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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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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,” 116116     It is again S.M. who has mentioned this opinion. — W. 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.

2. And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord. This was a manifestation of piety, when they had sustained a loss, not to cast away hope, nor to murmur against God; but to encourage themselves by entreating His aid. To this slate of submissiveness they had been subdued by the chastisements of God, although the continuance of their obedience, as we shall presently see, was not of long duration. Any one at first sight would say that there was something absurd in this vow; but we gather from the result, that it was lawful and approved by God; for the sign of His approbation was that tie hearkened to the vows and cry of the people. I admit, indeed, that God sometimes answers defective prayers, but there is no doubt whatever but that Moses here commends their piety in the vow. We must consider, then, how it was lawful for them to offer the destruction of cities and the wasting of lands to God as a sacrifice of sweet savor; and the reply to this question will be easy, if we bear in mind that the vow did not originate in inconsiderate zeal, but rather in the command of God. It seems cruel to destroy an entire nation; but God had not only decreed its destruction, but had appointed the Israelites to execute His sentence. Hence the vow, of which we are now treating, was not idly spoken, being founded on God’s word, which is the first rule for vowing rightly. It was, indeed, allowable for them to spare the cities, in order to possess them themselves; but it was also allowable to devote them as an offering (in anathema) of first-fruits to God, as we are elsewhere told of the city of Jericho. This at any rate we must conclude, that although God had not openly and expressly commanded the cities to be utterly destroyed, still this vow was dictated by the Holy Spirit, lest the people should yield to sloth, and set themselves down in a single corner, but that, having desolated and wasted this region, they might encourage themselves the more to further progress. The vero חרם charam, which Moses employs, signifies, indeed, to destroy, and from it is derived the word, חרמה chormah, or Hormah, which implies a species of anathema, as if they devoted the land to the curse of God. Moses, however, adds, that the people performed the vow, under the obligation of which they had laid themselves; and praiseworthy indeed was their magnanimity, in refusing to avail themselves of a comfortable home by destroying the cities, which they had acquired by the right of war.

We know not whether the cities were destroyed immediately after the victory over their enemies; indeed, I rather conjecture that there was some interval of time, because the people did not straightway enter the boundaries of the promised land. And this more clearly appears from chapter 33, where, after this battle was fought, certain stations are enumerated, which are in another direction. It is probable, therefore, that they fought outside the boundaries of the Canaanites, and that, when the people came here soon afterwards, the land was finally put to the sword.

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, 117117     Heb. בדרך Lat, in via. A.V. “because of the way.” “In often noteth the cause of a thing; as, ‘the Lord’s soul was grieved in (that is, for, or because of) the misery of Israel,’ Judges 10:16; or, according to the like phrase in Zechariah 11:8, their soul ‘loatheth the way,’ both for the longsomeness of it, and for the many wants and troubles they found therein.” — Ainsworth in loco. 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 118118     A. V., “discouraged;” margin, “or, grieved; Heb. shortened.” קצר, To shorten, to cut short, to cut off, and hence to reap. S.M. says, “Their spirit was shortened, i.e., became impatient; being a species of antithesis to longanimity, or long forbearing.” — W. 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 119119     A. V., “loatheth.” קצה is likewise to cut off, but is said by the lexicographers to borrow a meaning in this instance from קוף to loathe, and be weary of. It would be simpler to say that קצה is the praet. 3d. pers. of קוף, and that a feminine verb is required by the subs. נפשנוW , 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.

5. And the people spake against God and against Moses. Either because they murmured against God in the person of Moses, or else because their impiety broke forth to such a furious extent, that they openly blasphemed against God; and this latter opinion is most in accordance with the words, because by their use of the plural number they accuse two parties together. 120120     Addition in Fr., “sinon qu’ils s’addressent aussi a Aaron;” unless they also address Aaron. But, inasmuch as Moses had nothing separate from God, no one could enter into a contest with him without warring also against God Himself. Here, however, as I have said, their insolence proceeded still further, so as not only to rail against the minister, but to vomit forth also their wicked blasphemy against God Himself, as if He had injured them most grossly by their deliverance.

