Numbers 21:1-9 (The Standard of the Lord)

Numbers 21:1-9
The Standard of the Lord

It is an amazing set of nine verses today. The first three seem completely disconnected from the final six, but they are not. And more, their placement has caused countless scholars to scratch their heads and look for rather odd explanations as to how they ended up in this spot.

But everything does fit as it should. That will be evident enough as we go on. One bite at a time and the whole elephant goes down. And, that is what we are doing each week as we continue through this magnificent word.

Several times while typing today’s passage, I actually said out loud, “What a marvelous word! It is alive.” And that is just how the author of Hebrews describes it. He calls it “living and powerful.” And this is so. It is living and active because it points to the Source of life and power.

Text Verse:  “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17

What does the law in relation to grace have to do with a passage from the law? And why would that be an acceptable text verse for our passage? Well, if we remember what happened in the previous sermon where Aaron died, and what that pictured, then we can take a general snapshot of redemptive history with some of our verses today, and then we can continue on with that theme from there.

It’s generally not possible to take these stories and put them in a chronological box, and so things are introduced, and then details are filled in, and then the story continues on. We have seen this consistently since we departed Sinai with Israel, and it will continue on today. Great things are to be found in His superior word. And so let’s turn to that precious word once again and… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.

I. And the Lord Listened (verses 1-3)

The king of Arad,

We now come to a story, the occurrence of which is not chronologically easy to determine. The last occurrence noted was the death of Aaron, and that came just after Edom’s refusal to allow Israel to pass through their land. It is also mentioned in relation to Aaron’s death in Numbers 33 –

“Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the Lord, and died there in the fortieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. 39 Aaron was one hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor.

40 Now the king of Arad, the Canaanite, who dwelt in the South in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the children of Israel.” Numbers 33:38-40

Therefore, the initial event, that of the coming out of the king of Arad against Israel, likely happened at that time, after Aaron’s death. But, it does not naturally follow that Israel’s retaliation occurred at that time. This will be seen later.

The passage also comes directly before a memorable account that will be referred to by Jesus in John 3. It appears they are placed as they are based on subject matter rather than chronology.

Here it mentions melekh arad, or the “king of Arad.” The name Arad comes from either an unused root meaning to sequester, and thus a fugitive, or from a root which signifies untamed, such as the wild donkey. Either way, the result is the same – it carries the sense of one who is unrestrained. The location is believed to be what is today called Tel-Arad which is about 20 miles south of Hebron. He is further designated as…

1 (con’t) the Canaanite,

ha’kenaani – “the Canaanite.” As we have seen in previous sermons, Canaanites pictures those who bring others into subjection. That is literally seen here in the coming verses.

1 (con’t) who dwelt in the South,

yoshev ha’negev – “sitting in the Negev.” The word yashav means to sit, and thus it is a place of ease, meaning one’s dwelling. Negev is a word which comes from a root meaning “dry” or “parched.” It is the southern desert area of Israel.

1 (con’t) heard that Israel was coming on the road to Atharim.

These words are a bit tricky. This king of Arad heard that Israel was coming, but the Hebrew reads, derek ha’atharim, The word derek signifies a way or a road, but the next word, ha’atharim, is found only here in the Bible. It is debated whether this is a name, meaning “the Atharim,” or an explanation, meaning “the spies,” or “the merchants,” either of which may be correct.

The word may be connected to the word found in Numbers 14:6, ha’tarim, or “the spies,” who had gone to spy out Canaan. The same word is found in parallel verses in Kings and Chronicles and is translated as “merchants.”

The word is also similar to the Arabic word athar, which signifies a footprint, or a trace, and so it might mean simply a caravan route. This seems the most likely because the spies would have taken an obvious route in their trek to and through Canaan, and if it is not the same route as then, they would still travel on a known route.

1 (con’t) Then he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners.

It appears that Arad came quickly and without Israel being prepared in any measure for their arrival. In this, he was able to fall on Israel and take some of them captive. This seems likely because if Israel had been prepared, Arad would not have been able to succeed in this manner. This is evident from the coming verses.

