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The Bible Story
Volume 2, Chapters 41 - 49
Rebels Challenge God's Government
THE REBELS who had escaped the Amalekite ambush were a pitiful sight indeed.
"You who have been spared," Moses told them, "should thank God that He chose some to be able to return here so that the rest of us can be reminded what can happen to people who don't have God's protection. Otherwise, you would now be captives or dead."
As was common with the Egyptians and not uncommon with the Israelites, there was much weeping and wailing and loud expressions of sorrow and regret the rest of the night. A part of the people seemed to be getting a picture of how bleak and uncertain their lives would be without
God's guidance and protection.
The cloud and the pillar of fire were not removed, because it wasn't God's intention to entirely forsake Israel. (Deuteronomy 1:3133; Nehemiah 9:19-21.)
It was a case of the Israelites breaking their agreement with God, which meant that God was no longer bound to give them the help, guidance and protection that He had promised to give if they would obey Him.
From then on for nearly forty years God decided the movements of Israel by such things as the lack of abundance of water, the presence or absence of grass for their animals, the state of health of the people and many other factors.
They camped only long enough to lick their wounds and then continued southward through several more stopping places. From there they moved into the desert area west of the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba and northeast of Mt. Sinai. This was the area where, on their way northeast from Mt. Sinai, so many of them had complained so harshly against God. (Numbers 11:1-3.) They had said that they would rather die there than go on. This was the place where a great part of them would eventually die.
Sabbath Broken Again
Fall had arrived, and the nights in the desert were becoming colder. Campfire material was rather scarce. For some, the collecting of fuel was fast becoming a full-time job. The people had to go farther and farther out from the camps to obtain it if they stayed in one spot very many days.
One Sabbath a man was seen spending the day busily gathering dried sticks and branches far outside the camps. Most Israelites respected the Fourth Commandment and feared to labor on the Sabbath. Thinking that perhaps the man wasn't aware that it was the seventh day of the week, a few people went out to warn him.
"I don't care what day it is!" the man growled, hardly looking at them. "I worked all week getting food for my family and animals. There wasn't time to gather fuel, and so I have to do it now. If God wants me to get all my work done before the end of the week, He'll have to add more days to it. Meanwhile, I'm not going to just sit in my tent and twiddle my thumbs just because some fancifully robed priest says it's wrong to support my family on the Sabbath!"
This matter was reported back to camp. Before long two officers went out to talk to the man. "You are an evil example to others," the officers told him. "People who see you laboring all Sabbath without instant punishment might try to do likewise. Then they would receive the punishment you will eventually receive."
The fuel-gatherer glowered at the officers and swung his load of sticks from one shoulder to the other.
"Why should I be punished for trying to keep my family warm?" he snapped. "I can decide what is best for me and mine without any meddling from you or God!"
This arrogant display of rebellion brought on a hasty arrest by the officers, but it was no small task to take the man back to camp. He struggled and fought and cursed all the way.
When Moses was told of the matter, he wasn't certain just what should be done. Many Israelites had secretly wished the Sabbath were just another workday. But none of them so far had outwardly shown such strong feeling against God and authority as this man had shown.
Moses knew that this matter would quickly become known by all the people. He also realized that if they found that one could succeed in being so defiant about breaking the Sabbath without quick and heavy punishment, numberless Israelites might attempt the same thing.
This was a problem Moses had to take to God. As usual, God quickly made clear to Moses what was to be done.
Next morning, acting on orders from Moses, officers led the offender back into the desert. A huge crowd silently followed, constantly enlarged by a flow of grim-faced people who had heard what was going on. Acting on instructions from Moses, they stripped the offender of his outer clothes, then stoned him to death. (Numbers 15:32-36.)
The apostle Paul explains in Romans 13:1-7 that God ordained that criminals be punished. God takes no pleasure in seeing wicked men die (Ezekiel 33:11), but He knows that law-breakers are better dead -- to await the second resurrection -- than left around to harm others or lead others to do evil. God in His mercy sees that evil men are better off punished than left alive making themselves and others miserable and unhappy.
Discontentment Grows Again
Not long after the Israelites left Kadesh, another wretched event took place that resulted in another great disaster. The situation developed because a state of envy existed in the minds of some of the people who wanted to be priests or who wanted certain of their friends to be priests and leaders instead of Levi's family.
Foremost among such men was a man named Korah, one of Levi's great grandsons and a first cousin to Moses and Aaron. He strongly felt that he should have been chosen for a high office. In fact, he had the idea that he should be in Moses' position as head of Israel. He was joined in this ill attitude by three Reubenites, Dathan, Abiram and On. They were of the opinion that Moses was favoring his family too much, and was not properly distributing the offices of authority. These men thought all the congregation should have a voice in government. (Numbers 16:1-3.)
For a long time these men had been seething with discontent and planning how they could move in to take over the priesthood for themselves. This scheme against Moses was the same as scheming against God (Numbers 26:9), but these men were desperate for power. Gradually they managed to persuade high-ranking Israelites that their cause was right. Eventually two hundred and fifty Israelite leaders agreed to join these influential, smooth-talking schemers in the hope that all would move into higher rank with greater power and more income.
One morning when Israel was camping at a stopping place on the way southward, all these ambitious men gathered before Moses' tent. With Korah, their best speaker and worst schemer leading them, they came to demand of Moses that some changes be made in the priesthood. When Moses was told that a crowd of high ranking men had come to demand some changes in government, he wasn't surprised. He had sensed for weeks that this kind of trouble was brewing. Now, as he came out of his tent, he expected to see only a handful of men. He was rather startled to see more than two hundred and fifty, and he was considerably upset to recognize so many trusted men of high rank among those who now stood before him with unfriendly expressions. (Numbers 16:2.)
"Why are you here?" Moses asked. Korah Wants More Authority
"We are here because we believe you are taking on too much power for one man," Korah answered. "You and your priests act as though you are holier than any of the rest of us. If we are God's chosen people, then ALL of us are holy. That means that all of us have equal rights in matters of government. However, you use your authority to put men who are your friends in the best positions in government. (Verse 3.) We demand that you yield some of those offices to the congregation so we can choose our own officials." Korah, being a good speaker, knew he could be elected to a high office if the people were allowed to choose their own leaders. What Korah really was after was complete control of all Israel. Leaders of nations have always been the objects of envy by greedy men. Seizing leadership has always been a selfish, bloody game, with the greatest losers generally turning out to be the citizens. Even Israel, God's chosen nation, wasn't free of this kind of ambitious trouble makers.
Moses was shocked by this blunt demand from Korah. He could see that the men weren't just bluffing. It was plain that they were willing to go to extremes to gain what they had set out to do. Setting armed soldiers on them would only mean bloodshed. Besides, most of the Israelites would sympathize with the victims of the soldiers, since they were popular, well-known leaders, and the situation would become worse.
Without even going back into the privacy of his tent, Moses knelt forward with his head to the ground and asked God for help. A few of those assembled became uncomfortable as they stood in the presence of a humble man calling on his Creator for aid. They included On, one of the Reubenites. He wanted no more of the matter, and slipped out of the scene. Other onlookers merely smiled at what they considered an attempt by Moses to gain their sympathy by appearing pitifully pious.
"This is no time for a show, Moses!" Korah called out. "Stand up and explain why at least some of us shouldn't be priests in place of some of those who are now in service merely because it was your whim to put them there." Korah, a Levite, already had a high office, but he wanted an even higher office -- the priesthood that was given to Aaron. (Verses 8-11.)
Moses slowly came to his feet. Those who watched him couldn't know that God had just inspired him to know what to say. Ignoring Korah, Moses addressed Dathan and Abiram.
Moses Tries to Save Rebels
"Before you carry this matter further, let us discuss it in my tent," Moses said, thus giving them an opportunity to separate from Korah.
"There is no reason to talk with you," Dathan and Abiram replied. "We refuse to listen to your excuses for leading us from the good land of Egypt and into a desert where we are to die. Your only aim has plainly been to control the people, no matter what becomes of them." (Verses 12-14.)
These untruthful charges upset Moses. He was tempted to summon soldiers to slay every rebel before him. But he knew this was not according to God's plan of dealing with them, and he controlled himself.
"You have started something you will have trouble finishing," Moses declared to Korah in a voice that reached the whole crowd. "Your belief that just anyone can be in the priesthood without being ordained by God is not a true one. However, if all of you insist on trying to force your way into such offices, every one of you should be here tomorrow morning with incense and with a censer filled with hot coals. Aaron and his sons will also be here with their censers. God will make it known which ones he will choose as priests and their helpers." (Verses 4-7.)
Korah smiled when he heard this. He lacked respect for God, and he felt that he had bluffed Moses into giving in to the extent that he and his followers could gain a foothold in wresting power from Moses.
Rebels Challenge Moses
Next morning the crowd of two hundred and fifty, plus Korah, Dathan and Abiram, appeared before the tabernacle. Every man carried a censer filled with hot coals to show his readiness to go at once into priestly service. Korah had spread the word throughout the camps that he was going to challenge Moses, and that there would be a showdown to free the people from what was wrongfully referred to as Moses' unfair leadership. As a result, a growing crowd of curious people built up behind Korah's men.
Moses came out to face Korah. With him were Aaron and Aaron's sons, all of whom held censers with hot coals. The elders of Israel were also present.
There were minutes of strained silence. God hadn't told Moses what to do beyond asking the men to show up with censers. Moses didn't know what would happen next, but he was certain that God would somehow make it very clear which group would be in power from then on.
Suddenly there was a brilliant flash from the tabernacle, followed by a second and a third. It was plain to most that God was in the tabernacle. (Verse 19.) Some of them drew back, fearful of what might happen. Even a part of Korah's followers appeared to be ready to leave, but Korah told them to stand firm. Korah had become so rebellious that he actually doubted that God could hinder him and his men from gaining leadership of Israel, and the blinding display of light from within the tabernacle didn't move him from his ambition.
Realizing that God wanted to give them some message, Moses and Aaron stepped away from the others and approached the tabernacle.
"Remove yourselves and the priests and elders from these people who face you," God commanded in a voice that only the two men could hear. "I want you at a safe distance because I intend to wipe all the others out of existence!" (Verses 20-21.)
Moses shuddered at this alarming remark from God. The Creator had threatened to do the same thing before, but Moses had begged him not to, and God answered Moses' prayer. There was nothing to do now but again ask God to spare the people. Moses and Aaron bowed down in fervent prayer.
"Look at him!" Korah exclaimed to those about him. "He's trying again to gain the sympathy of the people by appearing pious!"
On the contrary, Moses wasn't concerned at that moment what the people thought. He was concerned for their lives, and he pleaded with God not to be angry with many people because of the evil deeds of a few. (Verse 22.)
God Spares the People
"I shall do this much," God said. "I shall spare the congregation if you can succeed in getting the people back to their homes and away from the tents where Korah, Dathan and Abiram live. Any who go near the homes of those three men will risk losing their lives."
Encouraged by this merciful statement from God, Moses sent his officers out to warn the crowd to break up and return to their tents, and not to go near the tents of Korah, Abiram and Dathan. Slowly and a bit unwillingly the people sauntered away.
"You said that God would choose His priests if we would assemble with censers," Korah called out to Moses. "You have only proved to the people that you are not a man of your word, because nothing has happened. Tomorrow we shall return. The people will think the matter over, and tomorrow they will be ready to back us up in what should be done about your authority."
"You should remember this in the meantime," Moses replied. "If you live till tomorrow, then you can know that I will not continue to be the leader of the Israelites."
This strange remark was ignored by Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who returned to their respective homes, which were close together on the south side of the Tabernacle. (Numbers 2:10 and 3:29.) Korah felt that he had made another successful step, and that it would be only a matter of a day or two before the mass of Israelites would swing over to his side. As for his two hundred and fifty followers, they also left and went back to their various camps.
Later, Moses and Aaron and the elders went to make certain that the people were not congregated around the homes of the three main offenders. They found their residence free of visitors, which was as God wanted it to be. Moses then warned them that because they persisted in a scheme to take over the government, God would cause the ground to open up and swallow them. (Verses 23-30.)
Dathan and Abiram came out of their tents, along with their wives and children, to hear what more Moses had to say.
"Now he's trying to threaten us with an earthquake," Dathan scornfully shouted to Abiram. "Can you think of anything more fantastic?"
"I'll believe it only when it happens -- and maybe not even then," Abiram shouted back with a grin.
Too Late to Repent!
"We have given these men fair warning," Moses said to those with him. "Perhaps God would spare them if they would repent, but since they refuse to repent, it's obviously too late now. Let us leave here before something dreadful happens."
Almost as soon as their backs were turned there was a growing rumble from within the Earth. The ground trembled, then heaved upward directly between the tents of Abiram and Dathan and the tent of Korah, which was close by in another camp!
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"The Earth Opened Its Mouth!"
