Numbers 20:14 – 21:35

Sunday Evening Bible Study

March 8, 1998


The book of Numbers is the book about the History of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness for forty years. They are in the "in-between-state" of having been delivered from the bondage of Egypt, but have yet to enter into the Promised Land that God has for them. But now, after having wandered for forty years, they are on the verge of once more entering into the Promised Land.

Numbers 20

:14-21 Edom refuses passage through their land

:14 Edom

The Edomites were related to the Israelites. The Israelites descended from Jacob, the Edomites descended from Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah.

:17 by the king's high way

Kind of like our own "El Camino Real", this was a well known highway that passed from the Red Sea north to Damascus by way of the Edomite city of Sela (Petra).

:20 Thou shalt not go through

The Edomites weren’t about to let this mass of two million people come through and destroy their land.

:22-29 Aaron dies

:26 Aaron shall be gathered unto his people...

Imagine being told that this was the day you were going to die!

gathered to his people – Another term for death, being gathered with the saints in paradise

:28 Moses stripped Aaron of his garments...

There was the passing of the high priesthood from Aaron to his son Eleazar, and as soon as it was accomplished, Aaron dies.

When our job is finished, we change clothes and go home.

Numbers 21

:1-3 Fighting the Canaanites

:3 Hormah

Meaning "a devoted thing", or, "Destruction"

:3 they utterly destroyed them and their cities

This sounds kind of harsh to us.

There are several problems involved:

1. We have a warped sense of justice today.

In today's society, we have an unjust view of when death is wrong.

It’s wrong to kill whales. But it’s okay to kill unborn children.

The Bible, on the other hand, condemns murder, but not punishment for criminal behavior.

2. People don't understand who the Canaanites were.

These were a people who had a little bit of a morality problem. When it came to their religion, they would worship their gods with crude sexual practices, or even with human sacrifices. These were a people who, when building a house would protect that house from evil spirits by killing their babies and burying them in pots in the foundations of their houses.

We know this from the archaeological remains of their homes.

God would use Israel as a tool of judgment on these wicked people.

:4-9 The Fiery Serpents

:4 the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way

They were getting impatient. It’s going to take longer than they expected.

When we get impatient, trouble's right around the corner.

That's one of the tricks a good salesman will use to get you to break down and buy something. He'll get you to think that if you don't buy it now, right now, that it's going to be gone, or you'll lose your good deal.


Impatience leads to troubles.

As we were talking about this morning, one of the signs of spiritual maturity is patience. It’s part of growing up.

The fruit of the Spirit is patience. The Bible says over and over to "wait on the Lord".

God wants us to slow down and grow at His pace, not ours.

:5 our soul loatheth this light bread

NAS – "we loathe this miserable food"

They're talking about the manna, their mainstay in the wilderness.

If we judged what manna was all about by their comments, we wouldn’t be too excited about it.

But the Psalmist calls it "bread of angels" –

PSA 78:24-25 And He rained down manna upon them to eat, And gave them food from heaven. 25 Man did eat the bread of angels; He sent them food in abundance.

They didn't go hungry, they had an abundance. Problem was it was just all food that was good for them.


Hunger for good things.

We've often talked about how manna is kind of like the word of God. We need to read it daily to feed ourselves. But if we're not careful, it can become "boring" to us. We can get tired of reading it or listening to Bible Studies.

I find that most of the time this happens to me, it's not the teacher that's the problem, it's my heart.

PRO 27:7 A sated man loathes honey, But to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet.

Am I "hungry" to hear from God?

MAT 5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

:6 the Lord sent fiery serpents

Did the serpents actually breathe fire? Or did their bites hurt like a burn? Maybe their coloring was similar to fire? Some translations (NIV) translate the Hebrew "venomous snakes", but the actual word is saraph which means "burning", the same word that is the root of "seraphim", or "burning ones", the angels around the throne of God.

Apparently they were a judgment on the people's complaining.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that the things that happened to Israel in the wilderness were for our instruction, so we could learn from their mistakes.

(1 Cor 10:9 KJV) Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.

They "tried" the Lord, ekpeirazo - to test thoroughly, tempt;

I see this as "putting God's patience to the test", "you're really testing my patience"

The idea of "just how far can I go and get away with it".

:7 Moses prayer for the people

Moses has been so faithful over the last forty years to constantly intercede for the people.

Last week we saw Moses loose his temper with the people and their constant complaining. But give Moses a break, he's changed.

It looks as if God's discipline has worked, Moses simply intercedes for the people.

