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Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible
Numbers 21

 

 

Verse 1

NUMBERS CHAPTER 21

The Canaanites fight against Israel, and take some of them prisoners, Numbers 21:1. Through God’s assistance they overcome them, and destroy their cities, Numbers 21:2,3. The people murmur, Numbers 21:4,5; are plagued with fiery serpents, Numbers 21:6. They repent, Numbers 21:7. A brazen serpent erected, to which they look, and are saved, Numbers 21:8,9. They journey, Numbers 21:10-16. Their hymn for water given at Beer, Numbers 21:17. They sue for passage to the Amorites; are denied; fight them; overcome, and dwell in their cities, Numbers 21:18-26. Proverbial sayings concerning it, Numbers 21:27-30. Og king of Bashan, his sons, and all his people, are killed by the Israelites, and their land possessed by them, Numbers 21:33-35.

King Arad the Canaanite; or rather, the Canaanite king of Arad; for Arad is not the name of a man, but of a city or territory, as may seem from Joshua 12:14 Jude 1:16, if at least this was the same place with that. And he seems to be called a

Canaanite in a general sense, as the Amorites and others sometimes are.

In the south, to wit, of Canaan, as appears from Numbers 33:40, towards the east, and near the Dead Sea.

By the way of the spies; not of those spies which Moses sent to spy the land, Numbers 13:17, for that was done thirty-eight years before this, and they went so privately, that the Canaanites took no notice of them, nor knew which way they came or went; but of the spies which he himself sent out to observe the marches and motions of the Israelites. But the words may be otherwise rendered; either thus, in the manner of spies, so the sense is, when he heard that divers of the Israelites came into or towards his country in the nature of spies, to prepare the way for the rest; or thus, by the way of Atharim, a place so called, as the seventy interpreters here take it, and it seems not improbable. Took some of them prisoners; which God permitted for Israel’s humiliation and punishment, and to teach them not to expect the conquest of that land from their own wisdom or valour, but wholly from God’s favour and assistance. See Deuteronomy 9:4 Psalms 44:3,4.


Verse 2

Being sensible of their own weakness, they endeavour to engage God to help them in the war, which they intended to renew.

I will utterly destroy their cities; I will reserve no person nor thing for my own use, but devote them all to total destruction, which was the consequent of such vows. See Leviticus 27:29 Deuteronomy 13:15


Verse 3

They utterly destroyed them: when?

Answ. Either,

1. Some time after this, under Joshua, who subdued, among others, the king of Arad, Joshua 12:14. And so this is mentioned here by anticipation, that the vow being now made and mentioned, the effect or performance of it might be recorded, though out of its place; and so this verse must be supposed to be added by some of the prophets, and inserted into Moses’s history, as some other passages seem to be. Or,

2. At this time; and so this is not the same Arad with that, Joshua 12:14, nor this the same Hormah with that there mentioned, but another of the same name, which is most frequent in persons and places in Scripture. And this is the more probable, because that Arad and Hormah, Joshua 12:14, are two distinct places, and had divers kings, whereas here the same place is called both Arad and Hormah; and because that Arad seems to be at some good distance from this, and more within the country, and more northward, as may be gathered from the other places joined with it, Jos 12$. whereas this Arad was near Edom, Numbers 21:4, and in the south, Numbers 21:1.

Quest. 1. How could this be done in the land of Canaan, when Moses neither entered himself, nor led the people into that land?

Answ. Neither Moses nor the whole body of the people did this exploit, but a select number sent out for this purpose to punish that king and people, who were so fierce and malicious that they came out of their own country to fight with the Israelites in the wilderness; and these, when they had done this work, returned to their brethren into the wilderness.

Quest. 2. Why did they not all now go into Canaan, when some of them had once entered it, and pursue this victory?

Answ. Because God would not permit it, there being several works yet to be done, other people must be conquered, the Israelites must be further humbled and tried and purged, Moses must die, and then they shall enter, and that in a more glorious manner, even over Jordan, which shall be miraculously dried up, and give them passage.


Verse 4

By the way of the Red Sea, i.e. which leadeth to the Red Sea, as they must needs do to compass the land of Edom.

Because of the way; by reason of this journey, which was long, and troublesome, and preposterous, (for they were now going towards Egypt,) and unexpected, either because they doubted not but their brethren the Edomites would grant them their reasonable request of passing through their land, which disappointment made it worse; or because the successful entrance and victorious progress which some of them had made in the borders of Canaan, made them think they might have speedily gone in and taken possession of it, and so have saved their tedious travels and further difficulties into which Moses had again brought them.


Verse 5

Against God; against Christ, their chief Conductor, whom they tempted, 1 Corinthians 10:9.

