Numbers 21 & Psalms 60-61

Numbers 21

    When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. And Israel vowed a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will indeed give this people into my hand, then I will devote their cities to destruction.” And the LORD heeded the voice of Israel and gave over the Canaanites, and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So the name of the place was called Hormah.

    From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

    And the people of Israel set out and camped in Oboth. And they set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness that is opposite Moab, toward the sunrise. From there they set out and camped in the Valley of Zered. From there they set out and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that extends from the border of the Amorites, for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the LORD,

    “Waheb in Suphah, and the valleys of the Arnon,
    and the slope of the valleys
    that extends to the seat of Ar,
    and leans to the border of Moab.”
        And from there they continued to Beer; that is the well of which the LORD said to Moses, “Gather the people together, so that I may give them water.” Then Israel sang this song:

    “Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!—
    the well that the princes made,
    that the nobles of the people dug,
    with the scepter and with their staffs.”
        And from the wilderness they went on to Mattanah, and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth, and from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of Moab by the top of Pisgah that looks down on the desert.

    Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, “Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into field or vineyard. We will not drink the water of a well. We will go by the King's Highway until we have passed through your territory.” But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. He gathered all his people together and went out against Israel to the wilderness and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. And Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as to the Ammonites, for the border of the Ammonites was strong. And Israel took all these cities, and Israel settled in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and taken all his land out of his hand, as far as the Arnon. Therefore the ballad singers say,

    “Come to Heshbon, let it be built;
        let the city of Sihon be established.
    For fire came out from Heshbon,
        flame from the city of Sihon.
    It devoured Ar of Moab,
        and swallowed the heights of the Arnon.
    Woe to you, O Moab!
        You are undone, O people of Chemosh!
    He has made his sons fugitives,
        and his daughters captives,
        to an Amorite king, Sihon.
    So we overthrew them;
        Heshbon, as far as Dibon, perished;
        and we laid waste as far as Nophah;
        fire spread as far as Medeba.”
        Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites. And Moses sent to spy out Jazer, and they captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who were there. Then they turned and went up by the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came 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 given him into your hand, and all his people, and his land. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” So they defeated him and his sons and all his people, until he had no survivor left. And they possessed his land.

(Numbers 21 ESV)

Psalm 60

To the choirmaster: according to Shushan Eduth. A Miktam of David; for instruction; when he strove with Aram-naharaim and with Aram-zobah, and when Joab on his return struck down twelve thousand of Edom in the Valley of Salt.

    O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses;
        you have been angry; oh, restore us.
    You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open;
        repair its breaches, for it totters.
    You have made your people see hard things;
        you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger.
    You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
        that they may flee to it from the bow. Selah
    That your beloved ones may be delivered,
        give salvation by your right hand and answer us!
    God has spoken in his holiness:
        “With exultation I will divide up Shechem
        and portion out the Vale of Succoth.
    Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
        Ephraim is my helmet;
        Judah is my scepter.
    Moab is my washbasin;
        upon Edom I cast my shoe;
        over Philistia I shout in triumph.”
    Who will bring me to the fortified city?
        Who will lead me to Edom?
    Have you not rejected us, O God?
        You do not go forth, O God, with our armies.
    Oh, grant us help against the foe,
        for vain is the salvation of man!
    With God we shall do valiantly;
        it is he who will tread down our foes.

(Psalm 60 ESV)

Psalm 61

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. Of David.

    Hear my cry, O God,
        listen to my prayer;
    from the end of the earth I call to you
        when my heart is faint.
    Lead me to the rock
        that is higher than I,
    for you have been my refuge,
        a strong tower against the enemy.
    Let me dwell in your tent forever!
        Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
    For you, O God, have heard my vows;
        you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
    Prolong the life of the king;
        may his years endure to all generations!
    May he be enthroned forever before God;
        appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
    So will I ever sing praises to your name,
        as I perform my vows day after day.

(Psalm 61 ESV)

Something to Consider

Numbers 21: Once again, the hunger of the Israelites clouds their perspective of their Provider and they begin to complain about the deliverance from Egypt. Therefore, God brings judgement upon their sin by sending poisonous snakes into the congregation that prove to be deadly for everyone they bite. However, while God sends judgement upon Israel, He also sends the way of salvation.

God instructs Moses to build a bronze snake and set it up on a pole. If anyone is bit by one of the poisonous snakes of God's wrath then they can come look upon the bronze snake and they will be healed. The significance of this way of salvation is the way in which it foreshadows the Way of salvation ultimately revealed in Christ. Jesus reveals this significance in own words to Nicodemus:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3) 

What Jesus is saying is that God's people must believe in Him for salvation in much the same way that the Israelites had to look at the bronze snake in order to be saved from death. We can make a few observations from this passage on what it means to 'believe in Christ'.

  • We must recognize our desperate condition. The Israelites had to first realize that they had been bitten by a snake and acknowledge that if they didn’t search for healing they would surely die. We too must recognize our sinful condition and that if we don’t search for a Savior from sin we will surely die. If we fail to realize our sickness then we will fail to search for healing.
  • We must actually believe that Christ can save us. The Israelites knew and trusted that the bronze snake was the only way to be healed from their snake bites. We too must come to know and trust that Christ is the only Way we can be saved from our sinful condition. 
  • We must have a faith in Christ that motivates us to move. The Israelites faith in the bronze snake led them to actually get up and walk to it so that they could look upon it and be healed. Simply, knowing the bronze snake could heal them wouldn’t heal them. They had to get up and go to it. The same is true with our faith in Christ. Simply knowing that Christ can save us doesn’t save us. We must get up and come to Him, embrace Him, and look upon Him for His saving power.

God sends His judgement, but He has also sent the Way of salvation. May we recognize our desperate condition, trust that Christ is the only Way of salvation, and therefore come to Him in the hope of His gracious healing.