Introduction: Welcome to Expound our weekly worship and verse by verse study of the Bible. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God as we explore the Word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
Skip Heitzig: Numbers, book of Numbers, chapter 35 tonight and 36. Thirty-six is short, so it shouldn't be too daunting of a task, even for me, to finish. So we'll see how we do as we finish it out. Let's pray.
Father, we have said that the theme is that you want our lives to count, and you count men and you count names, tribes, leaders. You want our lives to count for something. We thank you, Lord, that you move supernaturally in a very normal and natural manner as the day goes on, and as the days become our week, and the week becomes a month, and time wears on. In the midst of that process you are working behind the scenes so often, so often we don't even realize that it's you. But then we look back and we see how you have woven lives together and circumstances, Lord, all by your divine purpose. Thank you, Father, for the lessons we have learned and lessons we will learn tonight as we conclude this book, in Jesus' name, amen.
I was perusing these chapters the last couple of days, and especially today, and a song kept bouncing around in my head. It has nothing to do at all with the chapter, but it was a song and I'll explain why it was in my head, a song that I didn't even know about until a few years ago. But it was written and then sung by Ricky Nelson in 1959, a song called "Lonesome Town." And I was thinking about the Levites' towns, the towns of refuge, the cities of refuge where people went for certain circumstances. And some of them would be confined to that town for a lifetime, some of them. And so I was thinking about that Ricky Nelson song and it's, "There's a place where lovers go to cry their troubles away, and they call it Lonesome Town, where the broken hearts stay."
And I thought, "If I could rewrite that song for 1450 BC in the wilderness, I would call it "Levites' Town," or "Refuge Town": "There's a place where Levites go to keep avengers away, and they call it Refuge Town." And we're going to look at that refuge town or cities of refuge tonight. There were 48 cities that were given to the tribe of Levi for them to live in. They had no tribal land allotment whatsoever, but they were given cities, 48 of them total throughout Israel, and six of these were called "cities of refuge." They were legal asylums in case somebody committed a certain kind of crime: involuntary manslaughter. And that's how this book of Numbers comes to a close in chapter 35 with this. And I find it an interesting chapter. I hope you will as well.
But let me set the stage as to why the tribe of Levi finds itself in this predicament where they have no tribal allotment, no land allotment, but only to live in cities scattered throughout Israel. I have to take you back to Genesis, chapter 34. You don't need to turn there, let me just tell you the story of that chapter. Jacob and his 12 sons are in the center of the country in a city called Shechem. And the head of that town, his son is also named Shechem. He takes the sister of these 12 sons, the daughter of Jacob, her name is Dinah, and Shechem essentially rapes her. So two brothers Simeon and Levi decide not only should Shechem die, but all of the men in town should be killed. It was a sheer example of overkill, I mean literally, killing every male. So they went on a killing spree embarrassing Jacob and causing the people of Israel to have a---be a stench in the nostrils of the locals.
So years later when Jacob is on his deathbed, and he's 147 years old, and this old coot can still remember his kids' names, and the incidents of their past lives, and even predict their future by the help of the Spirit of God. He comes to Simeon and Levi these two sons and he said, "Simeon and Levi are brothers [companions]; instruments of cruelty are in their abode." And then he said, "Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel!" And then he predicts their future by saying, "They will be scattered in Jacob and scattered throughout Israel."
So now we come to where we see the children of Levi not given any land apportionment, any land allotment, but rather they will be scattered throughout all of the 12 tribes north and south in different cities called Levitical cities. However, though that sounds like they're getting the raw end of the deal, they're getting to be accursed, at the same time it turns out the be a blessing, because (a) they get the priesthood and the Lord is their inheritance; and (b) being scattered throughout all of Israel would mean that all of the tribes have access to one of the sons of Levi, to the tribe, the priestly tribe. If they needed instruction, if they needed counsel, if they needed to know what the Bible says about this or that, it was like having a local church, because you have this Levitical town within ten miles of everywhere in the nation with these 48 cities scattered everywhere.