:9 Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a standard

The symbol that doctors use could be related to this (I thought I heard this somewhere!?). Maybe? A Caduceus was also a winged pole with two serpents, carried by the Greek mythological god Hermes.

Later on, the people would start to worship this bronze serpent.

King Hezekiah, in his reforms, finally took the thing and broke it to pieces and got rid of it.

2KI 18:4 He 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.

"Nehushtan" means simply, "a thing of brass".

The people had taken something that was meant to heal them, and turned it into an idol.


The Danger of Idolatry

That's our tendency, to always be getting our eyes off of God, Who really did the work, and put it on material things, which don't count for much.

Idols (this became an idol) are often found when people aren't experiencing a fresh work of God. Instead we think back to when we "really were close to God" and find ourselves focusing on something like a concert, or a certain pastor or speaker.

The sad thing is that we can take something that has been a wonderful tool in God's hands, and turn it into something that takes us away from God Himself.

Sometimes when I'm not careful, I get to thinking back to "the good old days of the Jesus Movement". But could it be that the best days are still ahead?

:9 when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived

Whenever any person got bit by one of these snakes, all he had to do was to find the bronze serpent and look up at it. That's it.

He didn't have to utter some magic formula.

He didn't have to do some impossible deed.

Just look at the thing of brass.

A person might get bit by a snake and immediately he's faced by the thought, "Do I believe that looking at a brass snake is going to do me any good?"

What good does looking up at a bronze snake do?

It's a physical act that demonstrates faith in God to heal.

Then God would see that that person chose to follow after God's provision rather than disobey God's ways, and God would respond by healing that person.

I wonder if anyone was ever bit by a snake, and refused to look up at the serpent, and then died of his snake bite?


God uses physical things as a point of contact for our faith.

Example: The Hem of His garment

MAT 9:20-22 And behold, a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; 21 for she was saying to herself, "If I only touch His garment, I shall get well." 22 But Jesus turning and seeing her said, "Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well." And at once the woman was made well.

Example: Anointing with oil

JAM 5:14-16 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

With all these things, it's not the actual physical act that's important, God has accomplished the same things without the physical acts. What's important is a person looking to God for their help. Sometimes a physical thing can help that.


Looking to Jesus.

Jesus chose this incident to illustrate what it was like to be saved.

JOH 3:14-16 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. 16 "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.

What was Jesus saying?

1. He would be lifted up.

The serpent was lifted up on a pole.

Jesus was to be lifted up on a cross.

2. The whole point was to lead a person into believing.

Jesus, on a cross, would be placed before the world.

The world only has to believe enough to look to Him and trust Him to save them to receive eternal life.

:10-16 Going to Moab

:13 the Arnon

A river that also empties into the Dead Sea about halfway along its eastern shore. It formed the border between Moab and the Amorites to the north.

:14 the Book of the Wars of the Lord

We no longer have this book. It is no longer "extant".

:14 what He did in the Red Sea

NAS – "Waheb in Suphah"

Apparently a bad translation, according to the Hebrew scholars.

Waheb may be a place, it may be a word in Hebrew that is unknown.

:16 Beer

Hebrew word for well.

Apparently this is another time when the people needed water, separate from the accounts of Massah and Meribah.

:17-20 Going to Pisgah

:17 Spring up, O well!

When was the last time Israel encountered water?

Num.20:2-13 The waters of Meribah

Where Moses blew his chance to go in to the Promised Land

Where Moses disobeyed by not speaking to the rock, but striking it.

We talked about how the Rock was Jesus (1Cor.10), and the picture God was trying to make: Striking the rock the first time (Jesus smitten for us), then speak to the rock (just believe in Him) to receive water.

And now the people are singing to the well!

I know that it says that the leaders dug the well, but it's neat that the people were singing to it.

I can't help but think of the Rivers of Living Water (John 7:37-39) that spring up in us as we worship God in song.

This seems to be were the song "River of Life" comes from (at least partly).

:20 in the land of Moab

There are a few things that happened that are not in the account in Numbers. We get the details later from Moses in the book of Deuteronomy.

When Israel was denied permission by Edom to travel through their land, God warned Israel that He wouldn’t give them any of the Edomite land.

At the same time, God also tells Israel not to hassle the Moabites (Deut.2:9) either.

As we're going to see in chapters 22-25, it's too bad that Moab didn't know this at the time, or else they might not have given Israel so much trouble!

:20 Pisgah

A mountain a few miles due east of the northeast edge of the Dead Sea, almost to the Plains of Moab across from Jericho.

