Commentary on Numbers 21:10-20

Notes (NET Translation)

10 The Israelites traveled on and camped in Oboth.

Num 33:41-44 says intermediate stops were made at Zalmonah and Punon before reaching Oboth.

11 Then they traveled on from Oboth and camped at Iye Abarim, in the wilderness that is before Moab, on the eastern side.

Baruch Levine believes the Zered Valley (v 12, modern Wadi el-Hesa) is a prime candidate for the border between Moab (to the north) and Edom (to the south).

12 From there they moved on and camped in the valley of Zered.

Deut 2:13-14 suggests the older generation had passed away by this time.

13 From there they moved on and camped on the other side of the Arnon, in the wilderness that extends from the regions of the Amorites, for Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.

The Arnon is a river that marked the boundary between the Moabites to the south and the Amorites to the north.

14 This is why it is said in the Book of the Wars of the LORD, “Waheb in Suphah and the wadis, the Arnon 15 and the slope of the valleys that extends to the dwelling of Ar, and falls off at the border of Moab.”

According to Ibn Ezra, [the Book of the Wars of the LORD] was a separate book which, together with the Book of Jashar (Josh. 10:13; 2 Sam. 1:18), were anthologies of early songs describing the saga of Israel’s battles at the beginning of its national existence. But only these three small fragments survive. According to Ramban (v. 13), a fourth fragment, the victory poem of Sihon (vv. 27–30)–a pagan–was included.1

The quotation is intended to confirm the Arnon river as the border between the Moabites and the Amorites. Waheb, Suphah, Ar, and Moab are place names. Ar was near the northern border of Moab (Num 21:28; Deut 2:9, 18, 29; Isa 15:1).

16 And from there they traveled to Beer; that is the well where the LORD spoke to Moses, “Gather the people and I will give them water.”

The Hebrew word Beer means “well”. After the punishment by snakes in verses 4-9 the Lord now provides water.

17 Then Israel sang this song: “Spring up, O well, sing to it! 18 The well which the princes dug, which the leaders of the people opened with their scepters and their staffs.” And from the wilderness they traveled to Mattanah; 19 and from Mattanah to Nahaliel; and from Nahaliel to Bamoth; 20 and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the country of Moab, near the top of Pisgah, which overlooks the wilderness.

Some scholars wonder if the song in verses 17-18 is also from the Book of the Wars of Yahweh. “Spring up, O well” is apparently the start of a song known in ancient Israel.

With such a long history of complaining about the lack of water, the celebration of God’s granting of water by instruction to Moses marks another turning point in the narrative of God’s dealing with Israel. The recent occasion of Moses gathering the people to see God supply their need ended in judgment and despair for the prophet (20:2–13). Death was meted out to the last group who grumbled (21:5–6). Now Israel was given further incentive to continue toward the goal of the Promised Land.2

Mattanah means “gift”, Nahaliel means “river of God”, and Bamoth means “high place/cultic center”. Pisgah may be a mountain or a mountain range. The “slopes” mentioned in Deut 3:17 and 4:40 suggest it is a mountain range.


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.

  1. Milgrom 1990, 176 
  2. Cole 2000, Kindle Locations 10193-10196 

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