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21st February

Numbers 35-36; Psalm 52

Bible in a Year
6 minutes
In this article
21st February

Numbers 35-36; Psalm 52

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.

Then yesterday we read through a recap of Israel's journey through the wilderness, the selecting of the leaders who would divide up the land when they enter it, and a warning to remove any taint of the foreign nations from the land.

Numbers 35-36

While the land is divided up between the tribes, the Levites don't get any land. They are a unique 13th tribe. Despite this, they are still to be given cities dotted around all the promised land. While wandering the desert, the Levites were the ones responsible for maintaining the tabernacle. Now, as they enter the promised land, they would be a constant reminder to the rest of the tribes of the need to be holy and pure in God's land.

Six of those cities are to become cities of refuge. These cities are a symbol of God's mercy. Here God makes allowances for people that commit manslaughter, who kill someone by accident. In many cases, the family of the person killed would still want revenge, and so the 'murderer' could flee to a city of refuge for safety.

The Lord specifically says “You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it.” (Numbers 35:33). This is a reference back to Genesis 4, where Cain killed his brother Abel and his blood polluted the land. In the same way, these cities of refuge exist to prevent constant retaliation, which leads to more blood polluting the land.

If you remember a while back, some daughters came to Moses and asked if they could inherit their father's land (Numbers 27). Now, as the people are preparing to divide up the land between the 12 tribes, some of the leaders raised a concern. If a woman inherited some land, and they married a man from a different tribe, then that land would then belong to the new tribe.

Over time, this could unbalance things, with some tribes owning too much land. So Moses responded, saying that women who inherit land must marry within their tribe, which the daughters from Numbers 27 were happy about.

This may be one of those things which today we're confused or unhappy about. Who is Moses to tell those young women who they can or can't marry? The thing to remember is that today we're a very individualistic society. The most important thing is that was as individuals are free to make our own decisions and do what we want.

The Israelites weren't an individualistic society; they were a tribal society. People actively chose to do what was best for the entire tribe, often putting their own needs or desire to one side for the benefit of the tribe and for the future of the tribe, well after they've died. So things like which tribe land would belong to after you die were important things to think about.

And so the book of Numbers ends, with the people waiting on the outskirts of Canaan ready to enter the land. Through Deuteronomy, Moses will once again go through all the rules and instructions, providing specific advice for how these apply when the people are settled in cities.

Psalm 52

This psalm is attributed to King David, and speaks of Doeg the Edomite. We find this story in 1 Samuel 21:7, 22:6-23. David is on the run from Saul and stops at a holy site in Nob managed by the priest Ahimelek. There is a man named Doeg who later tells Saul that David was there, which then led to the death of eighty-five priests.

It isn’t easily slotted into a particular genre. In some sense, it’s a lament psalm, except it’s not aimed at God and no request is made. It could also be described as a wisdom psalm as it talks through the consequences for the wicked and for the faithful. Some call it a trust psalm as throughout it all, the psalmist puts their trust in God. I’ll let you decide which you prefer.

Psalm 52:1-4 - Accusation against the wicked

Psalm 52:5-7 - The consequences of their actions

Psalm 52:8-9 - The psalmist praises God for his provision

The psalmist starts by accusing a mighty man of evil. The title points to the original inspiration being Doeg, but the point is this psalm can be directed at anyone practising evil. Their tongue is destructive and deceitful and they love evil more than good. They may feel confident in themselves for now, but this won’t last.

The psalmist then points the wicked one to the consequences of their actions. Eventually, God will judge them for their wickedness. He will break any strength they think they have and will uproot them so they have no protection. They will be a lesson to others about what happens when you choose not to make God your refuge. When you trust in your own wealth and strength.

The psalmist then turns to themselves as an example of a better way. They have trusted in God and are like a green olive tree. They are strong and bear fruit. Olive trees were symbols of life and fertility. They get to enjoy God’s presence. In return, the psalmist praised God for who he is and waits patiently because they know God will provide.

This psalm serves as a lesson on how to live. We shouldn’t be like the wicked who trust in their own wealth and strength, and who love wickedness and lies. Instead, we should put our trust in God, for he will strengthen and protect us.

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.

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