Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
num 21:1King Arad - Or rather, the Canaanite King of Arad: for Arad is not the name of a man, but of a city or territory. And he seems to be called a Canaanite in a general sense, as the Amorites and others. The south - Of Canaan, towards the east, and near the dead sea. Of the spies - Not of those spies which Moses sent to spy the land, for that was done thirty eight years before this, and they went so privately, that the Canaanites took no notice of them, nor knew which way they came or went; but of the spies which he himself sent out to observe the marches and motions of the Israelites. Took some of them prisoners - Which God permitted for Israel's humiliation, and to teach them not to expect the conquest of that land from their own wisdom or valour.
num 21:2I will utterly destroy them - I will reserve no person or thing for my own use, but devote them all to total destruction.
num 21:3They utterly destroyed them - Neither Moses nor the whole body of the people did this but a select number sent out to punish that king and people, who were so fierce and malicious that they came out of their own country to fight with the Israelites in the wilderness; and these, when they had done this work, returned to their brethren into the wilderness. But why did they not all now go into Canaan, and pursue this victory? Because God would not permit it, there being several works yet to be done, other people must be conquered, the Israelites must be farther humbled and tried and purged, Moses must die, and then they shall enter, and that in a more glorious manner, even over Jordan, which shall be miraculously dried up, to give them passage. Hormah - That is, utter destruction.
num 21:4By way of the Red - sea - Which leadeth to the Red - sea, as they must needs do to compass the land of Edom. Because of the way - By reason of this journey, which was long and troublesome, and unexpected, because the successful entrance and victorious progress which some of them had made in the borders of Canaan, made them think they might have speedily gone in and taken possession of it, and so have saved the tedious travels and farther difficulties, into which Moses had again brought them.
num 21:5Against God - Against Christ, their chief conductor, whom they tempted, Co1 10:19. Thus contemptuously did they speak of Manna, whereas it appears it yielded excellent nourishment, because in the strength of it they were able to go so many and such tedious journeys.
num 21:6Fiery serpents - There were many such in this wilderness, which having been hitherto restrained by God, are now let loose and sent among them. They are called fiery from their effects, because their poison caused an intolerable heat and burning and thirst, which was aggravated with this circumstance of the place, that here was no water, Num 21:5.
num 21:8A fiery serpent - That is, the figure of a serpent in brass, which is of a fiery colour. This would require some time: God would not speedily take off the judgment, because he saw they were not throughly humbled. Upon a pole - That the people might see it from all parts of the camp, and therefore the pole must be high, and the serpent large. When he looketh - This method of cure was prescribed, that it might appear to be God's own work, and not the effect of nature or art: and that it might be an eminent type of our salvation by Christ. The serpent signified Christ, who was in the likeness of sinful flesh, though without sin, as this brazen serpent had the outward shape, but not the inward poison, of the other serpents: the pole resembled the cross upon which Christ was lifted up for our salvation: and looking up to it designed our believing in Christ.
num 21:9He lived - He was delivered from death, and cured of his disease.
num 21:10In Oboth - Not immediately, but after two other stations mentioned, Num 33:43-44.
num 21:12The valley of Zared - Or rather, by the brook of Zared, which ran into the dead sea.
num 21:13On the other side - Or rather, on this side of Arnon, for so it now was to the Israelites, who had not yet passed over it. Between Moab and the Amorites - Though formerly it and the land beyond it belonged to Moab, yet afterwards it had been taken from them by Sihon. This is added to reconcile two seemingly contrary commands of God, the one that of not meddling with the land of the Moabites, Deu 2:9, the other that of going over Arnon and taking possession of the land beyond it, Deu 2:24, because, saith he, it is not now the land of the Moabites, but of the Amorites.
num 21:14The book of the wars of the Lord - This seems to have been some poem or narration of the wars and victories of the Lord, either by: or relating to the Israelites: which may be asserted without any prejudice to the integrity of the holy scripture, because this book doth not appear to have been written by a prophet, er to be designed for a part of the canon, which yet Moses might quote, as St. Paul doth some of the heathen poets. And as St. Luke assures us, that many did write an history of the things done, and said by Christ, Luk 1:1, whose writings were never received as canonical, the like may be conceived concerning this and some few other books mentioned in the old testament. The brooks - The brook, the plural number for the singular, as the plural number rivers is used concerning Jordan, Psa 74:15, and concerning Tigris, Nah 2:6, and concerning Euphrates, Psa 137:1, all which may be to called because of the several little streams into which they were divided.
num 21:15Ar - A chief city in Moab.
