Numbers 21

1 The Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the South, heard that Israel came by the way of Atharim. He fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. 2 Israel vowed 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 The LORD listened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities. The name of the place was called Hormah. 4 They traveled from Mount Hor by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. The soul of the people was very discouraged because of the journey. 5 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 bread, and there is no water; and our soul loathes this light bread.” 6 The LORD sent fiery serpents amongst the people, and they bit the people. Many people of Israel died. 7 The people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD, and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” Moses prayed for the people. 8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole. It shall happen, that everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it on the pole. If a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked at the serpent of brass, he lived. 10 The children of Israel traveled, and encamped in Oboth. 11 They traveled from Oboth, and encamped at Iyeabarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, towards the sunrise. 12 From there they traveled, and encamped in the valley of Zered. 13 From there they traveled, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness, that comes out of 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, “Vaheb in Suphah, the valleys of the Arnon, 15 the slope of the valleys that incline towards the dwelling of Ar, leans on the border of Moab.” 16 From there they traveled to Beer; that is the well of which the LORD said to Moses, “Gather the people together, and I will give them water.” 17 Then Israel sang this song: “Spring up, well! Sing to it, 18 the well, which the princes dug, which the nobles of the people dug, with the scepter, and with their poles.” From the wilderness they traveled to Mattanah; 19 and from Mattanah to Nahaliel; and from Nahaliel to Bamoth; 20 and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the field of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looks down on the desert. 21 Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, 22 “Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into field, or into vineyard. We will not drink of the water of the wells. We will go by the king’s highway, until we have passed your border.” 23 Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his border, but Sihon gathered all his people together, and went out against Israel into the wilderness, and came to Jahaz. He fought against Israel. 24 Israel struck him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, even to the children of Ammon; for the border of the children of Ammon was strong. 25 Israel took all these cities. Israel lived 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, even to the Arnon. 27 Therefore those who speak in proverbs say, “Come to Heshbon. Let the city of Sihon be built and established; 28 for a fire has gone out of Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon. It has devoured Ar of Moab, the lords of the high places of the Arnon. 29 Woe to you, Moab! You are undone, people of Chemosh! He has given his sons as fugitives, and his daughters into captivity, to Sihon king of the Amorites. 30 We have shot at them. Heshbon has perished even to Dibon. We have laid waste even to Nophah, which reaches to Medeba.” 31 Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites. 32 Moses sent to spy out Jazer. They took its villages, and drove out the Amorites who were there. 33 They turned and went up by the way of Bashan. Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. 34 The LORD said to Moses, “Don’t fear him, for I have delivered him into your hand, with all his people, and his land. You shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” 35 So they struck him, with his sons and all his people, until there were no survivors; and they possessed his land.

(Previous Chapter)    •    (Next Chapter)

Questions about today’s reading? See if Matthew Henry can help.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, 1706

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, Joh 3:14, 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, Heb 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, Isa 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, Joh 7:38, 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.

Back to Top