Living With the Future In Mind

1 The heads of the fathers’ houses of the clan of the people of Gilead the son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of the people of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the chiefs, the heads of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel. They said, “The Lord commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the people of Israel, and my lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters. But if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the people of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers and added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry. So it will be taken away from the lot of our inheritance. And when the jubilee of the people of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry, and their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.”

And Moses commanded the people of Israel according to the word of the Lord, saying, “The tribe of the people of Joseph is right. This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father. The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.’”

10 The daughters of Zelophehad did as the Lord commanded Moses, 11 for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to sons of their father’s brothers. 12 They were married into the clans of the people of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father’s clan.

13 These are the commandments and the rules that the Lord commanded through Moses to the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. Numbers 36:1-13 ESV

The book of Numbers ends on a rather strange and anticlimactic note. As the people prepare to enter Canaan and begin their long-awaited conquest of the land and its inhabitants, Moses is forced to reconsider a problem he has already addressed. Back in chapter 27, Moses recounted the story of the three daughters of Zelophehad, a member of the tribe of Manasseh. These three unmarried women approached Moses with a dilemma; their father had died without any sons to inherit his portion of the land. As unmarried women, they were prohibited from serving as heirs to their father’s estate, which meant that they would receive no land allotment in Canaan. So, they had taken their problem to Moses for recourse.

Why should the name of our father disappear from his clan just because he had no sons? Give us property along with the rest of our relatives.” – Numbers 27:4 NLT

Moses had determined their request to be legitimate and decided in their favor.

“The claim of the daughters of Zelophehad is legitimate. You must give them a grant of land along with their father’s relatives. Assign them the property that would have been given to their father.” – Numbers 27:7 NLT

But the problem was not over. As the day fast approached when Israel would enter the land and begin its conquest, the rest of the members of the tribe of Manasseh raised a concern about Moses’ previous decision.

“Sir, the Lord instructed you to divide the land by sacred lot among the people of Israel. You were told by the Lord to give the grant of land owned by our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. But if they marry men from another tribe, their grants of land will go with them to the tribe into which they marry. In this way, the total area of our tribal land will be reduced.” – Numbers 36:2-3 NLT

They had spotted a flaw in Moses’ plan. According to custom, if any of these women were to end up marrying a man outside the tribe of Manasseh, their land allotment would automatically become the possession of her new husband. Married women were not allowed to retain land ownership rights. And to make matters worse, in the year of Jubilee, the land would become the permanent possession of the husband’s tribe.

“…when the Year of Jubilee comes, their portion of land will be added to that of the new tribe, causing it to be lost forever to our ancestral tribe.” – Numbers 36:4 NLT

God had already given the people of Israel His commands concerning the Year of Jubilee.

“…you must count off seven Sabbath years, seven sets of seven years, adding up to forty-nine years in all. Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn loud and long throughout the land. Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan. – Leviticus 25:8-10 NLT

Every 50 years, the Israelites were commanded to conduct a year-long celebration of redemption. All prisoners and captives were to be set free, all slaves released, all debts forgiven, and all property returned to its original owners.

“In the jubilee year, the land must be returned to the original owners so they can return to their family land.” – Leviticus 25:28 NLT

But the tribe of Manasseh brought up a potential problem to Moses. Since these women were going to inherit the land of their father upon his death, what would prevent them from marrying a man from another tribe and then the land transferring ownership from one tribe to another? In other words, what would happen if the heiress to her father’s property married someone from a different tribe? In that case, the land of their father would become the property of another tribe, and the tribal allotments would become intermixed and confused. Not only that, one tribe’s land allotment would decrease while another tribe’s property expanded. This would set dangerous precedence, leading tribes to marry outside their clans in order to gain additional land rights.

God had a solution to this problem. But this chapter raises another interesting question: Why did God have Moses end the book of Numbers with this story? Why does the entire book conclude with a story about the daughters of Zelophehad? I think it has to do with a couple of things. First of all, the book of Numbers is about the future. From its very outset, it has been a history of the people of Israel and their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, but the real focus was not on the past or the present. The theme of the book is Israel’s future.

As the book closes, the concern behind the question raised by the tribe of Manasseh is about the future. They seem to understand that this problem has long-term implications. The land they are all inheriting is not just for those who are living at that time, but for future generations. There is a future aspect to this matter that causes them to be concerned and speak up.

The other issue is that this is not about the individual. While it was wonderful news that the daughters of Zelophehad would be able to inherit the land of their father, ultimately, it wasn’t about them. It wasn’t even about their tribe. It was about the people of God. And God’s concern was for the corporate well-being of His people. If these women had been allowed to marry whomever they wanted to, the divinely ordained land allotment could have been permanently altered with dramatic consequences for the future. One tribe could have ended up with a greater share of the land, resulting in bitter jealousy and fighting between the tribes. So God came up with a plan by which the daughters were free to marry but within certain constraints. They had to marry someone from within their own tribe. And this held true for all cases.

In our world of independence and self-centered philosophy, this concern for the corporate good is foreign to us. We tend to make it all about ourselves. We are wired to do what is best for the individual. The thought of sacrificing for the team is unheard of these days. Everyone is out for their own good. Even famous athletes model a lifestyle of self-promotion and self-preservation. Business owners display little concern for the needs of their employees or customers. Marriages tend to be contractual agreements between two parties that are driven by self-interest and a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude.

But in the story found in chapter 36 of Numbers, God reminds us that it isn’t all about us. It’s about the family of God. And while we are to live in the moment, we are to keep our eyes focused on the future. If not, we will develop a live-for-the-moment mentality that sacrifices the future for the pleasures of today. The daughters of Zelophehad weren’t willing to do that. They did just as Moses directed them. They obeyed. They understood that God had their best interests and the interests of the people of God in mind. And they lived with their eyes on the future. Which is what each of us is called to do as children of God. It isn’t all about me and my happiness. It’s all about the people of God and the future God has prepared for us. Any sacrifice God calls me to make is for the good of the team.

The book of Numbers ends with the statement: “These are the commands and regulations that the Lord gave to the people of Israel through Moses while they were camped on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho” (Numbers 36:13 NLT).

The emphasis is on the future. The people of God are on the wrong side of the river and their inheritance lies on the other side. But before they crossed over and began their conquest of the land, God had given them all the instructions they would need to guarantee success and assure them of a bright and blessed future.

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.

Less Is More

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders), your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin alongside Edom, and your southern border shall run from the end of the Salt Sea on the east. And your border shall turn south of the ascent of Akrabbim, and cross to Zin, and its limit shall be south of Kadesh-barnea. Then it shall go on to Hazar-addar, and pass along to Azmon. And the border shall turn from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt, and its limit shall be at the sea.

“For the western border, you shall have the Great Sea and its coast. This shall be your western border.

“This shall be your northern border: from the Great Sea you shall draw a line to Mount Hor. From Mount Hor you shall draw a line to Lebo-hamath, and the limit of the border shall be at Zedad. Then the border shall extend to Ziphron, and its limit shall be at Hazar-enan. This shall be your northern border.

