Comments On The Book Of Numbers
Numbers is the book of Israel's wilderness wanderings. A journey that normally would take 11 days (Deut.1:2) was stretched out to nearly forty years because of Israel's faithless disobedience. Genesis is the book of life, that is, God's beginning His work with mankind in vital, living power. Exodus is the book of redemption, with God's authority established among the redeemed people. Leviticus then brings those people into the presence of God, for it is the sanctuary book which lifts us altogether above the level of the world. However, Numbers brings our feet down to earth again, where we are tested by the experiences of the wilderness. Four is the number of testing, so Numbers is the fourth book of scripture, and Israel's forty years in the desert emphasize this lesson.
During Israel's years of slavery their enemy was Egypt, typically the world. When eventually they came into the promised land, their enemies were the Canaanites, etc., who are symbolical of satanic opposition to the truth of God. But in the wilderness, the enmity came from the flesh within them, not from without. This is seen in their incessant complaining against Moses and Aaron and therefore against God. If there had been faith to fully judge the flesh earlier, they might not have taken so long to learn the needed lessons of the wilderness. But all the generation of people over 20 years who came out of Egypt died before Israel entered the land, except for Joshua and Caleb (Num.14:29-30). Therefore, though it was the same nation that entered Canaan, yet it was a numbering the people, in chapter 1:2-46 and chapter 26:4-65.
The New King James Version is generally used in this commentary, but occasionally the translation of J. N. Darby is used, indicated by the initials (JND), or if other translations are used, this will be indicated.
THE FIRST CENSUS OF ISRAEL
After Israel's leaving Egypt, over a year passed before we read of this census being taken. In David's time, when he determined to number the people (2 Sam.24:2-10), his motives were those of pride in reigning over a great nation, and this resulted in the death of 70,000 people. But God's census in Numbers indicates His own vital interest in each one of His people Israel, an interest that is no less true in regard to His saints today. The difference is that in Israel only the males over 20 years of age were numbered. There would be a cut-off age also, for this involved only those who were fit for military service. Today all of His saints are fitted for spiritual warfare, women and young and old too, though by reason of age some are less active than others. Yet the lesson is also clear for us that to engage in practical conflict we require maturity or full age such as comes through knowledge and growth in the word of God. To be "a good soldier of Jesus Christ" also calls for undivided devotion, not being entangled with the affairs of this life (2 Tim.2:3-4), for we have been called to the exclusive service of our Lord, therefore should please Him.
God Himself chose the leaders of each of these tribes, with good spiritual reasons. We must learn these reasons from the names given, for this is all scripture supplies. The leader of the tribe of Reuben was Elizur the son of Shedeur. Elizur means "God is a Rock." what a contrast to his father Reuben, of whom we read, "Unstable as water, you shall not excel" (Gen.49:4). Reuben in the flesh was abject weakness, just as the flesh proves in all of us. But the strength and stability of God is the portion of the new nature, that which all believers are "in Christ Jesus." Shedeur means "the Almighty is fire," which adds the thought of God's consuming holiness judging the flesh and all of its works. For if we are rightly to know the strength and stabilizing energy of God, we must be "partakers of His holiness," of which the fire speaks, -- holiness which must judge Reuben's sin. It is beautifully fitting therefore that the lessons Shedeur teaches should be of first importance in enabling us for spiritual conflict.
In order of birth the tribe of Simeon is next, and the prince of Simeon was Shelumiel (v.6), meaning "at peace with God." This too is a striking contrast to Simeon's character as described by his father Jacob in Genesis 49:5-7, who, together with Levi, was guilty of cruel vicious enmity in the murder of the men of Shechem (Gen.34:25-26). Only the grace of God could make any difference in this atrocious case. Is the flesh in us any better than in Simeon and Levi? Not at all: "the mind of the flesh is enmity against God" (Rom.8:7 --JND). Yet God has in pure grace reconciled all believers to Himself (2 Cor.5:18), and we are "at peace with God," as Romans 5:1 declares.
Shelumiel was the son Zurishaddai, meaning "My rock is the Almighty." This reminds us that peace with God depends on the stability of God Himself, the Almighty; and in this case not only is God the Rock, by "my rock." How good it is for us if we appropriate to ourselves this living truth! This is a wonderful sustenance in warfare.
The tribe of Levi is passed over here, for that tribe was separated from the others for sanctuary service. Therefore Judah is next mentioned, with Nahshon, the son of Amminidab its prince (v.7). Nahshon means "a diviner." some diviners were satanically inspired, but others were inspired by God, and the latter is intended here, for Judah's name means "praise" and one who is a true worshiper of God will be given grace to divine, or discern all things, even the future, as he takes in the word of God. this place of nearness to God is important too in regard to spiritual warfare. Amminidab (the father of Nahshon) means "the people of the liberal giver." Certainly God is the Liberal Giver. Praise and discernment of God's ways are always associated with the realization of God's grace freely giving us all things to enjoy.
The prince of Issachar was Nethanel (v.8), meaning "the gift of God." This is a contrast to Issachar's character as described in Genesis 49:14-15 as a donkey brought under bondage for hire, just as Israel under law really served for hire rather than receiving every blessing as a gift from God. In the millennium this will be beautifully reversed. Nethanel was the son of Zuar, meaning "little." How true it is that when we receive every blessing simply as a gift of God our pride will be brought low, no longer to think highly of ourselves, but like Paul, whose name means "little," to consider ourselves "less than the least of all saints" (Eph.3:8).
Listed next is the prince of Zebulon, who was Eliab, his name meaning "God is a Father." In Genesis 49:13 Zebulon pictures Israel in close proximity to the Gentiles, being a haven for ships, therefore compromising her proper separation to God. In beautiful contrast to this, the expression "God is a Father" reminds us of 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, where believers are exhorted to come Out from unholy associations, for in so doing they are assured by God, "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters." Such godly separation from evil is another requisite if we are to be "good soldiers of Jesus Christ," so Eliab infers the work of God in changing us from evil associations to those pleasing to the Father. Eliab was the son of Helon, but the meaning of his name is so doubtful that we cannot be certain of its significance.
Joseph was given two tribes for his sons, to make up 12 tribes when Levi was separated for tabernacle service. Ephraim's prince was Elishama, "God has heard" (v.10). Genesis 49 does not tell us Ephraim's character naturally, but this leader, "God has heard" intimates a prayerful dependence consistent with the place of spiritual conflict that is emphasized in this chapter. His father's name, Ammihud means "the people of majesty," which surely speaks of the calm dignity that prayer gives in enabling us to face warfare in some measure as the Lord Jesus did (John 18:3-11).
Manasseh's prince was Gamaliel, meaning "God is a Rewarder." In time of conflict this is a wonderful encouragement. There is no reason to look for men's approval or rewards, for if we wage war with the motive of simply desiring to please God, we shall be fully content to wait for God's time of rewards. Gamaliel's father, Pedahzur, "the rock has redeemed" is a reminder that the rewards of service must not be occasions of pride on our part, for we must remember that we are only sinners redeemed by Him who is the one stable Rock.
Abidan was the prince of Benjamin, his name meaning "My father is judge" (v.11). In Genesis 49:27 Benjamin is called "a ravening wolf." In other words he was naturally a warrior. But it is not natural fighters the Lord needs, as Peter found when he used a sword to cut off the ear of the High priest's servant (Jn.18:10-11), and was reproved by the Lord, who healed the man's ear. "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds" (2 Cor.10:4). So let us remember the lesson of Abidan, "my Father is judge." God as a Father judges according to every person's work (1 Peter 1:17). It is He who judges the value of our warfare, with perfect spiritual discernment.
Ahidan's father was Gideoni, "the cutter down." This shows us the becoming result of our recognizing the Father's judgment. When we bow to this, we learn to cut down all fleshly activity: we judge the sin of our own hearts and every idolatrous tendency. A man of similar name, Gideon, in the book of Judges, was the cutter down when he demolished his father's idols (Judges 6:25-28). In deed, only in a state of true self-judgment are we ready for spiritual conflict.
This completes the list of Jacob's sons by his two wives, Leah and Rachel.
The sons of Jacob's bondmaids are considered now, Dan being first mentioned. The prince of Dan was Ahiezer, meaning "brother of help." What a contrast to this is the character of Dan mentioned in Genesis 49:17, "Dan shall be a serpent by the way. Rather than giving brotherly help, he would give satanic harm. Again, God makes a wonderful change by His pure grace, so that Dan would be a help in conflict. Ahiezer was the son of Ammishaddai, meaning "the people of the Almighty." A brother relationship is to be expected when the people's relationship to the Almighty is established.
Asher prince was Pagiel (v.13), which means "event of God" and his father's name Ocran, means "afflicted." Genesis 49:20 tells us, "Bread from Asher shall be rich, and he shall yield royal dainties." Asher means "happy." But even the blessing of Asher has to be tempered with God's dealings -- events of God -- to bring affliction. For true happiness always comes through suffering, little as we might at first appreciate this. How well Paul understood this when he wrote, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor.12:10).
Eliasaph, meaning "God has added" was the prince of Gad. Genesis 49:19 says, "Gad, a troop shall tramp upon him, but he shall triumph at last." This is a prophecy of recovery and triumph, so that Eliasaph's name indicates that triumph will be accomplished by God's giving the increase. His father's name, Deuel, means "known of God." The sense of God's knowing us thus leads to spiritual increase in practical life. this too is connected with preparation for conflict. But God is the source of all.
Naphtali's prince (v.15), Ahira, "brother of evil" is the most difficult as regards interpretation. Genesis 49:21 reads, "Naphtali is a deer let loose; he uses beautiful words." "Brother of evil" can then be understood only in the sense of "brother of trouble," and could refer to the sympathetic character of the believer in bearing the burden of others. This would be in some contrast to the deer let loose, but would remind us of Paul's words, "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all" (1 Cor.9:19). Ahira's father was Enan, meaning "having eyes," and may speak of the concern that looks on the sorrows of others.
The tribes were then assembled, each under the authority of its chosen leader (v.18), and their numbering is seen in verses 20 to 46. We should have absolute confidence that there is spiritual significance in all these numbers, for "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable" (2 Tim.3:16). Our inability to discern the significance of these things is therefore our own ignorance. The total number of men over 20 in the twelve tribes was 603,550.
THE TRIBE OF LEVI SEPARATED
The numbering did not include the tribe of Levi, for the Lord had told Moses before that the Levites were to be appointed to care for the tabernacle and its furnishings, both while it remained stationery and when it was in process of moving. They were to take the tabernacle down when it was time to move, and set it up again at each destination (v.51). No one else was allowed any part in this work, under penalty of death.
The Levites were therefore servants of the priests of the priests who were Aaron's family. In one very real sense all believers today are priests and all are Levites, that is, as priests they present acceptable sacrifices to God; as Levites they serve the needs of people. As the priests are worshipers, so the Levites have the privilege of ministry, but the two functions are distinct.
The twelve tribes were to encamp, three on each side of the tabernacle, while the tribe of Levi was inside of these, surrounding the tabernacle (v.53).
THE ORDERING OF THE CAMP
The Lord now gives instructions to Moses as to the positions of all the tribes when camped and the order of their marching. Judah is mentioned first, his name appropriately meaning "praise." His tribe was directly in front of the tabernacle, toward the east (v.3), set back at sufficient distance to allow full room for the sons of Aaron near the tabernacle entrance, their family being spread across the east side of the tabernacle court (ch.3:38).
The standard of Judah included two other tribes, Issachar and Zebulon (vs.5-7), one encamped on each side of Judah. All of this is typical of God's maintaining spiritual order in the church, not a precise physical order, but an order that glorifies His name through the subject obedience of His saints in unity and devotion to His name. We have seen the meanings of the leader's names in chapter 1, and these have full significance as regards their assigned places.
The standard of Judah was always in the lead when the tribes set out to march, for the spirit of praise to God is of first importance in travel or in warfare. When Jehoshaphat's army went out with singers praising the Lord, the victory was soon gained (2 Chron.20:21-22). The total number of men under Judah's standard was 186,400 (v.9).
The tribe of Reuben was in the middle on the south side, and under his standard were also the tribes of Simeon and Gad on either side (vs.10-16), the total number of men in the three tribes 151,450. These under Reuben's standard followed those under Judah's standard when they broke camp.
Just as the tabernacle was in the center of the camp, so its place in traveling was in the center (v.17), with the Levites accompanying it. For it was the very heart of the camp, the dwelling of God, who was in the midst of Israel. Six tribes preceded it in traveling, and six followed.
The standard of the camp of Ephraim was on the west side, and with Ephraim were Manasseh and Benjamin (vs.18-23). The armies of these three totaled 108,100. These followed the Levites in traveling.
On the north side the tribe of Dan bore the standard that included also Asher and Naphtali (vs.25-30). Their armies together comprised a total of 157,600 men, and were last in order to travel. All the numbered men therefore totaled 603,550, as chapter 1:46 reported, and chapter 2:32 confirms. Again, we are reminded that this did not include the Levites (v.33), nor of course women and children. The total of the congregation must have been between two and three million. what a company for Moses to lead through the wilderness! But this illustrates the care of God in providing the best order possible. Certainly in the Church of God today He exercises no less wisdom in providing a spiritual order that will glorify His name, and He expects in the gatherings of the assembly a becoming recognition of His order, as 1 Corinthians 14:40 shows. "Let all things be done decently and in order."
THE SONS OF AARON
Aaron was the high priest, and in Israel a natural succession was practiced, as is not true in the Church of God today In fact, a special priesthood is not scriptural now, for all true believers are priests (1 Peter 2:5), not by natural birth, but by spiritual birth. However, Aaron had four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar (v.2), all consecrated as priests. But the weakness of the principle of natural succession was demonstrated at the very beginning of their service, for Nadab and Abihu, in disobedience to the Lord, offered forbidden incense, and died for this sin (Lev.10:1-2).
God's swift judgment in this case had deeply affected Aaron (Lev.10:19), and no doubt also Eleazar and Ithamar, who alone were left to serve as priests with Aaron. After such an experience they would certainly have a more serious and careful regard for the holiness of God.
THE SERVICE OF THE LEVITES
The Lord now requires the Levites to be presented before Aaron, to serve him. The function of the Levites was for ministry, for true ministry will always serve to encourage worship, which is illustrated in the priesthood. As well as serving Aaron, the Levites were engaged in attending to the needs of the whole congregation of Israel (v.7), these needs being centered in the tabernacle and its service. They were responsible for the care of all the furnishing of the tabernacle (v.8). Today the answer to this is in the ministry God has furnished for the Church of God. Are we concerned to minister what well be of real help and blessing to the people? Every believer should have such a concern. To do this rightly we should have a good apprehension of the many precious truths that are pictured in the tabernacle and its furnishings. For instance, the ark pictures Christ as the Sustainer of the throne of God. The lampstand is typical of Christ as the Sustainer of all testimony for God. The table tells of Christ as the Sustainer of communion, and the golden altar speaks of Him as the Sustainer of worship. Outside, the copper altar reminds us of His holy person sanctifying the sacrifice, and every sacrifice being a picture of His one sacrifice at Calvary. The laver indicates the moral cleansing of water by the word. All of these things, as well as the materials of the tabernacle, provide subjects of helpful ministry for all the saints of God.
Again, it is insisted in verse 9 that the Levites were to be given to Aaron and his sons, reminding us that all true ministry is subject to the more important function of worship. Ministry, properly exercised, will lead the hearers to worship the Lord. But one who was not a priest or Levite, if he dared to come near as though he had some place there, would suffer the penalty of death (v.10).
The Lord again spoke to Moses (v.11), insisting that He Himself had separated the Levites from among the children of Israel as a substitution for every firstborn in Israel, for the firstborn were pronounced His from the time of the Passover in Egypt, when the firstborn of Egypt were slain. They had been virtually redeemed by the blood sprinkled on the door-posts and cross-bars of their homes. It is good for us too to recognize God's rights as being first.
NUMBERING OF THE LEVITES
The Levites where then numbered separately from the other tribes of Israel. Yet, not only the males 20 years old and above were numbered, but all males from one month old and over. For this was not for military service, but for service to God, and though they were not to engage in sanctuary service until age 30 through 50 (Lev.4:3), they were evidently trained in view of that service. This reminds us that the Lord Jesus Himself did not begin His public service until He was about 30 years of age (Lk.3:23), but His earlier years were an important preparation for it.
There were three divisions of the Levites, names for Levi's three sons, Gershon, Kohath and Merari. Gershon had two sons, Kohath four, and Marari two. From the two in Gershon's family there had been such increase that his family numbered 7,500. They were to camp on the west side of the tabernacle, close to the court. The name of the leader of the Gershonites was Eliasaph. The Gershonites were responsible for the coverings of the tabernacle, the hangings for the entrance of the tabernacle, all the hangings of the court, its entrance hangings and cords, etc. These all speak of the practical moral character of the Lord Jesus or of His saints. Gershon would therefore stand for that ministry that insists on the moral perfection of the Lord Jesus and the practical righteousness that should be seen in all believers as a witness to our faith in the perfect one.
The Kohathites descending from the four sons of Kohath, numbered 8,600 (vs.27-28). They camped along the south side of the tabernacle (v.29). Their leader was Elizaphan the son of Uzziel (v.30). They were responsible for the care of the Ark, the table, the lampstand, the two altars together with the utensils and the veil, with all that related to these things (v.31). This no doubt included the laver. Whenever Israel traveled the Kohathites carried these things, though they did not see them, for before they were allowed to carry them, the priests were required to cover them with their appropriate coverings and insert the carrying poles (Lev.4:5-20).
These things the Kohathites carried are all typical of the objective truths of Christianity, -- not subjective, as we have seen in Gershon. For all this furniture speaks of Christ and His perfect work. Therefore Kohath stands for the ministry of the glory of the Lord Jesus set forth in unique excellence, altogether above and apart from human understanding or appreciation of it. It is absolute, living and real. John's Gospel presents this beautifully, as does Hebrews 1. May we deeply value such ministry, and seek grace also to present it faithfully.
Verse 32 tells us that Eleazar the priest, son of Aaron, was chief over the leaders of the Levites, appointing them to the particular work they were required to do (cf.v.19).
Merari had two sons, from whom were 6,200 descendants, males a month old and over (vs.33-34). Their leader was Zuriel the son of Abihail. They camped on the north side of the tabernacle. They were given the work of caring for the boards of the tabernacle, its bars, pillars and sockets, its related utensils, the pillars of the court, their sockets, pegs and cords. The boards of the tabernacle speak of the basic facts of what believers are "in Christ," and as united in one building, the Church of God. They were of acacia wood overlaid with gold, standing upright on sockets of silver, that is, believers upheld on the basis of redemption, covered with Christ (the gold) and united together with bars of the same materials. The pillars of the court made of copper and resting on copper sockets speak of Christ as the Upholder of His people, for the hooks that held up the curtains were of silver, the picture of redemption. Thus, in upholding them, He also unites them together. Merari therefore emphasizes the ministry that unites believers to Christ and to one another as dependent on the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Such ministry is of great importance in our present day.
To complete the inner circle of residents around the tabernacle, Moses, Aaron and his sons are seen on the east side (v.38), that is the front, as it were guarding the entrance of the court, keeping charge of the sanctuary. Any outsider who infringed on that which was for the priests, was to be put to death. The total number of males among the Levites from one month old and above was 22,000 (v.39). This was much lower than any of the other tribes in spite of the added number of young males.
THE LEVITES SUBSTITUTED FOR THE FIRSTBORN
Since the Levites were to be dedicated to the Lord in place of the firstborn in Israel, it was necessary to enquire how closely the number of the Levites corresponded to the number of the firstborn. So the Lord told Moses to number all the firstborn males, from one month and above, as the Levite males had been numbered (v.40). Verse 41 also notes that the livestock of the Levites would substitute for the firstborn livestock of the other tribes, though we are not told that the livestock were numbered.
The number of the Levite males had been found to be 22,000 (v.39). Now the number of the firstborn was very close to the same, but 273 larger than the number of the Levites (v.43). To compensate for this difference, the Lord instructed that the 273 would be redeemed by the paying of five shekels of silver for each individual (vs.46-47). It is not likely that 273 individuals were required to give five shekels each, but rather that the tribes should share in the cost of redeeming the 273. This was to be given to the priests, Aaron and his sons, since actually the Levites were also given to them. The total amounted to 1365 shekels (v.50. While silver was used in such cases to illustrate the truth of redemption, we must always remember that today "we are not redeemed by corruptible things such as silver or gold, -- but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19).
THE SERVICE OF THE KOHATHITES
Moses and Aaron are instructed in verse 2 to take a census of the sons of Korath, those males 30 to 50 years of age. In verses 21-22 the same is said as to the sons of Gershon, then the sons of Merari in verse 29. Before this census was taken, however, we are told in some detail of the responsibilities of the Kohathites, Gershonites and Merarites.
Kohathites were required to wait for the priests to prepare the tabernacle furniture for moving. When a move was to take place Aaron and his sons must first take down the veil from between the outer sanctuary and the holiest of all and use the veil to cover the ark (v.5). For only the priests were allowed to even look at the ark. thus, when the Lord Jesus was a sojourner on earth among His people, His great Godhead glory was veiled with that which speaks of His heavenly character (blue), His royal dignity (purple), His attractive beauty (scarlet) and His human moral perfection (fine linen). These were the components of the veil (Ex.26:31).
Yet a covering of badger skins was put over the veil, the badger skins (or possibly sealskins) speaking of the opposite of beauty, for "when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him (Isa.53:2). However, that too was covered by a cloth entirely of blue (v.6), an important reminder that though walking on earth, the Lord Jesus is "the second Man, the Lord from heaven" (1 Cor.15:47). Only the ark had this blue covering visible for all, for it tells that God's authority is from heaven, an authority over all mankind. The poles for carrying the ark were then inserted (v.6) in readiness for the Kohathites to carry.
The priests then spread a blue cloth over the table of showbread and put on it the dishes, pans, bowls and pitchers. The showbread itself should also remain on it (v.7). A scarlet cloth was put over this, then also a covering of badger skins, and the poles inserted (v.8). The table speaks of Christ as the Sustainer of communion, and the blue cloth reminds us that communion with Him now is on a heavenly level, while the badger skins tell us that communion is not attractive to the outside world, though still strong and endurable.
The lampstand was to be covered with blue cloth, together with its lamps, wick trimmers, trays and oil vessels, then put on carrying bars or poles (vs.9-10). For the lampstand symbolizes Christ as the Sustainer of testimony, and the blue insists that true testimony for God is from heaven, while the badger skins again show it to be not attractive or popular in the world, though of a durable character.
The golden altar was covered just as the lampstand and the table, with a blue cloth and a covering of badger skins over it (v.11). This altar represents Christ as the Sustainer of worship, and worship too is of truly heavenly character (the blue), but has no attraction for the outside world.
