The epilogue to Exodus-Numbers began with Num 24:25. This long epilogue is fitting for such a long narrative. And it tells for us the story of the second generation in the wilderness. We seen the holy jealousy of Phinehas, son of Eleazar the priest, for the true God of Israel. And now we are going to see that he is representative of the whole generation.
First we have a new census and it should be noted that instead of YHWH speaking to Moses and Aaron He is now speaking to Moses and Eleazar (Aaron’s son) the priest (Num 26:1). This census is again for those 20 years old and up who are able to go to war (i.e. again it will not include Levi) (Num 26:2). The order of the census by tribe was Reuben, Simeon, Gad, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh, Ephraim, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. This is the same order of the census in Numbers 1 where Gad was promoted to prepare for the placement of the tribes around the tabernacle, except for the order of Manasseh and Ephraim. I now instinctively look at the order and try to discover why.
Within the census data there is some commentary. First, after numbering Reuben there are comments made about Dathan and Abiram and their children who rebelled with Korah and were swallowed by the earth together with Korah (but apparently not Korah’s children (Num 26:9-11). So this commentary looks backwards. There is a second comment made regarding Judah’s sons Er and Onan (Num 26:19, cf. Gen 46:12, 38:7, 10). Third, the census tells us about Zelophehad who had no sons but did have daughters and the text even gives us the names of these daughters, which is very unusual (Num 26:32, only cf. Num 26:46). So the reversal of Ephraim and Manasseh highlights this comment and prepares us to look forward for the following events.
It is worth looking at the numbers in Numbers 26. The format of these refections is to note the number in this chapter compared to (::) the number in the census in chapter 1. Reuben (43,730 :: 46,500), Simeon (22,200 :: 59,300), Gad (40,500, :: 45,650), Judah (76,500 :: 74,600), Issachar (64,300 :: 54,400), Zebulun (60,500 :: 57,400), Manasseh (52,700 :: 32,200) Ephraim (32,500 :: 40,500), Benjamin (45,600 :: 35,400), Dan (64,400 :: 62,700), Asher (53,400 :: 41,500), Naphtali (45,400 :: 53,400). And the total is 601,730 compared to 603,550. The total shows us that the nation has almost recovered in size despite the death of most of the previous generation.
Looking at the numbers reveals a quite surprising pattern (though I guess I should no longer be surprised by things like this, perhaps I am surprised because I notice these things without a commentary showing me). South of the tabernacle: Reuben, Simeon, and Gad are all smaller. The coveted dwelling place east of the tabernacle: Judah, Issachar and Zebulun are all larger. West of the tabernacle: Manasseh is larger, Ephraim is smaller, and Benjamin is larger. And to the north: Dan and Asher are larger and Naphtali is smaller. Judah is still the largest (still even exceeding Ephraim plus Manasseh). By now you too can draw some conclusions from these observations. Moreover, the size of their inheritance is related to the number in this census (Num 26:53-54).
After this there is a new list of the Levites by clan. It notes many of the same things noted earlier in Numbers like the death of Nadab and Abihu (Num 3:4, 26:61, cf. Lev 10:1) and the fact that they were not listed in the census because they have no inheritance (Num 18:20, 23, 24, 26:62). The text also mentions Miriam (Num 26:59). The total male Levites one month old and up was 23,000 (Num 26:62) compared to 22,000 (Num 3:39).
By way of inclusio, the passage ends mentioning Moses and Eleazar the priest and the setting of the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho. And mentioning the previous census the author makes it clear that only Caleb and Joshua were counted in both — everyone else from the earlier census died in the wilderness (Num 26:64-65).
As mentioned before, we were prepared by the order of the census for the story of the daughters of Zelophehad that follows. We see their faith in approaching Eleazar the priest for their father’s portion of the inheritance. Appropriately given the other major commentary in the census, they note that their father did not die in the company of Korah but “for his own sin” (Num 27:3). We see them concerned for the name of their father (Num 27:4). And YHWH set down a statute and a rule for the people of Israel that their father’s inheritance would go to his daughters and also setting forward the inheritance principles when there is no children at all.
