Numbers 1-21

Preparation of the First Army



1. Summary

• God prepared the first generation of the Exodus to possess Canaan under Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership

• Despite beginning the march to Canaan with great hope, rebellion led to destruction of the first generation

2. Structure

-The first-generation army prepares to march (Num.1:1-10:10)
-The first-generation army fails in its march (Num.10:11-21:35)

I. Preparation of the First Army (1:1-10:10)

A. General Analysis

  • The army counted and ordered (Num.1:1-4:49)
  • The Tabernacle central and emphasized (Num.5:1-9:14)

B. Detailed Analysis

1.Preparing for the journey

In Exodus and Leviticus, Israel had been given detailed instructions about the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws that they were to follow. Equipped with the Book of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, and a priesthood to minister on their behalf, the nation was now ready to move off and enter the Promised Land. Before beginning their journey, however, God guided them in final preparations for their journey.

Preparation for the whole camp (Num.1-4)

Preparation for individuals (Num.5-8)

Preparation for the whole camp (Num.9-10)

a. Preparation for the whole camp (Num1-4)
-Count the warriors (Num.1)
-Arrange the tribes (Num.2)
-Care for the Tabernacle (Num.3-4)
The preparation centers around God and the symbols of His presence with them. In the first four chapters the tribes are arranged in battle order around the Tabernacle.

It was the dwelling place of God in the midst of the people…Much of the preparation of chapters 1-4, then, is devoted to religious instruction. The Israelites were being prepared to maintain the awesome presence of God in their midst. They were not simply packing and moving.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 129.[/footnote]

The book thus begins on a high note of national discipline. Israel is equipped for conquest, with the symbols of her charter and authority in her camp. In a sense, the message of the book appears here, for it is by discipline, self-control, and divine national regulation in obedience to its sovereign king that the Promised Land will be attained.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 52.[/footnote]

b. Preparations for individuals (Num.5-8)
-Put out the unclean (Num.5:1-4)
-Judge the guilty (Num.5:5-31)
-Separate yourselves: Nazarite vow (Num.6:1-27)
-Offer gifts (Num.7:1-88)
-Cleanse the Levites (Num.7:89-8:26)
Because of God’s presence in their midst, the people were to maintain clean and holy lives. The emphasis, then, in this section is on the cleansing of the camp. Located near the middle of this section and related to its requirements is the Aaronic blessing (Num.6:22-27).
c. Preparations for the whole camp (Num.9-10)
-Keep the Passover (Num.9:1-14)
-Follow your leaders (Num.9:15-10:10)
Near the conclusion of these first ten chapters is its climax – the celebration of the Passover. The rest of Numbers 9 emphasizes the role of the divine cloud over the tabernacle as an indication of God’s leadership throughout the people’s journeys. Final preparations were concerned with trumpet signals and their call to worship and war (Num.10:1-10).
Moses’ Message: Prepare corporately and individually to follow God in our final journey

2. Arrangement of Camp

As already stated, the Tabernacle is at the centre of the camp, to indicate the centrality and necessity of God’s presence. Israel’s army was to be like a wheel with all its spokes meeting in the Tabernacle hub. After stating the position of the camps with reference to the Tabernacle, the relative order of each group on the march is stated. Significantly, Judah is given precedence over Rueben. This is the first intimation of the leadership promised to Judah (Gen.49:8-10). To the east of the Tabernacle at the position of greatest honor were the living quarters of Moses and Aaron and their families. The Levites were to set up camp on the other three sides as a buffer between the Tabernacle and the other tribes (Num.1:53). The rest of the Israelites had to keep their distance from the sacred tent or face death.

The book also continues the important theme of God’s presence and his holiness. This may be observed in the care with which the text deals with the place of the Levites as guardians of God’s holiness (Num. 3), especially in their responsibility to transport the tabernacle and its furniture (Num.4). Many of the laws presented throughout Numbers are there to assure the purity of the camp.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 90.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: God’s presence in our midst is a comfort and a challenge as we prepare to enter the land He has promised us.

3. Worship

There is a strong emphasis on worship: its central position (Num.3:1-4:49), its order (Num.5:1-8:26), and its glory with the manifestation of the presence of God in the Shekinah (Num.9:1-23).
Moses’ Message: If we keep the proper worship of God central then we will be blessed with God’s presence.

4. Redemption of the firstborn

And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine. Because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the LORD (Num.3:12-13).

