Archive for the ‘Numbers’ Category

Deuteronomy 1

Deuteronomy 1 has Moses and the people poised to enter the Promised Land.  Moses is preparing them, by sharing some of what is to come but primarily by reviewing their history.  “’You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates”.

This is a pretty big move.  God has had them on a journey of over 40 years and now we are at the conclusion of that.  “Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers”.  God has been faithful, not only to lead them on their journey, but also to prepare the place He has for them, the Promised Land.  Along the way “The Lord your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are today as numerous as the stars of heaven”.  God has used this time to grow His people even more.  And now, they are ready to move in.

Moses has set up a system to lead the people. He followed God’s direction when he was told to “Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads”.  Moses had been the guy, along with his brother Aaron for so many years, but the load was overwhelming.  “So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and set them as heads over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officers, throughout your tribes”.  He broke things down into manageable groups where people could receive the care and attention they needed.

He also set up judges to help decide issues between people.  But he didn’t just dump the responsibility on them and run.  He said if “the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it”.  Moses was there to help lead well.  But now it is near the time to make the handoff.  “Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it”.  Moses isn’t making the trip.  His disobedience of God’s command when he struck the rock rather than speaking to it has caused him to be disqualified from entry.  But he has led well. And now Joshua will take the lead to bring the people home.

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Numbers 36

Numbers 36 deals with a sticky subject based on the potential of land leaving one tribe and being assumed by another.  A group of leaders came to Moses with an appeal.  Earlier, you may recall, the daughters of Zelophehad had come to Moses asking how they might receive their inheritance since there were no men in their family – only five daughters.  Moses took that request to God and was instructed to treat them like all the rest of the households and provide them an inheritance.

But these leaders come with the real concern that if these daughters marry someone in another tribe, their inheritance would be “added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry”.  This isn’t about a land grab, but rather preservation of the gift of land that God was providing as they enter the Promised Land.  Moses again gives direction according to the word of the Lord.  “Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father”.

They are able to marry whoever they want but with some strings.  The man they married had to be someone from the tribe they were part of.  They couldn’t marry outside, because that would mean the land would be lost to the other tribe and that was not acceptable under God’s plan at this time.  “The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers”.  Moses has had to deal with a lot of sticky issues, but God always has an answer before it is needed.

We are at the end of Numbers, and have seen Moses lead his people well.  He has them there ready to cross the Jordan and move into the Promised Land.  It has been quite a ride, as Moses has had to address many challenges and lots of days when the people were not really all that interested in following.  But he has led well, and now, as they are on the cusp of entering their inheritance, Moses has wrapped up the last of the things he needed to communicate before God takes him home.  Leadership lessons from Moses are extremely valuable and important for us to study and understand!

Numbers 35

Numbers 35 has Moses addressing what happens with the Levites when they come into the Promised Land.  Remember, this is the tribe of the priests who serve the entire people.  They do not have an inheritance of their own, but rather are to be given land from each of the tribes.  “Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites some of the inheritance of their possession as cities for them to dwell in”. They are to be provided for by the rest of the people.  Not just for the humans, but also for their livestock.

“The pasturelands of the cities, which you shall give to the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits all around”.  The Levites have livestock as part of the offering and sacrifices that the people were to bring.  So they need land to keep these animals.  God gives some specifics about how much land was to be carved out, and the measurements are given for each side of the city.  It was a significant amount of land, because they had a lot of livestock to care for.

The other part of the instruction of Moses in this chapter involves the cities of refuge God ordered to be set up in the Promised Land.  This was a place that people accused of murder could flee for safety until a ruling was made. “The cities that you give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the manslayer to flee, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities”.  There were to be six of these set up around the kingdom where people could go until things could be sorted out.

There were 42 additional cities God required be given to the Levites, but only six were to be refuge cities. “The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment”.  This place of safety allowed time for the facts to be gathered and required that “he must remain in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest”.  He was safe as long as he stayed inside the city.  But leaving the walls would put him at risk and subject to retribution.

Numbers 34

Numbers 34 has God’s instruction for how the land was to be divided by the tribes.  God lays out the boundary clearly for Moses and tells him where the borders are to be.  It is a rather large chunk of land – the land of Canaan – and God has specifically set it aside for His people.  “This is the land that you shall inherit by lot, which the Lord has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe”.

Remember that two and a half tribes had requested their land be on the other side of the Jordan – the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh.  They committed to helping conquer the Promised Land, but were returning across the Jordan to make their home.  So there are nine and half tribes to divide the land.  “These are the names of the men who shall divide the land to you for inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun.”  These two were tasked with drawing the lots and making the assignments.

