Numbers, Chapter 35 and 36. We reached the end of our series on the Book of numbers. We’ve been taking, as it were, a 10,000 foot view over the whole book. This morning we are going to cover the issue of murder and inheritance, as well as connecting all the dots of the whole book as it relates to the person work of Jesus. So if you’re visiting, buckle up. To begin, if you would please join me in prayer for the reading of God’s Word. Lord our God, our souls cling to dust, but you give us life according to your word. We ask that you would teach us your statutes, that you would make us understand the way of your precepts, that we will meditate on your wondrous works. Lord, our souls melt away for sorrow. We ask that you would strengthen us according to your word. Put false ways far from us and graciously teach us your law. And this we pray through our redeemer, Jesus. Amen. Beginning in Chapter 35, just the first few verses, the Lord spoke to Moses in the Plains of Moab by the Jordan at Gerico saying, Command the people of Israel to give to the Leviates some of the inheritance of their possession as cities for them to dwell in.
And you shall give to the Leviates past your lands around the cities. The cities that you give to the Leviants shall be the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the man slayer to flee. And in addition to them, you shall give 42 cities. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, speak to the people of Israel and say to them, when you cross the Jordan into the land of Canine, then you will select cities to be cities of refuge for you. Let the man slayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. The city shall be for you a refuge from the Avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. The word of the Lord, you please be seated. We are a pilgrim people. We are a people en route. From the fall of Adam and Eve, humanity has been displaced. Since the fall, God has also been at work to bring His people back, as it were, to the garden. In Genesis 3 15, even as the Lord brings punishment upon the first rebellion, we see that He brings good news of hope, good news of a rescue.
To the serpent, He declares, I will put MMT or hatred between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. He shall crush your head and you shall bruise his heel. A seed, an offspring of hope is given that will grow through human history until it comes to fruition in Jesus. He is the one who crushes the head of the great serpent once and for all. From this promise, moving forward, at least in Genesis, we certainly see a promise promise of offspring given to Abraham. Abraham, a man who becomes a family to a tribe and then to a nation. And this man, Abraham, the Lord called to wander with a promise. And Paul expressly tells us in Galatians 3 16, that the promise offspring is Jesus. The history of God’s people is ultimately the history of God’s rescue plan in his son. And the history we find here in the Book of numbers, the rescue of Israel from slavery in Egypt, it fits into this greater plan of the rescue of all of God’s people from the slavery of sin and death. After wandering 40 years in the wilderness because of their unbelief and their mistrust in the Lord, Israel is about to enter into the promised land.
But a new challenge comes at the same time. The previous tenets are being evicted by the Lord for over 400 years of reprieensible behavior. Things like child sacrifice, perversity of all kinds, injustice, all which culminates in their worshiping lifeless idol. There’s no joy or Thanksgiving in the living God. And the question then comes, how is Israel to keep the land from being defileded like the previous tenets? Because the Lord is a holy God, His people are to be filled with holiness and to live out justice. But their track record has not been very good. God dwelling among them in their midst, and they have not been very good neighbors. One writer put it like this. He said, To combine divine holiness and human sin in this way is like putting a huge, fiery oven in the middle of a firework factory. You’re going to need more than a danger no smoking sign. What we’ve seen so far is that the Levi’s have been a part of the safety team to ensure that fire and gunpowder don’t come together. What we see here then is an interplay throughout the Bible of this tension between God’s holiness and human sinfulness.
How is God going to dwell with his people? This tension does not get resolved until the incarnation. But we see here as they’re entering into the land, this importance of keeping the land pure. And so we see in verse 1, Moses speaks to Moses in the plains of the Jordan. They’re only from the river to Gerica, it’s about 5 or 6 miles. They’re almost there. But He’s giving them rules and statues for when they do go in to keep the land from being undefileded. Command the people of Israel to give to the Leviites some of the inheritance of their possession as cities for them to dwell in. You shall give the Leviites pasture lands around the cities. You recall the tribe of Levi had no specific inheritance like the rest of the tribes. They were to be scattered throughout Israel. Only a small number of them were priests. The rest helped with the administration and the understanding of the laws of Moses. Verse 6, we see the cities that you give to the Leviates. When it refers to cities at this time, they’re usually a walled city fortified in some way, and they’re really small.
