Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Numbers 21:4

Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Hor;   Intercession;   Israel;   Moses;   Red Sea;   Repentance;   Salvation;   Thompson Chain Reference - Bible Stories for Children;   Children;   Discouragement;   Discouragement-Encouragement;   Home;   Hor, Mount;   Mountains;   Pleasant Sunday Afternoons;   Religion;   Stories for Children;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Desert, Journey of Israel through the;   Salvation;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Exodus;   Serpents;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Red sea;   Snake;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Funeral;   Israel;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Brass;   Murmuring;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Numbers, the Book of;   Seir, Mount;   Serpent;   Serpent, Brazen;   Wilderness of the Wanderings;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Hezekiah;   Hor;   Numbers, Book of;   Red Sea (Reed Sea);   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Arabah;   Israel;   Jephthah;   Moses;   Numbers, Book of;   Red Sea;   Serpent, Brazen;   Simeon;   Suph;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Edom ;   Hor, Mount;   Wanderings of the Israelites;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Hor;   Red sea;   Serpent;   Smith Bible Dictionary - Hor;   Serpent;  
Encyclopedias:
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - On to Canaan;   Moses, the Man of God;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Arabah;   Edom;   Images;   Moses;   Pentateuch;   Psychology;   Wanderings of Israel;   Kitto Biblical Cyclopedia - Arabia;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Brazen Serpent;   Elohist;   Nehushtan;  

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

The direct route to Moab through the valleys of Edom being closed against them Numbers 20:20-21, they were compelled to turn southward. Their course lay down the Arabah; until, a few hours north of Akaba (Ezion-Geber) the Wady Ithm opened to them a gap in the hostile mountains, allowed them to turn to their left, and to march northward toward Moab Deuteronomy 2:3. They were thus for some days (see Numbers 22:1 note) in the Arabah, a mountain plain of loose sand, gravel, and detritus of granite, which though sprinkled with low shrubs, especially near the mouths of the wadys and the courses of the winter-torrents, furnishes extremely little food or water, and is often troubled by sand-storms from the shore of the gulf. Hence, “the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.”

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/numbers-21.html. 1870.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

"And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way to the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. 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, and there is no water; and our soul loathed this light bread. And Jehovah sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, because we have spoken against Jehovah, and against thee; pray unto Jehovah, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And Jehovah said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a standard: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it upon the standard: and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived."

"By way of the Red Sea ..." (Numbers 21:4). It seems almost incredible that so many current commentaries go out of their way here to insert comments such as the following: "This means Sea where the reeds grow! The word is [~Yam] [~Cuwph], or Reed Sea."[5] This is an example of how otherwise dependable scholars can be deceived by the persistent attack of liberal critics. (See the full discussion of this unconscionable error at the end of Exodus 13 in my commentary on Exodus.) Most of the scholars, even including Moffatt, who was one of the first to adopt this error, had the understanding that denied the use of it here! The place here spoken of is the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, at Ezion-Geber, where Solomon launched his navy, and common sense should, tell anyone that Solomon did not launch his great triennial Navy on "the Sea of Reeds"! The Hebrew term [~Yam] [~Cuwph] never meant "Reed Sea." It is impossible for the term "Reed" as used on ancient Egyptian monuments to modify any body of water. The words [~Yam] [~Cuwph] actually mean "Sea of the End" or "End Sea," a mid-second millenium B.C. name for all the great southern oceans (the Indian Ocean), including all of its adjacent gulfs, bays, straits, etc. That this is true appears in the fact that the Pentateuch gave the name of the sea where Israel crossed and Pharoah's army "went gurgling down" as the [~Yam] [~Cuwph] (the head of the Suez Gulf; and here the same [~Yam] [~Cuwph] is applied to the Gulf of Aqaba, the easternmost of the two great arms of the [~Yam] [~Cuwph] lying, one west (Suez), the other east (Aqaba) of the Sinaitic peninsula. (For the complete scientific refutation of the "Reed Sea" nonsense, see the article by Batto.[6])

The complaint of these verses was prompted by real need: "No bread ... no water ... a dislike of that `light bread'." Well, it was time to teach this nation of cry-babies the way of the rest of the human race. God commanded them to "dig a well" for the water, a signal that He would also shortly withhold the giving of the manna.

