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The Bronze Serpent

21

When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel and took some of them captive. 2Then Israel made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will indeed give this people into our hands, then we will utterly destroy their towns.” 3The Lord listened to the voice of Israel, and handed over the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their towns; so the place was called Hormah.

4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

The Journey to Moab

10 The Israelites set out, and camped in Oboth. 11They set out from Oboth, and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness bordering Moab toward the sunrise. 12From there they set out, and camped in the Wadi Zered. 13From there they set out, and camped on the other side of the Arnon, in the wilderness that extends from the boundary of the Amorites; for the Arnon is the boundary of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14Wherefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord,

“Waheb in Suphah and the wadis.

The Arnon 15and the slopes of the wadis

that extend to the seat of Ar,

and lie along the border of Moab.”

16 From there they continued to Beer; that is the well of which the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together, and I will give them water.” 17Then Israel sang this song:

“Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!—

18

the well that the leaders sank,

that the nobles of the people dug,

with the scepter, with the staff.”

From the wilderness to Mattanah, 19from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20and from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of Moab by the top of Pisgah that overlooks the wasteland.

King Sihon Defeated

21 Then Israel sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites, saying, 22“Let me pass through your land; we will not turn aside into field or vineyard; we will not drink the water of any well; we will go by the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.” 23But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. Sihon gathered all his people together, and went out against Israel to the wilderness; he came to Jahaz, and fought against Israel. 24Israel put him to the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as to the Ammonites; for the boundary of the Ammonites was strong. 25Israel took all these towns, and Israel settled in all the towns of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages. 26For Heshbon was the city of King Sihon of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and captured all his land as far as the Arnon. 27Therefore the ballad singers say,

“Come to Heshbon, let it be built;

let the city of Sihon be established.

28

For fire came out from Heshbon,

flame from the city of Sihon.

It devoured Ar of Moab,

and swallowed up the heights of the Arnon.

29

Woe to you, O Moab!

You are undone, O people of Chemosh!

He has made his sons fugitives,

and his daughters captives,

to an Amorite king, Sihon.

30

So their posterity perished

from Heshbon to Dibon,

and we laid waste until fire spread to Medeba.”

31 Thus Israel settled in the land of the Amorites. 32Moses sent to spy out Jazer; and they captured its villages, and dispossessed the Amorites who were there.

King Og Defeated

33 Then they turned and went up the road to Bashan; and King Og of Bashan came out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. 34But the Lord said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him; for I have given him into your hand, with all his people, and all his land. You shall do to him as you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon.” 35So they killed him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left; and they took possession of his land.


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Nu 21:1-35. Israel Attacked by the Canaanites.

1. 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 (De 9:4; Ps 44:3, 4).

2, 3. Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord—Made to feel their own weakness, they implored the aid of Heaven, and, in anticipation of it, devoted the cities of this king to future destruction. The nature and consequence of such anathemas are described (Le 27:1-34; De 13:1-18). This vow of extermination against Arad [Nu 21:2] gave name to the place Hormah (slaughter and destruction) though it was not accomplished till after the passage of the Jordan. Others think Hormah the name of a town mentioned (Jos 12:14).

4. 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 (Nu 33:41, 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.

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

6. The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people—That part of the desert where the Israelites now were—near the head of the gulf of Akaba—is greatly infested with venomous reptiles, of various kinds, particularly lizards, which raise themselves in the air and swing themselves from branches; and scorpions, which, being in the habit of lying in long grass, are particularly dangerous to the barelegged, sandaled people of the East. The only known remedy consists in sucking the wound, or, in the case of cattle, in the application of ammonia. The exact species of serpents that caused so great mortality among the Israelites cannot be ascertained. They are said to have been "fiery," an epithet applied to them either from their bright, vivid color, or the violent inflammation their bite occasioned.

7-9. the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned—The severity of the scourge and the appalling extent of mortality brought them to a sense of sin, and through the intercessions of Moses, which they implored, they were miraculously healed. He was directed to make the figure of a serpent in brass, to be elevated on a pole or standard, that it might be seen at the extremities of the camp and that every bitten Israelite who looked to it might be healed. This peculiar method of cure was designed, in the first instance, to show that it was the efficacy of God's power and grace, not the effect of nature or art, and also that it might be a type of the power of faith in Christ to heal all who look to Him because of their sins (Joh 3:14, 15; see also on 2Ki 18:4).

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

12. pitched in the valley—literally, the "woody brook-valley" of Zared (De 2:13; Isa 15:7; Am 6:14). This torrent rises among the mountains to the east of Moab, and flowing west, empties itself into the Dead Sea. Ije-Abarim is supposed to have been its ford [Calmet].

13. pitched on the other side of Arnon—now El-Mojib, a deep, broad, and rapid stream, dividing the dominions of the Moabites and Amorites.

14. book of the wars of the Lord—A fragment or passage is here quoted from a poem or history of the wars of the Israelites, principally with a view to decide the position of Arnon.

15. Ar—the capital of Moab.

16. from thence they went to Beer—that is, a "well." The name was probably given to it afterwards [see Jud 9:21], as it is not mentioned (Nu 33:1-56).

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

21-23. Israel sent messengers unto Sihon—The rejection of their respectful and pacific message was resented—Sihon was discomfited in battle—and Israel obtained by right of conquest the whole of the Amorite dominions.

24. from Arnon unto Jabbok—now the Zurka. These rivers formed the southern and northern boundaries of his usurped territory.

for the border of … Ammon was strong—a reason stated for Sihon not being able to push his invasion further.

25. Israel dwelt in all the cities—after exterminating the inhabitants who had been previously doomed (De 2:34).

26. Heshbon—(So 7:4)—situated sixteen English miles north of the Arnon, and from its ruins it appears to have been a large city.

27-30. Wherefore they that speak in proverbs—Here is given an extract from an Amorite song exultingly anticipating an extension of their conquests to Arnon. The quotation from the poem of the Amorite bard ends at Nu 21:28. The two following verses appear to be the strains in which the Israelites expose the impotence of the usurpers.

29. people of Chemosh—the name of the Moabite idol (1Ki 11:7-33; 2Ki 23:13; Jer 48:46).

he—that is, their god, hath surrendered his worshippers to the victorious arms of Sihon.

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

Og—a giant, an Amoritish prince, who, having opposed the progress of the Israelites, was defeated.

34, 35. The Lord said unto Moses, Fear him not—a necessary encouragement, for Og's gigantic stature (De 3:11) was calculated to inspire terror. He and all his were put to the sword.




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