Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 35

    Numbers 35 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. While the people of Israel were still camped in the lowlands of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho, the LORD told Moses
  2. to say to them: When you receive your tribal lands, you must give towns and pastures to the Levi tribe.
  3. That way, the Levites will have towns to live in and pastures for their animals.
  4. The pasture around each of these towns must be in the shape of a square, with the town itself in the center. The pasture is to measure three thousand feet on each side, with fifteen hundred feet of land outside each of the town walls. This will be the Levites' pastureland.
  5. (SEE 35:4)
  6. Six of the towns you give them will be Safe Towns where a person who has accidentally killed someone can run for protection. But you will also give the Levites forty-two other towns,
  7. so they will have a total of forty-eight towns with their surrounding pastures.
  8. Since the towns for the Levites must come from Israel's own tribal lands, the larger tribes will give more towns than the smaller ones.
  9. The LORD then told Moses
  10. to tell the people of Israel: After you have crossed the Jordan River and are settled in Canaan,
  11. choose Safe Towns, where a person who has accidentally killed someone can run for protection.
  12. If the victim's relatives think it was murder, they might try to take revenge. Anyone accused of murder can run to one of these Safe Towns for protection and not be killed before a trial is held.
  13. There are to be six of these Safe Towns,
  14. three on each side of the Jordan River.
  15. They will be places of protection for anyone who lives in Israel and accidentally kills someone.
  16. Suppose you hit someone with a piece of iron or a large stone or a dangerous wooden tool. If that person dies, then you are a murderer and must be put to death
  17. (SEE 35:16)
  18. (SEE 35:16)
  19. by one of the victim's relatives. He will take revenge for his relative's death as soon as he finds you.
  20. Or suppose you get angry and kill someone by pushing or hitting or by throwing something. You are a murderer and must be put to death by one of the victim's relatives.
  21. (SEE 35:20)
  22. But if you are not angry and accidentally kill someone in any of these ways, the townspeople must hold a trial and decide if you are guilty.
  23. (SEE 35:22)
  24. (SEE 35:22)
  25. If they decide that you are innocent, you will be protected from the victim's relative and sent to stay in one of the Safe Towns until the high priest dies.
  26. But if you ever leave the Safe Town
  27. and are killed by the victim's relative, he cannot be punished for killing you.
  28. You must stay inside the town until the high priest dies, only then can you go back home.
  29. The community of Israel must always obey these laws.
  30. Death is the penalty for murder. But no one accused of murder can be put to death unless there are at least two witnesses to the crime.
  31. You cannot give someone money to escape the death penalty, you must pay with your own life!
  32. And if you have been proven innocent of murder and are living in a Safe Town, you cannot pay to go back home, you must stay there until the high priest dies.
  33. I, the LORD, live among you people of Israel, so your land must be kept pure. But when a murder takes place, blood pollutes the land, and it becomes unclean. If that happens, the murderer must be put to death, so the land will be clean again. Keep murder out of Israel!
  34. (SEE 35:33)

    God was giving instructions regarding the distribution of the land the Israelites were waiting to enter and possess. That is, they would possess it after they drove out the people living there. In the previous chapter God gave the boundaries of the land they were to possess. This chapter instructs them to allocate 48 cities, distributed throughout the territory of the twelve tribes, to be the inheritance of the Levites. They were not allotted land since their inheritance was the Lord. But they did need places to live and conduct their responsibilities in aiding the people in their worship of the Lord. Thus, each tribe was to provide a certain number of cities, based on the size of the tribe, along with a designated portion of land around each city to provide grazing land for their livestock.

    A further allocation of six cities was to be made as cities of refuge. There were to be three cities on either side of the Jordan. Cities of refuge allowed safety and imprisonment to those who killed a person unintentionally. God places high value on human life. The taking of another person's life, whether intentional or not, was not to go without repercussions. Today most societies, while intending, or at least stating the intention, to place value on human life, actually place less value on a life taken than on the life of the one who has taken it. God made it mandatory upon Israel that the life of one who kills another intentionally be taken. Failure to do so brought judgment on Israel. God told them that murder "defiles the land, and there can be no atonement for the land because of the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of the person who shed it." (35:33)

    This was the situation for one who intentionally killed another. However, the life of one who killed another unintentionally did not go unchanged. It, in fact, was forever changed. The cities of refuge offered them safety from the "avenger," who was a near relative of the victim. The avenger could kill the "manslayer" (the one who took the life unintentionally) without incurring guilt. Therefore, the manslayer could run to the safety of one of the cities of refuge to escape the avenger. Once he was tried by an assembly of the people, he was given a life sentence of living within the confines of the city of refuge if he was found not guilty of intentionally killing the person. However, if he was found guilty of murder, his life was to be taken by the avenger. Even though he might be found not guilty of intentional killing, he could never step outside the city of refuge without the risk of being killed by the avenger. The manslayer had one recourse to this life sentence. Should the High Priest die during his sentence, he was free to leave the city without fear of the avenger.

    There is provided in this arrangement a picture of our freedom from the guilt of sin that is provided by the death of the Great High Priest who is Jesus. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 34

    Numbers 34 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD told Moses
  2. to tell the people of Israel that their land in Canaan would have the following borders:
  3. The southern border will be the Zin Desert and the northwest part of Edom. This border will begin at the south end of the Dead Sea.
  4. It will go west from there, but will turn southward to include Scorpion Pass, the village of Zin, and the town of Kadesh-Barnea. From there, the border will continue to Hazar-Addar and on to Azmon.
  5. It will run along the Egyptian Gorge and end at the Mediterranean Sea.
  6. The western border will be the Mediterranean Sea.
  7. The northern border will begin at the Mediterranean, then continue eastward to Mount Hor.
  8. After that, it will run to Lebo-Hamath and across to Zedad, which is the northern edge of your land.
  9. From Zedad, the border will continue east to Ziphron and end at Hazar-Enan.
  10. The eastern border will begin at Hazar-Enan in the north, then run south to Shepham,
  11. and on down to Riblah on the east side of Ain. From there, it will go south to the eastern hills of Lake Galilee,
  12. then follow the Jordan River down to the north end of the Dead Sea. The land within those four borders will belong to you.
  13. Then Moses told the people, "You will receive the land inside these borders. It will be yours, but the LORD has commanded you to divide it among the nine and a half tribes.
  14. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh have already been given their land
  15. across from Jericho, east of the Jordan River."
  16. The LORD said to Moses,
  17. "Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun will divide the land for the Israelites.
  18. One leader from each tribe will help them,
  19. and here is the list of their names: Caleb son of Jephunneh from Judah, Shemuel son of Ammihud from Simeon, Elidad son of Chislon from Benjamin, Bukki son of Jogli from Dan, Hanniel son of Ephod from Manasseh, Kemuel son of Shiphtan from Ephraim, Elizaphan son of Parnach from Zebulun, Paltiel son of Azzan from Issachar, Ahihud son of Shelomi from Asher, and Pedahel son of Ammihud from Naphtali."
  20. (SEE 34:19)
  21. (SEE 34:19)
  22. (SEE 34:19)
  23. (SEE 34:19)
  24. (SEE 34:19)
  25. (SEE 34:19)
  26. (SEE 34:19)
  27. (SEE 34:19)
  28. (SEE 34:19)
  29. These are the men the LORD commanded to help Eleazar and Joshua divide the land for the Israelites.

    The Lord had just told the Israelites that this new land was theirs. He had given it to them (33:53) It is like eternal life He offers all of us through Jesus Christ. It is a present reality and it is ours - if we believe it is real and accept it. The Israelites had to accept that this gift of Canaan was a reality and go into the land to accept it. They had strict instructions, though, that they were to "drive out all the inhabitants of the land." (33:52) As the Israelites camped outside this new territory, they had to accept by faith that it was theirs. God had given it to them. The indication of their faith would be to march into the land, as God instructed them, and take possession and live in the land. We, too, must by faith accept this eternal life offered through Jesus Christ, take possession of it, and live the abundant life that is made possible through Christ.

    Chapter 34 begins with a description God gave for the boundaries of this new territory. Was this so they would know what areas from which to drive out the people? Possibly. But it may also have been to convey the reality of their new possession.  The Israelites were seeing a land that was already possessed by other people. They had to trust that when God told them He had given it to them that it was as much a reality as if they already lived in the land and the present occupants already driven out. As we consider the life eternal God offers us through Jesus Christ we see our lives already possessed by many other things that are not compatible to a life lived with God. A life that He can make abundant. It requires faith on our part to believe that it is a reality that we must accept. And once we accept it that He will help us to drive out all those things that possess us and have kept us from the life He offers. We don't have to drive out all those things before we can accept this life. We accept it and then let Him drive out all that is not compatible to the life abundant that He give us.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 33

