Numbering a New Generation (No. CB50)

Christian Churches of God

No. CB50



Numbering a New Generation


(Edition 2.0 20050709-20061125)

By now the first generation of men twenty years old or more had nearly all died. It was time for the new generation to be numbered and ready for the coming battles that awaited the Israelites. This paper has been adapted from Chapters 48 and 49 of The Bible Story Volume II by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press and covers from Numbers chapters 26 to Deuteronomy chapter 30 in the Bible.






Christian Churches of God





(Copyright ã 2005, 2006 Christian Churches of God, ed. Wade Cox)


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Numbering a New Generation

We continue on here from the paper Balaam (No. CB49).

The second census

After the plague the Lord said to Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, "Take a census of the whole Israelite community by families –all those twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army of Israel" (Num. 26:1-4).

It had been over thirty-eight years since the people had been numbered. During that time there had been changes in the tribes. Now that Israel was obviously about to take over Canaan, it was necessary to know the number of people in every tribe so that the leaders would know the size of the army and so the land could be divided in a manner that would be fair to all (Num. 26:52-54).

As before, the men of the tribe of Levi were counted separately and in a different way because they were not in the army and they had no inheritance, as did the men of the other tribes (Num. 1:47-49; 2:33).

At the time of this second census, not one man remained to enter the Promised Land who was numbered in the first census, except Caleb and Joshua, who were faithful to God (Num. 14:29-30; Deut. 1:34-35). However, Moses, Eleazar and Ithamar (Aaron’s sons) and some other Levites who were alive at the time of the first census remained alive because the Levites who were faithful were not condemned to die in the wilderness with the more than 600,000 soldiers who complained when God told them to go in and occupy the Promised Land. The Levites who had remained faithful to God when all the rest of Israel worshiped the golden calf were spared.

Under Moses, the Levites who were not faithful were slaughtered by their brethren. This was with the exception of Aaron who had in fact made the calf at the people’s request (cf. also Ex. 32:25-29). He was spared but he did not enter the Promised Land. Because of their faithfulness, the Levites were given special blessings (Deut. 33:8-11).

However, God had been faithful to the other half of His promise and had saved alive those who had been under twenty years of age when Israel murmured against Him (Num. 14:31; 26:11). The Promised Land was now in sight as God finished wiping out the older generation of condemned rebels, leaving a new generation of men who were under sixty years of age.

When the figures of the second census had been totalled, they showed that some of the tribes had increased and some had decreased. Not including the Levites, who had increased by only a thousand, there were 1,820 fewer men (over twenty years of age) than the first census showed. If Israel had been obedient in the past, the census would have shown an increase of thousands and thousands in all the tribes. Besides, they would have been dwelling safely and in good health in Canaan by now (read Num. 26:5-65).

Inheritance law explained

Right after the census was taken, five sisters brought a problem to Moses and Eleazar. They explained that because their father was dead and because they had no brothers, their father’s inheritance and name would be lost if they were not permitted to inherit in the place of sons (Num. 27:1-5). This was due to the fact that property that was passed on to following generations could be claimed only by those registered in the census. Those didn’t include women.

Moses and Eleazar realised that there could be many such cases among the millions of Israelites. They felt that the matter was important enough to bring to God, especially at this time when Canaan was obviously about to be divided up as an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.

When Moses brought the cause before God, he was told that the five daughters had done well in speaking out, and that His Law concerning this situation should be made known to the people. "Let it be recorded," the Lord informed Moses, "that if a man dies who has no sons, his property shall pass on to his daughters. If he has no daughters, what he owns shall go to his brothers. If he has no brothers, his estate shall go to his father’s brothers. If his father has no brothers, his property shall go to his closest relatives" (vv. 6-11).

Joshua to succeed Moses

Shortly after this new law was established, the Lord told Moses to climb to the top of one of the nearby Abarim Mountains so that he could view the land the Israelites were to possess.

