Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chapters Numbers 21:1 to Numbers 22:1
This chapter is full of difficulties, critical and geographical, about some of which it is impossible to reach any certain conclusions. It relates the journey to the steppes of Moab opposite Jericho, together with three victories—over the Canaanites (Numbers 21:1-3), Sihon king of the Amorites (Numbers 21:21-31), and Og the king of Bashan (Numbers 21:33-35). The whole section is from J E , with the probable exception of Numbers 21:1-3; Numbers 21:10-11 and Numbers 22:1.
And when king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners.1. the Canaanite] This is perhaps to be understood as a gentilic noun, denoting ‘the Canaanites’ collectively, in which case ‘the king of Arad’ is a later addition. The Canaanites are in the same territory in which they are found in Numbers 14:25 (see note there).
Arad] The modern Tell ‘Arad. It lies 17 miles south of Hebron, and 50 miles north, and slightly to the east, of Kadesh. The king of Arad is mentioned in conjunction with the king of Hormah in Joshua 12:14. And the ‘Negeb of Arad’ (i.e. that part of the Negeb in which Arad was situated) is identified in Jdg 1:16 with the wilderness of Judah, to which the Kenites moved in company with the tribes of Judah.
the way of Atharim] The meaning of the word is unknown, and perhaps it is safest to take it (with R.V. ) as a proper name. R.V. marg. retains the rendering of A.V. ‘the spies,’ a suggestion derived from the Targum. Dillmann refers to an Arabic word athar, ‘a footprint,’ or ‘trace,’ and suggests that ‘the way of Atharim’ might mean ‘the track-way,’ i.e. ‘the caravan route.’
1–3. The attack made upon Israel by the Canaanites and Israel’s victory over them at Hormah.
The source of this passage is a great problem. The verses appear to imply a movement on the part of the Israelites northwards from the desert through the Negeb. They have no connexion with Numbers 21:4 ff., in which the people moved S.E. towards the Red Sea. And it is difficult to find any point in the narratives of the wanderings to which a northward movement with a successful battle can belong, on the supposition that the passage has been misplaced, and that it belongs to J E . Possibly, however, it is to be ascribed to E . It is contradictory to the account in Numbers 14:40-45 (J ), where it is stated that the Israelites were defeated by the Canaanites at Hormah. It is noteworthy that Jdg 1:17 contains a narrative which is closely similar to the present one; it relates a victory over the Canaanites at Hormah, and (as here) the name Hormah is explained by a play on the word ḥçrem ‘a ban’; and Hormah, moreover, is mentioned in close conjunction with Arad. But the conquerors are not the whole of Israel but the tribes of Judah and Simeon, with whom the Kenites had moved into the district. It is far from impossible that the two passages are closely connected. In the present passage it is strange that the Israelites, after gaining such a decisive victory, should not have moved further northwards, and established themselves at once in Canaan. And an increasing number of modern students think that they actually did so, and that this passage is an isolated fragment from a circle of traditions according to which some of the Israelites did not travel round to Moab with the main body, but entered Canaan straight from the southern deserts. If that theory were correct, we should have to conclude that the victory which Jdg 1:17 ascribes to Judah and Simeon with the Kenites is, in the present form of the verses before us, ascribed less accurately to the whole of Israel.
And Israel vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.2. utterly destroy] i.e. place under a ‘ban,’ Heb. ḥçrem. In the next verse the writer plays upon the word, in order to explain the name Hormah, as is done also in Jdg 1:17 (see note above).
And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah.3. the name of the place was called Hormah] In view of the expression ‘destroyed them and their cities,’ Hormah would seem to be a district and not a town; and perhaps it is so in Numbers 14:45 (‘the Hormah’) and Dt. 1:441 [Note: This is the more probable if we read ‘from Seir’ with LXX., Syr., Vulg.] . But in other passages Hormah is a city; cf. Joshua 12:14; Joshua 15:30; Joshua 19:4, 1 Samuel 30:30, 1 Chronicles 4:30; and in Jdg 1:17 it is said that its former name was Ẓephath.
