|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
21:1-3 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.
Verse 1. - And when king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell. Rather, "And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, which dwelt in the Negeb, heard tell." It is possible that Arad was the name of the king (it occurs as the name of a man, 1 Chronicles 8:15), but it was almost certainly the name of his place. The "king of Arad, is mentioned in Joshua 12:14, and "the Negeb of Arad" in Judges 1:16. From the context of these passages it is evident that it was situated in the southernmost district of what was afterwards the territory of Judah. According to Eusebius, it stood twenty Roman miles to the south of Hebron, and its site has been found by modern travelers at Tel-Arad, a low hill in this direction. On the Negeb see note on Numbers 13:17. By the way of the spies. דֶּרֶך הָאַתָרִים. Septuagint, ὀδὸν Αθαρείν. The translation is very uncertain; atharim may be a proper name, as the Septuagint seems to suppose, or it may be an unusual plural formed from תוּר, equivalent to הַתָּרִים, "spies," as the Chaldee, Samaritan, and most of the versions take it; or it may be simply the plural from אַתַר, a place, used with some local meaning which made it practically a proper name. If the rendering of the A.V. be correct, "the way of the spies" must have been the route by which they ascended to Hebron through the Negeb (Numbers 13:17, 22), and the king of Arid must have anticipated an invasion in that direction, and sought to forestall it. And took some of them prisoners. This would seem to show that he fell upon them unawares, and cut off some detached parties. Nothing is said of any disobedience on the part of Israel to account for defeat in battle.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And when King Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south,.... Arad seems rather to be the name of a place, city, or country, of which the Canaanite was king, than the name of a man, since we read of the king of Arad, Joshua 12:14 see also Judges 1:16 and so the Targums of Onkelos and Jerusalem here render it, the king of Arad; and the Targum of Jonathan says, he changed his seat and reigned in Arad, which might have its name from Arvad, a son of Canaan, Genesis 10:18 and Jerom says (n), that Arath, the same with Arad, is a city of the Amorites, near the wilderness of Kadesh, and that to this day it is shown, a village four miles from Malatis and twenty from Hebron, in the tribe of Judah; and so Aben Ezra observes, that the ancients say, this is Sihon (the king of the Amorites), and he is called a Canaanite, because all the Amorites are Canaanites; but, according to Jarchi, the Amalekites are meant, as it is said, "the Amalekites dwell in the land of the south": Numbers 13:29 and so the Targum of Jonathan here,"and when Amalek heard, that dwelt in the land of the south;''what he heard is particularly expressed in the following clause:
heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies: either after the manner of spies, or rather by the way in which the spies went thirty eight years ago, which was the way of the south, where this Canaanitish king dwelt, see Numbers 13:17, the Septuagint version leaves the word untranslated, taking it for the name of a place, and reads, "by the way of Atharim", so the Samaritan Pentateuch and Arabic version; and did such a place appear to have been hereabout, it would be the most likely sense of the passage; for as the spies were never discovered by the Canaanites, the way they went could not be known by them; nor is it very probable that, if it had been known, it should be so called, since nothing of any consequence to them as yet followed upon it:
then he fought against Israel; raised his forces and marched out against them, to oppose their passage, and engaged in a battle with them:
and took some of them prisoners; according to the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem, great numbers of them; but Jarchi says, only one single maidservant.
(n) De locis Heb. fol. 87. K.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Nu 21:1-35. Israel Attacked by the Canaanites.
1. King Arad the Canaanite—rather, "the Canaanite king of Arad"—an ancient town on the southernmost borders of Palestine, not far from Kadesh. A hill called Tell Arad marks the spot.
heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies—in the way or manner of spies, stealthily, or from spies sent by himself to ascertain the designs and motions of the Israelites. The Septuagint and others consider the Hebrew word "spies" a proper name, and render it: "Came by the way of Atharim towards Arad" [Kennicott].
he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners—This discomfiture was permitted to teach them to expect the conquest of Canaan not from their own wisdom and valor, but solely from the favor and help of God (De 9:4; Ps 44:3, 4).
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