This light bread, i.e. of small substance and virtue. Thus contemptuously do they speak of manna, whereas it appears it yielded excellent nourishment, because in the strength of it they were able to go so many and such tedious journeys.


Verse 6

Such there were many in this wilderness, Deuteronomy 8:15, which having been hitherto restrained by God, are now let loose and sent among them. They are called fiery from their effects, because their poison caused an intolerable heat, and burning, and thirst in the bodies of the Israelites, which was aggravated with this circumstance of the place, that here was no water, Numbers 21:5.


Verse 8

A fiery serpent, i.e. the figure of a serpent in brass, which is of a fiery colour. This would require some time: God would not speedily take off the judgment, because he saw they were not thoroughly humbled.

Set it on a pole, that the people might see it from all parts of the camp; and therefore the pole must be high, and the serpent large.

This method of cure was prescribed, partly that it might appear to be God’s own work, and not the effect of nature or art; and partly that it might be an eminent type of our salvation by Christ. See John 3:14,15. The serpent signified Christ, who was in the likeness of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3, though without sin, as this brazen serpent had the outward shape, but not the inward poison of the other serpents: the pole resembled the cross upon which Christ was lift up for our salvation; and looking up to it designed our believing in Christ.


Verse 9

He was delivered from death, and cured of his disease.


Verse 10

Not immediately, but after two other stations, mentioned Num 33.


Verse 11

Moab is called the wilderness of Moab, Deuteronomy 2:8.


Verse 12

Or rather, by the torrent or brook of Zared, as we render it, Deuteronomy 2:13; which ran into the Dead Sea, and from which the valley also might be so called.


Verse 13

On the other side of Arnon, or rather, on this side of Arnon, for so it now was to the Israelites, who had not yet passed over it, as appears from Deuteronomy 2:24. But the same words, Jude 11:18, are to be rendered on the other side of Arnon, for so it was to Jephthah; and the same preposition signifieth on this side, or beyond, according to the circumstances of the place.

Between Moab and the Amorite, i.e. though formerly it and the land beyond it belonged to Moab, yet afterwards it had been taken from them by Sihon, Numbers 21:26,28. This is added to reconcile two seemingly contrary commands of God, the one that of not meddling with the land of the. Moabites, Deuteronomy 2:9, the other that of going over Arnon and taking possession of the land beyond it, Deuteronomy 2:24, because, saith he, it is not now the land of the Moabites, but of the Amorites.


Verse 14

The book of the wars of the Lord seems to have been some poem or narration of the wars and victories of the Lord, either by or relating to the Israelites; which may be asserted without any prejudice to the integrity of the Holy Scripture, because this book doth not appear to have been written by a prophet, or to be designed for a part of the canon, but by some other ingenious person, who intended only to write an historical relation of these matters, which yet Moses might quote, as St. Paul doth some of the heathen poets. And as St. Luke assures us that many did write a history of the things done and said by Christ, Luke 1:1, whose writings were never received as canonical, the like may be justly conceived concerning this and some few other books mentioned in the Old Testament; though the words may be thus rendered, Wherefore it shall be said in the relation, or narration (for so the Hebrew sepher is confessed to signify)

of the wars of the Lord. In the Red Sea; or, at Vaheb in Suphah, or in the land of Suph. Vaheb seems to be the name not of a man, but of a city or place, and Suphah the name of the country where it was; and the Hebrew particle eth is oft rendered at. And whereas the sense seems to be imperfect, it must be noted, that he quotes only a fragment or piece of the book, and that principally to prove the situation of Arnon, which he had asserted Numbers 21:13, from which end the passage quoted is sufficient. And the sense is easily to be understood, for it is plain enough that this poet or writer is describing the wars and works of God by the several places where they were done; and having begun the sentence before, and mentioned other places, he comes to these here mentioned, at Vaheb in Suphah, and at the brooks of Arnon, &c. And it seems probable that the war here designed was that of Sihon against the Moabites, mentioned below, Numbers 21:26, which is fitly ascribed to the Lord, because it was undertaken and perfected by the singular direction and assistance of God, and that for the sake of the Israelites, that by this means that country might be invaded and possessed by them, without taking it away from the Moabites, which they were forbidden to meddle with or to disturb, Deuteronomy 2:9, and so their title to it might be more just and unquestionable. See Jude 11:12,13,27.

In the brooks of Arnon, i.e. the brook, the plural number for the singular, as the plural number rivers is used concerning Jordan, Psalms 74:15, and concerning Tigris, Nahum 2:6, and concerning Euphrates, Psalms 137:1, and concerning Thermodoon in Virgil, all which may be so called because of the several little streams into which they were divided.