"Our soul loatheth the light bread ..." (Numbers 21:5). The words light bread do not convey the meaning of this term as used by Israel. Dummelow rendered it, "This vile food."[7] Wade translated it, "This contemptible food."[8] Plaut found the meaning as, "This miserable food."[9] Thompson read it as, "This worthless food."[10] Orlinsky declared that, "Just about any derogatory word will do!"[11]

God's response in this situation was swift and fatal for Israel; many of them perished from the poisonous venom of deadly snakes God sent upon His murmuring people. It was about time. Many, many times before this the sinful and unreasonable complaints of the people of God had long ago exceeded the merciful and understanding forbearance of God. The exact description of these snakes is not given, nor would it be helpful if we had it. Speculations about the exact species, or whether or not it can be identified with any of the snakes in that area today are worthless. As always, intelligent people are capable of responding to justly deserved punishment, and Israel promptly repented, apologized to Moses, confessed their sins, and requested Moses' prayers on their behalf. For once, they were on exactly the right track.

"Make a serpent of brass ... set it upon a standard ... everyone that is bitten, when he seeth it shall live ..." (Numbers 21:8,9). The great significance of this derives from Jesus' mention of it as follows:

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Also John 12:32-33, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself. But this he said, signifying by what manner of death he should die."

It is nothing short of amazing that the Christ should have found foreshadowings in this event of his own redemptive work on the Cross, but there cannot be any doubt of it, and we therefore receive this event in certain particulars of it as a Type of Christ, "Not through the discernment of man, but by the preordination of God, being one of the typical histories, applied by the Saviour to himself."[12]

TYPICAL OF CHRIST

A. Man's enemy, Satan, appears here in the form of the venomous serpents, which like "That Old Serpent" (Revelation 12:9), were the cause of sin and death.

B. The uniqueness of the remedy God here proposed is like that of Christ himself, being no other.

C. The lifting up of the serpent foretold the manner of Jesus' death on Calvary.

D. Just as the brass serpent had the likeness and form of the serpents themselves, Jesus also was "made in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3). And just as the brass serpent which was lifted up was without any evil whatever; so was Christ.

E. Faith in what God commanded, demonstrated by "looking unto" the serpent was like the faith that obeys the Word of God with reference to what Christ commanded. Healing in both cases resulted from hearing, believing, and obeying the Divine commandments.

F. Some have equated "looking unto" with "faith alone" as the means of appropriating healing and salvation, but there is a fatal flaw in that analogy. "Looking unto" was a positive and obedient objective action. "Saving faith" as understood by solifidians is none of this!

G. The "lifting up of the serpent upon the standard" is typical of the "Lifting up of Christ," not solely restricted to this death on a cross, but also applicable to the worldwide, and perpetual "lifting up" of the Saviour himself in the worship and adoration of all nations and tribes and tongues and peoples.

The student is invited to contrast the marvelous richness of this great event set forth in the above analogies with the snide comments that see nothing here except, "that of sympathetic magic - the belief that the fate of an object or person can be governed by the manipulation of its exact image!"[13] This of course gives the same status to this event as that encountered in the Voodoo cults of Africa and the West Indies.

One other question of interest is that of "What became of the brass serpent?"

