By presenting instructions for habitation in the land—as opposed to plans for military conquest—the concluding chapters of Numbers detail the surety of God’s promise to give His people the land of Canaan. Once again, God’s word to Israel here fulfills the promises of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12, 15). Numbers 34-36 clarifies details regarding Israel’s occupation of Canaan.
The Lord provided His people with the specific boundaries of the Promised Land (34:1-15). The word of the Lord to Moses signified the surety of conquest: “When you enter the land of Canaan, it will be allotted to you as an inheritance…” (Num 34:2). Numbers 34:2-15 reads like a land deed: the nine-and-one-half tribes were to settle on the western side of the Jordan (Num 34:2-13), while Rueben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were to occupy the eastern side (Num 34:14-15). The significance of leaders of the twelve tribes is pointed out throughout the book of Numbers (Num 1:5-16; 13:4-15). Under the guidance of Joshua and Eleazar, one leader from each tribe was to assure that the land was distributed equitably (34:16-29). Caleb heads the list of leaders—and his allotment of land would later receive special recognition (see Josh 14:6ff.).
Since the Levites were to dwell among the people, each tribe provided cities for the Levites (Num 35:1-8). Each tribe was “to give cities out of their hereditary property to the Levites to live in and pastureland around the cities” (Num 35:2). This ensured that formal worship was accessible for all Israelites and that all of Israel’s worship leaders would have sustenance to live and enjoy the land as well. Besides designating cities for the Levites, the Lord also established cities of refuge (Num 35:9-34). Six of the Levitical cities were to be cities of refuge—three on each side of the Jordan (Num 35:6, 14). As it was customary for a close relative to avenge the blood of their kin (Num 35:19-21), Israel was susceptible to hasty retribution of those who may have accidentally taken a life (Num 35:11-12). The cities of refuge were to be communities who would protect such a person (Num 35:25-29). These principles of justice were so important to God that violation of them constituted a defiling of the land (Num 35:34).
In Numbers 36, the Lord stipulated that the tribal allotments were to be permanent. The issue of Zelophehad’s daughters (see Num 27:1-11) is reintroduced in light of the possibility that these women, after receiving land in Joseph, could marry an Israelite from another tribe and transfer some of the territory of Joseph to another Israelite tribe. About this Moses received the word of the Lord: “An inheritance belonging to the Israelites must not transfer from tribe to tribe, because each of the Israelites is to retain the inheritance of his ancestral tribe” (Num 36:7)
The conclusion of Numbers declares the security of God’s promises to Israel. In the macro narrative of Scripture, the allotment of land promised to Israel fades with the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. In the New Testament, Jesus is the focus of the believer’s inheritance. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:27-29). The author of Hebrews wrote, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29). He urged his audience, “Let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His disgrace. For here we do not have an enduring city; instead, we seek the one to come. Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name” (Heb 13:13-15).