Today, we complete the book of Numbers. The final four chapters are a summary, as it were, of the important details Israel needs to know before taking the Promised Land. Chapter 33 recounts the journey of Israel from Rameses (Goshen) beginning the day after the Passover (33:3). We see that the triumph of Israel in verse 3, is the work of God in verse 4. In the next 44 verses, we are simply told the route of Israel’s journey. There is no mention of any of their rebellion, even though we see mention of Marah (v. 8) and the springs (v. 9), and Rephidim (v. 14) where water came from the rock. Despite their lack of faith, God’s faithfulness overcame and they got to where He promised them they would, even in spite of their sin.
Starting in verse 50, the Lord is clear about the mission. Israel must drive out all the inhabitants and destroy their idols (v. 52). Everyone will get an even share of God’s blessing of the land (v. 54). Take notice of the final warning God gives. If they do not drive out the inhabitants completely, they will be trouble for Israel (v. 55). And God’s judgment will move from the Canaanites, to Israel (v. 56). This is what ultimately happens, first in the captivities of Assyria and Babylon, and then the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of Israel in 70 A.D.
In chapter 34, God gives the physical boundaries of the land. This does not include the two-and-a-half tribes on the east side of the Jordan. Also note that it is a smaller land than that which God promised Abraham his offspring would inherit, meaning this is not the fulfillment of the promise. God then appoints the new chiefs of each tribe who together will apportion the land (34:16-29).
Chapter 35 begins with the details of the 48 cities for the Levites. Among them are to be six cities of refuge. These are for those who accidentally or unintentionally kill someone, roughly equivalent to the American idea of manslaughter. This is in fulfillment of God’s promise in Exodus 21:13 (that verse shows that even these accidental deaths are under the sovereignty of God). For intentional murder, capitol punishment is commanded. For unintentional, the sinner will flee to a city where he is safe from retribution until his case can be tried. If not found deserving of death, the sinner will have to be kept within the boundaries of the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest. Taken all together, we see that even unintentional sin is sin, and that causing death keeps the person unclean and separated from the rest of the nation (35:32-34).
Numbers 36 brings us back to the rule God established in Numbers 27 for the daughters of Zelophehad and any family that has no male heirs. The concern here is that Manasseh, the tribe of Zelophehad, will lose the land these women inherit should they marry outside the tribe and have a male son, whose tribal affiliation will come through the father. We see here again that male responsibility assigned by God. In the command that they should not marry outside the tribe (36:6), God is ensuring (as He has before, such as with the commands for the Year of Jubilee) that what He gives to each tribe will not be lost.
With these practical matters now taken care of, Israel is ready to take the Promised Land. It has been 40 years since God’s salvation from captivity, and they are now ready to enter into His rest. And this is all despite their faithlessness. That makes this a story, not about Israel, but about God and His faithfulness to His promise and His people. And we will see, this story of our faithlessness and God’s faithfulness is only just beginning…