"After you have seen Canaan from afar, your life shall end on that mountain," the Lord said. "You are not to enter into the Promised Land because of your disobedient attitude in getting water out of the rock at Kadesh" (vv. 12-14). This decree was no surprise to Moses, since God had refused his request to enter Canaan just after conquering Gilead and Bashan (Deut. 3:4,10, 23-27).

Moses expected this, and knew that he would soon die. What mattered most was how Moses would be replaced. When Moses finally spoke, that was foremost in his mind.

Moses said, "Before I come to the end of my days, I should like to know that you have set a man in my place so that your people will not be as sheep without a shepherd" (Num. 27:15-17).

By this request Moses didn’t mean that he felt that God couldn’t get along without him or someone in his place. But Moses understood that God had always worked to a great extent through human beings. It was only natural that he would want to know through whom God would next lead Israel, and to have that man established in office.

"Joshua shall succeed you," the Lord told Moses. "Call the congregation together to witness the transferring of some of your honour on Joshua, before Eleazar the priest. From the time that Joshua takes your place, he must consult Eleazar, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. I have spoken to you directly, but this is the way in which Joshua shall receive instruction on how to lead Israel" (vv. 18-21).

Later, before Eleazar and a huge crowd of Israelites, Moses put his hands on Joshua’s head and commissioned him as the Lord instructed (Num. 27:22-23; see also Deut. 3:21-22, 28; 31:14-15, 23).

Although Moses’ office had in a sense been transferred to Joshua, full authority was not to go to Joshua as long as Moses lived. Moses was busy for some time afterward receiving instruction from the Lord having to do with offerings, holy days and civil laws. All these things were recorded and passed on to the people so that they could be preserved for us today (Num. 28, 29 and 30). It was during these trying times that the first four books of the Bible were completed by Moses.

Vengeance on the Midianites

Thirty-nine years had passed since more than two million Israelites had fled from Egypt to escape their oppressors (Num.1:1; 13:1-3,26; Deut. 2:14). Because they usually chose the way of sin, thousands upon thousands had died of war and sickness. Only a few of the many adult men who had started from Egypt were still alive after wandering for so many years through the deserts and mountains (Num. 26:63-65).

But death and misery hadn’t prevailed all the time. Whenever the people chose to repent of their wrong ways and had the good sense to live as God had instructed them, they enjoyed good health, a happy state of mind and God’s protection (Deut. 12:29-32; 30:15-20). And through all the years God gave them nourishing manna and miraculously prevented their clothes and shoes from wearing out (Deut. 8:4).

Then the Lord said to Moses, "The time has come for my people to strike against the Midianites. After that you will be gathered to your people". This was God's way of telling Moses that he would soon die.

Moses spoke at once to his officers, instructing them to choose a thousand fighting men from each tribe. This total of twelve thousand trained and armed men was only a small part of the total Israelite army. Moses sent them into battle along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling (Num. 31:3-6).

The Israelites would have feared to go against the Midianite army with such a small force if God had not promised this new generation that they would live to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land. They had at last learned to trust God and they knew that through His power this task would be possible.

They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man. Among their victims were the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam, son of Beor with the sword. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled as well as all their camps. They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, and brought them all back to Moses and Eleazar the priest, and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho (vv. 7-12).

Moses was angry with the officers of the army who returned from the battle. "Have you allowed all these women to live?" he asked them. "Have you forgotten that these Midianite women recently drew our men into idolatry? They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and God put a plague on us because of them, and also He said that they should not live." He then told them to kill all the boys and married women, but to keep all the single girls who had not had relations with men (vv. 13-18).

Some who read this account will not believe that God would ever allow such slaughter, regardless of what the inspired Scriptures tell us. However, the slaying of the Midianite women and children was a deliberate order of God. So the Israelites who carried out the task of executing these idolaters acted under orders from God, who had good reasons for using the Israelites to wipe out an idolatrous tribe. These people who were sons of Abraham and Keturah through Midian were punished for their idolatry and sin as Israel had been punished in the wilderness. When they are resurrected in the judgment, along with other sinful tribes and nations of past ages, they will live under God’s government, and not their own. And they will be taught how to live in righteousness and happiness (Mat. 12:41-42; 11:20-24; Isa. 65:19-25). They and their system were destroyed so it would not be a stumbling block to Israel and the other descendents of Abraham.

