NUMBERS 34:1 – 36:13 and MARK 9:33–50
The Lord speaks to Moses to lay out very specific boundaries that were to be established in Canaan. One could only imagine the chaos if Israel were to go into the land of Canaan without pre-designated boundaries. We see this as a principle in God’s kingdom. He lays out specific boundaries and guidelines. Oftentimes we see this expressed in His Law. A boundary was established when God spoke to Adam in Gen 2.
Gen 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
Gen 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
A boundary line was given that man was not to cross over. We can see the handiwork of God at work when we consider the boundaries of nations today. The physical boundaries that separate one nation from another actually represent spiritual boundaries that exist today. We have been made aware of this truth throughout our journeys in India. Whenever we would cross one state (Orissa) into another (Andhra Pradesh) by car we could notice both a physical and spiritual change of environment. It is a reality that can be both seen and felt.
There is a noticeable pattern that one can observe when witnessing a breakdown of law and order. One sees a simultaneous altering of law and boundaries. When Adam broke God’s Law in the garden it severely altered the physical landscape. A new boundary had to be established around the Tree of Life (Gen 3:24) to help put into place a resuming of order. Consider the following verse(s) from Isaiah.
Isa 24:5 The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.
Isa 24:19 The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly.
Isa 24:20 The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again.
Whether it is the dispensing of a physical land to establish an inheritance or the giving of a Law it is clear that God works in the arena of boundaries. It helps to define what a people are to do in knowing their limitations while providing a means of protection. We do well to honor and uphold the Laws and boundaries that God brings into our lives. When a boundary is violated there will be consequences.
It is interesting to note that the Lord gives two names that will have the responsibility of the dividing of the land. They represent the ecclesiastical and military leadership of Israel; the priest with the general. (Eleazar and Joshua) We saw these two linked earlier in Num 32:28. God made a clear distinction regarding both men in the lead-up to this moment. I do believe that the Lord is placing and preparing such people in realms of leadership today. There is a recognizable authority and mantle that rests upon them.
God is about to bring Israel into the land of their inheritance. There will be physical enemies to contend with but it must be understood that there are spiritual ones as well. In fact, it is the spiritual enemies who enable and energize the physical (flesh and blood) enemies that we see and contend against. They need to be dispossessed. These enemies will not go down without a fight and we must be sure we are in alignment with heaven when contending against them. There is a timing for their demise and one must not move prematurely. There are boundaries of time as evidenced from the account seen in Numbers 14:42. The day before the timing was right to move in against the enemy (Num 13). After disobeying the Lord they sought to go forward but this time God was not with them. There is peace, safety, victory and protection when we respect the established boundaries of God. It is helpful to review the events from Numbers 13 and 14. It reinforces what the Lord is conveying to Moses at this critical time.
Now that the cities and boundaries have been established for the tribes of Israel we come to the Levites. The Lord speaks through Moses that each tribe is to allot a portion of their inheritance for the priests. The Lord also gives specific measurements and locations within the tribes of that which is to be apportioned (vs 5). This helps us to understand the relationship that the tribes of Israel had with the priests. It also helps to give a picture of how a church should interact with thier leadership of priests. The ones who serve in the capacity of a minister need to be supported by the church. It is in the interest of the church to provide in this way because it will enable the priest and minister to effectively serve on their behalf. The priest is responsible to represent the attributes of God and ways to the people. At the same time the priest is to assume responsibility for the people before God. Ministry is a high calling and it comes with great responsibility. Sadly, we will see examples in scripture of priests who abused their position. We see the same problem at work today. At the same time we will see shepherds who have a heart for God and for people. Such ministers are worthy of honor and support. The law that God is establishing here demonstrates the view that He has on this matter. Remember it is God, not Israel that is laying out the boundaries.
The balance of the chapter focuses on the cities of refuge that would be established within some of the camp of the Levites. There will be a total of 48 cities for the Levites that would be given and of these 6 would be for refuge. These cities served as a place for those who may have killed a person in an accidental or questionable manner. These cities were established boundaries where such people could go to have their case heard and judged. It would be a recognized sanctuary where no man could touch them. This reminds me of a childhood game of tag we used to play. A person could be chased by someone but if he were able to get to the home base he could not be touched. One could stay within that base without fear of being tagged. Once he or she would step outside the boundary of the base they would become fair game. This boundary was respected and allowed for fairness for a respective case to be heard. This would not apply to a cold blooded murder.
