Moses: The Administrator

The forty years of wilderness wanderings were ending. God was completing His dealings with Israel and was about to take them into Canaan, their long-promised and long-awaited home. An entire generation of people had died in the wilderness, with the exception of Joshua, Caleb and Moses, and Moses would soon be gone also.

The Numbering

For the second time on the journey, God requested a count of the Israelites. Moses and Eleazar the priest were ordered to number all the men “twenty years old and upward …all who were able to go to war” (Num. 26:1-2). This accounting would be used to divide the land among the 12 tribes when they arrived in the Promised Land. The male population totaled 601,730 (Num. 26:51), a decrease of 1,820 from the previous count of 603,550 (Num. 1:46).

The Levites were counted separately, and their number had grown from 22,000 to 23,000 {cp. Num. 3:39 with 26:62). After 38 years in the wilderness, there were more Levites than had begun the journey from Egypt. “They were not numbered among the children of lsrael, because there was no inheritance given them among the children of Israel” (Num. 26:62b).

The Inheritance

In dividing the land into tribal inheritances, Moses dealt with three groups: those who wanted to settle east of the Jordan River, those who would settle in Canaan itself, and the Levites who were not given a definite portion of land.

The Two and One-Half Tribes
In every group there are nonconformists. If the order is given to march, and everyone starts with the left foot, invariably someone will start with the right foot. Such was the case with the Israelites.

God had given them Canaan for an inheritance. The land was rich and bountiful, but the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh did not want what God had promised (Num. 32:2; 34:14). They felt the land east of the Jordan would be better suited for them, since it provided excellent grazing land for their herds. Rather than cross over the river into Canaan, they preferred to remain on the east side of the Jordan where the Lord had already conquered the enemy.

Moses was outraged. He asked, “Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?” (Num. 32:6). He poured out his anger in a tirade that restated the history of Israel’s unbelief. He charged that their dwelling in Transjordan would discourage the other tribes from going into Canaan. Their forefathers had believed the ten spies rather than Joshua and Caleb, and this lack of faith in the Lord resulted in 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Now these two and one-half tribes were about to make a similar mistake. Moses continued, “And, behold, ye are risen up in your fathers’ stead, an increase of sinful men, to augment yet the fierce anger of the LORD toward Israel. For if ye tum away from after him, he will yet again leave them in the wilderness, and ye shall destroy all this people” (Num. 32:14-15). Moses did not feel it was God’s will for these tribes to live east of the Jordan.

When he finished speaking, the leaders of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh discussed the matter with him. They reasoned, “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…We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance” (Num. 32:16-18).

Moses listened to the tribal leaders and considered their position, and they soon reached an agreement If the two and one-half tribes would cross the Jordan and fight with the other tribes until, together, they conquered the land of Canaan, they could have the territory they wanted. Hidden in the English, but very apparent in the Hebrew text, is the fact that the two and one-half tribes agreed that their soldiers would lead the columns into battle and bear the brunt of all the attacks.

And so, the matter was settled. Gad, Reuben and half of Manasseh would be given the area of Transjordan, and the other tribes would move into Canaan.

The Eight and One-Half Tribes
Joshua 14 records that Joshua, Eleazar the priest, and the fathers of the tribes distributed the land of Canaan to the remaining tribes. Caleb requested and was given the city of Hebron as a reward for wholly following the Lord forty years earlier as one of the twelve spies (Josh. 14:6-15; 15:13).

Joshua 15:20-19:48 records the division of the land among the tribes of Judah, Ephraim, half of Manasseh, Benjamin, Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, and Dan. Joshua requested and was given Timmath-serah (Josh. 19:49-50).

An explanation must be given concerning Simeon’s inheritance. He was not given a portion of land as were the other tribes. In fact, in Deuteronomy 33, Moses did not even mention the tribe of Simeon when he delivered his final words of blessing and counsel to the tribes, and it appears that this omission by Moses was deliberate. Furthermore, their number had dwindled from 59,300 during the first year of the journey (Num. 1:23) to 22,200 at the end of the long trek (Num. 26:14).

Instead of receiving a geographical portion of land, Simeon was given only a few cities within the inheritance of Judah. They were not even the choicest cities but were located in the arid southern region. Why was Simeon given only a few dusty, dry cities rather than a full portion of land like the other tribes?

The answer is found in an incident recorded in Genesis 34. Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, was defiled by Shechem (Gen. 34:2), who later asked Jacob for her hand in marriage. A dowry was agreed upon which included the circumcision of all the male Shechemites. On the third day after the circumcisions were performed, Simeon and his brother Levi killed all the men, including Shechem and his father Hamor (Gen. 34:25-26), because of Shechem’s treatment of their sister. When Jacob learned of their crime, he was deeply troubled, but his wrath was not vented until many years later when the patriarch was on his deathbed. He called his twelve sons together and uttered a series of blessings on them and prophecies about their descendants. Concerning Simeon and Levi he said, “Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel” (Gen. 49:7). In other words, their descendants would not receive a portion of land. Thus, Simeon received only a few arid cities in the southern desert of the Promised Land. But what happened to the tribe of Levi?

The Tribe of Levi
Levi was just as guilty as Simeon. He too was involved in the slaying of the Shechemites and, according to Jacob’s prophecy, his descendants would not receive a portion of land in Canaan. But this is where the similarity between the two brothers ended.