And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.4. by the way to the Red Sea] Throughout the whole of the detour no encampments are named until Israel reaches the region of Moab.
the soul of the people was impatient] lit. ‘was short.’ The opposite state is ‘long-suffering’; cf. Proverbs 14:29 (R.V. ‘hasty’ and ‘slow to anger’).
4–9. The bronze serpent. God did not at once take away the plague. Each individual received healing only when he performed an act of faith, by looking at the serpent. An early Jewish writer says that it was not the serpent that brought the Israelites healing, but the fact that they ‘lifted up their eyes and directed their heart towards their heavenly Father.’ This is one of the most familiar and famous of Biblical narratives, owing to our Lord’s reference to it, in John 3:14, as typical of the ‘lifting up’ of the Son of Man. The close connexion between the plague and the instrument of healing is, to the Christian, symbolical of the fact that ‘Him who knew no sin he [God] made to be sin on our behalf’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). It was traditionally believed that the bronze serpent which Moses erected was the same which existed in Hezekiah’s day. He destroyed it because it had long been an object of worship (2 Kings 18:4).
And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.5. our soul [i.e. appetite] loatheth this worthless bread] They despised the manna, declaring that it was useless for satisfying hunger.
And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.6. fiery serpents] The Heb. words are both substantives, and both have the article: ‘the serpents, the fiery creatures.’ If ‘fiery’ is the correct rendering, it probably refers to their venomous bite which produced a burning inflammation. The article may imply ‘the serpents so well known to the readers by tradition.’ The punishment by serpents is referred to in 1 Corinthians 10:9 as a warning to Christians.
Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.8. a fiery serpent] Here it is a single substantive, the second of the two in Numbers 21:6.
set it upon a pole] The rendering of the A.V. may here be retained.
And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.9. Moses made a serpent of bronze] The removing of a pest by means of a bronze image of it finds parallels in ancient Europe. See Gray, Numb. p. 276.
Numbers 21:10-11. P
Stages in the journey to the east of Moab
11. The site of Oboth is unknown; ‘somewhere on the flinty plateau to the east of Edom, the Ard Suwwan or Flint Ground, Arabia Petraea’ (G. A. Smith, H. G. [Note: . G. Historical Geography of the Holy Land.] 557). Iye-abarim (Heb. ‘Iyyê-hâ‘abhârîm, ‘the Ruins of the ‘Abharim’) is stated to lie ‘over against Moab, on the sunrise (i.e. the eastern) side.’ ‘The ‘Abharim’ means ‘the parts on the other side,’ a name which was given to the district on the east of the Dead Sea, looked at from the point of view of a dweller in Palestine: cf. Numbers 27:12, Numbers 33:47 f. The name distinguishes it from the Iyim of Joshua 15:29, which was in Judah, close to the Edomite border.
Many writers assign Numbers 21:10-11 to P , since the names Oboth and Iye-abarim recur in the list in ch. 33, which is from the hand of a priestly writer, and are found nowhere else in the O.T. According to that list (41–44) the itinerary was as follows: Mt Hor, Zalmonah, Punon, Oboth, Iye-abarim. The sites of Zalmonah and Punon are quite unknown. But the writer of 33, who clearly intends to trace the journey as completely as possible, omits all reference to the detour by the way to the Red Sea. If, therefore, Mt Hor is the modern Jebel Madurah (see on Numbers 20:22) on the west of Edom, and Iye-abarim is somewhere on the eastern border of Moab, it seems probable that the priestly traditions represented Israel as marching straight through Edom. Whether the account of the hostility of the king of Edom was unknown to P , or whether it was, for some reason, intentionally omitted, we cannot say. But it is noteworthy that in Dt. also there is no mention of it.
And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in Oboth.
And they journeyed from Oboth, and pitched at Ijeabarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sunrising.
From thence they removed, and pitched in the valley of Zared.12. From thence they journeyed] The last place mentioned in J E was ‘the way to the Red Sea’ (Numbers 21:4); but it is probable that some stages in the journey have been lost, and that ‘thence’ originally referred to a distinct town or locality.
the wady of Zered] The Heb. naḥal denotes both a small torrent and the depression through which it flows; the German ‘Bachtal’ expresses it well.
