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Deeper Commentary


Num 21:1 The Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the South-
This may not be in chronological order; it could be that in these chapters we have a series of conflicts with the surrounding tribes at the start of the journey. It could also be that this defeat by Arad was part of a series of defeats of those who insisted on trying to enter the land after they had been told they must wander in the wilderness for a generation. It would be as if they tried to go by the 'way of the spies' again, but how at Arad their way was finally blocked. In this case, the victory against the Canaanites of :3 would refer to a later victory against them.

Heard tell that Israel came by the way of Atharim-
Heb. 'the way of the spies'. History was being intentionally repeated, in the hope that the Israelites would learn the lesson, reflecting that they were taking the same road the spies had taken, and challenging themselves to have more faith than they did. And history likewise repeats in our lives for the same reason.

And he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive-
The promise that an obedient Israel would make their enemies flee before them was not operational here. The conclusion is surely that Israel had sinned and therefore were defeated. These words are frequently used about Israel's judgment at the hand of their enemies because of their sinfulness. All this lends weight to the conclusion that this was another attempt by Israel to enter Canaan as happened immediately after the news of their rejection (Dt. 1:44). Those rejected from the Kingdom at judgment day will likewise desperately want to be there, nobody will be passive in that day, nor shrugging their shoulders as people do today when encountering the possibility that they may not be there. The wilderness journey speaks of our lives after baptism. It's not a story of glorious victory after glorious victory. There are defeats and failures, partly from our failures, and partly because God in His wisdom knows that this too is part of our path towards the Kingdom. The initial defeat was required in order to make the people trust in Yahweh for victory (:2); and we have multiple such experiences in life. 

Num 21:2 Israel vowed a vow to Yahweh, and said, If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities-
The Hebrew for "utterly destroy" means to devote. Whatever comes into our hands during our wilderness journey should be devoted to the Lord. But it was in any case a command to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites (Dt. 7:2; 12:2; 20:17). We shouldn’t consider that which is our duty to do as some kind of special dedication to God which deserves His reward. But so eager is God for relationship with His people that He all the same agreed (:3).

Just as all the animals and everything in the eretz promised to Abraham was 'delivered into the hands' of Noah (s.w. Gen. 9:2), so the nations of that eretz were delivered into the hands of Israel (s.w. Ex. 6:8; 23:31; Dt. 2:24; 3:2,3; 7:24; 21:10; Josh. 2:24; Jud. 1:2). Tragically, like Adam in Eden [perhaps the same eretz promised to Abraham] and Noah in the new, cleansed eretz, Israel didn't realize this potential. What was delivered into the hand of Joshua (Josh. 2:24) actually wasn't delivered into their hand, because they disbelieved (Jud. 2:23); and this looks ahead to the disbelief of so many in the work of the Lord Jesus, who has indeed conquered the Kingdom for us. They considered the promise of the nations being delivered into their hand as somehow open to question, and only a possibility and not at all certain (Jud. 8:7; Num. 21:2 cp. Num. 21:34). Some like Jephthah (s.w. Jud. 11:32; 12:3), Ehud (Jud. 3:10,28), Deborah (Jud. 4:14), Gideon (Jud. 7:15) did, for a brief historical moment; but as individuals, and their victories were not followed up on. Instead they were dominated by the territory. And so instead, they were delivered into the hands of their enemies within the eretz (s.w. Lev. 26:25; Jud. 13:1).   

Num 21:3 Yahweh 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-
Hormah means 'devoted', LXX 'Anathema'.  Paul spoke of those who leave the faith as 'Anathema' (1 Cor. 16:22), but the idea was likely that we should consider even those we separate from as 'devoted' to the Lord. We do not condemn, but pass them to the Lord, in the hope that they will finally be devoted to Him. There's a powerful logic in all this- we are to be devoted to the Lord in any case, either by condemnation or by willing devotion of ourselves to Him in this life, that we might be eternally devoted to Him. The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof- and all finally returns to Him in any case. This idea sheds light on the reference in 1 Cor. 5:5 to delivering a wrongdoer to "Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved". The idea of delivering over in Hebrew thought was understood as delivering over to God. The 'satan' may therefore refer to a Divine Angel or some other Divine agent who would attempt to work to bring back the straying sheep, that it might be saved at the end. All separation, therefore, should be in a spirit of desiring the individual's salvation, and not as an expression of our own personal anger or dislike.

