Two months before Israel crossed the Jordan to enter the promised land (Josh 4:19) and one month before his death (Deut 34:8) Moses spoke several times to Israel renewing the covenant they had with the Lord, explaining to them the law of their God.
Moses began by reviewing Israel’s history from Horeb (Mt. Sinai). They were to leave Horeb for the land God promised them as descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
To enable timely consideration of various issues a series of administrative judges were appointed. Such were to be men who not only had knowledge and understanding but the maturity and ability to correctly and impartially apply God’s law to various circumstances (“wisdom”).
Moses then detailed Israel’s failure at Kadesh Barnea. Instead of believing the Lord they believed the assessment of 10 men who did not believe the Lord. They did not believe God would protect them and that they would die in the attempt. Israel said their problem was insurmountable odds; God said their problem was unbelief. Consequently God treated them according to their expectation: All of that generation, except Caleb and Joshua, would die, not by the Canaanites in the promised land, but in the wilderness because of their unbelief.
- Accurately explaining God’s Word requires understanding its historical background and circumstances.
- Israel needed to know their history and learn from it, specifically what happens when God is or is not believed and trusted.
- Correctly evaluating human behavior requires godly judgment.
- Unbelief judges God’s promises by human assessment of present and possible circumstances.
Some thoughts for meditation following our daily devotional Scripture reading that is provided each week.
In the sovereignty of God, Zelophehad, of the tribe of Manasseh, had no sons, only daughters. As land would pass from father to son, this posed a problem which was solved in chapter 27 (his daughters would receive the inheritance). There were still some remaining unknowns amid God’s declared will (vv. 2, 4). If Zelophehad’s daughters married men from other tribes, then by the inheritance laws the land they inherited would go to the other tribe to which they were joined by marriage.
Thus, leaders from Manasseh brought this issue to Moses and Israel’s leaders for direction. Moses agreed with their assessment of the situation and relayed God’s will for these women: They must marry men from their own tribe so the inherited land remained within their tribe. These women could “marry whom they thought best,” but within the boundaries of their own tribe. This freedom to choose a husband had to be controlled by God’s revealed will.
Zelophehad’s daughters complied, choosing husbands from within their tribe, and the land they inherited from their father remained within their family.
There seems to have been some growth among Israel from the first generation–instead of murmuring and rebelling against the Lord and his appointed leaders, they brought the issues forward and submitted to their direction (27:1-2; 32:12; 36:1).
- God’s wisdom must be sought to know how to apply his commands to life. There can and will be questions about how to apply God’s commands, even seeming conflict. Such are never solved by man’s wisdom, only and always by the Lord’s.
- God provides spiritual leadership to help learn and know how to live according to God’s will. When there are difficulties, bring them to God ordained leadership, rather than act as you think best. Furthermore, God ordained leadership must counsel and act according to God’s word.
- Personal choices must be governed by God’s revealed will. Zelophehad’s daughters had the ability/freedom to marry husbands they believed were best for them, as long as such were from the tribe of Manasseh. God’s revealed will must direct and control the decisions we make, so that God’s desired ends are accomplished.
Some thoughts for meditation following our daily devotional Scripture reading that is provided each week.
Instead of each Israelite’s firstborn being devoted to God, the Lord chose the tribe of Levi (3:11-13). Consequently they did not receive any land but would be scattered throughout Israel, enabling their various teaching and other responsibilities in the theocratic kingdom. Accordingly each tribe was to give four cities for Levites to dwell in (for a total of 48 cities) as well as common land for their various animals. Israel was responsible for including and caring for the Levites (cf. Deut 12:12, 18-19) because of their essential ministry.
Israel was also to set aside six cities of refuge, three on each side of the Jordan River. Killers–whose guilt or innocence had yet to be determined–could go to such cities for protection from avengers until a proper trial could be held by the congregation. If the killer left the city of refuge he could be executed by the victim’s nearest relative who was responsible for doing so (v. 19). The killer needed to stay there until the high priest died, after which he was free to go back to his home.
At his trial there needed to be at least two witnesses to render a death sentence. One witness was insufficient. Guilt or innocence was determined by whether or not the death was intentional or accidental. If the accused was found guilty he must be put to death no matter who he was or where he was from.
Moreover, no amount of money should be accepted to buy the guilty murderer’s freedom. The only acceptable payment for murder was the death of the murderer (cf. Gen 9:6). Allowing murderers to escape justice would pollute, desecrate, and defile the land where the Lord himself dwelt. Indeed, he dwelt “among and in the midst of the children of Israel.”
- God’s ministers must be cared and provided for. Such is in everyone’s best interests. The laborer is worthy of his hire.
- God’s laws express his attribute of righteousness. Ignoring them offends his very nature and character.