The utensils of service were together similarly covered with a blue cloth and a covering of badger skins added, then placed on carrying bars (v.12). The same truths therefore apply to all the details of the furniture of the outer sanctuary.
The altar of burnt offering was outside. The priests were to take the ashes from it spread over it a cloth of purple (v.13). Purple is the royal color, for He who sacrificed Himself is the One who has absolute right to reign. Over this and over all its implements a covering of badger skins was put and its poles inserted.
Only after Aaron and his sons had finished their work in preparing the tabernacle furniture for moving were the Kohathites permitted to begin their work of carrying by means of the poles all this furniture (v.15). But they were not to even touch any of these furnishings, under penalty of death. This is intended to teach us that, while the Lord's servants are privileged to bear witness to the truth concerning the Lord Jesus in all of His wonderful relationships, yet they are to have such wholesome regard for the glory of His person that they are deeply to remember that no one knows the Father except the Son, and no one knows the Son but the Father. "Great is the mystery of godliness" (1 Tim.3:16). We cannot and must not dare to try to explain the great mystery of the person of Christ, whose glory is infinitely above our understanding.
The priest did have a nearer place than the servant (the Levite) however, a place of enjoyment of the Lord's presence. For the glory of the person of Christ is for the worship of Saints, though not for the explanation to others. Thus Eleazar the son of Aaron was appointed to take charge of the oil for the light, the sweet incense, the daily grain offering and the anointing oil, and to oversee the ordering of the tabernacle and its furniture (v.16). Eleazar's name means "God is Helper," and he succeeded Aaron in the high priesthood when Aaron died (Num.20:23-28), He is therefore a type of Christ as High Priest in resurrection.
Verses 17-20 insist that the Kohathites were not to be cut off from Israel, but to avoid this they must fully obey instructions from the priests to do only the work assigned to them, and not to even watch while the priests covered the holy things in preparation for moving. Thus it is emphasized that service must not infringe on the privileges of priesthood.
THE SERVICE OF THE GERSHONITES
The census of the Gershonites was now commanded to be taken (vs.22-23), but again their sphere of service is first detailed before the census. They were to carry the curtains of the tabernacle, the covering of badger skins, the hanging for the door of the tabernacle as well as that for the gate of the court, all the hangings of the court, their cords and other furnishings connected with these (vs.25-26). These speak, first of the moral perfection in the life of the Lord Jesus, and secondly, of the moral righteousness of the saints of God (the linen hangings of the court). the ministry seen in Gershon is therefore that insistence upon the unique ministry seen in Gershon is therefore that insistence upon the unique perfection of the Manhood of Christ and the becoming responsibility of saints to represent Him in their measure in their daily lives. "For the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints " (Rev.19:8)
The service of the Gershonites was under the authority of Ithamar, rather than Eleazar (v.28). Ithamar's name means "where the palm is," which reminds us of Psalm 92:12, "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree," emphasizing the fruitful walk of the saints of God.
THE SERVICE OF THE MERARITES
The same numbering was to be true of the Merarites, from 30 to 50 years of age, capable of serving in connection with the tabernacle.
When the priests had prepared things in readiness for moving, the Merarites were appointed to carry the boards of the tabernacle, its bars, pillars and sockets, the pillars for the court with their sockets, pegs and cords, and other accompaniments. These things speak of Christ as the Upholder of His people and of their place as accepted in Christ before God. This line of ministry is of vital importance too. Again, the service of the Merarites was under the authority of Ithamar (v.33). We have seen that Eleazar is typical of Christ in resurrection, and therefore connected with the Kohathite ministry dealing with this, for we are "in Christ" though walking through a hostile world, as is implied in 1 John 4:17, "as He is, so are we in this world." How we need to be reminded of this holy dignity, while all around us is great contrasting confusion!
THE CENSUS OF THE LEVITES
The Kohathites were then numbered, that is, the males from 30 to 50 years of age, and found to be 2,750 (v.36). It appears evident that all these would not be expected to serve at all times, but would likely take turns in carrying the furniture of the tabernacle. thus there would be no hard labor for anyone.
The number of the Gershonites amounted to 2,630 (v.40). We shall see later that these were given wagons for the transporting of the burdens given to them (ch.7:6-7), so that they would have charge of wagons and animals that pulled them.
The Merarites were found to number 3,200, more than either the Kohathites or Gershonites (v.44). They were given wagons for their service (ch.7:8), twice as many as Gershonites. Then the total number of the three families is given in verse 48 as 8,580, that is, of those males between the ages 30 and 50.
DEFILEMENT CALLING FOR ISOLATION
The principle of 1 Corinthians 5:6, "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" was just as true in the Old Testament as in the new. However, the defilement of Numbers 5:1-4 is ceremonial, not moral or spiritual, as is that insisted on in the New Testament. But it is symbolical of spiritual defilement. Every leper was to be excluded from the camp of Israel when it was proven he was indeed a leper (Lev.13:1-3). For the leper is typical of one today in whom serious sin is active, as in the case of the man in I Corinthians 5 who was cohabiting with his step-mother. As the leper was put out of the camp, so that man was to be "put away from among" the assembly at Corinth.
The one who had a discharge, or issue, was similarly excluded (v.2), for this speaks of the eruption of our old sinful nature. One who does not judge himself in connection with such evil ways must be judged by the assembly and put outside, where he may learn to rightly judge himself (1 Cor.5:11,12).
The one who touched the body of a dead person was unclean for seven days, when he could be purified through the offering of the red heifer (Num. 19:11-12). In the meanwhile he was put outside the camp (v.2). This speaks of any willing contact with what is spiritually corrupt today. There are such dead bodies as denominations practicing falsehood, and association with these can be deeply defiling. Until one is purified from such associations he is not fit for fellowship among the saints of God. Consider 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. Whether in male of female, this defilement required being put out of the camp, for their presence would defile the camp (v.3), and God dwelt there. Israel at this time did as God commanded. Surely we should be as careful to obey as they.
SIN CONFESSED AND RESTITUTION MADE
These verses insist on what has already been commanded in Leviticus 5:14-19, therefore emphasizing its importance. If a man or woman had trespassed against the Lord, this was to be honestly confessed, not covered or palliated, and restitution was to be fully made, plus one-fifth of the amount, to the person who had been wronged (v.7). If, for some reason, this could not be given to a particular person, then it was given to the Lord (v.8), as well as offering a ram as a trespass offering. For there must be some penalty for the sin, and we must be made to feel the fact that it was necessary for Christ to suffer on account of our sins.
These things given to the Lord went directly to the priest, as was the case with offerings (vs.9-10). Though the peace offering was given to the priest, however, the priest had only a share of this. God also had His share and the offerer was given a share (Lev.3:3-17; 7:11-18).
UNFAITHFULNESS IN A WIFE
The mere suspicion of a man that his wife was unfaithful was not to be ignored in Israel, but tested as in the presence of the Lord. We are not told that a wife's suspicions of her husband were to be tested also. This may be because this matter has special spiritual significance. For the man primarily typifies Christ, in whom there can never be even the least suspicion of unfaithfulness. "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim.2:13). But believers who are joined to the Lord by a bond symbolized by marriage (Rom.7:4) are often exposed to the danger of becoming unfaithful to the Lord. The very fact that suspicion in Numbers was not to be ignored should exercise us to be always on guard against anything that might tempt us from the path of total devotion to our Lord.
However, this was not a matter even for the priest to judge. When the scriptural procedure was followed the whole matter was left in the hand of God, who would make manifest the woman's guilt or her innocence. Yet the man was to bring his wife to the priest as well as an offering to one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal, with no oil or frankincense as in the case of the meal offerings generally (v.15). For this was not a thank-offering, but almost the opposite. Then the priest was to take holy water in an earthen vessel and mix dust with it from the tabernacle floor. The holy water speaks of life, but the dust speaks of death (Ps.22:15). If there was no sin unto death, life would be given, but guilt would lead to death.
The offering would be put in the woman's hand and the priest would hold the bitter water, which in the case of guilt, would bring a curse. Then the priest would put her under oath. Of course, if she had confessed herself guilty before, this would not be necessary, but her oath would be to the effect that she was not guilty. She would be warned by the priest that if she was lying, the Lord would cause her thigh to rot and her belly to swell, making her a curse among the people (v.21), and she was to answer, "Amen, so be it" (v.22).
When the accused wife had sworn an oath of innocence and had been warned of the results of falsehood, then the priest would take the grain offering from the woman and wave it before the Lord, then take from it a handful as a memorial portion to burn on the altar (vs.25-26). The waving of the offering speaks of Christ ascended to heaven following His death and resurrection, now in absolute authority, so that everything must be subject to Him. The portion burned tells us that God is to be glorified in this whole matter. Afterward the woman was required to drink the bitter water. this was mentioned in verse 24, but evidently it took place after the burning of the Lord's portion.
If she was guilty, the Lord would expose this by causing her thigh to rot and her belly to swell. what would develop from this we are not told but the stigma of a curse would be upon her in the eyes of the people. If these symptoms did not follow, then she was fully exonerated (v.28). In a case like this, we may well suppose that the husband should apologize to her for his suspicions.
If the charge of guilt was sustained against the wife, however, the husband was declared to be free from iniquity, for the evil has been exposed and judges. But the woman must bear the results of her guilt (vs.30-31).
THE NAZARITE VOW
The vow of a Nazarite was voluntary, except in such cases as Samson and Samuel, both of whom were Nazarites from birth, by the decree of God (Judg.13:5; 1 Sam.1:11,27-28). But we are not to think that this is typical of a special Christian class, no more that Levites or priests represented this. Just as all believers are priests and servants (Levites), so are they Nazarites because they have voluntarily received the Lord Jesus as Savior, and therefore commit themselves to a path of pleasing Him. Samson and Samuel illustrate the fact that from birth (new birth in our case) we are committed to a lifetime of pleasing the One whom it is true delight to please. No vow is required of us, as was the case under law, yet still some true voluntary decision.
Nazarite means "separated," just as all believers are separated from an ungodly world. True separation to God is expressed in three specific ways. First, there was to be separation from all that comes from the wine-vine, not only the wine, but grapes, raisins, vinegar or any part of the vine (vs.3-4). The wine speaks of joy, not necessarily illicit joy, for Judges 9:19 tells us that wine "cheers God and man." When one walks with God, the things that are most pleasant, naturally speaking, can be willingly sacrificed. In contrast to this, "she who lives in pleasure is death while she lives" (1 Tim.5:6). To be light and careless is not Christianity: the things of God are serious.
Secondly, the Nazarite's hair was not to be cut for the entire length of his vow of separation (v.5). 1I Corinthians 11:5 shows that the woman's long hair is a sign of her subjection to man, who normally does not have long hair (v.16). The Nazarite's long hair was therefore a sign of his subjection to God. It was only when Samson lost his hair that he lost his strength (Judges 16:11-20), for the strength of the believer lies in his subjection to God. The Lord Jesus was not literally a Nazarite, though many pictures mistakenly represent Him as having long hair; but spiritually speaking, He is the one true Nazarite, totally separated to God.
Thirdly, the Nazarite was not to be defiled by contact with a dead body. Even if his father, mother, brother or sister died, he was not to be identified with their funeral (vs.7-8). This teaches us that today, any association with anything that is spiritually corrupt is defiling. Not that there is any defilement for us in contact with a literally dead body, but there are spiritually dead bodies, corrupt religious systems, that are an insult to the holiness of God, and He expects believers to be totally separated from these.
Yet it was possible that a Nazarite might be inadvertently near a person who suddenly died. The defilement was just as serious, and the Nazarite was to then shave his head on the seventh day, intimating his Nazariteship was lost (v.9). On the eighth day he was to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the door of the tabernacle (v.10). Then the priest was to offer one of these as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. Thus we are reminded that the sacrifice of Christ was necessary to atone for the defilement of wrong associations, the sacrifice that cleanses away sin (the sin offering) and glorifies God (the burnt offering). Added to this was a male lamb as a trespass offering (v.12), but the former days of his separation were lost because of defilement. There is no indication, however, that he could not at a later time again take the vow of the Nazarite.
THE NAZARITE VOW COMPLETED
Since the Nazarite vow was designated for a certain length of time, when this was completed the person was to come with an offering to the tabernacle door. For the believer today, his Nazariteship is not completed until the end of his history on earth, whether through death or the Lord's coming.
On entering the glory of the Lord's own presence, we shall be blessed with a fresh realization of the great value of His sacrifice, as is intimated in verses 14 to 20. First is the male lamb for a burnt offering, the reminder that Christ's sacrifice for us has brought highest honor to His God and Father. A ewe lamb for a sin offering gives the sweet reminder that our sin has been fully met at Calvary. The unblemished ram as a peace offering furnishes the reminder that perfect concord and communion has been established for us with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ by virtue of the same great sacrifice.
The basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil and unleavened wafers anointed with oil bring the fresh remembrance of the whole life of the Lord Jesus on earth in true humanity, devoted to the will of God (v.15). This will mean more to us then when we see Him face to face than it has ever meant before. The drink offerings symbolize the joy we shall have in the contemplation of His own great sacrifice of Calvary. We see these now offered in verses 16 and 17.
The Nazarite was then to shave his head (v.18), signifying that the days of his subjection in humiliation were at an end. Today our subjection to God (as illustrated in the long hair) means constant humiliation and self-denial in a hostile environment. But the hair was burned under the peace offering. The reminder of our days of humiliation will go up in fire to the Lord. He will not forget this, but our bodies of humiliation will be altered to be like the Lord's body of glory (Phil.3:21).
From the peace offering ram the priest was then to take the boiled shoulder, one unleavened cake and one unleavened wafer, putting them on the hands of the Nazarite, then waving them as a wave offering before the Lord. The wave shoulder speaks of Christ as the One who has perfectly borne our responsibility on the cross and is glorified in heaven (of which the waving speaks). How perfectly then we shall enjoy the sweetness of fellowship with Him, the sweetness we have known only in small measure on earth. The unleavened cake and wafer remind us of Christ in His sinless perfection of Manhood, which He will maintain in wonderful grace through eternity.
The breast of the wave offering (Christ in glory) and the thigh of the heave offering (Christ in resurrection) are added here as further food for out eternal enjoyment. Only after that is the Nazarite told he can now drink wine (v.20), which speaks of the unmingled joy and pleasure of heavenly glory that will then have no danger of being abused. Nothing is said as to the Nazarite being relieved of the responsibility of avoiding a dead body, for in heaven there will be no such thing.
At the completion of the Nazarite's vow, this interpretation of the many offerings, etc. is beautifully appropriate, for otherwise there would be no reason for so much to be done, for it was not as though the Nazarite was defiled in properly completing his vow.
THE BLESSING OF ISRAEL BY THE PRIESTS
These verses complete the picture of eternal blessing for us, though literally for Israel they refer to her temporal blessing. But believers will for eternity enjoy the blessing and keeping grace of the Lord Jesus (v.24). His face too will shine upon us in radiant beauty without intermission, and His grace (His favor) will be showered continually upon us (v.25). with His countenance lifted up in loving approval, He will provide the peace that passes all understanding for eternity (v.26).
In this blessing of Israel, however, God's name would be put upon them (v.27). This has not been properly fulfilled in all their history thus far, for it has been for centuries that Israel has suffered because of rebellion against God. Instead of having God's name upon them, God said of the child of Hosea, "Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your god" (Hosea 1:9). But when finally in faith they turn to the Lord Jesus in genuine repentance, then "in the place where it was said to them, You are not My people, there they shall be called sons of the living God" (Romans 9:26). Wonderful change indeed! Israel will not see evil any more. In fact, of their capital city, Jerusalem we read in Ezekiel 48:35, "the name of the city from that day shall be: THE LORD IS THERE." Yet, far higher still, His name will be upon His saints in glory, for eternity. "I will write on him My new name" (Rev.3:12) is the promise of the Lord Jesus to the overcomer, that is, to the one "who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (1 John 5:4-5).
OFFERINGS OF THE LEADERS GIVEN TO THE LEVITES
Moses, having completed the setting up of the tabernacle, anointed and consecrated it together with its furnishings and the copper altar outside (v.1). Now in order to be fully prepared for the service of moving the tabernacle from place to place, it was necessary to have ready the means of transportation. The leaders of each tribe therefore contributed an offering for this purpose. Six covered carts were provided, one cart from two leaders, and twelve oxen, one ox for each leader (vs.2-3).
The Lord then instructed Moses to give these to the Levites who required them, so that two carts and four oxen were given to the sons of Gershon, and four carts and eight oxen to the sons of Merari (vs.6-9), for they had twice as much volume to transport as did the sons of Gershon. This is a good reminder to us that when God gives us any service to do for Him He will always supply what is necessary to enable us to carry out that service. The sons of Kohath were not given any carts, for they were required to carry their burdens on their shoulders (v.9). Each service was different, and nothing too difficult for any. Each was to do just what God appointed with the ability and help that God supplied.
THE DEDICATION OFFERING OF JUDAH
Now the leaders of each tribe were called upon to offer on 12 successive days a dedication offering for the altar (vs.10-11). This emphasizes the importance of the altar of burnt offering, which speaks of Christ in His own person sanctifying the value of the sacrifice of Himself. The Lord asks the question in Matthew 23:19, "Which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?" While the gift speaks of the sacrifice Christ made at Calvary, the altar speaks of Christ in His own person, for He is Himself greater that the wonderful work He has done.
Each tribe therefore was to show (symbolically) appreciation for Christ and His sacrifice as each one offered on a different day for the twelve days. Nahshon represented the tribe of Judah, and he brought his offering on the first day.
The silver platter of 130 shekels (just over 4 pounds) and the silver bowl of 70 shekels (over 2 pounds) were filled with fine flour mixed with oil as a grain or meal offering (v.13). The meal offering speaks of Christ in the pure details of His perfect humanity, and the silver of the value of His redemption, which could be the work only of the Man of absolute perfection. "Mixed with oil" reminds us that from His birth the humanity of the Lord Jesus was beautifully permeated by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The golden pan of ten shekels weighed only 3 ounces, and was full of incense. The gold speaks of the personal Godhead glory of the Lord Jesus, and consistently with this the incense symbolizes the fragrance of the details of His beauty and glory that always rises as a sweet odor to God.
A burnt offering then consisted of three animals, one young bull, one ram and one male lamb (v.15). These speak of the great objective value of the sacrifice of Christ as that which glorifies God for eternity. The bull emphasizes the strength of that sacrifice; the ram, its devotion; and the male lamb, its submission.
Only one kid of the goats was given as a sin offering (v.16), the goat emphasizing the substitutionary character of the sacrifice of Christ, for as the sin offering He took our place in suffering and death.
The peace offering (v.17) involved much more, requiring two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five lambs of the first year. for the peace offering symbolizes the sacrifice of Christ as that which brings believers together with God the Father and with His son Jesus Christ in perfect concord and unity. The two oxen infer fellowship in depending on the strength of Christ's offering. Five is the number of responsibility, and the five rams, five goats and five male lambs all remind us that the Lord Jesus has taken our responsibility fully upon His great work for us, and blessed in fellowship with Him.
OFFERING OF THE OTHER ELEVEN TRIBES
The offerings of each of the tribes is seen to be identical, so that what is said of Judah's offering applies equally to all the others. The repetition here may seem unnecessary to us, but God is wiser than we, and has perfect reason for what He includes in His word, whether we understand it or not. Each tribe offered on a different day, but each one the same. At least, God is emphasizing the vitally important fact that all are on an equal footing: one is not to be preferred above another. Certainly this is just as true in the assembly, the church of God today. Different individuals have distinct gifts or distinct functions, yet all are of the same value in the eyes of God, all accepted on the same basis.
The offerings of each tribe being the same indicates that all are on the same standing before God. But besides this, we are to look at all these offering as pictures of Christ. If we specially love a person we do not get weary of looking at pictures of the loved one. Just so, God loves His Son and appreciates being reminded of Him by the pictures that each of the tribes presented. Certainly also God desires that we should never weary of appreciating every picture of His beloved Son that is found in the word of God. At least it will certainly not harm us if we read this chapter through carefully and meditatively.
Verse 89 ends the chapter by speaking of Moses entering the tabernacle to speak with God, and God Himself speaking to Moses from above the mercy seat. This was the only seat in the tabernacle, for it symbolizes the throne of God.
THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE LAMPS
It may seem strange that this one subject of the lampstand and the arranging of the lamps should be introduced in this place. But the previous chapters have been considering the preparation for Israel's journey through the wilderness, and therefore the question of testimony before the world is of serious importance. The lamps speak of this testimony, and their proper arrangement is here insisted upon, so that the light from them will particularly lighten the lampstand itself. The spiritual meaning is plain. All true testimony on the part of believers will draw attention to the person of Christ, who, being today in heaven, is the Sustainer of testimony, as the lampstand sustained the light. Our true testimony is that of Christ risen and glorified at the right hand of God. It is only as we look upon Him that we are sustained in our walk on earth.
Interestingly we are reminded in verse 4 that the workmanship of the lampstand was totally of hammered gold, all made of one piece. There was no acacia wood involved in this, for it does not in any way symbolize the humanity of the Lord Jesus, but His glory as the eternal God. For just as life is completely divine, so is light in its manifestation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We need the light for our entire path on earth.
THE PURIFICATION OF THE LEVITES
The Levites were called to represent all the people, for they took the place of the first-born, so that each believer should take on his shoulders the responsibility for service such as the Levite symbolizes. In so doing, he is to be prepared for this first by cleansing. Water was to be sprinkled on them (v.7), which speaks of cleansing by the water of the word of God (Eph.5:26), reminding us also of Psalm 119:9: "How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word."
Along with this cleansing they were to shave all their body, which speaks of removing all that is of the growth of the flesh. In other words, this involves strict self judgment, which we all need if we are to rightly serve the Lord. Their clothes also were to be washed, for garments speak of habits, which should be cleansed of all impurity.
Following this (v.9) a young bull was to be taken as a burnt offering with its accompaniment of a meal offering of fine flour mixed with oil, together with a second young bull as a sin offering. All the congregation of Israel was then brought to witness this dedication, and the children of Israel (no doubt through representatives) were to lay their hands on the Levites, thus fully identifying themselves with them (vs.9-10). Then the Levites were offered as a wave offering before the Lord (v.11). This may seem strange, for it is not likely that the Levites were actually waved, yet this was called a wave offering because as servants of God they were to be typically identified with Christ ascended to the right hand of God. For all ministry today is provided by Christ ascended in glory (Eph.4:8). Therefore, ministry is from heaven, on a far higher level than anything earthly.
