Study Notes

Numbers 20:14-21:35

20:14-21 Edom's Refusal

You may remember way back in Genesis that there were two brothers - Jacob, who was the father of the nation Israel, and Esau, Jacob's twin brother. Esau was known as Edom, the father of the Edomites.

So when Moses and all the Israelites arrived at the border of Edom, they expected that this nation who were blood relations would allow them to pass through. To clarify, Moses sent message saying, "We're not going to trample your fields, eat your food, or drink from your wells. We'll just take the direct road straight through."

But the king of Edom said, "If you try and pass through, I'll fight against your people with my army." And, after a second appeal, he did bring out his army.

20:22-29 The Death Of Aaron

Leaving "Kaw-DASHE," the Israelites come to Mount "Hore." Here, the Lord tells Moses and Aaron that it is time for Aaron to die. The people are about to enter the promised land, and, just like Moses, Aaron will not be permitted to enter in because of the incident earlier in chapter 20 when Moses struck the rock.

Aaron's son "El-aw-ZAWR" succeeds him as high priest. The garments are removed from Aaron before he dies so that they will not be defiled.

21:1-3 Victory Over The Canaanites

The Canaanites are the descendants of Noah's son Ham. They fought against the people of Israel and captured some of them. This prompted the people to prayer.

In the book of Acts, we read that

Acts 12:1-5 ...Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church, in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.

Captured comrades prompt people to prayer. One reason that God allows persecution and calamity to come upon us is that often, these are the only times we are praying.

21:4 Impatient

The word translated "impatient" here is "kaw-TSAR." It is a farming term for harvesting, when you reap your fields by cutting them short. The Israelites were getting short-tempered because of the long journey.

21:5 There Is No Food

This is one verse in the Bible that I always chuckle about, because it points out how incredibly blind and stupid we are when we're having a pity party. The people complain,

Num. 21:5 "...there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food."

"There's no food - we hate this food!" Hello?

Of course, through their obedience and their rebellions, God provided manna six days a week. Bread from heaven that could be prepared numerous ways, which tasted like cakes baked with oil. God's supernatural provision was constantly being complained about. "Remember the food we had back in Egypt? Wasn't that good?" Maybe, but they were slaves! Better to eat hamburger in freedom than steak in slavery.

21:6 Fiery Serpents

The people's sin brought about their judgment - fiery serpents that bit the people, killing them. God's judgment is always justified. The only reason we aren't all dead is God's mercy. James tells us that "mercy triumphs over judgment." And Peter said,

2Pet. 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

But here, God has had enough, and sends judgment in the form of serpents.

An interesting parallel here that sin was introduced into the world by a serpent tempting a person who was dissatisfied with the food they had to eat. Now, the judgment for sinning people complaining about what they have to eat comes full circle - serpents being used for the judgment.

21:7-9 The Bronze Serpent

But when repentance came, so did God's grace. And the instrument of judgment became an instrument of salvation. God directed Moses to make a bronze serpent, lift it up on a standard, and whoever was bitten by the serpents could just look at it and live.

This is a quick account of a strange incident - almost something we might pass by without giving another thought to. Until we read that Jesus told Nicodemus,

John 3:14-16 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."

Jesus is saying, "I'm going to be like the bronze serpent - lifted up for the very same reason." The parallels point to another picture of Christ.

In the Scripture, bronze is the metal which symbolizes judgment. The altar of sacrifice, where sins were judged, was made of bronze. When Jesus Christ returns to the earth to judge the world, He is described as having feet of burnished bronze. The Lord also says in Micah,

Micah 4:13 "Arise and thresh, daughter of Zion, For your horn I will make iron And your hoofs I will make bronze, That you may pulverize many peoples, That you may devote to the LORD their unjust gain And their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.

judgment is symbolized by bronze.

The serpent, as we have seen, is a symbol of sin. It was the way sin entered the world in Genesis, it is the way sin was punished in Numbers.

The standard was a wooden pole with a crosspiece to hold up the flag of an army or tribe. Moses was to lifting up a representation of sin being judged on a cross that those bitten would look in faith and be healed.

