Numbers 29–32 Feasts, Vows, Attacks and Compromise


A full audio of this session can be found here.

Numbers 29 is a continuation of chapter 28 as the writer of the book focuses on the new generation and making sure they understand the importance of the seasonal feasts. The amount of space devoted to the feasts of the seventh month, in this chapter, and the details about the offerings, particularly the Feast of Tabernacles, makes it clear that these were important occasions and that this month was indeed most important.

The writer outlines the Feast of Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles. It’s important to note that The Day of Atonement was not a happy feast. It was a day to carefully consider the burden of sin and to put it away on a national basis through the appointed sacrifice for that day.

Conversely, The Feast of Tabernacles, of all the feasts, was the greatest festival of joy. It had a twofold significance. On the one hand, following the completion of the harvesting of the crops, it marked the sense of gratitude and joy toward the Lord, the giver their provision. On the other, as the name “tabernacles” or “booths” indicates, it had a historical reference to the exodus from Egypt and reminded the people of their wandering and dwelling in booths in the wilderness (Lev. 23:42). The historical remembrance seems to have been the foundation of the agricultural celebration as if to suggest that it was the mighty intervention of God on behalf of His people that was the all-important evidence of the rich harvest and provision.

Numbers 30 provides the new generation with preparation for not only doing life together but also the upcoming military campaign once they enter the Promised Land. In this chapter, God deals with the subject of accountability and integrity. It makes sense—when an army is headed into battle they need to be sure that the person next to you will keep their word and do what they’ve said they will do. You don’t want the person in the foxhole changing their mind or their commitment.

Interestingly the chapter features several exceptions for women and the vows they make as daughters, wives, and widows. As we’ve seen in past chapters of Numbers, these instructions are inclusive. Both men and women are called to keep their commitments and held accountable for their decisions. God wants his people to have integrity and security in relationships with each other.

Vengeance on Midian is the subject of Chapter 31. Moses, under God’s direction, turns a portion of the fighting force loose to be an instrument of God’s vengeance against a wicked, immoral people. In this circumstance, Israel was in a unique place—with a special call to be an instrument of God’s vengeance. Significantly, the priests went with the nation into this battle, and the priests went with the holy articles.

The Bible relates that every male of Midian was killed including Balaam, the prophet who masterminded the strategy where the men of Israel would be seduced into sexual immorality and idolatry by certain Midian women.

While these passages have been misused or misread, the only way to make sense of these bloody carnages, and to see any moral ground for Israel’s displacement of the nations of Canaan from the land, is to realize that God was using His people as the rod of His anger against peoples whose cup of iniquity was full to overflowing. They were being judged for their sins and their depravities. The corrupting influence of Midian was, therefore, threatening the very existence of the line of promise. It had to be rooted out.

What is also of interest is how the spoils of this battle were distributed. Like many wars and battles in the Ancient Near East, the soldiers received their portion, however, what makes this one different is God making provision for those who were not called to fight. A portion was also given to the Lord who gave them victory without casualty.

The last chapter in this session tells of a request by the tribes of Reuben and Gad to settle on the east side of the Jordan river. While this land probably seemed ideal for grazing their herds, these tribe’s request went against God’s promise made so many generations ago. Gordon Wenham wrote, “That any Israelite tribe should consider settling outside the land promised to Abraham showed a disturbing indifference to the divine word, the word on which Israel’s existence entirely depended.”[1]

Moses points out that these tribes brought a spirit of discouragement to this new generation. These two tribes were looking for contentment and unwilling to take the next steps of the journey God laid out and promised. Moses likens their request to what happened with the ten negative spies who gave the discouraging report and cost the former generation God’s Promised Land.

Moses perhaps felt that the tribes of Reuben or Gad made a bad choice for themselves; that is, they hurt themselves by settling on the lands east of the Jordan River. But, in his wisdom as a leader, Moses did not confront them with that issue. If a child of God is content to settle for less in their Christian life, there is little or nothing one can do. But when their complacency begins to affect their brothers and sisters, it must be confronted. This was the basis of Moses’ disagreement.

The issue is settled when the tribal leaders agree to help Israel conquer the Canaanites. Moses compromises with them and one-half of the tribe of Manasseh joins the other two in settling in the eastern, trans-Jordan area.


  1. The chief aim of our worship should be giving pleasure to Him. Do we enter His house week by week with this thought primarily in view? Or, do we complain about the music or something else? The importance God places on the feasts and the Sabbath should shape how we worship.
  2. God sees to it that the unseen, hidden workers in His service are not overlooked or devalued. Every faithful servant receives his reward (cf. Heb. 6:10). There is a real recognition of different responsibilities, and greater and lesser work or gifts. Acceptance and diversity were the order of the day.
  3. Have we opted for an easier, alternative way in spiritual things? And is it because of some beguiling attraction that has come to mean more to us than the kingdom of God? It was the fertile plains of Gilead that beguiled the hearts of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh from the Promised Land.
  4. We either move further and deeper into the presence of the Lord—or we move in the other direction and become more and more interested in the things of the world. We either seek comfort or commitment


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Numbers, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1981), 237


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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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