Scripture reading – Numbers 1-2
An Introduction to the Book of Numbers
Our chronological study of the Scriptures brings us to the Book of Numbers, the fourth of the five books known as the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The author of Numbers is Moses, and the timeline setting is stated as the “first day of the second month, in the second year” following Israel’s exodus out of Egypt (Numbers 1:1).
Those new to a study of the Old Testament Scriptures might inquire why events that took place thousands of years ago have significance to 21st century believers.
Paul spoke to that question in his letter to believers in Corinth, writing, “11Now all these things [historical events of the Old Testament Scriptures] happened unto them for ensamples [pattern; model]: and they are written for our admonition [warning]…” (1 Corinthians 10:11). It is important to have knowledge of the Old Testament, because the Scriptures are instructive in the providences and judgments of God. The more you study the Bible, the more understanding you have into the ways, and the will of God.
A Background of the Twelve Tribes of Israel
The Twelve Tribes of Israel were descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, the Old Testament patriarch whose name God changed to Israel. Jacob (Israel) was the son of Isaac, and the grandson of Abraham, of whom two sons were born. Ishmael was the firstborn son of Abraham, born to Hagar, an Egyptian, whose lineage we identify as a branch of the Arabic people. God, however, rejected Ishmael as Abraham’s heir. In his old age, his wife Sarah conceived, and gave birth to Isaac, whom God had chosen to be his father’s heir. The Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) would pass through his son Jacob, and to his twelve sons who fathered the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
Numbers 1 – The First Census
The Twelve Tribes of Israel are named, and numbered in Numbers 1-2. The census revealed the number of Israel’s men of war by tribe, excluding the priestly tribe of Levite (1:47-50). Taking its name from the census, the Book of Numbers is the record of two head counts (Numbers 1-4, and Numbers 26-27). It documents the number of able-bodied men of war, totaled by tribe and household, “from twenty years old and upward” (1:3).
Able-bodied Males, Twenty Years and Older, and Fit For War (1:17-43)
The LORD charged Moses and Aaron with the responsibility of numbering the men of Israel; however, the census excluded the priestly tribe of Levi, whose duty was to serve the LORD as Israel’s spiritual guardians (1:47-54; 2:33). The Twelve Tribes included the lineages of the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh (1:32-35), who were adopted by Jacob, replacing his sons Reuben and Simeon (Genesis 48:5).
The census total of fighting men in Israel, not including men of Levi, numbered 603,500.
Numbers 2 – The Arrangement of Israel’s Encampment by Tribe
Numbers 2 gives the organization of Israel’s encampment. The Twelve Tribes were organized by four divisions (east, south, west and north). With the Tabernacle as the central object, each division, consisting of three tribes, was assigned a standard (banner).
On the east side of the Tabernacle was the Tribe of Judah, and assigned to its banner was Issachar, and Zebulun (2:3-9). Under the banner of Reuben, on the south side of the Tabernacle, were assigned Simeon and Gad (2:10-16). West of the Tabernacle was the standard of Ephraim, and under its banner were Manasseh and Benjamin (2:18-24). On the north side of the Tabernacle was the banner of Dan, and under its banner were Asher and Naphtali (2:25-31). The Tribe of Levi was within the encampment of the other tribes, and its tents were pitched around the Tabernacle (1:53; 2:17).
God’s presence, represented by the Tabernacle, was the Dominant Focus of Israel.
Because worshipping and serving the LORD was central to Israel, the Tabernacle, representing God’s presence in the midst of His people, was located in the center of the encampment with the tribe of Levi encamped around it (1:53). The Levites were charged with the responsibility of the Tabernacle, and the vessels used for worship and offering sacrifices (Numbers 1:50; 3:8).
Reminding us the LORD was Shepherd of Israel, He alone ordered the starts and the stops of His people. When it was time to move, the Levites were charged with taking down the Tabernacle. When it was time to stop, the Levites erected the Tabernacle in the midst of the tribes (Numbers 1:51, 53).
Who orders the starts and stops in your life? Who is central to your heart, and focus?
Remember, the LORD accepts no place, but first place in your heart, thoughts, and affections!
Romans 12:1 – 1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith