Numbers Overview: Chastisement of a Covenant People

Introduction

1. Name

The Hebrew title is based upon the fifth Hebrew word in verse one, which may be translated “in the desert/wilderness.” When the Old Testament was translated into Greek it was given the Greek title arithmoi or “Numbers” which refers to the census lists of fighting men in the book.

A translation of the Septuagint’s Arithmoi, “Numbers” is an accurate title in light of all the lists and figures given in the book. In addition to the census figures for the twelve tribes and the Levites, the book contains a detailed list of the tribal offerings at the dedication of the Tabernacle in chapter 7. Totals are also given for the weekly and monthly sacrifices and for the number of animals offered in the yearly festivals (Num. 28–29). In two of the most discouraging chapters of the book we are told of the death of 14,700 and 24,000 Israelites as plagues broke out because of sin (Num. 16:49; Num. 25:9). Toward the end of the book there is a detailed list of the plunder taken from the Midianites (Num. 31:32–47) and a description of the number and size of the Levitical cities in chapter 35.[footnote]H Wolf, An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), Electronic Edition[/footnote]

2. Theme

The theme of Numbers has been described as “Marching and murmuring”[footnote]J E Smith, The Pentateuch (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote], “Unbelief bars entrance to abundant life.”[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 129.[/footnote] Perhaps it might be summed up in the phrase “God’s faithfulness contrasted with human unfaithfulness.”

3. Purpose

To call the second generation of the exodus to serve God as His holy army in the conquest of the promised land by avoiding the failures of the past and by remaining faithful to God’s directives.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 200.[/footnote]

4. Key verse

And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses’ father in law, We are journeying unto the place of which the LORD said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the LORD hath spoken good concerning Israel (Num. 10:29).

5. Key truths

  • God fully prepared his people to serve him and to succeed in the conquest of Promised Land.
  • The members of the first generation failed to succeed because they were ungrateful for the grace God had shown them and feared the power of the Canaanites.
  • God raised up another generation for the conquest of the promised land, but they also had to remain faithful to the Lord in order to succeed.[footnote]Ibid., 200.[/footnote]

 

I. Author

See “Lecture 1” regarding overall Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. In addition, we can note the following points:

1. Standard critical viewpoint

The liberal critics theories lead them to attribute parts of Numbers to different redactors. For example, they attribute Num. 11-12 and Num. 21-24 to the “Yahwist” writer “J,” who allegedly wrote in the 10th Century BC to support the Davidic monarchy. Further, they attribute Num. 1-9,17-19,26-31 and other parts to the “Priestly” writer “P” who allegedly wrote in the 6th Century BC, and was concerned with returning to the land and restoring the Temple.

2. Mosaic authorship

Within Numbers itself there is only a single reference to Mosaic writing activity (Num. 33:1-2). However, there are over eighty references in the book to Moses receiving the divine revelation that forms the substance of the book (eg., Num. 1:1; Num. 2:1; Num. 4:1). The fact that the book refers to Moses in the third person simply reflects customary writing style in ancient times. Apart from direct divine revelation (Num. 1:1) he may have been inspired to use reports (Num. 22-24), memories, written records (Num. 33:2), the “Book of the wars of Yahweh”(Num. 21:14). There may have been later inspired revisions of the Hebrew and inspired historical additions. For example, Num. 32:34-42 describes the building activity on the part of the two and one-half tribes that settled in the Transjordan after the con¬quest.

Documentary critics often point to the “Meekness of Moses” text in Num. 12:3 to disprove Mosaic authorship. It is argued that if he was the meekest man in the world, he would never have written this concerning himself. Again, this may be an inspired post-Mosaic addition. However, it is also possible that the Spirit of God inspired him to record this contextually important virtue, just as elsewhere the Spirit inspired him to honestly record his faults.

This analysis of Numbers is in keeping with our characterization of the Pentateuch as a whole. That is, it is essentially Mosaic but includes source material and glosses. After all this is said, we must remember that we cannot be precise or certain about our reconstruction of the composition of Pentateuchal books. It is fruitless to speculate about it more carefully in the manner of most source criticism.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 76[/footnote]

 

II. Date

The book’s final composition was most likely when Moses was older and Israel’s period of wilderness wandering was coming to an end. “Across from Jericho” is mentioned 9 times (Num. 22:1; Num. 26:3; Num. 26:63; Num. 31:12; Num. 33:48; Num. 33:50; Num. 34:15; Num. 35:1; Num. 36:13). Israel, therefore, had arrived in Moab and were preparing to enter the Promised Land (approx 1406 BC).
 

