Numbers
1-3 Fight Against the Canaanites 4-9 The Bronze Serpent 10-20 To the Plains of Moab 21-32 Fight Against Sihon 33-35 Fight Against Og
Fight Against the Canaanites

1When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, then he fought against Israel and took some of them captive. 2So 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.” 3The LORD heard the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites; then they utterly destroyed them and their cities. Thus the name of the place was called Hormah.

Even before the people enter the land, enemies come forward to prevent that. The Canaanites attack and seem to surprise Israel. They take some of the Israelites captive. If we want to enter ‘our land’, that is to say if we want to occupy ourselves with the heavenly blessings, we will also experience that the enemy will try to prevent this with all possible means. We will have to be wary that the enemy does not inadvertently take something away from our strength.

The people make a vow to the LORD; it promises a counterpart, if He also does something for them, namely giving them the victory. The LORD doesn’t blame them for this form of unbelief, but helps and gives a great victory. The place of victory is given the name “Hormah”, which means “ban curse”, “banned”. This means that they dedicate all the spoils to the LORD and give Him the honor of the victory. But great victories are sometimes followed by great defeats, as the following history shows.


The Bronze Serpent

4Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. 5The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” 6The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. 8Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery [serpent], and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” 9And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

First the people have to go in the direction of the Schelfzee again. At the end of the wilderness journey it is useful to look again and to make it well understood that this is the place where we are freed from the power of the enemy. The picture of the cross must come alive before us again. If we can’t appreciate that, there will be grumbling. The people are getting impatient because of the detour they have to make. Again the reason for their grumble is that they have no water and bread. How can they say it! They have it, but they are fed up with it. It can no longer please them.

When the people despise the bread of life, the fiery serpents come and with them death. Throughout their journey through the wilderness they have been surrounded by fiery serpents (Deu 8:14-1514then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.15He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, [with its] fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint.), but the LORD has always kept them. But their aversion to the heavenly bread makes it necessary to teach them (and us!) a penetrating lesson.

The plague of the fiery serpents makes the people reflect. Through the fiery serpents, the people must discover that sin still dwells in them. It concerns the people of God who must learn what effect the bite of a fiery serpent has. Then, for the first time in Numbers, we hear the people say: “We have sinned.” This is the first time they confess guilt.

They appeal to the intercession of Moses. They also tell him what to pray. In doing so, they indicate what they think is best for their recovery. But God always has in mind the glory of the Lord Jesus when hears a prayer. Therefore he does not take away the fiery serpents, as the people suggest. Compare Naäman who also proposes how he can be cleansed from his leprosy (2Kgs 5:1111But Naaman was furious and went away and said, “Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.’).

The LORD gives outcome, but in a way that the salvation is connected to the faith of the people. Moses has to make a bronze serpent and put it on a standard. A single look at the lifted up fiery serpent is enough to be healed. The ‘looking’ at the fiery serpent does have the meaning of intensely looking at. In his conversation with Nicodemus, the Lord Jesus explains the spiritual significance of this event: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-1514As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;15so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.; Rom 8:33For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God [did]: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and [as an offering] for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,; 2Cor 5:2121He made Him who knew no sin [to be] sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.; 1Pet 2:2222who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;; Col 2:14-1514having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.15When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.).

God heals the people not by taking away the serpents, but by adding something to it. Moses must take the means by which the people are plagued. Thus the Lord Jesus had to enter into our circumstances. He could not save us by speaking a word of power or by judging the devil. Then we would have remained in our sins. It is only because He was made sin for us on the cross that it became possible to free us from the power of sin (Jn 3:1515so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.).

The Son of Man must be exalted. This is not so much to forgive sins, although it is included, but He had to be exalted to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. The lifting up on the cross opens the richest, heavenly, eternal blessings for all who believe. The fiery serpent not only speaks of salvation of the serpent’s bite and of not having to die, but on top of that of eternal life. At the end of the wilderness journey we are reminded of this by this history.

We know eternal life in the Father and the Son (Jn 17:33This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.). Eternal life is knowing the Lord Jesus, for He is “the true God and eternal life” (1Jn 5:2020And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.). What eternal life means, we do not know at the beginning of our journey through the wilderness, when we have just been converted. We learn this as we give up more and more of ourselves through the lessons of the wilderness. Then we also see better and better that the eternal life means much more than forgiveness of sins and being freed from hell.

The fiery serpent is taken by the Israelites to Canaan. There it becomes an idolatrous object, that is destroyed by Hezekiah (2Kgs 18:44He removed the high places and broke down the [sacred] pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.). Thus, the cross can be deprived of its true meaning and made into a kind of mascot. For example, a cross can be worn as a piece of jewelry and a protective effect can be attributed to it.