Then the Levites were to lay their hands on the heads of the young bulls (v.12), that is, they were to typically identify themselves fully with the sacrifice of Christ, both as the sin offering and the burnt offering, the first indicating Christ's taking the responsibility for their sinful condition and suffering for it; the second showing that God is glorified in the results of the sacrifice in qualifying the Levites for service. The bulls were then offered.
Verse 14 repeats verse 1, showing the importance of the heavenly character of ministry as symbolized by the Levites being offered as a wave offering. In this way the Levites were ceremonially separated from the rest of Israel as being the Lord's special property. Today, all believers should appreciate this fact of being set apart for the Lord's service, -- not set apart from other believers, but from the world. To be devoted to the Lord's service is a wonderful privilege.
After finishing their cleansing and dedication, the Levites were qualified to go in to do the service of the tabernacle (v.15), and God insisted that they were wholly given to Him. He had taken them for Himself instead of the firstborn in Israel. For all the firstborn were His from the time of Israel's redemption from Egypt (vs.16-17).
God gave the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons (the priests) to serve them in doing the work required in caring for the tabernacle (v.19). Verses 20-22 show that these preparatory matters were carried out as the Lord had commanded.
LIMITED LENGTH OF LEVITE SERVICE
The service of the Levites was strictly limited to 25 years, beginning at age 25 and ending at 50. After 50 they were allowed still to assist the other Levites in ministering, but were to do no work. This does show that while age will necessarily limit our physical labor, it does not limit assisting in ways that we can, therefore there is no reason for one to be set aside from doing spiritual service. Even a woman, Anna, is a lovely example of this (Luke 2:36-38). A true prophetess, having been a widow for 84 years, she "served God with fasting and prayers night and day." John too, when over 90 years of age, was given the wonderful privilege of serving God in writing the Book of Revelation.
THE PASSOVER IN THE SECOND YEAR
Though Moses and Israel ought to have remembered that God had commanded that the Passover be kept every year, yet this was evidently forgotten until God spoke to Moses when the first month of the second year arrived, telling him that the Passover was again to be observed on the 14th day of the month. The lamb was to be selected on the tenth day and offered (Ex.12:3). In obedience to God's word, Moses required the children of Israel to keep the Passover, which they did on the prescribed day (vs.4-5).
However, there were some of the people who were defiled by contact with a dead body, for which they were prohibited from keeping the Passover (v.6). This speaks seriously to us today. There are many dead bodies in Christendom, those who profess to be Christian, but have no life in them, therefore are tainted by the corruption of death. If one is identified in fellowship with such a denomination, he is defiled by it, though he himself is not dead, and he must be purified from this defilement before he can rightly be allowed to partake of the Lord's supper. Some christians think there is nothing wrong with such associations, so long as they themselves are not engaging in the evil things; but God strongly denounces the very association (2 Cor.6:14-18). 2 Timothy 2:16-21 firmly insists that if one is to be "a vessel unto honor, sanctified and useful for the Master," he must purify himself from those vessels that are dishonoring to God. Let every believer be seriously careful as regards what he links himself with.
These defiled men in Israel became concerned that they were not allowed to keep the Passover, for their contact with a dead body required seven days before purification was complete (Num.19:11-12). What could be done about this, since the Passover was kept only once a year? (v.7). Moses therefore appealed to the Lord as to this matter, and the Lord graciously answered in making an exceptional provision for these people.
If at the time of the Passover one was defiled by a dead body, or was a long distance away, then he would be allowed to keep the Passover one month later (vs.10-11), when the defilement would have full time to be cleansed, or the journey completed. The same regulations were applicable as was the case with every Passover. Thus today we may rightly conclude that when one is cleansed from the defilement of unholy associations, he is to be welcomed to the breaking of bread, or if distance interferes with the possibility of fellowship, this is not to hinder the fellowship when one returns from a journey.
However, it is insisted again that the keeping of the Passover was so serious a matter that if one was not defiled or traveling, it was imperative that he keep the Passover (v.13). If he refused to do this, he was to be cut off in death. For typically this speaks of one who has no regard for the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus by which alone anyone can have a true relationship with God.
As to one who was not an Israelite, yet living among them, if he desired to keep the Passover, he must conform to the same regulations as Israelites (v.14). Exodus 12:48 required that all the males of his household should be circumcised. This would take time, as also any applicant for fellowship with the assembly should willingly allow time for any question to be settled before expecting to break bread.
GUIDANCE BY CLOUD AND FIRE
Before Israel's tabernacle was made, the Lord guided them by means of a cloud by day and fire by night (Ex.13:21-22). But now the cloud covered the tabernacle from evening to morning and the appearance of fire by night (vs.15-16). If the cloud was taken up, the children of Israel would be told to journey, following the direction that the cloud took (vs.17-18). Sometimes the cloud would remain over the tabernacle for a matter of days, other times only overnight, or in fact not even at night. So that they journeyed either day or night when the cloud or fire went before them. It was God who decided how long they should remain and when they should journey (vs.20-23). Nothing was left to their own wisdom or convenience. When traveling they would not see beyond the cloud, nor beyond the fire, just as believers today do not have to see what they may meet beforehand, but may rather trust the Lord to lead in the way He chooses.
When they reached a certain place, therefore, it would be a mistake to sink their roots too deep, just as we too should remember that we are only pilgrims passing through a hostile world and are not to settle down as though we are permanent residents in a world that has rejected our Savior. Of course it is necessary to make preparations for winter, and necessary to provide for our own households (1 Tim.5:8), but such things can be done with an attitude of faith that is fully willing to leave our present circumstances at any moment the Lord should direct.
TWO SILVER TRUMPETS
We have seen in the cloud and the fire the providential guidance of God over His people. Yet we are not left to depend totally upon this, for now the trumpets speak of the plainly declared word of God, as we are reminded in 1 Corinthians 14:8, "For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for the battle?" The trumpets therefore were to be sounded jut as the Lord instructed, so that their message would not be mistaken.
They were to be made of hammered or beaten work (v.2), symbolizing suffering, for obedience to the word of God will always involve suffering of some kind. If both trumpets were blown, this was the signal for all the congregation of Israel to gather before Moses at the door of the tabernacle (v.3). There were occasions when all must be present to hear some special message from the Lord. If only one trumpet was blown, this was to summon the leaders of each tribe, no doubt to hear a message that was not necessary for the congregation generally. For instance, only apostles and elders were called together in Acts 15:2 to consider the question of whether Gentile believers should conform to the law of Moses. Then they conveyed God's decision to the people generally.
When about to travel, an alarm (or advance) was blown (v.5), the first alarm signaling the movement of the camps on the east side, the second alarm calling for the movement of those on the south side (vs.5-6). Nothing is said as to the north and west sides. Perhaps it is to be understood that the alarm was blown the third and fourth time for these. At the coming of the Lord, His word will be a clarion call to summon all believers away from earth to His own glorious presence. Wonderful it will be to hear Him say, "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away" (Song of Songs 2:10).
The sons of Aaron were those designated to blow the trumpets, therefore it was priestly work (v.8). Those who were habitually engaged in sanctuary service, being thus near to the Lord, where those who would have proper discernment from God as to what was necessary and becoming in these things. Though all believers are priests today, we cannot say that all have the discernment necessary in functioning as priests. May we learn what it means to so function. If, on entering their land, it was necessary to engage in warfare, then the trumpets were to sound an alarm. Let us remember too that we are to engage in conflict only when called by the word of God to do so. If God is leading, we too, as Israel, will be saved from our enemies (v.9).
Also, at the set times of Israel's appointed feasts, and at the beginning of each month, the trumpets were to be sounded in drawing attention to their burnt offerings and peace offerings, just as the word of God draws our special attention to the sacrifice of Christ as that which brings glory to God for eternity (the. burnt offering). and that by which believers are brought into the fellowship with the Father and the Son (the peace offering). The sin offering and trespass offering are not mentioned here, for though they are important as to Christ's bearing our sins and breaking the power of sin, yet they do not speak primarily of worship and fellowship, as do the burnt and peace offerings.
JOURNEYING FROM SINAI
The preparations taking place at Sinai, the giving of the law, the building of the tabernacle, instructions as to offerings, the setting in place of priests and Levites, etc. have now been completed, so that what follows is the history of the wilderness journey of Israel. Before this, God had made preparations of grace and government for them; now we are to see how the people respond to this in their wilderness history.
About one year and five weeks after the Passover in Egypt the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, so that Israel began their journey following the cloud. They left the wilderness of Sinai only to enter the wilderness of Paran. Egypt symbolizes the world in its proud independence of God, boasting it its own sufficiency. But the wilderness is the world as a believer finds it to be in experience, a place barren and destitute of true blessing. For the believer has a new nature that desires things that the world cannot provide, and if he does not set his mind on things above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God (Col. 3:1-2), he cannot be content nor happy, for the world around him has nothing to satisfy his need. So Israel ought to have set their minds on God's promise of the blessing of the land of Canaan, which was set before them as in incentive for obedience to Him.
The tribes set out on the journey in the order God had prescribed, Judah first, its leader being Nahshon the son of Amminadab (vs.14-15); Issachar, with Nethaneel son of Zuar leading (v.15; the Zebulon with its leader Eliab the son of Helon (v.16). When these had moved the tabernacle was taken down, and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari set out, carrying the tabernacle (v.17). The tribe of Reuben was next, with Elizur son of Shedeur leading (v.18); then Simeon and its leader, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai (v.19); then God with Eliasaph the son of Deuel leading (v.20). Following Gad were the Kohathites carrying the furniture of the tabernacle, so that on their arrival the tabernacle would have been prepared for them. Thus the Kohathites would be in the middle of the procession, with the holy things having a central place.
Ephraim next began their journey, having Elishama the son of Ammihud as leader (v.22); then Manasseh being led by Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur (v.23); then Benjamin with its leader Abidan the son of Gideoni. Dan followed with its leader Ahiezer the son of Amishaddai (v.25); then Asher and its leader Pagiel the son of Ocran (v.26); and finally Naphthali, led by Ahira the son of Enan (v.27). All of this shows that God is a God of order. Although in the Church of God there is no physical order such as this involved at all, yet God's instructions in scripture, as for instance in 1 Corinthians, are plain enough that we have no excuse if we do not do all things decently and in order (1 Cor.14:40). Not that any man is in charge to control the saints, but the Lord is in authority and each individual has the Spirit of God by whose influence all may be subject to the Lord, thus maintaining godly order in spiritual unity.
Verse 29 speaks of Moses asking Hobab, son of Reuel to come with Israel. Hobab was the brother of Moses' wife Zipporah. No doubt it was simply because of this relationship that Moses requested him to come. Before the law was given, Jethro (known as Reuel also) had come to Moses and advised him to delegate authority to others in Israel, then had returned to his own land (Ex. 18:17-27). We do not know when Hobab had come, but he told Moses he would not go with Israel, but would return to his own land (v.30).
Moses nevertheless urged him, because Hobab knew something of the country they would pass through, and he could be "eyes" for Israel. Besides, Moses promised him, they would treat him well, as the Lord treated Israel. It seems strange that Moses would want the eyes of a mere man to lead them, for God had given them the pillar of cloud and of fire. Could he not be trusted to lead perfectly without other help? However, nothing is said as to whether Hobab accepted this. Still, Hobab is not mentioned again in all the wilderness history. His children are mentioned in Judges 4:11, but not as part of Israel.
Leaving Mount Horeb, the first leg of Israel's journey took three days (v.33). This is significant of leaving the world to take up resurrection life even in desert circumstances. We are told that the ark went before them, and that the cloud was above them (v.34).
Because the ark was the symbol of the Lord's presence, Moses prayed when it set out, "Rise up, 0 Lord!" (v.35). Well may believers also commend themselves to the Lord's protection at the beginning of each day's journey. Then when the ark rested, Moses prayed, "Return, 0 Lord, to the many thousands of Israel" (v.36). So, whether in journeying or whether at rest, we need the presence of the Lord.
COMPLAINT ANSWERED BY FIRE
Israel had reason for profound thanksgiving to the Lord, as believers certainly have today. Yet now they complained (v.1) without any reason for it. It is sad when one becomes a chronic complainer, but it is the very character of people generally, and believers too often resemble the ungodly world in this way. Because Israel had no definite occasion for this discontent, God sent fire among them in the outskirts of the camp. It does not appear that any person was burned, but the fire was intended to frighten them sufficiently that they would judge their complaining. The people appealed to Moses, who prayed again as an effective intercessor, and the Lord quenched the fire (v.2). The place was named Taberah, meaning "you may burn," which was therefore a warning to Israel (v.3).
THE MANNA DESPISED
Following this, however, "the mixed multitude" found an occasion for which they complained (v.4). The mixed multitude were those who had attached themselves to Israel though not actually Israelites. They are similar therefore to mere professors of Christianity, not born again, and who therefore to mere professors of Christianity, not born again, and who therefore do not find pleasure in Christ, of whom the manna speaks. They lust after the things of the world. It was not that they lacked food, but the manna did not satisfy them.
The children of Israel however then took up the same complaint, for believers are always too ready to copy the selfishness of unbelievers. They remember that in Egypt they ate fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic (v.5). But they forgot that this was connected with intolerable bondage! This is the reason for all departure from God's path. If we do not enjoy feeding on Christ we will crave the things of the flesh, things once enjoyed in a world that leaves God out.
We are told now that the manna was like coriander seed, and the people ground or beat it, then cooked it, making cakes of it. In Exodus 16:31 it was said to taste like wafers made with honey, while here we read its taste was like pastry prepared with oil (v.8). Do these things describe the way Israel perceived it at first, then the way it seemed to them later? If so, this is a lesson for us as to how we perceive the goodness that is in the Lord Jesus. Never is it true that Christ changes, but our appreciation of Him may too easily change, and we want something else besides Him. We are reminded again too that the manna fell when the dew first fell. So it was typically a provision of the Spirit of God (the dew). Of course God knew it possessed sufficient good nourishment to sustain the Israelites without any additional diet.
But the discontent spread like wildfire among the people, and they all wept, so that the anger of the Lord was greatly aroused and Moses also was displeased with them (v.10). However, in a state of discouragement Moses pleads with the Lord as to why He had made Moses a leader of such a rebellious people. He speaks of the Lord laying the burden of all this people on his shoulders (v.11), and asks, "Why?" Was he responsible for their birth? And where could he find meat with which to supply their demands? (vs.12-13).
SEVENTY ELDERS TO SHARE RESPONSIBILITY
In gracious compassion toward Moses, the Lord asked him to gather seventy elders of Israel whom Moses knew to be reliable men, and the Lord would then take of the Spirit that was upon Moses and place this upon the elders that they might share in bearing the responsibility of the people's welfare (vs.16-17). We may well ask, would there now be more power for maintaining order than before? Not at all, for whether on one man or on many, it was the same Spirit of God, only that seventy-one were now sharing that power. If God intended Moses to do the work alone, He would give him grace and strength for it, yet He does show compassion for Moses' weakness.
As to the people's complaints, the Lord tells Moses He will give them meat, but that they would eat it, not only for a few days, but for a whole month, until it became loathsome to them (vs.18-20). Thus it is when we want our own way: God will allow us to have it until we feel the painful results of such selfish desires.
Moses protested to God that to provide meat for a month for 600,000 men besides women and children would require all the fish of the sea: he saw no possibility of supplying what God promised. Had Moses forgotten God's giving Israel the quails in Exodus 16:13, and also that God had been giving them sufficient manna for well over a year? No wonder the Lord answers, "Has the Lord's arm been shortened?" (v.23).
Before giving them meat, however, the Lord had Moses gather the seventy elders of Israel around the tabernacle, and He came down and took the Spirit that was upon Moses and placed the same Spirit on the seventy elders (vs.24-25). In demonstration of this the elders prophesied at the time, but only then.
When God had given His Spirit to the 70 elders of Israel, the elders had prophesied at the tabernacle. However, two of these men had not come to the tabernacle, yet the Spirit came on them and they prophesied in the camp. When someone told Moses of this, Joshua the assistant of Moses, urged Moses to forbid them to do this. He evidently felt they were infringing on Moses' rights, but Moses firmly reproved Joshua, asking if he was envious simply for Moses' sake. Moses was a man not interested in taking advantage of his rights as leader of Israel, but expressed the genuine wish that all the Lord's people were prophets by the Lord's giving them His Spirit. This humble attitude of Moses indicates why he was qualified for the work God gave him, though we know he did not himself choose that work.
QUAILS GIVEN BY THE LORD
How astounding it must have been to Israel to see millions of quails brought by a strong wind to fall on both sides of the camp of Israel for a matter of miles and to a depth of three feet! Certainly God could have done this at any time, but it was an object lesson that ought to have profoundly humbled them in judging their unbelieving, complaining attitude.
However, it appears that rather than first humbly thanking God, the people immediately applied themselves to gathering the quails, and while the meat was still between their teeth, not even chewed or digested, the Lord struck them with a great plague that caused the death of those whose greed had activated them. If they had first been subdued to thank the Lord for this food, would He have brought this infliction? We may be sure He would not, for food is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer (1 Tim.4:4). There at Kibroth Hattaavah these offenders were buried. Then Israel moved to Hazeroth (vs.34-35).
MIRIAM AND AARON BECOME CRITICS
Soon after God's dealing so seriously with Israel's complaints, both Miriam and Aaron are infected with a similar spirit of murmuring. It was plainly Miriam who led in this, but she influenced Aaron in the same way. they spoke against Moses because he had married an Ethiopian woman, but also used this occasion to question the fact that God had spoken through Moses, urging that He had also spoken through them. Scripture does not forbid marriages between whites and blacks, though 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 forbids a believer to marry an unbeliever. But to use an occasion like this to put the Lord's servant down in order that they may virtually take his place is wickedness in the sight of the Lord.
Moses did not fight for his own rights, however. We are told that he was more humble than any other on earth. Miriam was fighting for women's rights, but Moses did not fight back (v.3). He could fully leave this matter in the hands of the Lord, so that he left the scene clear for the Lord to act. The Lord suddenly spoke, calling all three to come to the tabernacle (v.4).
Then the Lord came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the tabernacle. what manifestation they saw may be a question, but they knew the Lord was there. Then He called Aaron and Miriam. (Notice the order of their names is reversed from verse 1). They went forward to stand (as it were) in the prisoners' dock.
The Lord then spoke directly and solemnly to Aaron and Miriam, telling them that if there was a prophet among the children of Israel, He Himself would make Himself known to the prophet by a vision or a dream (v.6). Was this the case with either Aaron or Miriam? No, not even this. How then could they claim to be mouthpieces for the Lord?
But Moses, God's servant, had more than visions or dreams, and God commended him as being faithful in all God's house. God spoke to him plainly, not in dark or enigmatic words, but face to face, just as plainly as He was now speaking to Aaron and Miriam (v.8), and Moses even saw the form of the Lord. This form, or appearance, is not described, nor does it need to be. But the Lord adds the searching, solemn question, "Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?"
How could Aaron and Miriam ever forget such words spoken directly by the Lord? But this was enough for God to speak to indicate His anger. As He left, the cloud departed from above the tabernacle and Miriam was suddenly inflicted with the dread disease of leprosy, visible for all to see. Today, is God any less angry at the refusal of His authority by many (even believers) who are like "all those in Asia" who had turned away from Paul (2 Tim.1:15)? No indeed! Let us not dare to think lightly of the authority of God declared by His chosen apostles and recorded clearly in the scriptures.
Miriam was older than both Aaron and Moses, and certainly ought to have known better than to question the authority God had given to Moses. Still, Aaron was both shocked and subdued at God's judgment against her and he appealed to Moses, confessing that he and Miriam had foolishly sinned, and desiring that Moses would intercede to God for her (vs.11-12). Actually, the leprosy was only a physical picture of the breaking out of evil. The actual breaking out of sinful rebellion in speaking against Moses was worse than the physical infliction which God gave in order to make Miriam (and Aaron) feel the seriousness of their sin.
The meekness of Moses is again evident when he prays that God might heal Miriam. He did not even tell Aaron that Miriam had brought this upon herself, so should face the consequences. However, while God showed great mercy in healing her, He told Moses that even if her father had only spit in her face she would be ashamed for seven days. Therefore, let her be put out of the camp for seven days. In other words, her restoration must be complete (as number 7 implies) before being received again into the camp.
Thus we are reminded that God, in showing mercy, does not ignore proper government. If He did so, we should not learn to rightly judge our sinful actions and would have little exercise to be kept from repeating the same evils. After this Israel moved from Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran.
SPIES SENT TO CANAAN
As Israel drew nearer to Canaan, God instructed Moses to send a man from each of the 12 tribes to spy out the land Canaan (vs.1-2). If we compare this to Deuteronomy 1:22-23 we shall see that the children of Israel had first come to Moses, desiring that they should send men to search out the land and bring back advice as to what way Israel should take to enter the land and what cities should be their first object of attack. Notice in this scripture that there is no suggestion of deciding whether they should go in the land, but only which way. This pleased Moses well, and he appointed 12 men as spies. No doubt he made these appointments when God told him to, which would indicate God's approval of Israel's request.
The men sent were all heads in their particular tribes, and therefore should have been men of faith and courage. The names of these are given in verses 4 to 15. No doubt the meanings of the their names may have something do to with their character, but it is difficult to speak with certainty of their meanings.
They were told to go up from the south into the mountains. Supposing the mountains are more rugged and challenging than the plain, yet "His (God's) foundation is in the holy mountains" (Ps.87:1), indicating that the Lord does not pamper our desire for easy circumstances, but expects us to face adversity with full confidence in His upholding grace and faithfulness.
The spies were to take full account of all that they saw, what the land was like, whether the people were strong or weak, few or many, whether the land was good or bad, whether the cities were like camps or strongholds, whether the land was rich or poor, and whether there were forests (vs.18-20). Certainly Moses did not intend that any of these things should influence the question of Israel's going into the land. Rather, just as today we should be aware of what we are called upon to face, so Israel would be aware and prepared to meet whatever circumstances that faced them. Moses told the men to be of good courage and to bring back some of the fruit of the land. The time was the season of first-ripe grapes.
The spies took plenty of time to pass through the land. Hebron is the first name mentioned, a city of great antiquity. Its name means "communion," a fact that should have attracted Israel to take possession of it, just as we should allow no enemy to hinder our possession of vital, real communion with our Lord. They saw that the opposition was formidable, with Sheshai and Talmai, descendants of the giant Anak there (v.22).
Coming to the Valley of Eshcol, they found such fruitfulness that one cluster of grapes required two men to carry it on a pole. Pomegranates and figs were also include in the fruits they carried back to the camp of Israel after having taken 40 days to spy out the land. Number 40 is the number of testing and they had taken plenty of time to prove everything about the land and its produce. What God had said about the land was proven perfectly true. This was the land that God had promised them. It was of course true that the inhabitants of the land were strong, but this was no barrier to the ability of Israel to overcome them.
