Lesson 67: Numbers 30–36

Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual, 2014


Introduction

Moses taught Israelite leaders concerning vows. The Lord commanded the Israelites to go to war against the Midianites, and none of the Israelite soldiers were lost. After this war, Moses instructed the Israelites concerning land inheritances and cities of refuge.

Suggestions for Teaching

Numbers 30–31

Moses instructs Israelite leaders about vows, and an Israelite army destroys the Midianites

Before class, write the following question on the board:

What blessings have you received that are so great, you feel you could never repay Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?

Ask students to write their answers to this question on the board. (Answers might include the earth, their bodies, their families, the plan of salvation, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ.) You may want to invite a few students to explain their answers to the class.

Invite students, as they study Numbers 30–31, to look for truths that can help them know how they can better express gratitude for their blessings.

Summarize Numbers 30 by explaining that Moses taught Israelite leaders the Lord’s standard for keeping promises, vows, and oaths. He also taught how an individual could be released from a vow or have the vow cancelled.

To provide context for Numbers 31, remind students that by acting on the counsel of Balaam (see Revelation 2:14), the Moabites and Midianites led many Israelites to worship false gods and engage in sexual immorality. The Israelites who did these things were slain (see Numbers 25).

Invite a student to read Numbers 31:1–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord directed the Israelites to do to the Midianites.

  • What did the Lord direct the Israelites to do?

You may want to explain that the phrase “avenge the Lord of Midian” in verse 3 means that the Israelites were commanded to carry out the Lord’s judgment on the Midianites for their wickedness in influencing the Israelites to sin.

Summarize Numbers 31:6–47 by explaining that the Israelites succeeded in this war and took the Midianites’ possessions. Balaam, who was living among the Midianites, was killed in a battle.

Ask students to read Numbers 31:48–49 silently, looking for how many Israelite soldiers died in this war.

  • How many Israelite soldiers died in this war with the Midianites? (You may need to point out that “there lacketh not one man of us” means that no one was killed.)

Point out that having one’s life spared is a blessing that fits with those that students wrote on the board. It was beyond the Israelites’ ability to repay the Lord for this blessing, and yet they still wanted to express their gratitude.

Invite a student to read Numbers 31:50 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the officers of the army of Israel brought to Moses to show their gratitude.

  • What did the officers of the army of Israel bring to Moses?

You may need to explain that an oblation is something given as an offering or gift to the Lord.

Explain that the phrase “to make an atonement for our souls” (Numbers 31:50) means that by making their offering, the officers were trying to reconcile the debt they felt they owed the Lord for sparing their lives. Although no payment could adequately repay the Lord, their offering showed that they acknowledged and were grateful for His blessings of protection.

  • What can we learn from the example of these Israelites about showing gratitude to the Lord for His blessings? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: We can show our gratitude for the Lord’s blessings by making offerings to Him. Consider writing this principle on the board.)

  • What are some offerings or gifts we can give to the Lord to show our gratitude for His blessings in our lives?

  • When have you sought to show your gratitude to the Lord through your actions? What feelings did you have as you gave that offering to the Lord?

Invite students to record in their class notebooks or scripture study journals an offering they feel they can give the Lord to show their gratitude for blessings He has given them. Encourage them to act on what they have written.

Summarize Numbers 31:51–54 by explaining that Moses and Eleazar the priest brought the officers’ offerings into the tabernacle as “a memorial for the children of Israel before the Lord” (Numbers 31:54).

Numbers 32

Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh receive their inheritance east of the Jordan River

To prepare students to study Numbers 32, spread a blanket or tarp on the floor. Invite several students to stand on the blanket. (Do not invite more students to participate than can fit comfortably on one half of the blanket.) Tell the students that their task is to work together to turn the blanket all the way over onto its other side. As they perform this task they must remain on the blanket and cannot step off of it onto the floor. After students have completed the activity, ask the class the following questions:

  • What are some things we can learn from this activity about working together and helping one another?

  • What are some situations in which Heavenly Father asks us to work together or help one another?

Invite students to look for truths as they study Numbers 32 that can guide them as they work with others to accomplish what Heavenly Father has asked them to do.

To help students understand the context of Numbers 32, explain that the tribes of Israel were camped in the plains of Moab on the east side of the Jordan River and were preparing to enter the promised land. (You may want to invite students to locate the plains of Moab on Bible Map no. 1, “Physical Map of the Holy Land.”)

Invite a student to read Numbers 32:1, 5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the tribes of Reuben and Gad asked Moses.

  • What did the tribes of Reuben and Gad ask Moses?

You may want to invite students to locate the land of Gilead on Bible Map no. 1. Explain that Jazer was near Gilead, just south of the Jabbok River.

  • Why did they want to possess the lands of Gilead and Jazer?

Point out that in addition to being good grazing lands, the lands of Gilead and Jazer had already been conquered by the Israelites (see Numbers 21:31–35). In contrast, the lands west of the Jordan River still needed to be conquered and claimed from people who were hostile to the Israelites.

Invite a student to read Numbers 32:6–7 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Moses responded to the request from the tribes of Reuben and Gad.