6. And the Lord sent fiery serpents. Their ingratitude was justly and profitably chastised by this punishment; for they were practically taught that it was only through God’s paternal care that they had been previously free from innumerable evils, and that He was possessed of manifold forms of punishment, whereby to take vengeance on the wicked.

Although deserts are full of many poisonous animals, still it is probable that these serpents suddenly arose, and were created for this special purpose; as if God, in His determination to correct the people’s pride, should call into being new enemies to trouble them. For they were made to feel how great their folly was to rebel against God, when they were not able to cope with the serpents. This, then, was an admirable plan for humbling them, contemptuously to bring these serpents into the field against them, and thus to convince them of their weakness. Consequently, they both confess their guilt and acknowledge that there was no other remedy for them except to obtain pardon from God. These two things, as we are aware, are necessary in order to appease God, first, that the sinner should be dissatisfied with himself and self-condemned; and, secondly, that he should seek to be reconciled to God. The people seem faithfully to fulfill both of these conditions, when they of their own accord acknowledge their guilt, and humbly have recourse to God’s mercy. It is through the influence of terror that they implore the prayers of Moses, since they count themselves unworthy of favor, unless an advocate (patronus) should intercede for them. This would, indeed, be erroneous, that those who are conscience-struck should invite an intercessor to stand between them and God, unless they, too, should unite their own prayers with his; for nothing is more contrary to faith than such a state of alarm as prevents us from calling upon God. Still the kindness of Moses, and his accustomed gentleness is perceived by this, that he is so readily disposed to listen to these wicked ones; and God also, on His part, shews that the prayer of a righteous man is not unavailing, when He heals the wound He had inflicted. 121121     Addition in Fr., “si tost;” so speedily.

8. Make thee a fiery serpent. Nothing would, at first sight, appear more unreasonable than that a brazen serpent should be made, the sight of which should extirpate the deadly poison; but this apparent absurdity was far better suited to render the grace of God conspicuous than as if there had been anything natural in the remedy. If the serpents had been immediately removed, they would have deemed it to be an accidental occurrence, and that the evil had vanished by natural means. If, in the aid afforded, anything had been applied, bearing an affinity to fit and appropriate remedies, then also the power and goodness of God would have been thrown into the shade. In order, therefore, that they might perceive themselves to be rescued from death by the mere grace of God alone, a mode of preservation was chosen so discordant with human reason, as to be almost a subject for laughter. At the same time it had the effect of trying the obedience of the people, to prescribe a mode of seeking preservation, whichbrought all their senses into subjection and captivity. It was a foolish thing to turn the eyes to a serpent of brass, to prevent the ill effects of a poisonous bite; for what, according to man’s judgment, could a lifeless statue, lifted up on high, profit? But it is the peculiar virtue of faith, that we should willingly be fools, in order that we may learn to be wise only from the mouth of God. This afterwards more clearly appeared in the substance of this type: for, when Christ compares Himself to this serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness, (John 3:14,) it was not a mere common similitude which He employs, but He teaches us, that what had been shewn forth in this dark shadow, was completed in Himself. And, surely, unless the brazen serpent had been a symbol of spiritual grace, it would not have been laid up like a precious treasure, and diligently preserved for many ages in God’s sanctuary. The analogy, also, is very perfect; since Christ, in order to rescue us from death, put on our flesh, not, indeed, subject to sin, but representing “the likeness of sinful flesh,” as Paul says. (Romans 8:3.) hence follows, what I have above adverted to, that since “the world by wisdom knew not God,” He was manifested in the foolishness of the cross. (1 Corinthians 1:21.) If, then, we desire to obtain salvation, let us not be ashamed to seek it from the curse of Christ, which was typified in the image of the serpent.