SCREAMING terrorized people of all three families -- Korah, Dathan and Abiram -- rushed wildly and aimlessly in all directions. Then the quivering mound of ground suddenly collapsed and fell back into a deep, yawning chasm! Tons of soil and rock slipped off the vertical sides of this horrifying hole and thundered down into dark oblivion, taking people, tents, animals and most everything that belonged to Korah, Dathan and Abiram. (Numbers 16:31-33 and 26:10.) It was as though a gigantic mouth had opened in the Earth's crust for the one purpose of swallowing the rebellious men and their possessions!
Children Miraculously Escape
The only ones spared in this unusual catastrophe were the children. (Numbers 26:11.) God miraculously saved their lives by causing them to run in the directions in which they could escape. That way God could keep His promise to take all the children safely into the Promised Land. (Numbers 14:31 and Deuteronomy 1:39.)
For a few seconds the ground thrashed and rolled, churning the victims into the black depths. Then the sides of the pit crashed together with a mighty roar, dirt and sand spewing high into the sky in a dusty cloud. The pit closed so firmly and so evenly that there was little evidence left to show that three homes, their families and all their flocks had peacefully existed there only a few seconds previously. God had struck with such quick punishment that the victims were both slain and buried in one devastating event!
This calamity was witnessed by a horde of inquisitive Israelites who madly scattered in horror from the scene of destruction, fearful that the ground would open up again and swallow all of them. (Numbers 16:34.) People and tents were trampled in the chaotic mass stampede to flee from where the Earth had opened and closed so suddenly.
Among those who fled were the two hundred and fifty men who had followed Korah and who had brought their censers to see if God would choose them as priests. There were many among them who had begun to regret going along with Korah. But when they witnessed the dreadful end of their champion, they were filled with terror. Most of them fell in with the shocked people streaming away from the scene of destruction.
Even though they were soon scattered among thousands of others, all two hundred and fifty men suddenly met death by bolts of fire, shooting down from the sky. (Verse 35.)
Later, God told Moses that one of Aaron's sons, Eleazar, should gather up all the censers carried by those destroyed men because the censers had been consecrated for priestly service.
"The metals in those censers have been hallowed for service to Me," God explained. "Save them so that they will be used in forming special plates with which to cover the altar of burnt offerings. Then let those plates be a reminder to the people that no one except the descendants of Aaron is to offer incense before Me. Anyone who does otherwise will be subject to the fate of Korah and those who followed him with their foolish ambitions." (Verses 36-40; II Chronicles 26:14-21; and Hebrews 5:4.)
Many of the Israelites who had fled from the scene of terror didn't stop until they had reached the bases of the mountains that were not far distant. Most of them gradually returned to their tents that same night, however, after it seemed evident that there probably wouldn't be another horrible opening of the ground. Nevertheless, there was little sleep that night for many who vividly remembered the terrible events of that day.
Next Morning ...
Next morning, however, the general attitude of the people began to swing back to that of their usual rebellion. There were still many who wanted to see Moses and Aaron lose leadership. They spread tales that the earthquake and the sky fire of the day before were brought about by some kind of terrible magic. They blamed Moses and Aaron for using the magic to kill all those who had died.
This foolish gossip caught on like fire in a windy field of dry grass. By afternoon a sullen and growing crowd was milling around close to Moses' tent. Moses was dismayed when he came out of his tent and the crowd began to shout.
"You have murdered the people who should have been put in God's service!" they chanted. (Numbers 16:41.)
The attitude of the people in the crowd showed that at least part of them actually doubted that the events of the day before were entirely God's doing. Otherwise, they should have feared to make such a strong, untrue accusation. At first Moses thought that- only those gathered before his tent were blaming him for what had happened. He was more distressed when his officers began bringing in reports of people talking accusingly from all parts of the camps.
Moses went back into his tent to confer with Aaron, leaving the shouting crowd to be handled, if it were possible, by loyal Israelite officers. As soon as Moses entered his tent the crowd quickly became silent.
"The cloud is covering the tabernacle!" someone outside shouted excitedly. "A bright light is glowing from inside the tabernacle!" (Verse 42.)
Moses and Aaron knew that this meant that God wanted to talk to them. They hurried out of the tent, strode swiftly to the tabernacle and prostrated themselves before the piercing light.
"Get out of this vicinity at once!" God spoke to them. "I intend to snuff out the lives of all these people because of their sinful attitudes, their ugly disrespect!"
Moses and Aaron were very fearful for all Israel when they heard these words from God. On their knees, with their foreheads bowed all the way to the ground, they begged Him to be merciful and spare the people.
But even while they prayed, an officer rode in from an outlying part of one of the camps to announce that people were falling dead by the hundreds where he had just been. The news spread throughout the crowd, which then began to break up. Those who didn't hurriedly leave started to moan and groan so loudly that Moses and Aaron were roused from their praying.
When Moses heard what was happening, he was more fearful than ever. "God has already started to wipe out Israel with some kind of terrible plague!" he exclaimed to Aaron. "Perhaps God's wrath will subside if we humble ourselves by making a special atonement for the people. Take a censer, get hot coals from the altar and some incense and hurry out among the stricken people with it!"
Aaron quickly did as Moses commanded. He ran all the way to the camp where the deaths were taking place, and elbowed his way through knots of excited, shouting, moaning people who were hurrying in all directions.
"Don't go near them!" Aaron heard someone shout, and saw a man pointing a trembling hand at some figures gasping on the ground. "They have some awful disease that is causing them to suddenly choke to death! It's spreading to other people!" (Verses 43-46.)
Aaron quickly scanned the scene of horror before him. People were strewn everywhere. Some were motionless. Others were tossing and struggling, clawing feverishly at their own throats. Most of those attempting to flee from the dying masses were stumbling to the ground, only minutes later to fall victims to the mysterious force that was causing people's throats to tighten shut.
Aaron's Prayer of Faith
Realizing that God was dealing with these people, Aaron stepped into the area between the dead and those who fled. He held his censer up and sprinkled incense on the glowing coals. As the perfumed smoke drifted upward, he uttered in deep sincerity a prayer for God to forgive the Israelites and stop the plague.
All around him people were stumbling down, overcome by the throat-clutching plague. But when Aaron finished praying and looked about, he saw that none of those fleeing were falling to the ground. They were leaving the dead far behind. It was plain to Aaron that God was allowing the people to escape, and that meant that the plague was stopped! (Verses 47-48.)
As a result of the faith of Moses and Aaron, God had decided at the last moment to spare the people. If Moses and Aaron hadn't earnestly prayed to Him, the whole history of Israel and the world would have been altered!
This is one of the outstanding examples of all time of how answered prayer can change the course of history. There have been many other times -- more than most people realize. God is always ready to listen to the appeals of those who faithfully obey Him.
However, God is not what some might term a soft-hearted push-over. There is more love and mercy in His character than human beings can understand, but that mercy is tempered by judgment and justice. God's mercy extends in much greater measure than we can imagine to those who are willing to let God rule them. But He does punish the wicked for their own ultimate good.
Once again a great number of Israelites were sobered by their close brush with death, though far from all of them realized just how near they had come to being completely wiped out.
It was no small task to remove the victims of the short-lived plague. 14,700 bodies were taken from the camp and buried at a distance in the wilderness sand. This figure did not include any who were taken because of the rebellion of Korah and his supporters. (Verses 49-50.)
All this loss of life had come about mostly because of the greedy desire of ambitious men to take over the high offices of the nation. Although God had performed astounding miracles to show that the wrong people wouldn't be allowed in the priesthood, there were still men who coveted those high positions, and many more who were yet to be convinced that the Levites weren't to be replaced by others outside their tribe.
One More Miracle
God wanted to settle this issue once and for all, by performing one more miracle in which a few leaders would have a part. He was now going to convince the last of the doubters.
Carrying out instructions from God, Moses commanded each of the twelve tribal princes to bring him the official staff or rod of his respective tribe. These rods had been in the various families a long time. They had been fashioned from straight tree limbs that had become hard, seasoned and polished. The rod for the tribe of Levi was the one used by Moses in Egypt to perform miracles. It was later presented to Aaron.
On each of the rods was inscribed the name of the prince of the tribe to which it belonged. Aaron's name was inscribed on his staff for the tribe of Levi. In the presence of the princes Moses took all the rods and placed them in the tabernacle close to the ark. (Numbers 17:1-7.)
"Tomorrow I shall go back after the rods," Moses told the leaders and the crowd behind them. "One of those rods, even though they are actually nothing but hard, dry sticks, will tomorrow be budded out as though it were a green branch. The rod that is budded will indicate in which tribe the priesthood will exist from now on!"
There were smiles and expressions of doubt on all the faces except Aaron's. The tabernacle was guarded all that night. Next morning when Moses brought the rods out of the tabernacle for inspection, those expressions of doubt turned to that of amazement.
All the rods were the same as when they had been put in the tabernacle the day before; that is, except the staff with Aaron's name on it representing the tribe of Levi. It was studded with live limbs ending in tender buds, green leaves, reddish blossoms and even a few almonds ready to pick! (Verses 8-9.)
"Now deny the evidence that God wants the priesthood to remain only in the tribe of Levi!" Moses told the astonished leaders. Heads nodded in silent agreement as the crowd broke up. At God's command, Moses put Aaron's rod back in the ark of the covenant as a stern reminder to would-be rebels. From that time on there were no more great efforts to take over the priesthood. (Verses 10-11 and Hebrews 9:4.)
The people were so impressed by this latest miracle that they told Moses they finally realized that they didn't dare go anywhere near the tabernacle in an effort to get the priesthood because God would slay them all if they did. (Numbers 17:12-13.)
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On to Canaan again!
GOD SPOKE to Aaron once again during those trying thirty-eight years of wandering. This time it was to remind him of several very important matters. One was the subject of tithing.
God Explains Tithing
A tithe is a tenth part of anything, especially the tenth of one's increase, whether it be in wage income, livestock or crops. A tenth part of anyone's increase belongs to God.
God uses it for His work. In Old Testament times the Levites did His physical work. So God paid them for their work by His tithes. This tithe, which is actually God's, became the only inheritance of the Levites, inasmuch as they were not to own farming land on which to earn an income. They were to live and carry on God's work with this tenth, and in turn were to tithe what they received from God by paying a tenth to Aaron's family, which held the high priesthood. (Numbers 18:8-32.)
This was the simple but effective system God gave to the Israelites for financing God's physical work and all things that had to do with the tabernacle. Today the tithe still belongs to God and He uses it for His work today -- the preaching of the gospel. This doesn't mean that present-day organizations falsely calling themselves Christian are to receive God's tithes. They are not connected with God or the true Church. God's spiritual work of preaching the gospel has replaced the physical duties of the Levites and tithes are to go only to those who represent it.
Ordinarily it would be a simple matter to figure what a tenth of money wages would be. But some might wonder how one whose increase was only a sheep would give a tenth of a sheep, or how one who had only a small garden would give a tenth of his crop. The answer is that today the value of the sheep is determined and a tithe or tenth of the value of the sheep is paid to God.
Tithing Is for Our Good
So often, when the subject of tithing is brought up in these times, the same remark is heard: "If I gave a tenth of my income, my family would starve!"
People who carelessly make this remark do not realize that just the opposite is true. Perhaps most people don't realize or appreciate that everything they think they possess is not really theirs. It is God's. God merely allows them to use or enjoy it for a while. When we stop to consider this fact, isn't it plain that the Creator is quite generous in requiring that we turn back only a tenth for financing His work?
The tithing law was not instituted for God's benefit. He owns the world and everything in it. (Psalms 24:1 and 50:10.) God gave the tithing law for our good. Our responsibility for handling some of God's money as His stewards helps us to learn to love others and enjoy GIVING. This develops in us God's type of character and trains us for eternal life's true riches. (Luke 16:1-11.)
To add to His generosity, God has made a sacred promise that He will increase our material wealth if only we are faithful in paying Him what we owe. (Malachi 3:10-11.) Can you imagine one person telling another that if he will pay what he owes that the creditor will see to it that the debtor will receive a large financial reward? That's what God has told us, in so many words. Where can one find a better deal than that?
What it all amounts to is that NO ONE CAN AFFORD NOT TO TITHE! God has told us that if we don't tithe we are robbing Him. If we are robbing God -- and millions of people are doing just that today -- we can have no part in the financial blessing that God has decreed for those who are faithful in tithes.
This doesn't mean that others may not temporarily prosper who want to have no part of God and His laws. God is allowing many of them to have the good things only in this life -- the only life some of them will ever have. Surely no wise person would want to be in the position of such people. It is far better to prosper in this life by God's special blessing -- PLUS living forever by the gift of eternal life in surroundings and circumstances that would show worldly millionaires' lives to be dull and miserable!
Have you ever noticed that some religious organizations that don't believe in obeying God are often in such desperate need that they are forced to promote the principle of tithing? They use all sorts of arguments and ideas as to why people should tithe' but why they don't have to keep the Ten Commandments. In most cases these arguments carefully avoid any mention of tithe as referred to in the Old Testament. There is seldom any reference to the reason why God established the tithe and when. That is because there is an increasing disbelief in the Old Testament. Yet they need money -- and that is why they claim to teach tithing.
God is the Author of tithing. It began long before the time of Moses. Abraham and Jacob paid tithes long before Moses' time. (Genesis 14:1820; Hebrews 7:4-10; Genesis 28:20-22.)
Many people who believe in giving a tenth of their increase make a practice of giving it to their favorite charities or needy families. Giving to those in need is good, but that first tenth is to go to no one except God. (Malachi 3:10.) The only way that is possible is to give it to the true representatives of God -- those who are in God's service in His work.
On to Canaan
The next thirty-eight years after the Exodus were spent by the Israelites in wandering aimlessly and often miserably from place to place in the desert regions of the Sinai peninsula west of the Gulf of Aqaba. The Gulf of Aqaba is a finger of the Red Sea bordering the east side of the peninsula.
There is little record in the Bible pertaining to where they camped and what they did throughout most of this time until more than a generation later -- when they started back to the northeast on the same route they had taken right after they left Egypt.
During those thirty-eight years people died by thousands and thousands. A whole new nation had grown up. During these thirty-eight years God was causing the deaths of all those men who complained when the scouts returned from searching Canaan. Only their children would be permitted to cross over Jordan into the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 1:35-39.) Several generations of livestock had long since died. Not all the older people had died since the Israelites had set out in their aimless wanderings, however. Some still living were Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Caleb and Joshua.
Once more, after a lapse of nearly four decades, the tremendous caravan of millions moved up to the city of Kadesh from which the twelve scouts had been sent north to get a good look at Canaan. It must have been a sobering thought to the people that they were still no nearer Canaan after plodding about for over thirty-eight years and looping around and around over the same country for thousands of miles. But they couldn't rightly blame God for their misfortune. If they and those who had gone before had obeyed Him, they would have arrived in safety and prosperity in Canaan almost four decades sooner.
Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, died right after Israel encamped at Kadesh the second time. (Numbers 20:1.) She was about one hundred and thirty years of age at her death.
When Israel had stayed at Kadesh the first time, there was plenty of water. Conditions changed in thirty-eight years, however. Some of the springs had dried up. Others couldn't produce enough water to continue to provide for the vast needs of the Israelites and their livestock.
Israelites Complain Again!
Shortly after Miriam's death the water shortage became so serious that a loud, complaining crowd gathered around the tents of Moses and Aaron.
"We want water! We want water! We want water!" they chanted over and over for hours. (Numbers 20:2.)
Moses and Aaron were accustomed to this sort of childish mob treatment. They hoped that the noisy crowd would tire and break up, but the situation grew worse. Fearing that violence might result, Moses asked Aaron to appear with him before the crowd.
When the people saw the two leaders standing before Moses' tent, they broke into such a loud roar of discontent that Moses couldn't make himself heard when he tried to address them. The roar finally died down, only to give way to loud accusations from leaders of the mob.
"Why have you dragged us here to die along with our livestock?" one man screamed. "We would have been spared great misery if we had died with our brethren who died in God's plagues years ago!"
"What is your reason," someone else yelled, "for stopping in this rocky, sandy waste where no grass nor vines nor trees grow, and where there is only enough water to make death more painful and lingering?" (Verses 3-5.)
The crowd was angrier than Moses had realized. Officers hovered around to quell any outbreak of violence, but it was plain that the officers wouldn't have been capable of managing the crowd if it were to break out in a rampage. There was only one thing to do. Moses seized Aaron's arm and accompanied by loud jeers and hoots from the crowd, the two of them hurried to the tabernacle.
As soon as they entered the sacred tent, a light came from the inner room. It became brighter and brighter as -Moses and Aaron bowed with their faces to the ground and made their problem known to God. (Verse 6.)
"Take the rod from here in the tabernacle and go with Aaron out to that high rock that is close to the camps," God told Moses. "Call for the people to gather there to witness what will happen. Then SPEAK to the rock, commanding it in My Name to give forth water. After you have done this, plenty of water will come out of the rock. There will be more than enough to take care of the needs of all the people and their animals." (Verses 7-8.)
Moses took the rod -- the one that had budded out to show that Aaron's family should retain the priesthood -- and set out with Aaron. It wasn't difficult to attract a crowd. The murmuring mob was still milling about. It noisily followed Moses and Aaron, who were surrounded by a number of officers as they strode off to a certain tall rock that jutted up out of the sand close to the Israelites' camp.
"I have become weary of this mob foolishness over the years," Moses remarked to Aaron. "Again the people have gone too far with their threats and demonstrations. It is time we show them again what great power can come through us!"
"I agree," Aaron answered, glancing uneasily at the mob that was closing clamorously in on them. "It would be wise to use the power through the rod more often to cause these troublemakers to have more respect for us."
This was a wrong attitude on the part of Moses and Aaron. They should have been more concerned with showing GOD'S power and causing the crowd to respect HIM. Both men had been under more strain than usual because of the death of their sister and more complaints than usual from the people. As leaders, however, they were expected by God to exercise great control and wisdom under all circumstances.
This wrong attitude continued when Moses, standing with Aaron atop the rock God had indicated, looked down with disgust on the shouting crowd. He hoisted the famous rod as high as he could hold it until the people's shouting and shrieking died down.
Moses Loses His Temper
"Listen to me, you rebels!" Moses shouted. "You have been whining and complaining about a shortage of water. Why do you complain when you know we have the power to give you water? Don't you know that we can cause this rock to open up and spew out all the water you need?" (Verse 10.)
The crowd became completely silent. Thousands upon thousands of eyes were focused on Moses as he stood there on the rock, plainly etched against the bright sky. The Israelite leader was in an increasingly bad mood as he thought of all the insolence and disobedience he had struggled with through the years. Now he harbored a strong desire to once and for all stop their complaining by proving to them that he could, with the rod, perform any kind of miracle.
God had told Moses this time to speak to the rock, commanding it, through the power of the Creator, to give forth water. But instead of speaking to the rock, Moses spoke unadvisedly and in anger to the people. (Psalm 106:32-33.)
"You are only a howling mob undeserving of water!" Moses cried out. "Nevertheless, you shall receive it, if only to remind you that your demonstrations are childish!"
God had not instructed Moses to use the rod to strike the rock. It was to be carried by Moses and Aaron as a symbol of their Levitical authority in using God's tremendous power. But Moses drew the rod back over his head and brought it down sharply on the rock. The crowd gazed in expectant silence as long moments passed.
No water came out of the rock.
Bible Story Book Index
The Troublesome Road to Canaan
WHEN Moses struck the rock at Kadesh and no water came out, painful moments passed.
Some of the people began to hoot and jeer. Moses and Aaron glanced nervously at each other. Vexed and impatient, Moses did the very next thing that came to his mind. He lifted the rod and again whacked it down on the rock with even greater force.
The crowd went silent, waiting for something to happen. Moses was almost crushed by a heavy feeling of embarrassment because no water was forthcoming from the rock.
In-his strong feeling against the mob, he had either forgotten or ignored the instructions God had given him. He had chosen his own way, and now he seemed to be unable to make good his boast that he had power to supply water to all those Israelites.
God Brings Water
"If water doesn't come out of this rock after what you've promised," Aaron shakily remarked to Moses, "the people will be so angry that they'll probably go completely out of control. If a miracle doesn't occur within the next minute or two, there'll be plenty of trouble!"
Moses knew Aaron was right. In his unhappy situation all he could think to do was strike the rock a third time. Before, he could do so, however, the boulder shook as though an explosion had taken place within it. Moses, Aaron and the few officers standing farther back on the rock were all but thrown off their feet. When they recovered their balance, they realized that a strong stream of clear water was noisily gushing from the base of the boulder below them! (Numbers 20:7-11.)
A tremendous shout came from the crowd. People rushed toward the rock to dip into the cool water, but were forced back as it surged speedily forth to spread into a swift stream that coursed toward the camps of the Israelites. Even before the stream had flowed into a definite course and had- lost its muddiness, people and livestock thronged to it to get their fill. Then started the task of filling millions of pots, jars and goatskin bags with the precious fluid.
Moses and Aaron were greatly relieved to see the life-giving water flowing from the rock. Another crisis had passed. One more rough spot had been smoothed out.
Nevertheless, Moses knew that all was far from right. Now that water had come to the people, he had a gnawing feeling of guilt.
"We should return to the tabernacle to thank God," Moses muttered uneasily to Aaron.
At the tabernacle God's voice spoke out in such an angry tone that Moses and Aaron trembled as they bowed their heads to the ground.
God's Just Punishment
"You have failed to act with wisdom," God told them. "You, Moses, let your temper get the better of you in front of the people. Then, instead of SPEAKING to the rock as you were instructed, you struck it. In fact, you struck it TWICE, as though it were necessary to keep on flogging it in order for something to happen. You also gave the people the impression that it was through your power and not Mine, that a miracle would produce water. And you, Aaron, spoke and acted in agreement with your brother's wrong attitude.
"Because you have acted with such independence, and have tried to take credit for a miracle that only your Creator could perform, you have failed to honor Me before the people. Therefore neither of you shall be permitted to reach Canaan with your people!" (Numbers 20:12-13, 23-24 and Numbers 27:12-14.)
Moses and Aaron remained kneeling in stunned, painful silence. This pronouncement from God felt like a sudden death sentence! It meant that they would not be allowed to enter the promised land for which they had been striving for so many years. Moses and Aaron repented of what they had done. God forgave them. But that did not mean God would remove the penalty in this life. Some sins we still must suffer from even though God has forgiven us.
A few minutes later, when they were certain that God had nothing more to say on the matter, they got up and trudged off to their tents. It was plain to them that God had no favorites, and that He would punish the disobedient in high offices no less than He would punish the disobedient of the lowest rank.
A fact worth remembering is that the more one is educated and trained in God's service, the more God requires of that person.
Moses and Aaron Repent
Even though Moses and Aaron were denied the privilege of entering Canaan with their people, they repented and will undoubtedly reach a much richer promised land -- that of the future. When Christ comes to rule the world only a few years from the time this is written, those resurrected for service under Christ will surely include Moses and Aaron.
Whatever Moses and Aaron thought about their future, their duties still existed. Aaron faithfully continued as high priest. Moses had to make daily decisions as usual.
The greatest decision while the people were in Kadesh was how the Israelites should proceed toward Canaan from that point.
There was more than one route to Canaan from Kadesh. One way had been attempted almost four decades earlier by many of the Israelites when they had been set upon by Amalekites and Canaanites, and when so many Israelites had lost their lives. Another way was to cross eastward over the Mt. Seir range of mountains and then proceed north. Or the traveler could proceed north or south around Edom to the king's highway.
This great highway was a major road leading up east of the Dead Sea. It had been constructed across swamps and deserts and mountains hundred of years previously by local governments, and had since been used and kept in fair condition as a route for armies and merchant caravans.
Moses already knew God would not lead Israel by the way where so many had been slaughtered years before, even though it was the most direct route. Even though it was a longer route, Moses recognized it would be to the advantage of the Israelites to travel on the king's highway through the land of Edom. Once they were through Edom and Moab, they could enter Canaan by turning westward.
Opposition from Edom
Realizing that it was necessary to receive permission to pass through the nation, Moses sent messengers to the ruler of Edom. The letter carried by the messengers pointed out that the Israelites, as cousins of the people of the Arabian desert, had struggled through many years of hardships in their efforts to come out of Egypt, and that they would like to be regarded as friendly relatives passing through the territory of the Edomites.
"Please let us pass through your country," Moses continued in the letter. "We promise not to tramp through your fields nor through your vineyards. We won't use even your water. Our desire is simply to reach the king's highway and proceed northward." (Numbers 20:14-17.)
The Israelite messengers returned only a few hours later with word from the ruler of Edom.
"The Edomite king told us to tell you," the messengers reported to Moses, "that if we go through his land his army will attack!" (Verse 18.)
Moses was disappointed. He certainly hadn't expected such a hostile reply.
"Perhaps the Edomites don't believe that we won't use their water," Aaron suggested. "They might agree to our moving through their land if we would offer to pay for any water we should use."
"The idea is worth trying," Moses remarked after pondering a few moments.
Later, another set of Israelite messengers returned from Edom with an answer to Moses' second request.
"The king wants you to know," the men reported to Moses, "that our people can't come through his land under any circumstances. He said that while he is king two million strange people and their animals won't go stamping across Edom."
Moses was again disappointed. He had hoped that his second appeal to the ruler of Edom would result in success. Before he could express his thoughts, however, an officer arrived to excitedly announce that Edomite troops were approaching from the north. (Verses 19-20.)
