(Horʹmah) [A Devoting to Destruction].
A city in the southern part of the territory of Judah (1Ch 4:30), but possibly the name is applied to more than one site, the other being perhaps a place or region.
Following the return of the 12 Israelite spies to Kadesh (Nu 13:26), the Israelites at first refused to attempt an invasion of Canaan. Then, following Jehovah’s condemnation of their rebellious attitude and lack of faith, they decided to attempt it, contrary to his instructions. They “got up early in the morning” to go up to the place that Jehovah mentioned. The record speaks of their endeavoring to “go up to the top of the mountain.” (Nu 14:40) However, their statement about going up to “the place that Jehovah mentioned” may indicate “the mountainous region of the Amorites” referred to by Moses in his restatement of the events, rather than a particular mountain. (De 1:19-21, 41-43) The record does not indicate how far they traveled, nor does it specifically indicate whether the actions described took place during one day or not; but the text seems to indicate events occurring within a relatively short space of time.
Whatever was the case, the record shows that they were met by the Amalekites and Canaanites (at De 1:44, “Amorites,” a term used to refer to the people of Canaan in general; compare Ge 48:22; Jos 24:15), and these defeated the Israelites, scattering them “as far as Hormah.” (Nu 14:45) The account in Deuteronomy 1:44 says they were scattered “in Seir as far as Hormah.” Seir was the territory of the Edomites, and their dominion then seems to have extended W of the Wadi Arabah into the Negeb region. (Compare Nu 20:14, 16; Jos 11:17.) Following this defeat, the Israelites returned to Kadesh.—De 1:45, 46.
Their wandering period having ended, the Israelites again advanced toward Canaan and were attacked by the Canaanite king of Arad. (See ARAD No. 2.) Again we do not know how far to the S the king of Arad advanced before engaging in combat with the Israelites, but the Israelites, following a vow to Jehovah, gained the victory over this king and ‘devoted his cities to destruction,’ thereafter naming the place “Hormah.” (Nu 21:1-3; see DEVOTED THING.) While Moses had already employed this name in the earlier account of the Canaanites’ victory over Israel, it is probable that he did so in an anticipatory way, intending to refer to it later in the record, showing the origin of the name. (Nu 14:45) The Israelites did not settle in the region then, however, but traveled around Edom and turned N, eventually making their entry into Canaan by crossing the Jordan N of the Dead Sea.—Nu 21:4; 22:1.
At Joshua 12:14 “the king of Hormah” is listed next to the king of Arad among the 31 kings defeated by Joshua. It seems unlikely that this refers to the victory gained earlier while Moses was yet alive and Joshua was serving as military commander, since these victories are listed as though gained after Israel’s crossing the Jordan into Canaan. (Jos 12:7, 8) Though this victory by Joshua is not specifically described, it may be included in the statement at Joshua 10:40-42. This would indicate that after Israel departed from that region in order to travel around the land of Edom, the Canaanites resettled the territory. While Joshua is shown to have defeated the king of Hormah, the record does not state that the Israelites then occupied the city of Hormah.—Compare the case of Gezer at Jos 12:12; Jg 1:29.
The city was included in the list of towns “at the extremity of the tribe of the sons of Judah toward the boundary of Edom in the south.” (Jos 15:21, 30) However, it was assigned to the tribe of Simeon as an “enclave” city within Judah’s territory. (Jos 19:1, 2, 4; compare 16:9.) Since the record only shows that Joshua defeated Hormah’s king (not mentioning any conquest of the city), the tribes of Judah and Simeon thereafter combined their forces to “strike the Canaanites inhabiting Zephath and to devote it to destruction. Hence the name of the city was called Hormah.” (Jg 1:17) Their naming of the city here simply may have been a confirmation or restatement of the name applied to it earlier. The use of the name Hormah back in Moses’ time is considered by some to have been with reference to the entire district or region instead of the one city of Zephath. This would mean that the entire district was under ban, or devoted to destruction, whenever that destruction should eventually be accomplished.—Compare Commentary on the Old Testament, by C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, 1973, Vol. II, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, p. 256; see ZEPHATH.
The location of Hormah is uncertain. Various suggestions have been given, but since the proposed sites are all over 60 km (37 mi) N of Kadesh-barnea, from which the Israelites initially started out “early in the morning” (Nu 14:40), and since Hormah is stated to be the point to which they were scattered in defeat, evidently fleeing back toward Kadesh, such positions so far to the N would hardly seem to fit the Biblical account.
Though still a Simeonite city in David’s time, Hormah was one of the places he visited during his exile as a fugitive and one of the cities to which he later sent gifts.—1Sa 30:26-31; 1Ch 4:24, 28-31.