III. Historical Analysis

1. Geography

The book of Numbers naturally follows the Levitical legislation. The priestly laws have been revealed, and the nation is now ready to continue its march to the Promised Land. So, Numbers first relates the preparations which were made for the departure from Sinai. It then describes the departure of the Israelites from Sinai and their travelling to the plains of Moab. The book closes with the recital of certain events which occurred there together with instructions for the conquest and division of the land.

a. Three Movements

Numbers has three geographical movements:

   – Preparations for the Promised Land at Sinai (Num. 1:1-10:10)
– Failure in the wilderness (Num. 10:11-21:35)
– Preparations for the Promised Land in the plains of Moab (Num. 22:1-36:13)

These three phases were centered around three mountains, Mt Sinai (Num. 1-10), Mt Hor (Num. 10-21), Mt Nebo (Num. 22-36).

b. A map of their journey

While many of the places Israel camped at are uncertain, the map below gives a rough idea of the general directions of their journey.

  1. Upon their release, the Israelites departed from the Land of Goshen, miraculously crossed the Red Sea and arrived at Sinai where they stayed for over a year (Ex. 19 – Num. 10)
  2. Departing from Sinai (Num. 10:10), they followed a route northward to Kadesh–barnea (Num. 10:11-12:16) which ended in the disastrous attempt to invade Canaan without God’s assistance (Num. 13:1 – 20:21)
  3. The next 38 years were spent wandering in the wilderness, an area generally believed to have included Moses’ previous homeland of Midian. It is thought that the Tabernacle may have stayed at Kadesh during this time.
  4. Under God’s direction, the Israelites travelled to Moab (Num. 20:22 – 21:20) where they camped for months before successfully advancing into Canaan.

Israel had everything going her way. God had worked a spectacular miracle in redeeming her from Egypt. Now she had a new and unique relationship with God. The Sinai covenant came complete with a tabernacle, a worship programme, and an elaborate legal system. This was Israel’s blueprint for the future. Like no other nation in history before or since, Israel had everything she needed for a complete success. But Israel’s is not a story of success, at least not in immediate success. The book of Numbers relates her struggles with obedience and the consequences of her disobedience. Numbers describes events that occurred during the nearly forty years Israel wandered in the desert between Mount Sinai and the plains of Moab.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 128.[/footnote]

2. Chronology

The chronological setting of Numbers is about 1445 BC. The book opens with Israel still at Sinai, one month after the erection of the Tabernacle and 13 months after the Exodus. The chronology of the first ten chapters is set out below.

Second Year out of Egypt

Occasion Day Month Reference
Tabernacle erected 1 1 Ex. 40:2,17
Passover celebrated 14 1 Num. 9:2-3, 5
Census ordered 1 2 Num. 1:1-2
Tabernacle dismantled 20 2 Num. 10:11

3. Numbers/Numerology

The numbers of fighting men recorded in chapters 1 and 26 would indicate a total population of over 2 million.

a. Difficulties

(i). Some scholars find it impossible to see how the seventy families which came into Egypt multiplied so rapidly during the time of their oppression. This difficulty has been dealt with in the Exodus lectures.

(ii). It has been suggested that a group this size would more than fill north-eastern Egypt (the land of Goshen) creating huge logistical problems.

It has been argued by some that it would have taken the entire day for a multitude of two and a half million to get into formation for a line of march, and thus would have been unable to progress a single mile before night closed in upon them. Hence they could not have performed the journeys attributed to them in Numbers 33 and elsewhere. But actually the length of time required to fall into marching formation depends entirely upon the width and disposition of the columns themselves. It is not necessary to assume that they kept within the limits of a highway, for example, since they were moving over largely uninhabited range land. The four main divisions of approximately 500,000 each (cf. Num. 10:14-20 ) might just as well have formed their ranks simultaneously and completed preparations to march within four hours (from 6:00 to 10:00 AM, for example) and then have completed a good ten miles in four hours before setting up camp again (which in turn might have occupied four hours between 2:00 and 6:00 PM).[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

(iii). Two million Israelites would have had nothing to fear from the 20,000 strong Egyptian army.

(iv). Some estimate the entire population of Canaan at well below three million at this time. Yet the Israelites were said to have been much smaller in number than the Canaanites – too few in fact to occupy the land (Dt. 7:6, 7, 17).

b. Five “Evangelical” solutions

There are five approaches to this view from an evangelical perspective:

(i) The numbers in our Hebrew Bible are the result of textual corruption during transmission. Advocates of this “solution” believe that these passages in Numbers were taken from ancient records of an old census, misunderstood and then erroneously entered into the text by later redactors. This method is used to argue for a much smaller fighting male population of anything from 3,000 to 30,000.

However the wider biblical context would seem to support a figure nearer 600,000.

Ex. 12:37 gives the same total in round numbers as Num. 1:46 (i.e., 600,000), and the same is true of Num. 11:21. Further corroboration is given by the total amount of ransom money – at the rate of a half shekel apiece – recorded in Ex. 38:25 as 100 talents, 1775 shekels. Since there were 3000 shekels to the talent, this comes out to exactly 603,550 contributors. It is therefore safe to say that no objective handling of the textual evidence can possibly sustain the thesis that ’eleph in Numbers signifies anything less than a literal thousand.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

(ii). The Hebrew word translated “thousand” is a technical term for clan or military units, which are made up of considerably less than a thousand members.

The best solution is that the Hebrew terms used in these lists have incorrectly been limited to a numerical designation. The terms “thousand” and “hundred” may originally have referred to social units (families, clans, tent groups) or to military units (captains of thousands or hundreds). For example, if we assume “hundred” designated a military contingent and “thousand” a captain, we could calculate an estimate of the total Israelite population at the time of the Exodus at approximately 72,000. But the solution is tentative, and a conclusive answer to this problem remains elusive.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 129-130.[/footnote]

In answer to this G L Archer states:

It is true that there is an ’eleph which means family or clan (Judg. 6:15; 1 Sam. 10:19, etc.); but it is very clear from the numeration chapters (Num. 1-4; Num. 26) that ’eleph is intended in the sense of “thousand,” for the smaller unit below this ’eleph is mē’āt, “hundreds” (so Num. 1:21,23,25 etc.). The most that a “family” could contribute to the national army would be four or five men on the average, and it would be absurd to suppose that “hundreds” would be mentioned as the next lower numerical unit after an average contingent of five men each.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

W J Dumbrell accepts that the figure of 600,000 presupposes a population of more than two million. He wrote:

Many ingenious proposals have been made to reduce the figure. But the present text clearly assumes that the disputed Hebrew (’elef) means one thousand. That the lists represent an actual census cannot be denied. It seems that the figure of six hundred thousand is legitimate, and we may compare the large numbers in Chronicles.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 52.[/footnote]

The biblical context makes clear that the population was huge.

(iii). The numbers are inspired hyperboles. They are intentional and well-understood exaggerations to highlight the grace of God to the nation. This is dangerous ground for any evangelical to walk on and begins to undermine the veracity and truthfulness of God.

(iv). The numbers are accepted despite seeming difficulties. The whole narrative concedes the physical impossibility of the logistics and emphasizes the supernatural provision of God.

The wilderness of Sinai, it is claimed, could not have sustained so great a group of people. But if the people were encamped in the plain of Er-Rahah before Jebel es-Safsaf, they were in a plain about 4 miles in length and quite wide, with which several wide, lateral valleys join. Further, the sustenance of the people was not the natural produce of Sinai but the miraculous gift of manna. The order of march is said to be impossible, as described in ch. 2 and 10:14-20. But if the account is so impossible, surely no writer would have devised such an impossible scheme. The very difficulty involved is but an indication of historicity. Since so little is said about the details of the march, we are in no position to question the historicity and accuracy of the statements made.[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1953), 89.[/footnote]

(v) The census depicted the army as great in number in order to display the blessings God had shown the nation. Also it is to show that Israel is not an unorganized mob. They are a distinct people, whose names and ages and tribal relationships are definitely known. The census was a designed to demonstrate how God had blessed his people and prepared them for the conquest of the land

