THE BOOK OF NUMBERS
The book gets its name from the fact that it records various numberings of the children of Israel. Numbers continues the story of Exodus in that it traces the journeys of the people of Israel in the wilderness, consequent upon their failure to enter the land at Kaddish-Barnes.
Someone has referred to the first four books of the Bible as showing forth a beautiful moral order:
a. Genesis records the creation and fall
b. Exodus teaches redemption by the blood
c. Leviticus tells of worship and fellowship
d. Numbers deals with service and walk.
From the book of numbers we learn that nothing is left to self-will. Everyone was numbered, had his place in the family, and was assigned a definite form of service. The New Testament parallel is I Corinthians 12. Numbers may be divided as follows:
1. Chs. 1 to 10:10. The Order of the Host.
2. Chs. 10:11 to 19. From Sinai to Kadesh-barnea.
3. Chs. 20 to 33. The Wilderness Journeys
4. Chs. 34 to 36. Closing instructions.
The events recorded in Numbers cover a period of 39 years. (Usher)
THE ORDER OF THE HOST.
In Ch. 1:1-3, we read that God told Moses to ascertain the number of men who were twenty years old and upward who were able to go forth to war. The sum total came to 603,500. It was important that everyone be clear concerning his own pedigree, for such was the manner in which the census was taken. How important a lesson it contains for us today. We too, should know who we are so that our identity in God’s family is clearly established.
The next thing of importance was that the tribes of Israel learn their place in the great encampment, Ch.2: 1. They were arranged in four groups of three tribes to a group, and pitched their tents with the tabernacle in the midst. Moses and Aaron and the priesthood, and the three families of the tribe of Levi were next dealt with and numbered, and each of the three groups of Levi was given its respective duties to perform, Chs. 3 & 4.
In Ch. 5, careful teaching is given concerning the morals of the people, and how those who defiled the camp should be dealt with. The Nazarite Vow is mentioned in Ch. 6. It was a voluntary separation, which lasted for probably seven days. A very sweet threefold benediction is given at the end of this chapter.
Ch. 7 is taken up with the gifts of the princes. They were twelve in number and to each were allotted one day on which he could make his offering. Moses then went into the tabernacle, where he heard the voice of God speaking to him from off the mercy seat.
Before the Levites could minister they had to be ceremonially cleansed. In Ch. 8:16-18, God made it clear that all the firstborn of Israel were his but that he took the tribe of Levi instead to substitute for them and labor in their place.
In the closing chapters of the first section of the book we come to three very important things, which are also outstanding in the life of every present day believer. First we have the Passover, Ch.9: 2-5, commemorative of how God spared the firstborn of Israel when the death angel passed over every house in Egypt to which the blood was applies. Next we read of the cloud, which overshadowed the tabernacle, v.15, and became the great guiding sign for the children of Israel. They were to move only when the cloud moved and to stay when it stayed, no matter how long or short a time is consumed between their journeys, vs.21-23. Two trumpets made out of one piece of silver were used to inform the people of any special move, which they should make, Ch.10: 2. How significant it should be to us of this day that we may be careful in our leading that the Word and the Spirit agree.
FROM SINAI TO KADESH-BARNEA.
A number of varied experiences are recorded in Chs. 11 to 19, some of which were quite drastic and brought disaster upon the people. We read of how the fire of God burned among them because of their complaining, Ch.11: 1-3, and when the mixed multitude despised the manna and lusted for meat, God gave them such a plentiful supply that they ate meat for a whole month and plague broke out among them, v.33. This was not so much a visitation of Divine judgment as God allowing them as a spoiled child to have what they demanded, even though in His wisdom He knew that a meat diet would hurt them. For this reason, no doubt, the balanced diet of manna was provided. Miriam and Aaron got into disgrace through idly criticizing Moses so that she was stricken with leprosy and suffered seven days for it, Ch. 12:15.
When the children of Israel arrived at Kadesh-barnea, twelve men were sent into Canaan to spy out the land. They came back with a sample of luscious fruit. Ten of them, however, had lost the vision of the outstretched arm of God, which always had helped them heretofore. By giving an evil report they discouraged the people. Only Joshua and Caleb stood true and sought to encourage them, but nearly got stoned for their zeal. To punish the people for their wild statements they made about the threat to the welfare of their children God turned against them and positively refused to lead them into the land, Ch.14: 28-31. The ten spires that gave the evil report died of the plague. After this, the people in self-will tried to fight their way into Canaan, but were driven back by the Amelekites.
In Ch. 15:1-31 we read of certain instructions given by God to govern the people after they entered the land of Canaan. Although the word had gone forth that through their rebellion a speedy move into the land was to be denied, yet it was very evident that the Lord was bearing in mind His promise to Abraham.
Moses had the leadership of a very troubled people. The next outbreak came from Korah of the tribe of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram and others of the tribe of Reuben. These men with two hundred and fifty princes rose up against Moses and Aaron and accused them of taking too much upon themselves, Ch.16: 3. They failed to recognize the call of God and declared they were as holy, and therefore they should be accepted equal honor. God himself undertook to settle the matter. The two hundred and fifty men were told to offer incense before the Lord. God judged Korah, Dathan, and Abiram by causing the earth to open and swallow them up and also their families. Fire also came forth from God and consumed the men who offered the incense, v. 31and 32,35. Not being subdued by this manifestation of Divine judgment the sympathizers of those wicked men blamed Moses and Aaron for these calamities. Again the wrath of God broke forth and 14,700 people died of the plague.