To the Plains of Moab

10Now the sons of Israel moved out and camped in Oboth. 11They journeyed from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness which is opposite Moab, to the east. 12From there they set out and camped in Wadi Zered. 13From there they journeyed and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that comes out of the border of the Amorites, for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the LORD,
“Waheb in Suphah,
And the wadis of the Arnon,
15And the slope of the wadis
That extends to the site of Ar,
And leans to the border of Moab.”
16From there [they continued] to Beer, that is the well where the LORD said to Moses, “Assemble the people, that I may give them water.” 17Then Israel sang this song:
“Spring up, O well! Sing to it!
18“The well, which the leaders sank,
Which the nobles of the people dug,
With the scepter [and] with their staffs.”
And from the wilderness [they continued] to Mattanah, 19and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the land of Moab, at the top of Pisgah which overlooks the wasteland.

The progress of the people along the different places to the plains of Moab is a picture of the spiritual progress that must characterize us as Christians. They first come to Oboth, which means ‘cavities’. Then they move on to Iye-abarim, which means ‘ruins of passages’. This place is connected to “ruins”, “the wilderness” and “Moab” on the one hand, and “to the east”, where the sun rises on the other. It gives a clear picture of our passing through the wilderness of the world, where on the one hand we see the ruins in all parts of society, caused by sin, death and the flesh, and on the other hand we may look forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus as the “Sun of righteousness” rising in the east (Mal 4:22“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.).

The next place is Wadi Zered. Zered which means ‘willow’. Here we are reminded of the grief that we also encounter in our lives. From there we go to Arnon, which may well mean ‘continuous flow’. It shows that in addition to the grief there is also comfort. The Arnon also forms the border between Moab and the Amorites. We live in an area where we are surrounded by enemies. How we defend ourselves there in the battle of faith – the people abide in the plains of Moab, and the Amorites must be defeated – is recorded in “the Book of the Wars of the LORD”.

Everything God wants to give us, we will only be able to take possession of through battle. God looks at this and keeps a record of it in a book. The name of the book shows that He describes our struggle as His. He takes possession of the land through His people. It is His inheritance which He takes possession of in His saints (Eph 1:18c18[I pray that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,). He indicates the border of it.

After the Arnon the people come to Beer, which means ‘well’. Not only does God water us to quench our thirst, He also wants to refresh us abundantly. Some things are said about the well. First of all, that by command of the LORD the people are assembled there. Enjoying the water from the spring, a picture of the Word of God spoken under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is especially something that takes place in the church. Meetings are opportunities for personal refreshment.

The second thing that is said is that it is water that He gives. Drinking of it will bring us to the enjoyment of eternal life (Jn 4:1414but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”). Through the Word we will discover more and more of the Spring Himself. The result, the third aspect, is that we come to worship and sing to the glory of Him from Whom everything comes forth (Rom 11:3636For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him [be] the glory forever. Amen.). Here they sing for the second time in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt. During the wilderness journey, there was no singing, there was only complaining. There has been sung once. However, that is not a song for the glory of God, but for the glory of the golden calf (Exo 32:1818But he said,
“It is not the sound of the cry of triumph,
Nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat;
But the sound of singing I hear.”
).

The fourth aspect has to do with the way in which the water appears. The water that has flowed out of the rock has come from God, by pure grace. The water from the spring appears as a result of the efforts of the leaders of the people. This beautiful result shows the importance of the presence of ‘princes’ who dig wells. The ‘princes’ of God’s people are those who are aware of and live by the position given to them by God. They are concerned with the Word of God, they dig in it.

It is to be hoped that there will be more brothers who will occupy themselves with the Word of God, dig in it. It is also to be hoped that they will pass this on in the meetings of the church and that every proclamation of the Word will result in singing.

The “nobles of the people” sink the well “with the scepter [and] with their staffs”. It is not heavy work. In spiritual terms, nobles are believers who submit to God’s Word. The scepter speaks of this submission, a word that can also be translated as ‘legislator’. With the latter, we can remember that sinking is done on the instructions of Moses, a picture of Christ. Both expressions say something about authority, and that rests with God and His Word. If we acknowledge the authority of God’s Word and act only in accordance with what God says in it, we will be abundantly refreshed.

When they arrive in Beer, there are no more complaints about lack of water. There the jubilation breaks out (cf. Isa 12:33Therefore you will joyously draw water
From the springs of salvation.
). God is made great because of His abundance of refreshment and blessing. There the leaders of the people are busy serving the people. There, the people acknowledge that they have a well at their disposal from which they can drink without restriction.

After Beer they travel to Mattanah (‘gift’) and then to Nahaliel (‘the inheritance of God’) and Bamoth (‘heights’) to finally arrive in valley that is in the land of Moab, at the top of the Pisgah (‘survey’).


