Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Numbers. Day 108, Stages In Israel's Journey, Part Three: Recalling Refreshment In The Desert And Victory In Battle

In yesterday's study of the stages of Israel's journey we took a look back at the Red Sea crossing. Moses told us that after the Israelites passed through the sea they camped at Marah. Marah was a place of bitter waters, according to Exodus 15, and the people grumbled against Moses there but the Lord showed him a piece of wood to throw into the water that would make the water sweet.

We don't know whether the wood itself had some sort of purifying qualities or whether it was Moses' act of faith in obeying the Lord that turned the water drinkable. This was likely a miracle because, by adding the Lord to the mix, the unbearable was made bearable. How many situations have we been able to endure only because the Lord was with us? How many unbearable circumstances have been made bearable by the comforting presence of the Lord? 

"They left Marah and went to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there." (Numbers 33:9) The Lord brought the people to a refreshing oasis where they could rest and recuperate from the trials of their journey so far. Aren't we thankful that the Lord puts places of refreshing in our path? There will be seasons in our lives when all is calm, just as there will be seasons in our lives when there are storm clouds. The Lord gives us what we need when we need it. 

"They left Elim and camped by the Red Sea. They left the Red Sea and camped in the Desert of Sin." (Numbers 33:10-11) It was in the Desert of Sin (also known as the Desert of Zin) where the entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron and accused them of bringing them into the desert to starve to death. Their food supplies from Egypt, and any food they found along the way, must have run out about this time. But it was at Elim that the Lord first began supplying manna and it was at Elim that the Lord sent quail for them to eat because the people complained of no longer having access to the pots of meat they enjoyed in Egypt. 

"They left the Desert of Sin and camped at Dophkah. They left Dophkah and camped at Alush. They left Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink." (Numbers 33:12-14) The book of Exodus doesn't mention their stays at Dophkah or Alush, so we can safely conclude that nothing out of the ordinary happened in either of these places. When the people reached Rephidim they found no water and they said to Moses, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?" (Exodus 17:3) The Lord had already supplied water whenever it was needed along the way, yet at Rephidim the people doubted He would do it again. I can't criticize them in the least, for I've behaved the same way. No matter how many times the Lord has come through for me, I still tend to fret the next time I encounter a serious problem. I wish I could say I meet every challenge in life with unshakable faith but that's simply not the case. I am much more like the congregation of Israel in the wilderness than like Moses who always seems to expect the Lord to come through. Moses becomes frustrated and weary and angry from time to time due to the difficult work of shepherding the flock of Israel, but we don't find him faltering in his faith the way the flock sometimes falters. 

At Rephidim the Lord told Moses to strike a rock with his staff in the sight of all the people. As soon as Moses did this, the Lord caused fresh water to gush forth from solid rock so that all the people and all the animals were able to satisfy their thirst. I think in satisfying their thirst the Lord also gave them a boost to their faith---a much-needed boost because while they were at Rephidim the Amalekites came and attacked them. This attack was unexpected and unprovoked. The people were peacefully taking care of their own business, not bothering anyone, when suddenly the enemy appeared to make war with them. And isn't that how Satan often works? Right after we've experienced a spiritual high---a time of refreshing---that old snake slithers up to steal our joy. He tries to bring us low. He sees we've taken a step forward in faith and he tries to drag us two steps backward. But the Lord didn't allow Satan to steal His people's joy; He gave the Israelites victory over the Amalekites in an all-day battle, after which Moses built an altar to the Lord which he called "The Lord Is My Banner". (Exodus 17:15) 

Moses was saying, "The Lord is my battle flag. The Lord is my standard. The Lord is my helper and my defender." King David said something similar in Psalm 28:7 and we will close with his words of praise: "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him." 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Numbers. Day 107, Stages In Israel's Journey, Part Two: Recalling The Red Sea Crossing

We are studying the stages of Israel's journey across the wilderness. They left the district of Rameses in Egypt and traveled first to Sukkoth. "The Israelites left Rameses and camped at Sukkoth." (Numbers 33:5) At the time Israel camped in Sukkoth, the Bible tells us, "There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds." (Exodus 12:37-38) There were 600,000 adult Israelite males in this group able to walk under their own steam, so altogether there were far more males than 600,000 since this number doesn't include males under twenty or males who were elderly or disabled and had to ride a donkey or be pulled in a cart. The men who were able to walk under their own steam and carry a weapon were traveling armed, according to the Bible, but that doesn't mean they were trained for battle yet. They were willing to fight to keep their freedom from slavery, but the Lord knew they could be easily discouraged if they were met by fierce opponents, so we see in our next segment that the Lord had them avoid passing through a particular region when they came out of Egypt. 

After leaving Sukkoth the Lord did not lead Israel through the country of the Philistines because He knew they would become discouraged when opposed by those warlike people, so He took them by a desert road toward the Red Sea and the Israelites camped next at Etham on the edge of the desert. (See Exodus 13:17-18, 20) This corresponds to the list we are studying, for Moses tells us, "They left Sukkoth and camped at Etham, on the edge of the desert." (Numbers 33:6) It was at Etham that we were first told the Lord went ahead of Israel in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. (Exodus 13:21-22) While the desert stretched out before them, vast and with no signposts to guide them, the Lord Himself was their guide day and night. At no time were the people unable to see the visible sign of His presence, for the Bible says, "Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people." (Exodus 13:22) 

"They left Etham, turned back to Pi Hahiroth, and passed through the sea into the desert, and when they had traveled for three days in the Desert of Etham, they camped at Marah." (Numbers 33:8) The Lord deliberately positioned Israel, as the saying goes, "between the devil and the deep blue sea" at Pi Hahiroth. He instructed Moses to have the people camp "near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea". (Exodus 14:2a) This sea is the Red Sea, and the Lord caused Israel to camp there because He wanted to make Pharaoh believe that Israel backtracked in this area because they were lost and confused in the desert. The Lord knew Pharaoh would decide to go after them, saying to his officials, "What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!" (Exodus 14:5b) The Lord also knew He was not going to allow Israel to be taken back. His purpose in allowing Israel to appear to be trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea was to, in His words, "Gain glory for Myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord." (Exodus 14:4) 

The Lord showed Pharaoh who was boss at the Red Sea. The fame of the Lord spread far and wide, throughout Egypt and beyond. At the very least, there must have been tribes who dared not lift a finger against Israel after hearing about the power of her God. In the best scenario, scores of people perhaps cast aside their idols and placed their faith in the living God. What temporarily looked like it was going to be a disaster actually turned out to be an opportunity for the Israelites to grow their faith in the Lord, for other peoples and tribes to hear about and place their faith in the Lord, and for the Lord to discourage some of Israel's enemies from pursuing her or engaging her in battle. 

Moses mentions the Red Sea miracle so casually in verse 8 of our text today. He merely says the Israelites "passed through the sea". I don't think he's downplaying what the Lord did at the Red Sea. I think instead that he doesn't go into detail here, or break into song about it as he did in Exodus 15, because the story is so well known and so highly revered that he needs not add any details to it in verse 8. Most of the generation who witnessed the parting of the Red Sea has died out now, but the story has been told and retold time and time again. There's nothing Moses can add to it to make it more glorious than it was. As soon as he says they "passed through the sea" I think all the people pictured the scene in their minds as best they could (without having witnessed it themselves) and thought gratefully about the great power and mercy of the Lord and said in their hearts, "Amen! Glory to God!" 

Think back over your life and the times when the Lord came through in a mighty way. Think about the times when there didn't appear to be a way forward---times when you couldn't imagine things working out but then they suddenly did. Just a simple word or two, or just a fleeting image in your mind, can bring those miraculous breakthroughs back to you in stunning detail in your thoughts. I think that's what happens when Moses simply says Israel "passed through the sea". These four words brought a whole world of scenery alive in everyone's minds. These four words brought forth thankful thoughts and words of praise. I don't think Moses is downplaying the Red Sea miracle at all; I think his short statement about the Red Sea miracle was all that was needed to bring joy to hearts and praise to lips. 

We've all had some "Red Sea moments" in our lives. I'm going through one right now, where it feels like a wall of water is in front of me and the enemy army is behind me. I don't know when or how the Lord is going to make a way through. I just know that He can and He will. He didn't leave Israel stranded in the desert or allow her enemies to capture her and take her back to slavery. He's not going to let these things happen to me or to you either.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Numbers. Day 106, Stages In Israel's Journey, Part One: Recalling The Lord's Judgment Upon Egypt's Gods

Chapter 33 is a detailed list outlining all the campsites of Israel in the wilderness. It will take us several days to talk about all these locations.

The Bible tells us that Moses kept this travelogue on command of the Lord. "Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the Lord's command Moses recorded the stages in their journey." (Numbers 33:1-2a)

"This is their journey by stages: The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after Passover." (Numbers 33:2b-3a) The reference to "Rameses" is a place name, not a pharaoh's name. We were told in the book of Genesis that Joseph settled his family in the district of Rameses (Genesis 47:11) and we were told in Exodus that the Egyptian slavemasters had the Israelites working in the cities of Pithom and Rameses making storehouses for the king (Exodus 1:11). These references to the name of Rameses are what led movie-makers to assign the name of Rameses to the pharaoh of the exodus but, as we discussed in our study of the book of Exodus, it's unlikely that any of the Egyptian kings who bore the name of Rameses was the pharaoh to whom the Lord said through Moses, "Let My people go!"