10 “You shall draw a line for your eastern border from Hazar-enan to Shepham. 11 And the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain. And the border shall go down and reach to the shoulder of the Sea of Chinnereth on the east. 12 And the border shall go down to the Jordan, and its limit shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land as defined by its borders all around.”

13 Moses commanded the people of Israel, saying, “This is the land that you shall inherit by lot, which the Lord has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe. 14 For the tribe of the people of Reuben by fathers’ houses and the tribe of the people of Gad by their fathers’ houses have received their inheritance, and also the half-tribe of Manasseh. 15 The two tribes and the half-tribe have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, toward the sunrise.” Numbers 34:1-15 ESV

As the people prepared to enter the land of promise, Moses provided them with the boundary markers that would establish their future territory. But it is important to note that the description given by Moses is distinctly different than the one God had originally given to Abram at the point of his calling. The borders that Moses outlines in this passage are far more restrictive than the ones God proposed to Abram.  At that point in time, God had designated a far larger area as the future homeland for Abram’s descendants.

“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…” – Genesis 15:18 ESV

The two primary boundary markers that God gave Abram were “the river of Egypt,” which most likely refers to the Nile, to “the river Euphrates,” which extends from the southern border of modern-day Turkey all the way to the Persian Gulf.

God had a much larger geographic region in mind when He made His original promise to Abram. But centuries later, by the time the descendants of Abram were ready to cross over the Jordan and occupy the land, the boundaries had shrunk significantly.

Moses provided a detailed description of the eastern, western, southern, and northern boundaries of the Israelite’s future homeland. At this point in their history, there were not ready or equipped to conquer and occupy the much larger region promised by God to Abram. Their army was far too small to attempt a conquest of the original promised land. Even though the nation was comprised of 12 tribes, there were not enough soldiers to take on the armies of “the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:19-21 NLT).

In a sense, God was starting small, but He had every intention of sticking to His original promise if the people of Israel proved obedient and successful at accomplishing His will. The reduced boundaries were not a sign of God reneging on His promise. He was not going back on His word. He was simply asking the people of Israel to prove their willingness to be faithful and obedient.

The borders of the land, while greatly reduced, would prove more than enough territory for the 12 tribes of Israel. In fact, as Moses points out, two and a half of the tribes would end up locating outside those boundaries.

“This territory is the homeland you are to divide among yourselves by sacred lot. The Lord has commanded that the land be divided among the nine and a half remaining tribes. The families of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have already received their grants of land  on the east side of the Jordan River, across from Jericho toward the sunrise.” – Numbers 34:13-15 NLT

Technically, according to the original description given by God to Abram, the land occupied by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh was in the land of promise. But their land allotments would be considered separate from the rest of the tribes. Yet, one day, God would extend Israel’s borders under the leadership of King David. Then, when his son, Solomon came to power, the kingdom would expand even further. God would slowly extend the borders of Israel but because of the nation’s disobedience, He would one day spit the kingdom in half and dramatically reduce their land holdings and influence in the region.

But at the point at which Moses was preparing the send the people into the land for the very first time, they were faced with the formidable and seemingly insurmountable task of conquering a vast expanse of enemy-occupied territory. Yet Moses reminded them that the land was as good as theirs.

“This shall be your land as defined by its borders all around.” – Numbers 34:15 ESV

It was theirs but they would have to do their part. According to God, it belonged to them but it wouldn’t come without a fight. It was Jesus who declared the need for follow-through in the life of God’s people.

“…a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” – Luke 12:47-48 NLT

The Israelites had their marching orders and a detailed map of their battle zone. Now it was time to exhibit faith and fight for what was rightfully theirs.

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.

Potential Trouble in Paradise

1 These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord, and these are their stages according to their starting places. They set out from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. On the day after the Passover, the people of Israel went out triumphantly in the sight of all the Egyptians, while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them. On their gods also the Lord executed judgments.

So the people of Israel set out from Rameses and camped at Succoth. And they set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. And they set out from Etham and turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which is east of Baal-zephon, and they camped before Migdol. And they set out from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and they went a three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah. And they set out from Marah and came to Elim; at Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there. 10 And they set out from Elim and camped by the Red Sea. 11 And they set out from the Red Sea and camped in the wilderness of Sin. 12 And they set out from the wilderness of Sin and camped at Dophkah. 13 And they set out from Dophkah and camped at Alush. 14 And they set out from Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink. 15 And they set out from Rephidim and camped in the wilderness of Sinai. 16 And they set out from the wilderness of Sinai and camped at Kibroth-hattaavah. 17 And they set out from Kibroth-hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth. 18 And they set out from Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah. 19 And they set out from Rithmah and camped at Rimmon-perez. 20 And they set out from Rimmon-perez and camped at Libnah. 21 And they set out from Libnah and camped at Rissah. 22 And they set out from Rissah and camped at Kehelathah. 23 And they set out from Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher. 24 And they set out from Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah. 25 And they set out from Haradah and camped at Makheloth. 26 And they set out from Makheloth and camped at Tahath. 27 And they set out from Tahath and camped at Terah. 28 And they set out from Terah and camped at Mithkah. 29 And they set out from Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah. 30 And they set out from Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth. 31 And they set out from Moseroth and camped at Bene-jaakan. 32 And they set out from Bene-jaakan and camped at Hor-haggidgad. 33 And they set out from Hor-haggidgad and camped at Jotbathah. 34 And they set out from Jotbathah and camped at Abronah. 35 And they set out from Abronah and camped at Ezion-geber. 36 And they set out from Ezion-geber and camped in the wilderness of Zin (that is, Kadesh). 37 And they set out from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the edge of the land of Edom.

38 And Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor at the command of the Lord and died there, in the fortieth year after the people of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. 39 And Aaron was 123 years old when he died on Mount Hor.

40 And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the people of Israel.

41 And they set out from Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah. 42 And they set out from Zalmonah and camped at Punon. 43 And they set out from Punon and camped at Oboth. 44 And they set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the territory of Moab. 45 And they set out from Iyim and camped at Dibon-gad. 46 And they set out from Dibon-gad and camped at Almon-diblathaim. 47 And they set out from Almon-diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo. 48 And they set out from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho; 49 they camped by the Jordan from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab.

50 And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, 51 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52 then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. 53 And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. 54 You shall inherit the land by lot according to your clans. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. According to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit. 55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. 56 And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.” Numbers 33:1-56 ESV

The people of Israel are almost home. After more than 40 years in the wilderness, they stand on the eastern bank of Jordan River waiting for God’s command to cross over and begin their conquest and occupation of the land of promise. The day they had long been waiting for had finally arrived. There had been a lengthy delay, but now it was time to enjoy what God had promised so long ago.

But as with most things associated with God, the blessing was tied to a requirement. He had one last instruction to give them before they took possession of the land, and it was a fairly significant one. They must drive out all the people who were living there. On top of that, they had to destroy all the idols and pagan shrines erected to the gods of the land. They were to smash every vestige of idol worship they found. In other words, God expected them to clean house before they set up house.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? But if you’re the least bit familiar with the story of the Israelites, they didn’t exactly follow God’s instructions to the letter. They took a few liberties. It’s almost as if the enemy (Satan) was standing there just as he had been in the garden of Eden, asking the question, “Surely, God has not said…”

I can just hear Satan whispering in their ears, “You don’t have to get rid of ALL the idols, just most of them.” Or maybe he worded his temptation this way: “You might want to leave one of the pagan shrines intact, just in case Yahweh doesn’t come through for you.”

