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Israel Defeats the Canaanites at Hormah

21 (A) The Canaanite king of Arad lived in the Southern Desert of Canaan, and when he heard that the Israelites were on their way to the village of Atharim, he attacked and took some of them hostage.

The Israelites prayed, “Our Lord, if you will help us defeat these Canaanites, we will completely destroy their towns and everything in them, to show that they belong to you.”[a]

The Lord answered their prayer and helped them wipe out the Canaanite army and completely destroy their towns. That's why one of the towns is named Hormah, which means “Destroyed Place.”

Moses Makes a Bronze Snake

(B) The Israelites had to go around the territory of Edom, so when they left Mount Hor, they headed south toward the Red Sea.[b] But along the way, the people became so impatient (C) that they complained against God and said to Moses, “Did you bring us out of Egypt, just to let us die in the desert? There's no water out here, and we can't stand this awful food!”

Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes that bit and killed many of them.

Some of the people went to Moses and admitted, “It was wrong of us to insult you and the Lord. Now please ask him to make these snakes go away.”

Moses prayed, and the Lord answered, “Make a snake out of bronze and place it on top of a pole. Anyone who gets bitten can look at the snake and be saved from death.”

(D) Moses obeyed the Lord. And all of those who looked at the bronze snake lived, even though they had been bitten by the poisonous snakes.

Israel's Journey to Moab

10 As the Israelites continued their journey to Canaan, they camped at Oboth, 11 then at Iye-Abarim in the desert east of Moab, 12 and then in the Zered Gorge. 13 After that, they crossed the Arnon River gorge and camped in the Moabite desert bordering Amorite territory. The Arnon was the border between the Moabites and the Amorites. 14 A song in The Book of the Lord's Battles[c] mentions the town of Waheb with its creeks in the territory of Suphah. It also mentions the Arnon River, 15 with its valleys that lie alongside the Moabite border and extend to the town of Ar.

16 From the Arnon, the Israelites went to the well near the town of Beer, where the Lord had said to Moses, “Call the people together, and I will give them water to drink.”

17 That's also the same well the Israelites sang about in this song:

Let's celebrate!
    The well has given us water.
18 With their royal scepters,
our leaders pointed out
    where to dig the well.

The Israelites left the desert and camped near the town of Mattanah, 19 then at Nahaliel, and then at Bamoth. 20 Finally, they reached Moabite territory, where they camped near Mount Pisgah[d] in a valley overlooking the desert north of the Dead Sea.

Israel Defeats King Sihon the Amorite

(Deuteronomy 2.26-37)

21 The Israelites sent this message to King Sihon of the Amorites:

22 Please let us pass through your territory. We promise to stay away from your fields and vineyards, and we won't drink any water from your wells. As long as we're in your land, we'll stay on the main road.[e]

23 But Sihon refused to let Israel travel through his land. Instead, he called together his entire army and marched into the desert to attack Israel near the town of Jahaz. 24 Israel defeated them and took over the Amorite territory from the Arnon River gorge in the south to the Jabbok River gorge in the north. Beyond the Jabbok was the territory of the Ammonites, who were much stronger than Israel.

25 The Israelites settled in the Amorite towns, including the capital city of Heshbon with its surrounding villages. 26 King Sihon had ruled from Heshbon, after defeating the Moabites and taking over their land north of the Arnon River gorge. 27 That's why the Amorites had written this poem about Heshbon:

Come and rebuild Heshbon,
    King Sihon's capital city!
28 (E) His armies marched out
    like fiery flames,
burning down the town of Ar
and destroying[f] the hills
    along the Arnon River.
29 You Moabites are done for!
Your god Chemosh
    deserted your people;
they were captured, taken away
    by King Sihon the Amorite.
30 We completely defeated Moab.
The towns of Heshbon and Dibon,
    of Nophah and Medeba
    are ruined and gone.[g]

31 After the Israelites had settled in the Amorite territory, 32 Moses sent some men to explore the town of Jazer. Later, the Israelites captured the villages surrounding it and forced out the Amorites who lived there.

Israel Defeats King Og of Bashan

(Deuteronomy 3.1-11)

33 The Israelites headed toward the region of Bashan, where King Og ruled, and he led his entire army to Edrei to meet Israel in battle.

34 The Lord said to Moses, “Don't be afraid of Og. I will help you defeat him and his army, just as you did King Sihon who ruled in Heshbon. Og's territory will be yours.”

35 So the Israelites wiped out Og, his family, and his entire army—there were no survivors. Then Israel took over the land of Bashan.

22 Israel moved from there to the hills of Moab, where they camped across the Jordan River from the town of Jericho.

King Balak of Moab Hires Balaam To Curse Israel

2-3 When King Balak[h] of Moab and his people heard how many Israelites there were and what they had done to the Amorites, he and the Moabites were terrified and panicked. They said to the Midianite leaders, “That huge mob of Israelites will wipe out everything in sight, like a bull eating grass in a field.”