The name Zered has not been identified; if, however, the compiler was sufficiently acquainted with the geography of the district to place the names Oboth and Iye-abarim (from P ) in their right position, Zered must lie to the north of the latter town, and may be either the Seil Sa‘îdeh which flows into the Arnon from the S.E., or the Seil Lejjûn a smaller tributary of the Seil Sa‘îdeh or else the Wady-el-Kerak (or the upper course of it named Wady-el-Franji) which runs north-west past Kerak into the Dead Sea.
Numbers 21:12-20. J E
The Israelites arrived at a spot on the S.E. border of Moab, and then, having travelled northwards along its eastern boundary, penetrated westward till they reached the cliffs which fall to the Dead Sea. Notice that the formula used in the itinerary has changed; in Numbers 21:10-11 it is ‘and they journeyed from —— and encamped in ——,’ as throughout ch. 33; but here it is ‘from thence they journeyed, and encamped in ——,’ or some shorter expression.
On the whole of this section see G. A. Smith, Hist. Geogr. 557–66, and his article ‘Moab’ in Enc. Bibl. [Note: nc. Bibl. Encyclopaedia Biblica.]
From thence they removed, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, which is in the wilderness that cometh out of the coasts of the Amorites: for Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.13. on the other side of Arnon] This probably means north of it, the direction being considered from the point of view of the march; cf. Jdg 11:18.
The Arnon, now known as the Wady-el-Mojib, was a large stream which flowed westward into the Dead Sea at about the middle point of its eastern side. For a fuller description see on Numbers 21:14.
which is in the wilderness] i.e. that part of it which is in the wilderness. The clause defines more exactly one of the many streams which compose the river, perhaps the Wady Wâleh which flows into it from the north about 4½ miles from its mouth (see Enc. Bibl. [Note: nc. Bibl. Encyclopaedia Biblica.] 3170 note 1). It shews that the Israelites were still eastward of Moab in the district of the upper reaches of the river and its tributaries, all of which might loosely be called the Arnon (G. A. Smith, H. G. [Note: . G. Historical Geography of the Holy Land.] 558). This district, here and in Numbers 21:23 called ‘the wilderness,’ is named ‘the wilderness of Kedemoth’ in Deuteronomy 2:26.
that cometh out from the territory of the Amorites] This describes the wilderness, not the Arnon. The uncultivated region of the upper Arnon stretched away eastward from the Amorite country.
Arnon is the border of Moab] i.e. the northern border. At an earlier time the Moabites had possessed some land north of the river, and the Ammonites had lived north of them as far as the Jabbok. But shortly before the arrival of the Israelites, the Amorites had driven the Ammonites eastward into the desert, and the Moabites to the south of the Arnon (Numbers 21:26, Jdg 11:22). Thus directly the Israelites crossed the Arnon they were on the eastern border of the Amorites’ country, and, with a view to striking westward to the Jordan, they asked Sihon’s permission to pass through his country. In Deuteronomy 2:26-37 this and the subsequent fight with the Amorites are related correctly at this point. But in Num. the journey through the Amorite land is related (Numbers 21:16-20) before the hostility of Sihon is described.
Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the LORD, What he did in the Red sea, and in the brooks of Arnon,14. the book of the Wars of Jehovah] It may be gathered from the title that the songs celebrated the battles which Jehovah ‘the God of hosts’ had helped His people to win against His enemies. A similar collection of songs (which were probably handed down orally and not committed to writing till a later time) was called ‘the book of the Yâshâr (‘Upright’),’ Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18; and Gray compares it with the Ḥamasa and similar collections of the Arabs.
Vaheb in Suphah] The former apparently a town, and the latter a district; both are unknown; but the latter is possibly the same as Suph (Deuteronomy 1:1). In the original song Vaheb (as the Heb. shews) must have been governed by a verb, perhaps relating that Israel captured the town. But the writer here begins his quotation in the middle of the sentence, since the point of it for him lay only in the closing words. The rendering of Suphah as a substantive ‘storm’ (R.V. marg.) is improbable. The A.V. follows the Vulg. , which, in turn, is dependent upon the Targum.
the valleys of Arnon] ‘Valley,’ Heb. naḥal, is a torrent-ravine or wady; see on Numbers 21:12. The expression stands for all the streams which unite to form the Arnon. Some of these have been mentioned in Numbers 21:12-13. Others are the Wady Babr‘a, W. es-Sulṭân, W. Butmeh, W. Themed. ‘The whole plateau up to the desert is thus not only cut across, but up and down, by deep ravines, and a very difficult frontier is formed’ (G. A. Smith, H. G. [Note: . G. Historical Geography of the Holy Land.] 558).