So that's where we find ourselves in chapter 35. The tribe of Levi made a comeback after the golden calf and God was cursing the nation. And Moses said, "Whoever is on the Lord's side come over and stand with me." And the tribe of Levi was the first to come over and stand. So God gives to them the priesthood. And now God scatters them throughout the land as Jacob predicted, but it will turn out to be a blessing for the entire nation. God will turn the curse of Jacob really into a blessing. So in chapter 35, verse 1, "And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho saying, 'Command the children of Israel that they give the Levites cities to dwell in from the inheritance of their possession, and you shall also give the Levites common-land around the cities. They shall have the cities to dwell in; and their common-land shall be for their cattle, for their herds, and for all their animals.' "
Forty-eight cities, 12 tribes, but they won't be taken evenly from all the tribes. The larger tribes will get more cities; the smaller tribes will get fewer cities. But, again, no land allotment, no land apportionment with borders like the rest of the tribes, but only cities within the 12 tribes. Out of the 48 cities there's a division: 42 are just cities that they live in; six of those 48 cities are called cities of refuge: three on the western side of the Jordan River, three on the eastern side. And they're smattered throughout the land. In the north is one, in the middle is another one, down south is another one. So, on the western side, the town of Kadesh, which is up in the Hula Valley today. Just up in the mountains west of the Hula Valley is that ancient town, that city of refuge. In the middle of the country on the western side of the Jordan River the city of Shechem was the second one. And down south in the mountains of Judea was Hebron. Those are the three that were on the western side.
Now, they're not mentioned here. They will be mentioned in the book of Joshua, chapter 21. On the eastern side of the Jordan River three more cities of refuge: the city of Golan up in the north, the city of Jabesh Gilead in the middle, and the city of Bezar or Betser down in the Judean wilderness, but on the Transjordan side. Those are the 6 cities of refuge. Now, look at verse 4, "'The common-land of the cities which you will give the Levites shall extend from the wall,' " that is, the wall of the city, " 'outward a thousand cubits,' " that's five hundred yards. " 'And you shall measure the city on the east side two thousand cubits, on the south two thousand cubits,' "or a thousand yards, "'on the west side two thousand cubits, on the north two thousand cubits. The city shall be in the middle, and shall belong to them as common-lands for the cities.' "
Now, you can just tell by reading these verses that the cities don't sound like modern-day cities. They sound like little camps, little outposts. They were quite small as the archaeology of that area in that time shows many of these towns were small outposts. Fortified, yes, but rather small. In fact, if you were to take all 48 Levitical cities, they total up to be about 15 square miles all of them together. That is about one-tenth of 1 percent of the entire land allotment for the children of Israel, very small portion scattered throughout the 12 tribes. "'Now,' " verse 6, " 'among the cities which you will to the Levites you shall appoint six cities of refuge, to which a manslayer,' " somebody who kills someone, " 'may flee. And to these you shall add forty-two cities. So all the cities that you will give to the Levites shall be forty-eight; these you shall give with their common-land. And the cities which you will give shall be from the possession of the children of Israel; from the larger tribe you shall give many, from the smaller you shall give few. Each shall give some of its cities to the Levites, in proportion to the inheritance that each receives.' "
So these were legal cities of asylum, hence the term "cities of refuge." If somebody kills somebody else, they would flee to that city for two reasons. Number one, in that city you would be able to have a fair trial, an impartial trial by impartial judges, the Levites. They're going to hear the case. Number two, when people come after that killer---I'm not going to say murderer because sometimes it would be unintentional, involuntary. An "avenger of blood"---that's the title that you will read in this chapter. When that person from that tribe or that person, other person was killed comes to take vengeance, having to go through the Levitical network is going to soften, perhaps, hopefully, that attitude of vengeance. It's going to assuage and retrain that vengeful impulse. And, once again, that person in that city of asylum or refuge wouldn't be given over to the avenger of blood unless he were guilty. If he's guilty then after the fair trial he'll be given to this executioner.
Now, it's a place where all of the inhabitants of the land could go, whether you were a native born Israeli or you were a visitor or if you were there illegally. If you were in the border, everyone, every person in that land would be traded, whether you were a citizen or a noncitizen. It's a safe place go, but look at it like a safe prison to go to. Because once you're there, once you're there and you're acquitted, you didn't do it, so they're not going to kill you, because blood has been shed, you have to live there. You have to stay there. And so because of the lack of police force, because of the lack of network like we have in a modern culture like ours, that's how they kept the avengers of blood from finding that person and killing them, just keep them safe in this city.