In Ch. 17, we have the record of a remarkable miracle. The twelve heads of the tribes of Israel were told to bring their rods and Aaron also was commanded to do the same. These rods were laid before the Lord who proved His choice of Aaron by causing his rod to bud.
Various instructions are given in Ch.18 relative to the ministry of the tribe of Levi; of the portion of the offerings to be taken for their private use; and what disposal they should make of the tithes paid in by the people.
In Ch.19 a word is said about the ordinance of the Red Heifer. It was to be taken and slain without the camp, and wholly burned to ashes, v.5. These ashes were then to be gathered up and put in a clean place, v.9, and whoever was defiled by contact with the dead must have sprinkled upon him some water in which some of the ashes were placed. This is a very clear type of the cleansing of the water by the Word mentioned in Ephesians 5:26, whereby we are delivered from the defilement of the self-life.
THE WILDERNESS JOURNEYS.
Ch. 20 begins a new section of the book of Numbers. In v.1, we see how the children of Israel commenced their journeys. The death of Miriam at Kadesh is also mentioned. Because of shortage of water the people gathered against Moses and Aaron and murmured greatly. Moses was told to speak to the rock, but in his anger he struck it, v.11. Water came forth in abundance, but for his disobedience Moses was not allowed to enter the land of Canaan. Edom came out against Israel to fight with them lest they cross their territory. To avoid bloodshed the people turned and went another way. This is quite a lesson on subjection and is a very hard one to learn. The death of Aaron is recorded in vs.23-29. There was no lingering sickness, but just a quiet putting off of his robes and transferring them to his son. Then Aaron passed on to his reward.
After the death of Aaron we have recorded a successive round of up and down experiences. Ch. 21:1-4 tells of a signal victory over the Canaanites. Then in vs.5-9, we read of the people murmuring because of their food. Fiery serpents sprang out among them and many people died. A brazen serpent was raised up on a pole and to whosoever looked at it healing was granted. Following this, victory was given over Sihon king of the Amorites, v.24, and Og king of Bashan was likewise defeated, vs.33-35.
In Chs. 22-25 we have the record of the incident of Balaam in three acts:
1. Balaam’s call and his final yielding to the call in spite of God’s word to the contrary. The miracle of the dumb ass speaking shows how solicitous God was for him.
2. Balaam’s prophesy which he gave in favor of Israel in spite of the promises of enrichment at the hand of Balak, king of Moab.
3. Balaam’s duplicity when he advised Balak to entice Israel through worldly allurement. This is called “the Doctrine of Balaam.” Revelation 2:14. This is very common today.
For yielding to the enticement, Israel was plagued and 24,000 died.
After the plague Israel was numbered afresh, Ch.26: 4. Many had died in the wilderness and now God was to pick an army of fighters who have been brought up in His way. All who had been numbered previously were eliminated except Caleb and Joshua, v.65. It pays to obey God at His first call or He may turn to another to do your work. We are told “ to hold fast that which we have, that no man take our crown,” Revelation3: 11.
The approaching death of Moses, (which is recorded in the last chapter of Deuteronomy) and the appointing of Joshua as his successor is mentioned in Ch.27. In spite of all the ill behavior of the people, Moses had their welfare at heart, and asked God that someone be appointed to lead Israel into the Promised Land. Joshua was set apart for this duty, and Moses laid his hands upon him.
Chs. 28-30 deal with the order of the offerings and the law of vows and in Ch.31 we read of a great battle between Israel and the Midianites with much spoil for Israel as a result. Half of this was given to those who stayed by the stuff, and half to those who fought the battle, v.27. God likewise rewards everyone, whether we are hidden at home praying and caring for the home base, or whether one’s service is more public.
In Ch.32 we read of the request of Reuben, and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh to have the land on the east of Jordan for their inheritance. This was granted on condition that their men help Israel in the fighting on the west of Jordan, vs.29-30. Someone has called this group AWorld-borderers. It is true that there are those in the ranks of the church who do not choose the hardness of the way. Maybe the two half tribes could be a type of such.
Ch. 33 stands out in the book of Numbers as unique in that it records the journeys of Israel from place to place over a long period of years. Very little was accomplished except that the men who came out of Egypt gradually died off and the new generation grew up who were more ready to go forward in faith and enter the land. During all the years, however, God had His promise in mind, and in vs.51-56 He makes definite reference to the matter.
With the entering into the land in view, Ch.34, God outlined to Moses His thoughts concerning the different borders, and named Eleazar the priest and Joshua, His executors. He also chose a man from each tribe to work with them, ten in all, bearing in mind that some were to locate on the east of Jordan. Instruction was also given concerning cities of refuge of which there were to be six.
In closing, the matter of the law of inheritance is discussed, Ch.36. A certain man named Zelopphehad had five daughters and no sons. Ch.27 tells us how they appealed to Moses for the right to have their father’s portion, who was now dead. Their request was granted on the condition that they marry within their tribe. This they did, see Ch.36: 10-12. The lesson for us is that we be not unequally yoked with the world.