Numbers Chapters 20 to 22. 1


The section we shall now consider deals with the events leading to the final stage of the journey to Canaan and the encampment in the plains of Moab.

Murmuring at Meribah, 20. 1-21

Once more the people resort to murmuring against Moses and Aaron, charging them with failure to provide food and water, v. 5. As on previous occasions, Moses and Aaron sought the Lord on their behalf, and Moses was instructed to take the rod “from before the Lord” and speak to the rock from whence would flow refreshing streams. It was here that Moses failed, for “he spake unadvisedly with his lips”, Psa. 106. 33. Striking the rock in anger with the “rebels”, he misrepresented God to the people, for he did not believe in the Lord to sanctify Him in the eyes of the people, Num. 20. 12. Aaron was plainly a partner in this act, and for this both were barred from entering the land. It is sadly possible to do right things in a wrong way, and to deny to the Lord the glory due to His name. Grace and truth are balanced virtues, so visibly perfected in the One who came “full of grace and truth”, John 1. 14. Once again grace prevailed, and the people “drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ”, 1 Cor. 10. 4.

The encounter with the king of Edom is now recounted, Num. 20. 14-21, as Israel attempted to enter the land from the east. God had not permitted Esau to harm Jacob, Gen. 33, but neither would He allow Israel to “meddle” with Edom, Deut. 2. 4-6, for He is always consistent in His dealings with men.

Kadesh to the Plains of Moab, 20. 22 to 22. 1

Journeying from Kadesh, they arrive at Mount Hor, where Aaron is denied entry into the land and divested of his priestly garments which are transferred to his son Eleazar. There “Aaron died … in the top of the mount”. Whereas Moses died upon the mount with a secret and solitary burial, Aaron ascended in the sight of ail the people. Thus was demonstrated the weakness of the Levitical priesthood, imperfect through the constant interruption of death; but Christ has an unchanging priesthood, ever living to make intercession for His people, Heb. 7. 23-28.

Destruction of the Canaanites, 21. 1-3. Hormah. In fulfilment of her vow to the Lord for His help in victory, Israel “utterly destroyed” Arad and its villages, calling the place Hormah (= devoted to destruction). All who will oppose God’s will and purposes are subject to His judgment. A holy war finds no place in the Christian concept, but its principles remain true in God’s dealings with personal and corporate sin, Heb. 10. 26-31.

Discontent of the People, 21. 4-9. The Serpent of Brass. In addition to the hardships and dangers of the journey, Israel were conscious that they were now turning their backs on Canaan. Their consequent discouragement soon bred discontent with God’s heavenly provision for them, as they described the manna as light and worthless. For this God sent venomous serpents among them, but in His grace provided a means of deliverance. All who looked in faith to the brazen serpent set on “a standard” (as in Exodus 17. 15, Jehovah-nissi = Jehovah is my standard or banner) were healed. Rebellion against God had brought suffering and death; repentance and faith could now bring life and healing. The “old serpent” brought temporal and spiritual death, but Christ Jesus “in the likeness of sinful flesh”, Rom. 8. 3, was “made … sin for us”, 2 Cor. 5. 21, to give eternal life to all who believe on Him, John 3. 14, 15. The brazen serpent, long preserved by the Israelites, ultimately became an object of idolatrous worship, in consequence of which Hezekiah ordered its destruction, 2 Kings 18. 4. It is not a crucifix that demands our worship, but the crucified, risen and exalted Christ. It is all too possible to be engaged with signs and symbols and to miss the Saviour.

The Song of the well, 21. 16-18. As the people approached the borders of Canaan, they found refreshment in a well. No dramatic miracle here, but equally the unmistakable evidence of God’s continuing care and provision for His people. We must not fail to see God’s hand in the so-called ordinary things of life, for He “daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation”, Psa. 68. 19. Though in the midst of foes, the people can still find a song in their hearts. Centuries later Paul could say, “If God be for us, who can be against us? … in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us”, Rom. 8. 31, 37.

Defeat of the Amorites, 21. 21 to 22. 1. The ballad or taunt-song, vv. 27-30 (compare 1 Kings 9. 7; Isa. 14. 4; Jer. 24. 9), would appear to commemorate the victory of the Amorites over the Moabites, and now the tables are turned and they are vanquished; the haughty conqueror of Moab is now himself subdued. History clearly reveals that no earthly kingdom is permanently secure, but in a time yet future “The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign for ever and ever”, Rev. 11. 15 R.V. Thus the children of Israel enter upon the last stage of their journey to Canaan, and encamp in the plains of Moab. To these events we shall give attention in our next paper.


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