NUMBERS 33 and 34
Moses is commanded by the Lord to itemise the stages in the journey that they have taken from the Exodus to the Promised Land. There are exactly 40 stages mentioned, which probably has symbolic significance – 40 symbolises a ‘generation’ and, of course, an entire generation perished in the desert on that great journey. It is likely that not every stopping point was included, in the same way that the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel does not include every king but instead follows that greater journey from Abraham to Christ in three groups of fourteen. It is healthy and beneficial to record and recall our own spiritual journey and walk with the Lord – perhaps in the form of a blog or diary or journal. Looking back is character-building and can increase our faith in the present day.
Israel’s journey began with the Lord enacting vengeance upon the gods of Egypt, demonstrating his superior power and illustrating graphically that only He and not they were able to save. The procession of their ex-slaves, walking with their heads held high, must have rammed home the point that the God of Israel is a Redeemer and is able to rescue and set free anyone who calls on him in faith; anyone who entrusts their life to his care. Israel’s subsequent history highlights the prosperity they received when they did, and the poverty they incurred when they didn’t.
The journey ends with all two and half million people camped along the east bank of the river Jordan, fresh from their victory over Moab and Midian, and ready to cross over to their inheritance. Further commands from God made it clear that all the present inhabitants of Canaan must all be driven out entirely – or else they would undermine everything Israel stood for and their relationship with the Lord – which would result in the Lord having to call on other nations to drive out Israel (first Assyria, then Babylonia, then Rome). The idols of the false gods were similarly to be removed and destroyed entirely (that didn’t happen either!) since falsehood and truth do not mix. The land was to be divided up into families and households – rather than cities and strongholds – so the wisdom of their parents would be their main defence against attack and invasion.
In occupying the geographical, social, and intellectual ‘territory’ that God has given us today – and our presence is what brings the Kingdom of Heaven to this Earth – we must ‘take no prisoners’ in our dealings with counterfeit religions and make sure that we occupy all the territory that the Lord has given us in ministry and calling. Our fight is not against people (they are our inheritance – Psalm 2:8) but rather against the spiritual forces of evil and against false ideas, doctrines, political systems and the temptations of the Evil One (see Ephesians 6:12). To compromise with any of these is to do spiritually, what Israel did physically, and the outcome is no different either! The Christian life is simpler than we know – once we have submitted our lives to Christ and received his forgiveness – and that is to understand the truth and then to live our lives according to that truth, with the help of God’s power.
In Chapter 34, the boundaries of the new land were drawn: from East to West between three seas and a river, from North to South between a mountain range and a desert. Notice how none of the Transjordan land is included in the Lord’s inheritance and that only nine and a half tribes (including half of Manasseh) would now occupy that inheritance. Don’t be tempted to settle short of the full inheritance that God has for you; you will regret it!
Within the boundaries stated above, the leaders of each tribe were expected to supervise the precise distribution of each territory, fairly and sensibly, and this activity was overseen by Joshua and Eleazar. It was a key task, since that land would stay in each family for ever (theoretically, at least) and could never be given to anyone else.