Numbers 33–36 the Book Ends

 

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I don’t know about you, but I’m usually saddened to see a book end. I become so wrapped up in the story, or the history, or the person’s biography that as the author begins to wrap it up, it saddens me as though a good friend is leaving town and we probably won’t hear from each other for a good while.

I have the same feeling as we close out the Book of Numbers. We started with a massive project—a census to count and organize the Israelites to begin their march to the Promised Land fulfilling God’s Covenant with them to take the land and possess it. It’s a thrilling beginning.

Then, things get bogged down. The Israelites are nearing the Promised Land and convince Moses to send out twelve spies to plan the strategy.

These “leaders” flunked the positive leadership test which consists of taking individuals and groups from where they are to where they could be. Ten spies give a negative report and two, Caleb and Joshua come back excited and ready to take on the challenge with God’s help.

Unfortunately, the ten spies’ response to God should have been obedience and trust, regardless of circumstances. Nowhere in the Scripture do we read that the spies had permission to decide whether to go or to stay. Their mission was to be a fact-finding one that would determine the best way to enter the Promised Land.

The report causes the people became fearful. The 10 spies saw problems; therefore, the people saw problems. They were intimidated; therefore, the people were intimidated. As leaders rise or fall, so do their followers. The congregation could not go any farther than its leaders were willing to go.

God is unhappy. He forbids this unbelieving generation from entering the Promised Land. Even the patient Moses is banned from entering it as he loses his temper and disobeys a direct command from God. Such a waste of time and energy this unfaithfulness brings.

Numbers winds down with a review of the Exodus. Moses reminds the people of how God freed them from bondage and delivered them to the doorstep of the Promised Land. They fought battles, both spiritual and military, and through it all God was faithful.

Chapter 35 sets up the cities for the Levites and also cities of refuge. Remember the Levites’ inheritance was spiritual, not territorial as with the other tribes. God, again in his faithfulness, proves for the priests with cities and land enough to subsist. I think it’s insightful that God placed these Levitical cities within each tribe’s territory. He could have set up a territory only for the Levites forcing the Israelites to come to them. However, in His wisdom, he scatters them among the tribes and makes them accessible for everyone.

The cities of refuge were established to shield accused murderers from family vendetta while under trial. In that time a formal police force didn’t exist. Families took care of punishment in many cases. A murder was a capital crime subject to the death penalty and the person needed a place to hide until proven guilty or a place to safely live in the case of accidental death. God established six such cities.

It’s interesting to note how these cities of refuge compare to Jesus:

  • Both are within easy reach of the needy person.
  • Both are open to all, not just the Israelite.
  • Both became a place where the one in need would live.
  • Both are the only alternative for the one in need.
  • Both provide protection only within their boundaries.
  • Full freedom comes with the death of the High Priest.

There’s also a crucial distinction: The cities of refuge only helped the innocent; the guilty can come to Jesus and find refuge.

Numbers finishes by putting a finer point on inheritance for families without a male heir. This was discussed in an earlier chapter, and here God solves a problem—what happens when a woman marries outside her tribe and the inheritance is transferred to this other tribe? It’s easily settled by an amendment to the original law—women in this position would marry within their own tribe.

Thus, ends Numbers. Pastor Jon Courson speaking about Numbers said this, “ And so ends the Book of Numbers, the book that instructs us how to make our lives count, the book that deals with the importance of order and organization, discipline and direction, responsibility and accountability in the lives of those who, rather than wandering aimlessly, seek to claim the Promised Land of God as their own.”[1]

A little sad that it’s over, but one of the good things about Bible reading and study is that there’s always another book to explore. Next week, we begin Deuteronomy!

 

 

 

[1] Courson, Jon. Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume One: Genesis–Job. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

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