Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Numbers 33

Numbers 33: Stages in Israel’s Journey

Synopsis

This chapter lists all of the different places the Israelites camped, during their journey through the desert. I’m not going to bother relaying them all—you can read it yourself, or, if you want to get a picture of it, a good place to go would be to look up Numbers 33 on BibleMap.org—but I will list some of the highlights that are mentioned:

  • Verses 3–4 begin the journey, with the Israelites leaving Egypt:

    The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after the Passover. They marched out boldly in full view of all the Egyptians, who were burying all their firstborn, whom the LORD had struck down among them; for the LORD had brought judgment on their gods.
  • In verse 14 it mentions their stop at Rephidim, “where there was no water for the people to drink.”
  • In verses 37–39 it mentions their stop at Mount Hor, where Aaron died. It mentions that Aaron was 123 years old, when he died.

The end of the chapter leaves the Israelites on the plains of Moab, where the LORD gives them final instructions:

On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes.

“‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.’”

(verses 50–56)


As we’ll see, this is a pretty important set of instructions from the LORD.

Thoughts

It’s always dangerous—and perhaps foolish—to talk about any Bible verse/passage as being “more important” than others. However, in terms of the history of the Israelites, verses 55–56 are incredibly important; God warns them to drive out all of the inhabitants of the land, and destroy their idols, and then He says:

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.” (emphasis added)

God specifically tells them: if you don’t drive out the people of the land, you’re going to regret it. And, as we’ll see, they don’t, and the non-Israelite people who remain in the land become a constant source of pain for the Israelites.

More than that, God warns them that if they don’t remove the people of the land, that He will do the same to the Israelites that they were supposed to do to the other nations: drive them out of the land! Much later, in the Israelites’ history, they’re going to get cocky; God will send numerous prophets to them, telling them that they’re going to be captured by a foreign nation, but they won’t believe those prophets, because they will believe that they’re God’s “chosen people”—He would never let them be defeated! If only they would look back at this passage from Numbers, and remember that He promised to kick them out of the land, if they didn’t clean it out—which they didn’t.

In other words, they’re going to view themselves as God’s people, but have no idea what it means to be His people. Similarly, there are many people in the world today who call themselves Christians, but have no idea what it means to be a Christian. To my mind, perhaps the most pitiable people are the ones who believe that they are saved, when they are not! I can’t help but think that if they were to study the Bible, they might come to understand that they are not right in the eyes of God, as they think they are—and, hopefully, try to fix that, and become saved!

As Jesus said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21–23)
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