    Numbers 33 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. As Israel traveled from Egypt under the command of Moses and Aaron,
  2. Moses kept a list of the places they camped, just as the LORD had instructed. Here is the record of their journey:
  3. Israel left the Egyptian city of Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month. This was the day after the LORD had punished Egypt's gods by killing the first-born sons in every Egyptian family. So while the Egyptians were burying the bodies, they watched the Israelites proudly leave their country.
  4. (SEE 33:3)
  5. After the Israelites left Rameses, they camped at Succoth,
  6. and from there, they moved their camp to Etham on the edge of the desert.
  7. Then they turned back toward Pi-Hahiroth, east of Baal-Zephon, and camped near Migdol.
  8. They left Pi-Hahiroth, crossed the Red Sea, then walked three days into the Etham Desert and camped at Marah.
  9. Next, they camped at Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees.
  10. They left Elim and camped near the Red Sea,
  11. then turned east and camped along the western edge of the Sinai Desert.
  12. From there they went to Dophkah, Alush, and Rephidim, where they had no water.
  13. (SEE 33:12)
  14. (SEE 33:12)
  15. They left Rephidim and finally reached the Sinai Desert.
  16. As Israel traveled from the Sinai Desert to Kadesh in the Zin Desert, they camped at Kibroth-Hattaavah, Hazeroth, Rithmah, Rimmon-Perez, Libnah, Rissah, Kehelathah, Mount Shepher, Haradah, Makheloth, Tahath, Terah, Mithkah, Hashmonah, Moseroth, Bene-Jaakan, Hor-Haggidgad, Jotbathah, Abronah, Ezion-Geber, and finally Kadesh.
  17. (SEE 33:16)
  18. (SEE 33:16)
  19. (SEE 33:16)
  20. (SEE 33:16)
  21. (SEE 33:16)
  22. (SEE 33:16)
  23. (SEE 33:16)
  24. (SEE 33:16)
  25. (SEE 33:16)
  26. (SEE 33:16)
  27. (SEE 33:16)
  28. (SEE 33:16)
  29. (SEE 33:16)
  30. (SEE 33:16)
  31. (SEE 33:16)
  32. (SEE 33:16)
  33. (SEE 33:16)
  34. (SEE 33:16)
  35. (SEE 33:16)
  36. (SEE 33:16)
  37. When they left Kadesh, they came to Mount Hor, on the border of Edom.
  38. That's where the LORD commanded Aaron the priest to go to the top of the mountain. Aaron died there on the first day of the fifth month, forty years after the Israelites left Egypt.
  39. He was one hundred twenty-three years old at the time.
  40. It was then that the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Southern Desert of Canaan, heard that Israel was headed that way.
  41. The Israelites left Mount Hor and headed toward Moab. Along the way, they camped at Zalmonah, Punon, Oboth, Iye-Abarim in the territory of Moab, Dibon-Gad, Almon-Diblathaim, at a place near Mount Nebo in the Abarim Mountains,
  42. (SEE 33:41)
  43. (SEE 33:41)
  44. (SEE 33:41)
  45. (SEE 33:41)
  46. (SEE 33:41)
  47. (SEE 33:41)
  48. and finally in the lowlands of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho.
  49. Their camp stretched from Beth-Jeshimoth to Acacia.
  50. While Israel was camped in the lowlands of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho, the LORD told Moses
  51. to give the people of Israel this message: When you cross the Jordan River and enter Canaan,
  52. you must force out the people living there. Destroy their idols and tear down their altars.
  53. Then settle in the land--I have given it to you as your own.
  54. I will show you how to divide the land among the tribes, according to the number of clans in each one, so that the larger tribes will have more land than the smaller ones.
  55. If you don't force out all the people there, they will be like pointed sticks in your eyes and thorns in your back. They will always be trouble for you,
  56. and I will treat you as cruelly as I planned on treating them.

    Chapter 33 provides a travelogue of Israel's journey from Egypt to Canaan not seen elsewhere. Not previously mentioned was that Moses, "At the LORD's command, . . . wrote down the starting points for the stages of their journey." (33:2)   It is difficult to trace their travel on a map with this list of locations since many of them are no longer known. Most of the encampments listed were short stops, though no time frame is given. However, we know they spent approximately 11 months at Sinai and 38 years at or in the vicinity of Kadesh.  Their final encampment in the Plains of Moab just prior to entering Canaan was likely their third longest encampment.

    In this passage God gave instructions to the Israelites, through Moses, that once they entered Canaan they were to "drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you." They were to also "destroy all their stone images and cast images, and demolish all their high places." (33:52)  Israel's inheritance of Canaan from the Lord served two purposes: it provided God's chosen people a land of their own, and it brought judgment on the corrupt and depraved nations living in the land. This judgment was not intended to get their attention so they might turn to God. They were far beyond that. It was a judgment much like the flood that was intended to totally remove them. Their existence could no longer be justified.

    Destroying these people not only served as judgment on them but as protection for the Israelites. If they remained in the land they would forever be a thorn in their side. Plus, their pagan religious practices would entice the Israelites toward unfaithfulness to God, a sin that would bring God's judgment on them. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 32

    Numbers 32 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The tribes of Reuben and Gad owned a lot of cattle and sheep, and they saw that the regions of Jazer and Gilead had good pastureland.
  2. So they went to Moses, Eleazar, and the other leaders of Israel and said,
  3. "The LORD has helped us capture the land around the towns of Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon. That's good pastureland, and since we own cattle and sheep,
  4. (SEE 32:3)
  5. would you let us stay here east of the Jordan River and have this land as our own?"
  6. Moses answered: You mean you'd stay here while the rest of the Israelites go into battle?
  7. If you did that, it would discourage the others from crossing over into the land the LORD promised them.
  8. This is exactly what happened when I sent your ancestors from Kadesh-Barnea to explore the land.
  9. They went as far as Eshcol Valley, then returned and told the people that we should not enter it.
  10. The LORD became very angry.
  11. And he said that no one who was twenty years or older when they left Egypt would enter the land he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not one of those people believed in the LORD's power,
  12. except Caleb and Joshua. They remained faithful to the LORD,
  13. but he was so angry with the others that he forced them to wander around in the desert forty years. By that time everyone who had sinned against him had died.
  14. Now you people of Reuben and Gad are doing the same thing and making the LORD even angrier.
  15. If you reject the LORD, he will once again abandon his people and leave them here in the desert. And you will be to blame!
  16. The men from Reuben and Gad replied: Let us build places to keep our sheep and goats, and towns for our wives and children,
  17. where they can stay and be safe. Then we'll prepare to fight and lead the other tribes into battle.
  18. We will stay with them until they have settled in their own tribal lands.
  19. The land on this side of the Jordan River will be ours, so we won't expect to receive any on the other side.
  20. Moses said: You promised that you would be ready to fight for the LORD.
  21. You also agreed to cross the Jordan and stay with the rest of the Israelites, until the LORD forces our enemies out of the land. If you do these things,
  22. then after the LORD helps Israel capture the land, you can return to your own land. You will no longer have to stay with the others.
  23. But if you don't keep your promise, you will sin against the LORD and be punished.
  24. Go ahead and build towns for your wives and children, and places for your sheep and goats. Just be sure to do what you have promised.
  25. The men from Reuben and Gad answered: Sir, we will do just what you have said.
  26. Our wives and children and sheep and cattle will stay here in the towns in Gilead.
  27. But those of us who are prepared for battle will cross the Jordan and fight for the LORD.
  28. Then Moses said to Eleazar, Joshua, and the family leaders,
  29. "Make sure that the tribes of Gad and Reuben prepare for battle and cross the Jordan River with you. If they do, then after the land is in your control, give them the region of Gilead as their tribal land.
  30. But if they break their promise, they will receive land on the other side of the Jordan, like the rest of the tribes."
  31. The tribes of Gad and Reuben replied, "We are your servants and will do whatever the LORD has commanded.
  32. We will cross the Jordan River, ready to fight for the LORD in Canaan. But the land we will inherit as our own will be on this side of the river."
  33. So Moses gave the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh the territory and towns that King Sihon the Amorite had ruled, as well as the territory and towns that King Og of Bashan had ruled.
  34. The tribe of Gad rebuilt the towns of Dibon, Ataroth, Aroer,
  35. Atroth-Shophan, Jazer, Jogbehah,
  36. Beth-Nimrah, and Beth-Haran. They built walls around them and also built places to keep their sheep and goats.
  37. The tribe of Reuben rebuilt Heshbon, Elealeh, Kiriathaim,
  38. Sibmah, as well as the towns that used to be known as Nebo and Baal-Meon. They renamed all those places.
  39. The clan of Machir from the tribe of East Manasseh went to the region of Gilead, captured its towns, and forced out the Amorites.
  40. So Moses gave the Machirites the region of Gilead, and they settled there.
  41. Jair from the Manasseh tribe captured villages and renamed them "Villages of Jair."
  42. Nobah captured the town of Kenath with its villages and renamed it Nobah.

    At the Lord's command, the Israelites had just completed executing vengeance against the Midianites. (31:2) In doing so they had annihilated them and taken possession of their land. This was not an act that God decided on simply because of the treachery the Midianites had planned against Israel. According to passages in Deuteronomy (2:24, 2:31, 3:2), God had already planned to give this land to them as a possession. But having destroyed the Midianites, they seemingly had not yet considered what to do about inhabiting it.

    But the Reubenites and Gadites had taken notice of the suitability of the land for livestock, of which they had in abundance. So they approached Moses and Eleazar the priest with the request to take this land on the East side of the Jordan as their inheritance. Moses' initial response was negative. It brought back memories of their initial failed approach to taking possession of their promised land. It was a failure that had cost them dearly, causing them to wander in the desert for 40 years and prohibiting anyone over the age of 20 to enter the land. This request from the Reubenites and Gadites appeared to Moses to be another discouragement to crossing into Canaan. He said of them: "And here you, a brood of sinners, stand in your fathers' place adding even more to the LORD's burning anger against Israel." (32:14) They replied to Moses that this was not their intent at all. Instead, they would build sheepfolds for their livestock and rebuild the fortified cities for their families and the men would arm themselves to go "ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them into their place. . . .  We will not return to our homes until each of the Israelites has taken possession of his inheritance." (32:17, 18)

    Moses then consented to granting their request and gave orders to this regard to Eleazar the priest and to Joshua who was the newly appointed leader to replace Moses. He strongly admonished the Gadites and Reubenites, though, that if they didn't keep their word to cross into Canaan in battle formation they must accept land in Canaan. So the agreement was made and Israel delayed crossing into Canaan while these two tribes built sheepfolds and rebuilt the fortified cities. We are not told how long they were delayed, but it must have been several months.

    This arrangement in which tribes took their inheritance East of the Jordan was not in the original plan. At least not the plan God communicated to any of the Israelite patriarchs. Was it an unwise decision? Was it disobedient to God? No indication is given that God was displeased with it. It did solve the delimma of what to do with this land of which they had taken possession. But future events will bear out that it made the Reubenites and Gadites vulnerable to their enemies due to not having the protection of the Jordan River. These two tribes were the first to be captured. It also made them vulnerable to idolatry and to suspicions by the other tribes due to their physical separation from them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 31

    Numbers 31 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said to Moses,
  2. "Before you die, make sure that the Midianites are punished for what they did to Israel."
  3. Then Moses told the people, "The LORD wants to punish the Midianites. So have our men prepare for battle.
  4. Each tribe will send a thousand men to fight."
  5. Twelve thousand men were picked from the tribes of Israel, and after they were prepared for battle,
  6. Moses sent them off to war. Phinehas the son of Eleazar went with them and took along some things from the sacred tent and the trumpets for sounding the battle signal.
  7. The Israelites fought against the Midianites, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. They killed all the men,
  8. including Balaam son of Beor and the five Midianite kings, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba.
  9. The Israelites captured every woman and child, then led away the Midianites' cattle and sheep, and took everything else that belonged to them.
  10. They also burned down the Midianite towns and villages.
  11. Israel's soldiers gathered together everything they had taken from the Midianites, including the captives and the animals.
  12. Then they returned to their own camp in the hills of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho, where Moses, Eleazar, and the other Israelite leaders met the troops outside camp.
  13. (SEE 31:12)
  14. Moses became angry with the army commanders
  15. and said, "I can't believe you let the women live!
  16. They are the ones who followed Balaam's advice and invited our people to worship the god Baal Peor. That's why the LORD punished us by killing so many of our people.
  17. You must put to death every boy and all the women who have ever had sex.
  18. But do not kill the young women who have never had sex. You may keep them for yourselves."
  19. Then Moses said to the soldiers, "If you killed anyone or touched a dead body, you are unclean and have to stay outside the camp for seven days. On the third and seventh days, you must go through a ceremony to make yourselves and your captives clean.
  20. Then wash your clothes and anything made from animal skin, goat's hair, or wood."
  21. Eleazar then explained, "If you need to purify something that won't burn, such as gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, or lead, you must first place it in a hot fire. After you take it out, sprinkle it with the water that purifies. Everything else should only be sprinkled with the water. Do all of this, just as the LORD commanded Moses.
  22. (SEE 31:21)
  23. (SEE 31:21)
  24. Wash your clothes on the seventh day, and after that, you will be clean and may return to the camp."
  25. The LORD told Moses:
  26. Make a list of everything taken from the Midianites, including the captives and the animals. Then divide them between the soldiers and the rest of the people. Eleazar the priest and the family leaders will help you.
  27. (SEE 31:26)
  28. From the half that belongs to the soldiers, set aside for the LORD one out of every five hundred people or animals and give these to Eleazar.
  29. (SEE 31:28)
  30. From the half that belongs to the people, set aside one out of every fifty and give these to the Levites in charge of the sacred tent.
  31. Moses and Eleazar followed the LORD's instructions
  32. and listed everything that had been taken from the Midianites. The list included 675,000 sheep and goats, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys, and 32,000 young women who had never had sex.
  33. (SEE 31:32)
  34. (SEE 31:32)
  35. (SEE 31:32)
  36. Each half included 337,500 sheep and goats, 36,000 cattle, 30,500 donkeys, and 16,000 young women. From the half that belonged to the soldiers, Moses counted out 675 sheep and goats, 72 cattle, 61 donkeys, and 32 women and gave them to Eleazar to be dedicated to the LORD. Then from the half that belonged to the people, Moses set aside one out of every fifty animals and women, as the LORD had said, and gave them to the Levites.
  37. (SEE 31:36)
  38. (SEE 31:36)
  39. (SEE 31:36)
  40. (SEE 31:36)
  41. (SEE 31:36)
  42. (SEE 31:36)
  43. (SEE 31:36)
  44. (SEE 31:36)
  45. (SEE 31:36)
  46. (SEE 31:36)
  47. (SEE 31:36)
  48. The army commanders went to Moses
  49. and said, "Sir, we have counted our troops, and not one soldier is missing.
  50. So we want to give the LORD all the gold jewelry we took from the Midianites. It's our gift to him for watching over us and our troops."
  51. Moses and Eleazar accepted the jewelry from the commanders,
  52. and its total weight was over four hundred pounds.
  53. This did not include the things that the soldiers had kept for themselves.
  54. So Moses and Eleazar placed the gold in the LORD's sacred tent to remind Israel of what had happened.

    Balak, the Midianite king who conspired to use Balaam to bring a curse on Israel so they would be at a disadvantage to war against the Midianites would have done better to have put himself and his people at the mercy of the Israelites and their God. Their fate would most likely have been similar to the other nations of the area who were left alone. Though Balaam was unable to bring a curse against Israel, he counseled the Midianites to use their women to entice the Israelites into sex and idolatry which brought God's judgment against those Israelites who participated. Now, in chapter 31, we see God's judgment against the Midianites for their treachery against the Israelites.

    God instructed Moses to conduct a holy war against the Midianites to "Execute vengeance for the Israelites against the Midianites." (31:2) This was a war led by God in which the soldiers were accompanied by the priests carrying holy objects. It was to involve total annihilation of all living things and the devotion of all material goods to the Lord. But the soldiers didn't quite get it right. Instead of annihilation they allowed all the women and children to survive. Justification for this would not be hard to come by, but it wasn't what God wanted. Although instructions for annihilation are not described in this chapter, Moses' reaction implies it as do other passages dealing with holy war.

    How often do we commend ourselves for serving the Lord when we have only partially done so. Rather than really doing what God tells us to do, we do only what seems most reasonable to us. In this case, Moses made a concession which we might assume to be from God since there was no repurcussions. Though the soldiers returned with the women and children, they were given these instructions by Moses: "kill all the male children and kill every woman who has had sexual relations with a man, but keep alive for yourselves all the young females who have not had sexual relations." (31:17-18) So annihilation was still the order of the day with the exception of the young female virgins. Even with this concession the Midianites were no longer a people and never would be again.

    All materials goods had been brought back and were dedicated to the Lord. The Lord then distributed them at His own discretion. Half went to the soldiers and half to the people. Of each half, a token was to be given to the Lord, and His portion went to the priests and Levites. When the commanding officers took account of their troops, they found that all had returned safely. In thankfulness to God for their safety, the soldiers gave an offering from the gold they had plundered from the Midianites. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 30

    Numbers 30 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD told Moses to say to Israel's tribal leaders:
  2. When one of you men makes a promise to the LORD, you must keep your word.
  3. Suppose a young woman who is still living with her parents makes a promise to the LORD.
  4. If her father hears about it and says nothing, she must keep her promise.
  5. But if he hears about it and objects, then she no longer has to keep her promise. The LORD will forgive her, because her father did not agree with the promise.
  6. Suppose a woman makes a promise to the LORD and then gets married. If her husband later hears about the promise but says nothing, she must do what she said, whether she meant it or not.
  7. (SEE 30:6)
  8. But if her husband hears about the promise and objects, she no longer has to keep it, and the LORD will forgive her.
  9. Widows and divorced women must keep every promise they make to the LORD.
  10. Suppose a married woman makes a promise to the LORD.
  11. If her husband hears about the promise and says nothing, she must do what she said.
  12. But if he hears about the promise and does object, she no longer has to keep it. The LORD will forgive her, because her husband would not allow her to keep the promise.
  13. Her husband has the final say about any promises she makes to the LORD.
  14. If her husband hears about a promise and says nothing about it for a whole day, she must do what she said--since he did not object, the promise must be kept.
  15. But if he waits until the next day to stop her from keeping her promise, he is the one who must be punished.
  16. These are the laws that the LORD gave Moses about husbands and wives, and about young daughters who still live at home.

    God continued to give instructions to the Israelites in preparation for their entry into their promised land. Most of the instructions had been given at Sinai and since 40 years had passed, as had the adult generation who heard them, they were given at this time as reminders. However, in some instances more detail was given on this occasion. Chapters 28-29 dealt with offerings while chapter 30 deals with vows to the Lord.

    These instructions concerning vows to the Lord conveyed the seriousness of a vow. They were not to be taken lightly or made capriciously. A man making a vow to the Lord could not break it. End of discussion. There were no conditions under which a vow might be broken. But since a woman was, in most situations, under the authority of a man, her vows were subject to the approval of the man under whose authority she lived. If she was single, still living in her father's house, her father must approve. If she was married, her husband must approve. But neither were they to take the vow capriciously. They were to give it immediate attention. Upon learning of the vow made by the daughter or wife, the man had 24 hours in which to disapprove. Otherwise the vow was binding. His explicit approval was not required. Only his disapproval, verbally stated, registered a difference regarding the woman's vow. As for a widow or divorcee who no longer lived under a man's roof, the vows she made were binding just as the man's.

