Numbers 22-36

Preparation of the Second Army

 

Introduction

1. Summary

• God in mercy raised up and prepared a second generation to march and possess the land

• God restored their numbers and confirmed His holy leader of His holy people

• God gave guidance to help them conquer the land

2. Structure

-The preparation of the second-generation army (Num.22:1-31:54)
-The future conquest of the second-generation army (Num.32:1-36:13)
 

I. Preparation of the Second Army (22:1-31:54)

A. General Analysis

-Army arrives at Moab (Num.22:1-25:18)
-The army counted and ordered (Num.26:1-27:11)
-The Tabernacle central and emphasized (Num.28:1-31:54)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. The Balaam Oracles (Num.22:1-24:25)

The narrative now moves to Moab, the last stopping off point for Israel before they enter the Promised Land. In these chapters, the first generation begin to recede into the background and the new generation to emerge.
Balak, the ruler of Moab was obviously worried about this Israelite nation encamped in his backyard, especially in view of their recent military successes. He decided to hire a famous Mesopotamian seer/magician to curse Israel. God frustrated these purposes and the rest of the unit relates the four blessings Balaam pronounced over the Israelites. In so doing, God was fulfilling the promises of the covenant, even while Israel lay passively spread out in the valley below.
It is interesting to note that an extra-biblical witness about Balaam was discovered at Tell Deir ’Alla, also known as the Valley of Succoth, located not far from the junction of the Jabbok where it joins the Jordan River. In the ruins of an Iron Age II temple at that site some inscribed plaster fragments made reference to “Balaam son of Beor” who is referred to as “seer of the gods,”

Baruch Levine comments: “This fact alone, quite apart from the intriguing character of the text as a whole, enhances the realism of Biblical poetry and historiography. An epic figure known only from the Hebrew Bible (and from post-biblical interpretive literature) was, in fact, renowned in the Jordan Valley during the pre-exilic biblical period.” This kind of evidence furnishes impressive proof that “unlikely” narratives from the Mosaic period may have had a wider support than the Hebrew record among the pagan contemporaries of the Hebrews themselves.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

The Balaam oracles confirm the faithfulness of God’s promises despite all opposition. He would keep his promises to the Fathers and His covenanted love for their seed. They would be a blessing to the nations, and those nations who threatened this purpose would be cursed.
Moses’ Message: Israel have been disobedient, and punished, yet are still enjoying a measure of divine patience, provision and protection
 

2. The Midianite Seduction (Num.25:1-18)

In the two previous temporary camps at Mount Sinai and Kadesh, the Israelites had jeopardized their covenant relationship with God through apostasy. Aaron’s golden calf at Mount Sinai and a series of rebellions at Kadesh threatened Israel’s existence. Unfortunately, Israelite behavior in the plains of Moab was no different. Yet again, a promise of great blessing for Israel is followed by dire apostasy, this time Canaanite Baal worship at Baal-Peor.
Having failed to destroy Israel by direct curse, their enemies seek to bring about God’s curse indirectly by involving Israel in immorality and apostasy in the hope that God would punish them. Their hopes were partially fulfilled. A plague is sent which devoured 24,000.

The apostasy at Numbers 25, which follows the Balaam oracles, and the spy story (chaps. 13-14) are mirror images. In both cases, the people stand on the brink of the Promised Land. Likewise, this apostasy at Baal-Peor (Num.25:1-18), which removes the remainder of the exodus generation, resembles the golden-calf narrative of Exodus 32. Both involve illicit worship, the slaughter of the guilty, and the choice of the Levitical line. Both describe the fall of Israel after having obtained the Lord’s promise, in the Sinai covenant and in Balaam’s blessing, of future greatness. Virtually none of the Israelites of the exodus period survives the testing in the wilderness. Of the adult males, Caleb and Joshua, who returned with a favorable report from the Promised Land (Num.14:6), are the exceptions.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 55.[/footnote]

God had done everything to prevent the curse falling on Israel. But, in the end, the nation drew the curse upon itself.

Even an ass can recognize an angel of God, and a pagan seer can do God’s will, but not Israel.[footnote]Ibid., 55.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: Learn lessons from the first generation’s failure as you prepare to enter the Land.
 

3. The census (ch Num.26-27)

a. Blessing and cursing
The previous pattern of blessing alternating with cursing is found here again.

God’s displeasure was evidenced in a plague that nearly brought the end of the nation (Num.25:9). but as in other passages where sin and punishment threaten to bring God’s people to an end, the next unit presents legal material for worship in the promised land and instructions for life in the new setting in Canaan. Numbers 26 records another census taken to provide the statistical information necessary to divide up the promised land among the various tribes. So, while Israel sin and religious apostasy seemed to imperil the covenant plan for the future, God patiently and lovingly continued to insist that they would enter the land. The rest of the book, chapters 27-36, recounts the final preparations for Israel before she leaves the plains of Moab and enters the promised land. This mixture of law and historical narrative is an implicit assurance that the covenant promises are soon to be fulfilled.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 135-137[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: God keeps His word of promise as well as of judgment.
b. Similarities and differences
A new census called for in Numbers 26 indicates that the forty years of wandering are over. It heralds a new beginning. The second census, following the plague of chapter 25 – that is, after the death of the first generation – lists a new generation. There are similarities and differences between the census of the first generation and the census of the second.

