The story of the exodus, at least so far, can be summarized as follows: God had delivered His people from Egypt. He had developed His people at Mt. Sinai. The people were disobedient to God at Kadesh. Therefore, the Lord disciplined them in the wilderness. In short, they had been delivered, developed, disobedient, and disciplined… but would they ever become dominant again?
The wilderness wanderings were a long, dark chapter in the exodus story, but they had finally come to an end. Millions had died in the wilderness, including both Miriam and Aaron. The camp had become miserable and inconsequential. It must have seemed at times that all was lost, but unbeknownst to Moses and the camp a new day was dawning…
In this morning’s message, the tables finally turn for the beleaguered children of Israel. Prolonged failure suddenly gives way to success. Years of defeat are exchanged for sweeping victories. The grave despair of the past is overcome by a new hope for the future. God’s promise to His children has not been forgotten. He is still able to give them their Promised Land.
I. ARAD IS CONQUERED (Numbers 21:1-3)
The children of Israel had once struck fear in the heart of their enemies, but after wandering about helplessly in the wilderness for almost 40 years their reputation had severely weakened. The emboldened king of Arad in southern Canaan decided to launch an offensive against them, perhaps hoping to drive them away from his land once and for all. This may have taken place while the camp was mourning Aaron’s death at Mt. Hor. In his initial raid, the king of Arad was quite successful and took some of the Israelites as captives.
Moses and the people had been provoked. They turned to God and prayed for deliverance from and victory over these aggressive Canaanites. God heard their cries for help and quickly came to their aid. With the LORD’s help, the children of Israel struck back utterly destroying the kingdom of Arad and all of its cities. This great triumph took place at Hormah.
Some 40 years earlier the Israelites had attempted to invade Canaan without God’s blessing or presence, and had been driven back all the way to Hormah (Numbers 14:45). Now, all these years later, at the second battle of Hormah it was Israel that prevailed over the Canaanites. These two conflicts fittingly serve as bookends to the years of the wilderness wanderings. This was also the first of several military victories that would be enjoyed by Moses and his followers.
II. THE BRONZE SERPENT (Numbers 21:4-9)
The congregation left Mt. Hor heading southward, toward the Red Sea. However they soon turned east in order to circle around the land of Edom. This was a long, out-of-the way journey and the people became impatient. As always, they began to complain. God answered their grumblings by sending poisonous snakes into the camp. Many people were bitten and died.
Seeing what was happening, the Israelites came to Moses and pleaded with him to get rid of the snakes. The LORD instructed Moses to craft a bronze serpent and place it on a standard. He then raised the standard high in the center of the camp. Anyone who’d been bitten could come and look upon the standard and they would survive. This procedure provided a remedy until the threat subsided.
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. - John 3:14-15
In the gospel of John, Jesus mentioned this event while explaining salvation to Nicodemus. Referring to Himself, Jesus stated that just as the bronze serpent was lifted up in the days of Moses so also the Son of Man would be lifted up (on the cross and/or ascended to Heaven). And like those Israelites who’d looked upon the standard and been saved from the deadly snakes, so also all who believed in the risen Christ would be saved from their sin.
III. THE AMORITES ARE DEFEATED (Numbers 21:10-32)
Israel passed through several locations on its way around Edom. When the people finally arrived at the southern border of Moab, they discovered that the area had been overrun by the Amorites. Therefore Moses requested permission from the Amorite king to pass through the occupied territory, but Sihon refused. Moses was not willing to go around another region. This time, he and the children of Israel would fight.
Unlike the nation of Edom, Israel felt no ancestral affection for or kinship to the Amorites. Furthermore, they had recently undertaken a successful military campaign against the Canaanites of Arad. They were slowing regaining the formidable swagger that they’d once held. They boldly defended themselves from an attack by Sihon and the Amorites. Scripture states that Moses severely defeated the Amorites and took possession of all the land that they held - most notably the city of Heshbon.
The assembly continued northward up the eastern side of the Jordan River and captured the cities of Jazer. They drove out all of the Amorites living in this area as well. Israel had successfully vanquished the pesky Amorites from the previously occupied areas of Moab.
IV. BASHAN IS CRUSHED (Numbers 21:33-35)
When Israel came into land of Bashan, Og the king led his armies out to meet them. This conflict took place at Endrei. By now it was clear that God’s favor had returned to Moses and his people. They completely annihilated the inhabitants of Bashan, killing them all including the king and his sons. Afterwards, Israel took possession of the entire region.
After this victory, God’s people returned to Moab. In a relatively short time they had conquered much of the Transjordan region. They now occupied the area immediately east of the Sea Of Galilee, the Jordan River, and the northern Dead Sea. The reputation of Israel as a force to be reckoned with had be firmly reestablished.
This events in this chapter remind us that God’s love for His children never fades. Even though we may have been through long seasons of difficulty and strife, God is still able to restore us again. Even when we have walked in hard-hearted disobedience to Him for years, still God loves us and wants to renew us once more.
In addition, the LORD’s promises are never forgotten. He had vowed to bring the Hebrews into the Promised Land, and still intended to do exactly that. Sometimes Christians today doubt that God will make good on His promises to us. The answers don’t seem to come as quickly as we expect or in the manner that we anticipated. Yet even in these times we can rest assured that God has not forgotten His promises and He will always keep His word.
Perhaps you have been wandering around lost and defeated for many years. Perhaps you can sense the venomous poison of sin coursing through your veins. If so, don’t fret - there is good news. Salvation and victory are waiting for you just around the corner. Everything can change in an instant, just as it did for the children of Israel. Weeping may have endured for the night, but joy is coming in the morning...
God is ready to break the chains that have held you down for so long. He is eager to disperse the darkness in your life with His glorious light. Stop groveling in pity, sorrow, and despair. Turn to Jesus. Trust in His promises. Lean on His goodness. Rely on His strength. Act on His calling. Restoration is nearer than you think!