Jason L. Kortering is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Grandville, Michigan.
We continue with our outline of the first main part of the book of Numbers, the preparation for Israel to depart from Mt. Sinai (Numbers 1:1-10:10).
5. The law of the Nazarite is given (Num. 6:1-27). Details of the vow are enumerated: man or woman should separate from strong drink, eat nothing of the vine, have no razor come upon his head, nor touch a dead body (Num. 6:1-8). In the event that the Nazarite is defiled, certain ways are prescribed to make atonement for such sin: e.g., to offer turtle doves, or in some instances a lamb and unleavened bread. His head is to be shaved and the hair burned, (Num. 6:8-21). The well known Aaronic blessing is now prescribed for pronouncement upon the people, “The Lord bless thee and keep thee . . .” (Num. 6:22-27).
6. The gifts of the princes of each of the tribes is enumerated (Num. 7:11-88). These are given in connection with the journey from Mt. Sinai to Canaan. These included six covered wagons and twelve oxen for transporting the tabernacle (Num. 7:1-11). Then we have a description of each tribe’s donation, generally silver bowls, chargers, flour, incense, and animals for offerings. The total offerings amounted to 2400 shekels of silver, 120 of gold, and 240 animals (Num. 7:12-88). The voice from the mercy seat of the tabernacle was God’s way of indicating His favor in this offering (Num. 7:89).
7. The Levites were to be cleansed as prescribed (Num. 8:1-26). Instruction is given for the lighting of the golden candlestick with its seven lamps (Num. 8:1-4). The Levites were to be sprinkled with water, shave off all hair from their bodies, and wash their clothes (Num. 8:5-7). This was to include a public ceremony, at which the meat offering was to, be given in their behalf and the congregation was to place their hands upon the heads of the Levites while they in turn were to place their hands upon the bullocks (Num. 8:8-14). Specific mention is made of the fact that the Levites were to take the place of the firstborn of all Israel. As instructed, so the congregation did to the Levites to purify them (Num. 8:15-22). The specific age of service is now given. From 25 years to 50 years of age they were to serve in the temple (Num. 8:23-26).
8. Instruction for the observance of the Passover is given (Num. 8:1-14). On the fourteenth day of the first month at evening, the keeping of the Passover was to begin according to detailed instruction previously given (Num. 9:1-5). Exception was made for the man who touched a dead body or was traveling. He could observe it the next month (Num. 9:6-14).
9. Jehovah accompanies them in their journey by the presence of the cloud (Num. 9:15-23). When the tabernacle was finished being built, that very evening a fiery pillar appeared at night and a cloud appeared by day (Num. 9:15, 16). The presence of the cloud upon the tabernacle dictated whether they would journey or abide still. As long as the cloud stayed upon the tabernacle, they stayed at that place, even for months or years (Num. 9:17-23).
10. Trumpets were used to signal when to move (Num. 10:1-10). Two trumpets of silver were constructed (Num. 10:1, 2). If both were blown, the congregation was instructed to come to the door of the tabernacle, but if one was blown, only the princes were to come (num. 10:3, 4). A system of alarm was also set up, as well as a call to holy convocation (Num. 10:3-10).
We now come to the second main division of this book, the events that cover the departure from Mt. Sinai to the time when they arrive at the Plains of Moab (Num. 10:11-21:35).