Its lifting up is poorly and incorrectly, in my opinion, explained by some, as foreshadowing the crucifixion, 122122     C. here is opposed to the great body of the commentators, although he has with him “some of reverent account in the Church,” as Attersoll calls them. Perhaps it may be admissible to include, with Lampe, both views: “Exaltatio serpentis hujus in pertica primo quidem designat exaltationem in cruce, ita tamen ut pertica simul possit emblema gerere praeconii Evangelici, per quod Christus crucifixus mundo innotuit.”—In Johan. 3:14. whereas it ought rather to be referred to the preaching of the Gospel: for Moses was commanded to set up the serpent on high, that it might be conspicuous on every side. And the word נס nes, is used both for a standard, and the mast of a ship, or any other high pole: which is in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah, where he says that Christ should be “for an ensign” to all nations, (Isaiah 11:10) which we know to have been the case, by the spreading of the doctrine of the Gospel through the whole world, with which the look of faith corresponds. For, just as no healing was conveyed from the serpent to any who did not turn their eyes towards it, when set up on high, so the look of faith only causes the death of Christ to bring salvation to us. Although, therefore, God would give relief to their actual distress, it is still unquestionable that He even then admonished all believers that the venomous bites of the devil could only be cured by their directing their minds and senses by faith on Christ.

The brazen serpent is, furthermore, a proof to us how inclined to superstition the human race is, since posterity worshipped it as an idol, until it was reduced to powder by the holy king Hezekiah. (1 Kings 18:4.)

10. And the children of Israel set forth. Moses does not here enumerate all the stations, which will be mentioned hereafter, when he recapitulates them all separately and in order: for, in hastening to record certain memorable circumstances, he passes over those of minor importance, which, however, he does not omit elsewhere; since the account of their circuitous course, when they were turning away from the Edomites, was of some moment. For it was, as we have observed, no ordinary proof of obedience, when God had forbidden them to attack the Edomites, that they should undertake a difficult and rugged march. Still in this place Moses deemed it sufficient to mark the principal places in which they stopped. Meanwhile, what I have stated appears to be the case, that he hastens onwards to relate circumstances of much importance, for, when they came to Arnon, he highly magnifies the power of God, with which He succoured His people.

13. From thence they removed, and pitched. I will presently add, what Moses relates in Deuteronomy respecting the Moabites and Ammonites. Since here he only briefly touches upon the main facts, he only specifies that the people came to the borders of their enemies, where it was necessary to give battle, because there was no means of entering the land of Canaan, except by force of arms. Here, then, was the end of their journeying, for, when the Amorites were conquered, they began to inhabit their cities. He, therefore, immediately adds, that this place would be memorable in all ages, because in it God again exerted His power, by putting to flight their enemies. Still translators appear to me to be mistaken as to the meaning of the words. Almost all of them render the word ספר, sepher, “the book;” and afterwards eagerly discuss what book it is, without coming to any satisfactory conclusion. I rather understand it to mean “narration;” as if Moses had said, that when the wars of Jehovah shall be recounted, the memory of this place would be celebrated; as David, when he is recounting, and magnifying God’s mercies, expressly mentions that king Sihon and Og were conquered.