The brazen image of the serpent was taken by the Israelites to Canaan, and preserved until the time of Hezekiah, who had it broken in pieces because the idolatrous people presented incense-offerings to this holy relic (2 Kings 18:4).[14]

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Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "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 they journeyed from Mount Hor,.... After the battle with the king of Arad, and the defeat of him:

by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom; which lay by it, and from whence it had the name of the Red sea, Edom signifying red; and by the way of that the Israelites must needs go, to go round that country:

and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way; because it was going back instead of going forward to Canaan's land, and because of the length of the way; it was a round about way they were going; when, could they have been admitted to have passed through the country of Edom, the way would have been short; or had they pursued their victory over the Canaanite, they would have gone directly into the land; and this perhaps was what fretted, vexed, and discouraged them, that they were obliged to go back, and take such a circuit, when they had such an opportunity of entering; and they might be distressed also with the badness and the roughness of the way, the borders of Edom being rocky and craggy: it is in the original text, "their soul or breath was short"F16ותקצר נפש "et abbreviata est anima", Montanus, Munster, Fagius, Vatablus; "decurtata", Piscator. ; they fetched their breath short, being weary and faint with travelling, or through anger, as angry persons do, when in a great passion: so the people of God travelling through the wilderness of this world are often discouraged, because of the difficulties, trials, and troubles they meet with in the way, from sin, Satan, and the world, and are fretful and impatient; but though they are led about and walk in a round about way, and in a rough way, yet in a right way to the city of their habitation, Psalm 107:7.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/numbers-21.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

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

(b) For they were forbidden to destroy it, (Deuteronomy 2:5).
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/numbers-21.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

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 (Numbers 33:41, Numbers 33:42).

the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way — 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 favor; and 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.

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This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "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

It was no doubt fatiguing to the people to go round Edom, when by going through it the way would have been shortened. But, as it was the LORD'S way, was it not the right way? And, Reader, is it not so now? You and I are sometimes prompted to think, why not taken home to our GOD and Saviour at once, after we have tasted of his preciousness: and wherefore is it that we are thus kept in the wilderness, in the ups and downs of a spiritual warfare so long? No doubt, your soul like Israel's is sometimes discouraged by reason of the way. But it is happy for us, that we are under a wiser and better direction than our own. GOD doth by us as he did by Israel. Exodus 13:17-18.

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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pmc/numbers-21.html. 1828.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

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.

By way of the Red-sea — 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 unexpected, 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 the tedious travels and farther difficulties, into which Moses had again brought them.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/numbers-21.html. 1765.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Numbers 21:4 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.

Ver. 4. Discouraged because of the way.] So are many in their voyage towards heaven, which is an afflicted way, τεθλιμμενη η οδος, [Matthew 7:14] strawed with crosses. [Acts 14:22] Indeed, if men could go to heaven in a feather bed, or pass e coeno in coelum, a deliciis ad delicias, feed on manchet, tread on roses, fly to heaven with pleasant wings, none should be so forward as they. But to go "through fire and through water," [Psalms 66:12] to "run with patience the race that is set before them," [Hebrews 12:1] and "through many tribulations to enter into heaven," this they like not. Theotimus in Ambrose, would rather lose his sight than his sin: Vale lumen amicum, said he, when forbidden wine, as naught for his eyes. Beetles love dunghills better than ointments, and swine love mud better than a garden; so do swinish epicures prefer earth to heaven, &c.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/numbers-21.html. 1865-1868.

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

DISCOURSE: 168

THE ISRAELITES DISCOURAGED BY THE WAY

Numbers 21:4. And the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.

THE history of human nature is nearly the same in all ages. Successive generations ought progressively to advance in wisdom, because they have the advantage of others’ experience. But youth will not avail themselves of the instructions of their forefathers: they will go forward in their own ways; exactly as if they had no compass whereby to steer, nor any chart of the rocks and shoals, on which so many thousands have been shipwrecked. “The way of their predecessors has been folly; and yet their posterity, in practice at least, applaud their saying.” A new generation had been born in the wilderness since the departure of the Israelites from the land of Egypt; and they had ample means of information respecting the rebellious conduct of their fathers, and the chastisements inflicted on account of it: yet on similar occasions they constantly acted in a similar manner, murmuring and complaining as soon as any new trial arose, and wishing themselves dead, to get rid of their present troubles. Thus it was with them at this time. We propose to inquire into,

