In chapter 27, God allowed some sisters to inherit their father, because they had no brothers. Now, they are forced to marry within their tribe so that their inheritance will stay in the tribe. (The lands of each tribe are supposed to belong to that tribe for eternity. Remember, during the jubilee even lands sold to other tribes are to be returned to the tribe who originally owned them.)
And thus ends Numbers.
No inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another; for each of the tribes of the Israelites shall retain its own inheritance.
The Levites are to receive 48 towns from the other tribes. 6 of the towns are to be “refuge towns”, 3 of which are to be east of the Jordan (which contradicts earlier chapters that implied all Levites are to live in Canaan).
The refuge towns are places where perpetrators of accidental homicide can flee to in order to avoid execution (as prescribed in Exodus 21). A trial is held to determine their guilt: if they are found guilty of murder, a relative of the murdered must execute them. If the killing is found to be accidental, they must stay in the refuge city until the current high priest dies, after which they are free men.
Moreover you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer who is subject to the death penalty; a murderer must be put to death.
God defines the borders of the Israelites’ new country in Canaan.
… the boundary shall turn from Azmon to the Wadi of Egypt, and its termination shall be at the Sea.
List of places where the Israelites camped during the Exodus through the desert, with some short descriptions of important events. Most of the place names are unimportant, some have not even been mentioned before.
God reminds the Israelites to drive out all the original inhabitants from Canaan when they get there. If they do not, the Canaanites will be “as thorns in your sides”.
They set out from Rameses (…) while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn (…). The Lord executed judgments even against their gods.
The tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh realize that this whole detour through the Transjordan, and all the violent battles against its inhabitants, have been a huge waste of time and effort if they’re just going to leave the lands behind and travel to Canaan. So they ask Moses if they can live here, on the east side of the Dead Sea and Jordan. Moses agrees to this, on the condition that they come and fight in Canaan first, and gives them parts of the Amorite and Bashan kingdoms.
They continued, “If we have found favour in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession; do not make us cross the Jordan.”
Moses sends an army of 12,000 men to the far-away country of Midian, as ordered by God in chapter 25. They kill all adult males (including Balaam, who doesn’t even live there), burn all their towns, and bring back captured children, women and animals as booty. The warriors’ appalling conduct angers Moses, and he chides them: “Have you allowed all the women to live?” You can never trust warriors these days! He thereupon orders the execution of all adult women and male children, only allowing virgin girls to live for the pleasure of the Israelite men.
Until this chapter, I thought I had finally found a character in the Pentateuch that I could cheer for. Moses usually tends to prefer less violent action, and is always suitably distressed at the more insane of God’s plans. Although I had to go to great lengths to rationalize Moses’ actions in my story in chapter 16, I felt like my interpretation (that he was forced to kill all those people against his will) was believable. His decision in this chapter, though, is hard to excuse. It doesn’t seem to be an order from God, and there is no strategic value in in executing women, who would at the very least make perfectly good slaves. It really just strikes me as evil. I bet Zipporah (Moses’ Midianite wife, presumably with lots of family in Midian) gave him a cold shoulder that night (unless she was herself still in Midian and was slaughtered like everyone else).
The human booty to be shared among the Israelites totals 32,000 virgin girls. If we assume everyone younger than 15 years are virgins, and the average lifespan is 50 years, the whole population would be about 200,000 people. So each Israelite warrior must have killed 17 people or so each.
Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.
Men have to keep their promises (“vows” and “oaths”), while women are only bound by them if approved by their husband or father (or if they are widowed or divorced).
If she marries, while obligated by her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her at the time that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand.