Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the [branch of the] Red Sea [called the Gulf of Aqabah], to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient, because [of the challenges] of the journey. So the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, nor is there any water, and we loathe this miserable food.”
The Bronze Serpent
Then the Lord sent fiery (burning) serpents among the people; and they bit the people, and many Israelites died. So 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 will remove the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent [of bronze] and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten will live when he looks at it.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze and put it on the pole, and it happened that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.
Now the sons of Israel moved out and camped at Oboth. They journeyed on from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness facing Moab, toward the sunrise. From there they set out and camped in the [a]Wadi Zered. From there they journeyed on and camped on the other side of [the river] Arnon, which is in the wilderness that extends from the boundary of the Amorites; for [the river] Arnon is the boundary of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. That is why it is said in the [b]Book of the Wars of the Lord:
From there the Israelites went on to Beer, that is the well where the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together and I will give them water.”
Then Israel sang this song,
“Spring up, O well! Sing to it,
The well which the leaders dug,
Which the nobles of the people hollowed out
With the scepter and with their staffs.”
And from the wilderness Israel journeyed to Mattanah, and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth, and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the field of Moab, to the top of Pisgah which looks down on the wasteland.
Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, saying, “Let me pass through your land; we will not turn away [from the road] into field or vineyard; we will not drink the water of the wells. We will go by the king’s highway until we have crossed your border.” But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his border. Instead Sihon gathered all his people together and went out against Israel into the wilderness, and came to Jahaz, and he fought against Israel. Then Israel struck the king of the Amorites with the edge of the sword and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the Ammonites, for the boundary of the Ammonites was [f]strong. Israel took all these cities, and settled in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon and in all its towns. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken all his land out of his hand, as far as the Arnon. That is why those who use proverbs say,
“Come to Heshbon,
Let the city of Sihon be built and established.
“For fire has gone out of Heshbon,
A flame from the city of Sihon;
It devoured Ar of Moab
And the lords of the heights of the Arnon.
“Woe (judgment is coming) to you, Moab!
You are destroyed, O people of [the god] Chemosh!
Moab has given his sons as fugitives [that is, survivors of battle],
And his daughters into captivity
To Sihon king of the Amorites.
“We have shot them down [with arrows];
Heshbon is destroyed as far as Dibon,
And we have laid them waste as far as Nophah,
Which reaches to Medeba.”
Thus Israel settled in the land of the Amorites. Now Moses sent men to spy out Jazer, and they overthrew its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who were there.
Then they turned and went up by the way of Bashan; and Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. But the Lord said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have handed over him and all his people and his land to you; and you shall do to him just as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” So the sons of Israel killed Og and his sons and all his people, until there was no survivor left to him; and they took possession of his land.
- Numbers 21:12 The dry river valley carved by the seasonal Zered River.
- Numbers 21:14 A non-canonical work which, unfortunately, has been lost.
- Numbers 21:14 Possibly a well that is the source of the Arnon river.
- Numbers 21:14 Probably a place in Moab. However some of the rabbis took Suphah to be a reference to the Red Sea (Yam Suph in Hebrew) and maintained that these words imply God performed miracles for Israel in the valleys of Arnon such as He did at the Red Sea.
- Numbers 21:14 Dry valleys of seasonal rivers.
- Numbers 21:24 LXX reads Jazer.
Balak Sends for Balaam
The Israelites journeyed, and camped in the plains of Moab, on the east side of the Jordan [River] across from Jericho.
And Balak [the king of Moab] the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. So Moab was terrified because of the people, for they were numerous. Moab was overcome with fear because of the sons of Israel. Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this horde will lick up all that is around us, just as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” And Balak the son of Zippor was the king of Moab at that time. So he sent messengers to [a]Balaam [a famous prophet-diviner] the son of Beor at Pethor, which is by the [Euphrates] River, in the land of the descendants of his people, to call for him, saying, “There is a people who have come out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me. Now please come, curse these people for me, for they are too powerful for me; perhaps I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know [your reputation] that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”
So the elders of Moab and of Midian departed with fees for divination (foretelling) in hand; and they came to Balaam and told him the words of Balak. Balaam said to them, “Spend the night here and I will bring word back to you as the Lord may speak to me.” So the leaders of Moab stayed with Balaam [that night]. God came to Balaam, and said, “Who are these men with you?” Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent word to me: ‘Hear this, the people who came out of Egypt cover the surface of the land; come now, curse them for me. Perhaps I may be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people [of Israel], for they are blessed.” Balaam got up in the morning, and said to the leaders of Balak, “Go back to your own land [of Moab], for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.” The leaders of Moab arose and went to Balak, and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”
Then Balak again sent leaders, more numerous and [men who were] more distinguished than the first ones. They came to Balaam, and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor, ‘I beg you, let nothing hinder you from coming to me. For I will give you a very great honor and I will do whatever you tell me; so please come, curse these people [of Israel] for me.’” Balaam answered the servants of Balak, “Even if Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the Lord my God. Now please, you also stay here tonight, and I will find out what else the Lord will say to me.” God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, get up and go with them, but you shall still do only what I tell you.”
- Numbers 22:5 Balaam had some awareness and knowledge regarding the true God, but he abused the office of prophet.