IV. Literary Analysis

1. Comparative Outlines

Wenham Harrison Pratt Murray
Preparations to enter land (Num. 1:10-10:10)
From Sinai-Kadesh (Num. 10:11-12:16)
Forty years near Kadesh (Num. 13:1-19:22)
From Kadesh to Moab (Num. 20:1-22:1)
Israel in Moab (Num. 22:2-36:13)
Preparations for leaving Sinai (Num. 1:1-10:10)
From Sinai to Plains of Moab (Num. 10:11-21:35)
Events in Moabite Plains (Num. 22:1-36:13)
Constituting first army (Num. 1:1-10:10)
Failures in the march (Num. 10:11-25:18)
Constituting second army (Num. 26:1-36:13)
Preparation of the first army (Num. 1-21)
Preparation of the second army (Num. 22-36)

J E Smith offers this analysis:

STRUCTURE OF NUMBERS
(“The Discipline of the Nation”)

PREPARATION FOR
THE MARCH
THE MARCH TO
CANAAN
COMPLETION OF
THE MARCH
Num. 1:1-10:10 Num. 10:11-21:35 Num. 22-36
Organization at
Sinai
Disorganization en
route to Sinai
Reorganization in the
Plains of Moab

[footnote]J E Smith, The Pentateuch (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

2. Original Audience/Meaning

a First generation army (Num. 1:1-10:10)

b First generation failures (Num. 10:11-21:35)

a’ Second generation army (Num. 22:1-36:13)

Numbers was written for the second generation of the Exodus as they waited on the plains of Moab to enter the Promised Land. This was the generation of Israelites born in the desert as a result of the sins of the first generation, most of whom were now dead. With the book of Numbers, Moses encouraged the second generation to faithful obedience, in contrast to their parents. The book called the second generation to enter and conquer Canaan, under God’s guidance and blessing.

Numbers relates the account of two generations: a generation that perishes in the wilderness through unbelief, and a generation placed in Moab with the advantage of having seen firsthand the disastrous results of disobedience.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 50.[/footnote]

The purpose of Numbers is to call the second generation of the Exodus to serve God as His holy army in the conquest of the promised land by avoiding the failures of the past and by remaining faithful to God’s directives. The book thus presents the reader with a vision of new beginnings and hope. Olson’s commentary on Numbers is entitled: “The Death of the Old and the Rise of the New.”

Moses’ Message: Will the second army be faithful and enter the Promised Land (promise) or rebel and fail as the first army (warning)?

With the benefit of hindsight we know that the results were mixed.

This second generation, however, repeats the curious and continual paradox of the OT. Once it enters the land, Israel shows the same tendencies and behavior pat¬terns as the first generation, raising the prospect of another wilderness situation, which finally led to exile. The Book of Numbers is, in essence, two-sided. The somber side is the side of judgment. After the wonderful experience of exodus and Sinai, the book records many lost opportunities. Positively, however, Num¬bers is concerned, like Leviticus, with establishing for Israel the sharp contrast between the sacred and the profane. The message of the book is that if Israel wishes to enjoy the blessings of the Land of Promise, it must follow God’s un¬failing guidance and keep itself unspotted.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 50.[/footnote]

3. Genre

There is a great generic variability in Numbers. For example: narrative (Num. 4:1-3), poetry (Num. 21:17-18), prophecy (Num. 24:3-9), victory song (Num. 21:27-30), prayer (Num. 12:13), blessing (Num. 6:24-26), diplomatic letter (Num. 21:14-19), civil law (Num. 27:1-11), cultic law (Num. 15:7-21), oracular decision (Num. 15:32-36), census list (Num. 26:1-51), temple archive (Num. 7:10-88), itinerary (Num. 33:1-49). However, when we view these parts in the context of the whole book and the book in the wider context of the Pentateuch, it is best to identify the genre of Numbers as instructional history writing.

However, having said that, the amount and purpose of the legal materials in the books should also be noted.