    Along with the seriousness of a vow made to the Lord, these instructions made clear the position of the woman. The order that God set for man and woman following the fall of Adam and Eve had not changed since His instruction to Eve, "Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will dominate you." (Genesis 3:16) This dominate role of man has many times been taken to the extreme, and in many societies in history has been oppressive. But the intent of the relationship is seen more clearly in the inspired writings of the Apostle Paul when he wrote: "Husbands, love your wives, just as also Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Ephesians 5:25) The model for the man's dominate role is Christ and the authority He has over the church. It comes with tremendous responsibility. A responsibility to give total commitment and love. Commitment and love such that the husband is willing to give his life for his wife. The role of the wife is to give respect to her husband.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 29

    Numbers 29 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. On the first day of the seventh month, you must rest from your work and come together to celebrate at the sound of the trumpets.
  2. Bring to the altar one bull, one full-grown ram, and seven rams a year old that have nothing wrong with them. And then offer these as sacrifices to please me.
  3. Six pounds of your finest flour mixed with olive oil must be offered with the bull as a grain sacrifice. Four pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with the ram,
  4. and two pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with each of the young rams.
  5. You must also offer a goat as a sacrifice for sin.
  6. These sacrifices will be made in addition to the regular daily sacrifices and the sacrifices for the first day of the month. The smoke from these sacrifices will please me.
  7. The tenth day of the seventh month is the Great Day of Forgiveness. On that day you must rest from all work and come together for worship. Show sorrow for your sins by going without food,
  8. and bring to the altar one young bull, one full-grown ram, and seven rams a year old that have nothing wrong with them. Then offer these as sacrifices to please me.
  9. Six pounds of your finest flour mixed with olive oil must be offered with the bull as a grain sacrifice. Four pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with the ram,
  10. and two pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with each of the young rams.
  11. A goat must also be sacrificed for the sins of the people. You will offer these sacrifices in addition to the sacrifice to ask forgiveness and the regular daily sacrifices.
  12. Beginning on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and continuing for seven days, everyone must celebrate the Festival of Shelters in honor of me.
  13. On the first day, you must rest from your work and come together for worship. Bring to the altar thirteen bulls, two full-grown rams, and fourteen rams a year old that have nothing wrong with them. Then offer these as sacrifices to please me.
  14. Six pounds of your finest flour mixed with olive oil must be offered with each bull as a grain sacrifice. Four pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with each of the rams,
  15. and two pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with each of the young rams.
  16. You must also offer a goat as a sacrifice for sin. These are to be offered in addition to the regular daily sacrifices.
  17. For the next six days of the festival, you will sacrifice one less bull than the day before, so that on the seventh day, seven bulls will be sacrificed. The other sacrifices and offerings must remain the same for each of these days.
  18. (SEE 29:17)
  19. (SEE 29:17)
  20. (SEE 29:17)
  21. (SEE 29:17)
  22. (SEE 29:17)
  23. (SEE 29:17)
  24. (SEE 29:17)
  25. (SEE 29:17)
  26. (SEE 29:17)
  27. (SEE 29:17)
  28. (SEE 29:17)
  29. (SEE 29:17)
  30. (SEE 29:17)
  31. (SEE 29:17)
  32. (SEE 29:17)
  33. (SEE 29:17)
  34. (SEE 29:17)
  35. On the eighth day, you must once again rest from your work and come together for worship.
  36. Bring to the altar one bull, one full-grown ram, and seven rams a year old that have nothing wrong with them. Then offer these as sacrifices to please me.
  37. You must also offer the proper grain sacrifices and drink offerings of wine with each animal.
  38. And offer a goat as the sacrifice to ask forgiveness for the people. These sacrifices are made in addition to the regular daily sacrifices.
  39. You must offer all these sacrifices to me at the appointed times of worship, together with any offerings that are voluntarily given or given because of a promise.
  40. Moses told the people of Israel everything the LORD had told him about the sacrifices.

    Chapters 28 and 29 remind the Israelites of the offerings and feasts they were to observe in the new land. Chapter 28 addressed the daily, weekly, and monthly offerings plus the Passover and Day of Firstfruits among the feasts. Chapter 29 continues the reminder concerning the feasts and addresses the Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Tabernacles.

    All three of these feasts were observed in the seventh month each year. The first day of the seventh month was New Year's Day and the Feast of Trumpets was observed on this day. Keep in mind that as the feasts were observed they were in addition to the daily, weekly, and monthly offerings.  So, in addition to the Feast of Trumpets on this day, there were also the daily morning and evening offerings, and, since this was the first day of the month, there was also the observance of the New Moon festival.

    On the tenth day of this seventh month was observed the Day of Atonement. It was a Sabbath and involved a sacred assembly. There was to be no work on this day. Then, on the 15th day of this month began the Feast of Tabernacles which lasted through the 22nd day of the month. It began with a Sabbath on the 15th day, which included a sacred assembly, and ended with a Sabbath on the 22nd day, which included a solemn assembly. Each day during this feast they were to offer young bulls, rams, and male lambs and include a grain offering with each of the animals that was offered. On the first day this amounted to 13 young bulls along with two rams and 14 male lambs. On each successive day, the number of young bulls was reduced by one. Each day they were also to include a sin offering.

    These instructions are concluded in verse 39 with the reminder that all of these offerings were in "addition to your vow and freewill offerings, whether burnt, grain, drink, or fellowship offerings." Moses relayed everything to the Israelites as the "Lord had commanded him." (29:39, 40)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 28

    Numbers 28 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD told Moses
  2. to say to the people of Israel: Offer sacrifices to me at the appointed times of worship, so that I will smell the smoke and be pleased.
  3. Each day offer two rams a year old as sacrifices to please me. The animals must have nothing wrong with them,
  4. one will be sacrificed in the morning, and the other in the evening.
  5. Along with each of them, two pounds of your finest flour mixed with a quart of olive oil must be offered as a grain sacrifice.
  6. This sacrifice to please me was first offered on Mount Sinai.
  7. Finally, along with each of these two sacrifices, a quart of wine must be poured on the altar as a drink offering.
  8. The second ram will be sacrificed that evening, along with the other offerings, just like the one sacrificed that morning. The smell of the smoke from these sacrifices will please me.
  9. On the Sabbath, in addition to the regular daily sacrifices, you must sacrifice two rams a year old to please me. These rams must have nothing wrong with them, and they will be sacrificed with a drink offering and four pounds of your finest flour mixed with olive oil.
  10. (SEE 28:9)
  11. On the first day of each month, bring to the altar two bulls, one full-grown ram, and seven rams a year old that have nothing wrong with them. Then offer these as sacrifices to please me.
  12. Six pounds of your finest flour mixed with olive oil must be offered with each bull as a grain sacrifice. Four pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with the ram,
  13. and two pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with each of the young rams. The smell of the smoke from these sacrifices will please me.
  14. Offer two quarts of wine as a drink offering with each bull, one and a half quarts with the ram, and one quart with each of the young rams. Finally, you must offer a goat as a sacrifice for sin. These sacrifices are to be offered on the first day of each month, in addition to the regular daily sacrifices.
  15. (SEE 28:14)
  16. Celebrate Passover in honor of me on the fourteenth day of the first month of each year.
  17. The following day will begin the Festival of Thin Bread, which will last for a week. During this time you must honor me by eating bread made without yeast.
  18. On the first day of this festival, you must rest from your work and come together for worship.
  19. Bring to the altar two bulls, one full-grown ram, and seven rams a year old that have nothing wrong with them. And then offer these as sacrifices to please me.
  20. Six pounds of your finest flour mixed with olive oil must be offered with each bull as a grain sacrifice. Four pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with the ram,
  21. and two pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with each of the young rams.
  22. Also offer a goat as a sacrifice for the sins of the people.
  23. All of these are to be offered in addition to the regular daily sacrifices, and the smoke from them will please me.
  24. (SEE 28:23)
  25. Then on the last day of the festival, you must once again rest from work and come together for worship.
  26. On the first day of the Harvest Festival, you must rest from your work, come together for worship, and bring a sacrifice of new grain.
  27. Offer two young bulls, one full-grown ram, and seven rams a year old as sacrifices to please me.
  28. Six pounds of your finest flour mixed with olive oil must be offered with each bull as a grain sacrifice. Four pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with the ram,
  29. and two pounds of flour mixed with oil must be offered with each of the young rams.
  30. Also offer a goat as a sacrifice for sin.
  31. The animals must have nothing wrong with them and are to be sacrificed along with the regular daily sacrifices.

    In this and the next chapter the Israelites were reminded of the offerings and feasts they were to observe in the new land. These had already been given them while they were at Sinai but this community gathered East of the Jordan river preparing to enter the land was a new generation. In addition, there would be some modifications to the offerings once they were in the land living a settled and agricultural lifestyle.

    The sacrifices addressed in this chapter fall into three categories: daily, weekly, and monthly offerings. Then there are the feastivals to Jehovah. Concerning the sacrifices, daily there were offerings both morning and evening which involved a burnt offering along with grain and drink offerings. Weekly, with their Sabbath obserances, there was a third burnt, grain, and drink offerings in addition to the morning and evening offerings made daily. Monthly, on the first day of the month, there was also a third burnt, grain, and drink offerings in addition to the morning and evening offerings. Also, there was a sin offering.

    Festivals to Jehovah were annual events that included: Passover on the 14th day of the first month, Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th-21st days of the first month, Day of Firstfruits was observed at harvest time, Feast of Trumpets on the 1st day of the seventh month, Day of Atonement on the 10th day of the seventh month, and Feast of Tabernacles on the 15th-21st days of the seventh month.

    Chapter 28 addresses the daily, weekly, and monthly offerings plus the Passover and the Day of Firstfruits.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 27

    Numbers 27 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Zelophehad was from the Manasseh tribe, and he had five daughters, whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
  2. One day his daughters went to the sacred tent, where they met with Moses, Eleazar, and some other leaders of Israel, as well as a large crowd of Israelites. The young women said:
  3. You know that our father died in the desert. But it was for something he did wrong, not for joining with Korah in rebelling against the LORD. Our father left no sons
  4. to carry on his family name. But why should his name die out for that reason? Give us some land like the rest of his relatives in our clan, so our father's name can live on.
  5. Moses asked the LORD what should be done,
  6. and the LORD answered:
  7. Zelophehad's daughters are right. They should each be given part of the land their father would have received.
  8. Tell the Israelites that when a man dies without a son, his daughter will inherit his land.
  9. If he has no daughter, his brothers will inherit the land.
  10. But if he has no brothers, his father's brothers will inherit the land.
  11. And if his father has no brothers, the land must be given to his nearest relative in the clan. This is my law, and the Israelites must obey it.
  12. The LORD said to Moses, "One day you will go up into the Abarim Mountains, and from there you will see the land I am giving the Israelites.
  13. After you have seen it, you will die, just like your brother Aaron,
  14. because both of you disobeyed me at Meribah near the town of Kadesh in the Zin Desert. When the Israelites insulted me there, you didn't believe in my holy power."
  15. Moses replied,
  16. "You are the LORD God, and you know what is in everyone's heart. So I ask you to appoint a leader for Israel.
  17. Your people need someone to lead them into battle, or else they will be like sheep wandering around without a shepherd."
  18. The LORD answered, "Joshua son of Nun can do the job. Place your hands on him to show that he is the one to take your place.
  19. Then go with him and have him stand in front of Eleazar the priest and the Israelites. Appoint Joshua as their new leader
  20. and tell them they must now obey him, just as they obey you.
  21. But Joshua must depend on Eleazar to find out from me what I want him to do as he leads Israel into battle."
  22. Moses followed the LORD's instructions and took Joshua to Eleazar and the people,
  23. then he placed his hands on Joshua and appointed him Israel's leader.