When God redeemed the firstborn of Israel at the Passover, He made a point of the fact that the spared firstborn of all Israel belonged to God. In Numbers 3 God laid claim to that which He was entitled. The firstborn represented the whole. In judging the firstborn of Egypt, God was really judging all of Egypt, and in saving the firstborn of Israel, God was in reality saving all of Israel. So in claiming the Levites to represent all the firstborn of Israel, in reality the Levites represent all of God’s people, and they are the ones that shall render the full-time special service before God, on behalf of all the people.
The Levites numbered 22,000 (Num.3:39). The total firstborn of all of the Israelites was 22,273 (Num.3:43). There were 273 firstborn more than the number of Levites. So God said, in order to make up for that lack, all of these two hundred and seventy three were to be redeemed by paying a certain amount of money. So they took five shekels for each one of them, called it redemption money, and gave it to Aaron and his sons to use for the care of the sanctuary. This shows us something of the concern of God, and the care He has for every one of those whom He has claimed for Himself, He will not overlook a one.
Moses’ Message: God’s gracious redemption in the past should lead to lives of obedient service.

5. The Nazarite (Num.6)

The Nazarite was one who would separate himself unto the Lord (Numbers 6). For a particular period of time he would be committed to a fulltime service of God. Nothing from the vine was to touch his lips, no razor should come upon his hair, he is not to come near a dead body. By abstaining from wine, the Nazarite was abstaining from physical pleasure in order to seek spiritual pleasure. By abstaining from hair-cutting, the Nazarite was abstaining from physical adornment in order to seek spiritual adornment. The word used here for “Nazarite” means “separated unto the Lord,” and seems to indicate, that during that time it would be understood that this person would probably relinquish other normal duties, and give himself full-time in some way to service and devotion to God.
Moses’ Message: Dedicate and consecrate yourselves to following God in this special commission to conquer the land.

6. Guidance on the March (Num.9:15-10:10)

With the centrality of the Tabernacle established, Moses introduced the march of Israel toward the Promised Land as a matter of following the presence of God associated with the Tabernacle. Two kinds of guidance were arranged: supernatural guidance by the glory cloud (Num.9:15-23) and orders given by blowing trumpets (Num.10:1-10).

This first section of Numbers has constructed a picture of an ideal Israel and of God dwelling in its midst. It has also provided the institutions to serve Israel’s vocation and the priesthood to provide a model for Israel’s behavior.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 53.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: Follow your divine and human leaders as you march on the land.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Substitution by ransom

The redemption money of Numbers 3 provides the background for us to understand the “ransom” language of the New Testament.

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matt.20:28).


2. Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus was ultimate Nazarite, who dedicated his whole life to courageous warfare and the holy service of God in order to secure the Promised Land for His people.

II. The Failed March of the First Generation Army (10:11-21:35)

A. General Analysis

  • They travel (Num.10:11-12:16)
  • They wander (Num.13:1-21:35)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Arriving/Departing Parallels

There are a number of interesting parallels between Israel’s arrival at Sinai and their departure.

Arrival at Sinai (Ex.19:1-2) Leaving Sinai ( Num.10:11)
Date provided (Ex.19:1) Date provided (Num.10:11)
Yahweh’s glory is manifest in form of a “cloud” (Ex.19:19) and fire (Ex.19:18) Yahweh’s glory manifested in form of cloud (Num.9:15-22) and fire (Num.9:15-16)
Yahweh’s presence heralded by trumpets (Ex.19:16-19) and can only approach the mountain when they hear ram’s horn (Ex.19:13) As they leave Sinai they are instructed to make trumpets (Num.10) for signaling from the tabernacle, Yahweh’s new abode (Num.10)

Moses was overjoyed at the sight of the divine cloud rising and leading the people. His great optimism was reflected in his prayer that God’s enemies would be scattered before them as they marched (v35).
Moses’ Message: If God is with us, who can be against us.

2. Early Travels and Early Complaints (Num.11:1-12:16)

-Complaints about hardships (Num.11:1-3)
-Complaints about meat (Num.11:4-35)
-Complaints about Moses’ authority (Num.12:1-16)[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 201.[/footnote] The bright optimism of chapter 10 is soon shattered by the stubborn rebellion of chapters 11 and 12, chapters which set the tone for much of what followed. Seven distinct episodes of grumbling and complaining are noted from chapters 11-21. The children of Israel complained:
• about the journey (Num.11:1-3);
• about the food (Num.11:4-6);
• about the giants (Num.13:33-14:3);
• about their leaders (Num.16:3);
• about divine judgment (Num.16:41);
• about the desert (Num.20:2-5);
• about the manna (Num.21:5; cf. Num.11:6).[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 145.[/footnote] What is at the root of the complaints is ingratitude and rebellion against God, which is met by the judgment of God (Num.11:1,20,34; 12:10).

