Numbers (days 118-153)

Day 118: Numbers 1

            Welcome to the exciting book of Numbers!

            In the first chapter the tribes are numbered by census. That is, all the men available for battle (age 20-60) are counted. Why count only those who are able to bear arms? God is preparing them to conquer the land promised to the descendants of Abraham. The census provides essential information for organizing battle divisions.

            1-16: Moses is told to choose a leader from each tribe. The tribes are not listed in the order of birth of the sons of Jacob. Leah’s and Rachel’s descendants are listed first and then the four tribes descended from the four sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. There seems to be a new pecking order emerging. Levi is not included in the twelve, that tribe having been claimed by God for service in the tabernacle and thus unavailable to bear arms. To keep the number at 12, the tribe of Joseph is divided in two between Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons.

20-47: Now a count of each of the twelve tribes is given, but in a slightly different order again, this time corresponding to the order of march that will be described in the next chapter.

            Here’s the count:

            Reuben          46,500

            Simeon          59,300

            Gad                45,650

            Judah             74,600 (the largest tribe)

            Issachar         54,400

            Zebulun         57,400

            Ephraim        40,500

            Manasseh     32,200

            Benjamin      35,400

            Dan                62,700

            Asher             41,500

            Naphtali        58,400

            Total:             603,550

            All the numbers end in zero, which makes them suspect as far as strict accuracy is concerned.

            48-54: The duties of the Levites are explained in some detail. They are responsible for setting up the tabernacle, taking it down and transporting it to each successive camp site. They do serve a military function as well: although the Levites will not be sent out in battle with the other tribes, they are responsible for guarding the tabernacle.

Day 119: Numbers 2

            1-2: The 10 tribes plus 2 half-tribes are divided into four groups of three to position them around the tabernacle and an “order of march” is described for when they are on the move. The names of the leaders of each tribe given here are the same as the leaders who participated in the census-taking in the last chapter, and the numbers given here correspond to the census results.

            3-9: Judah, Issachar and Zebulun camp on the east side, and are the first to break camp. These three tribes together are now referred to as the “camp of Judah.”

            10-16: The “camp of Reuben” is made up of the tribes of Reuben, Simeon and Gad, and they are to camp to the south of the tabernacle.

            17: The tabernacle, here called the “tent of meeting,” is in the center of the total encampment of all the tribes. The encampment of the Levites is in the middle, to care for the tabernacle, protected in every direction by the other tribes.

            18-24: The “camp of Ephraim”, consisting of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin are on the west. (These are the descendants of the sons of Jacob by his wife Rachel — Joseph and Benjamin.)

            25-31: The “camp of Dan,” including the tribes of Dan, Asher and Naphtali, are assigned the northern flank.

            32-34: The order of march is established.

Day 120: Numbers 3

            1-4: The sons of Aaron will become the next generation of priests, and their descendants will form the priesthood of Israel in the years to come. Eleazar and Ithamar are the two surviving sons, Nadab and Abihu having been burned to death in the tragedy described in Leviticus 10.

5-10: The tribe of Levi (Moses’ and Aaron’s tribe) except for Aaron and his descendants are claimed by God for holy service, but not for the priesthood. The priesthood belongs only to Aaron and his clan.

11-13: The Levites are given to God as substitutes for the firstborn of all Israel.

14-20: They are divided into three groups, representing the three sons of Levi (son of Jacob and Leah): Gershom, Kohath, and Merari. Each division will be given specific duties. The Levites are enrolled in a census, but this time the census is for all males from one month old and up. No reason is given for the rather extreme age range; perhaps you can think of something.

21-26: Gershom, consisting of the two clans of Libni and Shimei, totals 7500. They are to camp on the west side of the tabernacle and take care of the tabernacle structure.           

27-32:  Kohath, consisting of the clans of Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel, numbers 8600. They are to camp on the south side of the tabernacle, and their duties are to care for all the sacred furnishings. Eleazar son of Aaron is put over them, since the furnishings are used by the priests for their rituals.

33-37: Merari, the clans of Mahli and Mushi, numbers 6200. They are to camp on the north side of the tabernacle. Their duties are to care for the structural parts of the tabernacle — poles and bars and hardware.

34-39: This leaves the east side of the tabernacle to the priests — Moses and Aaron and his sons — who are responsible for all the religious rituals. So sacred are their duties that no one else may dare participate on pain of death. The total of all the Levites is given as 22,000, even though the sum of the three counts (7500, 8600 and 6200) comes to 22,300.

40-43: God tells Moses that these 22,000 will be dedicated to God’s service in place of the first-born of the other tribes. There is thus a subsequent count of the first-born of the other tribes: there are 22273 of them. (This means, by the way, that the average family had 27 male children!)

44-51: Since there are 273 more first-born than there are Levites, an accounting has to be made, and it is determined that 5 shekels each is the price to be given to the priests for those 273 not replaced by the Levites. (Perhaps you noticed that this value is considerably less than the value of 30 shekels cited for a woman between 20 and 60 back in Leviticus 27:4.) We are not told how Moses decides which 273 of the 22,273 firstborn have to pay the 5 shekels.

Day 121: Numbers 4

            1-4: God speaks to both Moses and Aaron now (at verses 1 and 21). The instructions in this chapter have specifically to do with the tabernacle servants.

A separate census is ordered of the Kohath division of Levites between the ages of 30 and 50. This is the age at which the more important priestly duties are undertaken. Of course, Gershon and Merari are also numbered separately.

            5-15: Meticulous instructions are given for moving the tabernacle. Only the priests, the sons (and future descendants) of Aaron, may touch the most holy things within the most holy place — the ark, the lamp stand, the incense altar, etc. — and are to carefully cover each item in a specific way. Once everything is covered the Kohathites are the ones among the Levites who will carry it to the next camp.

            16: Eleazar is Aaron’s son who is appointed to be in charge of the operation.

            17-20: The Kohathites are to be extremely careful not to look upon or directly touch any of the most holy things or they will die. It is not that they will be punished by execution, but that the act of getting too close to God is fraught with danger unless one is consecrated (ordained) to do so.

            The specific tasks of the Gershonites are set forth. Basically they are responsible for the curtains and other things that make up the roof and walls of the tabernacle.

29-33: The Merarites are assigned the structural elements of the tabernacle — clasps and hooks and poles and such.

34-37: Kohath has 2750 men 30 to 50 years old.

38-41: Gershon has 2630.

            42-45: Merari has 3200.

            46-49: Altogether there are 8580 Levites available for service in the tabernacle in the wilderness. (This time the numbers add up correctly.)