Is it understandable that some people might consider God harsh for what He ordered done to the Midianites. At the same time people want to believe the pagan lie that God allows billions of souls to be dumped into everlasting torment in some fiery place (hell), just because they have never heard of God.

Contrary to this unscriptural teaching, God justly gives every human being, at one time or another, the opportunity to learn right from wrong and choose to serve and obey Him. For most people, that opportunity doesn’t come in this life. It will come when all those Midianites and others who have died without an opportunity for salvation will be resurrected after the Millennium. At that time people will live together in peace and prosperity while they are privileged to learn the way that leads to salvation (Ezek. 37:1-14; Isa. 65:19-25).

Canaan had to be cleansed of evil and idolatry and so it will be when Christ comes again to cleanse the nations of this world and restore God’s Laws.

Quarantine laws enforced

Being well outside the camps of the Israelites, it was an appropriate place for Moses to advise the soldiers who had any part in killing the Midianites or touching their bodies.

"All of you who have touched a dead body must stay outside of camp for seven days. On the third and the seventh days you and your captives must bathe yourselves, and wash your clothes and anything you possess made of skins, goat’s hair or wood that has touched a corpse" (Num. 31:19-20).

Eleazar, the priest, added to these directions by telling the soldiers that while they were waiting out those seven days, they should purify all battle equipment and booty made of gold, silver, brass, iron, tin or lead. This meant that objects made of these metals were to pass through a fire to kill vermin and germs, and in some cases even to be melted down. Also they were to be washed in specially prepared purifying water. Nothing could be taken back to the camps of the Israelites unless it was purified (vv. 21-24). If all people today would obey such strict rules of sanitation and quarantine, contagious diseases would not spread as easily as they do.

There was great celebration in the Israelite camps when at last the victorious soldiers were prepared to return to their homes and families. But now there was the problem of how to fairly distribute the captured property. Happily, it didn’t remain a problem, because the Lord spoke to Moses of this matter. The people did not use their own human reason.

Dividing the spoils

"Divide what has been taken into two equal parts," the Lord told Moses. "One part shall go to the soldiers who brought it back. The other half shall be distributed among the people. From the first part, for the soldiers, one part in five hundred shall go to Eleazar the High Priest for offerings and to supply household needs. From the second half, for the people, one part in fifty shall go to the Levites."

Joshua and his officers made an immediate count of the captives and livestock that had come from the campaign against Midian. It turned out that the soldiers had brought in 32,000 female Midianites, 675,000 sheep and goats, 72,000 cattle and 61,000 donkeys.

Of the female Midianites, 32 (one out of every 500 of the soldiers’ half) went to Eleazar and his assistants. They were to be used as household servants and helpers to the wives of Eleazar and of the priests. At the same time, 320 Midianites (one out of every 50 in the congregation’s half) went to the Levites to be household servants for their families. These were to be called the Nethinim (from Nathan meaning to give). They remained a discreet class of helpers in the Temple for centuries. Thus they represented salvation being of the Gentiles even before the entry to Canaan and the construction of the Temple (cf. also 1Chro. 9:2).

As for the sheep and goats, 675 of them went to the priests, and 6,750 went to the Levites. In the matter of cattle, 72 went to the priests, and 720 went to the Levites. Of the donkeys, 61 of them went to the priests, and 610 went to the Levites for service as beasts of burden (Num. 31:25-47).

As soon as these matters were worked out, officers in charge of soldiers in the campaign against Midian came to Moses to remind him that a careful check of their men had proved what seemed evident right after the battle - that not one of them had been lost. God had proved that He was able to protect every individual of those whom He had promised to take over the Jordan River into the Promised Land (vv. 48-49).

"We took much spoil that wasn’t included in the count of prisoners and livestock," a spokesman explained. "Among the things was jewellery of all kinds fashioned from precious stones, gold and silver. To show our thanks to God for sparing us, we now bring you a part of these valuables."

