The Song Of The Well -- By: Milton S. Terry

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 058:231 (Jul 1901)
Article: The Song Of The Well
Author: Milton S. Terry


The Song Of The Well

Prof. Milton S. Terry

Some Notes On Numbers 21:16–18

The entire twenty-first chapter of Numbers is, on the face of it, a compilation from various sources, and three separate fragments from the ancient national songs of Israel are incorporated in the narrative. One of these is said to have been written in “The Book of the Wars of Jehovah” (ver. 14), and another is credited to “those who speak in proverbs” (הַמּשׁלִים, ver. 27). The other purports to be part of a song sung by Israel at Beer, or at “the well whereof Jehovah said to Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water” (ver. 16). Four lines of this song are given, and they are thus rendered in the Revised Version: —

“Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it:
The well which the princes digged,
Which the nobles of the people delved,
With the scepter and with their staves.”

I. Our first difficulty with this passage is to adjust it to the context. In the preceding narrative we are told that the Israelites had journeyed northward and encamped

beyond the Arnon, which is the northern boundary of Moab, and the southern border of the territory of the Amorites (ver. 13). “From thence,” we are told in verse 16, they marched on “to Beer,” which is identified as “the well whereof Jehovah said to Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water.” The natural meaning of these words is that of a simple reference to a celebrated place, which called for no further description, but which had been the occasion of a familiar song in Israel. But for its position in the context, which describes the later journeys of Israel as they neared Canaan and took possession of the east-Jordanic region, no one would think of referring it to any other event than that which is described at length in the preceding chapter (Num. 20:1–13) as having occurred at Kadesh. There we are told how the people strove (רִיב) with Moses because there was no water, and how Jehovah commanded Moses to assemble the congregation, and “speak unto the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water.” But Moses and Aaron gathered the people, and Moses smote the rock with his rod, “and water came forth abundantly.” In celebrating such an event ...

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