Timeframe and Setting
Within this post, I hope to cover the entirety of the book of Numbers. I will, however, begin with some comments on the construction of the tabernacle in Exodus, the book of Leviticus, and general time frames. As usual, James Jordan’s material on the book has been especially helpful in my thinking. I have already alluded to the purpose and meaning of the sacrificial system and its rites on a number of occasions in previous posts, most notably in the one prior to this. I made the observation that the tabernacle served as a moveable Sinai, fashioned according to the pattern that Moses received on the mountain, but also fashioned according to the pattern of the mountain itself. The various sacrifices and rites of the sacrificial system were designed for the ordering of life in fellowship with YHWH.
The tabernacle is finally erected and filled at the end of the book of Exodus. The laws concerning the sacrifices that we find in Leviticus 1-7 are given at this time as well and the installation of the priests begins. One by one, the leaders of the tribes offer their offerings (Numbers 7) for the dedication of the tabernacle and its worship. The items that they give mean that each one of the tribes is represented in the dedication of the tabernacle and also in its continuing worship. For instance, we may presume that the silver bowls and platters would have related in some way to the gold versions on the table of showbread, so that each of the tribes was continually memorialized before YHWH (Exodus 25:23-30; Leviticus 24:5-9).
The tabernacle was established on the first day of the first month of the second year, about a year since leaving Egypt (Exodus 40:17). The book of Leviticus fits in at this point, some of its events overlapping with events recorded in the book of Numbers. Leviticus sets out the patterns of life and the ‘times and seasons’ that will occur within the new creation of Israel and its worship. It establishes life in fellowship with a holy God and the operations of the purity system. Through the sacrifices, relationship with YHWH can be maintained and people can enjoy fellowship with him.
The book of Numbers begins on the first day of the second month of the second year (Numbers 1:1), although a number of its events belong to the month that preceded, with the establishment of the tabernacle and the investiture of the priests. The events at the start of the book of Numbers all occur while Israel is still in the Wilderness of Sinai. They don’t leave there until Numbers 10:11.
Tabernacle as New Creation
We have already seen echoes of new creation at various points in Israel’s experience to this point and I have remarked upon the relationship between Eden and the tabernacle. The tabernacle’s construction is also ordered according to a creation-like pattern in Exodus 25-30. In Genesis 1:1—2:4, we see that the creation has two stages. On the first three days the order of the creation is formed by the division between darkness and light, waters above and waters below, and land and sea. On the second three days, each of these realms is filled and distributed to ordained rulers, day 4 corresponding to day 1, day 5 to day 2, and day 6 to day 3. In Exodus 25-30 we see two sets of phrases dividing the construction of the tabernacle: ‘pattern’ phrases and ‘ordinance/generation’ phrases. The pattern phrases, which occur in the first half (25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8), refer to the ‘forming’ stage of the new creation. The ‘ordinance/generation’ phrases (27:21; 28:43; 29:9; 30:10) refer to the ‘filling’ stage, where the newly formed order is filled and apportioned to rulers.
The following comments follow Joel Garver’s reflections on the pattern of the tabernacle very closely. The ‘first day’ (25:1-40) begins with the formless raw materials assembled for the construction of the tabernacle (vv.1-9). The ark, table, and lampstand are formed on the first day. They are covered with gold and represent the radiance of YHWH’s glory presence. The ark represents God’s heavenly throne, the table is the earth beneath, and the lampstand is the light of the first day. The ‘second day’ (26:1-37) is the day when the tabernacle is created, the firmament between heaven and earth. The blue and purple veil with woven cherubim (v.31) represents the firmament dividing the heavens above from all beneath. The ‘third day’ (27:1-19) involves the establishment of the brazen altar and the tabernacle court. The altar, which would have turned green over time, akin to the grass of the third day of creation, represents Israel and also the mountain of YHWH. The establishment of the court, dividing it from the land beyond is like the formation of the land from out of the sea, setting the boundaries for the sea so that it should not pass.