Right after the messengers returned, one of Moses' officers shouted to look back to the northeast. Moses and those about him turned to see a vast line of figures silhouetted against the sky atop the ridge in the area where the pass trail led into Edom and toward the king's highway. Sunlight reflected in strong glints from those distant figures indicated that they had swords, spears and armor.
The Edomite army had arrived! A Narrow Escape
"Sound the signal to break camp!" Moses ordered. "Tell the people to be ready to leave in order within the hour. Warn the men to prepare themselves for a possible attack!"
There was sudden action among the Israelites. The same scene, strangely, had been enacted by them or their ancestors almost two generations before when a part of them had tried to get into Canaan against God's will. Now, however, they were not divided, and they worked faster than before to get ready to leave.
Once again the more than two millions of people and their flocks and herds moved on the trail that led into the desert valley called the Arabah.
Whether the Edomites planned to attack or whether they intended only to protect their borders is something we probably won't learn until God makes it known in the future when He will undoubtedly reveal all the facts of the past history of man. In any event, the tribes of Israel managed to leave the border in time to avoid any trouble with the army of the king of Edom.
The first stopping point was at Mt. Hor, a high peak of the Seir range. There God gave a special message to Moses and Aaron. He instructed them to come up to the top of the mountain. Aaron was to dress in his priestly robes and was to bring one of his sons, Eleazar. (Numbers 20:22-25.)
The people quickly sensed that some special event was to take place on the mountain, and many of them watched the three men ascend the sandstone mountain to its height of six thousand feet.
Aaron Dies on Mount Hor
After the three arrived atop Mt. Hor, Aaron gazed silently down on the Israelite camp he knew he would never join again. Looking upward, he could see to the west a part of the mountains and deserts through which the people had struggled. He turned his gaze to the northwest, but could not quite see the promised land just over a range of mountains. Regretfully he remembered God's pronouncement that he and Moses would not go into that promised land because of their wrong attitude when they sought to bring water to the people out of a rock. He realized that he had come to the end of his life.
According to God's instructions, Moses removed the priestly attire from Aaron and put it on Aaron's son Eleazar. As soon as this was done and Eleazar was anointed into Aaron's office, Aaron sat down, leaned back on a ledge and closed his eyes. It was at that moment that he drew his last breath. There was nothing to be done to prevent him from the peaceful and painless death that came to one of God's servants at the age of one hundred and twenty-three years. (Verses 2728; Numbers 33:37-39.)
There was great mourning among the Israelites when they learned of Aaron's death and burial. The mourning continued for thirty days -- the length of time spent in expressing grief in those days -- because of the passing of a person of high rank. (Numbers 20:29.)
Under Attack Again
Meanwhile, a Canaanite king whose small domain included an area of south Canaan heard that the Israelites were about to invade his territory to the northwest of the Mt. Hor region. This king felt that it was wiser to attack than to be attacked. Not to be outdone, he sent mounted troops to the south to rush in on the camps of the Israelites.
So swift was the attack that some of the Israelites were whisked away as prisoners before anything could be done. The Israelites were so upset by what had taken place that they made vows to God that they would wipe out the towns from which the attackers had come if only God would help them. God quickly answered their pleas and Israel proceeded safely northward in the Arabah. (Numbers 21:1-3.)
After leaving the Mt. Hor area and defeating the Canaanites, the Israelites continued through the valley of the Arabah. This route was called the way of the Red Sea because it led to the gulf of Aqaba.
Traveling through this huge desert cradle was difficult because of the heat and the arid conditions. A number of people began to complain, especially because of the manna, which they disliked because of their bad attitude. Their state of mind was like a contagious disease. It spread so swiftly that it was only a matter of hours before a pounding wave of discontent disrupted the camps. (Verses 4-5.)
As usual, the head complainers organized throngs to gather before Moses' tent with their loud and childish demonstrations. Their remarks were so profane against Moses and against God that God was angrily moved at once to punish the offenders.
Even as noisy crowds shouted against their Creator, screams of pain and terror began to rise from all parts of the camp. Thousands of snakes were suddenly wriggling into the tents, angrily biting the people on the feet and legs, injecting a death-dealing poison that would quickly mean the end of life for their victims! (Verse 6.)
Bible Story Book Index
War With the Amorites
IT WAS at Punon in the Arabah, south of the Dead Sea, that the invasion of snakes into the camps of the Israelites occurred. At first they caused more terror than pain. It wasn't long, however, before those who were bitten became very feverish and ill. Their bodies became inflamed and swollen. Agonizing death soon followed.
The number of victims grew swiftly as the hours passed, and Israel began to understand that it was possible that all the people could be wiped out by a horde of poisonous snakes! (Numbers 21:4-6.)
Frantic, worried Israelites gathered in a sombre crowd before Moses' tent. This time they didn't yell and chant and scream insults at their leader. This time they came to humbly plead with Moses for his help.
"We are sorry about the wrong things we said about you and the complaints we made against manna," a spokesman from the crowd anxiously told Moses. "Would you please ask God to forgive us and take away these terrible snakes?"
Even as Moses was being addressed there was a loud and violent commotion in the crowd. Snakes had slithered in among the assembled people, and many of them were bitten.
Moses was convinced that most of those who had complained and had made spiteful remarks against God and against him were truly regretful of what they had done. He went at once to the tabernacle to entreat God to have mercy on the people and spare them from the poisonous bites of the serpents. (Verse 7.)
"Instruct your best craftsmen to mold a brass serpent that looks like the type of serpent that is plaguing the people," God told Moses. "Have them mount it on a long pole, and erect the pole in the center of the camps as a sign of My healing power. Then tell the people that any who have been bitten will be healed and spared from death simply by gazing on the brazen serpent." (Verses 8-9.)
Moses hastily obeyed, and very soon the metal snake was raised on a pole close to the tabernacle and the people told what it was for. Throngs of suffering victims gathered to peer at the brass serpent.
Before God's orders could be carried out, however, thousands more had been bitten by snakes in the surrounding dry, rocky areas. This resulted in an increasing crowd of frantic, sick and groaning people to gather within sight of the brass snake. Thousands had died before it was made, but all those who lived long enough to view the snake on the pole were healed.
God caused the poisonous serpents to depart from the area in which the Israelites were camped. The plague was ended because the offenders regretted what they had done and because of Moses' prayer to God. The removal of the serpent plague was entirely a matter of repentance, prayer, obedience, and faith. The serpent on the pole represented the penalty of sin being taken away. It reminded the Israelites of a coming Savior who would be beaten and then crucified on a pole to pay for the sins of the world. (John 3:14-15.) However, in later times the people of Judah began to worship that serpent until righteous King Hezekiah destroyed it, reminding the people it was only a piece of brass with no power. (II Kings 18:4-5.)
After the serpent plague, the Israelites continued to move by the route called the Way of the Red Sea, finally passing around Mt. Seir to the northeast of Edom. They then proceeded along a small river called Zared or Zered. Here was plenty of fresh, clear water supplied by spring rains in the mountains to the east in Edom. The stream flowed westward into the south end of the Dead Sea. Here Israel was at the northern border of Edom and the southern border of Moab, a nation extending about halfway up the east side of the Dead Sea.
After crossing the Zared River, the Israelites had no more to fear from the Edomites. Their next important campsite was just beyond another mountain stream about thirty miles to the north. Arnon River, like Zared River, was a small stream in the dry season. In fact, it was possible in extremely dry seasons for it to dry up almost entirely where it flowed into the Dead Sea, but in the area where Israel passed over, there was sufficient water, fresh from the mountain springs that fed it, to take care of the Israelites' needs. The Arnon River was the north border of the land of the Moabites and the south border of people to the north called Amorites. (Numbers 21:10-13.)
From there the Israelites continued northward. At one area, where they were short of water, God told Moses where the people could find water. They dug down a few feet and found plenty of water for the millions of people and their vast herds and flocks.
The people were so thankful for this needed supply of clear, cool water that they expressed their thanks to God through a great concert of voices and musical instruments. (Verses 14-18.)
Moses felt that Israel shouldn't progress very far into Amorite country without permission. Already the caravan was headed along the edge of the high plain country just east of the Abarim mountains, and was running the risk of encountering Amorite soldiers.
Moses knew who the Amorite ruler was, and which city was the capital. He sent messengers to the king, whose name was Sihon, to ask for passage through his country. Moses assured him that no wells nor fields nor orchards would be touched by the Israelites, but that if the Amorites wished to sell them food or water, Israel would be pleased to pay whatever price was asked. (Verses 21-22; Deuteronomy 2:26-29.)
An Enemy Appears
When king Sihon learned that millions of people and animals were intending to pass through his little nation, he became quite excited. He sent the Israelite messengers back at once with the blunt reply that Israel would not be allowed to pass through the land under any circumstances. (Numbers 21:23; Deuteronomy 2:30.)
Moses was discouraged when he received the message. If the Amorite king could successfully block Israel from going farther north, it would mean that the giant caravan would almost certainly have to turn westward and somehow cross the Jordan River.
Moses realized that the Amorite king probably wouldn't be satisfied by merely refusing passage to Israel. It was more likely that he would take advantage of this opportunity to attack the Israelites for the purpose of taking their possessions.
"I shall help you win the battles to come in this land," God told Moses. "Furthermore, I shall wipe out the wicked nations occupying this territory, and Israel shall be the sword by which it will be done!" (Deuteronomy 2:24-25, 31-32.)
Within only a few hours after the Israelite messengers had returned from king Sihon, a heavy force of armed men appeared on the north. The hidden Israelite soldiers waited until the oncoming enemy was well up on the ridges behind which the Israelites waited. Then they leaped out and fell on the Amorites in wave after wave of men with such sudden and surprising force that all the attackers, including king Sihon, were either slaughtered or put to flight.
After this encounter, Moses was certain that the best of Sihon's army had been wiped out. Nevertheless, he directed the Israelites to quickly break camp and move swiftly toward the cities of the Amorites before their occupants could group themselves for defense. The Israelite soldiers reached the main Amorite city of Heshbon, only a few miles distant, to find that it was almost defenseless. They moved quickly in to slaughter all the people, including the family of king Sihon.
God Renders Justice
From then on the Israelites moved swiftly over the land to take over every city and town, slay the people and seize the animals and any other valuable things that could be taken with them. Within only a few days they became the conquerors and destroyers of this small nation. (Numbers 21:24-26; Deuteronomy 2:33-36.)
Many wonder why God had Israel to wipe out certain nations. The reason is that they were so miserably sinful that they would be better off dead. In Abraham's time, their iniquity had not reached such a peak. (Genesis 15:16.) By the time the Israelites arrived, however, God said the Amorites should no longer live. This does not mean they are eternally lost. They, like the people of Nineveh, Sodom, Gomorrha, and all the world, will come up in a judgment period, at the second resurrection, after the 1,000 years, and will have an opportunity for salvation. (Matthew 12:41-42; Mark 6:11; Revelation 20:11-13.)
For a while, after conquering the Ainorites, the Israelites rested in the conquered land, then continued to move northward.
In spite of the fact that they had gained a quick reputation for tremendous strength in battle, a king of the region northeast of the Dead Sea came out with his army to attack them. His name was Og, and he was a man of gigantic stature -- probably nearly twelve feet in height. The Bible mentions that the bed in his palace was about eighteen feet long and eight feet wide. (Deuteronomy 3:11.)
Og was one of the last of the strain of giants of eastern Canaan. Some of his soldiers were also very large, and they presented a frightening sight as they charged against Israel.
"Tell your soldiers not to be afraid of these fierce-looking men," God had told Moses. "Remind them that the soldiers of Israel cannot fail because I am with them to help destroy their enemies." (Numbers 21:3334; Deuteronomy 3:1-2.)
Victory Given by God
Og's forces were vicious, brutal, bloodthirsty men lusting for the opportunity to kill. The Israelite soldiers were almost the opposite, but when they closed with the enemy, a strange thing happened. The attacking giants suddenly seemed to lose their desire for battle. They cringed, ducked, dodged and attempted to turn and run. They suddenly seemed to sense that they were in for certain defeat.
This abrupt cowardice by the enemy made it possible for the Israelite soldiers to swarm over Og's soldiers in a crushing tide of death. Only minutes later Og and his blustering military men were things of the past.
Again Moses directed his soldiers to move swiftly about the nation to try to take Og's cities in the manner of taking the cities of the Amorites. It turned out that most of Og's forces had gone into the attack. Every city was lightly guarded by small numbers of soldiers, but many of these cities were surrounded by high walls in which there were strong, heavily barred gates.
Using knotted ropes thrown up and looped over the wall spikes, the Israelite soldiers swarmed over the walls and overcame the few fighting men who resisted. Then they unbarred the gates and flooded into the cities to slay all the people that were there. Only flocks and herds were spared, and these were taken, along with food, gold, silver, jewelry and whatever wealth the Israelites found and wanted.
