Lesson 13: Chapters 33-36
The Summary of the stages of the Journey from
Egypt to Israel's Last Encampment on the Banks of the Jordan River
The Conclusion of the Laws Prescribed on the Plains of Moab

Lord God,
We marvel at Your faithfulness to the children of Your servant Abraham. Despite their many failures, You never abandoned them but persevered to bring them to repentance and salvation. We are thankful that You show the same mercies to us, the children of our holy mother, Mary, and the servants of Your Son. We know that there are times when we stumble and fall, but we also know, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, that You are always willing to accept our plea of repentance and our desire for restoration to fellowship with You. Help us to learn from each confessed failure, Lord, so that like a soldier who grows more knowledgeable and skilled with each battle, we will be able to go forth to conquer evil with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as our battle cry, the good works we offer in His name as our banner, and the Sacraments Your Son gave us as our shield. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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The one hand of Moses was not enough for going forth from Egypt, and the hand of Aaron was also needed. Moses stands for knowledge of the law; Aaron, for skill in making sacrifices and immolations to God. It is therefore necessary for us when we come froth from Egypt to have not only the knowledge of the Law and of faith but also the fruits of works well pleasing to God.
Origen, director of the Catechetical School at Alexandria, Egypt (c. 185/200-254) Homilies on Numbers 27.6

Chapter 33: The Stages of the Journey from Egypt to the Plains of Moab

This chapter lists the campsites on the stages of the journey from Egypt to the Plains of Moab on the east side of the Jordan River across from the Canaanite city of Jericho. In addition to the campsites, the list includes the mention of several geographical features or landmarks along the journey and two short additions of historical information on the mission of Moses (verses 2-4) and Aaron (verses 38-39); recording that both Moses and Aaron obeyed the commands of Yahweh (verses 2 and 38). Most scholars break the list into three sections (Ashley, Numbers, page 624):

  1. The 12 campsites from Egypt to Sinai (verses 5-15).
  2. The 21 campsites from Sinai to the second visit to Kadesh (verses 16-36).
  3. The 9 campsites from Kadesh to the Plains of Moab (verses 37-49).

The list of the Israelites encampments, not counting the starting off point in Rameses, Egypt and the last encampment on the Plains of Moab, numbers 40 campsites on the journey; however, there are a total of 42 listed sites of the Israelite encampments beginning with Rameses and ending with the last encampment on the Plains of Moab. The list in Chapter 33 is not, however, a complete list. Some of the encampments already mentioned in previous chapters, like Shur (Ex 15:22), Taberah (Num 11:3), Hormah (Num 14:45; 21:1) and sites mentioned in Numbers 21:11-13 and 16-19 are missing from the list. 17 other sites are only mentioned in this chapter and nowhere else.

Scholars, as far back as the time of Origen in the third century AD, have struggled with the question as to why only these campsites were named and others are missing. Christian scholar Origen of Alexandria (the famed director of the School of Christian Catechetics in Alexandria, Egypt) believed it was the inspired writer's intent to manipulate the list to yield a symbolic number of encampments. He suggested that the list reflected an allegory of the Christian's testing in the journey from spiritual re-birth to union with God in eternity when the victorious Christian crossed over the "river" of death into the Promised Land of heaven. Whatever the reason, it seems obvious that the inspired writer has manipulated the list naming encampments between Rameses and the Plains of Moab across from Jericho by purposely failing to list sites already mentioned and including others never mentioned again to yield a specific number of 40 or 42 sites, something he knew the careful reader would not fail to notice.

One theory is that the inspired writer wanted to represent the 40 years of wilderness wandering in the list of encampments. In Scripture the number 40 signifies testing and/or consecration (it is a multiple of 4 and 10, numbers signifying the earth and divine order). For example:

Testing and consecration is an accurate description of the Israelites' experience in the wilderness years. However, the number 42 also has significance in God's plan of salvation. It is a number revealed in another manipulate list in the New Testament. St. Matthew's genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:1-17) is a manipulated list in which three names recorded in the list of Judean kings are purposely missing (Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah in 2 Chr 22-25) to yield three sets of 14 (2 times 7) ancestors for a total of 42 (6 times 7) names, counting Jesus as the last name in the list-the 7th name in the final series (see "Matthew's Toledoth (genealogy) of Jesus of Nazareth" and the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture" in the Documents/Scripture Study section). In the list of sites in Numbers 33, the list can be broken down into a six times seven pattern, with six sections of seven encampments (without repeating the names of sites), much like the intentionally chosen number of 42 names in St. Matthew's genealogy, yielding an intentional 42 names of campsites.

42 is a number that appears again in 2 Kings 2:23-24 and in the Book of Revelation (Rev 11:2; 13:5). The number 42 is the product of 6 times 7. 7 is one of the "perfect" numbers, signifying fullness and perfection, especially spiritual perfection, and 6 is the number of man (Gen 1:26-31) and especially signifies man's opposition to God's plan for mankind's destiny.

Examples of the symbolic nature of the number 42 can be applied to these passages:

Therefore, in Scripture the number 42 appears to symbolize a connection/conflict between man and the Spirit of God. For Israel this number can be seen as the significance of working out Israel's opposition to the destiny God willed for Israel in His plan for man's salvation as they journeyed from Egypt to the Plains of Moab.

Another less obvious example is the prohibition against idolatry followed by instruction on the proper forms of worship in Ex 20:22-26, repeated in 23:13-19. These themes frame forty-two (7 = spiritual perfection x 6 = number symbolic of man) covenant judgments in Exodus 21:1-23:12, providing a prologue and an epilog to the forty-two judgments. The judgment section, which is the beginning of "The Book of the Covenant" begins with the Hebrew words "And these", the gematria of which is the number 42.

Idolatry prohibition and
proper forms of worship
Ex 20:22-26
42 judgments
Ex 21:1-23:12
Idolatry prohibition and
proper forms of worship
Ex 23:13-19

Please note that all the meanings of the names of the Hebrew sites are from Levine, Numbers, pages 516-20 or from Origen's Homilies on Numbers 27.9-12.

Numbers 33:1-49 The Stages of the Exodus
1 These were the stages of the journey made by the Israelites when they left Egypt in their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 2 Moses recorded their starting-points in writing whenever they moved on at Yahweh's order. The stages, from one point to another, were as follows:

Ever since Exodus Chapter 24, we have been told that Moses recorded the events of the Exodus experience (Ex 24:4; 34:27). This passage provides evidence that Moses' record of events had continued after the covenant formation at Mt. Sinai. Since the information that Moses wrote down the stages of the journey is recorded in the third person, it may have been added by another inspired writer, possible Joshua.

3 They left Rameses in the first month. It was the fifteenth day of the first month the day following the Passover, when the Israelites confidently set out, under the eyes of all Egypt. 4 The Egyptians were burying those of their own people whom Yahweh had struck down, all the first-born; Yahweh had carried out his judgement on their gods.

This is information that sets a definite date to the events in Exodus 12:29-36 and 13:17. The Israelites left Egypt on the day after the Passover sacrifice, on the 15th of Abib (the first morning what became the Feast of Unleavened Bread), as the Egyptians were burying those who died in the tenth plague. On the 15th of Abib/Nisan, 30 AD, the morning after the sacred meal of the Passover victim (Last Supper), Jesus was condemned by Pilate and was crucified that morning about 9 AM (Mk 15:25).