  • What was Moses’s concern? (If the tribes of Reuben and Gad were given their inheritances at that time, they might not go to battle to help the rest of the tribes obtain their lands. Moses worried that the rest of the tribes might be discouraged from entering the promised land if they had to battle for their inheritances with a smaller army.)

Summarize Numbers 32:8–13 by explaining that Moses reminded the tribes of Reuben and Gad of the previous time when Israel failed to enter the promised land and the people had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Invite a student to read Numbers 32:14–15 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Moses warned would happen if the tribes of Reuben and Gad discouraged the other tribes from entering the promised land on this occasion.

  • What did Moses warn?

  • Why do you think it would be a sin for the tribes of Reuben and Gad not to help the other tribes inherit their portions of the promised land? (You may want to remind students that the other tribes had helped conquer the lands that the tribes of Reuben and Gad sought to inherit.)

Point out that Israel’s efforts to inherit the promised land can be compared to our efforts to receive the Lord’s blessings.

  • What can we learn from Moses’s warning in verses 14–15 about our responsibility to help others? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following truth: The Lord holds us responsible to help others receive His blessings.)

Invite a student to read Numbers 32:16–19 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the tribes of Reuben and Gad offered to do.

  • What did the tribes of Reuben and Gad offer?

  • How might the pledge of support from Reuben and Gad have helped to strengthen Israel? (A united Israel would be stronger against its enemies than a divided Israel.)

Invite a student to read Numbers 32:20–22 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Moses responded to this suggestion. (You may want to suggest that students mark the words if and then in this passage.)

  • What did Moses say would be the result if the tribes of Reuben and Gad helped the other tribes conquer their lands?

  • What does this teach us about choosing to help others obtain the Lord’s blessings? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: If we help others obtain the Lord’s blessings, then we are blessed as well. Using students’ words, write this principle on the board.)

  • What are some of the Lord’s blessings that we are responsible to help others obtain?

To help students further understand and feel the truth and importance of the truths they have identified, assign them to work in small groups. Give each group a copy of one of the handouts below. Ask them to discuss their answers and be prepared to report to the class.

    Handout 1
  • In what ways are we responsible for helping others obtain the Lord’s blessings?

  • Why do you think the Lord holds us responsible for helping others obtain the blessings He desires to give them?

    Handout 2
  • When have you tried to help others obtain the Lord’s blessings?

  • How did you feel you were blessed as a result of your efforts?

After sufficient time, ask each group (or a spokesperson from each group) to report their answers and other insights they may have gained.

Explain that Numbers 32 concludes with Moses designating the inheritances for the tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh.

Numbers 33–36

Moses reviews Israel’s journeys and instructs them concerning land inheritances and cities of refuge

Summarize Numbers 33–36 by explaining that Moses reviewed Israel’s journeys from Egypt to Canaan and that the Lord instructed Israel to drive out all of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. In addition, Moses instructed the Israelites about land inheritances and about the establishment of cities in which individuals accused of manslaughter could receive refuge until a fair trial was held.

Conclude by testifying of the principles identified in this lesson. Invite students to act on any promptings they may have received as they studied the scriptures.

Commentary and Background Information

Numbers 32:16–25. Helping others receive the blessings of the Lord

Just as the tribes of Reuben and Gad needed to help the other tribes of Israel receive their promised blessings before receiving blessings for themselves, we must help others obtain the Lord’s blessings so we can receive all of His blessings as well. One way we can do this is through family history and temple work. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:

“Ordinances of the temple relate to personal progress and to the redemption of departed ancestors as well. ‘For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, … they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect’ [D&C 128:15]. Service in their behalf provides repeated opportunities for temple worship. And that service deserves commitment to a planned schedule. By doing for others what they cannot do for themselves, we emulate the pattern of the Savior, who wrought the Atonement to bless the lives of other people” (“Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” Ensign, May 2001, 34).

Numbers 35. Cities of refuge

Numbers 35 contains the Lord’s commandment that special cities be established throughout Canaan for the Levites. This would allow the Levites to be among all the tribes and perform ordinances for them.

“Six of the forty-eight Levitical cities were appointed to be ‘cities of refuge,’ places where those who had taken human life could find protection until they had been tried and either convicted of murder or released (v. 11). These cities were to be located on both sides of the Jordan (see v. 14). Note the distinction that Moses made between murdering and slaying a human being (see vv. 15–25). Differentiation was made among what is called today premeditated murder, murder of passion, manslaughter, and self-defense.

“‘Cities of refuge among the Hebrews were necessary, because the old patriarchal law still remained in force, viz., that the nearest akin had a right to avenge the death of his relation by slaying the murderer; for the original law enacted that whosoever shed man’s blood, by man should his blood be shed, Genesis 9:6, and none was judged so proper to execute this law as the man who was nearest akin to the deceased. As many rash executions of this law might take place, from the very nature of the thing, it was deemed necessary to qualify its claims, and prevent injustice; and the cities of refuge were judged proper for this purpose. Nor do we ever read that they were ever found inefficient, or that they were ever abused.’ (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:730.)” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 211).