THE Israelites continued to camp on the plains east of the Jordan river for many days. Water was plentiful. There was an abundance of grass for the animals. Living was also a little more pleasant for the people because of the shade trees in that area. Meanwhile, the people didn't sit around doing nothing. Besides their regular duties, it was somewhat of a task to adjust to the thousands of Midianite captives, take care of the added livestock, purify the booty of war and re-fashion much of it, sharpen and repair the worn or broken tools of war.
Laws Are Needed
Time was required to do all this, but God's main purpose in allowing the people to stay so long in that place was to give them many instructions, through Moses, for their guidance and benefit. It was made known to them that when they crossed over the Jordan into Canaan on the west, it was their duty to execute the inhabitants there and to destroy all their idols, pagan altars, towers and groves where they burned some of their children in the fire and otherwise worshiped their heathen gods. (Numbers 33:50-53, Leviticus 18:21, 24-29; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 9:4; 12:29-32; 18:9-14.) Then the land was to be divided fairly among the nine and a half tribes according to their numbers. However, if the Israelites failed to overcome the inhabitants of Canaan, God warned that Israel would suffer. "If you spare any Canaanites," God said, "they will give you much trouble as long as they remain. Furthermore, I shall deal with you as I plan to deal with them.
That means that you could lose your lives as well as the land!" (Numbers 33:54-56.) God then defined the boundaries of the Promised Land and appointed a committee to supervise the distribution of the land. (Numbers 34.) God also instructed Moses to tell the people that they should give 48 towns to the Levites, who were not to receive any land by inheritance. These were not necessarily to be large towns, but each one was to be surrounded by an area over a mile across, reaching out 1000 cubits (about 2000 feet) from the wall in all directions. In these suburbs the Levites could plant gardens, orchards and vineyards and have room to keep their flocks and herds. (Numbers 35:1-5.) Six of these towns — three on each side of the Jordan — were soon to be appointed as "cities of refuge." As well as being centers of Levite habitation, these six towns were to be for the protection of anyone who accidentally killed a person. This was necessary because angered relatives or close friends of the dead man might try to kill the man who caused his death. For example, if two men were building a shed, and one man unexpectedly moved a heavy beam so that it fell and killed the other man, the man who moved the beam was to flee at once to the closest of the six towns, where he would be protected from anyone who might seek his life as a matter of vengeance. On the other hand, if the man maliciously moved the beam with the purpose of killing his working partner, he was still entitled to the temporary protection of any of the six towns so that he could be assured a fair trial.
Whatever the case, the man would be tried by authorities. If he were found guilty, he was either slain or allowed to fall into the hands of those who had set out to avenge the dead person. If he were found innocent, he still was to stay in the town for his own protection, until the death of the high priest. Meanwhile, if he ventured out of his protective town, and was found by any avenger, that was the end of his protection. There were to be no jails in Israel. Moses now assigned three towns for refuge purposes east of the Jordan river. They included Bezer in the plain country of the Reubenites. Then there was the town of Ramoth for the Gadites and Golan for the Manassites. The other three cities of refuge were to be set aside later by Joshua. (Numbers 35:6-34; Deuteronomy 4:41- 43; Deuteronomy 19:1-13; Joshua 20.) At this time Moses received many instructions and rules and reminders from God. He faithfully passed them on to the people as they came to him. So that they would better understand matters, Moses gave them a detailed account of what had happened since they had left Mt. Sinai four decades previously. The book of Deuteronomy is a record of these proceedings. During the lengthy account, Moses revealed to the people that God wouldn't allow him to go over into Canaan with them because of Moses' wrong conduct when he had struck the rock to obtain water. "Later," Moses told them, "I asked God to forgive me and let me go into Canaan. He refused to allow me to go, but told me I could view much of the land from a high mountain, and that there I would die!" (Deuteronomy 3:23-28.) The people were saddened to hear this. At the same time, they felt a greater fear of God. Many of them reasoned that if God would take the life of their leader, then their lives could be taken at any time because of their disobedience.