5 The Israelites left Rameses and camped at Succoth.

The Israelites began their journey at Rameses and marched toward Succoth with about six hundred thousand fighting men (Ex 12:37). Most Scholars identify Rameses as the Egyptian city Pi-Rameses that was built on top of the ruins of Avaris, the old Hyksos capital. Avaris was destroyed when the Egyptians drove out the Hyksos, in c. 1550 BC. The Egyptians built a large storage facility and military compound on the site Avaris and called it Pi-Rameses, an Egyptian name meaning the "city/place of the god Ra who is born". It was located on the eastern delta of the Nile near where the Israelites lived Goshen. This site, which was also a region of the delta, is mentioned in Genesis 47:11, in Exodus 1:11 and in Exodus 12:37. The campsite of Succoth is Sukkot in Hebrew and means "tents", as in the Feast of Tabernacles which is called in Hebrew "Sukkot".

6 Then they left Succoth and camped at Etham which is on the edge of the desert.

The same information is recorded in Exodus 13:20. Etham is the Egyptian name for the Hebrew "Shur" (Ex 15:22); in Hebrew and in Egyptian the place-name means "wall" or "formation".

7 They left Etham, turned back to Pi-Hahiroth, opposite Baal-Zephon, and encamped before Migdol.

The same information is recorded in Exodus 14:2. Instead of marching northeast in the quickest route out of Egypt, the Israelites apparently turned southward before the Egyptians caught up with them. Baal-Zephon was a shrine dedicated to the Canaanite god Baal. The literal translation is "Lord-winter (north)". Migdol is the Hebrew word for "watchtower".

8 They left Pi-Hahiroth, crossed the sea into the desert, and after marching for three days in the desert of Etham they encamped at Marah.

The same information is recorded in Exodus 15:22-23, but here there is only a brief mention of the miracle of the Red Sea crossing. It was at Pi-Hahiroth ("mouth-of-the-gorge" or "mouth of the canal") that God parted the sea for the Israelites to cross, and it was at Marah, a Hebrew word meaning "bitter", that the miracle of the bitter water turned sweet took place (Ex 15:23-26).

9 They left Marah and reached Elim. At Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; they encamped there.

See Exodus 15:27. Origen wrote that Elim means "rams", the leaders of the flock. He compared the 12 springs of Elim to the twelve Apostles who are the leaders of the Church and the 70 palm trees to the 70 disciples Jesus chose to minister to His flock (Lk 6:12-16; 10:1).

10 They left Elim and encamped by the Sea of Reeds.

See Exodus 16:1-3 where the information that they encamped by the sea a second time is missing. The Yam Suph, Sea of Reeds (Red Sea), can refer to either the Gulf of Suez or the Gulf of Aqaba as it does in 1 Kings 9:26 (where Solomon kept his fleet at Ezion-Geber on the Yam Suph).

11 They left the Sea of Reeds and encamped in the desert of Sin.

Question: When did the Israelites enter the wilderness of Sin? See Ex 16:1.
Answer: They entered the desert of Sin exactly one month after leaving Egypt, on the 15th of the second month.

This camp may have been where the Israelites tested God and the first miracle of the quail and manna took place (Ex 16:2-36), which is omitted from the Numbers narrative. Origen wrote that Zin means "bramble bush" or "temptation", while the next camp site, Dophkah/Raphaca, means "health" (Homilies on Numbers 27.11-12).

12 They left the desert of Sin and encamped at Dophkah.

The place-name occurs here and nowhere else in Scripture.

13 They left Dophkah and encamped at Alush.

Alush is only mentioned in this passage and, like Dophkah, the location of the site is unknown.

14 They left Alush and encamped at Rephidim' the people found no drinking water there.

Origen recorded that Alush meant "toil".

Question: What two significant events happened at Rephidim? See Ex 17:1-16).
Answer: It was at Rephidim that the Amalekites attacked the Israelites and were defeated. At Rephidim the people complained because of their thirst, and God sent Moses and the elders ahead to Mt. Sinai where Moses, according to God's command, struck the Rock and life-giving water poured out.

The war with Amalek at Rephidim is omitted from the narrative as is the Theophany at Sinai and other events that occurred on the journey. Apparently the focus is only on the stages of the journey and not on the historical events that have already been recorded. When historical events are mentioned, they are only to give the read a frame of reference and to give additional information.

15 They left Rephidim and encamped in the desert of Sinai.

It was at the camp at Mt. Sinai that Jethro brought Moses his wife and children (Ex 18), and it was at Mt. Sinai that the Israelites encamped from the third month after leaving Egypt (Ex 19:1) until the 20th day of the second month of the second year after leaving Egypt (Num 10:11). While in the camp at Sinai, the Israelites witnessed the Theophany of God, received the Ten Commandments, ratified the Sinai Covenant, built the Sanctuary, and received the commands and prohibitions of the Law.

16 They left the desert of Sinai and encamped at Kibroth-ha-Taavah.

Here the list skips Taberah (Num 11:1-3) and jumps to the campsite where the Israelites rejected the gift of the manna, complained that there was no meat and longed for the foods of Egypt (Num 11:4-6). It was at this site that God ordered the selection of the seventy elders to assist Moses (Num 11:16-30), gave the second miracle of the quail and manna together, and the people experienced God's plague of judgment for their ingratitude and for challenging Moses and Aaron's leadership (Num 11:31-35). The Hebrew name of the campsite means "grave of longing/craving".

17 They left Kibroth-ha-Tavvah and encamped at Hazeroth.

Hazeroth was where Miriam and Aaron challenged Moses' authority (Num 12:1-16). Hazeroth means "stockade" and made have been the site of an old military outpost.

18 They left Hazeroth and encamped at Rithmah.

Rithmah means "juniper tree". None of the stations in verses 18-29 is mentioned elsewhere in Scripture and none have been identified. The area in verses 18-29 is identified with the desert of Paran where there the ground if covered with gravel, there is little vegetation and few sources of water. In Deuteronomy this region is described as "a vast and terrible desert" (Dt 1:19 NJB). The is no mention of the failure of the Exodus generation to agree to begin the conquest of Canaan at Kadesh-Barnea (Num 13-14) and God's divine judgment of 40 years of wandering.

19 They left Rithmah and encamped at Rimmon-Perez.

In Hebrew the word rimmon means "pomegranate"; therefore, Rimmon-Perez means "pomegranate spring".

20 They left Rimmon-Perez and encamped at Libnah.

The name of the campsite means "white tree".

21 They left Libnah and encamped at Rissah.

In Hebrew rissah means "ruin."

22 They left Rissah and encamped at Kehelathah.

Hebrew root of this place-name is kahal means "called out" as in an assembly and kehelath means "gathering place".

23 They left Kehelathah and encamped at Mount Shepher.

Shepher/Sepher means "beautiful"; Har-Seper means "beautiful mountain".

24 They left Mount Shepher and encamped at Haradah.

Haradah means "trembling". It is possible the name of the campsite may represent the same type of symbolic name commemorating an historic event at Kibroth-ha-Taavah in Numbers 33:16-17.

25 They left Haradah and encamped at Makheloth.

26 They left Makheloth and encamped at Tahath.

In Hebrew Tahath/Tahat means "the foot of a mountain" as in betahtit hahar "at the foot of the mountain" in Exodus 19:17.