"Then the Lord spoke to Moses," verse 9, "saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: "When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall appoint cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person accidentally may flee there. They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment. And of the cities which you give, you shall have six cities of refuge." '" He wants to make sure they understand what he's saying, so he repeats himself a few times." '"You shall appoint three cities on this side of the Jordan, three cities you shall appoint in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge. These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, for the sojourner among them, and anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there." '"
Now, we have an interesting term. I don't know if it's actually the best translation, but it is our translation, "the avenger" it's called. Some of you may think of the movie The Avengers. A little while down it will say "the avenger of blood." But let me tell you what the Hebrew word is. It's a very important word. It's one you know. You've heard it before. It's the Hebrew term goél. It's a kinsman-redeemer. You remember the book of Ruth where Boaz plays the role of a kinsman-redeemer. It's somebody related by blood to a person. And a goél or a kinsmen-redeemer, I don't want you to think of this avenger of blood, this goél as part of a---he's not a hit man for the Mafia. I don't want you to think of, [impersonating Marlon Brando] "I'm the Godfather. I'm gonna send you over the---you know, I'm gonna rub him out" [laughter] you know, that kind of a deal, case him in cement and throw him in the river. The role of the goél, here translated "avenger of blood," was severalfold.
Number one, if you lost land because you were poor and you had to sell it, the goél could buy it back, redeem it back. If you were so poor that you had to sell yourself into slavery, it was the goél who would redeem you from slavery and give you your freedom. If somebody in the family, like a brother, usually a brother, died and left his wife without any offspring, anyone to carry on his name, it would be his responsibility to take that woman as his wife, to raise up offspring for his dead brother. And also now we see that this goél, here called "avenger of blood," became the personal executioner. If indeed the person who fled to the city of refuge was guilty of murder---it was premeditated, it was not unintentional, he wanted to do it, he aimed to do it, he had vengeance and hatred in his heart---now he's guilty of murder. The one who would perform the execution would be that relative, the goél, again here translated "the avenger of blood." So he would be brought before trial. It would be an impartial trial. It would be the Levites. They know the Scriptures. They know the law. They know the Lord. And then he would be handed over.
Verse 16 says, "'"But if he strikes him with an iron implement, so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. And if he strikes him with a stone in his hand, by which no one---by which one could die, and he does die, then he is a murderer; the murderer shall be surely be put to death. Or if he strikes him with the wooden hand weapon, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be surely put to death. The avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. If he pushes him out of hatred or, while lying in wait, hurls something at him so that he dies, or in enmity he strikes him with his hand so that he dies, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death. He is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him." ' "
I suppose that is why, this principle is why, even to this day when there is capital punishment, relatives are invited to take part in that gruesome setting, that there would be a family representative at the death, at the killing, at the execution itself. So in those days, people were personally involved in these things. There was a trial by law, it had to be fair, but once the court adjudicated that that was guilty, that person was guilty, then you as a relative would take personal responsibility in the execution. Now, I just want to make a remark because I read this article this morning. What we read here in these ancient Semitic practices, even a part of the biblical narrative, is something that is a part of the culture that still exists in the Middle East. To this day in Arab tribes if somebody is killed by another tribe, there is said to be "blood between them." And that blood that is between those tribes is not satiated, is not placated until somebody from the tribe that was injured where somebody died takes vengeance upon the family of the person who was the perpetrator.
In some cases they try to commute the sentence or the penalty by making a payment of something of value like camels or sheep or goats. But often times the family will say, "Nothing can replace the life of that loved one. You can't buy your way out of this one. There must be death. 'Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.' "That is the culture that we are dealing with. However, what we're reading here is a far cry from some of practices that are still ongoing today in some of the aforementioned parts of the world. For example, in many parts of the Middle East in Muslim communities there are things called "honor killings." And, by the way, they take place in this country, the good ole U.S. of A. in some of those communities and cultures here as well. The article that I'm speaking about that I read today in USA Today, something that happened yesterday in Pakistan: a 25-year-old pregnant Pakistani women was murdered to death by her family because she married the man that she loved rather than her cousin that she was told to marry by her father. They took her out in front of the courthouse, her family, including her own father, took clubs and bricks and beat her to death and she died yesterday. Her father went on record as saying, "I do not regret it. She has brought shame to our family because she married someone we did not approve of." That's very different than being judged for murder---not for marrying somebody, but for murder---by an impartial jury of Levites and found guilty of murder at any rate.
