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Numbers 21:14-15

Context
21:14 This is why it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord,

“Waheb in Suphah 1  and the wadis,

the Arnon 21:15 and the slope of the valleys 2 

that extends to the dwelling of Ar, 3 

and falls off at the border of Moab.”

Numbers 21:27-30

Context
21:27 That is why those who speak in proverbs 4  say,

“Come to Heshbon, let it be built.

Let the city of Sihon be established! 5 

21:28 For fire went out from Heshbon,

a flame from the city of Sihon.

It has consumed Ar of Moab

and the lords 6  of the high places of Arnon.

21:29 Woe to you, Moab.

You are ruined, O people of Chemosh! 7 

He has made his sons fugitives,

and his daughters the prisoners of King Sihon of the Amorites.

21:30 We have overpowered them; 8 

Heshbon has perished as far as Dibon.

We have shattered them as far as Nophah,

which 9  reaches to Medeba.”

1 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.

2 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.

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

4 sn Proverbs of antiquity could include pithy sayings or longer songs, riddles, or poems composed to catch the significance or the irony of an event. This is a brief poem to remember the event, like an Egyptian victory song. It may have originated as an Amorite war taunt song; it was sung to commemorate this victory. It was cited later by Jeremiah (48:45-46). The composer invites his victorious people to rebuild the conquered city as a new capital for Sihon. He then turns to address the other cities which his God(s) has/have given to him. See P. D. Hanson, “The Song of Heshbon and David’s Nir,” HTR 61 (1968): 301.

5 tn Meaning, “rebuilt and restored.”

6 tc Some scholars emend to בָּלְעָה (balah), reading “and devoured,” instead of בַּעֲלֵי (baaley, “its lords”); cf. NAB, NRSV, TEV. This emendation is closer to the Greek and makes a better parallelism, but the MT makes good sense as it stands.

7 sn The note of holy war emerges here as the victory is a victory over the local gods as well as over the people.

8 tc The first verb is difficult. MT has “we shot at them.” The Greek has “their posterity perished” (see GKC 218 §76.f).

9 tc The relative pronoun “which” (אֲשֶׁר, ’asher) posed a problem for the ancient scribes here, as indicated by the so-called extraordinary point (punta extraordinaria) over the letter ר (resh) of אֲשֶׁר. Smr and the LXX have “fire” (אֵשׁ, ’esh) here (cf. NAB, NJB, RSV, NRSV). Some modern scholars emend the word to שֹׁאָה (shoah, “devastation”).



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