Numbers 32:1, 5-8, 16-18, 20-24; 33:51-53 Antique Commentary Quotes

John Calvin
Numbers 32:1
1.Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad. In this narrative we behold, as in a glass, that whilst each individual is but too attentive to his own private interests, he forgets what is just and right. Those, indeed, who seek their own advantage, do not reflect that they are doing injury to others; but it is impossible for them to avoid seeking more than is their due, and preferring themselves to others; and thus they sin against that rule of charity, that we should not seek our own. The sons of Gad and Reuben, who had a great quantity of cattle, see a tract of rich and fertile land; self-interest takes possession of them, so that it does not occur to them that they were under an obligation to their brethren not to covet for themselves anything peculiar, or separate from them. Nevertheless, there was a specious pretext for this, whereby their eyes were blinded, viz., that nothing was taken away from the others, but rather that so much addition was made; for by these means the whole country on the other side of Jordan continued to be theirs; and, besides, they were rather relieved of an inconvenience than exposed to a loss; since the progress of their expedition would be less difficult, if the body of persons, who were charged with the cattle, should stay there, and thus should cease to be an incumbrance to the army, which would be in lighter condition for advancing. Their association, however, for the war had been established by God, and bound them by an indissoluble tie not to desert the rest of the people: whilst it was also a solemn duty (religio) imposed upon them not to alter the bounds of the inheritance promised by God. The land of Canaan was assigned to the whole race of Abraham, in which they were to be enclosed, and to inhabit it as a peculiar world, the tribes of Gad and Reuben now transgress those limits, and, at the same time disunite themselves from the body of the Church, as if they desired to be emancipated from God. Hence ought we to be the more on our guard, lest we should go astray after our own lusts. And when Moses says, that they saw, or considered, the land, let us learn to beware lest our eyes, by unlawful looks, should lead us into snares, and blind our minds; and thus that our senses should be so deceived by the envenomed sweetness, as that reason and equity should be utterly overthrown.

The Hebrew word, מקנה , mikneh. which we have rendered peculium, signifies not only cattle and herds, but also flocks of sheep. Almost all the Israelites were indeed possessors of cattle; but we gather from the words of Moses, that these two tribes were especially rich in them; perhaps, because the district which they inhabited in Egypt, being more suited for pasture, had invited them to apply themselves more earnestly to that mode of life, which was common to all, and had been handed down to them by their fathers; for it is not probable that they had thus surpassed the rest in this respect, during the course of their march.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Numbers 32:1-5
Num_32:1-42. The Reubenites and Gadites ask for an inheritance. the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead — A complete conquest had been made of the country east of the Jordan, comprising “the land of Jazer,” which formed the southern district between the Arnon and Jabbok and “the land of Gilead,” the middle region between the Jabbok and Jarmouk, or Hieromax, including Bashan, which lay on the north of that river. The whole of this region is now called the Belka. It has always been famous for its rich and extensive pastures, and it is still the favorite resort of the Bedouin shepherds, who frequently contend for securing to their immense flocks the benefit of its luxuriant vegetation. In the camp of ancient Israel, Reuben and Gad were pre-eminently pastoral; and as these two tribes, being placed under the same standard, had frequent opportunities of conversing and arranging about their common concerns, they united in preferring a request that the trans-jordanic region, so well suited to the habits of a pastoral people, might be assigned to them.

Albert Barnes
Numbers 32:1
Jazer – Compare the marginal reference. This district, although included in the land of Gilead, seems to have had special attractions for the Israelite settlers. All travelers in Gilead, the modern Belka, bear witness to its richness as compared with the country to the west of the Jordan. Its general character is that of an upland pasture, undulating and thickly timbered. In the last respect its northern portions excel its southern; but for fertility of soil the southern province is preferred by the Arabs, in whose lips it has passed into a proverb: “Thou canst not find a country like the Belka.”

