Skip to main content
20th February

Numbers 33-34; Psalm 51

Bible in a Year
6 minutes
In this article
20th February

Numbers 33-34; Psalm 51

Bible in a Year
6 minutes


So far in Numbers we've read as the Israelites made the final preparations to leave Sinai, the journey to the promised land, the stop in the wilderness of Paran where the people rebel and decide not to enter land, the journey in the wilderness as we waited for the old generation to pass, and then them settling in the plains of Moab.

We read through all the preparations and new instructions that seemed like random rules but were actually a retelling of Genesis 1-9. Israel was to be a like a new creation, learning from the mistakes of the first time round.

We then read as Israel set off, established and ordered by God, only to immediately complain. Then Aaron and Miriam, Moses' own brother and sister, challenged whether Moses was really hearing from God.

After that the Israelites arrived in the wilderness of Paran, just outside Canaan. Moses sent 12 spies to check out the land, and 10 of the 12 complain that the land was filled with descendants of the nephilim and they had no chance. God then tells them that none of this generation will enter the promised land. This was followed by the Levites rebelling under Korah.

So the people set off back into the wilderness to continue to be tested by God until the old generation pass. The people complained and Moses this time rebelled a little losing his spot in the promised land. They fought some battles, complained some more, and more of the old generation die. In winning some battles, the Israelites also claimed some land.

We read as they settled in the plains of Moab. There they were seen by Balak the king of Moab who hired a foreign sorcerer, Balaam, to curse Israel. But God wouldn't let Balaam curse Israel, and instead Balaam blessed Israel three times and then cursed all their enemies.

Then we settled into the final section of Numbers as the new generation are prepared to enter the land. Phineas proved himself a worthy successor to Aaron and Joshua is chosen to replace Moses when the time comes. The new generation were given instructions on offerings and vows. They were also charged with wiping out the Midianites. In doing so they claimed the land, which led to two and a half of the tribes seeing that the land was good and wanting to take it for themselves rather than enter Canaan.

Numbers 33-34

We jump straight in with a recap of the journey Israel has taken over the last 40 years from Egypt to the river Jordan. This recap comes as a signal we are at the end of the wilderness journey. Now through the rest of Numbers and Deuteronomy we’re going to get instructions on how to live in Canaan, then in Joshua the people are going to enter and lay claim to it.

The people also needed reminding of where they have come from and to have it recorded for future generations. It wasn’t that the Israelites were a nomadic people that wondered around the wilderness wherever they could find wanter and grass for their livestock. They were a people led by God and taken care of by God.

On top of both those reasons, this list is structured in the same way as similar lists dictating the the victorious campaigns of pharaohs as Thutmose III, Seti I, and Ramses II. In these list it would depict each town and village that the pharaoh conquered in their campaign so people could see the extent of the victory as well as the exact journey they went on.

In the same way, we’re meant to see this list as part of the campaign that God is bringing the Israelites on. They didn’t fight battles at every one of these locations, but it is all part of God’s plan and purpose to lead the Israelites to victory over Canaan.

We then get a reminder to drive the people out of the land as they enter it. This is the next leg of the campaign for the Israelites. In going in to the land they are to go in and remove any element of the corruption that has tainted the land. That includes the people but also their altars and idols.

In this there’s also a warning. If the Israelites fail to do this then what they leave behind will corrupt and impact them. They will be like thorns in their sides, slowly contaminating them. And eventually they will reach a point where they are so corrupted they will need removing from the land just as the Canaanites have been.

From what we’ve seen so far of the Israelites, we’re to assume that this warning is actually foreshadowing. That’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Having been told to remove the people from the land, the Israelites now need to know what the boundaries of that land is. We get some very specific boundary lines for the land. What’s interesting is we don’t get the specific boundaries lines for each tribe. That’ll come later. For now we get a list of names of the people who will be in charge of dividing up the land once the have claimed it.

Psalm 51

This psalm is attributed to king David, famously after the prophet Nathan challenged him on killing Uriah and sleeping with his with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12).

It falls into the category of lament, specifically personal repentance (see Psalm 6; 32; 38; 102; 130; 143 for other repentance psalms). The psalm is made up of two chiasms, passages that reflect themselves.

Psalm 51:1-2 - Prayer for forgiveness

Psalm 51:3-6 - Confession of sin

Psalm 51:7-12 - Prayer for renewal and restoration

Psalm 51:13-17 - Commitment to declare God’s praises

Psalm 51:18-19 - Prayer for Zion

The psalmist starts of turning to God and inviting him to have mercy. They remind God of who he is. He is a God of steadfast love and abundant mercy. The issue? The psalmist needs cleansing of their sin.

And so the psalmist takes a moment to acknowledge their sin. They recognise that at its core, all sin is against God, and therefore God is the one who determines what is sin. The psalmist has done what is evil in God’s sight. In the moment it might have seemed good in the psalmist sight, but it was still sin.

The psalmist also recognises that there’s been a part of him that always be drawn to sin, ever since he was born. Because of this they need to be taught from the inside out how to live right.

Next comes the request for cleansing and restoration. The psalmist specifically mentions cleansing with hyssop, which was what was used for cleansing diseases in Leviticus 14. Their sin is like a disease in them that will continue to corrupt and destroy if not dealt with. They need to be blotted out.

Again the psalmist recognises they need a new heart, and they way they achieve that? Access to God’s presence and spirit. It’s these things that renew the psalmist from the inside out and so the psalmist asks that God not remove them from him.

Having move from confession to request, the psalmist now makes a commitment as long as God doesn’t abandon him. He we lead others to God. He will sing of God’s righteousness and declares God’s praise. In this the psalmist recognises that God doesn’t want empty sacrifices. God wants a heart that committed and faithful to him.

The psalm then takes a strange turn, praying for Zion. Jerusalem. It may be that these last 2 verses were added later after Jerusalem was sacked and the people taken into exile.

In this then there’s an understanding that Jerusalem’s fall was caused by the same thing the psalmist is wrestling with. Corrupted hearts that led the people to sin, that couldn’t be fixed with sacrifices and offerings, but need the spirit of God to give them new, clean hearts.

If the people of Jerusalem can appeal to God just as the psalmist is going then God will do good to the city and restore it.

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.

Share this article