(This will be the longest study including several long narrative readings without much comment. As before, only selected verses will be covered.
You may wish to break it into two studies but I found that difficult!)
We start this study with a reminder from chapter 24:
25 Then Balaam got up and returned home, and Balak went his own way.
But that’s not totally correct. At the end of chapter 24 we may have felt that Baalam was ‘converted’ and was now a believer. But he hadn’t given up his old ways and he was still eager to make some money from this venture. True he had been forbidden to pronounce a curse on Israel and had finished up by blessing them several times.
Before he left, Balaam had another idea and gave some advice to Balak that was well received and probably paid for. It was the ‘teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.’ (Revelation 2:14) (see Numbers 31:16 also 2 Peter 2:15).
There was nothing so enticing than taking part in religious ceremonies where besides feasting, the fertility gods encouraged sexual activity.
Read Numbers 25:1-5
1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.
4 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.’
5 So Moses said to Israel’s judges, ‘Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.’
That was a dreadful command to carry out, and it wasn’t to be the only punishment; the Lord also sent a plague.
The people were distraught and wept in front of the tent of meeting.
6 Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; 9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
Since the death of Aaron, Eleazar his son had taken over as priest. His sons too would also be counted as priests.
10 The Lord said to Moses, 11 ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honour among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. 12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. 13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honour of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.’
The Lord responded to his righteous act and confirmed him and his descendants into the priesthood.
14 The name of the Israelite who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family. 15 And the name of the Midianite woman who was put to death was Kozbi daughter of Zur, a tribal chief of a Midianite family.
16 The Lord said to Moses, 17 ‘Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them. 18 They treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the Peor incident involving their sister Kozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of that incident.’
Now some excerpts from Numbers 26
1 After the plague the Lord said to Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, 2 ‘Take a census of the whole Israelite community by families – all those twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army of Israel.’
51 The total number of the men of Israel was 601,730.
With an equal number of women, and perhaps more children, there were probably two million people now massing on the plains of Moab, waiting to enter the Promised Land.
52 The Lord said to Moses, 53 ‘The land is to be allotted to them as an inheritance based on the number of names. 54 To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one; each is to receive its inheritance according to the number of those listed. 55 Be sure that the land is distributed by lot. What each group inherits will be according to the names for its ancestral tribe. 56 Each inheritance is to be distributed by lot among the larger and smaller groups.’
63 These are the ones counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest when they counted the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho. 64 Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. 65 For the Lord had told those Israelites they would surely die in the wilderness, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.
During the last 40 years, those who were of fighting age, counted after they had left Egypt, had all died, leaving only their children to inherit.
Imagine what it must have been like to have been in the last few, with everyone eager for you to die, so the next generation could move on.
12 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go up this mountain in the Abarim Range and see the land I have given the Israelites. 13 After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honour me as holy before their eyes.’ (These were the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.)
Moses accepted what was in store for him, but he was concerned that his leadership should pass to the right man.
15 Moses said to the Lord, 16 ‘May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community 17 to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’
18 So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. 19 Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. 20 Give him some of your authority so that the whole Israelite community will obey him.
God provided the man, Eleazar the priest would represent the presence of God, and Moses would commission him.
21 He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by enquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.’
22 Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. 23 Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.
Note that it will no longer be the pillar of cloud which the Israelites will follow: ‘At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.’
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.’
Why? What had they done? (Revelation 2:14, Numbers 25:17-18)
3 So Moses said to the people, ‘Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites so that they may carry out the Lord’s vengeance on them. 4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.’ 5 So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel. 6 Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signalling.
7 They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man. 8 Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba – the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.
Again, it seems that although it was the Moabite women who were involved (Numbers 25:1) the Moabites themselves were not to object of this attack. Only the Midianites who had instigated the sin would be killed. It’s possible that the ‘five kings of Midian’ were those who persuaded Baalam to come (Numbers 22:7).
9 The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. 10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. 11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, 12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan opposite Jericho.
For many, the idea of war and the terrible consequences for the innocent people who suffer, cannot be reconciled with a loving God.
