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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Numbers Chapter 21

Numbers 21:1

num 21:1

Victory of Israel over the Canaanitish King of Arad. - When this Canaanitish king, who dwelt in the Negeb, i.e., the south of Palestine (vid., Num 13:17), heard that Israel was coming the way of the spies, he made war upon the Israelites, and took some of them prisoners. Arad is mentioned both here and in the parallel passage, Num 33:40, and also by the side of Hormah, in Jos 12:14, as the seat of a Canaanitish king (cf. Jdg 1:16-17). According to Eusebius and Jerome in the Onomast., it was twenty Roman miles to the south of Hebron, and has been preserved in the ruins of Tell Arad, which v. Schubert (ii. pp. 457ff.) and Robinson (ii. pp. 473, 620, and 624) saw in the distance; and, according to Roth in Petermann's geographische Mittheilungen (1858, p. 269), it was situated to the south-east of Kurmul (Carmel), in an undulating plain, without trees or shrubs, with isolated hills and ranges of hills in all directions, among which was Tell Arad. The meaning of האתרים שדרך is uncertain. The lxx, Saad., and others, take the word Atharim as the proper name of a place not mentioned again; but the Chaldee, Samar., and Syr. render it with much greater probability as an appellative noun formed from תּוּר with א prosthet., and synonymous with התּרים, the spies (Num 14:6). The way of the spies was the way through the desert of Zin, which the Israelitish spies had previously taken to Canaan (Num 13:21). The territory of the king of Arad extended to the southern frontier of Canaan, to the desert of Zin, through which the Israelites went from Kadesh to Mount Hor. The Canaanites attacked them when upon their march, and made some of them prisoners.

Num 21:2-3

The Israelites then vowed to the Lord, that if He would give this people into their hands, they would "ban" their cities; and the Lord hearkened to the request, and delivered up the Canaanites, so that they put them and their cities under the ban. (On the ban, see at Lev 27:28). "And they called the place Hormah," i.e., banning, ban-place. "The place" can only mean the spot where the Canaanites were defeated by the Israelites. If the town of Zephath, or the capital of Arad, had been specially intended, it would no doubt have been also mentioned, as in Jdg 1:17. As it was not the intention of Moses to press into Canaan from the south, across the steep and difficult mountains, for the purpose of effecting its conquest, the Israelites could very well content themselves for the present with the defeat inflicted upon the Canaanites, and defer the complete execution of their vow until the time when they had gained a firm footing in Canaan. The banning of the Canaanites of Arad and its cities necessarily presupposed the immediate conquest of the whole territory, and the laying of all its cities in ashes. And so, again, the introduction of a king of Hormah, i.e., Zephath, among the kings defeated by Joshua (Jos 12:14), is no proof that Zephath was conquered and called Hormah in the time of Moses. Zephath may be called Hormah proleptically both there and in Jos 19:4, as being the southernmost border town of the kingdom of Arad, in consequence of the ban suspended by Moses over the territory of the king of Arad, and may not have received this name till after its conquest by the Judaeans and Simeonites. At the same time, it is quite conceivable that Zephath may have been captured in the time of Joshua, along with the other towns of the south, and called Hormah at that time, but that the Israelites could not hold it then; and therefore, after the departure of the Israelitish army, the old name was restored by the Canaanites, or rather only retained, until the city was retaken and permanently held by the Israelites after Joshua's death (Jdg 1:16-17), and received the new name once for all. The allusion to Hormah here, and in Num 14:45, does not warrant the opinion in any case, that it was subsequently to the death of Moses and the conquest of Canaan under Joshua that the war with the Canaanites of Arad and their overthrow occurred.

Numbers 21:4

num 21:4

March of Israel through the Arabah. Plague of Serpents, and Brazen Serpent. - Num 21:4. As the Edomites refused a passage through their land when the Israelites left Mount Hor, they were obliged to take the way to the Red Sea, in order to go round the land of Edom, that is to say, to go down the Arabah to the head of the Elanitic Gulf.

Num 21:5-6

As they went along this road the people became impatient ("the soul of the people was much discouraged," see Exo 6:9), and they began once more to murmur against God and Moses, because they had neither bread nor water (cf. Num 20:4.), and were tired of the loose, i.e., poor, food of manna (קלקל from קלל). The low-lying plain of the Arabah, which runs between steep mountain walls from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, would be most likely to furnish the Israelites with very little food, except the manna which God gave them; for although it is not altogether destitute of vegetation, especially at the mouths of the wadys and winter torrents from the hills, yet on the whole it is a horrible desert, with a loose sandy soil, and drifts of granite and other stones, where terrible sand-storms sometimes arise from the neighbourhood of the Red Sea (see v. Schubert, R. ii. pp. 396ff., and Ritter, Erdk. xiv. pp. 1013ff.); and the want of food might very frequently be accompanied by the absence of drinkable water. The people rebelled in consequence, and were punished by the Lord with fiery serpents, the bite of which caused many to die. שׂרפים נחשׁים, lit., burning snakes, so called from their burning, i.e., inflammatory bite, which filled with heat and poison, just as many of the snakes were called by the Greeks, e.g., the ́ ͂, and καύσωνες (Dioscor. vii. 13: Aelian. nat. anim. vi. 51), not from the skin of these snakes with fiery red spots, which are frequently found in the Arabah, and are very poisonous.

(Note: This is the account given by v. Schubert, R. ii. p. 406: "In the afternoon they brought us a very mottled snake of a large size, marked with fiery red spots and wavy stripes, which belonged to the most poisonous species, as the formation of its teeth clearly showed. According to the assertion of the Bedouins, these snakes, which they greatly dreaded, were very common in that neighbourhood.")