Num 21:4 They travelled from Mount Hor by the way to the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom; and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way-
"Much discouraged" is Heb. 'reaped down', the same word used about how they felt in Egypt (Ex. 6:9). They adopted the same attitude they had in Egypt, ever searching for something better, and now not wanting to accept what God had planned for them, not looking at the end of their journey but just caught up in the immediacy of their daily feelings. Yet they had just had the exhilaration of having made a vow to God about the cities of Canaan, obeying it, and seeing God answer them. Before that, they had sinned (see on :1). And now, they were again discouraged and low. This is the yo-yo path through the wilderness we all experience. It's not going to be entirely positive. They likely reasoned that God should have spared them this awful part of the journey because they had just been obedient to Him. But that's not how the path to the Kingdom is. The sequence in this chapter so far was: Disobedience- Cursing - Obedience - Blessing- Cursing. And sometimes [as in the blessing of Isaac materially after his lying about his wife] the sequence can be: Disobedience- Blessing- Blessing. There is no clear connection between obedience and immediate blessing or cursing. God sees a far wider and longer picture and perspective than we do.

Their route took them back on themselves at this point, heading back towards Egypt. This may have been the psychological trigger for their desire to be back in Egypt (:5). We must try to avoid things and situations which may stimulate a desire to leave the way to the Kingdom and return to the world.

"Because of the way" reflects how this was indeed geographically one of the worst parts of Israel's journey, through shifting sands blown by the strong sirocco winds. Only camels can survive here, so it's likely that the sheep and oxen Israel had brought from Egypt would've died at this point. And this was just immediately prior to their entry of Canaan (Num. 33:41, so this may look forward to the final tribulation for His people before the Lord's return.

There is in the Hebrew text of Jud. 10:16 something which defies translation. We read there that God was so hurt by Israel's sufferings that in sympathy with them, "His nephesh ["soul"] was shortened" or expended. The phrase is used in Num. 21:4 and Jud. 16:16 about death or the diminishment of life. God's pain was such that this was how He felt, because He so internalized the sufferings of His people. And how much more in the death of His Son?


Num 21:5 The people spoke against God, and against Moses, Why have you brought us up out of Egypt-
See on Num. 20:3. Israel “chode with Moses... they strove with the Lord” (Num. 20:3,13) uses the same Hebrew word for both “chode” and “strove”. To strive with Moses was to strive with the Lord- i.e. with the guardian Angel that was so closely associated with Moses? Num. 20:4 continues rather strangely with the Israelites addressing Moses in the plural: “The people chode with Moses, saying... Why have ye [you plural] brought up...”. Could it be that even they recognized his partnership with God? Likewise Num. 21:5: “And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye [plural] brought us up out of Egypt to die?”.

To die in the wilderness-
This was the punishment and consequence of their own sins; but we easily blame others, and even God, for the consequence of our own sins.

For there is no bread, and there is no water-
An exaggeration, because they go on to say that they hated the "light bread", the manna, which they were given. We can likewise assume we have nothing when in fact we do have God's basic provision. Likewise "no water" was surely untrue- the water from the rock followed them (1 Cor. 10:10). But they forgot God's daily material blessings and felt they had nothing at all. For good reason should we regularly give thanks for our food and not forget that we are daily loaded with His material blessings. See on 21:16 I will give them water.

It would seem from Dt. 8:2,3 that Israel went hungry- because they refused to eat the manna. How God works through sin is revealed in the way that although God always provided food for Israel in the wilderness, He ‘suffered them to hunger’ for 40 years, in order to try to teach them that man lives not by bread alone, but by God’s word (Dt. 8:2,3). The Jews in the wilderness despised the food God gave them as worthless; they went hungry not literally, but in the sense that they despised the manna of God’s provision. And He allowed them to have that hunger, in order that He might [try to] teach them about the value of His word. He didn’t simply punish them for their ingratitude. He sought to work through it in order to teach them something. Even the process of rejection results in the victims coming to ‘know the Lord’.