All the world has been bitten by sin - every person is dying, for

Rom. 6:23 For the wages of sin is death...

But God has judged sin on a cross. In fact,

2Cor. 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin {to be} sin on our behalf...

All the Israelites had to do was turn their heads to look at this thing, and they would be healed! Faith alone in Christ alone.

Notice, too, that God didn't just cure everyone at once - this was judgment for their sin. But He gave them grace. He made provision by doing something for them that they didn't deserve. And He made only one way to be cured. One was enough.

John 14:6 ..."I am the way, and the truth, and the life...

John 8:24 "...Unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins."

Any of the Israelites could choose not to believe - not to look up at that bronze serpent when they were bitten. But the result would be their deaths.

21:10-13 Journeys

After this, the people moved out and camped in "O-BOTH," then on to "Ee-YAY haw-ab-aw-REEM." After that, they went to "WAH-dee ZEH-red," then to "Ar-NOHN."

21:14-15 The Book Of The Wars Of The Lord

The book of the wars of the Lord is quoted as saying, "Vaw-HABE in Soo-FAW, and the WAH-dees of the Ar-NOHN." What this means, no one seems to have a clue, and this is the only historical mention of this book.

This is not the only non-biblical book mentioned in Scripture. We also read of the book of Jashar (Josh 10:13), the book of the acts of Solomon (1Kings 11:41), and the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia (Esth 10:2). These are all references to books common to the day, but not included in Scripture.

21:16-20 Spring Up O Well!

It seems that since the fiery serpents, the people are learning the lessons of faith. Now, instead of murmuring and complaining, they are singing. They had received water from the rock, and now, in this time of dryness are directed to dig for it.

Maybe, even though you're a Christian, you've felt dried out, dried up. Where's that living water that Jesus promised? Where's the torrents gushing forth? May I suggest to you during this period of dryness that you do two things: sing loudly, and dig deeply.

The Israelites sang, "spring up, O well!" Begin to sing praises to the Lord in worship. The Israelites dug into the ground. Dig deep into your soul and clear away the dirt. Search deep inside. If you're a Christian, the well is down there - it just may have been covered up by some dirt. Dig down deep in search of that water. Sing loudly, dig deeply.

The Israelites then went to Mat-taw-NAW to Nakh-al-ee-ALE to Baw-MOTH.

21:21-22 The King's Highway

They sent messengers to King See-KHONE of the Amorites. Again, they promise not to come into contact with the field or wells, but just to stay on the king's highway.

This is a good plan when passing through a land that you are a stranger in. This world is not our home. God has told us that while we're in it, we're not to be of it. If we would just stay on the King's highway instead of getting so sidetracked, we'd be much better off. It is in fact a narrow path:

Matt. 7:14 "...the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it."

How do we know how to stay on the King's highway? We're directed on it through the Word of God:

Ps. 119:105 Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path.

Let's stay on the path.

21:23-31 Possessing The Land Of The Amorites

Now the Israelites begin to occupy the territory of the Amorites. Having been attacked by them, they fought back and won - taking the area of land from the Ar-NOHN to the Yab-BOKE, including the capital city of Khesh-BONE.

21:32-35 Og, King Of Bashan

Then Moses sent spies out to Yah-az-AYR, and conquered that area as well. From there, they went Baw-SHAWN, and came against the enemy at Ed-REH-ee. This put some fear into the Israelites. Why? Because Og, the king, was a giant, the last of the Rephaim. Moses writes,

Deut. 3:11 ...Behold, his bedstead was an iron bedstead; it is in Rabbah of the sons of Ammon. Its length was nine cubits and its width four cubits by ordinary cubit.

A bed that was 13 1/2 feet long, and 6 feet wide! But God told them not to fear. And neither do you have need to fear.

1John 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

Isa. 54:17 "No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper...

Rom. 8:31-39 What then shall we say to these things? If God {is} for us, who {is} against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, FOR THY SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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