The ‘fourth day’ (27:20-21) involves the oil for the lampstand, which corresponds to the great lights created on the fourth day of the original creation. On the ‘fifth day’ (28:1-43), the garments of the priesthood were created. These relate to the forming of the tabernacle on the ‘second day’. The clothed high priest is like a walking tabernacle in some regards and his clothes represent the great divisions of the creation itself. The clothes of the high priest are like his ‘wings’, enabling him to fly across the face of the firmament of YHWH, set to minister in the holy place. The ‘sixth day’ (29:1-9) is the formation of Aaron and his sons, the day in which man was created as the image of God within the creation, charged with exercising stewardship over it. The priests are anointed, just as the Spirit of life was breathed into Adam at his creation. The ‘seventh day’ (29:10—30:10) is the consecration of Aaron and his sons and the establishment of the ‘Sabbath’ worship of the tabernacle. There is an evening and morning pattern established and the lasting rest of the ascending worship of Israel to YHWH (29:38—30:10). The tabernacle is like Jacob’s ladder, a connection between heaven and earth, with the priests like angels ascending and descending with the praises of Israel.
The tabernacle is also like the Garden of Eden and Aaron is like Adam. G.K. Beale writes of Adam:
Genesis 2:15 says God placed Adam in the Garden ‘to cultivate [i.e. work] it and to keep it’. The two Hebrew words for ‘cultivate and keep’ are usually translated ‘serve and guard [or keep]’ elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is true that the Hebrew word usually translated ‘cultivate’ can refer to an agricultural task when used by itself (e.g., 2:5; 3:23). When, however, these two words … occur together in the Old Testament (within an approximately 15-word range), they refer either to Israelites ‘serving’ God and ‘guarding [keeping]’ God’s word (approximately 10 times) or to priests who ‘keep’ the ‘service’ (or ‘charge’) of the tabernacle (see Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chr. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14).
In Genesis 2, Adam is given the priestly task of guarding and keeping the garden (v.15) and upholding and teaching the law (vv.16-17 – a careful reading of what follows makes clear that Eve was not personally given the law, which is why the serpent was able to deceive her). Eve is then brought to Adam as a helper in the task that he has been given (vv.21-22). Aaron is the Adam in the new Garden of Eden. In Numbers 3:5-13, the tribe of Levi are brought to Aaron as the assistants in his task, much as Eve was brought to Adam as the assistant in his.
The Throne Chariot and Army of YHWH
The book of Numbers sets up the camp and army of Israel. The army of Israel will be a means that YHWH will use to execute his judgments within the world. However, much of the book of Numbers involves that army suffering judgments for its disobedience and its lack of discipline.
The tabernacle is placed in the centre of the camp and the tribes are ordered around it. The Levites are divided into four groups – the sons of Aaron are the priests, while the sons of Merari, the sons of Gershon, and the sons of Kohath are the Levites who serve the tabernacle in other ways. The Levites camp around the tabernacle, which is in the centre of the camp of Israel. The rest of Israel camps at a greater distance from the tabernacle (cf. Joshua 3:4), on all four sides. On the east of the camp, towards the rising sun, Judah is the chief tribe, accompanied by Issachar and Zebulun (2:3-9). On the south side, Reuben is the chief tribe, accompanied by Gad and Simeon (vv.10-16). On the west side, Ephraim is the chief tribe, accompanied by Benjamin and Manasseh (vv.18-24). Finally, on the north side, Dan is accompanied by Asher and Naphtali (vv.25-31).
It is a fact, however, that the four faces of the cherubim in Ezekiel and Revelation correspond to the four central constellations in the zodiac, and to the four tribes of Israel that were positioned north, south, east, and west of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Numbers 2:1-34). The Lion is Leo, Judah (Genesis 49:9). The Bull is Taurus, Ephraim (Deuteronomy 33:17). The Man is Aquarius, Reuben, “unstable as water” (Genesis 49:4). The Eagle is Scorpio, Dan. (This last identification is more difficult until we understand two things. First, Scorpio was also drawn as an Eagle in the ancient world, according to R. H. Allen. Second, the scorpion is linked with the serpent, and Dan is the serpent [Genesis 49:17; Luke 10:17 -19].)
The order here corresponds to that of the living creatures in Ezekiel 1:10, with the face of the lion on the right side and the face of the ox on the left, just as Judah is on the east side of the camp and Ephraim on the west. The significance of this should be plain. The living creatures in Ezekiel are guided by the Spirit and go wherever it goes (1:20). Above the living creatures is a firmament (vv.22-25), above which is the likeness of a throne, upon which a ‘likeness with the appearance of a man’ sat (vv.26-28), presumably the Angel of YHWH clothed in glory. In Numbers we see that the nation of Israel becomes like the living creatures that bear the throne chariot of YHWH. The throne of YHWH is the Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle the firmament above Israel’s heads.
