Journey In The Wilderness Pt.3 (Numbers 19-26)

Part 3 of my overview of numbers with commentary featuring chapters 19-26.

Numbers Chapter 19:
God gave Moses and Aaron instructions for the use of purification water for those made unclean by touching a human corpse. First, they must get a red heifer (brown baby cow) with no defects, that has never been yoked to a plow. Then the priest (in this case Eleazar) will take it outside the camp and slaughter it. The will priest will take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times towards the front of the Tabernacle. Then an assistant will burn it whole (including the hide, meat, blood, and dung). The priest will take a cedar stick, scarlet yarn, and a hyssop branch and throw them on the burning corpse. The priest will wash his clothes and bathe. Afterward, he can return to camp but he will be ceremonially unclean until the evening. The assistant who burned the animal must also wash his clothes and bathe and will be unclean until evening as well. Meanwhile, someone who is ceremonially clean must gather the ashes and deposit them in a purified place outside the camp. There the ashes will be available for use by the community in water purification ceremonies for the removal of sin. The one that gathered the ashes must also bathe and wash his clothes, and is unclean until evening. This ceremony is for Israelites and foreigners living among them.

Anyone who touches a human corpse is unclean for a week and must use the purification water to cleanse themselves on the third and seventh day of that week. If they don’t clean with the water on the designated days they will remain unclean after a week. Anyone who is unclean from a corpse and doesn’t cleanse with the water is defiled and will be cut off from the community. The water is to be used when someone dies inside a tent as well. Everyone who enters that tent or was in it when the person died will be unclean for a week. Any open container in the tent that is not covered with a lid will be defiled. If a person touches a grave, a corpse in an open field, or a human bone they will also be unclean in this way.

To cleanse these people from the defilement of death, the ashes from the purification heifer must be put in a jar and have water poured on them. Someone who is not defiled must take a hyssop branch and dip it into the water and sprinkle the water on the tent, its furnishings, and on the people who were in the tent, or anyone who became defiled from touching a corpse in the field, humans bones, or a grave. The sprinkling for the unclean people must be on the third and seventh days of their uncleanness. After that on the seventh day, they must take a bath and wash their clothes and in the evening they will be clean. The person who does the sprinkling must wash their clothes and bathe and will be unclean until the evening. Anyone who is made unclean from death, who doesn’t do this will be cut off from the community. Anything and anyone that a defiled person touches will be ceremonially unclean until evening.

Numbers Chapter 20:
In the first month of that year, the Israelites made it to Kadesh after traveling through the wilderness of Zin. Miriam died and was buried in Kadesh. The people complained about the lack of water and wished they had stayed in Egypt and blamed Moses for causing their suffering and said they were brought out to the wilderness to die. Moses and Aaron went to the Tabernacle to consult with God. God told Moses to take the budded staff. Then they were instructed to go and speak to a rock so that water would come from it like before. However, instead, Moses yelled at the people and called them rebels saying, “must we provide water from this rock?” Then he hit the rock twice with the staff out of anger. Water did come out of the rock for the people and their animals, but Moses didn’t trust God enough to follow his instructions exactly, so Moses and Aaron were forbidden from entering the promised land. This place would be called Meribah (arguing) because the people argued against God.

Moses sent a message to the King of Edom reminding them that the Israelites were the descendants of their forefather’s brother and he ask that they be given safe passage on the edge of Edom and promised not to take anything that didn’t belong to them. Edom responded that they wouldn’t give Israel safe passage. Moses pleaded with them and said they would not go through the fields and vinyards and would pay for any water they drank from the wells, but they refused to let the Israelites through and sent an army to resist them so Israel turned away. The Israelites came to Mt. Hor near the border of Edom. God said to Moses and Aaron that Aaron’s life has come to an end and he will die here because he and Moses failed to follow his instructions at Meribah. Moses was instructed to take Aaron and Eleazar up the mountain, where Aaron would give his priestly garments to Eleazar, so he could succeed his father. Then Aaron died on the Mountain and Moses came down with Eleazar as the new high priest. The people mourned Aaron for 30 days.

Numbers Chapter 21:
The Canaanite king of Arad heard that the Israelites were coming towards his kingdom through a road in Atharim, so he attacked the Israelites and took some captives. The Israelites made a vow to God that if they get a victory against Arad’s army then they will completely destroy all of his towns. God agreed and gave them a favor and they destroyed all of the towns in his kingdom, the place was now called Hormah (destruction).

