Numbers 33-36: The Lord’s Commands
March 14, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The Book of Numbers, or the wandering in the wilderness, is coming towards the end. It finishes on a note that captures the spirit of the book in some ways: “These are the commandments and the rules that the LORD commanded through Moses to the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho” (36:13).
At first, though, there is a recapitulation of all the “stages” which Israel had gone through in their long journey. Each is faithfully recorded giving weight to the historicity of the text and the events that the text points to. They are told they must drive out the inhabitants of the land to which they are promised (33:50-56), for otherwise their practices will influence them, and they in turn will become a stench in the nostrils of God. “And I will do to you as I thought to do to them” (33:56). The boundaries of the land are carefully allocated (34:1-15)—note, in faith long before it is a reality.
Such “vision,” such trust in God’s promises, is important for any group or individual to contemplate. Go around the walls, consider the cities, mark out the boundaries: in my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you (John 14:2). At his right hand are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16:11), there the home of righteousness. It was Richard Baxter who spent time every single day meditating on heaven. Think of the Promised Land: it will make it easier to journey there with such a glorious prospect confidently in view.
Cities of refuge are allocated (35:9-34), part of the cities of the Levites (35:1-8), so those who unintentionally kill another can have respite from the understandable desire for vengeance. These verses describe justice, and that justice can not only be done, but be seen to be done. Blood-guilt, the life of a human, is so precious, and blood spilt, when not appropriately met with justice, spoils the atmosphere, poisons the well, embitters the taste, and wrecks human relationships for generations, “defiles the land” (35:34).
Israel is to remember that they are God’s people, that “the Lord dwells in the midst of the people Israel” (35:34). And so they are to be holy, as he is holy. Another more personal rule of justice: ensuring that inheritance is kept within the “inheritance of the fathers” (Num. 36). If murder, of course, creates a desperate need for justice, people will also dispute over wills and inheritance. God through his means provides for practical justice, to prevent feuds breaking out, whether because of murder or because of property not passing down the family line.
The book of Numbers ends then with an emphasis upon the Lord’s commands. “These are the commandments and the rules that the LORD commanded” (36:13). Now fulfilled in Christ, we are therefore also driven to Jesus to find our righteousness in him, and because of that, taught by the Book of Numbers that we are to fear God and to keep his Word.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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