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Numbers 21-22 Listen
King Arad gets a taste of Jewish wrath (Numbers 21:1-3)
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.
2 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.
3 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.
I guess two million people parading through the wilderness is a little unsettling; at least it was to King Arad, the Canaanite whose people lived in the Southern part of modern-day Israel (aka Negev - see map below). As Israel had turned west to avoid the Edomites who denied them passage in Numbers 20:14-21 (see notes), this king fights Israel and takes some prisoners. BAD IDEA! Subsequently, Israel vows to the Lord to destroy these Canaanites...and does. After the destruction of these aggressive Canaanites and their cities, the place is renamed "Hormah," a Hebrew word meaning "destruction."
4 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.
5 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.
6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
7 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.
8 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.
9 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.
Having been denied passage through Edom, Israel had to go around, which meant turning back southwest towards the Red Sea. They're going in the wrong direction now! And then the unthinkable happens in verse 5, "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." Keep in mind, this is not the same generation that left Egypt 40 years or so ago, but...still...how could they!? Haven't they learned anything? Verse 6 says, "And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died." When the people cry out in repentance and plead for relief, God doesn't take the snakes away; instead, he provides a remedy that required individual faith after being bitten. This fiery brass serpent that extended above the camp is referenced by Jesus in John 3:14 (see notes) as he prophesied his own death on the cross, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:" If you had the faith to look to the brass serpent after being bitten, you were healed.
Hey! Aren't we still going in the wrong direction? (Numbers 21:10-20)
10 And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in Oboth.
11 And they journeyed from Oboth, and pitched at Ijeabarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sunrising.
12 From thence they removed, and pitched in the valley of Zared.
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.
14 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,
15 And at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab.
16 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.
17 Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it:
18 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:
19 And from Mattanah to Nahaliel: and from Nahaliel to Bamoth:
20 And from Bamoth in the valley, that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looketh toward Jeshimon.
Let's face it; traveling with two million people is a challenge. We see them headed anywhere but towards their destination due to the logistics of finding a peaceable route. Canaan is north, but they had to head east in these verses. We find a quotation from "the book of the wars" in verses 14-15. No portion of such a book remains extant beyond what is quoted here. It apparently was a compilation of songs about the conquests of Israel.
21 And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, saying,
22 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.
23 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.
24 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.
25 And Israel took all these cities: and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all the villages thereof.
26 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.
27 Wherefore they that speak in proverbs say, Come into Heshbon, let the city of Sihon be built and prepared:
28 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.
29 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.
30 We have shot at them; Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon, and we have laid them waste even unto Nophah, which reacheth unto Medeba.
31 Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites.
32 And Moses sent to spy out Jaazer, and they took the villages thereof, and drove out the Amorites that were there.
Now Israel is on the east side of the Dead Sea looking for a way north. They send a request to King Sihon, an Amorite who had conquered this region of the Moabites, and ask permission to pass through his land. They even give a pledge to him that they will not disturb any of his resources. Not only does King Sihon decline, he attacks them. He should have taken them up on their first offer. The Hebrews wipe him out and set up housekeeping right there in his land, the land of the Amorites (in Moab). This serves as a temporary base of operations for the Israelites. Note the map above to see that Israel has now conquered and lives between the river tributaries Jabbok on the north and Arnon on the south, just east of the Jordan River.
Incidentally, Amorites were a Canaanite race of people found also in various locations west of the Jordan River as well. According to Deuteronomy 20:17 (see notes), these Amorites were to be driven from Canaan upon Israel's entry there, along with the other tribes of Canaanites. Oh...and "Chemosh" (verse 29) was the national god of the Moabites.
33 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.
34 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.
35 So they smote him, and his sons, and all his people, until there was none left him alive: and they possessed his land.
Heading further north, King Og decides this won't do. He attacks; he's defeated, and Israel moves in there as well. This battle becomes a legendary event in Israel, and King Og gets mention in several other Old Testament passages including Deuteronomy 3:1-13 (see notes) where it is said of him in verse 11, "For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man." Here's a guy whose claim to fame ends up being that he slept in an iron bed nearly 14 or so feet long...but he lost the battle to the Israelites. Just as I said, he was a legendary figure in Israel's history. Look at all the mentions of him in scripture after this conquest: Deuteronomy 4:47; 29:7; 1:4; Joshua 2:10; 9:10; 12:4; 13:12; 13:30; 13:31; I Kings 4:19; Nehemiah 9:22; Psalms 135:11; Psalms 136:20. King Og certainly left an impression.