Num 21:7

This punishment brought the people to reflection. They confessed their sin to Moses, and entreated him to deliver them from the plague through his intercession with the Lord. And the Lord helped them; in such a way, however, that the reception of help was made to depend upon the faith of the people.

Num 21:8-9

At the command of God, Moses made a brazen serpent, and put it upon a standard.

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

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

Even in the book of Wis. (Num 16:6-7), the brazen serpent is called "a symbol of salvation; for he that turned himself toward it was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by Thee, that art the Saviour of all." It was not merely intended, however, as Ewald supposes (Gesch. ii. p. 228), as a "sign that just as this serpent hung suspended in the air, bound and rendered harmless by the command of Jehovah, so every one who looked at this with faith in the redeeming power of Jehovah, was secured against the evil, - a figurative sign, therefore, like that of St. George and the Dragon among ourselves;" for, according to this, there would be no internal causal link between the fiery serpents and the brazen image of a serpent. It was rather intended as a figurative representation of the poisonous serpents, rendered harmless by the mercy of God. For God did not cause a real serpent to be taken, but the image of a serpent, in which the fiery serpent was stiffened, as it were, into dead brass, as a sign that the deadly poison of the fiery serpents was overcome in this brazen serpent. This is not to be regarded as a symbol of the divine healing power; nor is the selection of such a symbol to be deduced and explained, as it is by Winer, Kurtz, Knobel, and others, from the symbolical view that was common to all the heathen religions of antiquity, that the serpent was a beneficent and health-bringing power, which led to its being exalted into a symbol of the healing power, and a representation of the gods of healing. This heathen view is not only foreign to the Old Testament, and without any foundation in the fact that, in the time of Hezekiah, the people paid a superstitious worship to the brazen serpent erected by Moses (Kg2 18:4); but it is irreconcilably opposed to the biblical view of the serpent, as the representative of evil, which was founded upon Gen 3:15, and is only traceable to the magical art of serpent-charming, which the Old Testament abhorred as an idolatrous abomination. To this we may add, that the thought which lies at the foundation of this explanation, viz., that poison is to be cured by poison, has no support in Hos 13:4, but is altogether foreign to the Scriptures. God punishes sin, it is true, by sin; but He neither cures sin by sin, nor death by death. On the contrary, to conquer sin it was necessary that the Redeemer should be without sin; and to take away its power from death, it was requisite that Christ, the Prince of life, who had life in Himself, should rise again from death and the grave (Joh 5:26; Joh 11:25; Act 3:15; Ti2 1:10).

The brazen serpent became a symbol of salvation on the three grounds which Luther pointed out. In the first place, the serpent which Moses was to make by the command of God was to be of brass or copper, that is to say, of a reddish colour, and (although without poison) altogether like the persons who were red and burning with heat because of the bite of the fiery serpents. In the second place, the brazen serpent was to be set up upon a pole for a sign. And in the third place, those who desired to recover from the fiery serpent's bite and live, were to look at the brazen serpent upon the pole, otherwise they could not recover or live (Luther's Sermon on Joh 3:1-15). It was in these three points, as Luther has also clearly shown, that the typical character of this symbol lay, to which Christ referred in His conversation with Nicodemus (Joh 3:14). The brazen serpent had the form of a real serpent, but was "without poison, and altogether harmless." So God sent His Son in the form of sinful flesh, and yet without sin (Rom 8:3; Co2 5:21; Pe1 2:22-24). - 2. In the lifting up of the serpent as a standard. This was a δειγματίζειν ἐν παρρησίᾳ, a ́ (a "showing openly," or "triumphing"), a triumphal exhibition of the poisonous serpents as put to death in the brazen image, just as the lifting up of Christ upon the cross was a public triumph over the evil principalities and powers below the sky (Col 2:14-15). - 3. In the cure effected through looking at the image of the serpent. Just as the Israelites had to turn their eyes to the brazen serpent in believing obedience to the word of the Lord, in order to be cured of the bite of the poisonous serpents, so much we look with faith at the Son of man lifted up upon the cross, if we would be delivered from the bite of the old serpent, from sin, death, the devil, and hell. "Christ is the antitype of the serpent, inasmuch as He took upon Himself the most pernicious of all pernicious potencies, viz., sin, and made a vicarious atonement for it" (Hengstenberg on Joh 3:14). The brazen image of the serpent was taken by the Israelites to Canaan, and preserved till the time of Hezekiah, who had it broken in pieces, because the idolatrous people had presented incense-offerings to this holy relic (Kg2 18:4).