Day 122: Numbers 5:

            1-4: “Unclean” persons are to be quarantined outside the camp to prevent contamination of others.     

            5-11: Crimes against one’s neighbor are to be confessed and restitution is to be made. It is important to note that when you do wrong to someone else you are “breaking faith with the LORD.” If the person whom you have wronged has died or is otherwise unavailable the restitution is made to next of kin. If the next of kin is not available restitution is to be made to the priest.

            12-31: This section unwinds an elaborate way of testing a wife who is suspected of adultery. While this contains elements that seem barbaric to us, the lengthy and involved process probably does more to protect the well-being of the wife than has been the case heretofore. I don’t know how the “test” could work except as a psychological intimidation of the woman. It would seem that a person with no conscience could beat the test, while someone of a nervous nature could never pass it no matter how innocent — not too unlike early models our modern day electronic lie detectors. Yet, it is remarkable that the jealous husband’s word is not simply taken at face value. The test is as much a test of him as it is of her.

            Although the end of the chapter implies that the husband gets off scot free if he commits adultery, this is not the case for we learned in Leviticus that adultery carries the death penalty for both parties (Leviticus 20:10).

Day 123: Numbers 6

            1-21: Most of chapter 6 has to do with a particular kind of vow called the “nazarite” vow. It is from a Hebrew word (nazar) which means to be separate or consecrated. By taking such a vow an ordinary Israelite can become holy like the priests — set apart for God’s service. It is doubtful that they can assume any duties in the tabernacle, however. I suspect such vows are similar in purpose to our fasting vows during Lent, but with much stricter provisions.

            Three things are required of the person who takes such a vow: 1) they cannot consume wine or any other product from the grape; 2) they cannot cut their hair; and 3) they cannot touch a corpse, even of a family member. To do any of these things nullifies their vow and requires them to make an offering, shave their head, and start over again.

            At the end of the period of time vowed (it is not clear who sets the length of time — a priest or the individual making the vow), certain sacrifices are required and the head is shaved, and then the person is returned to normal life inside the camp.

            There are some examples also in the OT of people who were permanent nazarites — Samson, for example, and Samuel. Paul in the New Testament seems to have made a similar vow in Acts 21.

            22-27: It is not readily apparent why this instruction is placed at this particular point in the narrative, unless the “Aaronic blessing,” as it has come to be called, is originally intended as part of the ritual that completes the nazarite vow. In other words, the text may intend that Aaron should use this specific blessing for those Israelites who have completed a vow and not as a general blessing as we use it today. Such a formal blessing would certainly be a fitting way to acknowledge the personal discipline of one who has completed the requirements of the nazarite vow, especially if the length of time the person has observed the restrictions has been set by a priest.

Day 124: Numbers 7

            1-9: The leaders of the 12 tribes (10 tribes plus the two half-tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim) donate 6 wagon teams, each consisting of a covered wagon (probably not a Conestoga) and two oxen to pull it, to the service of the tabernacle. This seems to be a spontaneous act on their part, not one ordered by Moses. The wagons and oxen are divided between the Gershom and Merari divisions. The Kohath division, being responsible for the most holy things which must be carried on the shoulders, didn’t get any oxen or carts. The Kohathites would sing a little song as they trudged along with their heavy burdens, a popular little ditty called, “Oh, to be a Gershonite.” (This is a joke.)

10-11: When the time comes for the dedication of the altar, the leaders of the tribes are to each present an offering each day.

Big tip: You don’t have to read this whole chapter: just read verses 1-18, and then read 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 54, 60, 66, 72, 78, and finally 84-89. The 5 verses you skip each time are exactly the same as verses 13-17.

            12-88: the leaders make offerings for the dedication of the tabernacle and the cleansing of the tribes. They are:

Nahshon of Judah

Nethanel of Issachar

Eliab of Zebulun

Elizur of Reuben

Shelumiel of Simeon

Eliasaph of Gad

Elishamah of Ephraim

Gamaliel of Manasseh

Abidan of Benjamin

Ahiezer of Dan

Pagiel of Asher

Ahira of Naphtali

            These are the same leaders appointed in chapter 1 to conduct the census. But note that the order here is the same as that given in chapter 3: Judah seems to have assumed a leadership status among the 12 tribes. Each of them brings:

            1 silver plate weighing 130 shekels (a shekel is roughly ½ ounce)

            2 silver basin weighing 70 shekels – both full of choice flour mixed with oil for a grain offering

            3 golden dishes weighing ten shekels full of incense

            4 young bulls, 1 ram, and 1 male lamb a year old for a burnt offering

            1 male goat for a sin offering

            And for the sacrifice of well being; 2 oxen, 5 rams, 5 male goats, and 5 male lambs a year old.

The totals are given in verses 84-88. Each tribe brings the same gifts, regardless of the size of the tribe.

             Verse 89: this very curious verse tells us that Moses would go into the “tent of meeting,” presumably the tabernacle, where he would hear the “Voice” speaking to him from between the two golden cherubim on the ark of the covenant. This verse has been given all sorts of bizarre interpretations, including the wild suggestion that Moses was paranoid schizophrenic, and the even wilder one that the ark was a communications device placed by alien beings from another world! But what is recorded here is simply what was already said in Exodus 25:21-22: God tells Moses that he will speak with him from between the cherubim above the ark. Numbers 7:89 simply assumes that happens.

Day 125: Numbers 8

            1-4: Moses commands Aaron to set the menorah in the most holy place (behind the curtain in front of the ark of the covenant) to provide light for the priests to do their work each day of replacing the bread of the presence, replenishing the lamps with oil, burning incense and so forth.

            5-22: The Levites are set apart and purified for service in the tabernacle. First they are shaved and bathed. Then all the Israelites lay their hands on the Levites to present them as an offering, and then the Levites offer bulls for sin and burnt offerings. This is not the same as the ordination and consecration of priests done earlier. Levites can carry the tabernacle, set it up and take it down and do the work of maintaining it, but Levites cannot handle the sacred objects except to move them to a new camp and then only when they have been properly wrapped by the priests, nor can they officiate at the altar nor actually enter the sanctuary for service.

            23-26: The age limits for the Levites is set at ages 25-50. This is different from the accounting done earlier when the census counted those aged 30-50 but no reason is given for the difference.

Day 127: Numbers 10

            1-10 A system of summoning is put in place. Two silver trumpets are fabricated to use in calling the people to the tabernacle, much like church bells in 19th century American villages. The trumpets are used for summoning all the people or just the leaders; they are used to blow “alarms” to alert the people that camp is being broken; they are used to summon troops to battle; and they are used to signal the beginning of festivals. The idea of the trumpet blast to signal the end of the world likely comes from these verses.

