wandering in the wilderness  

Growing in Christ

"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45

Overview of Old Testament or New Testament

Links to observations drawn from other other books of the Bible

Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Book of Numbers (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):

Introduction: The Hebrew title of the book is taken from the first verse "in the wilderness" since it is the story of the consequence of refusing to enter the promised land resulting in 40 years of wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. The Greek translation (Septuagint) however titles the book "Numbers" after the census figures in chapters 1-3 and 26. The book recounts the period from receiving the Covenant at Sinai, through Israel's off-and-on again trust of Yahweh, to Israel's preparation to enter the promised land full a generation later.

Numbers 1

Military census: One month after the Tabernacle is set up (v.1, cf. Ex.40:2,17) the Hebrew people delivered from slavery in Egypt prepare to fight to enter the promised land. The number of battle ready men is 603,550 (v.46.) The 12 tribes differ in size, the largest being twice the size of the smallest:

Judah 74,600,
Dan 62,700,
Simeon 59,300,
Zebulun 57,400,
Issachar 54,400,
Naphtali 53,400.
Reuben 46,500,
Gad 45,650,
Asher 41,500,
Ephraim 40,500,
Manasseh 32,200,
Benjamin 35,400.

Joseph: The 12 tribes do not include Joseph despite his pivotal role in the survival of his father and brothers. Rather Joseph's sons are listed as two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, who remained most prone to the idolatry of Egypt, the land of their birth.

Levi: was not numbered for war as the tribe was tasked with maintenance and protection of the tabernacle and sacrifices made there. The term uezr is translated "layman" but other possibilities are more likely. The literal translation is "alien" or "foreigner" which could be extended to "member of another tribe" but it is doubtful the clerical meaning of layman developed afterwards would have been in view.

Growth of Israel: Jacob entered Egypt with his family of 70 people. 400 years later his descendants numbers (600,000 men x 3.3 (wife and 2.3 children) = 2 million or x 5 (wife and 3.3 children) = 3 million). Some argue for smaller numbers, making the term translated "thousand" mean "clan", i.e. 603 clans. For military purposes, the number of actual fighting men however would seem more practical.

Two important lessons:

It is clear Israel expected resistance and knew of their need to fight for the land they were promised. Yet their refusal to trust God for victory meant all 600,000+ men, except Joshua and Caleb, would die in the wilderness.

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the tent of meeting (v.1). This hearing the voice of the Lord is foundational to God's people and here in Numbers, the phrase "the Lord spoke" occurring over 150 times.

Personal Response: I will trust the Lord for His promises and be confident in Him for victory even if there is resistance. When challenged by circumstances, I will ask, "what has God promised?" and act accordingly.

My Prayer: Father, thank you for this account of your people, preparing for battle, yet wavering in trust. Father, help me prepare for spiritual warfare as Satan and his demons work against your glory and Kingdom but never to waver in trust, obedience or confidence in Your holiness or victory.

Numbers 2

Organization of the Army around the Tabernacle: The Lord Yahweh was central to Israel (v.2) as they camped and as they traveled (17). In this Levi camped and traveled in the center with the Tabernacle. Three tribes camped to the east of the tabernacle (v.3-9), three tribes to the south (v.10-16), three to the west (v.18-24) and to the north (v.25-31). Each unit of 3 tribes had a designated leader (Judah v. 9, Ruben v. 16, Ephraim v. 24 and Dan v.31). Each division had its own standard and each family within it, it's own banner (v.2). There was in this way both unity and identity. Two divisions left first, then the tabernacle (v.17) followed by the final two divisions.

Israel camped around Tabernacle

Discipline for the Good of the Whole: The smaller two tribes in each division appeared willing to be under the command of one of their brothers, and in the case of Reuben's leadership even it was not the largest.  

Israel is described at this stage as organized, disciplined and obedient (v.34). How easy it is to fall. With what vigilance we must guard our hearts and lives.

Personal Response: I will value the organizational structure of the church and it's ministry organizations and play my part with diligence and discipline. I cannot do all but I can do my part. This keeps anyone from being overcome with overwork. Together we can do what is needed for the good of the whole and our mission together.

My Prayer: Father, thank you that you care for your children and that you form us together for our own good and the good of your mission in the world through us in Christ. Help me not break rank but do my part strengthening the whole Body of Christ.

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