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(NUMBERS 1—4; 9:1–14)
Before you begin ...
Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and wisdom as you go through this lesson.
Read Numbers 1—4; 9:1–14. This lesson references chapter 1, "Order in the Camp," in Be Counted. It will be helpful for you to have your Bible and a copy of the commentary available as you work through this lesson.
From the Commentary
The code name for the enterprise was "Operation Overlord." The more popular name was "D-Day"—June 6, 1943, when the combined Allied forces landed on Omaha Beach and signaled the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. It was the largest assembly of military personnel and matériel in the history of warfare. Historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote, "The Allied forces of soldiers, sailors, aviators and supporting services amounted to 2.8 million men in England."
Moses was about to launch his own "Operation Overlord," and his greatest desire was that Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts, truly be Lord over the whole enterprise. More than two million Jews were anticipating entering Canaan, conquering the inhabitants, claiming the land, and enjoying their promised inheritance. But before all of this could happen, Moses had to organize this assembly of former slaves, who had been enjoying their freedom for only a year. It wasn't an easy task.
His preparation for conquest involved four stages: celebrating the Passover (9:1–14), numbering the soldiers (chap. 1), organizing the tribes (chap. 2), and assigning the priestly duties (chaps. 3—4).
—Be Counted, page 17
1. What was the purpose of each stage in Moses' preparation for conquest? (See From the Commentary.) Why was preparation so important to Moses? How did his preparation help? What were the biggest challenges Moses faced in this operation?
2. Choose one verse or phrase from Numbers 1—4; 9:1–14 that stands out to you. This could be something you're intrigued by, something that makes you uncomfortable, something that puzzles you, something that resonates with you, or just something you want to examine further. Write that here.
From the Commentary
The events recorded in Numbers 1—6 were preceded by those described in 7:1—9:15. We are now in the second year of Israel's national history (1:1; 9:1). The tabernacle was erected on the first day of the first month (Ex. 40:2, 17). The twelve tribal leaders began to bring their gifts on that day (Num. 7:1), a procedure that lasted twelve days (v. 78). On the thirteenth day, the Levites were consecrated (Num. 8), and on the fourteenth day, the Jews celebrated Passover (9:1–14).
It was only fitting that the Israelites began their second year of freedom by commemorating the awesome night when God delivered them from Egyptian bondage, "A night of solemn observance to the LORD" (Ex. 12:42 NKJV). In looking back, the people would appreciate what God had done for them, and they could teach their children the significance of Israel's "independence day" (Ex. 12:26–28; 13:8–16). Unless parents remind their children of what the Lord has done, it won't be long before the next generation will drift from the faith (Deut. 6:1–9; see 2 Tim. 2:2).
—Be Counted, page 18
3. Why was the celebration of the Passover so important for the traveling Israelites? How would that celebration have been particularly significant just a couple of years after the actual event? What does the Passover say to Christians today? (See John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7; Isa. 53:7; 1 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 5:6.)
More to Consider: According to Exodus 12, each family had to slay a lamb, roast it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (see Num. 9:11). The bread contained no yeast for two reasons, one practical and the other symbolic. The practical reason was that the Jews had to be ready to leave Egypt at any time, so they couldn't wait for the dough to rise. The symbolic reason involves the fact that, to a Jew, leaven represents evil, and the Jews were to be a pure people. All yeast had to be removed from their houses before Passover and be kept out during the week that followed. (See 1 Cor. 5:1–8; Matt. 16:6, 12; Gal. 5:9.) The bitter herbs reminded the Jews of their cruel bondage when they were slaves in Egypt. Why were these symbolic actions so important to the Jews? What are some of the symbolic actions Christians continue to recognize today? How can honoring the past through symbolic actions bring us closer to Christ?
From the Commentary
Anyone who was defiled had to be put out of the camp, because defilement has a way of spreading (Num. 5:1–2). This meant that these men were forbidden to participate in Passover. This new situation demanded new wisdom, so Moses turned to the Lord for help (James 1:5). Since it was the Lord's Passover, only the Lord could change the rules.
God's reply was gracious: Anyone who was defiled or absent from home during Passover the first month could celebrate the feast on the fourteenth day of the second month, but they had to be careful to follow the same divine instructions given in Exodus 12. God wasn't establishing a different Passover; He was only permitting His original Passover to be celebrated at a different time. None of the meat should be treated as common food (leftovers), and the lamb's bones must not be broken (see John 19:31–37).
This special consideration on the part of the Lord might lead some of the Israelites to start tampering with the divinely ordained Passover instructions, so God told Moses to warn them that the original rules were still in force, both for the first month and the second. Any Jews who were qualified to celebrate Passover the first month but didn't do so, hoping to do it more conveniently the second month, would be disciplined by God.
—Be Counted, page 19
4. God gave very specific instructions to His followers during this chapter in their history. Why do you think He chose to do this? What does this say about the relationship between God and His people? Is God's decision to offer a kind of grace to the defiled or absent a glimpse of the future of God's grace offered in Jesus? Why or why not?
From Today's World
In the days of Moses, rules and ritual played important roles in the daily lives of God's followers. Through Moses, the Israelites were given specific instruction for many aspects of daily life and were expected to practice specific rituals in honor of the God who was leading them. While Jesus' sacrifice changed the system of rules, introducing grace to our relationship with our Creator, rituals continue to play a part in most churches. The role rituals play varies dramatically from one church to the next, even within the same denomination.
5. How has the importance of ritual in our relationship with God changed since the time of Moses? What are the rituals in the church that matter most today? How do they bring people closer to God? How can they be misused or corrupted?