But God had decided that it was time to punish those people who had consistently turned their backs on him and worshipped other gods. The Canaanites were to be swept away when the Israelites entered the Promised Land and the destruction was to be complete. None were to be left alive who might subvert the true worship of God.
13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army – the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds – who returned from the battle.
15 ‘Have you allowed all the women to live?’ he asked them. 16 ‘They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
Normal rules of war meant that women and children were spared; but not here.
Matthew Henry 's Concise Commentary says:
This war was the execution of a righteous sentence upon a guilty nation, in which the women were the worst criminals. The female children were spared, who, being brought up among the Israelites, would not tempt them to idolatry. The whole history shows the hatefulness of sin, and the guilt of tempting others; it teaches us to avoid all occasions of evil, and to give no quarter to inward lusts. The women and children were not kept for sinful purposes, but for slaves, a custom every where practised in former times, as to captives.
19 ‘Anyone who has killed someone or touched someone who was killed must stay outside the camp seven days. On the third and seventh days you must purify yourselves and your captives. 20 Purify every garment as well as everything made of leather, goat hair or wood.’
It had been a Holy War, and the men had been ritually defiled. They, and their spoils must be cleansed before they could be accepted back into the camp.
21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers who had gone into battle, ‘This is what is required by the law that the Lord gave Moses: 22 gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead 23 and anything else that can withstand fire must be put through the fire, and then it will be clean. But it must also be purified with the water of cleansing. And whatever cannot withstand fire must be put through that water. 24 On the seventh day wash your clothes and you will be clean. Then you may come into the camp.’
The men had now returned but there still remained a vast quantity of spoils to be distributed fairly.
25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 ‘You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured. 27 Divide the spoils equally between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community.
In this way the men who fought would have a half share, and those who remained could divide the rest.
28 From the soldiers who fought in the battle, set apart as tribute for the Lord one out of every five hundred, whether people, cattle, donkeys or sheep. 29 Take this tribute from their half share and give it to Eleazar the priest as the Lord’s part. 30 From the Israelites’ half, select one out of every fifty, whether people, cattle, donkeys, sheep or other animals. Give them to the Levites, who are responsible for the care of the Lord’s tabernacle.’
From the half belonging to the soldiers, a small portion (0.2%) would be given to Eleazar, and from the half that was left, 2% would go to the Levites.
31 So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses.
32-35 The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.
(We will skip verses 36-47)
48 Then the officers who were over the units of the army – the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds – went to Moses 49 and said to him, ‘Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing.
Many thousands of Midianites had been killed in the battle, yet none of the Israelites had been killed. The men who fought were understandably very grateful to God and wished to bring an offering.
50 So we have brought as an offering to the Lord the gold articles each of us acquired – armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings and necklaces – to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.’
What do you understand from the phrase ‘to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord’?
Although they had been commanded to go to war, the men felt guilty of taking the lives of the Midianites and needed to make an offering for their sin.
51 Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted from them the gold – all the handcrafted articles. 52 All the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds that Moses and Eleazar presented as a gift to the Lord weighed 16,750 shekels.
That is 190kg: the weight of two 15 stone people, and that was only what had been taken by the commanders.
In addition to that,
53 Each soldier had taken plunder for himself. 54 Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds and brought it into the tent of meeting as a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord.
Now are they ready to cross the Jordan? Not quite!
1 The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. 2 So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, 3 ‘Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon – 4 the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel – are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. 5 If we have found favour in your eyes,’ they said, ‘let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.’
Folowing the ‘clearance’ of the Amorites and Og, King of Bashsan, there was empty land available. Not only that, it was very suitable for the flocks and herds of these two tribal divisions. Why not let them stay on this side of the Jordan?
6 Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, ‘Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here? 7 Why do you discourage the Israelites from crossing over into the land the Lord has given them? 8 This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to look over the land. 9 After they went up to the Valley of Eshkol and viewed the land, they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the Lord had given them. 10 The Lord’s anger was aroused that day and he swore this oath: 11 “Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of those who were twenty years old or more when they came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – 12 not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.” 13 The Lord’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone.