num 21:16Beer - This place and Mattanah, Nahaliel, and Bamoth named here, Num 21:19, are not mentioned among those places where they pitched or encamped, Num. 33:1-49. Probably they did not pitch or encamp in these places, but only pass by or through them. I will give them water - In a miraculous manner. Before they prayed, God granted, and prevented them with the blessings of goodness. And as the brasen serpent was the figure of Christ, so is this well a figure of the spirit, who is poured forth for our comfort, and from him flow rivers of living waters.
num 21:17Spring up - Heb. ascend, that is, let thy waters, which now lie hid below in the earth, ascend for our use. It is either a prediction that it should spring up, or a prayer that it might.
num 21:18With their staves - Probably as Moses smote the rock with his rod, so they struck the earth with their staves, as a sign that God would cause the water to flow out of the earth where they smote it, as he did before out of the rock. Perhaps they made holes with their staves in the sandy ground, and God caused the water immediately to spring up.
num 21:20Pisgah - This was the top of those high hills of Abarim.
num 21:21Sent messengers - By God's allowance, that so Sihon's malice might be the more evident and inexcusable, and their title to his country more clear in the judgment of all men, as being gotten by a just war, into which they were forced for their own defence.
num 21:22Let me pass - They spoke what they seriously intended and would have done, if he had given them quiet passage.
num 21:24From Arnon - Or, which reached from Arnon; and so here is a description or limitation of Sihon's conquest and kingdom, that is, extended only from Arnon, unto the children of Ammon; and then the following words, for the border of the children of Ammon was strong, come in very fitly, not as a reason why the Israelites did not conquer the Ammonites, for they were absolutely forbidden to meddle with them, Deu 3:8, but as a reason why Sihon could not enlarge his conquests to the Ammonites, as he had done to the Moabites. Jabbok - A river by which the countries of Ammon and Moab were in part bounded and divided. Strong - Either by the advantage of the river, or by their strong holds in their frontiers.
num 21:26Was the city of Sihon - This is added as a reason why Israel took possession of this land, because it was not now the land of the Moabites, but in the possession of the Amorites. The former king - The predecessor of Balak, who was the present king. See the wisdom of providence, which prepares long before, for the accomplishing God's purposes in their season! This country being designed for Israel, is before - hand put into the hand of the Amorites, who little think they have it but as trustees, till Israel comes of age. We understand not the vast reaches of providence: but known unto God are all his works!
num 21:27In proverbs - The poets or other ingenious persons, of the Amorites or Canaanites, who made this following song of triumph over the vanquished Moabites: which is here brought in, as a proof that this was now Sihon's land, and as an evidence of the just judgment of God in spoiling the spoilers, and subduing those who insulted over their conquered enemies. Come into Heshbon - These are the words either of Sihon speaking to his people, or of the people exhorting one another to come and possess the city which they had taken. Of Sihon - That which once was the royal city of the king of Moab, but now is the city of Sihon.
num 21:28A fire - The fury of war, which is fitly compared to fire. Out of Heshbon - That city which before was a refuge and defence to all the country, now is turned into a great annoyance. It hath consumed Ar - This may be understood not of the city Ar, but of the people or the country subject or belonging to that great and royal city. The lords of the high places - The princes or governors of the strong holds, which were frequently in high places, especially in that mountainous country, and which were in divers parts all along the river Arnon. So the Amorites triumphed over the vanquished Moabites. But the triumphing of the wicked is short!
num 21:29People of Chemosh - The worshippers of Chemosh: so the God of the Moabites was called. He, that is, their God, hath delivered up his own people to his and their enemies; nor could he secure even those that had escaped the sword, but suffered them to be carried into captivity. The words of this and the following verse seem to be not a part of that triumphant song made, by some Amoritish poet, which seems to be concluded, Num 21:28, but of the Israelites making their observation upon it. And here they scoff at the impotency not only of the Moabites, but of their God also, who could not save his people from the sword of Sihon and the Amorites.
num 21:30Though you feeble Moabites, and your God too, could not resist Sihon, we Israelites, by the help of our God, have shot, with success and victory, at them, at Sihon and his Amorites. Heshbon - The royal city of Sihon, and by him lately repaired, Is perished - Is taken away from Sihon, and so is all his country, even as far as Dibon.
num 21:32Jaazer - One of the cities of Moab formerly taken from them by Sihon, and now taken from him by the Israelites.
num 21:33Og - Who also was a king of the Amorites. And it may seem that Sihon and Og were the leaders or captains of two great colonies which came out of Canaan, and drove out the former inhabitants of these places. Bashan - A rich country, famous for its pastures and breed of cattle, and for its oaks.