Numbers 25-27; Psalm 48
Once again, the people decide to turn from God. You would think by now they would have learnt, but obviously not. This time they get sexually involved with the women of other nations, and these women convince the Israelite men to worship their foreign gods. We’ve mentioned it before, but there is often a connection between sexual immorality and worshipping of false gods in the Bible.
The two nations mentioned are the Moabites, who we’ve mentioned previously, and the Midianites. These guys were descendants of Abraham’s second wife, Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2).
This story is very similar to the Golden calf at Mount Sinai. The people choose to worship something other than God, and a chosen few decide to purge the nation of this sin by killing the offenders.
This time round we have Phineas, who hunts down a man having an affair with a foreign woman and kills them both. With this rebellion we see a further 24,000 people die.
But this is the last rebellion we see in Numbers. While it’s not particularly clear, since the people have left Sinai, time has been passing. The stories of the last few chapters are spread out across forty years, the time that the people were told they would wander in the wilderness.
With the last rebellion, we see the last few that were unfaithful to God pass away. What is left is the new, younger, faithful generation. So from here we see them remind themselves of what God has said over them and begin to enter the land.
The first thing the people do is hold a new census. Before they step into the new land, they need to know how many people are in each tribe, so when they hand out the land they can give more land to bigger tribes so everyone has enough.
During this census, an issue is raised. Up until this point, inheritance is always passed to the oldest son. But what happens to the land when a man dies without sons but daughters?
Some daughters raised this question to Moses, who brought it before God, who told the people that in cases where there are only daughters the property then begins to the daughters.
The laws that the people had been given up until this point were not all-encompassing. They covered the main points and clearly showed the heart of God and the kind of principles he wanted his people to live by. For specific situation they need to come specifically to God for an answer.
We believe that the Bible is the complete word of God, and that it is relevant to our lives. But sometimes there are specific situations that the Bible doesn’t give an exact answer to.
This is where we need to learn the principles the Bibles lay out, the heart of God that the Bible shows us, and then bring all that with our specific situation to God in prayer.
This requires real maturity and wisdom. Some people will ignore this and try to apply certain Biblical rules to every situation, in some cases situations where they don’t really fit, and then do more damage.
Other people might take this idea and bend it to get legitimate rules to no longer apply to them. So take all this with a pinch of salt. Yes, the Bible is good, and true, and God’s desire for our life. But some times we need to take all of that in prayer for specific situations.
This psalm is attributed to the sons of Korrah and falls into the category of praise psalm. More specifically, it is a psalm of Zion, praising God’s holy city (see also Psalm 76, 84, 87, 122).
Psalm 48:1a - Introductory praise to God
Psalm 48:1b-8 - A celebration of Zion
Psalm 48:9-11 - Praise to God
Psalm 48:12-14 - Walk around God’s holy city
The psalm opens with praise to God. This sets the tone of the psalm which then goes on to look at a specific part of God’s greatness, God’s holy mountain city, Zion.
The layers of imagery around the term Zion are many. The capital city of Israel, Jerusalem, is sometimes referred to as Zion (2 Samuel 5:7).
But Zion is also described as being a mountain, as mountains were where people encountered God’s presence (think Abraham going up a mountain to sacrifice Isaac Genesis 22:2, or Moses going up a mountain to get the law from God Exodus 19:20).
Because of all this, Zion became the future hope of God’s people. One day there would be a city that was on a mountain where everyone was in God’s presence forever. It will be a new garden of Eden, a city temple on a mountain.
We see this imagery picked up in Revelation 21:9-27. It may be that this will be a literal city, or that this is a metaphor for what it will be like to live in God’s presence. Either way, it’s this imagery and hope that are the focus of this psalm.
This city would be like a fortress to God’s people, and a source of fear to their enemies. The psalmist praises God for his faithfulness and love in his city temple. This love will reach out so that people across the earth will praise him.
The psalmist then calls out to those listening to ‘walk around Zion’. This may have been a call to familiarise yourself with God’s presence. As you consider the ‘ramparts’ and ‘citadels’, this become a metaphor for taking time to know God. The better you know God, the better you can tell others about him.
In this psalm we see how the ancient Israelites grounded their spiritual encounters in visual imagery to help them better understand them. We also see the desire to be in God’s presence.
Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.