I. The causes of their discouragement—

Doubtless, to those who could not implicitly confide in the wisdom and goodness of God, there was ground for discouragement. There was,

1. A perplexing providence—

[The period fixed for their entrance into Canaan was nearly arrived. They had just had a severe engagement with one of the Canaanitish kings, who had come forth against them with all his forces; and, after suffering a partial defeat, had entirely vanquished him. But they were not suffered to follow up their success, or to proceed to the immediate invasion of his land. On the contrary, having been refused permission to pass through the territories of the king of Edom, they were directed to “compass his whole land, and to go back to the Red Sea,” perhaps as far as to Ezion-gaber [Note: Deuteronomy 2:8.]. This was after they had been thirty-nine years and six months in the wilderness; after two of their leaders, Miriam and Aaron, were taken from them by death; and when there remained but six months to the time fixed for their entrance into the promised land. How unaccountable did this appear! Must they wait to be attacked in the wilderness, and never be permitted to reap the reward of victory? Must they wait in the wilderness till their enemies should be willing to resign their land? Had God forgotten his promise, or determined that they should spend another forty years in the wilderness? If the promise was to be fulfilled, why give them the trouble of traversing the wilderness again? If it was not to be fulfilled, they had better die at once, than protract a miserable existence under such vexatious and cruel disappointments.

Whilst they viewed the dispensation in this light, we do not wonder that “their soul was much discouraged.”

In truth, this is a very common source of discouragement to ourselves. Persons, on their first commencement of their journey heaven-ward, are apt to be sanguine, and to expect that they shall speedily arrive at the promised land. At one time they seem near it, but are turned back again, in order that by a long course of trials, they may be better prepared to enjoy it. At another time they seem almost to possess it; and then, not long after, find themselves at a greater distance from it than ever. Thus “hope deferred maketh their heart sick:” and being disappointed in their expectations, they yield to great dejection of mind: ‘If I am not of the number of God’s people, whence have I these desires? if I am, why have I not those attainments?’

The same disquietude arises from perplexities of any kind, where the promise, and the providence, of God appear at variance with each other. Not being able to account for the Lord’s dealings towards them, “their souls are cast down, and greatly disquieted within them.”]

2. A long protracted trial—

[Forty years of trial was a long period: and the nearer they came to its completion, the longer every day appeared. Hence this fresh order to go back to the Red Sea, and there to recommence their travels, quite overwhelmed them.

And how do long-continued afflictions operate on us? For a season we can bear up under them: but when pains of body, or distress of mind, are lengthened out; when the clouds, instead of dispersing, thicken, and storms of trouble are gathering all around us; then patience is apt to fail, and the mind sinks under its accumulated trials. Because “our strength is small, we faint under our adversity.” Even Job, that bright pattern of patience, who after the heaviest losses could say, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord;” even he, I say, fainted at last, and cursed the day of his birth. And he must be endued with an uncommon measure of grace, who under such circumstances can say with Paul, “None of these things move me.”]

That we may see how their discouragement operated, let us consider,

II. The effects produced by it—

Their minds being discomposed, they immediately gave way to,

1. A dissatisfied spirit—

[Many were the blessings which they received from the hand of God: they lived by a continual miracle: they were provided with water out of a rock, and with manna daily from the clouds: and yet they complain, “There is no bread, neither is there any water: and our soul lotheth this light bread.” Because they did not partake of that variety which the nations around them enjoyed, they were discontented: or rather, because they were offended with the order to go back unto the Red Sea, they were displeased with every thing.

What a picture is this of human frailty! The mind discouraged on one account, looks not out for circumstances of alleviation and comfort, but gives itself up to disquietude and dejection. Temporal blessings lose all their relish. Let even the bread of life be administered to persons in such a frame, they can taste no sweetness in it; the promises of God seem not suited to their case; nor are they sufficient for their support. They “cannot hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.” If they even turn their minds to the right object, it is only to confirm their own doubts, and to augment their own sorrows. Their experience is like that of Asaph, “My sore ran in the night, and ceased not; my soul refused to be comforted: I remembered God, and was troubled [Note: Psalms 77:2-3.].”]