Moses and Eleazar gratefully accepted the offering – the gold alone of which was worth hundreds of thousands of our dollars or pounds – and they had it taken to the Tabernacle as a memorial before God (vv. 50-54).

Having conquered the nations bordering Canaan on the east side of the Jordan River and the Salt (Dead) Sea, the Israelites were well aware of the condition of all parts of that territory. Much of the land to the east was arid, but there were regions like Jazer and Gilead where the grass grew thick and green, and where there were many shade trees, especially oaks.

The Transjordan tribes

The tribes of Reuben and Gad, having long specialised in raising sheep and cattle, were greatly impressed by these fine-grazing lands. They felt that there couldn’t be greener and broader pastures on the west side of the Jordan. Therefore, their chieftains came to Moses and Eleazar to ask if they could remain east of the Jordan to raise their flocks and herds (Num. 32:1-5).

Moses was upset at this request. He believed that these two tribes could be using this as an excuse to get out of going with the other tribes to drive their enemies out of the land west of the Jordan. And he wondered if they weren’t showing a lack of gratitude to God for the land He promised them on the west side of the Jordan River.

"Your wanting to stay here reminds me of what your fathers said forty years ago," Moses answered, "when they refused to go into Canaan because they feared that the inhabitants might slay them. Then God sent them into the desert to wander and die. This request of yours is a bad example to the other tribes and might make them fear to cross the Jordan. If they too should choose not to cross the river, God might again be so angered that He might destroy all of us" (vv. 6-15).

The leaders of Reuben and Gad recognised the wisdom of Moses’ statements, but since this was such fine pastureland, they had more to say before giving up. After a hasty meeting among themselves, they again approached Moses and Eleazar.

"We aren’t being rebellious," they explained, "and we would not want to discourage our brethren or bring disunity to Israel. We can quickly take over the vacant cities from which we recently drove out the Amorites, then build them into fortresses for our women and children, and build folds for our livestock. Knowing that our people and livestock would be safe, our soldiers could then return here and cross the Jordan at the front of the other tribes to spearhead the attack and help overcome our enemies. We will not return to our homes until the other tribes are safely settled on the other side of the Jordan. We will not ask for land on the other side, but will be satisfied with the grazing land here" (vv. 16-19).

This explanation put a different light on the matter in Moses’ thinking. After all, if these tribes preferred this land God had given to Israel, Moses could think of no good reason not to give it to them as long as the whole Israelite army went westward to take Canaan.

"If you will do as you say," Moses told them, "then these regions you desire shall become your inheritances. But be warned that if you fail to go with the rest of the people and fight until the inhabitants of Canaan are entirely driven out, then you will have to pay for such a great sin" (Num. 32:20-24; Deut. 3:18-20).

"We will not fail to go," the chieftains promised Moses.

Because he realised that he wouldn’t live to cross the Jordan, Moses instructed Eleazar, Joshua and the chiefs of the other tribes to make certain that when the time came, they should see to it that these tribes who had taken eastern territory should live up to their promises. Otherwise, they were to give up the land they desired, and would have to get their inheritance west of the Jordan (Num. 32:25-30.)

Thus, Reuben and Gad were the first families of Israel to be allotted their possession from God, though half the tribe of Manasseh also promptly received permission to settle north of the area taken by Gad.

The two and a half tribes were so anxious to get to their lands that they set out as soon as possible. The people of Reuben turned to the east and south. The people of Gad and Manasseh went northward (Num. 32:31-33; Deut. 3:1-17).

They worked hard to swiftly rebuild the broken buildings of the ravaged towns and turn them back into walled strongholds. And as they had promised, they set up shelters and corrals for their vast numbers of stock (Num. 32:34-42). With their families and livestock in secure strongholds, the two and one-half tribes would not need to leave many men behind to care for them.

Meanwhile, back on the plains of Moab, God was in the process of giving more instructions to Israel through Moses, whose life was soon to be taken (Num. 33:50-56).

