Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Numbers 21:1

When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, then he fought against Israel and took some of them captive.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Arad;   Canaanites;   Hormah;   Israel;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Desert, Journey of Israel through the;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Arad;   Hormah;   Serpents;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Vow;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Funeral;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Arad;   Hormah;   Wars of the Lord, the Book of the;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Anathema;   Arad;   Booty;   Hormah;   Numbers, the Book of;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Arad;   Bronze Serpent;   Idol;   Numbers, Book of;   Typology;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Arad;   Atharim;   Canaanites;   Israel;   Jephthah;   Moses;   Numbers, Book of;   Simeon;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Arad ;   Wanderings of the Israelites;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Arad;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Jephthah;  
Encyclopedias:
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - On to Canaan;   Moses, the Man of God;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Arad;   Atharim;   Genesis;   Moses;   Pentateuch;   Wanderings of Israel;   Kitto Biblical Cyclopedia - Arad;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Essenes;   Hormah;   Sihon;   Talmud;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

The way of the spies - אתרים atharim . Some think that this signifies the way that the spies took when they went to search the land. But this is impossible, as Dr. Kennicott justly remarks, because Israel had now marched from Meribah-Kadesh to Mount Hor, beyond Ezion-Gaber, and were turning round Edom to the south-east; and therefore the word is to be understood here as the name of a place.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/numbers-21.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

King Arad the Canaanite - Rather, “the Canaanite, the king of Arad.” Arad stood on a small hill, now called Tel-Arad, 20 miles south of Hebron.

In the south - See Numbers 13:17, Numbers 13:22.

By the way of the spies - i. e. through the desert of Zin, the route which the spies sent out by Moses 38 years before had adopted (compare Numbers 13:21).

He fought against Israel - This attack (compare Numbers 20:1 and note), can hardly have taken place after the death of Aaron. It was most probably made just when the camp broke up from Kadesh, and the ultimate direction of the march was not as yet pronounced. The order of the narrative in these chapters, as occasionally elsewhere in this book (compare Numbers 9:1, etc.), is not that of time, but of subject matter; and the war against Arad is introduced here as the first of the series of victories gained under Moses, which the historian now takes in hand to narrate.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/numbers-21.html. 1870.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

In this chapter we move very close to the entry into Canaan, but a number of experiences prior to that entry which would aid Israel in the struggles to come remained to be recorded, and the record of them would fill the Pentateuch, all the way to the end of Deuteronomy.

The chapter naturally falls into the following divisions: the conflict with Arad (Numbers 21:1-3), the experience of the fiery serpents (Numbers 21:4-9), a transitional brief summary of several encampments of Israel (Numbers 21:10-13), the journey continued (Numbers 21:14-20), the conflict with the Amorites (Numbers 21:21-32), and a defeat of Bashan (Numbers 21:33-35).

"And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the South, heard tell that Israel came by the way of Atharim; and he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. And Israel vowed a vow unto Jehovah, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities. And Jehovah hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed their cities: and the name of the place was called Hormah."

"The king of Arad ..." "The name of this place still survives in the old ruins lying some 16 miles south of Hebron, known as Tell Arad."[1] The "king of Arad" therefore is not a personal name, but the name of his capitol.

"By way of Atharim ..." The name Atharim could be translated as "the spies," in the KJV, meaning "the way of the spies"; if it is a place-name, "the location is not known."[2] What is evident here is that the ruler of Arad, as was the case no doubt with many Canaanites, anticipated the eventual assault of Israel upon their territory, and he, hearing of their long march up the eastern border of Edom, decided to halt their advance, probably attacking some isolated contingent of the sprawling camp of Israel and taking captives.

The reaction of Israel to this was dramatic. The Israelites made a vow to God that if indeed he delivered Arad into their hands, they would "utterly destroy" the people. The word in the Hebrew here is proscribe them, with the meaning that, "They would `utterly destroy them, not even reserving any booty to themselves, except that which would be deposited in the sanctuary as an offering'."[3] The word used for this continually is "to ban" or place under the "ban." The use of "my hand" instead of "our hands" in Numbers 21:2, is of no significance, such grammatical lapses being found throughout the Holy Scriptures.

