Numbers 21:1-35


I.    Verse 1-3.

A.  These Canaanites lived south of the Dead Sea.

1.   The majority of the Canaanites lived west of the Sea of Galilee.

2.      This was evidently a small group of the Canaanites which had somehow gotten separated from the larger group of Canaanites.

3.      There are two proofs that these Canaanites are separate from those living in Canaan.

a.   Israel is heading south around the southern border of Edom.

1.      Numbers 20:14-21 - Edom has refused passage to Israel, therefore Israel has turned toward the south in order to "compass the land of Edom"  (Numbers 21:4).

2.      Judges 1:9 - The Canaanites dwell in three places:  the mountain, in the south, and in the valley.

3.      Verse 3 - Moses names the place "Hormah", which means "ban", for Israel banned Canaan from coming to this place.  This place was normally called "Zephath" by the Canaanites.  (Judges 1:17.)

b.   Israel did not possess their land at this time.

1.      Numbers 21:4 states that Israel left Mount Hor, continuing toward the Red Sea.

2.      The time for possessing land would come after they cross the Jordan River and begin conquering.

B.   The spies.

1.   The only spies sent out by Israel was 40 years ago.

a.   This shows that the fear on these nations had not diminished with time.

b.   Joshua 2:11 - Rahab, who lives in Jericho, recounts the victories God gave Israel and their fear at hearing of these things.

2.   The messengers sent by Moses in Numbers 20:14 could have been referred to.

a.   But these messengers did not come to fight Edom.

b.   Misunderstandings of God's purpose is caused by a misunderstanding of His Word.

3.      This shows that everybody knew what Israel had in mind.

C.   The fighting by the Canaanites.

1.   The Bible doesn't say how extensive this battle was.

2.      Matthew Henry says King Arad fought against a few scattered stragglers and took them captive.

3.      Regardless of the extent of the battle, Israel was not content to let any of their people be captured.

4.   In this year, 1987, Israel is the same way.  They retaliate against anybody that hurts any of their citizens.

D.  The vow of Israel is twofold.

1.   If God will give them the victory, they will destroy the cities of the Canaanites now.

a.   Israel is desiring a conditional promise from God.

b.   Israel vows to use the conditional promise of God.

c.   They do exactly what they say they will do.

2.      This is also speaking of a future victory.

a.   This exceeding wickedness of the Canaanites helps Israel understand why God would have them destroyed.

b.   Judges 1:9 - One of the very first nations Israel fights is Canaan.

c.   Judges 1:17 - Judah and Simeon slew the Canaanites that dwell in Zephath (Hormah).

d.   Judges 1:19 - Judah did not drive out the Canaanites from the valley for they had chariots of iron.

E.   The destruction of the cities of the Canaanites.

1.   God allowed them to utterly destroy them and their cities.

2.      Evidently, this is speaking of a time other than Judges 1:19, which states that Israel did not conquer the Canaanites in the valley.

3.      Compare Judges 1 and Numbers 21.

a.   Evidently the Canaanites moved back into their cities after Israel conquered them.

b.   After Israel conquered these cities, they continued southward toward the Red Sea, going around the land of Edom.


II.   Verse 4-9 - The Brazen Serpent.  (For more information about the fiery serpents see On Line Bible # 08314.  The fiery serpent was probably a seraphim.)

8313. saraph, saw-raf'; a prim. root; to be (caus. set) on fire:--(cause to, make a) burn ([-ing], up), kindle, X utterly.

8314. saraph, saw-rawf'; from H8313; burning, i.e. (fig.) poisonous (serpent); spec. a saraph or symbol. creature (from their copper color):--fiery (serpent), seraph.

A.  The complaints of Israel.

1.      Because of the way.

a.   They were going south toward the Red Sea because Edom would not grant them passage through their land.

1.      The Red Sea spoken of here involves the Red Sea and the Gulf of Akaba and the Gulf of Suez.

2.      The Red Sea is the "leg" of a "Y".  The left "arm" of the "Y" is the Gulf of Suez and the right "arm" of the "Y" is the Gulf of Akaba.

3.      The part of the Red Sea Israel is heading toward is the Gulf of Akaba.

b.   According to my Bible maps in Thompson Chain Reference Bible, this area is very difficult.  It is mountainous or desert.

c.   So the way would be very difficult because of the terrain.  Trying to keep up with all the animals could be compared to herding cows over the Rocky Mountains.

2.      Because of remembering Egypt.

a.   This generation is like the past generation.

b.   The majority of this generation had never seen Egypt.

1.      Those that had seen Egypt could only remember scenes from their youth, which was 40 years ago.

2.      There is no doubt in my mind that this new generation was remembering what their rebellious parents had told them about the comforts of Egypt.

3.      Even though the older generation was condemned to die in the wilderness, they still hadn't realized that what was ahead for their children was much better than what they had left behind in Egypt.

3.      Because of God's provisions.

a.      They didn't count the manna God gave as food at all.  They said, "There is no bread."

b.      They said there was no water.  But there is no record of there being a lack of water.  They were probably complaining because the water supplied as they needed it, not before they needed it.  This is the source of many of our complaints.  We want God to provide what we need before we need it, not when we need it.

4.      Because of the fear of death.

a.   They didn't believe God's provision was sufficient for life.

b.   They thought the way through the mountain and desert was too hard for them.

c.   They had just lately seen their parents die and were now afraid they would face a similar fate.

d.   They did not understand what God was doing with them, they could only see the material things before them.

B.   Their complaint is against God and Moses.

1.      Usually, they complain only against Moses.

2.   The complaint against God is usually in the background, but here it is brought into the forefront.

C.   The judgment of God upon them.

1.      There is a comma at the end of verse 5, not a period.

a.   This indicates that the judgment came swiftly.

b.   The Bible doesn't say that Moses had time to pray in their behalf or even say a word to them to stay the judgment of God.

c.   God will allow evil that He might get glory out of it.  (Ps. 76:10)

d.   In John 3, Jesus will use this very passage to explain His crucifixion.

2.      Fiery serpents.

a.   According to Matthew Henry, and Barnes Notes, the area abounds with very poisonous snakes whose markings remind one of fiery serpents.

b.   According to Deut. 8:15, God had kept them from the snakes before their rebellion, but now they have complained, and God turned the snakes loose on them.  Those that are not thankful for God's mercies will be exposed to His judgments.

c.   The fire represents:

1.      The color of the snake.

2.      The rage of the serpent.

3.      The effects of their bite, giving the person a high fever, so they would need the water they complained there wasn't enough of.

3.   The justice of God's judgment.

a.   Those that complained they would die in the wilderness did die.

b.   Those that complained about God's provision would no longer need God's provision.

c.   Those that complained about the lack of water, would have a thirst that no water could quench.

d.   "The poison of asps was under their lips", so they were filled with the poison from an asp. (snake)

D.  The confession of sin.

1.   It is a public confession, for the sin was public.

a.   Public sins demand a public confession.

b.   Private sins demand a private confession.

2.   The confession to God.

a.   They do not pray directly to God for they are to go through the priesthood established by God.

b.   They do not confess their sinfulness until they are chastened.

c.   It appears they would never confess their sin if God had not sent the fiery serpents.

3.   The confession to Moses.

a.   The one they had sinned against must pray for them that God would forgive them.

b.   Anytime we sin against one of God's "little ones", we sin against God.

4.      Moses attitude toward these sinners.

a.   He forgave them and prayed for them.

b.   We are to forgive our enemies, love them and pray for them.

c.   By so doing, we reveal that we are the sons of God.

B.   The reconciliation.

1.   The only reconciliation is to follow the commands of God.

a.   We cannot follow our own thoughts.

b.   God will always lead us in the right direction.

2.   God said make a fiery serpent: Moses made it out of brass.

a.   I Cor. 15:45 - This compares to the first Adam and the second Adam.

b.   Sin entered by a fleshly Adam (the fiery serpent), and was forgiven by a spiritual Adam (the brazen serpent).

3.   Put the serpent on a pole.

a.   John 3:14,15 - As the brazen serpent was lifted up above the people, so Christ would be "lifted up".

b.   John 12:32,33 - Jesus said the term "lifted up" referred to his crucifixion.

4.      Those that are bitten.

a.   All are subject to be bitten because the snakes are in the area.

b.   The serpents represent Satan who deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden and brought sin into the world.

c.   All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

5.      Look and live.

a.   They did not call the doctor.

b.   They did not get the poison out of the wound.

c.   There was no act they could do to cure themselves.

d.   There is no act a sinner can perform that will save him.

e.   They looked with a heart full of faith, just like a sinner looks with faith to the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

f.    The cure is instantaneous, just like salvation is instantaneous.

6.      Anybody could look.

a.   The cure was free and available to all, just like salvation.

b.   You didn't have to feel like you were one of the elect to be saved.

c.   It wasn't necessary to look with the eyes, but to look with the heart.

1.      The camp of Israel was very large.

2.       A person might not have time to travel to a place to see the brazen serpent.

3.      A person doesn't have to go to church to be saved, but he must look to Jesus to be saved.

d.   I believe there were people who heard about the cure, but didn't believe it would work, so they didn't look and therefore they died.

e.   There are people today who hear the gospel, but don't believe salvation is that simple and die in their sins and spend eternity in a devils hell.


III. Verse 10-15 - The journeying of Israel.

A.  They journeyed from an unidentified place in the wilderness.

1.      They left the place of their complaining and being bitten by serpents.

2.      Although they left the place behind, they did not leave the lesson learned behind. (See comments on verse 16.)

B.   All of the places mentioned are difficult to find on the map.

1.      There is much dispute as to the location of these cities.

2.   We know for certain that the cities are located on the east side of the Dead Sea.

C.   The route Israel took around Moab.

1.      Most probably directly south from Kadesh Barnea along the western border of Moab toward the Gulf of Akaba, here called the Red Sea. (Verse 4)

2.      From this point, verse 11, Israel turned toward Ijeabarim, toward the rising of the sun (west).

3.      Next. they turn due north, going along the eastern border of Moab toward the valley of Zared. (verse 12)

4.      Verse 13, the River Arnon is east of the Dead Sea and is the border between the Amorites and the Moabites.

D.  The Book of Wars.

1.      There is no record of what this "Book of Wars" is.

2.   It is supposed that it was a well known book for the writer of Numbers knew of the book and assumed that anybody reading Numbers would know of the book.

3.   The Book of Wars proves the inspiration of the Scriptures.

a.   The book of Numbers and the Book of Wars were both well known.

b.   God preserved His book and didn't preserve the books of men.

4.   The Book of Wars tell of the victories God gave in the Red Sea (probably the Gulf of Akaba) and in the Arnon River.

a.   It did not please God to inform us of all these victories.

b.   The only three victories we know of are recorded in the remainder of this chapter.


IV. Verse 16-20 - The first victory, the giving of water.

A.  Before there can be any real victory in the land of Canaan, Israel must first learn to conquer themselves.

1.      Always before Israel had complained when there was a lack of water or food.

2.   But this time, there is no record of complaining to God or Moses.

3.   The lesson for us is that we will have no victory over anything until God gives us the victory over our own complaining and selfishness.

4.   If there is no victory over personal sins, there will be no victory over public sins.

B.   There is rejoicing at God's blessings.

1.   If they had complained, God would still have given them water, but they would not be rejoicing over it.

2.      They are rejoicing because they did it God's way.

a.   God gave the instructions to Moses, the lawgiver.

b.   Moses gave the instructions to the people.

c.   The people did the work they were instructed to do.

d.   God gave the water He promised.

C.   Verse 18 - The people who did the work.

1.   The princes are the rulers of the people.

2.      Their digging is to dig, to search for, to explore for.  Thus they determined the place to dig by digging and exploring for it themselves.

3.   The nobles are not some important people, but they are those that are willing, or inclined to do the work.

4.      Their digging is the actual work on the project.

5.      There is no doubt in my mind that everybody was in on this project.

6.   It is always good when all the people put their shoulders to the work.

D.  They left the place of blessing.

1.   Just like they left the place of judgment (verses 4-10), they must also leave the place of blessing.

2.      They, and we, must always go on to the things God has for us.

3.      They're getting closer and closer to the land of Canaan.

4.      Sometimes we sing the son, "Trust and Obey".  We must learn to trust and obey, never complaining, looking only to God that He might lead us to greater and richer blessings.


V.  Verse 21-30 - Conquering the Amorites.

A.  Deut. 2:26-31, Moses telling of the victory over the Amorites.

1.   He says God hardened Sihon's heart that He might let Israel be victorious over him.

2.      This is like God did to Pharaoh of Egypt. (Ex. 3:19)

B.   This is the very beginning of the victories Israel will experience in the land of Canaan.

1.   God is giving the people a taste of victory so they won't be discouraged.

2.   God does the same thing for us. He gives some victories in this life so we can be looking forward to the many victories in the life to come.

C.   Note the quote in verses 27-30.

D.  Note the god of the Amorites, Chemosh (verse 29).

1.   The god Chemosh is also the god of the Moabitess.

2.      When Israel destroyed the Amorites, thus destroying Chemosh, they also destroyed the god of the Moabites.

3.      This sets the stage for chapter 22-25.  Balak, King of the Moabites, tries to get God to curse Israel through Balaam.

a.   Moab can't turn to Chemosh for Israel has already destroyed him.

b.   Balak turns to the only god there is left, the God of Israel.

c.   Satan can't curse God's people, so he tries to cause them to do great evil so God will destroy them.

d.   This will never work, for God will never destroy His people.

e.   God will chasten them and make them wish they had never disobeyed, but he will never turn from them.


VI. Verse 31-35 - The destruction of Og, King of Bashan.

A.  Why didn't Og learn from the destruction of the Amorites that he couldn't defeat Israel?

1.      Lost men very seldom learn any lesson by looking at those around them.

2.      Deut. 3:11 tells us that the bedstead of Og was nine cubits long (13« feet) and four cubits wide (6 feet).

a.   Og was a giant.

b.   As a giant, he thought he was stronger than any god.

c.   He, like many today, think physical size is more important than spiritual size.

B.   Og and all his people are destroyed.

1.      This will end the time of the giants.

2.      Numbers 13:28 - The generation that failed had a fear of physical size, and material circumstances.

3.      This new generation has conquered their parents fear and destroyed the giants.

4.   The new generation is living by faith, not by sight.

5.   God will bless them by giving them more than they could ever "see"!