Numbers 21:21-22:6 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. Describe Israel’s battles as they are recorded in Numbers 21:21-26 and 21:32-35 (printed below.)

Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, (22) Let me pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king’s highway until we have passed through your territory. (23) But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered his entire army and marched out into the wilderness against Israel. When he reached Jahaz, he attacked Israel. (24) Israel, however, struck him down with the sword and took possession of his land from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River, but only as far as the Ammonite border, because their border was fortified. (25) Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them, including Heshbon and all its surrounding suburbs. (26) Heshbon had been the royal city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken from him all his land as far as the Arnon River. (Numbers 21:21-26)

After Moses had sent spies to Jazer, the Israelites captured its surrounding suburbs and drove out the Amorites who were there. (33) Then they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei. (34) Jehovah said to Moses, Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land. Do to him the same as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon. (35) So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land. (Numbers 21:32-35)

Israel defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites (Numbers 21:23-32). Sihon and all his people came to fight against Israel (verse 23). Israel defeated them all and took possession of their territory (verse 24). Israel conquered the very king who had previously conquered Moab and confiscated all their land to the border of the Arnon River (verses 25-26). Next Israel defeated Og, king of Bashan (Numbers 21:33-35). Og and all his people came out against Israel (verse 33), and the same thing happened to them: Israel totally conquered the armies of Og and took possession of his territory (verse 35).

2. How do Balak and the Moabites react as they observe the advancing Israelite army? See Numbers 22:1-4 (printed below)

Then the children of Israel traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan River across from Jericho. (2) Now Bakak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. (3) Moab was terrified of the people, because they were so numerous. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the children of Israel. (4) The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, This horde will lick up everything around us, like an ox licks up the grass of the field. Now Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. (Numbers 22:1-4)

Balak saw what Israel had done to the Amorites, and now he finds these unstoppable people encamped on the plains of Moab (Numbers 22:1). So it is that Moab was very much afraid of the people of Israel and was distressed because of them: Moab was terrified of the people, because they were so numerous. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the children of Israel. (Numbers 22:3)

3. What strategy does Balak devise in an effort to defeat the people of Israel? See Numbers 22:5-6 (printed below)

So he sent messengers to summon Balaam the son of Beor, who was at Pethor, which is near the Euphrates River, in his native land. He said, A people have come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and are encamped next to me. (6) Now, therefore, please come and curse these people for me, because they are too powerful for me. If you curse them, I might then succeed in defeating them and driving them out of the land; for I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed. (Numbers 22:5-6)

Balak has seen what happened when Israel was attacked by a direct military assault: no matter how large the armies amassed against them, by the Lord’s strength Israel was victorious. Knowing that he had no hope of defeating Israel by a direct confrontation on the battlefield, Balak plots a more subtle strategy. He sends out messengers to solicit the services of a strange eastern prophet named Balaam (Numbers 22:5). Balak desires to hire Balaam to put a curse on Israel and thereby enable the Moabites to defeat them (Numbers 22:6a). Balak is confident that whomever Balaam curses is, indeed, cursed, and will thus be unable to gain any further victories (Numbers 22:6b).

4. What happens when Balaam seeks to place a curse on the people of Israel? See Numbers 24:10 (printed below)

Then Balak’s anger was aroused against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them these three times! (Numbers 24:10)

Numbers 23-24 describe Balaam’s effort to put a curse upon the people of Israel. Three times Balak takes Balaam to a prominent high place overlooking the plains below where Israel is encamped. But each time Balaam seeks to curse the people, the Lord causes him to pronounce a blessing instead.

5. Speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what does Balaam say about the people of Israel? See Numbers 23:20-21 (printed below)

Listen; I have received a commandment to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot reverse it. (21) He has not seen iniquity in Jacob, he has not observed obstinate behavior in Israel. Jehovah his God is with him; the shout of a king is among them. (Numbers 23:20-21)

What is Balaam saying under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? He prophesies that the Lord is determined (and fully able) to pronounce blessing upon His people and not cursing. When the Lord looks upon His people He does not behold iniquity: “He has not seen iniquity in Jacob.” Therefore, He is with His people in blessing and fellowship, and for their protection as their great King. How can Balaam say these things (especially about the Lord not beholding iniquity in Israel), and say them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Not because Israel was without sin and not because the Lord was indifferent to their sin, but because the Lord has dealt with their sin. Moses, as their mediator, would make intercession for Israel—in his capacity as mediator Moses was an Old Testament model of Christ. The Lord Himself provided the atoning blood—of the Passover Lamb and the sacrificial blood that covered the mercy seat upon the ark of the covenant—to cover the sins of the people (all of the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to the one great sacrifice of Christ upon the cross.)