Sixty cities were taken. These centers of habitation weren't mere villages surrounded by thin, short walls. They were fairly large centers of population whose well-built stone buildings and streets were large and wide. Solid stone walls were as much as eighteen inches thick, and were constructed of rock of that region almost as hard as iron. (Numbers 21:35; Deuteronomy 3:3-11.)
So many well-equipped, strongly constructed places of living wouldn't ordinarily be found in a small country -- much of it semi-arid, though fertile -- so far from rivers or oceans or major highways. Some scholars used to think the Bible account of these cities was a work of some writer's imagination. Nevertheless, those cities did exist. Many of their ruins still clutter the plains of Moab and Ammon (ancient Moab and Ammon extended far to the north of what was Moab at that time) and the land east of the Jordan River up to the Mt. Hermon range.
Besides these sixty solidly fortified cities,-Israel also took over many centers of habitation that weren't protected by walls. That region was far more populated than the Israelites had expected. Unless God had willed that Israel should have His aid in the task of taking over these lands and their spoils, the Israelites would have been utterly wiped out by the military-minded occupants.
With God as their champion, it required only a few days for the Israelites to sweep over the land east of the Jordan. The soldiers of Israel were even more surprised at what they had done than were those who were their victims. Armed forces of the past had never dealt such swift and deadly destruction against such strong armies and so many well-fortified cities. It was a miracle that impressed at least a part of Israel more than certain miracles God had brought about at other times.
At this point a question will probably come up in the minds of some readers when they read of the Israelite soldiers slaying the women and children of enemy nations. It would be natural to conclude that all this slaughtering of human beings was nothing less than a mass disregard for the Sixth Commandment, which plainly states that we should not kill.
God is neither fiendish nor unjust. He has referred to Himself as the potter and human beings as the clay. The potter decides how to use the clay and what part of it is to be discarded.
God chose to get rid of the wicked, idol-worshipping nations east of the Jordan because they were so awfully sinful that they could not possibly live normal, happy lives. Besides, the land was not theirs anyway. He could have wiped them out with plagues or earthquakes. But since Israelites, too, had sinned, God chose to let Israel experience the consequence of sin. So He chose to do it through Israel as His instruments. Who should question why the One with infinite wisdom chooses to do something?
God has told us that we shouldn't murder. Many centuries after Israel entered Canaan, Christ explained that law in more detail by explaining that even the desire to murder meant breaking the intent of the Sixth Commandment.
In the case of the destruction of Israel's enemies, God told Israel to slay them. It was a matter of obedience, just as it was when the Levites slew worshippers of the golden calf. As Author of all spiritual and physical laws, God is the only One who has wisdom to decide when a person or nation is sinful enough that death is a blessing.
After conquering the Amorites, Israel's tribes gathered together and encamped for several weeks of peace in an area a few miles northwest of Heshbon, the former Amorite capital.
Moab Plots Against Israelites
Meanwhile, news of what had happened swiftly spread to the surrounding nations, whose rulers were somewhat shaken to learn that such a powerful army had suddenly emerged from the south. Probably the most worried ruler was Balak, king of Moab. He hadn't realized, when Israel had quietly passed along his nation's east border, that these people possessed such a great military force.
Balak feared that Israel would turn back southward and swallow up Moab as it had done to the land of the Amorites. After much meditation and scheming, he decided that there was only one way of certain security. That was to hire some professional wizard to pronounce a curse on Israel!
Bible Story Book Index
King's Ransom Tempt a Prophet
TOWARD the ancient land of Mesopotamia, by the upper Euphrates valley, lived a prophet named Balaam. This man was known in many areas as one who had such a special gift of prophecy that he could pronounce wonderful blessings and great curses on people -- pronouncements that seemed to be amazingly inspired. He knew about God, but was a tool of the devil. He was a high priest of the pagan religion of that land. Balaam always wanted to see how far God would let him have his own way.
A King's Evil Design
Balak, the heathen king of Moab, had heard that Balaam had the power, through God, to bless people, and to curse them. Such a power, he thought, might be much greater than that of any wizard or enchanter who worked through spells and magic and strange mixtures.
"If this man Balaam could be hired to pronounce a curse on all of this upstart nation of Israel," Balak told his officers, "those trespassing people might be so crippled that we could drive them out or even destroy them. We must try every possible means to keep those Israelites away, and therefore I want Balaam to be brought here." (Numbers 22:1-6.)
The king immediately sent several of his princes eastward into Midian, where they were joined by Midianite princes. The caravan then moved on northward to the city of Pethor where Balaam lived.
When Balaam was told by these men of high rank why they had come to him, he felt very honored but quite uneasy.
"I am a prophet of the most high God," Balaam slyly said. "If it pleases God to inspire me to pronounce curses and blessings, so be it. But I cannot curse whom He would bless."
"Perhaps you should make certain what you are allowed to do before you give us a final answer," one of the Moabite officers said. "We haven't come here to ask you to do something without a proper reward."
The officer clapped his hands, and in came two servants almost staggering under the weight of a metal-strapped box. The lid was lifted, disclosing a huge amount of pieces of silver and gold. Balaam's eyes widened at sight of this unexpected display of wealth. Nothing more was said, but Balaam knew that this fortune would be his if he would accompany the princes back to Moab and pronounce a curse on Israel. He began to hope that God would allow him to reap those riches. In his heart this wicked man began to covet the reward passionately. "I certainly must consult God about this matter, " Balaam finally spoke up after an awkward silence. "I should like to talk to you more about it tomorrow if you would be pleased to lodge here overnight in the spacious inn just down the street."
The Moabite and Midianite officers took this to mean that the sight of such a rich reward had speedily caused Balaam to give in to their wishes, and they departed with satisfaction for the inn which was one of Pethor's best. (Verses 7-8.)
That night God spoke to Balaam, asking him the identity of the men who had come to visit him. God already knew, but He wanted to test Balaam's wicked heart. Balaam was afraid not to tell the truth.
"You must not go with these men to curse the Israelites, for they are blessed," God told him.
Next morning Balaam met with the princes, whose faces fell when they heard what he had to say.
Balaam Speaks Deceitfully
"God has refused to let me go with you to do what you ask," Balaam announced. "There is nothing more to be said or done about the matter except for you to return to your countries."
As Balaam later watched the caravan depart from Pethor, he couldn't help but regret that a fortune in precious metals was slipping through his fingers. He wasn't exactly certain that he had been wise in turning down this opportunity to become wealthy overnight, and he hoped Balak would send more messengers and persuade him so forcefully that he would have to go with them.
After the caravan departed, Balaam's mind often dwelled on that chest of gleaming gold and silver. Balaam felt that if only his fear of God wasn't so great, he could have become possessor of the chest. Instead of desiring a king's ransom, Balaam should have repented.
A few weeks passed. Then another caravan suddenly showed up at Pethor. It was made up of Moabite and Midianite princes of even higher rank than those who had come before. (Numbers 22:15.) There were more servants and more animals. The people of Pethor were excited and honored to welcome another assemblage of men of high rank, and were proud that a resident of their city was famous enough to attract such a group of officers from other nations. Balaam's sudden increase in popularity made him even more desirous of the offered wealth.
He was quite impressed with the visitors, especially when some in the caravan turned out to be musicians and dancing girls who performed in the street in front of the prophet's home. He began to realize that if Balak made him rich, he could afford to have his own private musicians and dancing girls. Balaam's love of money was leading him into all sorts of evil desires. (I Timothy 6:10.)
Following the street performance, the head princes met with Balaam to inform him that the king of Moab had been greatly disappointed because his offer had been turned down, but that he was so needful of Balaam's services that he would give him great rank besides anything he asked if only he would come to Moab and call down a curse on Israel.
Playing With Temptation
This was a severe temptation to Balaam. All that he had to do to be wealthy the rest of his life was to go to Moab and utter a few words against Israel in the name of God. What bothered him was the question of just how long his life would last if he continued to disobey God's will. He hoped circumstances would work out so that he could please Balak without directly disobeying God.
"I can't do anything God tells me not to do," Balaam told the princes. "Even if your king were to give me a whole house full of gold and silver, I cannot do any more or less than God allows. However, I will contact God tonight to see just how far He will allow me to go in having my own way. If it pleases you to stay overnight in our city, there is good lodging in the adjoining place down the street. I shall be in touch with you tomorrow to report what I am allowed to do." (Numbers 2:16-19.)
It was plain to see by the expression of the princes, as they filed out, that they were gravely disappointed in the answer they received.
Balaam wondered later if they would ever return. Then God again spoke to Balaam. "If these men from Moab and Midian come to you in the morning, I won't stop you from leaving with them," God said. "If it turns out that you do go with them, remember that I am warning you not to say anything to them except what I tell you to say." (Verse 20.)
Balaam got up very early next morning to prepare for the possible return of the princes. When a little time dragged on, and no one showed up, it seemed like hours. Balaam was worried. He desperately wanted to go to Moab because of the rich reward that could be his, but he feared to displease God. Finally he reasoned around God's command by saying to himself, "God said if they came for me I should go with them; and they came for me yesterday." So he decided to go with the princes without waiting longer for them to come for him. After all, the princes may have given up the idea of hearing from him, and started preparing to return to their native lands. Balaam's decision was direct disobedience, because he was commanded originally not to go unless the princes came for him that next morning.
"Go quickly to the lodging place of the princes," Balaam instructed a servant. "If they are yet there, tell them that they need wait no longer for word from me. If they have already gone, overtake them and tell them that I shall join them."
A little while later the servant returned to report that the caravan was about to leave Pethor, and that the princes were surprised, but looking forward eagerly to Balaam joining them on the trail.
Balaam instructed his servants to prepare a burro for him and provisions for a long journey for three people -- himself and two servants. (Verse 21.) A short time later Balaam's group joined the caravan on its way to Moab and Midian.
Suddenly Balaam's burro lunged off the trail and into a field, almost throwing its rider. Angered by the animal's unusual action, Balaam lifted the rod he was carrying, and violently struck the burro on one of its flanks to force it back onto the trail. The animal, however, kept on heading out into the field. Balaam was furious.
His fury would have swiftly melted away if he could have been aware of what had startled the burro. An angel bearing a sharp sword was standing in the road! He had made himself visible only to the burro, which finally, because of Balaam's angry shouts and gouging heels, started back toward the road. The angel swiftly moved and stationed himself before the donkey between two vineyard walls bordering a pathway leading back to the road. (Verses 22-24.)
To bypass the angel, the burro lunged to the side, this time painfully jamming her master's foot and crushing it against the wall. Balaam vengefully struck the burro on the neck with his staff, as the animal staggered fearfully forward. The angel again stationed himself further down the narrowing path. When the burro saw it could not get by the angel, it collapsed with fright and nervousness at being so close to the ominous figure of an angel of God. What little patience Balaam had left came to an abrupt end. He leaped up and brought the staff down on the animal's back with all his strength.
The Burro Speaks!
With God all things are possible. (Mark 10:27.) The burro opened her mouth and spoke her thoughts as though with a human voice!
"What harm have I done to you to cause you to strike me so violently these three times?" the animal asked Balaam.
Balaam stepped back, his mouth falling open in astonishment. It was too much for him to I believe that this animal had actually spoken, yet he somehow felt obliged to reply.
"I -- I struck you because -- because you have made me look ridiculous by tossing me around and shoving me against that wall. Besides, you are delaying me in an important trip," Balaam nervously but angrily answered. "If this staff of mine were a sword, I would jab it through you!" (Numbers 22:25-29.)
Balaam stared at the burro, wondering if he had been wrong in thinking that she had spoken in the first place. Then the animal's mouth quivered again. and Balaam was unhappily certain that it was actually the burro that was talking.
"Years ago you chose me as your favorite animal for riding," the burro said. "I have served you faithfully all this time. Have I ever treated you so badly as you have treated me just now?"
Balaam was still a little stunned because of the human voice that came from the mouth of his burro.
" -- uh -- no!" he finally managed to mutter. (Verse 30.) God gave Balaam the ability to suddenly see the angel. The prophet staggered back, his eyes popping in amazement. In dreams and visions he had heard and seen angels, but this was the first time he had ever seen one while awake. Because of his feeling of guilt, he fell forward to prostrate himself before the powerful being from God.
"What good did it do to beat your donkey?" the angel asked Balaam. "I was standing in your path, and when the animal saw me there, she tried three times to dodge around me. Were it not so, I would have used this sword to kill you -- though not your donkey -- because of your disobeying God by joining the caravan returning to Moab!" (Verses 31-33.)
Groveling with his face in the soil, Balaam realized how wrong he had been in coveting the fortune offered him to curse Israel. How unwise he had been in not fearing God enough to refuse to disobey. He realized he should have stayed at home, since the princes did not come for him in the morning after God instructed him.
"I have sinned!" he cried out. "I didn't know that God would go so far as to send one of His angels to slay me. Please spare me! If you don't want me to continue, allow me to return to my home!"
