Text:MHC Concise Numbers
|Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary : Numbers|
|SERMONS, ESSAYS AND OPINIONS|
Please help import the text with appropriate Bible referencing to the individual chapters.
Commentary on the book of Numbers
The division of the land.
Number of the Levites.
None remaining of the first numbering.
Moses did not number the people but when God commanded him. We have here the families registered, as well as the tribes. The total was nearly the same as when numbered at mount Sinai. Notice is here taken of the children of Korah; they died not, as the children of Dathan and Abiram; they seem not to have joined even their own father in rebellion. If we partake not of the sins of sinners, we shall not partake of their plagues. (Nu 26:52-56)
In distributing these tribes, the general rule of equity is prescribed; that to many should be given more, and to fewer less. Though it seems left to the prudence of their prince, the matter at last must be settled by the providence of God, with which all must be satisfied.
The execution of the sentence passed on the murmurers, chap. 14:29, is observable. There was not one man numbered now, who was numbered then, but Caleb and Joshua. Here appeared the righteousness of God, and his faithfulness to his threatenings. Especially observe the truth of God, in performing his promise to Caleb and Joshua. Death makes awful havoc of the human species, and causes surprising changes in families and nations; yet all is appointed in perfect wisdom, justice, and truth, by the Lord himself. This should stir us up to think upon the hateful nature of sin, the cause of all these devastations. We should renew our repentance, seek forgiveness, value the salvation of Christ, remember how frail we are, prepare for the summons of death, and fill up our days in serving our generation according to the will of God.
The daughters of Zelophehad apply for an inheritance, The law of inheritances.
Moses warned of his death.
The five daughters of Zelophehad considered themselves as left destitute, having neither father nor brother to inherit any land. Their believing expectation that the word of the Lord would be performed in due season, and their desire of an interest in the promised inheritance; and the modest, candid manner in which they asked, without secret murmurs or discontents, are a good example. They ask for a possession in the land of Canaan. Herein they discovered, 1. Strong faith in the power and promise of God, concerning the giving of the land of Canaan to Israel. 2. And earnest desire of a place and name in the land of promise, which was a type of heaven. 3. Respect and honour for their father, whose name was dear to them now he was gone. He never had done any thing that might bar his children's claim. It is a comfort to parents when they come to die, if though they have smarted for their own sin, yet they are not conscious of any of those iniquities which God will visit on their children. God himself gives judgment. He takes notice of the affairs, not only of nations, but of private families, and orders them according to his will. The petition is granted. Those who seek an inheritance in the land of promise, shall have what they seek for, and other things shall be added to them.
Moses must die, but he shall have the satisfaction of seeing the land of promise. This sight of Canaan signified his believing prospect of the better country, that is, the heavenly. Moses must die, but death does not cut him off; it only brings him to rest with the holy patriarchs. It is but to die as they died, having lived as they lived; and as their end was peace, why should we fear any evil in the passage of that dark valley? (Nu 27:15-23)
Envious spirits do not love their successors; but Moses was not one of these. We should concern ourselves, both in our prayers and in our endeavours, for the rising generation, that religion may be maintained and advanced, when we are in our graves. God appoints a successor, even Joshua; who had signalized himself by his courage in fighting Amalek, his humility in ministering to Moses, and his faith and sincerity in witnessing against the report of the evil spies. This man God appoints to succeed Moses; a man in whom is the Spirit, the Spirit of grace. He is a good man, fearing God and hating covetousness, and acting from principle. He has the spirit of government; he is fit to do the work and discharge the trusts of his place. He has a spirit of conduct and courage; he had also the Spirit of prophecy. That man is not fully qualified for any service in the church of Christ, who is destitute of the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit, whatever human abilities he may possess. And in Joshua's succession we are reminded "that the law was given by Moses," who by reason of our transgression could not bring us to heaven; but "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ," for the salvation of every believer.
Offerings, The daily sacrifice.
The offering on the sabbath and new moons.
Offerings at the passover, and on the day of first-fruits.
God saw fit now to repeat the law of sacrifices. This was a new generation of men; and they were concerned to keep their peace with God when at war with their enemies. The daily sacrifice is called a continual burnt-offering; when we are bid to pray always, at least every morning and evening we should offer up solemn prayers and praises to God. Nothing is added here but that the wine poured out in the drink-offering is to be strong wine, to teach us to serve God with the best we have. It was a figure of the blood of Christ, the memorial of which is still left to the church in wine; and of the blood of the martyrs, which was poured out as a drink-offering on the sacrifice and service of our faith, Php 2:17.
Every sabbath day, beside the two lambs offered for the daily burnt-offering, there must be two more offered. This teaches us to double our devotions on sabbath days, for so the duty of the day requires. The sabbath rest is to be observed, in order more closely to apply ourselves to the sabbath work, which ought to fill up the sabbath time. The offerings in the new moons showed thankfulness for the renewing of earthly blessings: when we rejoice in the gifts of providence, we must make the sacrifice of Christ, that great gift of special grace, the fountain and spring-head of our joy. And the worship performed in the new moons is made typical of gospel solemnities, Isa 66:23. As the moon borrows light from the sun, and is renewed by its influences; so the church borrows her light from Jesus Christ, who is the Sun of righteousness, renewing the state of the church, especially under the gospel. (Nu 28:16-31)
By the sacrifices enjoined in this Chapter, we are reminded of the continued power of the sacrifice of Christ, and of our continual need to depend thereon. No hurrying employments, or perilous situations, or prosperous circumstances, should cause slackness in our religious exercises; but should rather stir us up to greater diligence in seeking help from, or giving thanks to the Lord. And all is to be accompanied with repentance, faith is the Lord Jesus, and love to him, and to produce true holiness in our conduct towards all men; otherwise God will abhor our most solemn services and abundant devotions. And Christ is able to supply the wants of every day, every week, every month, every year, every ordinance, every case.
The offering at the feats of trumpets, and on the day of atonement.
Offerings at the feast of tabernacles.
There were more sacred solemnities in the seventh month than in any other. It was the space between harvest and seed-time. The more leisure we have from the pressing occupations of this life, the more time we should spend in the immediate service of God. The blowing of the trumpets was appointed, Le 22:24. Here they are directed what sacrifices to offer on that day. Those who would know the mind of God in the Scriptures, must compare one part with another. The latter discoveries of Divine light explain what was dark, and supply what was wanting, in the former, that the man of God may be perfect.
Soon after the day of atonement, the day in which men were to afflict their souls, followed the feast of Tabernacles, in which they were to rejoice before the Lord. Their days of rejoicing were to be days of sacrifices. A disposition to be cheerful does us good, when it encourages our hearts in the duties of God's service. All the days of dwelling in booths they must offer sacrifices; while we are here in a tabernacle state, it is our interest, as well as our duty, constantly to keep up communion with God. The sacrifices for each of the seven days are appointed. Every day there must be a sin-offering, as in the other feasts. Our burnt-offerings of praise cannot be accepted of God, unless we have an interest in the great sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered, when he made himself a Sin-offering for us. And no extraordinary services should put aside stated devotions. Every thing here reminds us of our sinfulness. The life that we live in the flesh must be by the faith of the Son of God; until we go to be with him, to behold his glory, and praise his mercy, who hath loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood. To whom be honour and glory for ever. Amen.
Vows to be kept.
The cases wherein vows might be released.
Verses 1, 2
No man can be bound by his own promise to do what he is already, by the Divine precept, forbidden to do. In other matters the command is, that he shall not break his words, through he may change his mind.
Two cases of vows are determined. The case of a daughter in her father's house. When her vow comes to his knowledge, it is in his power either to confirm it or do it away. The law is plain in the case of a wife. If her husband allows her vow, though only by silence, it stands. If he disallows it, her obligation to her husband takes place of it; for to him she ought to be in subjection, as unto the Lord. The Divine law consults the good order of families. It is fit that every man should bear rule in his own house, and have his wife and children in subjection; rather than that this great rule should be broken, or any encouragement be given to inferior relations to break those bonds asunder, God releases the obligation even of a solemn vow. So much does religion secure the welfare of all societies; and in it the families of the earth have a blessing.
War with Midian.
Those slain who caused sin.
Purification of the Israelites.
Division of the spoil.