14 ‘And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel. 15 If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the wilderness, and you will be the cause of their destruction.’
As far as Moses was concerned, these two tribes were again coming up with reasons not to enter the ‘Promised Land’; not only that, but their actions may well have deterred other tribes too. (The Reubenites had also been in trouble before: Numbers 16:1).
If God’s plans were again to be derailed, the Lord may have been so angry that he would simply withdraw his presence and leave the Israelites to their own devices. Moses was not going to allow that!
16 Then they came up to him and said, ‘We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children. 17 But we will arm ourselves for battle and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place. Meanwhile our women and children will live in fortified cities, for protection from the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the Israelites has received their inheritance. 19 We will not receive any inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan, because our inheritance has come to us on the east side of the Jordan.’
20 Then Moses said to them, ‘If you will do this – if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle 21 and if all of you who are armed cross over the Jordan before the Lord until he has driven his enemies out before him – 22 then when the land is subdued before the Lord, you may return and be free from your obligation to the Lord and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the Lord.
23 ‘But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. 24 Build cities for your women and children, and pens for your flocks, but do what you have promised.’
25 The Gadites and Reubenites said to Moses, ‘We your servants will do as our lord commands. 26 Our children and wives, our flocks and herds will remain here in the cities of Gilead. 27 But your servants, every man who is armed for battle, will cross over to fight before the Lord, just as our lord says.’
That was a very generous offer, and Moses was prepared to accept it, but only under the conditions they had suggested.
28 Then Moses gave orders about them to Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun and to the family heads of the Israelite tribes. 29 He said to them, ‘If the Gadites and Reubenites, every man armed for battle, cross over the Jordan with you before the Lord, then when the land is subdued before you, you must give them the land of Gilead as their possession. 30 But if they do not cross over with you armed, they must accept their possession with you in Canaan.’
31 The Gadites and Reubenites answered, ‘Your servants will do what the Lord has said. 32 We will cross over before the Lord into Canaan armed, but the property we inherit will be on this side of the Jordan.’
33 Then Moses gave to the Gadites, the Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan – the whole land with its cities and the territory around them.
34 The Gadites built up Dibon, Ataroth, Aroer, 35 Atroth Shophan, Jazer, Jogbehah, 36 Beth Nimrah and Beth Haran as fortified cities, and built pens for their flocks. 37 And the Reubenites rebuilt Heshbon, Elealeh and Kiriathaim, 38 as well as Nebo and Baal Meon (these names were changed) and Sibmah. They gave names to the cities they rebuilt.
There were also some clans within Manasseh - Makir and Nobah - who were also allowewd to settle on the east side of the Jordan, no doubt on the same terms.
39 The descendants of Makir son of Manasseh went to Gilead, captured it and drove out the Amorites who were there. 40 So Moses gave Gilead to the Makirites, the descendants of Manasseh, and they settled there. 41 Jair, a descendant of Manasseh, captured their settlements and called them Havvoth Jair. 42 And Nobah captured Kenath and its surrounding settlements and called it Nobah after himself.
Numbers 33:50-55 Again we are only looking at a few verses in this chapter:
50 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho the Lord said to Moses, 51 ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 52 drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places.
The whole process of taking over the Promised Land was to be one of sanctification. The people were to be Holy, and so was their land. Idol-worshippers, and their idols and high places were all to be totally destroyed.
53 Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. 54 Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes.
Note the distribution of the land is to be ‘by lot . . . by lot ’ to ensure that it is the will of God, not the people that decides where their inheritance will be.
55 ‘“But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. 56 And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.”’
Did Israel obey this command?
What was the final result?
Unfortunately disobeying this specific command was to cause the Israelites continual trouble finally leading to their expulsion into captivity. And it was not so much the people, but their idolatrous practices that were allowed to remain which led people to turn their backs on God, thus causing their eventual downfall.
The remaining chapters 34 to 36 describe how the land was to be allocated. We will not looking at them here.
The next book (Deuteronomy) provides a natural bridge – looking back over the books that come before it, and then preparing for Joshua and the books that follow. Here it will only occupy one study.