"I shall spare you," the angel told Balaam, "but not to return to your home. Now that you have begun this journey, God permits you to rejoin Balak's caravan. However, when you arrive in Moab, you are to declare only the things I tell you to speak."
God was giving Balaam another opportunity to refuse wealth and choose to obey Him. If God had sent him back home, Balaam would not have had another such test of character. Balaam was greatly relieved not to be punished. He gladly agreed to God's terms, remembering the wealth of Balak. Accompanied by his two servants, who had excitedly watched and heard his strange experience from only a short distance, he hastily rejoined the caravan of princes headed back toward Moab. (Verses 34-35.)
After the caravan was well under way, a messenger using the swiftest beast in the caravan was sent ahead to inform king Balak that Balaam was already on the way with the caravan.
Balaam Continues Lusting
"Why didn't you come to Moab the first time I sent for you?" king Balak asked a little impatiently, on meeting Balaam. "Didn't you realize that I am able to give you a high and honorable position in my government, as well as the treasure my men offered you?" Balaam was happy to hear the treasure mentioned again. He had again begun to think more about it and less about the warning God gave through His angel.
"It was difficult for me to leave Pethor when your first caravan arrived," Balaam replied. "Here I am at last, but I want you to know what I have no power to curse or to bless any nation unless God gives me that power. I can speak only what I am told to speak." (Verses 37-38.) Balaam was careful to speak in such a way that king Balak would not give up, but would keep trying harder to buy his services. He had become greedy for the reward Balak promised. (II Peter 2:15-16; Jude 11.)
As Balaam hoped, his statement didn't discourage Balak. The king was convinced that the prophet somehow could manage to bring down God's wrath on Israel. He correctly believed that Balaam's statement perhaps meant that the price would be higher than anything Balak had already offered. Whatever the price, the king was willing to pay and was pleased to take Balaam with him farther into Moab, to the town of "Kirjath-huzoth", which means "a city of streets."
Because the king and princes of Moab and Midian were present, there was a great celebration that night. Pleasure-seeking sheepherders and cattledrivers whooped and yelled as they moved in and out of the various establishments of the town.
The festive feeling was further promoted when the king ordered his musicians, entertainers and dancing girls to perform their best and loudest in the streets and market place. Although Balaam realized that this festivity was at least partly in his honor, he was uncomfortable. He reasoned he was better than those boisterous Moabites. He was even less at ease when he noticed a huge fire being built at a street intersection, and was told that the Moabites were about to sacrifice oxen and sheep to their gods, and that generous portions were being brought to him and the Midianite princes with him. (Verse 40.)
"We seek protection from our enemies by pleasing our gods with sacrifices," Balak explained to Balaam. "If you wish to offer sacrifices to yours at the same time on this altar, I shall see that you are supplied with any kinds of carcasses you need. Of course I hope that you will at the same time implore God to curse Israel."
"I am sorry to disappoint you," Balaam answered, "but God has forbidden me to do what I would like to. So I can't join you in this ceremony."
So Balak was again disappointed.
Bible Story Book Index
Balaam's Four Prophesies
NEXT morning after the feast king Balak of Moab sent his entertainers back to their homes. But he continued onward to the west with Balaam, Balaam's two servants and the Moabite officers and servants. The caravan journeyed on to a mountain overlooking the site where the hosts of Israel were camped. (Numbers 22:39-41.)
Balak Is Jealous
"There you see all those powerful people who have swept up from the south to swallow up our nations," Balak said to Balaam. "Camped there as they are, they appear peaceful. When they move, however, they seem to sweep up and devour everything in their path like locusts. They must be stopped. Otherwise every nation including mine, could fall before them."
Balak knew that what he said was not true. God had forbade Israel to attack Moab. (Deuteronomy 2:5, 9, 19.) Balak was jealous of Israel.
Balaam knew of this strange nation that had come out of Egypt, and he knew that the God of the Israelites was the only true God -- the One he was afraid of. He realized that he had run into a very serious situation. If he were to ask God to curse Israel, he would be asking God to crush the nation the Creator had chosen for a very definite reason. Balaam didn't completely understand why God was with Israel, but before he went any further for Balak, he decided to try to get in touch with God.
"Have your men build seven altars on this mountain," Balaam told Balak. "Have them bring seven oxen and seven rams to sacrifice as burnt offerings."
King Balak was willing to do whatever Balaam asked. The altars were quickly set up and the sacrifices were made. While ceremonies were in progress, Balaam slipped away to a higher part of the mountain, hoping that he could get in touch with God.
Because God was using Balaam for a purpose -- and not because of the sacrifices Balaam had asked Balak to make -- God spoke to Balaam from the rocks of the highest part of the mountain, instructing him just what to say to Balak when he returned. When Balaam finally arrived back at the site of the seven altars, Balak and the high officers of Moab stood by the sacrifices and anxiously awaited what he would have to say. They hoped that he would at last utter a curse on Israel.
Balaam hesitated a little before saying anything, because he suddenly realized that what he was about to speak would startle the Moabites. (Numbers 23:1-6.)
"As all of you before me are aware," Balaam began, "I was summoned all the way from my home in Aram in the mountains of the East by king Balak. The king's wish has been that I call down the wrath of God on Israel, the nation that has recently come up out of Egypt to destroy the Amorites. If God's wrath would suddenly come on Israel for sin, then how much more would it fall on the nation of Moab? God is the God of Israel. It would be impossible for me to bring a curse by God on a nation that He has already blessed. It would be most foolish, in fact, for any one or any nation to try to go against any nation that God is not against and is protecting.
"Even now we are able to look out and see these people God has chosen for some great purpose. Israel shall always stand out above other nations, and it shall be one whose numbers can be compared to the numbers of specks of dust in the ground. I trust that when I die, my death shall be as honorable as that of those people we see below who have been chosen for some high purpose!" (Verses 7-10.)
Balak was surprised and irritated by the unexpected speech from Balaam. He had hoped for a curse, but Balaam's words, which God required him to speak, amounted to a magnificent blessing rather than a curse.
Balak strode up to Balaam, planted his fists on his hips, and frowningly regarded the prophet.
"Why have you spoken these good things about Israel instead of what I expected?" the king angrily asked. "I didn't bring you here for this sort of thing. How could you do the opposite of what I have counted on your doing -- especially when you consider the rich rewards that could be yours?" (Verse 11.)
Balaam Speaks Dishonestly
"Don't I have to say what God told me to say?" Balaam asked. "What else could I do?" (Verse 12.) Balaam intended these words to soften the blow of God's prophecy and encourage Balak to keep trying to bribe Balaam with bigger sums of money.
Balak was discouraged by this answer, but, as Balaam hoped, he didn't intend to give up. He reasoned that Balaam had been so awed by the vast spread of Israelites that he feared to utter a curse on them.
The Moabite king quickly decided to take Balaam to another mountain from where only a part of Israel could be viewed. Balak was well aware of how the camping Israelites appeared from all directions, what with his spies having carefully watched them ever since they had come out of the south.
Regardless of God's instructions that Balaam should speak only good things concerning Israel, the prophet went with Balak to a flat section of a high ridge known as Mt. Pisgah. (Verses 13-14.)
"There you again see those intruders," Balak said to Balaam. "Why not implore your powerful God to punish them?"
"I still must obey what God tells me to do," Balaam answered. "To approach Him again, we must once more build seven altars and offer a ram and a bullock on each altar. Then I'll seek another meeting with God to inquire if He will allow me to curse Israel."
At a command from Balak, seven altars were set up on Mt. Pisgah, and a bullock and a ram were sacrificed on each of the altars. Meanwhile, Balaam again went into a remote section of the mountain to try to contact God. Once more he was successful, but only because God purposed to contact him. Even though Balaam was still greedy for Balak's reward, God was very patiently waiting to see if Balaam would finally repent and quit serving himself and the devil. Though he was afraid of God he did not repent.
"Tell Balak what I am about to tell you," God said to Balaam, and Balaam, out of dread of punishment, memorized what God had to say.
For the second time Balaam returned from a mountain visit with God to report to king Balak.
"I have been in touch with God," Balaam called to Balak, "and He has told me more things to tell you."
"What has God spoken?" Balak calmly asked, though anxiously hoping that either God or Balaam had undergone a change of mind. (Verses 15-17.)
More Inspired Prophecy
"He has said that you, Balak, should listen to Him," Balaam replied. "He has said that you should learn that He does not lie, as does a mortal man, and that He will surely carry out any purpose or promise He had made. God has blessed Israel, and I have been instructed to carry on according to that blessing. It would be impossible for me to change God's blessing into a curse.
"You should know that God has not regarded the shortcomings of Jacob, the forefather of Israel, as something so evil that all of Jacob's descendants should be cursed into oblivion. God brought Israel out of Egypt, and gave that nation the strength of the giant wild bull. No prayer, no art, no craft nor enchantment from outsiders can affect Israel. In time to come people will marvel at how this nation was kept alive under God's protection. In fact, Israel shall become known as a strong young lion that doesn't rest until he has eaten well of his prey, and that prey will be nations that can be compared to gazelles, deer and other animals much weaker than the lion." (Verses 18-24.)
Balak stared in shock at the prophet. Balaam was wearing the king's patience to an end. If he hadn't been so desperate for help against Israel, he would have ordered the prophet out of his presence.
"If you won't curse the Israelites now," Balak muttered wearily, "then at least you can refrain from pronouncing a blessing on them!" "Didn't I tell you," Balaam replied, "that I would have to speak whatever God would tell me to say?" Balaam should have flatly refused to help Balak, but he didn't. He still hoped he could please Balak, without being punished by God.
If Balaam hadn't been afraid of God's great power, he never would have spoken or acted in such a manner. But he still had a desire for the reward that Balak was willing to give him, if he could only influence God to change His mind.
Balak refused to give up what he had set out to do through the prophet. Immediately he suggested that they go to Mt. Peor, which was a high point of the Abarim range. From there all of the camp of Israel could be seen. Balak hoped that there was a chance that Balaam might break down and pronounce a curse on Israel if he could be convinced that such a large and powerful nation might well move eastward and destroy Balaam's home town.
Later, when the Moabite caravan and those with it viewed the Israelites from Mt. Peor, Balak was dismayed to hear Balaam ask for the third time that seven altars should be built for sacrificing animals. Balaam was fearfully aware that invisible angels were listening to all his words and watching everything he did. But he again thought he could influence God to let him curse Israel so he could obtain Balak's reward. Balak gave orders to carry out Balaam's wish. The Moabite king didn't want to do it, but he was still interested in getting Balaam to curse Israel. (Verses 25-30.)
In spite of his hopes to earn favor and fortune from the Moabite king, Balaam realized it would be useless to continue hoping God might curse Israel for Balak. His recent contacts with God made it quite clear that it was impossible to tempt God to change His mind.
For this reason, Balaam did not even go to seek another vision as he had previously done.
As the prophet looked down from Mt. Peor on the Israelites camped in their orderly manner on the plains of Moab, he was suddenly required by God to speak another clear and vivid prophecy to Balak and those about him.
Moabites, Midianites and even Balaam's two servants gathered around in curiosity as the prophet's voice rang out from the mountain top to tell them marvelous things they hadn't expected to hear.
"I, Balaam, the son of Beor, have been given understanding by God in matters I am about to relate," Balaam declared.
He then went on, to the growing discomfort of most of his audience, to speak of Israel and what would happen to that nation.
Israel's Future Unfolded
"How fine is the array of colorful tents and tabernacles of Israel on the plain below!" Balaam exclaimed. "They are spread out as watercourses from the mountains, as gardens by a river, as sandal trees and cedars of Lebanon growing naturally in rows beside the streams.
"Israel shall have plenty of prosperity. His descendants shall be uncountable. His king shall have more power than any other king, and the kingdom of Israel shall become the strongest one in the world. God brought this nation out of Egypt and gave it the strength of the giant wild bull. This people will swallow up its enemies after breaking their bones and piercing them with deadly weapons!
"Israel is like a great lion that people fear to bother. Those who bless Israel shall be blessed. Those who curse Israel shall be cursed!" (Numbers 24:1 -9.)
This was exactly the opposite of what the king of Moab hoped to hear. He felt that Balaam had betrayed him, and he violently struck his hands together, an action in those times that indicated great anger.
"I offered you handsome rewards to come here to curse my enemies!" Balak shouted as he strode up to Balaam. "Instead, you blessed them!
Now take your servants and get out of here without the reward God has prevented you from receiving!" (Verses 10-11.)
"Perhaps you have forgotten," Balaam calmly reminded the king, "that when your messengers first came to me I told them that a whole house full of gold from you would not cause me to do anything in this matter but what God allows me to do. Didn't I say then that I had to say exactly what God requires me to say?" (Verses 12-13.)
Then God ordered Balaam to utter another astonishing prophecy: "Now, before I leave, I should tell you what God says Israel will do to your people in the future. An Israelite king will come into power who will strike your nation with such force that it will be smashed at once. Those Moabites who remain alive will be taken as servants of Israel!"