The whole nation seemed inclined to rebellion. As the Israelites left Hazaroth and moved further into the desert of Paran (12:16), it was obvious they were not willingly following the Lord. Their destination was the promised land. But were they capable of following the promise?[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 133.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: Obey and inherit the promises or disobey and inherit judgment.

3. Wanderings and Rebellions (Num.13:1-19:22)[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Genesis to Joshua (RTS: Orlando).[/footnote]

Rebellion and Punishment at Kadesh (Num.13:1-14:45)
Pessimistic spies and discouraged people

Future Reminders (Num.15:1-31)
Remember the offerings

Rebellion against Sabbath (Num.15:32-36)

Future Reminders (Num.15:37-41)
Wear tassels to help remember God’s commands

Levitical Rebellion against Moses and Aaron (Num.16:1-50)

Future Reminders (Num.17:1-19:22)
Affirms the importance of Aaronic priesthood

Note the alternation between human rebellion and divine reminders
a. Catastrophic rebellion
The earlier complaints were an ominous portent of greater problems to come, because when spies were sent from Kadesh-Barnea to explore the Promised Land, the majority were convinced that Canaan could not be captured (Num.13:28–29). In spite of the protests of Caleb and Joshua, the Israelites refused to believe they could conquer the Promised Land. Angered by their response, God threatened to destroy the whole nation and start all over again with Moses (Num.14:12), but after Moses’ impassioned plea the Lord relented. Yet He did punish the nation by sentencing them to forty years of wandering in the desert, where the entire adult population would die (Num.14:32–34). Apart from a few further examples of failure and disobedience, chapters 15-21 contain very little information on what happened during the years of wandering. In a real sense they were years of void. Geographically, the people neither advanced nor retreated. Rather, they wandered aimlessly about the wilderness and desert areas between Kadesh and the Red Sea.
b. Future reminders
What we do find, however, as the literary structure above makes clear, is a number of chapters containing laws for future worship and life in Canaan. This would re-assure the people as a whole, that though one generation would certainly perish in the wilderness, God’s purposes would continue with a future generation of Israelites.

The laws of chapters 15-20 look to the future in the land and imply that the rebellion of a single generation cannot prevent God from fulfilling his promises to the patriarchs. Moses’ generation was forced to mark time in the desert, but God was undeterred. He was faithful to his promises to Abraham, even when the Israelites were faithless.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 134.[/footnote]

When the thirty-eight years of judgment and punishment ended, the people returned again to Kadesh Barnea (Num.20:1). 600,000 fighting men died during those years. Some were killed in the futile attack on the Amalekites, as Moses prophesied (Num.14:40-45); others died under the direct judgment of God (e.g. Num.16:31-32,35), or as a result of the plague (Num.16:49), or by suffering snake bites (Num.21:6), while the remainder died of natural causes.
Moses’ Message: God will judge disobedience but will never break His covenant promises

4. Moses’ Sin (Num.20:1-13).

“And the people chode with Moses” (Num.20:3). Since this is the beginning of the fortieth year, and preparations are about to be made for the conquest of the land promised to the fathers, it is tragically significant that the history of it begins with murmurings that remind us all too painfully of the old generation, and imply also that the new generation which is so soon to take up the task their fathers have forfeited through unbelief, differs very little from the old.
Despite years of dedicated service and great patience, Moses sinned and lost his own title to the earthly inheritance. He spoke in anger and aggressively struck the rock twice, instead of speaking to it.

Moses in Numbers is presented, in almost royal terms, as the supreme commander. He makes the final decisions, regulates the cult, and, above all, is the community’s true prophet and intercessor (Num.11:24-25; 12:6-8). But even he exceeds his authority and, rather than merely addressing a word to the rock in Yahweh’s name, strikes it. Moses, the greatest of the Israelite prophets (Exod. 33:11; Num. 12:8; Deut. 34:10), committed the ultimate heresy of attributing the miracle at Num.20:10 to himself.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 54.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: If we disobey God’s clear commands, God will judge, no matter who we are.