"They utterly destroyed ..." (Numbers 21:3). This is said to be by anticipation of what Israel actually did at a later time, and, for this reason, some suppose that the inspired Joshua is the author of this particular information. However, as Whitelaw pointed out, this also might have happened immediately instead of later after crossing the Jordan:

"It could have been a comparatively small band of Israel that approached Arad near enough to be attacked, and which by the help of God, was enabled to defeat Arad and destroy their cities ... Arad was only a small border chieftain.[4]

In light of this consideration, all of the scholarly talk about this passage coming from a later hand, or being misplaced in the text, may certainly be taken with a grain of salt.

Regarding what some humanists like to call the "morality" of God's decree that the Canaanites should be utterly destroyed, it is sufficient here to note that only a fool can question the morality of God Himself. Yes, God decreed that all the earth at once (save Noah and his family) should be drowned. Was this right, or moral? Certainly. When any civilization reached a state of rebellion against God which, in the eyes of God, made its continued existence on earth a hazardous danger to all mankind, history indicates that God removed the offensive portion of humanity. It was true of the Canaanites.

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Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
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Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/numbers-21.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

And when King Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south,.... Arad seems rather to be the name of a place, city, or country, of which the Canaanite was king, than the name of a man, since we read of the king of Arad, Joshua 12:14 see also Judges 1:16 and so the Targums of Onkelos and Jerusalem here render it, the king of Arad; and the Targum of Jonathan says, he changed his seat and reigned in Arad, which might have its name from Arvad, a son of Canaan, Genesis 10:18 and Jerom saysF14De locis Heb. fol. 87. K. , that Arath, the same with Arad, is a city of the Amorites, near the wilderness of Kadesh, and that to this day it is shown, a village four miles from Malatis and twenty from Hebron, in the tribe of Judah; and so Aben Ezra observes, that the ancients say, this is Sihon (the king of the Amorites), and he is called a Canaanite, because all the Amorites are Canaanites; but, according to Jarchi, the Amalekites are meant, as it is said, "the Amalekites dwell in the land of the south": Numbers 13:29 and so the Targum of Jonathan here,"and when Amalek heard, that dwelt in the land of the south;'what he heard is particularly expressed in the following clause:

heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies: either after the manner of spies, or rather by the way in which the spies went thirty eight years ago, which was the way of the south, where this Canaanitish king dwelt, see Numbers 13:17, the Septuagint version leaves the word untranslated, taking it for the name of a place, and reads, "by the way of Atharim", so the Samaritan Pentateuch and Arabic version; and did such a place appear to have been hereabout, it would be the most likely sense of the passage; for as the spies were never discovered by the Canaanites, the way they went could not be known by them; nor is it very probable that, if it had been known, it should be so called, since nothing of any consequence to them as yet followed upon it:

then he fought against Israel; raised his forces and marched out against them, to oppose their passage, and engaged in a battle with them:

and took some of them prisoners; according to the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem, great numbers of them; but Jarchi says, only one single maidservant.

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Gill, John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/numbers-21.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

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

(a) By that way which their spies, that searched the dangers found to he most safe.
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/numbers-21.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Numbers 21:1-35. Israel attacked by Canaanites.

King Arad the Canaanite — rather, “the Canaanite king of Arad” - an ancient town on the southernmost borders of Palestine, not far from Kadesh. A hill called Tell Arad marks the spot.

heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies — in the way or manner of spies, stealthily, or from spies sent by himself to ascertain the designs and motions of the Israelites. The Septuagint and others consider the Hebrew word “spies” a proper name, and render it: “Came by the way of Atharim towards Arad” [Kennicott].

he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners — This discomfiture was permitted to teach them to expect the conquest of Canaan not from their own wisdom and valor, but solely from the favor and help of God (Deuteronomy 9:4; Psalm 44:3, Psalm 44:4).

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/numbers-21.html. 1871-8.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

CONTENTS

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.

