Wednesday 29th March 2023

NUMBERS 26 and 27

The focus shifts back to the Old Testament: Israel was told by The Lord to organise another census, following the one that occurred 38 years previously.  There were two main reasons for this:  (a) to demonstrate to all parties that every one of those Israelites previously 20 years old or older had by now died – with the important exceptions of Joshua and Caleb; and (b) to determine how the Promised Land was to be allocated to the new generation.

Amazingly, after all that had occurred during those 38 years, the total population had barely changed at all 601,730 men compared to 603,550 previously – a remarkable testimony to the grace of God, despite Israel’s rebellions over the decades.  As individual tribes, Manasseh increased the most from 32,200 to 52,700 (which, we will see, comes in handy later!) and Simeon decreases the most from 59,300 to 22,200, since the plague that had recently happened might well have affected them disproportionally.

The basis of the land distribution was on the basis of the numbers in each tribe, but the precise allocation was by lot.  The Levites were also counted, but not for the purpose of allocating land, of course. 

Chapter 27 is all about inheritance and succession.  What happened when no sons were around to inherit?  After consulting the Lord, Moses decreed that, in the absence of sons, daughters, then brothers, then uncles, then any other close relative would inherit – in decreasing order of priority.

Eleazar had succeeded his father Aaron (who had died already) and it was now the turn of Joshua to be lined up to succeed Moses as leader of the nation.  The exclusion of Moses from the Promised Land – after dishonouring the Lord – was non-negotiable, and wisely a period of overlap and handover was made public.  Joshua had, of course, been discipled by Moses privately for most of his adult life.  God declared that he had placed in him a gift of leadership, to shepherd the ‘flock’ of Israel.  Equally importantly, Joshua had spent a great deal of time in the presence of the Lord in that original ‘Tent of Meeting’ that Moses had first erected (Exodus 33:11).

So Moses was permitted a single glance at the inheritance that he had disqualified himself from – although that might just have been rubbing salt into the wound!

My favourite phrase in these chapters is Numbers 27:16 – “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things…”.  God, who had guided and preserved the nation through their 40 years in the wilderness, was in a much deeper sense the entire source of their lives, sustaining them with his breath in precisely the same way that he had created Adam – and therefore all mankind – in the beginning!  Later on in scripture, we see the breath of the Lord bringing life to the Dry Bones of Ezekiel 47, to create a vast army.  Later still, after his Resurrection, he breathed upon his disciples to impart peace and the promise of the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-22).  After that, at Pentecost, God breathed on the whole body of disciples to create the Church (Acts 2:1-4; 1 Corinthians 12:13).  At Christ’s return, he will again breathe life into us to raise us from the dead and provide us with heavenly bodies to replace our mortal ones (Revelation 11:11).  So, as we can see, the breath of God is of fundamental importance in everyone’s lives!

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