We are in the World Stream reading from the World English Bible.
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Commentary by Dr. Drake Travis
Lord, you led your people into victory and to more. Lead us we pray as we spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Amen.
19 – The red heifer sacrifice was of tremendous significance in this culture. There is much debate and mystery about the reinstitution of this ritual that you are encouraged to do a “search” on. It has an ominous overtone about it that can be discussed into infinity. The cedar/hyssop/scarlet is a combination wherein the oils are still used today as powerful anti-septics in medicine. God was very concerned about cleanliness at every level; with the soul being first on the list. We could say more about the red heifer matter, the next Temple and such but again, the interested will look into that and can immerse themselves in the ongoing debate at will. The remainder of 19 deals with the handling of the dead for families and for those in proximity to the dead. This is a matter that had to be reinstated anew. They had come from Egypt after 430 years there and Israel was not to be a cult of the dead as Egypt was. The dead ended up being more captivating than the living in Egypt. In Israel, God wanted them to deal with the dead with issues of purity and the health of the living in mind. Bury them, mourn and call it over with. Hebrews were agents of a culture of life leading to Eternal Life, not death. It’s interesting that at one point Jesus replies, “let the dead bury the dead.” He came to give abundant life, not to obsess over the dead.
20 – Miriam dies at Kadesh (she was 130). Soon there is more complaining in the camp, the food is drab – nothing reminds them of the fresh produce of Egypt, there’s an apparent lack of water so they are laying it on thick and Moses/Aaron are having stress. God gloriously appears to them in the tent! He gives specific instructions; this time to speak to the rock. Mind you Moses has always done exactly what he has been told since being called into ministry. But exasperation took over this time. He doesn’t want to appear looney. Think about his sentiment when he suspects every one thinking, “oh great, now Moses is talking to rocks. Now what do we do? Our leader has been out in the sun wayyy too long!” Moses falters, has a tantrum and whacks the rock – twice. Water came, yes, but the disobedience would cost Moses. He was now relegated to die, in the desert too, and not enter the Promised Land. His wanderings would end in…wandering; not in Canaan. Sad stuff. But that was down the road.
Next they request passage through Edom; the Land of Esau for some 400+ years now. His descendants do not take too kindly to their long lost and returning cousins who were sequestered in Egypt for 430 years. They deny them passage through Edom and are insistent about it. Would God have assisted them had they pushed back against Edom? It was a short route into Canaan. But the Israelites submitted to the Edomites show of force and went to Mt. Hor. Aaron’s time for passage arrived. His mantel is put upon his son and Aaron dies (at 123). baby brother Moses would die within a year as well [at 120] but that is not told to us until the end of Deuteronomy. We’ll read that on December 31, in 3+1/3 months.
21 – Next, the Canaanite King of Arad fought and kidnapped some Israelites. With the Lord’s clearance, the Israelites decimated Arad and his people and their cities. It is a marvel that the Israelite farmers of Goshen (the delta of the Nile), turned nomads, then became successful soldiers. The next journey had them going the long way around. A look at a map will reveal why they were complaining. But let’s not forget the larger picture that God wanted them in the Promised Land 38 years prior to their entry; Numbers 13-14. They are still out there because of their complaining – not because of God. So let’s all remember that when we reject God’s straight way and opt for our long way, let’s not blame God for doing it our way v.s. His Way. The snake bites got their attention and as most beleaguered parents tell their children, “I’ll give you something to cry about” – this really got the Israelites attention. The remedy is a daily reminder even today as the symbol for medicine is still a serpent on a pole. You see it on ambulances. That comes from right here in Num. 21.
The balance of today’s reading, to the end of Num. 21 is filled with travel and cities and more confrontations. The lesson going here and there and ending up [AGAIN] in nowhere [AGAIN] is to not complain so that God can take you somewhere. Their battle was against the Amorites led by King Sihon. Sihon was like your neighborhood yapping dog who barks and snarls just because you are walking by. If he could get past the fence he would come and nip at your heel. Yes, this was Sihon. He charged Israel like a dog escaped from his yard. And he received a hound dog’s whoopin’. Sihon lost every one of his cities to Israel. They also assumed all the land of Bashan from King Og. The Lord directed against King Og and there were –> no survivors. The Israelites now possessed the land east of the Jordan.