When the Lord led the Israelites out of Egypt, they didn't slink away stealthily in the dark of night. They strode boldly away in the sight of everyone, in the power and protection of their God, with much plunder that the Egyptians willingly gave to them. "They marched out defiantly in full view of all the Egyptians, who were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them; for the Lord had brought judgment on their gods." (Numbers 33:3b-4) Exodus 3:22 and Exodus 12:36 tell us that when the Israelites left Egypt they were loaded down with gifts of gold and silver and clothing which the Egyptians gladly handed over to them when asked. I think the Egyptians couldn't give them enough as they departed, either out of fear of the Lord or out of pity for how the Israelites had been treated by the Egyptian elite or out of gladness that the plagues would end as soon as the Israelites were allowed to go free.

We tend to think of the plagues of Egypt as a judgment upon the wicked pharaoh and the idolatrous government and the cruel slavemasters. Why then does Moses say the Lord "brought judgment on their gods"? Because each plague was carefully chosen as a "showdown", if you will, between the Lord and Egypt's primary deities. For example, the god of the Nile was incapable of preventing the Lord from turning the Nile to blood and bringing a temporary halt to the fishing industry. Why was the god of the Nile so impotent? Because the god of the Nile did not exist. The same goes for the god of agriculture who could not prevent the plague of locusts from devouring the crops. There is no god of agriculture except the one true God. With each of the plagues the Lord brought shame upon the names of the idolatrous gods of Egypt. With each of the plagues the Lord sowed the seeds of doubt in the minds of many of the Egyptians, causing them to wonder whether their gods existed at all or at the very least causing them to wonder why they bothered to worship gods who were so inferior to the God of the Israelites. Some of the Egyptians may have turned from idolatry and turned to the Lord because of the plagues. Some of the mixed multitude who left Egypt with the Israelites may have left because they forsook their false gods and gave their allegiance to the God of Israel. 

The Lord God of Israel is the only God. He will bring judgment upon everything that sets itself up as a deity to be worshiped. He will bring judgment upon everyone who sets themselves up as someone to be worshiped. A day is coming in which every knee will bow before Him, either willingly because the person worships Him or unwillingly because every knee must bow to the authority of the King of kings. A day is coming when the name of no other god will ever be uttered by human lips. No more prayers will be lifted in vain to deities who do not exist. The Lord---the one true God, creator of heaven and earth---will reign as king forever, and the idols of the past and the names of false gods will be remembered no more. "The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name." (Zechariah 14:9) 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Numbers. Day 105, The Transjordan Tribes, Part Three: Land Assigned To The Tribes Of Gad, Reuben, And Manasseh

The Gadites and Reubenites, who have large herds of cattle, have requested for their inheritance the land on this side of the Jordan---the area known as the Transjordan. They've agreed to help the other tribes of Israel conquer the land of Canaan and will forfeit their own rights to any territories in Canaan. Moses warned them if they fail to keep their promise to aid Israel in battle they will be sinning against the Lord and will face the consequences.

"The Gadites and Reubenites said to Moses, 'We your servants will do as our lord commands. Our children and wives, our flocks and herds will remain here in the cities of Gilead. But your servants, every man who is armed for battle, will cross over to fight before the Lord, just as our lord says.' Then Moses gave orders about them to Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun and to the family heads of the Israelite tribes. 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. But if they do not cross over with you armed, they must accept their possession with you in Canaan.'" (Numbers 32:25-30) Moses knows he will die before Israel enters the promised land and this is why he passes along these instructions to Joshua his successor and to the high priest Eleazar and to the elders of Israel. Moses will not be here when these things come to pass.

In the presence of Joshua, Eleazar, and the elders, the Gadites and Reubenites repeat their vow to assist the other tribes of Israel in gaining hold of the promised land. "The Gadites and Reubenites answered, 'Your servants will do what the Lord has said. We will cross over before the Lord into Canaan armed, but the property we inherit will be on this side of the Jordan.'" (Numbers 32:31-32) 

The descendants of Joseph's son Manasseh also desire to live in the land of Gilead and they are counted along with the Gadites and Reubenites when Moses confirms they will inherit this territory. "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." (Numbers 32:33) Manasseh is called a "half-tribe" because Joseph's family line is reckoned through both his sons: Manasseh and Ephraim. There is no tribe called by the name of Joseph because Joseph's father Jacob, before he died, adopted Manasseh and Ephraim as his own. Joseph had become an Egyptian, for all intents and purposes other than his religion, and he would die in Egypt. Jacob adopted his two sons in his place. 

You'll recall that in Numbers 21 the Israelites conquered the kingdom of Sihon and the kingdom of Og when these two kings not only refused to allow the Israelites to pass peacefully through but also went on the offensive against Israel. The cities and towns of these kingdoms will belong to the Gadites and Reubenites who will make improvements to them and fortify them against enemy attacks. "The Gadites built up Dibon, Ataroth, Aroer, Atroth Shophan, Jazer, Jogbehah, Beth Nimrah and Beth Haran as fortified cities, and built pens for their flocks. And the Reubenites rebuilt Heshbon, Elealah and Kiriathaim, as well as Nebo and Baal Meon (these names were changed) and Sibmah. The descendants of Makir son of Manasseh went to Gilead, captured it and drove out the Amorites who were there. So Moses gave Gilead to the Makirites, the descendants of Manasseh, and they settled there. Jair, a descendant of Manasseh, captured their settlements and called them Havvoth Jair. And Nobah captured Kenath and its surrounding settlements and called it Nobah after himself." (Numbers 32:34-42) The descendants of Manasseh will also reside on this side of the Jordan, having conquered Gilead. 

Some of these cities were renamed after they were conquered. Nobah renamed Kenath after himself after he conquered it, perhaps to make his ownership clear or to brag about his military prowess. In some instances the cities were renamed because their original names were idolatrous, such as in the cases of Nebo and Baal Meon. By removing the names of false gods from these cities, these names need not be mentioned by God's people. This helps to prevent any legitimacy from being assigned to gods who do not exist. Some of the Israelites will still fall into idolatry over time, but it won't be because they were forced to utter the names of pagan deities when entering these cities. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Numbers. Day 104, The Transjordan Tribes, Part Two: Compromise

Yesterday we found the Gadites and Reubenites requesting to remain in the fertile Transjordan area with their enormous herds of cattle for, as they said, the land were "suitable for livestock". They asked that they not be required to "cross the Jordan".

Moses was indignant over their disinterest in the promised land and he took them to task for being just like their fathers whose lack of faith and desire to go forward caused Israel to remain in the wilderness for forty years. He told them they couldn't ask the soldiers of the other tribes to forge forward to conquer the land while they themselves sit back and mind their herds. We talked about how the Gadites and Reubenites appear to prefer remaining in the comfort zone of a land they've seen instead of boldly trusting that the unseen land is even better. 

Today the men will propose a compromise. They will help their fellow citizens conquer the promised land. They vow to fight along with the other tribes---to fight ahead of them even---in exchange for being given the Transjordan region. Their compromise involves forfeiting the right to any territories in the promised land. "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. 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. We will not return to our homes until each of the Israelites has received their inheritance. 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." (Numbers 32:16-19)

Moses is going to agree to their compromise if they plan to fight alongside all of Israel's soldiers. But is this the Lord's will for the tribes of Gad and Reuben? Is this the Lord's best for them? I don't believe so. When the Lord promised the land on the other side of the Jordan to the descendants of Abraham, I believe He intended all the tribes to go there. Had this not been His will then I think He would have made it clear that He was willing to accept alternative arrangements. I feel it would have been in the best interests of Israel as a whole---and the best interests of these two tribes---to live as one united nation on the other side of the Jordan. 

Why then is Moses going to grant their request? I think because, as the Lord Jesus once said, Moses made certain allowances for the people because of the hardness of their hearts. (Matthew 19:8) In Matthew 19 Jesus is referring to Moses allowing divorce for reasons other than infidelity, but Jesus' words indicate that when Moses found himself between a rock and a hard place while shepherding Israel in the wilderness, he had difficulty fighting against the will of people whose hearts were set on doing the thing they wanted. I think there were times when a large number of the people were so determined to go their own way that in order to keep division and dissent from cropping up (to preserve unity as best he could) he compromised on issues that were actually pretty clear-cut and black and white. If the Lord said, for example, a man could not divorce his wife unless she had been unfaithful to him, then that's exactly what the Lord meant. If the Lord said, for example, that all twelve tribes were to live together on the other side of the Jordan, then that's exactly what the Lord meant. Anytime we only partially obey the Lord, we're going to forfeit something. Yes, the land on this side of Jordan is good, but the Gadites and Reubenites would almost certainly find even better pasture in the land the Lord repeatedly refers to as "running with milk and honey". The land on this side is good but the land on the other side is better. Spiritually speaking, I believe they missed out on a blessing too, for only wholehearted obedience brings us the spiritual maturity our Father in heaven wants for us.