Fight Against Sihon

21Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, saying, 22“Let me pass through your land. We will not turn off into field or vineyard; we will not drink water from wells. We will go by the king’s highway until we have passed through your border.” 23But Sihon would not permit Israel to pass through his border. So Sihon gathered all his people and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. 24Then Israel struck him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the sons of Ammon; for the border of the sons of Ammon [was] Jazer. 25Israel took all these cities and Israel lived in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all her villages. 26For 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 out of his hand, as far as the Arnon. 27Therefore those who use proverbs say,
“Come to Heshbon! Let it be built!
So let the city of Sihon be established.
28“For a fire went forth from Heshbon,
A flame from the town of Sihon;
It devoured Ar of Moab,
The dominant heights of the Arnon.
29“Woe to you, O Moab!
You are ruined, O people of Chemosh!
He has given his sons as fugitives,
And his daughters into captivity,
To an Amorite king, Sihon.
30“But we have cast them down,
Heshbon is ruined as far as Dibon,
Then we have laid waste even to Nophah,
Which [reaches] to Medeba.”
31Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites. 32Moses sent to spy out Jazer, and they captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who [were] there.

The third part of the book Numbers begins with the battle against Sihon. Part 1 is Numbers 1-10:10, in which the preparation of the journey is described. Part 2 is Numbers 10:11-21:20, in in which the journey itself is described. The third part, which contains the rest of the book, takes place in the plains of Moab. The spiritual meaning of the journey is that as we go through the world, we are discovered to ourselves and that we learn about the faithfulness of God through the high priest, for us the Lord Jesus. He wants us to learn to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and no longer according to the flesh.

‘The plains of Moab’ also has a spiritual meaning. The special thing about the plains of Moab is that the people are no longer in the wilderness, but they are not yet in the land either. The Jordan has still not been crossed. Spiritually speaking, we are not yet seen as in the letter to the Ephesians, where we see how we are blessed with all the spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. That is the land for us. But we are not there yet. But we are also no longer in the wilderness. Spiritually, we have understood what the letter to the Romans teaches us: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We no longer walk according to the flesh, “but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:1-41Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.3For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God [did]: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and [as an offering] for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,4so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.).

The area of the plains of Moab gives the picture of the Christian that we have in the letter to the Philippians. This Christian is still on earth, he has not yet gone through the Jordan, so to speak, but his whole heart goes out to heaven, to which he presses. We learn this in the rest of Numbers and the whole book Deuteronomy. The heart of the people will be completely focused on the land they will soon enter, so that they will love to enter.

The first thing we encounter in the plains of Moab, is battle. The first enemies are Sihon and Og. So this is not yet the battle in the land. There are different types of battle:
1. In the wilderness there is a defensive battle that cannot be escaped. It is a battle where the people have to fight, but which the LORD takes for his account (Exo 17:8,16b8Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim.16and he said, “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”).
2. In the land there is an attacking battle to conquer the land.
3. In the plains of Moab, it’s a battle they don’t seek and try to avoid, but they can’t escape either. Then they also take possession of the cities of the Amorites, something that has never been the case in their struggle in the wilderness.

The cities on the wilderness side of the Jordan are taken possession of. That is not yet the actual land, because that is on the other side of the Jordan. Later, two and a half tribe will ask for and receive their inheritance in this area. It turns out that they do not appreciate an inheritance in the land. Moses later blames them for this. Just as the land of Canaan speaks of the heavenly places and the spiritual blessings therein, so the territory on this side of the Jordan, the plains of Moab, speaks of the earthly blessings.

The blessing of the Christian consists of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places and not the earthly blessings. To really enjoy the spiritual blessings, we first have to conquer the earthly ones. This means on the one hand that we can accept the earthly blessings gratefully from God’s hand. It also means, on the other hand, that we rule over it and not that we allow ourselves to be dominated by the earthly blessings. Only when we give the earthly blessings their true place, we can occupy ourselves with the heavenly.

Many Christians, and in fact Christianity as a whole, are like the two and a half tribe. They are so satisfied with the earthly blessings that they are not interested in the spiritual blessings and do not worry about them. They focus on the earthly as if the earth is their actual home. This also leads to political efforts to ensure a long and pleasant stay on earth.

That is not God’s intention of earthly blessings. If that’s all, we don’t distinguish ourselves from the unbelievers who also (want to) have these blessings, without, by the way, thanking God for them or involving Him in them. God wants us, His children, to reach out to our real inheritance: the spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, which is the eternal life in Christ.

