We have made our way, slowly but surely, through Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus. Now we can move into the fourth book of the Bible, authored by Moses, the book of Numbers. Genesis was the book of creation, and we saw the beginning of mankind and the establishment of the nation of Israel as God’s chosen people via a covenant he made with Abram/Abraham. In Exodus, God heard the cries of his people Israel and removed them from Egyptian slavery. In Leviticus, God provides instructions to prepare his people to stand apart from the world by giving them laws to guide their worship and daily life. Knowing that the promised land is ripe with ungodly people and pagan practices and rituals, these books, as with the rest of God’s word and his plan, is logically arranged. Imagine if God had waited to give the law until the people got to the promised land. That is a recipe for disaster.
I occasionally used to mix up the first five books of the Bible and as such had created a little acronym to remember their order. God’s Everlasting Love Never Dies. (You’re welcome).
The book of Numbers was written between 1440-1400 B.C. The reason for its title is obvious, as it contains a census in the first chapter. A second census occurs later in the book. Not only do we have a chance to see the massive numbers that make up the tribes of Israel, we can also see how God is numbering the men who are fit for battle as the Israelites prepare to take over the promised land.
The book picks up approximately two years after the Israelites left Egypt. The people are at Mt. Sinai, where they have just spent about a year receiving their laws and instructions. Here we see numerous instances of Israel grumbling and complaining against the Lord, and we see their punishment—that no one over the age of twenty at the time of the first sentence, save for Joshua and Caleb due to their faith, would be allowed to enter the promised land. Numbers then documents the forty year period that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness as they waited for the older generation to die off and see if the younger generation would do any better.
Let’s get on with it, shall we?
As was previously mentioned, the first chapter begins with a census. The Lord speaks to Moses from the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai. Here we see confirmation that this event occurred two years after their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, right in the first verse. God instructs Moses to conduct a census of the whole Israelite nation, by clans and families, listing every man by name, counting each man who has achieved twenty years of age or more and is able to serve in the army (so I am left to assume that elderly men and men with physical handicaps were not included). One man from each of the twelve tribes who is also the head of his family is to help Moses with this census. The men who are to help Moses with this task are named:
From the tribe of Reuben: Elizur. The tribe of Reuben consisted of 46,500 men who were over 20 and able to fight.
From the tribe of Simeon: Shelumiel. Simeon had 59,300 men.
Of Judah: Nahshon; there were 74,600.
Of Issachar: Nethanel. This tribe boasted 54,400 men.
From Zebulun: Eliab. There were 57,400.
Ephraim and Manasseh are listed together as the “sons of Joseph”, but each has a representative: Elishama and Gamaliel, respectively. The numbers for these tribes were 40,500 and 32,200.
Benjamin: Abidan. Benjamin had 35,400 men.
Dan: Ahiezer. This tribe offered 62,700 men.
Asher: Pagiel. Asher’s number was 41,500.
Gad: Eliasaph. This tribe had 45,650 men.
From Naphtali: Ahira. Their number was 53,400.
The total number here is 603,550. Remember, that is ONLY men twenty years and older who could fight in the army. Women and children are not included, and as I mentioned, my assumption is that men who were unable to fight due to disability or advanced age may not have been included. So it is safe to say that the Israelites numbered in the millions. Just to put that into perspective, think about the population of several states in 2014: New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Utah, Arkansas, and Mississippi all had citizens numbering in the range of approximately 2- to 3-million people. The nation of Israel was roughly the size of one of those populations.
Notice that the tribe of Levi was not included here. That is because their job was not to fight. The Levitical tribe was the priestly tribe, and they had their work cut out for them there. You’ve seen how thick-headed the Israelites could be. Imagine having to tend to their spiritual needs AND possibly fight battles? Yikes. I can see why God excluded them from military service. Their responsibility of serving God was far more important, and obviously, there were more than enough able-bodied men, guided by the Lord, to do what needed to be done. Instead of fighting, the Levites were charged with tending to the tabernacle and everything that belonged to it. The Levites had to carry the tabernacle and all of its furnishings, and when the nation reached a camp the Levites were to camp around it. Anyone who was not a member of the tribe of Levi was forbidden from setting it up, taking it down, or moving it. The punishment was death. The Israelites were to set up their tents in divisions, which will be further described in chapter two.
Here is a little picture that illustrates the way the Israelites were to camp, as described here in chapter two:
This illustration was borrowed from http://www.thebiblewayonline.com.
Since I posted the illustration, I won’t post the written instructions for the layout. I did take notice of the detail given. Judah was to be on the east, toward the sunrise. As you can see in the diagram, Issachar and Zebulun were next to Judah. The star is next to Judah because as we can see in verse 9, God refers to this division as Judah and instructs them to move first when the nation travels: “All the men assigned to the camp of Judah, according to their divisions, number 186,400. They will set out first”. Remember Judah is the tribe from whence Jesus came.
The division in the south is headed by Reuben. With 151,450 men, this division sets out second. They are followed by Ephraim, in the west, which has 108,100 men and includes the tribes of Benjamin and Manasseh. Lastly, in the north is Dan. They have 157,600 men between the three tribes of Dan, Asher and Naphtali. They will hold up the rear.
We have already arrived at chapter three. Here the Lord clarifies the role of the Levites. He first reminds Aaron and Moses of the incident concerning Aaron’s eldest sons, Nadab the firstborn and Abihu, who took it upon themselves to offer up an unauthorized fire to the Lord which consumed them (see Leviticus chapter 10). The two must have been pretty young, because the Bible says that they had no sons that could succeed them, so Eleazar and Ithamar were moved into the role of priesthood during the lifetime of their father Aaron. (Mind you, there is no mention of Nadab’s or Abihu’s age in the Bible. My assumption is that they were young because they were so quick to get drunk with their authority, if you will, and because of the fact that they had no descendants. Forgive me if it sounds offensive, but their actions seem to be more indicative of younger men).