Numbers 21:10

num 21:10

March of Israel round Edom and Moab, to the Heights of Pisgah in the Field of Moab (cf. Num 33:41-47). - Num 21:10. From the camp in the Arabah, which is not more particularly described, where the murmuring people were punished by fiery serpents, Israel removed to Oboth. According to the list of stations in Num 33:41., they went from Hor to Zalmonah, the situation of which has not been determined; for C. v. Raumer's conjecture (der Zug der Israeliten, p. 45), that it was the same place as the modern Maan, has no firm basis in the fact that Maan is a station of the Syrian pilgrim caravans. From Zalmonah they went to Phunon, and only then to Oboth. The name Phunon is no doubt the same as Phinon, a tribe-seat of the Edomitish Phylarch (Gen 36:41); and according to Jerome (Onom. s. v. Fenon), it was "a little village in the desert, where copper was dug up by condemned criminals (see at Gen 36:41), between Petra and Zoar." This statement suits very well, provided we imagine the situation of Phunon to have been not in a straight line between Petra and Zoar, but more to the east, between the mountains on the edge of the desert. For the Israelites unquestionably went from the southern end of the Arabah to the eastern side of Idumaea, through the Wady el Ithm (Getum), which opens into the Arabah from the east, a few hours to the north of Akaba and the ancient Ezion-geber. They had then gone round the mountains of Edom, and begun to "turn to the north" (Deu 2:3), so that they now proceeded farther northwards, on the eastern side of the mountains of Edom, "through the territory of the sons of Esau," no doubt by the same road which is taken in the present day by the caravans which go from Gaza to Maan, through the Ghor. "This runs upon a grassy ridge, forming the western border of the coast of Arabia, and the eastern border of the cultivated land, which stretches from the land of Edom to the sources of the Jordan, on the eastern side of the Ghor" (v. Raumer, Zug, p. 45). On the western side of their mountains the Edomites had refused permission to the Israelites to pass through their land (Num 20:18.), as the mountains of Seir terminate towards the Ghor (the Arabah) in steep and lofty precipices, and there are only two or three narrow wadys which intersect them from west to east; and of these the Wady Ghuweir is the only one which is practicable for an army, and even this could be held so securely by a moderate army, that no enemy could force its way into the heart of the country (see Leake in Burckhardt, pp. 21, 22; and Robinson, ii. p. 583). It was different on the eastern side, where the mountains slope off into a wide extent of table-land, which is only slightly elevated above the desert of Arabia. Here, on the weaker side of their frontier, the Edomites lost the heart to make any attack upon the Israelites, who would now have been able to requite their hostilities. But the Lord had commanded Israel not to make war upon the sons of Esau; but when passing through their territory, to purchase food and water from them for money (Deu 2:4-6). The Edomites submitted to the necessity, and endeavoured to take advantage of it, by selling provisions, "in the same way in which, at the present day, the caravan from Mecca is supplied with provisions by the inhabitants of the mountains along the pilgrim road" (Leake in Burckhardt, p. 24). The situation of Oboth cannot be determined.

Num 21:11-12

The next encampment was "Ije-Abarim in the desert, which lies before Moab towards the sun-rising," i.e., on the eastern border of Moabitis (Num 33:44). As the Wady el Ahsy, which runs into the Dead Sea, in a deep and narrow rocky bed, from the south-east, and is called el Kerahy in its lower part (Burckhardt, Syr. pp. 673-4), separates Idumaea from Moabitis; Ije-Abarim (i.e., ruins of the crossings over) must be sought for on the border of Moab to the north of this wady, but is hardly to be found, as Knobel supposes, on the range of hills called el Tarfuye, which is known by the name of Orokaraye, still farther to the south, and terminates on the south-west of Kerek, whilst towards the north it is continued in the range of hills called el Ghoweithe and the mountain range of el Zoble; even supposing that the term Abarim, "the passages or sides," is to be understood as referring to these ranges of hills and mountains which skirt the land of the Amorites and Moabites, and form the enclosing sides. For the boundary line between the hills of el-Tarfuye and those of el-Ghoweithe is so near to the Arnon, that there is not the necessary space between it and the Arnon for the encampment at the brook Zared (Num 21:12). Ije-Abarim or Jim cannot have been far from the northern shore of the el Ahsy, and was probably in the neighbourhood of Kalaat el Hassa (Ahsa), the source of the Ahsy, and a station for the pilgrim caravans (Burckhardt, p. 1035). As the Moabites were also not to be attacked by the Israelites (Deu 2:9.), they passed along the eastern border of Moabitis as far as the brook Zared (Num 21:12). This can hardly have been the Wady el-Ahsy (Robinson, ii. p. 555; Ewald, Gesch. ii. p. 259; Ritter, Erdk. xv. p. 689); for that must already have been crossed when they came to the border of Moab (Num 21:11). Nor can it well have been "the brook Zaide, which runs from the south-east, passes between the mountain ranges of Ghoweithe and Tarfuye, and enters the Arnon, of which it forms the leading source," - the view adopted by Knobel, on the very questionable ground that the name is a corruption of Zared. In all probability it was the Wady Kerek, in the upper part of its course, not far from Katrane, on the pilgrim road (v. Raumer, Zug, p. 47: Kurtz, and others).

Num 21:13

The next encampment was "beyond (i.e., by the side of) the Arnon, which is in the desert, and that cometh out of the territory of the Amorites." The Arnon, i.e., the present Wady Mojeb, is formed by the union of the Seyl (i.e., brook or river) Sade, which comes from the south-east, not far from Katrane, on the pilgrim road, and the Lejum from the north-east, which receives the small rivers el Makhreys and Balua, the latter flowing from the pilgrim station Kalaat Balua, and then continues its course to the Dead Sea, through a deep and narrow valley, shut in by very steep and lofty cliffs, and covered with blocks of stone, that have been brought down from the loftier ground (Burckhardt, pp. 633ff.), so that there are only a few places where it is passable; and consequently a wandering people like the Israelites could not have crossed the Mojeb itself to force an entrance into the territory of the hostile Amorites.

(Note: It is utterly inconceivable that a whole people, travelling with all their possessions as well as with their flocks, should have been exposed without necessity to the dangers and enormous difficulties that would attend the crossing of so dreadfully wild and so deep a valley, and that merely for the purpose of forcing an entrance into an enemy's country. - Ritter, Erdk. xv. p. 1207.)

For the Arnon formed the boundary between Moab and the country of the Amorites. The spot where Israel encamped on the Arnon must be sought for in the upper part of its course, where it is still flowing "in the desert;" not at Wady Zade, however, although Burckhardt calls this the main source of the Mojeb, but at the Balua, which flows into the Lejum. In all probability these streams, of which the Lejum came from the north, already bore the name of Arnon; as we may gather from the expression, "that cometh out of the coasts of the Amorites." The place of Israel's encampment, "beyond the Arnon in the desert," is to be sought for, therefore, in the neighbourhood of Kalaat Balua, and on the south side of the Arnon (Balua). This is evident enough from Deu 2:24, Deu 2:26., where the Israelites are represented as entering the territory of the Amoritish king Sihon, when they crossed the Arnon, having first of all sent a deputation, with a peaceable request for permission to pass through his land (cf. Num 21:21.). Although this took place, according to Deu 2:26, "out of the wilderness of Kedemoth," an Amoritish town, it by no means follows that the Israelites had already crossed the Arnon and entered the territory of the Amorites, but only that they were standing on the border of it, and in the desert which took its name from Kedemoth, and ran up to this, the most easterly town, as the name seems to imply, of the country of the Amorites. After the conquest of the country, Kedemoth was allotted to the Reubenites (Jos 13:18), and made into a Levitical city (Jos 21:37; Ch1 6:64).