Verse 15

Ar; a chief city in Moab, as appears from Isaiah 15:1, of which Numbers 21:28.


Verse 16

Beer, and Mattanah, Nahaliel, and Bamoth named here, Numbers 21:19, are not mentioned among those places where they pitched or encamped, Num 33. Either therefore they did not pitch or encamp in these places, but only pass by or through them, nor indeed is it here said they pitched or encamped in these places, which is said of those places, Num 33, but only that they went to them, Numbers 21:18; or, these are stations omitted there, and to be supplied from hence; for though it be there said they went from such a place, and pitched in such a place, yet it is not said they went immediately from the one place to the other, and therefore they might take these places in their way.

Will give them water, to wit, in a miraculous manner.


Verse 17

Israel sang this song, to praise God for giving them such a seasonable blessing, before they asked it, or complained for the want of it.

Spring up; give forth thy waters that we may drink. Heb. Ascend, i.e. let thy waters, which now lie hid below in the earth, ascend for thy use. It is either a prediction that it should spring up, or a prayer that it might, or a command in the name of God directed to the well, by a usual prosopopaeia, as when God bids the heavens hear, and the earth give ear, Isaiah 1:2. Any of these ways it shows their faith. Sing ye unto it; or, sing ye of it; or, answer to it or concerning it; it being the manner of the Jewish singers that one should answer to another, of which see Exodus 15:21 1 Samuel 18:7.


Verse 18

The princes digged; either by themselves, or by others whom they commanded to do it. By the direction of the lawgiver, or, with the lawgiver, i.e. Moses; they together with Moses, or they by Moses’s direction and appointment, which is signified Numbers 21:16.

Their staves are here mentioned, either,

1. As the ensigns of their authority, Jude 5:14, by which they gave this command of digging.

2. As the instruments of their work; not that they, did formally and effectually dig the well or receptacle for the water, for which spades were more proper than staves, but that as Moses smote the rock with his rod, so they struck the earth with their staves, making only some small impression for form sake, or as a sign that God would cause the water to flow forth out of the earth where they smote it, as he did before out of the rock.


Verse 19

See Poole "Numbers 21:16".


Verse 20

In the valley; or, the valley, which might be called Bamoth, not because it was a place naturally high, but from divers other reasons, which may be easily guessed. Or, to the valley, or to that valley, that famous or rather infamous valley, to wit, of Abel-shittim, Numbers 33:49, where they committed those foul abominations recorded Num 25

Pisgah was the top of these high hills of Abarim; of which see Deuteronomy 3:17,27 32:49 34:1,6.


Verse 21

By God’s allowance, that so Sihon’s malice might be the more evident and inexcusable, and that their title to his country more clear in the judgments of all men, as being gotten by a just war, into which they were forced for their own defence.


Verse 22

They spoke what they seriously intended and would have done, if he had given them quiet passage; but withal they knew that Sihon would not do it, and that he would withstand them, and that they should subdue him and take his land, as God had told them before they sent this message, as appears from Deuteronomy 2:21,26,27; and accordingly God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, for this end, that he might deliver him into Israel’s hand there, Numbers 21:31. And no wonder, for he and his people were Amorites, and therefore devoted to destruction, as all that people were.


Verse 23

Jahaz, a city, of which see Deuteronomy 2:32 Jeremiah 48:21.


Verse 24

From Arnon; or which reached from Arnon, &c. such supplements being very usual; and so here is contained a description or limitation of Sihon’s conquest and kingdom, that it extended only from Arnon—unto the children of Ammon; and then the following words, for the border of the children of Ammon was strong, come in very fitly, not as a reason why the Israelites did not or could not conquer the Ammonites, for they were absolutely forbidden to meddle with them, Deuteronomy 3:8; but as a reason why Sihon could not enlarge his conquests and empire to the Ammonites, as he had done to the Moabites.

Jabbok; a river by which the countries of Ammon and Moab were in part bounded and divided.

Was strong; either by the advantage of the river, or by their strong holds in their frontiers.


Verse 25

Having destroyed the ancient inhabitants, Deuteronomy 2:34.


Verse 26

The city of Sihon: this is added as a reason why Israel took possession of this land, notwithstanding God’s prohibition of meddling with them or their land, Deuteronomy 2:9, because it was not now the land of the Moabites, but had been some time since taken from them, and in the possession of the Amorites.

The former king of Moab, i.e. the predecessor of Balak, who was the present king.


Verse 27

That speak in proverbs; the poets, or other ingenious persons, to wit, of the Amorites or Canaanites, who made this following song of triumph over the vanquished Moabites; which is here brought in partly as a proof that this was now Sihon’s land, and partly as an evidence of the just judgment of God in spoiling the spoilers, and subduing these who insulted over their conquered enemies.

