Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Israel in the Land

The heads of the fathers’ houses of the clan of the people of Gilead the son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of the people of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the chiefs, the heads of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel. They said, “The LORD commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the people of Israel, and my lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters. But if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the people of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers and added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry. So it will be taken away from the lot of our inheritance. And when the jubilee of the people of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry, and their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.”

And Moses commanded the people of Israel according to the word of the LORD, saying, “The tribe of the people of Joseph is right. This is what the LORD commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father.  The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.’”

The daughters of Zelophehad did as the LORD commanded Moses, for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to sons of their father’s brothers. They were married into the clans of the people of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father’s clan.

These are the commandments and the rules that the LORD commanded through Moses to the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.  (Numbers 36:1-13 ESV)

The first generation of Israelites who came to the land of Canaan refused to obey Yahweh and attack the land and take it.  They were too fearful.  This next generation is wondering how the land that will be allotted to them when they conquer Canaan will be safeguarded to each tribe.  Quite a change and an indication of faith.

Just as Yahweh listened to the daughters of Zelophedad and allowed them to inherit land in their father’s name since he had no sons, now Yahweh listens to their tribal leaders when they express a concern that the daughters might marry out of the tribe and take land allotted to their tribe to another.  The answer is to have them marry within the tribe, though presumably if they marry outside the tribe they don’t take the land with them.

The land God gave Israel and its separate tribes and families was a sacred trust.  It is still so, though Israel has since this day lost the land on two separate occasions due to their own sinfulness.  But God is not finished with Israel nor the land He promised them.  One day the nation will repent and receive their Messiah and with that will receive the trust God gave them to steward.  In that day they will see the nations flow to them and will be God’s gemstone among all the nations.  And the nations will not be jealous of this but with God honor the nation who safeguarded the seed of the woman who will restore the kingdom, Jesus the Righteous One.

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Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Discipline and the Divine Presence

The LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites some of the inheritance of their possession as cities for them to dwell in. And you shall give to the Levites pasturelands around the cities. The cities shall be theirs to dwell in, and their pasturelands shall be for their cattle and for their livestock and for all their beasts. The pasturelands of the cities, which you shall give to the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits all around. And you shall measure, outside the city, on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits, the city being in the middle. This shall belong to them as pastureland for their cities.

“The cities that you give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the manslayer to flee, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities. All the cities that you give to the Levites shall be forty-eight, with their pasturelands. And as for the cities that you shall give from the possession of the people of Israel, from the larger tribes you shall take many, and from the smaller tribes you shall take few; each, in proportion to the inheritance that it inherits, shall give of its cities to the Levites.”   

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. And the cities that you give shall be your six cities of refuge. You shall give three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall be for refuge for the people of Israel, and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills any person without intent may flee there.

“But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death. And if he struck him down with a stone tool that could cause death, and he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death. Or if he struck him down with a wooden tool that could cause death, and he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death. The avenger of blood shall himself put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.  And if he pushed him out of hatred or hurled something at him, lying in wait, so that he died, or in enmity struck him down with his hand, so that he died, then he who struck the blow shall be put to death. He is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.

“But if he pushed him suddenly without enmity, or hurled anything on him without lying in wait or used a stone that could cause death, and without seeing him dropped it on him, so that he died, though he was not his enemy and did not seek his harm, then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these rules. And the congregation shall rescue the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he had fled, and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. But if the manslayer shall at any time go beyond the boundaries of his city of refuge to which he fled, and the avenger of blood finds him outside the boundaries of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood.  For he must remain in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest, but after the death of the high priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession. And these things shall be for a statute and rule for you throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.

“If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death. And you shall accept no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the high priest. You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.”  (Numbers 35:1-34 ESV)

The Levites do not inherit land in Israel, but instead are given pasture land around the cities designated by Israel, 48 in all.  Six of these cities are cities of refuge where someone who kills another without malice aforethought may flee for protection from the dead person’s relative.  Instead of a police force for such things, the relative of someone murdered was expected to take vengeance on the murderer.  But there had to be at least two witnesses to convict someone of murder and if it was deemed manslaughter instead of first degree murder, the manslayer was to live in the city of refuge until the high priest at the time died.  This was his penalty.

God required the death of a 1st degree murderer, however, in order to atone for the blood spilled in His land.  Only the death of the killer kept the land from being defiled.  Yahweh dwelled in the land among His people and there would be repercussions for defiling the land.