There is also another ambiguity in the following words: for some suppose Vaheb to be the proper name of a city, and Suphah a noun common, which they translate “in a whirlwind;” 123123     את-והב בסופה eth-vaheb b’suphah. None of the most ancient translations can be said to be in unison with the present reading of the Hebrew in this clause. The LXX. appear to have read זהב and render it τὴν Ζωὸβ ἐφλόγισε The Chaldee Paraphrast, Onkelos, has על ימא דסוף, “By the sea of Suph,” i.e., the Red Sea. The Syriac has, “A flame with a whirlwind,” translating סופה instead of treating it as a proper name, and having apparently read some form of להב instead of את-והב. The V. has, “Sicut fecit in mari rubro;” our A.V. “What he did in the Red Sea,” but in the Margin, “Vaheb in Suphah.” The translation of S. M. agrees with that in the text of A. F.; but in his notes he says, “Kimchi interprets והב to be the name of a place, but R. Salomon treats it as equivalent to יהב he gave, and expounds the clause thus, As God gave many signs by the Red Sea, so was He wonderful in his works by the brook Arnon. — W but, since the shore of the Red Sea was not habitable, I do not see how mention could be suitably made of any city situated there. But if they think it was a city near Arnon, it is surprising that it should never be spoken of elsewhere, and yet here referred to, as if it were well known. I therefore rather incline to their opinion, who explain it as a vero, and suppose that ו (vau) is used for י (yod,) so that the sense should be; As God had begun to fight gloriously for the Israelites at the Red Sea, so also He continued the same grace at Arnon. I admit, that if the points be scrupulously insisted upon, this meaning would not be altogether accordant with grammar; but I prefer eliciting a probable meaning at the cost of a single point, than to go out of the way in search of poor conjectures, as they do who imagine Vaheb to be the proper name of a place. Appropriately, indeed, does Moses compare Arnon with the Red Sea, in order to shew that God’s grace, at its end, is thoroughly in accordance with its commencement. He had mightily fought against the Egyptians, and had destroyed the army of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, but small would have been the fruit of this deliverance, unless, with equal efficacy, He had succoured His people when they had to contend with the Canaanitish nations: for the question here is not as to God’s blessings in general, but only as to the victories, wherein it was manifested that the Israelites did not fight without the approval and guidance of God. Moses, therefore, does not recount the miracles performed in the desert: but only says, that in the history of the wars of God the name of Arnon would be equally renowned with that of the Red Sea. Still, in the word Arnon it must be observed that there is a synecdoche; forMoses comprehends in it all the subsequent battles. Since, therefore, from the time that the people arrived at Arnon, where their enemies came forth to meet them, God again lifted up His standard, and gloriously honored His people by continued victories — hence the special celebrity of the place arose. There is a poetical repetition in the verse, where, for the torrents, the stream of the torrents 124124     A.V. “the brooks” — “the stream of the brooks.” is spoken of, which descends to Ar, and reposes in the border of Moab.

16. And from thence they went to Beer. Some think that a circumstance is here narrated, which had never been mentioned before, since a song is recorded, which we do not find elsewhere. But since Moses repeats the same words which he had used before, and speaks as of a very notorious matter, that he was there commanded to assemble the people, to partake of the water which God had given, it appears probable to me that the name was given to the place, whereby both God’s goodness and the people’s ingratitude might be testified to posterity. I do not, however, contend that this is the same place, from whence we previously read that water was extracted: for it was not there only that the people was satisfied by drinking it, but it flowed forth beside them wherever they went. In which sense Paul writes that “the Rock followed them,” (1 Corinthians 10:4;) not that the rock was torn from its roots, but because God miraculously drew on the water which flowed from it, so that it should accompany them, and thus continually supply them with drink. And this we gather also from the next verse, where Moses says, that the people “sang this song, Ascend, Beer.” 125125     See Margin A.V. The original word for a well is בארBeer. W. For when they saw that, contrary to nature, the water rose into higher levels from the source which was recently called into existence, so as to supply them with drink in dry places, they began to pay more attention to the miracle, and to celebrate the grace of God. Still it might be the case that the water did not flow down like a river, but bubbled up from the open veins of the earth, whenever it was required. At any rate, by its ascent he indicates an extraordinary effect produced by God. When it is said, that “the princes digged the well,” there is, in my opinion, an implied contrast between a few persons, and those but little fitted for manual labors, and a great body of engineers. Whenever armies have need of water, the soldiers dig wells with much labor; here quite another mode of proceeding is expressed, viz., that the leaders of the people, together with Moses, dug the well, not by artificial or mechanical means, but by the simple touch of a staff. Moses, indeed, speaks of “staves,” in the plural nmnber, because mention of the princes is made; but I have no doubt but that the rod of Moses is contrasted with all other implements, in order to exalt the power and grace of God. I think, too, that the name of Beer was given to the place, where that water forsook the Israelites; since they had come to well-watered regions, which would supply water in abundance without miraculous interference. Let us, however, learn from this canticle, that, although the people had at first impiously rebelled against God, still, by long experience of the blessing, they were at length induced to gratitude, so as to burst forth into praise of God. Hence we gather, that they were not obstinate in their senselessness.