This road they traveled took them from Mount Hor to the Red Sea in order to go around Edom, but the people grew impatient with God because of the detour and started complaining again. God allowed poisonous snakes to attack the people. They repented and asked Moses to pray for mercy, and Moses did. God told Moses to make an image of a serpent cast in bronze and attached it to the staff and told them that anyone who was bitten can look upon the staff for deliverance and the people were saved.

The Israelites continued to Oboth and then to Iye-abarim on the eastern border of Moab. Then they went to the Zered Brook and then camped at the Arnon River near the Amorites. Arnon is the boundary between the Moabites and Amorites. For this reason “The Book of the Wars of the Lord”, speaks of the town of Waheb in the area of Suphah, and the ravines of the Arnon River that extend as far as the settlement of Ar on the border of Moab. Then the Israelites came to Beer(well) where God provided water via springs. The Israelites sang a song about the blessing of these springs. Then the Israelites left the wilderness and proceeded on through Mattanah, Nahaliel, and Bamoth. After that, they went to the valley in Moab where Pisgah Peak overlooks the wasteland.

The Israelites sent a message to King Sihon of the Amorites asking him to give them safe passage through their land. Sihon responded with war and attacked the Israelites and they battled in Jahaz. The Israelites defeated Sihon’s army and took over the land from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River. They stopped at the border of Ammon because the Ammonites had a fortified nation. Israel captured all the towns of the Amorites and occupied them, including the capital city of Heshbon and its surrounding villages. Poets even wrote a song about this conquest of Heshbon. The poem celebrates the conquest of the capital city and the defeat of the Amorite king. Heshbon was previously a Moabite town that was taken by King Sihon, so in a way, the Israelites avenged the Moabites. This is the first land in Canaan that Israel would occupy. Moses sent spies to Jazer to scope it out and Israel defeated more Amorites that were living there and captures the towns of that region. The Israelites continued toward Bashan, and King Og of Bashan went out to fight the Israelites at Edrei. God promised Moses that this victory was also theirs just like King Sihon. The Israelites defeated Og and his army leaving no survivors and took Bashan.

Comment: Jesus uses the bronze serpent story as an analogy for himself in John 3:14-15. He says, “14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”

On another note, “The Book of the Wars of the Lord” could be a poem or songbook describing more victories of the Israelites while in the wilderness. This most likely was written around the end of Moses’ death after the Israelites have battled with the Amorites. The reference could have been inserted into Numbers chapter 21 by a later patriarch like Joshua. This seems consistent since Joshua (or someone later) is also the one who would have finished the end of Deuteronomy detailing Moses’ death since it would be unusual for Moses to describe his own death before it happened. Later scribes added annotations on place names that have changed as well time frame references to the exile. For example, Judges 18:30 says the Danites had an idol and Moses’ descendants through Gershom functioned as priests for that idol until the time of the Exile. The Babylonian Exile was around 500 years after the stories in Judges, so it was a later writer that went in and updated the text with an annotation about how long the Danites were practicing idolatry. 

Numbers Chapter 22:
The Israelites made it to the plains of Moab east of the Jordan River, across from Jericho. The King of Moab Balak son of Zippor, went to the Midianite elders with concerns about the Israelites because he heard what they had done to the Amorites. Balak sent a message to a prophet named Balaam, son of Beor, who lived in Pethor near the Euphrates River. He asked Balaam to curse these Israelites so that he can defeat them in battle and keep his nation from being conquered. He believes that anyone Balaam curses will be cursed and anyone he blesses will be blessed. The elders of Moab and Midian delivered the message to Balaam. Balaam had them stay in Pethor overnight while he consulted with God. God warns Balaam in a dream that he is not to go with these people, nor curse the Israelites because they have been blessed by God. Balaam told the messengers that he can’t come and that God will not allow him to curse the Israelites. When Balak heard the message and sent a group of princes who plead with him to come to see Balak and even offered more money. Balaam told them that no bribe could make him go against the word of God, not even Balak’s whole palace and all of its riches. The second group of messengers stayed the night while Balaam sought God again. God said this time he can go with them but he is only allowed to do what God says.

Along the way the Angel of the Lord confronted Balaam as he was riding his donkey to visit Balak. The donkey saw the Angel of the Lord with a sword and turned off the path, but Balaam hit the donkey and went back. The Angel moved to a tighter part of the path, surrounded by walls. The donkey tried to go around and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall so he beat the donkey to stay in the middle. Lastly, the Angel appeared on the tightest part of the path so the donkey couldn’t go around and just stopped and this time Balaam was hit with a stick. God gave the donkey the ability to speak and the donkey asked why he was being beaten. Balaam says because the donkey is making a fool out of him and would kill the donkey if he had a sword. The donkey asked if he had ever done anything like this to Balaam before, and Balaam said no. Then God opened Balaam’s eye so he could see the Angel of the Lord with a sword and he bowed. God said it wasn’t the donkey’s fault, as it was only trying to avoid the Angel, if the donkey hadn’t done so the God said Balaam would have been killed and the donkey spared. Balaam repented and offered to go back, but God said to keep going but he must remember to only do and say what God tells him to say. Balaam continued to follow the princes of Moab.

King Balak went to meet Balaam at the Arnon border of Moab. Balak questioned why Balaam didn’t come the first time and asked if he didn’t believe he had enough money. Balaam replied that God is the one in control and he can only bless and curse according to God’s will. Balaam followed Balak to Kiriath-huzoth, and Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep and sent portions of the meat to Balaam and the princes he traveled with. The next morning Balak took Balaam to the top of Bamoth-Baal (a mountain of Baal), where they could look down and see the Israelites.

Numbers Chapter 23:
Balaam told Balak to prepare seven altars for burnt offerings of seven bulls and seven rams on each. While Balak did this, Balaam went to a hill away from Balak and his princes to speak with God, and God told him to bless Israel instead of cursing them. He said he cannot curse what God has blessed, and Israel is set apart as God’s special nation. He blesses Israel and Balak asked why he blessed them instead of cursing them. Balaam responded that God is the one in control and he cannot bless or curse a nation apart from God’s will. Balak took Balaam to Pisgah Peak where they could only see some of the Israelites, thinking that maybe Balaam simply can’t curse them as a whole but can curse some of them individually. They built seven altars again and went through the process again. Balak came back with a word from God saying that God is not a man who lies nor is he someone that changes his mind, when he promises something it will happen no matter what. Therefore, if God says the Israelites are blessed, they are blessed and that is final. No magic can overwrite God’s blessing. Balak accepted that Balaam wouldn’t curse them but then asked to undo the blessing he gave in the process, but Balaam responded that he must do everything God has told him to do. Balak took Balaam to Mount Peor thinking it would be different, and they went through the seven altar process once again.

Comment: There may be a connection here to what happens with Canaan’s curse from Genesis 9. Ham disrespected his father while he was drunk and passed out naked so Noah pronounced a curse when he found out, but his curse was against Ham’s firstborn Canaan (Father of the Canaanites) not Ham himself in Genesis 9:25. God already blessed Noah and his sons in Gen 9:1, so Noah couldn’t curse any of them. No one can curse what God has already blessed (Num 23:8). This is one possible reason Canaan was cursed instead of his father Ham, even though Ham is the one that sinned.

Numbers Chapter 24:
This time Balaam didn’t consult with God like previously since he already knew God’s will, so the spirit of God came upon him and he blessed Israel. He said: “the Israelites are planted like trees in a garden and considered beautiful to God. God will water them and make them fruitful. Their king will be greater than Agag, and their kingdom exalted. They are like a strong ox brought out of Egypt, or like a lion rising from rest to partake in the hunt and they will devour all of their enemies. Balak was furious and scolded Balaam for blessing Israel three times so he refused to pay him and sent Balaam away. Balaam reminded him that he told the princess that even if Balak could give him all of the riches of his palace, he cannot overwrite a word from God. Balaam prepared to leave and gave one final proclamation about what God says about the future of Moab and the other gentile nations in the region. He says, “a star will rise from Jacob and the scepter from Israel which will crush the skulls of Moab and all the people of Sheth. In addition, Edom and Mt. Sier will be taken over. Amalek one of the greatest of nations [at the time], will be destroyed by Israel as well. The Kenites will be destroyed when Asshur (Assyria) takes them captive. Who can survive, unless God has willed it? Ships from the coast of Chittim (Cyprus) will afflict Assyria and oppress Eber but they will also be destroyed.”