Yahweh dwells among us, His church, as well.  His holy presence requires a reciprocal holiness on our part and a readiness to deal with our failures in regard to holiness.  Paul says we are capable of judging such cases among us (1 Corinthians 6) and applying discipline correctly.  Jesus told us that where two or three agree on any discipline it will be done in heaven (Matthew 18:15ff).

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: God’s Big Purposes

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders), your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin alongside Edom, and your southern border shall run from the end of the Salt Sea on the east. And your border shall turn south of the ascent of Akrabbim, and cross to Zin, and its limit shall be south of Kadesh-barnea. Then it shall go on to Hazar-addar, and pass along to Azmon. And the border shall turn from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt, and its limit shall be at the sea.

“For the western border, you shall have the Great Sea and its coast. This shall be your western border.

“This shall be your northern border: from the Great Sea you shall draw a line to Mount Hor. From Mount Hor you shall draw a line to Lebo-hamath, and the limit of the border shall be at Zedad. Then the border shall extend to Ziphron, and its limit shall be at Hazar-enan. This shall be your northern border.

“You shall draw a line for your eastern border from Hazar-enan to Shepham.  And the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain. And the border shall go down and reach to the shoulder of the Sea of Chinnereth on the east. And the border shall go down to the Jordan, and its limit shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land as defined by its borders all around.”

Moses commanded the people of Israel, saying, “This is the land that you shall inherit by lot, which the LORD has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe. For the tribe of the people of Reuben by fathers’ houses and the tribe of the people of Gad by their fathers’ houses have received their inheritance, and also the half-tribe of Manasseh. The two tribes and the half-tribe have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, toward the sunrise.”  (Numbers 34:1-15 ESV)

God does not leave the people any guess work regarding just what territory they can call their own and in fact it belongs to Him and they are tenants on His land.  The ESV Study Bible note remarks: “In fact, Israel never occupied all this territory—it represents the Promised Land, not the subsequently occupied land, of Israel.”

Israel never had faith in this first phase of occupation to fully dispossess the nations of Canaan.  In the reign of Solomon this was nearly all encompassed in Israel or at least parts still occupied by other nations paid tribute to Israel and her king.

What are the borders God has given you and me?  What does He want us to accomplish and are we even close?  His dream and purpose for us is big.

The secret of spiritual victory is saying yes to God. William E. Nelson

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Sin Like Weeds

And the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. You shall inherit the land by lot according to your clans. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. According to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.”  (Numbers 33:50-56 ESV)

God can’t be more clear that Israel’s future depends on clearing out all the enemies of Canaan in obedience to Him.  He is using Israel as the tool of His judgment on these nations.  The issue is idolatry.  Israel must destroy all their idols and elevated shrines for worship and all the idolaters.  Otherwise their influence will become an irritant that Israel will be unable to ignore and she will fall into the same sin and receive the judgment God had reserved for the Canaanites.

Our greatest problem is being caught up in the thinking of the world, its idolatry, and succumbing to viewing God as just one among many sources of life, or no source at all.  We must “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we [must] take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5).  If we nourish any sin in our thinking it will demolish us.

It is said that many years ago the small farmers of Scotland were a very superstitious people. They would leave a corner of their fields uncultivated in order to pacify certain evil spirits. They believed that by sacrificing this one corner to the spirits, the remainder of the field would be left undisturbed and yield good results.  But what happened, in fact, of course, was that the uncultivated corner produced a crop of weeds and when the wind blew, it scattered those weeds across the whole field.  The whole field suffered because of weeds in one corner.  And so with the Christians life. One sin which is allowed to dominate can infect a man’s whole life, ruin his character, and negate completely his witness for God.  The Hidden Hand, International Bible Encyclopedia, Thomas

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Obedience and God’s Heart

These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places. They set out from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. On the day after the Passover, the people of Israel went out triumphantly in the sight of all the Egyptians, while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the LORD had struck down among them. On their gods also the LORD executed judgments.

So the people of Israel set out from Rameses and camped at Succoth. And they set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. And they set out from Etham and turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which is east of Baal-zephon, and they camped before Migdol. And they set out from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and they went a three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah. And they set out from Marah and came to Elim; at Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there…And they set out from Rephidim and camped in the wilderness of Sinai…And they set out from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the edge of the land of Edom.

And Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor at the command of the LORD and died there, in the fortieth year after the people of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. And Aaron was 123 years old when he died on Mount Hor.

