The book of Numbers begins and ends with hope. From chapters 1 through 10, Israel is preparing to march toward the Promised Land, 13 months after their escape from Egypt. In the middle section of Numbers we watch this generation fall into rebellion, lashing out against Moses and Aaron and the LORD, and longing for the perceived comfort of Egypt. This generation had to die before Israel would inherit what the LORD had in store for them.
But since chapter 26, we’ve witnessed a second set of preparations unfold. Now forty years on, a new generation is following the leadership of Moses, Eleazar, and Joshua.
The text returns now to settlement and inheritance concerns. Speaking to Moses “in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho” – in other words, just across the river from Canaan – the LORD commands Israel to be ready to set aside cities and pastureland for the tribe of Levi.
Remember that Levi will inherit no land, “for the LORD is their portion and their inheritance.” They’re assigned to support the priests in administering ritual and sacrifice on Israel’s behalf. As they have been restricted from enriching themselves at their brothers’ expense, so they are here protected from the poverty that their lack of inheritance could produce.
The middle section today presents a series of statutes for handling murder. Six cities of refuge are to be established throughout Israelite territory to protect people from being falsely accused and avenged of murder. Notice that there is a distinction made between accidental killing and murder, that the congregation is responsible for protecting the manslayer from vengeance, and that time is reset by the death of the High Priest. All of this is nested in the familiar refrain: “You shall not defile the land in which you live…for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.”
The final chapter circles back to Zelophahad’s daughters and the questions of inheritance and marriage. An important principle is laid out here that goes beyond the circumstances. Each tribe is to respect the property of the others. Not competing with each other as their ancestors had in Jacob’s house, but functioning as a single nation.
Our verses for this week are Matthew 22:37-38: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”
Numbers 35 and 36. Now let’s read it!
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.