And as far as ridding the land of all its occupants, Satan probably did his best to convince the people of God just how politically incorrect and insensitive this might appear to the rest of the people in the region. They probably thought to themselves, “We don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with our new neighbors, do we?”

And God seemed to know that the people would have second thoughts about His command, so He warned them what would happen if they failed to obey.

“But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live. And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them.” – Numbers 33:55-56 NLT

“Disobey me,” God says, “and you will live to regret it.” This was not a suggestion, but a command. God expected them to follow His requirements without delay or deviation. He had a good reason for what He was asking them to do, and He knew exactly what would happen if they chose to disobey Him. If the Israelites failed to remove the land’s occupants, their enemies would become a constant threat and a thorn in their side. They would never learn to live amicably together. So, cleansing was critical for spiritual survival.

In his commentary on the book of Numbers, Dr. Thomas Constable writes, “The repetition of ‘all’ (Numbers 33:52) stresses the importance of completely clearing the land of its inhabitants and their religious paraphernalia. God wanted to clean up the land spiritually and to make it a ‘holy land.’ The land was a gift from God to His first-born son, Israel (Numbers 33:53). God warned the Israelites what would happen to them if they were not completely obedient (Numbers 333:55-56). The Canaanites would be a constant source of irritation to them, and God would deal with His people as He planned to deal with the Canaanites.”

God wanted to purify the land spiritually and make it holy. That reminds me of what God wants to do with my life. He wants to clean it up spiritually and set it apart for His use. He is about removing anything in my life that might defile or defeat me. He wants to clean house.

But I tend to hang on to certain remnants of my past. I want to give the enemy some footholds in my life where he can live at peace. I want to keep some of the idols that were there before God came to occupy the land. I find the idols comforting. They bring me a little bit of peace and assurance. But God wants to purge my life of any vestiges of the past. He wants to make all things new. To receive all the blessings the Promised Land had to offer, the people had to obey God fully. The same thing is true for us today. To enjoy all the blessings our new life in Christ offers, we must obey God fully. God makes this clear in His Word.

…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. – Ephesians 4:22 NLT

Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. – Colossians 3:9 MSG

The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So don’t live in darkness. Get rid of your evil deeds. Shed them like dirty clothes. Clothe yourselves with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light. We should be decent and true in everything we do, so that everyone can approve of our behavior. Don’t participate in wild parties and getting drunk, or in adultery and immoral living, or in fighting and jealousy. But let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you, and don’t think of ways to indulge your evil desires. – Romans 13:12-14 NLT

God was looking for change in the lives of the Israelites. He wanted to purge and purify them, and that process began with a thorough cleansing of the land. His desire was to rid the landscape of their lives of any and all vestiges of the past.

Like the Israelites, we must take our set-apart status seriously.  We must remove all the idols and false gods that might draw us away from full reliance upon Him. If we do, we will be blessed. If we don’t, we will always find ourselves doing battle with past enemies and tempted to worship the false gods of our former life. Cleansing is always the key to blessing.

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.

Your Sin Will Find You Out

1 Now the people of Reuben and the people of Gad had a very great number of livestock. And they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock. So the people of Gad and the people of Reuben came and said to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the chiefs of the congregation, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.”

But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel from going into the land that the Lord had given them. 10 And the Lord‘s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, 11 ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, 12 none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the Lord.’ 13 And the Lord‘s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone. 14 And behold, you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! 15 For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”

16 Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, 17 but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. 19 For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” 20 So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the Lord for the war, 21 and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the Lord, until he has driven out his enemies from before him 22 and the land is subdued before the Lord; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the Lord and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the Lord. 23 But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out. 24 Build cities for your little ones and folds for your sheep, and do what you have promised.” 25 And the people of Gad and the people of Reuben said to Moses, “Your servants will do as my lord commands. 26 Our little ones, our wives, our livestock, and all our cattle shall remain there in the cities of Gilead, 27 but your servants will pass over, every man who is armed for war, before the Lord to battle, as my lord orders.” Numbers 32:1-27 ESV

This chapter contains one of those familiar and oft-quoted verses that are often taken out of context and applied to all kinds of situations.

But if you fail to keep your word, then you will have sinned against the Lord, and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. – Numbers 32:23 NLT

That last line has been used as both a threat and a word of encouragement over the centuries, but few who quote it realize its original context or meaning. We’ve all heard before, but probably never knew where it came from.

“Be sure your sins will find you out!” are words that have flowed from the lips of many a parent and usually in the direction of a disobedient child. But it may surprise you to see these familiar words in their original context. Many of us have forgotten or never known just why Moses spoke these words in the first place.

As the people of God prepared to enter the promised land, the land of Canaan, Moses was approached by the tribes of Reuben and Gad. They possessed a lot of flocks and had taken note that the land east of the Jordan had some great pastureland. So they asked Moses for permission to settle their tribes on the east side of the river instead of crossing over with everyone else into Canaan.

Moses was flabbergasted by their request. He viewed it as a form of insurrection and compared it to the time 40 years earlier when the people of Israel had refused to enter the land. That event was a sore spot for Moses because it had resulted in the deaths of an entire generation of Israelites because they had chosen to disobey the command of God. Moses reminded the Reubenites and Gadites what had happened.

“Why do you want to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the Lord has given them? Your ancestors did the same thing when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to explore the land. After they went up to the valley of Eshcol and explored the land, they discouraged the people of Israel from entering the land the Lord was giving them. Then the Lord was very angry with them…” – Numbers 32:7-10 NLT

Moses had sent spies into the land of Canaan to bring back news of its fruitfulness and the military strength of its occupants. But ten of the 12 spies had convinced the people that while the land was rich and plentiful, its occupants were undefeatable. So, the people decided to disobey God and return to Egypt. But that decision resulted in God’s wrath and punishment. Now 40 years later, that generation had died off and their descendants stood on the edge of Canaan, preparing to enter the land.

When Moses heard the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad to settle outside the land of promise, he was incensed.

“Are you trying to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the LORD has given them? This is what your ancestors did when I sent them from Kadesh–barnea to explore the land.” – Numbers 32:7-8 NLT

For Moses, this was déjà vu all over again. He saw their request as selfish and short-sighted, and another instance of rebellion against God. But the Reubenites and Gadites assured Moses that they were not abandoning the people of God or attempting to persuade them from entering the land. They simply wanted to take advantage of the better pastureland on the east side of the river. They were willing to fight alongside their brothers and assist them in conquering the land of Canaan until every tribe had gained their portion of the inheritance promised to Abraham.

They made a vow not to settle east of the Jordan until that happened. This assurance calmed Moses’ fears, but he still issued a stern warning.

“But if you don’t do what you say, you will be sinning against GOD; you can be sure that your sin will track you down.” – Numbers 32:23 MSG

Moses expected them to keep their word and reminded them that if they failed to do so, their sin would be against God, not the people, and God would remember their sin. He would deal with them severely if they broke their commitment.