This ordering of the tribes shows that Israel is YHWH’s heavenly people, like the stars in the heavens. Also, as Israel adopts this military structure, they are marked out as the bearers of YHWH’s throne chariot of judgment, led wherever the Spirit wishes to go (Exodus 40:34-38). As we see on many occasions throughout the narratives of the Exodus and the conquest of the land, the worship of Israel has a military character to it. Through Israel, YHWH will exercise his rule and battle with all of his enemies.
This is an important point to understand when dealing with the troubling theme of Holy War in Joshua and elsewhere. The conquest of the land was a matter of YHWH crushing his enemies and exercising justice upon the earth. YHWH didn’t just permit Israel to destroy the Canaanites for their own sake. Rather, Israel was commanded to destroy the Canaanites as the army of YHWH and the bearers of his battle chariot. As they fulfilled their task as YHWH’s army, enacting his just judgment upon the land, he would graciously give them rest within it as his servants. YHWH was the one who waged Holy War and the Israelites were his servants, called to do whatever he required of them.
Among the Israelites, the Levites were the elite troops of YHWH, his Praetorian Guard. They were like the cherubim with flaming swords, called to guard the Garden. They had proved themselves faithful at the rebellion at Sinai and took the place of the firstborn sons. They guarded the holiness of the nation, preventing the people from trespassing upon YHWH’s territory and enacted YHWH’s jealousy in judgment, as we shall later see.
The Levites had the task of transporting the tabernacle. The sons of Kohath carried the items from within the tabernacle, which were first covered and then removed from the tabernacle by the priests (4:1-20), the sons of Gershon carried all of the items made of cloth (vv.21-28), and the sons of Merari the wooden and metal supports of the tabernacle structure (vv.29-33).
The army camp had to be kept ceremonially clean, so lepers, those defiled by corpses, and those with discharges had to be removed until they were cleansed. At this point in Numbers we also see a few miscellaneous commandments, which might seem incongruous. The jealousy ritual (5:11-31) and the law of the Nazirite (6:1-21) appear much as intrusions upon the narrative. However, it seems to me that they are theologically significant in their context. I have commented at length on the ritual of jealousy elsewhere, so do not mean to repeat myself here. The point of the ritual in its context, I believe, principally relates to Israel as the bride of YHWH, who is subject to YHWH’s rituals of jealousy at various points in the Pentateuch.
The Nazirite vow relates to Israel as the holy warrior. While in the wilderness, Israel did not drink wine (Deuteronomy 29:6). They only drank wine when they entered into the rest of the land. The heads of the Nazirites were dedicated to YHWH for the duration of a special task. We see Nazirite figures in Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. Warriors also appeared to take the Nazirite vow or other vows of separation at times of battle (cf. Judges 5:2; 2 Samuel 11:11). This relates to the military themes in the book.
The trumpets of 10:1-10 also relate to the military theme. When YHWH’s Glory Chariot first arrived at Sinai, it came with the sound of a trumpet (Exodus 19:16, 19; 20:18). The silver trumpets that YHWH calls Moses to make audibly represent the Glory Chariot, memorializing Israel to YHWH.
A Second Exodus
There are a couple of exodus sequences in the book of Numbers. In chapter 9, the Passover is celebrated for the first time since the original celebration in Egypt. An alternative Passover celebration is also provided for those who were ceremonially impure at the time of the first celebration (vv.9-14). After the Feast of Unleavened Bread of the alternative Passover was finished, Israel was led out from Sinai by the cloud of YHWH’s Glory-Presence (10:11). Then, led by the cloud, they journey for three days, a journey corresponding to the original journey that they were to make from Egypt (v.33; cf. Exodus 3:18).
After first leaving Egypt, Israel had tested YHWH on several occasions. When pursued by Pharaoh they had shown unbelief. They had then murmured against Moses at Marah, failing YHWH’s test of them. Although Israel failed the jealousy test, YHWH turned the bitter waters sweet for them (Exodus 15:22-26). In Exodus 16, Israel is tested again and fails again in three different ways (vv.1-3, 19-20, 27-30). However, YHWH graciously provides manna for them in the wilderness, feeding his new ‘heavenly host’ with bread from heaven. Yet again, at Rephidim, the people contend with Moses and murmur against him. Once again, YHWH provides for them (Exodus 17:1-7). The great apostasy occurs at Sinai, with the Golden Calf, where Israel then suffers and fails YHWH’s jealousy test (Exodus 32).
