Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
back to: Numbers
Book: Numbers
Chapter: 21

The Canaanites of Arad destroyed. (1-3) The people Murmuring,
are plagued with fiery serpents, They repenting, are healed
through the brazen Serpent. (4-9) Further journeys of the
Israelites. (10-20) Sihon and Og overcome, Their land possessed.

1-3 Before the people began their march round the country of
Edom, the King of Arad, a Canaanite, who inhabited the southern
part of the country, attacked them in the Wilderness, and took
some prisoners. This was to lead the Israelites to look more
thoroughly to the Lord.

4-9 The children of Israel were wearied By a long march round
the land of Edom. They speak discontentedly of what God had done
for them, and distrustfully of what he would do. What will they
be pleased with, whom Manna will not please? Let not the
contempt which some cast On the Word of God, make us value it
less. It is the Bread of Life, substantial Bread, and will
nourish those who By Faith feed upon it, to eternal Life,
whoever may Call it Light Bread. We see the righteous Judgment
God brought upon them for Murmuring. He sent fiery serpents
among them, which Bit or stung many to Death. It is to be feared
that they would not have owned the Sin, if they had not felt the
smart; but they relent under the rod. And God made a wonderful
provision for their relief. The Jews themselves say it was not
the sight of the brazen Serpent that cured; but in looking up to
it, they looked up to God as the Lord that healed them. There
was much Gospel in this. Our Saviour declared, Joh 3:14,15,
that as Moses lifted up the Serpent in the Wilderness, So the
Son of Man must be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him,
should not perish. Compare their disease and ours. Sin bites
like a Serpent, and stings like an Adder. Compare the
application of their remedy and ours. They looked and lived, and
we, if we believe, shall not perish. It is By Faith that we look
unto Jesus, Heb 12:2. Whosoever looked, however desperate his
case, or feeble his sight, or distant his place, was certainly
and perfectly cured. The Lord can relieve us from dangers and
distresses, By means which human reason never would have
devised. Oh that the venom of the old Serpent, inflaming men's
passions, and causing them to commit sins which End in their
eternal Destruction, were as sensibly felt, and the danger as
plainly seen, as the Israelites felt pain from the bite of the
fiery serpents, and feared the Death which followed! Then none
would shut their eyes to Christ, or turn from his Gospel. Then a
crucified Saviour would be So valued, that all things else would
be accounted loss for him; then, without delay, and with
earnestness and simplicity, all would apply to him in the
appointed way, crying, Lord, save us; we perish! Nor would any
abuse the freeness of Christ's Salvation, while they reckoned
the price which it cost him.

10-20 We have here the removes of the children of Israel, till
they came to the plains of Moab, from whence they passed over
Jordan into Canaan. The End of their pilgrimage was near. "They
set forward." It were Well if we did thus; and the nearer we
come to Heaven, were So much the more active and abundant in the
work of the Lord. The wonderful success God granted to his
people, is here spoken of, and, among the Rest, their actions On
the River Arnon, at Vaheb in Suphah, and other places On that
River. In every stage of our lives, nay, in every step, we
should notice what God has wrought for us; what he did at such a
time, and what in such a place, ought to be distinctly
remembered. God blessed his people with a supply of water. When
we come to Heaven, we shall remove to the Well of Life, the
Fountain of living waters. They received it with joy and
thankfulness, which made the Mercy doubly sweet. With joy must
we draw water out of the wells of Salvation, Isa 12:3. As the
brazen Serpent was a figure of Christ, who is lifted up for our
cure, So is this Well a figure of the Spirit, who is poured
forth for our comfort, and from whom flow to us rivers of living
waters, Joh 7:38,39. Does this Well Spring up in our souls? If
So, we should take the comfort to ourselves, and give the Glory
to God. God promised to give water, but they must open the
ground. God's favours must be expected in the use of such means
as are within our power, but still the power is only of God.

21-35 Sihon went with his Forces against Israel, out of his own
borders, without provocation, and So ran upon his own ruin. The
enemies of God's Church often perish By the counsels they think
most wisely taken. Og, King of Bashan, instead of being warned
By the fate of his neighbours, to make peace with Israel, makes
War with them, which proves in like manner his Destruction.
Wicked men do their utmost to secure themselves and their
possessions against the Judgments of God; but all in vain, when
the Day comes On which they must fall. God gave Israel success,
while Moses was with them, that he might see the beginning of
the glorious work, though he must not live to see it finished.
This was, in comparison, but as the Day of small things, yet it
was an Earnest of great things. We must prepare for fresh
conflicts and enemies. We must make No peace or truce with the
powers of Darkness, nor even treat with them; nor should we
expect any pause in our contest. But, trusting in God, and
obeying his commands, we shall be more than conquerors over
every enemy.