While they’re east of the Jordan river, in the land of Gilead, the tribes of Ruben and Gad start looking around and see that it’s pretty good grazing land for cattle, so they go to Moses and ask to receive this land instead of a share of the land in Canaan (which is technically on the other side of the river).
Moses has an outburst of rage when hears this. He doesn’t seem as concerned about letting the two tribes stay on this side of the Jordan, and thus decreasing their fighting strength by 1/6. Instead, Moses is mad because 40 years ago some of the people didn’t want to trust God completely because of the report of the 12 spies and so they were forced to wander the desert. He is mad because he feels like history is repeating itself here.
But these two tribes assure Moses that this isn’t the case. They only want to keep the land they’re in for their possession, but in no way is it because they don’t want to follow the Lord. They propose to build pens for their livestock, and walls around their towns to protect their wives and children, and then they’ll go to war with Israel to take possession of Canaan. Moses is satisfied with this answer and allows what they proposed.
Then we read a logbook of where they traveled to and encamped at each time they stopped for the last 40 years. It would’ve taken less than six months to travel from Egypt to the border of Canaan. Probably just a few days for a single traveler, but say six months considering they’re over a million people, and just getting going each day would probably take hours. They encamped at the base of Sinai from a couple months after they left Egypt, all the way until the next Passover, and then departed. But the reason they took 40 years was because of the report of the spies, and how the people doubted and refused to obey. That was their punishment and a needed purgation to prepare them to possess the land.
The final instructions in this reading from Numbers is for the people to fully possess the land after they cross the river. They are to destroy all the idols and purge the land of any attachments to the false gods that were worshiped there. They’re told what will happen if they don’t.
This is an allegory to us as baptized Christians. We cross the Jordan river in our baptisms, and must then purify our lives of all attachment to sin, through the help of God. (Living out our baptism this link is a video of a talk I gave on this subject a few years ago)
Today’s readings from Luke sees Jesus staying behind at the temple in Jerusalem after his parents began the journey home. Back then it was common to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem in large groups, both for companionship and because there’s strength in numbers in case of bandits. It was also the standard practice for men and women to be segregated in these caravans, so both parents assuming their young son, who was not yet a man, might be with the other parent is understandable. After discovering Jesus was missing they immediately turned back, but only after searching for three days was he found.
The fact that he spent three days conversing with the rabbis and scribes about the things of God shows his complete dedication to his mission and gives us a brief glimpse into what is otherwise complete silence after the infancy narratives until he is around 30 years old.
After the finding of Jesus in the temple, Luke shifts the narrative ahead to the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry. He makes sure to note the various civil and religious leaders, and also notes the year of Tiberius’ reign in Rome. That was the common way to count years back then before there was a universal calendar, and so Luke sets these events in an easily recognizable time frame for his readers.
John is preaching in the desert and fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah. Luke notes this to put the reader in mind of the prophecies of Isaiah concerning the coming messiah and his mission to suffer for his people.
John has some pretty strong words for those in power, and didn’t shy away from calling out hypocrites, and calling everyone to a radical form of repentance. He tells everyone that the time is here, and though he’s not the messiah, the messiah is coming and everyone should reform their lives in preparation for his arrival. This preaching was so powerful and unfiltered that even Herod found himself in the crosshairs, and threw John into prison for it.