14, 15. The writer here inserts a fragment of poetry from an ancient collection of songs, the last clause of which supports the above statement that Arnon was the border of Moab.
And at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab.15. the slope] Probably something steeper, such as a cliff, is intended. The sing. is not found elsewhere; the plural always in the expression ‘the slopes of the Pisgah’ (Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:49, Joshua 12:3; Joshua 13:20) except in Joshua 10:40.
the dwelling of Ar] A poetical expression for the site of Ar, the city being personified. ‘Ar means ‘city’ (LXX. Ἤρ represents ‘Ir, the ordinary Heb. form of the word); in Numbers 21:28 it is ‘Ar of Moab,’ equivalent to the ‘city of Moab’ (Numbers 22:36); cf. Isaiah 15:1. The site of Ar is unknown, but its locality is indicated in Numbers 22:36 (see note there).
leaneth upon] A poetical parallel to the preceding ‘inclineth towards.’
And from thence they went to Beer: that is the well whereof the LORD spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water.16. The journey in a westerly, or north-westerly, direction is here begun.
Beer] The name means a ‘well’ (R.V. marg.). It is probably an abbreviation of a compound name; cf. Beer-sheba. A place called Beer-elim in Moab is mentioned in Isaiah 15:8, but whether Beer is to be identified with that is not known.
Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it:
The princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves. And from the wilderness they went to Mattanah:18. with the ruler’s wand, with their staves] These do not seem to be implements suitable for digging a well. But it is suggested by Budde that there is ‘an allusion to a custom by which when a well had been discovered it was lightly covered over, and then, on a subsequent occasion, solemnly opened with a symbolic action of the sceptre-like staves of the Sheikhs’; see Gray, Numb. p. 289, where parallels are cited for the practice of singing to a well. R.V. marg. ‘by order of the lawgiver’ retains the improbable interpretation of the A.V. [Note: .V. The Authorised Version.]
The historical setting in which the song has been placed obscures its real nature. Popular snatches of song were sung during the intervals of labour in the field, or in honour of the vine at the vintage, or in honour of a well or spring at the time of drawing water. The present stanza appears to be of the latter class. Wells were highly prized; and the songs would, as it were, persuade them to yield up their precious contents.
And from the wilderness [they journeyed to] Mattanah] The clause is doubtful, for (1) they had already left the wilderness (of Numbers 21:13) when they moved to Beer, and (2) the Lucianic recension of the LXX. omits ‘and from Mattanah’ in Numbers 21:19. Mattanah, if it was the name of a place, is unknown; but the word means ‘a gift,’ and Budde ingeniously suggests that the clause forms the last line of the song—‘from the wilderness a gift,’ omitting the initial ‘and’ (ו). The LXX. translators appear to have felt the difficulty of ‘from the wilderness’ and to have removed it by reading ‘And from Beer to Mattanah.’
The Targ. of Onkelos on this verse contains a legend according to which the well followed the Israelites on their journeys over hill and dale. In 1 Corinthians 10:4 S. Paul refers to the legend but combines with it a reference to the rock which produced water (Numbers 20:11).
And from Mattanah to Nahaliel: and from Nahaliel to Bamoth:19. and from Mattanah to Nahaliel] If Budde’s suggestion in the preceding note is correct, the original reading here was perhaps ‘and from thence to N.’, as in Numbers 21:16 after the insertion of the foregoing song, or, following the hint in the LXX. , ‘and from Beer to N.’
Nahaliel is unknown. It means ‘the wady of God.’ G. A. Smith (H. G. [Note: . G. Historical Geography of the Holy Land.] 562) suggests the Wady Zerkâ Ma‘în with its healing springs, which flows into the Dead Sea about midway between its northern end and the mouth of the Arnon.