Verse 25, " ' "So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer," ' " that is, the one found guilty, " ' "from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled, and he shall remain there" ' "---I'm sorry, that's the one who's not guilty---" ' "until the death of a high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. But the manslayer---if the manslayer at any time goes outside the limits of the city of refuge where he fled, and the avenger of blood finds him outside the limits of the city of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood, because he should have remained in his 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." '"
So here's the skinny, here's the scoop: if you kill somebody---not suggesting you ever would---but if you did and you were in that culture, you would flee to that city of refuge. If you were found not guilty, now you were invited to live in that city. You have to stay there. It's a safe prison, but your life is guaranteed you. You live there as long as the high priest is still alive. If he dies, it says you are free to go. But as long as he's alive, you stay in that city and your life is guaranteed you. Now, if you say, "I'm tired of this city. I'm not going to take this. I'm going back home." Fine, but you're taking a risk. If the avenger of blood finds out that you have left that place of asylum, of sanctuary, and he kills you, he won't be guilty for murder. Because you were given a place of asylum, you rejected that place of asylum, and you went out on your own and the avenger of blood, if he gets you, will not be held responsible.
"'"Because he," ' " verse 28, "should have remained in his 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." '" What I find interesting is that the death of the high priest had some atoning value. And this just strikes me. Does it kind of strike a chord with you? While the high priest is alive, you're safe; once the high priest dies, you're set free. It's a beautiful picture, because Paul the apostle says Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest who offered himself. We are kept safe by his life. We are in Christ, the New Testament says, kept by him. We are set free by the death of our High Priest. It's a beautiful forepicture of Jesus Christ who would take that role upon himself.
"'"And these things shall be a statute," ' " verse 29, " ' "of judgment to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witness," ' " again, an impartial and a fair trial, " ' "but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty. Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest. So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. Therefore do not defile the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel." '"
This chapter underscores a basic truth, both Old and New Testament; that is, life is sacred to God. Life is not petty, life is sacred. If you take somebody's life, if you murder somebody, the reason it's such a violation is you are saying, "I disagree with God, that person's life is not sacred. God gave them the life, I'm going to take it away." It goes directly against the intention of God in creation who says that life is sacred. We are "made in the image of God," to take somebody's life violates that intention and basically says, "I disagree with God." There's a story of Napoleon Bonaparte who came up with a plan of attack that would cost the lives of a hundred thousand of his own men. One of his generals, his officers came to him to tell him this was not a good plan because a hundred thousand soldiers of his would die. And Napoleon laughed, scoffed, and said, "Ha! What are the lives of a hundred thousand men to me?" just "life is petty," "life isn't sacred."
And a society is in a bad sort when it starts looking at life as dispensable, whether it's life in the womb, still life; or life in old age and it's euthanasia---"Oh, they're so old. They're not contributing. Let's just let them die off quicker than normal." It goes against God's intention. So we have murder and we have a place of refuge and we have an executioner, which brings up in some people's mind a conundrum. In fact, to some people it's a contradiction. To me it's not at all, but to some it is. Here's God saying, "Life is sacred. You shall not murder," now he's commanding people to kill---sometimes in a war, sometimes in an execution---somebody who has killed. "What good is killing somebody who has killed somebody? It's just adding more murder." Well, I understand your thinking, but you have to understand that your thinking is contrary to God's thinking. God doesn't call what this is "murder," an execution, it's righteously administered judicial execution, very different than premeditated murder, righteously administered judicial execution. And it's given for the very same reason that God gave the sixth commandment, "You shall not murder," because life is sacred. And if a person violates that, they must pay a price for that. And so you'll notice, and I hope it resonates backwards to you with a text of Scripture that you know, where it says in verse 33 that "no atonement can be made for the land, for that blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of him who shed it."
There was a law given far before the laws of Moses were given, far before Moses was ever born, and far before the children of Israel ever existed as a nation. It's one of the basic laws of humanity that predates all of the other laws. It's found in Genesis 9. I'm going to read it to you. "The Lord says in verse 5 of chapter 9 of Genesis, "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, from the hand of a man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man." Now here's the law: "Whoever sheds man's bloods, by man his blood shall be shed." So what you are seeing in the cities of refuge and taking out the person who is a premeditated murderer by a righteously administered judicial execution is exactly what God has already said in Genesis 9 that predates the Law of Moses and predates the children of Israel. "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God he made man."