27 The left Tahath and encamped at Terah.

Both these sites appear elsewhere in Scripture as personal names. Terah was the name of Abraham's father (Gen 11:24-32). Origen writes that the name means "contemplation".

28 They left Terah and encamped at Mithkah.

Levine says Mithkah means "sweet/sweetness" and probably means they named the campsite for a well with good water (as opposed to the bitter brackish water they found at Marah). Origen says the name means "new death" and is symbolic of Christian baptism when the believer dies with Christ and rises from the waters of baptism to live with Him (Homilies on Numbers 27.12).

29 They left Mithkah and encamped at Hashmonah.

Levine found no clear meaning for this Hebrew name, but Origen wrote that it means "bones" (Homilies on Numbers 27.12).

30 They left Hashmonah and encamped at Moseroth.

The location of the sites mentioned in verses 30-34 are unidentified, but Bene-Jaakan and Jotbthah are identical with sites mentioned in Deuteronomy 10:6-7. Moseroth means "reins, straps" and it is possibly the same site as Moserah in Deuteronomy 10:6-7.

31 They left Moseroth and encamped at Bene-Jaakan.

Bene-Jaakan (son of Ya'aqan/Ya'akan) is also in the list of sites in Deuteronomy 10:6-7 where it occurs as Be'erot Bene Ya'aqan, "the wells of the sons of Ya'aqan".

32 They left Bene-Jaakan and encamped at Hor-Gidgad.

This site may be rendered as Gudgod in Deuteronomy 10:6-7. The Septuagint and St. Jerome's Vulgate identify this site name with a mountain as Har-Gidgad.

33 They left Hor-Gidgad and encamped at Jotbathah.

Jotbathah is a campsite listed in Deuteronomy 10:6.

34 They left Jotbathah and encamped at Abronah.

35 They left Abronah and encamped at Ezion-Geber.

Abronah has been identified with Tell el-Kheleifeh at modern Elath and Ezion-geber is identified with nearby Akaba (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 281). Ezion-geber is mentioned in Deuteronomy 2:8 and 1 Kings 9:26 where it is recorded that King Solomon's fleet was anchored at a port by this name, located near Eloth on the shore of the Yam Suph (which has to be the Gulf of Aqaba).

36 They left Ezion-Geber and encamped in the desert of Zin, that is, at Kadesh.

The Israelites camped at the oasis of Kadesh, which was probably the same Kadesh-Barnea where the Exodus generation was condemned to forty years of wandering. It was at this encampment that Miriam died (Num 20:1); see the discussion concerning the location of Kadesh in Lesson 9.

37 They left Kadesh and encamped at Mount Hor, on the borders of the land of Edom. 38 The priest Aaron went up Mount Hor on Yahweh's orders and died there in the fortieth year of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, in the fifth month, on the first day of the month. 39 Aaron was a hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor.

See Numbers 20:22-29 for the account of Aaron's death and 21:1-3 for the account of the surprise attack by the Canaanites and their defeat by the Israelites, which is missing from this part of the narrative. This part of the narrative provides information not found in Numbers chapter 20:

Deuteronomy 10:6 places Aaron's death and Eleazar's ordination at Moserah instead of Mt. Hor as it is in Numbers 20:23 and 33:38, but Moserah may be the name of the campsite at the base of the mountain.

40 The king of Arad, the Canaanite who lived in the Negeb of Canaan, heard of the Israelites' arrival.

This verse is almost a verbatim beginning of the story of the Israelites' battle with the Canaanites in Numbers 21:1-3, but the Canaanite surprise attack, capture of Israelites, and ultimate defeat is missing.

41 They left Mount Hor and encamped at Zalmonah.

See Numbers 20:22-29.

42 They left Zalmonah and encamped at Punon.

Numbers 21:4 records that they skirted the land of Edom, probably via these two sites. In antiquity, Punon was a center for the mining and smelting of copper. It was probably the site of the attack of the snakes and the image of the copper snake (Num 21:4-9).

43 They left Punon and encamped at Oboth.

Numbers 21:10 recorded that they encamped at Oboth and then encamped at Iye-abarim in the wilderness bordering on Moab to the east (Num 21:11).

44 They left Oboth and encamped in Moabite territory at Iye-Abarim.

Iye-Abarim means "the ruin of Abarim" or perhaps "the ruins of the passes". Verses 41-49 and Deuteronomy 2:2-13, 29 give the impression that the Israelites began to go around Edom but then cut through Edom and Moab on their march to their last camp on the Plains of Moab across from Jericho. According to Numbers 21:12-13, the Israelites' next encampment was at the wadi of Zered (Num 21:10-13), and from there they set out and encamped beyond the Arnon river gorge in the wilderness on the border of Moab in territory they conquered from the Amorites (Num 21:13-16, 21-35).

45 They left Iyim and encamped at Dibon-Gad.

The left the "ruins" (-im is a plural ending in Hebrew) and then set up camp at Dibon-Gad, another name for the Moabite city of Dibon (Num 21:30; 32:3). In the period of the divided monarchy it became the capital of King Mesha of Moab (2 Kng 3:4) and was located just north of the Arnon river gorge.(2) The name here: Dibon-Gad, presupposes the occupation of Dibon by the tribe of Gad (Num 32:34).

46 They left Dibon-Gad and encamped at Almon-Diblathaim.

This site is likely the Beth-Diblathaim mentioned in Jeremiah 48:22; it is a site that is also named in the Mesha stela (see footnote 2).

47 They left Almon-Diblathaim and encamped in the Abarim mountains facing Nebo.

See Numbers 27:12 and 32:38. The Hebrew word almon means "hidden", perhaps suggesting something about the topography or location. This site is named in an oracle against Moab (Jer 48:22). From this site the Israelites marched to the mountains of Abarim "facing Nebo" (lipne Nebo). Mt. Nebo is identified as a specific peak of this mountain chain in Deuteronomy 32:47. The mountain is 2,740 feet high (843 meters) and affords a spectacular view of the land on the west side of the Jordan River (see Num 27:12; 32:3).

48 The left the Abarim mountains and encamped on the Plains of Moab, near the Jordan opposite Jericho. They encamped near the Jordan between Beth-ha-Jeshimoth and Abel-ha-Shittim, on the Plains of Moab.

Beth-ha-Jeshimoth, "place of the wasteland" (the Hebrew word yesimon means "wasteland/wilderness"), is mentioned in Joshua 12:3, 13:20, and Ezekiel 25:9. According to Bishop Eusebius' 4th century AD travelogue, Onomasticon, the site is located by the Dead Sea, 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Jericho (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 282). According to Josephus, Abel-ha-Shittim (see Num 25:1) is located in the highlands about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the Jordan River and 7 miles (11 Kilometers) from the Dead Sea (The Antiquities of the Jews 5.4). The encampment must have spanned the distance between these two sites. The camp was evidently located near a forest of Shittim trees along the river. Abel-ha-Shittim means "the acacia trees" and is the site where the incident of Baal-Peor took place (Num 25:1). If Eusebius and Josephus are correct in their estimates, we can get some idea of the size of the encampment of the twelve tribes since the distance between these two sites would be about 5 miles.