            11-36 After having camped for nine months at Mt. Sinai they set out across the wilderness. They arrive there in Exodus 19:1. The nine months at Mt. Sinai take up nearly 59 chapters of the Bible — about one chapter for every 5 days. Aren’t you glad they didn’t stay there 5 years! Their movement is reported in some detail:

  1. The cloud lifts from over the tabernacle (vs. 11). This is on the 20th of Nisan — the “unclean” folks permitted to celebrate the Passover a month later than usual finish the seven day observance exactly on this day.
  2. They set out in stages — first the tribes that are camped on the east, then the Gershon and Merari divisions of the Levites carrying the tabernacle; then the tribes on the south; then the Kohathites carrying the most holy things (they are at the center of the entourage, the place which affords the most protection); then the tribes on the north, then the tribes on the west.
  3. Moses makes a contract with Hobab, his brother-in-law, to journey with them (verses 25-32). Hobab is familiar with the territory and will provide invaluable guidance. But wait, wasn’t the cloud and the fire to do that? It would seem that God helps those who help themselves.
  4. They journey for three days (sound familiar?) and camp in the wilderness of Paran a bit north and east of Mt. Sinai.
  5. The chapter ends with the prayers Moses is to utter when they start out, inviting God to go before them, and when they camp again, inviting God to return to the tabernacle.

They are finally on the move. The next 39 years will take 60 chapters to record; about one chapter for every 237 days. Clearly their experiences at Mt. Sinai comprise the formative stage of Israel’s development as a faith community.

Day 128: Numbers 11

            Numbers 11 begins a series of three “complaint stories.”

            1-3: Immediately upon departure from Mt. Sinai, the people begin to complain. The complaint is not specified other than it is about their “misfortunes”. A fire breaks out in the “outlying parts” of the camp and people die. It is not hard to imagine a fire spreading through a tent village, but the emphasis on outlying parts of the camp seems to be designed to demonstrate that God’s power and the obligation to follow God’s laws are not functions of distance from the tabernacle. God’s power extends beyond the tabernacle.

            4-15: They have moved from Taberah to Kibroth-Hattaaveh (see verse 34), and some of them complain that they have no meat. (What happened to all the animals?) They are tired of manna, although this is only the second time manna is mentioned. The exchange between Moses and God in verses 10-15 is remarkable. Moses challenges God in a way that no one else in the Bible dares. It is much more direct and demanding, for example, than Abraham’s argument with God to spare Sodom.

            16-23: God tells Moses to summon 70 elders before the “tent of meeting.” In this case the “tent of meeting” does not seem to be the tabernacle but another location outside or on the outskirts of the camp (see verse 26 where it is said that two men did not go “out to” the tent, and verse 30 where they all return to the camp from the tent). God tells Moses that the people will eat meat until it runs out their nostrils. Moses is flabbergasted and wonders how that much meat can possibly be provided. I am reminded of the story of Jesus telling his disciples to feed the multitudes and them responding, “Where are we to get enough to feed this crowd?”

            24-30: The spontaneous worship of the 70 is uncontrolled but doesn’t last long. It spills over into the camp into two leaders who for some unstated reason are not present at the meeting. They, too, are touched by the Spirit and begin to prophesy. Somebody runs to tell Moses and Joshua thinks the two men should be silenced, but Moses says to let them be. The story illustrates the conflict that often arises between organized religion and spontaneous worship.

            31-34: Quails come into the camp — some sort of mass migration, perhaps – and the people eat until they are sick and many of them die. That can happen with improperly cooked fowl. Maybe the message has to do with what happens when we are not satisfied with the modest blessings God sometimes provides. God sends manna, the people demand meat, God relents, and the meat makes them sick.

            Verse 35: They move camp again, from Kibroth-hattaavah to Hazeroth.

Day 129: Numbers 12

            1-9: This is the third complaint since they left Sinai. The first complaint was by “the people” (11:1). The second complaint came from “the rabble among them” (11:4). This third complaint, however, is from Moses’ own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam. All three complaints are challenges to Moses’ leadership. In all three instances, God acts to affirm Moses as the leader.

This is the only place that mentions a Cushite wife for Moses. Zipporah, his wife since before he returned to Egypt, was a Midianite woman. Cush was the territory south of Egypt, what today is known as Upper Egypt and Ethiopia. It may be that their opposition to her reflects some prejudice against everyone from the continent of Africa whether Egyptian or not. Aaron and Miriam claim that God has spoken through them too, perhaps referring to the previous chapter when they, along with the 70 elders are given the gift of prophecy (but only temporarily). God summons the three of them to the tent of meeting, and explains the difference between prophetic speech and the conversations God has with Moses.

            12:10-16: When God departs, Miriam is leprous. Aaron appeals to Moses, Moses appeals to God, so Aaron has backed down now and acknowledged Moses’ leadership. God insists that Miriam be quarantined for 7 days (see Lev. 13:5), according to the law given earlier. They camp at Hazeroth until Miriam recovers, then move on to the wilderness of Paran, located just north and east of the center of the Sinai peninsula. See for pictures of the Sinai wilderness. Having solidified his leadership, in the next chapter Moses will send spies into Canaan to see what they will be facing.

Day 130: Numbers 13

            1-16: Inspired by God, Moses chooses 12 men to reconnoiter through the land of Canaan. The 12 he chooses are altogether different from the twelve leaders picked in the first chapter. I wonder if the stories of the people complaining have anything to do with the original leaders not being chosen for this honor. Perhaps, though, Moses has decided not to send the leaders since the mission would be too dangerous or too physically taxing for older men. Note that the spy from Ephraim is named Hoshea son of Nun. This is actually none other than Joshua, Moses’ successor as leader of the people (see 14:6).

            17-20: He tells them to go through the Negeb into the hill country, which will take them as far north as Hebron. He asks them to bring back specific information: Are the people who live in the land strong or weak? Are the inhabitants few or many? Is the land good or bad? Are the towns walled or open? Is the land rich or poor? Are there trees there? The information is clearly designed for military considerations.

21-25: They travel through Canaan for 40 days (the number is often used to

refer to a time of training or testing). They bring back clusters of grapes, pomegranates and figs.

26-29: They report that the land is rich in natural resources, but that the inhabitants are too strong to be challenged.

