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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 21

 

 

Verses 1-3

Numbers 21:1-3. Success over the King of Arad.—Since Arad, the modern Tell Arad, 17 miles from Hebron, was in the south of Canaan, and a successful advance of the whole people in that direction would hardly have been followed by a circuit round Edom (Numbers 21:4 f.) with a view to the invasion of Canaan from the E., it is likely that this section relates to an independent movement on the part of the tribes of Judah and Simeon (cf. Judges 1:16 f., where, however, the advance is represented as made from Jericho).

Numbers 21:1. Atharim: the place and the meaning of the name are unknown.

Numbers 21:2. utterly destroy: persons and (in general) property "devoted" (mg.) to a deity were destroyed as being taboo, and therefore likely to involve danger to all who might come in contact with them (pp. 99, 114, Deuteronomy 2:34*, Joshua 6:17*).

Numbers 21:3. Hormah: for the meaning, see mg. The name here seems to designate a district including more cities than one. The place had been the scene of a defeat (Numbers 14:40-45).


Verses 4-9

Numbers 21:4-9. The Fiery Serpents.—This incident is alluded to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:9. The serpents are described as fiery by reason of the inflammation caused by their bite. The means whereby the injury they inflicted was remedied was perhaps originally an instance of sympathetic magic inverted (like the cure of a dog's bite by a hair of the dog), though in antiquity serpents were widely credited with healing virtues in general, and were by the Greeks associated with Asclepius. The writer of Nu. naturally assigns the cure of the snake-bite not to magic but to Yahweh (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 16:5; Wisdom of Solomon 16:7). It is held by several scholars that the present story is mainly an ætiological legend (p. 134) to explain the practice of the serpent-worship recorded in 2 Kings 18:4. By our Lord the uplifting of the brazen serpent was regarded as a symbol of His crucifixion (Judges 3:14).

4. To compass, etc.: this connects with Numbers 20:14-21.

Numbers 21:5. light: better, "contemptible."


Verses 10-20

Numbers 21:10-20. An Itinerary.—This continues Numbers 21:4 ("and they journeyed from Mount Hor"), but the immediate place of departure in Numbers 21:10 is omitted. In Numbers 33:42 f. two stations are inserted between Hor and Oboth.

Numbers 21:10 f. Oboth . . . Iye-abarim: both unknown.—before Moab: i.e. E. of Moab.

Numbers 21:12. the valley of Zered: probably the Wdy el Ahsa at the SE. angle of the Dead Sea.

Numbers 21:13. the other side of Arnon: it is difficult to decide whether this means N. of the river from the point of view of those on the march, or S. of the river regarded from the standpoint of later times. The Arnon (p. 32) is the modern Wâdy el Mojib.—cometh out of: i.e. stretches away from.

Numbers 21:14. the book of the wars of the Lord: probably a collection of songs relating to the wars of Israel, the interests and undertakings of a nation and of its national God being regarded as the same. Israel's battles were Yahweh's battles (1 Samuel 18:17; 1 Samuel 25:28), and Israel's enemies were Yahweh's enemies (1 Samuel 30:26).—Vaheb in Suphah: unknown.—the valleys: The gorge of the Arnon, 13 miles from its mouth, divides into two branches, and each of these into other two.

Numbers 21:15. the dwelling of Ar: better, "the site of Ar," an unknown locality but somewhere on the upper Arnon.

Numbers 21:16. Beer: perhaps the Beer-elim of Isaiah 15:8.

Numbers 21:17 f. The song here quoted really refers not to a well made to flow by miraculous means (as Numbers 21:16 suggests, cf. Numbers 20:2-13, Exodus 17:1-7), but to one dug by labourers working under the authority of their rulers, who, with their sceptres, superintended the digging.—from the wilderness: read (LXX) "from Beer."—they journeyed to Mattanah: Mattanah is unknown. The words "journeyed to" are not in the Heb.; and the name "Mattanah" means lit. "a gift." Accordingly the Targum of Onkelos renders, "it was given to them in the wilderness"; whilst a later Targum explains that the well, which had been hidden, was restored to them through the merits of Miriam.

Numbers 21:19. Nahaliel: an unknown locality. The name means "the torrent-valley of God"; and the Targum of Onkelos, taking this, like the preceding name Mattanah, literally, paraphrases "and from (the time) that it was given to them, it (i.e. the well) descended with them to the rivers." This is the source of the curious legend (referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:4*) of a rock that accompanied the Israelites in their journeys and supplied them with water (see Thackeray, The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought, p. 205).—Bamoth: perhaps the Bamoth-baal of Numbers 22:41 mg.