Keil and Delitzsch
Numbers 32:3-5
In Num_32:3 the country is more distinctly defined by the introduction of the names of a number of important towns, whilst the clause “the country which the Lord smote before the congregation of Israel,” in which the defeat of Sihon is referred to, describes it as one that was without a ruler, and therefore could easily be taken possession of. For more minute remarks as to the towns themselves, see at Num_32:34. On the construction אֵת יֻתַּן, see at Gen_4:18. – The words, “let us not go over the Jordan,” may be understood as expressing nothing more than the desire of the speakers not to receive their inheritance on the western side of the Jordan, without their having any intention of withdrawing their help from the other tribes in connection with the conquest of Canaan, according to their subsequent declaration (Num_32:16.); but they may also be understood as expressing a wish to settle at once in the land to the east of the Jordan, and leave the other tribes to conquer Canaan alone. Moses understood them in the latter sense (Num_32:6.), and it is probable that this was their meaning, as, when Moses reproved them, the speakers did not reply that they had not cherished the intention attributed to them, but simply restricted themselves to the promise of co-operation in the conquest of Canaan. But even in this sense their request did not manifest “a shamelessness that would hardly be historically true” (Knobel). It may very well be explained from the opinion which they cherished, and which is perfectly intelligible after the rapid and easy defeat of the two mighty kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og, that the remaining tribes were quite strong enough to conquer the land of Canaan on the west of the Jordan. But for all that, the request of the Reubenites and Gadites did indicate an utter want of brotherly feeling, and complete indifference to the common interests of the whole nation, so that they thoroughly deserved the reproof which they received from Moses.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 32:5
Bring us not over Jordan. The two tribes have been charged on the strength of these words with “shameless selfishness,” but there is nothing to justify such an accusation. If they thought at all of the effect of their request upon their brethren, it is quite likely that they intended to do them a kindness by leaving them more room on the other side Jordan; and indeed Canaan proper was all too strait for such a population. Whether they were wise in wishing to stay in the wider and more attractive lands which they had seen is another matter. They knew that the God of Israel had designed to plant his people between Jordan and the sea, and they certainly risked a partial severance from his promises and his protection by remaining where they did. The subsequent history of the trans-Jordanic tribes is a melancholy commentary on the real unwisdom of their choice. Yet it would have been difficult for them to know that they were wrong, except by an instinct of faith which no Israelites perhaps at that time possessed.

John Calvin
Numbers 32:6
6.And Moses said unto the children of Gad. So sharp and severe a reproof shews us the greatness of the wrong: for neither did inconsiderate warmth carry away Moses into such violent anger, nor did he fall into error, so as to deliver his opinion on a point which he did not well understand. He knew, therefore, what the sons of Gad and Reuben asked; and hence he inveighed against them thus vehemently, because they desired to lacerate the body of the Church by this wicked severance. He begins by expostulating with them with regard to their sinful and unreasonable covetousness, in that they sought to indulge in idleness, when their brethren were about to march through a hostile land; for they were possessed of no rightful superiority, so as to throw upon the others all the labors, perils, and burdens of the war. Since, therefore, God had imposed the same condition upon all, it was not right that part of them should be exempted from it, as if by privilege. More severely, however, is their ingratitude and perverseness towards God chastised, than their injustice towards their brethren, whilst he alleges to their reproach, that thus the hearts of the children of Israel would be broken, so that they wouht refuse to obey the call of God.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 32:6
Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here. Moses had good cause to feel great anxiety about the entry into Canaan proper. Once already the faith and courage of the people had failed them on the very threshold of the promised land, and a slight discouragement might bring about a similar calamity. Hence he spoke with a degree of sharpness which does not appear to have been deserved.

Vers. 6-15. A thorough exposure of a selfish proposition.

