Friday, January 8, 2016

The Structure of Numbers (the fourth book of the Bible)


So far we’ve had Genesis, the book of the creation and fall, Exodus, the book of redemption, and Leviticus, the book of worship and fellowship. Now we get to Numbers, the book of service and walk.
Numbers records the population numbers of the Hebrews thus the title seems obvious. In Hebrew it is called B’midbar because the first words are “In the wilderness” (b’midbar), appropriate because it contains the 40 years of wandering. This book was written by Moses. Its major themes are that every servant (person) was numbered, knew his place in the family, and had his own definitely assigned service. Read Numbers 1:1-3 (bold added):
1The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. He said: 2 "Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. 3 You and Aaron are to number by their divisions all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army.
The book of Numbers can be divided into sections. The first 10 chapters show the preparation for the journey into the Promised Land. Read chapter 2 below (or at least scan the bold print I added):

 1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: 2 "The Israelites are to camp around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family."
 3 On the east, toward the sunrise, the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard. The leader of the people of Judah is Nahshon son of Amminadab. 4 His division numbers 74,600.
 5 The tribe of Issachar will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Issachar is Nethanel son of Zuar. 6 His division numbers 54,400.
 7 The tribe of Zebulun will be next. The leader of the people of Zebulun is Eliab son of Helon. 8 His division numbers 57,400.
 9 All the men assigned to the camp of Judah, according to their divisions, number 186,400. They will set out first.
 10 On the south will be the divisions of the camp of Reuben under their standard. The leader of the people of Reuben is Elizur son of Shedeur. 11 His division numbers 46,500.
 12 The tribe of Simeon will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Simeon is Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai. 13 His division numbers 59,300.
 14 The tribe of Gad will be next. The leader of the people of Gad is Eliasaph son of Deuel. 15 His division numbers 45,650.
 16 All the men assigned to the camp of Reuben, according to their divisions, number 151,450. They will set out second.
 17 Then the Tent of Meeting and the camp of the Levites will set out in the middle of the camps. They will set out in the same order as they encamp, each in his own place under his standard.
 18 On the west will be the divisions of the camp of Ephraim under their standard. The leader of the people of Ephraim is Elishama son of Ammihud. 19 His division numbers 40,500.
 20 The tribe of Manasseh will be next to them. The leader of the people of Manasseh is Gamaliel son of Pedahzur. 21 His division numbers 32,200.
 22 The tribe of Benjamin will be next. The leader of the people of Benjamin is Abidan son of Gideoni. 23 His division numbers 35,400.
 24 All the men assigned to the camp of Ephraim, according to their divisions, number 108,100. They will set out third.
 25 On the north will be the divisions of the camp of Dan, under their standard. The leader of the people of Dan is Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai. 26 His division numbers 62,700.
 27 The tribe of Asher will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Asher is Pagiel son of Ocran. 28 His division numbers 41,500.
 29 The tribe of Naphtali will be next. The leader of the people of Naphtali is Ahira son of Enan. 30 His division numbers 53,400.
 31 All the men assigned to the camp of Dan number 157,600. They will set out last, under their standards.
 32 These are the Israelites, counted according to their families. All those in the camps, by their divisions, number 603,550. 33 The Levites, however, were not counted along with the other Israelites, as the LORD commanded Moses.
 34 So the Israelites did everything the LORD commanded Moses; that is the way they encamped under their standards, and that is the way they set out, each with his clan and family.
Here is one way that the camp might have looked:


Personally, I like the idea of the cross configuration. A second thing to notice is the standards or banners that they camped under: man, ox, eagle, lion. These four symbols come up again in Revelation 4:7:
The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.
But that’s not all, these four creatures are apparent in each of the Gospel books as representative of a certain facet of Jesus. That is, that in the book of Matthew Jesus is portrayed as the lion of the tribe of Judah, in Mark he is the servant and workman (like an ox), in Luke he is the great physician and friend of sinners (a man), and in John he is the Word, the Living Bread “that came down from heaven” (like an eagle).
The next section of the book of Numbers is chapters 11-15: Rebellion in the wilderness. This section shows their refusal to obey the Lord when commanded to enter the Promised Land, hence the wandering.
Chapters 16-36 are the third section: Death in the wilderness – 40 years of wandering until all of that generation died out.
As stated before, Numbers describes the Israelite people's journey in the desert wilderness. There they learn how God wishes them to be organized, and how the Levites are to help Israel's priests. They also find out who will be chosen to lead them when they enter Canaan.
But the Israelites' desert journey also shows the rebellious side of the people. They complain that God has brought them out to the wilderness to starve or to die of thirst. They plot to get rid of their leaders, Moses and Aaron. Because of these sins, God does not allow them an easy, straight path to the land of promise. Instead, all those in the older generation who left Egypt (including Moses) must wander for forty years and eventually die in the desert wilderness. Only those in the younger generation (see chapter 14: 22, 23, 29, 30) would follow the faithful leaders, Joshua and Caleb, into Canaan. The lesson is about trust in God. Those who obey and trust God will receive God's blessings. Those who don't obey will not receive the blessings connected with God's promises. Read the following selection and consider which words you think should be in bold print. Numbers 14: 18 – 35:
18The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.' 19 In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now."
 20 The LORD replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 22 not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times- 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. 25 Since the Amalekites and Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea. "
 26 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: 27 "How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. 28 So tell them, 'As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: 29 In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. 32 But you—your bodies will fall in this desert. 33 Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert. 34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.' 35 I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this desert; here they will die."

Is Jesus in Numbers? Read Numbers 24:17 :
"I see him, but not now;
       I behold him, but not near.
       A star will come out of Jacob;
       a scepter will rise out of Israel.
       He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
       the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.

– This is a Messianic Kingdom prophecy.