Moses gives his ruling on the matter. We don't find him consulting the Lord first as we have on other occasions when he's been faced with situations where the will of some of the people opposes the will of the Lord. I can't say for certain Moses doesn't consult the Lord before making a decision, but if he did then he didn't mention it when writing the book of Numbers. If he felt he could defend his decision on the basis of the Lord's permission, I think he'd have taken the time to reassure his readers that he rendered this decision upon command of the Lord. I think he knew that any tribe remaining on this side of Jordan was against the Lord's will, but at the same time he may have felt the compromise was his only chance of preventing rebellion among the Gadites and Reubenites or discouragement among the other tribes. "Then Moses said to them, 'If you will do this---if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle and if all of you who are armed cross over Jordan before the Lord until He has driven His enemies out before Him---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.'" (Numbers 32:20-22)

He also adds a warning. "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. Build cities for your women and children, and pens for your flocks, but do what you have promised." (Numbers 32:23-24) Did the men do what they promised? Not entirely, for their women and children could hardly be expected to militarily defend fortified cities while also shepherding the enormous herds of cattle in the fields. As some Bible scholars point out, in the second census the number of fighting men from the tribes of Gad and Reuben was 84,230 but when Israel crosses over the Jordan we'll find the combined number of soldiers from Gad, Reuben, plus half the tribe of Manasseh numbering only 40,000. Where are all the other fighting men from these tribes? It is presumed they remained on the other side to protect the women and children and to defend the fortified cities. It's true that the tribes of Gad and Reuben sent some of their men to war, but not to the degree they appear to be promising here in Numbers 32---and not to the degree that Moses expected. But Moses will have died by that time and perhaps these men justify not sending all their men as promised because Moses is not there to enforce it. 

I don't want to miss out on the Lord's best, do you? We have to be careful that we are not just partially obeying Him. We may receive some blessings for the commands we follow, but the Lord won't be able to bless us the way He wants to bless us if we are not being fully obedient to Him. He can't help us achieve spiritual maturity if we're behaving like wayward children bending the rules when it suits the carnal side of our nature. Full blessing requires full obedience. I believe the tribes of Gad and Reuben would have had so much more prosperity in every way if they'd been willing to reach forward in faith for that better land on the other side of Jordan instead of making themselves comfortable where they are.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Numbers. Day 103, The Transjordan Tribes, Part One: Wanting To Remain In The Comfort Zone

In Chapter 32 we find two tribes of Israel requesting to live outside of the promised land. Israel has conquered some territory on the way to the promised land, due to the peoples of the area opposing them and attacking them, and today we learn that the Reubenites and Gadites are content to remain there instead of traveling on to the land promised by God to Abraham's descendants.

"The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock." (Numbers 32:1) They aren't wrong about the suitability of this area for their livestock; these men know their business when it comes to flocks and herds. Where they're wrong is in thinking it's suitable to remain here---in their comfort zone---instead of entering into the fullness of the inheritance the Lord has waiting for them. 

We've all been guilty of wanting to remain in our comfort zone. We'll say, "I'm okay right here. This place is suitable for me." But the Lord doesn't want to give us what is just okay. If you are a parent, do you want your children to have what is just okay? Or did you want them to have the best possible experiences and advantages? The Lord, who is a perfect father, wants the best for Israel. The Transjordan area is okay but the promised land is far better. The Reubenites and Gadites will never have the best possible experiences and advantages, or opportunities for spiritual growth, if they remain where they are.

The men bring their request to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the leaders of the community. "So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community and said, 'Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealah, Sebam, Nebo and Beon---the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel---are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. If we have found favor in your eyes,' they said, 'let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.'" (Numbers 32:2-5) I imagine Moses and the other top officials are shocked. The whole purpose of the long endeavor they've been undertaking is to arrive at, take over, and possess the promised land. For hundreds of years the children of Israel have comforted themselves with the oath the Lord swore to the patriarch Abraham. Now the fulfillment of the promise is so close they can almost touch it, and yet these two groups want to stop short.

Moses voices his displeasure at the men's willingness to quit. "Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, 'Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from crossing over into the land the Lord has given them?'" (Numbers 32:6-7) Moses says, "It's bad enough that you are content not to take hold of the Lord's great promises, but you could be the cause of the entire nation not inheriting the Lord's great promises. Every tribe of Israel must work together to successfully carry out the Lord's will for them in this new land. How will it affect the other tribes if you Gadites and Reubenites hang back here and refuse to go to war and fight for the good land the Lord wants to give Israel? Won't some of the others also want to drop out? Won't it cause them to question whether all the effort will be worth it when they get there? Won't it cause a crisis of faith for some of your fellow citizens?"

To prove his point about how quickly and easily a large group of people can be discouraged, Moses reminds them of the rebellion that took place earlier in Numbers when some of the men who spied out the land of Canaan spoke faithless words to the congregation. "This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to look over the land. 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. The Lord's anger was aroused that day and He swore on oath: '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---not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.' The Lord's anger burned against Israel and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in His sight was gone." (Numbers 32:8-13)

The age of twenty was, at this time in Israel's history, what we'd call "the age of majority". A man could not serve in the army until he turned twenty and apparently was not considered a full adult with all the legal rights of an adult until the age of twenty. This meant he was not fully responsible for his actions until he reached the age of twenty. We could compare this to the rights and responsibilities conveyed upon persons in our own nation when they reach the modern age of majority of eighteen. At eighteen our citizens can vote, join the army, and make legally binding decisions for themselves. In our courts of law we judge the crime of a person eighteen or older more harshly than we judge the same crime committed by a thirteen-year-old. In this same way, the men of Israel who were twenty years old and up when they left Egypt were considered legal adults and this is why the Lord held accountable those who were twenty and older. If the men twenty and older had not rebelled against Him forty years earlier, Israel would have already been in the promised land and Moses would not be having the discussion he's having with the Gadites and Reubenites right now. He urges them, "Don't make the same mistake your fathers made! Their mistake cost us forty years. Their mistake affected the entire community. Don't be like them. You aren't affecting only yourselves if you make this wrong decision; you'll be affecting all the people of Israel."

Moses is angry, and rightly so. He doesn't behave in an unseemly manner in his anger but I can almost hear his voice shaking with righteous indignation as he fearlessly denounces the sinful attitude of these particular men. The Bible tells us not to judge (have a condemnatory attitude) toward our fellow man, but the Bible does not tell us we aren't to recognize sin as sin. Just as the New Testament tells us not to allow sin to invade and take up residence in the church, Moses tells these men not to allow sin to invade or take up residence in their hearts. If they do, sin will invade and take up residence among all the people of Israel. The plan of the Gadites and Reubenites will hurt not only their own tribes now and in the future but it will also hurt the entire nation. Moses has no choice to speak up and point out their error to them. Everything is at stake right now. This situation could turn into a major rebellion in a heartbeat; Moses has seen it happen before. He knows how quickly the wrong attitude of a few can influence the attitude of many, so with the authority and permission of the Lord he says: "And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel. 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." (Numbers 32:14-15)

After hearing Moses' words, these men will see the light, won't they? No, they'll do what most of us have done at one time or another: they'll try to talk the Lord into falling in line with their plan. Have you ever tried to "convince" the Lord your idea is the best? I'm not talking about things that are blatantly sinful such as what the Gadites and Reubenites want in today's passage; there isn't necessarily something sinful about a particular thing we may want for ourselves. For example, maybe a certain career path looks best to us, or we think we are at the right stage in life to get married, or we want to buy a particular house in a specific neighborhood. It's not sinful to want to work, to get married, or to own a home. But as the children of the Lord we must consult our Father on all of our major life decisions. He knows how these decisions will turn out in the future. The job that looks perfect for us may turn out to be a workplace filled with dishonesty and strife. The person we think is right for us to marry may not turn out to be trustworthy and dependable in the future. The house we can afford to buy on today's salary may not be affordable if we get laid off work five years from now or have to switch to a job with lower pay. The Lord doesn't just look at how things appear today, like we do with our limited human resources. He sees how a decision we make today will affect us five years from now, or fifteen years from now, or in our old age. When He says no to something it's because He knows best. That's why He's saying no to the Gadites and Reubenites remaining in the Transjordan area instead of crossing over into the promised land. These men have said the Transjordan area is "suitable" for them, but the Lord wants to give them something more than that which is merely suitable. He wants to give them the extraordinary. He wants them to experience the miraculous. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Numbers. Day 102, Dividing The Spoils Of War

Israel defeated the Midianites who fought them in the desert. Now, after seven days of purification, the soldiers can come back into the camp with the spoils of war they have taken. Today we'll see how the plunder is divided.

"The Lord said to Moses, 'You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured.'" (Numbers 31:25-26) An accurate inventory must be taken first. 

"Divide the spoils equally between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community." (Numbers 31:27) In most or all ancient cultures, the spoils would belong to the soldiers alone. But the Lord wants these men to share with their community. For the Lord's battle plan only 12,000 men were needed to fight the Midianites, so only 12,000 were chosen to go. The remainder of the people had no choice but to stay behind, and while they stayed behind they kept things running smoothly in the camp and they protected the camp. Just because they didn't wield a sword in battle doesn't mean their jobs weren't important; they had to take up the slack for the 12,000 men while they were at war and while they were undergoing the seven days of purification. Later in the Bible, King David will abide by the principle of Numbers 31:27 when some of his men become too weary and physically ill to go into battle. The men who are able to go into battle with David will not want to share the spoils with the men who had to stay behind, but David will say, "The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike." (1 Samuel 30:24)

"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. Take this tribute from their half share and give it to Eleazar the priest as the Lord's part. 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." (Numbers 31:28-30) Though priests and Levites are exempt from military service and could never have been asked or expected to go to war, they too receive a share.

"So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses. 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." (Numbers 31:31-35) The Midianites had been wealthy indeed and they could have kept their wealth if they had not made themselves the enemy of Israel. The women who are brought back to the camp are not the only foreigners living among the Israelites. We were told in Exodus that a "mixed multitude" came out of Egypt with the Israelites. Some of this multitude was likely made up of Egyptians who were poor and oppressed and who hoped to make a better life elsewhere. Some of this multitude was probably made up of other people who, like the Israelites, had gone to Egypt during the famine and either stayed there voluntarily afterward or were forced into slavery. The young Midianite women who are now in the camp can become the wives of Israelite men, if any of the men wish to marry them, according to Deuteronomy 21:10-14. The woman must observe a time of purification and will be given a month to observe a mourning period for her old family and her old life, then she may become the wife of a man of Israel. If her husband doesn't find himself happy with her later on, he is allowed to divorce her but he can't make her serve as a slave in his household and he can't sell her into slavery. He is to give her a certificate of divorce and she will be free to leave.

"The half share of those who fought in the battle was: '337,500 sheep, of which the tribute for the Lord was 675; 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the Lord was 72; 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the Lord was 61; 16,000 people, of which the tribute for the Lord was 32. Moses gave the tribute to Eleazar the priest as the Lord's part, as the Lord commanded Moses." (Numbers 31:36-41) The Lord's part is one in five hundred from the soldiers and one in fifty from the rest of the citizens. Although the soldiers must share with the community, the share the soldiers are allowed to keep is greater than that of the community. This is because the soldiers bore the risk and the hardship of battle. The people who remained in the camp had their duties to perform---duties which became greater while the 12,000 men were away---but their duties weren't as difficult as that of the soldiers. The soldiers played the lead roles in this victory while the remainder of the people played supporting roles; naturally the soldiers are paid more for their part in Israel's victory over the Midianites.

"The half belonging to the Israelites, which Moses set apart from that of the fighting men---the community's half---was 337,500 sheep, 36,000 cattle, 30,500 donkeys and 16,000 people. From the Israelite's half, Moses selected one out of every fifty people and animals, as the Lord commanded him, and gave them to the Levites, who were responsible for the care of the Lord's tabernacle." (Numbers 31:42-47) The Levites have families to provide for just like the men of all the other tribes. They stayed behind and protected the Lord's house. They stayed behind and helped the priests so the priests could perform the many duties of the Lord's house day and night. Though 12,000 men were away at war, everything at the tabernacle remained exactly the same, and that's because none of these men left their posts.

Israel did not lose a single soldier in the battle and the army commanders come with a thankful offering, donated by all the soldiers, of precious metal from the plunder they took. "Then the officers who were over the units of the army---the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds---went to Moses and said to him, 'Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing. 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.' Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted from them the gold---all the crafted articles. 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." (Numbers 31:48-52) This is approximately 420 pounds of gold. According to the price of an ounce of gold in March 2021, in today's money this gold would be worth $11,660,544!

From the text it appears that every soldier gave all the gold he had taken. The Bible does not indicate that any man kept back any gold for himself. When plundering the Midianites, the soldiers may have intended to keep the gold for themselves, which is their right. It has always been the rule that the spoils of war go to the victor and these men risked their lives in battle and spent time away from their families. They could have kept part or all of the gold and no one would have challenged their right to do so, but in thankfulness to the Lord for preserving their lives they want to give it all to Him. These men returned to their families safely. They will be able to go on living their lives and providing for their wives and children and serving the Lord. This means much more to them than gold. They expected victory in battle but they did not expect to win the battle with no casualties. Because of the Lord's mighty hand of protection over them, they want to give back to Him and their attitude is commendable.

The Lord gives many victories to you and to me. When we are rejoicing over the great things (the plunder) the Lord has blessed us with, and when we are feeling relieved about receiving good news or about having troubling circumstances turned around, we must follow the example of the soldiers of Israel. We may not have hundreds of pounds of gold to give to the Lord but we do have praise. We can thank Him for His blessings and we can testify to others about His goodness. We ought to give to our churches and to reputable charities, and we ought to do good deeds for others, but we must never neglect thanking our God for the victories He gives us in this life. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Numbers. Day 101, Purification After The Battle With The Midianites

The Israelite soldiers who fought the battle with the Midianites must purify themselves before returning to camp. The captives and the plunder must also be purified before being brought into the camp.

Moses gives these instructions to the men, "Anyone who has killed someone or touched someone who was killed must stay outside the camp seven days." (Numbers 31:19a) We learned earlier in the Bible that a person who touched a dead body was rendered ceremonially unclean. These men have blood on their hands from war. These men have touched the slain bodies of their enemies as they fell. In order to protect the people within the camp from potential bloodborne pathogens, it's important for the soldiers to isolate themselves from the congregation for a time. 

"On the third and seventh days you must purify yourselves and your captives." (Numbers 31:19b) On the third and seventh days they will purify themselves with the water of cleansing. We studied the recipe for this water in Numbers 19 where the ashes of a whole burnt red heifer were mixed with the ashes of cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet wool. A pinch of these ashes would be placed into a water container with water poured over them and then the mixture would be sprinkled onto the person on the third day and the seventh day. 

Any person who has been rendered unclean by a dead body, who does not observe this purification ritual, is to be excommunicated from the congregation of Israel, according to Numbers 19:11-13: "Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves with water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the Lord's tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them." I don't know whether there are any medicinal properties to this special cleansing water. I can't say whether or not it was capable of killing bacteria or viruses but it's difficult to see how it could, considering the unclean persons are to be sprinkled with it and are not to be immersed in it. I think, as we discussed when we studied Chapter 19, that this water has a symbolic purpose. For one thing, it symbolizes cleansing from sin. Sin is what leads to death; we all die because we have all sinned. The person who touches a dead body is to acknowledge that sin is what brings death. Contact with sin (represented here by death) requires cleansing. But man cannot cleanse himself. He needs something from outside himself to clean him up and I believe the various components of the cleansing water represent the sacrifice of Christ which cleanses us of unrighteousness. 

The ashes contain blood and we could hardly think about blood without thinking about the blood Christ shed on the cross. The ashes also contain cedar wood which is well known for its permanence: its resistance to infestation by pests and its resistance to decay, perhaps symbolizing the eternal strength of Christ's blood. The blood He shed on the cross over 2,000 years ago is just as capable of saving someone today as it was back then. In addition, some scholars believe the cross Christ was crucified on was made of cedar wood. This is possible since it's likely that the upright beam of the cross was permanently installed in the ground and that Christ carried only the crossbeam to Golgotha. If the large upright poles used for crucifixions remained planted in the ground all the time, the Romans would have had to use a very durable wood that could withstand the elements and be resistant to pests and rot. Scarlet wool is representative of the blood of Christ. A great deal of scarlet yarn was used in the curtains of the tabernacle and in the garments of the high priest. Scarlet yarn was dipped in blood and used to sprinkle various articles for purification. A woman at Jericho, in the book of Judges, was told to tie a scarlet yarn in her window so her household would be saved from the battle because she had helped the Israelites. When Jericho falls to the Israelites only this woman's household will be saved from the judgment of defeat. A scarlet color symbolizes blood and it symbolizes being cleansed by blood and being saved from judgment by blood. The ashes of hyssop are also contained in the cleansing water and hyssop was a substance used to purge the body of impurities in the system. In today's terms we might refer to is as "doing a cleanse". People in our times will drink a particular mixture or go on a juice fast in order to purge their digestive systems. Hyssop was used in the cleansing ceremony of lepers as well, so it symbolizes being made whole and new. Water itself, of course, is always a symbol of cleansing. We wash our hands and bodies to cleanse them of dirt and germs and to feel new and refreshed. All these elements in this paragraph were mixed together for the cleansing water and anyone who came in contact with a dead body was required to be sprinkled with the water on the third and seventh days. 

To refuse to be sprinkled was to refuse to admit to being a sinner. To refuse to be sprinkled was to refuse to accept that true cleansing must come from outside a person. Man can't make himself right with God. A person who is covered in dirt can't wipe himself off with dirty hands and make himself clean. Only the Lord, who is completely holy and clean and righteous, can make man clean.

