I’ve written before about the need to take your time with certain chapters of the Bible. They don’t lend themselves to easy reading. Numbers 21 is one of those chapters.
To show you just one of the reasons, I’d like to give you a list of some of the words found in this chapter.
Canaanite, Arad, Negeb, Atharim, Hormah, Hor, Edom, Oboth, Iye-abarim, Moab, Wadi, Zered, Arnon, Amorites, Waheb, Suphah, Ar, Beer, Mattanah, Nahaliel, Bamoth, Pisgah, Sihon, Jahaz, Jabbok, Ammonites, Heshbon, Chemosh, Dibon, Jazer, Bashan, Og, Edrei. (I am pretty sure I used up my squiggly red spell-check line quota with that paragraph!)
So you can see what we are dealing with here!
Anyway, the chapter is broken up into six (as best as I can tell) misadventures. After looking at each one, I finally got what was going on.
Misadventure 1: Israel is attacked. They pray. God hears. They have victory. And the enemy’s towns are totally destroyed.
Misadventure 2: The people complain. God sends snakes to punish them. Moses prays. They are saved.
Misadventure 3: Travel. God provides water. The people sing a song. Then they travel some more.
Misadventure 4: Basically a repeat of Numbers 20. The people get Balrogged! Israel is attacked. They fight back. They win.
Misadventure 5: A brief history lesson about how awesome that guy they just beat was.
Misadventure 6: Israel is attacked. God tells Moses they will have victory. They do. They completely wipe out their attackers.
And there you have it. Notice any patterns? I sure did.
Don’t mess with the LORD.
He will beat you. And being one of his own people doesn’t exclude you from this principle.
A Brief Thought on Violence
Three times in this chapter does Israel wipe out an opponent. It is very understated in the text, but these were incredibly violent episodes.
But the fact that the violence is so understated tells me that it shouldn’t be shocking. We aren’t meant to read this and think, “oh how terrible! I can’t believe anyone would do such a thing and that God would condone it!”
We are meant to read it and think, “Look what happens to people who mess with God and his people! We probably shouldn’t do that.”
You will notice that Israel was never the instigator. All they wanted to do was be on their merry way. They even promised to not take any food or water from the lands they passed through.
But each time, the Kings said “no” and came out to fight Israel. They lost every time. And it cost them dearly.
That doesn’t answer all my questions and it probably doesn’t answer all of yours. But at the end of the day, this is what God said would happen back in Genesis 12.
So we really shouldn’t be surprised.