We take this law forward into the time of Moses and the laws of Moses in the Torah which we're dealing with in this study, and we discover there were 18 different crimes that God stipulated were reason enough for righteously administered judicial execution. Now, before we finish out the book of Numbers in chapter 36, because it's relatively short, I see three things about chapter 35 in summing it up that I want to share with you. First of all, chapter 35 is ironic; second, it's prophetic; and third, it's basic. Allow me to explain those. Chapter 35 is an ironic chapter. When I say "ironic," here's what I mean: it's ironic that the tribe that is administering being executed or not for murder is the tribe of Levi. Remember what I told you at the beginning of our study? It was the man Levi and his brother Simeon who murdered an entire city. And had God not been merciful, but had God been strictly just and played by the rules of chapter 35, there would be no tribe of Levi. They would have all be killed, Levi, Simeon, everybody. So, the fact that the Levites are the ones having the trial and saying, "This guy is acquitted," "This guy is guilty," would serve to remind them constantly of God's mercy toward them. "This is a city of refuge. Boy, God has been a refuge to us. He preserved us." It would cause them to do their job with grace and mercy. Now here's my point in saying that it's ironic: our church ought to be a city of refuge.
If anybody should be gracious and merciful and kind toward sinners, it should be us. And if we were legalistic toward them, that would be ironic. The church ought to be a place filled with forgiven people as well as forgiving people, cities of refuge. "Oh, man, I've blown it. I'm just so unworthy." Great! You're a part of us. Welcome to the crowd. Join the crowd. [applause] That's who we are. And if some of us have forgotten it, we need to get out a little bit more and get in touch with who we really are. So it's, number one, ironic.
Number two, this chapter is prophetic. It speaks of another One who will come, a kinsman-redeemer. Someone who can pay the price, who is willing to pay the price, related to us by blood, the man Christ Jesus, the God-man who could pay the price and redeem us back to God. The avenger who became our Redeemer, because, I mean, well, it brings me to the third thing about chapter 35 and I'll explain. I don't want to get off on a rabbit trail. It's ironic, it's prophetic, it's basic. We have set forth in chapter 35 the basic truth that life is sacred and, "You shall not murder," or there will be a circumstance. That's basic. When we get to the New Testament, this basic rule is moved up to a whole new level, moved up a whole different notch, to where Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, "Hey, you've heard that it was said in times of old, you shall not murder, but I say unto, if you hate your brother, you're a murderer. If you call him a fool, you're guilty of judgment." Suddenly, suddenly we're stopped dead in our tracks and we realize we're all murderers. And were there a microphone in our homes taping our secret conversations that we have with family members or at work or at the coffee shop with friends, if all of that were recorded, and hateful speech (the criterion which Jesus gave) is equivalent to murder, because it's murdering the person in the heart, then all of us are guilty and all of us have nothing to look forward to except vengeance from God, the wrath of God. The avenger is coming, but the avenger has become our Redeemer.
So, chapter 35 are those three things. Ironic, because it's the tribe of Levi doing it, and you got to understand their history to get it. It's prophetic because it speaks of Jesus Christ the kinsman-redeemer, the goél. He is our refuge. As long as we're in him we're saved---you're not in him, you're not saved. Number three, it's basic, and the New Testament doesn't slacken that, but actually bumps it up a level to where he says, "If you do it in your hard, you're guilty. So it brings all to a place of abject poverty before God. Hopefully, hopefully you don't go, "Oh, well, I'm better than all those people." You say, "O, man, I'm guilty," and you realize your bankrupt. And that's what Jesus said was the first step: "Blessed are the poor in spirit," poverty stricken in spirit. You realize you're broke before God. That's the first step that produces humility, that caused you to cry out to God and mourn and ask him for mercy, and he is there to do it. So that's chapter 35, and now we move into chapter 36 which is the short and final chapter of the book of Numbers.
"Now the chief fathers of the families of the children Gilead, son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the leaders, the chief fathers of the children of Israel. And they said: 'The Lord commanded my lord Moses to give the land as an inheritance by lot to the children of Israel, my Lord was commanded by the Lord to give inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters.' "Do you remember a couple chapters back, chapter 27, the daughters, five of them, of a man called Zelophehad who was from the tribe of Manasseh, they come to Moses one day. And these five feisty gals, I love them because they were right in what they said to Moses. And God says, "They're right, better listen to them." They said "Hey, Moe, we have a little problem here about the inheritance laws. We know that the inheritance passes from father to son. My dad, Zelophehad, he died. He didn't have any sons. He's just got us daughters. We also should have the right to inherit some of the land, not just the guys, not just the males, but otherwise the land is going to be lost. We should have a right of inheritance as well." Moses took it before the Lord. God says, "They're right." So Moses goes back and says, "Well, I talked to God about it and he says you're right." So it became a law. Let's call it the "Zelophehad Rule."
Now, the daughters of Zelophehad aren't coming to Moses, the heads of the tribes of Manasseh are coming to Moses. So this is sort of an addendum to chapter 27. If you're wondering, "Why does the book of Numbers close with this?" Well, for a very obvious and important reason. Number one, we're dealing with land allotments the last few chapters of the book is the theme, so this fits in. Number two, they're from the tribe of Manasseh. Half of that tribe will be on one part of the---one side of the Jordan River, the other half will be on the other side of the Jordan River. There's going to be a divide. There's not going to be a lot of communication. They're not going to be e-mailing and texting back and forth at 1450 BC, so there's going to be quite a gap. So, can you see the problem? Moses says to the girls, "You can inherit the land." But now the guys are going to basically say, "Okay, good ruling. However, let's just carry this through. What if one of these daughters marries somebody from another tribe? Now that land allotment officially---according to the laws that you have given so far, Moses---goes to his tribe. Now we have lost land in Manasseh." And can you see as this is extrapolated through time, that the tribal maps, you'd have patchwork quilts of different tribes owning different lands. Because there were daughters born to clansmen and not sons, and the rights of inheritance were given to the tribe they would marry into. That's the issue they're going to bring up. I'm sort of spilling the beans a little bit.
Verse 3, " 'Now if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers, and it will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so it will be taken from the lot of our inheritance. And when the Jubilee of the children of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.' "Land could be lost over time, because you had to pay off debts. The Year of Jubilee, which came every 50 years, stated that the land would revert back to its original owners. If the original owners would be a daughter married to somebody from another tribe, it belongs to his tribe. So the Year of Jubilee really isn't going to help in this situation. That's the quandary they are bringing up to Moses.
"Then Moses," verse 5, "commanded the children of Israel according to the word of the Lord, saying, 'What the tribe of the sons of Joseph speaks is right. This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, "Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within the family of their father's tribe." So the inheritance of the children of Israel shall not change hands from tribe to tribe, for every one of the children of Israel shall keep the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.' " "So you can marry whoever you want, but if you want the land to stay, if you want the land as you came to me and said, you five daughters, you gotta marry somebody in your own tribe." And it stays within the confines of that tribal allotment.
"'And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel shall be the wife of one of the family of her father's tribe, so the children of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. Thus no inheritance shall change hands from one tribe to another, but every tribe of the children of Israel shall keep its own inheritance.' Just as the Lord commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad," and then they're mentioned, "for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah"---these are chick's names [laughter]---"Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to the sons of their father's brothers." Three cheers for the daughters of Zelophehad. You know, we wouldn't even have heard of the name Zelophehad were it not for his daughters stepping up in chapter 7 going, "Uh, time-out here, dude. We should be able to get something out of this land deal as well." And now that land has to be fleshed out a little bit more so the tribal heads come. Verse 12, "They were married into the families of the children of Manasseh," that's the tribe, "the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father's family."
Now, look, we're at the last verse of the last chapter of the book of Numbers---so wait, wait, wait. Drink it in. Soak it in. Relish this time. Take it slowly. "These . . . are . . . [laughter] These are the commandments and the judgments which the Lord commanded the children of Israel by the hand of Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho." Now as we close, notice that the book of Numbers begins and ends in a similar note. It begins with organization. God numbers and assigns tribes, families, tasks. It's all organized. They start out with God at the center of their camp, the tabernacle smack-dab in the middle as the tents are surrounding. God is at the center of their life. Then after the organization comes disorganization. A whole generation dies in the wilderness, their sons and daughters, the second generation comes up, and now there's reorganization. Once again God is at the center. We have an issue, we take it to Moses. Moses takes it to God. After prayer and after consult, they bring us back that ruling. So once again, like it begins, so it ends: organization, life centered around God. And it pushes us forward. It makes us look forward, because they're poached right on the border of the Promised Land. They're right across from Jericho. Soon there's going to be a series of speeches that Moses is going to give and then he's going to kick the bucket. That's the book of Deuteronomy. And then after he kicks the bucket, young Joshua will become the general in charge of leading them over from the plains of Moab where they're at, across the Jordan to Jericho to conquer the land. That's the book of Joshua.
