We are now entering the third section of the Book of Numbers with this chapter. The events that follow are in preparation for the Israelites entry into the Promised Land.
There were several kings in the land of Canaan and these kings had to be defeated before the Israelites could live in the Promised Land. The time that it took the Israelites to do this was seven years.
This chapter opens up with a battle between the Israelites and the town of Arad. The king of Arad attacked the Israelites as they were traveling to the Promised Land. It was most likely a surprise to them as the king was able to carry some of them away as captives. The Israelites did not try to rescue the prisoners by military force only but first asked God to help them. In doing so they made a promise to God that they would destroy the Canaanite towns completely. The only way to do this was to defeat the Canaanites completely.
To completely destroy something is to give it to God completely. (Leviticus 27:28-29; Deuteronomy 7:2-6) As a result there would be no spoils that the Israelites could keep from their victory in battle. The Canaanites were very wicked people as a result of their wicked religion. An example was that they made human sacrifices to their gods. If the Israelites did not destroy these nations completely these wicked acts would continue. And if the Israelites lived in the same country with the Canaanites they themselves might start sharing in their practices.
God helped the Israelite people to gain the victory over the Canaanites. The Israelites kept their promise to God and destroyed everything to show that it belonged to God.
The king of Edom had refused to allow the Israelites to travel through his land and so they had to go around it. This caused them to be delayed in their journey to the Promised Land. It was also a more difficult trip because they could not travel on the king’s highway. The people once again became impatient and they became angry. As before the people complained to Moses saying the same things that they had said before. But they were not actually telling the truth as they did have food. They had the Manna that God provided to them each day. But they were not thankful for this gift of provision from God. In Psalms we read that it was the food of angels. (Psalm 78:25) In an insulting way the Israelites rejected the food that God was giving them. They also rejected the plan that God had for them to enter into the Promised Land.
Again God punished the people and sent poisonous snakes to bit them. It is interesting that the Hebrew word for poisonous means “something that is burning.” This may have referred to the feeling of the snake bite but it may also refer to the angels that serve God in heaven. (Isaiah 6:2) One of the duties of the angels is to deliver the message from God to His people so this implies that God sent these snakes as a punishment.
The people realizing that they once again had dishonored God apologized because they were sorry for what they had done. They asked Moses to pray for them that God would remove the snakes.
God did not remove the snakes but provided a way that the people that had been bitten could be cured. The cure required the people to look up to a bronze snake that Moses was told by God to erect. If the people looked up to the bronze snake they lived and if they did not they died.
For the Christian this is a very important story. Jesus made a reference to this event when He was talking about death. (John 3:14) As the people lifted up Jesus on the cross Jesus is comparing Himself here with the bronze snake that Moses lifted up. Sin is like poison same as the snake bit and everyone is born with the desire to sin as a result of Adam. (Genesis 3) Sin causes death to the spirit of a person and this is not how God intended for people to live.
God did not remove the snakes and neither did He remove the sin in the world. Instead He provided a way of cure for every person from the result of sin. Just as the Israelites we have to do something to receive the cure. We have to look to the cross and believe that Jesus died on our behalf. Then God will forgive us of all our sins. Jesus suffered the punishment that we deserve.
Every Israelite had to look at the bronze snake and no one else could do it for them. In the same way every person must believe on the name of Jesus and none other can do it on their behalf.
The Israelites continued to travel north between the land of the Moabites and the Amorites. Today we do not have a copy of “The Book of the Wars of the Lord” which is an ancient record of the battles the Israelite people fought. They traveled to a place named Beer which means well. Here God provided water for His people. God may have showed Moses where the people were to dig to find the water.
It had been 40 years since the last recorded song that the Israelite people had sung. (Exodus 15) This time they were not complaining, instead they were happy and expressing their gratitude towards God.
Over the 40 years of their journey God had been their provider.
God provided manna while they were in the desert which nourished their bodies. And God also provided His Son, Jesus, who is the bread of life. (John 6) This is because only Jesus can satisfy our spiritual hunger.
God also provided the cure for the snake bites that the people received. And God gave us the cure for our sin in the death of His Son on the cross of Calvary. (John 3:14-15)
God also provided water for the Israelite people. And Jesus gives us water that gives us life. (John 4:1-13; John 7:37-39) This is not the water that we need for our bodies. In the Bible water is the symbol for the Holy Spirit and every believer receives the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that make our spirits come to life. The Holy Spirit helps us to live in the way that God wants us to live.
The Israelite people reach the top of Pisgah Mountain which is in the Moabite land. From the top of this mountain they could see the Promised Land.
The Amorite people were descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan. (Genesis 10:6-15) They were very powerful people and ruled much territory. But at this time their territory was much smaller that it had been and they lived near the Dead Sea. Moses sent a message to the king of the Amorites much the same as he had sent to the king of the Moabites. Without delay the king Sihon attacked the Israelites people but they were defeated. God had promised Moses that this would happen. (Exodus 23:23)
The Israelites now occupied the land east of the Jordan River and before the Israelites entered into the Promised Land Moses gave this land to Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh’s tribe.
The story of how the Israelites defeated the Amorites was a favored story. (Psalm 136:19) The Amorites had written a song about how they had defeated the Moabites. But the Israelites were even more powerful that the Amorites and the Moabites and they used the song of the Amorites to show this. The first six lines describe how king Sihon defeated the Moabites. (Verses 27-28) the last two lines describe how the Israelites defeated king Sihon. (Verse 30
Moses sent some men to the town of Jazer in order to find the best way to defeat it. Soon the Israelites defeated the town of Jazer and the surrounding villages and drove the remaining Amorites out.
Then the Israelites went to the land of Bashan where their king was named Og. The king led his whole army out to meet the Israelites. King Og wanted to attack the Israelites at the town of Edrei. God had promised Moses that they would defeat king Og’s army and they did completely. This was an important battle for the Israelites as the news of Og’s defeat spread as far as the city of Jericho. (Joshua 2:10) The people who lived in Jericho were very afraid because of the power of the Israelite people and their God. As a result of these victories the Israelites controlled the land east of the Jordan in the land of Canaan.