Numbers: From Sinai to the Plains of Moab
Key Verses – 14:22-23
Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:
The Jews called the third book of Moses bemidhbar or “In the Wilderness”, which is taken from the opening verse. This is most appropriate because Numbers is the record of the wilderness wanderings. As such it records the major events of a period totalling approximately 38 years. The name “Numbers” is first found in the Septuagint where the Greek arithmoi is used. This acknowledges the fact that two censuses are recorded in this book; one at the commencement before the people left Sinai and the other at the Plains of Moab as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. The key words – murmurings and wanderings – are vital to our understanding of this book. While murmuring first surfaced in Exodus they became more vicious in Numbers and led to the rebellion at Kadesh Barnea. The murmurings led to the wanderings. From the borders of the Promised Land God sent the nation back into the wilderness for another 37 years until the generation who left Egypt had perished. Numbers is the only Book of Moses to use the word “wander”, with reference to the journeys of the Hebrews; 14:33, 32:13. On each of these two occasions the wanderings refer to judgement; judgement for the murmuring and their catastrophic consequences. When Paul wrote to the Hebrews he drew strong application from the failings of a generation in the Book of Numbers, Hebrews 3 and 4. There he clearly indicated that the rest which the Israelites refused was a picture of Christ and we must not be deceived into departing from the living God by abandoning our hope in Him.
Chapters 1 – 10:10 THE PREPARATION FOR LEAVING SINAI
Chapters 1 – 4
The Numbering of the People
In this first Census 603,550 men of fighting age are recorded. Therefore the total strength of the nation must have been approximately 2,500.000 people. This was a remarkable growth from the 70 persons who came to Egypt 400 years earlier. We can understand why the numbers of Hebrews so alarmed the Egyptians. God was fulfilling his promise to Abraham that His people would be numerous. We should pause to appreciate the weight on Moses’ shoulders as this huge camp city spread out before him reaching into the horizon.
Chapters 3 – 4
The Roll and Arrangement of the Levites
The priests could only serve when they were aged between 30 and 50 years of age. Therefore a huge amount of time was involved in preparing the young men for their 20 years of service. Herein we see Christ who did not take up public ministry until he was 30 years old.
Chapters 5 – 6
Cleansing the Congregation
This includes the rules surrounding the vow of Nazarite who was set aside for holy purposes. The two most famous Nazarites in Jewish history were Samson and John the Baptist.
The Last Events at Sinai
This included the offering of gifts, the consecration of the Levites and most significantly the celebration of the Passover.
The Call to Leave Sinai
9:15-23 This informs us that the people could only journey when the cloud moved forward. This cloud transformed into fire at night and represented the presence of God. In our lives this typifies the word of God from which we must constantly seek guidance in relation to the future.
10:1-10 When the cloud moved the people were alerted by the silver trumpets. While the trumpet is often synonymous with the watchman and warnings in the scripture; it is especially likened to the voice of the Lord in Revelation; 1:10, 4:1. When we are in the will of God we will be so certain that it will be as if voice of God is sounding as a trumpet in our hearts. When the Word of God and the inner voice of the Spirit in our souls correspond we know that like Eleazar of Damascus we are being led in the way (Genesis 24:27).
Chapters 10:11- 36 JOURNEYING FROM SINAI TO THE PLAINS OF MOAB
Complaining for Lack of Flesh to Eat.
God gave them what they desired in the form of quails. Many died as they were eating, however, teaching us that it is foolish to make requests of God with a bitter and angry spirit.
Aaron and Miriam were a poor example to the nation with their questioning of Moses’ marriage. Miriam was struck down with leprosy for this sin, to be saved by her brother’s meekness.
The events which would consign the people to the wilderness for the lifetime of all those who left Egypt. A tragic scene of rebellion and judgement. The only bright spot in this dark incident is the faithfulness of Joshua and Caleb who stood with Moses against the vicious onslaught.
Various Offerings to be Presented in the Promised Land
The Rebellion of Korah
Supported by Dathan and Abiram, Korah led a rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron. This provoked the most severe judgement recorded in the Old Testament, apart from Sodom’s desolation, when the earth opened up and swallowed these rebels and their families. Inexplicably the children of Korah survived and became servants in the ancient temple in later generations. Testimony to the grace of God (26:11, Psalm 42, 44-49, 84-85, 87-88).
Aaron’s Priesthood Authenticated
The blossoming of Aaron’s rod proved that he was the Lord’s High Priest. The rooting of a dead and dry stick reveals Christ, the root out of a dry ground, and teaches us that the Lord makes the weak and the despised fruitful servants.
The Passing of a Generation
Miriam and Aaron die and Moses is told that he will not enter the Promised Land because he smote the rock in anger, even though he was provoked by the rebellions of the people.
Forward to Canaan
Canaanite, Amorite and Bashan armies are conquered. In the midst of defeat more people died as God sent fiery serpents as a judgement for their complaints. The nation was saved by Brazen Serpent, a wonderful picture of Christ, John 3:14-16.
Balaam and Balak
The heathen prophet who was compelled to bless Israel against the wishes of the King of Moab. 24:17 furnishes a view of Christ all the more remarkable when we consider who Balaam was.
Idolatry, Immorality and Faithfulness
On the plains of Moab Israel rebel against the Lord by worshipping Baalpeor and forming relationship with Moabitess women. 24,000 died in the plague which God had sent. Aaron’s grandson, Phineas, stayed the plague by killing a Jewish man and a Moabitess.
The Second Census
Now that the old generation who left Egypt have died off, at the alarming rate of 300 funerals a week, it was time for a new numbering. This new census calculating the fighting men, numbered just over 600,000. Despite the difficulties of the wilderness God ensured that there was a new generation strong and ready to fight for the Promised land.
The Daughters of Zelophehad
Joshua Appointed as Moses Successor
Offerings, Feasts and Vows
The Defeat of the Midianites
The Two and a Half Tribes
Reuben, Gad and Manasseh claim the territory east of the Jordan. The have to promise to fight with the other tribes as they conquered Canaan. This chapter has some key texts; v6, v18 and v23.
A Summary of the Wilderness Journey
The Borders of the Promised Land
The Cities of Refuge; A Picture of Gospel Grace
The Marriage of the Daughters of Zelophehad