            30-33: Caleb disagrees with the others, and counsels that they immediately invade the land. The other 11 then change their story to make the territory seem almost uninhabitable and the people there like giants.

Day 131: Numbers 14

            1-4: The ill report of the spies stirs up a fourth complaint. The people are now afraid to go on to the Promised Land, and want to elect another leader and return to Egypt.

5-10:  Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua are frantic over this decision and beg the people not to turn back from what God has planned for them. You may have noticed that in the account of the spies in the last chapter nothing is said about Joshua joining Caleb in urging them to enter the land.

11-12: God is angered, and threatens to strike them with pestilence as he has on other occasions, and to disown them and make another nation his people – a threat that is new.

13-19: Moses intercedes for the people. He reasons that if God turns against them now the other nations will think God is too weak to give them the land he promised to give them. He reminds God of God’s own self revelation as a God “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

20-25: There are two accounts of God’s response to Moses’ intervention. In this first account God forgives them, but decrees that none of them will enter the Promised Land except Caleb. Joshua is not mentioned. God tells them to turn back toward the Red Sea because the Amalekites and Canaanites live in the valleys of the land they are approaching.

26-35: In this second account both Caleb and Joshua are named and excused from God’s punishment of the people. Also, those under age 20 will be spared and allowed to enter the land. They will wander in the wilderness for 40 years, corresponding to the 40 days the spies went through the land.

36-38: Also in this second account of God’s punishment of the people, the 10 contrary spies die immediately of a plague.

39-45: The people at large are not immediately punished, but then decide to go up into the land, again defying God’s orders — that they should turn back toward the Red Sea. They are driven back by the Amalekites and Canaanites.


Day 132: Numbers 15

            1-10: Immediately after the Israelites’ defeat during an ill-advised sortie into the land, God tells Moses to tell the people that when they come into the land, they are to observe certain rules regarding sacrifices. So without delay they have the assurance that the setback is temporary and that they will indeed still inherit the land promised to Abraham. The rules given here are similar to what we read in Leviticus 2 with slightly different provisions, perhaps relating to their future condition of living in cities and permanent settlements.

            11-16: Alien residents and non-Israelites who wish to make sacrifices are to follow the same rules as the Israelites.

            17-21: Verses 1-2 are repeated. Then a new law is given for them to observe once they have settled the land. Every season when the grain is harvested, the first batch of dough from the ground grain is to be given to the LORD (that is, to the priests).

22-31: Sin offerings are to atone for unintentional sins, whether by the congregation or by an individual. The person who intentionally ignores God’s law shall be “utterly cut off”, whether alien or native.

            32-41: These verses are no longer looking ahead to the Promised Land, but have to do with their present situation in the wilderness. First, the Sabbath law is violated by a man gathering sticks in the wilderness on the Sabbath, for which he incurs the death penalty. He is stoned to death by the whole congregation. While such swift and permanent punishment may have made the point that God’s laws and God’s demand that they be a holy people are to be taken seriously, we might wonder why death is necessary instead of, say, banishment. It would appear that the covenant agreement with God made by the community is binding on each individual, and individuals do not have a choice about whether or not to abide by it. After this incident, the people are told to mark their garments with a blue thread to remind them of the commandments of the Lord. Hopefully this provision will prevent future incidents like the one with which they have just dealt.

Day 133: Numbers 16

            1-7: Another leadership crisis for Moses! This one is better organized with four primary leaders and 250 prominent men already recruited to join the mutiny. Korah, a Levite of the Kohathite division (one of the three divisions of Levites) teams up with three Reubenites, Dathan, Abiram and On. The tribe of Reuben, you will recall, has been displaced in prominence by the tribe of Judah in the arrangement of the camp as listed in chapter 2. Perhaps this explains part of their disenchantment with Moses. They confront Moses and say, “You have gone too far. All of us are just as holy as you!” Moses responds, “No, you have gone too far!” Moses tells them to come back the next day and bring censers with fire.

            8-11: Moses responds to the crisis by facing them separately. First he confronts Korah directly and upbraids him for not appreciating the duties for which he and the other Kohathites have been assigned and accuses him of seeking the priesthood for himself, thus challenging Aaron’s authority.

            12-14: Then he summons Dathan and Abiram, but they refuse to come. They accuse Moses of not doing what he promised he would do. They’re not blind, they say, and it’s obvious that they are not in a land flowing with milk and honey. They have a point.

            15-19: Moses is getting angrier and angrier, but it is interesting that he finds it necessary to defend himself to the LORD. He repeats his command to Korah to bring censers and incense to the tent of meeting on the morrow. The next day the 250 (we assume) gather with their censers as Moses has ordered.

20-22: God tells Moses and Aaron that he is going to consume the people and orders them to step aside. Moses and Aaron beg God to have mercy and not punish the whole congregation.

23-30: God relents, and orders them instead to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram (On is not mentioned after verse 1). Dathan and Abiram are not present, of course, so Moses goes to their tents and tells the people to stand back. Dathan and Abiram and their families stand in front of their tents and Moses announces that if the ground opens up and swallows them that will be God’s sign that their challenge to his leadership is an offense to God.

31-35: The ground opens up and they fall to their deaths. Their 250 followers, standing there with their burning incense pots, are burned up in a fire.

36-40: Their censers are gathered and hammered into a covering for the altar to serve as a reminder that only the descendants of Aaron can serve as priests.

            41-50: The next day the people form an angry mob and confront Moses and Aaron. A cloud covers the tent of meeting; God is angry and orders Moses and Aaron to step away so that he can destroy the whole lot of them. Moses quickly orders Aaron to make atonement for the people by burning incense in their midst, but before Aaron can do so a plague kills 14,700. The event demonstrates again that only Aaron and his descendants can serve as priests, and mediators between God and the people.

Day 134: Numbers 17

            1-7: To stem further dissension, God tells Moses to take a staff from the leader of each tribe. Aaron’s staff is to represent the tribe of Levi. The staffs are to be placed before the ark of the covenant, and one of them will sprout, thus showing which tribe God has selected for holy services. Moses collects the staffs and puts them in the most holy place as instructed.

8-11: The next day Aaron’s staff is found to have budded and bloomed and produced almonds, already ripe! Thus God demonstrates that Aaron (and his descendants) are the only ones chosen to minister in the tabernacle.

12-13: The people react with appropriate awe. It is a curious thing to me that no one is suspicious. Moses is the only one who enters the most holy place. No one else enters to see that only the staffs presented the day before are placed there and that no other staff complete with ripe almonds has already been put in place. It all sounds a bit too easy. But the end result, I suppose, is as it should be.