THE REPORT GOOD, BUT NOT MIXED WITH FAITH
Returning to the camp, the spies showed the people the fruits of the land, confirming fully what God had told Israel, that the land flowed with milk and honey (v.27). Thus they fully vindicated the Word of God. He had told them the truth as to the land to which He was leading them.
"Nevertheless," they add, "the people who dwell in the land are strong, the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the children of Anak there" (v.28). If they had simply left out the word "nevertheless" here, then after telling of the strength of the enemy, had said, "Nevertheless, God is greater and stronger than they," how much more encouraging and strengthening this would have been. But instead they speak only of the formidable appearance of their enemies as though they were organized into a force totally indestructible (v.29).
Caleb (the "wholehearted" one) spoke out positively with words that for the moment quiet the people, urging that they should immediately go into the land, or he says, "We are well able to overcome it." If he had only had the concurrence of the other spies, how different the results would have been. But all of these except Joshua declare that Israel is not able to overcome the enemy. Why? Because the enemy was stronger than they (v.31). They have simply forgotten the living God, and give way to their own unbelieving fears.
Thus they gave what God calls "a bad report of the land," saying the land would "devour its inhabitants," for the men were of great stature, some giants who dwarfed the spies as though they had been grasshoppers. God had before emphasized the productivity of the land: the spies saw this to be true, but emphasized the strength of the enemy, as though God had not taken this into account!
ISRAEL REFUSES THEIR INHERITANCE
The discouraging words of the ten spies infected the whole congregation of Israel, as a discouragement too frequently does among God's people. They wept that night, then began with bitter complaints, not simply against Moses and Aaron, but rather directly against the Lord! (v.3). Why did not God allow them to die in Egypt or in the wilderness rather that exposing them to the danger of dying fighting against the Canaanite enemies? How inconsistent are their arguments. If they really wanted to die, why be afraid of their enemies? Also, they did not consider the possibility that they might survive and possess the land, while their enemies died. But fear is a terrible disease that robs a believer of his proper senses.
This answers to the fear that believers often have of facing Satan's enmity and taking possession of their rightful inheritance of the spiritual blessings that are in Christ Jesus "in heavenly places" (Eph.1:3). Because we think too much of the world and material blessings, we do not have the spiritual energy to take possession of what really belongs to us in the way of spiritual blessing. These blessings are many, which include forgiveness, redemption, justification, reconciliation, peace with God, eternal life, the gift of the Spirit, membership in the body of Christ, the Church, and many others. Satan resists our intention of entering into the value of these, so there must be spiritual conflict if we are to enjoy them.
Israel unbelieving discouragement was so deep that they even urged that they appoint another leader rather that Moses, and return Egypt. Having left an ungodly world, can believers return to it and be welcome? By this time Egypt would have become accustomed to having Israel absent, and would not be likely to take them back. But unbelief cannot reason straight.
Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in prayer before all the assembly (v.5). Then Joshua and Caleb made another effort to persuade the people that there was every reason to go forward into the land. It was an exceedingly good land, they said, and if the Lord delighted in Israel, He would certainly bring them into the land and give it to them (vs.6-8).
More than this, the people were allowing their discouragement to develop into rebellion against the Lord, and they are warned solemnly against this. When they have the Lord, why do they fear their enemies? In fact, Joshua and Caleb consider them bread for Israel, their protection having departed from them because the Lord was with Israel. This surely ought to have penetrated the hearts of the people. But the people were so hostile that they dared to demand that these two faithful servants of God should be stoned to death!
But God intervened, His glory suddenly appearing in the tabernacle, which would be visible at the entrance of the tabernacle to all the people. This abruptly stopped their clamor.
MOSES AGAIN INTERCEDING
The Lord addressed Moses because of the rebellion of Israel, "How long will these people reject Me?" And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them? God had been marvelously patient with them, but how can patience continue in the face of concerted rebellion?
Of course it would be perfectly right for God to do as He suggests to Moses, to strike Israel with a pestilence that would destroy them. If so, He could raise up a nation of Moses' descendants greater and mightier than Israel (v.11). How many men would grasp an opportunity to gain such honor and eminence at this!
But not so Moses. He does not think of his own honor at all, but first of the honor of God. He protests that the Egyptians would hear of Israel's destruction, as well as other nations who had heard that God was with Israel, and they would all dishonor God by saying that He was unable to carry out His promise of bringing Israel into the land (vs.13-16). Then Moses appeals to the power of God in overcoming obstacles, even that of Israel's perverseness, and to the fact that the Lord had told Moses that He is "longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression" etc. (vs.17-18). On this ground Moses pled with God to pardon the iniquity of Israel, just as He had done consistently through the wilderness journey (v.19). Again, in this wonderful instance, Moses beautifully illustrates the interceding grace of the Lord Jesus by which His people are preserved and sustained in spite of their way-wordness.
"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). God answered the prayer of this one man on behalf of all Israel, telling him He has pardoned Israel: they would not be destroyed. Yet, while grace is thus shown, God's government will not be relaxed: the earth would be filled with the glory of the Lord. Israel would feel the results of their disobedience in a painful way. Those men who had seen God's glory and His many signs, and still rebelled, would not be permitted to see the land God had promised to Israel, and this included all those who had rejected God's word (vs.20-22). Caleb was an exception because he had a different spirit, one of true submission to God, and had fully followed the Lord (v.24). Of course this was true of Joshua also, but Joshua was a special attendant of Moses (Ex.33:11), and people may have considered him to be influenced by this position. But Caleb was one of the people, and no one could be excused from recognizing his example.
Verse 25 reminds them that the Amalekites and Canaanites dwelt in the valley. They were formidable enemies indeed if God was not leading Israel against them. Israel had forfeited all title to God's support: therefore God told them to turn back into the wilderness by way of the Red Sea: they must be taught further by wilderness experience.
GOD'S SENTENCE AGAINST REBELLION
God spoke again to Moses and Aaron to emphasize His great displeasure with the complaints of the people Himself (vs.26-27), and tells them to announce to the people that just as they have spoken, so it will happen to them: they will die in the wilderness, that is, all who at this time were twenty years old and above (vs.28-29). Caleb and Joshua were the only two exceptions: they would enter the land of Canaan and the little ones whom the people were so concerned about would also enter (v.31). Therefore, their concern for their little ones was not love at all. The best way we can love our children is by giving them a good example by obeying the Lord. God cared far more for the children than they did.
Meanwhile their sons would for forty years suffer the consequences of their parents' disobedience until all the older generation died (v.33). As to those entering the land, therefore, only Joshua and Caleb would be over sixty years of age. But God's promise would stand, that he would bring Israel into the promised land.
How serious a lesson is this for us! If we refuse to act on the Word of God, whatever excuse we may make -- our children, our wives, our friends whom we think may be hurt -- we are not showing proper, godly concern for these very people, as well as showing no respect for the Word of God.
God's displeasure is emphasized in verse 35 when He speaks of Israel being gathered together against Him, for which reason He would bring on them the terrible discipline of their dying in the wilderness. As He had spoken, so would He carry out this unsparing sentence.
This judgment began very quickly, for the ten men who had discouraged the hearts of the people were stricken by a plague and died "before the Lord" (vs.36-37). Of all the twelve spies who were heads of the people, only Joshua and Caleb were spared.
REBELLION WITH DIFFERENT FACE
When Moses gave God's message to Israel that they must turn back into the wilderness, and let them know of the death of the ten spies, the people mourned greatly (v.39), yet no mention is made of their honestly judging their own disobedience. Surely they ought to have done this, and also to bow to the sentence of God in humility of faith.
But instead of doing this, the people rose earthly the next morning, going up to the top of the mountain to announce to Moses that they were now ready to go into the land God had promised them, admitting the fact that they had sinned (v.40).
Was Moses glad for this? Far from it! He protested that they were again transgressing the commandment of the Lord (v.4). Just as they had rebelled against the Lord in refusing His word to go into the land, now they were rebelling against His word that they should return into the wilderness and die there. To refuse to bow to the governmental consequences of our own disobedience is just as serious evil as the first disobedience. How much better it is to accept the sentence of God against our wrongdoing! One of the robbers crucified with the Lord Jesus illustrates this serious principle when he said to the other robber, "We indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds" (Luke 23:41). Taking the place of submitting to his just punishment and confessing Jesus as Lord, he was thereby assured of eternal salvation.
But Israel would not succeed in their effort to ignore God's sentence against them. Moses warned them now not to go up to the land, for the Lord was not now among them: they would be defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites, who were strong enemies as the spies had reported. Without the Lord among them the Israelites were helpless against such power.
However, they chose to ignore Moses' warning, no doubt realizing that wandering in the wilderness forty years was an unpleasant alternative to being settled in their own land. They acted on their own proud presumption that they could gain the victory in spite of Moses' warning. They went up into the land of the enemy, but without the ark and without their leader Moses. The Amalekites and Canaanites were prepared to meet them, attacking and driving them back as far as Hormah in the desert country (v.45). This one decisive defeat was enough. Israel attempted no other invasion till God ordered it after forty long years of wilderness wandering. What a lesson for us today if we do not bow to the governmental results of our disobedience!
OFFERINGS WHEN IN THE LAND
In this chapter the abrupt change from the subject of Chapter 14 may seem strange to us. However, God is infinitely wise and infinitely good. Chapter 14 has shown the severity of His judgment against disobedience, while Chapter 15 displays the reality of His great goodness. While it was necessary for Him to chasten Israel, yet He here makes it clear that Israel will definitely come into their own land (v.2), and He gives provision for their true well-being at that time. His counsels of grace stand because they are founded not on Israel's obedience, but upon that of which the offerings speak, the perfection of the person of Christ and the perfection of His work of sacrifice. Such things must be brought to our attention over and over again because we are so slow to appreciate the significance of them.
Verse 3 refers to a voluntary offering which one desired to offer, not for sin but a burnt offering for the Lord's pleasure, therefore "a sweet aroma." Whether the animal was from the herd or the flock, the Lord required that it should be accompanied by a grain offering and a drink offering (vs.4-5).
The meal offering (or grain offering) was never offered alone, but in connection with a blood offering. The burnt offering would signify the offerer's recognition that God is glorified by the work of the Lord Jesus in sacrificing Himself on Calvary. But we may be appreciative of His sacrifice while not valuing the perfection of His person. The grain offering therefore reminds us that in every detail of His life on earth the Lord Jesus expressed the perfection of human righteousness. Then the drink offering of wine symbolizes the joy of the offerer in the offering, that is, the believer's joy in the Lord Jesus personally and in the value of His work.
If a lamb was offered (v.5) the amount of fine flour was one-tenth of an ephah, mixed with one-fourth of a hin of oil and one-fourth of a hin of wine for the drink offering. In the case of a ram being offered, this was increased to two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-third of a hin of oil and one-third of a hin of wine for the drink offering. When a bull was offered there was a further increase (vs.8-10).
The different amounts of things accompanying the different offerings teaches us that the larger our apprehension of the sacrifice of Christ, the greater should be our thankful response. Just as those born as natives in Israel were to bring such offerings (v.13), 50 should every born again person respond to the value of the person and offering of the Lord Jesus.
A stranger coming to dwell in Israel was to be subject to the same order as were Israelites (vs.14-16). The rules of the offerings were applicable to him. It was understood that only those circumcised were to offer sacrifices, and though it is not mentioned here, yet Exodus 12:48 is clear that a stranger coming among Israelites must have all his males circumcised before eating the Passover. "For no uncircumcised person shall eat it." The following verse is another insistent reminder that "one law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you" (Ex.12:49). This is just as true in the assembly of God today: there are to be no double standards. One who does not want to be subject to the order of the assembly is thereby disqualifying himself from fellowship with the assembly.
Again the Lord gives instructions to Moses that when Israel came into the land of promise, as soon as they ate of the produce of that land they were to offer up a heave offering to the Lord, a cake of the first of their ground meal. This is one case where a blood offering is not mentioned along with a meal offering, though it may be implied from verses 3-11. But the insistence here is upon the person of Christ in His perfect humanity (the meal), yet as being raised from the dead, as the heaving indicates. For while we are to deeply appreciate all the life of the Lord Jesus in lowly grace and suffering, yet we no longer know Him in this relationship (2 Cor.5:15), but as raised from among the dead. As we consider His path on earth we shall partake of His grace and humility, but in His resurrection, power and dignity are added to this.
SINS OF INADVERTENCE
Because of our sinful nature there are sins we commit without realizing at the time that such things are sin. Certainly the Lord does not allow the foolish present-day notion that so long as we think a thing is alright, then it is not sin. Sin is sin, no matter what we think about it. Yet if it is done through inadvertence, this is much different than when it is boldly committed in the face of knowing it to be wrong.
For the unintentional sin therefore the Lord provided a sacrifice. The whole congregation of Israel might be guilty of such sin, and when afterward it was brought to their attention as being sin, they were to offer one young bull as a burnt offering, together with its grain offering and drink offering, and one kid of the goats as a sin offering (v.24). The burnt offering speaks of God's glory being the first consideration in this matter, and with it the reminder that the perfect Man, Christ Jesus (the grain offering) is the one standard of sinlessness, who is therefore the only acceptable burnt offering. The drink offering was to symbolize Israel's joy in being so blessed by the offering. The sin offering was essential too as that which fully atones for sin, so that Israel could be forgiven (vs.25-26).
The case of a individual's unintentional sin required only the sacrifice of a young female goat (v.27), a type of Christ as the substitute to take our place in suffering for sin. The female indicates the subjective character of this, showing that the individual is to take deeply to heart the truth that the innocent victim, the Lord Jesus, has taken his place in suffering for sin. Again it is emphasized that one law embraces both natives of Israel and strangers who dwell among them (v.29).
In contrast to sins of inadvertence, there was no sacrifice for presumptuous sins. If one deliberately sinned, knowing full well he was defying the law of God, he was bringing reproach on the Lord, and must be punished by death (v.31). This compares to the willful sin of Hebrews 10:26, for which "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins," but rather "a certain fearful expectation of judgment." This willful sin is that of rejecting the Lord Jesus and thereby defying the Word of God.
A TEST CASE AS TO THE SABBATH
Over and over again Israel had been warned against doing any work on the sabbath. Therefore if one were to violate this, it would be presumptuous sin. such a case arose at this time, that of a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath. We can understand that the children of Israel would hesitate to think of carrying out a sentence against him so severe as death. But they put him under guard until Moses should be told by the Lord what to do. The answer was definite and solemn. The man must be put to death by means of all the congregation stoning him (v.35). This was the stern requirement of law.
Verse 36 speaks of the death penalty carried out against the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath. He had not directly harmed other people by his working, but he had defied the Word of God, which is certainly more serious. Why did God make the Sabbath so serious a matter? Because he was declaring to mankind the basic truth that no relationship with God could be gained or maintained on the basis of human works. One who violated the Sabbath was therefore choosing his own works rather than faith in the clear Word of God. Today, under grace, God does not require the death sentence for working on the Sabbath, and also the Sabbath was never imposed on Gentiles, but only on Israel under law (Ex.31:12-17). However, the spiritual significance of this is more serious than the literal law of the Sabbath. For if one refuses to trust God's Word concerning the sacrifice of His Son, but trusts his own works instead, he will suffer, not only death, but the judgment of eternal fire.
The judgment God pronounced was carried out by the whole congregation (v.36). This tells us that believers are expected to fully concur with God's judgment against that which dishonors Him.
TASSELS ON THE BORDERS OF GARMENTS
At this time God tells Moses to instruct the children of Israel to make tassels on the borders of their garments attached by a lace of blue (v.38). It is said that the word for "tassels" literally means "flowers," and comes from a root meaning "to shine" (Numerical Bible). The same word is used for the place on the high priest's forehead (Ex.28:36) which was also connected by a lace of blue. The borders of the garments were of course next to the ground, so that when one looked downward, he was reminded of heaven (the blue) and would be encouraged to look up. If the man who was gathering sticks on the Sabbath had had this decoration on the border of his garment, he might have been encouraged to look up rather than to look at the sticks on the ground.
Though Israel required such reminders as this to warn them against the evil toward which their hearts were inclined (v.39), such things are not necessary for believers today. Rather, we have the Spirit of God within us to constantly remind us of our proper heavenly inheritance and should be kept by His power in living communion with the Lord. He is the real power for godliness and we have therefore no excuse for falling into sin.
This section closes with another strong declaration, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God." Having been told this so often, how could Israel dare to turn so soon afterwards to other gods?
THE REBELLION OF KORAH
The rebellion of Korah and a large company with him is significant of a dreadful revulsion against Christ both as Lord and High Priest of His people, and the awesome resulting judgment of God. This is seen in Jude 11: "Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah." What a comment it is on the wickedness of man's heart that, after many great proofs of God's kindness and after many warnings of His judgment against evil, men will still haughtily reject His authority because they themselves want to rule!
Korah was a Kohathite and therefore was blessed with the dignity of caring for the holy furniture of the tabernacle. But this was not enough for him. He enlisted three others, Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, Zebulonites, and On, a Reubenite, all of whom were willing to challenge Moses and Aaron as regards the authority God had given them. They were able also to influences 250 leaders of the congregation in resentment against Moses and Aaron (vs.1-2).
They came unitedly to Moses and Aaron and told them. "You take too much upon yourselves" (v.3). How little they understood that Moses had not wanted to be Israel's leader (Ex.3:10-11; 4:1-13), but God absolutely required him to be. The basis of their argument is that "all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them." Did Korah really care for all the congregation? No! He wanted to be the high priest himself (vs.10-11). He accused Moses and Aaron of exalting themselves (v.3) when it was plainly God who had exalted them. But Korah wanted to exalt himself, using his followers to this end.
But in the face of such opposition the faith and dependence of Moses is beautifully seen. "He fell on his face" (v.4). should we not do the same when trouble arises? Instead of arguing he prays. Therefore God immediately gives him the insight to know what to do. He calmly tells the hostile company, "Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His and who is holy" (v.5). Precious it is to wait on the Lord!
The calm deliberation of Moses in answering the hostile words of Korah and his company by telling Korah what to do on the morrow was itself sufficient warning to Korah that his rebellion was doomed to failure, though Korah was too dense to perceive this.
Moses tells them (since they want to be priests) to take priestly censers with fire and incense and bring them before the Lord the following day. They were to be tested as to whether or not they were priests. Then Moses adds significantly the same words they had used, "You take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi" (v.7).
His words in verses 8 to 11 are an added appeal to their consciences This gave them opportunity, if they would listen, to reconsider their rebellious determination and withdraw their foolish demands. Moses reminds Korah that he had been given a position of honor above the congregation, along with other son of Levi, and asks him if now he was aspiring after the priesthood also. For Moses knew this was the case, as verse 11 declares. Korah's complaint was against Aaron because he wanted Aaron's position.
Moses evidently had a message also for Dathan and Abiram and he sent to call them, but they responded haughtily, "We will not come up." They accuse Moses of taking them from a land flowing with milk and honey to kill them in the wilderness, and at the same time acting as a prince over them (vs.12-14). Of course these were totally unfair accusations: they had conveniently forgotten their own rebellion against entering the land of milk and honey, so are virtually blaming Moses for their own glaring evils.
Moses was righteously angry with this attitude of bitter animosity, yet he did not have to petition God not to respect their offering (v.15). Certainly God knew that Moses had not at all oppressed the people, and God would act in perfect righteousness.
But it is Moses who gives instructions to Korah as to what he is to do. Let him and his company, as well as Aaron, bring their censers before the Lord (vs.16-17). Korah was determined to brazen his way through in spite of fore warnings as to such folly, and he and his large company presumed to act as priests at the door of the tabernacle (vs.18-19).
Then the Lord intervened, but by first speaking to Moses and Aaron, telling them to separate from the company of evil doers and leave God free to consume the congregation (vs.20-21). Yet, beautifully, Moses and Aaron were ready to intercede immediately for the congregation, pleading with God not to consume all, but to make a difference between the guilty leaders and those who were led by them (v.22).
The Lord answered their faith by telling them to warn the people to separate from the guilty leaders, Korah, Dathan and Abiram (vs.23-24). Moses immediately gave the message to the congregation, who were concerned enough to obey God's word. Korah, Dathan and Abiram came out to stand at the door of their tents, with the wives, their sons and children (v.27).
Then Moses spoke solemnly as a prophet to indicate to Israel that he had not acted of his own will in what he did, but as directed by God. He tells them that if these men died merely natural deaths, God had not spoken by Moses, but if the Lord created a new thing, making the earth to open and swallow them up, then it would be clear that these men had rejected the Lord Himself (vs.28-30).
As he finished his message, his words were fulfilled. The ground split apart under these rebels and they were swallowed up, their households and all the men with Korah (vs.31-32). There is an exception noted in Numbers 26:11, "Nevertheless, the children of Korah did not die." Evidently they were not willingly linked with his rebellion and God knew how to preserve them alive.
Fear overtook Israel and they fled from the site of the opened earth. They need not have done this, for God had limited his judgment to the guilty, but He did send out a fire to consume the 250 men who offered incense (v.35). They reaped the results of their own folly.
The Lord spoke again to Moses, telling him to tell Eleazar the son of Aaron to pick up the censers out of the ashes, because the censers were holy, though the men who dared to use them were unholy (vs.36-37). Then the censers were to be hammered into plates as a covering for the altar (v.38). They were copper censers, therefore to cover the copper altar outside the tabernacle door. This covering was to be a constant reminder to Israel that no one who was not of Aaron's line could be allowed to offer incense before the Lord. If daring to do so, they would suffer a fate similar to that of Korah and his followers (v.40).
There is surely instructive for us today. Only those who are born again are counted as priests of God. They alone can offer what is acceptable to God, but the worship of unbelievers is false.
FURTHER REBELLION AGAINST GOD
Only the next day the congregation was so foolish as to brazenly accuse Moses and Aaron of killing the people of the Lord (v.41). Moses and Aaron had not done this. It was manifestly God who had intervened in dreadful judgment such as Moses could never have done. But the people are often blinded by self-centeredness. They saw nothing but the work of the authorities in this catastrophic judgment, and people are always ready to challenge any authority. This uprising too was a general thing among all the congregation.
Moses did not have to answer the people at all. For God intervened suddenly. The cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord appeared (v.42). Moses and Aaron came there, to hear the Lord's command, "Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment." In other words, their complaining, rather than helping anything, only led to further death among the people.
Moses and Aaron were first humbled in prayer (v.45), but Moses realized that God was already sending a plague of death to rapidly spread among the congregation, and he ordered Aaron to take a censer with fire from the altar, and incense, and carry it quickly to the congregation, to make an atonement for them (v.46). Korah's company had used censers with resulting death, but the censer in the prophet hands of Aaron was able to stop the scourge of death. How good to see the compassion of Moses and Aaron in the face of Israel's callous treatment of them!