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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pmc/numbers-21.html. 1828.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

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 — Or rather, the Canaanite King of Arad: for Arad is not the name of a man, but of a city or territory. And he seems to be called a Canaanite in a general sense, as the Amorites and others.

The south — Of Canaan, towards the east, and near the dead sea.

Of the spies — Not of those spies which Moses sent to spy the land, 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.

Took some of them prisoners — Which God permitted for Israel's humiliation, and to teach them not to expect the conquest of that land from their own wisdom or valour.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/numbers-21.html. 1765.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Numbers 21:1 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.

Ver. 1. And took some of them prisoners.] A sore affliction, worse than any of those outward crosses that Job suffered, whose captivity therefore, as that which comprehended all the rest, God is said to have turned, [Job 42:10] Barbarossa, the Turkish general, returned from Tunis towards Constantinople with such a multitude of poor Christian captives, shut up so close under hatches among the excrements of nature, that all the way as he went, almost every hour, some of them were cast dead overboard. (a) The late Duke of Alva, governor of Flanders, roasted some of his prisoners to death, starved others, and that even after quarter; saying, though he promised to give them their lives, he did not promise to find them meat. (b)

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/numbers-21.html. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Numbers 21:1. And when king Arad Most of the ancient versions have it, the Canaanitish king of Arad. That there was such a city in Canaan, appears from Joshua 12:14. Judges 1:16 which probably had its name from one of the sons of Canaan called Arvad, which the LXX and Vulgate translate Arad. Genesis 10:18. That Israel came by the way of the spies, seems to mean, that this king had intelligence that the Israelites were about to enter Canaan by the same way that it had been entered by the spies whom they had sent heretofore to view the land. Some think the meaning is, that the Israelites were coming in the manner of spies; while the LXX, and some others, take the word אתרים atharim, which we render spies, for a proper name. God permitted this little defeat to happen to the Israelites, to shew them, that it was not by their own proper valour that they were to make a conquest of the land of Canaan.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/numbers-21.html. 1801-1803.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

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.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/numbers-21.html. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

DEFEAT OF THE CANAANITE KING OF ARAD, Numbers 21:1-3.

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.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/numbers-21.html. 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Numbers 21:1. The armies of Israel now begin to emerge out of the wilderness, and to come into a land inhabited; to enter upon action, and take possession of the frontiers of the land of promise. King Arad — Or rather, according to the Hebrew, and all the ancient versions, The Canaanitish king of Arad; for Arad was not the name of a man, but of a city or territory, 1:16; and he seems to be called a Canaanite in a general sense, as the Amorites and others. Which dwelt in the south — Of Canaan, toward the east, and near the Dead sea. By the way of the spies — For though the spies, whom Moses had sent thirty-eight years before, then went into Canaan, and returned unobserved, yet their coming, and their errand, it is likely, were afterward known to the Canaanites, gave them an alarm, and obliged them to keep an eye on Israel, and get intelligence of their motions. The Seventy, however, and others, take the word Atharim, which we render spies, for the name of a place. Took some of them prisoners — God permitting it for Israel’s humiliation, and to teach them not to expect the conquest of that land from their own wisdom or valour.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/numbers-21.html. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Arad. This was either the name of the king, or of his city, which was situated in the southern parts of Chanaan, and which fell to the share of Hobab, in the tribe of Juda. (Haydock) --- When this king heard, by means of his spies, or was informed that Israel intended to make an irruption into his country like spies, without declaring war, or by the way which their spies had marked out either just before, or in the second year after their exit; or in fine, by the road, which the Septuagint leave untranslated, Athrim, and which means "of the spies," he resolved to be beforehand with them; and, coming suddenly upon them, took some spoils, or, according to the Hebrew, Septuagint, &c., "captives." These, by the ancient laws of war, he might either sell or put to death. Vendere cum possis captivum, ocidere noli. (Horace) (Grotius, Jur. iii. 7.) The Rabbins pretend that this king took fresh courage on account of the death of Aaron, and the consequent disappearance of the cloud, and that he drove the Israelites seven encampments back, as far as Mosera, which they confound with Haseroth.

