Numbers 30-32
(Taking Possession)
February 19th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

So a thousand men were chosen from each tribe, a total of 12,000 men ready for battle. Moses sent them to war under the command of Phinehas son of Eleazar the priest, who took charge of the sacred objects and the trumpets for giving signals. They attacked Midian, as the LORD had commanded Moses, and killed all the men, including the five kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba. They also killed Balaam son of Beor.

- Numbers 31:5-8 (GNB)

Summary of Chapters

Today's group of chapters begins the story of the Israelites possessing permanent locations in which to settle. Before this takes place there is at least one additional law that God decreed. In chapter 30, Moses explains God's rules for upholding promises between individuals. There were no written contracts or lawyers during that time. Consequently, a verbal promise had to be upheld and trusted in order for the society to function properly. There were certain exceptions defined. For example, parents could overrule a child's vow, but they were bound to it if they did not overrule it after hearing about it.

Chapter 31 describes the scene in which Israel takes revenge on the Midianites who had led their people to sin. The Israelites drafted a small fraction of the able men, amassing an army of 12,000. They were accompanied by Phineas, son of Eleazar, the priest, who brought sacred objects and trumpets. The LORD enabled the Israelites to achieve a decisive victory without any loss of life on their side. They gathered a vast amount of plunder and immediately divided up appropriate portions for the general population, the Levites, the priests, and for sacrifice to God. The only blemish on the results was that some of the soldiers brought back some of the same types of women that got them into trouble in previous chapters. Moses was outraged because that action defeated the whole purpose of the campaign, so he ordered the commanders to rectify the situation.

Given that the Midianites were out of the way, some of the tribes reckoned it was a good time to take possession of the some of the land. The Promised Land that they had been longing for was to the west of the Jordan River, but the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had their eye on land to the east and wanted to settle immediately. When Moses first heard this he read them the riot act because he thought they were dodging their obligation to help the rest of the tribes acquire the Promised Land.

    Moses answered the families of Gad and Reuben: "Do you mean that you are going to leave the fighting that's ahead to your brothers while you settle down here? Why would you even think of letting the People of Israel down, demoralizing them just as they're about to move into the land God gave them? That's exactly what your ancestors did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to survey the country.

    - Numbers 32:6-8 (MSG)

The tribal leaders assured him this was not the case, and vowed to fulfill that obligation. The rules for vows had recently been established. Therefore Moses had justification for warning these tribes of the consequences of breaking their vow.

"No worries," said the tribal leaders.

Reflection and Application

The Israelites had dual purposes in their campaign against the Midianites. One reason was to clear that land for their people. But more importantly, they wanted to eliminate a band of temptresses and tempters that had led them down the wrong path. As described in Numbers 25, the Midianites had infiltrated the Israelite camp by enticing the men to join them in various activities. As a result, these men had given up possession of their soul to someone other than God and their pollution spread throughout the entire camp. The Israelites needed to eliminate this source of their sin. In a similar way, we need to eliminate sins from our lives. Our battle is within ourselves to eliminate thoughts, desires, and actions that lead us astray because we know how one bad decision compounds like interest on a debt.

This chapter records the end of Balaam's life, but is not the last mention of this man, who once blessed Israel, but then turned against them with a crafty scheme. We will see his name mentioned many times, including in the second letter of Peter, near the end of the New Testament. In this passage, Peter compares the actions of some of his contemporaries to those of Balaam and his followers, and predicts a similar outcome:

    But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

    These people, however, are like irrational animals, mere creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed. They slander what they do not understand, and when those creatures are destroyed, they also will be destroyed, suffering the penalty for doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their dissipation while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! They have left the straight road and have gone astray, following the road of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of doing wrong, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.

    - 2 Peter 2:1-3, 12-16 (NRSV)

It is right to give thanks when we achieve victory over sin or over any challenge in our lifetime. We often celebrate with a big meal, party, and drinks. There is nothing inherently wrong with those types of celebrations. However, in addition to those forms of festivities we ought to take time to talk to God, give him thanks, share our plunder, and invite him to the party! The commanders of the army that attacked the Midianites had made one mistake regarding unfinished business, but they were right on target with their gifts and offerings to the LORD. They gave up a large supply of the most precious metals in recognition that they won the battle because of the LORD, not because of their own effort. To whom are we giving credit?

The tribes who settled east of the Jordan serve as a good role model of another way to respond to good fortune. They were more than willing to help the others after they got what they wanted. It had to be tempting to want to settle in their homes with their families and enjoy a quiet life, but they understood their responsibility to a more universal obligation. We can follow their lead by helping others when we have what we want.

"Just a Closer Walk with Thee," performed by Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is the next big celebration that you have coming up?
    2. When can a promise be broken?
    3. How do we cleanse ourselves from sin?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to include you in our next celebration.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    The service men and women who defend your country

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Numbers 33-36 (Bottom Line)

    Comments and Questions
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