Bible Study with Jairus – Numbers 21
Numbers 21 tells the story of Israel getting back to the starting point after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Forty years ago, they sent twelve spies into the Promised Land. In the end, ten were evil spies. They saw that the Canaanites were of great height, so they became frightened and forgot about God’s promise of bringing them into the Promised Land. God, in His wrath, let them wander in the wilderness for forty years corresponding to the 40 days they spied out the land (Numbers 13).
We often say that the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness represents the wandering of Christians in their soul. Egypt represents the world that the Israelites and Christians leave behind when they make their faith commitment to follow Christ. The Promised Land represents our entry into the abundant life and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The Canaanites represent the enemies occupying and preventing the Israelites from entering the Promised Land. When talking about a Christian’s spiritual experience, the Canaanites are a representation of evil spirits and the various strongholds we may face.
If we want to receive the spiritually abundant life God has for us, we must defeat the enemies who are hindering us. God can easily defeat His enemies. But to train us, God needs us to defeat them. God’s destiny for us Christians is to enter the abundance of life and the experience of spiritual victory. This is just like the entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land in the Old Testament—this was God’s destiny for them. But does this mean everything will go smoothly if something is God’s destiny for us? No. Often the enemy will do everything possible to hinder the good things God has ordained for us. Therefore, heeding the words of God’s prophecies and promises, and defeating enemies in battles should be our attitude.
If we cannot defeat the enemy, we will continue wandering in the wilderness. What is the wilderness experience? The wilderness experience is when you cannot go back to Egypt, nor can you enter the Promised Land. In today’s Christian experience, it represents a period of struggle where one has not yet experienced spiritual victory in areas of their lives after being saved.
Our enemy is very large. We cannot defeat the enemy by ourselves. Therefore, faith is extremely important. God hopes that in our process, we do not look at the size of the enemy and the difficulties of our situation, but instead think of His promise that we will be victorious and that He is with us. Basically, we defeat the enemy through faith. God’s purpose is not only for us to defeat the enemy, but that our faith in Him would increase in the process. In other words, God is using the circumstances and battles to increase our faith and to teach us how to better understand His greatness.
The first generation of Israelites completely failed. After seeing the height of the enemy, they utterly forgot God’s promise. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Wandering in the wilderness also represents God’s discipline. God will bring us into the wilderness experience to discipline us so that we can mature. There, He will also provide us with heavenly food, such as manna, so that our strength and faith may increase. Gradually, we gain the strength to fight the enemy.
At the beginning of Numbers 21, the Israelites learned their lesson and grew in faith in God after forty years of discipline. Verses 1-3 (ESV) state, “When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. And Israel vowed to the Lord and said, “If you will indeed give this people into my hand, then I will devote their cities to destruction.” And the Lord heeded the voice of Israel and gave over the Canaanites, and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So the name of the place was called Hormah.”
These verses included the first generation—Moses, Caleb, and Joshua (Miriam and Aaron already died in Numbers 20), and the second generation of Israelites. Their attitude changed from one generation to the next. The second generation was no longer afraid. Instead, they entreated the Lord that if He delivers them into their hands, they will destroy the Canaanite’s cities. In other words, they asked God to help them win this battle and then they would destroy the Canaanites. Because the Canaanites’ measure of sin had reached its full measure according to God, they prayed according to God’s will. This was a huge spiritual advancement for the second generation of the Israelites. God also has a promise for us to defeat our enemies. Remember though, faith plays a significant role in their defeat. If we have faith in God, anything is possible.
Unfortunately, the Israelite’s victory this time, although it was an improvement, did not last long. Verses 4-5 record that the Israelites set off from Mount Hor and walked along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. As mentioned in the previous chapter, Moses asked the king of Edom to pass through his territory, attempting to find a shortcut. The king of Edom firmly refused and was even willing to fight against the Israelites. Thankfully, God ordained that the Israelites would not fight with the Edomites. Instead, they had to make a detour by the way of the Red Sea, which is the direction toward Egypt. At this point, it seemed that going south would bring them back to where they started, so the Israelites became impatient. They spoke against God and Moses, accusing them of leading the Israelites to die in the wilderness. They also complained that there was no food or water, and they were already tired of the manna. The Lord responded by sending fiery serpents among them. They bit the people, and many died. After God’s discipline this time, the Israelites repented and asked Moses to pray and ask God to take away the serpents. God did not take away the fiery serpents. Instead, he instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent, and those who looked at it would live.