The Israelites now received instructions from the Lord, to cross the river Arnon, and make war upon the Amoritish king Sihon of Heshbon, and take possession of his land, with the assurance that the Lord had given Sihon into the hand of Israel, and would fill all nations before them with fear and trembling (Deu 2:24-25). This summons, with its attendant promises, not only filled the Israelites with courage and strength to enter upon the conflict with the mightiest of all the tribes of the Canaanites, but inspired poets in the midst of them to commemorate in odes the wars of Jehovah, and His victories over His foes. A few verses are given here out of one of these odes (Deu 2:14.), not for the purpose of verifying the geographical statement, that the Arnon touches the border of Moabitis, or that the Israelites had only arrived at the border of the Moabite and Amorite territory, but as an evidence that there, on the borders of Moab, the Israelites had been inspired through the divine promises with the firm assurance that they should be able to conquer the land of the Amorites which lay before them.

Num 21:14-15

"Therefore," sc., because the Lord had thus given king Sihon, with all his land, into the hand of Israel, "it is written in the book of the wars of the Lord: Vaheb (Jehovah takes) in storm, and the brooks of Arnon and the valley of the brooks, which turns to the dwelling of Ar, and leans upon the border of Moab." The book of the wars of Jehovah is neither an Amoritish book of the conflicts of Baal, in which the warlike feats performed by Sihon and other Amoritish heroes with the help of Baal were celebrated in verse, as G. Unruh fabulously asserts in his Zug der Isr. aus Aeg. nach Canaan (p. 130), nor a work "dating from the time of Jehoshaphat, containing the early history of the Israelites, from the Hebrew patriarchs till past the time of Joshua, with the law interwoven," which is the character that Knobel's critical fancy would stamp upon it, but a collection of odes of the time of Moses himself, in celebration of the glorious acts of the Lord to and for the Israelites; and "the quotation bears the same relation to the history itself, as the verses of Krner would bear to the writings of any historian of the wars of freedom, who had himself taken part in these wars, and introduced the verses into his own historical work" (Hengstenberg).

(Note: "That such a book should arise in the last days of Moses, when the youthful generation began for the first time to regard and manifest itself, both vigorously and generally, as the army of Jehovah, is so far from being a surprising fact, that we can scarcely imagine a more suitable time for the commencement of such a work" (Baumgarten). And if this is the case, the allusion to this collection of odes cannot be adduced as an argument against the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, since Moses certainly did not write out the history of the journey from Kadesh to the Arboth Moab until after the two kings of the Amorites had been defeated, and the land to the east of the Jordan conquered, or till the Israelites had encamped in the steppes of Moab, opposite to Jericho.)

The strophe selected from the ode has neither subject nor verb in it, as the ode was well known to the contemporaries, and what had to be supplied could easily be gathered from the title, "Wars of Jehovah." Vaheb is no doubt the proper name of an Amoritish fortress; and בּסוּפה, "in storm," is to be explained according to Nah 1:3, "The Lord, in the storm is His way." "Advancing in storm, He took Vaheb and the brooks of Arnon," i.e., the different wadys, valleys cut by brooks, which open into the Arnon. הנּחלים אשׁד, lit., pouring of the brooks, from אשׁד, effusio, the pouring, then the place where brooks pour down, the slope of mountains or hills, for which the term אשׁדה is generally used in the plural, particularly to denote the slopes of the mountains of Pisgah (Deu 3:17; Deu 4:49; Jos 12:3; Jos 13:20), and the hilly region of Palestine, which formed the transition from the mountains to the plain (Jos 10:40 and Jos 12:8). שׁבת, the dwelling, used poetically for the dwelling-place, as in Sa2 23:7 and Oba 1:3. ער (Ar), the antiquated form for עיר, a city, is the same as Ar Moab in Num 21:28 and Isa 15:1, "the city of Moab, on the border of the Arnon, which is at the end of the (Moabitish) territory" (Num 22:36). It was called Areopolis by the Greeks, and was near to Aror (Deu 2:36 and Jos 13:9), probably standing at the confluence of the Lejum and Mojeb, in the "fine green pasture land, in the midst of which there is a hill with some ruins," and not far away the ruin of a small castle, with a heap of broken columns (Burckhardt, Syr. p. 636). This Ar is not to be identified with the modern Rabba, in the midst of the land of the Moabites, six hours to the south of Lejum, to which the name Areopolis was transferred in the patristic age, probably after the destruction of Ar, the ancient Areopolis, by an earthquake, of which Jerome gives an account in connection with his own childhood (see his Com. on Isa 15:1-9), possibly the earthquake which occurred in the year a.d. 342, and by which many cities of the East were destroyed, and among others Nicomedia (cf. Hengstenberg, Balaam, pp. 525-528; Ritter, Erdkunde, xv. pp. 1212ff.; and v. Raumer, Palstina, pp. 270, 271, Ed. 4).

