Sunday, January 17, 2010

Numbers 26-29: A New Generation

I'm kind of behind in my blogging so I'll try to lump several chapters together.

When we get to chapter 26, the forty years of wandering have now passed (I guess it's assumed that the last few chapters took place during those 40 years).  So it starts out with a census of the new generation.  The population of the Hebrews has grown by just about 1000, which is not very much.  Upon closer inspection of the numbers, we find that some tribes have actually decreased considerably in size, while others have grown considerably.  Check out this before and after:

Tribe------------Before -------------After

Now, these numbers represent every male of fighting age - that is, 20 or older - not every person in each tribe.  The Levites didn't fight and didn't have an inheritance in the promised land (a section of land allotted to them), so they weren't numbered in with the rest, but in this passage we find out that there are 23,000 males a month old and older.  So they must be a much smaller tribe all around.

I think it's interesting that so many of the tribes shrunk in number.  I wonder if it's that they just had a lot of old people and not a lot of kids, or that they had more girls than boys, or that a lot of them died in the plagues and things.  This is supposed to be the new generation, though, so most of these people were either kids or not born yet when their parents were dying of plagues and things.  But I guess a lot of people died in plagues who would have still had children, and by that means the number of births dropped.

Anyway, a cool thing happens in chapter 27.  This guy named Zelophehad (hereafter Z) has died, although he wasn't one of Korah's rebels from chapter 16, and he has no sons - only five daughters, all of whom are unmarried at this point.  They ask Moses to give them their father's inheritance (land in the promised land) to keep in his name.  I am going to assume this was unheard of in these days.  Even in modern times, land usually passed to the next direct male rather than the next direct person.  That's the initial conflict in Pride and Prejudice, which takes place around 1810 - the Bennetts' estate Longbourn is entailed by default on heirs male, so their five daughters are going to get nothing when Mr. Bennett dies.  Not every estate was handled this way (Miss Anne de Bourgh, only child of Sir Lewis and Lady Catherine, inherits all of Rosings Park), but it was common.  But God tells Moses, when he asks him, that Z's daughters are right in saying they should have an inheritance, and makes a law that any man who dies with no male heir should give his property to his daughters, and if there are no children it goes to his brother and so forth.  It's still primarily keeping the land to the male heirs, but I think it's really progressive and decent not to take a guy's land away from his family just because he doesn't have a son.

Then we find out that Joshua, Moses' assistant, is going to be the next Moses, and there's a ceremony for the transfer of power - kind of like what they did with Aaron and Eleazar, only in the sight of the whole congregation.  I wonder why they didn't go up on a mountain.  Maybe because Aaron went up the mountain to die and Moses wasn't going to die yet, or maybe because the people needed to see God put His stamp of approval on Joshua so they'd listen to him better than they listened to Moses.  I don't know.

The next two chapters are laws again.  In chapter 28, it sure sounds like there are a lot of sacrifices.  It sounds like they had to sacrifice two male lambs every day as a burnt offering - a continual offering.  Then every Sabbath there was an additional sacrifice of two lambs, and another burnt offering at the first of each month, and then the Passover lamb, and the sacrifices during the Feast of Weeks, and of course each of those had a drink offering and grain offerings to go along with the burnt offering.  Additionally, there was a seven-day holiday during the seventh month, in which there were sacrifices to be offered every day, grain offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings and so forth.  That's a lot of stuff!  I suppose God had to bless them just so they'd have enough sheep to sacrifice every day.  I suppose the reason for all this was, again, to point out the people's constant need for God.  I think the idea behind the continual burnt offerings was to tell people that  they were never in a state of perfect harmony with God - there was always a barrier between them and Him, and they always needed something to go between them and God.  We're not just separated from God by our sinful actions; we're separated from God by our nature, because He is holy and we are not.  God is not one of us, even though we are made in His likeness.  I suppose in order to remove the need for those offerings - in order for man and God to have a direct relationship with nothing in the way, God would have to become one of us.  But now I'm getting ahead of myself.

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