Friday, June 01, 2007

Numbers 21:10–35

Numbers 21:10–35: Further journeys, and battles

Synopsis

In this section, the Israelites continue their journey in the desert, on their roundabout trip to the Promised Land.

Verses 10–20 simply outline some of the travels they made, which I won’t bother to list out here, because you probably won’t recognize the names anyway. (I’m sure the places don’t exist anymore—at least, not under the same names.) At one point, the Israelites camp near the Arnon river—at least, I assume the Arnon is a river—which lies along the border of Moab. The author makes a sidenote, explaining that this is why Book of the Wars of the LORD has a certain passage in it. I don’t know if the Book of the Wars of the LORD still exists, but it’s not part of the Old Testament.

They also travel to Beer, “the well where the LORD said to Moses, ‘Gather the people together and I will give them water’” (verse 16). When they get there, the Israelites sing a song about it:

Then Israel sang this song:
  “Spring up, O well!
  Sing about it,

about the well that the princes dug,
  that the nobles of the people sank—
  the nobles with scepters and staffs.”

(verses 17–18a)


Eventually, the Israelites get to the territory of Sihon, king of the Amorites. They send a message to him which is virtually identical to the message they’d sent to the Edomites:

Let us pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king’s highway until we have passed through your territory. (verse 22)

Sihon’s response is the same as the Edomites’ was, but more so: he musters his entire army, and marches out to face Israel in battle. The Israelites defeat him handily, however, and take over his entire territory—“but only as far as the land of the Ammonites, because their land was fortified” (verse 24). One of the cities the Israelites overtake is Heshbon, which is where Sihon had lived as king. The author then quotes “the poets,” in another sidenote:

Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken from him all his land as far as the Arnon.

That is why the poets say:
  “Come to Heshbon and let it be rebuilt;
  let Sihon’s city be restored.

“Fire went out from Heshbon,
  a blaze from the city of Sihon.
  It consumed Ar of Moab,
  the citizens of Arnon’s heights.

Woe to you, O Moab!
  You are destroyed, O people of Chemosh!
  He has given up his sons as fugitives
  and his daughters as captives
  to Sihon king of the Amorites.

But we have overthrown them;
  Heshbon is destroyed all the way to Dibon.
  We have demolished them as far as Nophah,
  which extends to Medeba.”

(verses 26–30)


I find it interesting that the author is taking the time to explain all of these literary references, even though they’re references that I know nothing about. “This river looks like this, and that’s why the Book of the Wars of the LORD says this, and then the Israelites did this, which is why ‘the poets’ say that…”

After this, Moses sends spies into the land of Jazer, and the Israelites take over that land, as well. They next begin to head toward the land of Bashan, and Og, the king of Bashan, marches his entire army out to meet the Israelites in battle. The LORD reassures Moses (and the people), however:

The LORD said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.” (verse 34)

And it is so; the Israelites strike down Og’s entire army, leaving no survivors, and take possession of his land.

Thoughts

The Israelites are going to be at war with other nations for… well, for the rest of the Old Testament, pretty much. Many of these wars, especially in the next few books, will be in relation to them claiming the Promised Land, and trying to drive out and/or destroy the people living there. (I say “trying” because the Israelites won’t properly follow the LORD’s commands, in this area. But we’ll get to that in subsequent books.)

It’s good to remember, when the Israelites are destroying entire nations, that this isn’t just about land. The LORD is not killing entire nations of people just so that the Israelites will have somewhere to live; He is also doing it as judgement for the people who are living there. As much as we love to think about God as being a loving God, we have to remember that He is also a just God. The people who were in these lands, who were destroyed by the Israelites, deserved to be destroyed.

Frankly, that’s not the strange part. The strange part is that He did not destroy the Israelites, because they deserved it too—just as much as the other nations around them! But he didn’t because He had chosen them as His people. Which is the same reason He doesn’t destroy me, even though I deserve it; He had already chosen me, before the beginning of time, to be His child. He saved me from my sin, since I couldn’t do it myself. It seems “unjust” to us, for entire nations to be wiped out, but that’s because we’re looking at it backwards. It’s extremely just; the whole world deserves to be destroyed, and the only reason it hasn’t yet been destroyed is that the LORD is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9—in fact, see all of 2 Peter 3.)
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