Day 135: Numbers 18

1-7: Surprisingly enough, to this point the LORD has spoken to Aaron directly only twice: to order him to go into the wilderness to meet Moses (Exodus 4:27); and to instruct him, following the death of Nadab and Abihu, that strong drink and holy service don’t mix (Leviticus 10:8).  Here in chapter 18 God speaks directly to Aaron 3 times (1, 8, 20), and verse 20 is the last time God will speak directly and only to him. Significantly, these instructions to Aaron come immediately after the latest attempt at rebellion which specifically targeted the priests. First, Aaron is to take further action to insure the security of the priesthood for his descendants. The Levites (Aaron’s tribe) are given to Aaron as servants; only Aaron and his sons and their descendants can attend the altar or the sanctuary. Violation of this restriction is a capital offense.

8-19: Second, God spells out in detail the way in which offerings of grain and wine and oil and meat are to be considered. The priests (Aaron and his descendants) are given this as food to compensate them for their service. This is a repetition and summary of laws already given.

20: Third, the priests are not allowed to own land (although clearly later on they do).

21-24: The Levites receive as their wages the tithes that the people bring to the tent of meeting. The people may not approach the tabernacle, only the Levites. The Levites are to serve as a buffer between God and the people.

25-32: Interestingly, in this section the LORD addresses Moses instead of Aaron. The law here sets the compensation for the priests, and it is to be a tithe of the tithe the Levites receive. In other words, the Levites receive a tithe from the people, and they in turn set aside a tithe of their income for the priests (who are also Levites, but specifically descendants of Aaron). Thus a “hierarchy of holiness” is established: people, Levites, priests, God. The text does not specify this, but it is clear that Moses fits in there between the priests and God.

Day 136: Numbers 19

            1-10: A lot of people have died in the last few chapters. Death is incompatible with God’s holiness and those who come into contact with death are temporarily suspended from being part of God’s holy people. So a way is given for the common people to deal with the contamination of death. A red heifer is to be slaughtered and burned outside the camp (the text never actually says that this ritual is carried out, only that it is commanded). Its ashes are kept, and whenever needed some of its ashes are sprinkled on water and then sprinkled on any person who has handled a dead body. In that way they are symbolically cleansed from the contamination of death.

            11-13: The idea is that whenever anyone has to handle a dead body they are ceremonially “unclean” for a week. On the third and seventh days they are to be sprinkled with the “water for cleansing” on which is sprinkled the ashes of the red heifer. Otherwise they will continue in an “unclean” state which makes it impossible for them to participate in the worship of the congregation.

            14-20: The ritual of cleansing is described again, and the repetition makes the chapter unique, for this chapter is the most complete treatment of the subject of dealing with death in the Torah. I assume that whenever the ashes were used up the procedure was repeated as needed.

            21-22: The process of dealing with the contamination of death is given as a permanent statute, but curiously is not mentioned again anywhere in Scripture.

Day 137: Numbers 20

            1: They are in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, and Miriam dies here. Nothing is said about a time of mourning for her or about funeral or burial arrangements.

            2-8: And now here is another complaint story, but a bit different from the others. The complaint is that they have no water to drink, and this time it appears to be a leaderless issue, just general griping among the people. At first they say they wish they had died at Paran (along with the 250 and the 14,700), but then they question why Moses took them out of Egypt in the first place. They complain that the land he has brought them to is not fit to grow anything. (They are right that.) Moses and Aaron pray about it and God tells Moses to take the staff and, with Aaron, to stand before a certain rock and command it to yield water.

9-13: Instead Moses says, in effect, “Watch this, you miserable wretches,” and strikes the rock twice with his staff. God declares to Moses and Aaron that, due to their lack of trust (striking the rock instead of simply commanding the water to come?), they will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Nevertheless, striking the rock did produce water.

            14-17: Moses sends envoys to the king of Edom to beg permission to pass through his territory.

18-21: The king of Edom denies them permission, sending a show of force to insure they don’t ignore him, so they have to go the long way, around Edom.

22-29: When they come to Mt. Hor Moses is commanded to bring Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of the mountain and to transfer Aaron’s priestly vestments to Eleazar. Aaron dies on Mt. Hor and Moses and Eleazar leave his body there and return to the camp. The people observe rituals of mourning for 30 days.

Day 138: Numbers 21

            1-3: The story of the defeat of Arad seems to be out of place, inserted as it is between the death of Aaron on Mt. Hor (20:27-28) and their departure from Mt. Hor in verse 4. Also, the setting of the story (in the Negeb) is further north than we should expect. There is a connection, though, with the earlier story in 14:39ff: in that story they were defeated and driven back “as far as Hormah” (14:45). In this story they are victorious and call the place Hormah (21:3), but it may not be the same location because “hormah” means “destruction” and could conceivably have been given as a name to more than one place. You may have noticed that in this story of war Moses is completely absent.

            4-9: After their successful battle against Arad they set out to go around Edom, and the people begin to gripe again. They say they don’t have food, but then they say they don’t like the food they have! Their complaint in this instance is against both Moses and God. God responds by sending an infestation of poisonous snakes, and some of the people die. They confess and repent, and Moses makes a bronze snake that has the power to heal them when they look at it. The story is the basis of the medical symbol used in hospitals today — a serpent coiled around a staff. It is also the centerpiece for one Jesus’ sayings (John 3:14).

            10-20: A travelogue is given of their journey around Edom (through which they are not allowed to pass) to the Amorite frontier.

21-32: They ask for permission to pass through the territory of the Amorites, but are turned down by King Sihon, and the Amorites attack. Israel defeats them, and settles in their towns.

33-35: They also defeat King Og of Bashan and take possession of that territory as well. Israel has now conquered and occupied a sizeable parcel of land east of the Dead Sea. Their wandering in the wilderness of Sinai actually only takes a bit more than a year, but once settled in Amorite territory it will be another 38 or so years before they cross the Jordan and enter the land of Canaan, the Promised Land.

Day 139: Numbers 22 (for Wednesday, May 19):

            Moses does not make an appearance in chapters 22, 23, or 24. This story about a foreign seer named Balaam shows that God is not confined to Israel’s camp, but is also active as far away as the Euphrates River where God intervenes in Balaam’s actions. The story of Balaam is an enigma. Not only will you see competing scenarios in the next three chapters, other mentions of Balaam in the Bible seem to recall a different tale than the one told here (see, for example, Revelation 2:14). A later story has it that Balaam is killed in Israel’s battles with the Moabites (Joshua 13:22).

