|BIBLE STUDY SERIES #302, 303 and 304|
7 September, 1997
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which began several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram, in Genesis 12, has continued with occasional digressions, down the scriptural passages in succession, to our recent focus in Numbers 1. Today, we again approach the Scripture passage found in Numbers 1:1-47, and before we read further passages, we might do well to review briefly what we covered last week. and the over-all message of this, the fourth Book in the Bible.
The New Bible Commentary, which we quoted in part in our last study forms a useful introduction to today's work also. It says: "Actually this book is of very great significance for the Christian. Like the Israelites, he has come out of Egypt, the region of slavery and oppression. He has been born again through the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary just as they were redeemed by the special power of God, as demonstrated in the Passover which marked their departure from Egypt. Like them he looks forward to entering into full possession of all the promises of God. But at present he is a pilgrim and a stranger, with a wilderness journey to pass through before he enters the Promised Land." Here the Commentary draws attention to the New Testament passages in I Peter 2:11, Hebrews 11: 8-16, and 12:1, and we might at this point read those references. I Peter 2:11 says "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" Hebrews 11:8-16 says:
8. By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
9. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10. For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
11. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
12. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.
13. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
14. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
16. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
I believe the last verse forms the basis of the motto of the Order of Canada, and has also, through that connection, very recently come to be incorporated into the Canadian Coat of Arms.(* See footnote at the end of this broadcast)
Those who do, in fact, "desire a better country", according to that Scripture passage are all Israelites, incidentally!
Hebrews 12:1 adds to the above passage the words: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us."
This Commentary obviously takes a more personal focus in deriving spiritual lessons for the individual Christian from the situation portrayed. However, without diminishing in any way the benefits of such an approach, I feel constrained to point out that, as we of the British-Israel-World Federation continually maintain on very good evidence, the bulk of the literal descendants of these same ancient Israelitish tribes today form the generally Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred peoples, so that there is a very important national focus to the Biblical message likewise present, and great light may thus be shed on the prophetic sense of these Scriptures in general, which most Bible teachers now totally ignore, to the detriment of their flocks, and particularly to those who are related to these ancient tribes, and who might thus obtain a parallel further interest in the subject matter which we are studying. To place the matter bluntly, such an approach deprives the modern descendants of these Israelite tribes of a full knowledge and appreciation of their national and racial roots, at the very time when many other peoples today are being stimulated and encouraged to seeking out for themselves their national and racial roots on every hand. We trust our own studies in this series will go some way towards rectifying that deplorable situation. That being said, let us now return to the Commentary notes.
Regarding our passage in Numbers 1, The New Bible Commentary continues: "There are three reasons why the book is important for our study. First, it enables us to know the history of God's dealings with Israel at this vital stage of its progress. We learn from it many important facts of history, and we come to understand something of God's methods as we see what He did during the forty years described in the book. Secondly, it gives us background for understanding the many allusions to its history and its laws which occur in later sections of the Bible. Thirdly, it is particularly rich in spiritual lessons for the Christian, who is, as we have seen, in a stage of experience which corresponds exactly to that of the nation of Israel in the wilderness. The book is full of vital illustration and precept to guide the Christian in his journey. It presents the resources available to him, and shows the internal and external dangers which he must face. Numbers contains three types of material: historical, describing events that occur; legal, presenting enactments that were intended to be observed by Israel throughout its history; and a third type, which stands between these two, consisting of regulations applying only to the wilderness journey, and statistical material of historical interest."
Keil and Delitzsch have several introductory pages relating a brief outline of the entire Book of Numbers, and I think that it will prove so useful to us in this study that it ought to be quoted, at least in part. As the passage is too long to read all at one time, I shall have to read just the first portion of it today, and leave the remainder for our next study.