In his Homilies on Numbers, Origen used the meaning of the Hebrew names of the encampments to explain the allegorical significance of the Christian's journey from belief to eternity. Origen wrote: Now the first starting place was from Ramesse [Rameses]; and whether the soul starts out from this world and comes to the future age or is converted from the errors of life to the way of virtue and knowledge, it starts out from Ramesse. For in our language Ramesse means "confused agitation" or "agitation of the worm." By this it is made clear that everything in this world is set in agitation and disorder and also in corruption; for this is what the worm means. The soul should not remain in such agitation but should set out and come to Sochoth [Succoth]. Sochoth [Succoth] is interpreted "tents." Thus the first progress of the soul is to be taken away from earthly agitation and to learn that it must dwell in tents like a wanderer, so that it can be as it were, ready for battle and meet those who lie in wait for it unhindered and free ... The last stage is east of Moab by the Jordan. For the whole journey takes place, the whole course is run for the purpose of arriving at the river of God, so that we may make neighbors of the flowing Wisdom and may be watered by the waves of divine knowledge, and so that purified by them all we may be made worthy to enter the promised land (Origen, Homilies on Numbers 27.9-12). Origen was honest when he did not know what a particular place name meant, as in the place-name Oboth, which he says nonetheless has significance as all the others in the logic of the progression (Homilies on Numbers 27:12).

Numbers 33:50-56 God's Commands Concerning the Conquest of Canaan
50 Yahweh spoke to Moses on the Plains of Moab, near the Jordan by Jericho, and said: 51'Speak to the Israelites and say: "When you have crossed the Jordan into Canaan, 52 you will drive out all the local inhabitants before you. You will destroy all their painted images [?figured objects], you will destroy all their metal statues [molten images] and you will demolish all their high places. 53 You will take possession of the country and settle in it, for I have given you the country as your property. 54 You will share it out by lot among your clans. To a large clan you will give a larger heritage, and to a smaller clan you will give a smaller heritage. Where the lot falls for each, that will be his. Your heritage will depend on the size of your tribe. 55 If, however, you do not drive out the local inhabitants before you, the ones you allow to remain will be thorns in your eyes and thistles in your sides and will harass you in the country where you are living, 56 and I shall treat you as I intended to treat them."'
[..] =
literal translation (The Interlineal Bible: Hebrew-English, page 448).

The etymology of the Hebrew word maskiyotam is unknown and the translation as "painted images/figured objects/carved stones" is an educated guess by scholars (The JPS Commentary: Numbers, page 283; Gray, Numbers, page 450). The same word is found in Lev 26:1; Ez 8:12; Prov 25:11. "High places" refers to sites of pagan worship that were often located on hills or higher elevations, as in the story of Balaam and King Balak's pagan altar sites (Num 22:41-23:2, 14, 27-30).

Numbers 33:50-34:29 is a complete section in which God gives divine instruction on conquering the land of Canaan (Num 33:50-56) and the Israelite's future lives there (Num 34:1-29). The division of this section includes divine legislation on:

  1. The warning to drive out all the inhabitants and to destroy their cult objects and places of worship (Num 33:51-52a).
  2. The command to distribute the land according to lot and population (Num 33:53-56).
  3. The borders for the nine and a half tribes on the west side of the Jordan River (Num 34:1-12).
  4. The territory of the two and a half tribes on the east side of the Jordan River (Num 34:13-15).
  5. The Ecclesiastical authority and the civil leaders appointed to allot the land (Num 34:16-29).

Question: What did God promise was to be Israel's reward for obedience in verses 52-53?
Answer: If the Israelites conquer and evict the inhabitants of Canaan (vs. 52a) and destroy their cult objects and worship sites (vs. 52b), Israel will possess and settle the land (vs. 53a) according to God's promise (vs. 53b).

Question: Is our faith in God, like the Old Covenant Church, demonstrated by our obedience to His commands? What did St. Paul write about the obedience of faith in Romans 1:3-7; 16:26? See CCC 143, 494, 2087.
Answer: Yes. St. Paul wrote that obedience is implicit in the virtue of faith. In faith we should commit ourselves to living out the commands of God and in submitting ourselves completely to Him, an example given to us by the Virgin Mary. Obedience of faith is our first obligation.

Numbers 33:54 You will share it out by lot among your clans. To a large clan you will give a larger heritage, and to a smaller clan you will give a smaller heritage. Where the lot falls for each, that will be his. Your heritage will depend on the size of your tribe.

Question: According to verse 54, how was the land to be divided?

  1. by lot according to clan location
  2. by population for size of the parcel
  3. by lot for tribal location

Numbers 33:55-56 If, however, you do not drive out the local inhabitants before you, the ones you allow to remain will be thorns in your eyes and thistles in your sides and will harass you in the country where you are living, 56 and I shall treat you as I intended to treat them."'

Question: What was the punishment for failure to evict the inhabitants of Canaan?

  1. They will be a continual spiritual problem for the Israelites.
  2. They will harass Israel militarily.
  3. Disobedience to the command to evict the Canaanites and their false worship will result in God evicting Israel from the land.

Question: The wording of verse 55 is similar to what other curse as a punishment for disobedience in Genesis 3:18?
Answer: The thorns and thistles in Adam's curse for disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit that resulted in his spiritual separation from God and eviction from the garden Sanctuary of Eden.

God gave His assurance that Israel was to enjoy the fruits of their labor in the conquest of Canaan if they remain obedient to God. But He repeatedly gave them the warning that they were to remain a holy people and they were not to adopt the sinful practices of the inhabitants of Canaan if God was to dwell among them, here in verses 55-56 and earlier at Mt. Sinai: Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these practices, for it was by such things that the nations that I am driving out before you made themselves unclean. The country has become unclean; hence I am about to punish it for its guilt, and the country itself will vomit out its inhabitants. You, however, must keep my laws and customs and not do any of these hateful things ... Yes, anyone who does any of these hateful things, whatever it may be, any person doing so, will be outlawed from his people; so keep my rules and do not observe any of the hateful laws which were in force before you came; then you will not be made unclean by the. I am Yahweh your God (Lev 18:24-30).

Question: If the Israelites were God's "chosen people", why did God threaten to punish the Israelites and to take the Promised Land from them if they adopted the practices of the heathen Gentiles they were to drive out of the Holy Land where God was to dwell with His people?
Answer: God is just and He could not tolerate sins in the Israelites for which He passed judgment on the occupants of Canaan.

Question: In spite of their many failures, God never abandoned the Israelites, even though He disciplined them for their unfaithfulness (Mal 3:6-21). How is God's perseverance with Israel an encouragement to us? What Bible verses can you recall that promise such faithfulness on God's part despite our failures?
Answer: God's consistent faithfulness to Israel is our encouragement to persevere in righteousness. Even when our spiritual failures threaten to engulf us and we become separated from peace and fellowship with God, He is not willing that any of us should be lost to Him. He constantly calls all of us to repentance and salvation (1 Tim 2:3-4; 2 Tim 2:13; 1 Pt 3:9).

Chapter 34: The Boundaries of Canaan and the Allocation of the Land

That day Yahweh made [cut] a covenant with Abram in these terms: 'To your descendants I give this country, from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the River Euphrates ...
Genesis 15:18

Numbers 34:1-13 The Boundaries of The Promised Land for the Nine and a half Tribes
1 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 2 'Give the Israelites this order. Say: "When you enter the country (Canaan), this will be the country which forms your heritage. This is Canaan as defined by its boundaries:

3 The southern part of your country will start from the desert of Zin, on the borders of Edom. Your southern boundary will start on the east at the end of the Salt Sea.

