18 Bible Reading – The Book Of Numbers
For the latter notes of the onscreen presentation, the book of Numbers is mistakenly labeled “Leviticus”.
A Transcript Of The Video Study
According to the Chronological Chart Of Bible Books, Numbers is the fifth book which appears on the timeline. We believe it was written by Moses, sometime around the year 1451 BC, just prior to his death. It is a divinely inspired book, meaning God breathed out His words through Moses. The words of this book, therefore, are the words of God. They are able to make the Lord’s people wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. They are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the Lord’s people might be mature in the faith, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim 3:15-17)
The name ‘Numbers’ is derived from the Latin word “numeri”, which is the translation of the Greek word “arithmoi”, from which we get the word ‘arithmetic’. The name was given to the book by the seventy Alexandrian Jews, who in the third century B.C., translated the Old Testament into Greek. No doubt, the Greek translators were impressed by the two numberings God commanded Moses to make of the children of Israel, and that is why they called the book, “Numbers”. However, the Hebrew name for this book is “Be-midbar”, meaning “in the wilderness”, which appears in the opening statement of the book—Numbers 1:1: “And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation…”. The Hebrew name better identifies the subject matter of the book, for though there are two numberings of Israel recorded at the beginning and at the end, yet the main movements of the book highlight the various events and experiences of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.
You should remember, the book of Exodus covers a time period of 1 year, ending with the children of Israel setting up the tabernacle—Exodus 40:1,2: “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, on the first day of the first month shalt thou set up the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation.” We then have the book of Leviticus, which picks up where Exodus leaves off, which covers a time period of just one month. We then have the book of Numbers, which picks up where the book of Leviticus off, for when you compare Exodus chapter forty with the first verse of Numbers chapter one, that one month time lapse recorded in Leviticus is accounted for in Numbers 1:1: “And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt…”. As a whole, the book records the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel which lasted for forty years. During that time, the old generation which was led out of Egypt through the Red Sea perished in the wilderness, prohibited by God to enter the land of Canaan because of their hardness of heart and rebellion against God. In its place rose up a new generation, which is the people whom God would led through the river Jordan and who would take possession of the promised land. And so, the book is split between the old and new generations of the children of Israel.
The book has been divided into 36 chapters, and it takes approximately two hours and 45 minutes to read in a single sitting.
As for the structure of the book, there appears to be four main sections:
In chapter 1-18, we have a record of what could be called the Old Generation of the children of Israel, all of which occurred in the year 1490 BC. We find Aaron serving as the high priest and Moses as the leader of the nation. For military and ceremonial purposes, the people are numbered and the tribes are geographically arranged around the tabernacle. That which darkens the record is the sad testimony of rebellion against God—of particular note, there is the rebellion of the people as a whole, that of Miriam the sister of Moses and that of Korah the jealous Levite.
There is then a nineteen year gap between the eighteenth and nineteenth chapters.
In chapter 19, we have a record of the New Generation of the children of Israel, which occurred in the year 1471 BC. The whole chapter describes how the ceremonial responsibilities of the tabernacle were delegated to Eleazar, in preparation for him being appointed as the new high priest of the people.
There is then an eighteen year gap between chapters nineteen and twenty.
In chapter 20, verses 1-13, we have another record of the Old Generation of the children of Israel, all of which occurred in the year 1453 BC. In essence, the verses describe how the prophetical, ceremonial and leadership responsibilities will be removed from Miriam, Aaron and Moses, all in preparation for the new generation to serve these roles.
There is then a one year gap between the thirteenth and fourteenth verses of chapter 20.
In chapter 20, verse 14, to the end of chapter 36, we have a record of the New Generation of the children of Israel, all of which occurred in the year 1452 BC. We find Eleazar appointed as the new high priest and Joshua as the new leader of the nation. Once more, for military and ceremonial purposes, the people are numbered and a summary of the wilderness wanderings is given. However, just as we have in the first 18 chapters, that which darkness the record is the sad testimony of rebellion against God—of particular note, there is the rebellion of the people as a whole, that of the Canaanites and that of Balaam the false prophet.
Now, let’s see how the characters mentioned in the book align with the Framework of Sovereign Grace.
According to my count, there are over 70,440 people singled out in the book, and that doesn’t count the various Canaanite armies the children of Israel encountered. Of course, not all of the names are recorded—a large portion of the people are grouped together by the thousands. Plus, I have not included the numbers given of the tribes of Israel, because out from that number there are certain individuals whose names are given and are clearly identified among the elect and the non-elect. Having said that, it is worth mentioning, there would have been more than two million people belonging to the nation of Israel at that time.
There are at least 85 names connected with the elect among which include Moses, Aaron, Eleazar, Hobab, Raguel, Joshua, seventy men of the elders of Israel, (including Eldad and Medad), Miriam, Caleb, Phinehas, Amram and Jochebed.