The king of Moab sensed that Balaam spoke the truth, and his haughty expression quickly turned to one of uneasiness.
"When -- when is this supposed to happen?" Balak asked, forcing a tone of command into his voice.
"You will not live to see that day," Balaam answered. "But it will happen as surely as the sun is in the sky. As for Edom and Seir, those countries shall also fall to Israel. Even the powerful Amalekites shall go down before Israel, and shall disappear forever as a nation. The Kenites shall also be taken captive, though they live in the rocky strongholds of the mountains.
"The climax will bring frightening changes in many parts of the world. Nations from across the seas will attack and be attacked. There will be great trouble in time to come. Israel, the nation God has chosen for carrying on His purpose in the world, will end the most glorious nation!"
There were only low murmurs from the Moabites and Midianites as Balaam and his two servants mounted their animals and rode away on the trail that led down Mt. Peor. (Verses 14-25.)
Balak was sobered by what Balaam had said, but, lest those about him should notice his fear, he shrugged his shoulders and man aged a smirk of derision that would have faded quickly if he could have foreseen his nation being overcome by a future Israelite king by the name of David. (II Samuel 8:1-2.)
Most of the prophecies made by Balaam were for Old Testament times. Some are yet to come true in these latter days because God always does what He promises to do!
Balak returned to the city from which he ruled Moab, but Balaam never got back to his home town. He continued to lust after the reward he tad missed. He began to devise a plan he thought might get him a part of it. So he stopped in the land of Midian.
Knowing that the Midianites as well as the Moabites wished to see Israel destroyed, Balaam sold to their leaders an evil scheme. His plan was to promote sin between Israelite men and the pagan women of Midian and Moab. He reasoned that this sin would bring down God's curse on all Israel.
The Israelites continued to stay on the verdant plain that was partly shaded by many acacia trees. It was a pleasant, fruitful area in which to camp and the Israelites were in the midst of plenty. But an exceedingly unpleasant matter soon began to develop.
Some of the men of Israel were attracted to some of the Moabite, Ammonite, and Midianite women. This situation swiftly grew into a mountainous problem. More and more Israelite men married these pagan women, something forbidden by God. Israel was not to intermarry with outsiders -- especially those who were heathen. Besides, due to Balaam's teaching, many Moabite women and Israelite men were taking the physical privileges of married persons, although unmarried. This meant they were breaking the seventh and tenth commandments. (Revelation 2:14.)
What was more, the Moabite women were leading their Israelite husbands and lovers into Sabbath-breaking and worshiping pagan gods. (Numbers 25:1-6.) These gods included Astarte or Ishtar, a deity giving her name to "Easter" eggs. This idolatry was later brought into so-called Christian churches, by the modern successors of Balaam, and came to be known as Easter. One sin led to another then just as it does today.
God's fierce anger was aroused when He noticed these things continuing and growing. He was angry because so many Israelite men were mixing with Moabite and Midianite women. The men were allowing themselves to be drawn by these foreign women into taking part in worshiping pagan gods and into mixed marriages.
Today, the same sins are being repeated. "Seek out and punish by death the individuals who have committed these sins before it spreads further," God told Moses. "If you don't, I will curse the whole nation of Israel!" (Numbers 25:1-4.)
Balaam's wicked project was beginning to pay off for Midian and Moab.
"This is the kind of sin that can destroy a whole nation if allowed to continue. Tell the heads of the twelve tribes to seize the lesser tribal leaders and the better-known men who have so heedlessly gone against My warnings not to mingle with strange nations," God told Moses.
"The leading tribal chiefs must themselves stone the law-breakers and have them hung on poles for a whole day to show what can happen to those who follow evil leaders and ignore My rules! This matter, however, isn't going to end with merely a warning. I am going to bring a plague on all the other offenders," said the Eternal to Moses, "and unless this taking of foreign women stops at once, the plague will spread to all of Israel!" (Verses 4-5.)
Instantly Moses acted.
The order was carried out, and within only a few hours the corpses were hanging on poles erected close to the center of the Israelite camps. These gruesome reminders and Moses' stern rebuke shocked the people. There was much loud wailing and moaning, a habit acquired from the Egyptians. Most of the Israelites truly regretted what had happened, and from them there were genuine groans and weeping of shame and repentance. (Verse 6.)
Last Wilderness Plague
At the same time an amazingly dreadful thing began to happen to thousands of Israelite men who were guilty of being involved with Moabite and Midianite women and their pagan sacrifices. In all the camps offenders were abruptly overcome by terrible pains in their chests. They thudded to the ground as though they had been stoned with invisible stones. It was as though angels had stoned the offenders that the tribal chiefs of Israel had failed to stone. The victims were able to gasp only a few tormented breaths before dying.
When news of this reached the mourners near the tabernacle, the groaning and shrieking reached higher peaks, and there was growing sorrow and shame in the homes of the men who were stricken, because everyone knew they died for their shameful conduct. Some of these men were sons of respectable parents and tribal leaders. Others were fathers whose wives and children had no idea -- until their sudden deaths -- that foreign women had drawn these men into trouble.
All this heartache and grief came because Balak was jealous of Israel and because Balaam lusted so much after the wages promised by Balak that he taught the pagans how to lead rebellious Israelite men into sin. (II Peter 2:16; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14.)
Even in the face of these abrupt and terrible developments there were those who were so scornful of God that they refused to put aside the women of these pagan nations.
A Rebel Prince
Such a one was Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Simeon. Even at the height of the time of mourning and repentance, Zimri came into the tabernacle area with a Midianite princess named Cozbi. The couple brazenly passed through the mourning Israelites and on to a private tent in the camp of Simeon.
Zimri was plainly recognized by many, including Moses, who assumed that officers would quickly go to Zimri and find out from him the identity of the strange woman. Because of Zimri's high rank, however, officers who should have detained him allowed him and his Midianite princess to go their way without bothering them. (Numbers 25:6.)
Phinehas, one of Aaron's grandsons, took particular notice of where Zimri and Cozbi went and noticed the officers' hesitancy in punishing them. Acting according to God's special order that offenders in this matter should be slain, Phinehas seized a spear that had been put down by an Israelite soldier, and followed the couple to the tent they had entered. Phinehas jerked the tent flap open, then hurled the spear with such force that it pierced the bodies of both Zimri and Cozbi.
From that moment on no one else died of the mysterious lungcrushing plague that had come on Israel. Till that time, however, twenty-four thousand Israelite men lost their lives -- twenty-three thousand in one day -- including about a thousand who were stoned as examples to warn Israel of the heavy penalty of mixing with foreign nations. (Verses 7-9, 14-15.) God had this shameful and tragic episode recorded to teach us that we should not lust after dishonest money and should not marry or follow the practices of evil women, and that we should worship only God. (I Corinthians 10:6-11.)
"Phinehas, by his loyal action, has proved that there are those who stand for justice," God told Moses. "Because of his zeal to punish offenders and atone for the sins of his people, others will now fear to disobey. Therefore, My wrath against Israel has been stopped. Furthermore, I extend to this man an agreement of peace. I assure him that I shall spare him from any Midianites who would try to avenge the Midianite princess, and that those after him shall remain in the priesthood forever!" (Numbers 25:10-13.)
The next few days were ones of misery, shame and sorrow in Israel. At the same time, though most people weren't aware of it to the full extent, they had reason to rejoice and be thankful because of God's anger having been turned from them.
This didn't mean that God was satisfied with the way matters turned out. He was well aware that the Midianites and Moabites -- especially the Midianites -- had plotted to use their women to wrongly influence men of Israel. He planned to punish Midian, but not until He had accomplished some other things. (Verses 16-18.)
One of those things was the taking of a census. 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. (Numbers 26:52-54.)
Only the males from twenty years of age and up were numbered. 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. (Numbers 1:47-49; Numbers 2:33.)
At the time of this second census, not one man remained to enter the Promised Land who was numbered in the first numbering, except Caleb and Joshua, who were faithful to God. (Numbers 14:29-30; Deuteronomy 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 were not condemned to die in the wilderness with the over 600,000 soldiers who complained when God told them to go in and occupy the Promised Land. The Levites had remained faithful to God even when all the rest of Israel worshipped the golden calf. (Exodus 32:25-29.) Because of their faithfulness, the Levites were given special blessings. (Deuteronomy 33:8-11.)
This miracle of destroying the older generation of murmurers was one of the many great wonders and miracles by which God proved His power to Israel while they wandered forty years in the wilderness. (Acts 7:35-36.) But 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. (Numbers 14:31; Numbers 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 old.
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 less 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.
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. (Numbers 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 realized 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, the Creator told him 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," God 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 those who are of the closest relationship." (Verses 6-11.)
Shortly after this new law was established, God told Moses that he should 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," God said. "You are not to enter into the Promised Land because of your disobedient attitude in getting water out of the rock at Kadesh." (Verses 12-14.) This decree was no surprise to Moses, since God had refused his request to enter Canaan just after conquering Gilead and Bashan. (Deuteronomy 3:4, 10, 23-27.)
Although Moses had expected this, it shocked him to learn that he would die so soon. He realized that God meant what He said, and that it would be futile to beg to have his life spared. What mattered most was how Moses would be replaced. When Moses finally spoke, that was foremost in his mind.
Joshua to Take Moses' Place
"Your will be done," Moses said. "But 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." (Numbers 27:16-17.)
By this request Moses didn't mean that he felt that God couldn't get along without him or someone to take 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," God told Moses. "Call the congregation together to witness the transferring of some of your honor on Joshua before Eleazar the priest. From the time that Joshua takes your place, he must consult Eleazar, who will come to me in the tabernacle. I have spoken to you directly, but this is the way in which Joshua shall receive instruction on how to lead Israel." (Verses 18-21.)
Later, before Eleazar and a huge crowd of Israelites, Moses put his hands on Joshua's head and lifted his voice to God.
"As a chosen servant of You, the God of Israel," Moses prayed, "I am willing to give up the power and honor of my office whenever I am taken from this life. I pray that even greater power and honor will go to Joshua, the man You have chosen to follow me. Thank You for giving me this wonderful opportunity to be of service. Now I ask your very special blessing on this man, that he would be inspired with the strength and character and wisdom to rightly lead your people. By your authority I now charge him with the responsibility of the office that has been mine." (Numbers 27:22-23; Deuteronomy 3:21-22, 28; Deuteronomy 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 God having to do with offerings, holy days and civil laws. All these things were recorded and passed on to the people to preserve for us today. (Numbers 28, 29, 30.) It was during these trying times that the first four books of the Bible were completed by Moses.
Bible Story Book Index
Victory East of the Jordan
THIRTY-NINE years had passed since two million Israelites had fled from Egypt to escape their oppressors. (Numbers 1:1; Numbers 13:1-3, 26; Deuteronomy 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. (Numbers 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 to live, they enjoyed good health, a happy state of mind and God's protection. (Deuteronomy 12:29-32; Deuteronomy 30:15-20.) And through all the years God gave them nourishing manna and miraculously prevented their clothes and shoes from wearing out. (Deuteronomy 8:4.)
Knowing only the rigors of desert living, they greatly enjoyed a few months of camping on a verdant, spring-fed, tree-studded plain a few miles east of the Jordan River. (Numbers 22:1.)
About this time Moses was called to the tabernacle to receive special instruction.
"Do The Impossible!"
"The time has come for my people to strike against the Midianites," the Creator said to Moses. "They must be punished because of their evil plan to influence Israelite men to go over to pagan ways through the wiles of the Midianite women. The Midianite leaders hoped that if enough Israelites fell in with worshipping their gods, I would be displeased and withdraw my protection from Israel. Then they intended to attack. I was indeed displeased, but I did not abandon Israel.
"Now follow my orders and avenge your God as well as yourselves because of the harm idolatrous Midian has brought to the people. Although the Midianites hoped to destroy all Israel, I will use one-fiftieth of the Israelite army to destroy the army of Midian. I will prove that mortal men cannot hinder my plans or destroy the nation I protect." (Numbers 25:16-18; Numbers 31:1-2.)
Moses spoke at once to his officers, instructing them to choose a thousand fighting men from each tribe. (Verses 3-5.) This total of twelve thousand trained and armed men was only a small part of the total Israelite army. Moses felt certain that the Midianites had many more soldiers than twelve thousand, but he knew better than to add to the number God had chosen.
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 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.
Led by Joshua, the twelve thousand set out bravely across the plains to the southeast to do what they knew was humanly impossible. The high priest's son, Phinehas, was in charge of the few Levites who accompanied the army. These men were to preside at sacred services and to carry the two silver trumpets that were to be blown by the priest, at God's command, as battle alarms. (Numbers 10:1-3, 8-9; Numbers 31:6.)