First Generation Second Generation
Count = 603,550
Centrality of tabernacle
Future presence
Count = 601,730 (equivalent armies)
Centrality of tabernacle
Future Inheritance Regulations
New leadership
Transjordanian Inheritance
[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Genesis to Joshua (RTS: Orlando).[/footnote]  
Moses’ concern with the second generation turned to the distribution of land in order to assure the original audience that, just as all of the tribes were represented in the new army, so all of them would receive their land inheritance. They were comforted by the parallels with the first army (same size of army and the centrality of the Tabernacle). They were also greatly encouraged by the new promises of future inheritance and leadership.
Moses’ Message: The second army is similar to the first, but has new promises to encourage obedience.
c. Purpose of the census
The similarity of the numbers has a definite purpose. It was to show that it was not insufficient numbers that kept the first generation out of Canaan.

It was not the size of their army that mattered, but only the size of their faith. Although no more numerous than their fathers, the younger generation was able to conquer the Canaanites because they were willing to trust God all the way and to obey His marching orders (in a way that their fathers failed to do at Kadesh-barnea).[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: Large faith is more important than large numbers in obeying God’s call to conquer the Land.
d. Census and Covenant
As seen above, the census lists are not just dry and irrelevant historical accounts but have a clear theological purpose, a purpose that is related to the covenant.

The census lists of Numbers 1 and 26 provide the major edifice on which the organization of the book stands. The census lists make a theological claim for continuity of the covenantal promises given to the patriarchs. They also make a claim for the inclusiveness of the covenant and its laws for all Israel. The expanded segments of the genealogies in Numbers 26 suggest a partial fulfillment of the promise of abundant descendants.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 51.[/footnote]

 

4. The New Leader (Num.27:12-23)

The new army needed a new leader. The old generation and the old leader were denied entry to the Promised Land because of disobedience. With the appointment of Joshua the new army was now fully constituted
During the entire forty-year period in the desert Joshua had been Moses’ general and top assistant, so it is not surprising that he was selected to be the man to lead Israel into the Promised Land. Over the years Joshua had been a reliable and capable aide, full of faith in the Lord and an experienced military leader. Anyone who attempted to follow Moses as leader would have a difficult job at best, but with the help of Eleazar the high priest and with the support of the people, Joshua was equal to the task. In response to the Lord’s command, Moses laid his hand on Joshua and gave him some of his authority (Num.27:18–20). While the whole assembly looked on, Moses had Joshua stand before Eleazar and commissioned him as the new leader (Num.27:22–23).
Moses’ Message: The new army has a new leader for a new era.
 

5. Centrality of Tabernacle

The Taberncale’s importance is underlined with three chapters covering daily, weekly, monthly and annual observances (Num.28-29). Instructions were also given regarding vows (Num.30:1-16) and the dividing of the spoils of Holy War (Num.31:1-54).
Moses’ Message: Just as the Tabernacle was to be central for the first army so it is to be for the second.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Balaam (Jude 11; Rev.2:14)

The nature and character of Balaam is further elucidated in the New Testament with a view to holding him up as a beacon to avoid.

Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet (2Pet.2:15-16).

 
2. Star which the Magi followed (Matthew 2)
Balaam came from that part of the world, the Magi came from that part of the world, and both had some knowledge of God and God’s purpose.

I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth (Num.24:17).

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him (Matt.2:2).

Some time in the future a powerful ruler was to rise from the Israelites and win a remarkable victory over their enemies. The rising star represents the appearance of a glorious ruler or king, and this is confirmed by saying, “A scepter shall rise out of Israel,” for the scepter is a symbol of dominion” (Gen. 49:10). By this Ruler, the Jews from the earliest times have understood the Messiah, either exclusively, or else principally, with a secondary reference to David. The fulfillment of this prophecy commenced with the subjugation of the Edomites by David, but it will not be completed till “the end of the days,” when all the enemies of God and His Church will be made the footstool of Christ.
 

II. Call to Conquest (32:1-36:13)

A. General Analysis

Inheritance (Num.32:1-42)

Travels (Num.33:1-49)

War (Num.33:50-56)

Inheritance (Num.34:1-36:13)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Inheritance (Num.32:1-42)

These verses conclude the practical arrangements for the conquest. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, wanted to settle with their cattle in already-conquered territory in the Transjordan area. Moses connected the desire to settle in Transjordan with the sin of the spies (Num.32:6-15). Moses warned Reuben and Gad that similar unbelief would result in similar consequences. They averted this by agreeing to help the tribes in their conquest, before returning. However, the fact that these tribes were willing to remain outside of the land, shows how little the Abrahamic covenant meant to many of the seed of Abraham.
Moses’ Message: Unless you fight for the Lord’s army you will inherit nothing.
 