The reference to Zin is probably a point along the boundary rather than the wilderness; it was on the border with Edom (see 13:21, 26; 20:1). The Salt Sea is the Dead Sea.

4 It will then turn south towards the Ascent of the Scorpions [Akrabbim] and go by Zin to end in the south at Kadesh-Barnea. It will then run towards Jazar-Addar and pass through Azmon.

The Ascend of Scorpions [Akrabbim] is an unknown site. Kadesh-Barnea was the site of the reconnaissance of Canaan and the death of Miriam (Num 13:25-26; 20:1). Hazar-addar is mentioned as Hezron and Addar in Joshua 15:3.

5 From Azmon the boundary will turn towards the Torrent of Egypt and end at the Sea.

Azmon is an unknown site. The Torrent of Egypt is probably modern Wadi el-Arish, south of Gaza, between the Negeb and the Sinai.

6 Your seaboard will be on the Great Sea; this will be your western boundary.

The Great Sea is the Mediterranean.

7 Your northern boundary will be as follows: you will draw a line from the Great Sea to Mount Hor ...

Mt. Hor in this passage is in the north, and it is not the southern mountain where Aaron died and Eleazar was invested as High Priest (Num 20:22-29).

8 then from Mount Hor you will draw a line to the Pass of Hamath, and the boundary will end at Zedad.

For the Pass of Hamath [Lebo-hamath] see Numbers 13:21. Zedad was probably a site northeast of Damascus and east of Byblos. The northern border followed an imaginary line drawn from the Mediterranean to Mt. Hor which was probably in the mountains of Lebo (pass) -Haamat, the furthest extend of the reconnaissance of the spies in Numbers 13:21. From the Pass of Hamath, the border extended inland to Zedad (Sedad), probably a site located east of the road from Damascus to Aleppo, Syria (see Ez 47:13).

9 From there it will run on to Ziphron and end at Hazar-Enan. This will be your northern boundary.

Ziphron and Hazar-Enan are unknown sites, but Hazar-Enan is mentioned in Ezekiel's vision of a restored Israel (Ez 47:17-18; 48:1) and most scholars place the site about seventy miles northeast of Damascus (Levine, Numbers, page 535).

10 You will then draw your eastern boundary from Hazar-Enan to Shepham. 11 The boundary will run down from Shepham towards Riblah on the east side of Ain. Further down it will keep to the eastern shore of the Sea of Chinnereth.

Shepham, Riblah and Ain are unknown sites. Ain meant "spring, well". The Sea of Chinnereth is the Sea of Galilee.

12 The frontier will then follow the Jordan and end at the Salt Sea. Such will be your country with the boundaries surrounding it."'

The boundary continued to "run down" by the mountain ridge abutting the Sea of Galilee, to the east, along the Jordan to the Dead Sea.

13 Moses then gave the Israelites this order. 'This is the country, where your heritages will be assigned by lot, and which Yahweh has ordered to be given to the nine tribes and the half-tribe ...

These verses exclude the Transjordan lands, which will be mentioned in the next section.

The "Promised Land" described in this passage is the land west of the Jordan River only (see verses 10-12; 32:22). If you consult a map, the boundaries reached from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. In the south the land began near Raphia in the area of the Gaza strip and extended north of the pass of Hamath, on a line to the east of modern Beirut (ancient Byblos), Lebanon. The land then extended southeast to Damascus and the Bashan. Moving to the south, the region of the Galilee and its lake (Sea of Cinnereth) was included, extending along the Yarmuk valley and following the Jordan River as far south as the Dead Sea (Salt Sea) but excluded (in this section) the area to the east of the Jordan River: the Gilead of northern Transjordan and southern Transjordan. The boundary then extended as far south as Kadesh-Barnea and the Torrent of Egypt, the modern Wadi El-'Arish that constitutes a natural barrier between the Negev and the Sinai Peninsula, and then turned west and north to include the entire Mediterranean coast. Since the Israelites were not obedience to God's commands concerning the forced eviction of the inhabitants of Canaan, they never fully occupied the boundaries God set for them.

This passage and Ezekiel 47:13-21 provide the most detailed descriptions of the frontiers of Canaan found in the Bible. These are the ideal boundaries that the Israelites were promised if they lived in obedience to the commands and prohibitions of Yahweh. Unfortunately, the Israelites were unwilling to provide such obedience and never achieved these actual boundaries at any time in Israel's history, especially in the case of the western border. The closest they ever came to achieving these borders was during the reigns of David and Solomon.(1)

Since Numbers 34 and Ezekiel 47 are the most detailed descriptions of the frontiers of the Promised Land, it is worth comparing the two passages. In 587/6 BC the Babylonians destroyed the Jerusalem Temple and took the people of the nation of Judah into exile. Ezekiel was Yahweh's priestly prophet during the exile of Judah in Babylon. In Chapters 34-48 of the Book of Ezekiel the prophet records God's promise to punish Israel's enemies and that God Himself will shepherd His people through a descendant of the great King David-a Messiah who will gather the scattered sheep of Israel (Chapter 34). The prophet also recorded God's promise of Israel's return to the Promised Land and recorded the vision of a new Jerusalem Temple from which living waters flowed to renew the earth, a symbolic reference to a promised new Eden (47:1-12; Gen 2:8-10).

The Temple vision in Ezekiel Chapter 47 is followed by a description of the frontiers of the Promised Land: 'The Lord Yahweh says this, "This will be the territory which you must distribute among the twelve tribes of Israel, with two portions for Joseph*. You will each have a fair share of it, since I swore to your fathers that I would give it to them, and this country now falls to you as your heritage. These will be the frontiers of the country. On the north, from the Great Sea, the road from Hethlon to the Pass of Hamath, Zedad, Berothah, Sibraim lying between the territories of Damascus and Hamath, to Hazer-ha-Tikon on the borders of Hauran; the frontier will extend from the sea to Hazer-Enon, with the territory of Damascus and the territory of Hamath ot the north; that will be the northern frontier. On the east, the Jordan will serve as frontier between Hauran and Damascus, between Gilead and Israel, down to the Eastern Sea as far as Tamar; that will be the eastern frontier. On the south, from Tamar southward to the Waters of Meribah in Kadesh, to the Wadi and the Great Sea; that will be the southern frontier. And to the west, the Great Sea will serve as frontier up to the point opposite the Pass of Hamath; that will be the western frontier. You must distribute this country among yourselves, among the tribes of Israel. You must distribute it as a heritage for yourselves and the aliens settled among you who have fathered children among you, since you must treat them as citizens of Israel. They must draw lots for their heritage with you, among the tribes of Israel. You will give the alien his heritage in the tribe where he has settled-declares the Lord Yahweh."' (Ez 47:13-23). *as Jacob's declared re'shit (son of "first-born" rank), Joseph was entitled to a double portion, which was given to his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.

