All of us will face trying times that will reveal who we really are, our character. The Torah reading בְּמִדְבַּר Bamidbar (“in the wilderness”) over Num. 1:1–4:20 takes us along with our ancient ancestors in faith on a journey toward true rest God provides. That’s a trek that’s as relevant now as it was then.
The usual complementary reading, or haftarah, is Hos. 2:1-22.
Read and listen to the following studies and discussions by teachers Richard, Daniel and Jeff.
Overview of Numbers
The book of Numbers is more than just a collection of long lists of numbers of people in the tribes and families of Israel and of places where the people camped for 40 years. It shows us how God prepares His people then and now to move forward into the tasks He has for them. Numbers contains lessons of character refinement of a people.
Num. 1:1-16 foretells Yeshua’s burden, the burden He tried to give up three times in the garden before His crucifixion (Matt. 26:39–44). That message is embedded in the meanings of the names of the tribes and clans, and that message becomes clear when the meanings are read together.
The lists of numbers in the book of Numbers can be somewhat overwhelming. The first chapters are talking about how they are to count and assemble an army, not the entire community. We don’t pay attention to Numbers 1 because it is “just a bunch of names and a bunch of numbers,” but these were real men who had to be ready to fight in a real war (Num. 1:17-54).
Were there hundreds of thousands or thousands in the army of Israel?
The book of Numbers immediately starts out with a census, with lots of numbers. The book is named very well. If you just think of numbers for the sake of numbers, this chapter is very easy to skip. However, there are some important lessons we can glean from this chapter. First, notice the names of the heads of these families. Many of them have the name of “El” or “Shaddai” in their own names. This shows us that they know. [part 1, part 2]
Some have asserted that the huge numbers of people listed in various places in Exodus and Numbers are impossible or unlikely for a number of real-world reasons. Rather than exegesis — a critical examination of a text from the text — this is eisegesis — a critical examination of a text from considerations outside the text.
Numbers 1 told us the names of the leaders of the tribes of Israel and the numbers of their fighting men. Numbers 2 places them in rank and shows us how they were strategically camped around the Tabernacle and in what order they are to move in case of danger or battle. The names of these men not only shows us how the Messiah fights His own battle but how God’s army is going to fight His battle.
For many, the book of Numbers is the most boring book of the Bible because it seems to focus so much on numbers. God did not put this book in the Bible to bore us but to educate us.
Even if you aren’t a literal descendant of Aaron this chapter is about you. If you are joined to the High Priest Messiah Yeshua, you are joined, in a spiritual sense to the priestly Levites. Numbers 3 tells you how.
God is careful to make sure that holy things are treated with respect and covered up. Anyone who touched a holy thing unworthily would die. However, if God’s holy people — His assembly — sins, that sin will be uncovered and dealt with by Him. He will make sure it’s exposed. However, if someone is falsely accused, He will vindicate them too.
The inner sanctuary items were so holy that the sons of Aaron had to cover them before the Levites could come an carry them away. The chapter goes on to mention the names of the families of Levi who were designated to perform the various tasks of the sanctuary. Chapter 5 seems to take a divergent path with instructions on how a jealous husband can find out whether his wife committed adultery. In chapter 6, that will be a little more clear.
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