a deep depression of spirits. But it was followed, as usually, by a gross outburst of murmuring at the scarcity of water, and of expressions of disgust at the manna.

Verse 5

And the people spake against God, and against 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.

Our soul loatheth this light bread - i:e., bread without substance or nutritious quality. The refutation of this calumny appears in the fact, that on the strength of this food they performed for 40 years so many and toilsome journeys. But they had been indulging a hope of the better and more varied fare enjoyed by a settled people: and disappointment, always the more bitter as the hope of enjoyment seems near, drove them to speak against God and against Moses (1 Corinthians 10:9).

Verse 6

And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.

The Lord sent fiery serpents , [ han

Verses 7-9

Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.

We have sinned. The severity of the scourge and the appalling extent of mortality brought them to a sense of sin; and through the intercessions of Moses, which they implored, they were miraculously healed. He was directed to make the figure of a serpent in brass, to be elevated on a pole or standard, that it might be seen at the extremities of the camp, and that every bitten Israelite who looked to it might be healed. This special method of cure was designed, in the first instance, to show that it was the efficacy of God's power and grace, not the effect of nature or art; and hence, an external sign was chosen, on the ground that the image of the pestiferous animal could not be mistaken as possessed of any natural power or inherent virtue of healing; also, that it might be a type of power of faith in Christ to heal all who look to Him of their sins (John 3:14-15).

The brazen serpent, it is probable, had not any symbolic meaning. It was not a type of Christ; and the appeal to it, as illustrating the substitutionary work of Christ, holds good only in these two points of resemblance-that it was raised on a column or pole-supposed by some to have had the form of a cross; and that the believing contemplation of it was effectual in producing a bodily cure, as a similar regard of the Saviour leads to the removal of spiritual disease. This view shows the groundlessness of Gesenius' assertion, that the incident is a proof of the serpent being regarded as a beneficent power among the Hebrews, as well as the Egyptians. A juster inference is drawn from it by Bunsen ('Bibelwerk,' 5:, 217), that the historic truth of this narrative, as well as the religious import of the sign, is attested by the careful preservation of the metallic image until an advanced period of the monarchy (see the note at 2 Kings 18:4). But the conjectures of this writer as to the possible mode of cure, as well as of rationalistic writers generally respecting the brazen serpent, are too ridiculous to be given in detail (see Winer, 'Realworterbuch,' sub voce).

Verse 10

And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in Oboth.

The children of Israel set forward - along the eastern frontier of the Edomites, encamping in various stations.

Pitched in Oboth , [ 'Obot (Hebrew #88), waterskins; Septuagint, Oobooth]. It appears (Numbers 33:44) that this place, which was the first stage after departing from the scene of the brazen serpent, was only one march distant from the confines of Moab); but its site has not been ascertained.

Verse 11

And they journeyed from Oboth, and pitched at Ijeabarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sunrising.

Pitched at Ije-abarim , [ b

Verse 12

From thence they removed, and pitched in the valley of Zared.

Pitched in the valley of Zared , [ Zaared (Hebrew #2218)] - torrent bed or Wady of Zared (woody), now Wady el-Ahsy [Septuagint, eis pharanga zared], forming the natural boundary which separates Edom (now Jelab) from the northern kingdom of Moab (now Kerak). This torrent rises among the mountains near the castle el-Ahsy, on the route of the Syrian Haj, to the east of Moab, and flowing west by a deep chasm through the high table-land (its whole course being about 35 miles), issues into the Ghor, a little southeast of the Dead Sea, opposite the salt mountain of Usdum. At this lower part of its course it bears the name of Wady el-Kurahy, and is a perennial stream; but nearer its source, where it is called Ahsy, its channel is frequently dry in summer; and it was most probably at some point on the margin of its upper current that the Israelites pitched, and where they would have little difficulty in crossing into the territory of Moab (Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' vol. 2:, pp. 555, 556; also 'Physical Geography of Palestine,' pp. 80, 167).

Verse 13

From thence they removed, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, 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.

Pitched on the other side of Arnon - now el-Mojib, which springs from a fountain near Kul'at el-Kutraneh, a station on the Haj route, and being joined by the Waleh at a point about two hours' distance above the shore of the Dead Sea, and by several other brooks, flows by a deep chasm of 100 feet wide, formed by high, perpendicular cliffs, on a rocky, wild bed, forming ridges of red, brown, and yellow sandstone. This river divided the territory of Moab (Kerak) from that of the Amorites (the Belka).

