Feb. 22 Reading: Numbers 26-27 Commentary
“But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest when they numbered the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, “They shall surely die in the wilderness.” So there was not left a man of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.” (Num. 26:64-65)
Numbers 26 – The Second Census
It’s time for another counting of the people. This second census happened after all the generation who had defied the Lord’s command to enter the Promised Land (see Numbers 14) had died. So this counting done by Moses and the high priest Eleazar is of their children – all those men who were able to go to war, 20 years old and above (v. 2). And it ends up being a more extensive look at the tribes and families involved than the first census, with special mention of some notable persons mentioned elsewhere in Numbers.
The chart below shows the two census numbers, with Judah being highlighted as the largest tribe. It is interesting when you compare the first and second counting, that after 40 years of wandering the wilderness because of their disobedience, the total number between the two censuses decreased only slightly (603,550 to 601,730).
One would think there would be a greater difference to the downside considering all they’d been through.
There were two plagues with recorded number of deaths being 14,700 (Num 16:49) and 24,000 (Num. 25:8). There were two other plagues with unmentioned death totals (see Num. 11:33 and Num. 21:6). Additionally, there was the failed invasion attempt of Numbers 14 and three battles leading into the Promised Land in Numbers 21, all of which most likely resulted in further deaths.
In addition to these numbers, Moses counts the tribe of Levi. God chose the Levites to be responsible for the care and upkeep of the tabernacle. Because of that, they did not go to war and received no inheritance in the new land. Their count added up to 23,000, every male from a month old and above (v. 62).
No reason is given why the tribe of Simeon decreased in such great numbers.
And it’s important to note once again that all the 603,550 men counted in the first census died in the wilderness for their disobedience. Numbers 26:64-65 reiterates that:
“But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest when they numbered the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, ‘They shall surely die in the wilderness.’ So there was not left a man of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.”
This continues to show God’s blessing on the people. Despite the fact they had disobeyed and turned their back on him, he would not abandon them.
Numbers 27 – Joshua Becomes Leader
One notable person listed in the Numbers 26 census is found in verse 33. In that verse, Moses highlights Zelophehad, a man who had no sons. Additionally, Moses lists his five daughters by name – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. It’s an odd notation until you read Numbers 27.
In Numbers 27, the five daughters approach Moses and Eleazar the priest with an inheritance question. Since their father was part of the first generation who died in the wilderness and he had no sons, there would be no male to receive his inheritance in the new land. They requested that the inheritance be passed on to them (vv. 3-4).
It’s a bold request because in ancient Israel, women did not inherit land. But the request is a reasonable one considering the circumstances. So Moses took the case before the Lord (v. 5).
God agrees with the daughters and grants their request. He further outlines what would be the new standard going forward:
“[when] a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the relative closest to him in his family, and he shall possess it.” (vv. 8-11)
This was a dramatic change that went against the custom of the day and elevated the rights of women.
Moses Passes the Torch to Joshua
The time to enter and conquer the Promised Land is at hand. That means the end of Moses’ life is also near. He served as God’s faithful leader through the exodus and wilderness journey and had literally saved the people from experiencing God’s wrath on multiple occasions. But because of his sin at Kadesh where he struck the rock twice instead of speaking to it, he would not lead the people into the Promised Land. That responsibility would fall to Joshua.
Moses knows his time is near and wants to figure out who will take his place. He probably has a good idea but wants to inquire of God:
“Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.” (vv. 16-17)
God chose Joshua, a man who He says “in whom is the Spirit” (v. 18).
Joshua had been Moses’ right hand man, trained for this task. He was there (or at least nearby) when Moses received the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24) and when the people sinned at the golden calf incident in Exodus 32. Additionally, He and Caleb had been the only two spies who honored the Lord when the rest believed they could not succeed in conquering the Promised Land (Numbers 14).
Moses and Eleazar the priest hold a ceremony in front of all the congregation (v. 19). Moses grants Joshua some of his authority so that the people will be obedient (v. 20). Finally, Moses lays his hands on Joshua signifying this is God’s next leader of the people (v. 23).
Questions to Consider:
Even though an entire generation died in the wilderness because of sin, God was faithful. The Numbers 26 census shows us the next generation was as plentiful in number as the first. God sustained them through it all. How is God sustaining you day by day? What proof is there that he has not abandoned you?
Leadership matters. It’s one of Moses’ unseen accomplishments, in that there was a smooth transition of leadership to a person who had been trained for that role. What leaders do you admire? How have you seen positive and negative results when an organization transitioned from one leader to another? What makes a good leader? How can you be a positive leader in your family, church or place of work?
What other points would you want to know about in our Numbers 26-27 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.