The Book of Numbers

Thursday: Resting in God’s Gracious Direction: Numbers 1-10

Scripture: Numbers 1:1-10:36 In this week’s lessons, we learn about the formation and preparation of the Israelites for their journey to the promised land, and learn what this means for us today.
Theme: Resting in God’s Gracious Direction

The Aaronic blessing is a very beautiful benediction, perhaps more so in Hebrew than it appears to be in English—although it’s beautiful in English as well. In Hebrew there are three lines, but broken down to six in our Bibles. Each one begins with the name of Yahweh, the LORD. And each line has two elements of benediction and they are arranged in a typical parallel fashion. The lines become progressively longer. In Hebrew the first line has three words, the second line has five words, and the third line has seven words. It’s as if the blessing of God is unfolding and pouring out upon the people.

The first section refers to God’s graciousness to us in this life. The word for “keep” can mean “guard” or “protect.” The middle section (“The LORD make his face shine upon you”), and the last section (“The LORD turn his face toward you”) certainly refer to God’s being gracious to us, but it also involves more than that. The great desire of the Hebrew people, the saints of the Old Testament, was to see the face of God. Remember when Moses prevailed upon God to continue with the Israelites and bless them. He then asked God to show him His glory. That was the great desire of the people, to see the face of God. God replied that no one can see His face and live. But Moses was permitted to see God’s back as the Lord passed by and Moses was hidden (Ex. 33:18-20). We cannot see God now, but one day we will. Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The time is coming when we will see Him.

Numbers 7 deals with the offerings. Chronologically, it’s actually misplaced. These offerings came earlier, at the very end of Exodus. Over twelve days, each of the tribes came to present their offerings (see Ex. 40). Why is it described here? Often in the Bible, the order is theological rather than chronological. The Gospels are an example of this. There’s a general sequence there, but all the details don’t follow in exactly the chronological sequence that we would expect. They’re grouped in order to make theological points. It happens here in Numbers 7 because it’s important that the offerings follow the purification, not the other way around.

The thing that strikes us is the repetition. Beginning in verse 12, we’re told what each one of the tribes brought. Then, paragraph after paragraph, with the single exception of the change of the names of those who brought the offerings and the name of the tribe for which the offering was brought, the wording is virtually identical. That might strike us as a boring way to write. Why didn’t Moses just say that every tribe brought an offering, and they did it in a sequence of twelve days?

You and I don’t appreciate it because we’re swamped with books and movies and television. The Israelites didn’t have television, and Moses’ writings may have been the only book they had. It was significant to these people that in the book of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and written down by Moses, each tribe and their offering was recorded. Some of these tribes were big, and some of them were small. But for each one, the same language is recorded in the book of God. What they gave to God was noticed by Him.

Now be encouraged by that! You may have done things very sacrificially for the Lord on behalf of other people, whether directly or indirectly, and nobody knows it. People may even think poorly of you because they think you haven’t done enough. But God notices it. He appreciates it. Anything that is done for God, out of love for God, is recorded by God in His book and will never be blotted from His mind. Isn’t that wonderful? What you and I do here for Him really does matter.

Numbers 8 tells about the dedication of the Levites, and it has do with the setting up of the lamps and with the dedication and purification of the Levites. They were to be a light to the people, just as the lamps were to be a light within the tabernacle.

In the ninth chapter we have a second observance of the Passover. The Passover was observed initially at the time when the people left Egypt. This is a year later, and so they’re observing it again. What is new in this section is that provision is made for those who were unable to observe it at the right time. Maybe they were away, or maybe there were ceremonially unclean. They can observe it at a later period.

At the end of the ninth chapter, the cloud moves. At the end of Exodus, the moving of the cloud was the climax of the book. But the reference to the cloud here in Numbers shows us important things about God.

It reveals His grace to the Israelites, as God condescends to be among His people in the middle of their camp. It also taught the people about His sovereignty. When God expected them to move, they had to move. And when God expected them to stop, they had to stop. If you read Numbers 9 with any kind of feeling at all, you understand the problems they must have had. Sometimes it stayed at a place for a long time, and other times it was only overnight. They didn’t know what the cloud was going to do. God was teaching them, you see. He was training them in discipline and obedience.

It’s often that way with us. You look at your life and sometimes God seems to be moving, and sometimes God doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all. You have these blank periods and you wish God would do something. You pray, but don’t seem to get answers to your prayers. But all those times when nothing seems to be happening are as important as the other times. You have to understand that God is sovereign, and God will do with you what He will do. The important thing is to follow the leading of the cloud. If the cloud doesn’t move, stay where you are. And if the cloud moves, be sure you are ready to move. It’s as simple as that.

Study Questions
  1. How is the Aaronic blessing constructed in Hebrew?
  2. What is significant about the repetition of the offerings that we have in Numbers 7?

Reflection: Do you sometimes feel as if God is moving in His plans for your life, but at other times He seems to be silent? Ask for greater trust and patience to wait on Him.

Key Point: Anything that is done for God, out of love for God, is recorded by God in His book and will never be blotted from His mind. Isn’t that wonderful? What you and I do here for Him really does matter.

For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Christ, Rock in the Desert.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

For Further Study: The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is still offering James Boice’s published hardcover volume of sermons on Moses.  Order your copy of The Life of Moses, and receive 20% off the regular price.

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