A footnote to the battles against Kings Sihon and Og is in order here. As Joshua recaps those victories, here's what he says about God's role in those battles in Joshua 24:12 (see notes), "And I sent the hornet before you, which drave them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow." In other words, Israel had super-hero-type help in those battles.
Consider these verses from Exodus 23:20-33 (see notes):
Exodus 23:20 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.
Exodus 23:27 I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.
Exodus 23:28 And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.
It seems clear - supernatural help from an angel accompanied by hornets.
1 And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.
2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
3 And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.
4 And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.
5 He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me:
6 Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.
7 And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spake unto him the words of Balak.
8 And he said unto them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the LORD shall speak unto me: and the princes of Moab abode with Balaam.
9 And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?
10 And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying,
11 Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out.
12 And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.
13 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you.
14 And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.
15 And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.
16 And they came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus saith Balak the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me:
17 For I will promote thee unto very great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people.
18 And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.
19 Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.
20 And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.
21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.
22 And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.
23 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.
24 But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.
25 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall: and he smote her again.
26 And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.
27 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.
28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?
29 And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.
30 And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.
31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.
32 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me:
33 And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.
34 And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.
35 And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.
36 And when Balak heard that Balaam was come, he went out to meet him unto a city of Moab, which is in the border of Arnon, which is in the utmost coast.
37 And Balak said unto Balaam, Did I not earnestly send unto thee to call thee? wherefore camest thou not unto me? am I not able indeed to promote thee to honour?
38 And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.
39 And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjathhuzoth.
40 And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.
41 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal, that thence he might see the utmost part of the people.
Was he a good prophet who went bad or a bad prophet who attempted to go right? He certainly gets a lot of mention in later scripture: Numbers 31:8, 16 (see notes); Deuteronomy 23:3-6 (see notes); Joshua 13:22 (see notes); Joshua 24:9-10 (see notes); Judges 11:23-25 (see notes); Nehemiah 13:1-3 (see notes); Micah 6:5 (see notes); II Peter 2:15-16 (see notes); Jude 11 (see notes); Revelation 2:14 (see notes). And it's not in a noble context either. The Moabite King Balak summons this Midianite prophet to put a curse on Israel (verse 6). I guess desperate situations call for desperate solutions. Balaam is neither a good prophet who went bad nor a bad prophet trying to be good. Admittedly, it's a little difficult to get a clear take on him. Incidentally, the Ammonites are implicated in this scheme along with the Moabites in Deuteronomy 23:3-4 (see notes).
Here's what we do know about Balaam from Numbers 22:
However, we see in Numbers 23-25 (see notes) and Numbers 31 (see notes) that Balaam conspired with Israel's enemies to bring them down. Conclusion: He is altogether a pagan prophet who just happens to get a word from the Lord on this occasion. There's nothing that vindicates his previous or later role as a prophet of the one true God.
After some failed attempts to get Balaam to cooperate, Balaam gets a word from the Lord in Numbers 22:20, "And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do." Then it gets a little bit confusing. What exactly did God tell Balaam to do, and why was God displeased with Balaam when he seemingly did it, as it says in verse 22, "And Gods anger was kindled because he went:" The answer must reside in the phrase from God in verse 20 which says, "yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do." Obviously Balaam went, but with the wrong intentions; of course, God knew what his intentions were. We see this in verse 32 when God tells Balaam, "thy way is perverse before me:" The Hebrew word ("yaw-rat´") translated "perverse" there means "hastily and without proper deliberation." Because of this, immediately God turns against Balaam's action, and "the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him." Balaam's prophetic skills come into question in my mind at this point when the donkey can see the "angel of the LORD," but Balaam cannot. As Balaam is beating his donkey, the donkey speaks. Now we see Balaam carrying on a conversation with his donkey, who verbally alerts Balaam about the presence of the "angel of the LORD." Balaam acknowledges his sin (God knew Balaam's motivations for going), and God instructs Balaam to go ahead to meet Balak. At the end of this chapter, Balak and Balaam are overlooking the massive encampment of Israel. What will Balaam do? What will Balak do? This "Balaam/Balak" plan continues to unfold in Numbers 23-25 (see notes) with the final outcome seen in Numbers 31 (see notes). Ultimately, Balaam's intentions and actions are all wrong.
Hang on! We're headed up the east side of the Jordan River. It's not far now.