I MOSES APPEALS TO THE SENSE OF SHAME. They had been one nation until now. The suffering of one tribe had been the suffering of all. They had marched in company and fought in company; but now, when Reuben and Gad see what seems the main chance, they say, “We have found what we want, we need go no further.” Often the only way of treating selfishness is to make it thoroughly ashamed of itself. If there is no loving sympathy in the heart to be appealed to, we must do our best by appealing to a sense of decency; we must ask the selfish, if they have nothing else to think of, to think a little of their own reputation. It was a very humiliating thing, if only Reuben and Gad had been able to see it, that Moses here made no appeal to high motives. He did not say, “Consider well, for your own sakes, what you propose to do; consider whether you are not seeking a mere present, external, paltry gain, and paving the way for a tremendous loss hereafter.” He might so have spoken, but what would the answer have been? “We are ready to take the risk of that.” And so he leaves unasked and undetermined the whole question of what Reuben and Gad”s own interest might be. That came up again in due time, as it was bound to do (Joshua 22). But there was a question bearing on the welfare of Israel which could not be postponed, and Moses sets it before the two tribes in a very direct way, neither repressing his just indignation nor softening his language. If men persist in taking a course which is hurtful to the real welfare of others, they must be whipped out of it by the readiest available means. There are only too many in the world who will do anything they can get others submissively to tolerate. Seemingly having no conscience of their own to speak of, they are dependent on the indignant, unsparing remonstrances of others. These remonstrances have to supply the place of conscience as best they can.

II HE POINTS OUT A PROBABLE PERIL TO THE NATION. When an army is advancing to the attack, it is a serious thing if a sixth part of the whole shows signs of desertion and of want of interest in the desired victory. From patriots Reuben and Gad had sunk all at once into mere mercenaries. They had gone with the nation only as long as it seemed their interest to go. They could, without the slightest compunction, leave a great gap in the order of the camp round the tabernacle. They did not stop to consider how their desertion would affect the arrangements of the whole comp. Lukewarm, unspiritual, and self-indulgent Christians if the name may be allowed where such qualities prevail little think of the continual hindrances and discouragements they bring to struggling brethren. The Christian life is hard enough when there is the outside world to contend with, but how peculiar and how difficult to surmount are the perils that come from false brethren! Note how Moses bases his fear of this peril on an actual experience. If the words of the ten craven-hearted spies drove the whole of Israel into rebellion, and doomed a whole generation to die in the wilderness, then how great a danger was to be feared from the desertion of two whole tribes!

III HE PLAINLY FIXES THE RISK OF THIS PERIL AND THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT UPON REUBEN AND GAD. It was not open to them to say, “All these gloomy chances that you foreshadow depend on the other tribes. They need not be discouraged. Canaan is just as attractive now as it was before. Our staying here can really make no difference.” It is both cowardly and unavailing to try and escape responsibility by insisting on the personal responsibility of others. It is of no use to say that we do not wish others to look on us as leaders. We know that men wilt do it whether we wish it or not, and the very fact of this knowledge fixes on us a responsibility which we cannot escape. God makes use of this very disposition to follow which is: found in human nature for his own gracious purposes. Jesus says, “Follow me.” And those who follow him find that some at least become followers of them. If the way in which we are going is a way into which others may be drawn to their ruin, then the way is at once condemned. No amount of individual prosperity, pleasure, and ease can compensate the destruction of others who have perished in a path which they never would have entered but for us. Offences must needs come, but the caution and the appeal remain: “Woe be to him through whom the offence comes.” Better for every beast in the herds to perish in Jordan than for the obscurest in all Israel to be prevented from getting into Canaan. Y.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 32:7
Discourage. The verb awOn, translated “discourage” here and in verse 9, is of somewhat doubtful meaning. The Septuagint renders it by diastrefw , and perhaps the sense is, “Why do ye draw away the heart?” i.e., render it averse from going over.

John Calvin
Numbers 32:8
8.Thus did your fathers. He amplifies their crime by reference to their continued perverseness: for so far is the imitation of ungodly parents from being an excuse for their children, that it rather doubles their guilt. Thus also does Stephen allege against the Jews of his days, their persevering in the sins of their fathers; as if he had cried out against them, that they were “the bad eggs of bad birds.”

“Ye stiff-necked (he says) and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” (Act_7:51.)

So also the Prophet, when he is exhorting their posterity to obedience, recalls these same circumstances to their memory:
“Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted me. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation,” etc. (Psa_95:8.)