Who is on the LORD’s side? Let him come unto me.

The difference in the tribal histories of Simeon and Levi resulted from an incident that occurred in the wilderness. While Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days receiving the Law, Aaron and the children of Israel made a golden calf. Moses came down the mountain and found the people singing, dancing, and worshiping this idol. He threw down the tablets containing God’s law and broke them into pieces. In his distress he cried out, “Who is on the LORD’s side? Let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor. And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother, that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day” (Ex. 32:26-29).

Jacob had prophesied that Levi would not receive a portion of land in Canaan but would be scattered throughout the land. But Moses promised a special blessing to the tribe of Levi. How could this be?

As Moses delivered his final words concerning the 12 tribes, he said concerning Levi, “neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children; for they have observed thy word, and kept thy covenant. They shall teach Jacob thine ordinances, and Israel thy law; they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar” (Dt. 33:9-10).

This is more clearly defined in the Book of Joshua. “But the Levites have no portion among you; for the priesthood of the LORD is their inheritance” (Josh. 18:7). Although Levi did not receive a portion of the land, as Jacob had prophesied, he was blessed above the other tribes for his obedience to the Lord during the golden calf incident. His descendants were to be the priests, the ministers of God to all the Israelites. What appeared to be a curse was actually a blessing, as the Levites were privileged to minister to the people of Israel from their 48 cities located throughout the territories of the other tribes. Rather than land, the Lord himself became Levi’s portion.

What valuable lessons we can learn from Levi. First, God is able to pick us up when we stumble and fall; and second, God will recognize and reward our faithful service to Him.

The Cities of Refuge

Living in 48 cities throughout the land, the Levites served as a reminder that God was in the midst of His people. Six of the 48 cities given to the Levites were unique in that they were “cities of refuge.” Three of these “cities of refuge” were on the east side of the Jordan River, and three were on the west side (Josh. 20).

Throughout the Old Testament, human life is pictured as sacred to God. After the Noahic flood, God gave man permission to kill animals for food, but the taking of human life was strictly forbidden. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man” (Gen. 9:6). This restriction was again given in the Decalogue: “Thou shalt not kill [murder]” (Ex. 20:13). However, there were times when, by accident, one man would kill another. Human life is very precious to God, but in His mercy He made provision for such accidental killings.

Anyone accused of manslaughter could flee to one of the six cities of refuge. These cities were not designed to protect a murderer from the death penalty but were, instead, designed to protect a person who had unintentionally caused the death of another. A person who had caused an accidental death could flee to a city of refuge, where the matter would be judged by the congregation. If the case were ruled to be manslaughter and not murder, the accused man was allowed to remain in the city, protected from the avenging family of the dead person. If he were to step outside of the city of refuge, however, he could be killed by the avengers.

The person involved in the accidental death had to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. After the high priest died, he could leave the city as a free man, and the avenging family could not touch him.

The Inheritance of Daughters

The laws of inheritance to be observed in Canaan were very clear. The land was to be passed down within a tribe through the sons in the family.

In Numbers 27:1-11, we read that the daughters of Zelophehad, of the tribe of Manasseh, came to Moses and asked that they be given their father’s possession. They did not feel that the family inheritance should be lost simply because their father had no sons.

Moses took the matter to the Lord, and He responded that if a man had no sons, the inheritance was to pass to his daughters; if he had no daughters, it was to be given to his brothers; if he had no brothers, it was to be given to his father’s brothers; if his father had no brothers, it was to be given to his closest kinsman in the tlibe. The inheritance was not, however, to pass out of the family.

Another potential inheritance problem, outlined in Numbers 36, involved the disposition of land to daughters who had married men from tribes other than their own. To whom would the inheritance pass? To which tribe would the land belong in the year of jubilee, at which time all land reverted back to the heirs of the original owners?

Moses came to the following conclusion: The daughters of Zelophehad were free to marry the men of their choosing, but those men had to be from their own tribe, the tribe of Manasseh. God would not permit ownership of land to pass from one tribe to another.

Conclusion

We often think of Moses in the courts of Egypt pleading with Pharaoh, or as the great lawgiver. We know that he was a man who walked with his God. Seldom, however, do we consider Moses as an administrator. Throughout the Book of Numbers, his administrative abilities are highlighted as we see him very carefully dividing the land among the tribes of lsrael. Many details were involved, and Moses was meticulous and prayerful in his administrative responsibilities.

We often hear people in churches say, “We don’t need administrative leaders; the Spirit of God will direct us.” But on too many occasions we see the sad results of total lack of administration or poor administration. Programs are run in haphazard ways, and we wonder what the world thinks when they see the Lord’s work being conducted in such an inept manner.

God gave Moses excellent administrative abilities. His preparations for Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land were very exacting. In all things he sought the will of God and administered the affairs of the nation well. We should learn from Moses’ example, seeking God’s will in all things and administering His work as carefully as Moses did.

God gave Moses excellent administrative abilities. His preparations for Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land were very exacting. In all things he sought the will of God and administered the affairs of the nation well. We should learn from Moses’ example, seeking God’s will in all things and administering His work as carefully as Moses did.

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