And our soul loathes this light bread-
The Hebrew translated "light" is usually used in the sense of 'cursing', which in Semitic thought means to make light of a person or thing. They felt the bread was inadequate for their needs, and it was a sign of their cursing by God. So easily do men come to the same attitude towards the manna we are given in the wilderness- the word of the Lord Jesus. They accept it is given, but consider it inadequate for their needs.

Num 21:6 Yahweh sent fiery snakes among the people, and they bit the people; and many people of Israel died-
Again we find the Bible written from the perspective of how people felt at the time [hence the language of demons in the New Testament]. The fire was in the feeling of fire within the person bitten and injected with venom, which would have felt like fire. It wasn't that the snakes literally breathed fire.

This incident is interpreted in Jn. 3:14-16 as a symbol of Christ lifted up on the pole at His death; looking toward the snake is seen as faith in Him; and healing from the snake bite as eternal life. This is another reason for thinking that the ‘cross’ of Christ wasn’t as traditionally understood; the Greek word stauros translated “cross” means a tree trunk or pole. The snake was a symbol of sin- but it was as it were dead in Christ. As He hung there, He was so deeply identified with our sins (despite never sinning personally) that a snake can legitimately be used as a symbol for Him there. We are in the position of the Israelites feeling the poisonous venom rising within them, knowing they had limited time left in this life, recognizing they had indeed sinned and deserved death and yet didn’t wish to die. In an encampment of over three million people living in single storey dwellings, i.e. tents, it would have taken some people several kilometers walk to get to the bronze snake. To walk when you have been bitten by a snake is dangerous; you shouldn’t let your heart work any more than necessary so that the venom isn’t spread. So they were commanded to do that which is counter-instinctive, what is totally against worldly wisdom and sense. Our faith in Christ is similar. But it could be that the people were told about the existence of the bronze snake, and had to look toward it in faith from where they were, believing it was there, although not seeing it. This would be similar to our faith in Christ’s death. We didn’t see it, there is no physical representation of it within our sight, but we look to it from far away in time, space and understanding, and believe it was there- and believe that really, 2000 years ago, on a day in April, on a Friday afternoon, on a hill outside Jerusalem, it really did happen. We can imagine the relief of the people as they felt the temperature subside, the fever go; and their gratitude afterwards, their eager vowing to give their saved lives to God and not rebel again. These should be our emotions as we reflect on our salvation in Christ.

Various parts of the Bible become better understandable once we enquire about perspective. The “fiery serpents” of Num. 21:6 are not described from the perspective of observers or us as the audience- they didn’t literally spit fire. They are described from the perspective of the bitten person, for whom their bite would have felt like fire. The parables especially repay helpful reflection when we read them asking ourselves ‘From whose perspective is this?’. But the perspective can change in almost mid-sentence. The Lord comments on the parable of the lost sheep that there is joy in Heaven over the one who repents rather than over the “ninety nine just persons who need no repentance” (Lk. 15:7). They were not justified, and they also needed to repent. But the Lord speaks from their perspective; they thought they were justified and without need of repentance.

Num 21:7 The people came to Moses and said, We have sinned, because we have spoken against Yahweh, and against you. Pray to Yahweh, that He take away the serpents from us. Moses prayed for the people-
The people again complain, and God punishes them with serpents; Moses' prayer for them is accepted. These prayers for others' salvation must have required intense faith and acceptability to be heard. "We have sinned... pray for us... taken away..." [the plague] is all language reminiscent of Pharaoh's dialogue with Moses. They are presented in the record as no better than Pharaoh; they had been brought out of Egypt but the spirit of Egypt remained with them. You can take a man out of Egypt but you can't always take the Egypt out of the man.

Previously in such situations, God had just accepted Moses’ prayer. But now He asked the people to additionally make some personal effort to demonstrate their faith. Quickly dashing off a request for Christ’s mediation in the case of sin may sometimes be met by God seeking to convict us more deeply of our sin and asking us to make some more concrete effort. But yet again we see how the power of a third party's mediation can bring about forgiveness, as in Mk. 2:5; James 5:20. This is endless encouragement to intercede for others.

