Numbers 33 & Psalm 78A

Numbers 33

    These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places. They set out from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. On the day after the Passover, the people of Israel went out triumphantly in the sight of all the Egyptians, while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the LORD had struck down among them. On their gods also the LORD executed judgments.

    So the people of Israel set out from Rameses and camped at Succoth. And they set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. And they set out from Etham and turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which is east of Baal-zephon, and they camped before Migdol. And they set out from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and they went a three days' journey in the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah. And they set out from Marah and came to Elim; at Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there. And they set out from Elim and camped by the Red Sea. And they set out from the Red Sea and camped in the wilderness of Sin. And they set out from the wilderness of Sin and camped at Dophkah. And they set out from Dophkah and camped at Alush. And they set out from Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink. And they set out from Rephidim and camped in the wilderness of Sinai. And they set out from the wilderness of Sinai and camped at Kibroth-hattaavah. And they set out from Kibroth-hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth. And they set out from Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah. And they set out from Rithmah and camped at Rimmon-perez. And they set out from Rimmon-perez and camped at Libnah. And they set out from Libnah and camped at Rissah. And they set out from Rissah and camped at Kehelathah. And they set out from Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher. And they set out from Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah. And they set out from Haradah and camped at Makheloth. And they set out from Makheloth and camped at Tahath. And they set out from Tahath and camped at Terah. And they set out from Terah and camped at Mithkah. And they set out from Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah. And they set out from Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth. And they set out from Moseroth and camped at Bene-jaakan. And they set out from Bene-jaakan and camped at Hor-haggidgad. And they set out from Hor-haggidgad and camped at Jotbathah. And they set out from Jotbathah and camped at Abronah. And they set out from Abronah and camped at Ezion-geber. And they set out from Ezion-geber and camped in the wilderness of Zin (that is, Kadesh). And they set out from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the edge of the land of Edom.

    And Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor at the command of the LORD and died there, in the fortieth year after the people of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. And Aaron was 123 years old when he died on Mount Hor.

    And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the people of Israel.

    And they set out from Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah. And they set out from Zalmonah and camped at Punon. And they set out from Punon and camped at Oboth. And they set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the territory of Moab. And they set out from Iyim and camped at Dibon-gad. And they set out from Dibon-gad and camped at Almon-diblathaim. And they set out from Almon-diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo. And they set out from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho; they camped by the Jordan from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab.

    And the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. You shall inherit the land by lot according to your clans. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. According to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.”

(Numbers 33 ESV)

Psalm 78:1-37

A Maskil of Asaph.

    Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
        incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
    I will open my mouth in a parable;
        I will utter dark sayings from of old,
    things that we have heard and known,
        that our fathers have told us.
    We will not hide them from their children,
        but tell to the coming generation
    the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
        and the wonders that he has done.
    He established a testimony in Jacob
        and appointed a law in Israel,
    which he commanded our fathers
        to teach to their children,
    that the next generation might know them,
        the children yet unborn,
    and arise and tell them to their children,
        so that they should set their hope in God
    and not forget the works of God,
        but keep his commandments;
    and that they should not be like their fathers,
        a stubborn and rebellious generation,
    a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
        whose spirit was not faithful to God.
    The Ephraimites, armed with the bow,
        turned back on the day of battle.
    They did not keep God's covenant,
        but refused to walk according to his law.
    They forgot his works
        and the wonders that he had shown them.
    In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders
        in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
    He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
        and made the waters stand like a heap.
    In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
        and all the night with a fiery light.
    He split rocks in the wilderness
        and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
    He made streams come out of the rock
        and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
    Yet they sinned still more against him,
        rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
    They tested God in their heart
        by demanding the food they craved.
    They spoke against God, saying,
        “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
    He struck the rock so that water gushed out
        and streams overflowed.
    Can he also give bread
        or provide meat for his people?”
    Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath;
        a fire was kindled against Jacob;
        his anger rose against Israel,
    because they did not believe in God
        and did not trust his saving power.
    Yet he commanded the skies above
        and opened the doors of heaven,
    and he rained down on them manna to eat
        and gave them the grain of heaven.
    Man ate of the bread of the angels;
        he sent them food in abundance.
    He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
        and by his power he led out the south wind;
    he rained meat on them like dust,
        winged birds like the sand of the seas;
    he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
        all around their dwellings.
    And they ate and were well filled,
        for he gave them what they craved.
    But before they had satisfied their craving,
        while the food was still in their mouths,
    the anger of God rose against them,
        and he killed the strongest of them
        and laid low the young men of Israel.
    In spite of all this, they still sinned;
        despite his wonders, they did not believe.
    So he made their days vanish like a breath,
        and their years in terror.
    When he killed them, they sought him;
        they repented and sought God earnestly.
    They remembered that God was their rock,
        the Most High God their redeemer.
    But they flattered him with their mouths;
        they lied to him with their tongues.
    Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
        they were not faithful to his covenant.

(Psalm 78:1-37 ESV)

Something to Consider

Numbers 33: As the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan River and receive the land that God has given them, we are forced to come to terms with a difficult command given by God. God commands the Israelite warriors too "drive out all the inhabitants of the land and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places." We must consider some implications of this command.

  • The Israelites seem to be invading and capturing land that currently belongs to someone else. How is this an acceptable thing for God to not only allow them to do but to actually command them to do?

This question forgets a foundational principle. The entire world and everything in it rightly belongs to God (Psalm 24). We only possess what God gives us, and therefore we never own anything that is not ultimately God's. And since the entire world belongs to God, He is free to reallocate His property in any way that He pleases for His own plans and purposes. Israel was commissioned to not conquer any other lands beyond what God had specifically commanded. There were clear and set boundaries to their "conquering". After inheriting the land they were then to be a blessing to the nations. The ultimate vision of that conquering was to establish a people that would be a blessing for all other nations.

  • But how can a loving God call for the destruction and decimation of an entire community and culture?

God is a God of love, but He is also a just God. He had patiently (and lovingly) endured the idolatry and sinfulness of the Canaanites until their iniquity reached the decisive point of judgement (Genesis 15:16). God had appointed judgement for the idolatry of Canaan, and the Israelites were His appointed instruments for carrying out that judgement. God destroyed and decimated a people completely given over to idolatry and sin. This wasn't a matter of the Canaanites simply being in the way of God's plan for Israel. God's plan to give Israel the land simultaneously fulfilled God's plan to deal with the idolatry of the Canaanites.

Sometimes circumstances lead us to question the love, fairness and justice of God. It's these times and circumstances that force us into the humble position of acknowledging the infinite gap between our understanding and the sovereign ways of God. The prophet Isaiah writes:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55)

So instead of us questioning God, we need to ask our ourselves whether we can accept this infinite gap or if we consider such a thing completely intolerable. Can we stomach the truth that sin deserves destruction, decimation and death? Can we come to terms with the truth that only God's grace spares us His judgement of our sin? And can we accept (and even embrace) the truth that God has a plan and in His infinite wisdom is free to execute that plan as He sees fit?