Numbers 21
Pulpit Commentary
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.
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.
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.
Verse 2. - And Israel vowed a vow. On these vows, and on things "devoted" or "banned" (חֵרֶם - ἀνάθεμα), see on Leviticus 27:28, and on the moral character of such wholesale slaughters see on chapter 31. If it was right to destroy the Canaanites at all, no fault can be found with the vow; it merely did for that military proceeding what national feeling and discipline does for the far more bloody exigencies of modern warfare, removing it from the sphere of private hatred, revenge, and cupidity, and placing it upon a higher level. The patriot soldier of these days feels himself to be a mere instrument in the hands of the rulers of his people to maintain their rights or avenge their wrongs. The Israelite could not have this feeling, which was foreign to his time and place in history, but he could feel that he was a mere instrument in the hands of God to perform his will upon his enemies. In either case a must important advantage is secured; the soldier does not slay in order to gratify his own hatred, or in order to satisfy his own cupidity. It is quite true that such vows as are here mentioned would certainly in a more advanced stage of civilization be abused to throw a cloak of religion over frightful enormities; but it does not in the least follow that they were not permitted and even encouraged by God in an age to which they were natural, and under circumstances in which they were beneficial.
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.
Verse 3. - They utterly destroyed them and their cities. Rather, "they banned (יַּחַרֵם - ἀναθεμάτισεν) them and their cities." No doubt the banning implies here their utter destruction, because it is not the vow before the battle, but the carrying of it out after the victory, which is here spoken cf. And he called the name of the place Hormah. Rather, "the name of the place was called (impersonal use of the transitive) Charmah." חָרְמָה. Septuagint, Ἀνάθεμα. It is not very clear what place received this name at this time. It does not appear to have been Arid itself, as would have seemed most natural, because Arid and Hormah are mentioned side by side in Joshua 12:14. It is identified with Zephath in Judges 1:17. It may have been the place where the victory was won which gave all the cities of Arid to destruction. Whether it was the Hormah mentioned in chapter Numbers 14:45 is very doubtful (see note there). The nomenclature of the Jews, especially as to places, and most especially as to places with which their own connection was passing or broken, was vague and confused in the extreme, and nothing can be more unsatisfactory than arguments which turn upon the shifting names of places long ago perished and forgotten. It must be added that the three verses which narrate the chastisement of this Canaanite chieftain have caused immense embarrassment to commentators. If the incident is narrated in its proper order of time, it must have happened during the stay of the Israelites under Mount Hor, when they had finally left the neighbourhood of the Negeb, and were separated from the king of Arid by many days' march, and by a most impracticable country. It is therefore generally supposed that the narrative is out of place, and that it really belongs to the time when Israel was gathered together for the second time at Kadesh, and When his reappearance there in force might well have given rise to the report that be was about to invade Canaan from that side. This is unsatisfactory, because no plausible reason can be assigned for the insertion of the notice where it stands, both here and in Numbers 33:40. To say that Moses wished to bring it into juxtaposition with the victories recorded in the latter part of the chapter, from which it is separated by the incident of the fiery serpents, and the brief record of many journeys, is to confess that no explanation can be invented which has the least show of reason. If the narrative be displaced, the displacement must simply be due to accident or interpolation. Again, it would seem quite inconsistent with the position and plans of Israel since the rebellion of Kadesh that any invasion and conquest, even temporary, of any part of Canaan should be made at this time, and that especially if the attack was not made until Israel was lying in the Arabah on his way round the land of Edom. It is therefore supposed by some that the vow only was made at this time, and the ban suspended over the place, and that it was only carried out as part of the general conquest under Joshua; that, in fact, the fulfillment of the vow is narrated in Joshua 12:14; Judges 1:16, 17. This, however, throws the narrative as it stands into confusion and discredit, for the ban and the destruction become a mockery and an unreality if nothing more was done to the towns of the king of Arad than was done at the same time to the towns of all his neighbours. It would be more reverent to reject the story as an error or a falsehood than to empty it of the meaning which it was obviously intended to convey. We are certainly meant to understand that the vow was there and then accepted by God, and was there and then carried into effect by Israel; the towns of Arad were depopulated and destroyed as far as lay in their power, although they may have been immediately reoccupied. There are only two theories which are worth considering. 1. The narrative may really be displaced, for what cause we do not know. If so, it would he more satisfactory to refer it, not to the time of the second encampment at Kadesh, but to the time of the first, during the absence of the spies in Canaan. It is probable that their entry was known, as was the case with Joshua's spies (Joshua 2:2); and nothing could be more likely than that the king of Arad, suspecting what would follow, should attempt to anticipate invasion by attack. If it were so it might help to account for the rash confidence shown by the people afterwards (Numbers 14:40), for the mention of Hormah (Numbers 14:45), and for the reappearance of kings of Hormah and of Arad in the days of Joshua 2. The narrative may after all be in place. That the Israelites lay for thirty days under Mount Hor is certain, and they may have been longer. During this period they could not get pasture for their cattle on the side of Edom, and they may have wandered far and wide in search of it. It may have been but a comparatively small band which approached the Negeb near enough to be attacked, and which, by the help of God, was enabled to defeat the king of Arad, and to lay waste his towns. It had certainly been no great feat for all Israel to overthrow a border chieftain who could not possibly have brought 5000 men into the field. CHAPTERS 21:4-9 THE FIERY SERPENTS (verses 4-9).
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.
Verse 4. - They journeyed from Mount Hor. It appears from comparison of Numbers 33:38 and Numbers 20:29 that their departure was not earlier than the beginning of the sixth month of the fortieth year. This season would be one of the hottest and most trying for marching. By the way of the Red Sea, i.e., down the Arabah, towards Ezion-geber, at the head of the Elanitic Gulf. Septuagint, ὁδὸν ἐπὶ θά. Not far from this place they would reach the end of the Edomitish territory, and turn eastwards and northwards up the Wady el Ithm towards the steppes of Moab. Discouraged. Literally, "shortened" or "straitened," as in Exodus 6:9. Septuagint, ὡλιγοψύχησεν ὁ λαός. Because of the way. The Ambah is a stony, sandy, almost barren plain shut in by mountain walls on either side, and subject to sand-storms. It was not only, however, merely the heat and drought and ruggedness of the route which depressed them, but the fact that they were marching directly away from Canaan, and knew not how they were ever to reach it.
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.
Verse 5. - There is no bread, neither is there any water. The one of these statements was no doubt as much and as little true as the other. There was no ordinary supply of either; but as they had bread given to them from heaven, so they had water from the rock, otherwise they could not possibly have existed. Our soul loatheth this light bread. קְלקֵל, a stronger form than קַל from קָלַל. Septuagint, διακένῳ. They meant to say, as their fathers had (chapter 11:6), that it was unsavory and unsubstantial in comparison with the heavy and succulent diet of Egypt (see note on chapter Numbers 20:3).
And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
Verse 6. - Fiery serpents, גְחָשִׁים שְׂרָפִים. Nachash is the ordinary word for serpent. The word saraph which seems to mean "burning one," stands (by itself) for a serpent in verse 8, and also in Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6. In Isaiah 6:2, 6 it stands for one of the symbolic beings (seraphim) of the prophet's vision. The only idea common to the two meanings (otherwise so distinct) must be that of brilliance and metallic luster. It is commonly assumed that the "fiery" serpents were so called because of the burning pain and inflammation caused by the bite, after the analogy of the πρηστῆρες and καύσωνες of Dioscorus and AElian. But is hardly possible that Isaiah should have used the same word in such wholly dissimilar senses, and it is clear from comparison with Ezekiel's vision of the cherubim (Ezekiel 1:7) that the saraph of Isaiah 6:2 was so called from the burnished luster of his appearance. Even our Lord himself is described in the Apocalypse as having in the highest degree this appearance of glowing brass (Revelation 1:15; Revelation 2:18). It is further clear that the saraph was so named from his colour, not his venom, because when Moses was ordered to make a saraph he made a serpent of brass (or rather copper), with the evident intent of imitating as closely as possible the appearance of the venomous reptile. We may conclude then with some confidence that these serpents were of a fiery red colour, resembling in this respect certain very deadly snakes in Australia, which are known as "copper snakes." Travelers speak of some such pests as still abounding in the region of the Arabah, but it is quite uncertain whether the fiery serpents of that special visitation can be identified with any existing species.
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.
Verse 7. - Pray unto the Lord. This is the first and only (recorded) occasion on which the people directly asked for the intercession of Moses (cf., however, chapter Numbers 11:2), although Pharaoh had done so several times, and never in vain.
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.
Verse 8. - Make thee a fiery serpent. A saraph. The Septuagint, not understanding the meaning of saraph, has simply ὄφιν (cf. John 3:14). Set it upon a pole. גֵם Septuagint σήμειον. Vulgate, signum. The same word is better translated "ensign" in such passages as Isaiah 11:10; "banner" in such as Psalm 60:4; "standard" in such as Jeremiah 51:27. The "pole" may have been the tallest and most conspicuous of those military standards which were planted (probably on some elevation) as rallying points for the various camps; or it may have been one loftier still, made for the occasion.
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.
Verse 9. - When he beheld the serpent (גָחָשׁ in all three places of this verse) of brass, he lived. The record is brief and simple in the extreme, and tells nothing but the bare facts. The author of the Book of Wisdom understood the true bearing of those facts when he called the brazen serpent a σύμβολον σωτηρρίας (Wisdom 16:6), and when he wrote ὁ ἐπιστραφεὶς οὐ διὰ τὸ θεωρούμενον (the thing he looked at) ἐσώζετο ἀλλὰ διὰ σὲ τὸν πάντων σωτῆρα. At an earlier day Hezekiah had estimated the σύμβολον σωτηρίας at its true value, as being in itself worthless, and under certain circumstances mischievous (see on 2 Kings 18:4).

And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in Oboth.
Verse 10. - The children of Israel set forward, and pitched in Oboth. In the list of chapter 33, there occur two other stations, Zahnonah and Phunon, between Mount Hor and Oboth. Phunon may be the Pinou of Genesis 36:41, but it is a mere conjecture. All we can conclude with any certainty is that the Israelites passed round the southern end of the mountains of Edom by the Wady el Ithm, and then marched northwards along the eastern border of Edom by the route now followed between Mekba and Damascus. On this side the mountains are far less precipitous and defensible than on the other, and this circumstance must have abated the insolence of the Edomites. Moreover, they must now have seen enough of Israel to know that, while immensely formidable in number and discipline, he had no hostile designs against them. It is therefore not surprising to find from Deuteronomy 2:6 that on this side the mountaineers supplied Israel with bread and water, just as they supply the pilgrim caravans at the present day. That they exacted payment for what they supplied was perfectly reasonable: no one could expect a poor people to feed a nation of two million souls, however nearly related, for nothing. Oboth has been identified with the modern halting-place of el-Ahsa, on the pilgrim route above mentioned, on the ground of supposed similarity in the meaning of the names; but the true rendering of Oboth is doubtful (see on Leviticus 19:31), and, apart from that, any such similarity of meaning is too vague and slight a ground for any argument to be built upon.
And they journeyed from Oboth, and pitched at Ijeabarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sunrising.
Verse 11. - And pitched at Ije-abarim. Ije (עִיִיּ), or Ijm (עִיִּים), as it is called in chapter Numbers 33:45, signifies "heaps" or "ruins." Abarim is a word of somewhat doubtful meaning, best rendered "ridges" or "ranges." It was apparently applied to the whole of Peraea in later times (cf. Jeremiah 22:20, "passages"), but in the Pentateuch is confined elsewhere to the ranges facing Jericho. These "ruinous heaps of the ranges" lay to the east of Moab, along the desert side of which Israel was now marching, still going northwards: they cannot-be identified.
From thence they removed, and pitched in the valley of Zared.
Verse 12. - Pitched in the valley of Zared. Rather, "in the brook of Zered." בְנַחַל זֶרֶד Perhaps the upper part of the Wady Kerek, which flows westwards into the Salt Sea (see on Deuteronomy 2:13).
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.
Verse 13. - Pitched on the other side of Arnon. The Arnon was without doubt the stream or torrent now known as the Wady Mojeb, which breaks its way down to the Salt Sea through a precipitous ravine. It must have been in the upper part of its course, in the desert uplands, that the Israelites crossed it; and this both because the passage lower down is extremely difficult, and also because they were keeping well to the eastward of Moabitish territory up to this point. It is not certain which side of the stream is intended by "the other side," because the force of these expressions depends as often upon the point of view of the writer as of the reader. It would appear from Deuteronomy 2:26 that Israel remained at this spot until the embassage to Sihon had returned. That cometh out of the coasts of the Amorites, i.e., the Aruon, or perhaps one of its confluents which comes down from the northeast. For Arnon is the border of Moab. It was at that time the boundary (see on verse 26).
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,
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.
And at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab.
Verse 15. - And at the stream of the brooks. Rather, "and the pouring (וְאֶשֶׁד) of the brooks," i.e., the slope of the watershed. Ar. עָר is an archaic form of עִיר, a city. The same place is called Ar Moab in verse 28. It was situate on the Arnon somewhat lower down than where the Israelites crossed its "brooks." The peculiarity of the site, "in the midst of the river" (Joshua 13:9, cf. Deuteronomy 2:36), and extensive ruins, have enabled travelers to identify the spot on which it stood at the junction of the Mojeb (Arnon) and Lejum (Nahaliel, verse 19). It is uncertain whether the Greeks gave the name of Areopolis, as Jerome asserts, to Ar, but in later times it was Rabbah, a town many miles further south in the heart of Moab which bore this name. Ar was at this period the boundary town of Moab, and as such was respected by the Israelites (Deuteronomy 2:9, 29).
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.
Verse 16. - And from thence... to Beer. A well; so named, no doubt, from the circumstance here recorded. That they were told to dig for water instead of receiving it from the rock showed the end to be at hand, and the transition shortly to be made from miraculous to natural supplies.
Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it:
Verse 17. - Then Israel sang this song. This song of the well may be taken from the same collection of odes, but more probably is quoted from memory. It is remarkable for the spirit of joyousness which breathes in it, so different from the complaining, desponding tone of the past.
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:
Verse 18. - By the direction of the lawgiver, בִּמְחֹקֵק. Literally, "by the lawgiver," or, as some prefer, "with the scepter." The meaning of michokek is disputed (see on Genesis 49:10), but in either ease the meaning must be practically as in the A.V. It speaks of the alacrity with which the leaders of Israel, Moses himself amongst them, began the work even with the insignia of their office. And from the wilderness... to Mattanah. Beer was still in the desert country eastward of the cultivated belt: from thence they crossed, still on the north of Arnon, and probably leaving it somewhat to the south, into a more settled country.
And from Mattanah to Nahaliel: and from Nahaliel to Bamoth:
Verse 19. - And from Mattanah to Nahaliel. The latter name, which means "the brook of God," seems to be still retained by the Encheileh, one of the northern affluents of the Wady Mojeb. From Nahaliel to Bamoth. Bamoth simply means "heights" or "high places," and was therefore a frequent name. This Bamoth maybe the same as the Bamoth-Baal of chapter Numbers 22:41; Joshua 13:17, but it is uncertain. A Beth-Bamoth is mentioned on the Moabite stone.
And from Bamoth in the valley, that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looketh toward Jeshimon.
Verse 20. - And from Bamoth in the valley, that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah. The original runs simply thus: "And from Bamoth - the valley which in the field - Moab - the top - Pisgah." It may therefore be read, "And from the heights to the valley that is in the field of Moab, viz., the top of Pisgah." The "field" of Moab (Septuagint, ἐν τῷ πεδίῳ) was no doubt the open, treeless expanse north of Arnon, drained by the Wady Waleh, which had formerly belonged to Moab. Pisgah ("the ridge") was a part of the Abarim ranges west of Heshbon, from the summit of which the first view is gained of the valley of Jordan and the hills of Palestine (cf. Numbers 33:47; Deuteronomy 3:27; Deuteronomy 34:1). Which looketh toward Jeshimon. Jeshimon, or "the waste," seems to mean here that desert plain on the north-east side of the Salt Sea now called the Ghor el Belka, which included in its barren desolation the southernmost portion of the Jordan valley.
And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, saying,
Verse 21. - And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon. The narrative here returns to the point of time when the Israelites first reached the Upper Arnon, the boundary stream of the kingdom of Sihon (see on verse 13, and cf. Deuteronomy 2:24-37). The list of stations in the preceding verses may probably have been copied out of some official record; it may be considered as marking the movements of the tabernacle with Eleazar and the Levites and the mass of the non-combatant population. In the mean time the armies of Israel were engaged in victorious enterprises which took them far afield. King of the Amorites. The Amorites were not akin to the Hebrews, as the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites were, who all claimed descent from Terah. They were of the Canaanitish stock (Genesis 10:16), and indeed the name Amorite often appears as synonymous with Canaanite in its larger sense (Deuteronomy 1:7, 19, 27, &c.). If at one time they are mentioned side by side with five or six other tribes of the same stock (Exodus 34:11), yet at another they seem to be so much the representative race that "the Ammorite" stands for the inhabitants of Canaan in general whom Israel was commissioned to oust on account of his iniquity (Genesis 15:16). It is not, therefore, possible to draw any certain distinction between the Amorites of Sihon's kingdom and the mass of the Canaanites on the other side Jordan. Both Sihon and his people appear as intruders in this region, having come down perhaps from the northern parts of Palestine, and having but recently (it would seem) wrested from the king of Moab all his territory north of Arnon. It was the fact of the Amorites being found here which led to the conquest and settlement of the trans-Jordanic territory. That territory was not apparently included in the original gift (compare Numbers 34:2-12 with Genesis 10:19 and Genesis 15:19-21), but since the Amorite had possessed himself of it, it must pass with all the rest of his habitation to the chosen people.
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.
Verse 22. - Let me pass through thy land. Cf. Numbers 20:17. Israel was not commanded to spare the Amorites, indeed he was under orders to smite them (Deuteronomy 2:24), but that did not prevent his approaching them in the first instance with words of peace. If Sihon had hearkened, no doubt Israel would have passed directly on to Jordan, and he would at least have been spared for the present.
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.
Verse 23. - And he came to Jahaz, or Jahzah, a place of which we know nothing.
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.
Verse 24. - And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword. This was the first time that generation had seen war, if we except the uncertain episode of the king of Arad, and they could have had no weapons but such as their fathers had brought out of Egypt. It was, therefore, a critical moment in their history when they met the forces of Sihon, confident from their recent victory over Moab. We may suppose that Joshua was their military leader now, as before and after. From Arnon unto Jabbok. The Jabbok, which formed the boundary of Sihon on the north towards the kingdom of Og, and on the east towards the Ammonites, is the modern Zerka: it runs in a large curve northeast, north-west, and west, until it fails into Jordan, forty-five miles north of the mouth of the Arnon. Even unto the children of Ammon: for the border of the children of Ammon was strong. This is perhaps intended to explain rather why the Amorites had not extended their conquests any further, than why the Israelites made no attempt to cross the border of Ammon; they had another and more sufficient reason (see Deuteronomy 2:19). Rabbah of Ammon, which stood upon the right (here the eastern) bank of the Upper Jabbok, was an extremely strong place which effectually protected the country behind it, even until the reign of David (see on 2 Samuel 11, 12).
And Israel took all these cities: and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all the villages thereof.
Verse 25. - And Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites. The territory overrun at this time was about fifty miles north and south, by nearly thirty east and west. It was not permanently occupied until a somewhat later period (Numbers 32:33); but we may suppose that the flocks and herds, with sufficient forces to guard them, spread themselves at once over the broad pasture lands. Heshbon, and all the villages, thereof. Literally, "the daughters thereof. By a similar figure we speak of a "mother city." Heshbon occupied a central position in the kingdom of Sihon, half way between Arnon and Jabbok, and about eighteen miles eastward of the point where Jordan falls into the Salt Lake; it stood on a table-land nearly 3000 feet above the sea, and had been made his city (i.e. his capital) by Sihon at the time of his victories over Moab.
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.
Verse 26. - All his land. This is qualified by what follows: "even unto Arnon" (cf. Judges 11:13-19).
Wherefore they that speak in proverbs say, Come into Heshbon, let the city of Sihon be built and prepared:
Verse 27. - They that speak in proverbs. הַמָּשְׁלִים. Septuagint, οἰ αἰνιγματισταί. A class of persons well marked among the Hebrews, as perhaps in all ancient countries. It was their gift, and almost their profession, to express in the sententious, antistrophic poetry of the age such thoughts or such facts as took hold of men's minds. At a time when there was little difference between poetry and rhetoric, and when the distinction was hardly drawn between the inventive faculty of man and the Divine afflatus, it is not surprising to find the word mashal applied to the rhapsody of Balsam (Numbers 23:7), to the "taunting song" of Isaiah (Isaiah 14:4), to the "riddle" of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 17:2), as well as to the collection of earthly and heavenly wisdom in the Book of Proverbs. That which follows is a taunting song, most like to the one cited from Isaiah, the archaic character of which is marked by its strongly antithetic form and abrupt transitions, as well as by the peculiarity of some of the words. Come to Heshbon. This may be ironically addressed to the Amorites, lately so victorious, now so overthrown; or, possibly, it may be intended to express the jubilation of the Amorites themselves in the day of their pride.
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.
Verse 28. - There is a fire gone out of Heshbon. This must refer to the war-fire which the Amorites kindled from Heshbon when they made it the capital of the new kingdom. Ar Moab and the (northern) heights of Arnon were the furthest points to which their victory extended.
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.
Verse 29. - O people of Chemosh. עַם־כָּמוּשׁ. Chemosh was the national god of the Moabites (1 Kings 11:7; Jeremiah 48:7), and also to some extent of the Ammonites (Judges 11:24). It is generally agreed that the name is derived from the root כבש, to subdue, and thus will have substantially the same meaning as Milcom, Molech, and Baal; indeed it appears probable that there was a strong family likeness among the idolatries of Palestine, and that the various names represented different attributes of one supreme being rather than different divinities. Thus Baal and Ashtaroth (Judges 2:13) represented for the Zidonians the masculine and feminine elements respectively in the Divine energy. Baal himself was plural (Baalim, 1 Kings 18:18) in form, and either male or female (ἡ βάαλ in Hosea 2:8; Romans 11:4). In the inscription on the Moabite stone a god "Ashtar-Chemosh" is mentioned, and thus Chemosh is identified with the male deity of Phoenicia (Ashtar being the masculine form of Ashtoreth), while, on the other hand, it was almost certainly the same divinity who was worshipped under another name, and with other rites, as Baal-Peor (see on Numbers 25:3). On the coins of Areopolis Chemosh appears as a god of war armed, with fire-torches by his side. Human sacrifices were offered to him (2 Kings 3:26, 27), as to Baal and to Moloch. He hath given his sons, i.e., Chemosh, who could not save his own votaries, nor the children of his people.
We have shot at them; Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon, and we have laid them waste even unto Nophah, which reacheth unto Medeba.
Verse 30. - We have shot at them. וַגִּירָם. A poetical word of somewhat doubtful meaning. It is generally supposed to be a verbal form (first person plural imperf. Kal), from יָרָה, with an unusual suffix (cf. יִלְבָּשָׁם for יִלְבָּשֵׁם in Exodus 29:30). יָרָה has the primary meaning "to shoot at," the secondary, "to overthrow," as in Exodus 15:4. Others, however, derive the word from ארה, a root supposed to mean "burn." Even unto Dibon. See on Numbers 32:34. The site of Nophah, perhaps the Nobah of Judges 8:11, is unknown. Which reacheth unto Medeba. The reading is uncertain here as well as the meaning. The received text has אֵַשֶׁר עַד־מַידבָא, which gives no meaning, but the circle over the resh marks it as suspicious. The Septuagint (πῦρ ἐπ Μωάβ) and the Samaritan evidently read אֵשׁ, and this has been generally followed: "we have wasted even unto Nophah, - with fire unto Medeba." Medeba, of which the ruins are still known by the same name, lay five or six miles south-south-east of Heshbon. It was a fortress in the time of David (1 Chronicles 19:7) and of Omri, as appears from the Moabite stone.
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.
Verse 32. - Jaazer. Perhaps the present es-Szir, some way to the north of Heshbon (see on Jeremiah 48:32). This victory completed the conquest of Sihon's kingdom.
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.
Verse 33. - They turned and went up by the way of Bashan. The brevity of the narrative does not allow us to know who went upon this expedition, or why they went. It may have been only the detachment which had reconnoitered and taken Jaazer, and they may have found themselves threatened by the forces of Og, and so led on to further conquests beyond the Jabbok. Og the king of Bashan. Og was himself of the aboriginal giant race which had left so many remnants, or at least so many memories, in these regions (see on Deuteronomy 2:10-12, 20-23; Joshua 12:4; 13:12); but he is classed with Sihon as a king of the Amorites (Joshua 2:10) because his people were chiefly at least of that race. Bashan itself comprised the plain now known as Jaulan and Haulan beyond the Jarmuk (now Mandhur), the largest affluent of the Jordan, which joins it a few miles below the lake of Tiberias. The kingdom of Og, however, extended over the northern and larger part of Gilead, a much more fertile territory than Bashan proper (see on Deuteronomy 3:1-17). At Edrei. Probably the modern Edhra'ah, or Der'a, situate on a branch of the Jarmuk, some twenty-four miles from Bozrah. The ancient city lies buried beneath the modern village, and was built, like the other cities of Bashan, in the most massive style of architecture. The cities of Og were so strong that the Israelites could not have dispossessed him by any might of their own if he had abode behind his walls. Either confidence in his warlike prowess or some more mysterious cause (see on Joshua 24:12) impelled him to leave his fortifications, and give battle to the Israelites to his own utter defeat.
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.
Verse 34. - Fear him not. He might well have been formidable, not only on account of his size (cf. Deuteronomy 1:28; Deuteronomy 3:11; 1 Samuel 17:11), but from the formidable nature of those walled cities which are still a wonder to all that see them.
So they smote him, and his sons, and all his people, until there was none left him alive: and they possessed his land.
Verse 35. - So they smote him. Acting under the direct commands of God, they exterminated the Amorites of the northern as they had of the southern kingdom. Chapter 22:1. - And the children of Israel set forward. Not necessarily after the defeats of Sihon and Og; it is quite as likely that this last journey was made while the armies were away on their northern conquests. And pitched in the plains of Moab. The Arboth Moab, or steppes of Moab, were those portions of the Jordan valley which had belonged to Moab perhaps as far north as the Jabbok. In this sultry depression, below the level of the sea, there are tracts of fertile and well-watered land amidst prevailing barrenness (see on Numbers 33:49). On this side Jordan by Jericho. Rather, "beyond the Jordan of Jericho," מֵעֵבֶר לְיַרְדֵּן יְרֵחו. On the phrase, "beyond the Jordan" ("Peraea"), which is used indifferently of both sides, the one by a conventional, the other by a natural, use, see on Deuteronomy 1:1. The Jordan of Jericho is the river in that part of its course where it flows past the district of Jericho.

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