Num 21:16-19

They proceeded thence to Beer (a well), a place of encampment which received its name from the fact that here God gave the people water, not as before by a miraculous supply from a rock, but by commanding wells to be dug. This is evident from the ode with which the congregation commemorated this divine gift of grace. "Then Israel sang this song: Spring up, O well! Sing ye to it! Well which princes dug, which the nobles of the people hollowed out, with the sceptre, with their staves." ענה, as in Exo 15:21 and Exo 32:18. מחקק, ruler's staff, cf. Gen 49:10. Beer, probably the same as Beer Elim (Isa 15:8), on the north-east of Moab, was in the desert; for the Israelites proceeded thence "from the desert to Mattanah" (Num 21:18), thence to Nahaliel, and thence to Bamoth. According to Eusebius (cf. Reland, Pal. ill. p. 495), Mattanah (Μαθθανέμ) was by the valley of the Arnon, twelve Roman miles to the east (or more properly south-east or south) of Medabah, and is probably to be seen in Tedun, a place now lying in ruins, near the source of the Lejum (Burckhardt, pp. 635, 636; Hengstenberg, Balaam, p. 530; Knobel, and others). The name of Nahaliel is still retained in the form Encheileh. This is the name given to the Lejum, after it has been joined by the Balua, until its junction with the Saide (Burckhardt, p. 635). Consequently the Israelites went from Beer in the desert, in a north-westerly direction to Tedun, then westwards to the northern bank of the Encheileh, and then still farther in a north-westerly and northerly direction to Bamoth. There can be no doubt that Bamoth is identical with Bamoth Baal, i.e., heights of Baal (Num 22:4). According to Jos 13:17 (cf. Isa 15:2), Bamoth was near to Dibon (Dibn), between the Wady Wale and Wady Mojeb, and also to Beth-Baal Meon, i.e., Myun, half a German mile (2 1/2 English) to the south of Heshbon; and, according to Num 22:41, you could see Bamoth Baal from the extremity of the Israelitish camp in the steppes of Moab. Consequently Bamoth cannot be the mountain to the south of Wady Wale, upon the top of which Burckhardt says there is a very beautiful plain (p. 632; see Hengstenberg, Balaam, p. 532); because the steppes of Moab cannot be seen at all from this plain, as they are covered by the Jebel Attarus. It is rather a height upon the long mountain Attarus, which runs along the southern shore of the Zerka Maein, and may possibly be a spot upon the summit of the Jebel Attarus, "the highest point in the neighbourhood," upon which, according to Burckhardt (p. 630), there is "a heap of stones overshadowed by a very large pistachio-tree." A little farther down to the south-west of this lies the fallen town Kereijat (called Krriat by Seetzen, ii. p. 342), i.e., Kerioth, Jer 48:24; Amo 2:2.

Num 21:20

From Bamoth they proceeded "to the valley, which (is) in the field of Moab, upon the top of Pisgah, and looks across the face of the desert." הפּסנּה ראשׁ, head, or height of the Pisgah, is in apposition to the field of Moab. The "field of Moab" was a portion of the table-land which stretches from Rabbath Ammn to the Arnon, which "is perfectly treeless for an immense distance in one part (viz., the neighbourhood of Eleale), but covered over with the ruins of towns that have been destroyed," and which "extends to the desert of Arabia towards the east, and slopes off to the Jordan and the Dead Sea towards the west" (v. Raumer, Pal. p. 71). It is identical with "the whole plain from Medeba to Dibon" (Jos 13:9), and "the whole plain by Medeba" (Num 21:16), in which Heshbon and its cities were situated (Num 21:17; cf. Num 21:21 and Deu 3:10). The valley in this tableland was upon the height of Pisgah, i.e., the northern part of the mountains of Abarim, and looked across the surface of the desert. Jeshimon, the desert, is the plain of Ghor el Belka, i.e., the valley of desolation on the north-eastern border of the Dead Sea, which stretches from the Wady Menshalla or Wady Ghuweir (el Guer) to the small brook el Szume (Wady es Suweimeh on Van de Velde's map) at the Dead Sea, and narrows it more and more at the northern extremity on this side. "Ghor el Belka consists in part of a barren, salt, and stony soil; though there are some portions which can be cultivated. To the north of the brook el Szume, the great plain of the Jordan begins, which is utterly without fertility till you reach the Nahr Hesbn, about two hours distant, and produces nothing but bitter, salt herbs for camels" (Seetzen, ii. pp. 373, 374), and which was probably reckoned as part of Jeshimon, since Beth-jeshimoth was situated within it (see at Num 23:28). The valley in which the Israelites were encamped in the field of Moab upon the top of Pisgah, is therefore to be sought for to the west of Heshbon, on the mountain range of Abarim, which slopes off into the Ghor el Belka. From this the Israelites advanced into the Arboth Moab (see Num 22:1).

If we compare the places of encampment named in Num 21:11-20 with the list of stations in Num 33:41-49, we find, instead of the seven places, mentioned here between Ijje Abarim and the Arboth Moab,-viz., Brook Zared, on the other side of the Arnon in the desert, Beer, Mattana, Nahaliel, Bamoth, and the valley in the field of Moab upon the top of Pisgah-only three places given, viz., Dibon of Gad, Almon Diblathaim, and Mount Abarim before Nebo. That the last of these is only another name for the valley in the field of Moab upon the top of Pisgah, is undoubtedly proved by the fact that, according to Deu 34:1 (cf. Num 3:27), Mount Nebo was a peak of Pisgah, and that it was situated, according to Deu 32:49, upon the mountains of Abarim, from which it is evident at once that the Pisgah was a portion of the mountains of Abarim, and in fact the northern portion opposite to Jericho (see at Num 27:12). The two other differences in the names may be explained from the circumstance that the space occupied by the encampment of the Israelites, an army of 600,000 men, with their wives, children, and cattle, when once they reached the inhabited country with its towns and villages, where every spot had its own fixed name, must have extended over several places, so that the very same encampment might be called by one or other of the places upon which it touched. If Dibon Gad (Num 33:45) was the Dibon built (i.e., rebuilt or fortified) by the Gadites after the conquest of the land (Num 32:3, Num 32:34), and allotted to the Reubenites (Jos 13:9, Jos 13:17), which is still traceable in the ruins of Dibn, an hour to the north of the Arnon (v. Raumer, Pal. p. 261), (and there is no reason to doubt it), then the place of encampment, Nahaliel (Encheile), was identical with Dibon of Gad, and was placed after this town in Num 33:45, because the camp of the Israelites extended as far as Dibon along the northern bank of that river. Almon Diblathaim also stands in the same relation to Bamoth. The two places do not appear to have been far from one another; for Almon Diblathaim is probably identical with Beth Diblathaim, which is mentioned in Jer 48:22 along with Dibon, Nebo, and other Moabite towns, and is to be sought for to the north or north-west of Dibon. For, according to Jerome (Onom. s. v. Jassa), Jahza was between Medaba and Deblatai, for which Eusebius has written Δηβούς by mistake for Διβών; Eusebius having determined the relative position of Jahza according to a more southerly place, Jerome according to one farther north. The camp of the Israelites therefore may easily have extended from Almon or Beth-diblathaim to Bamoth, and might very well take its name from either place.