In the end, these tribes held up their end of the bargain.

The armed warriors from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh led the Israelites across the Jordan, just as Moses had directed. 13 These armed men—about 40,000 strong—were ready for battle, and the Lord was with them as they crossed over to the plains of Jericho. – Joshua 4:12-13

But their plan was not necessarily God’s plan. They were motivated by greed and self-interest and their decision to settle east of the Jordan overshadowed the promise that God had made to provide them with abundant land on the west side of the Jordan.  They were attracted to what looked good physically and materially. Rather than wait for what God had promised, they chose what they could see with their own eyes.

There seems to be an assumption on their part that there might not be any land on the west side of the Jordan useful for raising flocks. So they chose to settle outside the land of “promise.” And their decision, while approved by Moses, would prove to be a problem in the years to come. Distance from the other tribes would end up producing misunderstanding and disunity (Joshua 22). It also created a hole in the defensive lines of the Israelites. This area was often the first to experience invasion, and Israel would lose control of it several times in its later history (2 Kings 15:29).

So what’s the point? First, there is truth to the adage that my sins will find me out. They will track me down and come back to haunt me. So, I need to take my commitments and my sins seriously because God does. Also, I need to look closely at the motivation behind my decisions. Why am I doing what I am about to do? Am I being motivated by selfishness and greed? What will be the long-term ramifications of my decision if it is wrongly motivated? My sins will find me out. So will my selfish decisions. And both can have a tremendous impact on the lives of others.

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.

Faith is the Victory

25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Take the count of the plunder that was taken, both of man and of beast, you and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the congregation, 27 and divide the plunder into two parts between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation. 28 And levy for the Lord a tribute from the men of war who went out to battle, one out of five hundred, of the people and of the oxen and of the donkeys and of the flocks. 29 Take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as a contribution to the Lord. 30 And from the people of Israel’s half you shall take one drawn out of every fifty, of the people, of the oxen, of the donkeys, and of the flocks, of all the cattle, and give them to the Levites who keep guard over the tabernacle of the Lord.” 31 And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses.

32 Now the plunder remaining of the spoil that the army took was 675,000 sheep, 33 72,000 cattle, 34 61,000 donkeys, 35 and 32,000 persons in all, women who had not known man by lying with him. 36 And the half, the portion of those who had gone out in the army, numbered 337,500 sheep, 37 and the Lord’s tribute of sheep was 675. 38 The cattle were 36,000, of which the Lord’s tribute was 72. 39 The donkeys were 30,500, of which the Lord’s tribute was 61. 40 The persons were 16,000, of which the Lord’s tribute was 32 persons. 41 And Moses gave the tribute, which was the contribution for the Lord, to Eleazar the priest, as the Lord commanded Moses.

42 From the people of Israel’s half, which Moses separated from that of the men who had served in the army— 43 now the congregation’s half was 337,500 sheep, 44 36,000 cattle, 45 and 30,500 donkeys, 46 and 16,000 persons— 47 from the people of Israel’s half Moses took one of every 50, both of persons and of beasts, and gave them to the Levites who kept guard over the tabernacle of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses.

48 Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, came near to Moses 49 and said to Moses, “Your servants have counted the men of war who are under our command, and there is not a man missing from us. 50 And we have brought the Lord’s offering, what each man found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and beads, to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.” 51 And Moses and Eleazar the priest received from them the gold, all crafted articles. 52 And all the gold of the contribution that they presented to the Lord, from the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, was 16,750 shekels. 53 (The men in the army had each taken plunder for himself.) 54 And Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tent of meeting, as a memorial for the people of Israel before the Lord.  Numbers 31:25-54 ESV

There were 12,000 Israelite soldiers chosen to go into battle against the Midianites; 1,000 men from every tribe. That is a relatively small number when compared with the 601,730 men deemed battle worthy according to the recent census taken by Moses. This small contingent of soldiers easily defeated their enemy and brought back an abundance of plunder from their raids of the towns and villages of the Midianites. And according to the military leaders, they had not lost a single man in the process.

“We, your servants, have accounted for all the men who went out to battle under our command; not one of us is missing! – Numbers 31:49 NLT

The mission had been a rousing success, and the bounty they had taken from the Midianites was substantial. But before anyone could enjoy the riches they had plundered, everyone and everything had to be purified.

“Anything made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, or lead—that is, all metals that do not burn—must be passed through fire in order to be made ceremonially pure. These metal objects must then be further purified with the water of purification. But everything that burns must be purified by the water alone. On the seventh day you must wash your clothes and be purified. Then you may return to the camp.” – Numbers 31:22-24 NLT

Moses warned the soldiers that they must go through a purification ritual before they could enter the camp.

“…all of you who have killed anyone or touched a dead body must stay outside the camp for seven days. You must purify yourselves and your captives on the third and seventh days. Purify all your clothing, too, and everything made of leather, goat hair, or wood.” – Numbers 31:19-20 NLT

Contact with the enemy had rendered these men ceremonially impure. That required them to go through a period of forced isolation and cleansing, along with all those taken captive during the mission. This was the process God had established and communicated to Moses back in chapter 19.

“All those who touch a dead human body will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves on the third and seventh days with the water of purification; then they will be purified. But if they do not do this on the third and seventh days, they will continue to be unclean even after the seventh day. All those who touch a dead body and do not purify themselves in the proper way defile the Lord’s Tabernacle, and they will be cut off from the community of Israel. Since the water of purification was not sprinkled on them, their defilement continues. – Numbers 19:11-13 NLT

Once the men and their captives had completed the purification process, the booty was divided. The 12,000 combatants would receive their fair share of the reward, but those who remained behind would not be left out. This pattern of equity among those who went into battle and their brothers who remained behind would become a norm for the nation of Israel.

After a rousing victory over the Amalekites, King David encountered a problem among his soldiers. The ones who had assisted him in the battle were angry at having to share their plunder with those who had remained behind.

“They didn’t go with us, so they can’t have any of the plunder we recovered. Give them their wives and children, and tell them to be gone.” – 1 Samuel 30:22 NLT

These men wanted all the plunder for themselves. But David denied their selfish demands, saying: “No, my brothers! Don’t be selfish with what the Lord has given us. He has kept us safe and helped us defeat the band of raiders that attacked us. Who will listen when you talk like this? We share and share alike—those who go to battle and those who guard the equipment” (1 Samuel 23-24 NLT).

Moses followed a similar plan, first making a detailed list of all the plunder taken from the Midianites. Once that was done, he ordered that half be equally divided between the 12,000 men who had fought in the battle. The other half would be divided between the rest of the Israelites.

But a portion of all the plunder was to be dedicated to God. From the soldier’s share 1/500th of all that was taken was to be given to the Lord.

“…one of every 500 of the prisoners and of the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats…” – Numbers 31:28 NLT

This share was to be given to Eleazar the priest as an offering to the Lord, and the numbers are staggering. The quantity of sheep and goats dedicated to God was 675. But there were also 72 cattle, 61 donkeys, and 32 virgin girls set aside for the Lord. It is likely that the young women became servants to the Levitical priests and assisted in the maintenance of the tabernacle. Of the plunder given to the rest of the people, 1/50th of it was given to the Levites.