It is also associated with Mount Nebo, from where Moses viewed the promised land before his death (Deut.34:1).

:21-32 Victory over Sihon

:21 Sihon

This fight with Sihon was the turning point for Israel. God seems to have considered this the beginning of their taking the Promised Land.

(Deu 2:24-25 KJV) Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the river Arnon: behold, I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle. {25} This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee.

Sihon, along with the next king, Og, though we don't think about them much, were quite significant parts of Israel's history.

Sihon alone, outside our passage here in Numbers 21, is found in 27 others verses in the Bible! Even by Solomon's time (some 400 years later) that part of the country, Gilead, was known as Sihon's kingdom. (1Ki.4:19)

The battle here would be so important, that God would use this victory to shake up future enemies!

At Jericho

JOS 2:10-11 "For we have heard how the \Lord\ dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 "And when we heard {it,} our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the \Lord\ your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.

The Gibeonites too (Josh.9:9-10)


One victory can build on another.

God often uses the victories in our past to build upon, preparing us for future battles!


1SA 17:34-37 But David said to Saul, "Your servant was tending his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued {it} from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized {him} by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 "Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God." 37 And David said, "The \Lord\ who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." And Saul said to David, "Go, and may the \Lord\ be with you."

Even if you've suffered a few defeats, remember that God is able to give you victory again.

:22 Let me pass through thy land

God promised victory over Sihon (Deut.2:24), so, Israel knew that they were going to have a battle on their hands.

Yet their emissaries came with a message of peace, not war.

They didn't provoke the actual conflict.


Don’t start the fight.

You may have problems with certain people, and God may give you a measure of victory with them, but you are not to be the one to provoke the conflict.

MAT 5:9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

ROM 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

:22 the king's highway

Again, this was a well traveled, main road that ran through Edom and Moab. See maps.

:24 Israel struck him

Though it is Israeli men wielding Israeli weapons, later on Israel would realize that it was God who was doing the real battle.

DEU 31:4-5 "And the \Lord\ will do to them just as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when He destroyed them. 5 "And the \Lord\ will deliver them up before you, and you shall do to them according to all the commandments which I have commanded you.


Sometimes God’s deliverance comes through your hand.

We can get the idea sometimes that if I'm "trusting in the Lord" with my problems, that I can't be doing anything about it.

And sometimes it does mean standing back and doing nothing

Moses was told at the Red Sea: "Stand by and see the salvation ..." (Ex.14:13)

But sometimes, like here, trusting in God can mean getting up and letting God lead you to do something.

:24 from the Arnon to the Jabbok

The territory of the Amorites, of Sihon.

Arnon was Moab's border (though it had extended north of the Arnon before Sihon captured it).

The Jabbok was the Ammonite border.

God had warned Israel not to take the land of the Ammonites (Deut.2).

The Jabbok river was halfway between the Dead Sea and Kinnereth (Galilee).

:26 Heshbon

Sihon's capital. Located east and slightly north of the north edge of the Dead Sea.

:27-29 Sihon's song

Apparently this was one of the top forty tunes of Sihon's day, after he had captured all this territory from the Moabites.

Israel now takes the same tune and adds a new line to it, verse 30.

:29 people of Chemosh

The main god of the Moabites.

He was known in other places as Moloch or Milcom.

Chemosh was worshipped by burning your children to him.

:33-35 Victory over Og

:33 Bashan

Another term for the land of Gilead, the land east of the Jordan to the north, east of the sea of Galilee (or, Kinnereth).

:33 Og

Og was no ordinary guy, he was a giant.

DEU 3:11 (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.)

The Rephaim were a race of giants.

Nine cubits is roughly 13 1/2 feet long! Four cubits is 6 feet wide! That's a BIG bed!

Goliath wasn't the only giant in the Bible.

:34 Do not fear him

He was huge

His cities were made of huge structures. Pulpit Commentary: "the formidable nature of those walled cities which are still a wonder to all that see them.

Even though Og and his surroundings were huge, God was bigger.

What kind of fears do you face?

Why should I not be afraid?

1. Because God loves me so much

ZEC 2:8 For thus says the \Lord\ of hosts, "After glory He has sent me against the nations which plunder you, for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye.

2. Because God is on my side

ROM 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God {is} for us, who {is} against us?

3. Because God is much bigger than my enemies

1JO 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.

4. Because God's will for my life is wonderful, not scary.

(what if God's will for me is a terrible thing and I won't be able to take it?)

JER 29:11 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the \Lord\, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.