About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Chapter 21 

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ch. 21:1-3   ch. 21:4-9   ch. 21:10-20   ch.21:21-35

Arad Destroyed (ch. 21:1 - 3)


Here, in this little section we see the first of three conflicts that Israel had to face before they entered the promised land of Canaan.  All totaled, Israel fought ten battles in order to capture Canaan, three before they entered Canaan, and seven after they entered the land. This is the first battle. 


We see in verse 1 that some of the Israeli men were captured by the Arad 's.  Once again Israel is in trouble, and as usual, when they're in trouble they turn to their God and made a vow with God.  Notice here that the text does not say that Moses vowed with God.  Up to this time, it was Moses who spoke to God on the behalf of Israel, but he is in the process of loosing his ministry.  We don't know how this vow was made.  We simply know what the vow was. Israel would utterly destroy the citied of Arad if God would help them get their men back.  God did help Israel, and they did destroy all the cities.


God is seen as a God of war in this passage and in many other passages of the Old Testament. Many people struggle with this.  They can't see a God who is supposed to be a God love so involved in military matters.  In the Christian world, this struggle is partly due to the fact that Evangelicals have stressed "personal salvation" to the degree that people don't understand that there is more than personal salvation that God is interested in.  God is also inter4ested in nations, as well as the individual.  We see that more in the Old Testament than in the New Testament for a number of reasons.


The Old Testament spans a few thousand years and deals with the nation of Israel and how it relates to both God and other nations.  The New Testament spans about forty years and deals mostly wit the message of salvation.  That being said, the book of Revelation is one exception to this.  Like the Old Testament, it deals with nations, and the nation of Israel.


Another reason why many Christians don't understand that God is interested in nations as much as He is in the individual is because of their view concerning Israel  Many Bible teachers teach that God's interest in Israel ceased in70 AD when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and disbursed the Jews all around the known world.  I do not hold to this view of prophetic history.  I do believe God is still interested in Israel, and the other nations of the world. 


Since God is still concerned about nations, He must be concerned about matters of war.  War is one of the major themes in the book of Revelation. 


God chose Abraham to become a nation.  At that joint God became, or showed his interest in nations.  Since Israel is God's chosen nation, He thus must be involved in any conflict that they run into.


One last point on this issue.  We as individuals can learn a lot about God's dealings with Israel and the nations.  God wanted Israel 's enemies destroyed, as He also wants the enemies of Jesus and the church destroyed, which He Himself will do at the end of this age.  We therefore need to note and learn how God feels about these enemies and our response to them.  One example of something we should learn on a personal level is that God wanted Israel to destroy all their enemies.  He wanted them to leave no trace of them because if they did leave a trace, that trace would grow to become their enemy again.  The same with the Christian and sin, one of our biggest enemies. If we don't destroy all the sin in our lives, sin will return and haunt us.


The Bronze Snake (ch. 21:4 - 9)           


We note back in verse 3 that Israel got discouraged because of the battle they just fought, and when they get discouraged, they start complaining, as they do here in verses 4 and 5.  They sing the same old song.  They ask God and Moses why they were led out into the desert to die. 


The circular story of Israel continues.  In verses 6 and 7  God judges Israel by sending poisonous snakes to bite them.  Many people die and Israel tells Moses they have sinned.  Moses then intercedes on behalf of Israel, and God provides a way of escape.   God is just.  He must judge us for our sin, but part of this judgment is giving us a way to escape His judgment.  This is what salvation and the cross of Christ is all about.  That is, God providing a way to escape the consequences of our sin.


God's provision is found in verses 8 and 9.  God said to Moses to make a brass snake and put it on a pole.  Moses was to put it in a place high enough for all to see and if someone got bit by a snake all that they had to do was to look up, see that brass snake on the pole, and he would get better.  God always provides a way of escape, a way of salvation.


This passage of Scripture is important.  In John 3:16 we have probably the most well known verse in the Bible.  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." We all know that verse, but do we know what precedes it. 


Jesus speaks of this very event in Numbers 21 and compares Himself to this brass snake that is raised on this pole.  John 3:14 and 15 read, " just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him should have eternal life." 


We learn a lot here from the words of Jesus.  One thing we learn is the place of faith, trust, or belief in both the snake in Moses' and Jesus in our day.  In Moses day, all that people had to do when bitten by the snake was to look at the brass snake on the pole.  It was all a matter of faith, of trust in God.  That's it.  It's faith alone. 


