Today's reading brings the second census we have seen in the Book of Numbers. The first census was as the Israelites entered the wilderness. This second census was taken after the old generation had died off in the wilderness. And the census counted how many men over the age of 20 were there to comprise the army of Israel. The first census counted 603,550 men and the second 601,730. As the Israelites moved ever closer to the promised land, God through Moses and Joshua was preparing the people for the fighting that would occur for them to possess the land. They needed only to trust in the Lord and obey His commands and the land would be theirs. That is way easier said than done. The very first words of chapter 26 marks a turning point in Numbers. We read “after the plague”. The plague was the end of the old sinful generation and under God's grace their sons and daughters were ready to begin anew. They would inherit the promised land. This census is much more complete than the first in chapter one, probably because these in the second count were the ones who would actually enter this long-awaited land.
There are a couple of unique things that stood out for me in this reading. The first is the short account of the daughters of Zelophehad. Their father was one of the old generation not allowed to enter the promised land. But the daughters knew that land would be assigned to each family and they had no brothers. For them it seemed to be a no-brainer that they should receive the land that would have been given to their father. But women had no rights to own property. They went to Moses to plead their case and Moses consulted the Lord. To the surprise of many the Lord said yes, the daughters should receive the land that would have been given to their father. They had presented a just cause and their case would become a precedent for other families. It was a really big deal to have land, and land that would stay in the family.
Many of you may have read of Moses' frustration with the Israelites complaining about water at Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin. Moses and Aaron struck the rock to get water instead of speaking to the rock and for that act of disobedience they were forbidden from entering the promised land. It seems grossly unfair. But God demands a different kind of obedience from leaders, and they had not been obedient. It still seems unfair. What strikes me is that Moses continued serving and we read over and over that he did just as the Lord commanded. But here in 27:12-22 we see the true character of Moses. The Lord said to Moses,” Go up this mountain and see the land I have given the Israelites. After you have seen it you too will be gathered to your people as your brother Aaron was because you were disobedient at Meribah.” Moses didn't complain. He didn't make a scene or throw a temper tantrum because he didn't get to enter the promised land. Instead, he prayed for the stiff-necked Israelites that God would give them another leader so they would not be like sheep without a shepherd. We will read in Deuteronomy 4:23-29 that Moses had asked several times to be allowed to enter the promised land, but the Lord refused to relent. Moses will eventually enter the promised land. It will be with Elijah and Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration. Many times, during his long ministry Moses had proven himself a true leader by being more concerned for the people than he was for himself. Twice God had offered to destroy the Israelites and start over with a new nation through Moses, and Moses refused. He had often interceded for the people when God's judgement was about to fall. Moses had been misunderstood, criticized, and nearly stoned, but he remained a faithful shepherd to his people. Though he was about to die Moses didn't think about himself but the future of the nation. Who would lead Israel after his death? His great concern was that God provide a spiritual leader for the people because they were sheep and sheep must have a shepherd.
Joshua had worked as a second to Moses for many years and it was Joshua that God appointed to succeed Moses. Joshua was one of the twelve spies and one of two that believed the Israelites could take the land because God would lead them. He went up Mount Sinai when Moses received the ten commandments, and Joshua was filled with the spirit of God. Moses was commissioned in the wilderness of Midian, but Joshua was commissioned in front of the entire congregation by Moses and Eleazar the high priest. Together they would lead Israel after Moses was gone.
One thing we must remember is that things that are repeated in scripture are the most important things. These are the things Israel needed to remember. The festivals and holidays were the way Israel worshiped the Lord, and the sacrifices and burnt offerings were the way Israel made atonement for their sins. We are fortunate that we do not need to continue the practice of offering sacrifices and burnt offerings to atone for our sins. Instead, God has made a way for us through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.