1. During the travels from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh Barnea, Israel manifests over and over again their unbelief (Num. 10:1-14:45). Departure from Mt. Sinai takes place on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year. The cloud led the way (Num. 10:11-13). The order of march was as the Lord had instructed: Judah led the way (Num. 10:14-17), followed by Reuben (Num. 10:18-21), by Ephraim (Num. 10:22-24), and Dan (Num. 10:25-28). Special request is made of Hobab (son of Raquel, Moses’ father-in-law) that he not return to Midian, but accompany them and serve as a scout who would go before them. He consents (Num. 10:29-36). When they arrived at Taberah 3 days later the complaining began (for what we are not told). God sent fire upon the people in the uttermost part of the camp, hence the name Taberah, “a burning” (Num. 11:1-3). The mixed multitude began to complain about the manna and to lust for the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic of Egypt (Num. 11:4-9). Moses expressed his complaint to the Lord: how could God expect him to meet the needs of so large a congregation (Num. 11:10-15)? God instructed him to appoint seventy elders who would receive the same Spirit that was in Moses. This he did and all 70 received the Spirit of prophecy while they stood before the tabernacle, even Eldad and Medad who were not present at the tabernacle (Num. 11:16-30). At the same time God promised to give flesh to the complaining people. Moses asked if they should kill the livestock. God said he would provide, and the wind blew in quails from the sea so they were three feet off the ground, within easy reach, surrounding the camp a day’s journey on all sides. The people gorged themselves with the meat and God sent a plague and many died. Hence it was called Kibroth-hattaavah, that is, graves of lust (Num. 11:31-35). Added to the grief of Moses was the rebellion of Miriam and Aaron. They accused Moses of taking too much power upon himself by thinking God only spoke through him and not all the people. The Lord confirmed that Moses was His mouthpiece by speaking at the door of the tabernacle. Later He took the cloud from the tabernacle and smote Miriam with leprosy (Num. 12:1-10). Aaron repented of his sin and Moses entreated the Lord to remove the leprosy from Miriam. The Lord said she should be put out the camp for seven days. The people waited during this period and afterward Miriam was brought back completely, restored (Num. 12:11-16). From the wilderness of Paran, Kadesh Barnea, Moses sent out the twelve spies, one from each of the twelve tribes. Special note is made that Oshea’s name is changed to Jehoshua. They are instructed to spy out the entire land, from the south and even to the populated part., While there, they discover the giants of Anak in the vicinity of Hebron. In Eshcol they cut down huge clusters of grapes, (Num. 13:1-25). Returning to Kadesh, they describe the land flowing with milk and honey, but discourage taking the land due to the walled cities and giants. Caleb, however, insisted that they were well able to take it (Num. 13:16-33). The people reacted by weeping and murmuring against Moses and Aaron: “Would to God we died in Egypt.” They threatened to make new captains to help them return to Egypt. Joshua and Caleb rent their clothes and insisted before the people that with God’s help they could take the land, warning them not to rebel. The people retorted by threatening to stone them with stones (Num. 14:1-10). Jehovah appeared before the tabernacle in the cloud. He threatened to slay the people. Moses acted as the mediator, pleading that God not kill the people and give occasion to the enemies to mock (Num. 14:11-19). The Lord answers that He has pardoned the people: They will, however return to the wilderness; and since they tempted God these ten times, they will not see the land. Only Caleb, who has a different spirit, will be allowed to enter (Num. 14:20-25). God specifies the penalty for this rebellion: all twenty years and older will die in the wilderness; and only Joshua and Caleb will be allowed to enter the land. They will wander in the wilderness for forty years, one year for each day they searched out the land (40 days). All ten of the spies that brought an evil report will die before the Lord by, the plague. Moses explained these things to the people and they mourned before the Lord (Num. 14:26-39). Some of the people insisted they were going to go to Canaan anyway and presumed to ascend a hill in that direction. The Lord warned them, to no avail. The Amalekites and Canaanites, however, attacked them and they were smitten (Num. 14:40-45).
2. During the desert wanderings, God chastened His people (Num. 15:1-19:22). Even though the people were turned back from the land of promise, God gave them instruction as to how they were to offer their sacrifices to Him, once they arrive (Num. 15:1-31). Reference is made to the man who deliberately broke the Sabbath law by gathering sticks and instruction is given to stone him without the camp (Num. 15:32-36). God also instructed them to put blue fringes in the border of their garments as a sign of their obedience to the law (Num. 15:37-41). Then we have the account of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On, how they gathered 250 princes against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of taking too much power. They questioned the authority of Gods servants and claimed the priestly office for everyone by offering incense before the tabernacle (Num. 16:1-19). In answer to this God ordered the people to separate themselves from them and the earth swallowed up the offenders while fire from heaven devoured the 250 men who offered incense. (Num. 16:20-35). The brazen censers of these offenders is melted and a covering is made, for the altar (Num. 16:36-40). The people gather in complaint about the death of so many “good” men, the Lord threatens to destroy them immediately, and a plague moves through the congregation. Moses and Aaron take a tenser full of incense and draw a line of separation, and the plague stops at that line. 14,700 died in the plague (Num. 16:41-50). The Lord sets out to establish Moses and Aaron in their office. Each tribe is instructed to bring an almond rod with the name of the tribe written on it. The tribe of Levi is to have Aaron’s name on it. The rod that sprouts buds will indicate God’s choice (Num. 17:1-5). The next day Moses went into the tabernacle and Aaron’s’ rod had budded and blossomed. This rod was placed in the tabernacle as a testimony that Aaron’s priesthood (Christ) was appointed of God and all rebellion will be punished (Num. 17:6-13). The importance of the Levitical priesthood is affirmed. Aaron and his sons are to be busy in the tabernacle and bear the iniquity of the people (Num. 18:1-7). As, a result of this, they were to live from the offerings of the people, since they possessed no land. This included the meal offering, trespass offerings, gifts of the firstfruits, consecrated things, money given as redemption of the firstborn, the tithes of the people. From this they were in turn to give a proper offering to the Lord (Num. 18:8-32).