It is not without cause that Moses now complains that there was no end or limit to their impiety, whilst the sons inherited their fathers’ iniquity, and ceased not to resist God: and, in order that the similarity and affinity of their crime may be more apparent, he reviews their history at some length. He does not, however compare the Reubenites and Gadites to the whole people, but to the ten spies, from whom the sedition arose, because, as far as in them lay, they turned aside the people from the right way. Secondly, he connects with this the punishment which ensued, that, at least, he might inspire them with terror, since it was hardly to be expected that they would amend of their own accord. He reminds them, therefore, that, when God so severely dealt with their fathers, He had given them a signal proof that their descendants would not be unpunished, unless they were teachable and submissive. The expression is remarkable, “Because they fulfilled not after me;” whereby he signifies that there is nothing praiseworthy in the most vigorous course, unless men persevere even to the goal. And, although this had happened forty years ago, still, inasmuch as the vengeance which God had threatened had been before their eyes even to that day, it behoved them to be just as much affected by it, as if they saw the hand of God still stretched forth. For, whenever any died in the desert, so often did God set His seal to His vengeance,lest it should be at any time buried in oblivion. If, then, God had been so wroth with the multitude in general, how much less should the instigators themselves escape?

Pulpit Commentary
Num 32:8
Thus did your fathers. It is impossible not to see that this mode of address is in striking contrast to that used in the Book of. Deuteronomy. (e.g., in Num_1:22, 27 5:3, 23) At the same time it is obviously the more natural, and the more in accordance with facts, because there was not a man left of all those who had rebelled at Kadesh. At Kadesh-Barnea. This mode of writing the name forms a link between the closing chapters of Numbers (here and in Num_34:4) and the two following books. In Deuteronomy it occurs four times, and “Kadesh” twice. In Joshua “Kadesh-Barnea” occurs exclusively. In the later books “Kadesh” only is used, as in Genesis and in the previous chapters of Numbers. The meaning of the combination is uncertain, and the etymology of “Barnea” altogether obscure. It may be an old name attaching to the place before it became known as a sanctuary. The Septuagint has Kadhv tou Barnh in one place, as though it were the name of a man.

John Calvin
Numbers 32:16
16.And they came near tinto him, and said. It is probable that they returned after having held a consultation: and now, — when they had considered what they ought to do, before promising what they had not previously thought of, — they assent to the decision of Moses, in accordance with their general opinion. From their reply itself we gather how usefully the severity of Moses had influenced their minds. If he had dealt with them with greater mildness and gentleness, his kindness would perhaps have been received with contempt. It was more profitable, therefore, that their stubborn hearts should be smitten with shame and fear, in order that they might lay aside their rebelliousness. Still, they do not altogether abandon their request, but devise a middle course, whereby, whilst they do not forsake their brethren, they may still occupy the land. They promise, then, to accompany them throughout the whole expedition, and to unite with them in the war; nay, to be the first to undergo danger, and expose themselves to the attacks of the enemy, provided a settled abode should be granted them for their families and their herds. Thus they would be exempt from guilt, since the rest would not be held back by their bad example, nor the strength of the people for carrying on the war be diminished; in one respect only they would have the advantage, that, by depositing their wives and children in a peaceful spot, they would have the opportunity of improving their domestic finances.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Numbers 32:16
they came near — The narrative gives a picturesque description of this scene. The suppliants had shrunk back, dreading from the undisguised emotions of their leader that their request would be refused. But, perceiving, from the tenor of his discourse, that his objection was grounded only on the supposition that they would not cross the Jordan to assist their brethren, they became emboldened to approach him with assurances of their goodwill.

We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones — that is, rebuild, repair. It would have been impossible within two months to found new cities, or even to reconstruct those which had been razed to the ground. Those cities of the Amorites were not absolutely demolished, and they probably consisted only of mud-built, or dry-stone walls.

Keil and Delitzsch
Numbers 32:16-19
The persons thus reproved came near to Moses, and replied, “We will build sheep-folds here for our flocks, and towns for our children; but we will equip ourselves hastily (חֻשִׁים, part. pass. hasting) before the children of Israel, till we bring them to their place” (i.e., to Canaan). צֹאן גִּדְרֹת, folds or pens for flocks, that were built of stones piled up one upon another (1Sa_24:4).

