We’re pressing on in our study of the Old Testament and this week’s message is the Book of Numbers. Yes, the whole book! Actually we’re discovering Numbers’ powerful theme and understanding that God is so gracious in His dealings with mankind at every stage of history. And the references to the Lord Jesus; they’re everywhere in this book!
The Old Testament Isn’t Old: Numbers
The Book of Numbers. We’re going to talk about the whole thing today, but not everything of course. It’s one of the first five books of the Bible, written and arranged under Moses, called the Pentateuch. That simply means “five scrolls.” In it, the Lord brings order to a rather large crowd of former slaves. It’s the difference between little guy soccer and Manchester United.
The book opens with these words:
1 The Lord spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. He said: 2 “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. 3 You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army. 4 One man from each tribe, each of them the head of his family, is to help you.
This was now the early part of the second year of Israel’s journey out of Egypt and into the wilderness. Leviticus, last week’s study, was basically the Lord at work in the first year of their travels. It was fitting to get their hearts right with God in relationship and holiness, and then address a large issue: order.
That happened to you when you found new life in Jesus, just like it did me. When my heart was born again by faith, there was an immediate change in my insides, my relationship with God. But I still had a lot of outworking to be done. How I spoke, how I handled relationships, conflict, you name it, needed to be ordered by God.
The same happened here. And it started with a command from God to take a census. The census was to count every male, 20 years old and up, who weren’t ill or injured, able to go to war. So, women and girls, boys, to age 19, and anyone with a handicap was exempt.
That was so sexist! Did God think that women didn’t contribute to the equation? Didn’t He value children, did they not count?
No. The first message of order was for men to step up, serve and defend others.
Have you ever visited a village in another country? I have. On our adoption trips, we had an opportunity to visit a Chinese country village. It was great. But as we drove away at the end of the day, Robin and I were shaking our heads. The women in the village were busy! They were preparing veggies for market, weeding gardens, washing clothes by hand in the local pond. They were caring for little guys and keeping real busy. Where were the men, you ask? Playing cards or mahjong, smoking, hanging out in the shade, for the most part. And in many places where the Gospel hasn’t touched them or in some places where it has, the men have abandoned serving. Guess what is plaguing our modern society now? Yeah, men who leave all the weight on women’s and children’s shoulders.
Men. The first order of business is for you to get up and start taking responsibility. Stay true to your marriage covenant. Release the women and children in your life to be free to become who God made them to be. C’mon guys, are you with me?
So, God ordered everyone by family and tribe, according to the 12 tribes of Israel. Later, he told them where to camp in relation to the tabernacle, who broke camp first, second, so forth and how they were to progress through the wilderness. They went from a little guy soccer team to Manchester United, just by this census and God setting them in order.
The next order had to do with who’s in charge.
Who was in charge of the nation? Well, that had already been established, it was Moses. But then Moses appointed 70 leaders, civil, governmental leaders. Then God set apart religious leaders, Priests and the tribe of Levi to help them.
And so on and so on! God ordered the nation of Israel. Because God is a God of order.
But then, as usual, there were the challenges to order.
4 Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6 So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. 7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
Every so often, people would challenge the order that God had set up. There were personal challenges to Moses. There were challenges to Aaron and his family as the priests. And every time it brought some disaster. One time the ground opened and swallowed a couple of families. This time it brought out fiery serpents. Because anarchy brings disorder and chaos. Good, God appointed leaders are necessary for us to live in peace. And order means that we accept Godly leadership.
Numbers is also a book that points to Jesus, the gracious Savior.
Remember the fiery serpent thing? And that to be rescued from the snake bite you had to just look at the bronze serpent up on a pole? It was looking ahead to Jesus, who would rescue us from the deadly bites associated with our own sins.
Here’s John 12:31-33
31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” 33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die.
Jesus was lifted up on a pole, a cross actually, and everyone who looks on Him in faith, believing, will have the sting of their sins, their past, removed. Wow. That was in Numbers.
We also see Jesus in the rocks that supplied water. For the sake of time, there were two instances in Numbers where there was no water supply. For over a million people. God told Moses to strike the nearby rock with his rod. He did and water gushed out. The second time he was supposed to only speak to the rock, but instead struck it. Bad move. Jesus was struck once for our sins and the waters of new life in the Spirit came to us. Now we only need to speak to Him to have that water refreshed.
Here’s 1 Corinthians 10:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
Jesus was the spiritual food too! Jesus said that He was the bread which came down from Heaven, referring to Manna, but also to Himself. Numbers is full of Jesus!
But finally, remember the census way back in Numbers 1?
God used those census numbers to then order and arrange how the Israelites camped. The Ark of the Covenant was in the center, eventually in a tent called the Tabernacle. The pillar of smoke or of fire rested over it. The Levites camped around that in a circle, again in the center of camp. Then there were four groups of tribes. Judah and two others were on the East side. That was by far the largest group. The groups on the North and South of the Tabernacle were smaller, but equal in size. The groups on the West side were the smallest. Okay, so what?
They couldn’t see themselves on an overhead view, but what if they could? Actually, towards the end of the book there is a long section about a guy named Baalam, a weird sort of holy man who could prophesy. He was hired by a king, Balak, to come and, on an overlook on a high hill or mountain, to curse Israel. He tried three times and each time he spoke a blessing. But you know what he saw as he looked down on the nation of Israel?
He saw this pattern in the nation of Israel. What does it look like? This is from a Jewish website. Yup, a Cross. Everywhere Israel went and camped according to the order established in Numbers, they were a living picture of the Cross.
Do you want the curse lifted from your life? The curse of chaos and difficulty? The problems that come from disorder? Go to the Cross of Jesus. You can’t be cursed there. He became a curse for us by hanging on a tree, redeeming us from the curse of the Law.
23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: 24 “The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; 26 The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”’ 27 “So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”
The Lord be gracious to you.