Why is the 4th book of the Pentateuch (the books Moses wrote, the 1st five books of the Old Testament) called “Numbers”. Simple. The book begins with the numbering of the men over 20 in the 2nd year after Israel came out of Egypt when they came to Mt. Sinai and God made them a special chosen nation and gave them the Law of Moses. The book ends with the numbering of the men over 20 in the 40th year after Israel spent almost 40 years wandering in the wilderness because they refused to enter the Promised Land due to their unbelief. Most all of the events in the book took place in that 2nd and 40th year. Aside from those two years, the 38 years spent in the wilderness are passed over in silence.

Maybe we should start with the New Testament when we study Numbers. The main lessons from Numbers are “don’t do as Israel did as recorded in that book”. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 makes several points taken from the book. 10:1-3 Israel ate the manna and drank water from the rock, which he says was Christ Himself, during the full 40 years. He mentions several of their sins.

1) 10:6 When they complained about lack of meat and God gave them quail and struck them with a plague because of their greed (Num 11). It was at that same time that God took some of the burden off Moses by putting the Spirit on 70 of the elders to help him lead.

2) 10:10 When Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron and God opened up the earth and swallowed a large number (Num 16). It was right after that when only Aaron’s rod budded to show that God had chosen Aaron to be the high priest (Num 17).

3) 10:9 When they complained and God sent serpents to kill many of them, and then put the bronze serpent on a staff for their healing (Num 21), which Jesus said was a type of Him being lifted up on the cross for our healing (John 3:14).

4) 10:5 When they sent the 12 spies out and 10 of them said they could not conquer the giants of the Promised Land and then they refused to enter Canaan (Num 14). BTW, if Moses had not interceded for them, God was going to wipe them out completely and start over with Moses. Instead, He sentenced them to wander 40 years in the wilderness with all those over 20 dying in the wilderness.

5) 10:8 When they acted immorally with the daughters of Moab and worshiped their gods, and God sent a plague killing 24,000 until Phinehas pierced two of them while in the very sex act (Num 25). That event was planned by Balaam to have a way that Balak the king of Moab could cause Israel to be cursed by God (Num 31:16). Balak had hired Balaam to curse Israel as they passed by on the way to Canaan, but 4 times when he tried to curse them, the Spirit took over and blessed Israel instead (even predicting the coming of the Messiah in the distant future (Num 24:17).

Paul concludes this summary of their sins by saying, “These things happened to them as examples and they were written for our instruction…therefore let him who things he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:11,12). So, what sins do we commit that will cause us to not enter the Promised Land? Probably very few of us just openly rebel against the Lord. But many of us probably complain often about our circumstances, even though we have been very blessed materially compared with most of the world. We probably even complain about our leaders, like Israel did! Paul does tell us to rebuke elders when they deserve it (1 Timothy 5), but often we just like to criticize our leaders. Hopefully our leaders will be like Joshua and Caleb instead of the other spies sent out. How many great things could have been accomplished by faith that were scuttled because of negative faithless leaders who influenced the flock. Many leaders lead out of fear instead of faith.

In addition to complaining, the sin of idolatry is one that many of us commit, just like Israel. They idols they worshiped were the idols of Baal, Molech, Asherah, and the other gods of the Canaanites. Our idols are usually not physical images of some kind made out of wood or stone. They are the gods of wine, or money, or careers, or sorts, or hobby, or compulsive buying, or drugs, or houses, or popularity, or houses, or cars, etc. Everything God created is good and can be used for good, but it can also be used for evil, and it can become our god. Paul even talked about some false teachers whose “god was their belly” (Romans 16). Just about anything can become an addiction. So how do we know when something has become our idol? John says that it is when we love the things of the world. 1 John 2 15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. So how do I know if I have “loved the world”? There is no line we can draw for others. God draws that line where we start to love things instead of or more than Him. But I imagine it would be like marriage. You kinda know when your. mate is spending more time, money, energy, passion, affection, and love for someone or something other than you. I think in our hearts we all know when we have crossed that line with God. We are the bride of Christ, and should be totally in love and faithful to Him and Him only. I think in our hearts we know when we are flirting with other lovers, or even when we have committed spiritual adultery with them. Israel was accused of whoredom with their foreign gods by Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hosea and other prophets. We have often been raised to think of faithfulness to God measured by how many times we go to “church”, and whether we smoke, drink, or curse! But we can go to church, not do bad things, and still have a heart that is in love with our idols.

Then we turn to Hebrews 3 where the writer talks about God sentencing Israel to wander 40 years, die in the wilderness, and not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because of unbelief (Num 14 again). The writer warns those he is writing to not to have an unbelieving heart and miss the rest (Hebrews 4) that God promised them due to unbelief and disobedience. He points out that Christ was superior to Moses as deliverer and that they should not harden their hearts as Israel did. I see a parallel between the 40 years of testing in the wilderness by Israel and the 40 years of the testing of the early church from the beginning of the church in Acts 2 in 30 AD and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Both 40 year periods were filled with miracles as both groups were tested to see if they would be faithful and enter their rest. Many in both groups did not make it to their rest. That rest in Hebrews 4 for Christians is the final spiritual rest in Jesus, as was promised to Daniel (Daniel 12:13; when he would be raised at the end of the Jewish Age in 70 AD).

There are a few other interesting things in Numbers. The arrangement of the camps around the tabernacle in the center (Ch 2). The Nazarite vow, abstaining from wine and cutting the hair (6:1-8). The benediction to Aaron the high priest (6:22-27). The leading of Israel with cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (9:15-23). The criticism of Moses by Aaron and Miriam (due to her jealousy of Moses’ authority) which led to God making her a leper and Moses praying for her leprosy to be removed (Ch 12). Two and one-half tribes are allowed to settle on the east side of the Jordan River (Ch 32). 48 cities spread throughout the land are given to the Levites to live in as they teach the Law (35:1-8).

A sad story happens when, in the 40th year when the new generation complains about lack of water (20:10-13). God told Moses to speak to the rock and give them water, but Moses spoke rashly (Ps 106:32,33), hit the rock instead, and was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of this sin. God would bury him. But don’t worry for Moses’ eternal fate. Jude says that Satan wanted the body of Moses but Michael rebuked him. Moses might not have entered the Promised Land, but he would have eternal life. He would also join Jesus, along with Elijah, on the Mt. of Transfiguration in Matthew 17. Then another sad story happens when Aaron’s high priesthood is taken from him (due to his sin of making the golden calf) and given to his son while Aaron dies on Mt. Hor (20:22-29).

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