218 – Numbers 21 – Yahweh is always faithful
Last time we ended our trek through the book by considering the first part of Numbers 21:24. We talked about it in the context of Israel defeating Sihon, the king of the Amorites. But I’d like to draw your attention to one little phrase at the end of the verse that would be easy to read past with hardly a glance.
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. 
That’s the Lexham English Bible. Let’s compare the same verse in the New King James translation.
24 Then Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the people of Ammon; for the border of the people of Ammon was fortified. 
You may be thinking, “big deal. So they stopped before attacking the Ammonites or people of Ammon as the NKJV calls it. Why did they stop? Well the text tells us, “…for the border of the people of Ammon was fortified or strong”. Let’s move on. Nothing more to see here, right?
I’m no literary expert, but when I think about books I generally group them into four categories. There is fiction (novels), non-fiction (biographies come to mind), and technical books for example about computer programming, and then there is the Bible. You may approach each type of book a little differently. For example, I don’t know very many people who have read technical books cover to cover. They usually search for the content they are interested in, then put the book down until they are in need of another fragment of information.
The Bible is an interesting, unique book. We could treat it like we would any novel, or any non-fictional work and learn plenty. But there is so much more to be gleaned if we put forth a bit of effort to study it. Simply comparing a given passage in multiple translations, like we did above, can broaden our perspective. Another thing we can do is look up cross-references that most good translations provide for us. I know that not all cross-references make sense or we fail to see the connection the cross-reference makes, but they are still worth exploring.
In any case, it is well worth the effort to compare scripture with scripture. What if we did a search of all of the occurrences of “Ammon”, the place that our passage tells us the Israelites didn’t attack?
This isn’t exhaustive but here are a couple of references.
When you approach the border of the Ammonites, you shall not harass them, and you shall not get involved in battle with them, for I have not given the land of the Ammonites to you as a possession; because I have given it to the descendants of Lot as a possession. (LEB)
Remember that Moses wrote both Numbers and Deuteronomy. When studying both books it seems obvious that their content is not mutually exclusive. Moses often wrote about the same event in both books, but often provides different detail in each book.. This is why correlation is an important Bible study principle. If we never consider other parts of the Bible it’s difficult to come to a complete understanding of the passage we are studying. Numbers tells us the Ammonites were fortified and Deuteronomy reveals that it was fortified because Yahweh told Israel to leave them alone.
Deuteronomy 2:37 gives some additional detail.
37 Only the land of the Ammonites you did not approach, all along the whole upper region of the Jabbok River and the towns of the hill country, according to all that Yahweh our God had instructed.
So what truth is revealed when we learn that Israel did not attack the Ammonites because Yhwh stopped them? We learn that Yahweh is a promise keeper. He gave the land to the descendants of Lot as a possession (Dt 2:19) so Israel can’t have it. Yahweh is always faithful!
If we make it a practice to compare scripture with scripture, if we will discipline ourselves to study even the so-called boring passages, we will sharpen our powers of observation. The better we do in the observation stages of Bible study the better our chances we will interpret what we read correctly.
If you can find the time you might enjoy reading and comparing all of Deuteronomy 2 and Numbers 21. Do some of your own observations and correlations. I think you will experience the joy of discovery.
When I ponder God’s goodness toward us I must confess I am at a loss to understand it. Why he decided to bless undeserving mankind with the truth of His Holy word is beyond my comprehension.
When I notice beauty in nature I am compelled to worship Yahweh God for His matchless design and goodness. When I learn or discover truth from His Holy word my heart often swells with worship to such a loving God.
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.