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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Numbers 27

 

 

Verses 1-13

In verse 33 of the previous chapter it was noted that Zelophehad of the tribe of Manasseh had no son, but daughters only. In Numbers 27:1-23 we find that this gave rise to legislation in Israel, though as yet they had not reached the land where the inheritance was to be. Evidently then these daughters were women of faith who relied on the promise of God. They took it for granted that the inheritance would materialize, and asked that their father's portion should not be lost. The answer of God was, "The daughters of Zelophehad speak right." Faith is always right and it commands a blessing. The inheritance was to be theirs.

But the latter part of the chapter confirms the fact that Moses in the disciplinary ways of God was not permitted to lead the people into the inheritance. Accepting this discipline, he besought God to appoint the man who should lead them in, and Joshua was indicated. His qualification consisted in that he was, "a man in whom is the Spirit." Yet, as verse Numbers 27:21 shows he was to differ from Moses in being more dependent upon Eleazer the priest, who had the Urim and the Thummim, through which counsel and judgment should be given.

Here then we have in shadowy outline a type of Christ as "the Captain" of our "salvation," who by His Spirit is "bringing many sons unto glory" (Hebrews 2:10). Only here, as so often, the Antitype so far exceeds the type that we are struck by the contrasts rather than by the resemblance The Lord Jesus is Himself both the Captain and the High Priest: not only the Possessor of the Spirit but One who sheds Him forth upon others: the Leader to glory above, and not merely to an inheritance below.

By laying his hands upon Joshua, Moses identified himself with him in a public way, and thus his appointment was confirmed in the sight of the people. Yet we do not reach the historic record of the death of Moses until the end of Deuteronomy. From this point therefore we meet with but little in the way of recorded history, and are occupied mainly with further legislation and with moral instruction.

In Numbers 28:1-31 and Numbers 29:1-40, we have very full instructions as to the various sacrifices that were to be offered — day by day, both morning and evening; on the sabbaths; at the beginning of the months; and on the occasion of the great feasts that marked the Israelitish year. In verse Numbers 27:2 they are spoken of as "My offering," "My bread," "My sacrifices." Thus God claimed them as His right. They were not optional but compulsory.

In the main they were burnt offerings with their accompanying meat and drink offerings, all of which were "a sweet savour." They set forth typically the excellence of Christ in His sacrifice, which is such a delight to the heart of God. But with these there was also an offering for sin, which shows that the sinful state of the people was never forgotten, but was met by sacrifice.

The feasts of the Lord were specified in Leviticus 23:1-44 and the offering of sacrifices mentioned, but now we have these given to us in full detail. Nothing was left to the discretion or feelings of the people; rather God was to be acknowledged and honoured according to His pleasure. In this we see a principle of importance. We draw near to God today and worship Him in another order of things. Later in Israel's history one of their prophets said, "Receive us graciously; so will we render the calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:2); thus recognizing that something coming out of their hearts through their lips would be more acceptable than the mechanical presentation of an animal. Today, they that worship God "must worship Him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). And the way in which spiritual worship is publicly to be offered is prescribed in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14, It is not left for us to prescribe for ourselves.

When we reach Numbers 29:12, we come to the offerings for the feast of Tabernacles, which sets forth in type the Millennial rest, for which Israel still waits. If we examine the succeeding verses we notice the steady reduction in the number of bullocks offered from the first day to the seventh. If the bullocks indicate the appreciation of God's benefits in Christ on the part of the offerers, this fits in with what we learn of the "thousand years" in the Revelation. As the centuries pass there is deterioration, which culminates in rebellion directly Satan is once more active.

Verse 35 brings us to the eighth day of the feast, which according to Leviticus 23:1-44 was "an holy convocation," and "a solemn assembly." On this day only one bullock was to be offered, and the lambs only seven instead of fourteen: similar to what was ordered for the day of atonement in verse Numbers 27:8. So we are carried back in thought to that great day.

It was however, we understand "that great day of the feast" (John 7:37), on which Jesus cried aloud as to the rivers of living water, which would flow as the result of the indwelling Holy Spirit. No dwindling, no depreciation of energy here!

We pass from what was compulsory to what was optional when we read Numbers 30:1-16. The making of vows was not imposed upon any but, if made by a man, the vow was binding; if by a woman, it might be disallowed by father or husband. It has been remarked that in Scripture a woman often stands figuratively for a system or a community, and it may be so here. Israel as a community pledged themselves to obedience to the law of God. This vow of theirs was not disallowed and to this day they suffer the governmental consequences of their failure. On the other hand, when our Lord said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God," there could be no annulment, had He desired it. He did not desire it, or say, "Father, save Me from this hour," He said rather, "Father, glorify Thy name," as we read in John 12:1-50.

In Numbers 31:1-54 we resume a little history. Moses was not to pass off the scene until the Midianites, which included Moab, were destroyed. The normal path of Israel was to pass peacefully through these peoples that dwelt in lands on the fringe of the land of promise, just as the normal path of a Christian is to be an inoffensive pilgrim on his heavenward way. But here were the people that had seduced Israel to fornication, which is a figure of that unholy intercourse and alliance with the world-system which is such a danger to the Christian. In our chapter, death fell upon every male and only the youngest females were allowed to live. Balaam died also. A portion of the spoil had to be offered to the Lord.

The weapons of the Christian are not carnal. He does not slay the foes who tempt him but learns to apply the death of Christ to himself, so that in practice he becomes dead to sin. Only then is it that there is fruit of a kind that can be offered to God. We may give of our substance for the work of the Lord and His workmen in such a way as to be, "a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God" (Philippians 4:18); as well as offering "the sacrifice of praise.... the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:15).

Typical instruction of a very searching sort is brought home to us as we read Numbers 32:1-42. Two tribes, Reuben and Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh petitioned Moses to be allowed to settle down on the conquered lands to the east of Jordan and not find their portion in that which was definitely the land of God's promise. What particularly moved them to desire this was the abundance of cattle that they had acquired. The good things that God had granted took away their desire for Canaan.

We have already seen how unbelief excluded multitudes from the land, though afterwards they wanted to go in. We now see how the good things of earth may lead people to exclude themselves. If the land was to be entered the Jordan had to be crossed, and the crossing of Jordan, which is recorded in Joshua 3:1-17, is typical of death and resurrection with Christ, as the way of entrance into the realization of the heavenly portion to which we are called, as we see in Colossians 3:1-25. Then it is that we can really seek those things that are above and not on the earth, setting our minds upon them, and finding our portion where Christ sits at the right hand of God.

The proposal made by the two and a half tribes, which was finally accepted by Moses, was that, while their wives and children together with much cattle and other possessions should settle comfortably in the land of Jazer and Gilead, the men should cross with the other tribes in order to help fight their battles and see them settled in the land of promise, yet find their own inheritance outside the place of God's promise.

The lesson that is furnished by this type is very clear, and should be inwardly digested by each of us. In the New Testament we are plainly told that those that have riches enter with much difficulty into the kingdom of God, and that not many wise and mighty and noble are called; but here we see that the rich and good things of earth make it difficult for those who possess them to lay hold upon their heavenly possessions. It is so easy for us, while we assent to the truth of our heavenly calling, to settle down in our comfortable earthly circumstances, and fail to lay hold upon it as a matter of faith's experience.

These men had had experience of battles, which by the power of God and at very little loss to themselves, had been easily won; so they were not averse to more fighting in the land. Some of us may be like them. We are told to contend earnestly for the faith, and to some of us a bit of controversial fighting makes an appeal, but — mark it well — it is possible to contend earnestly for what we may call the heavenly side of truth, and yet be living lives mainly governed by the good things of earth which we have by the mercy of God. We may accept the fact that, "Our conversation [associations of life] is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20), and yet have the practical associations of our lives very much in earthly things.

One thing more we must observe. When Israel declined, captivity began with the two and a half tribes. Even in the days of Ahab Ramoth in Gilead was in the hands of the Syrians, and later those parts were the first to fall captive to Assyria. Just so, the earthly minded Christian is captivated most easily by the spirit of the world.

The people now being on the very edge of the land, Moses was commanded to put on record all the places where they encamped during the forty years of their wanderings, and a long list it proves to have been, occupying the first 49 verses of Numbers 33:1-56. God marked all their wanderings, and they were never to forget them, inasmuch as all bore witness to the forbearing and providing kindness of God. At the end of this chapter they are directed to dispossess completely the nations of Canaan, when they went in, and destroy every trace of their idolatries, and warned that if they did not do it, it would be their own undoing. There was to be no compromise with the power of Satan reigning there. Similarly, as Ephesians 6:1-24 shows, there can be no compromise with the world rulers of this darkness and the spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.

Numbers 34:1-29 assumes that the people have arrived victoriously in the land and obtained possession and so the borders of the land are specified, and how it was to be divided. It is noticeable that the border eastward was to run from the east side of the sea of Chinnereth — the Lake of Galilee — down the Jordan to the east side of the salt sea. So the portion of the two and a half tribes was not included in it.

The division of the land among the other tribes is not mentioned here: what is mentioned is the provision of cities for the Levites and then the provision of cities of refuge for the manslayer. Both these things occupy Numbers 35:1-34.

The males of the tribe of Levi were specially called to the service of God and therefore they had no definite section of the promised land allotted to them. They were to be given forty eight cities and these were to be scattered throughout the portions given to the other tribes. Moreover they were to possess land round each of these cities extending to a depth of 2,000 cubits — which means at least 1,000 yards, and probably a little more. This land was to be for their cattle and for their goods; that is, we suppose, for their subsistence by reason of cultivation. The land attached to each city may seem to us restricted and insufficient, but we must remember that these cities were very small, judged by our standards, as has been demonstrated by the recent excavation of ancient Jericho.

In these provisions we see the gracious care of God for those whom He calls to devote their lives to His service. We have already seen how they were to be supported by the system of tithing that was instituted and now we find that their very dwelling places were divinely arranged. God places His servants as it seems good to Him. He does not leave them to pick and choose for themselves.

All this, we are assured, contains salutary lessons for ourselves. There is of course this important difference; the Levites were called in the mass to service without any stipulation as to their spiritual state. Their position stood upon a tribal basis. God has His servants today, but their calling rests upon another basis altogether — neither national nor tribal, but spiritual. Only those who have been redeemed and born again have the ability to serve Him, and even so, the effectiveness of their service depends upon their spiritual state.

Of the forty eight Levitical cities six were to be selected as cities of refuge, as the latter part of the chapter indicates. The law concerning them is also given in full. The prime thought underlying the whole matter is that life belongs to the God who gave it. No man has any right to take it away. Hence in verse 30 the death penalty is plainly pronounced upon anyone convicted of murder on the testimony of two or more witnesses, thus reaffirming the primitive enactment of Genesis 9:6. The death sentence upon the murderer is to be executed by properly constituted authority. The wilful shedding of man's blood pollutes and defiles the land, and it is only cleansed as the blood of the murderer is shed. So it is stated at the end of our chapter. In the light of this, we are clearly living in an earth that is terribly defiled, and that supremely by the death of the Son of God.

But many cases would occur accidental in nature, where man's will had not been at work, and for such manslayers the cities of refuge were to be provided. There sanctuary was to be found from the avenger of blood available until the death of the high priest of those days, after which sanctuary would not be needed. We have to pass on to Joshua 20:1-9 to find the names of the six cities, and if we read that chapter we shall note how wisely they were selected. They were distributed on both sides of Jordan in such a manner that the manslayer would never be very far from one of the cities, no matter where the accident took place. Here again we note the tender mercy of our God.

These things have a typical import as is made quite plain by the closing verses of Hebrews 6:1-20. Palestine has been defiled by the shedding of blood, and supremely by the blood of God's dear Son. Was His death to be accounted as murder or manslaughter? The dying prayer of our Lord, recorded in Luke 23:34, was in effect a request that it be treated by God as manslaughter only; and Peter's declaration, recorded in Acts 3:17, was in effect an announcement that God had accepted the prayer. Hence in the exaltation of Christ in heaven, before He comes in glory to crush His foes on earth, a city of refuge has been opened. When the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, Jews who had believed could be described as those "who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." The hope set before the manslayer, incarcerated in a city of refuge, was the death of the high priest. Our High Priest can never die, but there will be a change in the exercise of His priesthood, when He comes again in glory, and this is the hope set before the believer today.

One thing more let us note: the refuge was provided, but the manslayer had to make the effort to avail himself of it. If he did not, his blood would be upon his own head. This exactly figures the situation as the Gospel is preached today. Take for example, Paul's address in the synagogue at Antioch, reported in Acts 13:1-52. In verses 38 and 39 he showed that refuge was provided, but in verses 40 and 41 he warned those who were inclined to ignore or despise it.

The last chapter (Numbers 36:1-13) reverts to the daughters of Zelophehad, and provision was made as to their marriage affairs so that the inheritance vested in them should not be alienated from the tribe to which they belonged. This might seem to us a trivial matter, but God took notice of it and provided for it. It was included among the "commandments and judgments" that the Lord laid down through Moses. Nothing that concerned His people was overlooked by Him.

Reaching the end of the Book of Numbers, we ask our readers to note that the first word of Exodus is, "Now." The first word of Leviticus is, "And." The first word of Numbers is, "And." That is, there is no real break between the first four books. Deuteronomy however does not so begin. It evidently inaugurates a new series, which does not end till we finish the Second Book of Kings, since again the books begin with a similar copulative expression. Deuteronomy is concerned with the farewell words of Moses, in which a recapitulation of their history has a large place.

If permitted to continue these studies, we may therefore pass from Numbers to consider the book of Job, which carries us back to, or even beyond the time of Moses, rather than continue with. the recapitulation afforded in Deuteronomy.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Numbers 27:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/numbers-27.html. 1947.

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