At this point, there is no mention of any reason for the attack, such as Israel’s disobedience. It is simply recorded that the Canaanites came upon Israel. Thus, this is an anticipatory lesson for Israel.

The Lord knew this would occur, and yet He allowed it to happen without informing them to be prepared. Thus, it would be a lesson that Israel should always be on guard against those who come against them, and that the conquest of Canaan was not of their own will and ability, but because of the Lord’s. They were to trust in Him, and acknowledge that He alone wins the battles. That appears evident from the next words…

So Israel made a vow to the Lord,

v’yidar yisrael neder l’Yehovah – “and vowed Israel a vow to Yehovah.” It is trust in the Lord, and a reliance on Him that is highlighted here. Were it not so, the people would have been recorded as going up against Arad with their own might, as they attempted to do in Numbers 14.

As we will see, the two passages are being set in parallel to show the expected outcome based on a reliance on the Lord.

(con’t) and said, “If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand,

im naton titen eth ha’am hazeh b’yadi – “if in giving, You will give the people, the this, into my hand.” It is a statement of absoluteness and surety. Israel is making a proclamation to the Lord that he will take specific and complete action on a particular matter if the Lord will grant his petition.

It is showing a complete and total reliance on Yehovah for the outcome, but with a promise that in the outcome there will be no deviation from what is promised and what was requested. They are tied together in one thought. The request is that of the Lord giving the people into his hand. The promise, based on that condition is…

(con’t) then I will utterly destroy their cities.”

v’ha’kharamti eth arehem – “and the complete devotion I will give their cities.” The word is kharam, and the meaning is to devote, or set apart, something to the Lord. In this case it is as accursed, or made anathema. It is what was expected of Jericho when it was destroyed. The entire city was set apart to the Lord. This was proclaimed by Joshua to the people in Joshua 6:17-19 –

“Now the city shall be doomed by the Lord to destruction, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. 18 And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. 19 But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to the Lord; they shall come into the treasury of the Lord.”

There, the entire city was devoted to the Lord. Some things were to be utterly destroyed, and the precious things were to be wholly dedicated to Him. No plunder could belong to the people because the city was under the ban to the Lord alone. All things under such a devotion were returned to Him in one way or another.

And the Lord listened to the voice of Israel

The lack of mentioning the name Moses is not to be missed. Rather, Israel is mentioned four times in these three verses, this being the last. It says, v’yishma Yehovah b’qol yisrael – “and listened Yehovah to voice Israel.” Israel was attacked, Israel was harmed, Israel made a vow, and the Lord listened to Israel.

Obviously, Israel spoke through Moses to the Lord, but that is not what is being conveyed. The unity of the people is. Unlike Chapter 14 where there was disunity, here there is complete unity. Moses does not need to be named. In their unity, the Lord heard…

(con’t) and delivered up the Canaanites,

v’yiten eth ha’kenaani – “and delivered up the Canaanite.” The word is singular. They are taken as one under Arad, just as Israel is taken as one under the Lord. It isn’t one against many, or many against one, but a force against a force. The Canaanite, he who brings into subjection, is himself brought into subjection. He is defeated before Israel because the Lord delivered him up…

(con’t) and they utterly destroyed them and their cities.

v’ya’kharem eth-hem v’eth arehem – “and they gave the complete devotion to them and their cities.” Exactly as had been promised by Israel, so Israel fulfilled their promise. Unlike Jericho where Achan brought trouble on Israel by violating the ban, the people here faithfully followed through with the vow they had made.

Here it notes “cities” in the plural, therefore, Arad is not the only city included, and it looks then to Hormah being a general location which encompasses several cities, inclusive of Arad. Finally, as a sign of their victory in the Lord, the account finishes with…

(con’t) So the name of that place was called Hormah.

v’yiqra shem ha’maqom kharemah – “and called name the place Hormah.” The name Kharemah or Hormah comes from the word which was used in verses 2 & 3, kharam. The name comes from the act, and it signifies what occurred at the place. It is the same name given to the place at the end of Numbers 14, except there it contained an article, ha’kheremah or “The Destruction.”