(Note: According to Wetstein (Reiseber. p. 29), it is a regular custom with the nomads in Leja, to surround every place, where they pitch their tents, with a Sira, i.e., with an enclosure of stones about the height of a man, that the flocks may not be scattered in the night, and that they may know at once, from the noise made by the falling of the smaller stones which are laid at the top, if a wolf attempts to enter the enclosure during the night.)

By the building of towns, we are to understand the rebuilding and fortification of them. טַף, the children, including the women, and such other defenceless members of the family as were in need of protection (see at Exo_12:37). When their families were secured in fortified towns against the inhabitants of the land, the men who could bear arms would not return to their houses till the children of Israel, i.e., the rest of the tribes, had all received their inheritance: for they did not wish for an inheritance on the other side of Jordan and farther on, if (כִּי) their inheritance was assigned them on this side Jordan towards the east. The application of the expression הַיַּרְדֵּן מֵעֵבֶר to the land on the east of the Jordan, as well as to that on the west, points to a time when the Israelites had not yet obtained a firm footing in Canaan. At that time the land to the west of the river could very naturally be spoken of as “beyond the Jordan,” from the subjective stand-point of the historian, who was then on the east of the river; whereas, according to the objective and geographical usage, the land “beyond Jordan” signifies the country to the east of the river. But in order to prevent misunderstanding, in this particular instance the expression הַיַּרְדֵּן עֵבֶר is defined more precisely as מִזְרָחָה, “towards the east,” when it is intended to apply to the land on the east of the Jordan.

Adam Clarke
Numbers 32:17
Because of the inhabitants of the land – These were the Ammonites, Moabites, Idumeans, and the remains of the Midianites and Amorites. But could the women and children even keep the defenced cities, when placed in them? This certainly cannot be supposed possible. Many of the men of war must of course stay behind. In the last census, Numbers 26, the tribe of Reuben consisted of 43,730 men; the tribe of Gad, 40,500; the tribe of Manasseh, 52,700; the half of which is 26,350. Add this to the sum of the other two tribes, and the amount is 110,580. Now from Jos_4:13 we learn that of the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half of the tribe of Manasseh, only 40,000 armed men passed over Jordan to assist their brethren in the reduction of the land: consequently the number of 70,580 men were left behind for the defense of the women, the children, and the flocks. This was more than sufficient to defend them against a people already panic struck by their late discomfitures and reverses.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 32:17
We ourselves will go ready armed. Rather, “we will equip ourselves in haste.” xljne. They meant that they would not delay the forward movement of Israel, but would hasten to erect the necessary buildings, and to array themselves for war.

John Calvin
Numbers 32:20
20.And Moses said unto them. Moses might seem to err on the side of excessive good-nature, in that he extends the boundaries prescribed by God, in complying with their wish. For, since their inheritance had been promised them in the land of Canaan, they ought to have been contented with that as their abode; nor was it allowable for Moses to make any alteration in the Divine decree. There is also another thing no less inconsistent, that in a point of so much perplexity, Moses does not, as usual, consult God, but gives an immediate answer, which indirectly overthrows the previous ordinance of God. And, in truth, their desire was by no means excusable, since it would have never entered their minds, if they had borne in memory the covenant of God, and had been satisfied with this goodness: since it cannot be but that the flesh should be constantly running riot, unless kept under restraint by the calling of God. But God, who knows how to bring light out of darkness, not only pardoned their error, but takes occasion also to extend His liberality. Thus the land of Bashan, and its neighborhood, were added to the former boundaries. At the same time, however, He shewed on the other hand how much better it would have been for them to have been kept together, so that they might have mutually protected each other, and dwelt securely in their appointed habitation. And, after the lapse of a long period, the Reubenites and Gadites learnt from experience that they had been too hasty in wishing for the land which they obtained; nevertheless, through God’s indulgence, that which might justly have been injurious to them, turned out for their advantage.