The Israelites continued to camp on the plains east of the Jordan River for many days. Water was plentiful and there was an abundance of grass for the animals. Living was also a little more pleasant for the people because of the shade trees in that area.

Meanwhile, the people didn’t sit around doing nothing. Besides their regular duties, it was somewhat of a task to adjust to the thousands of Midianite captives, take care of the added livestock, purify the booty of war and re-fashion much of it and sharpen and repair the worn or broken tools and weapons of war.

Time was required to do all this, but God’s main purpose in allowing the people to stay so long in that place was to give them many instructions, through Moses, for their guidance and benefit. It was made known to them that when they crossed over the Jordan into Canaan on the west, it was their duty to execute the inhabitants there and to destroy all their idols, pagan altars, towers and groves where they burned some of their children in the fire and otherwise worshipped their heathen gods (Num. 33:50-53. Lev. 18:21, 24-29; Deut. 7:1-5; 9:4; 12:29-32; 18:9-14).

Dividing the land

The Promised Land was to be divided fairly among the nine and a half tribes, according to their numbers. However, if the Israelites failed to overcome the inhabitants of Canaan, God warned that Israel would suffer.

"If you spare any Canaanites," the Lord said, "they will give you much trouble as long as they remain. Furthermore, I shall deal with you as I plan to deal with them. That means that you could lose your lives as well as the land" (Num. 33:54-56).

Towns for the Levites

The Lord then defined the boundaries of the Promised Land and appointed a committee to supervise the distribution of the land (Num. 34). Moses was instructed to tell the people that they should give 48 towns to the Levites, who were not to receive any land by inheritance. These were not necessarily to be large towns, but each one was to be surrounded by an area over a mile across, reaching out 1000 cubits (about 1500 feet) from the wall in all directions. In these suburbs the Levites could plant gardens, orchards and vineyards and have room to keep their flocks and herds (Num. 35:1-5).

Cities of refuge

Six of these towns - three on each side of the Jordan - were soon to be appointed as "cities of refuge." As well as being centres of Levite habitation, these six towns were to be for the protection of anyone who accidentally killed a person. This was necessary because angered relatives or close friends of the dead man might try to kill the man who caused his death. For example, if two men were building a shed, and one man unexpectedly moved a heavy beam so that it fell and killed the other man, the man who moved the beam was to flee at once to the closest of the six towns, where he would be protected from anyone who might seek his life as a matter of vengeance.

On the other hand, if the man maliciously moved the beam with the purpose of killing his working partner, he was still entitled to the temporary protection of any of the six towns so that he could be assured a fair trial.

Whatever the case, the man would be tried by authorities. If he was found guilty, he was either slain or allowed to fall into the hands of those who had set out to avenge the dead person. If he was found innocent, he still was to stay in the town for his own protection, until the death of the High Priest. Meanwhile, if he ventured out of his protective town, and was found by any avenger, that was the end of his protection. There were to be no prisons in Israel.

Moses now assigned three towns for refuge purposes east of the Jordan River. They included Bezer in the plain country of the Reubenites. Then there was the town of Ramoth for the Gadites and Golan for the Manassites. The other three cities of refuge were to be set aside later by Joshua (Num. 35:6-34; Deut. 4:41-43; Deut. 19:1-13; Jos. 20).

At this time Moses received many instructions and rules and reminders from the Lord. He faithfully passed them on to the people as they came to him. So that they would better understand matters, Moses gave them a detailed account of what had happened since they had left Mt. Sinai four decades previously. The Book of Deuteronomy is a record of those proceedings.

During the lengthy account, Moses revealed to the people that God wouldn’t allow him to go over into Canaan with them because of his wrong conduct when he had struck the rock to obtain water.

"Later," Moses told them, "I asked God to forgive me and let me go into Canaan. He refused to allow me to go, but told me I could view much of the land from a high mountain, and that there I would die" (Deut. 3:23-28).