As Aaron ran into the midst of the crowd with his censer, he stood between the living and the dead, and the plague was stopped (v.48). This is another illustration of the intercessory grace of the Lord Jesus, our great high Priest, who preserves His people even from the deserved results of their own folly. This would remind us too that "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much " (James 5:16).
But the complaints of the people against Moses and Aaron because of the death of Korah and his rebellious company only occasioned a far greater scourge of death in the congregation, with a decimation of 14,700 people who died by this plague directly sent by God (v.49).
AARON'S ROD BUDDING
Though God had shown His deep displeasure against those who challenged the priesthood of Aaron, he used this occasion to illustrate the truth concerning the positive side of priesthood, in order to press upon Israel both the seriousness and the blessedness of true priestly character. He instructed Moses to have a representative from each of the twelve tribes of Israel bring a rod with his name written on it (vs.1-2). Aaron's name was to be written on the rod of Levi. These were to be placed in the tabernacle before the Testimony (apparently the ark of the testimony), with the promise that the rod of the man God chose would blossom (vs.4-5), thus silencing the complaints of the children of Israel.
The rods therefore being placed before the Lord, the next day Moses entered the tabernacle and found that Aaron's rod had sprouted, also budded, produced blossoms and yielded almonds (v.8). all these were present at the same time, not only with the promise of resurrection, but with the full ripe fruit of resurrection. The almond (meaning "wakeful") is the earliest of the fruits to appear in Israel's springtime, and is significant of the resurrection of Christ -- "Christ the firstfruits" (1 Cor.15:23). Also, just as the almond is the beginning of a great harvest, the resurrection of Christ is the promise of the great resurrection of His saints, for when He is said to be "the firstfruits," the above verse immediately adds. "afterward those who are Christ's at His coming."
The high priesthood of Christ then is established by His resurrection, and as High Priest He indentifies Himself with all who are His, and will unfailingly bring them to the same glory with which God has exalted Him today. Because He is first, they too must be blessed.
The proofs laid before the eyes of all the children of Israel (v.9), and Moses was told to bring Aaron's rod back before the Testimony, to be kept as a witness against the rebels. In Chapter 20:9 it is said the rod was "before the Lord." In Hebrews 9:4 we are told that Aaron's rod that budded was in the ark. Of course, it might have been put there at a date later than this history of Numbers 17.
The people were seriously affected by this miracle of God's intervention, but in fear of possibly dying themselves, rather than in submissive faith (vs.12-13). They would not die just for coming into the vicinity of the tabernacle, but if wanting to usurp the place of priest, they might well fear. Today, all believers are priests, but an unbeliever trying to assume that place is exposing himself to the judgment of God. Also anyone assuming a place of importance above other saints of God is virtually taking the place of Christ, and must expect God's judgment too.
THE SERVICE OF PRIESTS AND LEVITES
God now impresses on Aaron the seriousness of the priestly service to which he and his sons were separated. They were to bear the iniquity of the sanctuary, and the iniquity of their priesthood (v.1). for the place where Israel's iniquity was to be faced was the sanctuary and the men charged with facing it were the priests. This was no light matter. They must therefore know what sacrifices were necessary for whatever sin arose in the congregation. Korah wanted the outward position as high priest, but how little did he understand that this would involve his bearing the iniquity of the sanctuary, a humbling, sobering work.
Also, others of the tribe of Levi (called Levites) were to be linked with the priests in order to serve them (v.2). This service involved the temporal needs of the priests, but was limited to this: they must not approach the furniture of the tabernacle or the altar (v.3). Thus their service is shown to be completely distinct from worship. Today too, worship and service must be kept distinctly separate. While all believers are both priests and servants, yet we must be careful not to confuse the functions of one with the other.
An outsider, that is, one not of the tribe of Levi, was not to come near to them (v.4). Such coming near of course has to do with one's interfering in the service of the tabernacle. He must not dare to do such a thing.
The priests and Levites must give proper attention to the duties of the sanctuary and of the altar, in order that God's wrath would be averted from the children of Israel (v.5). they were therefore intermediaries on behalf of Israel, the priests being responsible to offer the proper sacrifices at the proper time, and the Levites furnishing such help as was needed to carry out every necessary function. At the present time, all believers being priests, they have the honor of being intercessors for all mankind (1 Tim.2:1).
The Lord further says that He Himself had given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons (v.6). In a similar way servants of the Lord today are given as gifts to the Church of God (Eph.4:7-12) to serve the saints of God, not in temporal affairs, as did the Levites, but in their spiritual needs.
Therefore, with their temporal needs cared for, the priests were freed to occupy themselves with their proper priestly functions, which occupation is also said to be a gift for service (v.7). An outsider who dared to infringe on this priestly service would be punishable by death.
OFFERINGS SHARED BY THE PRIESTS
The offerings of the children of Israel were to be offered fully and thoroughly to God, not to the priests, just as every gift given to the Lord's servants today should be given primarily as to the Lord Himself, and therefore received as from the Lord. Yet the priests were given the responsibility to take charge of the offerings, a trust that called for faithful adherence to God's clear instructions.
The heave offerings, being heaved in symbolizing the resurrection of Christ, were given to the priests (v.8). Also, all grain offerings, after a part was burned as a sweet aroma to the Lord (Lev.2:2), were eaten by the priests. Every sin offering, except those whose blood was brought into the sanctuary (Lev.16:27), and all trespass offerings, were also to be eaten by the priests. Of course, in every case, the blood, the fat and other inwards were burned, for God had His part first. The heave offerings and the wave offerings (implying the resurrection and ascension of the Lord) were only part of the meal or animal offerings (Lev.7:14, 30, 32). These were given to Aaron and his sons (v.11).
More than this, all the best of the oil, wine and grain, the first fruits offered to the Lord, were given to the priests also, as well as every devoted thing, including the firstborn of men or animals (v.13). Yet they were not to keep the humans, but redeem them, and also unclean animals, which could not be offered. Of course the owner would be responsible to bring the sacrifice for their redemption, which in verse 16 is seen to be five shekels of silver. The priests would receive this.
But the firstborn of the clean animals were to be sacrificed, God first receiving His part, then the priests privileged to eat the flesh. The blood was sprinkled and the fat burned in respect for God's rights.
These provisions for the priests were necessary since they had no inheritance in the land, as did the other tribes. They were to realize that God was their portion and inheritance. We may wonder if they understood and appreciated this as they ought. But what of ourselves today? Being priests, believers have no earthly inheritance, but even now God is our portion and inheritance, and we have the wonderful prospect of an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, unfading, reserved in heaven (1 Peter 1:4).
THE LEVITES SUPPORTED BY TITHES
The Levites did not share in the offerings, but God provided for them in His requiring tithes (one tenth of income) from all Israel. This was a fair return for the work they were given. It was their work alone: others of the children of Israel were not to come near to take any part in the service God had given the Levites, no more than they were to infringe on the service of the priests (v.22). In their measure the Levites also were to "bear their iniquity," that is, to take the responsibility for the iniquity of the children of Israel as identified with the priests, who of course alone could offer the sacrifices for that iniquity (v.23).
The tithes were necessary for their support since they, as well as the priests, had no inheritance among the children of Israel. They were scattered among the tribes, rather than having any property for their own tribe (v.24).
LEVITES ALSO PAYING TITHES
However, in receiving tithes, the Levites were not exempted from paying tithes. When the tithes were brought in from the other tribes, then the Levites were to offer to God a heave offering of one tenth of the tithes (v.26). In our present day of grace no law is given as to tithing. Instead the measure of our giving is "as he may prosper" (1 Cor.16:2) or "as he purposes in his heart" (2 Cor.9:7). The amount is left to the spiritual exercises of each individual. Support may he given, as to the Lord, from the people of God, to the need of the Lord's servants. The servant is to be just as exercised as they in reference to his using funds for the sake of the Lord, and be glad to give as the Lord prospers him.
This heave offering of the Levites would have the same value as the firstfruits of grain or of the winepress (v.27). Being a heave offering, it emphasizes the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, presented to God on a level above mere earthly things. While it was offered to God, it was given to Aaron, a type of the Lord Jesus, presented to God on a level above mere earthly things. While it was offered to God, it was given to Aaron, a type of the Lord Jesus (v.28). Thus all of our material offerings are given as to the Lord Himself, whatever may be the way He disposes of them.
These tithes were to he taken from the best of that which the Levites received (v. 29), an important principle for us, for the Lord is always worthy of the best. When this was done, then the Levites were left at liberty to use the rest as their own food, together with their households (vs.30-31). But verse 32 emphasizes that they must not dare to profane the holy gifts of which they were put in charge. God must be first, and any infraction of His rights would be punishable by death.
ORDINANCE OF THE RED HEIFER
This law concerning the offering of the red heifer is unusual in all of its circumstances, but it is consistent with the character of the book of Numbers, where the wilderness journey is seen to take its toll in the death of many people. Any contact with dead body was contact with corruption. It is typical of moral corruption which is morally defiling to one who associates with it. There must be some method of purification from this.
A heifer, the female, is used, a contrast to the burnt offering which always required a male, for this was to satisfy the claims of God. But the offering of the red heifer was to meet the state of one who was defiled. Being red would emphasize the conspicuous character of the defilement. It must also be without blemish or defect, for it speaks of Christ (v.2). It must also never have borne a yoke, for a yoke infers a restraint upon the will, which was never true of Christ. When He says, "My yoke is easy and My burden it light" (Mt.11:30), this is not a burden He assumes, but one He places upon a believer. The will of the Lord Jesus is perfect, and needs no restraint.
This heifer was not offered on the altar, but given to Eleazar, who took it outside the camp and slaughtered it there (v.3). Then he took some of its blood and sprinkled it seven times in front of the tabernacle (v.4). Following this the heifer was burned, still outside the camp (v.5). We are reminded that the sin offering on the great day of atonement was totally burned "outside the camp" (Lev.16:27), but it was first killed on the altar and its blood brought into the holiest of all and sprinkled seven times before and on the mercy seat (Lev.16:11, 14).
Thus there are many differences, and verse 6 adds to these, for the priest threw into the fire that was burning the heifer, cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet. Cedar is the most stately and exalted of the trees and hyssop the lowliest shrub. Thus, whether a person is proud and exalted or lowly and despised, the flesh is the same in all mankind: whether great or small, we all need the same sacrifice. The scarlet again reminds us that our defilement is conspicuous. Association with corruption is serious, though the affected person was certainly not dead himself.
Even a priest, in making the offering of the red heifer, was in some measure affected by his identification with the defilement for which he made the offering, and had to wash his clothes, then was still unclean until the evening (v.7). Also, the one who burned the animal was affected in the same way (v.8). This is a strong warning to us that even in dealing righteously with defilement we cannot but be adversely affected. If we wrestled with a coal miner just come out of the mine we should become just as dirty as if we embraced him. Thus, in judging sin in others we are faced with the stern necessity of judging ourselves.
A man who was clean then was to gather the ashes of the heifer and store them outside the camp in a clean place (v.9). This again was a totally unusual thing, but the ashes were kept there to be used with water for the purifying of those who might be defiled by contact with a dead body. Thus a new sacrifice, just as today in every case of our being purified from defilement, we are reminded of the great value of the one sacrifice of Christ.
After thus, even the man who gathered the ashes became unclean by his association with this whole process, and after washing his clothes, remained unclean till evening (v.10). Thus the seriousness of the question of association is pressed upon us.
One who touched the dead body of anyone was ceremonially unclean for seven days. This of course is only typical of moral uncleanness, which we ourselves might contract by our contact with the corruption of death. There are many dead bodies in Christendom, of those who profess Christianity, but are dead toward God -- the religions of Mormonism, so called Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses and many more. These are deadly counterfeits, and if a believer associates with them, he cannot but be defiled. He may speak with individuals to see to bring them to the Lord, but to identify himself in fellowship with such groups is in practice approving of their corruption is deeply defiling.
God requires a complete purification from such contacts as implied in the seven days (v.11). The one who had touched a dead body was to purify himself on the third day with the water mixed with ashes from the red heifer, and again on the seventh day. Then he would be clean (v.12). One would therefore have to be completely separated from such dead bodies before being received to the fellowship of the Lord's people. If one would not purify himself, he would be cut off in death (v.13), a solemn sentence, but he would not be fit for fellowship of Israel.
If one died in a tent, all who came into the tent would be unclean seven days. Even every opened vessel in the tent would be unclean. Or if one touched a person who had died or was killed in the open field, he was unclean for seven days (v.16).
For purification some of the ashes of the heifer was put in a vessel and running water put on the ashes (v.17). Thus, together with the reminder of the sacrifice it was necessary to combine that which speaks of the Word of God energized by the Spirit of God. Water alone symbolizes the Word of God (Eph.5:26), but when running ("living" as it can be translated), this involves the activity of the Spirit (Jn.7:38-39). Restoring cannot be apart from the Word of God, and the work of the Spirit must be in this too.
A clean person then was to dip hyssop in the water, sprinkle it on the tent and all the vessels and all persons who had been defiled. This was done on the third day and also on the seventh day. This person after that must wash his clothes and bather in water, and at evening would be clean. Thus, even the one who was instrumental in restoring those defiled would require purifying himself.
But verse 20 insists that one who was defiled and refused purification would be cut off in death because he had defiled the sanctuary of the Lord (v.20). As to the one who sprinkled the water, it is again insisted that he himself must be purified, and also that whatever the unclean person touched would be unclean until the evening, though in these cases (vs..21-22) no death penalty is mentioned for any infraction.
We may wonder as to the practical value of all this to the people of Israel. Having so many rules and regulations, did they keep them all? And if not keeping them, did they always suffer the penalties that were threatened? The answer to both of these is certainly, No. In fact the significance of these things is specially for our admonition today, as 1 Corinthians 10:11 declares. We are not expected to carry these things out literally, but the spiritual and moral significance of them should be greatly impressed on the hearts of all Christians.
MOSES DISOBEDIENT BECAUSE PROVOKED
Journeying again, the congregation came to the wilderness of ZIN and stopped at Kadesh, where Miriam died and was buried. The forty years of wandering have come close to their end, and the older generation is dying off, as will be seen of Aaron also in this chapter (v.28).
But the people had still not learned to cease their senseless complaining. How much like them we are, in spite of God's grace having so blessed us in the past, rebuking our murmuring! Just as they complained when water was lacking at the first of their journey, so now nearing the end they complain again. How little we learn through experience! The people accused Moses and Aaron of bringing them into the wilderness to die. They forget that they had refused to enter the land of plenty and become bitter because the wilderness does not supply every advantage and comfort. In this they are simply forgetting God (vs.2-5).
But "Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle." Thus, as servants of the Lord, they did not strive, but sought God's answer to the problem. Then His glory immediately appeared. Wonderful relief!
God told Moses to take the rod and gather the congregation together, then to speak to the rock before their eyes and it would give water for the people and for the animals (v.8). Moses therefore took the rod from before the Lord (v.9). This was Aaron's rod that budded (ch.17:10), the rod of priesthood. No doubt Moses remembered that he had used a rod before to bring water from a rock (Ex.17:5), but it was not Aaron's rod, but the rod of Moses, the rod of authority and judgment with which God told him to strike the rock. In that case, the striking speaks of Christ being judged at Calvary for our sins, with he result that the Spirit of God came abundantly on the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
In Numbers 20, however, though God told Moses to take Aaron's rod, He told him only to speak to the rock before their eyes. This symbolizes simply praying to the Lord Jesus, who is the Rock and our Great High Priest. For Christ was smitten only once, and when afterwards water is lacking, this teaches us that through our failures we have largely lost the power of the Spirit of God. It is not that we need another outpouring of the Spirit such as at Pentecost, and not that Christ must die again to accomplish this, but rather that we need to realize afresh what the power of the Spirit is, and this is found simply in prayer to the Lord Jesus, our Great High Priest.
However, Moses failed to rightly represent the grace of God in this case. He spoke unadvisedly with his lips, "Hear me now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" (v.10). Though he was the meekest man on earth, his meekness failed him in this case. But more seriously still, instead of speaking to the rock, as God had told him, he struck the rock twice with the rod. Thus, he spoiled the type that he ought to have clearly demonstrated. Christ did not need to die twice.
Yet, in spite of his disobedience, God answered by an abundance of water (v.11). This was certainly marvelous grace on God's part, grace that was a striking rebuke to the complaints of the people. There was plenty of water for all and for the animals.
But God spoke directly to Moses and Aaron to rebuke them for their unbelief in misrepresenting Him before the eyes of the children of Israel. Their hard words had been too much like Israel's complaining words, and contrary to the grace of God -- grace which they ought to have impressed on the congregation. Therefore the Lord told them they would not bring Israel into the promised land (v.12). For it was grace alone that could bring them there. This was the moral reason given to Moses and Aaron for their not being allowed to lead into the land.
This was of course a great shock to Moses, for he had shared with Israel from the very first, witnessing the Passover, the passage of the Red Sea and continuous miracles of God in blessing toward them. He had been faithful in all God's house, not at all moved by the disobedience of Israel in refusing to enter the land, nor by the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and his heart longed to see the land God had promised. He even pled with God later to change His mind and allow him to go over (Deut.3:25-26). But God replied positively as to this, telling him not to speak again of this matter.
In fact, besides the question of disobedience, there is another reason that Moses could not lead Israel into the land. Moses was the lawgiver, and law cannot bring God's people into God's inheritance for them, even with the help of legal priesthood. It was Joshua who led Israel into their land, for his name means "Jehovah is Savior."
This was called the water of Meribah (strife) because of Israel's contention with the Lord and His being hallowed, set apart from them in His character of grace, so different than their attitude (v.13).
NO SHORT-CUT THROUGH EDOM
If Israel could go through Edom, it would be only 20 miles, and they could then go on the east of the Dead Sea to cross the Jordan near Jericho. So they sent messengers to the king of Edom asking permission to travel through that land. They appealed to the sympathies of Edom on account of their long history of very real trial and God's preserving and delivering care over them (vs.14-16). They asked only to be allowed to pass through their country without touching their fields or vineyards, nor even using their water, but going directly by the highway (v.17).
Edom's answer was peremptory and decisive. They would not allow their passage, but would protect their own land from them by the sword (v.18). Israel made a second attempt to persuade Edom, but Edom was adamant, backing up their words by a show of force on the part of their army (vs.19-20). But Israel would go no further than to make the request, and "turned away from him" (v.21).
How striking a lesson this is for us! Edom is typically the flesh. Its name is the same as Adam, only with the vowels changed; but however the flesh may disguise itself, it does not change, and "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom.8:8). But how are we to deal with this deceitful enemy within us'? lt is no use fighting it, for we can never win a battle like this, as Romans 7 shows us. We are rather to consider self as dead (Gal.5:24), therefore to turn away from it as we would from a dead corpse, and instead "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts" (Rom.13:14).
Yet for Israel this meant a long journey of 120 miles rather than 20 miles. Thus, we too may like to take a short-cut by way of fleshly expedience, but for the child of God this will never be profitable. We need to learn by experience that the flesh cannot be trusted, and the flesh is simply "self." It may seem a long process by which we are disciplined and subdued, but it is necessary, for it is the way that God accomplishes His ends with us. The wicked will often go through life with no such testing as a believer (Ps.73:3-9), but their end is dreadful (vs.17-20).
THE DEATH OF AARON
When the children of Israel then came to Mount Hor, the Lord told Moses and Aaron that the time had come for Aaron's death (v.24), for God reminds them both that He had passed sentence that neither of them would enter the land of Canaan because of their disobedience to His Word at the waters of Meribah. Aaron and Eleazar were therefore to be taken up to Mount Hor, where Aaron was to be stripped of his high priestly garments. Eleazar was to receive these as a successor to Aaron (vs.25-26).
Aaron had no choice, and when his garments were taken and given to his son, Aaron died there on the top of the mountain (v.28). Though the moral reason for his death then was his disobedience, yet God's wisdom is behind this in indicating that Eleazar is a type of Christ as High Priest in resurrection, for it is the One who is raised from the dead who leads us into heavenly places, typified by the land of Canaan. but the death of Aaron occasioned a mourning period of thirty days for him by Israel. Thus, his death had deep effect on Israel: how much more deeply should we be affected by the death of the Lord Jesus, even though we know Him now as raised in glory.
ATTACK AND DEFEAT OF CANAANITES
The king of Arad, a Canaanite, heard that Israel was in the same vicinity from which they had sent the spies into the south of Canaan. He therefore took the initiative to attack Israel, and was able to take some Israelites captive (v.1). This seems to have awakened an energy in the people to retaliate, and they vowed to the Lord that if He would support their attack, they would utterly destroy the cities of these Canaanites (v.2). The Lord fully opened the way for them and they destroyed the Canaanites and their cities (v.3). The place was called Hormah, meaning "destruction."
The meaning of Canaanites is "traffickers." They were holding possession of the land of promise, but they picture unbelievers who use the things of God for the purpose of making material gain, just as those whom the Lord threw out of the temple who were selling oxen, sheep and doves and changing money for profit. He told them, "Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" (John 2:16). The same offensive practices are carried on today in many places that claim to be Christian churches, and by many radio and TV preachers. Believers are called upon to thoroughly refuse this Canaanite custom. The victory of Israel over the Canaanites was a contrast to Israel's sad defeat in Numbers 14:45, brightening for them the prospect of conquering the land. We too shall be blest if we refuse to allow merchandising in the house of God.
THE BRAZEN SERPENT
Israel still had humbling lessons to learn even before entering the land of promise. They journeyed again toward the south to go around the land of Edom, and deep feelings of discouragement took possession of them again. They gave in to the same grumbling attitude that had only harmed them before (vs.4-5). Their complaint is similar to that before, except that it is not that they lacked food and water. Probably there was at least some water available, and they still had the manna, but spoke of loathing it. But the manna speaks of Christ in His lowly humiliation on earth. Does He become unpalatable to us? Do we need fleshly attractions as well as Christ?
This time there was no semblance of excuse for their grumbling, except that they felt discouraged. Therefore God did not answer as He did in chapter 20:8, but rather sent a plague of fiery serpents among the people, so that many died when bitten (v.6). The serpent is typical of Satan, into whose snare Israel had already fallen by their unbelieving discouragement; so that God was now impressing on them what it means to let Satan take control of them.
It is true of all mankind that we have been bitten by the poisonous doctrine of Satan, from the time of Adam and Eve in the garden, and the eventual result of that bite is death.
Yet it is good to see that Israel's conscience was awakened at this time to confess before Moses that they had sinned in speaking against the Lord and against Moses. This is a refreshing contrast to their usual attitude all through the wilderness. Then they asked Moses to pray that the Lord would take away the serpents (v.7).