Unlike the description in Numbers 34:1-12, Ezekiel's 6th century BC description is purely symbolic, as is made clean in the next chapter. Ezekiel Chapter 48 concerns the distribution of the Promised Land and divides the country into parallel strips running from the eastern frontier to the Mediterranean and includes no references to geographical landmarks. The Transjordan tribes, who have disappeared from the pages of history since the 8th century BC, are resettled to the west of the River Jordan instead of on the east. And in the division of the Promised Land there are seven tribes to the north and five tribes to the south. Numbers 34 is the historical distribution and Ezekiel's description is an idealized symbolic distribution.

Note the instruction concerning non-Israelites in Ezekiel 47:22-23. According to the Law of the Sinai Covenant, the resident alien must be treated with respect and was to enjoy the same protection under the Law as the Israelites, but he had no share in the land. In this passage the covenant people are instructed to give the Gentiles full status as a citizen, including an equal inheritance in the land. You will recall that the land is God's and He determines who is rewarded with stewardship in the land (Lev 25:23). The symbolic nature of the Ezekiel passage suggests that these promises point to the advent of the Messiah when Yahweh will call both Jews and Gentiles as equal partners in the New Covenant of Jesus the Christ (Rom 2:6-11).

Numbers 34:14-15 Moses Conveyed Yahweh's Boundaries for the Promised Land to the People
14 for the tribe of Reubenites with their families and the tribe of the Gadites with their families have already received their heritage; the half-tribe of Manasseh has also received its heritage. 15 These two tribes and the half-tribe have received their heritage on the other side of the Jordan by Jericho, to the east, towards the sunrise.'

See Numbers 32:33-42. The tribes are listed south to north except for Manasseh, which is listed before the more southern tribe of Ephraim, perhaps because Manasseh was the firstborn of Joseph (Gen 41:40-52).

Numbers 34:16-20 The Tribal Leaders in Charge of the Allocation
16 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: 17 'Here are the names of the men who will divide the country up for you: the priest Eleazar and Joshua son of Nun, 18 and you will take one leader from each tribe to divide the country up into heritages. 19 Here are the names of these men:

For the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh;

20 For the tribe of Simeonites, Shemuel son of Ammihud'

21 For the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad son of Chislon;

22 For the tribe of the Danites, the leader Bukki son of Jogli'

23 For the sons of Joseph: for the tribe of Manasseh, the leader Hanniel son of Ephod;

24 For the tribe of Ephraimites, the leader Kemuel son of Shiphtan;

25 For the tribe of the Zebulunites, the leader Elizaphan son of Parnach;

26 For the tribe of the Issacharites, the leader Paltiel son of Azzan;

27 For the tribe of the Asherites, the leader Ahihud son of Shelomi'

28 For the tribe of the Naphtalites, the leader Pedahel son of Ammihud.'

29 These were the men whom Yahweh ordered to divide Canaan into heritages for the Israelites.

The only names from the old generation are Eleazar, Joshua, and Caleb. The other tribal leaders are all from the new generation of Israelites. Eleazar has, of course, replaced Aaron as the High Priest (20:22-29) and Joshua will replace Moses as the people's civil leader when they cross into Canaan (27:12-23). Also see Numbers 26:52-56.

Chapter 35: The Portion of the Levites and Manslaughter and Murder Defined

Yahweh said to Aaron: 'You will have no heritage in their country, you will not have a portion like them; I shall be your portion and your heritage among the Israelites.
Numbers 18:20

And I shall demand account of your life-blood, too. I shall demand it of every animal, and of man. Of man as regards his fellow-man, I shall demand account for human life. He who sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God was man created.
Genesis 9:5-6

Numbers 35:1-8 The Portion of the Levites
1 Yahweh spoke to Moses on the Plains of Moab, near the Jordan by Jericho, and said: 2 'Order the Israelites, from the heritage they possess, to give the Levites towns in which to live and pasture land round the towns. You will give these to the Levites. 3 The towns must be their homes and the surrounding pasture land must be for their cattle, their possessions and all their animals. 4 The pasture land surrounding the towns which you give to the Levites will extend, from the walls of the towns, for a thousand cubits all round. 5 Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits to the east, two thousand cubits to the south, two thousand cubits to the west and two thousands cubits to the north, the town lying in the center; such will be the pasture lands of these towns. 6 The towns you give to the Levites will be six cities of refuge, ceded by you as sanctuary for those who commit manslaughter; and you will give forty-two towns in addition. 7 Altogether you will give the Levites forty-eight towns, with their pasture lands. 8 Of the towns which you give from the Israelites' possession, you will give more from those who have more, and less from those who have less. Each will give some of his towns to the Levites, in proportion to the heritage he himself has received.'

The Levities were not allotted ancestral farmland to own individually like the members of other tribes (see Num 18:20-24). They were, however, to receive permanent residences for themselves and pasture land for their livestock in forty-eight walled towns with adjoining fields. Six of those towns were to be designated "cities of refuge". The measurements for these communities took into account the possibility of their growth and the initial size of the towns. Joshua Chapter 21 records the execution of these provisions for the Levities and the names and locations of the towns (also see 1 Chr 6:54-81).

Numbers 35:4-5 The pasture land surrounding the towns which you give to the Levites will extend, from the walls of the towns, for a thousand cubits all round. 5 Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits to the east, two thousand cubits to the south, two thousand cubits to the west and two thousands cubits to the north, the town lying in the center ... A thousand cubits by two thousand cubits were about 500 yards by 1,000 yards. The measurement is taken perpendicular to the rectangle that circumscribed the exterior town wall (town walls were not perfect squares or rectangles and could be several feet thick; in some cases cities were doubled-walled), allowing the pasturage to grown in proportion to the size of the town (The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, pages 289 and 502-03).

Numbers 35:9-15 The Command to Establish Cities of Refuge
9 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: 10 'Speak to the Israelites and say: 11 "Once you have crossed the Jordan into Canaan, you will find towns, some of which you will make into cities of refuge where those who have accidently committed manslaughter can take sanctuary. 12 These towns will afford you refuge from the avenger of blood, so that the killer will not be put to death before standing trial before the community. 13 Of the towns you give, six will serve you as cities of refuge: 14 as cities of refuge, you will give three towns on the other side of the Jordan and will give three towns in Canaan. 15 These six towns will serve as refuge for the Israelites, for the foreigner and for the resident alien, where anyone who has accidentally killed someone can take sanctuary.

Question: Why were cities of refuge necessary? See Ex 21:12-14; Dt 4:41-43; 19:1-13; Josh Chapter 20.
Answer: Cities of refuge were necessary to protect someone from blood vengeance before a trial could be held with witnesses.

Question: How many cities of refuge were to be established and where were they located? See Dt 4:43; Josh 20:7-8.
Answer: Six cities of refuge were to be established.

The three cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan River were:

  1. Bezer in the desert tableland of Reuben
  2. Ramoth in Gilead of Gad
  3. Golan in Bashan in the Upper Gilead of Manasseh

The three cities of refuge on the west side of the Jordan River were:

  1. Kedesh in the Galilee highlands belonging to Naphtali
  2. Shechem in the central highlands of Ephraim
  3. Kiriath-Abra (Hebron) in the highlands of Judah

Numbers 35:12 the avenger of blood will put him to death whenever he finds him. The literal Hebrew is "the blood redeemer" (go'el ha-dam). The "redeemer" played a role in seeking justice for the blood relative who was killed. See the order of those who "redeem" (the same Hebrew verb) found in Lev 25:25, 47-49; also see Num 5:8.