    The first verses of chapter 27 are a follow up to chapter 26 which gives an account of the census taken of Israel in preparation of entering Canaan for the purpose of determining the size of land inheritance each tribe was to receive. This census and allocation of land, however, took into account only the sons. Zelophehad was a man who had died in the wilderness leaving five daughters and no sons. The daughters approached Moses requesting that their father's name not go into extinction by receiving no land. Though not mentioned, it would also leave them as dependents of extended family. They asked that they be given their father's inheritance among his brothers. Moses took the appeal before the Lord and the Lord said, "What Zelophehad's daughters say is correct. You are to give them hereditary property among their father's brothers and transfer their father's inheritance to them." (27:7) He added that such policy was to become "statutory ordinance" for the Israelites stating that the inheritance of a man who has no sons will not be dissolved. It will go to his daughters if he has any. "If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father's brothers. If his father has no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative of his clan." (27:8-11)

    The remainder of the chapter is an account of God's announcement to Moses of his pending death. Because of Moses' sin at the waters of Meribah, he would not go into the land of Promise. (Num 20) At the appointed time, he would "Go up this mountain of the Abarim range and see the land that I have given the Israelites." (27:12) Having seen the new land without entering it, he would die. In Moses' response we see something of his character. As he had done on numerous occasions before, he appealed to God on behalf of the people. We might have expected an appeal to God to prolong his life and allow him to enter the land of Promise arguing his faithfulness with only the one exception. But that was not his concern. His concern was that the people would be left without a leader and would be "like sheep without a shepherd." (27:17) God answered his request by appointing Joshua as his successor.

    Leadership was duly conferred on Joshua before Eleazar the priest and the whole community as Moses "laid his hands on him, and commissioned him." (27:23) With this change of leadership was to come a new order. Under Moses' leadership, God had spoken through Moses, and Aaron, the priest had assisted. Under Joshua, the Lord would speak through Eleazar the priest. Joshua was to "stand before Eleazar who will consult the LORD for him with the decision of the Urim." (27:21) As leader of Israel, Joshua was merely the Lord's servant.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 26

    Numbers 26 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After the LORD had stopped the deadly disease from killing the Israelites, he said to Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron,
  2. "I want you to find out how many Israelites are in each family. And list every man twenty years and older who is able to serve in Israel's army."
  3. Israel was now camped in the hills of Moab across the Jordan River from the town of Jericho. Moses and Eleazar told them
  4. what the LORD had said about counting the men twenty years and older, just as Moses and their ancestors had done when they left Egypt.
  5. There were 43,730 men from the tribe of Reuben, the oldest son of Jacob. These men were from the clans of Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.
  6. (SEE 26:5)
  7. (SEE 26:5)
  8. Pallu was the father of Eliab
  9. and the grandfather of Nemuel, Dathan, and Abiram. These are the same Dathan and Abiram who had been chosen by the people, but who followed Korah and rebelled against Moses, Aaron, and the LORD.
  10. That's when the LORD made the earth open up and swallow Dathan, Abiram, and Korah. At the same time, fire destroyed two hundred fifty men as a warning to the other Israelites.
  11. But the Korahite clan wasn't destroyed.
  12. There were 22,200 men from the tribe of Simeon, they were from the clans of Nemuel, Jamin, Jachin, Zerah, and Shaul.
  13. (SEE 26:12)
  14. (SEE 26:12)
  15. There were 40,500 men from the tribe of Gad, they were from the clans of Zephon, Haggi, Shuni, Ozni, Eri, Arod, and Areli.
  16. (SEE 26:15)
  17. (SEE 26:15)
  18. (SEE 26:15)
  19. There were 76,500 men from the tribe of Judah, they were from the clans of Shelah, Perez, Zerah, Hezron, and Hamul. Judah's sons Er and Onan had died in Canaan.
  20. (SEE 26:19)
  21. (SEE 26:19)
  22. (SEE 26:19)
  23. There were 64,300 men from the tribe of Issachar, they were from the clans of Tola, Puvah, Jashub, and Shimron.
  24. (SEE 26:23)
  25. (SEE 26:23)
  26. There were 60,500 men from the tribe of Zebulun, they were from the clans of Sered, Elon, and Jahleel.
  27. (SEE 26:26)
  28. There were 52,700 men from the tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph, they were from the clan of Machir, the clan of Gilead his son, and the clans of his six grandsons: Iezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, Shemida, and Hepher. Zelophehad son of Hepher had no sons, but he had five daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
  29. (SEE 26:28)
  30. (SEE 26:28)
  31. (SEE 26:28)
  32. (SEE 26:28)
  33. (SEE 26:28)
  34. (SEE 26:28)
  35. There were 32,500 men from the tribe of Ephraim son of Joseph, they were from the clans of Shuthelah, Becher, Tahan, and Eran the son of Shuthelah.
  36. (SEE 26:35)
  37. (SEE 26:35)
  38. There were 45,600 men from the tribe of Benjamin, they were from the clans of Bela, Ashbel, Ahiram, Shephupham, Hupham, as well as from Ard and Naaman, the two sons of Bela.
  39. (SEE 26:38)
  40. (SEE 26:38)
  41. (SEE 26:38)
  42. There were 64,400 men from the tribe of Dan, they were all from the clan of Shuham.
  43. (SEE 26:42)
  44. There were 53,400 men from the tribe of Asher, they were from the clans of Imnah, Ishvi, and Beriah, and from the two clans of Heber and Malchiel, the sons of Beriah. Asher's daughter was Serah.
  45. (SEE 26:44)
  46. (SEE 26:44)
  47. (SEE 26:44)
  48. There were 45,400 men from the tribe of Naphtali, they were from the clans of Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem.
  49. (SEE 26:48)
  50. (SEE 26:48)
  51. The total number of Israelite men listed was 601,730.
  52. The LORD said to Moses,
  53. "Divide the land of Canaan among these tribes, according to the number of people in each one,
  54. so the larger tribes have more land than the smaller ones.
  55. I will show you what land to give each tribe, and they will receive as much land as they need, according to the number of people in it."
  56. (SEE 26:55)
  57. The tribe of Levi included the clans of the Gershonites, Kohathites, Merarites,
  58. as well as the clans of Libni, Hebron, Mahli, Mushi, and Korah. Kohath the Levite was the father of Amram,
  59. the husband of Levi's daughter Jochebed, who was born in Egypt. Amram and Jochebed's three children were Aaron, Moses, and Miriam.
  60. Aaron was the father of Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
  61. But Nadab and Abihu had died when they offered fire that was unacceptable to the LORD.
  62. In the tribe of Levi there were 23,000 men and boys at least a month old. They were not listed with the other tribes, because they would not receive any land in Canaan.
  63. Moses and Eleazar counted the Israelites while they were camped in the hills of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho.
  64. None of the people that Moses and Aaron had counted in the Sinai Desert were still alive,
  65. except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. The LORD had said that everyone else would die there in the desert.

    The Israelites were, at this point, in preparation mode to enter their land of promise. In reality, though, they were being prepared from the time they left Egypt 40 years earlier. The year they spent at Sinai prepared them spiritually and organizationally by providing them a foundation for their relationship with God - primarily a means of worshiping Him. It also outlined a covenant which was to serve as a constitution to guide them as a nation. Only a short time elapsed from their departure from Sinai and arrival at the southern border of Canaan. But from then, when they were sentenced to wander in the wilderness for the next 40 years due to their lack of faith to enter Canaan, we are given no account of their activities. The account jumps, then, to their arrival on the eastern border of Canaan and preparation to enter across the Jordan river.

    Prior to this census described in chapter 26, the Israelites had encountered three military skirmishes with surrounding nations which served as military preparation for their entry to Canaan, and now we read of a new census Moses was instructed by God to take of the people. This is the second census taken since leaving Egypt. The first was taken in the first year. This census, however, does not include any of the adults counted in the first one. All of them, except for two, had died in the intervening years. Although the total count was only slightly smaller in this second census (601,730 compared to 603,550), it represented 40 years without any population growth. God had blessed them with amazing reproduction to have recovered this well, but we can only imagine how large their numbers would have been had their faith not faltered.

    The primary purpose of this census was to determine the size of land inheritance each tribe would receive in the new land. The location of their inheritance would be determined later by drawing lots. Both the lot and the population size were determined by the Lord. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 25

    Numbers 25 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. While the Israelites were camped at Acacia, some of the men had sex with Moabite women.
  2. These women then invited the men to ceremonies where sacrifices were offered to their gods. The men ate the meat from the sacrifices and worshiped the Moabite gods.
  3. The LORD was angry with Israel because they had worshiped the god Baal Peor.
  4. So he said to Moses, "Take the Israelite leaders who are responsible for this and have them killed in front of my sacred tent where everyone can see. Maybe then I will stop being angry with the Israelites."
  5. Moses told Israel's officials, "Each of you must put to death any of your men who worshiped Baal."
  6. Later, Moses and the people were at the sacred tent, crying, when one of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman to meet his family.
  7. Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron the priest, saw the couple and left the crowd. He found a spear
  8. and followed the man into his tent, where he ran the spear through the man and into the woman's stomach. The LORD immediately stopped punishing Israel with a deadly disease,
  9. but twenty-four thousand Israelites had already died.
  10. The LORD said to Moses,
  11. "In my anger, I would have wiped out the Israelites if Phinehas had not been faithful to me.
  12. But instead of punishing them, I forgave them. So because of the loyalty that Phinehas showed, I solemnly promise that he and his descendants will always be my priests."
  13. (SEE 25:12)
  14. The Israelite man that was killed was Zimri son of Salu, who was one of the leaders of the Simeon tribe.
  15. And the Midianite woman killed with him was Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite clan leader named Zur.
  16. The LORD told Moses,
  17. "The Midianites are now enemies of Israel, so attack and defeat them! They tricked the people of Israel into worshiping their god at Peor, and they are responsible for the death of Cozbi, the daughter of one of their own leaders."
  18. (SEE 25:17)

    At the conclusion of Balaam's efforts to evoke a curse on the Israelites on behalf of the Moabite king, Numbers 24:25 says, "Balaam then arose and went back to his homeland, and Balak also went his way," suggesting that their dealings on this matter were concluded. But the events of chapter 25 are a result of Balaam's advice. Although he couldn't elicit a curse on Israel from Israel's God, Balaam no doubt still received his reward from the king by suggesting the way they could weaken the Israelites - seduce them.