            1-6: Israel is camped on the plains of Moab, and Balak the king of Moab is alarmed. He sends for a famous seer named Balaam from the region of the Euphrates River to come and curse the Israelites.

7-14: In the first round of the story God tells Balaam not to come, and Balaam refuses Balak’s invitation.

15-21: In the second round, however, God tells him to go with them.

            22-30: But then in verse 22 we are told that God is angry and tries to kill Balaam. It seems as if two completely different traditions have been wound together here. Balaam’s donkey sees the angel with the sword but Balaam does not.

31-35: After three encounters with the angel and three beatings from Balak the donkey protests, and Balaam finally sees the angel who then lets him pass, repeating God’s instructions that Balaam is to say only what God tells him to say regarding the Israelites.

            36-40: When Balaam arrives in the Moabite camp Balak is perturbed that he has not responded more readily. After all, Balak is the king of Moab, by golly. They spar for a bit, and then get down to business. Balak makes sacrifices, to what deity we are not told.

            41: Next day Balaam is taken to a knoll where he can see at least a portion of the Israelite camp.

            You should not be bothered by the talking donkey. They do that all the time.

Day 140: Numbers 23

            1-12: Balaam is brought to a place in Moab where he can see part of the people of Israel. He has Balak build seven altars and sacrifice seven bulls and seven rams. Then he goes a distance away and receives God’s word. He comes back and blesses Israel. The primary theme of this first oracle is Balaam’s inability to curse what God has not cursed. Balak is outdone, of course, at which Balaam says, “Must I not take care to say what the Lord puts into my mouth?”

            13-26: Balaam is taken to another place where the same sequence is repeated: 7 altars are built, 7 bulls and 7 rams are sacrificed, Balaam goes a distance away to consult God, comes back and blesses Israel. The primary theme of this second oracle is the trustworthiness of God’s promises.

            27-30: Balak takes Balaam to yet another place, the top of Mt. Peor, and builds 7 altars and offers 7 bulls and 7 rams. Notice that this time it does not say that Balaam is facing Israel, but rather seems to be facing the desert from which they have come. Tomorrow we’ll see what happens.

            For now, consider that the actions of this foreigner might provide a commentary on the Israelites’ inclination to curse what God has not cursed (the wilderness) and their lack of trust in God.

Day 141: Numbers 24

            1-9: This time Balaam does not go a distance away, but seems to enter into a prophetic trance. He faces not the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho where Israel is now camped (22:1), but rather turns toward the wilderness from which they have emerged. He “sees” Israel “camping tribe by tribe,” which seems to be a reference to the organization of the tribes when they were at Sinai. In this third oracle he refers to himself as “the man whose eye is open (or “clear”),” which may be a reference to a trance-like state. It could read “…whose eye is closed,” depending on whether you pronounce the Hebrew word “shatam” or “satam.” He looks to the wilderness and “sees the vision of the Almighty,” indicating that he now can see what God envisioned for Israel when they were at Sinai. At the end of verse 4 it seems that he is so overcome he falls down. In the oracle he pictures Israel becoming a powerful nation settled in a fertile land.

            10-14: King Balak has had enough. He sends Balaam home and refuses to pay him. Balaam responds by giving a “free” reading about the fate of Moab and Edom and others.

15-25: This fourth oracle looks forward as the previous one has looked back. It sees Israel eventually defeating Moab (In 2 Samuel 8 King David defeats the Moabites), Edom and other kingdoms that in the future will be enemies of Israel — Amalekites, Kenites. There is also a reference to the Assyrians (Asshur) in verses 22 and 24. So, the first two oracles demonstrate how Israel should relate to God (don’t curse what God has not cursed, trust in God), and the last two oracles gather everything up in a sweeping vision that goes from the past (the camp at Mt. Sinai) to the future (the defeat of Moab and Israel’s other enemies).

Day 142: Numbers 25

            1-5: Israel has left the wilderness, settled in the plains of Moab and taken over the towns and villages of the Amorites (21:32, 35). They begin to be assimilated into Moabite culture. They are enticed by the women of Moab to worship their gods, particularly Baal of Peor. God is angry and orders Moses to impale the leaders of the people. Moses responds by ordering the tribal leaders to kill any who have “yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.” Moses’ action is less severe than God’s command, relieving the leaders of the responsibility for their people’s actions.

            6-9: The crisis is then illustrated by a man bringing a Midianite (Moabite) woman into his house. The priest Phinehas (Aaron’s grandson, Eleazar’s son) kills both the man and his lover as they lay in their tent, impaling them with a spear. Thus Phinehas carries out God’s command more completely than Moses. In verse 8 we learn that a plague had already resulted in the death of 24,000 Israelites. We might wonder if the plague has to do with the kinds of diseases that accompany sexual promiscuity. In any case the plague is averted when the sexual misconduct is stopped by Phinehas’ action.

            10-13: Phinehas is praised for his impulsive response, and he is insured of the continuation of his family’s prominence in the priesthood of Israel.

14-15: Curiously, the name and family of both the Israelite (Zimri son of Salu) and his Midianite lover (Cozbi daughter of Zur) are given. They are both members of prominent families within their respective clans.

Day 143: Numbers 26

            1-4: Ah, another census. Apparently nearly 40 years have passed, for this is the second generation from those who left Egypt. Notice in verse 3 that Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron are the leaders now.

5-51: Here are the totals of the 12 tribes, from 20 years old and up. The previous totals from Numbers chapter 1 are in parentheses:

            Reuben: 43,730 (46,500)

            Simeon: 22,200 (59,300) The man Phinehas killed was a Simeonite: 24,000 died in the plague.

            Gad: 40,500 (45,650)

            Judah: 76,500 (74,600)

            Issachar: 64,300 (54,400)

            Zebulun: 60,500 (57,400)

            Manasseh: 52,700 (32,200) Notice that the names of Zelophehad’s daughters are listed in verse 33. They’ll turn up again.

            Ephraim: 32,500 (40,500) In the first census Ephraim was numbered before Manasseh.

            Benjamin: 45,600 (35,400)

            Dan: 64,400 (62,700)

            Asher: 53,400 (41,500)

            Naphtali: 45,400 (41,500)

            Total: 601,730 (603,550)

            52-56: The tribes will be allotted territory in the Promised Land according to the census, the larger tribes getting the larger territories.

            57-62: Levy: 23,000 (22,000) The Levites are counted from one month old and up.

            63-65: Among the twelve tribes only Joshua and Caleb remain of those who were numbered in the first census at Mt. Sinai.