Bamoth] The name means ‘high places.’ These were numerous in the hilly country of Moab, so that the place cannot be safely identified. It is probably an abbreviation of a compound name, and may be the same as Bamoth-Baal (Numbers 22:41 marg., Joshua 13:17). ‘Beth-Bamoth’ (perhaps the same place) occurs in Mesha’s inscription, known as the Moabite stone. (See Hastings’ DB. iii. 407.) Bamoth was probably a high place not far south of the ‘valley’ of Numbers 21:20.
And from Bamoth in the valley, that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looketh toward Jeshimon.20. the valley that is in the region of Moab, [om. to] the top of the Pisgah] The two expressions are placed somewhat awkwardly in apposition; but they appear to mean: the valley which is in that part of the region of Moab known as the top of the Pisgah.
the valley] was a glen (gay’, distinct from naḥal, Numbers 21:14) which cut through the hills and emerged at the Jordan, perhaps the present Wâdy ‘Ayûn Mûsa (‘Moses’ springs’) which runs into the Jordan valley some four or five miles north of the northern end of the Dead Sea, the torrent then flowing with a south-westerly curve into the Sea.
the region of Moab] denotes the region which properly belonged to Moab, but of which the Amorites were in possession at the moment.
the top of the Pisgah] ‘The Pisgah’ 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’ (Numbers 23:14, Deuteronomy 3:27; Deuteronomy 34:1) is a collective term for the projections or promontories slightly lower than the main plateau and standing out from the western slopes. The word is derived from a root which in Aram. and late Heb. signifies ‘to cleave’; and it may describe the appearance of the range as seen from the west, standing out in a series of separate peaks.
which looketh down upon the Jeshimon] The name, which denotes ‘arid or desert land,’ is used of the deserts through which Israel passed in their journey from Egypt (Deuteronomy 32:10, Psalm 68:7 &c.), and of the waste land on the east of Judah, north of the Dead Sea (1 Samuel 23:19; 1 Samuel 23:24; 1 Samuel 26:1; 1 Samuel 26:3 marg.). But here the verb ‘looketh down,’ which is chiefly used of men looking down from a window (Genesis 26:8, 2 Samuel 24:20, Song of Solomon 6:10), or of God looking down out of heaven (Psalm 102:19), seems to point to a district more immediately below the Pisgah, which must be the barren tract north of the Dead Sea and east of the Jordan (see G. A. Smith, H. G. [Note: . G. Historical Geography of the Holy Land.] 564 note).
And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, saying,21–25. Sihon, refusing passage through his territory, was conquered, and his towns were occupied.
21–35. The victories over Sihon and Og. See the parallel account in Deuteronomy 2:24 to Deuteronomy 3:13. The previous verses have described the Israelites’ march through the territory occupied by the Amorites on the north of the Arnon, and their arrival at one of the glens which cleave the western edge of the plateau, close to the spot where it ran into the Jordan valley. The narrative now returns to the earlier point, described in Numbers 21:13, when they were still on the eastern border of the Amorites.
Since the town of Heshbon commanded the glens, it would have been impossible to penetrate into them unless the town had first been captured; but the writer has arranged his material in the present order for the sake of convenience. The battles with Sihon and Og being the last struggles before the promised land could be reached, the remembrance of them was cherished; see Jdg 11:19-22, 1 Kings 4:19, Nehemiah 9:22, Psalm 135:11; Psalm 136:19 f.
Let me pass through thy land: we will not turn into the fields, or into the vineyards; we will not drink of the waters of the well: but we will go along by the king's high way, until we be past thy borders.22. the king’s way] See on Numbers 20:17.
until we have passed through thy territory] And similarly in the next verse.
And Sihon would not suffer Israel to pass through his border: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and went out against Israel into the wilderness: and he came to Jahaz, and fought against Israel.23. the wilderness] See on Numbers 21:13.
