Numbers 21

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Read Numbers 21

Arad Destroyed

21 When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. Then Israel made this vow to the Lord: “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.” The Lord listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.

The Bronze Snake

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against Godand against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinnedwhen we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

The Journey to Moab

10 The Israelites moved on and camped at Oboth. 11 Then they set out from Oboth and camped in Iye Abarim, in the wilderness that faces Moab toward the sunrise. 12 From there they moved on and camped in the Zered Valley.13 They set out from there and camped alongside the Arnon, which is in the wilderness extending into Amorite territory. The Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 That is why the Book of the Warsof the Lord says:

“. . . Zahab in Suphah and the ravines,
    the Arnon 15 and the slopes of the ravines
that lead to the settlement of Ar
    and lie along the border of Moab.”

16 From there they continued on to Beer, the well where the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together and I will give them water.”

17 Then Israel sang this song:

“Spring up, O well!
    Sing about it,
18 about the well that the princes dug,
    that the nobles of the people sank—
    the nobles with scepters and staffs.”

Then they went from the wilderness to Mattanah, 19 from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20 and from Bamoth to the valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland.

Defeat of Sihon and Og

21 Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites:

22 “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.”

23 But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. He mustered his entire army and marched out into the wilderness against Israel. When he reached Jahaz, he fought with Israel. 24 Israel, however, put him to the swordand took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites, because their border was fortified. 25 Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them, including Heshbon and all its surrounding settlements. 26 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.

27 That is why the poets say:

“Come to Heshbon and let it be rebuilt;
    let Sihon’s city be restored.

28 “Fire went out from Heshbon,
    a blaze from the city of Sihon.
It consumed Ar of Moab,
    the citizens of Arnon’s heights.
29 Woe to you, Moab!
    You are destroyed, people of Chemosh!
He has given up his sons as fugitives
    and his daughters as captives
    to Sihon king of the Amorites.

30 “But we have overthrown them;
    Heshbon’s dominion has been destroyed all the way to Dibon.
We have demolished them as far as Nophah,
    which extends to Medeba.”

31 So Israel settled in the land of the Amorites.

32 After Moses had sent spies to Jazer, the Israelites captured its surrounding settlements and drove out the Amorites who were there.33 Then they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei.

34 The Lord said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have delivered him into your hands, along with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.”

35 So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land.

Go Deeper

Sin has consequences. That is a theme we have seen in the book of Numbers (and really the entirety of Scripture). In the previous chapter, Moses struck the rock rather than speaking to it as God had commanded him to do, and as a result faces the same consequence as the rest of the old generation. Moses is unable to enter into the Promised Land. He is not above sin, and God doesn’t need him to accomplish His purposes. Joshua will be the one to lead the people into the land of milk and honey (Numbers 27).  

In Numbers 21, the people return to their discontentment and complaining. The people spoke against God and Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (v. 5). This was a big mistake! Their sin does not go unpunished and as a result, the Lord “sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died” (v. 6). However, the people repent and seek Moses as their intercessor to plead for God’s mercy towards them. We see the themes of sin, supplication, and salvation. The people disobey God, God displays righteous anger towards their disobedience, they seek a mediator, and God responds. 

The Lord, in His great patience, provides the Israelites a way out. He tells Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live. So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived” (v. 8-9). The serpents used to discipline the people were fiery, representing the anger the Lord had for their rebellion. Those bitten by the living snakes were healed by a dead, reddish-colored snake. Looking at the snake required obedience and faith on the people’s part. It was not logical. It required a trust in God’s provision for their salvation and healing. 

This story is referenced again in the book of John. In John 3, Jesus is having a conversation with a man named Nicodemus where he asks how someone can be born again. Jesus responds saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-16). In the same way that the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent to find physical healing from their sin, we look to the cross of Christ to find spiritual healing from our sin. God provides a way for those who believe in faith.


  1. Like the Israelites, when are you tempted to complain in your own life?  
  2. Where do you see God’s justice and mercy displayed in the chapter? 
  3. How does the bronze serpent point to Christ?

Did You Know?

The snake-entwined staff from this chapter in Numbers is known as the “Rod of Asclepius,” and it is the medical symbol we use today!

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10 thoughts on “Numbers 21”

  1. It’s been said that what we complain about is what we feel entitled to. In our homes, workplaces and even as the church gathers negativity seems to be a cancer that easily spreads among us. The Amplified Bible in James 3:20 instructs, “Out of the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. These things, my brothers, should not be this way [for we have a moral obligation to speak in a manner that reflects our fear of God and profound respect for His precepts].” The mouth speaks what the heart knows. God has gifted the Holy Spirit to teach us all things including being a filter for what we speak. As one who uses many words everyday, practicing the “pause” has been a life giving rhythm. Instead of impulsivity driving my mouth, the pause allows me to quiet my mind and redirect my response in a positive way that reflects Christ. One thing Numbers is teaching me is that bitterness and grumbling have no place in Christ followers. May we take every thought and word captive unto the obedience of Christ.

  2. Do I try to enter into my faith with force? Do I truly trust? Am I really sorry to repentance or just sorry enough to get out of the “consequences”? Back to pride, ugg!! We are so ingrained with negativity and the aptness to complain that we cannot see the battle has been won. Can we change our outlook? Is Jesus high and lifted up for you to gaze on Him for our salvation and healing? BUT GOD made a way for us. Jesus. Repent, true sorrow, humility ,die to self, let Jesus be our mediator because the battle has been won. Romans 8:37-39 ESV No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. James 4:7 ESV Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. We are more than conquerors when we submit ourselves to God!!
    God thank You for sending Your son and that He loved You so much that He was willing to die for me. God thank You that I am more than a conqueror when I submit myself to You. Thank You for continuing to help me TRUST-be STEADFAST-be QUITE, so that I can see, hear and taste You. I sought the Lord, and he answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. As I look to Him I am radiant; my face is never covered with shame. (Psalm 34). Thank You for that HESED love that transcends all knowledge. Thank You for my eyes of understanding to continue to be enlightened, so that I may lift You up and exalt You with my whole being in Jesus name amen

  3. Complaining. Dealing with snakes. Trying to avoid enemies. Overcoming and taking their lands. Wow, that’s quite a road trip!

    Lord, if you can guide the cantankerous Children of Israel through their wilderness journey, you can certainly do the same in my life!

  4. The Israelites were to look at the bronze serpent to be healed. This was not a casual glance, but a look of expectation, anticipation, trust; in other words, believing. Believing is an absolute trust; not a maybe, if, casual whatever thought. Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross and we are to believe absolutely, no question, no doubt that he is our Savior. In Acts 3, the lame man looked at Peter and John expecting to receive. In our “chair time”, we are listening with anticipation, expectation, absolute believing trust to hear from God. If we are humble and listen with a truly believing ear, we will hear from our Almighty Father. God bless your listening ears.

  5. Diane Frances Rogers

    Before I speak, I must ask myself:
    1. Is it true?
    2. Is it necessary?
    3.Is it kind?
    Grateful Holy Spirit for your conviction.

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