Numbers 21:20. the valley: probably the Wâdy ‘Ayûn Mûsâ.—Pisgah: one of the spurs jutting out from the table-land overlooking the barren shore of the Jordan (near its mouth), a waste which is here (mg.) called "the Jeshîmon" (p. 31).


Verses 21-32

Numbers 21:21-32. The Conquest of the Amorites.—This narrative presupposes the position reached in Numbers 21:13 (not in Numbers 21:20), for the embassy to Sihon would naturally be despatched before the Amorite border was crossed.

Numbers 21:23. Jahaz: the Jahzah of Jeremiah 48:21, probably not far from Dibon.

Numbers 21:24. Jabbck: the modern Nahr ez-Zerka.—was strong: read (LXX) "was Jazer (Numbers 21:32).

Numbers 21:25. all these cities: a list of cities seems to have been omitted by the compiler.—Heshbon: the modern Hesbân, 18 miles E. of the Jordan.

Numbers 21:26. out of his hand: LXX has "from Aroer" (Joshua 13:25); but perhaps the correct reading is "from Jabbok" (Numbers 21:24).

Numbers 21:27. The poem here quoted is appealed to by the compiler as evidence that Heshbon had been taken by Sihon from the Moabites, and Numbers 21:29 at first sight confirms the supposition that it relates to an Amorite triumph over Moab. But the allusion to Sihon in Numbers 21:29 makes the verse too long, and it is omitted in Jeremiah 48:46, where the rest of the verse is cited; and since Numbers 21:28 celebrates the burning of "the city of Sihon," it is probable that the poem really refers to a conquest of Moab subsequent to Sihon's time, achieved by Israel (cf. 2 Kings 3:4 and the inscription of Mesha).—that speak in proverbs: better "that recite ballads."—the city of Sihon: Heshbon is so termed in consequence of having once been taken by Sihon from the Moabites, just as Jerusalem was called "the city of David" through having been wrested by David from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:9).—be built: i.e. be rebuilt. The counsel is given in mockery.

Numbers 21:28. implies that Heshbon was the first town fired by the enemy, and that the conflagration extended to Ar, further S. The foe clearly came from the N. In the last line render (with LXX), "It hath consumed the high places of Arnon."

Numbers 21:29. O people of Chemosh: Chemosh was the god of the Moabites (1 Kings 11:7), who were called his people, just as the Israelites were styled Yahweh's people (Judges 5:11).—He hath given, etc.: Moab's disasters are attributed to Chemosh, as Israel's were ascribed to Yahweh (Judges 6:1).—his sons . . . his daughters: a Semitic nation was regarded as being of the stock of the god whom it worshipped. Similarly the Israelites were termed "the children of Yahweh" (Deuteronomy 14:1).—Read (for the fourth and fifth lines), "And his daughters into captivity unto the king."

Numbers 21:30. Read (partly after LXX and Vulg.), "Their offspring have perished from Heshbon even unto Dibon, and their women from Nophah unto Medeba." But if this emendation is thought too drastic, and the third line is retained, as in the text, the fourth is best altered (cf. mg.) to, "With fire unto Medeba." Dibon is the modern Dhibn, 4 miles N. of the Arnon; Nophah is unknown; Medeba is Mdeba, a few miles S. of Heshbon. Nophah and Medeba may perhaps mark the western and eastern limits of the devastation (as Heshbon and Dibon the northern and southern).

Numbers 21:32. Jazer: identified with Sar, 8 miles W. of Rabbath Ammon After the conquest it was included in Gad (Joshua 13:25).


Verses 33-35

Numbers 21:33-35. The Conquest of Bashan.—This passage is substantially identical with Deuteronomy 3:1-3, and is generally regarded as transferred hither from thence. It is ignored in Numbers 22:2. Bashan (the country N. of the Yarmuk), the modern Haurân, was probably occupied by Israelite settlers who migrated thither from the W. of Jordan in post-Mosaic times. It was famous for its oaks, sheep, and cattle (Isaiah 2:13, Deuteronomy 32:14, Psalms 22:12).

33. Edrei: the modern Edreat, 30 miles E. of the Lake of Gennesaret.

Numbers 21:35. and his sons: omit (cf. Numbers 21:33 f., Deuteronomy 3:3).

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/numbers-21.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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