But the Lord in His great grace did more than this. He told Moses to make a serpent of brass (or copper) and set it on a pole that evidently stood upright. Then anyone who had been bitten needed only to look at this imitation serpent to be cured (vs.8-9). The Lord Jesus refers to this event in John 3:14-15, when He says, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."
It may seem strange that the brazen serpent is used to illustrate the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, for the serpent is a picture of Satan. But it was on the cross that the Lord Jesus met all the power of Satan and crushed Satan's head (Gen.3:15). So it was not a live serpent lifted up, but one that symbolized the paralyzing of all Satan's power. One look at that serpent on the pole was sufficient to heal any victim, just as one look in faith at Christ in His great sacrifice is sufficient to both deliver anyone from the poison of sin and give eternal life. Wonderful message of God's love and grace!
JOURNEYING TO MOAB
Now we are given an account of journeys of Israel that are no longer simply wanderings, but journeys that bring them nearer to the place from which they are to enter the land of Canaan. Various names are given as to the stages of the journey, and certainly all of them have meanings that refer to some spiritual significance, little as we may be able to discern that significance.
But it appears that the country now was not so desolate, for we read of "the brooks of Arnon" (v.14), then also of Israel coming to Beer (meaning "well"), where the Lord told Moses, "Gather the people together, and I will give them water" (v.16). No complaining of the people is heard at this time, but rather, a song of appreciation (vs.17-18). It was not a miraculous provision of water, but it came through the work of the leaders and nobles of the people.
Though they had turned away from Edom, and by this time had circumvented it, they did not avoid Moab, but came into a valley in that land, and even to the top of Mount Pisgah (v.20) from which, not much later than this, God gave Moses a view of all the land that Israel was to inhabit (Deut. 34:1-4). They did not even ask permission to pass through Moab, and it seems Moab had no ability to withstand them, though in chapter 24 we read of Moab's king desiring Balaam to put a curse on Israel, which curse God turned into a blessing.
Moab is the picture of sensual, easy-going religion (Jer.48:11) that works, not usually by direct conflict, but by seduction. Moab was proud and haughty, but "his idle boasts have accomplished nothing" (Jer.48:29-30). Yet Moab knew how to tempt Israel into evil complicity with their women and their gods (Num.25:1-3), just as Christians may be tempted by the easy living styles of the world to choose a self-indulgent life with little serious exercise, little sense of pleasing God, and little genuine concern for the need of others. Therefore, Moab was to be subdued, not turned away from, as was the case with Edom.
SUBDUING THE AMORITES
From Moab Moses sent messengers to Sihon, an Amorite king, to request passage through their land (vs.21-22). When Sihon refused, however, Israel did not turn away, as they did from Edom. Sihon came out with an army to fight against Israel. What is the character of the Amorites? Their name means "Sayer," which reminds us of the Lord's words as to the scribes and Pharisees, "they say, and do not do" (Mt.23:3). They are those who have a form of godliness, but only know how to use their tongue to get their own way. Psalm 12:3-4 tells us, "May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaks proud things, who have said, 'With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?'"
As Israel was called to fight against the Amorites, so it is only right that we should judge in ourselves the tendency to merely speak well and not act on the truth. For this character is actually dishonest. But it does too often attack the people of God.
Sihon's name means "sweeping away," for mere talk tends to sweep away all that is good, for it is empty vanity. On this occasion therefore, when Sihon and his army attacked, Israel did not meet him with talk, but with decided action. By the grace and power of God they defeated this proud enemy, and took possession of his cities (vs.24-26). Thus Israel was showing something of the courage of faith before they actually entered the land of Canaan. In this way God was preparing them for the conquest of the land.
We are told that Heshbon, Sihon's chief city, had been captured from the Moabites, for self-satisfied, lazy pride of man (as seen in Moab) will often succumb to the persuasive talk of a deceiver. Our only protection from such things is a vital knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
Verses 27-30 record the words of "those who speak in proverbs," indicating Moab's defeat by Sihon (vs.28-29), for Moab's pride was unable to resist the smooth talk of the Amorites. However, verse 30 introduces a "But." In other words, Israel changed matters decisively. They had shot at the Amorites and Heshbon had perished instead of consuming Moab (v.28), the country of the Amorites was laid waste, and Israel took possession.
However, others of the Amorites remained in the area of Jazer, which Israel first spied out, then captured its villages and drove out the inhabitants. Then they went to Bashan, another Amorite city, and King Og, with his people came out to fight them. Having the Lord's word not to fear Og because God had already delivered him into their hand, Israel without difficulty defeated him and took possession of his land. In Deuteronomy 3:11 we read that Og was a giant, having a bedstead nine cubits long and four cubits wide, which would be over thirteen feet by six feet. Though some of the spies had before been fearful because of giants in the land, yet now Israel attacked without fear, and fully subdued the Amorites.
BALAK HIRING BALAAM
Still within Moab, Israel moved again to the plains and camped near Jordan, across from Jericho. Moab had no power to withstand them, however, though Balak, king of Moab, was in terror of them because of their great number (v.3).
He saw his only hopeful resource to be in a man who had a reputation of great success in occult practices, Balaam, the son of Beor. Balak sent messengers to Balaam to urge him to come and put a curse upon the people who had come from Egypt, so that Balak might be able to defeat them and drive them out of his land. For he said he understood that both Balaam's blessings and his curses were effective (v.6). Balaam was clearly dependent on satanic power, though he evidently did not realize this himself unless he knew he was guilty of deliberate deception.
The messengers delivered the message to Balaam, who told them to stay the night and he would give them an answer as the Lord directed him. He could use the Lord's name in this way, though he did not even intend to really seek the Lord's name in this way, though he did not even intend to really seek the Lord's guidance, but to receive an answer from the occult power he was accustomed to. Chapter 24:1 tells us this, that he was looking for enchantments as a sorcerer. But God intervened, coming to Balaam to ask who these messengers were. Balaam answered that they had come from Balak who wanted Balaam to curse a people come from Egypt (vs.10-11). Neither Balak nor Balaam used the peoples' name "Israel," for they were likely fearful of that name, which means "a prince with God." But God spoke decisively to Balaam, "You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed" (v.12).
When God had told Balaam not to go with the princes of Moab, Balaam realized he was helpless without a supernatural power to back him up, so he could only tell Balak's messengers that the Lord refused to give him permission to go with them (v.13). They returned to tell Balak that Balaam refused his offer. Balak sent other princes more honorable and more numerous than the first, to urge Balaam to allow nothing to stop him from coming, and promising him great reward for doing so (vs.15-17).
Balaam's reply to them was plausible and sanctimonious, to the effect that, no matter how great reward Balak would give him, Balaam could not go beyond the word of the Lord his God. But if he really believed the word of the Lord, he would have told them that God's word had already been given, and this was final: the people must not be cursed, for they are blessed. However, Balaam was still hopeful of a reward, and told the messengers he would inquire again of the Lord (v.19), for a false prophet considers that the Lord may change His mind, as do false gods, for his usual contact was with evil spirits, not the Lord.
God again intervened and because Balaam wanted to go. God told him to do so, but that he must speak only what God told him to. How little Balaam knew what would be the consequences of not bowing to God's first word to him! If after God has expressed His will, we still want our own way, God may likely allow us to have our way in order that we may learn by experience the folly of our own self-will.
A DONKEY SPEAKING
God did not intend Balaam to take the journey without understanding that he was disobeying His word as He had given it at the first. Therefore, in anger against Balaam, He had the Angel of the Lord stand in his way as he rode on a donkey. The donkey saw the Angel with a sword drawn, and turned to the side into a field. Balaam did not see the Angel, and he angrily struck the donkey to turn it back to the road (v.23). The Angel then took another stand where there were walls on both sides, and the donkey, trying to avoid the Angel, crushed Balaam's foot against a wall. Again Balaam struck the donkey (v.25), when he ought to have realized that God was dealing with him in some serious way.
The Angel then chose a more narrow spot still, where the donkey could not turn either way, and the donkey simply laid down. But rather than even questioning in his mind why these things had happened, Balaam in a bad temper struck the donkey again with his staff (v.27). Then God put words into the mouth of the donkey, asking Balaam why he had struck her these three times. Even this amazing miracle had no effect on Balaam, for he replied in anger to the donkey that he wished he had a sword with which to kill her! Though God had given Balaam several opportunities to realize that He Himself was intervening to awaken Balaam to a sense of his own folly, Balaam was totally insensitive to this, which would not have been the case if he were a true prophet of God.
Again the donkey spoke to him, asking him if she had ever, in all his experience with her, done what she had done that day (v.30). He answered "No," but seemed still too dense to realize there was a special reason for this happening. God was not in his thoughts.
Finally the Lord opened Balaam's eyes so that he saw the Angel standing in the way with a drawn sword in his hand (v.31). In shocked terror Balaam fell on his face. The Angel then reproved the bad temper of Balaam in striking his donkey, telling him that if the donkey had not avoided the Angel, He would have killed Balaam and spared the donkey (vs.32-33). What a lesson is this, that an unbeliever is more ignorant as regards God than a beast!
Balaam acknowledged that he had sinned (v.34), but let himself down easily in pleading his ignorance of the Angel standing in the way. But he was not ignorant of the fact that God had forbidden him to curse Israel, so that his way was perverse before the Lord. He still did not decide to bless Israel, but offered to turn back if God was displeased. He had before been told of God's displeasure against any cursing of Israel, but he had no desire to take God's viewpoint himself.
The Angel of the Lord told him to go, however, with the absolute command that he speak only what the Angel spoke to him (v.35). Notice that this indicates that in the Old Testament the term "The Angel of the Lord" refers to the Lord Himself, whose words Balaam must speak.
Balak came to meet the false prophet, remonstrating with him because he had not come before, since Balak was able to give him great honor (v.37). Balaam answered that he had no power even to speak but must receive his words from God. He needed a supernatural power by which to speak, and he called this power "God," though he did not know the true God. Balak responded by offering oxen and sheep (v.40), likely as a bribe to get Balaam's god on his side.
BALAAM'S FIRST PROPHECY
THE SANCTIFICATION OF ISRAEL
Chapter 22:41 tells us that Balak brought Balaam to the high places of Baal in order to prophecy against Israel. Here he observed only "a portion of the people" (NASB), for Balak wanted to give Balaam the impression that Israel was not a large nation so he might more safely curse them.
Balaam exposed his idolatrous character immediately by asking Balak to build seven altars, offering on each one a bull and a ram. God allowed only one altar of burnt offering (Ex.27:1; Heb.13:10), for the altar speaks of Christ, the only way of approach to God. But Balaam believed in "many gods and many lords" (1 Cor.8:4-5).
Leaving Balak standing by the altars, Balaam went to a desolate hill, where he said the Lord might meet him (v.3). He did not go to meet the Lord, but rather with the hope of contacting an evil spirit (see chapter 24:1). But God met Balaam, not allowing an evil spirit to do so. Then god gave him the message he was commanded to speak (v.5). How striking a prophecy it was!
He speaks of Balak's bringing him from a distance to curse Jacob and denounce Israel (v.7). This is the first time that the people are named by either Balak or Balaam, but it was God who was making them to face the issue of Israel's being His own people. So Balaam was forced to say, "How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?" If this is true of Israel, it is certainly true also of those who today are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. God will not allow them to be cursed.
"For," Balaam says, "from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him." He had no low viewpoint of Israel, but the viewpoint of a high elevation, just as God sees believers "in Christ," above an earthly level. More than this, "a people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations" (v.9). Israel was separated from all Gentile nations, teaching the truth of sanctification, as today the Church of God is sanctified from all the surrounding world, set apart for God.
"Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number one-fourth of Israel?" (v.10). Balaam could only see a part of the people, which would account for his reference to "one-fourth." At that time one-fourth would be perhaps 700,000, but God speaks prophetically of Israel in the Millennium, when they will possess a far grater extent of property than they have ever done (Gen.15:18), and with a much greater population. As to the dust of Jacob, in Genesis 28:14 God told Jacob that his descendants would be "as the dust of the earth," for Israel is an earthly people, in contrast to the Church, which is heavenly.
Then Balaam utters a sentiment most striking, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end by like his!" How appealing this would be to countless numbers of people who have no intention of living the life of the righteous! Israel is typically the righteous nation, though this cannot be said of all the individuals who compose the nation, for one is counted righteous only by faith in the living God (Gen.15:6).
Balak became most indignant at hearing this prophecy of Balaam, telling him he had enlisted him to curse his enemies and that rather Balaam had altogether blessed them. Balaam could only answer that he had to speak what the Lord had directed.
BALAAM'S SECOND PROPHECY
Balak was still hopeful that Balaam might be allowed to curse Israel, for Balak had no conception of the faithful, unchangeable nature of the living God. He asked Balaam then to come to another place from which he would see, not only "a portion of the people" (ch.22:41), but all of them, as is seen in the translation of the Numerical Bible -- "Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me to another place whence thou mayest see them; (thou seest but the extremity of them, and dost not see them all;) and curse them for me thence." At first Balak had evidently thought that if Balaam saw only a small number, he would think of them as being insignificant, and therefore curse them. Now he has to change his mind, thinking that, if a small number could be blessed, perhaps Balaam would decide that a large number was not so likely worthy of blessing. Balak did not know that God blessed Israel, not because they were worthy of blessing, but because they were His people, chosen by sovereign grace, and redeemed from sin and bondage by the Passover and the passage of the Red Sea.
At the top of Pisgah they again had seven altars built, offering a bull and a ram on each altar, then Balaam told Balak he would go "meet over there" (v.15). He hoped he would meet a familiar spirit, not the Lord. But "the Lord met Balaam" (v.16), for God was working, and no evil spirit could interfere. God gave Balaam another message.
Going back to the seven altars, Balaam directly addressed Balak, calling upon him to hear and listen. For Balak had no proper conception of who God is. Balaam told him therefore, "God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man the He should repent." This was a lesson both Balak and Balaam needed. Because they could change their minds to suit their preferences, they thought God was such a one as they were. Men are generally like this, though all creation bears witness to God's stable, unchanging character. When God has spoken, will He not act on what He says? Let both Balaam and Balak take this to heart.
Balaam said he had received a command to bless, for God had blessed Israel and Balaam could not reverse it, much as he desired to do so (v.20). In the first prophecy Balaam had said, "God has not cursed" (v.8), but now he positively says, "He has blessed." More than this, "He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel" (v.21). In spite of the fact that He had chastened Israel severely for their disobedience and rebellion (ch.14:34-45), yet He says to Israel's enemies that He had not seen iniquity in Israel. Why is this? Because God saw them as sheltered by the blood of sacrifice, reminding us that God sees believers today as redeemed by the blood of Christ, and therefore "in Christ." As such, their guilt is totally taken away. They are justified, freed from every charge of guilt and counted righteous in the eyes of God. The first prophecy regards Israel as sanctified, now the second adds to this that they are justified.
Therefore, "the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a King is among them." the Lord was their support and comfort, and though their King (the Lord Jesus) was not yet manifested, His shout of triumph was a wonderful strength among them. For He had brought them out of Egypt, His strength being likened to that of the aurochs (or wild ox). Man cannot resist such strength, though this is only an illustration, for of course God's strength is infinitely greater than anything could illustrate.
Then Balaam had to fully admit there is no sorcery of divination that can stand against Israel (v.23). If this is true concerning Israel, is there any reason for Christians to be fearful of what satanic power can accomplish against them? No! Satan cannot have his way with them. His power is broken. He may seek to deceive them and cause them to wander from the path of faith, but he is not their master, but a defeated enemy. We ought to regard him as this and resist his deceptive advances.
But it will be said of Israel, "What has God done?" It is God's work that stands out in its wonderful perfection, just as is true in the salvation of souls today. More then this, however, in verse 24 we see Israel taking the offensive, rising up like a lioness and like a lion. the lioness usually does the hunting, killing the prey for the lion to devour as well as herself. This could well strike fear into the heart of Balak. The day is coming too when all believers will be united with Christ in His coming to judge the world (Rev.19:11-14), and they will not rest until the judgment of evil is fully accomplished, just as the lion will not lie down until it has devoured the prey. Only then will Israel be at rest from all its enemies.
Balak, deeply frustrated, told Balaam neither to curse or bless Israel. For Balaam's prophecy spoke of positive blessing for Israel, and Balak decided it would be better to say nothing. Balaam could only answer that he must speak as the Lord commanded, which was true, for he was only a tool in the hand of God.
However, in spite of the plain words of God that He means absolutely what He says, Balak hoped that if they went to another location, God may change His mind! There, on the top of Peor, Balaam asks again for seven altars with a bull and a ram offered on each. Balaam himself had not yet learned there is only one God.
BALAAM'S THIRD PROPHECY
THE BEAUTY OF LIFE
At least Balaam had learned by now that the Lord had the unchangeable purpose of blessing Israel, so this time he knew it was useless to seek enchantments from evil spirits, but "set his face toward the wilderness, where the children of Israel were encamped as ordered by God" (v.1). Then the Spirit of God took possession of him to convey another wonderful prophecy.
He announced this as the oracle of Balaam, the man whose eyes were opened. He was sufficiently enlightened to know that Israel was unchangeably blessed by God, though his eyes were not by any means opened spiritually, as is the case in new birth. Yet he had heard the words of God and had seen the vision of the Almighty (v.4).
In seeing the visions of God, Balaam was compelled to fall down, as he did before the angel (ch.22:31), yet with his eyes so opened as to see Israel from God's viewpoint. How sad that this had no lasting effect on his heart!
We may not think of tents as being beautiful, but Israel's tents were lovely to God (v.5), for the tents speak of their pilgrims and strangers, not settling down in an ungodly world, for which cause God was not ashamed to be called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Heb.11:13-16). The expression "your dwellings" may be prophetic of Israel's future possession of their own land.
"Valleys," "gardens by the riverside," "aloes planted by the Lord," and "cedars beside the waters" (v.6) tell us of the vibrant beauty and fruitfulness of Israel as in the counsels of God, which will have its full display in the millennial age. In all of this is the expression of life with its energy of producing fruit. This is typical of the much greater blessing of eternal life given now to every child of God, and which produces lovely fruit.
"He shall pour out water from his buckets" (v.7) reminds us that "rivers of living water" flow from the inward parts of a believer (John 7:38) for the blessing of others also. So that Israel will be a source of refreshment for all the nations in the Millennium. "His seed shall be in many waters." The waters speak of the Gentile nations (Rev.17:15). Thus the descendants of Israel will spread an influence of great blessing over the whole world.
"His King (the Lord Jesus) shall be higher than Agag," whose name means "I will overtop." He was the king of the Amalekites (1 Sam.15:20), and symbolizes the pride that thinks of everything as being under his domination. But the highest claims of men are reduced to nothing by Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords, whose kingdom will be highly exalted.
Balak was reminded that God brought Israel out of Egypt by His superior strength (v.8), and that God would consume the nations that antagonized Israel, breaking their bones and piercing them with His arrows. What of the enemies of believers today? While we patiently pray for them instead of fighting, yet we know that in God's own time He will "repay with tribulation those who trouble you" (2 Thess.1:6), "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (vs.7-8)
"He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion who shall rouse him up?" (v.9). After devouring the prey the lion lies down. So, when God brings rest to Israel after the defeat of all their enemies, He promises, "Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid" Jer.30:10). No nations will be disposed to stir up Israel's anger all through the thousand years of peace. Even at the end of that time, when nations come in united hostility against Israel, there will be no need for Israel to fear, because God will destroy their enemies with fire from heaven (Rev.20:7-10).
How appropriate therefore are Balaam's closing words, "Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you." This had been true through the ages. Nations that have shown kindness to Israel have been blessed, while those who have oppressed the Jews have suffered.
But Balaam's message greatly stirred Balak's anger (v.10). Why did he not bow to the Word of God? Just because of a stubborn will! He knew that it was the Lord who had kept Balaam back from being honored by Balak, but he had no intention of listening to the Lord, in spite of the three occasions of testimony to the blessing of Israel. He gave up all hope of having Israel cursed, and only wanted Balaam to get away, without payment for his services.
Balaam could only respond as before, that he must speak what he was given to speak. If an evil spirit had given him a message of cursing he would have been glad to speak that, but God intervened to give a message that He compelled Balaam to speak. A house full of gold and silver could not change that, as Balaam knew (v.13).
However, Balaam did not leave then, as Balak told him to. For God required Balaam to speak a further prophecy and Balak found himself powerless to resist listening, even though Balaam announced that the message would be that of Israel's conquest of Moab in the latter days. Since Balak had ignorantly challenged God when he determined to have God's people cursed, then God gave Balak four messages that he could not avoid hearing, much as he might have desired to suppress at least the fourth! Thus, God is not mocked, and Balak was given a testimony that ought to have persuaded him that when he stands before God at the Great White throne, God's Word will stand, and Balak will only listen!
BALAAM'S FOURTH PROPHECY
Balaam begins this in much the same strain as in his third prophecy, as the man whose eyes were opened, and who hears the words of God and has knowledge of the Most High. How sad that that knowledge was only an evidential knowledge, not the vital knowledge of a believer. Yet it was accurate, for he actually saw the vision of the Almighty, subdued before God, to fall down with his eyes open. Therefore, what he prophesied is absolute truth which he could only know by God's revelation.
But at the outset he is made to speak of his own tragic position, saying, "I shall see Him, but not now; I shall behold Him, but not near" (v.17). The following verses make clear that he is speaking of the Lord Jesus, the Star and the Scepter. Balaam's fate will be that of all unbelievers. Believers see the Lord Jesus now by faith (Heb.2:9), but Balaam had no intention of bowing his heart to Him at the time, and therefore in the future he will see Him, but not near, for it will be only in awesome judgment when he sees Him on the Great White Throne (Rev.20:11-15). Terrible prospect!
As the Star the Lord Jesus is the one of heavenly character and heavenly light, thus a star gave testimony of His birth to the wise men of the east (Mt.2:1-2). As the Scepter He is the expression of God's authority, for the scepter signifies kingly authority. This compares with Psalm 45:6: "A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom."
He will "batter the brow of Moab" or "shall crush through the forehead of Moab" (NASB). The forehead speaks of intelligence manifested either as, in the unbeliever, strongly opposed to God, or in a believer, firmly obedient to God (Ezek.3:7-9). but as David killed Goliath with a stone striking his forehead, so will the Lord Jesus crush the defiance of Moab, with its proud mind set against God. Also He will destroy all the sons of tumult. Who are the sons of tumult? Those who engage in noisy protest against anything and everything.
But Balaam speaks of more than Moab. Edom adjoined Moab, and Edom will become a possession of Israel (v.18). Edom speaks of the flesh, and the flesh then will be put in the place of nothingness. For Israel in the Millennium will not be in the perfect state: the flesh will still be in them, but put under control. Seir also will be a possession. Esau had adopted Seir as his home (Gen.33:16), so that it is in close proximity to Edom and to Moab. These will be fully subjugated to Israel.