(Note: Neither this difference in the names of the places of encampment, nor the material diversity, - viz., that in the chapter before us there are four places more introduced than in Num 33, whereas in every other case the list in Num 33 contains a larger number of stations than we read of in the historical account-at all warrants the hypothesis, that the present chapter is founded upon a different document from Num 33. For they may be explained in a very simple manner, as Kurtz has most conclusively demonstrated (vol. iii. pp. 383-5), from the diversity in the character of the two chapters. Num 33 is purely statistical. The catalogue given there "contains a complete list in regular order of all the stations properly so called, that is to say, of those places of encampment where Israel made a longer stay than at other times, and therefore not only constructed an organized camp, but also set up the tabernacle." In the historical account, on the other hand, the places mentioned are simply those which were of historical importance. For this reason there are fewer stations introduced between Mount Hor and Ijje Abarim than in Num 33, stations where nothing of importance occurred being passed over; but, on the other hand, there are a larger number mentioned between Ijje Abarim and Arboth Moab, and some of them places where no complete camp was constructed with the tabernacle set up, probably because they were memorable as starting-points for the expeditions into the two Amorite kingdoms.)

Numbers 21:21

num 21:21

Defeat of the Amorite Kings, Sihon of Heshbon and Og of Bashan, and Conquest of their Kingdoms.

Num 21:21-23

When the Israelites reached the eastern border of the kingdom of the Amorite king Sihon (see at Num 21:13), they sent messengers to him, as they had previously done to the king of Edom, to ask permission to pass peaceably through his territory upon the high road (cf. Num 21:22 and Num 20:17); and Sihon refused this request, just as the king of Edom had done, and marched with all his people against the Israelites. But whereas the Lord forbade the Israelites to make war upon their kinsmen the Edomites, He now commanded them to make war upon the Amorite king, and take possession of his land (Deu 2:24-25); for the Amorites belonged to the Canaanitish tribes which were ripe for the judgment of extermination (Gen 15:16). And if, notwithstanding this, the Israelites sent to him with words of peace (Deu 2:26), this was simply done to leave the decision of his fate in his own hand (see at Deu 2:24). Sihon came out against the Israelites into the desert as far as Jahza, where a battle was fought, in which he was defeated. The accounts of the Onom. concerning Jahza, which was situated, according to Eusebius, between Medamon (Medaba) and Debous (Dibon, see above), and according to Jerome, between Medaba and Deblatai, may be reconciled with the statement that it was in the desert, provided we assume that it was not in a straight line between the places named, but in a more easterly direction on the edge of the desert, near to the commencement of the Wady Wale, a conclusion to which the juxtaposition of Jahza and Mephaot in Jos 13:18; Jos 21:37, and Jer 48:21, also points (see at Jos 13:18).

Num 21:24-26

Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, i.e., without quarter (see Gen 34:26), and took possession of his land "from Arnon (Mojeb) to the Jabbok, unto the children of Ammon," i.e., to the upper Jabbok, the modern Nahr or Moiet Ammn. The Jabbok, now called Zerka, i.e., the blue, does not take its rise, as Seetzen supposed, on the pilgrim-road by the castle of Zerka; but its source, according to Abulfeda (tab. Syr. p. 91) and Buckingham, is the Nahr Ammn, which flowed down from the ancient capital of the Ammonites, and was called the upper Jabbok, and formed the western border of the Ammonites towards the kingdom of Sihon, and subsequently towards Gad (Deu 2:37; Deu 3:16; Jos 12:2). "For the border of the Ammonites was strong" (firm), i.e., strongly fortified; "for which reason Sihon had only been able to push his conquests to the upper Jabbok, not into the territory of the Ammonites." This explanation of Knobel's is perfectly correct; since the reason why the Israelites did not press forward into the country of the Ammonites, was not the strength of their frontier, but the word of the Lord, "Make not war upon them, for I shall give thee no possession of the land of the children of Ammon" (Deu 2:19). God had only promised the patriarchs, on behalf of their posterity, that He would give them the land of Canaan, which was bounded towards the east by the Jordan (Num 34:2-12; compared with Gen 10:19 and Gen 15:19-21); and the Israelites would have received no settlement at all on the eastern side of the Jordan, had not the Canaanitish branch of the Amorites extended itself to that side in the time of Moses, and conquered a large portion of the possessions of the Moabites, and also (according to Jos 13:25, as compared with Jdg 11:13) of the Ammonites, driving back the Moabites as far as the Arnon, and the Ammonites behind the Nahr Ammn. With the defeat of the Amorites, all the land that they had conquered passed into the possession of the Israelites, who took possession of these towns (cf. Deu 2:34-36). The statement in Num 21:25, that Israel settled in all the towns of the Amorites, is somewhat anticipatory of the history itself, as the settlement did not occur till Moses gave the conquered land to the tribes of Reuben and Gad for a possession (Num 32). The only places mentioned here are Heshbon and her daughters, i.e., the smaller towns belonging to it (cf. Jos 13:17), which are enumerated singly in Num 32:34-38, and Jos 13:15-28. In explanation of the expression, "Heshbon and her daughters," it is added in Num 21:26, that Heshbon was the city, i.e., the capital of the Amorite king Sihon, who had made war upon the former king of Moab, and taken away all his land as far as the Arnon. Consequently, even down to the time of the predecessor of Balak, the king of the Moabites at that time, the land to the north of the Arnon, and probably even as far as the lower Jabbok, to which point the kingdom of Sihon extended (see Deu 3:12-13; Jos 12:5), belonged to the Moabites. And in accordance with this, the country where the Israelites encamped opposite to Jericho, before crossing the Jordan, is reckoned as part of the land of Moab (Deu 1:5; Deu 29:1; Deu 32:49; Deu 34:5-6), and called Arboth Moab (see Num 22:1); whilst the women who seduced the Israelites to join in the idolatrous worship of Baal Peor are called daughters of Moab (Num 25:1).

