Numbers 26 opens with a reminder of what has just happened in the prior scene. A plague has killed 24,000 Israelites which was sent by God because the people were whoring with the daughters of Moab and sacrificing to their gods (25:1-2). We also noted that we are on the east side of the Jordan River and we are the brink of going into the promised land. The rest of the book of Numbers records the final preparations for entering into the promised land of Canaan.
New Census (26:1-65)
In Numbers 26:1-2 the Lord instructs Moses and Eleazar to take a census of the people. The last time the census was taken at the beginning of the book of Numbers. The purpose was to count the number of warriors who would go in and achieve victory that God was giving them. After taking the census and giving the final directions, the people leave Mount Sinai, go to Kadesh, send in the spies, and then fail to go in because they do not believe God is going to give them victory. By taking the census of the second generation, in essence God is saying, “Let’s do this again.” Here is the opportunity to take the land that God is going to give you. As the census is occurring, please notice that there is the reminder of death for disobedience and rebellion (26:9-10). The rebellion of Korah and his men are brought so that “they became a warning” (26:10). Once the count is completed, the total number of people who are numbered for war is 601,730 men (26:51). It is very close to the same number of the first generation census where the number was 603,550 men who were numbered for war. The Lord’s faithfulness to Abraham is seen again as God has not allowed this people to die off wandering in the wilderness for 4 decades. Instead, we have a nation ready to take the land by the hand of the Lord. Further the land is divided up for inheritance (26:53) picturing the fact that God is not going to lose. Dividing up the land is a declaration of certainty. The land is going to belong to Israel. Then notice that another reminder of disobedience is given, recalling the sin of Nadab and Abihu in verse 61. In fact, verses 64-65 remind this generation of their parents’ disobedience. None of them made it except Joshua and Caleb.
New Hope (27:1-11)
Then we have a problem that comes up. After the land is divided up among the tribes and clans, the daughters of Zelophehad from the tribe of Manasseh come to Moses and Eleazar before all the congregation (27:1-2). Their father died in the wilderness. He did not die as part of Korah’s rebellion, but he did die because of his own sins. I think this is referring to the broad sins of the nation to refuse to enter the promised land and therefore died in the wilderness during the wandering. Their father did not have any sons. They ask why the land would not remain within their father’s name. Is their portion of the land inheritance going to be lost because there are no sons to carry on with the inheritance? Moses inquires of the Lord about this concern. God’s answer is beautiful. God does not say that women in ancient Near Eastern world are merely property so too bad. God answers that the land should be given to these daughters. The promised land does not discern between men and women. Further, the prior sins of the family do not exclude the children from inheriting the promises. There is an inheritance for all God’s people, regardless of what has happened in the past. This is a great display of faith by these daughters. They desire the promised land and God is giving the inheritance for all who desire it.
New Shepherd (27:12-23)
Now God tells Moses what is going to happen to him regarding his final days. Moses is going to go up this mountain to see the land that will be given to Israel. After he has seen the land, he will die in that place. Notice the reason why is stated just as strongly again in verse 14. “Because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” Notice that God says what Moses did was rebellion and the rebellion was not upholding the holiness of God before the people.
But notice what Moses’ concern is in verses 16-17. Moses does not have regard for himself but for the people of Israel. Moses implores the Lord to appoint a person over Israel to be their leader so that they “may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” Moses requests a leader “who shall go out before them and come in before them.” This is a phrase that is primarily used in the scriptures of a military leader who can bring victory (Deuteronomy 31:2-3; Joshua 14:11; 1 Samuel 18:13,16; 29:6; 1 Kings 3:7). We need someone who can lead the people to victory. The reason why this leader is needed is so that Israel will not be “as sheep that have no shepherd.”
The Lord responds in verse 18 that Joshua will be the person to do this for Israel and will fulfill Moses’ request. Moses’ heart is for this people and Joshua is going to be the answer. The Spirit of the Lord is in Joshua. Commission him in the sight of the people and put your authority on him so that the all the people of Israel will obey him.
