Study Notes

Numbers 1:1-4:49


In Leviticus, we studied the priestly practices, the laws of holiness, and various commandments given by God to the Israelites through Moses. In 27 chapters, very little time passed. We actually saw only two narratives of action: the day Nadab and Abihu offered the strange fire, and the time that a man got in a fight and blasphemed.

But in the book of Numbers, we're going to cover the entire wilderness wandering. Many of the best Bible narratives and subjects of study are found in the book of Numbers: Nazarite Vows; Sending Spies into Canaan; Korah's Rebellion; the Red Heifer; the Brazen Serpent; the Prophet Balaam; Cities of Refuge; and so much more!

1:1 In The Tent Of Meeting

As we begin the book of Numbers, it is the 1st day of the 2nd month, in the 2nd year after the Israelites left the land of Egypt. They had erected the tabernacle exactly one month prior:

Exod. 40:17 Now it came about in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was erected.

Now God speaks to Moses in the tent of meeting, and is going to give detailed instruction that will tell us why we refer to this book as "Numbers."

1:2-3 Take A Census

Twice in this book, a census is commanded, one for this generation, one for the generation to come after the wilderness wandering.

The only people counted were men 20 years old and up - those who could serve as soldiers in the army during a war.

(1:4-16) Leaders Of The Tribes

Twelve men were chosen by God to be leaders of their respective tribes. These verses list their names.

1:17-19 Israel Numbered

This census took place the same day that God commanded Moses to do it: the first day of the second month. They counted approximately 1million, 50 thousand men that day!

What I see in this is that Moses was not only a man who obeyed God, but one who obeyed God quickly. We should be

James 1:19 ...slow to speak {and} slow to anger

But may we never be slow to obey!

(1:20-46) Numbers Of Tribes

In this section of chapter 1, we have detailed information listing each of the tribes' quantity of men over 20 who were able to go out to war.

They ranged in size from the massive tribe of Judah at 74 thousand down to the relatively small tribe of Manasseh, at 32 thousand.

One thing not to be confused by is the fact that the Bible frequently refers to "the 12 tribes of Israel," because, actually, if you counted them all you would find the names of 14 tribes. Let me explain. Jacob, renamed Israel by the Lord, had twelve sons. In order of their births, they were: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. Twelve sons.

But how is it when the tribe of Levi is excluded from a list because of priestly separation, that there still manages to be 12 in the list? Joseph had two sons named Manasseh and Ephraim. Most often, we will not read of the tribe of Joseph, but of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim. So Levi and Joseph are typically excluded, while Manasseh and Ephraim are named.

But sometimes, just to keep us on our toes, God will eliminate a different tribe from a list. Take for example Revelation chapter 7, when the 144,00 will be sealed: 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.. But the list includes the tribes of Levi, Joseph, AND Manasseh. Ephraim is, of course, included under the tribe of Joseph, so who is excluded? The tribe of Dan. Very often in Scriptures, the omissions are just as educational as the inclusions. A study of the history of the tribe of Dan should reveal why God does not choose any of the 144,000 from it. But notice that the list is still 12 tribes long... amazing!

1:47-51 The Levites

God sets apart the Levites for the work of the tabernacle. They are therefore not to be numbered with the army, nor included in battle.

1:52-54 Camped Around The Tabernacle

Each tribe had a standard which they camped by. Remember that a standard was a wooden pole with a crosspiece, bearing a flag which displayed an emblem for each tribe.

You may have noticed that we have a mezuza at the front door of the church. On it, you can see the twelve emblems of the tribes. In the next chapter, God will instruct that the tribes camp under four specific standards: Judah's which was a lion; Reuben's, which was a man; Ephraim's, which was a calf; and Dan's, which was an eagle. Hmmm. A lion, a man, a calf, and an eagle. What does that sound like to you?

Ezekiel described the four cherubim that surrounded the throne of God:

Ezek. 1:8-11 ...As for the faces and wings of the four of them, their wings touched one another; their {faces} did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. As for the form of their faces, {each} had the face of a man, all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces...

John also saw the cherubim. From his perspective, he could see only one of their four faces. He writes in Revelation 4...

Rev. 4:6-7 ...And in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. And the first creature {was} like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature {was} like a flying eagle.

Here in the wilderness, God has made the entire camp of Israel a model of the throne of God! His throne in the center, and on four sides, the cherubim looking like a lion, a man, a calf, and an eagle.

(2:1-34) A Picture Of The Cross

In this chapter, the Lord details how the Israelites are to camp around the tabernacle:

Judah was to set its standard up east of the tabernacle, and the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun would camp around it. This would be an army of 186,400 men.

Reuben was to set its standard up south of the tabernacle, and the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad would camp around it. This was an army of 151,450 men.

Ephraim was to set its standard up west of the tabernacle, and the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin would camp around it. This was an army of 108,100 men.

Dan was to set its standard up north of the tabernacle, and the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtaili would camp around it. This was an army of 157,600 men.

Why go to all this trouble to number these armies? Picture yourself on a high mountain looking down upon the Israelites as they camped. Spread out in four directions are four camps. North and south are nearly the same size, west is shorter than east. There, on the desert floor, is a gigantic cross!