Moses took one of every fifty prisoners and animals and gave them to the Levites, who maintained the Lord’s Tabernacle. All this was done as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Numbers 31:47 NLT

There was one final offering presented to Yahweh. The military leaders who oversaw the battle came before Moses with an offering of atonement. Out of gratitude for God’s protection of their men, they brought a large number of gold armbands, bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces that the soldiers had taken as plunder. This would have been from the portion of the booty that belonged to the 12,000 soldiers. These men willingly gave up part of their reward as an offering to God.

“…we are presenting the items of gold we captured as an offering to the Lord from our share of the plunder—armbands, bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces. This will purify our lives before the Lord and make us right with him.” – Numbers 31:50 NLT

In essence, this was a ransom for the lives that God had graciously spared. Not one man had died in this expedition and the generals and captains were expressing their gratitude to God for His mercy and providential care.

This entire scenario paints a picture of how things will begin to unfold as the Israelites enter the land of Canaan. It served as a practice run in preparation for their future conquest of the promised land. There would be many more battles ahead. And every victory they enjoyed would be because of the grace and mercy of God. He would be going before them and fighting alongside them. And they were never to forget to render their thanksgiving to Him for His protection and provision.

Moses would repeatedly warn the people to take their relationship with God seriously. Without Him, they were nothing. And he knew they would always face the temptation to take credit for their own success; a dangerous prospect that was to be avoided at all costs.

“Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful!” – Deuteronomy 8:11-13 NLT

With every victory would come the temptation to glory in their success and celebrate their newfound wealth. But Moses wanted to remember that faithfulness was far more important than fame or financial success.

“Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” – Deuteronomy 8:18 NLT

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.

Don’t Let Your Mouth Make You Sin

1 Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, “This is what the Lord has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.

“If a woman vows a vow to the Lord and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the Lord will forgive her, because her father opposed her.

“If she marries a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he opposes her, then he makes void her vow that was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she bound herself. And the Lord will forgive her. (But any vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, anything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her.) 10 And if she vowed in her husband’s house or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, 11 and her husband heard of it and said nothing to her and did not oppose her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she bound herself shall stand. 12 But if her husband makes them null and void on the day that he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning her pledge of herself shall not stand. Her husband has made them void, and the Lord will forgive her. 13 Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish, or her husband may make void. 14 But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows or all her pledges that are upon her. He has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. 15 But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.”

16 These are the statutes that the Lord commanded Moses about a man and his wife and about a father and his daughter while she is in her youth within her father’s house. Numbers 30:1-16 ESV

The people of Israel find themselves encamped near the border of the land of Canaan, and Moses is attempting to prepare them for the fast-approaching day when they will have to cross over that border and begin their conquest and capture of the land promised to them by God. Much of what Moses has communicated to them has been practical advice concerning matters of worship and sacrifice. When they finally enter the land, their lives will be consumed by fighting and trying to create new lives for themselves. Their old way of life will be over. They will go from being wanderers to conquerors. Rather than living in tents as nomads, they will find enjoy the comforts of home in houses and cities they didn’t build.

But with all the changes they will face, Moses stressed the need that they continue to maintain the religious rites and rituals that God had given them at Sinai. They were to keep all the commands regarding sacrifices and offerings. Just because they were entering a time marked by military conquest, they were not to abandon their relationship with and commitment to God.

Now, in chapter 30, Moses addresses a rather strange topic that is unfamiliar to the modern western mindset. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, Moses brings up the issue of making vows. This is not a reference to wedding vows, but to the making of verbal commitments and, in most cases, commitments made to God. They are sometimes referred to as oaths.

Now, why would Moses be bringing up this topic at this particular point? It sounds a bit out of place, but it makes sense when one considers that the Israelites were preparing to enter a strange new land and would be facing a host of unknowns. As they found themselves going into battles against much larger and more skilled armies, it would be tempting to make vows to God in an effort to secure success. A vow could be a promise made to God in exchange for His blessing or guarantee of safety. It might go something like this: “God, if you will bring me back safely from this battle, I will dedicate my firstborn child to Your service.”

We see just such a conversation in the book of Judges. Jephthah, one of the judges of Israel found himself facing a battle against the Ammonites. In an attempt to garner God’s assistance in defeating his enemy, Jephthah made a vow.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He said, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” – Judges 1130-31 NLT

Jephthah meant well, but his vow would come back to haunt him. The text goes on to indicate that “Jephthah led his army against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave him victory” (Judges 11:32 NLT). But then it adds this unexpected note:

When Jephthah returned home to Mizpah, his daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters. When he saw her, he tore his clothes in anguish. “Oh, my daughter!” he cried out. “You have completely destroyed me! You’ve brought disaster on me! For I have made a vow to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.” – Judges 11:34-35 NLT

According to the book of Judges, Jephthah kept the vow that he had made. But the whole point of the story is the danger of making rash or hasty vows. God takes the swearing of oaths and the making of vows seriously.

When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. Don’t let your mouth make you sin. And don’t defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved. – Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 NLT

“When you make a vow to the Lord your God, be prompt in fulfilling whatever you promised him. For the Lord your God demands that you promptly fulfill all your vows, or you will be guilty of sin. However, it is not a sin to refrain from making a vow. But once you have voluntarily made a vow, be careful to fulfill your promise to the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 23:21-23 NLT

Notice the last part of that Deuteronomy passage. “It is not a sin to refrain from making a vow.” In other words, vows should be made circumspectly and cautiously. As the Ecclesiastes passage puts it: “It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it.”

And in chapter 30 of Numbers, Moses addresses this potentially dangerous issue of oath-making because he knows the people will soon find themselves in difficult situations that will tempt them to make unwise bargains with God. So, he reminds them to do so with caution.

A man who makes a vow to the Lord or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do. – Numbers 30:2 NLT

But then, Moses adds a few important exceptions or exclusions to this rule. He addresses the vows made by women, particularly married women and single young women who are still living under their father’s authority. He begins with those who are unmarried. If one of these young ladies made a vow to God, it would be binding, unless her father overheard it and determined to disavow or dismiss it. As the head of the household, he had that right and authority.

“Vows were voluntary promises to do or not do specified things if God would or would not do something else. They also expressed thanks when God had done something special. They usually involved fasting or abstaining from other lawful things or giving God some special gift or offering. Moses explained the basic principles governing vows first (v. 2). The Israelites were to take their promises to God seriously and not brake them (cf. Eccles, 5:4-5).” – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Numbers

If a father became aware of his daughter’s vow and deemed it as unacceptable, he could annul it, and she would be bound to her father’s wishes. And the father’s decision would release the young lady from her commitment to God.

The same thing would be true for a married woman. If she made a vow to God and her husband determined it to be unacceptable, she would be obligated to submit to his decision. His disavowal would free her from any obligation to God.

if her husband refuses to accept her vow or impulsive pledge on the day he hears of it, he nullifies her commitments, and the Lord will forgive her. – Numbers 30:8 NLT

This all hinges on the issue of headship. A young woman, while unmarried, remained under his father’s protection and authority. As soon as she married, she came under the headship of her husband. And both the father and the husband answered to God. The test does not address whether God would hold the father or husband responsible for the breaking of the vow. There could be a case in which a father forced his daughter to break her vow but, in doing so, he violated the will of God. This authority given to the father and husband was not to be taken lightly. And Moses makes it clear that if the father or husband did not reject the woman’s vow, she remained obligated to God.

In the case of widows or divorcees, they were directly answerable to God. With no husband to watch over them, God acted as their protector and provider. So, if they made a vow to God, they would be held responsible to keep it.

If, however, a woman is a widow or is divorced, she must fulfill all her vows and pledges. – Numbers 30:9 NLT

This admonition was intended to make these women think twice before making vows to God. But it also suggests that God would be watching over them and protecting them from doing anything rash or thoughtless.

As the psalmist later attested, vows were to be taken seriously and made soberly.

Make vows to the Lord your God, and keep them.
    Let everyone bring tribute to the Awesome One. – Psalm 76:11 NLT

Once the Israelites entered the land, they were to refrain from making bargains with God. Because if they attempted to buy God off by making vows they never intended to keep, they would pay dearly for it.

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.

Don’t Forget God

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel and say to them, ‘My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time.’ And you shall say to them, This is the food offering that you shall offer to the Lord: two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil. It is a regular burnt offering, which was ordained at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb. In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the Lord. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight. Like the grain offering of the morning, and like its drink offering, you shall offer it as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

“On the Sabbath day, two male lambs a year old without blemish, and two tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, and its drink offering: 10 this is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.

11 “At the beginnings of your months, you shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord: two bulls from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish; 12 also three tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, for each bull, and two tenths of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, for the one ram; 13 and a tenth of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering for every lamb; for a burnt offering with a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. 14 Their drink offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bull, a third of a hin for a ram, and a quarter of a hin for a lamb. This is the burnt offering of each month throughout the months of the year. 15 Also one male goat for a sin offering to the Lord; it shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. Numbers 28:1-15 ESV

In preparing the second generation of Israelites to begin their conquest of the land of Canaan, God had ordered a census to determine the size of Israel’s fighting force and to establish each tribe’s land apportionment. He also reminded the people that the tribe of Levi would inherit no land in Canaan. For their role as priests and caretakers of the tabernacle, they would receive cities in which to live and a portion of the tithes and offerings presented by the people. God would be their portion, providing for all their needs in exchange for their service to Him. Finally, God made preparations for new leadership by handpicking Joshua as the replacement for Moses.

All was ready. The time had come for the people to obey the commands of God and begin the conquest of the land He had promised Abraham centuries earlier.

“I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession.” – Genesis 13:15 NLT

God had also told Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. And God gave this bit of good news while Abraham and his wife were still childless. Sarah remained barren and unable to conceive. But God had told Abraham, “you will have a son of your own who will be your heir” (Genesis 15:4 NLT). But this revelation was followed by a shocking admission from God.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land…” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

All the promises God had made to Abraham had been fulfilled. Sarah had given birth to Isaac, and from Isaac had come Jacob. The family of Jacob had eventually fled to Egypt because there was a famine in the land of Canaan. And while in Egypt, the number of Israelites grew so significantly that the Pharaoh feared an uprising and ordered their enslavement. He even instituted a pogrom designed to eliminate all the male babies born to the Israelites. But true to His promise, God had delivered the Israelites from their captivity and led them to the border of Canaan.

Now, He called on them to keep the commands He had given them at Mount Sinai. He had been faithful to do all that He had promised to Abraham, and He fully expected them to show their gratitude by maintaining their relationship with Him.

“Give these instructions to the people of Israel: The offerings you present as special gifts are a pleasing aroma to me; they are my food. See to it that they are brought at the appointed times and offered according to my instructions. – Numbers 28:2 NLT

The offerings outlined in this chapter are mandatory and non-optional. They were annual sacrifices to be offered by the Levites on behalf of the people. As the people entered the land, they would find themselves consumed with warfare and trying to establish lives for themselves in the new land. God knew they would face a strong temptation to forget about Him.

“The real key to successful conquest of Canaan and happy living within its borders was continual fellowship with God. Hence it was that God at this time presented to the new generation by way of Moses a finalized and complete set of regulations for offerings, most of which had already been given at Sinai. Their observance would encourage an intimate worship of God by the people in the land (cf. Exod. 23:14-17; 29:38-42; 31:12-17; Lev. 23; Num. 25:1-12).” – Irving L. Jensen, Numbers: Everyman’s Bible Commentary

God was going to give them victory over their enemies. Their conquest of the land would be successful, and God knew that their success would go to their heads and tempt them to think that they had done it all on their own. That is why Moses provided them with an advance warning about the temptations they would face in the new land.

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks and fountains and springs that flow through the valleys and hills; a land of wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and whose hills are ready to be mined for copper. When you eat and are satisfied, you are to bless the LORD your God for the good land that He has given you.

Be careful not to forget the LORD your God by failing to keep His commandments and ordinances and statutes, which I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses in which to dwell, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud, and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. – Deuteronomy 8:7-14 BSB

God outlined the various offerings the people were required to make. He began with the daily offerings.

“This is the special gift you must present to the Lord as your daily burnt offering. You must offer two one-year-old male lambs with no defects.” – Numbers 28:3 NLT

Then He added the less-frequent but no less mandatory weekly offerings.

On the Sabbath day, sacrifice two one-year-old male lambs with no defects. They must be accompanied by a grain offering of four quarts of choice flour moistened with olive oil, and a liquid offering. This is the burnt offering to be presented each Sabbath day, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its accompanying liquid offering. – Numbers 28:9-10 NLT

Finally, God reiterated the monthly offerings.

On the first day of each month, present an extra burnt offering to the Lord of two young bulls, one ram, and seven one-year-old male lambs, all with no defects. – Numbers 28:11 NLT

On the first day of each month, you must also offer one male goat for a sin offering to the Lord. – Numbers 28:15 NLT

The list is long and includes a large number of sacrifices, including burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings. There were burnt offerings and sin offerings. Bulls, goats, lambs, and rams were to be slaughtered and their blood spilled so that sins could be atoned for and fellowship with God maintained. Burnt offerings were to be seen as a pleasing aroma to God. They brought Him pleasure. All of this was about maintaining a right relationship with God. He would be the key to their victories over their enemies. He would be the source of their strength and their rock and provider. Without Him, they would be just another nation vying for control of the land of Canaan. But as long as they maintained their fellowship with Him through obedience to His commands, they would enjoy His presence, power, and provision.

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.

Under New Management

12 The Lord said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. 13 When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) 15 Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, 16 “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” 18 So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. 19 Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. 20 You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey. 21 And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.” 22 And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, 23 and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the Lord directed through Moses.  Numbers 27:12-23 ESV

The day Moses had been dreading had finally arrived. He had known for some time that he would not be leading the people of Israel into the land of Canaan. Because of Moses’ uncharacteristic actions in the wilderness of Zin, God had determined to ban his servant from entering the promised land.

“Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” – Numbers 20:12 NLT

In a moment of extreme frustration with the constantly-whining Israelites, Moses had snapped and disobeyed the command of God.

“You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.” – Numbers 20:8 NLT

Rather than speaking to the rock as God had ordered him to do, Moses lashed out in anger and repeatedly struck the rock with his staff. His anger and frustration with the people had caused him to disobey and dishonor God in the eyes of the people. It appears that Moses’ real crime was that he attempted to rob God of glory by claiming responsibility for producing the miracle.

“Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?”– Numbers 20:10 NLT

His attempt to inflate his own identity in the eyes of the people cost him dearly. While he produced water from the rock and probably gained a bit of respect from the people, his little stunt resulted in a permanent ban from the land of promise. He would never have the pleasure of entering God’s rest. Instead, he would die in the wilderness, just as Miriam and Aaron had.

So, with the Israelites on the verge of entering Canaan, God informed Moses that his days on this earth had come to an end. His debt had come due. But before taking Moses’ life, God gave His servant one more chance to see the land of promise from a distance. God led Moses up a mountain and allowed him to take in the view.

“Climb one of the mountains east of the river, and look out over the land I have given the people of Israel. After you have seen it, you will die like your brother, Aaron, for you both rebelled against my instructions in the wilderness of Zin. When the people of Israel rebelled, you failed to demonstrate my holiness to them at the waters.” – Numbers 27:12-14 NLT

For nearly four decades, this land had been the focus of Moses’ life. Ever since he had led the people out of Egypt, his life’s mission had been to guide them to this very spot. But now, as he looked out over the fertile valley below, he was doing so for the very last time. He would not be going in and it was time to turn over the leadership responsibilities to someone else.

Ever the consummate leader, Moses begged God to find the right man for the task. He knew from firsthand experience just how stubborn and headstrong the people could be and they would never make it without strong leadership.

“O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”– Nmbers 27:16-17 NLT

While Moses had been required to lead the people across the wilderness, his replacement would be tasked with leading them into battle. The days ahead would be difficult and fraught with danger. The people who had made a habit of whining about the lack of food water and food would certainly find the thought of military service distasteful. So, they were going to need a man who was equal parts warrior and shepherd. He would have to be both a fighting man and a kind-hearted guide who could lead the people with patience and care.

And God already had a man in mind. He suggested Joshua, one of the two men who had been part of the 12-man contingent of spies who had reconnoitered the land 40 years earlier. Joshua and Caleb had been the voices of reason among the fearful and disheartened men who recommended that the people not enter the land of promise. They had deemed it unconquerable and, therefore, to be avoided at all costs. But Joshua and Caleb had provided a dissenting opinion:

Two of the men who had explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, tore their clothing. They said to all the people of Israel, “The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” – Numbers 14:6-9 NLT

And while the people rejected the counsel of Joshua and Caleb, these two men had powerfully declared their faith in God. They demonstrated a belief in God’s power and goodness and called the people to trust and obey.

Four decades later, God chose Joshua to be Moses’ successor.

“Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him. Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him to lead the people. – Numbers 27:18-19 NLT

“This spirit was not something that now came upon Joshua, or was temporary (such as the coming of the spirit on the elders in 11:17, 25-26); it already existed in Joshua and was the basis of God’s choice of him. Deut. 34:9 applies the phrase ‘full of the spirit of Wisdom’ to Joshua, confirming the thought here.” – Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers.

Joshua was God’s man for the moment. He had been chosen by God long before this day arrived, and the Spirit of God had been preparing him for the next phase of Israel’s journey.

But God’s relationship with Joshua would be different than the one He had with Moses. While God had interacted with Moses face-to-face, Joshua would receive his instructions through the high priest and the use of “the Urim—one of the sacred lots cast before the Lord” (Numbers 27:21 NLT). This new method of communication would feature built-in safeguards, allowing Eleazar, the high priest, to act as a source of confirmation for all decisions. This would prevent Joshua from acting on his own and risking the wrath of God.

So Moses did as the Lord commanded. He presented Joshua to Eleazar the priest and the whole community. Moses laid his hands on him and commissioned him to lead the people, just as the Lord had commanded through Moses. – Numbers 27:22-23 NLT

With new leadership called and commissioned, it was time to begin the final phase of the mission. This generation of Israelites was about to do what their mothers and fathers had failed to do: Enter the land of promise. This had been the goal all along. The wilderness had always been intended to be a means to this end. It was never to have been their home. Their inheritance lay across the Jordan River and waited for them to step out in faith and take it as their own.

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.

 

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.

Zeal for the Lord

1 After the plague, the Lord said to Moses and to Eleazar the son of Aaron, the priest, “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers’ houses, all in Israel who are able to go to war.” And Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Take a census of the people, from twenty years old and upward,” as the Lord commanded Moses. The people of Israel who came out of the land of Egypt were:

Reuben, the firstborn of Israel; the sons of Reuben: of Hanoch, the clan of the Hanochites; of Pallu, the clan of the Palluites; of Hezron, the clan of the Hezronites; of Carmi, the clan of the Carmites. These are the clans of the Reubenites, and those listed were 43,730. And the sons of Pallu: Eliab. The sons of Eliab: Nemuel, Dathan, and Abiram. These are the Dathan and Abiram, chosen from the congregation, who contended against Moses and Aaron in the company of Korah, when they contended against the Lord 10 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up together with Korah, when that company died, when the fire devoured 250 men, and they became a warning. 11 But the sons of Korah did not die.

12 The sons of Simeon according to their clans: of Nemuel, the clan of the Nemuelites; of Jamin, the clan of the Jaminites; of Jachin, the clan of the Jachinites; 13 of Zerah, the clan of the Zerahites; of Shaul, the clan of the Shaulites. 14 These are the clans of the Simeonites, 22,200.

15 The sons of Gad according to their clans: of Zephon, the clan of the Zephonites; of Haggi, the clan of the Haggites; of Shuni, the clan of the Shunites; 16 of Ozni, the clan of the Oznites; of Eri, the clan of the Erites; 17 of Arod, the clan of the Arodites; of Areli, the clan of the Arelites. 18 These are the clans of the sons of Gad as they were listed, 40,500.

19 The sons of Judah were Er and Onan; and Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan. 20 And the sons of Judah according to their clans were: of Shelah, the clan of the Shelanites; of Perez, the clan of the Perezites; of Zerah, the clan of the Zerahites. 21 And the sons of Perez were: of Hezron, the clan of the Hezronites; of Hamul, the clan of the Hamulites. 22 These are the clans of Judah as they were listed, 76,500.

23 The sons of Issachar according to their clans: of Tola, the clan of the Tolaites; of Puvah, the sclan of the Punites; 24 of Jashub, the clan of the Jashubites; of Shimron, the clan of the Shimronites. 25 These are the clans of Issachar as they were listed, 64,300.

26 The sons of Zebulun, according to their clans: of Sered, the clan of the Seredites; of Elon, the clan of the Elonites; of Jahleel, the clan of the Jahleelites. 27 These are the clans of the Zebulunites as they were listed, 60,500.