- True justice is rooted in and expressive of God’s righteousness. It is carried out on the basis of established fact. It is not to be thwarted.
Some thoughts for meditation following our daily devotional Scripture reading that is provided each week.
The Lord had just commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanites, “for I have given you the land to possess” (33:53). He then briefly noted they would divide the land by lot as an inheritance among their families (33:54).
Thus here the Lord prescribed in detail the borders of Israel’s inheritance before they ever set foot on the land or drew their swords. The limits of the land on all four geographic sides are specifically noted by existing cities as well as various seas and rivers.
Hundreds of years beforehand God called Abram to leave his people and homeland. God promised Abram he would make his descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. God also promised him all the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession–all that he saw there and walked upon: “I give to you and your descendants forever” (Gen 12:17; 13:14-17). This same promise was repeated to Isaac (Gen 26:3), Jacob (28:13; 35:12; 48:4), and then to Moses and Israel (Exod 3:8; 6:6-8). The Lord guaranteed this promise by committing himself to it: “I am the Lord,” (Exod 6:8). And here Israel stands on the east side of the Jordan, a nation, ready to receive what God promised them (“inheritance”).
The Lord appointed Israel’s leaders, Eliezar the priest and Joshua, as those who would divide the land for the 9½ tribes who had not yet received their inheritance.
- God’s promises are always precisely fulfilled exactly as he said. Their truthfulness are not established by how quickly they are fulfilled but by the timeless God who made them. We must believe everything God has promised exactly as he has promised them. Anything less is doubt and denial. This encourages believers today that he will precisely fulfill every yet unfulfilled promise.
- God promised Canaan to Abraham’s descendants forever. While Israel would fail to conquer the Canaanites because of their unbelief and disobedience, that would not thwart God’s promises and plan. Ezekiel’s prophecies concerning Israel’s future detailed the same territorial borders as given in Numbers 34 (Ezek 47:13-23). “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable,” (Rom 11:29).
- Christians should not spiritualize the Abrahamic land promises to make them applicable today. Rather, Christians should be encouraged that God will precisely fulfill every promise and so believe what he says.
God instructed Moses to record the various places Israel traveled from Egypt to the edge of the Jordan. Moses provides one date, the day they left Egypt, and with only three exceptions wrote simply the locations of their travel.
The first exception was Israel’s departure from Egypt. Israel did not sneak away, they left openly and orderly as a conquering army while the Egyptians were burying their first born whom the Lord killed. The Egyptian plagues not only enabled Israel’s departure from Egypt, but through them the Lord judged Egypt’s gods, showing them to be false and impotent.
The second incident addressed in Israel’s itinerary was Israel’s passage through the Red Sea which is simply noted: “They passed through the midst of the sea.”
The third noted event was Israel’s lack of water at Rephidim about a month after leaving Egypt. This also is simply noted: “There was no water for the people to drink.”
This is a review sketch of Israel’s starting and stopping points from Egypt to the Jordan. Exodus-Numbers fills in the historical details, and Deuteronomy also provides such a review but also delves into the why of their experiences (cf. Deut 8:3ff).
Following this travel itinerary the Lord through Moses gave Israel specific instructions to utterly destroy everything related to Canaanite people and religion. No Canaanites were to be allowed to remain; Deuteronomy specifies they were to be completely annihilated. God gives three reasons for this systematic destruction of every Canaanite and every aspect of Canaanite culture:
- The land was not theirs but the Lord’s, v. 53.
- Any remaining Canaanites Israel allowed to remain would continue to be a pain and problem to Israel, v. 55.
- As Israel cohabited with Canaanites they allowed to live, Israel would take on Canaanite depravity and idolatry, so that God would judge Israel just as he did the Canaanites, v. 56.
- Reviewing history should focus on God’s provision, direction, and protection to encourage faithfulness to him. God’s faithfulness compels faithfulness.
- There is only one God, and he is the Lord God of Israel, the God of the Christian Scriptures. All others are created by men and demonically empowered and directed. The Lord will be vindicated. “I am the Lord, that is my name, and my glory I will not give to another, nor my praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8).
- Human hearts, lives, and worship must be directed toward the Lord, and wholly characterized and controlled by his character and commands. He destroys what is not and is glorified only by what is.
- There can be no peaceful fraternity between the godless and the godly. 2 Cor 6:14-7:1; Eph 5:3-7; 1 John 5:21
- Compromise always disobeys and dishonors the Lord, corrupts true religion, and troubles the saints.
Having conquered Sihon and Og on the east side of the Jordan, the tribes of Reuben and Gad declared their desire to settle there as it was good for their livestock. They gathered Israel’s leadership and informed them of their desires and intent.
