We have here an account of the several stages and removals of the children of Israel, till they came into the plains of Moab, out of which they at length passed over Jordan into Canaan, as we read in the beginning of Joshua. Natural motions are quicker the nearer they are to their centre. The Israelites were now drawing near to the promised rest, and now they set forward, as the expression is, Num. 21:10. It were well if we would do thus in our way to heaven, rid ground in the latter end of our journey, and the nearer we come to heaven be so much the more active and abundant in the work of the Lord. Two things especially are observable in the brief account here given of these removals:—
1. The wonderful success which God blessed his people with, near the brooks of Arnon, Num. 21:13-15. They had now compassed the land of Edom (which they were not to invade, nor so much as to disturb, Deut. 2:4; 5), and had come to the border of Moab. It is well that there are more ways than one to Canaan. The enemies of God’s people may retard their passage, but cannot prevent their entrance into the promised rest. Care is taken to let us know that the Israelites in their march religiously observed the orders which God gave them to use no hostility against the Moabites (Deut. 2:9), because they were the posterity of righteous Lot; therefore they pitched on the other side of Arnon (Num. 21:13), that side which was now in the possession of the Amorites, one of the devoted nations, though formerly it had belonged to Moab, as appears here, Num. 21:26; 27. This care of theirs not to offer violence to the Moabites is pleaded by Jephtha long afterwards, in his remonstrance against the Ammonites (Jdg. 11:15-23), and turned to them for a testimony. What their achievements were, now that they pitched on the banks of the river Arnon, we are not particularly told, but are referred to the book of the wars of the Lord, perhaps that book which was begun with the history of the war with the Amalekites, Exod. 17:14. Write it (said God) for a memorial in a book, to which were added all the other battles which Israel fought, in order, and, among the rest, their actions on the river Arnon, at Vaheb in Suphah (as our margin reads it) and other places on that river. Or, it shall be said (as some read it) in the rehearsal, or commemoration, of the wars of the Lord, what he did in the Red Sea, when he brought Israel out of Egypt, and what he did in the brooks of Arnon, just before he brought them into Canaan. Note, In celebrating the memorials of God’s favours to us, it is good to observe the series of them, and how divine goodness and mercy have constantly followed us, even from the Red Sea to the brooks of Arnon. In every stage of our lives, nay, in every step, we should take notice of what God has wrought for us; what he did at such a time, and what in such a place, ought to be distinctly remembered.
2. The wonderful supply which God blessed his people with at Beer (Num. 21:16), which signifies the well or fountain. It is said (Num. 21:10) they pitched in Oboth, which signifies bottles, so called perhaps because there they filled their bottles with water, which should last them for some time; but by this time, we may suppose, it was with them as it was with Hagar (Gen. 21:15), The water was spent in the bottle; yet we do not find that they murmured, and therefore God, in compassion to them, brought them to a well of water, to encourage them to wait on him in humble silence and expectation and to believe that he would graciously take cognizance of their wants, though they did not complain of them. In this world, we do at the best but pitch in Oboth, where our comforts lie in close and scanty vessels; when we come to heaven we shall remove to Beer, the well of life, the fountain of living waters. Hitherto we have found, when they were supplied with water, they asked it in unjust discontent, and God gave it in just displeasure; but here we find, (1.) That God gave it in love (Num. 21:16): Gather the people together, to be witnesses of the wonder, and joint-sharers in the favour, and I will give them water. Before they prayed, God granted, and anticipated them with the blessings of his goodness. (2.) That they received it with joy and thankfulness, which made the mercy doubly sweet to them, Num. 21:17. Then they sang this song, to the glory of God and the encouragement of one another, Spring up, O well! Thus they pray that it may spring up, for promised mercies must be fetched in by prayer; they triumph that it does spring up, and meet it with their joyful acclamations. With joy must we draw water out of the wells of salvation, Isa. 11:3. As the brazen serpent was a figure of Christ, who is lifted up for our cure, so is this well a figure of the Spirit, who is poured forth for our comfort, and from whom flow to us rivers of living waters, John 7:38. Does this well spring up in our souls? We should sing to it; take the comfort to ourselves, and give the glory to God; stir up this gift, sing to it, Spring up, O well! thou fountain of gardens, to water my soul (Song 4:15), plead the promise, which perhaps alludes to this story (Isa. 41:17; 18), I will make the wilderness wells of water. (3.) That whereas before the remembrance of the miracle was perpetuated in the names given to the places, which signified the people’s strife and murmuring, now it was perpetuated in a song of praise, which preserved on record the manner in which it was done (Num. 21:18): The princes digged the well, the seventy elders, it is probable, by direction of the lawgiver (that is, Moses, under God) with their staves; that is, with their staves they made holes in the soft and sandy ground, and God caused the water miraculously to spring up in the holes which they made. Thus the pious Israelites long afterwards, passing through the valley of Baca, a dry and thirsty place, made wells, and God by rain from heaven filled the pools, Ps. 84:6. Observe, [1.] God promised to give them water, but the must open the ground to receive it, and give it vent. God’s favours must be expected in the use of such means as lie within our power, but still the excellency of the power is of God. [2.] The nobles of Israel were forward to set their hands to this work, and used their staves, probable those that were the ensigns of their honour and power, for the public service, and it is upon record to their honour. And we may suppose that it was a great confirmation to them in their offices, and a great comfort to the people, that they were made use of by the divine power as instruments to this miraculous supply. By this it appeared that the spirit of Moses, who must shortly die, rested in 3a2e some measure upon the nobles of Israel. Moses did not strike the ground himself, as formerly the rock, but gave them direction to do it, that their staves might share in the honour of his rod, and they might comfortably hope that when he should leave them yet God would not, but that they also in their generation should be public blessings, and might expect the divine presence with them as long as they acted by the direction of the lawgiver. For comfort must be looked for only in the way of duty; and, if we would share in divine joys, we must carefully follow the divine direction.