Just as the original journey from Egypt was followed by several occasions when Israel tested YHWH, most notably in the Golden Calf incident at Sinai, so this second exodus is followed by a series of rebellions. However, on these occasions, YHWH punishes his people in a way that he hadn’t before. The first rebellion occurs at Taberah, when the fire of YHWH consumes some of the people (11:1-3). The second rebellion occurs at Kibroth Hattaavah, where the mixed multitude craves meat and complains about the manna. YHWH brings quail, but strikes them with a plague (11:4-35). Like the manna incident, it is a failed food test and involves a doubting of YHWH’s word. YHWH gives them what they want, but with it comes a feeling of sickness and a plague (vv.18-20, 33).
At Kibroth Hattaavah, Moses tells YHWH that he cannot bear the people alone, but needs help. This relates closely with the events of Exodus 18, where Jethro helps Moses to establish the elders as judges with Moses over the people. However, Moses’ problem at this point is not judicial rule, but spiritual leadership. To address this problem, there is a Pentecost-type event, which corresponds to the events of Sinai. The cloud of YHWH descends and YHWH takes of the Spirit that is on Moses and distributes it to seventy elders who have been set apart. I have commented on this event elsewhere:
There are a number of echoes of the theophany at Sinai in the account of Numbers 11, including: (1) the granting of a new vocation to a body of people (Exodus 19:5-6; Numbers 11:16-17); (2) the command for the people to sanctify themselves for the coming day when YHWH will act decisively (Number 11:18; cf. Exodus 19:10); (3) the gathering of the people around a particular location, Mt Sinai in the Exodus account and the tabernacle in that of Numbers (Numbers 11:24); (4) a theophany in which God comes down in the cloud and speaks with Moses (Exodus 19:9; Numbers 11:25).
After this event, which corresponds to the theophany and giving of the Law at Sinai, Aaron and Miriam speak against Moses for marrying an Ethiopian woman (Numbers 12:1-16). The insubordination of Aaron relates to Aaron’s insubordination at Sinai in the Golden Calf incident. Just as in Exodus 32 we saw the pattern of the Fall, with Aaron as Adam and Israel as Eve, in Numbers 12 we see Adam and Eve again in Aaron and Miriam. While it may seem unfair that the bride figure is judged once again, while Aaron left unpunished, it should be recognized that, if Aaron suffered the same fate, the priesthood of Israel would be extinguished and they would lose their sacrificial access to YHWH. While Aaron deserves to be cut off, YHWH graciously preserves him for the sake of his people. The Hebrew Miriam, who complains against the Cushite wife, is excluded from the camp for some time, in a manner that reverses some of the themes of Genesis 16, where the Hebrew Sarai complains against the Egyptian wife and temporarily drives her out. Once again, the rightful place of Gentiles among YHWH’s people is affirmed.
The second great apostasy of the people, corresponding to the first great apostasy at Sinai with the Golden Calf, occurs after the spies sent out to explore the land return with a bad report. They returned with a huge cluster of grapes (13:23), a foretaste of the wine of kingdom to come. The land was good, but the inhabitants were fearsome. The people wished that they had died in Egypt or in the wilderness (14:2).
Once again, YHWH declares his desire to destroy and disinherit Israel and make a mighty nation of Moses (14:11-12; cf. Exodus 32:9-10) and, once again, Moses intercedes for them (vv.13-19). He recalls YHWH’s earlier declaration of his identity in Exodus 34:6-7 (vv.17-19). YHWH pardons the people, just as he did in Exodus. He declares that Israel have put him to the test ten times. There would seem to be a correspondence to the plagues of Egypt here. Israel is plagued a number of times in the book of Exodus and Numbers. As at the Exodus, the wicked and stubborn are steadily hardened and destroyed, while the righteous are prepared for deliverance. Much of Israel has become as Egypt, but out of Israel YHWH will form a faithful people for himself.
As at Sinai, the sin relates to the events that occur at the end of a forty day period of absence (Leithart comments on further possible parallels here). In Exodus it is Moses’ absence from the people while on the mountain (24:18). In Numbers it is the period that the spies spend exploring the land (13:25). As a result of their sin, all of the people who were numbered, save Caleb and Joshua, will die in the wilderness, just as they wished earlier (14:28-35; cf. v.2). Israel is condemned to forty years of wandering in the wilderness, one year for every day spent spying out the land. The false witnesses are also killed with the plague (vv.36-37), just as judgment and plague followed the events at Sinai (Exodus 32:32-35).