The Book of Numbers describes the migration of Israel from Sinai to the plains of Moab, a journey fraught with a succession of rebellions against the Lord and his theocratic administrators and climaxed by the death of the adults of the exodus generation. There was a conse¬quent need for at least a partial restatement of the covenant legislation appropriate to the new generation anticipating settlement in Canaan. Much of Numbers, like Exodus and Leviticus, is therefore prescriptive in nature and technically not historical narrative.[footnote]E H Merrill, Kingdom of Priests (Grand Rapids: Baker Books House, 1992), 24.[/footnote]

Numbers is a narrative and a supplemental lawbook between the sacramental lawbook of Leviticus and the social lawbook of Deuteronomy. It recounts the journey of the emerging nation from Sinai to the eastern side of Jordan, where it is about to enter the Promised Land. Here the mixed form of narrative and legal material is particularly striking and elaborate. The dozen major shifts back and forth, not counting the short passages of narrative implementation within the legal sections, are almost dizzying. Jacob Milgrom identities the major alternations between narrative (N) and law (L) as follows: Num. 1-10:10 (L); Num. 10:11-14:45 (N); Num. 15 (L); Num. 16-17 (N); Num. 18-19 (L); Num. 20-25 (N); Num. 26-27:11 (L); Num. 27:12-23 (N); Num. 28-30 (L); Num. 31-33:49 (N); Num. 33:50-56; Num. 34-36 (L). The alternating sections entail two major topics – God’s continuing elaboration of his principles and, despite his meticulous care, the sustained murmuring and rebellion of his people.[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 127-128.[/footnote]

This apparently random combination of different types of literary materials has led some scholars to view the book as hopelessly disorganized. However, this is to apply modern Western criteria to ancient Eastern texts.

A lack of such design and consistency in a book does not mean the book is confused, confusing, or without a discernible message….It is possible to discern a consistent thematic purpose in Numbers despite its literary diversity. The book contains a unified interpretation of God’s will for his people by contrasting the holy with the profane. The book of Numbers portrays the holy as the presence of God, the blessing of numbers, the laws of cleanliness, the service of the Levites, atonement, and the inheritance of a clean land. On the other hand the profane consists of all sorts of uncleanliness and results in the wrath of God, his plagues of judgment, lost inheritance by a dying people, and the pollution of the land…The literary nature of Numbers is unique in the Pentateuch. Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus have more unity. The written or oral sources behind Genesis, the historical nature of the Exodus materials, and the predominantly legal materials of Leviticus were unifying factors for those books. Numbers is altogether unique though the message is clear and pertinent for modern readers.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 129.[/footnote]

V. Thematic Analysis

1. Pentateuchal context

Numbers is connected to the preceding books not only chronologically and geographically but thematically.

The flow of history and the unfolding of revelation are clearly seen in the Pentateuch. Genesis is the book of beginnings and teaches God’s sovereignty in choosing whom he wills. Exodus deals with the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and teaches how God redeems and delivers his people from the bondage of sin. Leviticus elucidates the holy requirements of God in worship and fellowship and the gracious provisions he has made to meet these requirements. Numbers follows, not just in a chronological order, but also in a thematic and theological sequence. This is the record of Israel’s walk and warfare in the wilderness. Through this historic record Christians are taught spiritual lessons as to how believers pass through this life, with its sin and trials, with their repeated failures always without excuse, yet nevertheless experiencing God’s faithfulness and long-suffering.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 133.[/footnote]

2. God’s faithfulness and human unfaithfulness

God faithfully guided His people through the wilderness. In their difficulties He encouraged them and assured them of His presence. His judgments came upon them only after much human provocation and divine patience. In contrast with the faithfulness of God is the unfaithfulness of the people. They continually offended God and consequently were brought into judgment for their rebellion. When the army did engage in rare skirmishes in the wilderness, it was the power of God, not the army’s prowess, that provided the victory. Despite the faithlessness of Israel, Numbers reports Yahweh as holding true to his promise. Thus, though one Israel dies in the wilderness, an Israel of comparable size replaces it (Num. 26). Eleazar, Aaron’s son, replaces Aaron (Num. 20:28), as Moses is replaced by Joshua (Num. 27:12-23).

This book reveals the utter failure of the members of the first generation and God’s severe judgment against them. Yet it also offered hope to the second generation of the Exodus: God was still directing history toward his goal of bringing Israel into the Promised Land. God’s purposes will not fail, even if his people do.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 200.[/footnote]

3. Two preparations

Numbers is all about preparation for the Promised Land. The first ten chapters prepare the nation to leave Mt Sinai after 11 months there. The failure of the people to enter, despite God equipping them to do so, led to the years in the wilderness. The second part of the book is a second preparation to enter Canaan. These two preparations are built around the twin pillars of the census lists in Number 1 and Numbers 26.

