Numbers 21:1
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.
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(1) And when king Arad . . . —The verse may be rendered thus: Now the Canaanite, the King of Arad, which dwelt in the south country (or, Negeb) heard (or, had heard) that Israel had come by the way of Atharim (or, of the spies), and he fought . . . The date of this occurrence is uncertain. The district of Arad appears to have extended to the southern frontier of Canaan. (Comp. Numbers 33:40; Joshua 12:14; Judges 1:16-17.) The attack probably took place either in the interval between the departure of the messengers to Edom and their return, or at the time at which the Israelites broke up from Kadesh, and before the direction of their march had been ascertained. The word Atharim, which is rendered in the Authorised Version spies, may be another form of the word which occurs in Numbers 14:6, and which is there rendered them that searched; or, as appears more probable, it may be the name of a place which does not occur elsewhere.

Numbers 21:1. The armies of Israel now begin to emerge out of the wilderness, and to come into a land inhabited; to enter upon action, and take possession of the frontiers of the land of promise. King Arad — Or rather, according to the Hebrew, and all the ancient versions, The Canaanitish king of Arad; for Arad was not the name of a man, but of a city or territory, Jdg 1:16; and he seems to be called a Canaanite in a general sense, as the Amorites and others. Which dwelt in the south — Of Canaan, toward the east, and near the Dead sea. By the way of the spies — For though the spies, whom Moses had sent thirty-eight years before, then went into Canaan, and returned unobserved, yet their coming, and their errand, it is likely, were afterward known to the Canaanites, gave them an alarm, and obliged them to keep an eye on Israel, and get intelligence of their motions. The Seventy, however, and others, take the word Atharim, which we render spies, for the name of a place. Took some of them prisoners — God permitting it for Israel’s humiliation, and to teach them not to expect the conquest of that land from their own wisdom or valour.

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.King Arad the Canaanite - Rather, "the Canaanite, the king of Arad." Arad stood on a small hill, now called Tel-Arad, 20 miles south of Hebron.

In the south - See Numbers 13:17, Numbers 13:22.

By the way of the spies - i. e. through the desert of Zin, the route which the spies sent out by Moses 38 years before had adopted (compare Numbers 13:21).

He fought against Israel - This attack (compare Numbers 20:1 and note), can hardly have taken place after the death of Aaron. It was most probably made just when the camp broke up from Kadesh, and the ultimate direction of the march was not as yet pronounced. The order of the narrative in these chapters, as occasionally elsewhere in this book (compare Numbers 9:1, etc.), is not that of time, but of subject matter; and the war against Arad is introduced here as the first of the series of victories gained under Moses, which the historian now takes in hand to narrate.


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).The Canaanites fight against Israel, and take some of them prisoners, Numbers 21:1. Through God’s assistance they overcome them, and destroy their cities, Numbers 21:2,3. The people murmur, Numbers 21:4,5; are plagued with fiery serpents, Numbers 21:6. They repent, Numbers 21:7. A brazen serpent erected, to which they look, and are saved, Numbers 21:8,9. They journey, Numbers 21:10-16. Their hymn for water given at Beer, Numbers 21:17. They sue for passage to the Amorites; are denied; fight them; overcome, and dwell in their cities, Numbers 21:18-26. Proverbial sayings concerning it, Numbers 21:27-30. Og king of Bashan, his sons, and all his people, are killed by the Israelites, and their land possessed by them, Numbers 21:33-35.

King Arad the Canaanite; or rather, the Canaanite king of Arad; for Arad is not the name of a man, but of a city or territory, as may seem from Joshua 12:14 Judges 1:16, if at least this was the same place with that. And he seems to be called a

Canaanite in a general sense, as the Amorites and others sometimes are.

In the south, to wit, of Canaan, as appears from Numbers 33:40, towards the east, and near the Dead Sea.

By the way of the spies; not of those spies which Moses sent to spy the land, Numbers 13:17, for that was done thirty-eight years before this, and they went so privately, that the Canaanites took no notice of them, nor knew which way they came or went; but of the spies which he himself sent out to observe the marches and motions of the Israelites. But the words may be otherwise rendered; either thus, in the manner of spies, so the sense is, when he heard that divers of the Israelites came into or towards his country in the nature of spies, to prepare the way for the rest; or thus, by the way of Atharim, a place so called, as the seventy interpreters here take it, and it seems not improbable. Took some of them prisoners; which God permitted for Israel’s humiliation and punishment, and to teach them not to expect the conquest of that land from their own wisdom or valour, but wholly from God’s favour and assistance. See Deu 9:4 Psalm 44:3,4.

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.

And when king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the {a} way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners.

(a) By that way which their spies, that searched the dangers found to he most safe.

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.

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. Numbers 21:1Victory of Israel over the Canaanitish King of Arad. - When this Canaanitish king, who dwelt in the Negeb, i.e., the south of Palestine (vid., Numbers 13:17), heard that Israel was coming the way of the spies, he made war upon the Israelites, and took some of them prisoners. Arad is mentioned both here and in the parallel passage, Numbers 33:40, and also by the side of Hormah, in Joshua 12:14, as the seat of a Canaanitish king (cf. Judges 1:16-17). According to Eusebius and Jerome in the Onomast., it was twenty Roman miles to the south of Hebron, and has been preserved in the ruins of Tell Arad, which v. Schubert (ii. pp. 457ff.) and Robinson (ii. pp. 473, 620, and 624) saw in the distance; and, according to Roth in Petermann's geographische Mittheilungen (1858, p. 269), it was situated to the south-east of Kurmul (Carmel), in an undulating plain, without trees or shrubs, with isolated hills and ranges of hills in all directions, among which was Tell Arad. The meaning of האתרים שדרך is uncertain. The lxx, Saad., and others, take the word Atharim as the proper name of a place not mentioned again; but the Chaldee, Samar., and Syr. render it with much greater probability as an appellative noun formed from תּוּר with א prosthet., and synonymous with התּרים, the spies (Numbers 14:6). The way of the spies was the way through the desert of Zin, which the Israelitish spies had previously taken to Canaan (Numbers 13:21). The territory of the king of Arad extended to the southern frontier of Canaan, to the desert of Zin, through which the Israelites went from Kadesh to Mount Hor. The Canaanites attacked them when upon their march, and made some of them prisoners.
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