We think of big cities. These only really covered a few acres. Everything was very small scale. He said, The cities you give the Leites shall be the six cities of refuge where you shall permit the manslayer to flee. Verse 9, When you cross the Jordan, then you shall select the cities to be the cities of refuge that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. The city shall be for you a refuge from the Avenger, but the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. These cities of refuge were a part of God’s greater design to keep Israel a just and a holy society. These cities had a legal status. They were a part, then, of the Leviite safety team. Why? Because the Holy God was dwelling in their midst. Now, much of this can sound so strange to us today. We live in highly regulated societies. But remember, besides the priesthood, there’s really no central form of government at all at this time. Elders of tribes would meet to discuss problems as they arose. There were no city halls. There were no jails. There was no sheriff.
No 911 to call in emergencies. Someone murders another person, what do you do? Who’s responsible to see that justice is done. Well, it was a member of the victim’s family. He was the Avenger of Blood. Hebrew, that word is goel. He’s the Avenger of Blood. Well, why? Verse 33, You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I, the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel. That question comes back, Well, how does murder pollute the land? Genesis 9 gives us the rationale for the sanctity of life as well as the punishment for murder. Noah comes out of the ark and they are now starting a fresh and a new. And there the Lord says, Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man, his blood will be shed. For God made man in his own image. Now, God does not directly affect or punish the murder himself.
He does it through human agency. By man, his blood shall be shed. It’s setting up the justice of society. The Avenger then is needed for this case. To murder a human being is ultimately seen as an assault upon God in whose image the person was made. Our dignity, our value comes from our creator. In Genesis 4, you recall, Cain murders his brother Abel. And the Lord says to Cain at that time, What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. The blood of murder defiles the land. Jewish scholar, Jacob Milgrom, he says, By declaring himself to be man’s kinsman, God automatically becomes man’s blood redeemer. We’re made in God’s image, he is our kinsman. He becomes our blood redeemer. What we see then in Chapter 35 as well is that there is to be no unjust retaliation. The point of the cities of refuge is that someone who’s killed someone else can flee to one of these cities and they’re not too far away. They’re easy traveling distance. This person then essentially becomes the defendant, the Avenger of the family. He represents the deceased. Then the community is then organizing itself for a trial.
Once the inquiry is made, there’s to be no rash judgment. The Lord is giving guidelines to distinguish between murder and accidental death. We refer to that as manslaughter here. Verses 16 to 25 lay out how the trial is to take place. There has to be at least two witnesses, and intent has to be determined. Murder was a capital crime to show the seriousness of the crime. Innocent blood pollutes and defiles the land. Murder is a grave injustice that needs reckoned. In verse 21, if it’s determined that he’s a murderer, says the Avenger of Blood shall put the murder to death when he meets him. But if it’s determined an accidental death, verse 28, the man must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest, the manslayer may return to the land of his possession. Again, this seems strange to us. Well, why couldn’t he just go home if it was an accident? Even an accidental death is filled with solemnity. Somebody was killed. Atonement needs to take place for the death that occurred. And what we see is that it seems the high priest death is that atonement that takes place.
Someone’s death will atone for this. And it’s the high priest death until the new one comes. When he dies, this takes place. Gordon Winam, Old Testament scholar, he said, The man who took life as it were by chance, must await the chance of the high priest death before being released from the city of refuge. And we see then here that’s something quite unique in the ancient world as well. Israel was unique in that a murderer could not redeem himself through payment. Verse 31, Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death. That’s also for accidental death. You can’t buy your way out for either murder or manslaughter. As one writer said, The point is that one may never place a monetary value on human life. The wealthy could not buy themselves out of murder. All of life is precious and given an entity by God. Life is not a commodity, it is a divine gift. That is something as humans that we must really push against because we are constantly putting a dollar value to life. We treat life as a commodity, but it is a gift, a precious gift from the Lord.