That reference states of this Book of Numbers that it "narrates the guidance of Israel through the desert, from Mount Sinai to the border of Canaan by the river Jordan, and embraces the whole period from the second month of the second year after the exodus from Egypt to the tenth month of the fortieth year. As soon as their mode of life in a spiritual point of view had been fully regulated by the laws of Leviticus, the Israelites were to enter upon their journey to Canaan, and take possession of the inheritance promised to their fathers. But just as the way from Goshen to Sinai was a preparation of the chosen people for their reception into the covenant with God, so the way from Sinai to Canaan was also a preparation for the possession of the promised land. On their journey through the wilderness the Israelites were to experience on the one hand the faithful watchfulness and gracious deliverance of their God in every season of distress and danger, as well as the stern severity of the divine judgments upon the despisers of their God, that they might learn thereby to trust entirely in the Lord, and strive after His kingdom alone; and on the other hand they were to receive during their journey the laws and ordinances relating to their civil and political constitution, and thereby to be placed in a condition to form and maintain themselves as a consolidated nation by the side of and in opposition to the earthly kingdoms formed by the nations of the world, and to fulfil the task assigned them by God in the midst of the nations of the earth. These laws, which were given in part at Sinai, in relation to the external and internal organization of the tribes of Israel as the army and the congregation of Jehovah, and in part on various occasions during the march through the desert, as well as after their arrival in the steppes of Moab, on the other side of the Jordan opposite to Jericho, with especial reference to the conquest of Canaan and their settlement there, are not only attached externally to the history itself in the order in which they were given, but are so incorporated internally into the historical narrative, according to their peculiar character and contents, as to form a complete whole, which divides itself into three distinct parts corresponding to the chronological development of the history itself."
At this point, the reference gives the details of this sub-division of the Book of Numbers in a comprehensive, yet quite straight-forward account which might further our understanding as we progress in our study. Today, we will not have time to read about these in greater detail, so we will save that aspect for the next study.
We have read the passages of Scripture found in Numbers 1:1-19, and 20-47 as parts of the last two studies, so we will just note at this time that those verses may be found in your Bible if you want to refer back to them when we come to make further comments on the numbers within each tribe at this census, and the tribal arrangement in the camp of Israel in the wilderness.
In all these studies, we seek to bring to our listening audience some further understanding of God's Holy Word for today, as these passages do have age-long significance for Christians at the present time in which we live. May this be a part of your meditations this coming week.
[The Canadian Coat of Arms was augmented, July 12, 1994, to include a circular red ribbon,
bearing the words "desiderantes meliorem patriam"]
14 September, 1997
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which began several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram, in Genesis 12, has continued with occasional digressions, down the scriptural passages in succession, to our recent focus in Numbers 1. The first part of Numbers 1 was read on an earlier study, and briefly, it was a roll-call census of each of the tribes of Israel, made before setting out from Mount Sinai for The Promised Land. We had found that it would be of benefit to consult some recognized Commentaries in order to gain an appreciation of the overall plan of this, the fourth Book in our Bible. Today, we again approach that Scripture passage found in Numbers 1:1-47, and before we read further I want to complete a passage of commentary taken from Keil and Delitzsch.
Keil and Delitzsch have written of the significant spiritual aspects of the Book of Numbers, and explained that the Book divides itself into three parts. They now continue in these words: "The first part, which extends from chap. i.-x. 10, contains the preparations for departing from Sinai, arranged in four groups:- viz. (1) the outward arrangement and classification of the tribes in the camp and on their march, or the numbering and grouping of the twelve tribes around the sanctuary of their God (chap. i. and ii.), and the appointment of the Levites in the place of the first-born of the nation to act as servants of the priests in the sanctuary (chap. iii. and iv.); (2) the internal or moral and spiritual organization of the nation as the congregation of the Lord, by laws relating to the maintenance of the cleanliness of the camp, restitution for trespasses, conjugal fidelity, the fulfilment of the vow of the Nazarite, and the priestly blessing (chap. v. and vi.); (3) the closing events at Sinai, viz. the presentation of dedicatory offerings on the part of the tribe princes for the transport of the tabernacle and the altar service (chap. vii.), the consecration of the Levites (chap. viii.), and the feast of Passover, with an arrangement for a supplementary Passover (chap. ix. 1-14); (4) the appointment of signs and signals for the march in the desert (chap. ix. 5-x. 10)."