What seems certain, is that the actual destruction of this place now does not take place until later. The promise is made, and when the city was attacked by Joshua after Israel’s entrance into Canaan, the devotion actually took place.

This is because the same location is named in Joshua 12:14. There it mentions the king of Hormah and the king of Arad. It may be, as I said a moment ago, that Hormah is a location encompassing a general area inclusive of Arad, and Arad was a lesser city within the area. For some, there is a troubling aspect to the thought of the devotion to destruction being complete only later at the time of Joshua. This is mentioned by the Pulpit Commentary –

“This, however, throws the narrative as it stands into confusion and discredit, for the ban and the destruction become a mockery and an unreality if nothing more was done to the towns of the king of Arad than was done at the same time to the towns of all his neighbours. It would be more reverent to reject the story as an error or a falsehood than to empty it of the meaning which it was obviously intended to convey.” Pulpit Commentary

In this, the Pulpit Commentary says that putting the account here is inappropriate because the cities of the king of Arad received the same fate as the rest of the towns of Canaan which were conquered by Joshua. For this reason, they go on to say that Israel destroyed Arad now, the towns were repopulated, and then they were destroyed again by Joshua after entering Canaan.

That is incorrect. First, the conquest of Canaan occurred starting just a few short months after this account. They are in their fortieth year. Aaron is dead and in a short span Moses too will be dead. After thirty days of mourning for him, Israel will enter Canaan in the first month of the forty-first year. The entire conquest of Canaan will only take seven years. Therefore, this is incorrect.

Secondly, Israel would have to enter into Canaan, in part or in whole, in order to destroy Arad now. That is not recorded, nor would it be acceptable until the time of punishment was fulfilled. Only the twelve spies had entered, ten had died, and only two others would enter after the forty years were complete.

And finally, Arad and its cities did not share the same fate as the other cities of Canaan as the Pulpit Commentary supposes. Jericho was under the ban and devoted wholly to the Lord. However, the other cities were not. For example, of the second city to be destroyed, Ai, it says this –

“Now the Lord said to Joshua: ‘Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; take all the people of war with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its cattle you shall take as booty for yourselves. Lay an ambush for the city behind it.’” Joshua 8:1, 2

And again, after the total destruction of all of the cities mentioned in Joshua 10 & 11, where it is said time and again of each city that Israel came against, they struck all of the people who were in the city, meaning men, women, and children. Nothing was left alive. However, in summery of these battles, in Joshua 11, it says this –

“So all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took and struck with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. 13 But as for the cities that stood on their mounds, Israel burned none of them, except Hazor only, which Joshua burned. 14 And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the children of Israel took as booty for themselves; but they struck every man with the edge of the sword until they had destroyed them, and they left none breathing.” Joshua 11:12-14

Therefore, these surrounding cities did not share the same fate as Arad. They were not kherem, or devoted to destruction; only the people were. Arad, however, was kherem, and therefore the entire city – like Jericho – would be offered up to the Lord as an offering of devotion. Even the plunder would be so devoted.

The account here, as we have seen numerous times so far, is one which gives certain details in advance, and the events and the rest of the detail is explained later. And so what we have here is a passage which is set parallel to the account in Numbers 14:39-45. In order to see this, both passages should be read, side by side.

Then Moses told these words to all the children of Israel, and the people mourned greatly. 40 And they rose early in the morning and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, “Here we are, and we will go up to the place which the Lord has promised, for we have sinned!”

41 And Moses said, “Now why do you transgress the command of the Lord? For this will not succeed. 42 Do not go up, lest you be defeated by your enemies, for the Lord is not among you. 43 For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and you shall fall by the sword; because you have turned away from the Lord, the Lord will not be with you.”