Sihon and Og are unbelievers. They represent people who possess blessings in the power of the flesh. With them there is no gratitude to God. The characteristic of Sihon is his honor, his fame. He did not conquer the land from the Ammonites for the glory of God, but for his own glory. This is expressed in the song by the poets of proverbs that Moses mentions here. Og uses the land for its own enjoyment. This is reflected in the only characteristic given of him: his giant bed (Deu 3:1111(For only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. 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.)).

In Sihon and Og we see the dangers that the earthly blessings have for us. If we do not keep the flesh in the place of death and walk through the Spirit, we will forget our actual spiritual blessings. The result is that we look for our own honor and pleasure that are connected to the earthly blessings.

After this digression about the spiritual meaning we return to the text. Israel has revived and rejuvenated at Beer. A people who are happy in the LORD is strong (Neh 8:11b11So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”). Through the joy of the well there can be successfully fought against enemies. But first they send messengers to Sihon, as well as to Edom (Num 20:1414From Kadesh Moses then sent messengers to the king of Edom: “Thus your brother Israel has said, ‘You know all the hardship that has befallen us;). Sihon reacts just like Edom. Unlike with Edom, Israel is now ordered to fight against the enemy and to take its land. Already in Genesis 15 God foretold the judgment of the Amorites, but it will only be carried out when their iniquity is full (Gen 15:1616Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”). That moment has now arrived.

In verses 27-3027Therefore those who use proverbs say,
“Come to Heshbon! Let it be built!
So let the city of Sihon be established.
28“For a fire went forth from Heshbon,
A flame from the town of Sihon;
It devoured Ar of Moab,
The dominant heights of the Arnon.
29“Woe to you, O Moab!
You are ruined, O people of Chemosh!
He has given his sons as fugitives,
And his daughters into captivity,
To an Amorite king, Sihon.
30“But we have cast them down,
Heshbon is ruined as far as Dibon,
Then we have laid waste even to Nophah,
Which [reaches] to Medeba.”
, those who use proverbs are quoted to prove that this area first belonged to the Ammonites and was conquered by the Amorites. Some say they are poets of proverbs of Israel, others think they belong to the Amorites. In any case, it is a victory song. In the first case the Ammonites, and in the second case the Amorites are challenged to rebuild their conquered and fire-destroyed capital. The song sings of a total over-winning.

About Moab the “woe to you” is proclaimed. Chemosh, the main god of the Ammonites (Jer 48:77“For because of your trust in your own achievements and treasures,
Even you yourself will be captured;
And Chemosh will go off into exile
Together with his priests and his princes.
) and of the Amorites (Jdg 11:2424Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God has driven out before us, we will possess it.), is a worthless god who is unable to protect the people who have taken him to god. The Ammonites were overpowered by the Amorites and the Amorites were destroyed by the Israelites.

If the area where Sihon reigns had been of the Ammonites, Israel would not have been allowed to take it. Now they are allowed to do so and they can even live there. Jefta appears to be well aware of these historical data. He can later use this to refute the claim of the king of the Ammonites (Jdg 11:13-2313The king of the sons of Ammon said to the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up from Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok and the Jordan; therefore, return them peaceably now.”14But Jephthah sent messengers again to the king of the sons of Ammon,15and they said to him, “Thus says Jephthah, ‘Israel did not take away the land of Moab nor the land of the sons of Ammon.16For when they came up from Egypt, and Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh,17then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let us pass through your land,” but the king of Edom would not listen. And they also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh.18Then they went through the wilderness and around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, and came to the east side of the land of Moab, and they camped beyond the Arnon; but they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon [was] the border of Moab.19And Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land to our place.”20But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people and camped in Jahaz and fought with Israel.21The LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country.22So they possessed all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and from the wilderness as far as the Jordan.23Since now the LORD, the God of Israel, drove out the Amorites from before His people Israel, are you then to possess it?).


Fight Against Og

33Then they turned and went up by the way of Bashan, and Og the king of Bashan went out with all his people, for battle at Edrei. 34But the LORD said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” 35So they killed him and his sons and all his people, until there was no remnant left him; and they possessed his land.

No messengers are sent to Og, who rules the northern half of Gilead and Basan. Og has not been warned by what happened to Sihon. He takes the initiative and attacks Israel. The LORD assures Israel of the victory. With this commitment, the people are fighting and Og is completely defeated. They also take possession of his land.

The victory over Sihon and Og is quoted several times later in the Bible (Neh 9:2222“You also gave them kingdoms and peoples,
And allotted [them] to them as a boundary.
They took possession of the land of Sihon the king of Heshbon
And the land of Og the king of Bashan.
; Psa 135:10-1110He smote many nations
And slew mighty kings,
11Sihon, king of the Amorites,
And Og, king of Bashan,
And all the kingdoms of Canaan;
; 136:18-2018And slew mighty kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
19Sihon, king of the Amorites,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
20And Og, king of Bashan,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
).


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