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CHAPTER 21 Apr. 5 
The Bronze Serpent
The Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the South, heard tell that Israel came by the way of Atharim; and he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. 2Israel vowed a vow to Yahweh, and said, If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities. 3Yahweh 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. 4They 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. 5The 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. 6Yahweh sent fiery snakes among the people, and they bit the people; and many people of Israel died. 7The 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. 8Yahweh 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. 9Moses 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. 
The Journeys of Israel
10The children of Israel travelled, and encamped in Oboth. 11They travelled from Oboth, and encamped at Iyeabarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sunrise. 12From there they travelled, and encamped in the valley of Zered. 13From 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). 14Therefore it is said in the book of the Wars of Yahweh, Vaheb in Suphah, the valleys of the Arnon, 15the slope of the valleys that incline toward the dwelling of Ar, leans on the border of Moab. 16From 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. 17Then sang Israel this song: Spring up, O well; sing to it: 18the well, which the princes dug, which the nobles of the people dug, with the sceptre, and with their poles. From the wilderness they travelled to Mattanah; 19and from Mattanah to Nahaliel; and from Nahaliel to Bamoth; 20and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the field of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looks down on the desert 21Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, 22Let 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. 23Sihon 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. 24Israel 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. 25Israel took all these cities; and Israel lived in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its towns. 26For 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. 27Therefore those who speak in proverbs say, Come to Heshbon. Let the city of Sihon be built and established; 28for 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. 29Woe 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. 30We have shot at them. Heshbon has perished even to Dibon. We have laid waste even to Nophah, which reaches to Medeba. 31Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites. 32Moses sent to spy out Jazer; and they took its towns, and drove out the Amorites who were there. 33They 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. 34Yahweh 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. 35So they struck him, and his sons and all his people, until there was none left him remaining; and they possessed his land.


21:2 Then I will utterly destroy their cities- 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 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).
21:4 By the way to the Red Sea- 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.
21:7 Moses prayed for the people- 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.
21:8 This 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 several kilometres 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.