Lesson 2: Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges

Numbers: (36 chapters)

Numbers works on two levels: 1) It tells the story of 38 years of wandering of the People of God from Sinai to the plains of Moab just before the invasion of Canaan under Joshua; 2) on a deeper level, it is a story of how God acted in history to guide and protect his chosen people from Sinai to the Jordan River. He was always in their midst to protect them, to teach them, to help them in their difficulties, and to punish them when they rebelled against him. The sacred author affirms that the promise of God to Abraham of a large progeny has been fulfilled. They are now on their way to the Promised Land.

Because the people refused to enter the land when the Lord told them to, he sends them out into the wilderness for 40 years. During that time the old generation dies off and a new generation arises. There is murmuring and rebellion because of the hardships in the wilderness and God wants to destroy them, but Moses prays and intercedes with the Lord for his people. Here we see the power of intercessory prayer.

The 38 years in the desert wilderness was a time of discipline and educating the people on what it means to be the People of God. After some battles and defeating the two kings, Sihon and Gog, they finally arrive at the area east of the Jordan River. They are now ready to be led by Joshua into the Promised Land of Canaan. Everything that happens to them should be understood in terms of the Sinai Covenant made between the Lord and his people.

In the NT both Jesus and the Apostles make reference to events in the book of Numbers and derive useful lessons from them, e.g. the bronze serpent (John 3:14), the rebellion of Korah and its consequences (1 Cor. 10:10), the prophecies of Balaam (2 Pet. 2:15f), and the water rushing forth from the rock at the touch of Moses (1 Cor. 10:4).

Deuteronomy: (34 chapters)

The book contains traditions that go back to Moses. The book was probably completed in the Northern Kingdom in the 8th century and brought to Jerusalem after the fall of Samaria in 721 B.C.

The theme is that Israel was chosen by the Lord God to be his people and he made a covenant with them. They must reject all foreign gods and worship the Lord at one place, namely, Jerusalem. The distinctive style of the book is oratorical, and the author uses many set phrases again and again to get his point across.

Deuteronomy is basically a series of 3 sermons given by Moses on the law and the covenant. It is a moving exhortation to keep the law. According to God's word, obedience will be rewarded and disobedience will be severely punished. A special characteristic of Deut. is the command to centralize the worship of the Lord Yahweh in Jerusalem.

Moses' first sermon gives a brief history of God's dealings with Israel (1:1 - 4:43). Then he urges the people to keep the Ten Commandments, especially the First Commandment. If they do that, they will prosper; if they do not, they will suffer disaster.

Moses' second sermon is the heart of Deut. (4:44 - 28:69). Here he proclaims the Great Commandment to love God with all one's heart (6:5), and repeats the Ten Commandments of Exod. 19. He concludes with the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience. Moses' third sermon repeats the main points of the first two, with special emphasis on the blessings and curses (29:1 - 30:20).

Deut. concludes with four appendices. They say that Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of the people, having been chosen by God. It also recounts the death of Moses who saw the Promised Land but was not allowed to enter it because of his previous fault.

The idea of temporal reward for keeping the Law and punishment for violating it appears often in Deut. This theme runs through the following books: Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings.

Deut. is cited explicitly in the NT. Jesus quotes the book three times in Matt. 4 in rejecting the three temptations of Satan. He also quotes Deut. 6:4 when he answers the lawyers' question about the first and greatest commandment (see Matt. 22:35-39).

Joshua: (24 chapters)

The occupation of the Promised Land probably took place between 1250 and 1200 B.C. The book seems to be a compilation of stories from the different tribes about how they occupied the land. It is part of the "Deuteronomic History" because it illustrates the principle of reward for keeping the covenant and punishment for abandoning it. The story is about the conquest of the land in the first part (chs. 1-12) and then the distribution of the land to the twelve tribes (chs. 13-21).

After crossing the Jordan River on dry land as the result of a miracle, Joshua sends spies to reconnoiter Jericho. With the help of Rahab, the prostitute, he takes the city after the walls come tumbling down. Then he captures Ai and other cities. But he does not capture all of the cities of the Philistines because they are too well defended, so he just bypasses them. The story is presented as a series of rapid raids, but it took about 50 years to eliminate the Canaanites and to occupy the land.

Each tribe is given land. Three tribes elect to remain east of the Jordan--Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Mannasseh. No land was assigned to the tribe of Levi because they were to serve the Lord and take care of the worship; the other tribes had to support them.

The conquest is viewed not as a human work but as the work of God--for the Lord said to Joshua as he had said to Moses, "I will be with you" (1:5). Joshua is not quoted in the NT, but it does provide some types of NT personalities, esp. Jesus himself and St. John the Baptist. The name "Joshua" is a variant form of "Jesus" and it means "Yahweh saves." In the broad sense of typology, Joshua's conquest of the Promised Land is a prophecy of the spiritual conquest of the world by Jesus and his Church, which is his Mystical Body.

Judges: (21 chapters)

The general theme is that fidelity to God brings blessing, while infidelity to him brings punishment and misery. A fourfold cycle is clearly spelled out in the book: sin, punishment, repentance and then deliverance.

Judges tells the story of what happened to the twelve tribes from the time of the conquest (1250 B.C.) until the advent of Saul, the first king (ca. 1040 B.C.) Samson is the most famous of the judges; other main judges are Deborah, Gideon and Jephthah. The judges were primarily warriors and military leaders.

Since there was no king during this time, there was no centralized government to hold the twelve tribes together; it was more a theocracy than a kingdom. The book leads naturally into 1 Samuel where the story of the selection of the first king, Saul, is told.

At this time, responsibility and punishment are more collective and community oriented than they are personal and individual. A basic faith in Yahweh is present, but it is imperfect. The purpose of the book is to show that the good or bad fortune of Israel depended on the obedience or disobedience of the people to God's law, especially the First Commandment. One explicit reference to Judges in the NT is found in Hebrews 11:32-34 where the author praises the faith of the judges.

Reading Assignment

Read Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges. Also, read a few dictionary articles on "Covenant"; a good source is John McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible.

Writing Assignment

Write an essay of about 1000 words on Joshua, or Moses' sermons in Deuteronomy, or the Deuteronomic History (sin, punishment, repentance, deliverance).


Read a commentary on one of the books treated above.


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