Next we pick back up where we left off with the death of Aaron. YHWH tells Moses to go up into Abarim mountain and see the Promised Land and when he sees it “you shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes” (Num 27:13-14). So that there is no confusion it is added: “These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin” (Num 27:14). And Moses asks for God to appoint a man to lead Israel so that they “may not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Num 27:17). And YHWH appointed Joshua “in whom is the Spirit” and Moses ordained him (Num 27:18-23). Moses’ death then is on hold so that Joshua can be established as having some of Moses’ authority before Moses dies.
Next Moses describes daily offerings (Num 28:1-8), weekly offerings on the Sabbath (Num 28:9-10), monthly offerings to begin each month (Num 28:11-15), and yearly offerings for Passover and the feast of unleavened bread (Num 28:16-25), for the Feast of Weeks (Num 28:26-31), for the Festival of Trumpets (Num 29:1-6), the Day of Atonement (Num 29:7-11), the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles (Num 29:12-38). This is a religious calendar following the same pattern as the one in Lev 23. The following chapter deals with vows (Num 30:1-16).
The epilogue continues the story of the death of Moses with “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people” (Num 31:2). With Phinehas, twelve thousand, a thousand from each tribe, went to war against the Midianites in Moab and also killed Balaam the son of Beor. Ultimately only the women who had never had sex were spared (Num 31:16-18, 31:35). There were no casualties among the men of Israel who went to war (Num 31:49). The passage lays out clearly what spoil went to YHWH’s treasury and the Levites and what went to the warriors and the congregation.
Next we see the tribes of Reuben and Gad request to take possession of the land they were in rather than going across the Jordan. Moses was not pleased and recited the story about the spies. But Reuben and Gad promised to fight to secure the inheritance beyond the Jordan for the other tribes if they could possess the land of Gilead and Jazer. And Moses agreed. Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh received the kingdoms of Sihon and Og and built cities to protect their young and livestock while they went to war for the other tribes.
Num 33:1-49 recounts the journey of Israel from Egypt to the plains of Moab. Then Moses told the people to destroy the idols and high places in Canaan and that they would inherit the land by lots according to their size. And he warns, “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you [YHWH says] as I thought to do to them” (Num 33:55-56). Then YHWH told them the borders of the land (Num 34:1-15).
One chief from each tribe was to divide the inheritance in addition to Joshua and Eleazar the priest. The order of the tribes listed is Judah, Simeon, Benjamin, Dan, Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali. Glancing at a map suggests that these are roughly in order from south to north where the tribes will be in the Promised Land. Simeon’s borders are within Judah. Reuben and Gad have already received their whole inheritance and Num 35:1-8 provides for Levitical cities (including cities of refuge (three in the land where Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh have inherited) Num 35:9-34 and further explaining their purpose and the death penalty for murder. These cities of refuge protected those who unintentionally killed another Israelite from the normal ANE custom of the avenger of blood. This is an appropriate discussion to have here since blood defiles and pollutes the land (Num 35:33-34).
In the final chapter, in order to preserve the before-mentioned inheritances Moses agreed with the people of Manasseh that the daughters of Zelophehad had to marry within the tribe so that the land would remain Manasseh’s inheritance. And the chapter ends with a summary statement: “These are the commandments and the rules that YHWH commanded through Moses to the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at [opposite] Jericho” (Num 36:13).
This epilogue may be a chiasm. It begins and ends talking about situations with marriage (the former being negative intermarriage with unbelievers and the latter positive intermarriage in the tribe of Manasseh). The census appears next and the second-to-last issue is the discussion of inheritances (both including lists of the tribes). After the census we see the faith of Zelophehad’s daughters asking for their land rights and before the inheritance discussion we see Reuben and Gad asking for land. After Zelophehad’s daughters and before Reuben and Gad’s request are sections that prophesy the coming death of Moses. And at the center are the regulations of the religious calendar and vows. While our discussion of the latter has been sparse, vows are an important issue in both Leviticus and Numbers.