44 But they presumed to go up to the mountaintop. Nevertheless, neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed from the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who dwelt in that mountain came down and attacked them, and drove them back as far as Hormah. Numbers 14:39-45

The king of Arad, the Canaanite, who dwelt in the South, heard that Israel was coming on the road to Atharim. Then he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners. So Israel made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.” And the Lord listened to the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites, and they utterly destroyed them and their cities. So the name of that place was called Hormah. Numbers 21:1-3

The first occurred just after the punishment was levied upon Israel for rejecting the Lord. The second began to occur about thirty-eight years later, just before the time of punishment was ended. The first saw Israel rejecting Moses’ words, and thus rejecting the word of the Lord. It ended in defeat and their being driven back as far as The Destruction. The second saw Israel work in agreement with the Lord and resulted in the destruction of their enemies.

The first pictured attempting to enter God’s inheritance through personal works through the law, or simply through personal righteousness. This second pictures relying on the Lord alone to be brought into His inheritance, and only then working to please the Lord. The first occurred while Aaron was alive, picturing his mediation of the law, which cannot bring about salvation. The second occurred after the death of the high priest, picturing entering God’s inheritance after the death of Christ, not before.

This is why Moses is never mentioned in this passage. It is not by the law that one enters God’s promise, but by faith in the One who fulfilled the law and who then brings in His people and subdues the enemies. The victory is the Lord’s alone.

The enemies of the Lord’s people come to harass and destroy
They come after the weak and the weary without a care
But the Lord will defend them, great weapons He will employ
Don’t have fear, good Christian; for you, the Lord is there

He is the Rod lifted high, the power of God
He is the Stone of support as a place of rest
His gospel of peace is nigh, so have your feet shod
The enemy is around, so in your armor be dressed

By His power you can word off all foes
In His strength the devil stands no chance
Though he comes at you with mighty blows
Fix your feet firmly in the battle; a warrior’s stance

II. The Bronze Serpent (verses 4-9)

Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea,

This is now in response to not being allowed to travel through Edom, as was seen in the previous chapter. The people had to actually turn away from the direction of Canaan, having their backs to it. This was in order…

(con’t) to go around the land of Edom;

Cambridge’s commentary on this says, “Throughout the whole of the detour no encampments are named until Israel reaches the region of Moab.” It is as if they find it curious that for such an immensely long journey, no stops are named. And that would be true unless one understood that the Lord only chooses events which will give insights into later redemptive history.

Real events of history are selected to help lead us to understand Jesus, His work, and His plans. Those things which occurred as normal life in the times of Israel are ignored because they have no bearing on the greater story of redemption.

(con’t) and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way.

Aaron died on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year. They mourned for him thirty days. Therefore, they could not have left Mount Hor until at least the start of the sixth month. This would be around September. It would be extremely hot and dry.

They would have to travel through the Aravah desert towards Ezion-geber, which is very near Elath today, right at the head of the Red Sea where Egypt, Israel, and Jordan meet. The trek would be an arduous one for so many people while on foot.

This terrain would be loose sand and gravel, therefore, so many people would kick up immense dust. There is no shade except some shrubs and desert trees with minimal foliage, and it would have been the time of the year when the east winds with their immense heat and accompanying sandstorms would come through. Thus it says va’tiqsar nephesh ha’am baderek – “and was reaped the soul of the people on the way.”

Their souls being “reaped” signifies that their tempers were cut short, as if reaped. Before going on, it needs to be remembered that the entire time this is occurring, the shoes never wore out, and the pillar of cloud and fire was with them. And, the people continued to receive manna each and every morning, six days a week.

And the people spoke against God and against Moses:

It is an unusual statement. It says they spoke against elohim, God, rather than Yehovah, meaning the Lord. The next verse clearly identifies Yehovah as God, but this is a word against God in general and against Moses in particular. And their complaint is…

(con’t) “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?

It is the same complaint that their fathers had made about thirty-eight years earlier in Exodus 14 and 16. Now the new generation of Israel, including those nineteen and younger who departed from Egypt, repeat the same thing as their faithless fathers.