The Lord instructs Moses to bring the tribe of Levi before him and present them to Aaron to be appointed his assistants, charged with helping him and taking care of the tabernacle. Again, Aaron and his sons are the priests, and they were the only ones who could approach the sanctuary. Aaron, the high priest, and any other high priest to follow, were the only ones who could enter the Holy of Holies/Most Holy Place during the Day of Atonement. Any priest could enter the first apartment, the Holy Place, and any Israelite could enter the courtyard. Just as a memory refresher, here is how the tabernacle looked:
Now that we see how the tribes were to be camped, here is a new illustration of the Israelite grounds. See if you notice anything remotely familiar about the layout here, in the first illustration:
Is God clever or is God clever? How interesting that the layout of the tribes and their camp formed a cross. THIS is why Christians need not neglect to read and study the Old Testament. This whole Bible points to Jesus, and His story does not begin with the four Gospels. When we read the Old Testament we see pictures of Jesus and the need for Him and His gift of salvation cannot be underscored.
The Lord then reminds Moses that the firstborn, of people and animals, were to be given to him for his service when the first Passover was implemented. However, that requirement has been replaced with the dedication of the entire tribe of Levi to service for God. Moses is instructed to count the Levites by their families and clans, every male who has achieved one month or more. These divisions would be used to determine where the Levites would camp in relation to the tabernacle. As you can see in the second illustration above on the right, the Levites were divided into three clans: The sons of Gershon, which included the Libnites and Shimeites; the sons of Kohath, including Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel; and the sons of Merari, which included the Mahli and Mushi clans. There was also camp space allotted for Moses, Aaron, and the priests.
Eliasaph son of Lael was appointed to preside over the Gershonites. They were charged with caring for “the tabernacle and tent and its coverings, the curtain at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the curtains of the courtyard, the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, and the ropes, and everything related to their use” (vv. 25-26). The number of males who had achieved a month or more in age was 7,500.
In the Kohathite clan there were 8,600 males, presided over by Eleazar, son of Aaron. They were responsible for the care of the sanctuary. Their camp was on the south side of the tabernacle. Specifically, “They were responsible for the care of the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the articles of the sanctuary used in ministering, the curtain, and everything related to their use” (v. 31).
Lastly, the Merari clan, which came in with 6,200, was headed by Zuriel son of Abihail. Their camp was on the north side of the tabernacle, and they were in charge of “the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts, bases, all its equipment, and everything related to their use, as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs and ropes” (vv. 36-37).
Moses, Aaron, and his sons were to camp to the east of the tabernacle, toward the sunrise, in front of the tent of meeting. The total number of Levites counted per the instructions given by the Lord were 22,000.
Now, the Lord instructs Moses to count all the firstborn Israelites males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names. In the place of all of those, Moses is to take the Levites, and in the place of the firstborn livestock from the Israelite nation, Moses is to take the livestock of the Levites. The number of firstborn Israelites were 22,273… so it was a pretty fair trade, don’t you think?
God goes further to make this transaction even fairer. He notes that there are 273 additional firstborn Israelites (men or animal). He gives the following instruction: “To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of Levites, collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons” (vv. 46-48). A gerah was an ancient unit of weight and currency, the equivalent of approximately one-twentieth of a shekel, or 0.568 grams. Moses collects silver weighing 1,365 shekels and turns it over to Aaron.
What is this discussion of redemption all about? Well, what does it mean to redeem something? When I hear the word “redeem”, I am tempted to think of redeeming coupons. I like the definition of the word “redeem” provided by Merriam-Webster:
“: to make (something that is bad, unpleasant, etc.) better or more acceptable
: to exchange (something, such as a coupon or lottery ticket) for money, an award, etc.
: to buy back (something, such as a stock or bond)”
In the above passages of Scripture, I believe the second description is more appropriate. God has allowed a substitution or exchange—the firstborn of the nation of Israel for the Israelites. In our Christian walk, we have to look at redemption in all three manners. Redemption as applied to what Jesus did for us means that through Him, we have been made more acceptable to God. An exchange was made—Jesus took our place when He died for our sins, and by doing so, we were bought back to God. Jesus paid for our sins with His life and because of His sacrifice we are no longer bound by the ways of the world. We were bought with a price. Hallelujah!
I planned to get through the first five chapters—it is always my plan to do five chapters a day, as prescribed by my pastor. But I feel the effects of the sleep aid I took kicking in and I don’t want to make any mistakes. Although I am slowly coming to grips with the death of my super awesome, highly beloved Dad, I am still having problems easing myself into a good recuperative sleep at night, and have been paying for it throughout the day.
Most gracious and kind heavenly Father,
I thank you for allowing me to make it through one more day. I thank you for allowing me to see the dawn of a new one. I thank you that you are God and God alone. Although I may not understand, I pray that your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Father I pray right now that you will forgive me for all of my sins, and remove from me any characteristics that are displeasing to you. I want to be used by you, for you. I am happiest when I am serving you. I just pray that you keep me and those I love, bless us and protect us, and guide us in your way and your Word. We need you now and forevermore. I pray that you will continue to strengthen us as we try to pick up the pieces after Dad’s sudden death. It is hard but I know through you we will be okay.
I will always give your name and your name only all of the honor and praise. In Jesus’s name I pray and for His sakes,