The plunder taken from the Midianites must be purified before it can be brought into the camp. "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: Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead 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. On the seventh day wash your clothes and you will be clean. Then you may come into the camp." (Numbers 31:24) Some of these objects have been used in sinful pagan ceremonies by the Midianites. Even the objects that have not been used in heathen rituals have been handled by people who serve idols. A cleansing is necessary, not only for the purpose of killing potentially infectious pathogens but also for the purpose of ceremonial sanctification. These objects have a new home and a new life, so to speak, and a cleansing ritual takes place to reflect the fact that these objects are "starting over" and will be used by the people of the Lord. 

We could say that these items are being repurposed. We see and hear a lot about repurposing these days, especially on some of the home and garden shows on TV. People will take old vintage items or scrap materials and make something new out of them. They'll dig objects out of dumpsters or grab objects that have been placed by the curb for garbage pickup and then they'll give these objects a new purpose and a fresh new beginning. The items will no longer be used for their original purpose but for their new purpose. That's what is happening with the plunder the Israelites took from the Midianites. That's also what happens when you and I come to a saving knowledge of the Lord. The Lord repurposes us! He cleans us up and gives us a fresh start. We are no longer servants of sin but servants of righteousness. We have a new purpose in life and a new reason for living. Like an old piece of broken furniture thrown on the scrap heap, the Lord digs us out and cleans us up and remakes us. We are no longer useless and broken but are now whole and new, fit for the kingdom of our God.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Numbers. Day 100, Vengeance On The Midianites, Part Three

In yesterday's study we found the Israelites being victorious in battle over the Midianites. They killed every Midianite soldier who came against them, burned the cities and towns of the Midianites, and took everyone and everything as plunder that had belonged to the Midianites.

Moses is displeased with a certain category of these spoils of war. "Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army---the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds---who returned from the battle. 'Have you allowed all the women to live?' he asked them." (Numbers 31:15) I said yesterday that we might find some of today's content disturbing. Moses is shocked to realize the soldiers took all the Midianite women captive and did not kill them instead. Had he told them to kill the women? Or did he issue no specific order regarding this because, to him, it went without saying that the soldiers should kill the women? We don't know for sure, although many scholars believe that while relaying the Lord's battle plan to the men, Moses would have made certain they knew exactly what to do and what not to do. The fact that he's angry indicates he believes the men knew better than to bring all these women home with them. 

Why does he feel the men have done wrong? He says, "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." (Numbers 31:16) A unknown number of Midianite women managed to entice at least 24,000 Israelite men into idolatry by seducing them sexually. If Midianite women living outside the camp of Israel were able to do so much damage, how much more damage can Midianite women do while living inside the Israelite camp? Moses is saying something like, "These women almost destroyed us while they lived at a distance from us. And now you've brought them into our very house. Have you so quickly forgotten the grief we've endured? Why would you risk such a thing happening again? If it happens again it will happen on a much larger scale if these pagan seductresses are allowed to live in our very midst."

Moses now issues orders that may offend our sensibilities but we will talk about why he had no choice but to issue these orders. "Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man." (Numbers 31:17-18) 

After defeating the Midianites, the Israelite soldiers took captive all the women and children. We don't know at what age the Midianite males could enter the army but in Israel it was the age of twenty. So we can assume that roughly half the Midianites under the age of 20 were male and would be among those captives whom Moses refers to as "boys". They might be anywhere from the infant stage to the age of nineteen. Moses orders them all killed. Why? Because in ancient times a male was honor-bound to avenge the death of his relatives. We don't know how many under-army-age males are in the group of captives, but at some point in the future they all would be under oath to attack Israel. The males who are old enough to remember the battle in which their older male relatives died will be especially eager to kill as many Israelites as possible at the first opportunity. Moses orders them killed so Israel will be protected from them in the future. 

Remember, the Midianites made themselves the enemies of Israel, not the other way around. The Midianites knew about the one true God but rejected Him and rejected fellowship with His people Israel. (We know the Midianites knew about the Lord because Moses' Midianite father-in-law was a priest of the Lord and we must assume he was not the only godly man among them. In addition, Moses himself lived among the Midianites for forty years and no doubt testified to them about the Lord and provided a godly example for them.) Not only have the Midianites rejected God, but they've also tried to turn the Israelites away from God, and I believe that in the Lord's eyes there is no more serious crime than interfering with the eternal destiny of someone's soul. 

The Lord is dealing with the Midianites so harshly because the Midianites not only wanted the Israelites wiped off the map, but their method of trying to get the Israelites wiped off the map would have separated the Israelites spiritually from God. Drawing the Israelites into idolatry was intended to remove the Lord's protection from them in battle, but in falling into idolatry the Israelites would have been rejecting the Lord, and this means their eternal souls were at stake. In the judgment I doubt any group of people will be judged more harshly than those who, throughout time, have tried to keep others from knowing and serving the Lord. The Midianites are just one example of people who have attempted to keep others from the knowledge and salvation of the Lord.

The minor-aged females are to be left alive along with the young adult females who have never had sexual relations with a man. If they have not had sexual relations with a man, this means they are not from the group who seduced some of the Israelite men. This is why Moses says, "Save for yourselves every girl who has not slept with a man." In Deuteronomy we'll learn that if an Israelite soldier wanted to marry one of these women, he could. Women such as this are referred to as "concubines" in the Bible. They are legal wives but do not have the same legal rights and societal standing as Israelite wives. They are not free citizens like Israelite women. A son of a concubine is usually not the man's primary heir unless he has no male children by an Israelite wife. A concubine was supposed to convert to the God of Israel and raise the children up in the religion of their Israelite father. When these rules regarding religion are not followed, we'll find the husbands falling into idolatry and we'll find the children of the household being influenced by idolatry. Even King Solomon failed to follow these rules and built pagan altars to please his foreign wives and as a result the Bible says these sad words about him, "As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been." (1 Kings 11:4)

It understandably troubles our hearts to think of the Lord allowing the soldiers to kill so many of the captive people of Midian. But we need to keep in mind that this doesn't mean that the Lord doesn't love every person or that the Lord doesn't consider every soul valuable. What it does mean is that the Lord protects those who belong to Him from those who don't belong to Him. For example, you and I would both say we believe every person matters and that every person's soul is equally important. But we'd protect a person who belongs to us from a person who doesn't belong to us. You'd protect your child from someone who is not your child, right? This doesn't mean you don't consider the other person's life valuable, but if that person was causing bodily harm to your child you'd take immediate action to save your child from injuries or death. The Lord is the same way. In our text today, the Israelites are the Lord's children. They belong to Him. The Midianites are not the Lord's children because they do not love or serve Him. The Midianites want to kill the Lord's children physically and spiritually. The Lord, like any loving father, takes action. As much as He loves and cares about the Midianites and wishes they were His children, they are not. They have rejected Him and made themselves His enemy. They have made themselves His children's enemy. He can't allow them to hurt His children. I believe it grieves the Lord deeply when He allows the soldiers to kill so many of the captives. But if He does not allow this, Israel will come to harm. The women who previously seduced men into idolatry would keep on working their wiles and separate Israel spiritually from God. The male Midianites would, in time, rise up violently against the Israelites. The order given to kill these people was a difficult order to make and carry out but it was necessary within the cultural and religious context of the time period.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Numbers. Day 99, Vengeance On The Midianites, Part Two

The Lord told Moses in yesterday's passage that he would see Israel avenged upon the Midianites before he dies. Moses now relays the Lord's battle plans to Israel. 

"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. Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.' So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel. 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 signaling." (Numbers 31:3-6) These are the trumpets the Lord commanded to be fashioned out of silver in Numbers 10. They were to be blown only by the priests and they were used for several purposes: when both were sounded in the camp, all the Israelites were to assemble; if only one was sounded in the camp, only the leaders were to assemble. Also, whenever the Lord told the Israelites to break camp, trumpet blasts were used to signal when each tribe was to move out. The trumpets were to be blown at festivals and times of rejoicing. And finally, as in our passage today, the trumpets were blown before going into battle: "Then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies." (Numbers 10:9b) 

"They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man." (Numbers 31:7) Every Midianite male who was in the region and who engaged in battle with the Israelites was killed, not every Midianite male who existed. We find the Midianites still making themselves the enemy of Israel on up through the book of Judges, so it goes without saying that the Israelites do not encounter 100% of the male Midianites here in Numbers 31. 

The Midianites are related to the Israelites by marriage through Moses: his late wife was a Midianite. Moses' children are half Midianite. Moses' father-in-law was a Midianite priest who served the Lord, so it's not as if the Midianites weren't aware of the one true God whom the Israelites worship. At some time in the past, every human being on the face of the earth knew about the one true God, but by this point in the Bible much of the Midianite population has turned away from Him to serve heathen idols. We see that the Midianites and the Israelites had some things in common---things which should have encouraged the Midianites to extend the hand of friendship---but when the Israelites camped nearby on their way to the promised land, the Midianites feared them for no reason. The Midianites harbored prejudice against them for no reason. Due to the familial connection by marriage, the Midianites should have sent ambassadors to greet Moses and the leaders of Israel. If they were concerned about Israel's intentions toward them, it would have been a simple matter to find out what Israel was doing and where Israel was going. But the Midianites are wicked, and wicked people tend to assume others are as wicked as they are. Wicked people tend to be suspicious, which is why the Bible says, "The wicked flee when no one pursues," (Proverbs 28:1a) and that the wicked imagine conspiracies where no conspiracies exist and fall into unnecessary panic as a result (Isaiah 8:12). 

