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The Bronze Serpent


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 L ord and said, “If you will indeed give this people into our hands, then we will utterly destroy their towns.” 3The L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord and against you; pray to the L ord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the L ord 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 L ord,

“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 L ord 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!—


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.


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.


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.


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 L ord 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.

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.

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