Numbers Bible Study (In the Wilderness)

Numbers 31-36, Preparing For The Promised Land


We are now in the final sections of the book of Numbers, a book that is preparing the people for entering the promised land. Numbers 31-36 is the final information about the journey to the promised land. We noted in a prior lesson that at this point the people of Israel are on the east side of the Jordan River and are ready to enter the land. Nations that have attacked them have been subjugated. The census has been taken for going to war to take the promised land. Joshua has been chosen by God to lead Israel into the promised land. Moses will not go into the land. Let us consider these final instructions for entering the promised land and what we can learn for our preparation into the promised land.

Put Sin To Death (Numbers 31)

Numbers 31 opens with the Lord declaring to Israel to attack Midian because of the sexual immorality they plunged God’s people into, as recorded in Numbers 25. God is avenging his people for Midian’s conspiracy against them. God is still making the point that the wages of sin is death. We are given important information in Numbers 31:15-16. Balaam was the one who gave the advice to turn Israel toward sexual immorality and idolatry. This speaks to the wickedness of Balaam who would do anything to help Moab so that he would be paid from the king. God judges for sins. It is a clear message that has been found throughout the book of Numbers. Sin is worthy of judgment. Rebellion brings God’s wrath.

Do Not Be Swayed By Prosperity (Numbers 32)

Numbers 32 records an interesting rebellion. The first verse reveals that the people from the tribes of Reuben and Gad have “a very great number of livestock.” The land that they are in on the east of side of the Jordan River is a good land for livestock. So they go to Moses and Eleazar requesting that this land be given to them for a possession and to not take them across the Jordan River (32:5).

Moses will have absolutely none of this. In verse 6 Moses challenges these tribes for wanting to stay behind while the rest of Israel goes across to fight. In verse 7 he tells these tribes that they are discouraging the people from crossing over like their ancestors did when they refused to enter the land. The whole reason they have wandered in the wilderness is because the people refused to go into the land (32:8-12). Further, the anger of the Lord was kindled for their refusal to go into the land. Listen to verses 14-15:

“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.” (Numbers 32:14–15 ESV)

Notice that Moses’ point is that these tribes did not learn the lesson from the first time around. These two tribes declare that they will go and fight with Israel to take the land and listen to the warning Moses gives.

What really hit my heart hard was when I first read through this I thought that these two tribes were not asking anything wrong. But the problem is that these tribes are willing to forgo the promised land to take the land just short of it. They want the land they can see not the land they cannot see. They are comfortable and satisfied on this side of the promised land. The warning is against settling down comfortably in the land that is not promised for them to enjoy. They were abandoning God’s promise in favor of a second rate alternative. So Moses wants them to see that what they are doing is spiritual disaster. Do not enjoy this land and not go over and take the promised land! Moses then gives a very firm warning. If these two tribes do not do as they say to help conquer the land and only then come back to this side, then “be sure your sin will find you out” (32:23). To enter the promised land we cannot become comfortable with the land we are presently in. We cannot allow our hearts to be captured by the joys and pleasures of this life. We cannot put our hope here.

Do Not Forget Your History and What You Are Given (Numbers 33-34)

In Numbers 33 Moses records the history of Israel’s travels. Why are these details given? I believe the point is that Israel needs to remember its history. They must never forget where they have come from and where they have been. One of the messages of the New Testament is that we would always remember what God has done for us. We must never forget where God has brought us out of. Peter makes this point directly.

The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins. (2 Peter 1:9 CSB)

Forgetting what God has done for us shows that we are blind and shortsighted. Then a critical warning is given in verses 52-53. Drive out all the inhabitants of the land and destroy their idols and worship places. If they do not drive out the inhabitants then those who are allowed to remain will become barbs in their eyes and thorns in your sides. They will cause you trouble in the land. Do not forgot who you are. Closely tied to the last point, Numbers 34 records the boundaries of the land and the leaders of the people. God is giving you this land. When they go to war, the people must not forget what they are receiving from the Lord. Know who you are and know what you are receiving from the Lord.

Do Not Defile the Land (Numbers 35)

Numbers 35 is a reminder about the holiness of the people. The cities for the Levites are described first along with the pastures around those cities. Six of those 49 cities were declares to be refuge cities. What God did is set up a system for capital punishment. If a person was killed unintentionally, the person could not simply say, “Sorry, it was an accident.” The kinsman of the killed person was given the right by God to avenge the death. The person who committed the crime had to flee to one of these six cities of refuge where he would have to live until the death of the high priest. Once at the city, the assembly was to judge between the one who killed and the avenger, whether this was intentional or unintentional death. The avenger had every right to judge the killer if he left the city of refuge early if the death was ruled unintentional. If the death was intentional, then there was no safety for the killer. He would be put to death. The murderer had to be put death on the word of two witnesses or more, no less.

The big deal is stated in verses 33-34. The people were not to defile the land. Blood polluted the land. Listen to the power in verse 33. 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. In short, a person is not to live if he or she commits murder. The land is defiled when blood is shed and God cannot be with the people if the land is defiled. Murder then is not only an offense against the holiness of life, but it also pollutes the land God gave them to live on. It is a reminder that the people were to love their neighbors and be a light to the nations. But if the land if defiled, then God will exile them from the land. This is the way God operates with the nations and brings about their rise and fall. If a nation defiles the land, then that nation will be taken off of the land.

Look to God Always (Numbers 36)

Finally, the daughters of Zelophehad are brought back to our attention. These daughters would need to marry within the clan of their own tribe of their father because the inheritance was not be transferred to another tribe. Listen to verse 10. “The daughters of Zelophehad did as the Lord commanded Moses.” It has been a long time since we have seen that phrase. Remember that this was the theme of the first ten chapters of Numbers.

  • “As the Lord commanded” (1:19)
  • They did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses (1:54)
  • According to all that the Lord commanded Moses (2:34)
  • According to the word of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses (3:51)
  • According to the commandment of the Lord (4:49)
  • As the Lord said to Moses, so the people of Israel did (5:4)
  • According to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand (8:4)
  • As the Lord commanded Moses concerning the Levites (8:22)
  • At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses (9:23)
  • They set out for the first time at the command of the Lord by Moses (10:13)

The book of Numbers comes full circle. What must we do to enter the promised land? We must listen and follow the command of the Lord. We need to put sin to death (Numbers 31), not be captured by the wealth and desires of this world (Numbers 32), remember who you and what God has done for you (Numbers 33-34), value human life and do not defile the land (Numbers 35), and always look to God for answers (Numbers 36). The people were tempted to doubt on their journey to the promised land. The great temptation was to come up short of the promised land, exchanging what we cannot see for what we can see. The apostle Paul reminds us that we do not want to do this (cf. Romans 8:18). Nothing can compare to the glory that is to be revealed. Do not trade glory with the Lord for a pittance in this life.

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