One interesting point to note here is that the Israelites prayed that God would take away the fiery serpents, but the Bible does not record that God would take them away. Instead, it says that God prepared a bronze serpent. For us, the fiery serpent represents both the difficulties of our situations and God’s discipline. While the “fire” may still be present, God has prepared salvation for us, which is represented by the bronze serpent. If we look at it (the bronze serpent), we will surely live. John 3:14-15 (ESV) says, “As Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.” Our world is full of suffering. Although the suffering has not been removed, we can look to Christ who has been crucified on our behalf. This experience taught the second generation of Israelites to learn to look only at the salvation God prepares and not at the lack in their circumstances. Their experience taught them how to have faith.
We will become whatever we behold. The more we look at our suffering, the more we will be frightened; the more we look at our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the salvation He provides, the more our faith grows to trust Him and we are saved. The Lord Jesus himself said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (ESV, John 16:33) Paul also said, “We all, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (ESV, 2 Corinthians 3:18)
A lady in our Bible study experienced some trials and tribulations. This day in particular, she received a revelation from the Father. She knew the story of the testing of the Israelites was the Holy Spirit’s timely words for her situation to bring comfort to her heart. Although she experienced some trials of physical illness, God had already given her His Word, telling her she would be healed. Unfortunately, setbacks in her process still left her discouraged. She asked God, “Why is it like this?” When I shared about the Israelites, I mentioned that not only does God want to heal her body, but He also wants to strengthen her faith through these trials so that He can use her in the future. She testified that many people had said the same thing to her. Therefore, she was willing to continue to lean upon God’s promises and look to the healing that He offered through the cross instead of paying too much attention to her difficult circumstances.
After the story of bronze serpent, the Israelites move forward on their journey, passing through many more places. Verse 16 specifically mentions a place called Beer. Many people are not sure about its location, but it is recorded that this place is the well of which the Lord say to Moses, “Gather the people together, so that I may give them water” (ESV, Numbers 21:16). This raises some questions. Is this the place where Moses struck the rock for the first time? No, that was in the Wilderness of Sin (Exodus 17:7). Is it referring to the second time Moses struck the rock twice by mistake? No, this was in the Wilderness of Zin in Kadesh (Numbers 20:1), so it could not have been this place either. It must be referring to another time when God spoke to Moses.
Water often represents the Holy Spirit in the Bible. Let’s review God’s supply of the water in these chapters. The first time God supplied water was when Moses struck the rock to produce water. The second time was when God asked Moses to speak to the rock so that water would pour out. (Moses instead struck the rock twice.) The third time refers to when the leaders of the Israelites and the nobles of the people dug a well with the scepter and their staffs. Now, the first strike on the rock represents the work done by Christ on the cross so that we can have the Holy Spirit; speaking to the rock (the second time) represents receiving the Holy Spirit by faith; and digging the well (the third time) represents our cooperation with God and an experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit. These three examples represent three stages of our Christian life. We must remember that Christ accomplished everything so we can receive the Holy Spirit. While it is Christ’s work alone that saves, we must apply faith to receive the Holy Spirit to obtain life and power to overcome. Lastly, as we overcome our flesh and sins, the Holy Spirit can have preeminence in our life and ministry.
I once received an explanation from the Local Church Movement about the water flowing out of the well, and it left a deep impression on me. That is, the well is like the Holy Spirit. The living water is already in us, but the living water in our well may be stopped up by mud and stones. The mud and stones symbolize the sins of the world, our flesh, etc., and we must dig them out with the scepter and staff to remove them.
Just like the picture in the Garden of Eden in Genesis, there will only be food if Adam cultivates the ground. Adam did his part and he trusted God to supply the water (mist) necessary for the ground to yield a harvest. Similarly, Christ has already accomplished salvation on the cross. While the Holy Spirit already lives in us, our well of water may be blocked by all kinds of filth. If we are willing to dedicate ourselves and deal with the sins and filth within us, the living water will more easily flow out. On one hand, the flow of living water is entirely the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit; on the other hand, our cooperation is extremely important.
Verses 21-32 record the story of Moses’ victory over Sihon, the king of the Amorites. Just like last time when they were passing through Edom, Moses also asked Sihon to let the Israelites pass through their territory. Moses again promised that they would not enter their fields and vineyards, nor would they drink water from their wells. They would just go by the King’s Highway. However, Sihon refused to allow them to pass through his territory. He even gathered people to attack the Israelites. Strangely, it is not recorded that the Israelites prayed to the Lord before killing Sihon. But later in verses 33-35, when the Israelites fought Og, the king of Bashan, the Lord told Moses that he would give King Og of Bashan into their hands, just as he gave Sihon to them.
The Bible specifically records that King Sihon once fought against the king of Moab and took a lot of his land. A poem was recorded to describe this situation. It mentions in verse 24 that the Israelites continued to attack the Amorites until they reached Ammon because the border of the Ammonites was fortified. The original meanings of Ammon and Moab are “born from relatives” (Ammon) and “born from the father” (Moab). They are both descendants of the incest between Lot and his daughters. Let’s recall that because of Abraham’s intercession, God saved Lot. 2 Peter 2:7 (NIV) refers to Lot as “a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless.” Now, although the Moabites and Ammonites represent our flesh, they are still the descendants of Lot whom God loves. God loved the Moabites and Ammonites.