Obedience commanded

Moses went on to warn the people that God would never tolerate law-breaking without punishment. He reminded them also that God was more merciful than they could imagine, and that He would never forsake them or destroy them as long as they kept their agreement to observe His Laws (Deut. 4:30-31).

Among the matters mentioned through Moses for Israel’s benefit was the strict reminder to observe the yearly Sabbaths. These holy days began in Egypt with the Passover. They were later more fully explained to the people at Mt. Sinai. The keeping of these holy days was to be a perpetual sign between God and Israel, just as the observance of the weekly Sabbath was to be an everlasting agreement (Deut. 12:1-14; 16:1-17; Ex. 31:17).

It was also made clear that besides the first tithe (that tenth of one’s increase that is to pay the expense of the work of God) the Israelites should save a second tithe (tenth) to be used in keeping God’s Feasts, which are held outside our gates or away from where we normally live (Deut. 12:17-19; 14:22-27).

Today, as then, the people of God’s Church use this second tenth of their income for observing the festivals - at the place the Church indicates. Jerusalem came to be the main place in ancient Israel, after King David conquered it in 1005 BCE, and it will be so again when Christ returns not very many years from now (Zech. 14:16-19).

Faithful saving of the second tithe makes it possible for God’s people to enjoy the Feasts and return to their homes and to their work better prepared to live happier and closer to their God.

God also commanded that the second tenth should be saved for a very special use in the third year of the Sabbath cycle. This second tenth was to be taken out only in the third year in a seven-year cycle. It was given to the Temple administration to go to the poor among the Levites, widows, fatherless children and poor strangers, in order that they also might keep the Laws and Feasts of God (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12).

In these days the obedient Christian puts aside his tithes in addition to what is required in taxes and such. God makes it possible. Many are the families that have enjoyed better incomes and other financial benefits since beginning to tithe.

Good civil government

Many other matters were brought to the people at that time, among which were these:

When the seventh-year land rest came to a conclusion, any debt should be cancelled unless the debtor happened to be a foreigner (Deut. 15:1-11). Those in other nations did not follow these laws and thus could not claim release.

A servant should be freed after seven years of service (Deut. 15:12-15).

Israel was to make no agreements of any kind with the nations that were to be driven out (Deut. 7:1-5; 20:16-18).

No more than forty lashes of a whip were to be applied in punishment (Deut. 25:1-3).

No fruit trees were to be cut down in times of war in the land Israel invaded (Deut. 20:19-20). The food they produced was worth more than timber.

The Israelites should consider themselves a holy nation, not because of their righteousness, but because God chose them as His people (Deut. 7:6; 14:1-2).

Any prophet or priest who falsely led the people into any wrong kind of worship was to be put to death (Deut. 18:20-22).

Moses repeated these solemn words from God:

"You, Israel, must choose between blessings and cursings from your Creator. Obedience to my Laws shall bring wonderful blessings of prosperity, freedom from diseases, success in all you undertake, an abundance of healthy children and livestock, plenty of rain and water, good crops without blemish or pestilence, comfortable homes and protection from accident and from your enemies. I shall make you the head of all nations, and they shall fear and respect you. You shall lead long, happy lives, and so shall your offspring also be happy, healthy and prosperous far into the future.

On the other hand, if you refuse to live according to the Laws I have made plain to you, I shall heap grievous curses on you. You shall cease to prosper. All kinds of diseases shall come on you, and you shall fail in all you set out to do. Your children shall be sickly, but famine shall drive you to eat them. Your livestock shall sicken and die of disease or for lack of water and grass. The soil shall turn hard, and your crops shall be consumed by blight and pestilence. You shall be sick, frightened and miserable wherever you go. You shall become as depraved as animals and lunatics, and fatal accidents shall overtake you wherever you are. Your homes shall become filthy, miserable hovels. You shall become the least and weakest of all nations, and cruel enemies shall slay you. Those of you who aren’t slain shall be taken captive and scattered among the nations as wretched slaves" (Deut. 28 and 30:15-20).

See also the paper Blessings and Curses from Deuteronomy 28 (No. CB68).