Monday, October 3, 2016

A quick summary of the Book of Numbers

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Numbers 1:52-54 "The sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own standard, according to their armies. 53 But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no wrath on the congregation of the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony.” 54 Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all which the Lord had commanded Moses, so they did."

What happens when you go through a dry time in your life as a Christian? In the desert we find opportunities that challenge us in terms of character, growth and trust in God. Deserts can be those times where we are tempted (like Jesus was in Matthew 4) or where we choose whether to trust God or run away in despair (like Elijah in 1 Kings 19). Perhaps you reading this today are in a dry time of your life. It is in those valleys where major decisions of life and spiritual consequence are made. 

The Book of of Numbers records for us the 40 years of wanderings the Jewish people made from Mount Sinai to drawing nearer to the Eastern banks of the Jordon river. The Hebrew name for this book is "mid-bar", which translated means "in the desert". Often when people think of the book of Numbers, they think of a Bible book one would read to fall asleep, since the English title suggests nothing more than a bunch of numbers, lists and genealogies. Now there are contained within the book those items, however, the Book of Numbers is way more than those contents. Numbers carries on as a sequel (a "part three") in the narrative flow of Exodus and Leviticus. The Book of Numbers carries on the story of the journeys of two generations of the Israelites, their unbelief and God's grace to bring the second generation to with sight of the promised land. 

An example of how the New Testament uses the Book of Numbers
Before Christians dismiss the Book of Numbers, let us be prompted to realize that the Apostle Paul uses it as the basis for his instructions in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. In that chapter, Paul warns the Corinthians church about being tempted and what to do when faced with the pressures of this world. 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 corresponds with Numbers 1-21; 1 Corinthians 10:7-10 matches with Numbers 22-25 and 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 lines up with Numbers 26-36. If we did not have this usage of Numbers by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, we would not have this promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it."

A brief outline of the Book of Numbers
The Book of Numbers pictures for us how Christ is ever with His people, even when they fail. As we noted about Paul and his use of the book in 1 Corinthians 10, we find that Christ accompanied the people of God, disguised as the rock that Moses struck (Numbers 20:8-20). I like how Bible scholar Dr. Ed Hindson outlines Numbers in his "Old Testament Survey Notes", page 36:

I. Preparation: Walking (Numbers 1-12)

II. Postponement: Wandering (Numbers 13-20)

III. Promise: Waiting (Numbers 21-36)

Whenever you study any book of the Bible, oftentimes Study Bibles will include introductions that include such outlines. Below is a proposed outline of the book that attempts to capture the flow and timing of the book through its major sections: 

1. The wilderness setting. Numbers 1-2

2. The first year at Sinai and eventual preparations for moving forward. Number 3-12

3. The failure to believe the report of the spies and God's prohibitions for entering the promised land. Numbers 13-14

4. The remainder of the wilderness wanderings in the first year following the judgment of God. Numbers 15-19.

Now we must pause here and let the reader know that from Numbers 19-20 represents a jump from year one to year 38. There are over three and one-half decades of time not mentioned in detail. The curse upon the people for not believing the spies who had previewed the promised land was that the first generation would die off in the wilderness. Hence, the remainder of the book details the second generation's wanderings. 

5. Preparing the second generation for what will be their entry into the Promised land. This final major part of the book of Numbers 20-36 includes:

a. Major victories and major defeats. Number 20-21

b. The temptation by Balaam. Numbers 22-25

c. Preliminary preparations for what will be the entry into the promised land. Numbers 26-36

Final thoughts and how we see Jesus Christ in Numbers and how the book applies to the Christian life
The reader must understand that we are painting in broad brush strokes in the above outline. To really appreciate the Book of Numbers, as with all Old Testament Books, we consider what we see of Jesus Christ throughout its pages.  We've already mentioned Christ as the Rock who ever accompanies His people in the dryness of this world. Numbers 21 and Moses' lifting up of the serpent for the healing of those bitten in judgment is said to represent Jesus on the cross in John 3:15-16. Numbers 35 and the cities of refuge portray Jesus Christ as the believer's refuge. Imagery such as these ought to heighten the value of this precious Book. 

Certainly understanding the need for the modern day church to be a Godly people and to avoid the mistakes we find in Numbers is one of the key points of the book. To end today's post on a more positive note, the Book of Numbers functions throughout New Testament books like 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, 2 Peter and Jude to urge us in these last days to fight the good fight of faith whilst having Jesus ever with us.  

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