Jahaz] Deuteronomy 2:32, Isaiah 15:4, Jeremiah 48:34. The form Jahzah is used in Joshua 13:18; Joshua 21:36, Jdg 11:20 (Heb.), Jeremiah 48:21, 1 Chronicles 6:78. The site is unknown, but it evidently lay on the eastern boundary of Sihon’s territory, since he came thither to prevent Israel from crossing it. In agreement with this it is twice mentioned with Kedemoth (Joshua 13:18; Joshua 21:36 f.), which is the name of ‘the wilderness’ in Deuteronomy 2:26, and twice seems to be named as a limit of Moab, at some distance from Heshbon (Isaiah 15:4, Jeremiah 48:34).
And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon: for the border of the children of Ammon was strong.24. from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon] This gives three boundaries of Sihon’s kingdom, the Jordan being the western boundary. Arnon was on the south (Numbers 21:13), Jabbok on the north, and the Ammonites on the east, whither the Amorites had driven them. The Jabbok flows into the Jordan nearly 25 miles north of the Dead Sea. The district here described is now known as the Belka‘ (see G. A. Smith, H. G. [Note: . G. Historical Geography of the Holy Land.] 535 f.).
for the border of the children of Ammon was strong] This may be intended to explain why Sihon’s territory extended no further on the east, or why the Israelites did not push their conquests further. The natural features of the country would afford no special obstacle, but the border fortresses might be impregnable. The Heb. adjective, however, is peculiar; ‘az (עַז) usually denotes ‘fierce,’ ‘cruel,’ rather than strong. The LXX. read the word as ‘Jazer,’ a town mentioned in Numbers 21:32, Numbers 32:3; Numbers 32:35; and it is possible that ‘for strong (כי עז) was the border, &c.’ should be emended to ‘at Jazer (ביעזר) was the border, &c.’ a statement which finds a parallel in Joshua 13:25. The words may have been a comment by the writer or a compiler on the preceding clause.
And Israel took all these cities: and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all the villages thereof.25. all the cities] No Amorite cities have as yet been mentioned. It is probable that a portion of the narrative, which must have contained a list of captured cities, has been lost.
the Amorites] The name Amurrâ occurs in Babylonian and Assyrian texts and in the Tell-el-Amarna tablets for the inhabitants of Syria and Palestine in general, before the time of the Exodus. But the natives whom the Israelites found in and around Palestine on their arrival were by no means homogeneous, and various names, such as Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites and others, frequently appear. The name ‘Amorite’ is sometimes used for the native inhabitants generally: see Genesis 15:16; Genesis 48:22, Joshua 24:15, Amos 2:9, 1 Kings 21:26, 2 Kings 21:11. But sometimes it denotes natives in particular localities; e.g. in Canaan west of the Jordan (Joshua 5:1; Joshua 7:7); in the district afterwards occupied by Judah (Joshua 10:5 f., 12, Jdg 1:34-36); in the Negeb and to the south and east of the Dead Sea (Genesis 14:7, Deuteronomy 1:7; Deuteronomy 1:44). Most frequently, however, it denotes the inhabitants of the district east of the Jordan, under the rule of Sihon and Og. Whether they were the original inhabitants who had been driven out by Moab and Ammon, but had regained their footing under the leadership of these two kings, or whether they had only first gained their territory by driving out Moab and Ammon, we do not know.
Heshbon] The modern Ḥesbân, standing some 2940 feet above the sea, about 18 miles from the Jordan, opposite to Jericho.
all the towns thereof] R.V. marg. ‘daughters’ is the literal meaning of the Heb. The word denotes the small towns and villages near, and dependent upon, Heshbon; cf. Numbers 21:32, Numbers 32:42, Jdg 1:27.
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 unto Arnon.26–30. The writer explains that Heshbon used to belong to the Moabites, but that Sihon had taken it from them. He quotes an ancient poem with which he was acquainted, having heard it from the lips of ‘those that speak in proverbs’ (see on Numbers 21:27).
