215 – Numbers 21 – This again?

If you’ve been following us through the book of Numbers you may recall at the end of Number twenty Aaron died while they were on the edge of the Edomite’s territory. They did a succession ceremony where Aaron’s son Eleazar was ordained the high priest in place of his father.

Numbers 21:1

      21:1       The Canaanite king of Arad, who was dwelling in the Negev, heard that Israel came along the way of Atharim; he fought against Israel and took some of them captive. 


There is actually quite a bit to notice before we get to the part in Numbers 21:1 that I’ve bolded. For instance, you may want to pick some words to further investigate like, “Canaanite, Arad, Negev, Atharim”. If you do, you definitely gain a better perspective on this historical event. However, I’m not going to take the time today to take you through that level of detailed examination.

I want to consider for a moment the last part of the verse. According to the text, this king of Arad fought Israel and took some of them as prisoners of war. The text literally says, “took some of them captive”, which of course means they intended to make them slaves. The nation of Israel, young as it was, was no stranger to captivity.

How familiar was Israel with the bondage of slavery? Well, If you think back to the man named Israel, before he was renamed Israel by Yahweh, you find the starting point. You’ll remember Jacob (later called Israel) willingly entered into a bondservant relationship in order to win a bride for himself. He ended up serving double time and came away with two wives, one he seemingly tolerated, and one he loved deeply, which of course caused conflict between the two women.

Jacob’s two wives gave him a bunch of sons, twelve to be exact, and the conflict continued into that generation. You likely remember the biblical account where eleven of Israel’s sons sold their brother Joseph into slavery. He of course forgave them and invited them into Egypt where they escaped a famine. They prospered, but eventually were made into slaves. For 430 years they were in  bondage to the Egyptian nation.

Yahweh God miraculously delivered them from slavery and in our text is leading them, not into slavery, but into the promised land, and yet some of them end up in bondage to this king of Arad. Sadly, this isn’t even close to the last time Israel would experience being dominated by a different people group.

Read Numbers 21:2-3 for yourself. The people make a deal with Yahweh – if you give them to us in battle, then we promise to destroy their cities. Yahweh answered, and the Israelites held up their end of the bargain.

I want you to pay particular attention to verses four and five.

Numbers 21:4-5

           4       They set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient along the way. 

           5       The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us from Egypt to die in the desert? There is no food and no water, and our hearts detest this miserable food.” 


This again? How many times in our trek through Numbers has Israel complained against Yahweh God and even accused Him of evil intent by bringing them out of captivity?

Look at the last part of verse five. The Israelites complained, “There is no food and no water, and our hearts detest this miserable food.” Wait a second! That doesn’t make any sense! You say there is no food, then you say your hearts detest this miserable food? So do you have food or don’t you? Did you say you have no water? Don’t you remember Yahweh supernaturally watering all one million plus of you and your cattle?

Did God just work on your behalf so you could conquer Arad? Why are you complaining? Oh, right! You became impatient (vs. 4)!

Do you ever become impatient with the process God is leading you through? I would advise caution. The next step from being impatient with God is complaining against Him!

Listen, thankfulness is not just a suggestion for the believer in Christ. It is actually a critical imperative. If you find yourself complaining against and accusing God, repent! Replace complaining with thankfulness. Remember what Philippians four teaches us.

Philippians 4:6-7

           6       Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 

           7       And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 


Don’t complain about God’s timing or His provision, but instead be thankful to Him. Remember, you cannot hold both complaining and thankfulness in your heart at the same time. The one you focus on will always drive the other one out.


All Scripture quotations from Harris, W. Hall, III et al., eds. The Lexham English Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012. Print.


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