Let’s consider a Biblical example that helps illustrate the above point. The example of Shimei is a bit different than the law given in Numbers 35 but it still helps to give us an understanding of how boundaries work. Shimei was a man who cursed David soon after the incident involving Absalom. He went so far as to call him a man of Belial (2 Sam 16:7). That is a very serious sin seeing that David was God’s anointed. Shimei repented before David a bit later on (2 Sam 19:23). When Solomon assumed the throne we see Shimei as one who sided with him as opposed to Adonijah (1 Kgs 1:8). Solomon gave Shimei strict instructions as to where to build his house, making clear that he was not to step outside the designated boundaries that were established (1 Kgs 2:36). Shimei accepted these boundaries and lived within them for three years. While living in that prescribed area he was not threatened. He made a decision to go to Gath to go after some of his servants (1 Kgs 2:40). This was a violation of what was given to him. It cost him his life. God gives boundaries for a reason. It is for our protection. As mentioned earlier the greatest expression that God gives with regard to boundaries are His Laws. Shimei functioned within his boundary (law) for three years. David extended mercy to Shimei due to the nature of his sin of cursing. The boundary that Solomon established for Shimei was further evidence of mercy being extended. Shimei’s judgement was severe because of what he had done previously.
These two chapters go into detail in the apportioning of land for Israel and the Levites. It provides a window into both geographical and spiritual boundaries and how they are upheld. The stage is being set for a massive move of God that has both natural and spiritual implications. There is so much to learn from this event that proves instructive for the church of the last days.
We see the matter of the daughters of Zelophehad arising again; this time over the matter of inheritance. There was concern that if the daughters of Zelophehad married into another tribe it would jeopardize the tribe from which they came forth. Say for example one of the daughters married into the tribe of Assur; the tribe of Joseph could lose portions of their inheritance seeing that the daughter came from that tribe. The concerns were valid and the Lord gave instruction that the daughters of Zelophehad could only marry within their own tribe. In their case they married within the tribe of Manasseh, son of Joseph and their inheritance remained within the tribe of their fathers (vs 12). This was a last minute judgement but a needed one due to the potential ramifications of what could take place. Does this have meaning for the church today? Is there an application that can be made in today’s environment?
Each tribe had a distinct calling and purpose. We see in the Book of Revelation that each of the gates of the new city will bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev 21:12). There were 12 different foundation stones, as part of the foundation; each with a brilliance all its own (Rev 21:19). There were twelve manner of fruits associated with the new city (Rev 22:2).
I make this point due to my sense that it does matter as to which gate we will have the privilege to enter. It was important for Israel to marry within their tribes. This was a truth that was reinforced just prior to the entering into Canaan. Perhaps, this is a question we need to ask as an individual and as a church. It all comes down to identity, knowing who we are in God; knowing our calling and function and seeking to flow accordingly. Today’s church environment has experienced radical change in the last few decades. As a people we have an identity that is rooted from the culture of our upbringing. Singapore as a nation has recently celebrated 50 years as a nation and those who have roots in this nation carry a national identity based on the attributes and qualities it has provided its people. As an American, I am privileged in having a part of what is taking place in Singapore. My wife and I have adapted well to its culture and people. We are honoured to be here.
Still, we are American by birth and we are touched and grieved for what is happening to our once great nation as it slides down the slippery slope of lawlessness. A Singaporean may lament what is happening in America (many do) but they could not feel the sense of pain of one who grew up in its culture. The brethren in America and the brethren in Singapore are all part of the one body of Christ yet there are some differences by way of tribe or culture. I am writing all of the above to try and make the point that the gates of the new city have meaning. I am also seeking to make the point that Israel was one nation, yet had different tribes and it mattered which tribe one belonged too. One tribe was no better than another, although the original 12 sons of Jacob did have differing qualities. The church today is one body that consists of people from many different cultures. Remember, this whole matter came up just before the possessing of their inheritance. It was a needed matter to clear up because it went a long way in eliminating any potential problem in future.
Mark 9 – Read day 59 commentary