The 12,000 Israelite soldiers kill every Midianite soldier with whom they engage in battle, including some important political figures who are mentioned by name. "Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba---the five kings of Midian." (Number 31:8a) In other passages of the Bible these men are referred to as dukes or princes. I looked this verse up in a Hebrew concordance and found that the word translated as "kings" can also be translated as "royalty". I believe these men were tribal chiefs because the one known as Zur is likely the same Zur from Numbers 31 whose daughter Kozbi seduced an Israelite man named Zimri into idolatry and strode boldly into the Israelite camp with him to have sexual relations with him in his tent. We were told in Chapter 25 that Zur was a tribal chief of a Midianite family and I tend to think the five men named here in verse 8 were all tribal chiefs. It appears the land of Midian was divided into five regions and each of these men was head of a region.

Another important figure was killed at this time by the Israelite soldiers. "They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword." (Numbers 31:8b) The prophet who was willing to curse Israel in exchange for fortune and fame loses his life. The man who didn't care if an entire race of people was wiped off the face of the earth is himself wiped off the face of the earth. Previously we were told Balaam returned to his hometown but many scholars believe that, when the Midianites saw that war with Israel was unavoidable and imminent, they called the prophet back to see if there was anything he could do to weaken Israel and to give Israel's enemies success. What a sad end to a man who was once a true prophet of the Lord! What a terrible legacy to leave behind: to be known as a man who forsook the Lord and the eternal blessings that come from Him in exchange for worldly wealth and renown. Balaam wanted his name known---and it is!---but in a very negative way. He's mentioned on the pages of the Bible, not as an example to follow, but as an example of what not to do. 

As was the custom of the day, the winning side takes the people and the livestock and the belongings of the vanquished foe as the spoils of war. "The Israelites captured the Midianite women and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, 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 across from Jericho." (Numbers 31:9-12)

When we conclude Chapter 31 tomorrow we'll find Moses angry about part of these spoils of war. It appears a particular command he gave to the soldiers was not followed. Moses will ensure that this oversight is remedied. We may find tomorrow's passage disturbing but at the same time I think we can come to terms with it by considering it from the Lord's perspective and considering how not following this particular command could have led to a great deal of harm coming to Israel in the future. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Numbers. Day 98, Vengeance On The Midianites, Part One

The Midianites, in cahoots with the Moabites, wanted Balaam the prophet to curse Israel so they could drive the Israelites out of the region. He was unable to do so because, as he said, he could not curse those whom the Lord has not cursed. But before he went back home from his audience with the Moabite king and with the Moabite and Midianite officials, he advised them to have their women seduce the Israelite men into idolatry by luring them into sexual immorality. Balaam hoped this would lead to the Israelites losing the favor of God, thereby losing God's protection. The men who hired Balaam refused to pay him after he was unable to curse the Israelites, but perhaps he hoped if his proposed scheme worked they would call him back to reward him. 

The scheme was successful on a percentage of Israelite men: 24,000 of them died as a result of their immoral interactions with the pagan women. But Israel still has over 600,000 men able to serve in the army and the Lord is angry on behalf of Israel that the heathen people of the region have made themselves her enemy without cause and have plotted for her downfall. He is going to avenge Israel and He is going to invite the Israelite army to take part in the vengeance. 

There are many instances in the Bible where the Lord avenges Israel or a citizen of Israel all by Himself; He does not ask or expect the person or the nation to lift a finger. After all, He says, "Vengeance is Mine; I will repay." (Deuteronomy 32:35) But in some cases the Lord invites the person or nation to take part in the process alongside Him. This type of participation can only happen if the Lord makes the invitation. To take such a duty upon oneself would be wrong, as the Apostle Paul instructed the Christian church when reminding the church of the Lord's words from Deuteronomy 32:35: "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." (Romans 12:19) In Numbers 31 we find one of the instances in which the Lord invites Israel's army to take part in the vengeance He intends to pour out on the enemy. 

The words "Midianite" and "Moabite" are sometimes used interchangeably because they were neighbors who mingled with each other in public and in private. They were allies in government. They were partners in business. They intermarried with each other. So in a sense they were almost one people. In another sense they were not because the Moabites were descended from Abraham's nephew Lot and the Lord will tell Israel that He has not given them the territory of the Moabites in the promised land, and this is due to the Moabite's ancestral kinship to the Israelites. (Deuteronomy 2:9)

Chapter 31 deals with the Lord's punishment upon the Midianites for their part in the scheme to bring about Israel's downfall. The Midianites will disappear entirely from the pages of the Bible in the book of Judges whereas the Moabites will continue to be mentioned up through the book of Isaiah. 

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.'" (Numbers 31:1-2) Moses has already been informed that he will not enter the promised land. The time of his departure from this earth is approaching but he will not die immediately after the defeat of the Midianites. I don't think that's what the Lord is saying. I believe the Lord's words could be taken like this, "You will see this enemy defeated in battle before I call you home". Moses will still have matters to wrap up after the battle with the Midianites and I think the reason the Lord says what He says in verses 1 and 2 is because Moses' anger burns hotly toward the Midianites for the havoc they wreaked upon his people. Moses is justifiably angry and it's not sinful for him to want to see the Midianites punished. He lost 24,000 of his fellow citizens due to the wickedness of these pagan people. I've been angry on behalf of people I love. I've wanted to see the Lord discipline people who have been wicked toward those I love. I am sure you have found yourselves feeling the same way when someone has mistreated one of your family members or friends. I think Moses is angry on behalf of the people he loves. Before he dies he deeply desires to see the wrath of God fall upon the Midianites. It could be that he's prayed to the Lord to see such a thing before he leaves this world. Or it could be that the Lord just knows this is what is in Moses' heart since the Lord knows everything that is in everyone's heart. I think verses 1 and 2 are to be taken as reassurance---as the Lord promising Moses the same thing He will promise King David centuries later: that He will allow him to see his desire upon his enemies. (Psalm 59:10, Psalm 92:11) 

I imagine the Lord's words are very comforting to Moses. I am not sure Moses could have gone to his death with a restful spirit if the Lord had not allowed him to see the Midianites defeated in battle. Moses won't die until Deuteronomy 34 but the last thing he will say to the people of Israel will be words of assurance that the Lord will always avenge them on their enemies. By that time He will have avenged them upon the Midianites, but many battles will still be ahead. Many tribes and nations will come against Israel in the coming years and even up until our own day and beyond. But the Lord's promise to curse those who curse Israel still stands. No one can make themselves an enemy of Israel and get away with it, and the last words from Moses' mouth to the Israelites will contain the promise of the Lord that He will "avenge the blood of His servants" and that He will "take vengeance on His enemies and make atonement for His land and people". (Deuteronomy 32:43)

Join us tomorrow as we begin our look at the battle between the Israelites and the Midianites.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Numbers. Day 97, The Making Of Vows And Pledges, Part Two

We're studying Chapter 30 in which Moses, by command of the Lord, speaks of the making of vows and pledges. Under some circumstances vows and pledges can be nullified. Under some circumstances they cannot.

We learned yesterday that if an adult male makes a vow or pledge to the Lord he is bound by his oath to perform what he has promised. 

The vow or pledge made by a young unmarried woman still living at home can be nullified by her father.

The vow or pledge of a newly married woman, who made the promise before she was married, can be nullified by her husband. 

The vow or pledge made by a widow or divorced woman is as binding as a promise made by an adult male. The woman is the head of her household and she must stand by her oath.

Today we'll conclude Chapter 30 by taking a look at how it worked when a woman made a vow or pledge after she was already married.

"If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all her vows or the pledges by which she obligates herself will stand." (Numbers 30:10-11) Remember, vows and pledges often involved a financial expense. If the husband hears his wife pledging to donate a certain offering, for example, and if he does not speak up to object to it, then he must allow her to fulfill the promise. He can't hear about the promise today, say nothing, then object to it a few weeks later. 

Since the women of the Bible days lived in a patriarchal society, their husbands were usually the sole or primary providers for the family. A husband could object to a pledge his wife made and nullify it. For example, perhaps his wife promises to donate so much money a month to the sanctuary treasury. A husband could say to his wife, "I appreciate your generous spirit of giving, but at this time we don't have enough money to fulfill your pledge and pay all the bills. We may be able to do something a little later on, but for now I'm going to have to nullify the pledge until we get caught up." Here's what Moses said to the Israelites about such cases: "But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the Lord will release her." (Numbers 30:12) The Lord doesn't hold the woman responsible for not keeping her promise. 

