Numbers 21

Arad Destroyed

1 When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them.
2 Then Israel made this vow to the LORD: “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy[a] their cities.”
3 The LORD listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.[b]

The Bronze Snake

4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[c] to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;
5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

The Journey to Moab

10 The Israelites moved on and camped at Oboth.
11 Then they set out from Oboth and camped in Iye Abarim, in the wilderness that faces Moab toward the sunrise.
12 From there they moved on and camped in the Zered Valley.
13 They set out from there and camped alongside the Arnon, which is in the wilderness extending into Amorite territory. The Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.
14 That is why the Book of the Wars of the LORD says: “. . . Zahab[d] in Suphah and the ravines, the Arnon
15 and[e] the slopes of the ravines that lead to the settlement of Ar and lie along the border of Moab.”
16 From there they continued on to Beer, 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! Sing about it,
18 about the well that the princes dug, that the nobles of the people sank— the nobles with scepters and staffs.” Then they went from the wilderness to Mattanah,
19 from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth,
20 and from Bamoth to the valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland.

Defeat of Sihon and Og

21 Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites:
22 “Let us pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.”
23 But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. He mustered his entire army and marched out into the wilderness against Israel. When he reached Jahaz, he fought with Israel.
24 Israel, however, put him to the sword and took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites, because their border was fortified.
25 Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them, including Heshbon and all its surrounding settlements.
26 Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken from him all his land as far as the Arnon.
27 That is why the poets say: “Come to Heshbon and let it be rebuilt; let Sihon’s city be restored.
28 “Fire went out from Heshbon, a blaze from the city of Sihon. It consumed Ar of Moab, the citizens of Arnon’s heights.
29 Woe to you, Moab! You are destroyed, people of Chemosh! He has given up his sons as fugitives and his daughters as captives to Sihon king of the Amorites.
30 “But we have overthrown them; Heshbon’s dominion has been destroyed all the way to Dibon. We have demolished them as far as Nophah, which extends to Medeba.”
31 So Israel settled in the land of the Amorites.
32 After Moses had sent spies to Jazer, the Israelites captured its surrounding settlements and drove out the Amorites who were there.
33 Then they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei.
34 The LORD said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have delivered him into your hands, along with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.”
35 So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. 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.