Moses was to select “one chief from every tribe to divide the land for inheritance”.  He does, and these are the men he selected:

Tribe Chief
Judah Caleb
Simeon Shemuel
Benjamin Elidad
Dan Bukki
Joseph Hanniel
Ephraim Kemuel
Zebulun Elizaphan
Issachar Paltiel
Asher Ahihud
Naphtali Pedahel

There was a big responsibility placed on Eleazar and Joshua to make the division fair according to God’s plan.  I can’t imagine the pressure of taking a large land mass and a huge group of people and trying to make them all happy.  But God set forth the plan and forward they went!

Numbers 33

Numbers 33 contains the entire route from leaving Egypt to their arrival just outside the Promised Land.  “Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord”.  Moses recorded the 42 stages in their journey, and while the map is more or less the best guess at what the journey looked like, most of the maps I reviewed were similar in their look.  We do know the journey was 40 years from the time they had their run in with God, so it was a long haul.

It was only a short journey from Egypt to Canaan by the most direct route. A great highway ran up the coast through the country of the Philistines and the distance was not over 250 miles, or about a month’s journey.  But that wasn’t the route God had in mind, as He sent them on a much longer route because of their lack of faith.  Disobedience turned a rather short trip into a 40 plus year marathon.

Commentaries indicate they didn’t spend the entire time traveling, and that most of it was spent just across the Jordan from their final stop.  The route they took was the longest and most difficult of those available.  Now, as Moses reviews that trip, he prepares the people for their entry into the Promised Land.  God never really intended for them to take the land by war.  It was to be taken by faith, but their disobedience put a different reality on that plan.

God tells Moses to prepare the people to “drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places”.  God wants the idols removed.  They were to “take possession of the land and settle in it….inherit the land by lot according to your clans”. The requirement is clear – they have to drive the people out – and the warning strong that failing to do so will mean they will have trouble as they dwell there.  God has a very specific plan for how they are to take the Promised Land.

Numbers 32

Numbers 32 has the people of Israel just about ready to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land.  The people of Gad and the people of Reuben came and said to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and ask for permission to stay where they are and take that land as their inheritance rather than crossing into the Promised Land to receive their inheritance.  Moses gives them a history lesson about the last 40 years and why they had been wandering in the wilderness while every person alive last time this happened had to die.

It was because of the spies that had been sent ahead to check out the Promised Land.  They, including one from the tribe of Reuben and Gad, had come back and told the people not to go and take the land God had promised.  Only Joshua and Caleb had believed God’s power, but the other ten convinced the people not to go.  So they have been waiting for this time for 40 years, and now these tribes want to deviate from the plan again.  Moses is not pleased.

He reminds them that “if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people”.  They’ve been here once before and Moses has no interest in living under the anger of God again.  He is clear that this is not an option unless they agree to help make the journey into the Promised Land a success by helping with the battle that lies ahead.  They come to agreement that if the men of Gad and Reuben go with the people to take the land, then they can return and have this place as their own.

Moses tells them “If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the Lord for the war….then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the Lord and to Israel”.  It wasn’t that Moses didn’t want them to have this land east of the Jordan as their own, but that he didn’t want their lack of participation in taking the Promised Land to make it more difficult or impossible for the remaining tribes.  So they agree to pass over the Jordan and be part of the battle ahead.  Moses negotiates a good outcome that will give all what they desire after working together to achieve everyone’s goals.

Numbers 31

Numbers 31 has God instructing Moses to prepare for battle.  “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites”.  God is going to clean things up.  This is one of the last things Moses will be asked to do.  God then says “Afterward you shall be gathered to your people”.  It’s been a good run for Moses as the leader of the people of Israel.  He has taught us so many leadership lessons as he has dealt with a people that struggled to follow and obey God.  Yet he never gave up, even though the reality is that he never wanted to start this leadership journey.

Moses is told to “send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war….twelve thousand armed for war”.  He sends them off and they wipe out the enemy, killing every male along with the five kings of Midian.  And the gathered their stuff as plunder along with all the women who were left and bring it all back.  “Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war”.  They hadn’t done what they were told.

It seems like a decision that would be ok – to allow the women and small boys to live.  But Moses knows better, and God had been clear.  “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord”.  They had experience that allowing outside influence among their people would pull them away from God.  And Moses doesn’t want to go there again.  So he instructs his army to finish the job and kill every male child as well as any woman who had been with a man.  Basically only young girls were to be spared.

Moses is also clear about how to handle the plunder.  “Everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean”.  It had to be purified.  Once it was they were to “divide the plunder into two parts between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation”.  Those twelve thousand that went to battle got half, and the rest of the people shared the rest.  The amazing thing here is that “there is not a man missing from us”.  Every fighter returned safe.  That is the power of God being on your side.  When God is for us, no enemy stands a chance!

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