We may gather, however, from the result, that Moses was guilty of no rashness in his interference with the ordinance, of God, both because he commands that which he now determines to be ratified and maintained after his death; and when, in the book of Joshua, it is recorded that the several tribes had their inheritance assigned to them, this country beyond Jordan is excepted, as having been granted by Moses to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of Manasseh. Hence it is evident that his decision was approved by God. Moreover, since he is there often honored with the title of “servant of God,” we are taught that nothing was done by him in this matter without the authority of God, and the guidance of His Spirit. Neither is it at random that he here so often makes use of God’s name, but rather does he thus imply that whatever he does is suggested by Him.

Keil and Delitzsh
Numbers 32:20-27
Upon this declaration Moses absolves them from all guilt, and promises them the desired land for a possession, on condition that they fulfil their promise; but he reminds them again of the sin that they will commit, and will have to atone for, if their promise is not fulfilled, and closes with the admonition to build towns for their families and pens for their flocks, and to do what they have promised. Upon this they promise again (Num_32:25-27), through their spokesman (as the singular וַיֹּאמֶר in Num_32:25, and the suffix in אֲדֹנִי in Num_32:27, clearly show), that they will fulfil his command. The use of the expression “before Jehovah,” in the words, “go armed before Jehovah to war,” in Num_32:20 and Num_32:21, may be explained from the fact, that in the war which they waged at the command of their God, the Israelites were the army of Jehovah, with Jehovah in the midst. Hence the ark of the covenant was taken into the war, as the vehicle and substratum of the presence of Jehovah; whereas it remained behind in the camp, when the people wanted to press forward into Canaan of their own accord (Num_14:44). But if this is the meaning of the expression “before Jehovah,” we may easily understand why the Reubenites and Gadites do not make use of it in Num_32:17, namely, because they only promise to go equipped “before the children of Israel,” i.e., to help their brethren to conquer Canaan. In Num_32:32 they also adopt the expression, after hearing it from the mouth of Moses (Num_32:20).
(Note: This completely sets aside the supposed discrepancy which Knobel adduces in support of his fragmentary hypothesis, viz., that the Elohist writes “before Israel” in Num_32:17 and Num_32:29, when the Jehovist would write “before Jehovah,” – a statement which is not even correct; since we find “before Jehovah” in Num_32:29, which Knobel is obliged to erase from the text in order to establish his assertion.)

נְקִיִּים, innocent, “free from guilt before Jehovah and before Israel.” By drawing back from participation in the war against the Canaanites, they would not only sin against Jehovah, who had promised Canaan to all Israel, and commanded them to take it, but also against Israel itself, i.e., against the rest of the tribes, as is more fully stated in Num_32:7-15. In Num_32:22, “before Jehovah” signifies according to the judgment of Jehovah, with divine approval. חַטַּאתְכֶם וּדְעוּ, “ye will know your sin,” which will overtake (מָצָא) or smite you, i.e., ye will have to make atonement for them.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 32:20
Before the Lord. Perhaps in a quasi-local sense, as the vanguard of the host before the sacred symbols of the Lord”s presence. (see on Num_10:21, and Jos_6:9) But since the same expression (hwOhy ynepli) is twice used in a much vaguer sense in verse 22, it is more probable,that it only means “in the Lord”s service, or “beneath his eye.”

John Calvin
Numbers 32:23
23.But if ye will not do so. He makes a solemn protestation that they will deal wickedly, if they break their promise: and at the same time denounces punishment against them, as if he were summoning them before the tribunal of God. But, although he speaks conditionally of that particular engagement, whereby the two tribes had voluntarily bound themselves, still we may derive from his words the general doctrine, that, unless we abide by our promises, God will always be the avenger of fraud and treachery. The expression, “Sin will find you out,” is more emphatic than as if he had simply said, You shall not escape God’s hand; for the meaning of it is that vengeance is so connected with sin, that it cannot be severed from it. Thus, in Gen_4:7, it is said, “Sin lieth at the door,” to lay hold at length of the guilty. For, such is our propensity to sin, that we too often find from experience that we are encouraged to audacity by God’s forbearance, whilst we think that we have escaped, if He makes as though He saw us not for a time.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 32:23
Be sure your sin will find you out. Or rather, “ye will know your sin” ( WdW) “which shall find you out”. (for axm cf. Gen_44:16) So in effect the Septuagint: gnwsesye than uwn, otan umav katalabh ta kaka . When they had cause to rue their folly, then they would recognize their sin.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Numbers 33:50-53
ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you — not, however, by expulsion, but extermination (Deu_7:1).

and destroy all their pictures — obelisks for idolatrous worship (see on Lev_26:1).

and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places — by metonymy for all their groves and altars, and materials of worship on the tops of hills.

