Numbers 21

1 The king of Arad, the Canaanite, who dwelt in the South, heard that Israel was coming on the road to Atharim, then he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners.
2 So Israel made a vow to the Lord, and said, "If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities."
3 And the Lord listened to the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites, and they utterly destroyed them and their cities. So the name of that place was called Hormah.
4 Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way.
5 And the 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 our soul loathes this worthless bread."
6 So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people.
8 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live."
9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
10 Now the children of Israel moved on and camped in Oboth.
11 And they journeyed from Oboth and camped at Ije Abarim, in the wilderness which is east of Moab, toward the sunrise.
12 From there they moved and camped in the Valley of Zered.
13 From there they moved and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that extends from the border of the Amorites; for the Arnon 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, The brooks of the Arnon,
15 And the slope of the brooks That reaches to the dwelling of Ar, And lies on the border of Moab."
16 From there they went to Beer, which is the well where the Lord said to Moses, "Gather the people together, and I will give them water."
17 Then Israel sang this song: "Spring up, O well! All of you sing to it--
18 The well the leaders sank, Dug by the nation's nobles, By the lawgiver, with their staves." And from the wilderness they went to Mattanah,
19 from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth,
20 and from Bamoth, in the valley that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah which looks down on the wasteland.
21 Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying,
22 "Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into fields or vineyards; we will not drink water from wells. We will go by the King's Highway until we have passed through your territory."
23 But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and he came to Jahaz and fought against Israel.
24 Then Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the people of Ammon; for the border of the people of Ammon was fortified.
25 So Israel took all these cities, and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon and in all its villages.
26 For Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab, and had taken all his land from his hand as far as the Arnon.
27 Therefore those who speak in proverbs say: "Come to Heshbon, let it be built; Let the city of Sihon be repaired.
28 "For fire went out from Heshbon, A flame from the city of Sihon; It consumed Ar of Moab, The lords of the heights of the Arnon.
29 Woe to you, Moab! You have perished, O people of Chemosh! He has given his sons as fugitives, And his daughters into captivity, To Sihon king of the Amorites.
30 "But we have shot at them; Heshbon has perished as far as Dibon. Then we laid waste as far as Nophah, Which reaches to Medeba."
31 Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites.
32 Then Moses sent to spy out Jazer; and they took its villages and drove out the Amorites who were there.
33 And they turned and went up by the way to Bashan. So Og king of Bashan went out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei.
34 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Do not fear him, for I have delivered him into your hand, with all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon."
35 So they defeated him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left him; and they took possession of 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.

Footnotes 3

  • [a]. Literally Utter Destruction
  • [b]. Ancient unknown places; Vulgate reads what He did in the Red Sea.
  • [c]. Hebrew Jeshimon

Chapter Summary

INTRODUCTION TO NUMBERS 21

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