    It was through their temple prostitutes that the Moabites seduced the Israelites, drawing them not only into immorality but also into idolatry. Idolatry was the worse sin Israel could commit, bringing on them the strongest and swiftest action from God.  When God told Moses of His judgment on the Israelites, Moses made no plea on their behalf as he had done in previous incidents. God told Moses to "Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the LORD so that His burning anger may turn away from Israel." But this was not all. Evidently the Lord had already started a plague among the people. Verse 8 says that once this judgment by the sword was completed, "the plague on the Israelites was stopped."

    Apparently the tribe of Simeon was the main perpetrator of this sin. Whether it was this tribe that was most susceptible to the sin or the tribe into which the seduction was introduced is not known. But the involvement of the Simeonite men in this sin was influenced by their tribal leader, Zimri. The text tells us how Zimri brazenly brought a Moabite woman into the Israelite camp and into his tent in full view of the people. This was just after the judgment by sword had taken place and the people were still weeping as a result. Phinehas, a Levite, saw the couple enter Zimri's tent, and was so incensed that he grabbed up a spear, went into the tent, and ran it through both Zimri and the woman, Cozbi. This pleased the Lord and He stopped the plague that had broken out in the camp. But not before it killed 24,000 people.

    By human standards we may judge this to be unjust and violent action. I cannot claim to fully understand or explain God's actions in this incident or with any others, for that matter. But I know God to be just in all His dealings and choose not to be so presumptuous as to be His judge. As Creator of the universe who is all-wise and all-knowing, I accept that He has sufficient reason, of which I know nothing, for such judgments.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 24

    Numbers 24 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Balaam was sure that the LORD would tell him to bless Israel again. So he did not use any magic to find out what the LORD wanted him to do, as he had the first two times. Instead, he looked out toward the desert
  2. and saw the tribes of Israel camped below. Just then, God's Spirit took control of him,
  3. and Balaam said: "I am the son of Beor, and my words are true, so listen to my message!
  4. It comes from the LORD, the God All-Powerful. I bowed down to him and saw a vision of Israel.
  5. "People of Israel, your camp is lovely.
  6. It's like a grove of palm trees or a garden beside a river. You are like tall aloe trees that the LORD has planted, or like cedars growing near water.
  7. You and your descendants will prosper like an orchard beside a stream. Your king will rule with power and be a greater king than Agag the Amalekite.
  8. With the strength of a wild ox, God led you out of Egypt. You will defeat your enemies, shooting them with arrows and crushing their bones.
  9. Like a lion you lie down, resting after an attack. Who would dare disturb you? "Anyone who blesses you will be blessed, anyone who curses you will be cursed."
  10. When Balak heard this, he was so furious that he pounded his fist against his hand and said, "I called you here to place a curse on my enemies, and you've blessed them three times.
  11. Leave now and go home! I told you I would pay you well, but since the LORD didn't let you do what I asked, you won't be paid."
  12. Balaam answered, "I told your messengers
  13. that even if you offered me a palace full of silver or gold, I would still obey the LORD. And I explained that I would say only what he told me.
  14. So I'm going back home, but I'm leaving you with a warning about what the Israelites will someday do to your nation."
  15. Balaam said: "I am the son of Beor, and my words are true, so listen to my message!
  16. My knowledge comes from God Most High, the LORD All-Powerful. I bowed down to him and saw a vision of Israel.
  17. "What I saw in my vision hasn't happened yet. But someday, a king of Israel will appear like a star. He will wipe out you Moabites and destroy those tribes who live in the desert.
  18. Israel will conquer Edom and capture the land of that enemy nation.
  19. The king of Israel will rule and destroy the survivors of every town there.
  20. "And I saw this vision about the Amalekites: Their nation is now great, but it will someday disappear forever.
  21. "And this is what I saw about the Kenites: They think they're safe, living among the rocks,
  22. but they will be wiped out when Assyria conquers them.
  23. "No one can survive if God plans destruction.
  24. Ships will come from Cyprus, bringing people who will invade the lands of Assyria and Eber. But finally, Cyprus itself will be ruined."
  25. After Balaam finished, he started home, and Balak also left.

    The account of Balaam's prophecies concerning Israel continues through chapter 24. Though summoned by king Balak to prounounce a curse on the Israelites, Balaam used a combination of rituals to seek omens and of seeking the God of Israel to acquire the curse Balak sought. But he found that Israel's God put the words in his mouth he should speak to Balak and they were blessings rather than curses.  After twice conjuring the omens and seeking the word of the Lord, and both times the Lord putting a blessing in his mouth to speak, on his third attempt scripture says, "Since Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go to seek omens as on previous occasions." (24:1)

    Though there appear to be similarities between pagan and Christian practices in seeking God's favor, there is a significant difference in motive. At least with Christianity properly understood and practiced. In pagan practice, the religious rituals are used to manipulate the favor of the gods on behalf of the worshiper to gain the desire of the worshiper. Too often, this, too, is the practice of those who call themselves Christian. But a true disciple of Christ is concerned first that God's purposes are accomplished. Christ's prayer just prior to His crucifixtion is a perfect example. Wishing to escape the pain of the cross Jesus prayed that God might take this ordeal from Him, but His prayer was this, "Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me--nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done." (Luke 22:42) Though Jesus preferred not to endure the cross, His ultimate desire was that God's will be done. The disciple of Christ who desires God's will over his own will find that God blesses him in ways he had not considered. Ways that are far better than what he had in mind when he came to God to pray.

    Through his encounters with God, Balaam had his eyes opened to understand, somewhat, the nature of God and His relationship with Israel. Following his third message from God to king Balak, which was another blessing, Balak, in anger, sent Balaam away. But before he left, Balaam spoke a future prophecy concerning Moab and surrounding nations. It stated that Israel would triumph, but Edom and other surrounding nations would be destroyed. It was an amazingly accurate propchecy of what actually took place historically. We might be inclined to think of him as a follower of God, but scripture does not bear this out. Although he came to know God and even to obey Him in the speaking of God's messages to Balak, his understanding of God was corrupted by his heathen perceptions. He still had the mindset of manipulating God for his own purposes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 23

    Numbers 23 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Balaam said to Balak, "Build seven altars here, then bring seven bulls and seven rams."
  2. After Balak had done this, they sacrificed a bull and a ram on each altar.
  3. Then Balaam said, "Wait here beside your offerings, and I'll go somewhere to be alone. Maybe the LORD will appear to me. If he does, I will tell you everything he says." And he left.
  4. When God appeared to him, Balaam said, "I have built seven altars and have sacrificed a bull and a ram on each one."
  5. The LORD gave Balaam a message, then sent him back to tell Balak.
  6. When Balaam returned, he found Balak and his officials standing beside the offerings.
  7. Balaam said: "King Balak of Moab brought me from the hills of Syria to curse Israel and announce its doom.
  8. But I can't go against God! He did not curse or condemn Israel. *
  9. "From the mountain peaks, I look down and see Israel, the obedient people of God.
  10. They are living alone in peace. And though they are many, they don't bother the other nations. "I hope to obey God for as long as I live and to die in such peace."
  11. Balak said, "What are you doing? I asked you to come and place a curse on my enemies. But you have blessed them instead!"
  12. Balaam answered, "I can say only what the LORD tells me."
  13. Balak said to Balaam, "Let's go somewhere else. Maybe if you see a smaller part of the Israelites, you will be able to curse them for me."
  14. So he took Balaam to a field on top of Mount Pisgah where lookouts were stationed. Then he built seven altars there and sacrificed a bull and a ram on each one.
  15. "Wait here beside your offerings," Balaam said. "The LORD will appear to me over there."
  16. The LORD appeared to Balaam and gave him another message, then he told him to go and tell Balak.
  17. Balaam went back and saw him and his officials standing beside the offerings. Balak asked, "What did the LORD say?"
  18. Balaam answered: "Pay close attention to my words--
  19. God is no mere human! He doesn't tell lies or change his mind. God always keeps his promises.
  20. "My command from God was to bless these people, and there's nothing I can do to change what he has done.
  21. Israel's king is the LORD God. He lives there with them and intends them no harm.
  22. With the strength of a wild ox, God led Israel out of Egypt.
  23. No magic charms can work against them-- just look what God has done for his people.
  24. They are like angry lions ready to attack, and they won't rest until their victim is gobbled down."
  25. Balak shouted, "If you're not going to curse Israel, then at least don't bless them."
  26. "I've already told you," Balaam answered. "I will say only what the LORD tells me."
  27. Balak said to Balaam, "Come on, let's try another place. Maybe God will let you curse Israel from there."
  28. So he took Balaam to Mount Peor overlooking the desert north of the Dead Sea.
  29. Balaam said, "Build seven altars here, then bring me seven bulls and seven rams."
  30. After Balak had done what Balaam asked, he sacrificed a bull and a ram on each altar.

    The account continues in which a pagan prophet named Balaam was summoned by Balak, the king of Moab to pronounce a curse against Israel so his army would have an advantage over Israel. Before going to the king Balaam enquired of the God of Israel. He was not a worshipper of Israel's God, who is the true and only God, but believed each nation had its own god and thought it best to go through Israel's national god. God came to Balaam in a dream and told him to go to the king but speak only what God told him to say.