Moses immediately recoiled at the idea. He told them that by not going over the Jordan with their brethren to help conquer Canaan, Israel’s hearts would be discouraged, just like at Kadesh Barnea 40 years earlier. Because that generation did not wholly follow the Lord, his anger was aroused and they perished. This current situation seemed to be a sad repetition with the same sad result.
Happily, Gad and Reuben said that was not their intent. They would prepare places for their children and livestock and then cross the Jordan and fight alongside their brethren until each received their inheritance, doing exactly as Moses commanded.
Moses agreed with this, but since he would die before Israel crossed the Jordan he informed Joshua, Eliezer, and Israel’s elders of this, adding that if Reuben and Gad did not cross over they would instead be settled in Canaan. Moses warned Reuben and Gad that if they did not do as they said, “be sure your sin will find you out” (v. 23).
Reuben and Gad then moved in to the territories formerly belonging to Sihon and Og, fortifying and building as needed. Half the tribe of Manasseh joined them, receiving territory north of Reuben and Gad. This area had not yet been conquered, but the Amorites there were swiftly defeated.
- The difference between judgment and blessing is faith and obedience. At Kadesh-Barnea the people rebelled and sought to kill Moses, Joshua, and Caleb (14:10) and all those rebels died. Here Reuben and Gad willingly submitted and committed themselves to obey (32:25).
- Sound wisdom and direction for the present and future comes from God’s revealed will. People and circumstances will be different, but the cause of the Lord and how he says it should be accomplished do not.
- Wisdom learns from the past for faithful obedience in the present.
- God’s people must be unified to do God’s work in God’s way. When there is division because of disobedience and doubt there will be discouragement and defeat.
- It is entirely right to warn of the dangers of deception and the Lord’s sure judgment.
A basic outline of the message can be downloaded here.
Information about giving offerings is here.
Picking up from 25:17-18, the Lord instructed Moses to destroy the Midianites for their efforts to destroy Israel. Moses did not command the entire army of 601,730 Israelite men of war for the task but only 12,000; 1,000 from each tribe. Phineas the priest led them–appropriate given his role in destroying the Midian scheme against them (25:6-15). The result was a complete, dominating victory over Midian’s five kings, killing every man among them, including Balaam, who had continued with them.
The spoils of war were presented to Moses, Eliezar, and all Israel. Moses reproved the officers for letting all the women live, for through their sensual seduction to immorality they were the means of Israel’s trouble at Peor. Moses thus commanded their deaths as well, fulfilling God’s vengeance against Midian.
Instructions were given for purifying of the army and the plunder. The plunder was divided among the men of war and Israel, with tribute offerings given to the Lord.
Last, the army officers gave a special tribute offering to the Lord to praise and thank him, for not one Israelite warrior died.
- The Lord punishes those who trouble his people.
- God always fulfills his promises. He promised Israel none would stand against them in battle, and that a small handful of Israelites would put an army to flight (Lev 26:8).
- God versus the world is never a fair fight. Victory belongs to the Lord.
In the course of life in the OT theocracy Israelites would make vows committing themselves, their home, animals, or property to the Lord. Sometimes such vows would involve sacrifices, fasting (cf. v. 13), or consecration of oneself for a time as a Nazirite (ch. 6).
Such vows were to the Lord and thus sacred (Lev 22:18-23, 31-33), whether made with careful forethought or rash impetuousness (Deut 23:21-23; Prov 20:25; Eccl 5:4). The Lord took one’s word as his bond and personal commitment. Truthfulness mattered, for they were not to lie (Exod 20:16), nor were they to glibly use the Lord’s name in a casual, apathetic manner in making vows (Exod 20:7).
Such vows would obviously affect and influence the home and household. God’s created order for the home established the husband as the head of the wife and fathers having authority over their young, unmarried children (vv. 3, 9, 16). When a woman “in her youth” (vv. 3, 16) or as a wife made any vow to the Lord, her father or husband had the authority to annul it because of the effect it would have on the household. He must do so “on the day he hears” such vows because vows were to be promptly carried out (Deut 23:21-23; Eccl 5:4). If, however, he said nothing, the vow would stand; his silence gave his consent.
One example of a wife making such a vow is Hannah (1 Sam 1:11).
- Truth matters. One should view every word spoken with utmost seriousness, not just sincere promises or the signing of formal documents (Matt 5:33-37). God takes every word seriously now and will judge such at the final judgment (Matt 12:36-37).
- Fathers and husbands are responsible for what happens in their homes. They must be involved in their families’ lives with loving interest and concern. Though largely rejected in today’s culture, fathers and husbands are still responsible to God for their wives and families. That has not changed, nor has their authority, which is rooted in God’s created order (Eph 5:23; 1 Tim 2:13).