Num 21:8 Yahweh said to Moses, Make a fiery snake, and set it on an ensign pole; and it shall happen, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks to it, shall live-
With the sun reflecting upon it, the bronze image would've looked like the snakes. The Lord clearly states that the serpent lifted up represented Him on the cross. But just as the crucifix has been misused and turned into a talisman, so was this brass snake in Israel's later history (2 Kings 18:4). Israel were to believe that the snake was dead- if they looked upon it in faith. Likewise the power of sin, which seems so powerful to us, is actually dead- in the crucified, human Jesus. But they had to drag themselves into sight of it, rather than trusting in family and friends or the various cures against snake bites which primitive cultures are full of. The power of the cross is foolishness to unbelievers. The serpent was a symbol of healing and good luck in the surrounding cultures, as can be seen even today in the symbol displayed by some dispensing chemists; but for God's people, starting in Gen. 3:15, the snake was to be understood as a symbol of sin and evil.

"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (John 3:14). It was the serpent which gave salvation to sin-stricken Israel, not Moses; and the serpent represented Christ in this case. Moses "lifted up" the serpent in the same way as the Jews "lifted up" Christ in crucifying him (Jn. 8:28). Moses drew attention to serpent and it's power to save, in the same way as his Law drew attention to how sin would be condemned in Christ as the means of our salvation. The connection between Moses "lifting up" Christ  and Israel doing likewise is another indicator of how Moses was representative of Israel (cp. Christ).

The command to look upon a snake was counter intuitive for people of that age. As in many primitive societies today, there was the belief that after a snakebite, looking upon a snake would cause death. They were told that having been bitten by a snake, they were to look upon a snake to be healed. And this is the same counter instinctive message of the cross.

Num 21:9 Moses made a snake of brass, and set it on the ensign pole; and it happened, that if a snake had bitten any man, when he looked toward the snake of brass, he lived-
Another reason for thinking the 'cross' was a stake of wood rather than a crucifix. The lifting up of Christ on the pole resulted in all men being drawn unto him (Jn. 12:32); but this is taking language from Isaiah's prophecies of how the Lord Jesus at His return would be raised up like an ensign (s.w. pole, Num. 21:9), and all people would be gathered to Him for judgment (Is. 5:26; 11:10; 18:3; 49:22; 62:10). There is evidently a connection between the Lord's lifting up on the pole / cross and gathering all men to Him, and the way in which all men will be gathered to Him at His return. His cross was a foretaste of the judgment. Our feelings before His cross now will be those we experience before Him at the final judgment. Jn. 3:14 uses the Greek word semeion for the standard / pole on which the serpent was lifted up, representing as it did the cross of Christ. But semeion is the word which John seven times uses to describe the sign-miracles worked by the Lord in His ministry. Interestingly, the Jewish Midrash on Num. 21:9 likewise associates the pole with something miraculous: “Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it up by a miracle. He cast it into the air and it stayed there" (Soncino translation). Surely John’s point is the same as Paul’s in 1 Cor. 1:22-25: the Jews want signs / miracles, but Christ crucified is the power of God, the greatest sign. And maybe this is why John alone of the Gospel writers doesn’t record any miracle within the narrative of the crucifixion. The simple, actual death of Jesus was and is the greatest and most convicting sign.

There are many allusions to the serpent on the pole in John's Gospel. Take Jn. 6:40: "And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day". This is similar language to that concerning the lifted up snake, where everyone who “looked upon the serpent of brass… lived" (Num. 21:9). God’s will is that we should look upon the cross, with the faith that comes from a true understanding, and accept that great salvation. This is why the cross must be central to our whole living and thinking and conception of our faith and doctrine.

