Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Plans I Have for You (Numbers 32-36)

The book of Numbers ends with a series of logistical issues now that the people approach the Promised Land. Reuben and Gad want to settle outside the borders of the land, on the east side of the Jordan. Moses and the Lord agree to this, but only after they promise to go to war with their brothers and only return once the whole land is conquered.

It’s interesting on how God himself outlines the borders of the land in meticulous detail. Those two tribes are genuinely outside it – the bit across the Jordon does not become part the Promised Land by Israelites living there.

The people have finally arrived! Here they stand, right across the Jordan, ready to occupy the land. Having successfully hammered this whiny rabble of slaves into a dedicated fighting force, he gives them their marching orders:
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 … 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.
The people must stay pure – they absolutely cannot assimilate with the locals. They’ve learned the hard way what a serious business having contact with God of creation. He himself is going to live with them – the glorious one who made the heavens will be their next-door neighbor. His anger is quickly kindled and burns like fire.

In his zoning rules, the Lord particularly warns them against murder: the sin of Cain against his own brother:
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. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.
But an exception is made for the person who kills another accidentally. Though the clan of the dead man will always send out a vigilante to take the killer out, he may run to one of six Levite “cities of refuge.” There the burning anger of the avenger will be stayed, until the Levites have given the man a fair trial to determine whether it was murder or manslaughter.

It’s a symbol of the Levites role as mediators between Israel and God, isn’t it? The Lord, in his fury, would kill off the entire nation, but for the intercession of Levites like Moses. God, knowing all things (including himself), raises up men who will wrestle with him on behalf of his people.

And now, as the hoards of Israelite warriors stand ready to invade, Moses prepares for a final speech. To listen in, we move turn ahead to Deuteronomy.

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