And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the people of Israel.

And they set out from Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah. And they set out from Zalmonah and camped at Punon. And they set out from Punon and camped at Oboth…And they set out from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho; they camped by the Jordan from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab.  (Numbers 33:1-49 ESV)

Moses has recorded the journeys of Israel for 40 years in very summary fashion with little to no commentary.  He does comment that the account was by Yahweh’s command and that their departure from Egypt was a triumph over the Egyptians whose firstborn were being buried as a judgment by God and that all the plagues were a judgment by Yahweh on all the gods of the Egyptians (by which we should understand fallen angels who represented themselves as gods).

Moses passes quickly over how Israel “passed through the midst of the sea” by a miraculous wind sent by Yahweh to dry their path, which then closed over the Egyptians as they sought to follow.

He brings Israel to their current position near Moab, but not without commenting that a Canaanite king has heard of them, a hint of the terror Yahweh is putting on the inhabitants of the land in preparation for their defeat, and not without noting Aaron’s death at age 123 in discipline of his failing to obey God by speaking to the rock to provide water.  Moses, of course, also will have this discipline and this reminds the people of that.

All this shows Yahweh’s providential ability to care for His people and serves perhaps also as a mild warning to be obedient this time when they stage for war.  God is willing to give us second chances and more.  The thing He most wants us to learn is trusting and obeying.

Last summer I had an encounter with masked men bearing scalpels. A surgeon operated on my foot, and my life was never in danger. Yet the horizontal recovery time did give me a chance to reflect on pain that we choose voluntarily, sometimes for our own good and sometimes to our peril.

While rehabilitating, I often did exercises that hurt because I knew that working through the soreness would allow my foot to regain its usefulness. On the other hand, the surgeon warned against bicycling, mountain climbing, running, and other activities that might endanger the healing process. Basically, anything that sounded fun, he vetoed.

On one visit I tried to talk him into granting me a premature golf match. “Some friends get together once a year. It’s important to me. I’ve been practicing my swing, and if I use only my upper body and keep my legs and hips very still, could I join them?”

Without a flicker of hesitation, my doctor replied, “It would make me very unhappy if you played golf within the next two months.”

“I thought you were a golfer,” I said, appealing to his sympathies.

“I am. That’s how I know you can’t swing without rolling that foot inward and putting weight on the parts that are trying to heal.”

The point was obvious. My doctor has nothing against my playing golf; as a fellow golfer, he sympathizes with me. But he has my best interests at heart. It will indeed make him unhappy if I do something prematurely that might damage my long-term recovery. He wants me to play golf next year, and the next, and the rest of my life, and for that reason he could not sanction a match too soon after my surgery.

As we talked, I began to appreciate my doctor’s odd choice of words. If he had issued an edict —”No golf!”— I might have stubbornly rebelled. He left me the free choice and expressed the consequences in a most personal way: Disobedience would grieve him, for his job was to restore my health.

The role of a doctor may be the most revealing image in thinking about God and sin. What a doctor does for me physically—guide me toward health—God does for me spiritually. I am learning to view sins not as an arbitrary list of rules drawn up by a cranky Judge, but rather as a list of dangers that must be avoided at all costs—for our own sakes. (Philip Yancey)

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Leadership and Listening

Now the people of Reuben and the people of Gad had a very great number of livestock. And they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock. So the people of Gad and the people of Reuben came and said to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the chiefs of the congregation, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the LORD struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.”

   But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the LORD has given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel from going into the land that the LORD had given them. And the LORD’s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the LORD.’ And the LORD’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD was gone. And behold, you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the LORD against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”

   Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.”  So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the LORD for the war, and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the LORD, until he has driven out his enemies from before him and the land is subdued before the LORD; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the LORD and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the LORD. But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out. Build cities for your little ones and folds for your sheep, and do what you have promised.” And the people of Gad and the people of Reuben said to Moses, “Your servants will do as my lord commands. Our little ones, our wives, our livestock, and all our cattle shall remain there in the cities of Gilead, but your servants will pass over, every man who is armed for war, before the LORD to battle, as my lord orders.”

   So Moses gave command concerning them to Eleazar the priest and to Joshua the son of Nun and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel. And Moses said to them, “If the people of Gad and the people of Reuben, every man who is armed to battle before the LORD, will pass with you over the Jordan and the land shall be subdued before you, then you shall give them the land of Gilead for a possession.  However, if they will not pass over with you armed, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.” And the people of Gad and the people of Reuben answered, “What the LORD has said to your servants, we will do. We will pass over armed before the LORD into the land of Canaan, and the possession of our inheritance shall remain with us beyond the Jordan.”

   And Moses gave to them, to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben and to the half-tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land and its cities with their territories, the cities of the land throughout the country. And the people of Gad built Dibon, Ataroth, Aroer, Atroth-shophan, Jazer, Jogbehah, Beth-nimrah and Beth-haran, fortified cities, and folds for sheep. And the people of Reuben built Heshbon, Elealeh, Kiriathaim, Nebo, and Baal-meon (their names were changed), and Sibmah. And they gave other names to the cities that they built. And the sons of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead and captured it, and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it. And Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he settled in it.  And Jair the son of Manasseh went and captured their villages, and called them Havvoth-jair. And Nobah went and captured Kenath and its villages, and called it Nobah, after his own name.  (Numbers 32:1-42 ESV)

Moses sees a danger in these tribes wanting land outside Canaan, fearing it means they are unwilling to obey Yahweh’s command to conquer Canaan along with the rest of the tribes.  If so, Yahweh will once again discipline them.  But to his credit, when he learns that they are willing to go over and fight with all Israel, he relents.

Good leadership listens and accepts reasonable desires on the part of those being led.  It is ultimately always about the good, however, of the whole, not the individual parts.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Temptation

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian. You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war.” So there were provided, out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, together with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. They warred against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every male. They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. And they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword. And the people of Israel took captive the women of Midian and their little ones, and they took as plunder all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods. All their cities in the places where they lived, and all their encampments, they burned with fire, and took all the spoil and all the plunder, both of man and of beast. Then they brought the captives and the plunder and the spoil to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the people of Israel, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.

Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the chiefs of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp. And Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves. Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work of goats’ hair, and every article of wood.”

Then Eleazar the priest said to the men in the army who had gone to battle: “This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded Moses:  only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean. Nevertheless, it shall also be purified with the water for impurity. And whatever cannot stand the fire, you shall pass through the water. You must wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean. And afterward you may come into the camp.”

The LORD said to Moses, “Take the count of the plunder that was taken, both of man and of beast, you and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the congregation, and divide the plunder into two parts between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation. And levy for the LORD a tribute from the men of war who went out to battle, one out of five hundred, of the people and of the oxen and of the donkeys and of the flocks. Take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as a contribution to the LORD. And from the people of Israel’s half you shall take one drawn out of every fifty, of the people, of the oxen, of the donkeys, and of the flocks, of all the cattle, and give them to the Levites who keep guard over the tabernacle of the LORD.” And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses…

Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, came near to Moses and said to Moses, “Your servants have counted the men of war who are under our command, and there is not a man missing from us. And we have brought the LORD’s offering, what each man found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and beads, to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD.” And Moses and Eleazar the priest received from them the gold, all crafted articles.  (Numbers 31:1-51 ESV)

Because Midian, at Balaam’s instruction, used their women to lead Israel into idolatry, Yahweh sends 12,000 of the army against them.  They kill all the men, including Balaam, but are enticed again by the women and keep them alive.  Moses instructs them to kill all the women who have been with a man and then explains how the rest of the spoils of war are to be distributed, some to the people who stayed back in camp and some to the Priests and the Levites.

The soldiers decide to bring an offering of gold from their plunder to atone for their sin in keeping the women alive.  They note that remarkably not one Israelite was killed in the battle, a sure sign that Yahweh was fighting for them and giving unusual protection.

Even when our motives are not the best God often graciously exceeds what we wanted to see happen.  It is important for us to recognize our wrong motives and give honor to Him for his goodness and grace toward us.

We undoubtedly struggle with Yahweh’s determination to kill all the other captives besides the immature females.  This is the unusual judgment He gives concerning the Canaanites and, in this case, the Midianites, because of their unnecessary desire to destroy Israel.  Only God has the right to determine who lives and dies and it was His judgment that this was the case for this particular enemy.  Their temptation of Israel would continue to exist and perhaps lead Israel astray.

We must deal decisively with temptation.  Jesus spoke in exaggerated terms when he said if your hand offends you cut it off (Matthew 5:30).   Nothing is more important than staying in relationship to God and following His commands.  They are the path to life away from destruction.