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Numbers 21:10-20

Context
The Approach to Moab

21:10 1 The Israelites traveled on and camped in Oboth. 21:11 Then they traveled on from Oboth and camped at Iye Abarim, 2  in the wilderness that is before Moab, on the eastern side. 3  21:12 From there they moved on and camped in the valley of Zered. 21:13 From there they moved on and camped on the other side of the Arnon, in the wilderness that extends from the regions 4  of the Amorites, for Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 21:14 This is why it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord,

“Waheb in Suphah 5  and the wadis,

the Arnon 21:15 and the slope of the valleys 6 

that extends to the dwelling of Ar, 7 

and falls off at the border of Moab.”

21:16 And from there they traveled 8  to Beer; 9  that is the well where the Lord spoke to Moses, “Gather the people and I will give them water.” 21:17 Then Israel sang 10  this song:

“Spring up, O well, sing to it!

21:18 The well which the princes 11  dug,

which the leaders of the people opened

with their scepters and their staffs.”

And from the wilderness they traveled to Mattanah; 21:19 and from Mattanah to Nahaliel; and from Nahaliel to Bamoth; 21:20 and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the country of Moab, near the top of Pisgah, which overlooks the wilderness. 12 

1 sn See further D. L. Christensen, “Numbers 21:14-15 and the Book of the Wars of Yahweh,” CBQ 36 (1974): 359-60; G. W. Coats, “The Wilderness Itinerary,” CBQ 34 (1972): 135-52; G. I. Davies, “The Wilderness Itinerary,” TB 25 (1974): 46-81; idem, The Way of the Wilderness; G. E. Mendenhall, “The Hebrew Conquest of Palestine,” BA 25 (1962): 66-87.

2 sn These places are uncertain. Oboth may be some 15 miles (25 km) from the south end of the Dead Sea at a place called ‘Ain el-Weiba. Iye Abarim may be the modern Mahay at the southeastern corner of Moab. See J. Simons, The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament.

3 tn Heb “the rising of the sun.”

4 tn Or “border.”

5 tc The ancient versions show a wide variation here: Smr has “Waheb on the Sea of Reeds,” the Greek version has “he has set Zoob on fire and the torrents of Arnon.” Several modern versions treat the first line literally, taking the two main words as place names: Waheb and Suphah. This seems most likely, but then there would then be no subject or verb. One would need something like “the Israelites marched through.” The KJV, following the Vulgate, made the first word a verb and read the second as “Red Sea” – “what he did in the Red Sea.” But subject of the passage is the terrain. D. L. Christensen proposed emending the first part from אֶת וָהֵב (’et vahev) to אַתָּה יְהוָה (’attah yehvah, “the Lord came”). But this is subjective. See his article “Num 21:14-15 and the Book of the Wars of Yahweh,” CBQ 36 (1974): 359-60.

6 tc There are many variations in this text, but the MT reading of something like “the descent of the torrents/valleys” is preferable, since it is describing the topography.

7 sn The place is unknown; it is apparently an important city in the region.

8 tn The words “they traveled” are not in the Hebrew text, but are supplied here because of English style. The same phrase is supplied at the end of v. 18.

9 sn Isa 15:8 mentions a Moabite Beerelim, which Simons suggests is Wadi Ettemed.

10 tn After the adverb “then” the prefixed conjugation has the preterite force. For the archaic constructions, see D. N. Freedman, “Archaic Forms in Early Hebrew Poetry,” ZAW 72 (1960): 101-7. The poem shows all the marks of being ancient.

11 sn The brief song is supposed to be an old workers’ song, and so the mention of leaders and princes is unusual. Some think they are given credit because they directed where the workers were to dig. The scepter and staff might have served some symbolic or divining custom.

12 tn Or perhaps as a place name, “Jeshimon.”



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