Adam Clarke
Numbers 33:52
Ye shall – destroy all their pictures – משכיתם maskiyotham, from שחה sachah, to be like, or resemble, either pictures, carved work, or embroidery, as far as these things were employed to exhibit the abominations of idolatry. Molten images צלמי מסכתם tsalmey massechotham, metallic talismanical figures, made under certain constellations, and supposed in consequence to be possessed of some extraordinary influences and virtues.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 33:52
Ye shall drive out. The Hebrew word (from vry) is the same which is translated “dispossess” in the next verse. The Septuagint has in both eases apoleite , supplying (like the A.V) the word “inhabitants” in verse 53. The Hebrew word, however, seems to have much the same sense as the English phrase “clear out,” and is, therefore, equally applied to the land and the occupants of it. No doubt it implies extermination as a necessary condition of the clearance. Their pictures. Septuagint, ta , (their outlooks, or high places). The Targums of Onkelos and Palestine have “the houses of their worship;” the Targum of Jerusalem has “their idols.” The same word occurs in Lev_26:1, in the phrase tyKicm bae, which is usually rendered “a stone image,” i.e., a stone shaped into some likeness of man. If so, tyKicm by itself has probably the same meaning; at any rate it can hardly be “a picture,” nor is there the least evidence that the art of painting was at all practiced among the rude tribes of” Canaan. The same word, maskith, is indeed found in Eze_8:12 in connection with “gravings” (from qqj; cf. Isa_22:16 Isa_49:18 with Eze_4:1 Eze_23:14) on a wall; but even this belonged to a very different age.

Their molten images, ymelx, “images cast of brass.” Septuagint, ta eidwla ta coneuta . The word tselem is only elsewhere used in the Pentateuch for that “likeness” which is reproduced in Divine creation (Gen_1:26, 27 9:6) or in human generation; (Gen_5:3) in the later books, however (especially in Daniel), it is freely used for idols. On “massakah, see on Exo_32:4 Isa_30:22. Their high places See on Lev_26:30. The Septuagint translates Bamoth in both places by sthlai , and of course it was not the high places themselves, which were simply certain prominent elevations, but the monuments (of whatever kind) which superstition had erected upon them, which were to be plucked down. As a fact, it would seem that the Jews, instead of obeying this command, appropriated the Bamoth to their own religious uses. (cf. 1Sa_9:12 1Ki_3:2 Psa_78:58, &c.); The natural result was, as in all similar cases, that not only the Bamoth, but very many of the superstitions and idolatries connected with them, were taken over into the service of the Lord.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 33:53
I have given you the land. “The earth is the Lord”s,” and no one, therefore, can dispute his right in the abstract to evict any of his tenants and to put others in possession. But while the whole earth was the Lord”s, it is clear that he assumed a special relation towards the land of Canaan, as to which he chose to exercise directly the rights and duties of landlord. (see on Deu_22:8 for a small but striking instance) The first duty of a landlord is to see that the occupancy of his property is not abused for illegal or immoral ends; and this duty excuses, because it necessitates, eviction under certain circumstances. It is not, therefore, necessary to argue that the Canaanites were more infamous than many others; it is enough to remember that God had assumed towards the land which they occupied (apparently by conquest) a relation which did not allow him to overlook their enormities, as he might those of other nations. (see on Exo_23:23-33 Exo_34:11-17, and cf. Act_14:16 Act_17:30) It was (if we like to put it so) the misfortune of the Canaanites that they alone of “all nations” could not be suffered to “walk in their own ways,” because they had settled in a land which the Lord had chosen to administer directly as his own earthly kingdom.

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