NUMBERS: THE BOOK OF PILGRIMAGE
An outline of Numbers may appear as this:
Between the last chapter of Exodus (40:17) and the first chapter of Numbers (1:1) a little over a month elapses. The events covered in Numbers occupy a period of about 38 years. The book gets its name from the two numberings recorded, one at the beginning and one at the end. The book can be properly divided into four parts: (1) The last days at Sinai, (2) from Sinai to Kadesh, (3) Kadesh through the wilderness wanderings and back to Kadesh, (4) Kadesh to Jordan. God had a way through the wilderness which would have brought Israel into immediate possession of Canaan. The tragic failure of Israel at Kadesh to press on into Canaan to possess the land occurs between the two numberings and the disbelieving generation is condemned to wander in the wilderness until all are dead. Only two men, Joshua and Caleb, of that generation were permitted to enter the land of Canaan. The 38 years of wandering were a result of disobedience. (Unbelief to always robs us of the present enjoyment of salvation.)
I think I should include how the camp of the Israelites was arranged. With such a vast number of people to control, some measures must be undertaken to keep some semblance of order. Israel comprised an orderly camp spread out according to divine decree around the tabernacle. Each person had his proper place among the people of God. All things were done decently and in order. The tabernacle was positioned in the center of the camp. On the east were the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. On the south were the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. On the west were the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. On the north were the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. Among the Levites were the Kohathites on the south of the tabernacle, the Gershonites on the west side of the tabernacle, the Merarites on the north side of the tabernacle, and Moses, Aaron, and the priests on the east side of the tabernacle.
The book of Numbers may also be called the book of murmurings, or book of complainings. From the time the people left Egypt until the time they forfeited their right to enter Canaan, they complained and they complained. They complained about the manna. They complained about the bitter waters. They complained about prophetic gifts to some and not to others. They complained about the marriage of Moses to a foreign woman. A bitter complaint that caused Moses' failure to enter the Land of Promise was at the waters of Meribah (Numbers 20:2-12). The Israelites should have learned that all their needs would be supplied by God, but they did not. This complaint sorely tried Moses' patience. His disgust with the people prompted him to declare " .Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" It would seem that Moses implied by these angry words that it was he and Aaron that were providing the water for them, but he failed to give God the glory (see Deut. 1:37; 3:26; Psalms 106:32,33). God was not sanctified in the eyes of the people. Finally, they complained about the Promised Land also. They cried out that they would rather have died in Egypt, or in the wilderness, than to be overcome by the "giants" in the land. How prophetically they spoke those words, because God answered them with "your carcasses shall fall in the wilderness." That was His sobering judgment (Numbers 13:29).
There is a practical lesson we may draw from this. There seems to be many who can, it seems, trust God to save them from the penalty of sin, yet fail to trust Him to save them from the power of sin. All their lives they wander, it seems, in the wilderness, coming short of God's best for their lives. A lack of faith in God deprives us of the blessed experience in the higher spiritual life. Values are sometimes correctly appraised only when we realize they are out of our reach.
The wilderness wanderings are coming to an end. We find the Israelites camped on the east side of Jordan. They are able to look over Jordan and see the Promised Land. Soon there will be no more manna or quail. Israel will be able to live off the land "flowing with milk and honey."
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