This Book is called Numbers because of the several different numberings of the Israelites that it records. It forms a very interesting volume on that account, for these numberings of the people are an evidence of the fulfillment of God’s promise. The Lord had assured Abraham that his descendants would be as the stars of heaven for multitude (Gen. 15:5), and here we find the accomplishment of that promise.
The Book covers the time that the Israelites spent in the wilderness of Sinai, until their arrival in the plains of Jordan – across the river from the Promised Land. Thus, it spans about 39 years – picking up in the second year after the Israelites left Egypt, and ending in the 40th year. An account is given of the people’s murmuring and unbelief, which is why they were sentenced to wander in the wilderness for those 40 years.
As we read these pages, may the Holy Spirit – under Whose inspiration all Scripture is written – be with us, so that we may discover Christ to be the sum and substance of all the writings of Moses, and “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth!” (Rom. 10:4)
In this first chapter, the account of names and numbers may seem to be uninteresting at first sight; yet when they are spiritually considered, do they not teach us about the happiness of those whose names are numbered and included in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Dear reader, you may rest assured that the Lord knows all those who are His!
God told Moses to number the people of Israel so that His faithfulness in thus increasing the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could be clearly seen. Jacob’s family went down into Egypt with far less than even 100 persons; and now we read that in the space of 215 years, they had multiplied into a group that numbered in the millions!
All the men of Israel who were aged 20 and older, and who were able to go to war on the nation’s behalf, were to be counted in this census. From each of the 12 tribes, a man was selected to represent that tribe as the head or leader of that group of families in Israel. These men assisted Moses and Aaron in recording the number of the men of war in their respective tribes.
By this orderly census, the people would be better trained for the wars and conquests that awaited them in the land of Canaan. It also prepared them to establish their various family groups for the future division of the land. The men of Israel had wars ahead of them, even though – at this point in time – they were not meeting any opposition. As believers, may we be likewise prepared to withstand the enemies of our souls, although everything may appear to be at peace.
The sum total of all the men of war (not counting their wives and children) came out to be over 600,000. How much was required to maintain all these people in the wilderness! It has been calculated that they would require a minimum of around 1,500 tons (nearly 1.4 million kg) of food every single day – just to keep from starving! And yet they were all richly provided for by the Lord daily. The observation of His faithfulness teaches us that however unlikely the performance of His promises may appear to be, we may take courage as to those which yet remain to be fulfilled to His people.
The tribe of Levi was not included in the numbering of the men of war; so in order to keep the number of tribes at 12, the descendants of the two sons of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) were counted as separate tribes. In the matter of the golden calf, the tribe of Levi had distinguished itself as being zealous for the Lord’s service (Ex. 32:26-29); and singular services are often recompensed by singular honors. It was to the honor of the Levites that the care of the Tabernacle and its treasures was committed to them alone among the Israelites.
We also remember that Aaron, who was called to be the High Priest of God, was from the tribe of Levi; and so all the rest of the Levites were Aaron’s relatives. Herein we may learn a profitable spiritual lesson. As sinners, we are unfit and unworthy to have fellowship with the Lord, until we are called by His grace into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ; and then, being the spiritual kinsmen of that Great High Priest, we are blessed by being made servants to our God – just as Aaron’s relatives, the Levites, were privileged to serve the Lord in a special way.
The Levites were to set up their tents around the Tabernacle so that they would always be close to their work, and no time would be lost going back and forth. Thus, the important charge committed to them would never be out of sight or out of mind, even for one moment. Let us also be sure that we are daily living in the closest communion with the true Ark of the Covenant – our Lord Jesus. The true child of God may always remember that the “Angel of the Lord” – that is, Christ – “encampeth round about them that fear him,” and “his banner over them is love!”
Dear Redeemer, may our souls here be led to look to You; for it is through Your gracious work that we who were once far off are now brought near to the Lord, and have our names recorded in Your Book of life. Thanks be to Your name! Amen.
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