And Israel was to safeguard justice and to prevent corruption in her midst because they were a people who bore the name of the living God. Society can pay a high price to recognize this great gift. Getting justice right, it’s not easy. Shortcuts are not to be taken. Remember, ultimately, no one is going to get away with anything before the Lord. One day we will all stand before the Lord and He will judge us fairly. How these principles, though, of the ancient Israel are translated into modern Jewish prudence, it’s an issue of a great care and thoughtfulness that needs to be undertaken. Life is a gift. And along with this, we see the land itself was a gift and inheritance for his people. The preciousness of life was to be transmitted to the preciousness of the land because a holy God had given it. And these last chapters and numbers, it brings the book to a close of the series of laws and instructions that assume the conquest is at hand. It gives Israel a sense of expectation and in evi dability of the conquering. Then in Chapter 36, we see that another problem arises about Israel’s inheritance, about being transferred to another tribe.
You may recall the year of Jubilee was when all the deaths are canceled and everything goes back to its original owners. Then what happens with the problem that came out of Chapter 27, the man had only daughters, and there it was determined, well, if he has only daughters, they can inherit. Thinking about this a little further, these men from that tribe, they come to Moses in Chapter 36 Verse 2, and they said, The Lord commanded my Lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the people of Israel. My Lord is commanded to give the inheritance of this man, Zaloffa had, our brother to his daughters. Okay, we already dealt with that. But, verse 3, if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers. Verse 4, then he’s saying, at the year of Jubilee in which all the deaths are released, and it goes back to the original inheritance, we will lose out our inheritance. And Moses solves the problem quite easily. They are to marry only within the clan. And the reason this is so important because this is a gift.
This is God’s gift to his people, to these tribes. And they’re like, we want that gift. We don’t want to see it given out or dispersed. This is from God himself. And so then the final chapters come to an end by pointing us to a new beginning, the certain hope that God will fulfill his promises. A new generation of Israel has arisen. Yes, they’ve been marked by some of the same sin and unbelief as the former ones, but not on the same scale as their parents. A new spirit is about them. Lessons have been learned along the way, mostly. The books of Joshua and Judges give us the immediate results of the new beginning, and it’s mixed. Israel was never able to completely drive out the Caneanites. Just as Moses had warned them, they become a temptation for Israel. A fter the generation of Joshua and the faithful elders around him, Israel slowly starts to become like the Caneanites. They sink into idolatry and into injustice. The land is polluted once more. Cycles of sin and despair, it grips the people of God. Ancient Israel as a nation was never the solution. Whether with judges or kings ruling them, they never never made it.
It’s so much strange to me that how many modern evangelicals have tied so much to the modern nation of Israel. As a modern nation, they are now made up of largely agnostics and atheists on one side and pharistate fundamentalists on the other. What role they have in the end, I don’t know. But what I do know is that our only hope in life and in death is that we are not our own, but belong body and soul in both life and death to our faithful savior, Jesus Christ. He is the true Israel of God. In every way that Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. And we are given this incredible history of God working through multiple generations, taking us from Genesis 3 15 to to the cross. And all of this is build up to show us not only of our ineptitude, but our complete need of God to bring the solution. That word in Hebrew for Avenger, mentioned as Goel, but that word means more than Avenger. The Avenger is the redeemer of blood. You see that word in a wonderful story that we all love, the story of Ruth and Boaz. We find out in that story that Boaz is Ruth’s kinsman redeemer.
Boaz redeems Ruth, and he restores the name of her late husband’s family. The same Hebrew word goel, it encompasses Avenger, it encompasses redeemer, the Avenger of man’s blood redeemer. It said before, by declaring himself to be man’s kinsman, God automatically becomes man’s blood redeemer. The importance of sacrifice, the importance of blood, the importance of a tongue moment. Jesus brings together God as a venture and God as redeemer. He redeems through his own blood. He takes what is defiled and he purifies it through his death, through his sacrifice. That’s the good news of the gospel that numbers is pointing us towards. I’ve quoted from Hebrews extensively in this series because the author there makes this connection of Israel in the priesthood to Jesus very clear. Jesus is the greater Moses, the greater Joshua, the greater David, the greater high priest. Hebrews 7, For it was indeed fitting that we should have such high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heaven. Chapter 8, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than as the old covenant because it mediates better promises. Chapter 9, if the blood of goats and bulls could temporarily purify, how much more will the blood of Christ Jesus, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciousness from dead works to serve the living God?
