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Numbers 21:1-3

Context
Victory at Hormah

21:1 1 When the Canaanite king of Arad 2  who lived in the Negev 3  heard that Israel was approaching along the road to Atharim, he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoner.

21:2 So Israel made a vow 4  to the Lord and said, “If you will indeed deliver 5  this people into our 6  hand, then we will utterly destroy 7  their cities.” 21:3 The Lord listened to the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites, 8  and they utterly destroyed them and their cities. So the name of the place was called 9  Hormah.

1 sn This chapter has several events in it: the victory over Arad (vv. 1-3), the plague of serpents (vv. 4-9), the approach to Moab (vv. 10-20), and the victory over Sihon and Og (vv. 21-35). For information, see D. M. Gunn, “The ‘Battle Report’: Oral or Scribal Convention.” JBL 93 (1974): 513-18; and of the extensive literature on the archaeological site, see EAEHL 1:74-89.

2 sn The name Arad probably refers to a place a number of miles away from Tel Arad in southern Israel. The name could also refer to the whole region (like Edom).

3 tn Or “the south”; “Negev” has become a technical name for the southern desert region and is still in use in modern times.

4 tn The Hebrew text uses a cognate accusative with the verb: They vowed a vow. The Israelites were therefore determined with God’s help to defeat Arad.

5 tn The Hebrew text has the infinitive absolute and the imperfect tense of נָתַן (natan) to stress the point – if you will surely/indeed give.”

6 tn Heb “my.”

7 tn On the surface this does not sound like much of a vow. But the key is in the use of the verb for “utterly destroy” – חָרַם (kharam). Whatever was put to this “ban” or “devotion” belonged to God, either for his use, or for destruction. The oath was in fact saying that they would take nothing from this for themselves. It would simply be the removal of what was alien to the faith, or to God’s program.

8 tc Smr, Greek, and Syriac add “into his hand.”

9 tn In the Hebrew text the verb has no expressed subject, and so here too is made passive. The name “Hormah” is etymologically connected to the verb “utterly destroy,” forming the popular etymology (or paronomasia, a phonetic wordplay capturing the significance of the event).



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