    As the account continues in chapter 23, Balaam was with king Balak and instructed him to build seven altars and sacrifice a bull and ram on each altar. Leaving the king at the altar, Balaam went off alone to enquire of Israel's God, "Then the LORD put a message in Balaam's mouth." (23:5) This whole account has an interesting dynamic between God and Balaam who was a believer, but not a follower of God. He was accustomed to manipulating the deities with whom he typically identified by using the prescribed rituals. This was not the case with the true God of Israel. He could say and do only what God instructed him to say or do.

    Following his first enquiry of God, Balaam returned to the king with a blessing over Israel. This did not make the king happy, so he took Balaam to another location to again build seven altars, offering sacrifices on each, to have Balaam summons a curse on Israel. A second time Balaam enquired of God and brought another blessing on Israel to the king. Again the king was unhappy with the outcome and proposed a third location where they would again build altars and make sacrifices and try to summons a curse for Israel. But with Israel's God they were not dealing with a deity who could be manipulated or who capriciously changed His mind. In fact, God pointed this out to the king in the second message He gave Balaam to speak: "God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind." (23:19) Furthermore, God said in this message: "There is no magic curse against Jacob and no divination against Israel. It will now be said about Jacob and Israel, 'What great things God has done!'" (23:23) Balak was wasting his time with these repeated efforts to get God to give a curse on Israel.  God would only bless Israel and was not going to change His mind.

    Man's default mindset is to use God for his own purposes. Underneath any man-made religion can be found a system of rituals for manipulating man's concept of a god for his own purposes. Even in observing Biblical practices of worship, man is prone to use them as ritualistic formulas to manipulate God for his own purposes. But as Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:25, "whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it." The life we seek for ourselves will not be gained through getting things our way, but through giving up life on our terms and living them on God's terms.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 22

    Numbers 22 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Israel moved from there to the hills of Moab, where they camped across the Jordan River from the town of Jericho.
  2. When King Balak of Moab and his people heard how many Israelites there were and what they had done to the Amorites, he and the Moabites were terrified and panicked.
  3. (SEE 22:2)
  4. They said to the Midianite leaders, "That bunch of Israelites will wipe out everything in sight, like a bull eating grass in a field." So King Balak
  5. sent a message to Balaam son of Beor who lived among his relatives in the town of Pethor near the Euphrates River. It said: I need your help. A huge group of people has come here from Egypt and settled near my territory.
  6. They are too powerful for us to defeat, so would you come and place a curse on them? Maybe then we can run them off. I know that anyone you bless will be successful, but anyone you curse will fail.
  7. The leaders of Moab and Midian left and took along money to pay Balaam for his work. When they got to his house, they gave him Balak's message.
  8. "Spend the night here," Balaam replied, "and tomorrow I will tell you the LORD's answer." So the officials stayed at his house.
  9. During the night, God asked Balaam, "Who are these people at your house?"
  10. "They are messengers from King Balak of Moab," Balaam answered. "He sent them
  11. to ask me to go to Moab and place a curse on the people who have come there from Egypt. They have settled everywhere around him, and he wants to run them off."
  12. But God replied, "Don't go with Balak's messengers. I have blessed those people who have come from Egypt, so don't curse them."
  13. The next morning, Balaam said to Balak's officials, "Go on back home. The LORD says I cannot go with you."
  14. The officials left and told Balak that Balaam refused to come.
  15. Then Balak sent a larger group of officials, who were even more important than the first ones.
  16. They went to Balaam and told him that Balak had said, "Balaam, if you come to Moab,
  17. I'll pay you very well and do whatever you ask. Just come and place a curse on these people."
  18. Balaam answered, "Even if Balak offered me a palace full of silver or gold, I wouldn't do anything to disobey the LORD my God.
  19. You are welcome to spend the night here, just as the others did. I will find out if the LORD has something else to say about this."
  20. That night, God said, "Balaam, I'll let you go to Moab with Balak's messengers, but do only what I say."
  21. So Balaam got up the next morning and saddled his donkey, then left with the Moabite officials.
  22. Balaam was riding his donkey to Moab, and two of his servants were with him. But God was angry that Balaam had gone, so one of the LORD's angels stood in the road to stop him.
  23. When Balaam's donkey saw the angel standing there with a sword, it walked off the road and into an open field. Balaam had to beat the donkey to get it back on the road.
  24. Then the angel stood between two vineyards, in a narrow path with a stone wall on each side.
  25. When the donkey saw the angel, it walked so close to one of the walls that Balaam's foot scraped against the wall. Balaam beat the donkey again.
  26. The angel moved once more and stood in a spot so narrow that there was no room for the donkey to go around.
  27. So it just lay down. Balaam lost his temper, then picked up a stick and smacked the donkey.
  28. When that happened, the LORD told the donkey to speak, and it asked Balaam, "What have I done to you that made you beat me three times?"
  29. "You made me look stupid!" Balaam answered. "If I had a sword, I'd kill you here and now!"
  30. "But you're my owner," replied the donkey, "and you've ridden me many times. Have I ever done anything like this before?" "No," Balaam admitted.
  31. Just then, the LORD let Balaam see the angel standing in the road, holding a sword, and Balaam bowed down.
  32. The angel said, "You had no right to treat your donkey like that! I was the one who blocked your way, because I don't think you should go to Moab.
  33. If your donkey had not seen me and stopped those three times, I would have killed you and let the donkey live."
  34. Balaam replied, "I was wrong. I didn't know you were trying to stop me. If you don't think I should go, I'll return home right now."
  35. "It's all right for you to go," the LORD's angel answered. "But you must say only what I tell you." So Balaam went on with Balak's officials.
  36. When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went to meet him at the town of Ir, which is on the northern border of Moab.
  37. Balak asked, "Why didn't you come when I invited you the first time? Did you think I wasn't going to pay you?"
  38. "I'm here now," Balaam answered. "But I will say only what God tells me to say."
  39. They left and went to the town of Kiriath-Huzoth,
  40. where Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep and gave some of the meat to Balaam and the officials who were with him.
  41. The next morning, Balak took Balaam to the town of Bamoth-Baal. From there, Balaam could see some of the Israelites.

    Following Israel's military victories, she returned to camp in the plains of Moab across from Jericho. The time was approaching for Israel to enter her Promised Land which would take place with a crossing of the Jordan river and an attack on the city of Jericho. God was preparing Israel for entering the new land with some battle experience and knowledge of victory under her belt.

    Balak, king of Moab, knew of Israel's victories and assumed her presence at Moab's border was in preparation to enter and conquer his country. Due to Israel's size he had no expectation his army could overpower that of Israel. Had Balak been a worshiper of  God, he would probably have known that he had no cause for concern. Because the Moabites were distant relatives of Abraham God did not plan to give any of their land to Israel and forbade her from showing any hostility toward Moab. But Balak was not aware of this so he sought ways to close the gap in the military prowess of the two countries and give more advantage to his own army. This he chose to do through divination. Therefore, Balak sent for Balaam, a pagan prophet with a reputation for giving blessings and curses that worked. Balak's thought was that if Balaam pronounced a curse on Israel his own army might be able to defeat her. This is an interesting account of God's interaction with a pagan people.

    Pagan worshipers did not tend to be monogamous in their worship of a single god. Therefore when requested to go to Balak to curse the Israelites Balaam sought the counsel of the God of Israel. God, Himself, appeared in a dream to the prophet telling him to go to Balak but speak only what God told him to say. That portion of the account will be given in succeeding chapters. On Balaam's journey to king Balak, he and his donkey encountered an angel of God. Although God had told him to go to Balak, Balaam's intentions were evidently not in line with God's instructions. This journey came after a second request from Balak with an offer of a large reward. Balaam would have known this reward was offered only if he did what the king wanted. He no doubt had an angle of which God was aware and encountered him on the road to stop him unless he went with true intentions.

    How often are we like Balaam giving the appearance of obeying God while our intentions are more inline with our own selfish desires? Often we fool even ourselves into thinking we are being "religious" and true to God when what we are really doing is attempting to manipulate God for our own purposes?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 21

