Numbers 26-29

The Scriptures are a storyline, not a random collection of ancient texts. They are arranged primarily for the sake of presenting the history of redemption. Numbers 26-29 address some of the most fundamental questions facing Israel as they camped and prospered on the Transjordan plain.

First, how would the land be portioned for the vast number of Israelites (Numbers 26)? Just as a census marked the departure of Jacob’s family from Canaan (see Genesis 46), here the text records those who were poised to take Canaan by conquest. This census was taken so that as the land was conquered, the Israelites could receive an allotment sufficient for each tribe. The Lord told Moses, “Increase the inheritance for a large tribe and decrease it for a small one” (Num 26:54). The final paragraph of the chapter details that not one of those numbered in this census had been counted in the previous post-exodus census, “For the LORD had said to them that they would all die in the wilderness. None of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun” (Num 26:65).

Second, what provisions might be made for women who had no husband or brother (Num 27:1-11)? As word got out regarding how the land would eventually be portioned to the people, those who considered themselves exceptional cases rose to the fore. Here the narrative emphasizes again the principle of justice for the weak. Moses was commanded to give Zelophehad’s daughters an allotment among their family and transfer their father’s inheritance to them. Their case became a precedent to be followed in Israel (Num 27:11).

Third, since Moses was aging, who would lead Israel into Canaan (Num 27:12-23)? God’s censure of Moses was firm (Num 27:12-14). Moses had acted irreverently toward God when he struck the rock (see Num 20:2-13), and he would only see the Promised Land from a distance. Moses’ concern for the welfare of the Israelites provided the setting for the rise of Joshua. Under the supervision of Eleazar the priest, Joshua was commissioned as Israel’s new leader (Num 27:15-20). Eleazar and all the Israelites with him would go out and come back in only at Joshua’s command (Num 27:21).

Finally, how should Israel organize their worship schedule (Numbers 28-29)? Now settled outside of Canaan, the devout Israelite may have been wondering about the day when they could participate in Israel’s cult year-after-year from the same locale. It is thus fitting that God would here provide a succinct restatement of the same offerings that were commanded in Leviticus, including: daily offerings (Num 28:3-8), Sabbath offerings (Num 28:9-10), monthly offerings (Num 28:11-15), offerings for Passover (Num 28:16-25), offerings for the Festival of Weeks, New Year’s offerings (Num 29:1-6), offerings for the Day of Atonement (Num 29:7-11), and offerings for the Festival of Booths (Num 29:12-40).

The New Testament authors echoed Moses’ concern for the Lord to raise up a shepherd for Israel. Like Moses, they saw the need for God’s people to have a shepherd and portrayed Jesus as the fulfillment of what Moses saw from a distance.

(1) In Matt 9:36, Matthew wrote that Jesus viewed the crowds with compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew wrote that Jesus was traveling throughout Galilee, preaching and healing every kind of disease. Jesus was emotionally burdened by the number of people coming to Him. “They were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). Jesus then sent out the twelve to preach and heal in His name (Matt 10:1-42).

(2) In Mark 6:34, Mark wrote that Jesus had the compassion of a shepherd on the crowds that followed the twelve after they returned from preaching. Mark noted that when the twelve had returned from their mission, crowds followed them and Jesus as they departed for a time of respite (Mark 6:30-33). When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion. “They were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34).

(3) In John 10:11, 14, Jesus described Himself as the good shepherd. In John 9, the man that Jesus healed from blindness was thrown out of the synagogue. Jesus found the man and revealed Himself as the Son of Man (John 9:35-38). Jesus said He is the good shepherd who, unlike the Pharisees, laid down His life for the sheep.

(4) In Heb 3:1-6; 13:20-21, the author of Hebrews described Jesus as the Son-Shepherd. The author of Hebrews wrote that Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses just as the one who builds a house has more glory than the house (Heb 3:3). While Moses was faithful in God’s house as a servant, Jesus “was faithful as a Son over His household” (Heb 3:6). The author of Hebrews offered a benediction for his readers saying, “Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep—with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb 13:20-21).