Numbers 32

Chapter thirty-two adds an interesting bit of detail to the story of Israel’s preparing to enter Canaan. God had already promised to give the land over to Israel, by helping them defeat the pagan nations that already lived there. Additionally, he had said that they were to parcel the land according to the size of each tribe. As the nation was camped on the east side of the Jordan River, the tribes of Reuben and Gad noticed that it was a rich land that could easily support their many herds, so they asked Moses if they could stay there instead of entering the land (Numbers 32:1-5). Moses’ pushback against that idea was that they would be getting an inheritance without having to help fight the Canaanites with their brothers (Numbers 32:6-15). He believed that they were just trying to get out of the war, and he compared it to the previous generation who had refused to enter and take Canaan in chapter fourteen.

They responded that this was not their intent at all (Numbers 32:16-19). Rather, if Moses permitted, they promised to establish their families and flocks in the cities they took from the Midianites, from Sihon, and from Og, then send their warriors into Canaan to fight alongside their brothers. Moses was satisfied with this plan and made them swear to not stop fighting and return home until the entire conquest was complete, which they agreed to do (Numbers 32:20-32). If they followed through, they could keep the eastern border of the river; if they did not, they would be required to enter the land can take their inheritance from there.

Numbers 27

Chapter twenty-seven contains two parts: a new regulation and a new leader. As noted in the previous chapter, one of the men of Manasseh had five daughters but no sons. As the instructions for the parceling of the land were conveyed, they became concerned and approached Moses about it (Numbers 27:1-11). Their fear was that, because their father had no sons and daughters did not normally receive an inheritance, their family parcel would be lost. They petitioned Moses to be able to receive the land themselves with a special injunction. When Moses conferred with God, God said that the daughters were correct and that they should receive the land. Additionally, God laid out the “chain of inheritance” in the cases when a man had no sons, daughters, brothers, or uncles to claim his family parcel.

In the second part of the chapter, God had Moses climb up a mountain to see into Canaan, reminding him that he would never enter it because of his sin in taking God’s glory by striking the rock instead of speaking to it in chapter twenty (Numbers 27:12-23). While he was on the mountain, Moses prayed that God would not leave Israel without a godly leader, so God told him to stand Joshua before the high priest to be commissioned as God’s handpicked leader of Israel, the one to lead them into Canaan. This was to be a public ceremony so that the nation would begin to accept his command immediately. Moses obeyed everything God said.

Numbers 22

Chapters twenty-two through twenty-four contain another well-known story from Numbers: the account of Balak and Balaam. 1 In Numbers 21:26 we read that Sihon had defeated Moab. Now that Israel had defeated Sihon, the Moabites were naturally afraid that they could be next, so when Israel journeyed up the eastern border of Moab, Balak, their king, had to do something (Numbers 22:1-14). 2 Allying himself with the Midianites, Balak summoned Balaam, a well-known conjuror from near the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia (Abraham’s homeland). Balak had only one request: curse Israel so Moab could defeat them. Given God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3), Balak’s knowledge of Balaam’s reputation is ironic: “I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed” (Numbers 22:6). Balaam was tempted, but he wisely sought divine counsel. Somehow Jehovah spoke to him and informed him that cursing Israel would be a waste, so he refused and sent the messengers of Balak away empty-handed.

Not one to give up, Balak tried again, promising anything Balaam could wish for (Numbers 22:15-21). This piqued Balaam’s greed, so he asked Jehovah again what he should do. God gave him permission to go, although it was still against his counsel. Additionally, Balaam would be required to say only what God allowed him. In an attempt to teach Balaam the difference between God’s permission and God’s plan, the messenger of Jehovah (the preincarnate Christ) stood in the path with a sword. Although Balaam’s route was blocked, only his donkey could see him; Balaam could not. This cause the donkey to veer off course a couple of times, injuring Balaam, who beat the donkey. Finally, God gave the donkey a voice to speak to Balaam, which finally opened his eyes to the danger he was in. 3 This time Jehovah gave clear permission for Balaam to continue, noting again that he would say nothing that did not come from God. Upon Balaam’s arrival, Balak welcomed him, making sacrifices in Balaam’s honor, probably hoping to appease their gods before the dirty work began.

Notes:

  1. Outside of the Pentateuch, Balaam appears in these passages: Joshua 13:22; 24:9-10; Nehemiah 13:2; Micah 6:5; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14.
  2. Interestingly, the Moabites and Ammonites were relatives to Israel just like the Edomites were. Moab and Ammon (Genesis 19:36-38) were the grandsons of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. This made them third cousins to Jacob’s sons, the patriarchs of Israel.
  3. Constable cites Wiersbe as wondering if spirits had used animals to speak with Balaam before as the reason this did not seem to affect him (Constable, Notes on Numbers, 2016 edition, 88).