- Similarly, Silence gives consent. This is a principle applicable to every strata of life: domestic, civil, and religious. Such silence of consent can be of great joyous and truly righteous circumstances such as Hannah’s vow to the Lord (1 Sam 1:11). The silence of consent can also be a grievous sin; Adam should have overruled Eve, but by his silence (Gen 3:6, “her husband with her”) he confirmed and consented to her decision, plunging their home and descendants into ruin.
- Women are not doormats. Far from it; the fact that they could make binding vows and that there was an age limitation of single women demonstrates this.
The Lord instituted three annual feasts for the theocratic nation, which every male was required to attend (Exod 23:14-17). The first two, the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) and the Feast of Harvest (Weeks) were addressed in Numbers 28:16-31, specifically focusing on the offerings. Numbers 29 focuses on events preceding and including the third feast, the feast of Tabernacles (Booths, Lev 23:33-44; Deut 16:13-17).
15 days before the week-long Feast of Tabernacles, on the first day of the 7th month trumpets were sounded, no work was done, and offerings were given, including those customary to the beginning of every month (cf. 28:11-13).
On the 10th day of that same month was the Day of Atonement, when the high priest would make his once a year entrance into the holy of holies and make atonement for Israel’s sins. That same day every Israelite, wherever they lived, would do no work but would humble themselves and seek the Lord, which probably included fasting (Isa 58:3, 5; Zech 2:5).
Finally, every Israelite man would then come to wherever the Tabernacle was for the week-long Feast of Tabernacles. They would live in booths to remember the time of sojourning after the Lord delivered them from Egypt (Lev 23:42-43). This feast was characterized by great rejoicing (Lev 23:40; Deut 16:14, 16) and worship through offerings as detailed here in Numbers 29:12-38.
- God intended that life in the Old Testament theocracy be worshipful and joyful. Too often it is viewed as dull ritual, and while that did occur such was the fault of sinful men, not the Lord’s righteous law. Faith and genuine sorrow for sin was required for the worship to be genuine (cf. Isa 1:12-15; 58:1-5).
- Again, in God’s nation he decreed how his people should live before and worship him. They were to order their lives by the laws and ordinances of the God who delivered, established, and dwelt among them.
- While God’s Law was perfect and good it did not enable the necessary faith and love for true obedience (Rom 7:7-8:7).
- Christians should neither subject themselves to these ordinances nor let others evaluate them spiritually by such (Col 2:16-23; Rom 7:4-6). The Law was for Israel, the OT theocratic nation, and was indivisible. The church is not Israel. This does not mean Christians are without law (“antinomian”). Quite the contrary, as participants in the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant they have the Law of Christ written on their hearts, which is far more comprehensive (Rom 6:14-15; 7:4; 8:2-4; 10:4; Gal 2:19; 3:1-4, 24; 5:18; 6:2; Heb 7:12, 18-19; 8:7-10, 13; 10:16).
As a new generation of Israelites anticipated entering the promised Land, the Lord through Moses reviewed the various offerings they were to bring in worship. God dwelt among them; he was the one who brought them up out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into Canaan. By these offerings they would worship the Lord and know him (Exod 29:45-46).
Israel’s worship of the Lord through these sacrifices was to be characterized by faithful obedience. When their worship was evidenced by such faithful love, the Lord would be honored and pleased with their worship (“a sweet aroma”). Offerings for each day and Sabbath, at the beginning of the month, and during the three annual feasts were detailed.
It should be noted that these sacrificial offerings were not made by every Israelite, and not even every Levite. They were made only by the Aaronic priests, and only within the tabernacle. And yet Israelites’ tithes supported the Levites and the priests in their work, thereby participating in their priestly ministry.
During the three annual feasts at the least every male Israelite would be present, and none would do any “customary work.”
All this would be challenged in Canaan. Different gods were worshipped on every high place through pagan rituals of gross immorality. Israel’s faithful obedience to their God’s commands would glorify him and be the means of guarding their souls.
- “Regular” worship aims at pleasing the Lord, not gratifying the worshiper. The aim and purpose is pleasing the Lord. The Lord is pleased, not by merely doing the right things, but by believers’ right response to God’s truth (John 4:24).
- God’s truths must be repeatedly taught. Even though this was taught 40 years beforehand, the presence of a new generation required teaching it again. New generations do not know the ways of the Lord. People forget as life goes on. The presence of error easily contaminates.
- God is worthy of devoted worship. The believer responds to God’s salvation with glad obedience from a heart of love. He does not view the things of the Lord as a drudgery but as a joy.
- Believers in this dispensation must worship the Lord with faithful obedience according to his revealed truth. Christians’ sacrificial offerings in this day and age include their lives (Rom 12:1-2), financial gifts (2 Cor 8-9), devotion to good works (Heb 13:16), and worship with the church (Hev 13:15).