From slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 21


The Canaanite king of Arad in the Negev (in the south) attacked Israel and took prisoners. Israel made a vow to Yahweh that if he would deliver the Canaanite people into their power that they would destroy everything as a holy destruction. We must remember that Israel lived in 1,200 BC and reflected the culture of that time. Yahweh had told them not to be buddies with the cultures of the land he was giving them.[1] When Canaan attacked them and they went to Yahweh for help, at least, some of them would have remembered Yahweh’s promise to give them the land; and that the land had vomited the Canaanites out because of their sin. The Canaanite people were an extremely violent people involved in and promoting idolatry, gang rape, bestiality, child sacrifice, and many other evil and grotesque practices.[2] Yahweh answered their supplication and they defeated Arad and named it Hormah which means Holy Destruction.

Israel set out from along the Red Sea Road, a detour around Edom. Yahweh wouldn’t have allowed them to go to war with Edom so they had to take a longer way around. They became petulant and cantankerous as they walked and spoke out against Yahweh and Moses. They asked Moses why he yanked them out of Egypt to die in that god-forsaken country. Since Yahweh was giving them manna, had given them water from the rock twice, and victory over their attacking enemies twice it would seem to the reader that their complaints were ridiculous. As Guy Winch says, “The constant negativity issuing forth from chronic complainers presents a huge challenge for those around them. And nothing makes chronic complainers happier than being more miserable than their friends. Trying to remain positive, motivated and productive amid a constant stream of complaints and dissatisfaction can try anyone’s patience.”[3] Any of the Israelites who were predisposed to have positive attitudes would have soon succumbed to negativity themselves under the pressure from the constant griping and moaning.

Israel purported to not being able to stand it anymore so Yahweh sent poisonous snakes to put them out of their misery. Many of them died and the people went to Moses and admitted that their attitude was a sin against Yahweh and him. They asked him to go implore Yahweh to take the snakes away.

Moses went to Yahweh and his God told him to make a snake and put it on a pole. He said that anyone who looked at it would live. Years later, Yeshua told the leader who came to him by night and asked how to be born again, “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.”[4] The snake on the pole did at least two things. It pictured Yeshua/Jesus on the cross and it gave the chosen people an opportunity to make the decision to believe Yahweh when he said that looking at that man-made serpent would give them life. They couldn’t possibly understand how looking at a cooper snake formed by Moses and put on a pole could credibly give them life. Those who made the choice to believe Yahweh and looked at the snake as commanded by Yahweh lived. In the same way, when we, today, “look at” Yeshua/Jesus on the cross believing that he died so that we could have life, we live.

The narrator recorded four camps before they reached the Arnon River that marked the border between Amorite country and Moab. Moses, at Yahweh’s command, gathered the people and their God gave them water from a well. They named the place The Well and sang the song we have adapted for our use in community worship service.

They sang something like this:

“Erupt, Well!
Sing the Song of the Well,
the well sunk by princes,
Dug out by the peoples’ leaders
digging with their scepters and staffs.”

We sing, “Spring up O Well, within my soul. Spring up O Well, and make me whole. Spring up O Well, and give to me, your life abundantly!”

We equate the well with the water of life that Yeshua promised[5] and Jeremiah talked about when he said that those who reject the fountains of living water – Yahweh – will be ashamed.

Israel traveled to the valley that opens into the fields of Moab where the summit rises and overlooked the wasteland. They sent agents to the king of the Amorites asking for permission to cross their land, promising to keep to the road and not trespass or drink from their wells.

“[The Amorites were an] ancient tribe of Canaanites, technically not of Canaanite ethnicity, the Amorites appear as nomadic clans ruled by fierce tribal chiefs, who forced themselves into lands they needed to graze their herds. Some of the Akkadian literature of this era speaks disparagingly of the Amorites, and implies that the Akkadian and Sumerian speakers of Mesopotamia viewed their nomadic and primitive way of life with disgust and contempt, for example:
“The MAR.TU who know no grain… The MAR.TU who know no house nor town, the boors of the mountains… The MAR.TU who digs up truffles… who does not bend his knees (to cultivate the land), who eats raw meat, who has no house during his lifetime, who is not buried after death[6]

“The rise of the Amorite kingdoms in Mesopotamia brought about deep and lasting repercussions in its political, social, and economic structure, especially in southern Mesopotamia[7].”

