Numbers 21

Chapter 21

Israel Destroys Arad. 1 When the Canaanite king Arad (who lived in the Negeb) heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the people of Israel and took some of them prisoner. 2 [a]Israel made a vow to the Lord saying, “If you will deliver this people into our hands, then we will utterly destroy their cities!” 3 The Lord listened to the plea of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites. They totally destroyed them and their cities, therefore the place is called Hormah.

The Bronze Serpent.[b] 4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the way to the Red Sea in order to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became discouraged along the way. 5 The people spoke against God and Moses, saying, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to have us die in the desert. There is no bread, no water, and we loathe this miserable food.”[c]

6 The Lord sent seraph[d] serpents among the people. They bit the people, and many of the people of Israel died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord so that he might save us from the serpents.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a seraph serpent and put it upon a pole. Whoever has been bitten and looks upon it will live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and put it upon a pole. If someone had been bitten by a serpent and he looked up at the bronze serpent, he lived.

10 The Move to Moab. The people of Israel moved on and camped in Oboth. 11 They left Oboth and camped in Iye-abarim in the desert that lie to the east of Moab. 12 From there they moved on and camped in the Valley of Zered. 13 They then moved on from there and camped on the other side of the Arnon in the desert that extends from the boundary of the Amorites. The Arnon is the boundary of Moab, the border between Moab and the Amorites. 14 Thus, it is written in the Book of Wars of the Lord,

“Waheb in Suphah,
and the wadis of the Arnon,
15 and the slope of the wadis
that extend to the site of Ar,
that lies along the boundary of Moab.”

16 From there they continued on to Beer, which is where the Lord spoke to Moses saying, “Gather up the people and I will give them water.”

17 Then Israel sang this song,

“Spring up, O well! Sing to it!
18 The well which the leaders dug,
which the nobles of the people sank,
with the scepter and with their staves.”

From the desert they continued on to Mattanah, 19 and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20 and from Bamoth to the valley in the land of Moab which is on the heights of the Pisgah overlooking the wasteland.

21 Victory over Sihon and Og.[e] Israel sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, saying, 22 “Let us pass through your land. We will not wander into the fields nor into the vineyards. We will not drink water from any well. We will pass along the King’s Highway until we have crossed over your borders.”

23 But Sihon would not allow Israel to cross over his border. Sihon gathered all of his people and marched out into the desert against Israel. He went out to Jahaz and fought with Israel.

24 But Israel put him to the sword and occupied his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok up to the Ammonite territory (for the boundary with the Ammonites was fortified). 25 Israel captured all of these cities, and Israel settled in all of the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon and in all of its surrounding villages. 26 Heshbon was the city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, for he had fought with the former king of Moab, conquering all of his lands up to the Arnon. 27 [f]This is why those who speak in proverbs say,

“Come to Heshbon, let it be built.
Let Sihon’s city be restored.
28 For fire went out from Heshbon,
a flame from the city of Sihon.
It devoured Ar of Moab,
the lords of the heights of the Arnon.
29 Woe to you, Moab.
You have perished, O people of Chemosh.[g]
He has given up his sons as fugitives,
his daughters as captives to Sihon,
the king of the Amorites.
30 But we have shot at them,
Heshbon has perished even as far as Dibon.
We have laid them waste up to Nophah,
which extends to the Medeba.”

31 So Israel settled in the land of the Amorites. 32 Moses sent out spies to Jazer, and they captured those villages, driving out the Amorites who lived there. 33 They then turned and went along the road to Bashan.[h] Og, the king of Bashan, went out with all his people to battle them in Edrei.

34 The Lord said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have delivered him and all his people and land into your hands. You will do to him what you did to Sihon, the king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Heshbon.” 35 So they killed him and his sons and all of his people until there was not a single one alive, and they conquered his land.


  1. Numbers 21:2 Hormah means “dedicated to destruction.” The entire booty taken in war is destroyed as an act of homage to God. See Num 18:14; Jos 6:7.
  2. Numbers 21:4 The bronze serpent, a sign of repentance and forgiveness, will be used by Jesus as a prefiguration of his own being lifted up on the cross (Jn 3:14).
  3. Numbers 21:5 We loathe this miserable food: this statement showed more than a distaste for the manna that the Lord had provided and that had been the brunt of ongoing complaints by the people. While they were rejecting the Lord’s physical nourishment, they were turning away from his gift of grace.
  4. Numbers 21:6 Seraph: the Hebrew for a type of poisonous viper. The etymology suggests “fiery one,” “burning one.”
  5. Numbers 21:21 God fights alongside his people; nothing can resist him. These incidents will remain as exemplars for Israel and will be repeatedly extolled in national songs (see Pss 135:11; 136:10-20).
  6. Numbers 21:27 An ancient Amorite song of victory, taken over by the Israelites.
  7. Numbers 21:29 Chemosh is the god of the Moabites. See Jdg 11:24; 1 Ki 11:7.
  8. Numbers 21:33 Bashan: a region on the border between present day Syria and Jordan. Og: a legendary giant; see Deut 3:11.

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