Numbers 35:16-21 Legislation Defining the Difference between Manslaughter and Murder
16 "But if he has struck the person with an iron object so as to cause death, he is a murderer. The murderer will be put to death. 17 If he has struck him with a stone meant for killing, and has killed him, he is a murderer. The murderer will be put to death. 18 Or if he has struck him with a wooden instrument meant for killing, and has killed him, he is a murderer. The murderer will be put to death. 19 The avenger of blood will put the murderer to death. Whenever he finds him, he will put him to death. 20 If the killer has maliciously manhandled his victim, or thrown some lethal missile to strike him down, 21 or out of enmity dealt him the death-blow with his fist, then he who struck the blow will be put to death; he is a murderer; the avenger of blood will put him to death whenever he finds him.

The Hebrew term for a kinsman who takes on the duty described in verse 19 is go'el ha-dam, literally "the blood redeemer"; this phrase is used in verses 19, 21, 24, and 27. He is a "redeemer" because he restores justice to the family and order to the community. In addition to restoring justice to his family/clan as the go'el ha-dam (the blood redeemer), the kinsman-redeemer also served as:

  1. Receiver of the reparations due a deceased family member (Num 5:8).
  2. The one obliged to bring the relative who is a debtor out of slavery (Lev 25:47-54).
  3. The relative who is willing to buy back his kinsman's ancestral lands (Lev 25:25-28, 48).
  4. The relative who provides for a kinsman's childless widow by marrying her to carry on the family name (Rt 3:13).

Jesus is our Kinsman-Redeemer who paid with His own blood, our blood-debt for sin and restored to mankind the Promised Land of heaven (see the Kinsman-Redeemer chart in the Charts/New Testament/Jesus Christ section). The qualifications for a Kinsman-Redeemer in the Old Testament are:

In Numbers 35:16-34: God made a distinction between "murder", including deliberate negligence resulting in death, and unintentional killing (see Ex 21:13-14 and also the legislation in Ex 21:20-21; Dt 4:42; 19:4-6).

Two kinds of homicide are listed:

  1. Striking and killing someone with a weapon.
  2. Intentionally delivering a death-blow with one's fist or an object.

In Numbers 35:19-21, the family of the murdered victim participated in the penalty phase. An avenger (blood redeemer) was chosen (see verse 12) to carry out the execution. When no blood relative came forward, the witnesses took on that role, for example the witnesses cast the first stones in a death by stoning verdict (Dt 17:6-7).

Question: Why was the question of hatred or enmity a concern? See Num 35:20-23; Dt 4:42; 19:4; Josh 20:3-5.
Answer: If it can be proved that the killer had enmity or hatred for the deceased, it helped to establish the motive and intention of the accused.

Numbers 35:22-34 The Procedure in Cases of Involuntary and Intentional Homicide

22 If, however, he has manhandled his victim by chance, without malice, or thrown some missile at him not meaning to hit him 23 or, without seeing him, dropped on him a stone meant for killing and so killed him, so long as he bore him no malice and wished him no harm, 24 then the community will decide in accordance with these rules between the one who struck the blow and the avenger of blood, 25 and will save the killer from the clutches of the avenger of blood. They will send him back to the city of refuge where he had taken sanctuary, and there he will stay until the death of the high priest who has been anointed with the holy oil. 26 Should the killer leave the bounds of the city of refuge in which he has taken sanctuary 27 and the avenger of blood encounter him outside the bounds of his city of refuge, the avenger of blood may kill him without fear of reprisal; 28 since the killer should stay in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest is he free to go back to his own piece of property. 29 Such will be the legal rule for you and your descendants, wherever you may live. 30 In any case of homicide, the evidence of witnesses will determine whether the killer must be put to death; but a single witness is not enough to sustain a capital charge. 31 You will not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer condemned to death; he must die. 32 Nor will you accept a ransom for anyone who, having taken sanctuary in his city or refuge, wished to come back and live at home before the death of the high priest. 33 Do not profane the country you live in. Blood profanes the country and, for the country, the only expiation for the blood shed in it is the blood of the man who shed it. 34 So do not defile the country which you live in and where I live; for I, Yahweh, live among the Israelites."'

Question: How was the community to deal with violence that ended in loss of life? In what way did the violence of premature death reach beyond the community? What was the remedy? See Num 35:25-28, 33; Josh 20:6; 2 Sam 19:18-23; 1 Kng 2:36-46. How was the solution to this form of pollution addressed in Gen 4:9-16 and 9:3-5?
Answer: The land is holy because God dwells there and atonement must be made for the shedding of innocent blood. The blood of the innocent victim polluted the land, even in the case of an unintentional killing. A death could only be avenged and the land cleaned of the pollution of death by the trial and death of the guilty murderer or by the exile of the person guilty of manslaughter to a city of refuge pending a trial. Even after a trial, so long as the person guilty of manslaughter remained in exile, he was safe from a vengeance killing and was to remain in exile in the city of refuge until the death of the ordained high priest, whose death atoned for his blood guilt. When the high priest died and his blood debt was atoned, he was free to return to his normal life. If, however, he stepped outside the boundaries of the city of refuge, the pollution was released again and the blood avenger was justified in destroying the cause of pollution. In the death of Abel, his blood cried out from the ground to God for justice (Gen 4:10). Cain was exiled to the east away from God, and could be killed if he returned but in exile the mark God put on him saved him from reprisal (Gen 4:11-16). The death penalty in the case of intentional murder was not set until after the Flood (Gen 9:5-6).

Question: How was the Law applied to Israelite society?
Answer: Unlike other law codes of societies contemporary to the Israelites, there were no distinctions according to social class. All members of Israelite society and foreigners living within the borders of the community were subject to the same laws, and justice was not to be manipulated by purchasing the freedom of a guilty party.

Chapter 36:

Legislation Concerning a Woman who Inherits Ancestral Land and the Conclusion

Numbers 36:1-4 A Question of the Inheritance of Heiresses
1 Then the heads of families of the clan descended from Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, one of the clans descended from Joseph, came forward and, addressing Moses and the leaders, the Israelite heads of families, 2 they said: 'Yahweh has ordered my lord to apportion the Israelites' heritages in the country by lot and my lord has been ordered by Yahweh to give the heritage of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. 3 Now, if they marry someone from another Israelite tribe, their heritage will be alienated from our ancestral heritage. The heritage of the tribe to which they will then belong will be increased, and the heritage allotted to us will be diminished. 4 And when the jubilee for the Israelites comes round, these women's heritage will become part of the heritage of the tribe to which they then belong, and be alienated from the heritage of our ancestral tribe.'

This legation is an amendment to the commands concerning the inheritance of women in Numbers 27:7-8.

Question: What question of inheritance did members of the tribe of Manasseh bring to Moses and the leaders?
Answer: Their concern was if a daughter inherited her father's lands and then married outside her tribe that the ancestral lands of that tribe would be lost forever, increasing the holdings of another tribe.

Question: Why weren't those lands returned to the tribe in the 50th Jubliee year? See Lev 25:8-55; 27:16-25.
Answer: The return of the land in the Jubilee year only applied to land that was sold and not to land that was inherited (Lev 25:13-17, 28, 31, and 33).