All who, without commission from God, dare to execute private revenge, and who, from ambition, covetousness, or resentment, wage war and desolate kingdoms, must one day answer for it. But if God, instead of sending an earthquake, a pestilence, or a famine, be pleased to authorize and command any people to avenge his cause, such a commission surely is just and right. The Israelites could show such a commission, though no persons now can do so. Their wars were begun and carried on expressly by Divine direction, and they were enabled to conquer by miracles. Unless it can be proved that the wicked Canaanites did not deserve their doom, objectors only prove their dislike to God, and their love to his enemies. Man makes light of the evil of sin, but God abhors it. This explains the terrible executions of the nations which had filled the measure of their sins.
The Israelites slew the Kings of Midian. They slew Balaam. God's overruling providence brought him thither, and their just vengeance found him. Had he himself rightly believed what he had said of the happy state of Israel, he would not have thus herded with the enemies of Israel. The Midianites' wicked wiles were Balaam's projects: it was just that he should perish with them, Ho 4:5. They took the women and children captives. They burnt their cities and castles, and returned to the camp.
The sword of war should spare women and children; but the sword of justice should know no distinction, but that of guilty or not guilty. This war was the execution of a righteous sentence upon a guilty nation, in which the women were the worst criminals. The female children were spared, who, being brought up among the Israelites, would not tempt them to idolatry. The whole history shows the hatefulness of sin, and the guilt of tempting others; it teaches us to avoid all occasions of evil, and to give no quarter to inward lusts. The women and children were not kept for sinful purposes, but for slaves, a custom every where practised in former times, as to captives. In the course of providence, when famine and plagues visit a nation for sin, children suffer in the common calamity. In this case parents are punished in their children; and for children dying before actual sin, full provision is made as to their eternal happiness, by the mercy of God in Christ.
The Israelites had to purify themselves according to the law, and to abide without the camp seven days, though they had not contracted any moral guilt, the war being just and lawful, and commanded by God. Thus God would preserve in their minds a dread and detestation of shedding blood. The spoil had been used by Midianites, and being now come into the possession of Israelites, it was fit that it should be purified.
Whatever we have, God justly claims a part. Out of the people's share God required one in fifty, but out of the soldiers' share only one in five hundred. The less opportunity we have of honouring God with personal services, the more should we give in money or value.
The success of the Israelites had been very remarkable, so small a company overcoming such multitudes, but it was still more wonderful that not one was slain or missing. They presented the gold they found among the spoils, as an offering to the Lord. Thus they confessed, that instead of claiming a reward for their service, they needed forgiveness of much that had been amiss, and desired to be thankful for the preservation of their lives, which might justly have been taken away.
The tribes of Reuben and Gad request an inheritance on the east of Jordan.
Moses reproves the Reubenites and Gadites.
They explain their views, Moses consents.
They take possession of the land to the east of Jordan.
Here is a proposal made by the Reubenites and Gadites, that the land lately conquered might be allotted to them. Two things common in the world might lead these tribes to make this choice; the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. There was much amiss in the principle they went upon; they consulted their own private convenience more than the public good. Thus to the present time, many seek their own things more than the things of Jesus Christ; and are led by worldly interests and advantages to take up short of the heavenly Canaan.
The proposal showed disregard to the land of Canaan, distrust of the Lord's promise, and unwillingness to encounter the difficulties and dangers of conquering and driving out the inhabitants of that land. Moses is wroth with them. It will becomes any of God's Israel to sit down unconcerned about the difficult and perilous concerns of their brethren, whether public or personal. He reminds them of the fatal consequences of the unbelief and faint-heartedness of their fathers, when they were, as themselves, just ready to enter Canaan. If men considered as they ought what would be the end of sin, they would be afraid of the beginning of it.
Here is the good effect of plain dealing. Moses, by showing their sin, and the danger of it, brought them to their duty, without murmuring or disputing. All men ought to consider the interests of others as well as their own; the law of love requires us to labour, venture, or suffer for each other as there may be occasion. They propose that their men of war should go ready armed before the children of Israel into the land of Canaan, and that they should not return till the conquest of Canaan was ended. Moses grants their request, but he warns them of the danger of breaking their word. If you fail, you sin against the Lord, and not against your brethren only; God will certainly reckon with you for it. Be sure your sin will find you out. Sin will surely find out the sinner sooner or later. It concerns us now to find our sins out, that we may repent of them, and forsake them, lest they find us out to our ruin.
