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Numbers 1

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Book of Numbers Chapter One
Commentary by Pastor Ron Beckham

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The Census

The Book of Leviticus as written by Moses, is a presentation of events that occurred during just about one month in time, whereas the Book of Numbers covers almost 39-years (1444-1405 BC). Based on the census figures in Chapters 1 and 26, the encampment of Israel must have stretched out for several miles—it was a nation now consisting of two-and-one-half million people. Moses was the human author of Numbers, based on Scriptures that include John 3:14, Acts 7, 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, Hebrews 3 and 4, and Jude 11. Numbers 33:2 is very clear about the authorship of Moses, stating, "Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord." We now begin studying the Book of Numbers, which began as a potentially 11-day trip but lasted for a generation in the wilderness.

Verses 1-3: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, 2 Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head 3 from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies." It's interesting to compare this census with one that was to be conducted at the order of King David, several hundred years later. 1 Chronicles 21:1 states, "Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel," and the context continues into Verse 7, which relates, "God was displeased" about that census. When we think the Lord has led us, it's a good thing and we should respond—but part of our response is to pray, making sure it is truly the Lord who is leading us to do it.

Verses 4-19: "'With you, moreover, there shall be a man of each tribe, each one head of his father’s household. 5 These then are the names of the men who shall stand with you: of Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur; 6 of Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai; 7 of Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab; 8 of Issachar, Nethanel the son of Zuar; 9 of Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon; 10 of the sons of Joseph: of Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud; of Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur; 11 of Benjamin, Abidan the son of Gideoni; 12 of Dan, Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai; 13 of Asher, Pagiel the son of Ochran; 14 of Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel; 15 of Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan. 16 These are they who were called of the congregation, the leaders of their fathers’ tribes; they were the heads of divisions of Israel.' 17 So Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name, 18 and they assembled all the congregation together on the first of the second month. Then they registered by ancestry in their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, head by head, 19 just as the Lord had commanded Moses. So he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai." Notice that the Lord directed Moses to meet and take with him the leaders of the tribes of Israel, for the purposes of accountability and human authority in what he was doing. Selected were secular leaders only—the tribe of Levi, the Levitical, priestly tribe, was not included.

Verses 20-21: "Now the sons of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 21 their numbered men of the tribe of Reuben were 46,500." Reuben was the first born son of Jacob, the man who came to be known as Israel, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. Like the other sons of Jacob named in this chapter, Reuben was long gone, literally dead to this world, but his descendants had become a tribe known by his name, as it was true for the other sons listed in this chapter. Abraham's sons and servants had not only been shepherds, but they also became skilled in the tools and arts of warfare—their descendants who were counted in this chapter were men-of-war who could and would fight for the nation called Israel.

Verses 22-23: "Of the sons of Simeon, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, their numbered men, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 23 their numbered men of the tribe of Simeon were 59,300." Simeon, the progenitor of the tribe of Simeon, was Jacob's second son—he and his brother, Reuben, were both sons of Leah, Jacob's first wife.

Verses 24-25: "Of the sons of Gad, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 25 their numbered men of the tribe of Gad were 45,650." Gad was the son of Zilpah, Leah's maid-servant, and he was actually Jacob's 7th son. A brief history of the circumstances of the births of all the sons of this chapter in Numbers may be seen in Genesis Chapters 29 & 30.

Verses 26-27: "Of the sons of Judah, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 27 their numbered men of the tribe of Judah were 74,600." Judah was the 4th son of Jacob, by Leah, Jacob's first wife, and his descendants would not only become the tribe of Judah, but later they were also the nation called Judah, which came into existence after the death of King Solomon, centuries in the future.

Verses 28-31: "Of the sons of Issachar, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 29 their numbered men of the tribe of Issachar were 54,400. 30 Of the sons of Zebulun, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 31 their numbered men of the tribe of Zebulun were 57,400." Issachar was the 9th son of Jacob, the 5th son of Leah, and Zebulun was Jacob's 10th son, Leah's 6th and last son, but she subsequently gave birth to a notable daughter named Dinah.

Verses 32-35: "Of the sons of Joseph, namely, of the sons of Ephraim, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 33 their numbered men of the tribe of Ephraim were 40,500. 34 Of the sons of Manasseh, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 35 their numbered men of the tribe of Manasseh were 32,200." Joseph was Jacob's 11th son and his first by Rachel, Jacob's second wife. Joseph was Jacob's favorite son, which created jealousy in the minds of his other sons, who ambushed Joseph and sold him into Egyptian slavery. He went from slavery to prison and from there, through God's grace, Joseph became governor of Egypt. Governor Joseph had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were given the status of two shares, two tribes in the nation Israel. Jacob treated these grandsons as though they were sons, in honor of his favored son, Joseph.

Verses 36-37: "Of the sons of Benjamin, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 37 their numbered men of the tribe of Benjamin were 35,400." Benjamin was Jacob's twelfth son, and was Rachel's second and last son, for she died giving birth to him. The relatively small tribe of Benjamin would later become part of Judah, when the nation Israel split in two after the death of King Solomon, David's son. The Apostle Paul would be from this tribe.

Verses 38-43: "Of the sons of Dan, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 39 their numbered men of the tribe of Dan were 62,700. 40 Of the sons of Asher, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 41 their numbered men of the tribe of Asher were 41,500. 42 Of the sons of Naphtali, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war, 43 their numbered men of the tribe of Naphtali were 53,400." Dan was Jacob's fifth son, the product of Bilhah, Rachel's maid, within the complex circumstances of this family's relationships. Asher was the 8th, the son of Jacob and Leah. Napthali was the 6th, the son of Rachel's maid, Bilhah, and Rachel said about him, "I have wrestled with my sister and indeed I have prevailed" (Genesis 30:8).

Verses 44-46: "These are the ones who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron numbered, with the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each of whom was of his father’s household. 45 So all the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war in Israel, 46 even all the numbered men were 603,550." In Verses 4-16, we saw that Moses took with him the leaders of the various tribes, who participated in the census of this chapter. Also accompanying them was Moses' older brother, Aaron, the first high priest of this new nation which was created by the Lord. And to the "603,550" men of this chapter, adding the women, children and elderly of Israel, will allow you to come up with an approximation of how many Israelites there were at the time.

Moses and Aaron accompanied the others, and they were of the tribe of Levi, Jacob and Leah's 3rd son. But as it says here in Verse 47, "The Levites, however, were not numbered among them by their fathers’ tribe." This was a count, a census of fighting men, and the principal function of the Levites was not the same as the other tribes, as seen in Verses 48-53: "For the Lord had spoken to Moses, saying, 49 Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you take their census among the sons of Israel. 50 But you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle. 51 So when the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle encamps, the Levites shall set it up. But the layman who comes near shall be put to death. 52 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." The Levites performed similar functions to those who serve in modern places of worship, such as churches. Some study and teach God's Word, others greet at the doors or visit the sick and elderly, all performing various functions. Able-bodied men in the various tribes were designated as men of war, but the Levites were set aside to serve the Lord.

Verse 54 is a challenge for us all: "Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all which the Lord had commanded Moses, so they did." Such dedication would not last in Israel and it is difficult for us today. The Lord is continually directing our lives and the question is: What will WE do in response to His call? Let's decide to serve and follow our God.

Lord, when You call us, we choose to respond, and yet, as humans, we so easily fall away. We are Yours, Lord, and want to continue to be Your faithful servants, now and forever. Strengthen us, Lord, renew our faith and hope; keep us in the way we should go. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries

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