J. B. Hewitt, Chesterfield
Here we have the story of Israel's journeyings, wanderings and murmurings, from Sinai to the borders of Canaan. Numbers resumes the narrative where Exodus leaves off. For some of the Lord's people today, the books of Leviticus and Numbers are unknown territory that appear barren and dry like the wilderness in which much of this story is set. These two books are worthy of consideration, for they have a message for us on worship and walking in the fear of God.
Name. The book is called Numbers because in it the children of Israel are twice numbered, once at the beginning, "Take ye the sum", 1.2, and again at the end, "Take the sum", 26. 2.
It is appropriately introduced with the Lord speaking to Moses "in the wilderness", i. i,for it recounts the experiences of Israel in the desert. It is the story of the wilderness wanderings, and it should be noted that there are no dates given between the second and fortieth year of their history in the wilderness.
Writer. From the statement in chapter 33. 2, and the recurring phrase "And the Lord spake unto Moses", which occurs over forty times in the book, we can say that the author is God and the writer Moses. The person and character of Moses stand out in the narrative, but God is the supreme Ruler and Law-giver; the theocracy is being established. The book reveals that the writer was once acquainted with Egypt, and was an eye-witness of the things which he records. The book is part of the law of Moses; compare 35. 30 with Heb. 10. 28.
No person other than Moses has been named as the author with anything like certainty.
Authority. Being part of what is called "The law", this book would be considered necessary to a full understanding of that law. It is authoritative as a revelation of the evil result of unbelief. The book is referred to over twenty times in the New Testament, and is used by the Holy Spirit as a warning to believers, Rom. 15. 4; 1 Cor. 10. 5-9; Heb. 3. 17.
Importance. This is the original "Pilgrim's Progress", detailing the journey of the chosen people from Sinai to the borders of Canaan. The spiritual significance of these events is emphasised in 1 Corinthians 10. 1-12. These happenings are resolved into types for our warning and learning, Rom.
They may well foreshadow, and certainly illustrate, the failure of many Christians to possess the heavenly things in Christ. The many types of Christ found here are wrorthy of attention: The Nazarite, ch. 6; the Red Heifer, ch. 19; the Bread, cf. 11. 7-9 with Exod. 16; the Brazen Serpent, ch. 21; the Star, cf. 24. 17 with Rev. 22. 16; and the cities of Refuge, ch. 35. This book provides many illustrations of Gospel truth.
Just as God spake then through Moses to the children of Israel, so He still has a message for us in this part of His revelation to man.
Relation. This book is an indispensable contribution to the understanding of the Pentateuch, and the history of the journey of the Israelites from Sinai to Canaan. In Genesis -the birth of the nation. In Exodus - the deliverance from Egypt. In Leviticus - the laws of worship. In Numbers -the travelling to Canaan. In Deuteronomy - the preparations for entering the land.
There is a close connection between Leviticus and Numbers. In Leviticus the subject is our worship; in Numbers it is our walk and wandering. Leviticus is ceremonial, dealing with purity; Numbers is historical, and treats of pilgrimage. In Leviticus our privileges in the Sanctuary are emphasized; in Numbers our progress and responsibilities in the wilderness arc illustrated. Study Hebrews chapters 3-4 and the book of Numbers for duty; study Leviticus and Hebrews for doctrine.
Message. In brief, we have divine faithfulness and human failure. The book expounds several important aspects of the being and activity of Jehovah, the God of Israel.
His Presence. This is illustrated by the cloud given for guidance, 9. 15-23; it is declared by the Lord, 35. 34, and it is evidenced by His protection, 21. 1-3, 35; 22. 12,13,24,35.
His Purpose. As the Lord of history, His promises to the patriarchs would be fulfilled and Canaan would be entered. God wanted the people to go at once to Canaan, symbolizing the Christian life in its fulness of blessing.
His Provision. The manifold character of this is seen in the sacrifices, priests, laws, in the pillar of cloud and fire, food, and protection from enemies.
His Holiness. The sanctuary, the system of priests, the feasts and ritual observances, all stress His holiness but also His sovereignty.
His Longsuffering. The Lord chastened Israel during the thirty-eight years, yet He did not leave them. It was the discipline and chastisement of love. Israel is revealed as being unfaithful, ungrateful, and unbelieving, especially in chapters 13-14. The history of the Church follows a similar pattern to the history of Israel; in some wrays God's will and goal remain unchanged. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
May we hear daily the lovely phrases of the "Aaronic benediction", Num. 6. 24-26, and realize something of their warmth and wealth even for us.
Suggested Analysis. Dr. W. H. G. Thomas sums up this book in three words: Organization, chs. 1-10; Disorganization, chs. 11-25; and Reorganization, chs. 26-36. A more detailed outline of contents is given below.
Preparation for the Journey, i. i to 10. 10. At Sinai.
Direction, 1. 1 to 4. 49. Concerning men of war, 1. 1-54; record, regulations. Movements, 2. 1-34; disposition of the camp. Concerning ministry, 3. 1 to 4. 49; distinctive service of the Levites.
Legislation, 5. 1 to 6. 27. Law of defilement, separation, 5. 1-4; restitution, 5. 11-31. Law of dedication, consecration, 6. 1-21. Benediction, 6. 22-27.
Provision for Service, 7. 1 to 9. 14. Dedication of gifts, ch. 7. Consecration of the Levites, ch. 8. Celebration of the Passover, 9. 1-14.
Manifestation of Approval, 9. 15 to 10. 10. The vision of the cloud, 9. 15-23. The voice of the trumpets, 10. 1-10.
Participation on the Journey, 10. 11 to 14. 45. Sinai to Kadesh.
Direction in the Path, 10. 11-36. Cloud and ark; the Lord
directing and sanctifying.
Discontent with the Provision, chs. 11-12. Complaint of the
way, 11. 1-3. Contempt of their food, 11. 4-35. Criticism
of their leaders, ch. 12.
Disbelief of the Promises, chs. 13-14. Searching the land,
ch. 13; reconnaissance, recommendation and report.
Sinning against light, ch. 14; rejection, 1-4; remonstrance,
5-9; retribution, 26-37; presumption, 40-45.
Interruption of the Journey, 15. 1 to 19. 22. The Desert
Legislation for the land, ch. 15. Rebellion of the princes, ch. 16. Vindication of the priesthood, ch. 17. Regulations for the priests and Levites, ch. 18. Provision for defilement, ch. 19.
Resumption of the Journey, chs. 20-36. Kadesh to Plains of Moab.
Dealings of Jehovah, chs. 20-21. In grace, giving water, 20. 1-11; in government, judging, 20. 12-29; m giving victories, ch. 21.
Directions of Jehovah, chs. 22-24. Balaam the mercenary prophet, ch. 22. Balaam's seven parables, chs. 23-24.
Defiance of Jehovah, ch. 25. Problems within. Provocation and punishment.
Demands of Jehovah, chs. 26-31. The new generation, ch. 26. The distribution, 27. 1-11. The new leader, 27. 12-23. Regulations for the offerings, chs. 28-29. Instruction for vows, ch. 30. Retribution on Midian, ch. 31.
Division of the Land, chs. 32-36. The selfish request of the two and a half tribes, ch. 32. Summary record of journeys, ch. 33. Directions for allotment of land, ch. 34. Dwelling places for Levites, 35. 1-8. Cities of refuge, 35. 9-34. Preservation of inheritances, ch. 36.
Lesson. Dispossess your enemies, depend upon God, and dwell in the land.
For Meditation. The order of the camp and assembly teaching in 1 Corinthians. The priestly benediction of chapter 6. Teaching of the red heifer, ch. 19; the brazen serpent, ch. 21; and the cities of refuge, ch. 35.
Key Words of the Book. "The Lord spake", 78 times; "Unto the Lord", 49 times; "number" and "numbered", over 100 times; "journeyed", "departed", and "removed",77 times.