    Numbers 21 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The Canaanite king of Arad lived in the Southern Desert of Canaan, and when he heard that the Israelites were on their way to the village of Atharim, he attacked and took some of them hostage.
  2. The Israelites prayed, "Our LORD, if you will help us defeat these Canaanites, we will completely destroy their towns and everything in them, to show that they belong to you."
  3. The LORD answered their prayer and helped them wipe out the Canaanite army and completely destroy their towns. That's why one of the towns is named Hormah, which means "Destroyed Place."
  4. The Israelites had to go around the territory of Edom, so when they left Mount Hor, they headed south toward the Red Sea. But along the way, the people became so impatient
  5. that they complained against God and said to Moses, "Did you bring us out of Egypt, just to let us die in the desert? There's no water out here, and we can't stand this awful food!"
  6. Then the LORD sent poisonous snakes that bit and killed many of them.
  7. Some of the people went to Moses and admitted, "It was wrong of us to insult you and the LORD. Now please ask him to make these snakes go away." Moses prayed,
  8. and the LORD answered, "Make a snake out of bronze and place it on top of a pole. Anyone who gets bitten can look at the snake and won't die."
  9. Moses obeyed the LORD. And all of those who looked at the bronze snake lived, even though they had been bitten by the poisonous snakes.
  10. As the Israelites continued their journey to Canaan, they camped at Oboth,
  11. then at Iye-Abarim in the desert east of Moab,
  12. and then in the Zered Gorge.
  13. After that, they crossed the Arnon River gorge and camped in the Moabite desert bordering Amorite territory. The Arnon was the border between the Moabites and the Amorites.
  14. A song in The Book of the LORD's Battles mentions the town of Waheb with its creeks in the territory of Suphah. It also mentions the Arnon River,
  15. with its valleys that lie alongside the Moabite border and extend to the town of Ar.
  16. From the Arnon, the Israelites went to the well near the town of Beer, where the LORD had said to Moses, "Call the people together, and I will give them water to drink."
  17. That's also the same well the Israelites sang about in this song: Let's celebrate! The well has given us water.
  18. With their royal scepters, our leaders pointed out where to dig the well. The Israelites left the desert and camped near the town of Mattanah,
  19. then at Nahaliel, and then at Bamoth.
  20. Finally, they reached Moabite territory, where they camped near Mount Pisgah in a valley overlooking the desert north of the Dead Sea.
  21. The Israelites sent this message to King Sihon of the Amorites:
  22. Please let us pass through your territory. We promise to stay away from your fields and vineyards, and we won't drink any water from your wells. As long as we're in your land, we won't get off the main road.
  23. But Sihon refused to let Israel travel through his land. Instead, he called together his entire army and marched into the desert to attack Israel near the town of Jahaz.
  24. Israel defeated them and took over the Amorite territory from the Arnon River gorge in the south to the Jabbok River gorge in the north. Beyond the Jabbok was the territory of the Ammonites, who were much stronger than Israel.
  25. The Israelites settled in the Amorite towns, including the capital city of Heshbon with its surrounding villages.
  26. King Sihon had ruled from Heshbon, after defeating the Moabites and taking over their land north of the Arnon River gorge.
  27. That's why the Amorites had written this poem about Heshbon: Come and rebuild Heshbon, King Sihon's capital city!
  28. His armies marched out like fiery flames, burning down the town of Ar and destroying the hills along the Arnon River.
  29. You Moabites are done for! Your god Chemosh deserted your people, they were captured, taken away by King Sihon the Amorite.
  30. We completely defeated Moab. The towns of Heshbon and Dibon, of Nophah and Medeba are ruined and gone.
  31. After the Israelites had settled in the Amorite territory,
  32. Moses sent some men to explore the town of Jazer. Later, the Israelites captured the villages surrounding it and forced out the Amorites who lived there.
  33. The Israelites headed toward the region of Bashan, where King Og ruled, and he led his entire army to Edrei to meet Israel in battle.
  34. The LORD said to Moses, "Don't be afraid of Og. I will help you defeat him and his army, just as you did King Sihon who ruled in Heshbon. Og's territory will be yours."
  35. So the Israelites wiped out Og, his family, and his entire army--there were no survivors. Then Israel took over the land of Bashan.

    To this point in Israel's journey from Egypt to Canaan they had not encountered any skirmishes with other peoples with one exception. When Israel first arrived at the southern border of Canaan they sent scouts into Canaan to assess it against their ability to enter and conquer the people who lived there. When the scouts brought back a negative report and the Israelites failed to trust the Lord to enable them to defeat the Canaanites, the Lord sentenced them to wander in the desert until the adults had died and only their children would enter the new land. Realizing their mistake, the Israelites determined to enter Canaan, even though God had just told them they would not, and were quickly attacked by the Amalekites who ran them back out of the country.

    By chapter 21 the Israelites had journeyed around to the eastern side of Canaan and the nations located in their region had become nervous about this large number of people traveling near them and what their motives might be. So they were attacked by the king of Arad. Initially this king overpowered the Israelites and took some captives. But Moses asked God for victory and He gave it to them. Their next military skirmish came when they arrived at the border of Moab. Though they asked permission of the Amorite king, who had control of Moab, to pass through the country, the king not only refused passage through the land but also attacked them.  Israel defeated this king and his army and took possession of the cities bordering Moab.

    Israel's first military encounters, therefore, were thrust upon them. They had not demonstrated a faith sufficient to take the initiative and trust that God would give them victory. Instead, they found themselves on the defensive and, in the process, they found God to be trustworthy. Bolstered by these initial victories, Israel took her first offensive action against Jazer, first sending spies to check it out, and then attacking and capturing its villages. Soon afterward, Israel was again attack, this time by Og king of Bashan, and was again victorious.

    God was preparing Israel to enter the new land. Though He had to thrust Israel into these skirmishes, God allowed her to experience victory and with it to experience His power to give them victory. This is so often our own experience. We fear to boldly take on what God gives us to do. But then He thrusts us into a situation that forces us to "sink or swim," so to speak, and we experience His deliverance and gain the courage we need to do what He has given us to do.

    One other event in this chapter that should not be overlooked. It is the account in verses 4-9 of lifting up the bronze serpent in the camp of the Israelites to which Jesus referred. After the Israelite's first victory over the king of Arad, they continued their journey around the land of Edom and "became impatient because of the journey," and they spoke against God and Moses. Because of this the Lord sent poisonous snakes among them and many people were killed. As a provision of deliverance, God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole in the camp. Anyone who had been bitten could look up at the serpent and would recover from their snake bite. Jesus used this event to illustrate the purpose of His death on the cross: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life." (John 3:14)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Reflections on Numbers 20

    Numbers 20 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The people of Israel arrived at the Zin Desert during the first month and set up camp near the town of Kadesh. It was there that Miriam died and was buried.
  2. The Israelites had no water, so they went to Moses and Aaron
  3. and complained, "Moses, we'd be better off if we had died along with the others in front of the LORD's sacred tent.
  4. You brought us into this desert, and now we and our livestock are going to die!
  5. Egypt was better than this horrible place. At least there we had grain and figs and grapevines and pomegranates. But now we don't even have any water."
  6. Moses and Aaron went to the entrance to the sacred tent, where they bowed down. The LORD appeared to them in all of his glory
  7. and said, "Moses, get your walking stick. Then you and Aaron call the people together and command that rock to give you water. That's how you will provide water for the people of Israel and their livestock."
  8. (SEE 20:7)
  9. Moses obeyed and took his stick from the sacred tent.
  10. After he and Aaron had gathered the people around the rock, he said, "Look, you rebellious people, and you will see water flow from this rock!"
  11. He raised his stick in the air and struck the rock two times. At once, water gushed from the rock, and the people and their livestock had water to drink.
  12. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you refused to believe in my power, these people did not respect me. And so, you will not be the ones to lead them into the land I have promised."
  13. The Israelites had complained against the LORD, and he had shown them his holy power by giving them water to drink. So they named the place Meribah, which means "Complaining."
  14. Moses sent messengers from Israel's camp near Kadesh with this message for the king of Edom: We are Israelites, your own relatives, and we're sure you have heard the terrible things that have happened to us.
  15. Our ancestors settled in Egypt and lived there a long time. But later the Egyptians were cruel to us,
  16. and when we begged our LORD for help, he answered our prayer and brought us out of that land. Now we are camped at the border of your territory, near the town of Kadesh.
  17. Please let us go through your country. We won't go near your fields and vineyards, and we won't drink any water from your wells. We will stay on the main road until we leave your territory.
  18. But the Edomite king answered, "No, I won't let you go through our country! And if you try, we will attack you."
  19. Moses sent back this message: "We promise to stay on the main road, and if any of us or our livestock drink your water, we will pay for it. We just want to pass through."
  20. But the Edomite king insisted, "You can't go through our land!" Then Edom sent out its strongest troops
  21. to keep Israel from passing through its territory. So the Israelites had to go in another direction.
  22. After the Israelites had left Kadesh and had gone as far as Mount Hor
  23. on the Edomite border, the LORD said,
  24. "Aaron, this is where you will die. You and Moses disobeyed me at Meribah, and so you will not enter the land I promised the Israelites.
  25. Moses, go with Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of the mountain.
  26. Then take Aaron's priestly robe from him and place it on Eleazar. Aaron will die there."
  27. Moses obeyed, and everyone watched as he and Aaron and Eleazar walked to the top of Mount Hor.
  28. Moses then took the priestly robe from Aaron and placed it on Eleazar. Aaron died there. When Moses and Eleazar came down,
  29. the people knew that Aaron had died, and they mourned his death for thirty days.

    Between chapters 19 and 20 approximately 38 years have elapsed, but by the nature of the account in chapter 20 it could have taken place immediately following the account of chapter 19. Nothing in chapter 20 gives us a time reference except for verse one in which it says the Israelites arrived at the Wilderness of Zin in the first month. But no year is given. However, we can tell from the context of the passage that the death of Moses' sister Miriam was in close proximity to that of her brother Aaron. Numbers 33:38 dates Aaron's death at the "first day of the fifth month in the fortieth year after the Israelites went out of the land of Egypt." Therefore, we can place Israel's arrival in the Wilderness of Zin in the first month of the fortieth year. Only four months before Aaron's death.

    This means that Miriam and Aaron were some of the last of the adults who left Egypt to die before Israel's entry into the new land. The Israelite community that arrived in the Wilderness of Zin in this first month was a new generation of adults, but they complained like their parents. Their arrival at Zin was during a dry season, but it was normally a well-watered oasis. Seeing that there was no water, the people "assembled against Moses and Aaron." (20:2) Even after 40 years they were saying, "Why have you led us up from Egypt to bring us to this evil place?" (20:5) We have no reason to believe that this was not the attitude Moses had been up against for the past 38 years. I can imagine Moses to be at his wits end by this time. He still enquired of the Lord about how to deal with the situation, though. He was told to "Take the staff and assemble the community. You and your brother Aaron are to speak to the rock while they watch, and it will yield its water." (20:8) What he did deviated only slightly from these instructions: "'Listen, you rebels!'" Moses told them, "'Must we bring water out of this rock for you?' Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff, so that a great amount of water gushed out." (20:10-11)

    Though Moses' actions deviated only slightly from what he was told to do, their implications were significant.  We are told of the implications in verse 12: "Because you did not trust Me to show My holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them." It was a lack of trust. God intended to demonstrate His holiness by bringing water from the rock by no actions from Moses other than to "speak to the rock." But by striking the rock and inferring that it came at his bidding ("Must we bring water out of this rock for you?") Moses implied that he brought the water. At the heart of it, the issue at hand is little different from the worship of idols. The worship of idols credits God's creative work and His miracles to inanimate objects. Moses was crediting God's miracle of providing water from the rock to his own efforts. God enjoys providing for His people but does not enjoy having the credit for His provision to be stolen from Him. And can we blame Him?

    How often do we credit God's provisions for us to coincidents? And what of God's blessings do we miss as a result?