Numbers 21:21. And Israel sent messengers. The second narration, which I have subjoined from Deuteronomy, is the fuller; nevertheless, a question arises from it, for what reason this embassy was sent to king Sihon, whose kingdom was already devoted to the Israelites: for it seems to be altogether inconsistent to offer conditions of peace when war is decreed. God commands His people to take up arms: He declares that they shall be victorious, so as to occupy the land of Sihon by right of war; what, then, can be more absurd than to request of him that they might pass through his land in peace? If this attempt were made by Moses without the command of God, such an excess of kindness was not devoid of guilt, inasmuch as it was an act of much temerity to promise what God had appointed otherwise. But, if we should say that the messengers went with the authority, and at the command of God, under what pretext shall the deceptiveness of the act be excused? for it is very improper to flatter with soothing words and promises those whom you have destined to destruction. The conclusion I come to is, that although the event was not unknown to God, still the embassy was sent, nevertheless, by his command and decree, in order to lay open the obstinate ferocity of the nation. But, since the secret judgments of God far surmount our senses, let us learn to reverence their height; and let this sober view restrain our boldness like a rein, viz., that although the reason for the works of God be unknown to us, still it always exists with Him. God knew that the messengers would speak to the deaf, and yet it is not in vain that He bids them go; for, since the kingdom of Sihon was not properly included in the promised land, it was not lawful for the children of Israel to make war upon it until they had been provoked by an unjust refusal. Thus, then, I connect the history. Before they had been assured at God’s command of the event, and the victory, they sent the messengers, who demanded that a pacific passage should be accorded to them; and that then the permission to have recourse to arms was granted. If any prefer to think that, before Moses attempted to preserve peace, he had been made acquainted with all that would occur, I will not contend the point; but I deem it more probable that he had expectations of the peace which he sought, because the judgment of God had not yet been declared. If, therefore, Sihon had allowed himself to be propitiated, Moses would never have dared to deal with him as an enemy; but, he rather simply and honestly promised peace, which he intended to preserve; God, however, had otherwise appointed, as the event presently shewed. Still He was not inconsistent with Himself, or variable, in sending the messengers to an irreclaimable and obstinately perverse man; for thus was all excuse taken away when he had voluntarily provoked to war a people who were ready and willing to maintain peace and equity. But rather may we see in this history, as in a glass, that, whilst God earnestly invites the reprobate to repentance and the hope of salvation, He has no other object than that they may be rendered inexcusable by the detection of their impiety. Hence is their ignorance refuted, who gather from this that it is free for all promiscuously to embrace God’s grace, because its promulgation (doctrina) is common, and directed to all without exception; as if God was not aware of what Sihon would answer when He would have him attracted to equity by friendly and peaceful words; or as if, on his free will, the purpose of God was suspended as to the war, which was soon after carried forward by His decree.

But inasmuch as what is here briefly recorded, would be obscure in itself, we must explain it by the other narrative, where it is thus written, —