As we proceed, we note the next part of their commentary, which says: "In the second part (chap. x. 11-xxi.), the history of the journey is given in the three stages of its progress from Sinai to the heights of Pisgah, near to the Jordan, viz. (1) from their departure from the desert of Sinai (chap. x. 11-36) to their arrival at the desert of Paran, at Kadesh, including the occurrences at Tabeerah, at the graves of lust, and at Hazeroth (chap. xi. and xii.), and the events at Kadesh which led God to condemn the people who had revolted against Him to wander in the wilderness for forty years, until the older generation that came out of Egypt had all died (chap. xiii. and xiv.); (2) all that is related of the execution of this divine judgment, extending from the end of the second year to the reassembling of the congregation at Kadesh at the beginning of the fortieth year, is the history of the rebellion and destruction of Korah (chap. xvi.-xvii. 15), which is preceded by laws relating to the offering of sacrifices after entering Canaan, to the punishment of blasphemers, and to mementos upon the clothes (chap. xv.), and followed by the divine institution of the Aaronic priesthood (chap. xvii. 16-28), with directions as to the duties and rights of the priests and Levites (chap. xviii.), and the law concerning purification from uncleanness arising from contact with the dead (chap. xix.); (3) the journey of Israel in the fortieth year from Kadesh to Mount Hor, round Mount Seir, past Moab, and through the territory of the Amorites to the heights of Pisgah, with the defeat of the kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og, and the conquest of their kingdoms in Gilead and Bashan (chap. xx. and xxi.). In the third part (chap. xxii.-xxxvi.), the events which occurred in the steppes of Moab, on the eastern side of the plain of Jordan, are gathered into five groups, with the laws that were given there, viz. (1) the attempts of the Moabites and Midianites to destroy the people of Israel, first by the force of Balaam's curse, which was turned against his will into a blessing (chap. xxii.-xxiv.), and then by the seduction of the Israelites to idolatry (chap. xxv.); (2) the fresh numbering of the people according to their families (chap. xxvi.), together with a rule for the inheritance of landed property by daughters (chap. xxvii. 1-11), and the appointment of Joshua as the successor of Moses (chap. xxvii. 12-23); (3) laws relating to the sacrifices to be offered by the congregation on the Sabbath and feast days, and to the binding character of vows made by dependent persons (chap. xxviii.-xxx.); (4) the defeat of the Midianites (chap. xxxi.), the division of the land that had been conquered on the other side of the Jordan among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh (chap. xxxii.), and the list of the halting-places (chap. xxxiii. 1-49); (5) directions as to the expulsion of the Canaanites, the conquest of Canaan and division of it among the tribes of Israel, the Levites and free cities, and the marriage of heiresses (chap. xxxiii. 50-xxxvi.)."
Well, that is quite a long passage to take in at one time, yet it forms a most concise and useful summary account of the contents of the whole Book of Numbers, and hence, I felt that it ought to be included in our study, and also thus appear as part of the script which is printed in The Prophetic Expositor, our small free-distribution magazine, for future reference. Having thus scanned the over-view, let us save the quotation of the next Scripture passage for a following study as we move towards a more direct look at the contents of the first section wherein we read of the tribal demographic picture of each of the tribes of Israel at this time. Under the heading "Exposition: I Preparations for the Departure of Israel from Sinai - Chap. I 1-x. 10.", we find that Keil and Delitzsch head their comments at this point with the first sub-heading "Numbering of the people of Israel at Sinai - Chap. I. - IV."
If one had only a brief look at the matter, one might, of course, rather superficially ask oneself of what especial benefit it was to include this rather dry statistical listing at the very beginning of a national history. Indeed, why take this census at all? If taken, why place this apparently uninviting material at the position in the narrative wherein a good writer might be expected to place an account of some spectacular event or even some deeds of passion or vigorous activity which would attract the mind, drawing in the reader to imaginary participation in the recorded events. A great national event was underway. Movement of multitudes was about to be initiated. If some "action" were to lead off the account, one might consider the structure of the work to hold greater attention and interest. However, even a moment's reflection will show us that any leader of a large number of people, even a moderately prepared one, would not likely presume to guide them towards a desert journey of some length without a great deal of knowledge concerning the numbers which would need provisions of various sorts along the way, both for themselves and, because in this instance they were a pastoral people, for their flocks and herds as well.
