The bronze snake
They travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[a] to go round Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and 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 sinned when 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
The Israelites moved on and camped at Oboth. Then they set out from Oboth and camped in Iye Abarim, in the wilderness that faces Moab towards the sunrise. From there they moved on and camped in the Zered Valley. 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. That is why the Book of the Wars of the Lord says:
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.’
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 sceptres and staffs.’
Then they went from the wilderness to Mattanah, from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth, and from Bamoth to the valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland.
Defeat of Sihon and Og
Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites:
‘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.’
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. Israel, however, put him to the sword and took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites, because their border was fortified. Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them, including Heshbon and all its surrounding settlements. 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, 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.
‘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.’
So Israel settled in the land of the Amorites.
After Moses had sent spies to Jazer, the Israelites captured its surrounding settlements and drove out the Amorites who were there. Then they turned and went up along the road towards Bashan, and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei.
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.’
So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land.
- Numbers 21:4 Or the Sea of Reeds
- Numbers 21:14 Septuagint; Hebrew Waheb
- Numbers 21:15 Or ‘I have been given from Suphah and the ravines / of the Arnon 15 to
Balak summons Balaam
Then the Israelites travelled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan opposite Jericho.
Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.
The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, ‘This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.’
So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the River Euphrates, in his native land. Balak said:
‘A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.’
The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said.
‘Spend the night here,’ Balaam said to them, ‘and I will report back to you with the answer the Lord gives me.’ So the Moabite officials stayed with him.
God came to Balaam and asked, ‘Who are these men with you?’
Balaam said to God, ‘Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: “A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.”’
But God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.’
The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak’s officials, ‘Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.’
So the Moabite officials returned to Balak and said, ‘Balaam refused to come with us.’
Then Balak sent other officials, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. They came to Balaam and said:
‘This is what Balak son of Zippor says: do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.’
But Balaam answered them, ‘Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God. Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the Lord will tell me.’
That night God came to Balaam and said, ‘Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.’