“Amorites succeeded in invading Mesopotamia and by about 1700 BC their descendants created the Babylonian Empire, centered on their capital city of Babylon (the old city of Akkad).[8]

They not only wouldn’t let Israel pass through their land, but they attacked Israel in the wilderness. Israel fought hard and defeated them decisively. They took possession of Amorite cities and surrounding settlements. The narrator wrote that Heshbon was the capital city of Sihon king of the Amorites. He had attacked the former king of Moab and captured all his land as far north as the river Arnon. The narrator recorded a folk song about Heshbon and its devastation.

While they were living in Amorite country Moses sent scouts to other Amorite country where they drove out the inhabitants and moved in. When they turned north on the road to Bashan (which contained sixty walled cities and many unwalled towns) the king of Og marched out to meet Moses in battle. The king was a giant of a man but Yahweh assured Moses that he should not be afraid of him because he, Yahweh, was giving Moses victory over him and his people. Israel defeated Og and took no prisoners. The narrator wrote that there wasn’t a single survivor.


Summary of chapter 21

This chapter started with the conflict with Arad (a small border chieftain). The narrator wrote about the experience of the fiery serpents (Many, many times before this the sinful and unreasonable complaints of the people of God had long ago exceeded the merciful and understanding forbearance of God[9].) The narrator gave the reader an abbreviated account of several of the encampments of Israel. He recorded the continued journey. “Of particular interest is the mention of ‘The Book of the Wars of Jehovah.’ Moses here quoted from it; but we cannot know all that was in it or in fact anything that was in it except what is quoted here. Certainly, it has the utility of showing that ‘books’ were being written in that era of time, and that there were perhaps many of them. Writing had been known for centuries, as witnessed by the Code of Hammurabi dated from about 2000 B.C.”[10]. The record of the well was not a case of Moses striking the rock and bringing forth water, but of Yahweh’s ordering a well to be dug; and the leaders of the people did the digging. That’s still the way Yahweh gives water to people all over the world. Yahweh works through the hands and hearts of his people. Finally, the narrator recorded the conflict with the Amorites, and a defeat of Bashan and the formal conquest of the land of Canaan began in earnest.[11]


Prayer: Lord I realize that there’s far more to this life than trusting in you for salvation. There’s also suffering for you. I know that the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. I’m involved in the same kind of struggle I read that Israel went through, and I am made of the same clay that they were. I am still living in this corrupted body and need to hold tight to your hand as I walk this mortal road. You didn’t go to all the trouble of sending your Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. You came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in you is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust you has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. We are in the same condition as Israel was in the wilderness. Then, as now, your light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not interested in pleasing you. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates your light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. Nevertheless, anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes your light so the work can be seen for what it is – your salvation power. Thank you for your great love and mercy. I pray my love will flourish so that I will not only love much but also well. Show me how, moment by moment, to love appropriately. Help me to use my head and test my feelings so that my love is sincere and intelligent; and not just sentimental gush. Help me to live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life you will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making you attractive to all. I know that you, who started this great work in me will keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day you, Yeshua ha Mashiach, return.[12]



Things to think about

  1. We know that Arad wasn’t destroyed until after Joshua took Israel in to possess the land, so why do you think Israel named the town Holy Destruction after Yahweh gave them victory over Arad as recorded in this chapter?
  2. Holy destruction meant that the people didn’t take any booty from the defeated enemy as was the custom, but instead destroyed everything completely. Why do you think Yahweh didn’t want them to take the possessions of the Canaanites into the households of his chosen people?
  3. What does the story about Israel’s battle with Arad tell you about the character of Yahweh?
  4. The actions and words of the Israelite people when they accused Moses of yanking them out of Egypt to die in that god forsaken country were shameful. Do you recall ever having that attitude yourself? Israel’s salvation was to look up to the representation of Yahweh’s power and grace in the copper snake. What can we do when we find ourselves in the same situation?
  5. What does the story of the serpents and Yahweh’s provision for healing his people tell you about the character of Yahweh? Does he have a right to destroy evil societies and people? Why?
  6. What did the story of the well tell you about the character of Yahweh? What did it tell you about the people of Israel’s mood and the ambiance around the well they dug?
  7. Why do you think Moses sent ambassadors to ask permission to cross Amorite territory instead of just attacking them? Why do you think the king of Og marched out against Israel? What did this story tell you about Yahweh? Does he still have the power to topple and establish nations? What do your meditations on the subject tell you are the conditions under which Yahweh has taken ultimate power from nations in recent years?



[1] Exodus 23:27-31; Lev 18:24-28; 20:22-23;



[4] John 3:13-15; Romans 8:3

[5] John 4:14; 7:38; Jeramiah 17:13

[6] Chiera 1934: 58 and 112




[10] IBID

[11] IBID

[12] Philippians 1,1’ John 3


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