2. A murmuring spirit—

[How lamentable to hear them on this occasion accusing God and his servant Moses of having brought them out of Egypt with a view to deceive their expectations and to kill them in the wilderness! But the mind, once thrown off its bias, will stop short of nothing, unless it be restrained by the grace of God [Note: Isaiah 8:21-22.]. Let any one that has been in deep affliction, look back and see, whether he has not found his mind rise against the immediate authors of his calamities, and ultimately against God himself, for having appointed him so hard a lot [Note: Proverbs 19:3.]? It is true, we do not perhaps intend to accuse God; but we do it in effect; because, whoever be the instrument, it is his hand that smites. Whether Chaldeans or Sabeans invaded the property of Job, or tempests destroyed his family, the holy sufferer referred the events to God, as their true author. Without God, not a hair of our head could be touched, even if the whole world were confederate against us: when therefore we murmur at the calamities we suffer, we murmur in reality against him who sends them.]

It may be asked perhaps, How could they help yielding to this discouragement? That they might have done so, will appear, whilst we shew,

III. The way in which they should have fortified themselves against it—

It behoved them in this trouble, as indeed in every other, to consider,

1. Whence it came—

[It did not spring out of the dust; it came from God; even from him who had brought them out of Egypt, and had supported them to that very hour. Had they not had evidence enough of God’s power and goodness during the nine and thirty years that they had continued in the wilderness? and did it not become them to place their confidence in him, though they could not see the immediate reason of his dispensations?

Thus should we do, when tempted to disquietude and despondency: we should say, “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good:” “the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” Yes; “when walking in darkness, we should stay ourselves upon our God;” and determine with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” This was the expedient to which David resorted in the midst of all his troubles, and which he found effectual to compose his mind; “he encouraged himself in the Lord his God [Note: 1 Samuel 30:6 with Psalms 42:11.].”]

2. For what end it was sent—

[God has expressly stated the end for which he tried them so long in the wilderness: it was, “to humble them, and to prove them, that they might know what was in their hearts [Note: Deuteronomy 8:2.].” And was not the prospect of such an end sufficient to reconcile them to the means used for the attainment of it? Let us also consider the ends for which our afflictions are sent: are they not sent with a view to make us “partakers of his holiness?” Who would be discouraged at his trials, if he reflected on the necessity which there is for them, and the blessed fruit that shall spring from them? Doubtless, they are “not joyous for the present, but grievous:” nevertheless the refiner’s fire may well be endured, if only it purge us from our dross, and make us, as “vessels of honour, meet for our Master’s use.”]

3. The certain issue of it, if duly improved—

[They were well assured that God would fulfil his promises. Even their recent victory over the Canaanites was a pledge and earnest of their future conquests. What if they did not understand the way of the Lord? The direction they had taken at their first departure from Egypt had appeared to their fathers to be erroneous: but it had proved “the right way;” and they should have been satisfied, that this, though alike mysterious, would have a similar issue; and that the number and greatness of their trials would ultimately redound to the glory of their God, and to their own real happiness

Thus we should bear in mind that all our afflictions are working together for good, and that, “light and momentary in themselves, they are working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Did we but consider this, we should be content to suffer, till we had filled up our appointed measure: yea, we should even “glory in our tribulations,” knowing that we are to be “made perfect by them,” and that “they are our appointed way to the kingdom of heaven.”]

Application—

[Certain it is that “we have need of patience, in order that, when we have done the will of God, we may inherit the promises.” But let not any of the sons and daughters of affliction yield to discouragement. If their trials be great, their supports and consolations shall be great also. Are they particularly discouraged at the thought of their weakness and sinfulness? let them recollect, what a fulness of merit and of grace is treasured up for them in Jesus; that “where sin has abounded, his grace shall much more abound; and that his strength shall surely be perfected in their weakness.”]