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/numbers-21.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

Arad. Compare Joshua 12:14.

south = the Negeb. See Genesis 12:9; Genesis 13:1, Genesis 13:3; Genesis 24:62. Genesis 13:17.

came = was entering.

way of the spies., Numbers 13:21, &c. = "the way of the Atharim", Septuagint so renders it, as a proper name; probably the name of the caravan route.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/numbers-21.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

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

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/numbers-21.html. 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

XXI.

(1) And when king Arad . . . —The verse may be rendered thus: Now the Canaanite, the King of Arad, which dwelt in the south country (or, Negeb) heard (or, had heard) that Israel had come by the way of Atharim (or, of the spies), and he fought . . . The date of this occurrence is uncertain. The district of Arad appears to have extended to the southern frontier of Canaan. (Comp. Numbers 33:40; Joshua 12:14; Judges 1:16-17.) The attack probably took place either in the interval between the departure of the messengers to Edom and their return, or at the time at which the Israelites broke up from Kadesh, and before the direction of their march had been ascertained. The word Atharim, which is rendered in the Authorised Version spies, may be another form of the word which occurs in Numbers 14:6, and which is there rendered them that searched; or, as appears more probable, it may be the name of a place which does not occur elsewhere.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/numbers-21.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

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.
Arad
33:40; Joshua 12:14; Judges 1:16
the way of the spies
Dr. Kennicott remarks, that the word atharim, rendered spies in our version, is in the Greek a proper name ([Atharein] Atharim).
13:21,22; 14:45
then
Deuteronomy 2:32; Joshua 7:5; 11:19,20; Psalms 44:3,4
Reciprocal: Numbers 20:17 - GeneralPsalm 78:32 - they sinned

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/numbers-21.html.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

1.And when king Arad the Canaanite. It is not altogether agreed among commentators who this king Arad was. Some think that he was an Amalekite, but this error is refuted by the fact that the Amalekites had already attempted in vain to interrupt the journey of the people. Nor is it credible that after so great a slaughter, they would have endeavored to do so again, especially since their territories remained untouched. Besides, it would have been absurd to call the Amalekites Canaanites, since they derived their origin not from Canaan but from Esau, and thus were connected with the Israelites by a common descent from Shem. We shall, however, rightly understand this as referring to the Amorites, who were certainly reckoned among the Canaanites, as being of the same race; as Moses tells us in his first book, (Genesis 10:16, and Genesis 15:21;) nay, he elsewhere designates all the people of Canaan by the name of Amorites. Moreover, in the thirty-fourth chapter of this book, we shall see that their boundaries reached to mount Hor and Kadesh-barnea. Since, then, the Amorites were in this neighborhood towards the south, the name will suit them very well. That king Arad, however, alone made war upon them, arose from the paternal providence of God, who wished to accustom His people to the conquest of their enemies by degrees. If all these nations had united their forces, and made a combined attack upon an unwarlike people, it would have succumbed in astonishment and fear. But it was easier for them to defend themselves against a single nation. And yet, in the first combat, God permitted the Israelites to be routed, so that the victorious Canaanite took some booty, or led away some captives. And this also was useful to the Israelites, in order that, mistrusting their own strength, they might humbly betake themselves to the succor of God; for it behooved them to learn that, unless they were aided from on high, they would be altogether insufficient, when they had to resist many powerful nations, since they had not been able to withstand even a single people.

With respect to “the way of the spies,” some understand that, as the people had been taught by Joshua and Caleb, they followed the footsteps of those who had been sent to explore the land; but, inasmuch as it appears that the course was a different one, I know not whether this opinion is very tenable. Thus, some take the word דרך, derek, to mean “after the manner of,” (116) which appears to be harsh and constrained. Thus, then, I explain it, Since they had to advance through unknown regions, spies were sent on, according to custom, to direct the whole march; and hence king Arad knew that his territory was to be invaded, before the army had proceeded so far.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:1". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/numbers-21.html. 1840-57.