(con’t) For there is no food and no water,

The words are untrue. The Rock, which is Christ, and which gave forth water, is said to have followed them in the wilderness, and it would have been impossible for them to have survived the trek without it. Paul shows that they were, in fact, sustained by the Rock in 1 Corinthians 10 –

“For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” 1 Corinthians 10:4, 5

And the manna is said to have never ceased during the entire time, from Exodus 16 until Joshua 5. They simply did not consider Christ – meaning the water and the manna – acceptable…

(con’t) and our soul loathes this worthless bread.”

Here they use a term of great contempt, ha’qeloqel, or “the worthless.” It is an intensification of the word qalal, mean cursed, or lightly esteemed, and it is only seen here in Scripture. It is as if they are being cheated by the grace of the giving of the manna instead of having bread they could work for on their own…

So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people,

Here it says Yehovah sent ha’nekhashim ha’seraphim, or “the serpents, the burning.” It is debated whether the words “the burning” refers to their physical color or their painful bite. The word saraph in this noun form is first seen here, and it will only be used seven times.

In Deuteronomy 8, the word is used to again to describe the serpents, and it is stated in conjunction with scorpions. Therefore, it is referring to the bite of the snake, regardless of the color. There is no reason to assume that only one type of snake is even being referred to. The people are inundated with poisonous snakes which cause extreme burning…

(con’t) and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.

At the Lord’s command, they were brought forth, and in response to the command they inundated the people. It is the bite which is focused on here, and the death which results is highlighted. In this, it was obvious to the people that this was more than just a chance occurrence, but rather a divine rebuke for their faithless conduct. Instead of crying out to the Lord for relief, they cried out against God and His lawgiver in distrust and ingratitude. The serpents were their just reward for their conduct, as is next noted…

Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; 

Here is another clear reference to the deity of Christ. It says in this verse that they had spoken against Yehovah and against Moses. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul identifies Christ as the one spoken against –

“…nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents;” 1 Corinthians 10:9

It is impossible to read the two passages and not arrive at a one-to-one correlation between Yehovah and Christ Jesus. Unless the Bible is simply a contradictory, confused book, it must be so. Therefore, when one speaks against Christ, including His deity, one speaks against the Lord God.

They have spoken against the Lord, and they have spoken against the Lord’s lawgiver, meaning Moses, but Moses only speaks what the Lord speaks forth first. This was seen in our text verse today, The law was given through Moses, not by Moses.

And truth came through Jesus Christ. As Jesus said to the Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus is the incarnate Word, and He is the embodiment of the law and of truth. And so they speak to Moses, not that he should heal them, but that he would go to the Lord for their healing.

(con’t) pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.”

Moses has interceded for the people on several occasions, but this is the only recorded time that the people have asked him to do so on their behalf, and it is specifically for the Lord to take away the serpents which were afflicting them.

In this, the Hebrew says, v’yaser me’alenu eth ha’nakhash – “and take away from us the serpent.” It is singular. One could argue that the singular stands for the plural, but that is not how an excited group would speak in such a matter. Rather, this is a clear allusion to the nakhash of Genesis 3. Ultimately, death came through the serpent, and only the Lord can take away the power of the serpent. This is explicitly stated by the author of Hebrews –

“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Hebrews 2:14

The serpent of Genesis 3, also called the devil elsewhere, and who has the power of death, could only be destroyed by the power of the One who gave the law, through which came sin, in the first place.

(con’t) So Moses prayed for the people.

Here Moses, emblematic of the law which came through him, appeals to the Lord on behalf of the people. It is a clear indication that only the Lord, from whom came the Law, can destroy the power of the devil. As that Lord is said in Hebrews 2 to be the incarnate Christ, then it – once again – can only mean that Jesus is the Lord God.

In theology 1+1 will always equal 2. And so the divine answer to the request is given, and it is an answer which explicitly points in typology to Jesus Christ…

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent,

aseh lekha saraph – “make to you fiery.” Moses is told to emulate the fiery of the serpent. The question with this is, as already mentioned above, “Is the fiery speaking of color or of the burning death it causes?”