Num 21:27-28

The glorious conquest and destruction of the capital of the powerful king of the Amorites, in the might of the Lord their God, inspired certain composers of proverbs (משׁלים denom. from משׁל) to write songs in commemoration of the victory. Three strophes are given from a song of this kind, and introduced with the words "therefore,' sc., because Heshbon had fallen in this manner, "the composers of proverbs say." The first strophe (Num 21:27 and Num 21:28) runs thus: "Come to Heshbon: Built and restored be the city of Sihon! For fire went out of Heshbon; flames from the city of Sihon. It devoured Ar Moab, the lords of the heights of Arnon." The summons to come to Heshbon and build this ruined city up again, was not addressed to the Israelites, but to the conquered Amorites, and is to be interpreted as ironical (F. v. Meyer; Ewald, Gesch. ii. pp. 267, 268): "Come to Heshbon, ye victorious Amorites, and build your royal city up again, which we have laid in ruins! A fire has gone out of it, and burned up Ar Moab, and the lords of the heights of the Arnon." The reference is to the war-fire, which the victorious Amorites kindled from Heshbon in the land of Moab under the former king of Moab; that is to say, the war in which they subjugated Ar Moab and the possessors of the heights of Arnon. Ar Moab (see at Num 21:15) appears to have been formerly the capital of all Moabitis, or at least of that portion of it which was situated upon the northern side of the Arnon; and the prominence given to it in Deu 2:9, Deu 2:18, Deu 2:29, is in harmony with this. The heights of Arnon are mentioned as the limits to which Sihon had carried his victorious supremacy over Moab. The "lords" of these heights are the Moabites.

Num 21:29

Second strophe: "Woe to thee, Moab! Thou art lost, people of Chemosh! He has given up his sons as fugitives, and his daughters into captivity-To Sihon, king of the Amorites." The poet here turns to Moab, and announces its overthrow. Chemosh (כּמושׁ, from כּמושׁ = כּבשׁ, subactor, domitor) was the leading deity of the Moabites (Jer 48:7) as well as of the Ammonites (Jdg 11:24), and related not only to Milcom, a god of the Ammonites, but also to the early Canaanitish deity Baal and Moloch. According to a statement of Jerome (on Isa 15:1-9), it was only another name for Baal Peor, probably a god of the sun, which was worshipped as the king of his nation and the god of war. He is found in this character upon the coins of Areopolis, standing upon a column, with a sword in his right hand and a lance and shield in the left, and with two fire-torches by his side (cf. Ekhel doctr. numm. vet. iii. p. 504), and was appeased by the sacrifice of children in times of great distress (Kg2 3:27). Further information, and to some extent a different view, are found in the article by J. G. Mller in Herzog's Cyclopaedia. The subject to נתן is neither Moab nor Jehovah, but Chemosh. The thought is this: as Chemosh, the god of Moab, could not deliver his people from the Amorite king; so now that Israel has conquered the latter, Moab is utterly lost. In the triumph which Israel celebrated over Moab through conquering its conquerors, there is a forewarning expressed of the ultimate subjection of Moab under the sceptre of Israel.

Num 21:30

Third strophe, in which the woe evoked upon Moab is justified: "We cast them down: Heshbon is lost even to Dibon; and we laid it waste even to Nophah, with fire to Medeba." ונּירם is the first pers. pl. imperf. Kal of ירה with the suffix ־ם for ־ם (as in Exo 29:30). ירה, to cast arrows, to shoot down (Exo 19:13): figuratively to throw to the ground (Exo 15:4). נשּׁים for נשּׁם, first pers. pl. imperf. Hiph. of נשׁה, synonymous with נצה, Jer 4:7. The suffixes of both verbs refer to the Moabites as the inhabitants of the cities named. Accordingly Heshbon also is construed as a masculine, because it was not the town as such, but the inhabitants, that were referred to. Heshbon, the residence of king Sihon, stood pretty nearly in the centre between the Arnon and the Jabbok (according to the Onom. twenty Roman miles from the Jordan, opposite to Jericho), and still exists in extensive ruins with deep bricked wells, under the old name of Hesbn (cf. v. Raumer, Pal. p. 262). On Dibon in the south, not more than an hour from Arnon. Nophach is probably the same as Nobach, Jdg 8:11, but not the same as Kenath, which was altered into Nobach (Num 32:42). According to Jdg 8:11, it was near Jogbeha, not far from the eastern desert; and in all probability it still exists in the ruined place called Nowakis (Burckhardt, p. 619; Buckingham, ii. p. 46; Robinson, App. p. 188), to the north-west of Ammn (Rabbath-Ammon). Nophach, therefore, is referred to as a north-eastern town or fortress, and contrasted with Dibon, which was in the south. The words which follow, עד מ אשׁר, "which to Medeba," yield no intelligible meaning. The Seventy give πῦρ ἐπὶ Μ. (fire upon Medeba), and seem to have adopted the reading עד אשׁ. In the Masoretic punctuation also, the ר in אשׁר is marked as suspicious by a punct. extraord. Apparently, therefore, אשׁר was a copyist's error of old standing for אשׁ, and is to be construed as governed by the verb נשּׁים, "with fire to Medeba." The city was about two hours to the south-east of Heshbon, and is still to be seen in ruins bearing the name of Medaba, upon the top of a hill of about half-an-hour's journey in circumference (Burckhardt, p. 625; v. Raumer, Pal. pp. 264-5).