Num 21:10 The children of Israel travelled, and encamped in Oboth-
Heb. 'water skins'. One wonders whether they had to take the water from the rock with them in skins; and we note the later provision of water at 21:16, as if the water in their water skins had now run out. Perhaps they were being shown that in essence they were no better than Hagar (Gen. 21:15), whose line of descent they were by grace separate from and superior to in spiritual covenant terms. Or perhaps just as they despised the manna and wanted additional food, so they despised the water from the rock which followed them, and wanted flavoured spring water which they took with them in skins.

Num 21:11 They travelled from Oboth, and encamped at Iyeabarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sunrise-
Iyeabarim means heaps or ruins. Perhaps now as they approached the promised land, they were being encouraged that once mighty civilizations all rise and fall, so nothing is invincible- even if at one stage it may appear that way. We too are constantly given encouragement, even if apparently obliquely, along the route of our journey towards the Kingdom. 

Num 21:12 From there they travelled, and encamped in the valley of Zered-
Or, 'by the brook Zered'. This was a tiny brook that could be walked over easily without hardly getting the feet wet. The idea is that they had been unable to cross this tiny river which was seen as the boundary of the promised land- for 38 years (Dt. 2:14). The tiny brook is given such significance to demonstrate to them how easy entrance into the land really was. It seems this was when the manna and water from the rock ceased (hence the need to buy water soon afterwards, Dt. 2:28).

Num 21:13 From there they travelled, 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)-
The Arnon river at this point is very difficult to cross. Num. 21:14 AV connects crossing the Arnon with crossing the Red Sea, so perhaps there was a similar miracle here; preparing the people to have faith that God would also bring them across the Jordan into Canaan. We continually have encouragements and situations in our journey which are preparations for the next stage. The fact Sihon had recently crossed into Canaan and conquered the area around Jericho was likewise encouragement for Israel that they could do the same. 

Num 21:14 Therefore it is said in the book of the Wars of Yahweh, Vaheb in Suphah, the valleys of the Arnon-
AV "What He did in the Red Sea and at the brooks of Arnon". The suggestion could be that here was another miraculous water crossing, just as there was at the Red Sea. The essence of the Red Sea deliverance continues throughout our wilderness journey, just as the cloud of water which enveloped them at the Red Sea actually continued over them throughout the journey.

The book of the wars of Yahweh may be a book written especially by Moses for Joshua's encouragement, a kind of spiritual diary kept by the two men (Ex. 17:14-16) and continued later by Joshua (Josh. 10:13).

Num 21:15 the slope of the valleys that incline toward the dwelling of Ar, leans on the border of Moab-
This was the capital of Moab at the time (Is. 15:1). The victory here made the Moabites fear (Num. 22:3) and this lead to them seeking the help of Balaam to curse Israel.

Num 21:16 From there they travelled to Beer; that is the well of which Yahweh said to Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water-
This would suggest that they did not have provision of water continually, or that the water and manna ended when they reached Zered; see on :12; Dt. 2:14. And yet 1 Cor. 10:10 seems to say that water from the rock followed them. Perhaps it was that they did have water but wanted more, or fresher, cooler water- see on :5. Or maybe they had to ask for water, or the flow of water from the rock which "followed them" did at times dry up?


Num 21:17 Then sang Israel this song: Spring up, O well; sing to it:-
Marvin Vincent [Vincent's Word Studies] comments: "Paul appears to recall a rabbinic tradition that there was a well formed out of the spring in Horeb, which gathered itself up into a rock like a swarm of bees, and followed the people for forty years; sometimes rolling itself, sometimes carried by Miriam, and always addressed by the elders, when they encamped, with the words, “Spring up, O well!” (Num. 21:17)". Whether this is true or not, Paul is alluding to this idea in 1 Cor. 10:10- hence the rather awkward idiom to non-Jewish readers.

Num 21:18 the well, which the princes dug, which the nobles of the people dug-
Digging was not usually for princes, so perhaps the idea is that the princes did the work which usually only manual workers did. We recall how the man in the parable was ashamed to dig, as it was the lowest work (Lk. 16:3). Perhaps this song was sung or chanted during the digging work. It has a rhythmic quality to it.

With the sceptre-
Or, "by the direction of the lawgiver", Moses.

