The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Numbers 21

Num 21:1

ARAD: A site 37 miles south of Jerusalem and 20 miles east of Beersheba. Semi-desert district; dry and remote. Details of excavations in Tes 46:296.

See Lesson, Large numbers in the OT.

Num 21:5

13 murmurings: Exo 5:21; 14:10; 15:24; 16:2; 17:2; 32:1; Num 11:1,4; 12:2; 14:2; 16:3; 20:2; 21:5. Cp Joh 6:41-43. Those who murmur without cause are soon given cause to murmur.

THIS MISERABLE FOOD: A transparent contradiction: "No bread" because they cared not for the bread God gave them. How many of our complaints are similar: we do not recognize the blessings we have for what they are. Instead, we desire those "blessings" that we do not have.

MISERABLE: But it was "angels' food" (Psa 78:23-25).

Num 21:6

Sin brings punishment. Bitten by "serpents" (cp Gen 3), brings death. "Sin when finished brings death" (Jam 1:15). Eden, scene of first lie, beginning of sin!

MANY ISRAELITES DIED: The Negev viper's poison is hemolytic: ie, it breaks down the blood vessels painlessly, until -- 4 days after bite -- the victim dies of hemorrhaging (Adv 98:195).

Num 21:7

Necessary action: recognition of sin, repentance.

THE PEOPLE CAME TO MOSES...: The people appeal to Moses, ignoring the existing priesthood! "Hitherto the tabernacle had been the center of all religion and piety, but if he (the man bitten by the snake) persisted in looking to it for redemption in this hour of need, he would die" (WGos 95).

Num 21:8

Snake lifted up = a condemnation of "sin" in the flesh (Rom 8:3), or the "devil" (Heb 2:14,15; Rev 20:2), in the "lifting up" of crucifixion (Joh 3:14-16; 12:32,33).

A POLE: The "standard" (RV), prob of Judah. This connection with Judah is suggested by two facts: (a) the leader, or prince, of Judah at this time was Nahshon (Num 2:3; 7:12; 10:14; 1Ch 4:10; Mat 1:4); his name is closely related to the Hebrew "nachash" -- the "snake" or "serpent" here in Num 21:6,7; and (2) Bezaleel, the craftsman in brass, belonged to this tribe as well (Num 35:30,32).

Num 21:9

A BRONZE SNAKE: The wisdom of serpent (cp Mat 10:16; Isa 52:13; Col 2:15). Brass = copper... red... flesh. The form of a serpent, but no venom (cp Rom 8:3). Lifeless, transfixed.

Do we think that the serpent that was made was a beautiful detailed model of the serpents that were biting the Israelites? Probably not. As people were dying from the bites, there would have been a great concern to get the serpent onto the pole. The image would have been rough and ready -- though it was of God's provision. Likewise, "he (Jesus) has no form nor comeliness" (Isa 53:2).

Footnote: The brazen serpent was later removed by Hezekiah (2Ki 18:4n). See Lesson, Nehushtan.

Num 21:11

"Through the desert... toward the sunrise": Trials for a purpose.

Num 21:17

SING ABOUT IT: A common Bedouin custom. Each song peculiar to well or tribe. Vital importance of well in Negev (Dawn 63:5). "But the water I shall give him shall be a well of water springing up unto eternal life" (Joh 4:14). Even as elders today have obligation to provide living waters for others in ecclesia. Elders act as servants, ministers, to "draw water"!

Num 21:24

Israel's first actual victory over nations.

See Lesson, Large numbers in the OT.
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