Come into Heshbon: these are the words either of Sihon speaking thus to his people, or of the people exhorting one another to come and possess and repair the city which they had taken.

The city of Sihon; that which once was the royal city of the king of Moab, but now is the city of Sihon.


Verse 28

A fire, i.e. the fury of war, which is oft and fitly compared to fire here, as Isaiah 47:14 Amos 1:7,10,12,14 2:2,5;

Heshbon; that city which before was a refuge and defence to all the country, now is turned into a great annoyance and a public mischief.

Ar of Moab.

Quest. How can this be, since Ar was yet in the hands of the Moabites, Deuteronomy 2:9,18,29?

Answ. 1. This may be understood not of the city Ar, but of the people or the country subject or belonging to that great and royal city, as the Chaldee understands it.

2. Possibly Ar was taken by Sihon of the Moabites, but afterwards was either recovered by the Moabites, or upon the Israelites’ approach quitted by Sihon, gathering all his forces together that he might fight with the Israelites, and so repossessed by the Moabites.

3. This place may be thus rendered, It shall consume Ar of Moab, the past tense being put for the future, as is usual in prophetical passages; and so this may be the Amorites’ prediction or presage, that having taken Heshbon and its territories, they should now extend their victories to

Ar of Moab, though they fell short of that hope, as ordinarily men do.

The lords of the high places; either,

1. The princes or governors of the strong holds, which were frequently in high places, especially in that mountainous country, and which were in divers parts all along the river of Arnon; and having taken some of these, they promised to themselves that they should take all the rest, and so proceed further and further, till they had taken Ar itself. Or rather,

2. The priests and people that worshipped their god in their high places; which may seem more probable,

1. Because as the Israelites worshipped God, so the heathens worshipped Baal, in high places, Numbers 22:41, and particularly the Moabites are noted for so doing, Jeremiah 48:35.

2. Because amongst the eminent places of Moab there is mention of Bamoth-baal, or, of the high places of Baal, Joshua 13:17.


Verse 29

Alas, poor Moab! thou couldst not save thyself from Sihon’s sword.

People of Chemosh, i.e. the worshippers of Chemosh: so the god of the Moabites was called, 1 Kings 11:7,33 2 Kings 23:13 Jeremiah 48:46.

He, i.e. their god, hath delivered up his own people to his and their enemies; he could not defend them, but suffered many of them to be killed; nor could be secure even those that had escaped the sword, but suffered them to fall into their enemies’ hands, and by them to be carried into captivity.

Unto Sihon king of the Amorites. Now the words of this and the following verse seem to be not a part of that triumphant song or poem made, as I suppose, by some Amoritish bard or poet, which seems to be concluded, Numbers 21:28; but of the Israelites making their observation upon it. And here they scoff at the impotency not only of the Moabites, but of their god also, who could not save his people from the sword of Sihon and the Amorites.


Verse 30

Though you feeble Moabites, and your god too, could not resist Sihon, we Israelites, by the help of our God,

have shot, to wit, with success and victory, as the following words show, at them, to wit, at Sihon and his Amorites; which is easily and plainly understood, both from the foregoing and following words.

Heshbon, the royal city of Sihon, and by him lately repaired,

is perished, is taken away from Sihon, and so is all his territory or country, even as far as

Dibon, which, as some think is called Dibon-gad, Numbers 33:45.

Which reached unto Medeba, i.e. whose territory extendeth to Medeba. Or, yea, even to Medeba; for the Hebrew word asher is sometimes used for yea, or moreover, as 1 Samuel 15:20 Psalms 10:6 95:11. The sense is, the whole country of Sihon, taken by him from the Moabites, is wasted and perished.


Verse 32

Jaazer; one of the cities of Moab, formerly taken from them by Sihon, and now taken from him by the Israelites, Numbers 32:1,3,35; and after the decay or destruction of the kingdom of the ten tribes, repossessed by the Moabites, Jeremiah 48:32.


Verse 33

Og also was a king of the Amorites, of whom see Deuteronomy 3:1,11. And it may seem that Sihon and Og were the leaders or captains of two great colonies which came out of Canaan, and drove out the former inhabitants of these places.

Bashan, a rich country, famous for its pastures and breed of cattle, Deuteronomy 32:14 Psalms 22:12 Jeremiah 1:19, and for its oaks, Ezekiel 27:6.


Verse 34

Fear him not; a necessary caution, for he was a great giant, Deuteronomy 3:11, likely to strike them with terror.

 


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Bibliography Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/numbers-21.html. 1685.

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Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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