5. Later Travels and Troubles (Num.20:14-21:35)

-Encounter with Edom (Num.20:14-21)

-Rebellion of Moses and Aaron(Num.20:22-29)

-Battle with Arad (Num.21:1-3)

-Rebellion at Mount Hor (Num.21:4-9)

-Battle with Sihon and Og (Num.21:10-35)
This section concludes the journey to Moab. Moses and the Israelites faced several Amorite and Canaanite armies during this march to the promised land. The strategy was to avoid confrontation where possible, because the Israelites were not interested in subduing these Transjordanian areas (Num.20:17; 21:22). They were on a mission to another place, a better place that God had promised to them.
As in chapters 13-19 there is alternation between positive passages relating to God’s protection of Israel and negative passages relating to human rebellion. The grace of God is seen so obviously in that when Moses was reminded of God’s forbidding of him to enter the land (Num.20:22-29), this was immediately followed by victory over a Canaanite king (Num.21:1-3), thus giving Moses a foretaste of greater things to come. Also, the rebellion at Mt Hor (Num.21:4-9) is followed by divine healing as well as punishment. The whole section is concluded with the renowned victories over Sihon and Og.
Moses’ Message: Neither our enemies nor our rebellion will stand in the way of God’s ultimate purposes.

6. Division between 1st and 2nd armies is not clear.

Although these lectures attempt to divide the material in Numbers between two armies, the division is neither neat nor clear. There is general agreement that the book does divide in this way, but where the division takes place is a matter of debate. It is debatable because while chapters 1-10 deal only with the first army, and chapters 26-36 deal only with the second, chapters 11-25 deal with the gradual extinction of the first army and the gradual rise of the second. For the purposes of these lectures we have taken the geographical indicator at Num.22:1, where the Israelites finally arrive on the plains of Moab, as the beginning of the section dealing with the second army.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Command and presence

The New Testament also links the presence of God with obedience to the command to follow God.

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matt.28:18f).


2. Pentecost

And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them (Num.11:29).

We see something of this happen at Pentecost long after this, when God did pour out His Spirit upon them, and in those days his people did begin to prophesy and to preach the word and declare God’s truth, in a way that was undoubtedly beyond even the imagination of Moses at this point.

3. One greater than Moses (Num.12:6-8)

These words in Numbers 12 make clear the unique position of Moses among the Old Testament prophets in terms of access to God, depth of revelations, and faithfulness. However, even he is placed in the shadows by the brightness of New Testament light.

Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honor than the house. For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end (Heb.3:1-6).


4. The Red Heifer (Num.19)

Under the direction of Eleazar the Priest, a red heifer that was without defect or blemish was to be taken up outside the camp, killed, and burned. This prefigured the Messiah who would be taken outside the city to be slain as the sin-bearer (Heb.13:11-13). The ashes were then mixed with water. The water symbolized cleansing; the ashes of the heifer represented the atoning sacrifice. Together these two point to ‘the blood of Jesus Christ’ which ‘cleanses us from all sin’ and ‘from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:7,9).

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ…(Heb.9:13-14).


5. Water from the Rock (Num.20:11)

The striking of the rock is even more serious when its significance is understood.

And [they] did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ (1Cor.10:4).


6. The Brass Serpent (Num.21:4-9)

In looking at that brazen serpent they were looking at a symbol of God’s victory over the serpent. Jesus himself, makes the lifting up of the brazen serpent a kind of a type of his own death.

The serpent of brass acquires special significance because of its typical character. Since the serpent here, as usually in the Bible, represents that which is evil and deadly, it cannot be that the serpent of brass represented a living serpent, such as those whose bite was bringing death to the people. Such a symbol could not inspire faith and bring healing. Rather must we think of the serpent as dead and the words “set on a pole” as meaning that it was to be represented as impaled, the usual meaning of “hang on a tree” in the Old Testament. Consequently it was to be by faith in One who could destroy him who had the power of death (the fiery serpent as representing that old serpent the Devil) that the believing Israelites were healed.[footnote]O T Allis, God Spake by Moses (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing Co.,1951), 118.[/footnote]

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life (Jn.3:14-15).


III. The Message

Original Meaning: Israel is called to be a holy, God-centered army, but it will be chastised for its failures
Present Application: The Church has been called to be a holy, Christ-centered army but it will be chastised for its failures.