2. Call to war (Num.33:50-56)

This last section of the book turns to the future challenges of the second generation. After establishing the hopeful note that the second generation did not shrink from conquest as the first generation had (Num.32:1-42), Moses summarized how Israel’s journey had brought the nation to the point of being called to enter Canaan (Num.33:1-56). Discussion ensued regarding the boundaries of the land and the authorities to distribute it (Num.34:1-29), cities of refuge (Num.35:1-34), and an additional matter concerning tribal inheritances (Num.36:1-13).
Moses’ message: Israel must obey God’s command to engage in holy war.
 

3. The daughters of Zelophehad (Num.27 & Num.36)

Chapters 27 and 36 both deal with the daughters of Zelophehad and the inheritance of property. The resolution of the issue in both cases strikes a positive note for the second half of the book, in which no Israelite dies. The final ten chapters of Numbers are motivated by a single theme: the immediate occupation of the Promised Land. Chapters 27-30 concern laws relating to its possession and retention. Chapters 28-29, repeat the sacrificial code because the real key to the successful conquest of Canaan and happy living within its borders was continual fellowship with God. The section also includes material relating to inheritance (Num.27:1-11) and succession in Israel’s leadership (Num.27:12-23). Numbers 31-32 paves the way for entry by recounting the defeat of the Midianite confederation and the settlement of the Transjordanian tribes (Reuben, Gad, and part of Manasseh).
Moses’ Message: No one will lose their inheritance if they are faithful to God and His people.
 

4. Cities of Refuge (Num.35).

Cities of refuge were provided for those who had accidentally killed someone. In tribal societies, blood relatives were required to execute vengeance on the killer. In organized cities, penalties were usually carried out by an official legal body operating according to a stated legal code. Israel was halfway between a nomadic existence and an organized city. This intermediate stage was recognized by this institution of cities of refuge, which would prevent an innocent person being executed by a relation of the victim before a trial by an assembly. At the death of the high priest there was a general amnesty offered.
 

5. Positive and hopeful

Although the first part of the book had an emphasis on the judgment of the first generation, the second part is basically positive and hopeful.

After all the deaths of the first generation, not one death of a member of the second generation is recorded. Military engagements are successful (Numbers 28), potential crises are resolved (Numbers 32), and laws which look forward to the future life in the land of Canaan are promulgated (Numbers 34)…Finally, specifications were given as to the geographical distribution of the lands of Canaan, with an identification of cities of refuge, and a recognition of the stability of inheritances within the respective tribes (chaps. 34-36).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 89.[/footnote]

The threat remains, but the promise of the future is the dominant note which is sounded at the end of the book. It is on this note of expectant hope that the book ends.
Moses’ Message: The future is filled with hope if we learn from the past and obey God’s commands.
 

6. Looking to Deuteronomy

The lessons learned by all of the tribes in the book of Numbers were difficult ones to be sure. Their well-organized march to Canaan had turned into forty years of aimless wandering marked by persistent rebellion. But now the new generation waited at the edge of the Promised Land, buoyed by the great victories over Sihon and Og and assured by God’s blessing. They were filled with hope and courage as a new leader, Joshua, was ready to replace Moses. Before his death, however, Moses presented a series of final exhortations to the nation, urging the tribes to follow the Lord wholeheartedly as they entered the land flowing with milk and honey. We find these in the book of Deuteronomy.

The book ends with Israel in the plains of Moab some forty years after Sinai, poised to enter the Promised Land after repeated national failures. Numbers is thus the narrative of a spiritual pilgrimage. Israel’s continuance as a people, with the possibility of inheriting the promise of land, is due entirely to the superintendence of her affairs by God, who never ceases to address her infidelity. The wanderings through the wilderness are calculated to teach Israel the essence of obedience. These lessons are designed to offer Israel, once again, the possibility of being the true people of God.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 55-56.[/footnote]

C. New Testament Analysis

1. God stays involved

Numbers shows how God stays involved with His people despite their repeated failures. The New Testament continues this theme. Indeed, the New Testament is its climax. The Old Testament is simply a prelude to what happens on the cross. God’s people continued to turn against him, but still He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, whom they treated brutally (Mark 12:1-12). Nonetheless, God did not abandon His people but provided hope for them in the salvation offered by Jesus Christ.
 

2. New Testament Numbers

After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands (Rev.7:9)

 

3. Cities of Refuge

The cities of refuge (Num.35:9-34) remind Christians that the Savior is our hiding place. Six cities were scattered throughout Israel — three on the west side of the River Jordan and three on its east side. They were to be easily accessible so that the one who had committed manslaughter could take sanctuary from the avenger of blood. In the same way the Savior is always within reach. In him we hide. To him we have ‘fled for refuge’ (Heb. 6:18).
 

III. The Message

Original Message: Despite past failures Israel is called to be a holy army conducting holy war according to God’s commands
Present Message: Despite past failures, the church is called to be God’s holy army conducting holy war according to God’s commands.