So King Balak (F) sent a message to Balaam son of Beor who lived among his relatives in the town of Pethor near the Euphrates River. It said:

I need your help. A large group of people has come here from Egypt and settled near my territory. They are too powerful for us to defeat, so would you come and place a curse on them? Maybe then we can run them off. I know that anyone you bless will be successful, but anyone you curse will fail.

The leaders of Moab and Midian left and took along money to pay Balaam. When they got to his house, they gave him Balak's message.

“Spend the night here,” Balaam replied, “and tomorrow I will tell you the Lord's answer.” So the officials stayed at his house.

During the night, God asked Balaam, “Who are these people at your house?”

10 “They are messengers from King Balak of Moab,” Balaam answered. “He sent them 11 to ask me to go to Moab and put a curse on the people who have come there from Egypt. They have settled everywhere around him, and he wants to run them off.”

12 But God replied, “Don't go with Balak's messengers. I have blessed those people who have come from Egypt, so don't curse them.”

13 The next morning, Balaam said to Balak's officials, “Go on back home. The Lord says I cannot go with you.”

14 The officials left and told Balak that Balaam refused to come.

15 Then Balak sent a larger group of officials, who were even more important than the first ones. 16 They went to Balaam and told him that Balak had said, “Balaam, if you come to Moab, 17 I'll pay you very well and do whatever you ask. Just come and place a curse on these people.”

18 Balaam answered, “Even if Balak offered me a palace full of silver or gold, I wouldn't do anything to disobey the Lord my God. 19 You are welcome to spend the night here, just as the others did. I will find out if the Lord has something else to say about this.”

20 That night, God said, “Balaam, I'll let you go to Moab with Balak's messengers, but do only what I say.”

21 So Balaam got up the next morning and saddled his donkey, then left with the Moabite officials.

Balaam and His Donkey Meet an Angel

22 Balaam was riding his donkey to Moab, and two of his servants were with him. But God was angry that Balaam had gone, so one of the Lord's angels stood in the road to stop him. 23 When Balaam's donkey saw the angel standing there with a sword, it walked off the road and into an open field. Balaam had to beat the donkey to get it back on the road.

24 Then the angel stood between two vineyards, in a narrow path with a stone wall on each side. 25 When the donkey saw the angel, it walked so close to one of the walls that Balaam's foot scraped against the wall. Balaam beat the donkey again.

26 The angel moved once more and stood in a spot so narrow that there was no room for the donkey to go around. 27 So it just lay down. Balaam lost his temper, then picked up a stick and whacked the donkey.

28 When that happened, the Lord told the donkey to speak, and it asked Balaam, “What have I done that made you beat me three times?”

29 “You made me look stupid!” Balaam answered. “If I had a sword, I'd kill you here and now!”

30 “But you're my owner,” answered the donkey, “and you've ridden me many times. Have I ever done anything like this before?”

“No,” Balaam admitted.

31 Just then, the Lord let Balaam see the angel standing in the road, holding a sword, and Balaam bowed down.

32 The angel said, “You had no right to treat your donkey like that! I was the one who blocked your way, because I don't think you should go to Moab.[i] 33 If your donkey had not seen me and stopped those three times, I would have killed you and let the donkey live.”

34 Balaam replied, “I was wrong. I didn't know you were trying to stop me. If you don't think I should go, I'll return home at once.”

35 “It's all right for you to go,” the Lord's angel answered. “But you must say only what I tell you.” So Balaam went on with Balak's officials.

King Balak Meets Balaam

36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went to meet him at the town of Ir on the Arnon River, which is the northern border of Moab. 37 Balak asked, “Why didn't you come when I invited you the first time? Did you think I wasn't going to pay you?”

38 “I'm here now,” Balaam answered. “But I will say only what God tells me to say.”

39 They left and went to the town of Kiriath-Huzoth, 40 where Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep and gave some of the meat to Balaam and the officials who were with him.

41 The next morning, Balak took Balaam to the town of Bamoth-Baal. From there, Balaam could see some of the Israelites.[j]


  1. 21.2 completely destroy … belong to you: The complete destruction of a town and everything in it, including its people and animals, showed that the town belonged to the Lord and could no longer be used by humans.
  2. 21.4 Red Sea: See the note at 14.25.
  3. 21.14 The Book of the Lord's Battles: This may have been a collection of ancient war songs.
  4. 21.20 Mount Pisgah: This probably refers to the highest peak in the Abarim Mountains in Moab.
  5. 21.22 the main road: See the note at 20.17.
  6. 21.28 destroying: One ancient translation; Hebrew “the rulers of.”
  7. 21.30 gone: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text of verse 30.
  8. 22.2,3 Balak: Hebrew “Balak son of Zippor.”
  9. 22.32 I don't think you should go to Moab: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  10. 22.41 Balaam could see some of the Israelites: For a curse to work, the people or thing being cursed had to be seen.

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