Numbers 21:14
Why 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,
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(14, 15) The book of the wars of the Lord.—Nothing is known about this book. The last days of Moses, as Baumgarten has observed, may have been a suitable time for the commencement of such a work. The history of the journey from Kadesh to the Arboth Moab was not written by Moses until after the defeat of the two kings of the Amorites, and the subjugation of the land on the east of the Jordan.

What he did in the Red Sea . . . —The original is very obscure. It is probable that some such verb as They conquered (or, subdued) is understood, and that the words may be rendered Vaheb in Suphah and the valleys (by) Arnon, and the bed (or, ravine) of the valleys which inclines towards the dwelling of Ar, and leans upon the border of Moab. Vaheb was probably the name of a town, and Suphah the district in which that town was situated, so called from its reeds and rushes. Some, however, think that Suphah here denotes a storm or hurricane, as in other places. Ar is supposed to be the same as Areopolis.

Numbers 21:14. The book of the wars of the Lord — This seems to have been some poem or narration of the wars and victories of the Lord, either by, or relating to the Israelites: which may be asserted without any prejudice to the integrity of the holy Scripture, because this book doth not appear to have been written by a prophet, or designed for a part of the canon, but which Moses might quote, as St. Paul doth some of the heathen poets. And, as St. Luke assures us that many did write a history of the things done and said by Christ, (Luke 1:1,) whose writings were never received as canonical, the like may be conceived concerning this and some few other books mentioned in the Old Testament. The brooks — The brook, the plural number for the singular, as the plural number, rivers, is used concerning Jordan, (Psalm 74:15,) and concerning Tigris, (Nahum 2:6,) and concerning Euphrates, (<19D701>Psalm 137:1,) all which may be so called because of the several little streams into which they were divided.21:10-20 We have here the removes of the children of Israel, till they came to the plains of Moab, from whence they passed over Jordan into Canaan. The end of their pilgrimage was near. They set forward. It were well if we did thus; and the nearer we come to heaven, were so much the more active and abundant in the work of the Lord. The wonderful success God granted to his people, is here spoken of, and, among the rest, their actions on the river Arnon, at Vaheb in Suphah, and other places on that river. In every stage of our lives, nay, in every step, we should notice what God has wrought for us; what he did at such a time, and what in such a place, ought to be distinctly remembered. God blessed his people with a supply of water. When we come to heaven, we shall remove to the well of life, the fountain of living waters. They received it with joy and thankfulness, which made the mercy doubly sweet. With joy must we draw water out of the wells of salvation, Isa 12:3. As the brazen serpent was a figure of Christ, who is lifted up for our cure, so is this well a figure of the Spirit, who is poured forth for our comfort, and from whom flow to us rivers of living waters, Joh 7:38,39. Does this well spring up in our souls? If so, we should take the comfort to ourselves, and give the glory to God. God promised to give water, but they must open the ground. God's favours must be expected in the use of such means as are within our power, but still the power is only of God.Of "the book of the wars of the Lord" nothing is known except what may be gathered from the passage before us. It was apparently a collection of sacred odes commemorative of that triumphant progress of God's people which this chapter records. From it is taken the ensuing fragment of ancient poetry relating to the passage of the Arnon River, and probably also the Song of the Well, and the Ode on the Conquest of the Kingdom of Sihon Numbers 21:17-18, Numbers 21:27-30.

What he did ... - The words which follow to the end of the next verse are a reference rather than a quotation. Contemporaries who had "the Book" at hand, could supply the context. We can only conjecture the sense of the words; which in the original are grammatically incomplete. The marg. is adopted by many, and suggests a better sense: supplying some such verb as "conquered," the words would run "He" (i. e. the Lord) "conquered Vaheb in Suphah, and the brooks, etc." Suphah would thus be the name of a district remarkable for its reeds and water-flags in which Vaheb was situated.

14. book of the wars of the Lord—A fragment or passage is here quoted from a poem or history of the wars of the Israelites, principally with a view to decide the position of Arnon. The book of the wars of the Lord seems to have been some poem or narration of the wars and victories of the Lord, either by or relating to the Israelites; which may be asserted without any prejudice to the integrity of the Holy Scripture, because this book doth not appear to have been written by a prophet, or to be designed for a part of the canon, but by some other ingenious person, who intended only to write an historical relation of these matters, which yet Moses might quote, as St. Paul doth some of the heathen poets. And as St. Luke assures us that many did write a history of the things done and said by Christ, Luke 1:1, whose writings were never received as canonical, the like may be justly conceived concerning this and some few other books mentioned in the Old Testament; though the words may be thus rendered, Wherefore it shall be said in the relation, or narration (for so the Hebrew sepher is confessed to signify)

of the wars of the Lord. In the Red Sea; or, at Vaheb in Suphah, or in the land of Suph. Vaheb seems to be the name not of a man, but of a city or place, and Suphah the name of the country where it was; and the Hebrew particle eth is oft rendered at. And whereas the sense seems to be imperfect, it must be noted, that he quotes only a fragment or piece of the book, and that principally to prove the situation of Arnon, which he had asserted Numbers 21:13, from which end the passage quoted is sufficient. And the sense is easily to be understood, for it is plain enough that this poet or writer is describing the wars and works of God by the several places where they were done; and having begun the sentence before, and mentioned other places, he comes to these here mentioned, at Vaheb in Suphah, and at the brooks of Arnon, &c. And it seems probable that the war here designed was that of Sihon against the Moabites, mentioned below, Numbers 21:26, which is fitly ascribed to the Lord, because it was undertaken and perfected by the singular direction and assistance of God, and that for the sake of the Israelites, that by this means that country might be invaded and possessed by them, without taking it away from the Moabites, which they were forbidden to meddle with or to disturb, Deu 2:9, and so their title to it might be more just and unquestionable. See Judges 11:12,13,27.

In the brooks of Arnon, i.e. the brook, the plural number for the singular, as the plural number rivers is used concerning Jordan, Psalm 74:15, and concerning Tigris, Nahum 2:6, and concerning Euphrates, Psalm 137:1, and concerning Thermodoon in Virgil, all which may be so called because of the several little streams into which they were divided. Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the Lord,.... A history of wars in former times, which the Lord had suffered to be in the world; and which, as Aben Ezra thinks, reached from the times of Abraham and so might begin with the battle of the kings in his time, and take in others in later times, and particularly those of Sihon, king of the Amorites, and his conquests of some parts of Moab; and to this book, which might be written by some one of those nations, Moses refers in proof of what he here says:

what he did in the Red sea; that is, what Sihon king of the Amorites did, or the Lord by him, "at Vaheb in Suphah", as the words may be rendered; either against a king, or rather city, of Moab, whose name was Vaheb, in the borders of the land of Moab, or how he destroyed that city Vaheb with a storm or terrible assault (l):

and in the brooks of Arnon: some places situated on the streams of that river, which were taken by the Amorites from the Moabites, as the book quoted plainly testified.

(l) Vid. L'Empereur. Not. in Mosis Kimchi p. 195.

Wherefore it is said in the {e} book of the wars of the LORD, What he did in the Red sea, and in the brooks of Arnon,

(e) Which seems to be the book of the Judges, or as some think, a book which is lost.

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.Verse 14. - Wherefore, i.e., because the Amorites had wrested from Moab all to the north of Arnon. In the book of the wars of the Lord. Nothing is known of this book but what appears here. If it should seem strange that a book of this description should be already in existence, we must remember that amongst the multitude of Israel there must in the nature of things have been some "poets" in the then acceptation of the word. Some songs there must have been, and those songs would be mainly inspired by the excitement and triumph of the final marches. The first flush of a new national life achieving its first victories over the national foe always finds expression in songs and odes. It is abundantly evident from the foregoing narrative that writing of some sort was in common use at least among the leaders of Israel (see on Numbers 11:26), and they would not have thought it beneath them to collect these spontaneous effusions of a nation just awaking to the poetry of its own existence. The archaic character of the fragments preserved in this chapter, which makes them sound so foreign to our ears, is a strong testimony to their genuineness. It is hardly credible that any one of a later generation should have cared either to compose or to quote snatches of song which, like dried flowers, have lost everything but scientific value in being detached from the soil which gave them birth. What he did in the Red Sea, and in the brooks of Arnon. Rather, "Vaheb in whirlwind, and the brooks of Arnon." The strophe as cited here has neither nominative nor verb, and the sense can only be conjecturally restored. וָהֵב is almost certainly a proper name, although of an unknown place. בָּסוּפָה is also considered by many as the name of a locality "in Suphah;" it occurs, however, in Nahum 1:3 in the sense given above, and indeed it is not at all a rare word in Job, Proverbs, and the Prophets; it seems best, therefore, to give it the same meaning here. At the command of God, Moses made a brazen serpent, and put it upon a standard.

(Note: For the different views held by early writers concerning the brazen serpent, see Buxtorf, historia serp. aen., in his Exercitt. pp. 458ff.; Deyling, observatt. ss. ii. obs. 15, pp. 156ff.; Vitringa, observ. Songs 1, pp. 403ff.; Jo. Marck, Scripturariae Exercitt. exerc. 8, pp. 465ff.; Iluth, Serpens exaltatus non contritoris sed conterendi imago, Erl. 1758; Gottfr. Menken on the brazen serpent; Sack, Apologetick, 2 Ausg. pp. 355ff. Hoffmann, Weissagung u. Erfllung, ii. pp. 142, 143; Kurtz, History of the Old Covenant, iii. 345ff.; and the commentators on John 3:14 and John 3:15.)

Whoever then of the persons bitten by the poisonous serpents looked at the brazen serpent with faith in the promise of God, lived, i.e., recovered from the serpent's bite. The serpent was to be made of brass or copper, because the colour of this metal, when the sun was shining upon it, was most like the appearance of the fiery serpents; and thus the symbol would be more like the thing itself.

Even in the book of Wis. (Numbers 16:6-7), the brazen serpent is called "a symbol of salvation; for he that turned himself toward it was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by Thee, that art the Saviour of all." It was not merely intended, however, as Ewald supposes (Gesch. ii. p. 228), as a "sign that just as this serpent hung suspended in the air, bound and rendered harmless by the command of Jehovah, so every one who looked at this with faith in the redeeming power of Jehovah, was secured against the evil, - a figurative sign, therefore, like that of St. George and the Dragon among ourselves;" for, according to this, there would be no internal causal link between the fiery serpents and the brazen image of a serpent. It was rather intended as a figurative representation of the poisonous serpents, rendered harmless by the mercy of God. For God did not cause a real serpent to be taken, but the image of a serpent, in which the fiery serpent was stiffened, as it were, into dead brass, as a sign that the deadly poison of the fiery serpents was overcome in this brazen serpent. This is not to be regarded as a symbol of the divine healing power; nor is the selection of such a symbol to be deduced and explained, as it is by Winer, Kurtz, Knobel, and others, from the symbolical view that was common to all the heathen religions of antiquity, that the serpent was a beneficent and health-bringing power, which led to its being exalted into a symbol of the healing power, and a representation of the gods of healing. This heathen view is not only foreign to the Old Testament, and without any foundation in the fact that, in the time of Hezekiah, the people paid a superstitious worship to the brazen serpent erected by Moses (2 Kings 18:4); but it is irreconcilably opposed to the biblical view of the serpent, as the representative of evil, which was founded upon Genesis 3:15, and is only traceable to the magical art of serpent-charming, which the Old Testament abhorred as an idolatrous abomination. To this we may add, that the thought which lies at the foundation of this explanation, viz., that poison is to be cured by poison, has no support in Hosea 13:4, but is altogether foreign to the Scriptures. God punishes sin, it is true, by sin; but He neither cures sin by sin, nor death by death. On the contrary, to conquer sin it was necessary that the Redeemer should be without sin; and to take away its power from death, it was requisite that Christ, the Prince of life, who had life in Himself, should rise again from death and the grave (John 5:26; John 11:25; Acts 3:15; 2 Timothy 1:10).

The brazen serpent became a symbol of salvation on the three grounds which Luther pointed out. In the first place, the serpent which Moses was to make by the command of God was to be of brass or copper, that is to say, of a reddish colour, and (although without poison) altogether like the persons who were red and burning with heat because of the bite of the fiery serpents. In the second place, the brazen serpent was to be set up upon a pole for a sign. And in the third place, those who desired to recover from the fiery serpent's bite and live, were to look at the brazen serpent upon the pole, otherwise they could not recover or live (Luther's Sermon on John 3:1-15). It was in these three points, as Luther has also clearly shown, that the typical character of this symbol lay, to which Christ referred in His conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:14). The brazen serpent had the form of a real serpent, but was "without poison, and altogether harmless." So God sent His Son in the form of sinful flesh, and yet without sin (Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22-24). - 2. In the lifting up of the serpent as a standard. This was a δειγματίζειν ἐν παρρησίᾳ, a ́ (a "showing openly," or "triumphing"), a triumphal exhibition of the poisonous serpents as put to death in the brazen image, just as the lifting up of Christ upon the cross was a public triumph over the evil principalities and powers below the sky (Colossians 2:14-15). - 3. In the cure effected through looking at the image of the serpent. Just as the Israelites had to turn their eyes to the brazen serpent in believing obedience to the word of the Lord, in order to be cured of the bite of the poisonous serpents, so much we look with faith at the Son of man lifted up upon the cross, if we would be delivered from the bite of the old serpent, from sin, death, the devil, and hell. "Christ is the antitype of the serpent, inasmuch as He took upon Himself the most pernicious of all pernicious potencies, viz., sin, and made a vicarious atonement for it" (Hengstenberg on John 3:14). The brazen image of the serpent was taken by the Israelites to Canaan, and preserved till the time of Hezekiah, who had it broken in pieces, because the idolatrous people had presented incense-offerings to this holy relic (2 Kings 18:4).

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