God’s Word for You
Numbers 33:50-56 The Idol of Opinion
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, January 31, 2022
Instructions for Conquering Canaan
50 On the Plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, the Lord spoke to Moses: 51 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52 you shall…
When the Confederate army invaded Pennsylvania in 1863, they planned to win a decisive victory over the Union north of Washington D.C. and force a quick and sudden ending to the war. At the beginning of World War I, the plan of German Field Marshal Von Schlieffen was to invade France from the north (Belgium), bypassing French fortifications on the border, and swing around encircling Paris to quickly capture every important city on the Somme, Oise and Seine Rivers. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor to bring America into World War II, their goal was to cripple the U.S. navy by destroying her cruisers and aircraft carriers. But the Confederacy lost the Battle of Gettysburg. The German army failed to surround Paris. The U.S. carriers were not even present at the Battle of Pearl Harbor. In each case, a key part of the plan failed.
One single, key point was vital to the success of this plan to conquer and keep Israel safe in the Promised Land. Without this one point (verses 52-53), nothing that Israel did would keep them safe. God’s plan for Israel did not fail because of God’s plan, but (as with many plans in war) because of man’s weakness. But God’s plan had nothing to do with military strategy. Listen to God’s plan in verse 52-53:
52 You shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you, destroy all their carved images and all their cast idols, and destroy all their high places. 53 You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, because I have given the land to you to possess it.
The Lord planned to simply give the land to Israel. What they needed to do was wipe out idols, nor armies. Joshua and the judges that followed him were often stunned by the victories God handed to them, but this war was about more than real estate. Their real enemy was false doctrine, not kings with armies, chariots, catapults, swords, bows and shields. The altars and images of the false gods of Canaan would be the corrupting influence that would be a problem for Israel in the future.
54 You shall distribute the land as a possession by lot according to your clans. For a larger clan you shall increase its inheritance. For a smaller clan you shall decrease its inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for that clan, that will be its portion. You will distribute the land as a possession according to the tribes of your fathers.
When the land was distributed, God was concerned that each tribe should have adequate space. This would prevent infighting later on in case one tribe prospered and needed more room than they had been given. Israel was to cast lots for the land. Notice that before the lots were cast, the Lord also distinguished between larger and smaller clans. The impression we have is that there were to be at least two sets of land groups: larger and smaller. The larger tribes would (it seems) cast lots for the larger regions, and the smaller tribes would cast lots (or so it seems) for the smaller regions.
According to the recent census (Numbers 26), the five largest tribes, each with more than 50,000 soldiers, were Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan and Asher (Manasseh would also have been one of these but had divided in half when Reuben and Gad opted to remain outside the land of Canaan). The highlands west of the Dead Sea, the mountains just north of that area, the two halves of the vast Valley of Jezreel, and the broad, fertile southern coastland were given to these five tribes. The other tribes cast lots for the other coastal areas, the lands around the Sea of Galilee, and the strip of land east of Jericho that would divide Judah from Ephraim.
55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, then those that you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will cause trouble for you in the land where you will settle. 56 Then I will do to you what I planned to do to them.’”
No amount of planning would help if the false religions of the Canaanites were permitted to remain. The “lifeless idols of their kings at their high places” (Ezekiel 43:7) were a threat to the spiritual life of the people, tempting them to rely on something that wasn’t truly God. Baal the storm god present everywhere in Canaan (1 Kings 18:26), Asherah the fertility goddess of Sidon (2 Kings 23:13), Moloch the Ammonite god (2 Kings 23:10), Chemosh the Moabite god (1 Kings 11:33)—these and more were problems for Israel, temptations that led them away from the promises of Christ.
Today our First Commandment temptations fall more inward than outward. Our idols have names like Power, Money, Leisure, and Opinion. That last one, the goddess Opinion, is beginning to reign supreme and to stick her foul nose into God’s own tent. But Opinion is an idol we must crush and smash and grind to powder so that we can bow and humble ourselves to God’s holy Word and to God’s holy will. When Luther was beginning his lectures on 1 Peter 1:2, “the sanctifying work of the Spirit,” he condemned the men he called “the belly preachers” (those who preached to earn their living and fill their bellies but not to serve God). “When they willfully do what they please,” he wrote, “they say that the church has commanded it. But holiness does not consist in [doing spiritual-seeming things]. It is a spiritual word which states that inwardly we are sincerely holy in the spirit before God. And his [God’s] real reason for making this statement was to point out that nothing is holy but the holiness that God works in us” (LW 30:6). Jesus gave us the perfect example to follow with his words: “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Stand firm in the will of God (Colossians 4:12), for whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:17). Give glory to God as you do “whatever your hand finds to do” (Ecclesiastes 9:9), and thank him for his love and forgiveness.
Pastor Timothy Smith