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Numbers 21 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Numbers 21 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 And when king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners.

2 And Israel vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.

3 And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah.

(21:3) "The Lord harkened to the the voice of Israel, and ... utterly destroyed them and their cities."
This verse demonstrates the power of prayer: If you ask God, he will destroy entire cities for you.
God's 23rd Killing
The Caananites received this punishment for their sins. I can assure the author of the SAB such prayer would not work for any modern city. See also Jesus' comments (Luke 9:53-56) when his disciples wanted to do similar things.

4 And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.

5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.

6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.

(21:6) "The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died."
For complaining about the lack of food and water, God sent fiery serpents to bite the people,and many of them died.
God's 24th Killing
What the Bible says about God
They received this punishment not for complaining, but for their unbelief: they spoke out against God, they had seen his miracles, how he gave them water out of the rock, but still they hardened their hearts, and instead of asking God for water, they complained that God had sent them to die in the wilderness.

7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.

8 And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.

(21:8-9) "And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live."
God's cure for snakebite: a brass serpent on a pole.
To save the people from God's snakes, Moses makes a graven image in the form of a snake (breaking the second commandment) and puts it on a pole. Those who look at Moses' magic snake to not die -- even if they were previously bit by God's snakes.
Is it OK to make images?
Is magic OK?
What the Bible says about magic
The second commandment is not about idols, that's covered by the first commandment. The second commandment is about how to serve God properly.
This serpent was not an idol, so it was not against the first commandment, and was not an image of God, so not against the second commandment.
This was not magic, because it actually worked; it was a miracle. Later Jesus will use this example to make the comparison between mankind, bitten by the serpent in Paradise, and now poisoned with sin, and himself, having come to save sinners, see John 3:14-15.

9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

10 And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in Oboth.

11 And they journeyed from Oboth, and pitched at Ije-abarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sunrising.

12 From thence they removed, and pitched in the valley of Zared.

13 From thence they removed, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, which is in the wilderness that cometh out of the coasts of the Amorites: for Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.

14 Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the LORD, What he did in the Red sea, and in the brooks of Arnon,

(21:14) "The Book of the wars of the Lord"
One of the lost books of the Bible
-The Book of the wars of the Lord
The author of the SAB refers to this as a “lost book of the Bible.” But it's not a book of the Bible, it never formed part of it. It would be more accurate to say “lost book referenced by the Bible.”

15 And at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab.

16 And from thence they went to Beer: that is the well whereof the LORD spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water.

17 Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it:

18 The princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves. And from the wilderness they went to Mattanah:

19 And from Mattanah to Nahaliel: and from Nahaliel to Bamoth:

20 And from Bamoth in the valley, that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looketh toward Jeshimon.

21 And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, saying,

22 Let me pass through thy land: we will not turn into the fields, or into the vineyards; we will not drink of the waters of the well: but we will go along by the king’s high way, until we be past thy borders.

23 And Sihon would not suffer Israel to pass through his border: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and went out against Israel into the wilderness: and he came to Jahaz, and fought against Israel.

24 And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon: for the border of the children of Ammon was strong.

25 And Israel took all these cities: and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all the villages thereof.

26 For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab, and taken all his land out of his hand, even unto Arnon.

27 Wherefore they that speak in proverbs say, Come into Heshbon, let the city of Sihon be built and prepared:

28 For there is a fire gone out of Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon: it hath consumed Ar of Moab, and the lords of the high places of Arnon.

29 Woe to thee, Moab! thou art undone, O people of Chemosh: he hath given his sons that escaped, and his daughters, into captivity unto Sihon king of the Amorites.

30 We have shot at them; Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon, and we have laid them waste even unto Nophah, which reacheth unto Medeba.

31 Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites.

32 And Moses sent to spy out Jaazer, and they took the villages thereof, and drove out the Amorites that were there.

33 And they turned and went up by the way of Bashan: and Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he, and all his people, to the battle at Edrei.

34 And the LORD said unto Moses, Fear him not: for I have delivered him into thy hand, and all his people, and his land; and thou shalt do to him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon.

(21:34-35) "I have delivered him into thy hand, and all his people."
Another God-assisted genocide: Bashan and all his people.
God delivers the Amorites into Moses' hands. (You're in God hands with Moses.) So Moses does the Christian thing, killing everyone "until there was none left alive."
God's 30th Killing
Maybe the author of the SAB didn't notice the previous verse (verse 33): the Israelites didn't start the war, Og, the kind of Bashan, and all his people started the hostilities. Og was a giant (Deut. 3:11), so that was another reason the Israelites were afraid.
On how this war was fought: the Israelites were an instrument here in God's hand to punish a nation that had sinned exceedingly. It has nothing to do with how Christians should behave now, as no one can claim a direct command of God to perform a punishment on behalf of the Judge of heaven and earth.

35 So they smote him, and his sons, and all his people, until there was none left him alive: and they possessed his land.