Day 144: Numbers 27

            1-11: A scenario is presented to Moses concerning the daughters of Zelophehad (see 26:33). Their situation results in a refinement of the laws of inheritance. 4 new rulings apply to situations not covered in the earlier legislation: If a man who has no sons dies, the inheritance passes to his daughters; if there are no daughters, then it goes to his brothers; if no brothers, then to his uncles; if no uncles, then to next-of-kin. Still not entirely equal treatment for women, but a big step in the right direction, don’t you think?

            12-14: God announces that Moses is to die (don’t worry, he’ll be around until the end of Deuteronomy). However, he will get to see the Promised Land even though he won’t enter it. The reason has to do with the event at Meribah (20:9-13) when Moses brought water from the rock using his rod instead of Aaron’s.

            15-23: These verses address the succession of leadership when Moses is gone. Several things are of special interest. First, the idea is raised by Moses instead of God. God, for his part, already has things planned for Joshua, but it is moving that when Moses is confronted with his own end, the first thing he thinks about is the people and how they will survive. Next, notice that Joshua is not given all of Moses’ authority. When Moses is gone, the spiritual authority will pass to Eleazar. Joshua will not communicate directly with God as Moses had, but must go through the high priest. So it will be until the time of David.

Day 145: Numbers 28

            Immediately after the announcement of Moses’ successor the text turns to some rather tedious descriptions of sacrifices and offerings. It is similar to what we read in Leviticus 23, but the focus here is not so much on the offerings, but rather on the calendar — the appropriate time for offerings. The whole year is covered, days and weeks and months, with special attention given to the festivals.

            1-6: Daily sacrifices are described.

            9-10: Sabbath sacrifices, which basically double the daily ones, are outlined.

            11-15: Monthly sacrifices are enumerated, for the first day of each month.

            16-25: Special sacrifices for Passover are reiterated, to be offered from the 14th to the 21st day of the first month of the year.

            26-31: Special sacrifices related to the festival of First Fruits are explained.

            Maybe today would be a good time to think about what claim God might have on your time.

Day 146: Numbers 29

            1-6: The seventh month is especially hallowed and set apart. On the first day of the month the trumpets are blown to signify the beginning of special observances (verses 1-6) with specific offerings. It is known as the Festival of Trumpets, and the offerings appropriate for the day are described. This adds to the rather incomplete instructions given in Leviticus 23:23-25, where no offerings are specified.

            7-11: On the tenth day of the seventh month another series of offerings are specified. Curiously, the account does mention the purpose for the day: it is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 23:26-32 the nature of the observance is emphasized, but offerings are not mentioned. Here, the offerings are prescribed in some detail, but the reasons for them are not mentioned.

            12-16: The sacrifices are described which are offered each of the 8 days of the Festival of Booths (Succoth), beginning on the 15th day of the 7th month. The number of animals to be sacrificed diminishes each of the first 7 days, with a much smaller total on the 8th day. If you want to dig a little further you might compare and contrast these verses with Leviticus 23:33-43.

Day 147: Numbers 30

1-16: You ladies are not going to like this chapter very much. At least it’s only 16 verses! The two operative words here are “vow” and “pledge.” A vow is a promise to do something for God in exchange for divine assistance of some kind. A pledge is a promise to perform some act of self-denial. The first 2 verses insist that any vow or pledge made by a man is absolutely binding. The rest of the chapter has to do with vows and pledges made by married and single women. The specific rules cited here seem quaint: there are intricate provisions for determining if a vow or pledge is binding or not binding, usually depending on the agreement of the woman’s father or husband.

Day 148: Numbers 31 (May 28):

            1-12: We return to the main story line from the end of chapter 25 that has to do with the rift between Israel and Midian. God tells Moses that his last act of leadership will be the defeat of the Midianites. Notice that gradually God has been allowing Moses more and more authority to make decisions. God tells Moses to make war on the Midianites, but leaves the details up to Moses. Moses decides to commit only 1000 men from each tribe for the army. This done, he sends them into battle with Phinehas (the priest, the son of Eleazar who killed Cozbi and Zur for their sexual transgression) at their head. In verse 8 we learn that Balaam son of Beor is killed in the ensuing battle, so apparently he didn’t go home quickly enough. In this chapter Balaam is painted as an enemy of Israel whereas before he was painted as God’s instrument who could only pronounce blessings on Israel. Now, however, he is identified as the one who suggested the strategy of using the women of Midian to lure the men of Israel. The Israelites are brutally successful in the battle, killing all the Midianite men. They take the women and children as booty along with animals and valuables, and bring all of it triumphantly to Moses.

13-20: Moses, however, is angry that they have preserved the lives of the very women who have been trouble from the beginning, for they had corrupted the Israelites by enticing them to worship Baal (chapter 25).  He orders them to kill all the male children and all the women except the virgins. (God does not order the complete eradication of the inhabitants of the land, but it becomes a tactic Moses uses more than once, as we shall see.) He is also careful to order the soldiers to follow the holiness code which calls for rituals of purification after contact with death.

            21-24: Eleazar, who has succeeded Aaron as high priest, gives instructions about purifying the spoils of battle; metal objects with fire and other booty with water.

25-47: There is an elaborate accounting of the spoils of battle and an intricate system of dividing it between the soldiers, the rest of the people, and God (that is, the priests).

48-54: The officers of the army bring some of the spoil to Moses as an offering of atonement. Notice that, although they approach Moses, Moses receives it in company with Eleazar, and the two of them see to it that it is all added to the treasury. This is a subtle lesson to all who would lead a congregation: never handle the money by yourself!

Day 149: Numbers 32 (May 29):

            1-5: Three of the 12 tribes of Israel do not settle in the Promised Land of Canaan. Gad and Reuben (note that now Gad is mentioned before Reuben, and later Gad will be the primary tribe on the east side of the Jordan River) come to Moses with the request that they be allowed to settle the territory already conquered. The reason is because the land there is suitable for grazing, and they have many cattle.

            6-32: Moses is initially angry with the request, assuming that they are trying to get out of having to take part in the military campaigns that lie ahead. The two tribes assure him that if they are allowed to build towns and settle there, they will lead the other tribes in the conquest of Canaan. After some further negotiations in which their responsibilities are clarified and other elements of the community (priests, other tribal leaders) are informed, Moses grants their request.

            33-42: At the end of the chapter the half-tribe of Manasseh suddenly appears (verse 33) as a co-claimant on the eastern territories of Gilead, and are also allotted land there. The story illustrates that there is still a long way to go before Israel becomes an intact community. Intertribal disputes will arise now and then until there is a rift between the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin (which become the kingdom of Judah) and the ten northern tribes (which become the kingdom of Israel).