The interpretation of the song is somewhat doubtful, and Numbers 21:30 is corrupt and almost untranslateable. The word ‘wherefore’ (Numbers 21:27) suggests that the poem is quoted in order to explain Numbers 21:26; the writer, as in Numbers 21:14, illustrates by an ancient song a statement which he has just made. This statement is that Moab had been previously conquered by the Amorites; and the song is a taunt to the Amorites whose capital Israel has destroyed. The taunt is, in effect, ‘Why do you not come and rebuild your fallen capital, for you shewed prowess enough in the past when you conquered Moab!’ All the verbs in Numbers 21:28 f. must therefore be rendered as aorists—‘a fire went out,’ ‘it devoured,’ ‘thou wast undone,’ ‘he gave.’ Another interpretation of the song will be mentioned after the notes on Numbers 21:30; but the above is much the more probable.
Wherefore they that speak in proverbs say, Come into Heshbon, let the city of Sihon be built and prepared:27. they that speak in proverbs say] they that recite ballads say. The Heb. mâshâl was ‘any suggestive saying that implied more than it actually said.’ This might be a ‘proverb,’ i.e. a sententious or pithy remark containing a proposition which was widely applicable in human life, or a didactic or authoritative utterance, as those of Balaam (chs. 23 f.), or a short song or ode with some special characteristic either in its contents or in its artistic construction, such as a dirge, a taunt-song over a fallen foe, or more generally a ballad. The present song is a ballad, which, if the above interpretation is correct, contains a taunt.
The tense of the verb ‘say’ has a frequentative force, implying that the poem was frequently recited by the ballad-singers, and that the writer knew it not from any book but by hearing it from their lips.
Let the city of Sihon] Poetical parallelism; Heshbon is the city of Sihon.
For there is a fire gone out of Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon: it hath consumed Ar of Moab, and the lords of the high places of Arnon.28. For a fire went out from Heshbon … it devoured &c.] The Amorites in the past gained possession of Heshbon, and from thence sent forth destruction upon the other towns of Moab. See Jeremiah 48:45 f. where the passage is quoted.
Woe to thee, Moab! thou art undone, O people of Chemosh: he hath given his sons that escaped, and his daughters, into captivity unto Sihon king of the Amorites.29. The verse is still ironical; the Israelites express their pity for Moab in her destruction by the Amorites.
He hath given] He gave. Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, delivered his people into the hands of their enemies. Cf. Jeremiah 48:13.
Unto Sihon king of the Amorites] Unto an Amorite king Sihon. The clause may be a late gloss; the expression is unusual, and the quotation in Jeremiah 48:46 ends at the word ‘captivity.’
We have shot at them; Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon, and we have laid them waste even unto Nophah, which reacheth unto Medeba.30. And we shot at them] So the Heb. text. An extremely doubtful clause, which represents a single word in the Heb. (וַנִּירָם). If it is correct, the taunt has now ceased, and the words are those of the Israelites who triumph over the Amorites. But the sudden introduction of the first person is strange, the form of the Heb. verb is unusual, and the rhythmical division of the line is disturbed.
Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon] A very awkward expression, if it means that the people of all the towns from Heshbon to Dibon perished. Both these clauses require emendation. LXX. has καὶ τὸ σπέρμα αὐτῶν ἀπολεῖται, Ἑσεβὼν ἕως Δαιβών, which may preserve the true reading, ‘and their posterity (וְנִינָם) perished (from) Heshbon to Dibon.’
And we have laid waste … Medeba] This latter half of the verse is even more corrupt, and no very satisfactory solution has been proposed. A variety of emendations is possible, as may be seen in Dillmann’s note on the passage1 [Note: Pesh. reads the last three words as אֲשֶׁר עַל מִדְבָּר ‘which is on the desert.’ This is adopted by G. A. Smith (H. G. 560). The LXX. translators found the passage hopeless.] . Nothing more can be said with certainty than that the verse describes the destruction of Moabite towns.
Dibon] The modern Dhibân, which lies in the south of what was the Amorite district, half-an-hour’s walk N.W. of Aroer, and 1½ hours from the Arnon (Baedeker’s Palestine).
Nophah] is unknown, and the name is probably only the result of the corruption of the text. G. A. Smith and others suggest Nobaḥ, which is mentioned with Jogbehah in Jdg 8:11; this lay to the east of Moab near the desert.
Medeba] spelt Mehedeba in Mesha’s inscription. It is the modern Mâdebâ, two hours to the south of Heshbon.