And with their poles. From the wilderness they travelled to Mattanah-Moses had used his staff to strike the rocks previously in order to get water. The association between staves and the provision of water continues, but the idea is that the elders were being trained up to take over from Moses; and he lead them in this process. Thus God provided water for Israel in various ways, and the variation in His methods was in order to try to instruct them. His ways likewise vary in the way He leads and provides for us.

It's worth noting that a group of men would not in practice dig a well with poles or scepters. These are not digging instruments. The idea may just be that these men, princes who were not manual labourers, used what they had, and all the same it was blessed by God and water was found- encouragement for white collar workers who feel that they are hopelessly inadequate at practical service for their Lord. Or it could be that we are intended to make the fairly obvious connection between those poles / scepters and the divining rods used to locate water and sink wells. Many desert peoples had paganic ideas about how to locate water, and it could be in this case that God worked through the paganic ideas- just as He did with Jacob through the myths relating to animal conception before rods.


Num 21:19 and from Mattanah to Nahaliel; and from Nahaliel to Bamoth-
From the 'valley / streams of God'  to Bamoth, 'the high places' .  Probably Bamoth-Baal (Num. 22:41; Josh. 13:17), which is mentioned on the Moabite stone.

Num 21:20 and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the field of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looks down on the desert-
Literally, "the Pisgah". This "seems to have been the name applied to the broken edge of the Moabite plateau where it falls steeply to the Dead Sea and the Jordan valley; and ‘the top, or head, of the Pisgah’ (Num. 23:14, Dt. 3:27; 34:1) is a collective term for the projections or promontories slightly lower than the main plateau.

Num 21:21 Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying-
This situation repeats that in Num. 20 with Edom. But the outcome was different- they did fight with the Amorites, whereas they didn't with Edom. On our wilderness journey we likewise find situations repeating, to reinforce lessons and give us a chance to practice what we have learned. But the outcome of the situations is often different each time.

Num 21:22 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-
Their confidence that they didn't need any water was because the water from the rock was following them (1 Cor. 10:4). This points up Moses' lack of faith in Num. 20:10,11 that the rock in question could give water. We see how even in the best of us like Moses, faith can go up and down very quickly. But the water may have finished at Zered (see on :12); but it seems the sequence of events recorded here is not strictly chronological.

Their promises to Edom and the Amorites to march only along a highway and not spill over it (Num. 20:17; 21:22) is unrealistic if they had such huge numbers as implied if we read the 600 thousands of Ex. 12:37 literally. A figure of 600 family units leaving Egypt is more realistic; otherwise we start to wonder how ever all the Israelites, millions of them, came to be in one place at one time on Passover night. The Hebrew word translated as "thousand" can mean a family, or some other administrative division. Many of the 'number problems' in the Hebrew Bible are only really resoluble using this approach. And that may be in view in the census of Israel taken in Num. 1, and in the statement that six hundred 'thousands' of footmen left Egypt (Ex. 12:37). The census of Num. 1 gives figures such as those in Num. 1:21 for Reuben, which could be rendered: "forty six families ['thousands'] and five hundred (men)". Although a "hundred" might also refer to an administrative division. The total in Num. 1 would then be 598 families with a total of 5550 men. The sum given in the second census in Num. 26 comes out as roughly the same, with 596 families amounting to 5730 men. On this basis, the total population (including women and children) would be anything between 20,000 to 40,000. This would enable us to make better sense of the statements that Israel were the smallest numerically of all the surrounding peoples (Dt. 7:1,7; 11:23; 20:1). If we insist upon taking "thousand" literally in Ex. 12:37, then 600,000 male foot soldiers would imply a total population of between two and six million. The population density would have been intense, and far greater than that of many modern nations. Estimates of global population at the time suggest it was only about 40 million, and the population of Egypt was a maximum of three million (probably far less). If the Israelites were smaller than the other nations, and they numbered say 5 million, then the total population of the seven peoples of Canaan would have been at least 40 million. The territory of Canaan could not have supported such numbers. Only 70 Israelites came into Egypt with Jacob. Expansion over 430 years to several million is not realistic. This approach helps us better understand how all the men of war marched around Jericho (Josh. 6:3). If there were literally 600,000 men then the city would have had to be many kilometers in circumference for them all to march around it seven times in one day. Archaeological evidence from Jericho simply doesn't support the idea of such a vast city. If Israel numbered say 5 million people, and recall there was also a "mixed multitude" with them, then if they marched 10 abreast this would require a column stretching around 1000 kilometers.


