Study Guide

Book of Numbers Visions of the Promised Land

Visions of the Promised Land

On the day the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant; and from evening until morning it was over the tabernacle, having the appearance of fire. It was always so: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. Whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, then the Israelites would set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the Israelites would camp. At the command of the Lord the Israelites would set out, and at the command of the Lord they would camp. (Numbers 9:15-18, NRSV)

On the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony: and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning. So it was alway: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents. At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the Lord they pitched: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents. (Numbers 9:15-18, KJV)

The cloud that settles over the tabernacle is the spirit of God—obviously. That means God is guiding Israel on their journey to the Promised Land. And that means nothing can stop them now. Woo-hoo!

Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses's father-in-law, "We are setting out for the place of which the Lord said, 'I will give it to you'; come with us, and we will treat you well; for the Lord has promised good to Israel." But he said to him, "I will not go, but I will go back to my own land and to my kindred." He said, "Do not leave us, for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us. Moreover, if you go with us, whatever good the Lord does for us, the same we will do for you." (Numbers 10:29-32, NRSV)

Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses's father in law, We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel. And he said unto him, I will not go; but I will depart to mine own land, and to my kindred. And he said, Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes. And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee. (Numbers 10:29-32, KJV)

This is just the first instance of people wanting to turn back to Egypt. Sure, the Promised Land looks good and all, but this wilderness part is a real bummer. On the flip side, it wouldn't be much of a Promised Land if the Israelites could just waltz right into it.

They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, "We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there." But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it." Then the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we." (Numbers 13:26-31, NRSV)

They went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan. And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. (Numbers 13:26-31, KJV)

The spies comes back from Canaan and are supposed to tell Moses how awesome the Promised Land is (they do) and help him come up with a plan for kicking out the current inhabitants (they don't). Instead, these guys chicken out. Oh, wrong move, fellas. Well, except for Caleb. Caleb gets it.

Your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me, not one of you shall come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become booty, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have despised. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. (Numbers 14:29-32, NRSV)

Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me. Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I swear to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness. (Numbers 14:29-32, KJV)

Okay, so the whole Promised Land thing is put off for a while. Say forty years or so. However long it takes for a whole generation of people to die off. As they say, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away…

Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab; but they said, "We will not come! Is it too little that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also lord it over us? It is clear you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. (Numbers 16:12-14, NRSV)

Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up: Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us? Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up. (Numbers 16:12-14, KJV)

These rebels are pretty ticked because Moses hasn't delivered on his promises to them—in other words, no milk and honey in their mouths. They even go so far as to call Egypt the land "flowing with milk and honey." And forced servitude, too, guys. Don't forget that. It's a majorly key detail.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: To these the land shall be apportioned for inheritance according to the number of names. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance; every tribe shall be given its inheritance according to its enrollment. (Numbers 26:52-54, NRSV)

The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names. To many thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to few thou shalt give the less inheritance: to every one shall his inheritance be given according to those that were numbered of him. (Numbers 26:52-54, KJV)

Okay, so the Promised Land is coming soon and it's time to start making plans, particularly when it comes to land. God's plan seems pretty sensible. The leadership will pass out land based on population numbers. Fingers crossed that you get a good spot by some water!

These were those enrolled by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who enrolled the Israelites in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho. Among these there was not one of those enrolled by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had enrolled the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, "They shall die in the wilderness." Not one of them was left, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. (Numbers 26:63-65, NRSV)

These are they that were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho. But among these there was not a man of them whom Moses and Aaron the priest numbered, when they numbered the children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, They shall surely die in the wilderness. And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. (Numbers 26:63-65, KJV)

Yup, it's time to start heading to Canaan. God's decree has been fulfilled. Everyone from the older generation is dead. Now, it's time for the youth to inherit the Earth. Or at least the Promised Land.

They came up to him and said, "We will build sheepfolds here for our flocks, and towns for our little ones, but we will take up arms as a vanguard before the Israelites, until we have brought them to their place. Meanwhile our little ones will stay in the fortified towns because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until all the Israelites have obtained their inheritance. We will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east." (Numbers 32:16-19, NRSV)

They came near unto him, and said, We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones: But we ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel, until we have brought them unto their place: and our little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan, or forward; because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward. (Numbers 32:16-19, KJV)

But not everyone is happy. The guys from Reuben and Gad's tribes are kind of fond of the place they've been staying and they're not sure it's worth it to drag their families all the way to this milk and honey paradise. Though the men do agree to go and fight, their families can stay behind in relative safety while they're out helping their brothers fight for what God has given them.

When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan, defined by its boundaries), your south sector shall extend from the wilderness of Zin along the side of Edom. Your southern boundary shall begin from the end of the Dead Sea on the east; your boundary shall turn south of the ascent of Akrabbim, and cross to Zin, and its outer limit shall be south of Kadesh-barnea; then it shall go on to Hazar-addar, and cross to Azmon; the boundary shall turn from Azmon to the Wadi of Egypt, and its termination shall be at the Sea. For the western boundary, you shall have the Great Sea and its coast; this shall be your western boundary. This shall be your northern boundary: from the Great Sea you shall mark out your line to Mount Hor; from Mount Hor you shall mark it out to Lebo-hamath, and the outer limit of the boundary shall be at Zedad; then the boundary shall extend to Ziphron, and its end shall be at Hazar-enan; this shall be your northern boundary. You shall mark out your eastern boundary from Hazar-enan to Shepham; and the boundary shall continue down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain; and the boundary shall go down, and reach the eastern slope of the sea of Chinnereth; and the boundary shall go down to the Jordan, and its end shall be at the Dead Sea. This shall be your land with its boundaries all around. (Numbers 34:2-12, NRSV)

When ye come into the land of Canaan; (this is the land that shall fall unto you for an inheritance, even the land of Canaan with the coasts thereof:) Then your south quarter shall be from the wilderness of Zin along by the coast of Edom, and your south border shall be the outmost coast of the salt sea eastward: And your border shall turn from the south to the ascent of Akrabbim, and pass on to Zin: and the going forth thereof shall be from the south to Kadeshbarnea, and shall go on to Hazaraddar, and pass on to Azmon: And the border shall fetch a compass from Azmon unto the river of Egypt, and the goings out of it shall be at the sea. And as for the western border, ye shall even have the great sea for a border: this shall be your west border. And this shall be your north border: from the great sea ye shall point out for you mount Hor: From mount Hor ye shall point out your border unto the entrance of Hamath; and the goings forth of the border shall be to Zedad: And the border shall go on to Ziphron, and the goings out of it shall be at Hazarenan: this shall be your north border. And ye shall point out your east border from Hazarenan to Shepham: And the coast shall go down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain; and the border shall descend, and shall reach unto the side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward: And the border shall go down to Jordan, and the goings out of it shall be at the salt sea: this shall be your land with the coasts thereof round about. (Numbers 34:2-12, KJV)

These are some pretty sweet borderlines. They're also somewhat aspirational. Historically, Israel never actually occupied this much land. Too bad (Source 133).

You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation 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 which I also dwell; for I the Lord dwell among the Israelites. (Numbers 35:33-34, NRSV)

Ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel. (Numbers 35:33-34, KJV)

The Promised Land is a special place. God lives there, so it must be. Basically, criminals need not apply.

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