Verse 14

Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the LORD, What he did in the Red sea, and in the brooks of Arnon,

Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the Lord. A fragment or passage is here quoted from a historical poem, descriptive of the wars of the Israelites, principally with a view to decide the position of Arnon. Various opinions have been advanced respecting this book. Le Clerc, Grotius, and Dr. Patrick, instead of "book," render the original word, 'writing,' 'narrative;' so that, according to them, the passage should stand thus: 'Wherefore in the narration of the wars of the Lord,' etc.

Lightfoot supposes "the book of the wars of the Lord" to be that record which, on the defeat of the Amalekites, Moses was commanded to make as a memorial of it, and to rehearse it in the ears of Joshua (Exodus 17:14-16), with continuations for Joshua's private instructions toward the prosecution of the wars on the lawgiver's decease. Hengstenberg considers this work was of a much more comprehensive description, embracing a record of all that the Lord had done from the commencement of the plagues, which was a war against the king and the people and the gods of Egypt-the destruction of the Egyptian host at the Red Sea-the encounter with the Amalekites, the king of Arad, etc.

These victories, as they were achieved by the help of Yahweh, were celebrated in song, as Miriam's ode after the passage through, the Red Sea, (Exodus 15:1-27.) 'The triumph of the idea over the reality will always call forth poetry: and hence, there was opened a source of popular lyrical poetry, which flowed so richly even in the age of Moses that an entire collection of such songs then sprang into existence, called "the wars of the Lord." They re-echoed the impression which the Lord's dealings with His people were fitted to produce, but in a manner as different from the Psalms as the songs of Korner (or the war-song of Burns) differ from church songs' (Hengstenberg, 'Pentateuch,' vol. 2:, p. 182; also, 'Beitrage,' vol. 3:, p. 223; 'Psalms,' vol. 3:, Appendix 2:; Kurtz, 'History of the Old Covenant, vol. 3:, p. 37.

What he did in the Red sea, and in the brooks of Arnon , [ 'et (Hebrew #854) waaheeb (Hebrew #2052) b

Verse 15

And at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab.

And at the stream of the brooks [ w

Verse 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.

From thence they went to Beer - i:e., a well. The name was probably given to it afterward, as it is not mentioned, Numbers 33:1-56.

Verse 17

Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it:

Then Israel sang. This beautiful little song was in accordance with the wants and feelings of traveling caravans in the East, where water is an occasion both of prayer and thanksgiving. From the princes using their official rods only, and not spades, it seems probable that this well was concealed by the brushwood or the sand, as is the case with many wells in Idumea still. The discovery of it was seasonable, and owing to the special interposition of God. This seems to be the true interpretation of a clause somewhat obscure.

Verse 18

The princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves. And from the wilderness they went to Mattanah:

By the direction of the lawgiver , [ bim

Verse 19

And from Mattanah to Nahaliel: and from Nahaliel to Bamoth:

And from the wilderness they went to Mattanah. Our translators seem, by supplying the words, "they went," to have regarded this passage as containing an enumeration of the principal encampments of Israel during their progress through the desert. Hengstenberg regards it in the same light as part of the historical record; the bare list of the stations being given previous to an episodical narrative of the most important incidents that took place at some of them in Numbers 21:21-31, where the thread of the general history is resumed; and he supports this view by remarking, that the very first of the stations mentioned was not in the wilderness, but in the cultivated region (cf. Deuteronomy 2:26); and that the other stations noticed lay within the Amorite territory, being mentioned by anticipation, as there were none of them occupied until after the defeat of Sihon.

Mattanah - i:e., 'a gift' (Genesis 25:6). From the direction in which the Israelites were marching, and the succeeding stations that are recorded, it may be inferred that Mattanah was situated on the boundary line between the Moabite and the Amorite territory, southeast of the Dead Sea. Le Clerc supposed it synonymous with Vaheb (see the note at Numbers 21:14). Hengstenberg suggests that it may be the Tedun, which Burckhardt describes as lying near the source of the Lejum.

Nahaliel - i:e., a torrent or stream of God; supposed to be Wady Enkheileh (a corruption of the ancient name), one of the early tributaries of the Lejum, and marked on Robinson's map ('Biblical Researches,' end of vol.

ii.) as Enkheileh or Lejum.

Verse 20

And from Bamoth in the valley, that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looketh toward Jeshimon.

Bamoth , [ uwmi-Baamowt (Hebrew #1120) hagay

Verses 21-23

And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, saying,

Israel sent messengers unto Sihon ... - (see the notes at Numbers 20:17-19.) The place from which the messengers were sent was Kedemoth - i:e., eastward (see the note at Deuteronomy 11:26). The rejection of their respectful and pacific message was resented; Sihon was discomfited in battle; and Israel obtained by right of conquest the whole of the Amorite dominions. The decisive battle which was followed by this splendid result was fought at Jahaz [Yaahaats, with the Hebrew letter he (h), the particle of motion added to it in this passage; Septuagint, Iassa, a place considerably south of Heshbon, on the edge of the eastern desert in the extreme southern part of Sihon's dominions, and consequently on the northernside of the Arnon]. Its site has not been ascertained. Sihon himself was the challenger, and the Israelites, who had done nothing toward him to provoke an attack, were compelled to engage in a defensive war with him, in which, by the help of their Almighty Guardian, they were completely victorious.

Verse 24

And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon: for the border of the children of Ammon was strong.

Israel ... possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon. The brook [ naachal (Hebrew #5157)] Jabbok (called "the river of Gad," 2 Samuel 24:5), now Nahr ez-Zerka, which rises near the ruins of Rabbath-Ammon (Amman), east of the mountains, flows by a deep chasm between the towering range of Jebel 'Ajlun and the Belka, and enters the Jordan opposite Nabulus. The territory comprised within these two rivers was in early times called the land of Gilead" (Numbers 32:1; Deuteronomy 34:1), now the Belka-which is divided into two nearly equal halves by the Wady Hesban, the northern portion extending from it to the Jabbok, while the southern portion between Wady Hesban and the Amen is again intersected by the Wady Zerka Main (Meon), which empties itself into the Dead Sea (Robinson's Physical Geography,' p. 79).

The whole country, embracing all the low-lying as well as highland regions east of the Jordan, had been formerly occupies by the descendants of Lot, until the portion known as the province of Belka, belonging to Moab, was, century before that time, invaded and seized by the chief of a wandering tribe of mountaineers (the Amorites) from southern Judea, where they were intermingled with the Anakim, and who, taking advantage of the decay of the Moabite nation, effected a permanent settlement between the territories of the two brethren, Moab on the south and Ammon on the north. The two rivers, the Arnon and the Jabbok, formed the boundaries of his usurped possession.

For the border ... of Ammon was strong - a reason stated for Sihon not being able to push his invasion further. The Ammonite territory cannot be exactly defined, because that people were a tribe of Bedouin marauders; but the country north of the Jabbok, as far as mount Hermon (Jebel esh-Shiekh) was called anciently "the land of Bashan," now the Hauran. The Ammonites were driven further to the east; because another invasion of Amorites was made on the land north of the Jabbok, which resulted in the establishment of a second Amorite kingdom in Bashan.

Verse 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.

Israel dwelt in all the cities - such as Beth-gamul, Bozrah, Kerioth, etc. (Jeremiah 48:21-24), after exterminating the inhabitants, who were previously doomed (Deuteronomy 2:34).

In Heshbon, and in all the villages thereof - literally, all the daughters thereof. The phrase, 'all the daughters' of a city, evidently means the excrement villas and towns belonging to the metropolitan or mother city.

Verse 26

For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab, and taken all his land out of his hand, even unto Arnon.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 27-30

Wherefore they that speak in proverbs say, Come into Heshbon, let the city of Sihon be built and prepared: Wherefore they that speak in proverbs , [ hamosh

Verse 31-32

Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites. No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 33

And they turned and went up by the way of Bashan: and Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he, and all his people, to the battle at Edrei.

They turned, and went up by the way of Bashan - a name given to that district from the richness of its soil (now Batanea or El Bottein); a hilly region east of the Jordan, lying between the mountains of Hermon on the north and those of Gilead on the south.

Og. [The Zuz-im, the Shas'u of the Egyptian monuments, who were the original inhabitants of this region, called themselves Huk-soos, 'Royal shepherds,' because Huk signifies a king, and Soos signifies a shepherd. Manetho alone has preserved the royal prefix, Huk, by which the ancient tribe distinguished its chief. This epithet, Uk, appears in Scripture as the title of the sovereign of Bashan; because the Hebrew, `Owg (Hebrew #5747), Houg (Og), is a very fair attempt to imitate the native word which Manetho endeavours to render in Greek letters by Huk. It is evidently allied to the Egyptian Hak, a ruler, of which the reduplicate Agag, 'Agag (Hebrew #90), of Amalek, may be taken as a variant (Courbaux).] Og belonged to the giant race of Rephaim; and he is represented by Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 4:, ch. 5:, sec. 3) as the friend and ally of Sihon.

Edrei - his capital, a strongly fortified place, the reduction of which, considering the combined advantages it possessed of natural position and artificial defense, could not have been effected by the military prowess or skill of the Israelites without the favour and aid of heaven (see the note at Deuteronomy 3:1).

Verse 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 shalt do to him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon.

The Lord said ... Fear him not. This was a necessary encouragement, because his gigantic stature was calculated to inspire terror. He and all his were put to the sword, and his 60 cities overthrown (see the note at Deuteronomy 3:11).


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

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Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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