A Second Chance to Accomplish a First

52 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 53 “Among these the land shall be divided for inheritance according to the number of names. 54 To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance; every tribe shall be given its inheritance in proportion to its list. 55 But the land shall be divided by lot. According to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit. 56 Their inheritance shall be divided according to lot between the larger and the smaller.”

57 This was the list of the Levites according to their clans: of Gershon, the clan of the Gershonites; of Kohath, the clan of the Kohathites; of Merari, the clan of the Merarites. 58 These are the clans of Levi: the clan of the Libnites, the clan of the Hebronites, the clan of the Mahlites, the clan of the Mushites, the clan of the Korahites. And Kohath was the father of Amram. 59 The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt. And she bore to Amram Aaron and Moses and Miriam their sister. 60 And to Aaron were born Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 61 But Nadab and Abihu died when they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord. 62 And those listed were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward. For they were not listed among the people of Israel, because there was no inheritance given to them among the people of Israel.

63 These were those listed by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who listed the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. 64 But among these there was not one of those listed by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had listed the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. 65 For the Lord had said of them, “They shall die in the wilderness.” Not one of them was left, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.  Numbers 26:52-65 ESV

The census ordered by Jehovah had more than one purpose. Not only would it determine the number of men eligible for military service, but it would also provide the basis for each tribe’s land allotment once they entered Canaan. Because Moses was ordered to conduct the census tribe by tribe, the final number of each tribe’s combatants would reflect their overall population size and their appropriate share of the inheritance. Knowing that the apportionment of the land could be a potential landmine, God gave Moses strict instructions regarding its division and allotment.

“Divide the land among the tribes, and distribute the grants of land in proportion to the tribes’ populations, as indicated by the number of names on the list. Give the larger tribes more land and the smaller tribes less land, each group receiving a grant in proportion to the size of its population.” – Numbers 26:53-54 NLT

It only made sense that the larger tribes would receive a larger portion of the land. But to prevent the larger tribes from using their influence to grab the best land for themselves, God ordered that Moses use a lottery system to determine how the land was divided and assigned.

“But you must assign the land by lot, and give land to each ancestral tribe according to the number of names on the list. Each grant of land must be assigned by lot among the larger and smaller tribal groups.” – Numbers 26:55-56 NLT

Because of his role as the leader of the nation of Israel, Moses found himself in a delicate and somewhat difficult position. Not only was he responsible for convincing the people to enter the land and begin its conquest, but he would also have to determine the boundaries of each tribe’s land allotment. And even while God had ordered this task to be accomplished through the casting of lots, there was still a good chance that one or more of the tribes might be dissatisfied with the location or physical characteristics of the land they received. And it didn’t help that virtually every square inch of Canaan was already occupied by other nations that were not going to give up their land without a fight. So, Moses had his work cut out for him.

But God had sovereignly ordained a strategy that would protect Moses from accusations of self-aggrandizement or using his power to promote his particular tribe. Moses was a member of the tribe of Levi and God had already determined that this tribe would receive no allotment of land in Canaan. They were to serve as priests and the caretakers of the tabernacle. And God had already made it clear that He would be their portion in the land of promise.

“Remember that the Levitical priests—that is, the whole of the tribe of Levi—will receive no allotment of land among the other tribes in Israel. Instead, the priests and Levites will eat from the special gifts given to the Lord, for that is their share. They will have no land of their own among the Israelites. The Lord himself is their special possession, just as he promised them. – Deuteronomy 18:1-2 NLT

The tribe of Moses would not own any land, so no one could accuse him of showing favoritism to his own clan. But without land, how would the Levites feed their families, flock, and herds? God had made provision for that as well.

“You priests will receive no allotment of land or share of property among the people of Israel. I am your share and your allotment. As for the tribe of Levi, your relatives, I will compensate them for their service in the Tabernacle. Instead of an allotment of land, I will give them the tithes from the entire land of Israel.” – Numbers 18:20-21 NLT

God had arranged a way for them to have ample food to eat. And not only that, He had ordained a plan for them to have cities of their own, located throughout the tribes of Israel.

“Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites from their property certain towns to live in, along with the surrounding pasturelands. These towns will be for the Levites to live in, and the surrounding lands will provide pasture for their cattle, flocks, and other livestock. The pastureland assigned to the Levites around these towns will extend 1,500 feet from the town walls in every direction. Measure off 3,000 feet outside the town walls in every direction—east, south, west, north—with the town at the center. This area will serve as the larger pastureland for the towns. – Numbers 35:2-5 NLT

God had made ample preparations and provisions for the Levites. And in doing so, He had assured that there would be no way for Moses to use his power to reward his own tribe. God had protected him. But while the Levites were exempt from military service, they were still included in the census.

The men from the Levite clans who were one month old or older numbered 23,000. But the Levites were not included in the registration of the rest of the people of Israel because they were not given an allotment of land when it was divided among the Israelites. – Numbers 26:62 NLT

The Levites were numbered but not required to register for military service. They would continue to serve as priests and perform the duties assigned to them as caretakers of the tabernacle.

But this chapter ends with a rather somber reminder of the previous generation. Nearly 40 years earlier, God had ordered that a census be taken when the people were camped at the base of Mount Sinai. They had just recently escaped their enslavement in Egypt and were on their way to the land of promise. And God ordered Moses to conduct a census in order to ascertain their exact number.

A year after Israel’s departure from Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the Tabernacle in the wilderness of Sinai. On the first day of the second month of that year he said, “From the whole community of Israel, record the names of all the warriors by their clans and families. List all the men twenty years old or older who are able to go to war. You and Aaron must register the troops, and you will be assisted by one family leader from each tribe.” – Numbers 1:1-4 NLT

And the number came to 603,550, not including the Levites. Now, nearly 38 years later, the number had not changed dramatically. They could still field 601,730 eligible men for combat duty. God had sustained their numbers all throughout the four decades they had wandered in the wilderness. But Moses points out that while the numbers were relatively the same, the names had changed.

Not one person on this list had been among those listed in the previous registration taken by Moses and Aaron in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, “They will all die in the wilderness.” Not one of them survived except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. – Numbers 26:64-64 NLT

The previous generation had blown their chance to enter the land of Canaan. Thirty-eight years earlier, they had been given the opportunity to cross the Jordan River and begin the conquest of the land, but they refused. When the spies reported that there were powerful nations occupying the land, the people made the fateful decision to reject God’s offer of an inheritance and decided to return to Egypt instead. But God would not allow them to return to their former enslavement. As punishment for their disobedience, they were doomed to wander through the wilderness until every last one of them had died. The only two members of that generation who would enter the land of Canaan were Caleb and Joshua, the two spies who had tried to convince the people to trust God and obey. But their words had fallen on deaf ears.

Now, 38 years later, those two men would be the sole survivors of the previous generation who would have the privilege and honor of crossing the Jordan River and occupying the land that had been promised to them by God. They had waited four decades, but their hopes and dreams would finally be fulfilled.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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