Num 21:23 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; and he fought against Israel-
"Jahaz" is the word for 'threshing floor', and suggests the victory was therefore a foretaste of judgment upon the tribes opposing Israel. But they could have avoided that condemnation- for peace was offered to them first (:26).

Num 21:24 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-
Israel had first asked to pass through Sihon's territory in peace. But Dt.  2:24 commanded: "Rise up, take your journey and pass over the valley of the Arnon. Behold, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite king of Heshbon and his land; begin to possess it and contend with him in battle". The implication could be that Moses was disobedient to this and tried to avoid confrontation with him (Dt. 2:27). But we can’t ultimately avoid the confrontations which God at times puts in our path (Dt. 2:32). Moses seems to express his own weakness in his final speeches to Israel in Deuteronomy. He recalls how even towards the end of the wilderness journey, God told him to contend with Sihon in battle (Dt. 2:24); and yet Moses admits: "I sent messengers out of the wilderness of Kedemoth unto Sihon king of Heshbon with words of peace, saying, Let me pass through thy land: I will go along by the highway, I will turn neither unto the right hand nor to the left. Thou shalt sell me food for money, that I may eat; and give me water for money, that I may drink: only let me pass through on my feet" (Dt. 2:26-28). And yet God by grace to Moses hardened Sihon's heart so that there was a battle in which, again by grace, he gave Israel victory. "Was strong" is LXX "at Jazer".

Num 21:25 Israel took all these cities; and Israel lived in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its towns-
This would have been Israel's first experience of major battle, victory and possession of conquered cities. It was in order to encourage them that the opposition in Canaan would likewise crumble before them. We continually sense His hand working to educate us in the path of faith.

Num 21:26 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-
Again this was encouragement to Israel, even on a subliminal level, that conquest of others' territory was possible. And they had Yahweh behind them. Constantly we are encouraged that inheritance of the Kingdom is really possible. The events of this time were to become a point of contention with the Ammonites in Jud. 11:13-19. Jephthah's response reflected a fluent knowledge of these verses now before us. This man who had to make a living as a highwayman and robber, the son of a whore who had been rejected by his father's sons, had turned to the scriptures because of his experiences. We cannot judge people. We simply don't know who deep down is searching for God, nor what thief or lowlife is secretly reading the Bible on their phone

Num 21:27 Therefore those who speak in proverbs say, Come to Heshbon. Let the city of Sihon be built and established-
I suggest that all the verbs in the following song should be read in the past tense. It is a taunt song by the Israelites, as if "Why do you not come and rebuild your fallen capital, for you shewed prowess enough in the past when you conquered Moab!". 

Num 21:28 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-
This taunt song, about what Sihon had done to Moab, is pretty much quoted in Jer. 48:45. But it is there quoted as a prophecy about what would happen to Moab again at the last day, when the Lord Jesus as the "star out of Jacob" will destroy the latter day equivalent of Moab, and any Jews who have taken refuge with her. It is mixed together with the prophecy of Num. 24:17. We have an example here of how God's word is reused, reapplied and reinterpreted by Him over time. This is why many quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament are apparently cited in a context which is out of step with their original context.

Num 21:29 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-
This taunt song mocks Chemosh, god of the Moabites; but that same god was called Molech by the Ammonites. Yet Israel carried the tabernacle of Moloch / Chemosh with them on their wilderness journeys (Acts 7:43), and it seems continued worshipping this god even once settled in Canaan. So we can take a powerful contemporary lesson: we may sing [even with great zest] words in hymns and worship songs, which in our personal lives we deny. And live exactly the opposite to. For this is what Israel were doing at this point.

