Our reading begins today with the continuation of the reminders of the yearly offerings. Note in all of these yearly offerings, they are all in addition to any other offerings. For example, the Feast of Trumpets is on the first day of the seventh month (29:1). This means that the monthly offering (see Num 28:11-15) would also bee offered (v. 6). If it was a Sabbath, there would be a third offering, which would then come to five with the twice-daily offering. This shows that life in the Holy Land would revolve around the regular worship of YHWH. No exceptions!
Chapter 30 speaks about vows. The rules for men take a single verse (30:2). The rules for women takes 14 verses (vv. 3-16). Why is this? And for that matter, why are there differing laws for men and women? And why were only men counted in the census? And why do women get an inheritance only if there is no man left in their family? Is this simply an accommodation by God to a patriarchal society?
No. While it’s true that God saved a people in history within the framework of a very patriarchal society and communicated to us within that framework, there is much more going on here. And it goes back to the Garden of Eden, to the moment that sin entered the world. Everything changed in Genesis 3:6 – not with the bite, but with the intent; just like all sin begins with not the action, but the heart behind it. And for our purposes, the key is that we read the words “and she also gave some to her husband who was with her...”
When we read the story, it is tempting to picture Eve vying with the serpent alone because Adam is not mentioned until verse 6. But Adam was there, doing nothing. Shirking his responsibility. The failure was on both their parts, but the responsibility was Adam’s. Why? Because God gave the creation ordinances, including the command not to eat that fruit, to Adam before there was an Eve (the command is in Gen 2:17, Eve is created immediately after). God made him responsible for his family*. This is why God addresses Adam in Genesis 3:9, and why all of the “you” are singular in verse 11. In other words, God created man to lead the family. So He held him responsible. And after the fall, sin turned this creation mandate into something horrible as man used (and uses) his physical strength to hold women in submission.
It is within this sinfully patriarchal society that God saves His people. But His commands are not accommodating that sin. What we see in Numbers 30 (and everywhere else in the Bible) is not God establishing women as inferior in any way. He is establishing men as responsible. The father is responsible for his daughter until the day he blesses a man with her as wife. Then the husband is responsible. The whole tenor of Numbers 30 is not “women are less than,” it’s “men are responsible for.”
In chapter 31, we see God punish Midian** for their actions from chapter 25. This is the last action He commands Moses to take before he will die (31:1). We see that in Israel’s victory, Balaam is also judged (v. 8). We see in verse 13 that the command of God was to kill all the males (effectively cutting off the Midianites as offspring are part of the father’s people). The killing of the non-virgin women is punishment for their sexual enticement of the men of Israel (see Num 25:1). What God is doing with these instructions (and why He had Moses carry this out before his death) is training/preparing Israel for the conquest of the land. We see in verses 19-24 a reminder of the holiness of God Who can not be in the presence of sin, which physical death represents. Nothing and no one that has come into contact with death can be in the camp (God’s presence) without purification. Just like us. In the commands for the plunder, we see that those who did the “work” get their fair share, but as a community, all share in the benefits of the victory (v. 27). And, of course, there is to be an honorary “firstfruits” offering to God (vv. 29-30) Who truly won the victory.
In chapter 32, we see the beginning of the settlement of the land. The tribes of Rueben and Gad (and as we will see, half of Manasseh – v. 33) desire to settle on the east side of the Jordan River in Gilead (to the southeast of Canaan). The desire is misinterpreted by the rest of Israel, including Moses, as an abandonment of their brothers and of God (32:15). But as all the community shares in the benefits of God’s victory, so all must share in the responsibility (vv. 26-27).
God is now well into fulfilling His promise – a promise made back in Genesis 15. As soon as God made the promise to Abraham (Gen 15:5-6), He took the responsibility of both sides of the covenant (Gen 15:17), and only then did He make a promise of the land (Gen 15:18-20). Israel taking the land, then, is not the promise, but a sign that God is fulfilling the promise – for the spiritual offspring that receive the promise by faith.
*In 1 Timothy 2:12-14, we read:
I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
This has been misconstrued by many to paint males in some artificially good light. That is not what is happening here. Quite the contrary. Adam being formed first is referring to the command given to him as head of the family when he was made the representative of the whole human race. Adam not being deceived is not a justification for Adam, it is a condemnation. Eve fell prey to the wiles of the evil one. Who hasn’t. But Adam was not deceived. He entered into sin with his eyes wide open, as it were. In terms of what we’ve seen so far in the Old Testament, Eve sinned unintentionally, but Adam sinned with a high hand. This is why God places responsibility on man to lead the home and the church; to redeem the failure of our covenant representative. This, of course, was done by Christ. Now, as New Covenant men of God, we have to do what Adam failed to do.
**Midian and Moab are both indicted by God as part of that incitement to rebellion. Like Edom was Jacob’s brother, it is worthy of note that Midian was Jacob’s uncle (Gen 25:2), and Moab was his cousin (Gen 19:37). For me, it shows clearly the particularity of God’s calling. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were called out of even their own family. As have many of us been.