Those were shadows of the reality that Jesus is the fullness of. We hear these familiar words from Job, for I know that my redeemer lives. I know that my goel lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth. The good news of the gospel is that he stood upon on the earth. It’s Jesus. Our wandering will come to an end in Jesus. He is the one who is taking us to our sabbath rest. He is the one who is purifying our souls, restoring our bodies. He is the one who said to the weary and heavy laden, I will give you rest. And that is good news because Jesus is also the one who told us, if you hate your brother or are angry with him, you’re guilty of murder. Murder comes from an angry and hateful heart. I think the vast majority of us here have probably escaped the actual physical act of murder. But who could claim their hearts not defiled with anger and hatred towards those made in the image and likeness of God. As we read through the Old Testament laws, don’t make the mistake of putting the low barrier down as if that’s the only law.
The laws are both low and high. There’s a low bar and there’s a high ceiling. You see, don’t commit murder is the bottom. But there’s a positive side of that. You shall love your neighbor as your self. That’s up here. They’re like, Well, I haven’t murdered anybody. I’m doing great. No, it’s more than that. You’re made in God’s image, your likeness. You’re to promote the blessing and the goodwill of somebody else. That’s the high calling of being made in God’s image, not the low bar. That’s what God has called us to in his son. And it’s only in his son that we can be set free to have that a heart, to be forgiven of our sins. We read in 1 John 1,9, if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin. That word just is a little bit striking, isn’t it? It’s like, why not say merciful? He’s faithful and merciful to forgive our sin. I’m sure like you, there’s probably moments where you’ve struggled with a particular sin over and over and over again, and you’re like, how can God just keep forgiving me for this? Will his mercy run out?
If he’s faithful and just because it has been paid. The blood of Jesus has paid the debt. He’s interceding for us at the right-hand of the Father as we come and confess our sins, he’s like, Father, I’ve covered that. Okay, it’s covered. However, how many times we’re coming back to it, it’s covered. Because the only one who could purify the land, as it were, is Jesus. He’s the only one that can transform our hearts towards not just the low bar. We live in a society in a time where we see it everywhere, so much anger, so much hatred, so much violence fomenting around us. And we then are called as God’s people to enter into the midst of that as peacemakers, not stirring up the pot, not adding to the entity and the anger and the hatred. Why? Because we represent Jesus. He has cleansed us from our sins. We have been forgiven. His righteousness has been given to us. And that counts for something. So then as we go into the world around us, there is a solution to this problem that Israel never got past, that humanity has never gotten past. It’s in the person and work of our Savior that we can be released from retaliation when somebody wrongs us, that we can be released to forgive and to set them free.
Why? Because we’ve been set free. For forgiveness isn’t just forgetting giving up the cost, it’s having it paid for. When someone is forgiven, that debt has been paid for, not just ignored. Our go our redeemer has purchased that with his own blood. That is the hope of the world, brothers and sisters, that we have to carry not just into our life here in the community, but beyond into the world. That is the only hope. That we are not putting our vision here on the horizon in front of us. How can we just get through this a little bit? We are a pilgrim people. We are looking somewhere beyond. We’re trying to take as many people along the way that God is pleased to use us to do so. That our hearts would be transformed and filled with the love for one another and the love even for our enemies. How do you love your enemies? Because the spirit of the living God dwells in you. And He has forgiven you who were once his enemy through his son, Jesus. Pray with me. Father, we are so grateful that you have redeemed us, that you’ve forgiven us.
And Lord, we pray and ask that the spirit of Christ in us would just be a radiation. Father, a radiation light of the gospel, the good news of Jesus that others would see. Lord, that you would bring glory to your risen son through our lives. We pray, Lord God, that you would continue to bring forth the richness and the reward of the gospel into this time and this place, the Flathead Valley beyond, Browning to, Lord, the four corners of the earth. May you be pleased to use us to that end. Lord, we give you all thanks, praise, glory and honor for all that you have done through our great redeemer, Jesus, in whose name we now pray, Amen. You please stand together. We continue in worship.
Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription