While Exodus deals with Israel being redeemed and Leviticus deals with the right way to approach God and worship Him, Numbers deals with mobilisation of Israel as they prepare to advance into the Promised Land. In many ways the Book of Numbers is a military Book. All the males who were of fighting age (20 years and older, Nu. 1:4) were required to stand up and be counted in the army of Israel. When the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt, they were described as an army (some versions have hosts Ex. 12:41). The tribes of Israel camped around the Tabernacle in war-formation. Thus Numbers is like a huge roll-call for a people God wanted to fight for. Exodus deals with a period of at least twelve months (they celebrated the Passover in the desert, Nu. 9). Leviticus was given during this same time. Numbers covers a span of about thirty eight years. It is filled amazing miracles and illustrations of God's intervention. How else could nearly three million people survive in a desert?
SUMMARY OF NUMBERS
Chapter 1- The numbering of Israel according to tribes. The Levites set aside during time of war, to maintain the Tabernacle.
Chapter 2- Leaders appointed for each tribe.
Chapter 3- Levites accounted for and dedicated as a replacement for Israel's firstborn.
Chapter 4- Duties prescribed for Levitic clans during time of war.
Chapter 5- Unclean persons exempt from war. Penalties for stealing a man's property during time of war. Penalties for unfaithful wives during time of war.
Chapter 6- Vow of the Nazarite, i.e.- someone wishing to dedicate themselves during a time of war. The blessing given by the Priest over the armies of Israel.
Chapter 7- The tribal leaders offer sacrifices on behalf of their tribe.
Chapter 9- The second Passover. Cloud and Fire, guiding and protecting.
Chapter 10- Mobilisation of the armies of Israel.
Chapter 11- People complain about lack of delicacies. God gives Moses 70 Spirit anointed elders. God sends quail.
Chapter 12- Aaron and Miriam complain about Moses' (second?) wife.
Chapter 13- Spies into Canaan.
Chapter 14- Israel disobedient. Moses pleads for Israel, putting God's honor first. Israel moves on presumption and fails.
Chapter 16- Korah's rebellion.
Chapter 17- Aaron's rod buds.
Chapter 20- Moses sins. Death of Aaron.
Chapter 21- Israel defeats Canaanites. People murmur against Moses and God. Moses lifts up the serpent in the wilderness. Sihon and Og defeated.
Chapter 22- Balak and Balaam.
Chapter 25- Israel corrupted by Moab.
Chapter 26- The second census.
Chapter 31- Vengeance on Midianites.
Chapter 32- Settlement begins.
Between chapters nineteen and twenty there appears to be about a thirty-eight year gap. When the second census was taken, the original count was 603,550 , there were 601,730 of Hebrew men over twenty.
LESSONS FROM NUMBERS
Firstly, we note that the community of God's people had order. This involved leadership and discipline among its members. Respect for the authority of leadership appointed by God is reinforced strongly throughout Numbers. When the tribes are being identified in the first part of the Book, their leaders are mentioned by name. When Aaron and Miriam murmur against Moses' leadership and his personal life, God deals with them swiftly. When Korah attempted to assume leadership in place of Moses, God deals quickly and terrifically. Yet this support from the LORD is not to be used a moral licence by His appointed leaders. When Moses rebelled by striking the Rock twice, instead of simply speaking to it as God had commanded, he disobeyed God and was accountable in proportion to his responsibility as a leader and an example. This act of disobedience cost him entrance into Canaan.
Secondly we note that obedience by faith has always been God's design for mankind. The heart of Moses was continually broken as his people rebelled and complained. Having left Egypt the camped one year at the Mount of the LORD being retrained and prepared for the Promised Land. During this time they were kept busy with the building of the Tabernacle and all its furnishings. Finally the time came for them to enter the Land. Spies were sent out. Their divided concensus was that the Land would be too difficult to overcome. What could have been a two day journey into Canaan turned out to be a forty year period testing and purging. If they had taken a step of faith and obeyed God, they would have prospered immediately.
Thirdly the incident with Balaam and Balak lets us know that there are battles going on all around us that we may never see.
Fourthly, when the people complained, God gave them what they wanted. From this they became sick with gluttony and God in His anger sent a plague to destroy them for their lack of faith in Him.
1. What are some ways God answers us when we pray?
2. What averted the plague from spreading?
Israel's lack of faith in God caused them to disobey and then respond in presumption by thinking that they could enter the Promised Land in their own strength. When they did they were soundly defeated and then chastened by the LORD. May we learn to move by faith in obedience to God the instant He speaks.
© Andrew Corbett