The census lists make a theological claim for continuity of the covenantal promises given to the patriarchs. They also make a claim for the inclusiveness of the covenant and its laws for all Israel. The expanded segments of the genealogies in Number 26 suggest a partial fulfillment of the promise of abundant descendants.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 51.[/footnote]

4. Seven Crises

J E Smith proposes that the theme of the book is “Crisis” and that seven crises form the core of the book.

  • A leadership crisis. Miriam and Aaron questioned the authority of Moses (Num. 12).
  • A faith crisis. At Kadesh the people believed the reports of the ten spies and refused to trust God for victory in Canaan (Num. 13–14).
  • A second leadership crisis. The leadership of Moses and Aaron was challenged by Dathan and Korah and their followers (Num. 16).
  • A personal crisis. Moses arrogantly and angrily smote a rock when he was but to speak to it. The people received water from the rock, but Moses lost the opportunity to lead his people into Canaan (Num. 20).
  • A program crisis. When they were not permitted to pass through the land of Edom, Israel was forced to take a detour through the desert. Poisonous snakes in the region caused havoc and death (Num. 21).
  • A military crisis. Israelite soldiers were forced to go to war against walled cities in Transjordan for the first time (Num. 21).
  • A religious crisis. Balak king of Moab used beautiful temptresses to lure the men of Israel into Baal worship at Peor (Num. 25).[footnote]J E Smith, The Pentateuch (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

5. God interacts with His people

Numbers reveals a God who is involved with his people. He is not a God who stands afar off. This can be seen in the following ways:

a. God is present with his people: the cloud hovering over the Tabernacle
b. God provides for his people: manna, quails and water
c. God is patient with his people: despite numerous provocations God did not abandon His people.
d. God listens to the prayers of his people: especially the intercession of Moses
e. God protects his people: turning Balaam’s curses into blessings

VI. New Testament Analysis

1. Christ’s holy war

The holy war that Israel were called to engage in is a picture of Christ’s holy war.

Christ began the last battle against the enemies of God when he died and rose from the dead (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14-15). He continues this war through the preaching of the Gospel by the church today (Ac. 15:15-17; Eph. 6:10-18). Finally, when Christ returns the battle for the world will be complete (Rev. 19:11-21; Rev. 21:1-5).[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 201.[/footnote]

2. The Christian’s holy war

We can compare and contrast the Old Testament phase of holy war with the New Testament phase. In the Old Testament, Israel was the army, they fought physical battles, in obedience and loyalty to God. In the New Testament, the Church is the army, its members fight spiritual battles, in obedience and loyalty to God (Eph. 6:10-28; 2 Cor. 10:1-6).

3. The Christian’s wilderness wandering

The experiences of the Israelites in the wilderness are referred to elsewhere in Scripture as a grim warning about the consequences of rebellion and disobedience. The writer of Hebrews (Heb. 3:7-4:13) draws an analogy between Israel’s experience and the life of a believer, who likewise must deal with difficulties and temptations and obey the call to be faithful. In Hebrews we are urged to learn from Israel’s mistakes and to maintain an attitude of trust and belief. If we refuse to believe His promises and instead harden our hearts, we are in danger of missing God’s rest and forfeiting His blessing.

Also, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul used events from Exodus and Numbers to show that possibility and danger of failing in our relationship with God, in the same way that the Israelites did. Even after the Israelites experienced the Exodus and the miraculous bread and water in the desert, they rebelled against the very one who had delivered them. Paul used the Israelite failure recorded in the book of Numbers to warn the Corinthians the Corinthian Christians were in danger of the same failures; sexual immorality(1 Cor. 10:8; Num. 25:1-9); rejection of authority (1 Cor. 10:9; Num. 21:5) and, complaining (1 Cor. 10:10; Num. 14:2). This was written as a warning to them and to us (1 Cor. 10:6,11).

VII. The Message of Numbers

Original Message: God promised blessing if, in contrast with the first army, the second army lived a holy life and waged a holy war in Canaan.
Present Message: Christ has promised blessing if the Church, in contrast to previous generations, lives a holy life and wages a holy spiritual war.