Imagine that Moses and the Israelites are examples of our spirit man. Sihon and Og represent the evil spirits and strongholds in our lives. What then are the Ammonites and Moabites? Of course, they represent our flesh. How can evil spirits control us? They do so mostly through our agreement with them in the flesh. Now, think about Paul’s experience in Romans 7 and 8. Why did he exclaim that he was a “wretched man” (Romans 7:24)? Because in his mind, he wanted to be a slave of the law of God; but in his flesh, he was a slave of the law of sin (Romans 7:25). In our story, the law of sin is the work of Satan and his evil spirits—Sihon and Og.
When we try to fight spiritual things like evil spirits, our flesh loses because it cannot sustain such a battle. The same is usually true for those who want to overcome their failures or sins—they often fail because the power of the sin is stronger than one’s will to overcome. This is illustrated well in Romans 7 by Paul. The battle between Moab and Sihon is a picture of this. The Moabites, who represent the flesh, will never win the battle against Sihon, who represents evil spirits. We need the help of our regenerated spirit man to save our flesh, just as the Moabites needed help from Moses to escape the tyranny of Sihon. It is not coincidence that God records the battle between Sihon and Moab here. It has significant meaning. One of God’s plans was to liberate Moab. Moses and the Israelites were God’s tools to liberate the Moabites from Sihon. In the end, Moses’ victory over Sihon and Og can represent the defeating or casting out of evil spirits from our lives.
The next chapter, Numbers 22, tells the story of the king of Moab employing the Gentile prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites. But in Deuteronomy, God ordered Moses not to contend with the Edomites, the descendant of Esau (Deuteronomy 2:4-8), not to harass the Moabites (Deuteronomy 2:9), and not to contend with the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 2:19). Yet, the Moabites in Numbers 22 hired Balaam to curse the Israelites, similar to how the king of Edom in the previous chapter attacked the Israelites (which led to God’s judgment). The Moabites also incurred God’s judgment. Remember, the Moabites and the Edomites are relatives of the Israelites, but descendants of Lot and Esau respectively. They represent the flesh of Christians. The flesh is part of us. Although it’s not an evil spirit, the untrained flesh can and will cooperate with evil spirits to hinder the work of the Spirit of God in us.
When I took deliverance courses, I learned that evil spirits are to be cast out through deliverance. The flesh, since it is not an evil spirit, must be dealt with by the cross since your flesh can’t be cast out. One particular teacher clearly taught this because he discovered that there is a commonality among charismatic churches—they accept deliverance ministries more than evangelical churches, but they tend to go to the extreme. That is, they think that after experiencing deliverance, everything will be fine. The work of the cross is not emphasized enough. This teacher, therefore, emphasized that although we should accept deliverance ministries, we must also realize that our flesh must be continuously submitted to the cross. Just as charismatic churches may tend to deemphasize the work of submitting our flesh to the Spirit, some churches only emphasize dealing with the flesh and they do not recognize the necessity for deliverance ministries. The Bible teaches that these are two different things, both of which need to be taught in churches.
In the end, we learn from this chapter that God’s intention towards the Amorites (representing evil spirits) was to exterminate them. His plan regarding Edom and Moab (which represent the flesh) was to take the Israelites on a detour and deal with them slowly as would be the Christian’s journey of training the flesh. The judgment on Edom and Moab later recorded in the Old Testament proved that they were dealt with in this way. The Book of Amos records the judgment on Edom, Ammon, and Moab. Amos 1:11 (ESV) records the judgment on Edom as, “Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.” Amos 1:13 (ESV) records the judgment of the Ammonites: “Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, that they might enlarge their border.” Finally, Amos 2:1 (ESV) records the judgment of Moab. It says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment because he burned to lime [ashes] the bones of the king of Edom.’” Right after these verses, the judgment on Judah and Israel was recorded. Although they were also disciplined, they were not exterminated. This is the difference between dealing with evil spirits and dealing with the flesh.
We will discuss further how God dealt with Moab in our next chapter of study on Numbers 22. We conclude with a summary of what we learned today. God wanted the Israelites to pass through the land of Moab to bless the Moabites, but Moab did not receive their blessing. God even spoke to Moab through the Gentile prophet Balaam that the Israelites are blessed because Christ would be born from their lineage to bless nations, including them. However, Moab insisted on cursing the Israelites and they eventually lost their opportunity to receive God’s blessing. Please make sure to check out our Bible study on Numbers 22 to find out more. There, we shared more about the Moabites and how we can learn from their experiences today.