The Hebrews call the Book of Numbers “In the Wilderness”. It’s the beginning of the journey of the Jews to the Promised Land — the Covenant that God made with Abraham. First, let’s do a little recap on the story of the people of Israel until now.
In Genesis 46, we learned that there were 70 members of Jacob’s (aka Israel) family who moved from Canaan to Egypt because of the drought and famine in the area. Jacob’s son, Joseph was a high-ranking leader in Egypt.
Fast forward 430 years and the Jews are enslaved by a mean Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph. Enter Moses, who was called by God to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. There were about 600,000 men, not counting women and children, who left Egypt to return to the Promised Land.
It’s a year since they left Egypt and during that time, God gave Moses some rules and laws that they the Jews needed to follow to stay “right with God”. He also gave Moses detailed instructions on building their mobile “church” or tabernacle, as well as strict rules of sacrificing for atonement. (After going through all that, I’m really glad that Jesus made the final and ultimate sacrifice and we don’t have to go through all those rites and rituals — Jesus paid it all!)
So, we find the Jews getting ready to set out, finally, to the Promised Land, but before any road trip, there’s got to be a little organization. Especially if you’re trying to move 2 million people into an inhabited land, where there was going to be resistance! Let’s dig in…
A year after Israel’s departure from Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the Tabernacle in the wilderness of Sinai. On the first day of the second month of that year he said, 2 “From the whole community of Israel, record the names of all the warriors by their clans and families. List all the men 3 twenty years old or older who are able to go to war. You and Aaron must register the troops, 4 and you will be assisted by one family leader from each tribe.”Numbers 1:1-4 NLT
The Tribes of Israel
- Ephraim, son of Joseph
- Manasseh, son of Joseph
Wait! There are 13! God decided to give Joseph’s two sons each a tribe and the Levites, being the priestly tribe, don’t count. I’m skipping around so I don’t bore you with numbers, but you can read it all here. Each tribe had a leader. Let’s go on…
16 “These are the chosen leaders of the community, the leaders of their ancestral tribes, the heads of the clans of Israel.”
17 So Moses and Aaron called together these chosen leaders, 18 and they assembled the whole community of Israel on that very day. All the people were registered according to their ancestry by their clans and families. The men of Israel who were twenty years old or older were listed one by one, 19 just as the Lord had commanded Moses. So Moses recorded their names in the wilderness of Sinai.Numbers 1:16-19 NLT
All total, there were 603,550 men of fighting age.
47 But this total did not include the Levites. 48 For the Lord had said to Moses, 49 “Do not include the tribe of Levi in the registration; do not count them with the rest of the Israelites. 50 Put the Levites in charge of the Tabernacle of the Covenant, along with all its furnishings and equipment. They must carry the Tabernacle and all its furnishings as you travel, and they must take care of it and camp around it. 51 Whenever it is time for the Tabernacle to move, the Levites will take it down. And when it is time to stop, they will set it up again. But any unauthorized person who goes too near the Tabernacle must be put to death. 52 Each tribe of Israel will camp in a designated area with its own family banner. 53 But the Levites will camp around the Tabernacle of the Covenant to protect the community of Israel from the Lord’s anger. The Levites are responsible to stand guard around the Tabernacle.”
54 So the Israelites did everything just as the Lord had commanded Moses.Numbers 1:47-54 NLT
Again, I’ll be skipping around, but you can read it all here.
Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses and Aaron: 2 “When the Israelites set up camp, each tribe will be assigned its own area. The tribal divisions will camp beneath their family banners on all four sides of the Tabernacle, but at some distance from it.”Numbers 2:1-2 NLT
Basically, 3 sets of tribes were to camp on each of the 4 sides of the tabernacle, but some distance away. Then the 3 sons of Levi and their clans would camp between the Israelites and the tabernacle to protect it. Moses and Aaron and their families camped at the entrance. The Levite clan had 22,000 males.
17 “Then the Tabernacle, carried by the Levites, will set out from the middle of the camp. All the tribes are to travel in the same order that they camp, each in position under the appropriate family banner.”Numbers 2:17 NLT
11 And the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Look, I have chosen the Levites from among the Israelites to serve as substitutes for all the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. The Levites belong to me, 13 for all the firstborn males are mine. On the day I struck down all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, I set apart for myself all the firstborn in Israel, both of people and of animals. They are mine; I am the Lord.”Numbers 3:11-13 NLT
Moving the Tabernacle
Moving is not fun. In my adult life, I’ve moved over 30 times! It’s a traumatic experience. In Exodus, we saw how intricate the Tabernacle was. Imagine having to tear down and set up all the time. That’s where the Levites came in. That was their job. Numbers Chapter 4 goes into detail on the duties of each of the Levite clans. It’s amazing on how organized God was! Read it here.
14 The Lord spoke again to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. He said, 15 “Record the names of the members of the tribe of Levi by their families and clans. List every male who is one month old or older.” 16 So Moses listed them, just as the Lord had commanded.