(con’t) and set it on a pole;

v’sim otow al nes – “and set it on a standard.” The word is nes, which comes from nasas, meaning “high,” or “conspicuous.” It was first, and only, used so far in Exodus 17:15, where it referred to the Lord, Yehovah. There it said, Yehovah nissi – “The-Lord-Is-My-Banner.” Here, the fiery is to be set on a standard.

It is not one with the standard, but is placed on it. Only then do the two become one, and only then will there be an effect. It is made this way for a particular purpose…

(con’t) and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.”

Here we have a perfect example of being saved by grace through faith. The fiery on the pole is harmless, but it bears resemblance to the death which surrounded them, and yet it then brings life. Further, it is not merely the fiery on the banner that brings life, nor is it the act of looking at something, that brings life. It is only when the act of looking at the fiery on the pole that life is granted.

So Moses made a bronze serpent,

Scholars claim that this conclusively proves that it is the bronze color which is being referred to in the word saraph, or fiery, which describes the snakes rather than the bite which causes burning death. That is a faulty conclusion which will be seen as we continue. For now, Moses does as is instructed and first makes the nekhash nekhoshet, or “serpent, bronze.”

(con’t) and put it on a pole;

In accord with the word of the Lord, the serpent – after it is made – is put on the standard. The two only become one at this point. The implication is that without the standard, the serpent has no effect. Without the serpent, the standard has no effect.

*(fin) and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

As promised by Yehovah, so it came about. Those who looked to the nekhash ha’nekhoshet, or “serpent the bronze,” were healed. They were already dead through the bite, it has just not yet been finalized, but by faith in looking at the bronze serpent, that assured death was negated. If one didn’t look to it, death – which was already alive in the person – was inevitable.

As I said, it is the bite resulting in death which is represented by the word fiery, not the color of the snake. The reason for this is first, bronze has been used, consistently so far to indicate judgment, and also endurance. It will continue to consistently picture that throughout Scripture.

This judgment can be positive or negative. If positive, it results in purification and justification. If negative, it results in punishment or even death. However, there is the truth that in order for there to be positive judgment for a sinful person, then there must be death of an innocent in his place. Therefore, the positive judgment still carries with it a negative aspect.

Second, because there must be death of an innocent in place of an offender to be absolved of sin, then the fiery is referring to the bite of death, not the color of the serpent. The serpent brought death, and, therefore, death is what is being portrayed on the standard. It is, in essence, a movable substitute for the brazen altar, and a pictorial representation of what occurs there – death in the form of a substitute.

The book is written and sealed with the final word, “Amen”
God has a plan which will surely come about
Be sure to refer to it time and time again
And you will be strengthened for the battle no doubt

The Lord is my Banner, exalted is He!
He stands upon the high mountain watching over us
And He is the Victor over even the greatest enemy
He is the One who prevailed even over death; our Lord Jesus

Surely from generation to generation our foes are defeated
Because of the Lamb who to Calvary’s tree was nailed
So marvelous is the story it needs to again be repeated
Until the end of time, our Lord, our Christ has prevailed!

III. Pictures of Christ

What we have in these passages ties in directly with Aaron’s death of the previous chapter. His death, in the 39th year of his ministry, was shown to be the ending of the Mosaic Law, just as the ending of the Old Testament of 39 books was coming to its completion.

After that is recorded, we have the three verses concerning Israel, Arad, and Hormah. Unlike before, Israel does not try to conquer the Canaanites under their own power, nor do they attempt to do so prior to their entry into the Land of Promise.

Despite being recorded here, we saw that only occurs later. Some of Israel were made captive, but the rest will deal with them at the Lord’s will, not theirs. That is a clear indication of not battling those who oppose the gospel by one’s own efforts, but through the efforts and will of the Lord. Only after entry into the promised inheritance, the enemies will be utterly destroyed.

From there it mentions departing Mount Hor, that is where Aaron died and was buried. The high priest has died and the people are ready to begin a circuitous route to Canaan, around the land of Edom. As we saw in the last sermon, Edom was given as a picture of Adam, the natural man. Israel, the spiritual man, must go around the natural to enter the Promise.