Sabbaths Must Be Observed
Moses added to their serious thinking by warning them that God would never tolerate law-breaking without punishment. He reminded them also that God was more merciful than they could imagine, and that He would never forsake them or destroy them as long as they kept their agreement to observe His laws. (Deuteronomy 4:30-31.) Among the matters mentioned through Moses for Israel's benefit was the strict reminder to observe the yearly Sabbaths. These holy days began in Egypt with the Passover. They were later more fully explained to the people at Mt. Sinai. The keeping of these holy days was to be a perpetual sign between God and Israel, just as the observance of the weekly Sabbath was to be an everlasting agreement. (Deuteronomy 12:1-14; 16:1-17; Exodus 31:17.) The understanding of the Sabbaths revealed God's wonderful plan of salvation, without which understanding no church could rightfully claim God as its Head. Today there are more than 700 church denominations that claim to be Christian, but almost all of them refuse to have anything to do with God's Sabbaths. Many weak excuses are given for not observing them, including the old, standard, groundless line that the days instituted by God were only Jewish days, and that they were done away with at Christ's death. The fact that most churches fail to observe them simply proves that most churches are not God's churches. This can be a shocking and perhaps unbelievable statement to many people, but it is a true one, completely backed up by the Bible. Scoffing at this Bible truth is the same as scoffing at God, the author of it. The Apostle Paul taught Christians to keep the weekly Sabbaths and yearly feasts many years after Christ ascended to heaven. (Acts 16:13; 17:2; 18:21; 20:16; 24:14.) God made it clear that besides the first tithe (that tenth of one's increase that is to pay the expense of the work of God) the Israelites should save a second tithe to be used in observing the holy days. This was mostly for the Festival of Tabernacles, which was to be held apart from the usual habitations of the people at a place chosen by God. (Deuteronomy 12:17-19; 14:22-27.) Today, as then, the people of God's church use this second tenth of their income for observing the holy days — especially the fall festival — at the place or places God indicates. Jerusalem was the main place in ancient Israel, and will be again when Christ returns not very many years from now. (Zechariah 14:16-19.) God ordained the Festival of Tabernacles as a time when His people should worship Him with special joy, reverence, mirth and thankfulness. It was not to be a noisy "camp meeting" or what is so often referred to as a "revival" at some date set by man. Instead, it was and still is a time of joyfully worshipping God while taking in spiritual food (preaching) that is corrective, inspiring and character — building. It was and still is a time of dining, visiting, dancing, and enjoying sports that stimulate the body and knit the people of God together in spiritual harmony. (Jeremiah 31:12-13.) Faithful saving of the second tithe makes it possible for God's people to enjoy this autumn vacation and return to their homes and to their work better prepared to live happier and closer to their Creator. At this same time God also commanded that the people should rest their crop land every seventh year so the physical laws in nature can improve the soil's health — giving natural balance. (Leviticus 25:1-7, 20-22; Leviticus 26:14-16, 32-35.) Then God commanded that a third tenth should be saved for a very special use. This was to be taken Out only every third and sixth year in a seven-year cycle. It was to go to the poor among the Levites, widows, fatherless children and poor strangers. (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12.) In these days the obedient Christian puts aside his tithes plus what is required in taxes and such. God makes it possible. Many are the families that have enjoyed better incomes and other financial benefits since beginning to tithe.
Good Civil Government
Many other matters were brought to the people at that time, among which were these: When the seventh-year land rest came, any debt should be canceled unless the debtor happened to be a foreigner. (Deuteronomy 15:1-11.) A servant should be freed after seven years of service. (Deuteronomy 15:12-15.) Israel was to make no agreements of any kind with the nations that were to be driven Out. (Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 20:16-18.) No more than forty lashes of a whip were to be applied in punishment. (Deuteronomy 25:1-3.) No fruit trees were to be Cut down in times of war in the land Israel invaded. (Deuteronomy 20:19-20.) The food they produced was worth more than timber. The Israelites should consider themselves a holy nation, not because of their righteousness, but because God chose them as His people. (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:1-2.) Any prophet or priest who falsely led the people into any wrong kind of worship was to be put to death. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22.) Toward the end of the period of instruction, Moses repeated these solemn words from God: "You, Israel, must choose between blessings and cursings from your Creator. Obedience to my laws shall bring wonderful blessings of prosperity, freedom from diseases, success in all you undertake, an abundance of healthy children and livestock, plenty of rain and water, good crops without blemish or pestilence, comfortable homes and protection from accident and from your enemies. I shall make you the head of all nations, and they shall fear and respect you. You shall lead long, happy lives, and so shall your offspring also be happy, healthy and prosperous into the far future! "On the other hand, if you refuse to live according to the laws I have made plain to you, I shall heap grievous curses on you. You shall cease to prosper. All kinds of diseases shall come on you, and you shall fail in all you set out to do. Your children
shall be sickly, but famine shall drive you to eat them. Your livestock shall sicken and die of disease or for lack of water and grass. The soil shall turn hard, and your crops shall be consumed by blight and pestilence. You shall be sick, frightened and miserable wherever you go. You shall become as depraved as animals and lunatics, and fatal accidents shall overtake you wherever you are. Your homes shall become filthy, miserable hovels. You shall become the least and weakest of all nations, and cruel enemies shall slay you. Those of you who aren't slain shall be taken captive and scattered among the nations as wretched slaves! " (Deuteronomy 28; Deuteronomy 30:15-20.)
God's Laws Must Be Preserved
All the laws God had recently given to Moses to pass on to the people were written down at another time by Moses and presented to the priests to place beside the Ark of the Covenant. Copies also were given to the elders. Moses commanded them to read the whole book of the law to the people every seven years when Israel assembled at the Festival of Tabernacles during the year of release. (Deuteronomy 31:9-13, 24-29.) The priests and Levites were also commanded to teach the people portions of the law yearly at the festivals and throughout the year in all their cities. (Deuteronomy 33:8- 10; II Chronicles 17:7-9; 35:1-3; Nehemiah 8:1-8; Acts 15:21.) God then called Moses and Joshua to the tabernacle. As soon as they entered, the Creator descended to the tabernacle inside a glorious, radiant cloud. (Deuteronomy 31: 14-15.) "Before your life ends," God told Moses, "there are more things for you to do. One is to write a song to teach to the people. I know they shall go after other gods and shall forget my laws. They shall break my covenant. Then evil days shall fall on them, and though they shall seek my help, I shall let them suffer. The verses I give you must become a national song to be taught from generation to generation. The people shall remember it, and it shall become a witness against them because of their sins." (Verses 16-21.)