Numbers 15 is once again a restoration of a fallen Israel, much as occurred in Exodus 34, as it reiterates the promise that they will in fact enter the land, giving ordinances that will only come into effect when they enter in thirty-eight years’ time (15:2). Wine (v.5, 7, 10) and new leaven (vv.19-21) are both mentioned, indicating the new life principle and rest of the land (the fact that wine will not be offered to YHWH before they settle in the land also suggests that YHWH himself has taken something akin to a Nazirite vow). The tasselled garments in vv.37-39 also show the authority and privilege of Israel being marked out. The threads are made of wool, more associated with priestly garments. The fact that they are blue might represent the river flowing out from Eden in four directions. Just as the high priest is attired as a tabernacle in miniature, so out of the individual Israelite will flow symbolic rivers of water as they adhere to the covenant.
There are another set of three rebellions here, against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebel against Moses and Aaron, claiming that, as all of the people of YHWH are holy, Moses and Aaron have no right to exalt themselves over them. Korah, of the sons of Kohath, wants to be like Aaron (cf. 16:11), while Dathan and Abiram, want to be like Moses. There is both a priestly and civil rebellion.
YHWH calls the people to separate from the rebels (v.24). It seems that, while Dathan and Abiram’s entire families remain with them, Korah’s family wisely separate from him (cf. 26:11). As elsewhere in Scripture, YHWH judges and delivers people in solidarities. Those who belong to believing households are saved with those households, unless they rebel. Those who do not separate themselves from people like Korah will die with them. The fact that YHWH does not deal primarily with detached individuals, but with solidarities, can be seen most powerfully in the inclusion of infants in the deliverance or judgment of their parents. All of the households of Dathan and Abiram are swallowed up by the earth, with their women and children, along with Korah and the men who decided to remain with him. Aaron’s authority as priest was reaffirmed as the two hundred and fifty men who offered incense in challenge to his authority were consumed (v.35), like Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1-7.
A further rebellion occurs when the people murmur against Moses and Aaron following this event. Aaron has to save Israel from the plague, taking a censer and running to the congregation to make atonement for them. Aaron’s religious leadership is affirmed yet again as YHWH gets each of the leaders of the tribes to bring a rod with their name written on it, with Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi. Placed before YHWH, it is Aaron’s rod that buds, produces blossoms, and has ripe almonds (17:8). This rod is then placed before the Testimony, as a continual memorial of YHWH’s choice of Aaron and a warning to any who would oppose him. In chapter 18, the true order of Israel is stated.
Death and Resurrection
Numbers 20 marks the death of the old generation, as Moses is disqualified from entering the land and both Miriam and Aaron die. The death of Miriam begins the chapter (v.1), after which the congregation gather against Moses and Aaron as there is no water. After praying to YHWH, Moses is instructed to take the rod with Aaron from before YHWH. This is Aaron’s, not Moses rod (v.9; cf. 17:10): Moses’ rod struck the rock in Exodus 17:5, but here Aaron’s rod must be spoken to (I previously commented on the distinction between the two rods here).
Moses disobeys YHWH, striking the rock twice with the rod, rather than speaking to it, as YHWH had commanded him to do. As a result, both Moses and Aaron were disqualified from entering into the land (v.12). It is worth observing that, even after his involvement in previous great acts of rebellion (with the Golden Calf and in Numbers 12), it is only now that Aaron is disqualified from entering the land. As Aaron came directly under Moses’ mediation, it was not until Moses was disqualified that Aaron would be disqualified (cf. v.24).
Aaron dies at the end of the chapter (vv.22-29), dying on the top of a mountain, just as Moses will later do (Deuteronomy 34:1-5). His high priestly leadership is passed on to Eleazar, his son. As he is the high priest, the death of Aaron is highly significant. In Numbers 35:25 we see that it is the death of the high priest that cleanses the land from the defilement of blood. The death of Aaron, as the death of the symbolic firstborn of Israel, is a sort of Passover event and the start of a new exodus sequence. Once Aaron dies, the tide of the story turns and Israel immediately wins a battle at a place where they were formerly defeated (21:1-3; cf. 14:45). Here we see the first cities of the Canaanites that are burned up to YHWH, suffering a fate similar to the cities of the plain in Genesis. Israel, as the army of YHWH, have been appointed to execute Sodom and Gomorrah style judgments upon the cities of the Canaanites.
