Numbers 21 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Numbers 21)
Enemies and difficulties to be met; the brazen serpant lifted up

The question is not here to conduct the people with patience through the wilderness, where the flesh manifested itself; but there are enemies and difficulties to be met; for there are difficulties distinct from the conduct and the patience of life. The Israelites fight with the Canaanites in the south, though they have not got into the land. But the king of the Canaanites has been informed of their coming by the presence of the spies. This was another fruit of the want of boldness of faith which had caused them to be sent. How little we gain by the prudence of unbelief! It gives occasion to the power and attacks of the enemy.

However, though these enemies seem to prevail at first when Israel allow themselves to be attacked, when the Israelites are ready utterly to destroy them God delivers them up to them. Take notice of this. But the people, wearied, murmur again, for the way was long. They were fighting with the Canaanites without yet possessing the land; the question was only about destroying their power and yet possessing nothing. It was the power of evil and that only, and resisted and put down as such. It was for God's sake and His glory only. On their murmurs God interferes and makes them feel all the power of the enemy, the old serpent. Christ made sin for us is the only perfectly efficacious remedy. The mere sight of that wonder procures healing, for the efficacy is in the thing itself before God. Faith sees Christ made sin for us.

The question is not here about leading the people, but of answering the judgment of God, either final or in the way of chastening, and the power of the enemy against us in the face of that judgment, and even as the effect of that judgment. In such a case the question is between our souls and God; it is a question of death, or simply of the death of Jesus. We must submit to that, as being in an irremediable condition, and, submitting to God's righteousness, look to His ordinance—that is, to Christ lifted up for us.

The springing well in the wilderness

Next, Israel goes forward, but they are not yet in the land. God relieves and refreshes them of His own free grace, without their murmuring. He gathers the people. Israel celebrates anew, close by the land, the wells which are found in the wilderness. They can now say themselves, "Spring up, O well"; no more rock to smite, no more murmurings near the land. Life at the end of their course is no longer the question: it is salvation from the deadly wound of the serpent. They are healed; they walk and drink with joy and songs of praise. They dug—for their activity displayed itself in the presence of the grace of God—and the water sprang up in the wilderness.

THe beginning of the realization of the promises

We meet with people with whom we do not wish to have war, but they will not let us pass peaceably. Our warfare is with the possessors of our inheritance beyond Jordan. If we are attacked, we must defend ourselves; but we are not to be aggressors. Israel wishes to pass quietly through the land of the Amorites; but these will not allow it, and they suffer the consequences of the war they had sought against the people of God. Israel takes their cities, and begins already on this side Jordan to realise, as if beforehand, the possession of the promise.