Numbers 2 Cross

3:1-4 The Generations Of Aaron And Moses

Aaron the high priest, and his four sons, Nadab (Naw-DAWB), Abihu (Ah-bee-HOO), Ithamar (Eeth-aw-MAWR) and Eleazar (El-aw-ZAWR), were priests. But Nadab and Abihu were smitten by fire from the Lord, so Aaron's two remaining sons were serving as priests.

3:5-10 The Levites

With only the three priests, God commanded the entire tribe of Levi to do the service of the tabernacle. The Lord says that the tribe of Levi is "wholly given to Aaron." While Aaron is ministering to the Lord and His people, the Levites will be ministering to Aaron and the priests.

3:11-13 Instead of The First-Born

Back in Exodus 13, God had commanded that every first-born son of every family was to be sanctified - set apart and dedicated to God's service.

Exod. 13:2 "Sanctify to Me every first-born, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me."

But when Israel sinned with the whole golden calf nonsense back in Exodus 32, God chose the Levites to serve Him instead.

Exod. 32:25-26 Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control - for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies - then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, {come} to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him.

Levi had set themselves apart with a heart for God, so God set them apart to serve Him.

(3:14-22) Numbering The Levites By Families

These verses detail the names of the families that made up the tribe of Levi. Because they did not have to serve in the army, their number was determined not by 20 years and up, but rather just one month old and up.

(3:23-39) Duties Of The Levite Families

Each of the families of the Levites had specific responsibilities and a place to camp. The families were divided into three groups, according to which of the sons of Levi they descended from:

Exod. 6:16 ...These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon (Gay-resh-ONE) and Kohath (Keh-HAWTH), and Merari (Mer-aw-REE)

The Gershonites camped immediately to the west of the tabernacle, and were in charge of caring for and transporting the tent, the coverings, the screen, the hangings, and the cords.

The Kohathites camped immediately to the south of the tabernacle, and were in charge of caring for and transporting the furniture: the ark, table, lampstand, altars, and utensils.

Those descended from Merari camped immediately to the north of the tabernacle, and cared for and transported the frames, pillars, sockets, pegs and cords.

Moses and the priests themselves camped directly in front of the gates, which faced east.

3:40-51 Ransoming The 273 Excess First-Borns

Because the Levites were basically standing in the place of the first-born by serving God, the Lord wanted them to make sure that He was getting a fair deal. Verse 39 told us that there were exactly 22,000 Levites. How many first-born would He have had serving? They counted, and found that there were 22,273 first-born.

Had the first-born been serving, God would've had 273 more people working for Him than He did with the Levites. So He says, "you guys owe Me." There's going to be a 5-shekel ransom for each one of the 273, and it will be given to Aaron and his sons, because they've basically been short-changed 273 tabernacle workers.

4:1-3 The Kohathites

Aaron and his sons were Kohathites. The priests would all be from Aaron's family, and thus Kohathites.

Today, as the Jews are hoping and planning to rebuild the temple, they are looking for those with priestly lineage, namely, those whose last name is Cohen. It is believed that the Cohens are the Kohathites.

So the Kohathite clan from the tribe of Levi was chosen by God to do the most sacred work, that which was in the tent of meeting. This ministry was to be done by men from 30 to 50 years old.

4:4-20 Priests Cover, Kohathites Carry

The priests themselves were to cover the ark of the covenant with the veil, as well as covering the table, the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the altar of sacrifice. They were to put the poles through their rings so that the Kohathites could carry them. If they touched the holy objects, they would die.

We see this come to pass during the days of King David. In 1Samuel, we read that the Philistines captured the ark during a battle with the Israelites. After a series of supernatural problems, they decided that keeping the ark wasn't in their best interest. They put it on a cart and shipped it out.

It wound up in Kiriath-jearim, and stayed there for 20 years. When it came time for the Israelites to bring the ark back to Jerusalem, David decided to build a brand new cart to transport it. Bad idea. He should've obeyed the Word of God rather than imitating the ways of the Philistines.

2Sam. 6:3-7 And they placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart. So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of {instruments made of} fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals. But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset {it.} And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.

So God is not using figures of speech when he tells the priests to cover it and have it carried by the poles, lest the Kohathites die!

(4:21-28) Duties Of The Gershonites

As we have learned, the Gershonites were to carry the curtains, hangings, etc.

(4:29-33) Duties Of The Sons Of Merari

The sons of Merari were to carry the pillars, sockets, etc.

(4:34-45) Numbering The Levites For Service

These verses detail Moses and Aaron's numbering of all 30-50 year olds from the three clans.

4:46-49 Serving Or Carrying

Who did the Lord number? Those who would be serving or carrying. May I suggest to you that this is what every Christian is called to in their lives. We are either to be ministering as priests, serving the body in the local church, or helping to carry the load physically and financially.

This is what the church is to do:

Eph. 4:11-12 And He gave some {as} apostles, and some {as} prophets, and some {as} evangelists, and some {as} pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;

As a pastor/teacher, my job is to equip you for service by teaching you the word, encouraging you in love and good works, and praying for you.

If God has not called you to be a priest to the body, then you are called to serve or to carry.

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