"Out of Jacob One shall have dominion, and destroy the remains of the city" (v.19). Whatever city this means, the large fellowship that it implies will be destroyed. People want their cities in order to find strength in unity, but it is in men's cities that corruption thrives, and the Lord Jesus will destroy all this.
However, while Moab and Edom are to be subjugated to Israel, Amalek will suffer a more solemn judgment. Though Amalek was first among the nations, he will totally perish, as Exodus 17:14 affirms, "I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven". For Amalek symbolizes the lusts of the flesh, which God will not spare.
The Kenites are then spoken of as having an enduring dwelling place, established in the rock (v.21), but "Kain (the Kenites) shall be burned and Asshur carry him away captive." The Kenites had shown kindness to Israel when they came out of Egypt (1 Sam.15:6), but evidently at the last their character of disobedience to God will call for their judgment too. What appears to be good, if it does not have Christ as its Object, will be proven at the last only "enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7) Asshur (Assyria) will take them captive at the time of the end.
Again it is said Balaam "took up his oracle" (v.23), for the subject here goes deeper. He is so awe-inspired as to say, "Alas, who shall live when God does this?" Ships will come from the coasts of Kittim (v.24). This name was at the time applied to Cyprus, but later was widened to involve Greece and Italy. thus there seems no doubt that this refers to the coming of the "Beast" of the revived Roman Empire in opposition to the king of Assyria (Asshur) when that king, called "the king of the north," will come like a whirlwind to invade Israel (Dan.11:40-41). This will occur immediately following the setting up of "the abomination of desolation" by the Antichrist at the middle of Daniel's seventieth week (Dan.9:27). Asshur and Eber will also "come to destruction" (v.24 -- NASB). The destruction spoken of here is only of those nations in the middle east of which Balak had knowledge. The Beast of Rome too will suffer utter destruction (Rev.19:20), but this is not mentioned here.
Balaam then went home, his heart unchanged by the truth he was forced to announce, and Balak left also, a much sadder man, though we might wish we could say a wiser man too. But we fear the knowledge he gained did not make him wiser.
ISRAEL SEDUCED BY MOAB
God had intervened to bless Israel when Moab was anxious to curse them. How inappropriate and senseless therefore was the harlotry of the men with the women of Moab. They were invited by the Moabites to the sacrifices made to their gods, and they joined in their idolatrous worship (vs.1-3). Numbers 31:16 reveals that this was instigated "through the counsel of Balaam." He was Satan's cunning tool, for when Satan is unable to defeat God's people, he will befriend and corrupt them, if they will listen to his subtle wiles. This counsel of Balaam shows that he was still an enemy of God, as is confirmed in 2 Peter 2:15 and Jude 11.
The Lord's judgment of this was immediate and without mercy. He told Moses to take all the leaders of the people and hang those responsible for this corruption, so that God's anger would turn away from Israel (v.4). Moses therefore brought the message to the judges that they were to kill all those under their jurisdiction who had joined in with the idolatrous worship of Baal (v.5).
Totally insensible to the Lord's word and to the weeping of the people at the door of the tabernacle, an Israelite man boldly brought a Midianite woman to present her before the congregation (v.6). But Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, did not even argue with him. He immediately took a javelin and went into the tent where they had gone and killed both of them. This certainly was not murder, but obedience to the Lord, and consistent with Old testament law, requiring judgment without mercy in such cases. Of course under grace God does not require any such penalty, though the sin of association with idol worship is just as abhorrent to Him now as it was then.
But the Lord had sent a plague that destroyed 24,000 people, showing how widespread their corruption had been. The action of Phinehas however stopped the plague (vs.8-9). This illustrates the fact that one man, standing for God in judgment, can avert greater judgment. In this he reflects the Lord Jesus, whose faithfulness in judging evil at the end of the Great tribulation will mean deliverance for the many who will bow to His authority.
The Lord then addressed Aaron, telling him that Phinehas had by his action turned back God's wrath from the children of Israel, thus averting the more sever judgment of God (vs.10-11). Therefore God was giving Phinehas His covenant of peace, a promise that would extent to his descendants also in the way of an everlasting priesthood (vs.12-13). This is really only typical of the everlasting priesthood of the Lord Jesus because of His faithfulness in making atonement in a far higher way by His great sacrifice of Calvary. But it does teach us how greatly God values faithfulness to Him.
The name of the Israelite who was killed is now given as Zimri, son of Salu, a leader of a father's house in Israel (v.14). How often it seems that prominent men are deceived by the cunning subterfuge of the enemy and become emboldened in their evil because they think their high position will protect them. This seems to be particularly true in the cases of sons of prominent men. They are often looked up to by the people just because their fathers were prominent. Having such a place of recognition, they are in grave danger if they have not learned the humility that comes through honest self-judgment. Their fathers may have learned well the lesson that one who exalts himself will be abased and one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:11), but the sons want the exaltation without the humbling. Some striking cases are those of Hophni and Phinehas, sons of Eli (1 Sam.2:22-25) and Absalom, son of David (2 Sam.1:5), then also Adonijah, son of David (2 Ki.1:5-7). Because of men like this, who indulge in evil practices, the common people also think they can get away with such things.
The name of the woman is also given, Cozbi, daughter of Zur, who was also a prominent man in Midian. Satan knows that it is much more effective to use people of prominence, for they give the common people more excuse for their wrong doing. It is evident that Midian was connected with Moab, as is seen in chapter 22:4, and of course in this chapter (25) from verse 1 to verse 18.
Because of this deceit of Midian, the Lord told Moses that Israel was to harass and attack the Midianites (vs.17-18). This did not take place immediately, however, for there were other matters first to take care of dealing with Israel's relationship to God. the actual attack against Midian is recorded in chapter 31:1-11. God's rights are first to be recognized before the enemy is punished.
A SECOND CENSUS OF ISRAEL
As at the first of the wilderness journey a census of the nation was taken (ch.1:46), now as they near the end of that journey another census is required by God. Again it is those 20 years old and above who are included, all who were able for military service (v.2). Of those living at the time, Moses, Joshua and Caleb would be the only people over 60 years of age, and Joshua and Caleb were still able for war (Josh.14:6-11).
The tribe of Reuben decreased in population from 46,000 (v.1:21) to 43,730 (v.7). Reuben was the firstborn of Israel, but because of his sin his natural primacy was taken from him. Also in the wilderness two Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, were leaders in rebellion against the Lord (Num.16:1). they were swallowed up when the earth opened, but afterwards the people complained about this, and 14,000 were killed by a plague (Num.16:49).
The death of Dathan and Abiram is mentioned in verses 9 and 10, together with Korah, when the earth opened and swallowed them up, and when fire devoured 250 men who followed them. Yet it is mentioned here that the sons of Korah did not die at that time (v.11), indicating that they were not involved in his guilt.
But the tribe of Simeon depleted drastically in numbers during the wilderness journey, from 59,300 (ch.1:23) to 22,200. what is the reason for this'? Likely it is seen in Numbers 25:14. Zimri was a leader of a father's house among the Simeonites and became a leader in the corrupting mixture of Israel with the Midianites. How true it is that even rebellion (as seen in Reuben, with Dathan and Abiram) does not have as devastating effects on the people of God as does their being yoked together with unbelievers or with principles of unrighteousness. This is seen in the address of the Lord Jesus to Pergamos in Revelation 2:12-17. Pergamos dwelt "where Satan's seat is" (v.13), that is the world, a compromising mixture that is offensive to the Lord and damaging to themselves. Too frequently we do not suspect the harm there is in unholy associations until we are trapped by them. May the Lord preserve us.
Gad's numbers were decreased also, from 45,650 (Num.1:25) to 40,500 (v.18), though we cannot point to any incident that might have caused this. It is possible they sympathized with the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram or were involved in the corruption of Peor, for it seems neither of these was confined to one tribe.
Judah, however, is in happy contrast to the previous decline, for it increased from 74,600 (Num.1:27) to 76,500 (v.22). This is a testimony to the fact that we need not be weakened by the trials of the wilderness journey, but may be strengthened. This depends on the reality and consistency of our faith in the living God. Judah's name (meaning "praise") may remind us that the spirit of praise increases fruitfulness.
Isaachar increased more greatly still, from 54,400 (Num.1:29) to 64,300 (v.25). This may at least teach a most valuable lesson, that one who is not prominent in any public way may gain far more for the Lord than more prominent people do. The judgment seat of Christ will no doubt give us some acute surprises along this line.
Zebulon similarly showed an increase, from 57,400 (Num.1:31) to 60,500 (v.27), not so great as Issachar, but more than Judah. Zebulon too was not so prominent, as Judah was, or Reuben.
But Manasseh increased amazingly from 32,200 (Num.1:35) to 52,700. Manasseh means "forgetting" and may impress on us Paul's words of Philippians 3:13-14: "Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." If we have this attitude of Paul in forgetting past achievements and making Christ the object of living, we shall increase more and more in fruitfulness for God.
Ephraim, however, whose name means "fruitfulness," stands in sad contrast to Manasseh, for this tribe decreased from 40,500 (Num.1:33) to 32,500 (v.37). This may teach us that if we depend on our reputation for bearing fruit, the fruit itself will be depleted greatly because self has become our object rather than Christ. Self-complacency is one of the most damaging attitudes we can adopt.
Benjamin showed a lovely increase from 35,000 (Num.1:37) to 45,600 (v.41). Dan, already large, showed some increase, from 62,700 (Num.1:39) to 64,400 (v.43). Asher was greatly increased, from 41,500 (Num.1:41) to 53,400 (v.47). Naphtali, in contrast, fell badly from 53,400 (Num.1:43) to 45,400 (v.50). Whatever the reasons for all of these, at least they tell us that in glory some will be commended for their increase in spiritual fruit, while others will have to bow to the sad fact that they did not produce as they might have (1 Cor.3:12-15).
The increases or decreases in the twelve tribes of Israel have been seen in the first 50 verses of this chapter. Now as to the nation itself, verse 51 tells us that at the end of the wilderness journey its total population of men able for military service was 601,730. This was a decrease, for in Numbers 1:46 that number had been 603,550. What a lesson for us, that though the Church of God has been so greatly blessed by God, show has not as a whole responded in a practical and thankful way to such grace, for she has too sadly followed the example of Israel. Yet the failure of the testimony of the Church is no excuse for the failure of any individual believer, for as we have seen, some of the tribes increased greatly, others also in a lesser measure.
HOW THE LAND WAS TO BE DIVIDED
The census being complete, the Lord then instructed tribe was to receive when in the land of promise. according to the size of its population, the larger tribes smaller a smaller inheritance (vs.52-54). Their size journey decided this. This may well teach us that the measure of enjoyment of our heavenly inheritance will have a close connection with the measure of our enjoyment of Christ at the end of our earthly history.
"But the land shall be divided by lot" (v.55). None could choose what property he might have. For Proverbs 16:33 tells us, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." The Lord decided this, and all were to be content with His decision. We are not told how the size was coordinated with the Lord's decision, but this would be no problem for Him.
THE LEVITES NUMBERED
The Levites were numbered independently of the other tribes since they had no specific property as an inheritance. Also they were not required to go to war, but to serve the Lord. Therefore their census did not begin with those of the age of twenty years, but with one month old boys (v.62). When one is to be trained in the things of God, this is to begin virtually from his birth, while training for physical warfare requires the strength of manhood.
In spite of the rebellion of Korah, who was a Levite, the tribe increased from 22,000 (ch.1:39) to 23,000 (v.62). Thus we learn that the Lord does graciously recover from failure, so that we must not be discourage when we do fail.
We are reminded in verses 64 and 65 that no individuals remained to be included in this last census who had been numbered in the first census, except Joshua and Caleb, for all those who were over 20 years at that time died in the wilderness except these two men. Even Moses died before Israel entered the land of Canaan. Of course the Levites who had been under 20 years, though numbered in the first census, would not necessarily have died before the second census.
LAWS OF INHERITANCE
This section is an appendix to chapter 26, for it bears directly on the question of the inheritance of the tribes. Five daughters of one man who had died in the wilderness came to Moses to tell him that their father had no sons to inherit his property. Of course the property had not been allotted to any Israelite at that time, but what would be done in the case of a man who expected to receive property and had no sons? Were his daughters to be left with no inheritance?
The Lord gave an answer positively in favor of the daughters . Moses was to see that they received a possession in the land: the possession intended for their father should pass to his daughters (v.7).
Further, the Lord instructed that the normal practice in Israel would require an inheritance to be given to a daughter if there were no son to inherit it (v.9). If a man had no daughter, then his inheritance would pass to his brothers, or failing this, it would pass to the nearest living relative or relatives (vs.8-11).
In chapter 36:6-9, however, the Lord guarded against the danger of property being transferred from one tribe to another by decreeing that the daughters must marry within their own tribe.
In all of this it is taught that there is to be no difference as regards the inheritance of men and women. Though there are differences in responsibility and order in family life, in the assembly and in public life, yet all believers share alike in the great blessing of God in providing an inheritance "incorruptible and undefiled, and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4). In the epistle to the Ephesians, before the question of relationships is considered -- husbands, wives, parents, children, servants and masters (ch.5:22-6:9) -- the first chapter (vs.1-6) shows every believer is given the same spiritual blessings.
JOSHUA APPOINTED TO TAKE MOSES PLACE
Though Moses continued in leading Israel through nine chapters in Numbers following the occasion mentioned here, and though all the book of Deuteronomy was an address given by Moses to Israel, yet here we find God in advance giving instruction to Moses to appoint Joshua to take his place, telling him also to go up to the Mount Abarim, see the land of Israel from there, and there be taken away in death. This vision of the land and Moses' death are recorded in Deuteronomy 34.
The Lord reminded Moses that the reason he could not go over Jordan was that he had rebelled against the word of the Lord at Meribah, striking the rock in anger instead of speaking to it (v.14). Moses must therefore submit to the governmental results of his own failure. Such a lesson should speak deeply to the people of God today, that we may learn to bow to God's governmental dealings.
Moses, not discouraged because he was to be no longer the leader of Israel, but concerned still as to the welfare of the nation, appealed to "the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh" to set a man over the congregation (vs.15-16). Because he realized that God knew well the spirits of all mankind, he desired that God would choose one whose spirit was willing and able to meet the challenge of this great work. Thus in Moses we see one whose spirit was similar to that of Peter and Paul later on, both of whom were much concerned, not for their own honor, but for the welfare of the saints from whom they were called away by death (2 Peter 1:13; Acts 20:27-32).
Moses knew that Israel needed a dependable leader, not one only who would tell them what to do, but one to go before them as an example to follow, whether going out or coming in, that Israel would not be like sheep without a shepherd (v.17).
God had already prepared His man, Joshua, who had learned by close companionship with Moses for many years. His name is the name as Jesus in the Greek language, meaning "Jehovah Savior," for under his leadership Israel experienced the salvation of the Lord from all their enemies in the land of promise.
Moses then was told to lay his hand on Joshua, set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation of Israel, and inaugurate him publicly (vs.18-20). In doing so, Moses indicated that his authority was to be shared with Joshua, that all Israel should be obedient to Joshua just as fully as to Moses.
Moses willingly did as the Lord commanded, though it was not at that time that Moses was taken away in death (vs.22-23), so that it was still Moses through whom the Lord spoke through chapters 28 to 36, and it was Moses whose address to Israel occupied the whole book of Deuteronomy, except for chapter 34, which records his death and burial by the Lord.
The leader of the people, Moses, is clearly typical of the Lord Jesus, and just as Moses through death gave place to Joshua, so Christ told His disciples, "It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you, but if I depart, I will send Him to you" (John 16:7). Joshua had been constantly the companion of Moses, just as the Spirit of God had been always with the Lord Jesus. We may rightly regard Joshua as a type of Christ also, but not Christ objectively, rather as "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col.1:27). Christ is in us by the power of the Spirit of God, and it is in this way that He leads us into our heavenly inheritance, which is symbolized by Joshua's leading Israel into Canaan.
Joshua was to stand before Eleazar the priest, a type of Christ as High Priest in resurrection. Eleazar was to inquire for Joshua as to God's leading. This insists on the fact that though the saints of God have the Spirit dwelling in them, they still require the guidance of the heavenly Priest, by means of the Word of God. The Spirit within us must not be separated from Christ above us: both work in perfect unity.
As Israel prepared to enter the land, there are matters raised by the Lord of serious importance. Their recognition of God's rights must come first. He speaks therefore of "My offerings, My food for My offerings made by fire as a sweet aroma to Me at their appointed time" (v.2). Jacob, in going out from Beersheba, expected God to give him food to eat (Gen.28:20), but he forgot that he ought to give God food to eat. We also too often think of our rights and forget God's rights. May we think more deeply of giving God some true refreshment when He is ignored by the multitude of humans. God has created us in such a way that we appreciate food. If so, is it not fully understandable to us that God should desire food from us?
Those offerings that Israel was to consider as God's food are detailed for us in chapters 28 and 29. Every day two young lambs were to be offered, one in the morning and one in the evening (vs.3-4). These were burnt offerings, emphasizing the honor that is to be wholly given to God because of the value of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. With it one tenth of an ephah of fine flour was included as a grain offering, mixed with one-fourth of a hin of pressed oil (v.5). This grain offering speaks of the perfection of the Humanity of the Lord Jesus expressed in all His life on earth, energized by the spirit of God (the oil). As we keep Him in affectionate memory before God, we are truly offering the grain offering. Verse 6 speaks of this in total as one offering of a sweet aroma, for there is perfect unity in the sacrifice of Christ.
OFFERINGS ON THE SABBATH
On the Sabbath days there were two lambs added to the daily offering, with both grain offerings and drink offerings as in the daily offerings. The Sabbath speaks of the eternal rest of God, and in that day our appreciation of the sacrifice of Christ will not diminish, but increase.
There would be no lack of work to keep the priests occupied. At each month's beginning a special burnt offering was to be made to the Lord, of two young bulls, one ram and seven lambs of the first year, without blemish (v.11). With this was included three tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for each bull, two tenths of the same for the ram and one tenth for each lamb. The total of this was called "a burnt offering of sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the Lord." (v.13).
Thus, special occasions called for special observance by Israel, and a drink offering of varying proportions for each animal was added.
But every month also a kid of the goats was to be sacrificed as a sin offering (v.15), not a trespass offering, for the trespass offering was for specific cases of trespass, while the sin offering applies to the root principle of sin as being hateful to God, so it was a reminder that the scourge of sin was present in every Israelite, as it is in us too, and only by the sacrifice of Christ is it properly judged.
OFFERINGS AT THE FEAST OF THE PASSOVER
The Passover was to be kept once yearly, on the 14th day of the first month. It was attended by "the feast of unleavened bread," kept up from the 15th day for seven days. It is considered one feast, for sometimes it is called "the feast of the Passover" (Ex.34:25; Luke 2:41; John l3:1). Unleavened bread was to be eaten seven days, for the Passover speaks both of sins forgiven by the blood of the sacrifice and of sin condemned by the death of Christ. For leaven is symbolical of sin, and the seven days speaks of its complete judgment by the death of the Lord Jesus.
There was to be a holy convocation on the first day, a gathering of the people to give honor to the Lord: no work was to be done for they were celebrating God's work (vs.17-18). A burnt offering was to be presented, consisting of two young bulls, one ram and seven lambs in their first year. All being typical of Christ, they must be carefully inspected to see that they had no blemish. The young bulls speak of the strength of the offering of Christ, the ram speaks of His devotion to God and the lambs picture His lowly obedience in submission to the will of His Father.
The burnt offering was to be accompanied by a grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil; three tenths of an ephah for each bull; two tenths for the ram, and one tenth for each of the seven lambs (vs.20-21). The grain offering again speaks of the person of the Lord Jesus in lowly Humanity, and mixed with oil intimates that the Spirit of God permeated His every action from birth.
Added to these there was to be also offered one goat as a sin offering (v.22), the goat being regarded as a substitute for the people, with its reminder again of the sin that dwelt within the people that must be judged by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ, our Substitute.
Verse 24 indicates that the food of the offering was to be offered each day for the seven days, as a sweet aroma to the Lord. It does not seem that the sin offering was included for the six days following the first, for the sin offering is not "a sweet aroma," as the burnt offering is. The seventh day called also for a holy convocation (v.25), with no work being done.
OFFERINGS OF THE FEAST OF WEEKS
The Feast of Weeks was 50 days (or seven weeks) after the Passover, when a new grain offering was to be brought as the firstfruits of Israel's harvest. On this day was another holy convocation when no work was to be done. This is typical of the birth of the Church of God at Pentecost (Acts 2), when the Spirit of God came to begin the forming of one body composed of both Jewish and (a little later) Gentile believers. "A new grain offering" implies that the Lord Jesus is seen as identified with His saints in the new dispensation of God, the Church period.
The burnt offering was to be identical to that offered on the Passover, two young bulls, one ram and seven lambs in the first year, the grain offering also the same, three tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for each bull, two tenths for the ram and one tenth for each lamb (vs.27-28). These were for a sweet aroma to the Lord, while a kid of the goats was again offered "to make atonement," as a sin offering (v.30).
These offerings were only offered once on the day of firstfruits (v.26) for it was not a week-long feast as was the Passover (or of leavened bread). It is to be noted that "the Feast of Firstfruits" (Lev.23:914) is distinct from "the day of the firstfruits" in Numbers 28:26, for the former followed the Passover, while the latter was 50 days later. The Feast of Firstfruits is typical of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor.15:20), but the day of firstfruits typifies the Church and the firstfruits of Christ's work of redemption, so that the Church is identified with Him as "a kind of firstfruits" (James 1:18). Does this not remind us that the birth of the Church is the result of the sacrifice of Christ? The Spirit who came at Pentecost will always keep in our memory the reality of which the Passover speaks -- the one great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
Again it is insisted the offerings must be without blemish (v.31). The perfection of purity in the Lord Jesus must never be compromised.
OFFERINGS AT THE FEAST OF TRUMPETS
About four months passed by before the Feast of Trumpets took place. This illustrates the long time elapsing following Pentecost which introduced the extended dispensation of the grace of God, while Israel has been in a state of unbelief. But the Feast of Trumpets symbolizes the regathering of Israel to their land as is noted in Matthew 24:31: "And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
His elect here are those elect for earthly blessing. There have already been signs of Israel's return to their land with at least a relatively small number restored there; but when the church of God is raptured to heaven, then this call by angelic power will have great public effect, for the trumpets speak of a clearly declared testimony.
"The last trumpet" in connection with the rapture (1 Cor.15:52) will be sounded much before the trumpet to regather Israel; but it is called "the last trumpet" because it will be the last public testimony on earth as to the Church of God. Her being suddenly taken away will be a most striking testimony. But as regards Israel there are other trumpets following this great event.