Numbers 21:25 And Israel took all these cities. As if speaking of something present, he uses the demonstrative pronoun, and says, “these cities,” just as if he were pointing them out to the eyes of his readers. The word which we have rendered “towns” (oppida,) 130130     “ Par ce mot, que nous avons translate villages, il nous faut aussi entendre les bourgades, et metairies;“ by this word, which we have translated villages, we must also understand the hamlets and farm-houses. — Fr. See marg. A.V. others translate “country-houses” (villas,) or “hamlets” (viculos.) In the Hebrew, Moses calls by the name of “daughters” all the villages and lesser towns, whose mother-city (metropolis) was Heshbon. By these words, however, Moses indicates that, by the right of war, all these places had fallen into the hands of the Israelites, as the lot of their inheritance; for, as I have lately said, God had not yet openly declared that they should be masters of this part of the country. They would consequently have over-passed their boundaries, unless these had been added to the land of Canaan. This is the reason why God openly declares that they possessed them by His authority. But when he says that the cities were destroyed, and all their inhabitants exterminated, so that neither women nor children were spared, let us understand that they dealt not thus cruelly of their own impulse, or in heedless violence, but that whatsoever was on the other side of Jordan was devoted to destruction by God, that they might always have their minds fixed on the promised land, and might never give way to listlessness, which would have been the case if an easy occupation of it had invited them to repose. Although, therefore, God delivered over the land to them hereafter, and suffered them to enrich themselves with its booty and spoils, yet He would not have it retained as a place of residence, and therefore commanded them to destroy its cities and villages, in order that they might seek their rest elsewhere. In fine, since they were abundantly disposed to be slothful, it was expedient that all snares should be removed, and that by the very desolation they might be urged forward whither God called them.

26. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon. It is not without cause that Moses relates how the country near Heshbon had passed into the hands of the Amorites, because a long time afterwards this was sought for as a pretext for war by the Ammonites, when they saw that the people were brought into a low estate. In the time of Jephthah, therefore, having collected a great army, an irruption was made by them; and they made this their excuse, that they took up arms to recover what was their own, from Arnon as far as Jabbok, and as far as Jordan. Consequently, God would have it testified in the sacred records, as Jephthah then replied to the Ammonites, that this part of the land was taken from king Sihon, when the children of Israel were marching peacefully through the borders of the Ammonites. Designedly, then, did Moses, in order to sanction the right of the people, insert in these authentic registers, as it were, what had formerly occurred, namely, that the Amorites had had the dominion over that part of the country, without interference from the Ammonites; nor was there any question that the Amorites had secure and peaceful possession of it. Hence it follows that it passed to the Israelites, so that there were no grounds why, three hundred years afterwards, the Ammonites should reclaim what had so long been lost and abandoned by them. And, in order that posterity might know that there was then no obscurity about the matter, he records an ancient canticle, from which it appears that the Ammonites were so completely overcome, that their enemies triumphed magnificently over them, and cut off all hope of their restoration. Here, however, the question arises, why the king of Ammon, rather than the king of Moab, set on foot that war; for we clearly gather from the song, that the land was taken from the Moabites. But for men who are bent on rapine and robbery, it is sufficient to allege any trivial pretext, and often to glory in the rights of others. There doubtless remained a report that the Amorites had been driven out of their territories, 131131     “Par les enfans d’Israel;” by the children of Israel. — Fr. which they had obtained by force of arms. The Ammonites pass over in silence what had been forgotten in the lapse of many ages, and set up this false title, that, although the Israelites had conquered the Amorites, still their victory conferred upon them no right to occupy what the Amorites unjustly and forcibly held. With this object Moses inserted the account he here gives.

27. Wherefore, they that speak in proverbs. That is, an old saying, or proverbial sentence remains, and is well known. The song, however, appears to have been composed in the character of those who, when prepared to engage in war, mutually exhorted each other, “Come into Heshbon,” i.e., run to the standard of king Sihon; hasten to his home, and his chief place of abode, in order that we may thence go forth to battle. These expressions, “build and prepare,” I interpret as being used for enlarge, adorn, and enrich; for it is probable that this city was not overthrown, but they foretell that the city would be renovated, when a larger dominion had been gained. And this is more fully confirmed by what immediately follows, when it is said that “a fire had gone forth from Heshbon,” which consumed Ar of Moab, and all its neighborhood. As to the “lords of the high places of Arnon,” some understand the priests who presided in the temples; others extend them to all the inhabitants in general; but, in my opinion, it will not be unsuitable to refer them to the idols themselves, since it appears from the next verse that the conquerors were so insolently elated, as not only to despise the men themselves, but their gods also; for when they say, “Thou art undone, O people of Chemosh,” there is no doubt but that they mockingly reproach them with the fact that they had been badly defended by the gods whom they worshipped. 132132     “Par Chamos, qu’ils adoroyent comme leur patron;” by Chemosh, whom they worshipped as their patron. — Fr. And, in point of fact, ungodly men, when in prosperity, uplift their horns to heaven, as if they would assail the divinity which was opposed to them. They, therefore, deride Chemosh, because he made “his sons” or worshippers to be fugitives or captives.

