21 When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming on the Atharim road, he fought against Israel and captured some prisoners. 2 Then Israel made a vow to the Lord, “If you will hand this people over to us, we will completely destroy their cities.” 3 The Lord listened to Israel’s request and handed the Canaanites over to them, and Israel completely destroyed them and their cities. So they named the place Hormah.[a]
The Bronze Snake
4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey. 5 The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!” 6 Then the Lord sent poisonous[b] snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died.7 The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us.” And Moses interceded for the people.8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.
Journey around Moab
10 The Israelites set out and camped at Oboth. 11 They set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim in the wilderness that borders Moab on the east. 12 From there they went and camped at Zered Valley. 13 They set out from there and camped on the other side of the Arnon River, in the wilderness that extends from the Amorite border, because the Arnon was the Moabite border between Moab and the Amorites. 14 Therefore it is stated in the Book of the Lord’s Wars:Waheb in Suphah
and the ravines of the Arnon,
15 even the slopes of the ravines
that extend to the site of Ar
and lie along the border of Moab.16 From there they went to Beer,[c] the well the Lord told Moses about, “Gather the people so I may give them water.” 17 Then Israel sang this song:Spring up, well—sing to it!
18 The princes dug the well;
the nobles of the people hollowed it out
with a scepter and with their staffs.They went from the wilderness to Mattanah, 19 from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20 from Bamoth to the valley in the territory of Moab near the Pisgah highlands that overlook the wasteland.[d]
Amorite Kings Defeated
21 Israel sent messengers to say to King Sihon of the Amorites: 22 “Let us travel through your land. We won’t go into the fields or vineyards. We won’t drink any well water. We will travel the King’s Highway until we have traveled through your territory.” 23 But Sihon would not let Israel travel through his territory. Instead, he gathered his whole army and went out to confront Israel in the wilderness. When he came to Jahaz, he fought against Israel. 24 Israel struck him with the sword and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only up to the Ammonite border, because it was fortified.[e]25 Israel took all the cities and lived in all these Amorite cities, including Heshbon and all its surrounding villages. 26 Heshbon was the city of King Sihon of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken control of all his land as far as the Arnon. 27 Therefore the poets[f] say:Come to Heshbon, let it be rebuilt;
let the city of Sihon be restored.[g]
28 For fire came out of Heshbon,
a flame from the city of Sihon.
It consumed Ar of Moab,
the citizens of Arnon’s heights.
29 Woe to you, Moab!
You have been destroyed, people of Chemosh!
He gave up his sons as refugees,
and his daughters into captivity
to Sihon the Amorite king.
30 We threw them down;
Heshbon has been destroyed as far as Dibon.
We caused desolation as far as Nophah,
which reaches as far as Medeba.31 So Israel lived in the Amorites’ land. 32 After Moses sent spies to Jazer, Israel captured its surrounding villages and drove out the Amorites who were there.33 Then they turned and went up the road to Bashan, and King Og of Bashan came out against them with his whole army to do battle at Edrei. 34 But the Lord said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have handed him over to you along with his whole army and his land. Do to him as you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon.” 35 So they struck him, his sons, and his whole army until no one was left,[h] and they took possession of his land.
Balak Hires Balaam
22 The Israelites traveled on and camped in the plains of Moab near the Jordan across from Jericho. 2 Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3 Moab was terrified of the people because they were numerous, and Moab dreaded the Israelites. 4 So the Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will devour everything around us like an ox eats up the green plants in the field.”Since Balak son of Zippor was Moab’s king at that time, 5 he sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor, which is by the Euphrates in the land of his people.[i][j] Balak said to him: “Look, a people has come out of Egypt; they cover the surface of the land and are living right across from me. 6 Please come and put a curse on these people for me because they are more powerful than I am. I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that those you bless are blessed and those you curse are cursed.”7 The elders of Moab and Midian departed with fees for divination in hand. They came to Balaam and reported Balak’s words to him. 8 He said to them, “Spend the night here, and I will give you the answer the Lord tells me.” So the officials of Moab stayed with Balaam.9 Then God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?”10 Balaam replied to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent this message to me: 11 ‘Look, a people has come out of Egypt, and they cover the surface of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. I may be able to fight against them and drive them away.’”12 Then God said to Balaam, “You are not to go with them. You are not to curse this people, for they are blessed.”13 So Balaam got up the next morning and said to Balak’s officials, “Go back to your land, because the Lord has refused to let me go with you.”14 The officials of Moab arose, returned to Balak, and reported, “Balaam refused to come with us.”15 Balak sent officials again who were more numerous and higher in rank than the others. 16 They came to Balaam and said to him, “This is what Balak son of Zippor says: ‘Let nothing keep you from coming to me, 17 for I will greatly honor you and do whatever you ask me. So please come and put a curse on these people for me!’”18 But Balaam responded to the servants of Balak, “If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go against the command of the Lord my God to do anything small or great. 19 Please stay here overnight as the others did, so that I may find out what else the Lord has to tell me.”20 God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “Since these men have come to summon you, get up and go with them, but you must only do what I tell you.” 21 When he got up in the morning, Balaam saddled his donkey and went with the officials of Moab.
Balaam’s Donkey and the Angel
22 But God was incensed that Balaam was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand on the path to oppose him. Balaam was riding his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing on the path with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the path and went into the field. So Balaam hit her to return her to the path. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow passage between the vineyards, with a stone wall on either side. 25 The donkey saw the angel of the Lord and pressed herself against the wall, squeezing Balaam’s foot against it. So he hit her once again. 26 The angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn to the right or the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she crouched down under Balaam. So he became furious and beat the donkey with his stick.28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and she asked Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?”29 Balaam answered the donkey, “You made me look like a fool. If I had a sword in my hand, I’d kill you now!”30 But the donkey said, “Am I not the donkey you’ve ridden all your life until today? Have I ever treated you this way before?”“No,” he replied.31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the path with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam knelt low and bowed in worship on his face. 32 The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? Look, I came out to oppose you, because I consider what you are doing to be evil.[k] 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away from me, I would have killed you by now and let her live.”34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the path to confront me. And now, if it is evil in your sight, I will go back.”35 Then the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but you are to say only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite city[l] on the Arnon border at the edge of his territory. 37 Balak asked Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”38 Balaam said to him, “Look, I have come to you, but can I say anything I want? I must speak only the message God puts in my mouth.” 39 So Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth.[m] 40 Balak sacrificed cattle, sheep, and goats and sent for Balaam and the officials who were with him.41 In the morning, Balak took Balaam and brought him to Bamoth-baal.[n] From there he saw the outskirts of the people’s camp.
There is a lot going on in these two chapters. You have the story of the bronze snake. People grumbling and complaining and God sent poisonous snakes that killed the Israelites when they were bitten. I love the imagery in verses 8-9 about the bronze snake being mounted to a pole and the people looking at it to be healed. The apostle John references this event just before he pens the most famous verse in the Bible. John 3:14-15 states, 14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may[d] have eternal life.”
Then you have the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. One of my favorite Christian artists, Todd Agnew, included this story in a song he wrote entitled, “Funny,” where he writes:
It’s funny how a fish can obey You, How a plant can obey You, How the sun can obey You, And a donkey can obey You, It seems like everything can obey You but I can’t
If you want to listen to the whole song you can go here. Let’s endeavor today to obey Him!