Comment: There are possible prophetic references in Balaam’s last speech. Asshur is a reference to the Assyrian empire which conquers the northern kingdom of Israel at the time of King Hoshea because of their sin and refusal to repent. Chittim is likely referring to the Phoenicians and/or Cyprus who were later a part of the western European powers (Greece and Rome). Eber represents all of the Hebrews since Eber is the father of that Semitic group from the Tower of Babel in Genesis 10:21-25 and 11:14-17.

Numbest Chapter 25:
Israel came to the Acacia Grove (Shittim) and some of the men had sex with shrine prostitutes from Moab and were seduced into worshipping their gods, mainly Baal of Peor. This caused a plague that rapidly spread throughout the camp. God told Moses to hang all of the leaders who were involved in the idolatry, and Moses told the judges to put the offenders to death. Zimri son of Salu brought a Midianite woman from Moab to camp but then Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron took a spear and impaled Zimri and the woman in his tent. Then the plague stopped and only 24,000 people died. God said that Phinehas’s actions are what stopped the plague because of his zeal in stopping this sin. God made a special covenant of peace (shalom), promising to ensure that his descendants remain in the priesthood. Zimri was the son of Salu, one of the clan leaders of the tribe of Simeon. The woman’s name was Cozbi and she was the daughter of Zur, the leader of a Midianite clan. God said that the Midianites were now enemies because they had seduced the Israelites into worshipping a false God with prostitutes.

Numbers Chapter 26:
After the plague, God had Moses and Eleazar tell the leaders to take a census of everyone 20 years old or over for the military. This census was taken on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho.

The tribe of Reuben had 43,730 troops and four clans named after Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. Pallu was the ancestor of Eliab, and Eliab was the father of Nemuel, Dathan, and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram were the ones who joined Korah’s rebellion (Numbers ch. 16) and were swallowed up in the earth. Korah’s sons however did not die that day.

The tribe of Simeon had 22,200 troops and five clans named after Nemuel, Jamin, Jakin, Zohar, and Shaul.

The tribe of Gad had 40,500 troops and seven clans named after Zephon, Haggi, Shuni, Ozni, Eri, Arodi, and Areli.

The tribe of Judah had 76,500 troops and three major clans named after Shelah Perez, and Zelah, and two sub-clans from Perez named after Hezron and Hamul.

The tribe of Issachar had 64,300 troops and four clans named after Tola, Puah, Jashub, and Shimron.

The tribe of Zebulun had 60,500 troops and three clans named after Sered, Elon, and Jahleel.

The two half-tribes Ephraim and Manasseh, are the sons of Joseph. The tribe of Manasseh had 52,700 troops and two major clans named after Makir and his son Gilead. Gilead had six sub-clans named after Iezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, Shemida, and Hepher. Zelophehad a descendant of Hepher had only daughters whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.

The tribe of Ephraim had 32,500 troops and three major clans named after Shuthelah, Beker, and Tahan, and a sub-clan from Shuthelah named after Eran.

The tribe of Benjamin had 45,600 troops and five major clans named after Bela, Ashbel, Ahiram, Shupham, and Hupham, plus two sub-clans from Bela named after Ard and Naaman. The tribe of Dan had 64,400 troops all from one clan named Shuham. The tribe of Asher had 53,400 troops and three major clans named after Imnah, Ishvi, and Beriah and two sub-clans from Beriah named after Heber and Malkiel. The tribe of Naphtali had 45,400 troops and four clans named after Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shilem.

The total number of troops was 601,730.

The Levites were made up of three main clans Kohath, Merari, and Gershon, and the five sub-clans, the Libnites, the Hebronites, the Mahlites, Mushites, and the Korahites.

God told Moses to divide the land allotments for the tribes in proportion to the population of each tribe. This means the larger sized tribes got more land and the smaller got less land. Moses and Aaron are the sons of Amram who is one of the sons of Kohath, the head of the Kohathite clan. The priesthood continued on from Aaron’s sons Eleazar and Ithamar because Nadab and Abihu died when they burned the wrong kind of fire for the incense. The Levite men who were one month old or older numbered 23,000. The Levites however, did not get an allotment of land because they were set apart for servicing the Tabernacle. No one in this registration is from the previous registration because as God said all of that Generation would die in the wilderness except for Joshua and Caleb.

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