In the word lantern 133133     ונירם vaniram: A. V., “we have shot at them.” Our translators have regarded ניר, the central syllable of this composite word, as the first future plural of ירה be shot or cast; and S. M. has noticed this explanation as more probably right than the one which he has adopted in his text, and which supposes ניר to be a substantive, namely, a lantern. The Chaldee Paraphrast and the V. have regarded this substantive as a metaphor for the ruling power. If it had been a substantive, its place, in ordinary construction, should have been after the verb אבד perished, whereas it precedes that verb, which has Heshbon following it, in the proper position for its nominative. — W he makes use of a common metaphor. Some follow the Chaldee interpreter, and render it kingdom; but it has a wider signification; for it includes all the component parts of a happy and prosperous state. 134134     “Elle comprend les biens, l’honneur, le repos, et la reputation;” it comprehends goods, honor, repose, and reputation. — Fr. The meaning, therefore, is, that their glory and all their wealth was annihilated. The cities of Dibon and Medeba are situated on the extreme borders, near the river Arnon, so that by these he designates all the intermediate plain.

33. And they turned and went up. Here there is another victory of the people described, wherein they again experienced the continued favor of God, in order that they may be aroused to greater alacrity, and courageously prepare themselves for farther progress; for they might confidently expect that, with God for their leader, all things would succeed prosperously with them. The region of Bashan, as Scripture informs us in many places, was fertile, and famous for its rich pastures; but Moses here also testifies to its great extent. It was, then, no ordinary proof of God’s favor and aid, that they should take it in a moment, as it were. It is not, therefore, without cause, that, in the Psalm, God’s power and goodness is magnified in reference to these victories; because He

“slew mighty kings, Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og king of Bashan, and gave their land for a heritage, a heritage unto his people.” (Psalm 135:10-12.):

For, although the Israelites were superior in numbers, yet there is no doubt but that, when this king dared to go forth to battle, he trusted in his forces, and deemed himself equal to resistance. Hence did God’s grace shine forth the more conspicuously; and, indeed, in order that he may extol its greatness the more, Moses afterwards also relates that sixty cities were taken. 135135     Addition in Fr, “sans les bourgades;“ not reckoning the villages.

35. And the Lord said, unto Moses. God first of all exhorts His people to confidence. He then commands that the men as well as the cities and villages should be destroyed, so that nothing should be preserved except the booty. he indeed addresses Moses only, but his injunctions are directed to all, because Moses, who was already sufficiently energetic, had not so much need of being spurred on as the others. God, however, had regard to the future also, lest the recollection of the blessing should be lost through the ingratitude of the people. In promising them victory, therefore, he desired to have the praise of it bestowed upon Himself.

I have already shewn why He commanded the cities to be overthrown, and all the houses utterly destroyed, namely, lest convenient habitations should tempt the people to torpor, when they were required to hasten onwards to the promised rest; for those who had been ready in the wilderness to retire, and to go back into Egypt, would have eagerly taken possession of this fertile land, and reposed themselves as in a delightful nest. By its desolation, therefore, they were compelled to abandon it. Its possession, indeed, was afterwards granted to the tribes of Reuben, and Gad, and half of Manasseh; but on condition that they should leave their herds there, and accompany their brethren through the whole expedition, not deserting them till the Canaanitish nations were destroyed.




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