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/numbers-21.html. 1832.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

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.

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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.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Numbers 21:4. By the way of the Red sea — The way which led to the Red sea, which they were under a necessity of taking, that they might compass the land of Edom. But as they had gained an advantage over the king of Arad, why did they not pursue their victory, and now enter Canaan? 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, 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 divided to give them passage. The soul of the people was much discouraged — Or, they grew fretful and impatient, as the words import. Having met with so many difficulties and discouragements in their way to Canaan; particularly being now obliged, by the Edomites refusing to give them a passage through their country, to retire back southward, and thence again to turn eastward, and to take a round by the territories of the Moabites; they began to think they should never come to the promised land, and so fell into their old spirit of murmuring against God, and throwing reflections on Moses. They seem to have been the more excited to this by the successful entrance and victorious progress which some of them had made in the borders of Canaan; because they concluded from this that they might speedily have gone in and taken possession of it, and so have saved the tedious travels, and further difficulties, into which Moses had again brought them.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/numbers-21.html. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Edom, one of the princes, had refused them a passage; upon which they went by Salmona to Phunon, (chap. xxxiii. 37, 42,) where they probably murmured, (chap. v.,) and were bitten by the serpents, as we read in this chapter. (Calmet)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/numbers-21.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

soul. Hebrew. nephesh (App-13).

discouraged = grieved or impatient.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "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 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.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "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

(4) Because of the way.—Better, in (or, on) the way. In addition to all the hardships and dangers of the journey, they were conscious that they were turning their backs upon the land of Canaan, instead of marching by a direct course into it.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/numbers-21.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

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.
mount Hor
20:22,23,27; 33:41
by the way
14:25; Deuteronomy 1:40
compass
20:18-21; Deuteronomy 2:5-8; Judges 11:18
the soul
32:7,9; Exodus 6:9; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:3,4
discouraged
or, grieved. Heb. shortened.
Exodus 6:9
Reciprocal: Numbers 33:37 - Kadesh;  Numbers 33:40 - GeneralDeuteronomy 2:1 - we compassed;  Deuteronomy 6:16 - tempted him;  2 Kings 3:8 - the wilderness of Edom

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/numbers-21.html.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

4.And they journeyed from mount Hor. This also is narrated in their praise, that they bore the weariness of a long and circuitous march, when they were already worn down by their wanderings for forty years. Moses, therefore, tells us that, since God had forbidden them to pass the borders of Edom, they went by another way; but immediately afterwards he adds, that they basely rebelled, without being provoked to do so by any new cause. They had before been rebellious under the pressure of hunger or thirst, or some other inconvenience; but now, when there were no grounds for doing so, they malignantly exasperate themselves against God. Some understand that they were afflicted in mind because of the way, (117) so that the ב, beth, indicates the cause of their grief and trouble. It might, indeed, be the case that their passage through the mountains was steep and difficult; but a pleasant region was almost in sight, gently to attract them onward. Again, they falsely complain of want of water, in which respect God had already applied a remedy. Nothing, then, could be more unfair than odiously to recall to memory a past evil, in which they had experienced the special aid of God. But their depravity is more thoroughly laid open in their loathing of the manna, as a food affording but little nutriment, or contemptible.

The verb (118) קצר, katzar, is used first, which signifies to constrain; thus some explain it, that they were rendered anxious by distress. But since the same word is used for to shorten, others translate it that their minds were broken down with weariness, so as to faint by the way. In any case, a voluntary bitterness is indicated, whereby they were possessed, so that their alacrity in advancing altogether failed them. The verb (119), קצה, katzah, which Jerome renders sickens, is not used simply for disgust, but signifies that weariness which excruciates or agonizes the mind.

They call the manna “light” food; as much as to say that it inflates rather than satisfies or nourishes; or, as I deem more probable, the word קלקל, kelokel, is used metaphorically for vile, or contemptible, and valueless.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/numbers-21.html. 1840-57.