In this trek of man, the devil – the serpent – is brought out. This is a snapshot of what happened in human history. Man was in the garden, and he rejected the way of the Lord’s leading. In this, the people spoke against God and against Moses. Moses the lawgiver, pictures law here – whatever law.

In Eden man rejected God and he rejected God’s law, and so through the serpent came death. It is the bite of the serpent by which this comes. After the fall, the people admit their sin and ask law to intercede for them to the Lord. This is exactly what occurred.

As I said when Moses prayed for the people, the serpent of Genesis 3 – who has the power of death – could only be destroyed by the power of the One who gave the law, through which came sin, in the first place. The law (Moses) intercedes for the people because the law calls for the coming of Messiah to do so.

This is where the story of redemption meets up with the picture of Aaron’s death – which anticipated Christ – in the narrative. Christ, the embodiment of the law came in the form of sinful flesh –

“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.” Romans 8:3


“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

It is Christ, who took the curse upon Himself that removes the curse in His people. The fiery serpent was first made – Christ was first given a body. Only then was He placed on the standard. People saw Christ walk in Israel, and that didn’t save them. And people saw crosses all the time in Israel, and those didn’t save them. Only when Christ went to the cross is the picture complete. Only in that can Paul say in Colossians 2:13-15 –

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”

And only then could Peter say concerning Christ that He “Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24)

It is the death on the cross which replaces the sting of the serpent, meaning death, which is the result of sin, and which finds its strength in the law. As Christ embodies the law, and as Christ died in fulfillment of the law, the power of the law, and thus the power of sin is defeated and annulled. That is why Paul calls out the victory cry in Romans 7 –

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24, 25

That this is the correct and sure interpretation of what we have seen today is confirmed by the words of Jesus Himself –

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:14-17

The death in the people because of the sting of the serpent pictures the sting of sin in all of us. We are already dead, but in Christ we are made alive. In the next verse of John, Jesus says,  “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

It is not to be missed that Isaiah speaks of the Lord and His work using the same word, nes, or standard, twice concerning the coming Messiah and His cross. He says –

“And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,
Who shall stand as a banner to the people;
For the Gentiles shall seek Him,
And His resting place shall be glorious.”

11 It shall come to pass in that day
That the Lord shall set His hand again the second time
To recover the remnant of His people who are left,
From Assyria and Egypt,
From Pathros and Cush,
From Elam and Shinar,
From Hamath and the islands of the sea.

12 He will set up a banner for the nations,
And will assemble the outcasts of Israel,
And gather together the dispersed of Judah
From the four corners of the earth.”
Isaiah 11:10-12

Isaiah notes the Gentiles in relation to this banner before speaking of the regathering of Israel. He also notes that it is a second regathering of them. Isaiah prophesied this before the first exile of Israel. He presupposes two exiles. And he prophesies that the Gentiles would seek the Messiah before collective Israel would.

This is exactly what is seen in these ongoing passages. Israel has been wandering in the wilderness for 38 years, picturing Israel under punishment these past 2000 years. While that has been going on, Gentiles have streamed to Christ. Only at the end of the time of wandering are the Jews now calling out to Christ in ever-increasing numbers.

It is in looking to Christ, believing in what He did, and receiving that, and in nothing else, that the dead soul is brought to life. It is, as is clearly presented in this passage today, a voluntary act of the will. Unless one voluntarily receives Christ by looking to the cross in faith, there can be no salvation. Choose wisely; choose Christ.



This chapter has some unbelievable acrostics hidden! When I first saw the acrostics that the computer algorithm found in this chapter, I was immediately fascinated because of the collection of words which are all connected to each other — but even more so — to the context of the chapter!

It takes a long time to sort them and put them into sentences, so unfortunately, I was only able to look into a couple of verses.