Another thing that I believe we learn is that Jesus compared Himself to that snake on the pole.  The cross was the pole, and Jesus was the snake, something you might struggle with because the snake represents Jesus.  How could Jesus be associated with a snake. It's simple.  The New Testament teaches that when Jesus hung on the cross, He was not only punished for our sins, He actually became our sin.  The holy God becomes sin.  The holy God took on Himself the symbolism of satan to show His love He had for us. 


Note in verse 8 that the NIV uses the word "snake".   God asked Moses to make a brass snake.  In the KJV you do not see the word "snake" but "fiery serpent".  I suggest that in this case, the KJV is a better translation.  The Hebrew word translated as serpent in the KJV and snake in the NIV is "seraph".   This snake was in fact a fiery, or shiny seraph, and, that is the very description of satan in the Old Testament.  He is seen as the "shiny one".  This is quite the symbol of healing or salvation. 


When you think of the comparison of Jesus to this snake, Jesus took upon Himself the symbolism of satan in order to save us.


Concerning the serpent, you can remember Genesis 3 where Eve spoke to, and gave into the serpent.  Well, the serpent became a serpent after God judged him.  He was not a serpent prior to this.  When satan spoke to Eve, he was a very attractive and charismatic figure.  Eve was probably not only taken by what he told her but by his beauty.  Eve not only gave into this one, but might well have begun to give herself, her emotions over to him, something that should have been for Adam alone.  Some have even called Eve's actions a form of adultery. Some even believe, not me, that eve's sin was some kind of sexual sin with the serpent, and that the fruit simply symbolizes that. 


Another thing to note here is that this very snake on the pole that was meant to save Israel, was kept around for a long time and eventually became a god like figure to Israel as can be seen in 2 Kings 12. 


There's one more thing to note here and that is this snake on the pole was made of brass.  Most people who know anything about Biblical symbolism will tell you that brass represents God's judgment for various reasons. Both sin and the devil were judged on the cross and condemned, and once again, Jesus symbolized this amazing fact. 


There's clearly a lot to learn in this one little section tucked away in this part of the Bible. 


The Journey To Moab (ch. 21:10 - 20)


From verses 10 to 13 we see the way in which Israel had to take to get to Canaan .  Verse 14 has been debated for centuries.  Verse 14 mentions the "book of the wars of the Lord".  No one really seems to know what this book is. It appears that Israel kept a book of history that kept account of their wars.  If Moses wrote this sentence, there would not be many wars, other than Israel escaping from Egypt.  Some might suggest that this sentence was inserted by the scribe that would have edited the first five books of the Bible centuries later.  Many Bible teachers believe that Ezra edited the first five books of the Bible and by his time there would have been many wars to record in such a book.  There is not enough evidence that I know of to say anything more about the book of wars.


In verse 16 the Lord asks Moses to gather the people together and He would give them water, something they would be real happy to get. The place was named Beer, which in Hebrew means "well".  Many places are named with the word "Beer" as a prefix.  For example, Beer-sheba means "well of seven".    


For once we see Israel happy.  In verse 17 they actually sing a song. According to this song both nobles and the ordinary people built this well. 


The rest of this chapter continues to tell the route that Israel was taking to Canaan .


Defeat Of Sihom And Og  (ch. 21:21 - 35)


This whole section, from verses 21 to 35 describes the second and third battle that  Israel had to face before entering the promised land of Canaan.  The Lord was with them and they totally destroyed their enemies. 


Before the first battle Moses asked the king if they could peacefully pass through his land, and he declined, as did the king of Arid in the first part of this chapter.  Moses attempted to pass through this land peacefully, and peace could not be found.  The armies came out to meet them.  Israel did not start the fight, but they weren't afraid to fight once the fight started. 


I've said this before, but many people struggle over the idea that God would be involved in wars such as these.  What these people fail to understand is that God is more than just a God who cares about the individual.  He cares about nations.  It was his idea in the first place, as seen in Genesis 11, to divide people into different cultural communities.  Then beyond that, God chose one nation to be an example to the rest, and that was Israel.  Therefore if Israel , God's nation, was under attack, then God had to be involved in the fight.  It is not that hard to figure out or understand.


In verse 27 onward, we see mention of "poets" and a poem that they speak.  Many Bible teachers feel this poem is a song of victory sung by the Amorites because of a victory in war over the Moabites. 



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