Let us, then, read something of what Keil and Delitzsch have to say at this point concerning those numbers. They write: "Four weeks after the erection of the tabernacle... Moses had the number of the whole congregation taken, by the command of God, according to the families and fathers' houses of the twelve tribes, and a list made of all the males above twenty years of age for service in the army of Jehovah... . Nine months before, the numbering of the people had taken place for the purpose of collecting atonement-money from every male of twenty years old and upwards... and the result was 603,550, the same number as is given here as the sum of all that were mustered in the twelve tribes... . This correspondence in the number of the male population after the lapse of a year is to be explained, as we have already observed at Ex. xxx. 16, simply from the fact that the result of the previous census, which was taken for the purpose of raising head-money from everyone who was fit for war, was taken as the basis of the mustering of all who were fit for war, which took place after the erection of the tabernacle; so that, strictly speaking, this mustering merely consisted in the registering of those who had been numbered in the public records, according to their families and fathers' houses. It is most probable, however, that the numbering and registering took place according to the classification adopted at Jethro's suggestion for the administration of justice, viz. in thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens (Ex. xviii. 25), and that the number of men in the different tribes was reckoned in this way simply by thousands, hundreds, and tens, - a conclusion which we may draw from the fact, that there are no units given in the case of any of the tribes. On this plan the supernumerary units might be used to balance the changes that had taken place in the actual condition of the families and fathers' houses, between the numbering and the preparation of the muster-rolls, so that the few changes that had occurred in the course of nine months among those who were fit for war were not taken any further into consideration, on account of their being so inconsiderable in relation to the total result. A fresh census was taken 38 years later in the steppes of Moab (chap. xxvi.), for the division of the land of Canaan among the tribes according to the number of their families (chap. xxxiii. 54). We shall see later what that result was, and the significance of the changes which had taken place in the interim.
In God's word all numbers found in Scripture can have a significance both prophetic and spiritual, and we may be able to show this in a future study.
21 September, 1997
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which began several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram, in Genesis 12, has continued the examination of the succeeding scriptural passages in succession, down to our recent focus in Numbers, chapter 1. Today, we are looking at some of the words in the closing passage of that chapter, and we will see here that God's Law is important, and must be observed if we expect to receive a blessing. Also, those "dry numbers" which were reported in the census do have a contribution to make to us, as we will yet see, when we compare them with those listed elsewhere in scripture. Let us now read Numbers 1:46 and 47.
46. Even all they that were numbered were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty.
The Companion Bible yields a significant thought to us at this verse. Of the words "all they". it states "The number in Ex. 12.37 ("about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children") who left Egypt, is not "exaggerated", as the number listed here in Numbers 1:46 had increased since then; moreover, the number quoted here coincides with the numbers of the silver half-shekels, (called bekah, or shekel of the sanctuary), which had to be contributed by them as redemption money, "a ransom for their soul" in Ex. 30.14 when being numbered, and given in Numbers 38:25, 26, before the tabernacle was set up. For those with a calculator handy, that amount was "an hundred talents, and a thousand seven hundred and three score and fifteen shekels after the shekel of the sanctuary." The talent contained 3,000 shekels or 6,000 half-shekels, so 100 of these would equate to 600,000 half-shekels. Add to that the thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels, and these make up the total of 603,550 men. That total, incidentally, was the exact requirement of silver when preparing the tabernacle sockets and pillar chapiters and hooks for the tabernacle pillars. We continue with verse 47:
47. But the Levites after the tribe of their fathers were not numbered among them.
The significant wording here is "among them", that is, among the other tribes. The Levites were not numbered here with the nation, as The Companion Bible notes, but they were numbered separately in the next chapter, chapter 3.14-29, because the following two chapters will be dealing with the Levitical duties which The LORD assigned to that tribe.
48. For the LORD had spoken unto Moses, saying,
49. Only thou shalt not number the tribe of Levi, neither take the sum of them among the children of Israel:
50. But thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: they shall bear the tabernacle, and all the vessels thereof; and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle.
51. And when the tabernacle setteth forward, the Levites shall take it down: and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.
Here, The Companion Bible comments that this would probably be done by Jehovah Himself, and we are guided to compare this statement with what occurred in I Chronicles 13:10. When we look up that scripture, we find the account of the death of Uzza. You may remember that when King David had received the loyal support of hundreds of thousands of the men of Israel after the death of King Saul, he consulted with their leaders, and decided to bring The Ark of the Covenant from Kirjath-jearim to the city of David, in what is today Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, although the motivation of David and all the priests and people was well intentioned, the details of the method were contrary to God's Law. (One might say that King David, the priests and the leaders gathered with him did not read the "fine print" in God's ancient Levitical Law.) Today, many Christians think that the details of that same Law given to Moses in ancient days, and found in the Old Testament, and particularly the Levitical Laws which we have been examining so carefully, are superseded, and therefore that they are no longer applicable to themselves today. This was apparently the attitude taken by David and the leaders of Israel with whom he consulted. They apparently thought that a new day was dawning, and in venturing forward into it, they wanted God to be among them in their new venture as a nation but in doing so, they disregarded the ancient details of God's Law. It was a deadly mistake.
