Numbers 25-28: Public impalement, census, offerings

Some Israelites have sex with Moabite women and worship their god.  The LORD commands Moses to publicly impale all the Israelite leaders, both guilty and innocent.  Moses reduces the cruelty of the punishment, and only kills the guilty leaders.  Just then, an Israelite brought a Midianite woman to his companions; Phinehas took a spear and killed them both.  This appeases the LORD and stops the plague afflicting them.  Further, the LORD grants Phinehas and his descendants a pact of friendship.

The LORD commands a census of the whole community.  The numbers and patriarchs of each tribe is then listed, followed by a census of the Levites.  Then the daughters of Zelophehad plead for land, because their father died without any sons and they did not want their father’s name to be lost.  The LORD grants this request and clarifies inheritance rules: sons take priority in inheritance, followed by daughters, brothers, and father’s brothers, in that order.  He further appoints Joshua as Moses’ successor.  Finally, he gives detailed instructions about the burnt offerings, purification offerings, meal offerings, and libations that must be performed daily, on sabbaths, and on major holidays.

Commentary:

  • 25:4 is translated “Take all the ringleaders and have them publicly impaled before the LORD”, but a more literal translation for “ringleaders” is “all the heads of the people”, implying both innocent and guilty leaders.
  • Joshua, unlike Moses, cannot communicate directly with the LORD.  He must “seek the decision of the Urim before the LORD” (27:21).  The Urim and Thummim are objects that fit into the pouch of the high priest’s breastplace.  They were cast like dice, and the result was said to be divinely ordained.
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