Day 66 (March 7): Israelite men defile themselves with Moabite women, God’s fury sends plague killing 24,000, second census of troops

Second census of Israel for men of 20 years and older.
Credit: Wong Chim Yuen

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

 Today’s Reading
Numbers 25-26
(1407 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 25:1-18): In 25:5, Moses ordered Israel’s judges to kill those who had defiled themselves.  It sounds like to me that this order was not carried out except for Phinehas killing Zimri who had taken a Midianite woman into his tent.  That is why 24,000 died?

A. I would assume that the story recorded of the Midianite woman is a representative example of the callousness that these men showed for God in this instance.  The man in question brought a foreigner into the presence of Moses and the leaders — not to mention God’s presence — at the Tabernacle: this is a huge violation of the Law and a major affront to God’s holiness, which I suspect is what prompted the violent reaction.  The man appeared to be flaunting his defiance of the leadership!  I think we can safely assume that other “ringleaders,” as the text called them, were executed, but not before many thousands of people had died in a plague that spread among the people.

Q. (26:5-50): The tribes’ census doesn’t mean anything to me, given my knowledge.  Is there anything that we should pay special attention to?

A. As we will discuss below, while the book of Numbers is not carefully dated, nearly 40 years have passed since the original census has been taken at the beginning of the text.  These two censuses are a big part of the reason this book gets its name: the Israelites are numbered twice, at the beginning of their wandering, and again at the end.  Regarding the importance of THIS census, if you compare the numbers at the beginning and end of the text, you see that there are roughly the same number of Israelites ready to serve in the army (around 600,000), but the tribes from which they come has changed a bit: Simeon’s tribe is the biggest loser of people — nearly 60K in the first, only 22K in the second.  This leads some scholars to speculate that the 24,000 who were killed were from Simeon’s tribe — at least partly because the flagrant offender from the previous question was from Simeon’s tribe.  The big “winners” in the second census are Benjamin — 35,000 to 45,000 — and Joseph’s son Manasseh — 32,000 to 52,000 — but the reasons for this are not given.

Q. (26:51-56): I assume God is telling him to divide up the land of Canaan, right?  But, they are not even there yet.

A. Moses is getting the instructions of how the land of promise is going to be divided up: larger tribes get more than smaller ones, and also individual plots of land were to be given by lot, essentially allowing God Himself to divide up the land as He saw fit.  I’m sure we will revisit this in Joshua when it actually happens, and we can talk about how the process was actually carried out.

Q. (26:64): Has it already been 40 years?  I thought the Israelites had quite a ways to go yet before they were permitted to go to Canaan.  There are songs and sayings that talk about “The Lord’s Army.”  Is this what the census has comprised?  God made a new census because so many had died and they didn’t have a right to be in His army anyway?  God wanted to start with a clean slate?

A. Other than a handful of people, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, etc., the vast majority of the people counted in the previous census, who were more than 20 years old 40 years ago, remember, are dead.  God is indeed starting fresh, with a new army that is made up of a new generation of Israelites, and they will be getting their new leader soon in Joshua.  The invasion of the Promised Land is coming as soon as we get the farewell sermon of Moses.

For further reading: Are numbers in the Bible accurate?

Shop: Just like God wanted to grow the Israelites, Jesus came to earth to spread the message of love.  He is an example of showing love and He taught others to follow in his footsteps.  Follow the teacher:

Tomorrow’s reading: Numbers 27-29

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