Cross References 72

  • 1. Numbers 33:40; Joshua 12:14
  • 2. S Genesis 12:9; Numbers 13:17; Deuteronomy 1:7; Judges 1:9,16
  • 3. Leviticus 7:16
  • 4. ver 3; Exodus 22:20; Deuteronomy 2:34; Joshua 2:10; Joshua 8:26; Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 50:21
  • 5. S Genesis 10:18
  • 6. S ver 2
  • 7. S Numbers 14:45
  • 8. Numbers 20:22
  • 9. Numbers 14:25; Deuteronomy 2:1; Deuteronomy 11:4
  • 10. S Numbers 20:21
  • 11. Deuteronomy 2:8; Judges 11:18
  • 12. Psalms 78:19
  • 13. Numbers 11:20
  • 14. S Exodus 14:11; Numbers 14:2,3
  • 15. Numbers 20:5
  • 16. S Numbers 11:5; Numbers 11:6
  • 17. ver 7; Deuteronomy 8:15; Deuteronomy 32:33; Job 20:14; Psalms 58:4; Psalms 140:3; Jeremiah 8:17
  • 18. 1 Corinthians 10:9
  • 19. Psalms 78:34; Hosea 5:15
  • 20. Numbers 14:40
  • 21. Exodus 8:8; 1 Samuel 7:8; Jeremiah 27:18; Jeremiah 37:3; Acts 8:24
  • 22. S Numbers 11:2
  • 23. John 3:14
  • 24. 2 Kings 18:4
  • 25. John 3:14-15
  • 26. Numbers 33:43
  • 27. S Genesis 36:35; Numbers 33:44; Deuteronomy 34:8; Jeremiah 40:11
  • 28. Deuteronomy 2:13,14
  • 29. Numbers 22:36; Deuteronomy 2:24; Joshua 12:1; Judges 11:13,18; 2 Kings 10:33; Isaiah 16:2; Jeremiah 48:20
  • 30. S Genesis 10:16
  • 31. 1 Samuel 17:47; 1 Samuel 18:17; 1 Samuel 25:28
  • 32. ver 28; Deuteronomy 2:9,18; Isaiah 15:1
  • 33. Numbers 25:1; Numbers 33:49; Judges 9:21; Isaiah 15:8
  • 34. S Exodus 15:1
  • 35. Numbers 23:14; Deuteronomy 3:17,27; Deuteronomy 34:1; Joshua 12:3; Joshua 13:20
  • 36. S Genesis 32:3
  • 37. Numbers 32:33; Deuteronomy 1:4; Deuteronomy 2:26-27; Joshua 2:10; Joshua 12:2,4; Joshua 13:10; Judges 11:19-21; 1 Kings 4:19; Nehemiah 9:22; Psalms 135:11; Psalms 136:19; Jeremiah 48:45
  • 38. S Exodus 23:23
  • 39. S Numbers 20:17
  • 40. Numbers 20:21
  • 41. Deuteronomy 2:32; Joshua 13:18; Joshua 21:36; Judges 11:20; Isaiah 15:4; Jeremiah 48:21,34
  • 42. Numbers 20:18
  • 43. Deuteronomy 2:33; Deuteronomy 3:3; Deuteronomy 29:7; Psalms 135:10-11; Amos 2:9
  • 44. ver 35; Deuteronomy 3:4
  • 45. S Genesis 32:22; Numbers 32:33; Judges 11:13,22
  • 46. S Genesis 19:38; Deuteronomy 2:37; Joshua 13:10
  • 47. Numbers 13:29; Judges 10:11; Amos 2:10
  • 48. Judges 11:26
  • 49. ver 30; Numbers 32:3; Deuteronomy 1:4; Deuteronomy 29:7; Joshua 9:10; Joshua 12:2; Isaiah 15:4; Isaiah 16:8; Jeremiah 48:2,34
  • 50. ver 21; Deuteronomy 29:7; Psalms 135:11
  • 51. Numbers 13:29
  • 52. ver 11
  • 53. ver 13
  • 54. Jeremiah 48:45
  • 55. S Numbers 11:1
  • 56. S ver 15
  • 57. Numbers 22:41; Deuteronomy 12:2; Joshua 13:17; Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 19:5
  • 58. Numbers 24:17; 2 Samuel 8:2; 1 Chronicles 18:2; Psalms 60:8; Isaiah 25:10; Jeremiah 48:46
  • 59. Judges 10:6; Judges 11:24; Ruth 1:15; 1 Kings 11:7,33; 2 Kings 23:13; Jeremiah 48:7,46
  • 60. Isaiah 15:5
  • 61. Isaiah 16:2
  • 62. Numbers 32:3; Joshua 13:9,17; Nehemiah 11:25; Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 48:18,22
  • 63. Joshua 13:16; 1 Chronicles 19:7
  • 64. Numbers 13:29
  • 65. Joshua 2:1; Joshua 6:22; Joshua 7:2; Judges 18:2; 2 Samuel 10:3; 1 Chronicles 19:3
  • 66. Nu 32:1,3,35; Joshua 13:25; 2 Samuel 24:5; 1 Chronicles 6:81; Isaiah 16:8; Jeremiah 48:32
  • 67. Numbers 32:33; Deuteronomy 3:3; Deuteronomy 31:4; Joshua 2:10; Joshua 12:4; Joshua 13:30; 1 Kings 4:19; Nehemiah 9:22; Psalms 135:11; Psalms 136:20
  • 68. Deuteronomy 3:4; Deuteronomy 32:14; Joshua 9:10; 1 Kings 4:13
  • 69. Deuteronomy 1:4; Deuteronomy 3:1,10; Joshua 12:4; Joshua 13:12,31; Joshua 19:37
  • 70. Deuteronomy 3:2
  • 71. Joshua 9:10
  • 72. S ver 24

Footnotes 5

  • [a]. The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them; also in verse 3.
  • [b]. "Hormah" means "destruction" .
  • [c]. Or "the Sea of Reeds"
  • [d]. Septuagint; Hebrew "Waheb"
  • [e]. Or "“I have been given from Suphah and the ravines" / "of the Arnon " 15"to"

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

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