28 The sons of Joseph according to their clans: Manasseh and Ephraim. 29 The sons of Manasseh: of Machir, the clan of the Machirites; and Machir was the father of Gilead; of Gilead, the clan of the Gileadites. 30 These are the sons of Gilead: of Iezer, the clan of the Iezerites; of Helek, the clan of the Helekites; 31 and of Asriel, the clan of the Asrielites; and of Shechem, the clan of the Shechemites; 32 and of Shemida, the clan of the Shemidaites; and of Hepher, the clan of the Hepherites. 33 Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters. And the names of the daughters of Zelophehad were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 34 These are the clans of Manasseh, and those listed were 52,700.

35 These are the sons of Ephraim according to their clans: of Shuthelah, the clan of the Shuthelahites; of Becher, the clan of the Becherites; of Tahan, the clan of the Tahanites. 36 And these are the sons of Shuthelah: of Eran, the clan of the Eranites. 37 These are the clans of the sons of Ephraim as they were listed, 32,500. These are the sons of Joseph according to their clans.

38 The sons of Benjamin according to their clans: of Bela, the clan of the Belaites; of Ashbel, the clan of the Ashbelites; of Ahiram, the clan of the Ahiramites; 39 of Shephupham, the clan of the Shuphamites; of Hupham, the clan of the Huphamites. 40 And the sons of Bela were Ard and Naaman: of Ard, the clan of the Ardites; of Naaman, the clan of the Naamites. 41 These are the sons of Benjamin according to their clans, and those listed were 45,600.

42 These are the sons of Dan according to their clans: of Shuham, the clan of the Shuhamites. These are the clans of Dan according to their clans. 43 All the clans of the Shuhamites, as they were listed, were 64,400.

44 The sons of Asher according to their clans: of Imnah, the clan of the Imnites; of Ishvi, the clan of the Ishvites; of Beriah, the clan of the Beriites. 45 Of the sons of Beriah: of Heber, the clan of the Heberites; of Malchiel, the clan of the Malchielites. 46 And the name of the daughter of Asher was Serah. 47 These are the clans of the sons of Asher as they were listed, 53,400.

48 The sons of Naphtali according to their clans: of Jahzeel, the clan of the Jahzeelites; of Guni, the clan of the Gunites; 49 of Jezer, the clan of the Jezerites; of Shillem, the clan of the Shillemites. 50 These are the clans of Naphtali according to their clans, and those listed were 45,400.

51 This was the list of the people of Israel, 601,730. Numbers 26:1-51 ESV

Chapter 25 of the book of Numbers contains a watershed moment. It details a pivotal point in the lives of the Israelites and in their relationship with God. They stood on the brink of the Promised Land, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness – their punishment for having doubted God and having listened to the negative report of the spies (Numbers 14:26-31). They were poised to enter the land of promise after years of wandering and waiting. God had just ordained a blessing on their behalf out of the mouth of Balaam, who had been hired to curse them Numbers 24). And while all this was happening, the people were busy aligning themselves with the daughters of Moab. The Expositors Bible Commentary has this to say about this important point in time:

The issue is that of apostasy from the Lord by participation in the debased, sexually centered Canaanite religious rites of Baal worship—that which would become the bane of Israel’s experience in the land. This chapter is an end and a beginning. It marks the end of the first generation; it also points to the beginning of a whole new series of wicked acts that will finally lead to Israel’s punishment…

The whole scene is reminiscent of what happened when the Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. While God was blessing them with the giving of the Law, the people were busy creating a golden calf that they could worship. In other words, they were turning away from God and choosing to replace Him with a god of their own making.

And Numbers 25 reveals the people of Israel doing the same thing all over again. Verse two makes it clear that this was not just about sex, it was about religion.

It started when the women invited the men to their sex-and-religion worship. They ate together and then worshiped their gods. – Numbers 25:2 NLT

Rather than remain set apart as God had commanded, the people were intimately joining themselves with the people of the land. They were violating the commands of God in order to enjoy the sensual and sexual pleasures all around them. And it’s likely that the people justified their actions.

We’re just trying to fit in!,” some probably said. “We’re just being ecumenical!,” others claimed. “We don’t want to be judgmental,” a few might have suggested. Rationalization reigned and the people brought dishonor to the name of God. So God brought a plague on them. He ordered the execution of all those who led this rebellion against His authority. But this thing was so out of hand that one of the Israelites had the audacity to bring one of the Midianite women into camp, right in front of Moses and the people as they wept in front of the tabernacle. He took her straight into his tent. No shame. No remorse. He was totally controlled by his sensual desires.

But one man took action. His name was Phinehas. With spear in hand, Phinehas followed the man into his tent and executed him and his Midianite accomplice. His actions halted the plague that God had sent on the people. And God acknowledges that it was the actions of this one man that spared the lives of the people of Israel. “Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest has turned my anger away from the Israelites by displaying passionate zeal among them on my behalf. So I have stopped destroying all Israel as I had intended to do in my anger” (Numbers 25:11 NLT). Phinehas was motivated by a passionate zeal for God. He was not going to let the name of God get dragged through the mud. The literal translation is “he was zealous with my zeal.”

The emphasis on zeal is meant to stress his passion. The word “zeal” means a “passionate intensity to protect or preserve divine or social institutions.” Phinehas didn’t just stand by and watch. He acted. He couldn’t contain himself. And the Israelites are fortunate he couldn’t contain himself. Because it was his quick response that saved their lives. And that one man’s actions made a dramatic difference in the lives of the Israelites.

That sets up the events of chapter 26. After the plague eliminated 24,000 of the Israelites, God ordered Moses to take a census of the people.

“From the whole community of Israel, record the names of all the warriors by their families. List all the men twenty years old or older who are able to go to war.” – Numbers 26:2 NLT

God was preparing them to cross the border and begin their conquest of the land of Canaan. But he wanted them to know just how many warriors they had to work with. So, Moses and Eleazar canvassed each tribe in order to determine the size of Israel’s fighting force and the number came to 601,730 men. And it would appear that, because of the plague, that number was far less than it had been. It’s impossible to know if all 24,000 who died as a result of the plague had been males older than 20 years of age. But it seems likely that a good portion of the deceased would have been eligible for combat.

Yet, despite the disobedience of the people and the devastating results of the plague, God was providing Moses and Eleazar with the assurance they needed to move forward. If God could conquer the enemy of apostasy with the help of one man, He could certainly deliver the land of Canaan into the hands of the Israelites with more than 600,000 men.

But as will become clear, there was more to this census than determining the size of Israel’s army. These numbers would be used to determine the land allotment once the people entered Canaan. God had increased the number of Israelites dramatically since the day more than 400 years earlier when Jacob and his 70 family members had fled to Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan. God had kept His promise to Abraham and had created a great nation from his son, Isaac. Now, that nation stood poised and prepared to take possession of their inheritance. More than 600,000 strong, they were a formidable force and, with God’s help, they would conquer and dispossess all those godless nations that had taken up residence in the land of promise. But like Phinehas, they would need to display a zeal for the Lord and a willingness to obey His commands. If they did, nothing would be impossible for them.

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.