The account in I Chronicles tells us that they laid the ark on a new cart, doubtless created especially for the occasion, hitched up some oxen, which were doubtless the finest available, and set off for their destination praising and glorifying The Almighty God, Who, as they supposed, would be mighty pleased that His people were so motivated, and minded to bring in a wonderful new world which would include Him as the centre and crowning glory of the nation. They did not reach it, for they had not read the fine print in God's ancient "out-of-date" Levitical Law, the same which we have held before our listeners these last few months and years! The people were singing with all their might, and praising God with harps and psalteries, and with timbrels and cymbals. It was a magnificent and yet serious occasion, of great religious significance, as they saw it.
You see, they had prepared a means of transport which looked good, but had a fatal flaw. The oxen came to the threshing floor of Chidom and stumbled. The priests were leading the oxen or escorting the cart along-side them as they moved. Uzza put forth his hand to steady the ark, and this was a fatal move. As I Chronicles 13:10 states, "And the anger of The LORD was kindled against Uzza, and He smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God."
You see, there was an ancient Law, given by Yahweh (Jehovah) to Moses, doubtless ignored by the authorities as completely impractical and out-of-date by King David's time. It was one of those little laws which we have carefully placed before our listeners as part of our present studies for, while the actual application is dated, the meaning is not. It is found in the provision of staves by which the ark was to be carried, in Exodus 25:14, when the ark was being prepared. In fact, The Companion Bible note at II Samuel 6:3 lists a number of references which we may study later, in which the matter is made perfectly plain. Numbers 4:15, to which we will shortly be moving gives such an instruction. So does Numbers 7:9, which specifies that the sons of Kohath were they to whom was delegated the solemn service of the sanctuary, namely "that they should bear upon their shoulders" the ark and other furniture of the sanctuary. In Numbers 10:21, the Kohathites did this on the march through the Wilderness of Sinai. Deuteronomy 10:8 and Joshua 3:14 supply additional confirmation of the will of The LORD in this regard. If it be objected that when the Philistines did place the ark on a new cart in order to return it to the Israelites in I Samuel 6:7-8, no judgment fell upon them, there is a logical reply. Our God is a just God, and the Philistines did not have the Law of Moses which was given to Israel. As they used such a conveyance in ignorance of God's Law, no judgment fell on them, but David should have known and paid attention to this Law, and hence judgment came upon the Israelite, Uzza.
In I Chronicles 15:2, 12-14, we read that David had learned an important lesson. I Chronicles 15:13 states David's words to the people: "For because ye did it not at the first, the LORD our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought Him not after the due order." In consequence of this lesson, verse 15 explains "And the children of the Levites bare the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the LORD."
True, the actual details of the ceremony as it then was carried out were to pass into history. In Jeremiah 3:16, after Israel has become "backsliding children", we see in his prophecy that the day will come when they will be told that LORD is married unto them, and then that verse tells us that "they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the LORD: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more." However, the LORD God is the same God Who was so particular as to the ceremonial symbolism as to execute someone who ventured to cross a forbidden boundary in attempting to accomplish the required service but ignoring God's command in so doing. He doubtless did this to inform us, in this, our own day, that He, Who is the same, yesterday, today, and for ever, is most exacting and very particular with regard to the obedience which we must observe to accord precisely with His Law. If we dismiss that Law, or accord it no place in our lives, let us never complain at the curses which befall our lives in consequence of that attitude. The satisfaction of the needs of sinners which was in old time met by the blood of animals sprinkled upon the mercy seat of the ark is today found in the Crucifixion of Jesus upon Calvary. His sacrifice is to be treated with just as great respect and show of reverence and appreciation as was the gracious provision of that preliminary form of the substitutionary sacrificial event at the Ark of the Covenant with its Mercy Seat so long ago.
As we of the British-Israel-World Federation continue to attest, it is important to realise that the generally Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred peoples today are largely the direct physical descendants of those ancient Israelites, and inheritors of these Laws in their national and racial roots. They have those grave responsibilities connected to the establishment of God's Kingdom here on earth. Let them be prepared as the wise virgins of Christ's parable, to participate. May this form a meditation for you this week.
RETURN TO BIBLE STUDY
RETURN TO B.I.W.F. HOME PAGE