Num 21:30 We have shot at them. Heshbon has perished even to Dibon. We have laid waste even to Nophah, which reaches to Medeba-
LXX "And their seed shall perish from Esebon to Daebon; and their women have yet farther kindled a fire against Moab". The idea was that 'even' women won victories against Moab. Or "we have wasted even unto Nophah- with fire unto Medeba". Again this was encouragement to Israel, even on a subliminal level, that conquest of others' territory was possible. And they had Yahweh behind them. Constantly we too are encouraged that inheritance of the Kingdom is really possible.

Num 21:31 Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites-
All this happened quite soon before the conquest of Canaan. Even on our wilderness journey, before we have possessed the Kingdom, we do have some foretastes of that Kingdom; in the same way as Israel began to possess the promised land in some limited sense whilst still in the desert.

Num 21:32 Moses sent to spy out Jazer; and they took its towns, and drove out the Amorites who were there-
"Drive out" is s.w. "possess". We must note the difference between the  Canaanite peoples and their kings being "struck" and their land "taken" by Joshua-Jesus; and the people of Israel permanently taking possession. This is the difference between the Lord's victory on the cross, and our taking possession of the Kingdom. Even though that possession has been "given" to us. The word used for "possession" is literally 'an inheritance'. The allusion is to the people, like us, being the seed of Abraham. The Kingdom was and is our possession, our inheritance- if we walk in the steps of Abraham. But it is one thing to be the seed of Abraham, another to take possession of the inheritance; and Israel generally did not take possession of all the land (Josh. 11:23 13:1; 16:10; 18:3; 23:4). The language of inheritance / possession is applied to us in the New Testament (Eph. 1:11,14; Col. 3:24; Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Pet. 1:4 etc.). Israel were promised: "You shall possess it" (Dt. 30:5; 33:23). This was more of a command than a prophecy, for sadly they were "given" the land but did not "possess" it. They were constantly encouraged in the wilderness that they were on the path to possessing the land (Dt. 30:16,18; 31:3,13; 32:47), but when they got there they didn't possess it fully.

Num 21:33 They turned and went up by the way of Bashan; and Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei-
As noted on Dt. 3:4,10, some of the places they had known in their wilderness journeys (cp. our life now after baptism, which is like crossing the Red Sea, 1 Cor. 10:1,2) were revisited and taken by Joshua (Josh. 12:4), and incorporated into God's Kingdom. Perhaps situations and places we know in this life will then become eternally ours when we possess them in God's Kingdom.  

Og lived in Ashtaroth (Dt. 1:4). Ashtaroth was the name of one of the deities which the surrounding tribes worshipped; Edrei means "strength". The message is that the apparent strength of the idols and those who trusted in them had been overcome. And having won victories which were foretastes of those Israel would win in Canaan, Moses now urges the people to go forward in faith. In Yahweh's strength, they could overcome the idol worshipping tribes, despite their apparent strength. But Israel still kept those idols with them.

Num 21:34 Yahweh said to Moses, Don’t fear him; for I have delivered him into your hand, and all his people, and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon-
Fear is always the antithesis of faith. God is often called an "awesome God" (Dt. 7:21 etc.). The Hebrew word for "awesome" is that for 'fear' (s.w. Gen. 3:10; 15:1; 18;15 etc.). The idea is that God's people are to be in such fear / awe of Him that they fear / are in awe of nothing else. Hence Dt. 7:21 says that Israel should "not be scared of" their enemies, because their God is "awesome", He is the one to be feared. 

Moses seems to have appreciated fully his representative role when he addressed Israel: "The Lord said unto me... I will deliver [Og] into thy [singular] hand... so the Lord our God delivered into our hands Og" (Dt. 3:2,3). David recognized this unity between Moses and Israel; David describes both Israel and Moses as God's chosen (Ps. 16:5,23). All these things looked forward to our victory on account of being "in" Christ; through baptism, and then through a life lived in Him and in identity with Him.  

Num 21:35 So they struck him, and his sons and all his people, until there was none left him remaining; and they possessed his land-
Yet Israel presumably moved on from this land. We too have some foretaste of the possession of the Kingdom in this life, but the full literal fulfilment of it all is yet future. These victories were surely to develop the faith of the Israelites and to show them that military conquest of the promised land was far from impossible for them.