—— VERSE 6 ——

“So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.“ —Numbers 21:6

וַיְשַׁלַּ֨ח יְהוָ֜ה בָּעָ֗ם אֵ֚ת הַנְּחָשִׁ֣ים הַשְּׂרָפִ֔ים וַֽיְנַשְּׁכ֖וּ אֶת־הָעָ֑ם וַיָּ֥מָת עַם־רָ֖ב מִיִּשְׂרָאֵֽל”

The acrostics in this verse are fascinating! Check this out:

If we take the first letters of the entire verse and write them down, we will get a grammatically correct sentence in Hebrew:

ויבא ההוא (ה) וערם

With the exception of the (ה) in the middle which I can’t make sense of, the sentence reads: “And that one came cunning” — “cunning” (Arom) is the same word as used in Genesis 3:1 to describe the serpent who is cunning. It is important to note that there is an article “The” — which make it clear that it alludes to Satan — who is cunning!

But thats not all for this verse. If we take the last letter of each word and write them down, we’ll get 6 different acrostics which all have the same root word: Death: 

תמתו, במתם, תומם, ממות, המתם, ותמת:

Die, In their death, their end, from death, he killed them, and died;

That cannot be a coincidence that the verse that speaks about snakes 🐍 that have killed many has a hidden acrostic sentence referring to the cunning one and then 6 acrostics speaking all about death! Six being the number of man; destined to die! Unbelievable!

I just also realized that the number of the verse is — SIX. Ha

Charlie — verse 7 the sentence “pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us“ (יְהוָ֔ה וְיָסֵ֥ר מֵעָלֵ֖ינוּ אֶת) has a backwards acrostic in it that forms “Torah”. Could it be that the people are asking Moses to take away THE LAW from them that brought forth death?

Verse 9 has an incredible acrostic.

The words “set it on a pole” form an acrostic “העון” (ha-aven), meaning “The Iniquity”.

The words “and it shall be that everyone who is bitten” form an acrostic “נאוה” (Neh-ah-veh), meaning “Fitting”.

The two word acrostics are one after the other: They have no separation.

Together, they form the sentence “fitting iniquity”. What an incredible picture of Christ! The iniquity which is fitting upon the people is set on a pole! Further, the word “Fitting” could also be translated as Lovely/Beautiful depending on the context.


Closing Verse: “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:56, 57

Next Week: Numbers 21:10-20 So exciting it will be as if you are on needles and pins…(Filling Wineskins) (41st Numbers sermon)

The Lord has you exactly where He wants you. He has a good plan and purpose for you. It may seem at times as if you are lost in a desert, wandering aimlessly. But the Lord is there, carefully leading you to the Land of Promise. So follow Him and trust Him and He will do marvelous things for you and through you.

The Standard of the Lord

The king of Arad, the Canaanite, who dwelt in the South
Heard that Israel was coming on the road to Atharim
Then he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners
This was uncalled for, so it would seem

So Israel made a vow to the Lord, and said
“If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand
Then I will utterly destroy their cities
We know that You surely understand

And the Lord listened to the voice of Israel
And delivered up the Canaanites. We might say “Ooh la la”
And they utterly destroyed them and their cities
So the name of that place was called Hormah

Then they journeyed from Mount Hor
By the Way of the Red Sea, as the record does say
To go around the land of Edom
And the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way 

And the people spoke against God and against Moses:
“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness
For there is no food and no water
And our soul loathes this bread; it is worthless 

So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people
———-who had the Lord tried
And they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died

Therefore the people came to Moses, and said
“We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord
———-and against you
Pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us
So Moses prayed for the people; this thing he did do

Then the Lord said to Moses
“Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; these instructions I give
And it shall be that everyone who is bitten
When he looks at it, shall live 

So Moses made a bronze serpent
And put it on a pole; so he did do
And so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone
When he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived! Whoo hoo!

Lord God, we are even now in a wilderness
And we are wanting to be led by You
Without You to direct, our lives would be a mess
And so be our guide, O God; You who are faithful and true

We long for the water in this barren land
May it flow forth from the Rock, our souls to satisfy
Give us this refreshing, spiritual hand
And may we take it, and to our lives daily it apply

And we shall be content and satisfied in You alone
We will follow You as we sing our songs of praise
Hallelujah to You; to us Your path You have shown
Hallelujah we shall sing to you for all of our days

Hallelujah and Amen…

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