On this day of blowing of trumpets there was to be a burnt offering of one young bull, one ram and seven lambs in their first year, all unblemished. At Pentecost two young bulls were offered, otherwise the offerings were the same, and the grain offering was the same for each animal. A kid of the goats was again included as a sin offering, "to make atonement" rather than "as a sweet aroma." These were all added to the regular monthly offerings, as verse 6 indicates.
OFFERINGS ON THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
The Day of Atonement followed closely the feast of Trumpets, only ten days later, for it symbolizes the great work of God in Israel when, at the end of the tribulation, "they look upon Him whom they pierced" (Zech.12:10) and will broken down in profound repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. This is why, in verse 7, Israel is told "You shall afflict your souls," when they gathered in holy convocation, ceasing from any work (v.7).
A burnt offering was to be presented, one young bull, one ram and seven lambs in their first year, without blemish. The grain offering presented as a sin offering (v.11). These were in addition to the main offerings of the Day of Atonement (Compare Leviticus 16).
We have considered in chapter 29:7-11 the offerings made on Day of Atonement. These are described in more detail in Leviticus 16, when Aaron was to take the blood of the sin offering into the holiest of all, and the bodies of the animals were burned without the camp.
But on that day, though the main focus was on the once yearly sin offering, the burnt offering was not to be forgotten, for in every connection God is to be glorified. This is just as true in His great work of judging sin as in the blessing of sinners.
OFFERINGS AT THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
The Feast of Tabernacles is symbolical of the great blessing of God in the millennial age, so that there is much more in the way of offerings prescribed for this feast which was kept up for eight days.
The feast began only five days after the Day of Atonement, for after Israel has been broken down in true repentance before God, God cannot delay to fill their hearts with overflowing adoration of His beloved Son. The first day was to be a holy convocation: on this day the number of rams and lambs was doubled over the other feast days and the number of bulls increased to thirteen. This number falls short of 7x2, the witness of perfection, for the millennium is not eternity; the people of God will still have their sinful natures as well as the new nature, and the tendency of this is toward decline, just as Ephesus left her first love (Rev.2:4) and the decline of the Church has continued through her history on earth.
On the eighth day was to be a solemn assembly with all work ceasing (v.35), a good reminder that the great blessing of the millennium is not dependent on Israel's work, but altogether on the grace of God. Numbers 8 speaks of a new beginning, and the millennium will indeed be a new beginning for Israel, for their joy will be overflowing in contrast to the centuries of sorrow and trouble they have seen. The offerings made every day for the eight days indicate that Israel will not cease to give honor and praise to God in that period of one thousand years. The offerings on the eighth day (vs.36-39) were the same as on the day of the Feast of Trumpets (vs.1-6) and on the Day of Atonement (vs.7-11).
LAWS CONCERNING VOWS
Under law it was permitted to the people to make vows as to what they might do in the future, for man is looked at as under probation so long as he is under law. But this time of probation for Israel (which is a sample of all mankind) has proven mankind to be untrustworthy as regards keeping what he promises. Therefore the Lord Jesus, in Matthew 5:33-37 announces, "Again you have heard what was said of those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord. but I say to you, do not swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool, nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No', 'No' for whatever is more than these is from the evil one." Therefore, vows have no place in Christianity. There is only One who has perfectly kept His vows, as the Lord Jesus say in Psalm 116:18, "I will pay My vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people." The Lord did this at Calvary, and we rest on the absolute truth of His word which could not fail, rather than on our own reliability.
The law required any man who made a vow to be kept strictly to his word, and do all that he vowed to do (v.2). A young woman, however, who still lived with her father, if she made a vow, could be overruled by her father at the time she made it. if he did not overrule it, then the law obliged her to keep it (vs.3-5).
The case was similar if a woman was married. Even as she had made the vow before marriage, when her husband heard of it he was in a position to cancel her obligation. But if he did not cancel it on hearing of it, then the vow remained in force (vs.6-8)
The status of a vow of a widow or a divorced woman would not change when she was no longer married. If her husband had before made void her vow, then the vow would not stand. If he had not made it void, then she remained under obligation to keep it (vs.9-15).
A woman, so naturally influenced by her emotions, might not realize the implications of a vow she makes, while a man, characterized more by a cold, calculating intelligence, might be more cautious. In contrast to this, however, Israel made a rash promise when Moses proposed the law without even telling them what that law was (Ex.10:8); secondly, when he told them (Ex.24:3) and thirdly, when he wrote it and read it to them (Ex.24:4-7). All three times they promised to keep it. They had full opportunity to be aware of all that was involved in the law, so that they had no excuse for breaking it. Yet they broke their vow very soon after making it. How much better for us then that we should depend on the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus, not trusting our own reliability.
VENGEANCE ON MIDIAN
The Midianites had been guilty of seducing Israel, and God required that account to be settled. This was the last charge laid upon Moses before his death (v.2). His own father in law was a Midianite (Ex.3:1), so that it was surely a traumatic responsibility for Moses to command Israel to take vengeance for the Lord on Midian. Yet there is no indication that he even hesitated. He had learned the word of the Lord is absolute and he would not at all question it. At least the character of Jethro was not like Midian's character at this time.
One thousand men from each tribe were recruited for this attack (v.5). But it was not a warrior like Joshua who led them, but "Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest" (v.6). He had shown himself faithful to the Lord in his prompt killing of a man of Israel and Midianite woman who had brazenly come together into the midst of Israel (Num.25:6-8). Priestly work may generally be connected with grace and intercession, but the holiness of priesthood also requires firm judgment of evil, so that Phinehas was an appropriate leader in this case.
The victory was complete, for God had ordered the battle. The kings of Midian were killed and every male including Balaam the soothsayer (vs.6-8) their cities and the army camps were burned. The women, however, were taken captive and the young children, and cattle, flocks and other possessions were taken as plunder (vs.9-11). Midian's name means "strife" and speaks of the spirit of quarreling and division, which must be judged by the people of God.
As they returned with the spoil Moses and Eleazar went out to meet them, with other leaders of the people (v.13). but immediately Moses' anger was aroused and he strongly rebuked them for sparing the women, reminding them that it was the women of Midian who had seduced the men of Israel through the counsel of Balaam (vs.14-16). Phinehas ought to have realized the significance of this, for he had before killed the woman of Midian as well as the man of Israel for their corrupt relationship.
Moses commanded them to kill both the young boys and all the women who had been intimate with a man, but allow the other girls to remain alive and be integrated into Israel (vs.17-18). Only in this way would any contamination be guarded against. How different is the truth of Christianity that deals in grace to lead the ungodly to judge themselves and be saved!
Those who had killed anyone or had touched a dead body were then told to remain outside the camp, then on the third and seventh days purify themselves and their captives, according to Numbers 19:11-12. Also they must purify garments made of leather, everything woven of goats' hair and everything made of wood (v.20). These are specially emphasized, though in verses 22 and 23 it is indicated that all the spoil was to be purified. Metals were to be put through the fire for this purpose, but anything that might be consumed by fire was to be purified by water.
We might consider an analogy here. In our present condition on earth believers need the washing of water by the Word of God to purify us from moral and spiritual defilement (John 13:10; Eph.5:25-16), but at the judgment seat of Christ our works will be tested by fire (1 Cor.3:12-13). Gold, silver, precious stones will endure the test and will be rewarded. In fact, the fire will only refine the gold and silver and enhance the beauty of the precious stones. The gold speaks of the glory of God, and thus everything that has been done for God's glory will remain after passing through the fire. In fact, what believers have done for Christ will not only remain for eternity, but will be fully purified and beautified by the fire of God's holiness. The silver pictures the truth of redemption, telling us that anything done because of our appreciation of Christ's sacrifice will remain and be rewarded. Precious stones, which beautifully reflect the light, remind us of the fruit of the Spirit of God as He is reflected in believers' lives. If our works should be merely "wood, hay and straw" these will be burned, for they speak of things not evil in themselves, but useless for God. The first three give evidence of the work of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, which is done in the believer. The faithful believer gets the reward, though it is God's work that has produced the good works.
Israel needed purification because of the great victory they were given over Midian. What a reminder for us today! If we have been used by God to accomplish real work for Him, this is no reason for self-satisfaction, but the opposite. We need then the purification of true self-judgment by the Word of God to preserve us from the pride that soon attacks us after any victorious experience. Only after being purified the third and seventh days could the men of war then return to camp (v.24).
THE PLUNDER SHARED
The soldiers did not take the plunder as they pleased, for it belonged to the Lord who gave instructions to Moses that he and Eleazar and the chief fathers of the congregation should supervise how the plunder was to be shared (vs.1-2). This would guard against any charge that might arise as to favoritism or dishonesty.
The plunder was to be divided in two parts, one for those who went to battle, the other for the rest of the congregation. Of the amount given to the men of war a tribute was to be taken amounting to one of every 500 persons and of the cattle, donkeys and sheep. This was given to Eleazar the priest as a heave offering to the Lord (vs.28-29).
From the share given to the congregation there were to be one of every 50 of all these taken and given to the Levites (v.30).
The total number then is seen in verses 35-36: 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women, and we see this divided (vs.36-47) in the way the Lord commanded.
There is teaching here for us today. All that has been gained in the Church by warfare for the Lord will be shared by all. Those who are foremost in the battle -- apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, etc. will receive a full reward, but those less prominent will not be forgotten, while the Lord too will be given His place of true recognition. It was He who gave the victory and He who alone enables His saints for every work for Him, but He delights to share the spoils with all who love Him.
A SPECIAL OFFERING FOR THE LORD
After the spoil had been divided as the Lord decided, the officers of the army unitedly came to Moses (v.48) to tell him they had taken a count of all the men of war who went to the battle and found that there was not a man missing. It was so unusual to have no casualties out of 12,000 men who had killed a tremendous number in battle, that the officers could only recognize that it was the Lord who had preserved them in the way.
Therefore they brought a voluntary offering to the Lord of gold ornaments, armlets, rings and necklaces that they had taken from Midian (vs.49-50). When this was weighed it amounted to 16,750 shekels which would be about 700 pounds or a little over. At present prices (Dec.1994) the value of this is $4,210,000. Since this was offered to the Lord, Moses and Eleazar brought it into the tabernacle as a memorial.
A PROPOSAL OF COMPROMISE
The children of Israel being now east of the Jordan River, the land there appealed to the tribes of Reuben and Gad particularly because they had great possessions of livestock and the land appeared to be for raising them (v.1). They came therefore to Moses to petition him to allow them to settle in that land (vs.2-5). Long before this Lot thought he could trust the sight of his eyes (Gen.13:10-11), so that he did not need to think of the Lord's guidance, but his own choice led him into deep trouble. Abram depended on the Lord to lead him and was preserved.
But we do not easily learn by the experiences of others though we may be well acquainted with them. Moses answered them very strongly. Though he was not to go over the Jordan himself, but would die, he was concerned about the nation God had used him to lead out of Egypt. He wanted no part-way measures.
Moses asked them would they settle down where it seems comfortable for them when the other tribes go to war across the Jordan (v.6). This would tend to discourage the children of Israel (v.7). It was really the same thing that Israel had done when the spies had brought back the report of the land nearly 40 years before. They refused to go into the land of Canaan.
Moses reminds them that the Lord's anger was aroused against Israel then, declaring that none of those of Israel over 20 years of age at the time would ever enter the land, except Caleb and Joshua, who had fully followed the Lord (vs.10-11).
Now all of these had died, as the Lord had said, but Moses tells the men that they, a new generation, had arisen, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord. For if now they will not go over Jordan, God would once again leave Israel to wander in the wilderness, and the men of Reuben and Gad would be responsible for Israel's destruction (vs.14-15).
To apply this occasion to ourselves today, it is all too obvious that there are many believers who appreciate the gospel and the elementary truths of Christianity, yet have not the exercise of soul to understand and value their inheritance in heavenly places.
A PROMISE TO FIGHT IN CANAAN BEFORE SETTLING DOWN
When Moses strongly reproved Reuben and Gad for wanting to settle on the east side of Jordan, these tribes expressed themselves before Moses as being willing to have their men go over Jordan to help their brethren to defeat the inhabitants of Canaan before coming back to settle in Gilead. They said they would first build sheep folds for their flocks and cities for their women and children to remain in while the men went over Jordan to battle (vs.16-17). Only when the other tribes had received their inheritance would they return to Gilead (v.19).
Moses responded favorably to this, telling them that if they would keep their promise in having all their armed men go over Jordan to fight with the rest of Israel till all were established in the land, then they would be blameless, and could return to settle in Gilead (vs.20-22). Yet he warned them that if they did not carry out their promise they had sinned against the Lord and they could be sure their sin would find them out. God would deal with them in righteous government. But Moses gave them permission to build in Gilead as they had requested (vs.21-24).
When these two tribes confirmed this promise, Moses commanded Eleazar and Joshua concerning this, that if the armed men of Gad and Reuben would fight in Canaan until the other tribes were established, then Gad and Reuben could settle in Gilead (vs.28-29). If they did not do so, then they would be required to have a possession in Canaan (v.30), which would require their fighting for that possession. Moses knew that he himself would not enter the land, so it was necessary for Eleazar and Joshua to be fully informed of this.
LAND ALLOTTED TO THE TWO AND A HALF TRIBES
In verse 33 one half of the tribe of Manasseh is included with the tribes of Gad and Reuben when we are told of Moses giving to them the country east of the Jordan.
Before crossing the Jordan there was time enough given them to build cities for their families. Gad built nine fortified cities (vs.34-36); Reuben built six cities; some of Manesseh conquered the area of Gilead from the Amorites, so were given this as their inheritance; others took the small surrounding towns while others still took Kenah and its villages.
However, although Moses made a concession in allowing these two and a half tribes their portion east of Jordan, there is still a serious lesson for us to learn in this whole history. They were strongly influenced by the sight of their eyes and actually settled down on the wrong side of Jordan. It is a picture of true believers being content to settle down without the spiritual exercise of learning the truth of death with Christ (as the crossing of the Jordan teaches), and therefore not enjoying the truth of being now "blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph.1:3). How many there are in this condition today!
THE REVIEW OF ISRAEL'S JOURNEY FROM EGYPT
Just as, at the judgment seat of Christ, there will be a review of all our history here on earth, so we find now a review of Israel's journey from the time they left Egypt. It is noted that Moses wrote the record of these things at the command of the Lord (v.2) and it is quite evident that Moses was the writer of all of Numbers and also of Deuteronomy except the last chapter, or at least the last nine verses of that chapter.
Israel left Rameses the day after the passover, when Egypt was engaged in the monumental task of burying their firstborn (vs.3-4). They encamped at Succoth first, and then Etham before coming to Pi Hahiroth and Magdol, still within Egypt on the shore of the Red Sea. Then they crossed the Red Sea and began the long journey through the wilderness. It appears they moved and encamped 44 times in these years. This is much more than people usually move from one house to another in a period of forty years. It is amazing that God brought so tremendous a company with their livestock and other possessions through that long period of travel by the hand of one chosen leader! Why did they not disperse and go in whatever direction each one pleased, as people normally would? The only answer is in the overruling power of God.
GOD'S COMMAND TO FULLY POSSESS CANAAN
Since Israel was near the time of entering Canaan, the Lord gave plain directions to Moses that the time of entering Canaan, the Lord gave plain directions to Moses that when Israel crossed the Jordan, they must drive out all the inhabitants of the land, to destroy all their engraved stones -- objects of idolatry -- and molded images, as well as their high places, places of the idol worship (vs.50-53) The land had become saturated with idolatry, the iniquity of the inhabitants was full. It may sound like heartless cruelty to thus totally destroy these people, but God knew they were living in satanic slavery and death in such a case was mercy.
The land was to be divided by lot, in sizes comparative to the size of families, but the locations left to God's decision. For "the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (Prov.16:33). The tribes were not to be intermingled, however, but all the individuals to remain within the boundaries of their own tribes (v.54).
Israel is warned, however, that if they failed to drive out the inhabitants of the land, those inhabitants would become "irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell" (v.55). Israel might be inclined to show leniency to these people, having a false sense of what is true kindness, but when God had spoken, then disobedience in this way would recoil on their own heads. In fact, God would make Israel suffer in the way He intended to deal with their enemies (v.56). It is a lesson for us. If we allow evil spirits to keep us from the proper enjoyment of the heavenly possession that God has provided for us, we shall suffer in this life as though we were enemies of God. Thank God, this does not involve the question of eternity, but present governmental results of disobedience will be painful. Let us dispossess every enemy who seeks to hinder our practical possession of that which God has ordained to be the possession of those redeemed by the blood of Christ.
BOUNDARIES OF ISRAEL'S INHERITANCE
The Lord now defines the boundaries of the land that Israel was to inherit at the time. For the area then was made smaller than it will be in Millennium, when it will extend from the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates River (Gen.15:18). There is no doubt that all the names and places involved in these boundaries have spiritual significance, but we can only pass them over through lack of needed intelligence.
Yet though in glory our own inheritance will be much larger than at present, we are told now the limits of our present inheritance, for it is bounded by the truth of the Word of God which does not allow us fanciful interpretations or additions concocted by our own minds. To actually possess in practice what God has given us will require all our time and spiritual energy, so that it would be folly to try to add to what God gives. On the other hand, it is spiritual laziness to neglect taking possession of what God has given.
LEADERS IN THE DlVIDING OF THE LAND
Eliezer and Joshua were signified now as being over the work of dividing the land. Eliezer mentioned first speaks of priestly grace, while Joshua stands for firm authority, both of which are vitally important. Then a leader from each tribe was chosen, so that there was an orderly arrangement designed by the Lord.
In the Church of God today the Lord designs no less an order among His people, not by official appointment, but the vital power of the Spirit of God who dwells in every believer personally and in the Church collectively. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 12 we are told of diversities of gifts in the body of Christ, yet working by the Spirit's power in wonderful unity. "One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as he wills" (v.11).
Worship today also is to be by the Spirit of God (Phil.3:3) and "in 1 Corinthians 14 shows an assembly locally coming together for ministry, with each brother free to be led by the Spirit of God as to what part to take. At the end an appeal is made to every conscience, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (v.40). This will certainly be true where there is submission of heart to the Lord to allow the Spirit of God to lead, for His order is far better than any order of pre-arrangement.
CITIES GIVEN TO THE LEVITES
The Levites had no tribal possession, but were to be scattered among the tribes so as to serve and teach the ways of the Lord (Deut.33:10). Therefore the tribes were required to give cities to the Levites where they might have tribes were required to give cities to the Levites where they might have land around the cities where they could care for their livestock (vs.1-3). Among these cities six were to be appointed as cities of refuge (v.6), and 42 were to be added to these, making 48 in all. The number of cities in each tribe depended on the size of the tribe, some having more, some having less to give to the Levites (vs.7-8). The Levites being present in all the tribes ought to have served to maintain unity in Israel, through their presence did not preserve the tribes from division in the time of Rehoboam (1 kings 12:1-23). In fact, sad to say, there seemed to be little realization among the Levites themselves of the great dignity conferred on them in being chosen by God for the work given them, and rather than being drawn together in unity, we see in the book of judges an independent spirit in Levites that only sought their own will (Judges 17:7-13; 19:1-2).
SIX CITIES OF REFUGE
Verse 6 has told us these six cities belonged to the Levites. The name of these cities are found in Joshua 20. A refuge was in this way provided for one who had accidentally killed a person, for it might well be that a relative or friend of the victim would seek retaliation by killing the person responsible. In that city that person would be safe until such time as there was an investigation into the case. If it proved to be a case of actual murder, he must be delivered up to the avenger (vs..9-12).
Three of the cities were to be appointed on the east of the Jordan River and three on the west (v.14). But a deliberate murderer could not count on the protection of the city of refuge. If one struck another with an iron instrument, or stone or wooden weapon purposely, this was murder and the murderer was to be sentenced to death (vs.16-18). In fact, the avenger of blood was to put the murderer to death (v.19).
If a case was not fully clear as to whether there was intent to cause harm or not, when the manslayer came to the city of refuge, "then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments" (v.24). "There judgments" involve the question of whether the case was one of murder, as seen in verses 16-21, or whether it was unintentional manslaughter, as in verses 22-23.
The slayer was safe inside the city until this judgment took place. Then, if the person was found guilty of murder he was to be delivered to the avenger of blood, who was to put him to death. If not found guilty, he was to be allowed to remain in the city of refuge without fear of death. Then he must remain there until the death of the high priest, for if found outside the city, the avenger of blood was allowed to kill him.
After the death of the high priest he could return to his own home, and would be safe from any reprisal by the avenger of blood (vs.25-28).
All of this emphasizes God's care for the life of mankind. But there is here also a typical lesson as regards Israel's guilt in the death of the Lord Jesus. While on the cross He pled, "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). Thus, Israel was given the benefit of whatever doubt there might be, not considered as guilty of murder but of unintentional manslaughter. Certainly there were some who proved to be murderers, as Stephen witnesses in Acts 7:52. However, for centuries now Israel has been allowed to remain in a refuge and will not be free until the time typified by the death of the high priest.
In the Numerical Bible (Numbers -- Page 519) F.W.Grant writes, "Through shut out from their inheritance in the meantime, the time will come in which they (Israel) shall be restored to it. And that time will be when the priesthood of the Lord as now exercised in heaven shall be at an end, and He shall come forth, Priest and King in one, to bring in the times of the restitution of which the prophets speak. This, then, would seem to answer to the death of the high priest, while it may be none the less true that His being 'anointed with the holy oil' here points Him out as the One whose work has been to make atonement. The special high priestly work of 'the day of atonement' would seem referred to, with its ordinance of the scapegoat and its blessing for Israel, when He who went into the holy place comes forth. It is on the day of atonement that the trumpet of jubilee sounds, and every man returns to his possession."
In the New Testament the willful murderer, even today, is indicated in Hebrews 10:26: "If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation." Verse 29 shows this refers to one who "has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace." One therefore who has a malicious attitude toward the Lord Jesus, after having been intellectually enlightened as to Christ's own character, shows himself guilty of the murder of the Son of God.
MARRIAGE OF FEMALE HEIRS
The daughters of Zelophehad had before been assured of inheriting the possession of their father who had died. The problem remained for his tribe (Manasseh) as to whether these daughters might be married to husbands of a different tribe. God gave the answer that these daughters must not marry outside their own tribe. In the Church of God today there are no tribes, for it is "one body," but believers are warned not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (2 Cor.6:14), a matter that every believer should carefully observe. It is good that these young women submitted to these instructions, and married within their tribe.
Numbers ends with the insistence that these judgments were given by the Lord to the children of Israel by the hand of Moses.