(Note: Ewald and Bleek (Einleitung in d. A. T. p. 200) are both agreed that this ode was composed on the occasion of the defeat of the Amorites by the Israelites, and particularly on the capture of the capital Heshbon, as it depicts the fall of Heshbon in the most striking way; and this city was rebuilt shortly afterwards by the Reubenites, and remained ever afterwards a city of some importance. Knobel, on the other hand, has completely misunderstood the meaning and substance of the verses quoted, and follows some of the earliest commentators, such as Clericus and others, in regarding the ode as an Amoritish production, and interpreting it as relating to the conquest and fortification of Heshbon by Sihon.)

Num 21:31-32

When Israel was sitting, i.e., encamped, in the land of the Amorites, Moses reconnoitred Jaezer, after which the Israelites took "its daughters," i.e., the smaller places dependent upon Jaezer, and destroyed the Amorites who dwelt in them. It is evident from Num 32:35, that Jaezer was not only conquered, but destroyed. This city, which was situated, according to the Onom. (s. v. Jazer), ten Roman miles to the west of Philadelphia (Rabbath-Ammon), and fifteen Roman miles to the north of Heshbon, is most probably to be sought for (as Seetzen supposes, i. pp. 397, 406, iv. p. 216) in the ruins of es Szr, at the source of the Nahr Szr, in the neighbourhood of which Seetzen found some pools, which are probably the remains of "the sea of Jazer," mentioned in Jer 48:32. There is less probability in Burckhardt's conjecture, that it is to be found in the ruins of Ain Hazir, near Kherbet el Suk, to the south-west of es Salt; though v. Raumer (Pal. p. 262) decides in its favour (see my Commentary on Jos 13:25).

Num 21:33-35

The Israelites then turned towards the north, and took the road to Bashan, where king Og came against them with his people, to battle at Edrei. From what point it was that the Israelites entered upon the expedition against Bashan, is not stated either here or in Deu 3:1., where Moses recapitulates these events, and gives a more detailed account of the conquests than he does here, simply because it was of no importance in relation to the main object of the history. We have probably to picture the conquest of the kingdoms of Sihon and Og as taking place in the following manner: namely, that after Sihon had been defeated at Jahza, and his capital had been speedily taken in consequence of this victory, Moses sent detachments of his army from the places of encampment mentioned in Num 21:16, Num 21:18-20, into the different divisions of his kingdom, for the purpose of taking possession of their towns. After the conquest of the whole of the territory of Sihon, the main army advanced to Bashan and defeated king Og in a great battle at Edrei, whereupon certain detachments of the army were again despatched, under courageous generals, to secure the conquest of the different parts of his kingdom (cf. Num 32:39, Num 32:41-42). The kingdom of Og embraced the northern half of Gilead, i.e., the country between the Jabbok and the Mandhur (Deu 3:13; Jos 12:5), the modern Jebel Ajlun, and "all Bashan," or "all the region of Argob" (Deu 3:4, Deu 3:13-14), the modern plain of Jaulan and Hauran, which extended eastwards to Salcah, north-eastwards to Edrei (Deu 3:10), and northwards to Geshur and Maacha (Jos 12:5). For further remarks, see Deu 3:10. There were two towns in Bashan of the name of Edrei. One of them, which is mentioned in Deu 1:4 and Jos 12:4, along with Ashtaroth, as a second residence of king Og, is described in the Onom. (s. v. Ashtaroth and Edrei) as six Roman miles, i.e., fully two hours, from Ashtaroth, and twenty-four or twenty-five miles from Bostra, and called Adraa or Adara. This is the modern Der or Dra (in Burckhardt, p. 385; Seetzen, i. pp. 363, 364), and Draah, Idderat (in Buckingham, Syr. ii. p. 146), a place which still exists, consisting of a number of miserable houses, built for the most part of basalt, and standing upon a small elevation in a treeless, hilly region, with the ruins of an old church and other smaller buildings, supposed to belong to the time when Draa, Adraa (as urbs Arabiae), was an episcopal see, on the east of the pilgrim-road between Remtha and Mezareib, by the side of a small wady (see Ritter, Erdk. xv. pp. 838ff.). The other Edrei, which is mentioned in Deu 3:10 as the north-western frontier of Bashan, was farther towards the north, and is still to be seen in the ruins of Zorah or Ethra (see at Deu 3:10). In the present instance the southern town is intended, which was not far from the south-west frontier of Bashan, as Og certainly did not allow the Israelites to advance to the northern frontier of his kingdom before he gave them battle.

Num 21:34-35

Just as in the case of Sihon, the Lord had also promised the Israelites a victory over Og, and had given him into their power, so that they smote him, with his sons and all his people, without leaving any remnant, and executed the ban, according to Deu 2:34, upon both the kings. (See the notes on Deut 3).

Next: Numbers Chapter 22