17 Levi had three sons, whose names were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.Numbers 3:14-17 NLT
Gershon had 2 sons:
25 These two clans were responsible to care for the Tabernacle, including the sacred tent with its layers of coverings, the curtain at its entrance, 26 the curtains of the courtyard that surrounded the Tabernacle and altar, the curtain at the courtyard entrance, the ropes, and all the equipment related to their use.
Kohath had 4 sons:
31 These four clans were responsible for the care of the Ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the various articles used in the sanctuary, the inner curtain, and all the equipment related to their use. 32 Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, was the chief administrator over all the Levites, with special responsibility for the oversight of the sanctuary.
Merari had 2 sons:
36 These two clans were responsible for the care of the frames supporting the Tabernacle, the crossbars, the pillars, the bases, and all the equipment related to their use. 37 They were also responsible for the posts of the courtyard and all their bases, pegs, and ropes.
Redeeming the Firstborn Sons
40 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now count all the firstborn sons in Israel who are one month old or older, and make a list of their names. 41 The Levites must be reserved for me as substitutes for the firstborn sons of Israel; I am the Lord. And the Levites’ livestock must be reserved for me as substitutes for the firstborn livestock of the whole nation of Israel.”
42 So Moses counted the firstborn sons of the people of Israel, just as the Lord had commanded. 43 The number of firstborn sons who were one month old or older was 22,273.
44 Then the Lord said to Moses, 45 “Take the Levites as substitutes for the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. And take the livestock of the Levites as substitutes for the firstborn livestock of the people of Israel. The Levites belong to me; I am the Lord. 46 There are 273 more firstborn sons of Israel than there are Levites. To redeem these extra firstborn sons, 47 collect five pieces of silver for each of them (each piece weighing the same as the sanctuary shekel, which equals twenty gerahs). 48 Give the silver to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for the extra firstborn sons.”
49 So Moses collected the silver for redeeming the firstborn sons of Israel who exceeded the number of Levites. 50 He collected 1,365 pieces of silver on behalf of these firstborn sons of Israel (each piece weighing the same as the sanctuary shekel). 51 And Moses gave the silver for the redemption to Aaron and his sons, just as the Lord had commanded.Numbers 3 NLT
Jesus is our Substitute!
I’m going to borrow again from the folks at Spoken Gospel, this time from their Bible Study, “Jesus in all of Numbers”…
God says that all firstborn males belong to him. This is based on what he did in Exodus. He put to death all the Egyptian firstborn males but passed over all the Israelites’ firstborn (Ex 12:29). Basically, the firstborn owe their lives to God. They belong to him.
But, instead of taking each firstborn from all the tribes into his service, God allows the Levites to stand in for them as their substitute (3:41).
So another census is taken to count the firstborn males in Israel (3:42).
There are 22,273 firstborn males in Israel. And 22,000 Levite males. That means that all firstborn males have a one for one substitute except for 273 of them. What are the rest to do? They are bought at a price of 5 shekels each (3:47-48). Basically, the price on their head is paid.
Now, instead of all the firstborn males from every tribe being taken out of their families and land to serve in God’s tent, the Levites perform this duty on their behalf.
This is a picture of how Jesus is our substitute.
We have a price on our heads. Because of our sin, we deserve what the firstborn Egyptians got – death (Rom 6:23). But God’s wrath passes over us when we put our faith in Jesus who received the penalty we deserved as our substitute (Mark 10:45)). But when Jesus paid for the death we deserved with his life, there was no remainder left unpaid like the 273 Israelites who had to be bought with money. Jesus paid it all.
Moreover, Jesus has performed every tabernacle task that we never could have performed. His own body is the true tabernacle where God dwelt on earth (John 1:14). In our place, he did not pull up some tent pegs and fold some cloth, he allowed the tent of his body to literally be torn down. But the tent didn’t stay down. God also set the tent of his body back up in his resurrection.“Jesus in all of Numbers” by Spoken Gospel
In the Book of Numbers, God will be leading the Israelites through the wilderness desert, to the Promised Land. All they have to do is follow and obey.
That’s exactly what God wants YOU to do — follow and obey! God knows exactly where you are and where you are going. The question is…
Are YOU going in RIGHT direction?
Or do you need to do a complete 180 degree turn to avoid going to hell?
That’s your choice: heaven or hell.
If you’re not sure if you’re saved or not, if you truly want to be born again and have the assurance of salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, and get a 1-way, non-stop ticket to Heaven after you die, or that you won’t be left behind at the Rapture, which can happen at any moment, this is what you have to do…
Believe. Repent. Be Baptized. Receive the Holy Spirit.
- Believe — have Faith — that Jesus is the Christ and He died taking your sins away forever and that He rose from the dead 3 days later.
- Repent of your sins — stop sinning! Do a complete 180 degree turn in your life and surrender your life to Him.
- Be Baptized — show the world and yourself that you have died to your old life and are born again in Christ.
- Receive the Holy Spirit in your heart.