Once again, we see the judgment of YHWH’s fire come upon a disobedient people, this time in the form of fiery serpents (21:6). Unlike most previous incidents, however, the people are repentant and ask Moses to pray for them (v.7). The song of the well in verses 17-18 recalls Moses’ Song of the Sea in Exodus 15. At the end of chapter 21, with the defeat of King Sihon and King Og (like the defeat of the Amalekites in Exodus 17), we finally see Israel entering into some of the possession of the land of the Canaanites (vv.31, 35).
There is one great incident of apostasy following this new exodus sequence, once again akin to the Golden Calf incident. This event begins with the mercenary prophet Balaam being hired by Balak, the king of the Moabites, to curse the people of Israel for him. Balaam has three encounters with God. At the first encounter he is forbidden to go and to curse the Israelites, as they are blessed (22:12). After a more promising offer is made to Balaam, he enquires of God again and this time he is permitted to go, but only to declare the words that God permits him to (v.20). The third encounter occurs on the road, as the Angel of YHWH stands in the way of him and his ass (vv.21-35).
As Jordan observes, the ass symbolizes Balaam himself and Balaam plays the part of Balak. The evil prophet Balaam is akin to the unclean ass, who Balak is trying to employ to serve his will. Just as the ass goes against Balaam’s will three times, going out of the way, crushing his foot, and then lying down in the road (vv.23, 25, 27), so the unclean Balaam prophecies three times against the angry Balak’s wishes, an unclean prophet speaking God’s blessing on Israel in an event that parallels God speaking through Balaam’s ass. Just as Balaam’s ass reminds him that he has never previously gone against Balaam’s will, indicating that Balaam should recognize that something remarkable is occurring, so Balak should recognize in the uncooperative mercenary prophet Balaam the fact that God is doing something remarkable. After delivering his four prophecies of blessing on Israel, Balaam prophesies the later history of Israel, from its defeat of Moab, Edom, the Amalekites, to the later exile and subsequent empires (24:15-25).
It is after the failure of this plan that the evil Balaam comes up with an alternative scheme. If he cannot curse Israel directly, he will cause Israel to bring a curse upon themselves. In 31:16, we see that it was Balaam’s advice that led to the Moabite women being used to tempt the Israelites to another great act of spiritual adultery. The Moabite women encouraged Israel to worship their false god, Baal of Peor. As a result, the judges of Israel have to kill all of the men who were joined to Baal of Peor in the sacrificial celebration and through sexual relations with the Moabite women (25:5).
This event corresponds to the Golden Calf incident in several respects. The jealousy of YHWH is provoked through an act of spiritual adultery and implied sexual sin (Exodus 32:20, 25; Numbers 25:11). A Levite stands up and executes YHWH’s jealous vengeance upon the wrongdoers (Exodus 32:26-28; Numbers 25:7-8). The Levite is rewarded with a new role as an appointed servant of YHWH (Exodus 32:29; Numbers 25:10-13). There is a plague upon the people (Exodus 32:34-35; Numbers 25:9).
After the apostasy at Acacia Grove, Israel is restored once more. This is the last of the rebellions in the wilderness. The old generation has perished and a new generation is raised up to enter into the land. They are numbered in chapter 26. Lines of inheritance are established in chapter 27, both for the daughters of Zelophehad, but also as Joshua is appointed as Moses’ successor. The offerings for particular periods of time and feast days are appointed in chapters 28-29. Once the people have been set to rights as the faithful army of YHWH, they can finally plan ahead to life in the land. After exercising vengeance on the Midianites in chapter 31, much of the rest of the book is taken up with recounting the journey to that point and planning the details of the invasion to come.
This study has been by far the longest to this point, covering a huge amount of material and almost forty years. The book of Numbers presents us with the establishment of the army of YHWH and the gradual and painful process of its training. In rebellion after rebellion, vast numbers die until an entire unfaithful generation has perished. YHWH’s testing of his people in the wilderness prepares them for the challenge of conquest that lies ahead. It is a gradual process of refinement, through a couple of great exodus sequences, following after the original exodus sequence that led up to the apostasy at Sinai.
The great censuses of the book, along with the lists of the tribes, trace the work that YHWH is doing in preparing his people. If, as Leithart suggests, these lists of the tribes also follow a seven day creation pattern, we see a prominent theme of the book – YHWH’s creation of his new host through ordering, testing, and judgment – powerfully underlined.
After forty bitter years of wilderness wandering, and at the halfway point of this series, we now stand in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, just across from Jericho (36:13). In our next study, we will finally cross over.