Another explanation of the song, adopted by several writers, is that it celebrates a conquest of Moab by Israel. The verbs in Numbers 21:28 f. can, in this case, be rendered as perfects, as in R.V. But nothing has been said of any conquest of the Moabites by Israel; indeed in the tradition preserved in Deuteronomy 2:9 the Israelites were forbidden to attack Moab. Hence the supporters of this interpretation understand the song to refer to a later victory over Moab, e.g. that in the 9th century which reduced Moab to pay tribute to Israel (see 2 Kings 3:4 f., and Mesha’s inscription), and suppose that the compiler inserted it at this point with no regard to the context. But even if that were possible it would leave ‘wherefore’ (Numbers 21:27) unexplained. If the words ‘unto an Amorite king Sihon’ (Numbers 21:29) are genuine, they definitely exclude this interpretation; but see note above. Cf. also G. A. Smith, H. G. [Note: . G. Historical Geography of the Holy Land.] 560 f. and Appendix III.
Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites.
And Moses sent to spy out Jaazer, and they took the villages thereof, and drove out the Amorites that were there.32. The capture of Jazer stands in a curiously isolated position, after the general statement in Numbers 21:31. It is probably taken from another source which described the capture of several individual towns. It is not mentioned either in Deuteronomy 2 or Judges 11.
Jazer] The site is unknown, and more than one suggestion has been made for its identification. Isaiah 16:8 suggests that it was some distance from Heshbon. It appears to have lain to the east, near the Ammonite border (Numbers 32:35, Joshua 13:25).
33–35 (D ). The defeat of Og the king of Bashan.
This defeat is mentioned in the following passages of the Hexateuch: Numbers 32:33, Deuteronomy 1:4; Deuteronomy 3:1-13; Deuteronomy 4:47; Deuteronomy 29:7; Joshua 9:10; Joshua 12:4; Joshua 13:30. Of these the first and last are assigned to P , and all the others are Deuteronomic. If the present passage is compared with Deuteronomy 3:1-3 it will be seen that it agrees almost verbatim with the latter, except for the substitution of the third person for the first. In the Pesh. version there are several insertions in Numbers of passages from Deut., and this is probably an earlier instance in the Heb. text. It is to be noticed also that there is no reference to Og in Numbers 22:2. The account of the conquest of Bashan, therefore, is not preserved in any tradition earlier than Deut., and many writers on that account doubt if it is historical. The question cannot be decided with certainty; but there is nothing in the nature of the case to render such a conquest improbable. Bashan was a fertile and attractive district; and there is no evidence that Israel stayed east of the Jordan such a short time as to make an advance to the north improbable. See G. A. Smith, H. G. [Note: . G. Historical Geography of the Holy Land.] 575 f. and Appendix III.
And 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 the battle at Edrei.33. by the way to the Bashan] The name, which usually has the article, seems to signify ‘soft and fertile ground.’ The Bashan was ‘the broad and fertile tract of country on the E . of Jordan, bounded (somewhat roughly) on the S. by the Yarmûk and a line passing through Edre‘i and Salecah (mentioned as border cities in Deuteronomy 3:10), on the E . by the imposing range of extinct volcanoes called the Jebel Ḥaurân, on the W. by Geshur and Ma‘acah (see Joshua 12:5), and on the N. stretching out towards Hermon (cf. Deuteronomy 33:22)’ (Driver, Enc. Bibl. [Note: nc. Bibl. Encyclopaedia Biblica.] 495). It was noted for its rich pastures, its well-fed herds of cattle and its oak forests.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Fear him not: for I have delivered him into thy hand, and all his people, and his land; and thou shalt do to him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon.34. Edrei] the modern Edre‘ât or Der‘ât, appears to have been the second royal city of Bashan; cf. Deuteronomy 1:4, Joshua 12:4; Joshua 13:12. It lay on the southern border of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:1; Deuteronomy 3:10), about 30 miles east of the Sea of Tiberias, and 30 miles west of the Ḥaurân range.
So they smote him, and his sons, and all his people, until there was none left him alive: and they possessed his land.35. and his sons] These words are absent from Deuteronomy 3:3; but cf. Numbers 2:33.