The Snake of Fiery Copper
They set out from Mount Hor along the Red Sea Road, a detour around the land of Edom. The people became irritable and cross as they traveled. They spoke out against God and Moses: “Why did you drag us out of Egypt to die in this godforsaken country? No decent food; no water—we can’t stomach this stuff any longer.”
So God sent poisonous snakes among the people; they bit them and many in Israel died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke out against God and you. Pray to God; ask him to take these snakes from us.”
Moses prayed for the people.
God said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it on a flagpole: Whoever is bitten and looks at it will live.”
So Moses made a snake of fiery copper and put it on top of a flagpole. Anyone bitten by a snake who then looked at the copper snake lived.
Camping on the Way to Moab
The People of Israel set out and camped at Oboth. They left Oboth and camped at Iye Abarim in the wilderness that faces Moab on the east. They went from there and pitched camp in the Zered Valley. Their next camp was alongside the Arnon River, which marks the border between Amorite country and Moab. The Book of the Wars of God refers to this place:
Waheb in Suphah,
the canyons of Arnon;
Along the canyon ravines
that lead to the village Ar
And lean hard against
the border of Moab.
They went on to Beer (The Well), where God said to Moses, “Gather the people; I’ll give them water.” That’s where Israel sang this song:
Sing the Song of the Well,
the well sunk by princes,
Dug out by the peoples’ leaders
digging with their scepters and staffs.
From the wilderness their route went from Mattanah to Nahaliel to Bamoth (The Heights) to the valley that opens into the fields of Moab from where Pisgah (The Summit) rises and overlooks Jeshimon (Wasteland).
Israel sent emissaries to Sihon, king of the Amorites, saying, “Let us cross your land. We won’t trespass into your fields or drink water in your vineyards. We’ll keep to the main road, the King’s Road, until we’re through your land.”
But Sihon wouldn’t let Israel go through. Instead he got his army together and marched into the wilderness to fight Israel. At Jahaz he attacked Israel. But Israel fought hard, beat him soundly, and took possession of his land from the Arnon all the way to the Jabbok right up to the Ammonite border. They stopped there because the Ammonite border was fortified. Israel took and occupied all the Amorite cities, including Heshbon and all its surrounding villages. Heshbon was the capital city of Sihon king of the Amorites. He had attacked the former king of Moab and captured all his land as far north as the river Arnon. That is why the folk singers sing,
Come to Heshbon to rebuild the city,
restore Sihon’s town.
Fire once poured out of Heshbon,
flames from the city of Sihon;
Burning up Ar of Moab,
the natives of Arnon’s heights.
The people of Chemosh, done for!
Sons turned out as fugitives, daughters abandoned as captives
to the king of the Amorites, to Sihon.
Oh, but we finished them off:
Nothing left of Heshbon as far as Dibon;
Devastation as far off as Nophah,
scorched earth all the way to Medeba.
Israel moved in and lived in Amorite country. Moses sent men to scout out Jazer. They captured its villages and drove away the Amorites who lived there.
Then they turned north on the road to Bashan. Og king of Bashan marched out with his entire army to meet Moses in battle at Edrei.
God said to Moses, “Don’t be afraid of him. I’m making a present of him to you, him and all his people and his land. Treat him the same as Sihon king of the Amorites who ruled in Heshbon.”
So they attacked him, his sons, and all the people—there was not a single survivor. Israel took the land.
The People of Israel marched on and camped on the Plains of Moab at Jordan-Jericho.
Balak son of Zippor learned of all that Israel had done to the Amorites. The people of Moab were in a total panic because of Israel. There were so many of them! They were terrorized.
Moab spoke to the leaders of Midian: “Look, this mob is going to clean us out—a bunch of crows picking a carcass clean.”
Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent emissaries to get Balaam son of Beor, who lived at Pethor on the banks of the Euphrates River, his homeland.
Balak’s emissaries said, “Look. A people has come up out of Egypt, and they’re all over the place! And they’re pressing hard on me. Come and curse them for me—they’re too much for me. Maybe then I can beat them; we’ll attack and drive them out of the country. You have a reputation: Those you bless stay blessed; those you curse stay cursed.”
The leaders of Moab and Midian were soon on their way, with the fee for the cursing tucked safely in their wallets. When they got to Balaam, they gave him Balak’s message.
“Stay here for the night,” Balaam said. “In the morning I’ll deliver the answer that God gives me.”
The Moabite nobles stayed with him.
Then God came to Balaam. He asked, “So who are these men here with you?”
Balaam answered, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent them with a message: ‘Look, the people that came up out of Egypt are all over the place! Come and curse them for me. Maybe then I’ll be able to attack and drive them out of the country.’”
God said to Balaam, “Don’t go with them. And don’t curse the others—they are a blessed people.”
The next morning Balaam got up and told Balak’s nobles, “Go back home; God refuses to give me permission to go with you.”
So the Moabite nobles left, came back to Balak, and said, “Balaam wouldn’t come with us.”
Balak sent another group of nobles, higher ranking and more distinguished. They came to Balaam and said, “Balak son of Zippor says, ‘Please, don’t refuse to come to me. I will honor and reward you lavishly—anything you tell me to do, I’ll do; I’ll pay anything—only come and curse this people.’”
Balaam answered Balak’s servants: “Even if Balak gave me his house stuffed with silver and gold, I wouldn’t be able to defy the orders of my God to do anything, whether big or little. But come along and stay with me tonight as the others did; I’ll see what God will say to me this time.”
God came to Balaam that night and said, “Since these men have come all this way to see you, go ahead and go with them. But make sure you do absolutely nothing other than what I tell you.”