Concerning the settlement of these tribes, observe, that they built the cities, that is, repaired them. They changed the names of them; probably they were idolatrous, therefore they should be forgotten. A spirit of selfishness, of seeking our own, not the things of Christ, when each one ought to assist others, is as dangerous as it is common. It is impossible to be sincere in the faith, sensible of the goodness of God, constrained by the love of Christ, sanctified by the power of the Holy Ghost, and yet be indifferent to the progress of religion, and the spiritual success of others, through love of ease, or fear of conflict. Let then your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Encampments of the Israelites.
The Canaanites to be destroyed.
This is a brief review of the travels of the children of Israel through the wilderness. It is a memorable history. In their travels towards Canaan they were continually on the remove. Such is our state in this world; we have here no continuing city, and all our removes in this world are but from one part a desert to another. They were led to and fro, forward and backward, yet were all the while under the direction of the pillar of cloud and fire. God led them about, yet led them the right way. The way God takes in bringing his people to himself is always the best way, though it does not always seem to us the nearest way. Former events are mentioned. Thus we ought to keep in mind the providences of God concerning us and families, us and our land, and the many instances of that Divine care which has led us, and fed us, and kept us all our days hitherto. Few periods of our lives can be thought upon, without reminding us of the Lord's goodness, and our own ingratitude and disobedience: his kindness leaves us without excuse for our sins. We could not wish to travel over again the stages we have passed, unless we could hope, by the grace of God, to shun the sins we then committed, and to embrace such opportunities of doing good as we have let slip. Soon will our wanderings end, and our eternal state be fixed beyond recall; how important then is the present moment! Happy are those whom the Lord now guides with his counsel, and will at length receive to his glory. To this happiness the gospel calls us. Behold now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. Let sinners seize the opportunity, and flee for refuge to the hope set before them. Let us redeem our time, to glorify God and serve our generation; and he will carry us safely through all, to his eternal kingdom.
Now that they were to pass over Jordan, they were entering again into temptation to follow idols; and they are threatened that, if they spared either the idols or the idolaters, their sin would certainly be their punishment. They would foster vipers in their own bosoms. The remnant of the Canaanites, if they made any peace with them, though but for a time, would be pricks in their eyes, and thorns in their sides. We must expect trouble and affliction from whatever sin we indulge; that which we are willing should tempt us, will vex us. It was intended that the Canaanites should be put out of the land; but if the Israelites learned their wicked ways, they also would be put out. Let us hear this and fear. If we do not drive out sin, sin will drive us out. If we are not the death of our lusts, our lusts will be the death of our souls.
The bounds of the promised land.
Those appointed to divide the land.
Canaan was of small extent; as it is here bounded, it is but about 160 miles in length, and about 50 in breadth; yet this was the country promised to the father of the faithful, and the possession of the seed of Israel. This was that little spot of ground, in which alone, for many ages, God was known. This was the vineyard of the Lord, the garden enclosed; but as it is with gardens and vineyards, the narrowness of the space was made up by the fruitfulness of the soil. Though the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof, yet few know him, and serve him; but those few are happy, because fruitful to God. Also, see how little a share of the world God gives to his own people. Those who have their portion in heaven, have reason to be content with a small pittance of this earth. Yet a little that a righteous man has, having it from the love of God, and with his blessing, is far better and more comfortable than the riches of many wicked. (Nu 34:16-29)
God here appoints men to divide the land to them. So sure must they feel of victory and success while God fought for them, that the persons are named who should be intrusted with the dividing of the land.
The cities of the Levites.
The cities of refuge, The laws about murder.
The cities of the priests and Levites were not only to accommodate them, but to place them, as religious teachers, in several parts of the land. For though the typical service of the tabernacle or temple was only in one place, the preaching of the word of God, and prayer and praise, were not thus confined. These cities were to be given out of each tribe. Each thus made a grateful acknowledgement to God. Each tribe had the benefit of the Levites dwelling amongst them, to teach them the knowledge of the Lord; thus no parts of the country were left to sit in darkness. The gospel provides that he who is taught in the word, should communicate to him that teaches, in all good things, Ga 6:6. We are to free God's ministers from distracting cares, and to leave them at leisure for the duties of their station; so that they may be wholly employed therein, and avail themselves of every opportunity, by acts of kindness, to gain the good-will of the people, and to draw their attention.