Some vows and pledges didn't involve financial cost but instead took the form of fasting or abstaining from something. A person could vow to fast and pray for a period of time. A person could vow to abstain from certain foods and drinks for a time. A married person could abstain from sexual relations for a time in order to devote himself or herself to meditating on God's word or to prayer. (The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:5 that this should only be done by mutual consent of the two marriage partners.) But suppose an Old Testament husband hears his wife promise to devote all her time to fasting and prayer and the study of God's word for the next three days, and he does not feel this is feasible due to there being no one to help with childcare or household duties or due to concerns for his wife's health (perhaps fasting will have a detrimental effect on her health at this time), then he can nullify her pledge of self-denial. He also can nullify her pledge if it was a pledge to abstain from marital relations with him for a period of time. The two of them must be in agreement about such a thing. Neither the husband nor the wife, according to the Apostle Paul, can make a pledge of sexual abstinence without their spouse's consent. So if a husband hears his wife make a pledge of self-denial, he can nullify it if he chooses. "Her husband may confirm or deny any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself." (Numbers 30:13)

Not objecting to her vow or pledge is the same as giving it his approval. If he knows about it and says nothing, he's obligated to let her fulfill it. The Lord will hold him accountable if he lets time go by without making any objection and then tries to deny his wife the opportunity to keep her promise. "But if her husband says nothing about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them. If, however, he nullifies them some time after he hears about them, then he must bear the consequences of her wrongdoing." (Numbers 30:14-15) Let's say his wife has pledged to put a specific amount of money as a freewill offering into the sanctuary treasury each month for a year. Several months go by and she puts the money in, with her husband's knowledge. Then, six months into her year-long vow, he forbids her to drop the money into the offering plate. The Lord says he is in the wrong. The husband has given his approval by not saying anything up to this point; he will bear the blame if he now forbids her from fulfilling her pledge. The wife will be held blameless. It's not her fault she can't keep her promise and I am sure the Lord blessed her for having a desire to make and keep a worthy promise.

"These are the regulations the Lord gave Moses concerning relationships between a man and his wife, and between a father and his young daughter still living at home." (Numbers 30:16)

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Numbers. Day 96, The Making Of Vows And Pledges, Part One

Normally I wouldn't skip over any chapters, but Chapter 28 and Chapter 29 are a recap of the various offerings and holy days the Israelites are to observe. We have studied these in a great deal of detail previously and will move on to Chapter 30 which has to do with the serious subject of making vows and pledges.

"Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: 'This is what the Lord commands: When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.'" (Numbers 30:1-2) The men of Israel are to be men of their word. It is understood that these vows or pledges are of an honorable nature. If a person utters a promise to do something, then later realizes that the thing he's promised to do is sinful and not within the will of God for his life, he can of course refuse to go down a wrong path. The vows and pledges discussed in our chapter are generally understood to be of a religious nature and would usually involve offerings, sacrifices, donations of time or money, the dedicating of a period of time to fasting and prayer, and so on. 

Next we take a look at what happens when a young unmarried woman, living in her father's house and living under the authority of her father, makes a vow or pledge. "When a young woman still living in her father's house makes a vow to the Lord or obligates herself by a pledge and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the Lord will release her because her father has forbidden her." (Numbers 30:3-5) To put this into modern perspective, let's say you overhear your sixteen-year-old daughter promising to volunteer a large chunk of time each week to help with a local charity. As the parent of a minor child you have the right to deny permission for her to do this thing if you feel it's not a good idea for her. Let's say, for example, you know she won't have enough time to keep her grades up at school if she participates in this particular thing. As her parent you can make the decision on her behalf to negate her pledge. The same was true of parents in the Bible days; the young lady's father could negate her pledge if he felt it wasn't in her best interests.

If a young unmarried woman makes a vow to be carried out at a future date, and if her father does not forbid her to keep the vow, but if she marries after making the vow but before she fulfills it, her husband can forbid the vow from being carried out. Many vows and pledges in the Bible would have involved an expense, such as an offering or sacrifice or pledging to devote a certain amount of money to the treasury. Once the young lady comes into her husband's household, he can refuse to honor a pledge she made while she lived in her father's house. It may not be financially feasible or advisable for a young married couple to keep the pledge. Just because her father was fine with it doesn't mean her new husband is. Her father may not have negated her vow because he knew by the time she fulfilled her pledge she would no longer be living in his household and the expense wouldn't be coming out of his pocket. "If she marries after she makes a vow or after her lips utter a rash promise by which she obligates herself and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her, then her vows or pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. But if her husband forbids her after he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her or the rash promise by which she obligates herself, and the Lord will release her." (Numbers 30:6-8) 

A husband can nullify a promise his wife made before marrying him if the fulfillment of the promise would be taking place after the marriage. For example, perhaps the new bride or her father tells the groom that she has pledged a certain number of freewill offerings in the coming year. If he objects to her vow he can say something like, "We can't afford that right now. I admire her generosity of spirit but we are newlyweds trying to set up housekeeping in our own place. Financially speaking, now is not a good time to keep such a pledge." His bride is then released from her promise. The Lord won't consider her accountable for not keeping it. But if the groom doesn't speak up and voice his objections when he hears about the promise his bride made while she still lived with her father, then he is obligated to allow her to keep her promise. 

The women of the Bible days were living in a patriarchal society. There are women in some cultures of the world who are still living in patriarchal societies where a father has the final say in what his unmarried daughter can do or where a husband has the final say in what his wife can do. But a grown woman of the Bible days who was not living with a husband could make decisions for herself. If she made a vow or pledge, no one could negate it for her and she was obligated to fulfill it. A woman used to making her own living and managing her own finances should be capable of considering whether or not she can afford to keep her promise. She should think carefully about her budget and her lifestyle before pledging to do anything that will cost her money or time. If she makes a vow or pledge and then later realizes it was unwise, she's as responsible for keeping her word as a grown man is. "Any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her." (Numbers 30:9) 

We will stop here because this chapter is long enough to take us two days to study it. But we can see that the Lord expects all of us to think carefully before making a promise because it's important to be people of our word. Before giving our word we must think about whether the thing we're promising to do is godly or ungodly. If there's nothing sinful about our intentions, we should then consult the Lord to make sure this is His will for our lives. This is a step we must not skip because it's possible to get carried away emotionally and make a promise that it will be difficult to fulfill later on. If we want to donate a large sum of money to the church, for example, the Lord admires our spirit of generosity but He also knows what's in our financial future. If He knows we're going to be laid off from our job a month from now, He may direct us to save this freewill offering or to reduce the amount of it. If our pledge is to volunteer a certain number of hours each week performing charity work, but the Lord knows something is coming up that will prevent us from having as much free time as we think we'll have, He can let us know not to make that commitment right now or not to commit as many hours a week as we'd originally planned. 

If we find ourselves wanting to make a vow or pledge, and if we've determined there's nothing spiritually or morally wrong with it, and if we've determined it's within the Lord's will for us to make this promise or pledge, then we have to be men and women of our word. We have to follow through. Our God has made many beautiful promises and He intends to keep every one of them. God doesn't lie or change His mind. If we are His children, we should look like our Father, and that means being promise keepers. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Numbers. Day 95, The Lord Speaks Of Moses' Impending Death And Names Moses' Successor

Israel will be marching on into the promised land soon but Moses will die before that day dawns. In today's passage the Lord announces Moses' impending death and names Moses' successor.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Go up this mountain in the Abarim Range and see the land that I have given to the Israelites. After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed My command to honor Me as holy before their eyes. (These were the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.)" (Numbers 27:12-14) We studied this incident on Day 65 of our study of the book of Numbers. Aaron passed away shortly after the incident at Meribah and his son Eleazar succeeded him as high priest. Now it is soon to be Moses' turn to pass on---to be "gathered to his people" as the Bible so beautifully describes the death of a believer.

Moses, as always, is more concerned for the people than for himself, so he asks the Lord to appoint a clear successor to carry on his duties on behalf of the Israelites. He has been in the habit of putting the people of Israel ahead of himself for many years now, and today is no exception even though he's facing his own mortality. "Moses said to the Lord, 'May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.'" (Numbers 27:15-17) 

Sheep are not driven from behind like cattle. They must have someone out ahead of them to follow. They have to be able to see their shepherd, and if Israel has no clear shepherd in front of her when Moses takes his last breath, Moses fears things will fall apart. Moses is a man with strong leadership skills and yet he has barely managed to hold the community together at times. If the Lord Himself does not name a man to take Moses' place, Moses can easily envision things beginning to fall apart immediately after his demise. The people might begin nominating candidates for the job and falling into arguments or even violent altercations while they disagree about who is the best man for the job. They might select a man who isn't godly and who won't lead them in the will of the Lord. After all, it wasn't long ago that they wanted to stone Moses and Aaron to death and choose a man who would lead them back to Egypt and slavery. It's vitally important for the Lord Himself to announce Moses' successor while Moses still lives so that the flock of Israel will know who the new shepherd is. The shepherd must be a man with a heart like the Lord's who will love the people and want the best for them. The shepherd must be a man who will hear and obey the Lord's voice. 

