by Mark Huey
This week’s Torah portion, Balak, chronologically finds the Ancient Israelites further down the trail on their arduous and circuitous march to Canaan, the Promised Land, but without the able counsel of Aaron to co-administer with the aging Moses. Following the death of Aaron (Numbers 20:24-29), the indigenous populations of the desert areas begin an incessant military attack on the migrating Israelites. A brief engagement with the Canaanites is described in Numbers 21, as Israel must turn to the Holy One for guidance and deliverance to secure victory.
Israel’s journeys take a turn to avoid the conflict with the Edomites, who earlier had refused passage through their territory (Numbers 20:18-21). At this point, the complaints of Israel once again centered around their perceived lack of bread and water (Numbers 21:5). To chastise the Israelite grumblers, God sent snakes into the camp with a deadly venomous bite (Numbers 21:6). This judgment created an opportunity for Israel to gaze, by faith, upon the brazen serpent fashioned by Moses in order to receive physical healing (Numbers 21:7-9). The lifting up of the bronze serpent in the wilderness, is intended to parallel the lifting up of Yeshua the Messiah on the cross:
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Rather than elaborate on the significance of this to our faith, I would like to instead focus on how the Torah goes on to record the continuing sojourn of the Israelite survivors in the wilderness. The journey continues as a series of encampments are detailed from Oboth to Moab to Zared, to beyond the Aram at the border between the Moabites and the Amorites (Numbers 21:10-14). Apparently, more specific details of these different encampments and the conflicts that ensued were contained in another text called “the Book of the Wars of the LORD” (Numbers 21:14), that today is no longer extant. Some additional locations are cited as the sojourn proceeds “from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth, and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the land of Moab, at the top of Pisgah which overlooks the wasteland” (Numbers 21:19-20).
Many Bible scholars have attempted to trace the exact locations of these wanderings, and Biblical archaeologists are often very interested as to where they might have been located in the Ancient Near East. Time does not permit us the luxury of researching these specific places, but most assuredly, we know that God gave His people more instruction and admonition at each stop. (Click to Article)