Israel needs a shepherd, a true leader who will bring them into the promised land and give the victory to the people. The person that the Lord chooses to be the new shepherd to bring the people into their rest and give them victory is Joshua. What a foreshadowing of the redemption God would accomplish for the world! We have noted before that the name Joshua is a Hebrew name that means “The Lord Saves.” Translated that Hebrew name into the Greek you have the name “Jesus” meaning “The Lord Saves.” Jesus is going to be the good shepherd, the true shepherd, who will lead the people into the promised rest. Jesus is the shepherd the world needs (John 10). Jesus is the one in whom is the Spirit of the Lord (Luke 4:17-21; Isaiah 61:1-3). Also please notice the convergence of the actions of Moses and Joshua at this moment. Moses is the great intercessor for the people who is going to die alone on a mountain while the people that he led will inherit the promises. Thus, Jesus has compassion on the people because they are like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). The people need a Joshua, and Jesus is Joshua.
New Beginnings (28:1-30:16)
But then the next three chapters return to speaking about the sacrifices and the vows the people offer. You will notice by looking at the headers in those chapters that the Lord tells Moses to command the people about the offerings that they bring the Lord each day, each Sabbath, each month, and each year. The special annual feasts are also restated. Why does God keep returning to these offerings? Why does God keep emphasizing worship in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers?
First, God is going to bring the people in and they will offer sacrifices in the promised land. The sacrifices were a depiction of the relationship the people have with God. The sacrifices are daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly which never stop and are always needed to be in relationship with God. Worship is not something that one does but is the encompassing of all of one’s life. God wants their whole lives to be full of worship. Why?
How you worship ends up determining who you are worshiping. If you get to design the way you worship God, you will eventually worship a god of your own design and not the true God. But if you worship God in the way that he appointed for you to worship, you will worship the only true God. This is a protection for the people of God. The world is always worshiping gods. But they are not worship the right God and they are not worship God in the right way. Their lives bear the truth of this in their sinful behaviors. God’s plan to save his people comes through worship because worship is to be transforming to our lives.
God is making us into his people through worship. By worshiping God, he is bringing our hearts into full allegiance to him. He is forming our minds to be like his. He is teaching us to view him as he is, not according to our own views, values, opinions, or perspectives. He is teaching us that he defines himself. We do not define God. Further, we do not learn what God is like from the world. God is distinct from the world and he is making us distinct as well through worship. This is why the worship keeps being brought up Israel.
What is the big idea? We are alive because of the sacrifices. We deserve to be judged for our sins but these sacrifices are accepted on our behalf. We are recipients of God’s promises because of the sacrifices offered. We would not be alive to receive God’s promises if it were not for the worship. We are forgiven through these sacrifices. Notice that what God has done throughout the book is press home that sacrifice is the heart of true worship. Sacrifice reminds us that there is something wrong. The people would not need to make sacrifices if the relationship was right with God. The something wrong is us. Sin is breaking the relationship with God. We are sinners trying to have a relationship with God and worship the holy and true God. The answer to the problem is not us. Please think about this truth in regards to the worldview. The worldview is that the problem is outside of us but the answer is within us. The answer to life and the answer to problems is all found inside of us, according to today’s worldview. But God says that the problem is inside of you and the answer to the problem is not inside of you, but outside of you. You need a Savior. You need a sacrifice. You need something outside of yourself.
The sacrifices were a reminder that there is nothing we can do to restore fellowship. Only God can appoint and provide something to restore fellowship. So God is showing his desire to fellowship with his people continually, all day, every day. God is the one who can rescue and it is him alone. Thus, God is in charge of worship. Worship teaches about God and brings us to God because only he can bring us near him on his terms. He is holy and we are sinners.
Colossians 2:17 tells us that all of regulations, festivals, and offerings were all shadows of things to come. The substance belongs to Christ. The new shepherd, Jesus, comes and he brings new beginnings for the people. He is the sacrifice we need to remain in fellowship with God. He puts an end to the perpetual offerings because his offerings solves our problem. We deserve to be judged but are alive because of his sacrifice. Jesus has given himself for us so that we can be found acceptable to God and our worship can now be pleasing to him. Jesus is why we can inherit the promises. Jesus is why we can worship God at all. Only through Jesus can we come near to God. God is in charge of our worship because his way is the only acceptable way to find fellowship with him. God has given us Jesus to be our shepherd to lead us to the promised land. We need to only submit to him and follow him, offering our lives as acceptable sacrifices as our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1).