To show plainly the abhorrence of murder, and to provide the more effectually for the punishment of the murderer, the nearest relation of the deceased, under the title of avenger of blood, (or the redeemer of blood,) in notorious cases, might pursue, and execute vengeance. A distinction is made, not between sudden anger and malice aforethought, both which are the crime of murder; but between intentionally striking a man with any weapon likely to cause death, and an unintentional blow. In the latter case alone, the city of refuge afforded protection. Murder in all its forms, and under all disguises, pollutes a land. Alas! that so many murders, under the name of duels, prize-fights, &c. should pass unpunished. There were six cities of refuge; one or other might be reached in less than a day's journey from any part of the land. To these, man-slayers might flee for refuge, and be safe, till they had a fair trial. If acquitted from the charge, they were protected from the avenger of blood; yet they must continue within the bounds of the city till the death of the high priest. Thus we are reminded that the death of the great High Priest is the only means whereby sins are pardon ed, and sinners set at liberty. These cities are plainly alluded to, both in the Old and New Testament, we cannot doubt the typical character of their appointment. Turn ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope, saith the voice of mercy, Zec 9:12, alluding to the city of refuge. St. Paul describes the strong consolation of fleeing for refuge to the hope set before us, in a passage always applied to the gracious appointment of the cities of refuge, Heb 6:18. The rich mercies of salvation, through Christ, prefigured by these cities, demand our regard. 1. Did the ancient city rear its towers of safety on high? See Jesus Christ raised up on the cross; and is he not exalted at the right hand of his Father, to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins? 2. Does not the highway of salvation, resemble the smooth and plain path to the city of refuge? Survey the path that leads to the Redeemer. Is there any stumbling-block to be found therein, except that which an evil heart of unbelief supplies for its own fall? 3. Waymarks were set up pointing to the city. And is it not the office of the ministers of the gospel to direct sinners to Him? 4. The gate of the city stood open night and day. Has not Jesus Christ declared, Him that cometh unto me I will in nowise cast out? 5. The city of refuge afforded support to every one who entered its walls. Those who have reached the refuge, may live by faith on Him whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed. 6. The city was a refuge for all. In the gospel there is no respect of persons. That soul lives not which deserves not Divine wrath; that soul lives not which may not in simple faith hope for salvation and life eternal, through the Son of God.
The inheritance of the daughters of Zelophehad.
The daughters of Zelophehad are to marry in their own tribe.
The heads of the tribe of Manasseh represent the evil which might follow, if the daughters of Zelophehad should marry into any other tribes. They sought to preserve the Divine appointment of inheritances, and that contests and quarrels should not rise among those who should come afterwards. It is the wisdom and duty of those who have estates in the world, to settle them, and to dispose of them, so that no strife and contention may arise. (Nu 36:5-12)
Those who consult the oracles of God, concerning the making of their heavenly inheritance sure, shall not only be directed what to do, but their inquiries shall be graciously accepted. God would not have one tribe enriched at the expense of another. Each tribe was to keep to its own inheritance. The daughters of Zelophehad submitted to this appointment. How could they fail to marry well, when God himself directed them? Let the people of God learn how suitable and proper it is, like the daughters of Israel, to be united only to their own people. Ought not every true believer Israel, to be united only to their own people. Ought not every true believer in Jesus, to be very attentive in the near and tender relations of life, to be united only to such as are united to the Lord? All our intentions and inclinations ought to be subjected to the will of God, when that is made known to us, and especially in contracting marriage. Although the word of God allows affection and preference in this important relation, it does not sanction that foolish, ungovernable, and idolatrous passion, which cares not what may be the end; but in defiance of authority, determines upon self-gratification. All such conduct, however disguised, is against common sense, the interests of society, the happiness of the marriage relation, and, what is still more evil, against the religion of Christ.
These are the judgments the Lord commanded in the plains of Moab. Most of them related to the settlement in Canaan, into which the Israelites were now entering. Whatever new condition God, by his providence, brings us into, we must beg him to teach us the duties of it, and to enable us to do them, that we may do the work of the day in its day, the duty of a place in its place.
Return to Matthew Henry's Concise Bible Commentary