There are at least 268 names connected with the non-elect among which include Nadab, Abihu, Korah, Dathan, Abiram, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, king Arad the Canaanite, Sihon king of the Amorites, Og the king of Bashan, Balaam and Zimri.
And there are around 70,090 people of whom we do not know enough to place them among the elect or the non-elect. Ninety people are named, whereas 70,000 are unnamed.
Now, with the time we have remaining, I would like to highlight some of the names on this list and share their testimonies.
1. The Testimony Of Joshua’s Salvation.
We do not have a record of his conversion to Christ, but we do have evidence that he was converted to Christ. For instance, when God told Moses he would not enter the land of Canaan, Moses entreated the Lord to provide another leader for the nation of Israel. We therefore read in Numbers 27:18-20: “And the LORD said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient.” This statement of Joshua being “a man in whom is the Spirit” is a reference to him having been born again, and therefore indwelt by the Spirit of God. And such is the case for every born again believer. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:19,20: “know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
2. The Testimony of Phinehas’ Salvation.
Again, we do not have a record of his conversion to Christ, but there is evidence that he had been born again. While the people of Israel were abiding in Shittim, the men committed fornication with the women of Moab, and under the influence and by the counsel of the false prophet Balaam, forsook the Lord and bowed down themselves to Baalpeor (the false god of the Midiantes), committing abominable idolatry in the sight of the Lord and before all the nation of Israel. The Lord commanded all who had defiled themselves were to be killed. In an effort to escape death, a Jewish man (Zimri) with his Midianitish woman rushed to the door of the tabernacle weeping, attempting to gain sympathy with Moses. Recognizing the danger of this couple defiling the tabernacle, and thus bringing upon the people a greater plague, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, rose up, took a javelin and thrust the man and the women through the belly. We then read in Numbers 25:10-13: “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace: and he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.” The Lord is a jealous God—not in the sense that He envies what others have, but rather, in the sense that He cherishes and guards the glory of His own blessed Being. It was this that Phinehas was zealous to magnify and defend. Phinehas was zealous unto good works, seeking to honor the Lord his God, and that, my friends, is a sure evidence of a sinner saved by grace! Further evidence of his salvation, and that which is the strongest proof he belongs to the elect of God, is that he was a participant in the covenant of grace, which is also called the covenant of peace. And of course, this is none other than the gospel itself! In fact, Phinehas is set forth as a type of Christ, for it is Christ, Who being zealous of the glory and grace of God, appeased divine wrath and is the only Mediator between God and men, discharging the responsibilities of the covenant of an everlasting priesthood.
3. The Testimony Of Hobab’s Salvation.
Hobab was the brother-in-law to Moses. You will remember from the book of Exodus, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, visited Moses and the children of Israel after they had been delivered from Egypt. It was at that time Hobab accompanied his father, and chose to remain with Moses after his father returned home. However, the time came when Hobab also wanted to go home, but Moses entreated him to stay with the nation of Israel. I believe Moses’ entreaty to Hobab provides sufficient evidence that Hobab was a regenerate sinner and therefore numbered among God’s elect people—Numbers 10:29-32: “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. And he said unto him, I will not go; but I will depart to mine own land, and to my kindred. And he said, Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes. And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the LORD shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee.” Now, this was far more than a mere physical relation that bound these men together—I believe this is an expression of their spiritual union in Christ, which caused Moses to yearn for continued fellowship with his fellow saint, Bro Hobab.
4. The Testimony Of Miriam’s Backsliding.
We have already considered the testimony of Miriam’s salvation when reading the book of Exodus. We now turn to the testimony of her spiritual declension and restoration. Remember, she was the older sister of Moses, and as such, there were occasions when she felt the natural urge to look out for her little brother. There came a point when Moses married an Ethiopian woman. This greatly displeased Miriam, believing Moses made a terrible mistake. This led to a root of bitterness springing up in her heart, resulting in her losing confidence in her brother as a prophet of God. She began to undermine his authority among the people, by promoting herself as one who had been given the gift of prophecy also. The Lord chastised Miriam, causing her to suffer the ailment of leprosy and the reproach of living outside the camp of Israel for seven days. Such was the scene and infamy of this terrible event, that the entire camp remained stationed at Hazeroth, until Miriam was healed and restored to the people. There is, of course, in this incident, an illustration of the corrective measures exercised by a church when an unrepentant member is excommunicated until such a time his/her heart is softened by the chastening of the Lord and restored to fellowship with the brethren.
5. The Testimony Of The Elders Of Israel’s Salvation.
In the eleventh chapter, Moses complains to the Lord that the burden of ministering to the people of Israel single handedly was too heavy for him to carry. The Lord, therefore, commanded Moses to gather seventy men of the elders of Israel and bring them to the tabernacle of the congregation, saying—Numbers 11:17-25: “And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone…And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.” Now, this reference to the “spirit” that was upon Moses, and was given to the seventy men, is not only that of a spirit of prophecy, but that out from which the spirit of prophecy is derived—a heart that had been regenerated by the Spirit of God. These men, therefore, had been born again and are numbered among God’s elect people. Now, there is a supplement to the story. Of the seventy elders were two men who remained among the people in the camp (Eldad and Medad), prophesying to the men and women on the streets. The eloquence and power by which they spoke created a great stir among the people. A young man, loyal to Moses, ran to inform him that there were competitors to his authority, and Joshua, upon hearing the news, encouraged Moses to forbid Eldad and Medad from prophesying. But Moses, in his meekness and humility, said—Numbers 11:29: “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!” Indeed, these seventy elders, among whom were Eldad and Medad, are numbered among God’s elect people.
6. The Testimony Of Balaam’s Apostasy.
Balaam was a sorcerer who dealt in the art of black magic. His dealings led to a wide range of knowledge in all academic departments, including that of religion. He was familiar with the God of Israel, and indeed, nurtured a healthy respect for the Lord. However, he only had a natural knowledge of Jehovah—he had never been regenerated by the Spirit of God. He made a career of charging people a financial payment for putting a spell upon their friends or enemies. Such was his success, that his pronouncements almost always came to fruition—those he blessed were blessed, and those he cursed were cursed.
King Balak of the Moabites knew of Balaam’s sorceries and solicited his help against the nation of Israel. However, the Lord commanded Balaam that he could only pronounce upon Israel that which the Lord Himself would put into his mouth. In the end, Balaam pronounced three blessings upon the nation of Israel, which greatly displeased Balak, but nevertheless, resulted in the king’s demise.
Later on, Balaam reappears in the history of Israel, when the men of Israel are enticed by the women of Midian, and at the encouragements of Balaam, chase after a false god and commit idolatry. As a result of Balaam’s false doctrine, and his pernicious influence among the nation of Israel, he is put to death by the sword. Now, it is remarkable, at least to me, that four chapters of the book of Numbers are given to this false prophet Balaam, and thrice he is mentioned in the New Testament by three different writers.
The Apostle Peter speaks about false professors of Christ “following the way of Balaam”—2 Peter 2:12-16: “But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption…which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet.”
Jude, the half-brother of Christ, speaks about false professors of Christ “running greedily after the error of Balaam”—Jude 10,11: “But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.”
The Apostle John speaks about false professors of Christ “holding the doctrine of Balaam”. In the letter written to the church in Pergamos, the Lord Jesus Christ says—Revelations 2:14: “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.”
My dear friends, Balaam is set forth in the Old and New Testament scriptures as a false prophet, and whose doctrine and evil devises remain active and influential among the Lord’s people even to this day. May the Lord give us discerning hearts, to know the error of Balaam when it appears in the midst of our gatherings when assembling with the brethren!
7. The Testimony Of Korah’s Apostasy.
Korah belonged to the tribe of Levi and was cousin to Moses and Aaron. However, he was jealous that Moses appointed Aaron to serve as the high priest. He gathered support against Moses and Aaron by appealing to those who belonged to the tribe of Reuben, in particular, that of Dathan and Abiram. Together with these three men, 250 elders also joined the rebellion, allowing Korah to stage an uprising against Moses and Aaron. In the end, God opens the earth which swallows to their deaths Korah, Dathan and Abirim, and then consumes the other instigators of the rebellion in a raging fire. Now, I read for you the eleventh verse of Jude a few minutes ago, where Balaam is mentioned. In that same passage, reference is also made of Korah—Jude 11: “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.” No doubt, Korah is numbered among the non-elect. However, his sons were not punished for his rebellion. They went on in the camp of Israel, the descendants of which became singers and keepers of the gates of the tabernacle during the time of King David. It is for this reason we find this inscription at the beginning of eleven Psalms—“To the chief Musician, Maschil, for the sons of Korah.” These Psalms were designed to be sung by the sons of Korah. We might suspect, therefore, that these sons of Korah did belong to God’s elect people.
And that is a wonderful way for me to end this study. Praise God the sins of the father or the sins of the mother are no hindrance to the grace of God being extended to the children. Praise God that our own sins are no hindrance to the grace of God being extended to us! This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief! My dear friends, my the Lord enrich your soul as you read this marvelous book—the book of Numbers!
Jared Smith served twenty years as pastor of a Strict and Particular Baptist church in Kensington (London, England). He now serves as an Evangelist in the Philippines, preaching the gospel, organizing churches and training gospel preachers.