217 – Numbers 21 – Words

Last time we considered Numbers 21:5-9, which talks about Yahweh sending fiery serpents among the people. I pointed out the New Testament connection explaining that these serpents of the Old Testament were a type of Christ.

Numbers 21:10-20 continue the narrative explaining the different geographical locations that this wandering nation visited. As an aside Numbers 21:14-16 offer curious details because it references, even quotes the scroll of the Wars of Yahweh. Unfortunately, the book has been lost to us, but as I consulted various commentaries it appears it was an extra-Biblical book (scroll) or maybe a poem describing the wars Israel fought in that region, during that time frame. The interesting takeaway for me is its name, …the Wars of Yahweh. The naming of this lost book indicates that these ancient people recognized these wars as sanctioned by Yahweh Himself.

Next, Numbers 21:17-18 records for us a song the nation sang.

The last part of 18, through Numbers 21:20 continues to name in order the physical locations to which they traveled. Notice the last place mentioned in verse 20.

Numbers 21:20

20 and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the territory of Moab, by the top of Pisgah, which overlooks the surface of the wasteland.[1] 

As we progress through the narrative in the book of Numbers, it turns out Pisgah will become a very significant place to the Nation of Israel. However, I’m not going to tell you why until we get to it (feel free to read ahead).

Look at these few verses.

Numbers 21:21-24

           21       Israel sent messengers to Sihon, the king of the Amorites, saying, 

           22       “Let us go through your land; we will not turn aside into a field or vineyard; we will not drink well water along the way of the king until we have gone through your territory.” 

           23       But Sihon did not allow Israel to go through his territory. Sihon gathered all his people and went out to meet Israel; he came to the desert, to Jahaz, and he fought against Israel. 

           24       But Israel struck him with the edge of the sword, and they took possession of his land from Arnon to Jabbok, until the Ammonites, because the boundary of the Ammonites was strong.


Contrast those four verses with Numbers 20:14-21. Do you remember the story? The Edomites wouldn’t let Israel pass, so they went around. Here in verses 21-24 Sihon, king of the Amorites gives the same no answer and attacks Israel. Israel doesn’t respond by going around. They struck him with the edge of the sword and took possession of his land. Why the difference? You may remember that Edom (or Esau) was Israel’s brother. The Amorites on the other hand were one of the Canaanitish peoples. Who were the Canaanite? To answer that question we need to go all the way back to the book of Genesis.

Genesis 9:18-27 narrates for us a most peculiar event after the Ark runs aground on the mountain. Noah planted a vineyard, got drunk and passed out naked in his tent. Evidently, Ham sees his father’s nakedness and makes fun of him to his brothers. Noah wakes up and realizes what happened. Then Noah pronounces a curse, only he doesn’t curse Ham, but rather Ham’s son Canaan, the father of the Canaanites!

Scholars today debate why Moses cursed Canaan instead of his father who was the actual guilty party. The answer that makes the most sense to me is in Genesis 9:1 Yahweh blessed Noah and his sons. Noah couldn’t curse someone whom God had blessed, so he cursed his progeny. 

It seems to me the conquering of the Canaanites as cataloged in both the Wars of Yahweh and the Old Testament narrative are as a result of Noah’s curse upon Canaan in Genesis 9.

In today’s world we don’t really think in terms of blessings and cursing. At least not in the same way as the original biblical audience did. For us if someone blesses us they’ve basically said something nice about us, or given us something. A curse to us is generally a filthy word flung our way.

Proverbs 26:2

           2       Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow,

    So a curse without cause shall not alight.[2]


Even though we may not see it, the things recorded in God’s word happen for a reason. Though hard work at times, it is an enriching experience to dig a little deeper into the details of the text of the Bible. God’s Holy word is perfect and timeless.

Are our words important?

Proverbs 18:20-21

           20       From the fruit of a man’s mouth, his stomach will be satisfied, 

       as for the yield of his lips, it will satisfy. 

           21       Death and life are in the power of the tongue, 

       and those who love her will eat of her fruit. 


God and His word are so, so good!

[1] All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, from Harris, W. Hall, III et al., eds. The Lexham English Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012. Print.

[2] The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

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