Much has happened in the wilderness as we come into this reading. We have skipped over Aaron’s death in chapter 20; and Moses has descended Mount Hor with Aaron’s son Eleazar. The first part of this reading is about the bronze serpent in chapter 21, on the heels of their first victory against the Canaanites (brought on by the attack by the king of Arad). The people have been grumbling about the “miserable food” and God has begun dealing with them in a dramatic way – with fiery serpents. At God’s instruction, Moses makes the bronze serpent, which saves the lives of those who look upon it. Verse 5 suggests that their grumbling was more than just a little bit disrespectful. After the close brush with self-destruction in the golden calf fiasco, it is almost surprising to see that any of them would dare to behave in that way. But, as we will see in the second part of this reading, it gets worse.
So why make such note of the bronze serpent passage – just about 6 verses? Great question, actually. First, it begs some questions – what actually saved the people? Was it just the fact that they looked at the bronze serpent? Did they have to believe that it would save them? Could that belief alone have saved them – without actually doing the act of looking at it? Jesus refers to this event in John 3:14, where he tells Nicodemus (and us) how to achieve salvation. This reference by and about our savior is “sandwiched” between Jesus telling Nicodemus he must be born again, and the baptisms and lessons in obedience to Christ in the verses all the way to the end of John 3. Do yourself a favor and read this entire chapter of John (36 verses) after reading Numbers 21:4-9. Jesus’ references to being lifted up has other meaning here, as it does in John 8:28 and John 12:32.
In chapter 25, Shittim is the last encampment before the people cross the Jordan, and apostasy again rears its ugly head in a horrible affront to God. Some scholars think this may be Tell el-Hammam (about 16 kilometers east of Jericho). The sins are numerous and include the worship of Baal with the Moabites. we do not find out for sure until chapter 31, but it is Balaam who leads them to this. We are not reading his story from the last few chapters in this schedule, but he is referred to again in 2 Peter 2:15 and Jude 1:11. Eleazar’s son, Phineas gains favor with the Lord and keeps the ensuing plague from getting any worse (verses 7-9). But this sin at Peor will not keep the Lord from sending His people to conquer the Canaanites. It is not for their righteousness, as Moses will remind them – but for the evil of the Canaanites themselves.
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog. All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility. When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com. For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.