Commentary on Numbers 21:1-3

Notes (NET Translation)

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

According to Jacob Milgrom, the Hebrew indicates this king was a ruler in the Negev, not necessarily the only ruler in the Negev. We do not know how far the king traveled to attack the Israelites.

2 So Israel made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will indeed deliver this people into our hand, then we will utterly destroy their cities.”

When confronted with adversity the Israelites consult the Lord. They promise to put the Canaanite cities to the ban (herem; Deut 7:1-2; 20:17; Josh 6:17, 21).

3 The LORD listened to the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites, and they utterly destroyed them and their cities. So the name of the place was called Hormah.

Hormah means “destruction”. It was here, about forty years earlier, that the Israelites made a misguided attempt to put things right by entering Canaan after the spies returned from their mission (14:39-45). This passage describes Israel’s first victory over Canaanites. Unlike earlier, the Lord was with them. Subsequent history suggests this land was not easily held (Josh 12:14; Judg 1:16-17).


Ashley, Timothy R. The Book of Numbers. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Cole, R. Dennis. Numbers. Kindle Edition. The New American Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Friedman, Richard Elliott. Commentary on the Torah. First Edition. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperOne, 2001.

Levine, Baruch A. Numbers 21-36. The Anchor Yale Bible. New York: Yale University Press, 2000.

Mays, James L., ed. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Revised Edition. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Milgrom, Jacob. Numbers. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Wenham, Gordon J. Numbers. Kindle Edition. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP Academic, 2015.


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