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Numbers 21-22    Listen Podcast


King Arad gets a taste of Jewish wrath (Numbers 21:1-3)

1 The king of Arad, the Canaanite, who dwelt in the South, heard that Israel was coming on the road to Atharim. Then he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners.
2 So Israel made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.”
3 And the LORD listened to the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites, and they utterly destroyed them and their cities. So the name of that place was called 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."

Snakes, snakes, snakes! (Numbers 21:4-9)

4 ¶ Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way.
5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.”
6 So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the 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 you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 ¶ Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.”
9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, 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 spoke against God and against Moses: 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.'" Keep in mind, this is not the same generation that left Egypt 40 years or so ago, could they!? Haven't they learned anything? Verse 6 says, "So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the 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 ¶ Now the children of Israel moved on and camped in Oboth.
11 And they journeyed from Oboth and camped at Ije Abarim, in the wilderness which is east of Moab, toward the sunrise.
12 From there they moved and camped in the Valley of Zered.
13 From there they moved and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that extends from the border of the Amorites; for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.
14 Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the LORD:
“Waheb in Suphah,
The brooks of the Arnon,
15 And the slope of the brooks
That reaches to the dwelling of Ar,
And lies on the border of Moab.”
16 ¶ From there they went to Beer, which is the well where the LORD said to Moses, “Gather the people together, and I will give them water.”
17 Then Israel sang this song:
“Spring up, O well!
All of you sing to it—
18 The well the leaders sank,
Dug by the nation’s nobles,
By the lawgiver, with their staves.” ¶ And from the wilderness they went to Mattanah,
19 from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth,
20 and from Bamoth, in the valley that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah which looks down on the wasteland.

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.

Israel crosses into Moab

How about King Sihon? (Numbers 21:21-32)

21 ¶ Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying,
22 “Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into fields or vineyards; we will not drink water from wells. We will go by the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.”
23 But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and he came to Jahaz and fought against Israel.
24 Then Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the people of Ammon; for the border of the people of Ammon was fortified.
25 So Israel took all these cities, and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon and in all its villages.
26 For Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab, and had taken all his land from his hand as far as the Arnon.
27 Therefore those who speak in proverbs say:
“Come to Heshbon, let it be built;
Let the city of Sihon be repaired.
28 “For fire went out from Heshbon,
A flame from the city of Sihon;
It consumed Ar of Moab,
The lords of the heights of the Arnon.
29 Woe to you, Moab!
You have perished, O people of Chemosh!
He has given his sons as fugitives,
And his daughters into captivity,
To Sihon king of the Amorites.
30 “But we have shot at them;
Heshbon has perished as far as Dibon.
Then we laid waste as far as Nophah,
Which reaches to Medeba.”
31 ¶ Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites.
32 Then Moses sent to spy out Jazer; and they took its villages and drove out the Amorites who 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.

King Og fares no better (Numbers 21:33-35)

33 ¶ And they turned and went up by the way to Bashan. So Og king of Bashan went out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei.
34 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have delivered him into your hand, with all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon.”
35 So they defeated him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left him; and they took possession of 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 the giants. Indeed his bedstead was an iron bedstead. (Is it not in Rabbah of the people of Ammon?) Nine cubits is its length and four cubits its width, according to the standard cubit." 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), "I sent the hornet before you which drove them out from before you, also the two kings of the Amorites, but not with your sword or with your 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 you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.
Exodus 23:27 I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.
Exodus 23:28 And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you.

It seems clear - supernatural help from an angel accompanied by hornets.

Who is Balaam? (Numbers 22)

1 Then the children of Israel moved, and camped in the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan across from Jericho.
2 ¶ Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
3 And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel.
4 So Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.
5 Then he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying: “Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me!
6 Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”
7 ¶ So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the diviner’s fee in their hand, and they came to Balaam and spoke to him the words of Balak.
8 And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the LORD speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam.
9 ¶ Then God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?”
10 ¶ So Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying,
11 “Look, a people has come out of Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come now, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to overpower them and drive them out.’ ”
12 ¶ And God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”
13 ¶ So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Go back to your land, for the LORD has refused to give me permission to go with you.”
14 ¶ And the princes of Moab rose and went to Balak, and said, “Balaam refuses to come with us.”
15 ¶ Then Balak again sent princes, more numerous and more honorable than they.
16 And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Please let nothing hinder you from coming to me;
17 for I will certainly honor you greatly, and I will do whatever you say to me. Therefore please come, curse this people for me.’ ”
18 ¶ Then Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.
19 Now therefore, please, you also stay here tonight, that I may know what more the LORD will say to me.”
20 ¶ And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you—that you shall do.”
21 So Balaam rose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab.
22 ¶ Then God’s anger was aroused because he went, and the Angel of the LORD took His stand in the way as an adversary against him. And he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.
23 Now the donkey saw the Angel of the LORD standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand, and the donkey turned aside out of the way and went into the field. So Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back onto the road.
24 Then the Angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side.
25 And when the donkey saw the Angel of the LORD, she pushed herself against the wall and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck her again.
26 Then the Angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.
27 And when the donkey saw the Angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam’s anger was aroused, and he struck the donkey with his staff.
28 ¶ Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
29 ¶ And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have abused me. I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you!”
30 ¶ So the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since I became yours, to this day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you?” ¶ And he said, “No.”
31 ¶ Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the Angel of the LORD standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand; and he bowed his head and fell flat on his face.
32 And the Angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to stand against you, because your way is perverse before Me.
33 The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live.”
34 ¶ And Balaam said to the Angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know You stood in the way against me. Now therefore, if it displeases You, I will turn back.”
35 ¶ Then the Angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but only the word that I speak to you, that you shall speak.” So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.
36 ¶ Now when Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, which is on the border at the Arnon, the boundary of the territory.
37 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not earnestly send to you, calling for you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?”
38 ¶ And Balaam said to Balak, “Look, I have come to you! Now, have I any power at all to say anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I must speak.”
39 So Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kirjath Huzoth.
40 Then Balak offered oxen and sheep, and he sent some to Balaam and to the princes who were with him.
41 ¶ So it was, the next day, that Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, that from there he might observe the extent 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 to Balaam at night and said to him, 'If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you—that you shall 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, "Then God’s anger was aroused because he went, and the Angel of the LORD took His stand in the way as an adversary against him. And he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him." 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, "your 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.