The movement of Israelite troops didn't go unnoticed. When Midianite spies noted what direction was taken by the twelve thousand troops, swift-riding Midianite messengers carried the news to all five rulers of Midian. The five kings preferred to meet their attackers in the desert, what with the Midianites having specialized in desert fighting for centuries. They agreed that their full forces should go against the Israelite army, which, from the reports, was only a fraction as large as it was imagined to be.
The Midianites realized that more Israelite troops could follow, but their spies reported seeing no further preparation in the camps of the Israelites. This convinced the Midianites that their women had succeeded in demoralizing the Israelite men to such an extent that they were no longer a strongly united fighting force. They believed they could easily defeat Israel.
Almost two days after he had started out with the soldiers, Joshua received a discouraging report from a scout who had hurriedly returned from observation duty far ahead.
Numbers Meant Nothing to Joshua!
"The desert is dark with approaching thousands of soldiers!" the scout panted. "If we hold our present course, we will meet that army head-on! From what I could see, it's much larger than our army, and could surround us!"
Joshua had no intention of trying to evade the enemy, which then might march right on to the camps of the Israelites. He knew that since God had sent the Israelites on this mission as His executioners, He would supply them with enough skill and power to wipe out these idolaters. The troops continued their rather slow tramping across the sands and rocks, and it wasn't long before they were able to make out the Midianites in the distance.
When the miles between the two armies had shrunk to only a few hundred yards, it was plain to the Midianites that their numbers were indeed much superior to those of the Israelites.
Suddenly the Midianites split into three sections! The middle portion came directly at the Israelites!
The other two parts swung out to right and left to surround the Israelite troops in a gigantic vise-like movement!
The battle was set in array.
When the twelve thousand soldiers of Israel realized that they were marching into the vast jaws of superior numbers of oncoming Midianites, many of them momentarily may have felt like wheeling about and fleeing in the opposite direction. In those first frightful moments they felt what it would mean never to return to their camps and families.
The Signal to Attack
Then came the shrill, piercing sounds of the silver trumpets of the Israelites. It was an instant and powerful reminder to the soldiers that their God was with them, and that He would protect and strengthen them -- and take them all safely into Canaan as He had promised. (Numbers 14:29-31.)
Spurred to action and confidence, it was the Israelites' turn to make a surprise move. At a signal passed backward from Joshua, the rear flanks of the Israelites suddenly divided and curved out in opposite directions to swiftly get outside the flanking troops of the Midianites, even though many of them were mounted!
Thus the enemy soldiers, attempting to surround the Israelites, found themselves bottled up except for their rear troops. But even those, within minutes, were hemmed in by the nimble Israelites.
Then the fighting broke out in fierce, bloody fury. Considering the many thousands of soldiers involved, the battle could have been expected to last for hours. However, it went on only for a very short time, and then the awful sounds of slaughter suddenly died down.
Weary men grouped together to stare in silence at the thousands of corpses strewn over the rocky ground. It was hard to believe at first, but the Israelites soon realized that they had slain every soldier who had come out to war against them, and that included all five kings of the Midianites! They also found Balaam the prophet, who had taught the Midianites how to lead Israel astray, and killed him because of his evil deeds. (Numbers 31:1-8.) Because Balaam had set his affections on the gold Balak offered instead of eternal life which God offered, everything went wrong for him. He got neither gold nor eternal life, but was executed by God's servants.
What was even more amazing was that not even one dead or critically wounded Israelite could be found.
True to His word, God had protected all of them. Through Moses, God had instructed Joshua to proceed to the Midianite cities and capture everything of value. After stripping the dead Midianites of their possessions, the Israelites marched on to the nearby Midianite centers of civilization.
Having wiped out the Midianite army, the Israelite forces split into small groups and took over the Midianite towns and unprotected strongholds as soon as the soldiers could reach them. All Midianite men were slain, and the towns and strongholds burned. Women and children were captured. Flocks, herds and valuables were seized. (Numbers 31:9-12.)
Mounted messengers raced back to the Israelite camp to excitedly inform Moses of the overwhelming victory. Moses was not surprised, but he was pleased and thankful. He called the tribal heads together, and with them and Eleazar, rode out east of the camp to meet and welcome the returning victors. (Verse 13.)
Don't Give Idolatry a Foothold
After congratulating Joshua and other officers, Moses noticed that the prisoners consisted of many thousands of boys, girls and women.
"Why have you brought back these boys?" Moses asked Joshua. "And why have you spared these many thousands of women? Have you forgotten that these Midianite women recently drew our men into idolatry? God put a plague on us because of them, and also decreed that they should not live! Besides, they would have slain all our women and children had they won the battle."
"Our soldiers didn't have the heart to kill the youngsters," Joshua replied. "As for the women, we couldn't know which were the offenders. Therefore we brought back all except those who fell before us by accident."
"God sent us to destroy the Midianites," Moses told Joshua. "Tell your officers to instruct their men to slay all the male youngsters you have brought with you. Then determine as far as possible, which females have never had personal relations with men. Set them aside to spare, and slay all the other women!" (Verses 14:18.)
Within a few hours thousands of Midianite women and male children lost their lives. The only Midianites who were spared were girl babies, young girls and any females who could prove to the Israelite officers that they had not taken part in the evil practices by which other Midianite women had led many Israelite men astray. These young Midianite women and girls could live among the Israelites as servants without any danger of their leading the Israelites into idolatry.
Some who read this account will wag their heads in doubt, believing that God would never allow such slaughter, regardless of what the inspired scriptures tell us. However, the slaying of the Midianite women and children was an act of mercy. The Israelites who carried out the task of executing these idolaters had no appetite for such grisly business. They acted under orders from God, who had good reasons for using the Israelites to wipe out an idolatrous nation. These people were so evil, warlike, and lewd that they and their children were better off dead. When they are resurrected in the judgment, along with other evil nations of past ages, they will live under God's government, not their own. And they will be taught how to live in righteousness and happiness. (Matthew 12:41-42; 11:20-24; Isaiah 65:19-25.)
Is it sensible that people should consider God harsh for what He ordered done to the Midianites, while at the same time they want to believe the pagan lie (still voiced from so-called Christian pulpits all around the world) that God has allowed billions of souls to be dumped into everlasting, blistering torment in some fiery place -- some suppose in the center of the Earth -- just because they 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 God. For most people, that opportunity doesn't come in this life. If it doesn't 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. (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Isaiah 65:19-25.)
Because of 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 have that has touched a corpse if those things are made of skins, goats' hair or wood." (Numbers 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 flames of a hot fire to kill vermin and germs, and in some cases even to be melted down. Also they were to be washed in a specially prepared purifying water. Nothing could be taken back to the camps of the Israelites unless it was purified. (Verses 21:24.) If all people today would obey such strict rules of sanitation and quarantine, contagious diseases would not spread 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 God 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," God 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.
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. (Numbers 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 a 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. (Verses 48-49.)
"We took much spoil that wasn't included in the count of prisoners and livestock," a spokesman explained. "Among the things was jewelry 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. (Verses 50-54.)
Having conquered the nations bordering Canaan on the east side of the Jordan River and the 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.
A Shocking Request!
The tribes of Reuben and Gad, having long specialized 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. (Numbers 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!" (Verses 6-15.)
The leaders of Reuben and Gad recognized the wisdom of Moses' statements, but since this was such fine pasture land, 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 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 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 Jordan. We will not ask for land on the other side, but will be satisfied with the grazing land here." (Verses 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!" (Numbers 32:20-24; Deuteronomy 3:18-20.)
"We will not fail to go," the chieftains promised Moses. "Do we have your permission to leave for Jazer and Gilead?"
"Whenever you wish," Moses replied. Because he realized 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. (Numbers 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. (Numbers 32:31-33; Deuteronomy 3:1-17.)
They worked hard to rebuild swiftly 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. (Numbers 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. (Numbers 33:50-56.)
Bible Story Book Index
The Constitution of Israel
THE Israelites continued to camp on the plains east of the Jordan River for many days. Water was plentiful. 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, sharpen and repair the worn or broken tools 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. (Numbers 33:50-53. Leviticus 18:21, 24-29; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 9:4; 12:29-32; 18:9-14.)
Then the 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," God 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!" (Numbers 33:54-56.)
God then defined the boundaries of the Promised Land and appointed a committee to supervise the distribution of the land. (Numbers 34.) God also instructed Moses 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 2000 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. (Numbers 35:15.)
Six of these towns -- three on each side of the Jordan -- were soon to be appointed as "cities of refuge." As well as being centers 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 were 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 were 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 jails 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. (Numbers 35:6-34; Deuteronomy 4:41-43; Deuteronomy 19:113; Joshua 20.)
At this time Moses received many instructions and rules and reminders from God. 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 Moses' 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!" (Deuteronomy 3:23-28.)
The people were saddened to hear this. At the same time, they felt a greater fear of God. Many of them reasoned that if God would take the life of their leader, then their lives could be taken at any time because of their disobedience.
Sabbaths Must Be Observed
Moses added to their serious thinking by warning them 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. (Deuteronomy 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. (Deuteronomy 12:114; 16:1-17; Exodus 31:17.)
Today more than 700 church denominations claim to be Christian, but almost all of them refuse to have anything to do with God's Sabbaths. Many weak excuses are given for not observing them, including the old, standard, groundless line that the days instituted by God were only Jewish days, and that they were done away with at Christ's death. The fact that most churches fail to observe them simply proves that most churches are not God's churches. This can be a shocking and perhaps unbelievable statement to many people, but it is a true one, completely backed up by the Bible. Scoffing at this Bible truth is the same as scoffing at God, the author of it. The Apostle Paul taught Christians to keep the weekly and yearly Sabbaths many years after Christ ascended to heaven. (Acts 16:13; 17:2; 18:21; 20:16; 24:14.)
God also made it 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 to be used in observing the holy days. This was mostly for the Festival of Tabernacles, which was to be held apart from the usual habitations of the people at a place chosen by God. (Deuteronomy 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 holy days -- especially the fall festival -- at the place or places God indicates. Jerusalem was the main place in ancient Israel, and will be again when Christ returns not very many years from now. (Zechariah 14:16-19.)
God ordained the Festival of Tabernacles as a time when His people should worship Him with special joy, reverence, mirth and thankfulness. It was not to be a noisy "camp meeting" or what is so often referred to as a "revival" at some date set by man. Instead, it was and still is a time of joyfully worshipping God while taking in spiritual food (preaching) that is corrective, inspiring and character-building. It was and still is a time of dining, visiting, dancing, and enjoying sports that stimulate the body and knit the people of God together in spiritual harmony. (Jeremiah 31:12-13.)
Faithful saving of the second tithe makes it possible for God's people to enjoy this autumn vacation and return to-their homes and to their work better prepared to live happier and closer to their Creator.
At this same time God also commanded that the people should rest their crop land every seventh year so the physical laws in nature can improve the soil's healthgiving natural balance. (Leviticus 25:1-7, 20-22; Leviticus 26:14-16, 32-35.)
Then God commanded that a third tenth should be saved for a very special use. This was to be taken out only every third and sixth year in a seven-year cycle. It was to go to the poor among the Levites, widows, fatherless children and poor strangers. (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12.)
In these days the obedient Christian puts aside his tithes plus 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 canceled unless the debtor happened to be a foreigner. (Deuteronomy 15:1-11.)
A servant should be freed after seven years of service. (Deuteronomy 15:12-15.)
Israel was to make no agreements of any kind with the nations that were to be driven out. (Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 20:16-18.)
No more than forty lashes of a whip were to be applied in punishment. (Deuteronomy 25:1-3.)
No fruit trees were to be cut down in times of war in the land Israel invaded. (Deuteronomy 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. (Deuteronomy 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. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22.)
Toward the end of the period of instruction, 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 into the far 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!" (Deuteronomy 28 and 30:15-20.)
God's Laws Must Be Preserved
All the laws God had recently given to Moses to pass on to the people were written down at another time by Moses and presented to the priests to place beside the Ark of the Covenant. Copies also were given to the elders. Moses commanded them to read the whole book of the law to the people every seven years when Israel assembled at the Festival of Tabernacles during the year of release. (Deuteronomy 31:9-13, 24-29.) The priests and Levites were also commanded to teach the people portions of the law yearly at the festivals and throughout the year in all their cities. (Deuteronomy 33:8-10; II Chronicles 17:7-9; 35:1-3; Nehemiah 8:1-8; Acts 15:21.)
God then called Moses and Joshua to the tabernacle. As soon as they entered, the Creator descended to the tabernacle inside a glorious, radiant cloud. (Deuteronomy 31:14-15.)
"Before your life ends," God told Moses, "there are more things for you to do. One is to write a song to teach to the people. I know they shall go after other gods and shall forget my laws. They shall break my covenant. Then evil days shall fall on them, and though they shall seek my help, I shall let them suffer. The verses I give you must become a national song to be taught from generation to generation. The people shall remember it, and it shall become a witness against them because of their sins." (Verses 16-21.)
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