So, we've looked back, we've seen the organization, the disorganization, the reorganization. Now they're perched right on the border ready to go into the Promised Land. A generation is dead. What is not dead is God's plan, God's purpose, God's work. Moses will die. He's on his last leg. He dies on that side. He never goes in. When we get to the book of Joshua, the Lord declares to Joshua, "Moses my servant is dead. Now keep moving." I like that. God's so practical. You know, they mourn for a period of time, but then God finally wakes them and says, "Look, he's dead. Go forward." God buries his workmen, but his work goes on. There's always some future plan that God has and he's fully in charge, fully in control.
As we bring this so a close, I was reminded today of a story that I heard when I was in the plains of Moab. True story, at least they tell me. It circulated around the Bedouin tribes, and this story came to me when I was in a hospital in Mafraq, Jordan, a sanatorium treating tuberculosis of those of the Bedouin tribes of the Transjordan. And it is considered to be true by the Bedouin tribes. It's a story that has circulated, but it's a powerful story to them. The story goes is that two brothers were fighting, and in the heat of the moment---or two men were fighting, not two brothers. They were of the same tribal allotment. But these two men were fighting. It got out of hand, and one of the young fellas killed the other in the heat of the moment. He knew his life was over. He knew that vengeance would be taken by the man's family, so he fled across the desert and came to the sheikh's tent, the tribal chieftain's tent. And he came into the tent and he said, "I've killed a man. I need your asylum. I need your help. I need your sanctuary." The old chieftain put his hands on the guy ropes, the stabilizing mechanisms of the tent, and he swore by God, "You have my protection. I will treat you as my own. Nobody can get you," according to their custom. He spent the night in the old man's tent. The next morning the sounds of the avengers were outside saying, "He's in there! He's inside the tent." And they rushed toward the tent and the sheikh, the chieftain came out and said, "You are not to enter this tent. The man whom you seek I have given asylum to."
Just at that point the young man who was the murderer stepped out of the tent next to the old man and faced the avengers. Their face turned red as they looked at his eyes. And they said, "Do you know who this man is?" He goes, "No, I don't, but I've sworn to him my protection." "Do you know who it is that he killed?" And then they told him, "The man that they killed was your son." The old man, visibly shaken, almost couldn't stand up as the news hit him that his son has been murdered. But he had given him asylum. And as those words resonated in his heart, "He killed your son," he then turned to the murderer and he said, "Then you shall be by son. And everything I have shall be yours." And he made that young man swear his allegiance and service as an earthly son the rest of his life. That story not only circulated around the Bedouin tribes, but it came to that hospital I mentioned in Mafraq, Jordan, where doctors and nurses who are Christian missionaries have run it for years. And as they told that story to the different Bedouins who are treated months at a time for tuberculosis, the chest disease sanatorium, it did something in their heart. They said, "That's the message you've been trying to tell us all long, isn't it? That we killed God's Son and he made us his children by that act."
It was the culture hook that became an evangelistic strength and it is said, and I got it from the people in that Bedouin community, that because of that mission hospital, there is in every single tribe in the Middle East at least one Christian believer, if not many more, because of that story as it was told through the gospel message in that hospital in Mafraq. Amazing! That's the story here. That's the story here. We killed Jesus Christ God's Son. God, through that act, made us his children. What an act of mercy. "Then you shall become my son, my daughter, and everything that I have will be yours."
As we close the book of Numbers, your homework assignment is to go over First Corinthians, chapter 10, on your own, the first ten verses. Because there you notice how Paul the apostle takes the lessons of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and he goes back, and he goes back. And he said, "All these things were written for our admonition, examples to us, that we would not be like them, that we would not lust like them and die in the wilderness," etcetera. He bases so much of the New Testament truth on these principles that we have read in the book of Numbers. So that's why I've said before, and I say again, we need to be studying all of the Scripture like this, because we get the foundation when we read texts like First Corinthians 10. We would have no clue what he's talking about, unless we read it for ourselves and dug down into the Old Testament history. So, it's been a privilege of mine to share the book of Numbers with you in these long many, many studies, but we're done. We'll close in prayer and next time on Wednesday night when we go through, we'll be in the gospel of Luke. So we'll take a look in Luke next time. [applause]
Let's pray. Father, we think of that incredible story, that tribal story of a father who lost a son and made the murderer his new son, effectively making him a son for life, but eventually giving the entire inheritance to that one, because of a promise made. Lord, we think of the Word of the gospel, the message of the gospel of hope, the gospel of peace, as it is called, how there was enmity between us and you. And the road we were going, we were bound to pay for our own sins one day. And were you to be the avenger of us, as you will be the avenger of everyone who rejects Christ that would be just. It is what we would deserve. "For all have sinned and all have fallen short of the glory of God," "There is none righteous, no not one," your word declares. But what a thought, like that old chieftain, the avenger has become the Redeemer, where you turn to us and you make us children of God. "As many would believe in him, to them he gave the power to become children of God," what power that is, Lord. As we have been forgiven, Lord, I pray that we would be forgiving. Make this place a city of refuge. May we be quick to bring others and point others to Jesus Christ, the city, the place of refuge, refuge from the storm of judgment, refuge during the trials of life, refuge from the pain of death, Jesus our refuge.
