The Canaanites of Arad destroyed. (1-3) The people murmuring, are plagued with fiery serpents, They repenting, are healed through the brazen serpent. (4-9) Further journeys of the Israelites. (10-20) Sihon and Og overcome, Their land possessed. (21-35)
Verses 1-3 Before the people began their march round the country of Edom, the king of Arad, a Canaanite, who inhabited the southern part of the country, attacked them in the wilderness, and took some prisoners. This was to lead the Israelites to look more thoroughly to the Lord.
Verses 4-9 The children of Israel were wearied by a long march round the land of Edom. They speak discontentedly of what God had done for them, and distrustfully of what he would do. What will they be pleased with, whom manna will not please? Let not the contempt which some cast on the word of God, make us value it less. It is the bread of life, substantial bread, and will nourish those who by faith feed upon it, to eternal life, whoever may call it light bread. We see the righteous judgment God brought upon them for murmuring. He sent fiery serpents among them, which bit or stung many to death. It is to be feared that they would not have owned the sin, if they had not felt the smart; but they relent under the rod. And God made a wonderful provision for their relief. The Jews themselves say it was not the sight of the brazen serpent that cured; but in looking up to it, they looked up to God as the Lord that healed them. There was much gospel in this. Our Saviour declared, ( john 3:14 john 3:15 ) , that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up, that whatsoever believeth in him, should not perish. Compare their disease and ours. Sin bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Compare the application of their remedy and ours. They looked and lived, and we, if we believe, shall not perish. It is by faith that we look unto Jesus, ( Hebrews 12:2 ) . Whosoever looked, however desperate his case, or feeble his sight, or distant his place, was certainly and perfectly cured. The Lord can relieve us from dangers and distresses, by means which human reason never would have devised. Oh that the venom of the old serpent, inflaming men's passions, and causing them to commit sins which end in their eternal destruction, were as sensibly felt, and the danger as plainly seen, as the Israelites felt pain from the bite of the fiery serpents, and feared the death which followed! Then none would shut their eyes to Christ, or turn from his gospel. Then a crucified Saviour would be so valued, that all things else would be accounted loss for him; then, without delay, and with earnestness and simplicity, all would apply to him in the appointed way, crying, Lord, save us; we perish! Nor would any abuse the freeness of Christ's salvation, while they reckoned the price which it cost him.
Verses 10-20 We have here the removes of the children of Israel, till they came to the plains of Moab, from whence they passed over Jordan into Canaan. The end of their pilgrimage was near. "They set forward." It were well if we did thus; and the nearer we come to heaven, were so much the more active and abundant in the work of the Lord. The wonderful success God granted to his people, is here spoken of, and, among the rest, their actions on the river Arnon, at Vaheb in Suphah, and other places on that river. In every stage of our lives, nay, in every step, we should notice what God has wrought for us; what he did at such a time, and what in such a place, ought to be distinctly remembered. God blessed his people with a supply of water. When we come to heaven, we shall remove to the well of life, the fountain of living waters. They received it with joy and thankfulness, which made the mercy doubly sweet. With joy must we draw water out of the wells of salvation, ( Isaiah 12:3 ) . As the brazen serpent was a figure of Christ, who is lifted up for our cure, so is this well a figure of the Spirit, who is poured forth for our comfort, and from whom flow to us rivers of living waters, ( john 7:38 john 7:39 ) . Does this well spring up in our souls? If so, we should take the comfort to ourselves, and give the glory to God. God promised to give water, but they must open the ground. God's favours must be expected in the use of such means as are within our power, but still the power is only of God.
Verses 21-35 Sihon went with his forces against Israel, out of his own borders, without provocation, and so ran upon his own ruin. The enemies of God's church often perish by the counsels they think most wisely taken. Og, king of Bashan, instead of being warned by the fate of his neighbours, to make peace with Israel, makes war with them, which proves in like manner his destruction. Wicked men do their utmost to secure themselves and their possessions against the judgments of God; but all in vain, when the day comes on which they must fall. God gave Israel success, while Moses was with them, that he might see the beginning of the glorious work, though he must not live to see it finished. This was, in comparison, but as the day of small things, yet it was an earnest of great things. We must prepare for fresh conflicts and enemies. We must make no peace or truce with the powers of darkness, nor even treat with them; nor should we expect any pause in our contest. But, trusting in God, and obeying his commands, we shall be more than conquerors over every enemy.
Numbers 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 ( Deuteronomy 9:4 , Psalms 44:3 Psalms 44:4 ).
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 ( Leviticus 27:1-34 Deuteronomy 13:1-18 ). This vow of extermination against Arad ( Numbers 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 ( Joshua 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 ( 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.
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 ( 1 Corinthians 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 ( John 3:14 John 3:15 ; see also on 2 Kings 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 ( Deuteronomy 2:13 , Isaiah 15:7 , Amos 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 Judges 9:21 ], as it is not mentioned ( Numbers 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 ( Deuteronomy 2:34 ).
26. Heshbon--( Solomon 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 Numbers 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 ( 1 Kings 11:7-33 , 2 Kings 23:13 , Jeremiah 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 ( Deuteronomy 3:11 ) was calculated to inspire terror. He and all his were put to the sword.