With today’s reading we finish the Book of Numbers. I can hear many of you cheering. It turns out many of you would rather read Leviticus than Numbers! Today we read some of the last-minute instructions before Moses begins his farewell address that makes up the book of Deuteronomy. So, let’s take a look at these last three chapters. The land is a BIG deal right now. This is the fulfillment of the prophecy God made to Abraham nearly 500 years earlier. God always keeps His promises, but the answer does not always come right away. Before the territory can be divided up, Joshua and Eleazar need to know the boundaries. The Western boundary is easy because they can go no farther than the Mediterranean Sea. Many of the other places listed do not appear on any map today. Again, one leader from each tribe is chosen to help assign the land. The only familiar name is Caleb, son of Jephunneh. God has chosen the men from each tribe and their names, while unfamiliar have great meaning. For instance, Shemuel means name of God. Elidad means God has loved. Hanniel means favor of God. Elizaphan means my God protects and Paltiel means God is my deliverance. Pedahel means God has redeemed. Names are a big deal.
We already know the Levites have been set apart by the Lord for service in the tabernacle. That means they will not be assigned a parcel of Land like the other tribes. Instead, they are given 48 cities, scattered among the other tribes. Tribes with many cities will give more cities to the Levites and those that are sparsely populated will give less. But every tribe will give some. The Levites are scattered throughout Israel so they can minister to the people and teach them God’s law.
There were also six cities of refuge assigned, three on the East side of the Jordan River and three on the West side. Israel had an army but not a police force. If someone was murdered the members of the family and clan saw to it that the murderer was punished. But if a man accidently killed someone, that was a case of manslaughter, not murder; and it would have been wrong to make him pay with his life. This goes back to the eye for an eye rule. The punishment could not be worse than the actual crime. So, the man who accidently killed someone could flee to one of the cities of refuge and present his case to the elders who would hear him and the witnesses. If the elders thought he was guilty of murder they would turn him over to the family and authorities for punishment. The man would be turned over to the nearest family member. This man was called the avenger of blood. If they concluded he was innocent, they allowed him to stay in the city of refuge under their protection until the death of the high priest. Then he was free to return home. But he was not allowed to pay a ransom and return home earlier. If the elders determined the man who accidently killed someone had no liability, he was free to go home. But if there was some liability he would be exiled in the city of refuge until the high priest died. Rather than have humans determine how long the man would have to be exiled they left it up to the Lord. The reason being no man can truly determine the level of liability of an accident so they cannot know how long to exile him. It would be up to the Lord to determine when the high priest would die, and that would be the man’s sentence of exile.
The word for avenger here is ga’al and it means redeemer. The word is used to describe one who redeems justice and restores to the owner what is rightfully his. In this case it is the state of peace between disputing parties. Avenger does not really do this justice. The title is simply the parent or next of kin of the injured party who is primarily responsible to represent the interests of an injured party and to see to it that justice or peace is established. If, however, the man was guilty, he would be taken outside of the city and stoned to death. Murder was a capital crime for which there was no ransom. God then told Moses that bloodshed pollutes and defiles the land. Since God dwelt among His people, He could not live in a land that was defiled with innocent blood. The land belonged to the Lord and the only way it could be cleansed was by the death of the murderer.
Here are a few random thoughts about the Book of Numbers. This book is all about the journey of the people of Israel. But we are on journeys of our own and sometimes they don’t look all that different. This journey was a special journey: from bondage to freedom, from childishness to maturity, from selfishness to service, from glorifying the past to anticipating the future. Does any of that sound familiar or look familiar to you? We too journey from bondage…to sin…to freedom in Jesus Christ. We grow and are grounded in our faith from the things we believe as children to the faith we continue to grow as adults. Many of us are somewhat self-centered. But once Jesus really gets ahold of us our priorities change. And there are those of us who are still firmly rooted in what was. It becomes the measuring stick that we hold the rest of our lives up to. But when we do that, we miss out on the many good things God has for us right here and now.
From God’s point of view there are only three places on this journey that are important. Egypt is the place of bondage that seems like security. Canaan is the place of inheritance where God wants to give us His best. The wilderness is the place of discipline, unbelief and falling short of the good things God has planned for us. Some of us have been in all of those places. Perhaps some of you are there right now. Living the Christian life begins with deliverance from Egypt…bondage…through the grace and power of God. We experience this when we trust Jesus and commit our lives to Him. A great many of us find ourselves at Kadesh-Barnea at some point in our lives. That is where we learn to put our trust in Him. From there we can enter into our inheritance by faith. There will be giants and challenges. Our God is way bigger than any of them. There is much to be learned in the wilderness, but God has no desire for us to stay there.
Israel repeatedly committed the same three mistakes that caused them no end of trouble. They looked back and glorified Egypt. They looked around and complained about their circumstances and they looked within and magnified their own desires. Life and their journey…just like our lives and our journeys…would be much different if we look toward the Lord and let Him lead the way. He will not lead us into harm’s way. He will not lead us partway on the journey and abandon us. He has promised to be with us always until the close of the age. And God always keeps His promises.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.