Numbers 36:5-12 Legislation on the Marriage Requirements for Heiresses
5 At Yahweh's bidding, Moses gave the Israelites this order. He said: 6 'What the Josephite tribe says is true. This is Yahweh's ruling for Zelophehad's daughters: "They may marry whom they please, providing they marry into a clan of their father's tribe. 7 But the heritages of the Israelites are not to be transferred from tribe to tribe; each Israelite will stick to the heritage of his own tribe. 8 Any daughter who owns a heritage in an Israelite tribe will marry into a clan of her own paternal tribe, so that the Israelites may each preserve the heritage of his father. 9 No heritage may be transferred from one tribe to another; each Israelite tribe will stick to its own heritage."' 10 Zelophehad's daughters did as Yahweh had ordered Moses. 11 Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah, daughters of Zelophehad, married the sons of their father's brothers. 12 Since they married into clans descended from Manasseh son of Joseph, their heritage reverted to the tribe of their father's clan.

Question: What was the solution that Yahweh provided for the possible loss of tribal lands through the inheritance of daughters?
Answer: The law required that women who inherit must marry within the tribal family or forfeit their property.(3)

Numbers 36:13 The Conclusion
Such were the commandments and laws that Yahweh prescribed for the Israelites through Moses on the Plains of Moab near the Jordan by Jericho.

Such were the commandments and laws that Yahweh prescribed for the Israelites through Moses ... This formula saying is repeated throughout the Pentateuch and affirms that the laws Moses gave the people were not his laws but God ordained commands and prohibitions.

... on the Plains of Moab near the Jordan by Jericho. That the Israelites' final encampment was on the Plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho is repeated eight times in Numbers (Num 22:1; 26:3, 63; 31:12; 33:48, 50; 35:1; 36:13), and once in Deuteronomy (34:1, 8).

In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses will address his people for the final time before his death and before they begin the conquest of Canaan, the land God promised to give the descendants of Abraham, dispossessing the various peoples who inhabited the land.

Question: Why did God dispossess the peoples occupying the land of Canaan and why at this point in the history of the world? See Gen 1:1-2:4a; 9:25-27; 15:19-21, Dt 32:8, 24:1-2 and Jer 25:5.
Answer: All the earth belongs to God. He created it and He allows man to occupy the land, setting the boundaries for all nations. Since God owns the land, He has the authority to cast out those who defile the land by polluting the land with innocent blood, and as the Creator, He has the authority to give the land to whomever He chooses. This was the case with the Canaanites who were occupying land that was intended for the descendants of Shem (Gen 9:25-27). The different peoples who occupied the land: the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites (Gen 15:19-21), were allowed to live on the land, as God told Abraham, until "... the iniquity of the Amorites (the majority population)... reached its full extent" (Gen 15:16).

At this point in the Biblical narrative, the waiting was over and the time had come for divine judgment to fall on the peoples of Canaan. The Israelites were not taking the land for their own gain; instead they were going to be God's agents in punishing the idol worshiping Canaanites, and they were to receive the land in gratitude and obedience. They were commanded to destroy all Canaanite idols and places of worship when they entered the land, and they were forbidden to allow the Canaanites of live among them to lead the Israelites into their sinful practices. In Numbers 33:56 God had an ominous warning for the Israelites concerning His command to drive out all Canaanites: If, however, you do not drive out the local inhabitants before you, the ones you allow to remain will be thorns in your eyes and thistles in your sides and will harass you in the country where you are living, and I shall treat you as I intended to treat them.(4)

The wilderness journey was been completed, the iniquity of the Gentile peoples in Canaan has reached its height in the rejection of the True God and in their perverted sexual practices and human sacrifices, and God's new generation of holy warriors were ready to fulfill their destiny. The Israelite's willingness to possess the land of Canaan was an act of obedience to God's will. It was time for the Israelites to receive their promised inheritance-it was time for the struggle for the conquest of the Promised Land to begin.

Questions for group discussion:

Question: Did God's promised gift of the land of Canaan mean that His covenant people only had to cross the Jordan River and build houses and sheepfolds on the land to receive their inheritance or was more required? How can what was required of the Israelites to fulfill the Old Covenant promises be compared to what we must do to receive our New Covenant inheritance of the Promised Land of heaven?
Answer: To fulfill God's promise of the land, the Israelites had to drive out the sinful original inhabitants who God had dispossessed from ownership of the land. As a work of faith, the Israelites had to cooperate in God's plan in order to take possession of the divine promises. It is the same for those of us who embrace the New Covenant in Christ Jesus in which we have been promised the Promised Land of heaven as our inheritance. We must cooperate in our future salvation by works of faith that demonstrate our love of God and neighbor. We must demonstrate our commitment to the covenant by our obedience to the Word of God and the precepts of the Church, and we must diligently engage in the struggle to drive out all vestiges of sin from our daily lives so that, at the end of our lives, we will be able to claim our inheritance of heaven. We must work with God by cooperating in our own salvation.

Question: God's method for the allotment of the inheritance of the land was through the ecclesial authority of the High Priest Eleazar and civil authority exercised by the leadership of the Old Covenant Church (Num 34:16-29). How did this method of the leadership of the faithful prefigure Christ and the New Covenant Church through which we obtain our inheritance?
Answer: The head of the New Covenant Church is Jesus Christ who is both our High Priest and our righteous King. He rules the Kingdom of His Church on earth through His ministers: the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) who is Christ's authoritative Chief Minister as Eleazar was God's authoritative chief minister, and His other representatives the bishops of the universal Magisterium, as represented by Joshua and the leaders of the tribes in the Old Covenant. In the Old Covenant Church (as in the New) there was one God, one Church (the ecclesial community), and one divinely appointed authority answerable to God for the spiritual welfare of the people.

Question: Do you agree or disagree with the statement that even the most trivial of matters may involve great moral principles? If one goes deep enough, is everything in life a moral question the solution to which is found in the study of the Word?


1. It is interesting that the description of Canaan's boundaries in Numbers coincides with the boundaries of Canaan in Egyptian documents listing Egyptian dominated city-states of Canaan during the second half of the second millennium (The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, pages 285, 501). Beginning in the 15th century BC, Canaan was the official name of Egyptian holdings in the Levant. God not only dispossessed the occupants of Canaan but took Egypt's authority (the former slave masters of Israel) over Canaan and gave that authority to Israel. The boundaries of Canaan listed in chapter 34 are the ideal boundaries that were to be Israel's reward if the nation was faithful to God's commands. The boundaries do not correspond with the boundaries of Israelite control of Canaan in any historical period because of the Israelite's failure to drive out all the Canaanites and their pagan cults.

2. The Mesha Stone, also known as the Moabite Stone, is a stela discovered at Dibon in southern Transjordan in 1868. The monument erected by Moabite King Mesha records that Omri, king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (885-874 BC), conquered Moab and Moab remained a vassal state under the rule of his son and successor, King Ahab (870-848 BC) until Moab went to war against Ahab and broke free from Israelite dominance. It is one of the earliest archaeological finds relating to the Bible (Archaeology and the Old Testament, page 308-09).

3. This is a law that was common among ancient Near Eastern civilizations and other societies with patrilineal inheritance laws.

4. Joshua will give a similar warning to the Israelites (Josh 23:12). Later, inspired writers will cite Israel's hardships and eventual exile as a result of the failure to obey this warning (i.e., Ps 106:34-42).

Michal Hunt, Copyright 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson: CCC 143, 494, 2087.