Father, finally, as we close the book of Numbers, I pray if there are those with us tonight, hungry, parched, thirsty, empty hearts looking for meaning, looking for purpose, needing forgiveness, needing a new start, I pray they'd find it in Jesus. Convince them, Lord, that we all need you, that they need you, and bring more, bring some more to know your Son. Our heads are bowed and our eyes closed, we're closings this service, maybe you realize, maybe for the first time, that you've been a seeker, but you're not a believer yet. You're not a follower of Christ. You've been interested in spiritual things, you've even attended church, Bible study, some for a long time, but you've never made a surrender. You've never come to a point in your life where you've said, "I'm leaving the past, I'm leaving what I know to be wrong, and I'm turning my life to the One who can forgive me and give me the hope of heaven. Maybe you've never done that. Now is the time for you to do that. Now is the time for you to live a new life that only Jesus can give you, and to receive forgiveness that only Jesus can provide you.
It could be that you made a commitment of sorts, some kind of spiritual overture in the past, but you're not following Christ today and you need to commit yourself afresh, to come back home, to come back to him. But others, this is the first time where it's real, and you need to come to Jesus personally. His hand of mercy is extended to you. He's the city of refuge. He's the High Priest that keeps you safe and sets you free. But you have to flee to that city. You have to go there. You have to make that choice to live there. If you're apart from Christ, all bets are off. The Bible says the Devil is a roaring lion who goes about seeking whom he may devour. Don't get caught by him. Give your life to Christ tonight. If you want to be sure that you are a Christian, if you want to come back to him or give your life to Jesus for the first time, whatever describes you, I want you to slip your hand up in the air right now and keep it up for just a moment, so I can acknowledge you. God bless you, on my right, and you right up here toward the front on that aisle, yes, ma'am. Who else? Slip that hand up. Raise it up so I can see it. God bless you, toward the back; on the side, yes, sir. Who else? Right over here to my left, and in the family room. God bless you, sir. Who else? Who else? Yes, yes. Father, thank you for these lives, these men and women. Strengthen them, Lord as they give their life to Christ, in Jesus' name, amen.
Let's all stand. As we close this song---this service with this song, I'm going to ask now those of you who raised your hand to just find the closest aisle and come right up here and stand where some of our crew is walking right now. And I'm going to lead you right now in a word of prayer to receive Christ. If you were up in the front, in the middle, if you were way in the back, if you're in the balcony, you come down. [applause] This is family. This is a city of refuge. It does not matter who you are, what you've done, where you've come from, you're in the company of those who have been forgiven. Anyone else? Anyone else? God is calling you, you come. If it's a dedication, you come, a reaffirmation, come. [worship music playing] [applause] The blood of Jesus Christ God's Son can cleanse a man, a woman, from all sin. Anyone else? Anyone at all? If you're in the family room and you raised your hand, you just find that door right up at the front. Just come through that hallway and stand right here. [applause] Amen. In coming you're being numbered like the book of Numbers. You're being numbered among God's people. Your life counts for something and you're acknowledging that. Anyone else? Those of you who have stepped forward, so glad that you came. I'm going to lead you now in a prayer, and I'm going to ask you to say this prayer out loud after me. You ready? You're going to say these words from your heart, you say these words to the Lord. You're asking Jesus himself to come into your heart. Let's pray. Say: Lord, I give you my life. I know that I'm a sinner. Please forgive me. I believe in Jesus who died on the cross and rose from the dead. I turn from my sin and I turn to Jesus as Savior and Lord. It's in his name I pray, amen. Let's give it up for the Lord's work. [applause] Hey, congratulations!