Numbers 21

Listen to Numbers 21

Arad Destroyed

1 When 1the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in 2the Negeb, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive.
2 3And Israel vowed a vow to the LORD and said, "If you will indeed give this people into my hand, then I will devote their cities to destruction."[a]
3 And the LORD heeded the voice of Israel and gave over the Canaanites, and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So the name of the place was called 4Hormah.[b]

The Bronze Serpent

4 From Mount Hor 5they set out by the way to the Red Sea, 6to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.
5 And the people 7spoke against God and against Moses, 8"Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and 9we loathe this worthless food."
6 10Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and 11they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.
7 12And the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. 13Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people.
8 And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live."
9 So 14Moses made a bronze[c] serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

The Song of the Well

10 And the people of Israel set out and 15camped in Oboth.
11 16And they set out from Oboth and 17camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness that is opposite Moab, toward the sunrise.
12 From there they set out and camped in 18the Valley of Zered.
13 From there they set out and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that extends from the border of the Amorites, for the 19Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.
14 Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the LORD, "Waheb in Suphah, and the valleys of the Arnon,
15 and the slope of the valleys that extends to the seat of 20Ar, and leans to the border of Moab."
16 And from there they continued 21to Beer;[d] that is the well of which the LORD said to Moses, "Gather the people together, so that 22I may give them water."
17 Then Israel sang this song: "Spring up, O well!--Sing to it!--
18 the well that the princes made, that the nobles of the people dug, with 23the scepter and with their staffs."And from the wilderness they went on to Mattanah,
19 and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth,
20 and from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of Moab by the top of Pisgah 24that looks down on the desert.[e]

King Sihon Defeated

21 Then 25Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying,
22 26"Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into field or vineyard. We will not drink the water of a well. We will go by the King's Highway until we have passed through your territory."
23 27But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. He gathered all his people together and went out against Israel to the wilderness and 28came to Jahaz and fought against Israel.
24 29And Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the 30Jabbok, as far as to the Ammonites, for the border of the Ammonites was strong.
25 And Israel took all these cities, and Israel settled in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages.
26 For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and taken all his land out of his hand, as far as the Arnon.
27 Therefore the 31ballad singers say, "Come to 32Heshbon, let it be built; let the city of Sihon be established.
28 For 33fire came out from 34Heshbon, flame from the city of Sihon. It devoured 35Ar of Moab, and swallowed[f] the heights of the Arnon.
29 36Woe to you, O Moab! You are undone, O people of 37Chemosh! He has made his sons fugitives, and his daughters captives, to an Amorite king, Sihon.
30 So we overthrew them; Heshbon, as far as 38Dibon, perished; and we laid waste as far as Nophah; fire spread as far as 39Medeba."[g]

King Og Defeated

31 Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites.
32 And Moses sent to spy out 40Jazer, and they captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who were there.
33 Then they turned and went up by the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against them, he and all his people, to battle 41at Edrei.
34 42But the LORD said to Moses, "Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people, and his land. And 43you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon."
35 So they defeated him and his sons and all his people, until he had no survivor left. And they possessed his land.

Numbers 21 Commentary

Chapter 21

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.

Cross References 43

  • 1. Numbers 33:40; [Judges 1:16]
  • 2. See Numbers 13:17
  • 3. [Genesis 28:20; Judges 11:30]
  • 4. Numbers 14:45; Deuteronomy 1:44; Joshua 19:4; Judges 1:17
  • 5. Numbers 20:22; Numbers 33:41
  • 6. Judges 11:18
  • 7. Psalms 78:19
  • 8. Exodus 16:3; Exodus 17:3
  • 9. [Numbers 11:6]
  • 10. Deuteronomy 8:15; 1 Corinthians 10:9; [Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6]
  • 11. Jeremiah 8:17
  • 12. Psalms 78:34; [Numbers 11:2]
  • 13. [Exodus 8:8, 28; 1 Samuel 12:19; 1 Kings 13:6; Acts 8:24]
  • 14. John 3:14, 15; [2 Kings 18:4]
  • 15. Numbers 33:43, 44
  • 16. [See ver. 10 above]
  • 17. [See ver. 10 above]
  • 18. Deuteronomy 2:13
  • 19. Numbers 22:36; Judges 11:18
  • 20. ver. 28; Deut. 2:9, 18, 29; Isaiah 15:1
  • 21. [2 Samuel 20:14]
  • 22. [Numbers 20:8; Exodus 17:6]
  • 23. See Genesis 49:10
  • 24. [Numbers 23:28]
  • 25. Deuteronomy 2:26, 27; Judges 11:19
  • 26. [Numbers 20:17]
  • 27. Deuteronomy 29:7
  • 28. Deuteronomy 2:32; Judges 11:20
  • 29. Deuteronomy 2:33; Joshua 12:1, 2; Joshua 24:8; Nehemiah 9:22; Psalms 135:11; Psalms 136:19, 20; Amos 2:9
  • 30. See Genesis 32:22
  • 31. See Numbers 23:7
  • 32. See Numbers 32:37
  • 33. Jeremiah 48:45, 46
  • 34. [See ver. 27 above]
  • 35. [See ver. 15 above]
  • 36. [See ver. 28 above]
  • 37. Judges 11:24; 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 23:13; Jeremiah 48:7
  • 38. Numbers 32:3; Joshua 13:17; Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 48:18; [Numbers 33:45, 46]
  • 39. 1 Chronicles 19:7; Isaiah 15:2
  • 40. Numbers 32:1; Joshua 13:25; 2 Samuel 24:5; Jeremiah 48:32
  • 41. Deuteronomy 1:4; Deuteronomy 3:1; Josh. 1Deuteronomy 3:12
  • 42. Deuteronomy 3:2
  • 43. See ver. 24

Footnotes 7

  • [a]. That is, set apart (devote) as an offering to the Lord (for destruction); also verse 3
  • [b]. Hormah means destruction
  • [c]. Or copper
  • [d]. Beer means well
  • [e]. Or Jeshimon
  • [f]. Septuagint; Hebrew the lords of
  • [g]. Compare Samaritan and Septuagint; Hebrew and we laid waste as far as Nophah, which is as far as Medeba

Chapter Summary


This chapter gives an account of the defeat of King Arad, the Canaanite, Nu 21:1-3 of the murmurings of the children of Israel, because of difficulties in travelling round, the land of Edom, for which they were punished with fiery serpents, Nu 21:4-6 and how that upon their repentance a brazen serpent was ordered to be made, and to be erected on a pole, that whoever looked to it might live, Nu 21:7-9 and of the several journeys and stations of the children of Israel, until they came to the land of the Amorites, Nu 21:10-20, when they sent a message to Sihon their king, to desire him to grant them a passage through his country; but he refusing, they fought with him, smote him, and possessed his land, concerning which many proverbial sayings were used, Nu 21:21-32 and the chapter is concluded with the defeat of Og, king of Bashan, Nu 21:33-35.

Numbers 21 Commentaries

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.