"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. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him.'" (Numbers 27:18-20) We've been told several times that Joshua was Moses' aide. (Exodus 24:13, Exodus 33:11, Numbers 11:28) Joshua has been in the perfect position to observe how Moses consults the Lord for instructions and then carries those instructions out. Joshua also has military experience, for he led a battle against the Amalekites when the Amalekites attacked the Israelites without provocation after they came out of Egypt in Exodus 17. Joshua is one of only two men who were over the age of twenty in Numbers 14 who did not die in the wilderness and this is because he and Caleb believed the Lord when He said they would be able to take the promised land from the tribes currently inhabiting it. These two young men weren't afraid to keep going forward when all the other men of fighting age wanted to go back to Egypt. Joshua and Caleb stood in front of the entire assembly and implored the people to have faith in the Lord. So we see that Joshua is a man with an obedient spirit (he was used to following Moses' orders) and he is a man with military skills (he led a victorious battle against the Amalekites) and he is a man with leadership skills (he gave an impassioned speech to the entire community to encourage them in their faith and to inspire them to do great things in the name of the Lord) and he is a man who has a lot of faith in the Lord himself (he said in Numbers 14 that the Lord was with Israel and that Israel had nothing to fear in the land of Canaan because the Lord was on their side). 

Is Moses surprised by the Lord's choice of successor? Of all the characters we've met so far in the Bible, Joshua seems the best and most obvious person to take charge after Moses' death. If someone were to ask us who we thought the Lord would choose to take Israel on into the promised land, I bet Joshua would be number one our list. I think he was at the top of Moses' list too. If someone had asked Moses who he'd like to see installed in his place, I believe he'd have named Joshua. But the Lord has the final say in this matter. Although Moses may have suspected Joshua was the man the Lord had chosen, and although Joshua was the man Moses himself wanted to take his place, Moses was not going to go ahead on his own initiative and declare Joshua his successor. It is the Lord's place to choose the shepherd of Israel. Moses leaves it up to the Lord, no matter what his personal feelings may have been on the matter.

Joshua is to be inaugurated, so to speak, in the sight of the entire community. This way there will be no doubt or dispute regarding his right to take the reins from Moses when the time comes. The ceremony is held while Moses is still living so there can be a clear and public and peaceful transfer of power. The people need to see that Joshua has the blessing of both Moses and the Lord. After Joshua takes Moses' place, he will be the one who receives instructions from the Lord regarding when Israel is to move ahead and when Israel is to remain still. He will receive his battle plans from the Lord so that the army will know when and how to advance against its enemies. If the Lord says to attack, the army will attack. If the Lord says to refrain from going on the offensive, the army is to stand down. Joshua will go to the high priest when he needs advice and the high priest will consult the Lord on Joshua's behalf. "He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring 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." (Numbers 27:21) 

We read of the mysterious objects known as the Urim and Thummim in Exodus 28 and Leviticus 8. These objects were stored inside the breastplate worn by the high priest and they were used to discern the will of the Lord when the high priest inquired of Him for a leader of Israel. We discussed the Urim and Thummim on July 11, 2020 on our 104th day studying the book of Exodus. If you didn't have a chance to read our post from that day, or if you would like to reread it, you can scroll to the bottom of today's blog post and find it in the archives.

"Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses." (Numbers 27:22-23) Moses is an unselfish man. His mind is not on his own fate but on the future of Israel. He wants the nation to take over the promised land and prosper in it even though he won't be there to see any of this happen. Instead of obsessing over the fact that he'll be leaving this world soon, he's focused completely on carrying out the will of the Lord and seeing to it that the flock of Israel has a shepherd in place who will continue carrying out the will of the Lord. Moses is not a perfect man; no human being other than Jesus has ever perfectly obeyed the Lord. But Moses sets a godly example for us to follow. He lives by a golden rule the Apostle Paul instructed the church to live by in Philippians 2:3-4: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others." 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Numbers. Day 94, Zelophehad's Daughters

In the census of Chapter 26 we found a man who had no sons but who had five daughters. In today's passage we find out why these five daughters were named in a census (in Chapter 26) that was taken primarily for the purpose of military service. A secondary purpose for the census was to help with parceling out tracts of territory once Israel reaches the promised land. This is when it will become important to have a record of the family of Zelophehad, and other men like him, who had daughters but no sons.

"The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph." (Numbers 27:1a) Zelophehad's daughters are direct descendants of the patriarch Jacob through his son Joseph.

Moses gave us these ladies' names in Chapter 25 and names them again today in our current chapter. "The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah." (Numbers 27:1b) I thought it would be interesting to look up the meaning of these ladies' names in Hebrew. I'm assuming they are listed in birth order and it appears that the meaning of Zelophehad's first daughter's name, Mahlah, is "weakness" or "sickness". This makes me wonder whether she was born with some type of disability or lifelong ailment. Or it could be that she was born prematurely and that for a while it wasn't clear whether she would be strong enough to survive. Whatever the reason for her name, it will not disqualify her from the inheritance rights that the Lord is going to give to women who have no male siblings. Being the firstborn, Mahlah would likely receive the share---a bigger share---normally given to a firstborn male heir. 

The second daughter's name is rendered as "Noah" but it isn't derived from the same root word as the Noah of Noah's ark. Scholars believe her name meant something like "movement". Maybe she was a very active baby in the womb and her parents named her "movement" when she was born. 

The third daughter, Hoglah, has a name that is believed to mean "partridge" or "circling". It's difficult to even make a guess as to why her parents chose this name unless her parents waited to name her until her personality became more evident. As a toddler she might have been quick and birdlike, reminding her parents of a partridge. 

Milkah's name means "queen" and Tirzah's name means "delight". Milkah may have had a bossy and imperious personality, a trait that sometimes develops in the spoiled youngest child, and she may have been the youngest child for quite some time until her parents were "delighted" by the birth of their fifth and final child, Tirzah. Many years might have separated the births of Milkah and Tirzah so that the parents thought their family was complete, but at the very end of her childbearing years Tirzah's mother may have become pregnant a final time. This may have been delightful news to the family, causing them to name the final child a name that reflected their delight. In my family I was the unexpected child. My parents had already raised my sister and brother and, although they had tried to have more children, they had gone seventeen years without conceiving again. Then unexpectedly they found out they were expecting me. Were they delighted? According to them they were. Maybe that's how Zelophedad and his wife felt too.

Zelophedad's daughters have been brought up to be strong, independent women. They've been brought up in a household where they were just as loved and valued as male heirs. They believe they deserve the same inheritance as male heirs and the Lord will agree with them. "They came forward and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, 'Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among Korah's followers, who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. Why should our father's name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father's relatives.'" (Numbers 27:1c-4) The women say, "Our father and his family line were not disqualified from receiving territory in the promised land. He didn't join in with Korah's rebellion. He was of the generation of which the Lord said no man would enter the promised land, so he died here in the wilderness before reaching the promised land. But your fathers also met the same fate. You men of Israel are still going to receive territories in the promised land even though your fathers died in the wilderness. We feel we should too. Our father's name and branch of the family tree should not be allowed to die out just because he had no sons."

Moses doesn't dismiss the women's case because they are women. In many patriarchal societies the women have few, if any, rights. But Moses doesn't treat them as if their case isn't valid. He wants to make the correct ruling. "So Moses brought their case before the Lord, and the Lord said to him, 'What Zelophedad's daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father's relatives and give their father's inheritance to them.'" (Numbers 27:5-7) Inheritance rights normally passed down from father to son. The son would make his living by carrying on his father's occupation. For example, if his father was a farmer, the son would keep operating the family farm. He would live on the farm and raise his own family there and eventually pass the farm on to his own son. But a daughter would marry and be taken care of by her husband. She would move out of her father's house to go and live on her husband's family property. Her children would carry on her husband's name and would inherit her husband's property upon his death. This is why inheritance rights normally passed down the male line. A son would remain on his father's land, in his father's occupation. A daughter would marry outside of the family, take her husband's name, live on her husband's property, raise children up in her husband's name, and then her husband's property would eventually pass to the children. 

But what about when a man has daughters and no sons? The Lord makes it clear in our passage today that the man's daughters are to inherit his property. If the Lord had not made this clear, then an uncle or a male cousin of the daughters could come in and take over the property, but a law is established saying that the male relatives of the dead man can not do this. Only if a man dies childless does anyone outside his household have the right to inherit. The Lord has ruled on this case in the women's favor. He instructs Moses to pass these instructions on to the people of Israel: "Say to the Israelites, 'If a man dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance to his daughter. If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father's brothers. If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to have the force of law for the Israelites, as the Lord commanded Moses.'" (Numbers 27:8-11) 

Inheritance law for the Israelites is established here in Chapter 27. If a man has daughters but no sons, his property goes to his daughters. If a man is childless, his property goes to his brothers. If he was an only child, or if his brothers have predeceased him, his property goes to his father's brothers if any are still living. If his father had no brothers, or if they have already passed away, the property goes to his male next of kin. This might be a first cousin, for example. Now it is clear how property is to be passed down through the generations in the promised land. The Lord has spoken on this issue and it has become the law.