Numbers 21:1-3 Arad Battle
Israel is on the back march from the Promised Land. They are in the earlier days of their 40 years wandering. One group isn’t about to wait for their return.
I don’t know how long it has been since Israel turned back from the brink of their victory. What I do know is that this is still the group of people who were told they would not enter the Promised Land and that both Moses siblings have already died. Actually, MANY of those whom God told that they would not receive the promise have died. But there are still MANY more to go before that whole generation are gone.
This is the same generation that complained to the Lord on a regular basis. The ones who lacked faith in Him to deliver them from the trials of their daily lives. The ones who kept stating that they should have stayed in Egypt. They are singing a different tune now.
This is the second time Israel has been attacked. Their first battle came right after their first miracle of water from the rock. They battled Amalek during that battle. They were attacked and as long as Moses’ arms were raised the battle went in their favor. When his arms dropped the tide turned against them. In the end they were victorious because Moses received a bit of help from Hur and Aaron. This time was different. Israel didn’t prevail victoriously. In fact some of their people were taken captive.
The people’s eyes were opened by these events. I have no doubt that they remembered back to the defeat they were handed when they tried to go into the Promised Land after God had told them they lost His help. But today’s battle wasn’t one Israel had started. I believe it was a deliberate attempt by the king of Arad to rid himself of Israel before they could get any stronger.
Israel’s fame was spreading far and wide. The miracles God worked on their behalf were being talked about in all the lands around them. I have no doubt that some believed the stories while others doubted them. I would hazard a guess that some wanted to take on Israel simply to test their own strength against a group who was reported to be untouchable.
The king of Arad didn’t want Israel living in his lands. He didn’t want to worry about what they might do. He wanted them wiped out so he could go on about his business without fear of this wandering group of people. He might even have been concerned about them taxing his land’s resources.
He failed in his attempt to destroy Israel. He also failed in his attempt to at least dishearten them. Instead, he riled them up to the point that they became single minded.
This story reminds me of one from World War II. The story I’m referring to is the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. The United States had decided to stay out of that war and adopted an isolationist attitude until the Japanize attacked that morning. This action galvanized the nation and the United States entered the war with retribution in their hearts. Japan suffered greatly for the damage they originally inflicted. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said it best in the quote “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
I believe this same remark could be said of Israel after the battle with the king of Arad. But the “giant” in Israel’s camp wasn’t the man power they could wield. It was faith and commitment to a promise made to God. Their promise though didn’t win this battle; the Lord did.
Israel laid down a challenge for God. They knew what His plans were for the people of the land. They also knew that He had promised to at least take their children into that land. So they presented God with an “IF/THEN” statement. “IF you will indeed give this people into my hand, THEN I will devote their cities to destruction” (verse 2).
They didn’t presume to tell God what He HAD to do. They didn’t even ask Him if He would do it. They simply said, “We will do what You wanted all along if You will give us the results You promised.” They knew they weren’t the ones going to ultimately inherit the promise. They knew they had disappointed God one too many times. But if He was still willing to help them in this matter they would do exactly as he had wanted.
God didn’t have to accept their challenge. He could have let more of the first generation people come to their end that day but He chose to go along with Israel’s request. By doing so He advanced Israel’s reputation and His own.
This king didn’t just get defeated and the captives returned. Their whole cities were utterly destroyed! Israel struck with all the might of Heaven on their side. The people whose God fought on their side just got another story to spread among the nations.
I wish this battle would have sealed Israel’s resolve to honor God in all they did from that moment on but we know that didn’t happen. Our very next story proves that out, but that is for another day.
Father God, HOW could the people ask You to fight for them in one moment and turn their backs AGAIN in the next? I know; I’m getting ahead of myself again. Maybe the question needs to go even further back. How could they SWEAR their allegiance one moment and refuse to follow where You led them in the next. “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). Was this their issue? I know You stated stubbornness was their root sin.
Proverbs 29:1 “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.”
Psalm 81:11-12 “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.”
This was their ultimate fate but for this day You took up their cause again.
Thank You for bringing me through my horrible stubborn times. Thank You for not giving up on me in the process. Thank You too for some of that stubbornness when it was pointed towards truth. You used it to shape me into who I am now but it couldn’t be left untampered. Why wasn’t Israel able to be tempered? Was it because they had lived too long with their attitude unchecked? Was it because of the size of the group? Was it because they refused to turn loose of the past? They missed a glorious future with You.
Please Father, don’t let me fall into Israel’s trap. Help me learn the lessons of the past while holding firm to the promises for the future.