Day 150: Numbers 33 (May 30):

            1-4: We learn that all the while Moses has been keeping a record of their wilderness wanderings, beginning with the first Passover when the first born of the Egyptians perished.

5-37: Here is the itinerary for the Israelites from Egypt to the border of Edom. Surprisingly, the crossing of the Red sea is barely mentioned and there is no mention of the miraculous rescue from the Egyptian army. The list gives the names of places where they camped in their journey across the wilderness. It does not match exactly the accounts we have read so far in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, leaving out some places and mentioning others that have not been named before. In particular, in verses 19-36 we have locations that have not been mentioned at all until now, filling in some of the history that was not recorded before. We noted earlier that there seemed to be a sudden jump from the second year of their wilderness wanderings until the 39th year. These verses fill in some of those gaps.

            38-39: Another detail is added: Aaron, whose death was recorded at the end of Chapter 20, died in the 40th year of their sojourn in the wilderness, at the ripe old age of 123.

            40: The king of Arad is mentioned almost as a footnote in the midst of the list of campsites. He had attacked Israel early on, an event recorded in 21:1-3.

            41-49: Most of the locations listed here are names we haven’t seen before, but Mr. Hor, Oboth, Iye-abarim and the plains of Moab are familiar, and echo the portion of their journey recorded in chapters 21 and 22.

50-56: The last part of the chapter points to the coming invasion of Canaan. They are given specific rules for the conduct of the wars to come:

  1. Drive out all the inhabitants of the land.
  2. Destroy their cultic symbols and sanctuaries.
  3. Take possession and settle the land.
  4. Apportion the land to each of the tribes according to the census.
  5. If you allow any of the current inhabitants to remain in the land, they will be your downfall.

Nowhere, however, does God tell them to slaughter every man, woman and child.

Day 151: Numbers 34

            1-12: The boundaries are laid out for their occupation of the Promised Land. It is a strip of land bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea (“The Great Sea” in verse 6) and on the east by the Jordan River from the Dead Sea in the south to Lake Chinnereth in the north. As for the southern and northern borders, the list of places is mostly unknown today, which makes it impossible to determine the precise boundary lines, but generally it includes the northern part of the Negeb wilderness, and the areas that will later be known as Judah, Samaria and Galilee.      

            13-15: The three tribes (Gad, Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh) that settled on the east side of the Jordan River are not to be included within the boundaries outlined here. Verse 13 specifies that the Promised Land is given to 9 ½ tribes because the 2 ½ tribes had already settled the Trans-Jordan areas. Thus the tribe of Levi would seem to be included in the allotments in the Promised Land, but we will find in chapter 35 that the Levites are not included in territorial assignments; they are given cities to inhabit scattered throughout all the territories.

16-29: The end of the chapter names new leaders for the tribes that will settle Canaan. Of course, Eleazar the high priest is of the tribe of Levi, and no other leader is named for them in this list. Eleazar the priest and Joshua are again designated as leaders to succeed Moses. Joshua is of the tribe of Ephraim: in the list of new leaders at the end of the chapter the leader of Ephraim is Kemuel (verse 24). So, Joshua’s duties as overall leader are deemed sufficient enough that he cannot also serve as a tribal leader.

Day 152 Numbers 35

1-5: The Levites cannot own land, but they can own cities. Actually, we already knew this from Leviticus 25:32-34. The situation is an enigma, though: do they own the cities, or only the houses within the cities? Do they own the pasture land around the cities, or merely grazing rights? Furthermore, verse 4 gives them the surrounding land 1000 cubits wide, and then verse 5 extends it to 2000 cubits. Perhaps the 2000 cubits is from the center of the town.

6-8: There will be 48 Levitical towns in all; six of them are to be designated “cities of refuge.”

9-15: Of the cities of refuge it is specified that three of these will be in Canaan, the other three in the trans-Jordan territories settled by Gad, Reuben and Manasseh. We wonder if the greater concentration of cities of refuge in the trans-Jordan might indicate a more violent culture there.

16-21: The cities of refuge are for the protection of “the slayer who kills a person without intent.” In such cases, the victim’s family would be expected to avenge the killing even though there may have been no criminal act involved. To protect the person responsible for the death, these cities were designated. The killer could flee to one of the cities of refuge and be safe there until a trial could be arranged and the killer either condemned or exonerated. Certain circumstances are enumerated for determining if a death is wrongful, mostly having to do with the use of deadly force. It is interesting, however, that weapons such as swords, knives, arrows and spears are not mentioned.

22-28: When the death is clearly not a murder but rather accidental, although the accused is exonerated he is forced to live in a city of refuge until the death of the high priest. This seems a bit cruel at first thought but consider that even though no evil intent was involved the slayer is still responsible for the death. Human life is holy and the shedding of blood within the community is such a serious affair that only the death of the high priest can fully atone for the spilling of blood, accidental though it may be.

29-34: Murder is not to be tolerated in any case, and no abridgements of the preceding laws are to be allowed. God is a co-inhabitant in the land, and the land must not be defiled by the spilling of blood. Remember Cain and Abel!

Day 153: Numbers 36

1-4: Some of the Law has to be clarified and amended to accommodate specific situations, and this is where the idea of case law and legal precedents begins to take shape. A situation arises that is not covered by the Law to this point. Do you remember the five daughters of Zelophehad who came to Moses concerning the disposition of their father’s estate because he had no sons to inherit it (see 27:1-11)? They were of the tribe of Manasseh, and now the leaders of that tribe approach Moses with a further complication. What if a man has no sons and leaves his land holdings to his daughters, and they in turn marry outside that tribe? The land would then be part of the other tribe’s territory and no longer part of the territory of the tribe to which it originally belonged. So we once again meet the daughters of Zelophehad; Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah. They stand to inherit their father’s land because they have no brothers (chapter 27:5-11). However, if they should subsequently marry into another tribe, say, Benjamin, their land would then belong to Benjamin instead of to Manasseh, and those two tribal territories are not even adjacent to each other.

5-12: So, another amendment is made to the laws of inheritance: if a daughter inherits an estate, she must marry within her own tribe. We are told that Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah did just that.

13: And so, with these gnarly little conundrums about property settled (they don’t even own any property yet, you know), the book of Numbers ends.

You have now read 4 complete books of the Bible. That is only 6% of the books in the Bible, but it represents fully 13% of the chapters of the Bible. You should feel good about that accomplishment!

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