From the Commentary
The second month of the second year, thirteen months after the Exodus, Israel had to start preparing for battle. If Genesis is the book of beginnings and Exodus the book of redemption, then Numbers is the book of warfare. The Jews were in enemy territory, marching toward the land God would help them conquer, and they had to organize for confrontation and conflict. The phrase able to go forth to war is used fourteen times in this chapter. If God were to number the believers in the church today according to their ability to wage spiritual warfare, we wonder how big the army would be.
Some people are disturbed by the emphasis on warfare in certain parts of the Bible, and a few denominations have even removed from their hymnals militant songs like "Onward, Christian Soldiers." But their fears and criticisms are unfounded. "The LORD is a man of war" (Ex. 15:3) when it comes to punishing sin and removing evil. The nations that Israel destroyed in Canaan were living in abominable moral filth and sinning against a flood of light, and the Lord had been longsuffering with them (Gen. 15:13–16; Rom. 1:18ff.). Would anybody today criticize a surgeon for removing a cancerous life-threatening tumor from a patient's body?
—Be Counted, page 20
6. Why is the warring nature described in Numbers difficult for some believers to accept? What does this book teach us about God and His people during this time in history? Why would God choose violence to accomplish His will? Or was that God's choice? Explain.
From the Commentary
Moses and Aaron were assisted in the census by the appointed leader of each tribe.
These tribal leaders are also named in chapters 2, 7, and 10. It wasn't difficult to make the count because the nation was organized by households, families (clans), and tribes (Josh. 7:14), and there were rulers for each unit of ten, one hundred, and one thousand Israelites (Ex. 18:21). Note that Nahshon (Num. 1:7) was in the family tree of David (Ruth 4:20–22) and therefore an ancestor of Christ (Matt. 1:4).
—Be Counted, pages 21–22
7. Why did each person have to prove his lineage as part of this numbering of soldiers? (See Num. 1:18.) Why was it so important that the Israelites be counted and vetted as God's people? What were the dangers of having uncommitted people among the ranks of the Israelites? How could that have affected their success in battle?
From the Commentary
Because of their important ministry as assistants to the priests, the Levites were exempted from military duty. The tabernacle was the most important structure in the entire camp, and only the priests and Levites could attend to it. Therefore, they weren't counted in the military census.
One of the major themes of the book of Revelation is God's warfare against evil on earth and His receiving worship in heaven. Unless the people of God are right with the Lord in their worship, they can't face their enemies and defeat them in warfare. "Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand" (Ps. 149:6).
—Be Counted, pages 22–23
8. How do worship and warfare interrelate in God's economy? How was that true in Moses' time? Is it still true today? Explain.
From the Commentary
Whenever the camp moved, the ark of the covenant went before, carried by the priests. Then the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun marched next, followed by the Gershonites and Merarites carrying the tabernacle proper (frames, curtains, coverings). Next came Reuben, Simeon, and Gad, followed by the Kohathites carrying the tabernacle furnishings. Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin were next, while Dan, Asher, and Naphtali brought up the rear. The largest number of soldiers (186,400) led the way and the next largest (157,600) were the rear guard.
The twelve tribes had to be careful not to camp too close to the tabernacle, for that area was reserved for the priests and Levites (Num. 2:2). To venture too near to the sacred tent could mean death (1:51).
—Be Counted, page 24
9. Why was the tabernacle such a sacred place? What purpose did God have for choosing a specific place to represent His presence? What was the danger associated with being too close to the tabernacle (for those who weren't priests or Levites)? (See Num. 1:51; 2:2.)
More to Consider: Each tribe was to display its standard and each family its banner (1:52; 2:2). Nowhere in Scripture are we told the colors of these tribal banners or the emblems that were on them, and it's useless to conjecture. Jewish tradition suggests that the colors were those of the twelve gems in the high priest's breastplate (Ex. 28:15–29), but we can't be certain what some of those colors were. Jewish tradition also states that four of the tribal emblems came from Ezekiel 1:10 (and see Rev. 4:7) and assigned the lion to Judah (Gen. 49:9), the ox to Ephraim, the man to Reuben, and the eagle to Dan. What does this emphasis on family origin teach us about the Israelites? What are some ways the church similarly celebrates our heritage?
From the Commentary
Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to the Levites, the men who served the Lord by assisting the priests in their ministry at the tabernacle. Moses records two numberings of the Levites, those one month old and older and those twenty years old and older, as well as the duties assigned to them. The Levites had no inheritance in the Promised Land but lived from a tithe of the gifts that the people brought to the Lord (Num. 18:20–24).
The priests were the descendants of Aaron, the first high priest, who had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar (Ex. 6:23). Nadab and Abihu brought unauthorized worship into the sanctuary and were killed by the Lord (Lev. 10). Eleazar was chief over the Levites (Num. 3:32) and eventually replaced his father as high priest (20:22–29). Ithamar had received the offerings for the building of the tabernacle (Ex. 38:21) and was in charge of the Gershonites and Merarites (Num. 4:28, 33). It was no insignificant thing to be one of God's priests, for the priests were God's anointed servants, especially consecrated for His glory (Ex. 28—29).
God looked on Israel as His firstborn son (Ex. 4:22). He had spared Israel's firstborn at Passover but had slain the firstborn sons of Egypt (11:1–7; 12:29–30). For this reason, every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, belonged to the Lord and had to be redeemed by a sacrifice (13:1–2, 11–13; 22:29–30; 34:19–20; Luke 2:7, 22–23).
—Be Counted, page 25
10. In what ways was the nation of Israel meant to be a "kingdom of priests"? (See Ex. 19:5–6.) What role did the appointed priests have in helping to make this a reality? What role did the Levites play? In what ways are leaders and support teams today like the priests and Levites of old? In what ways are we all "priests"?
Take a moment to reflect on all that you've explored thus far in this study of Numbers 1—4; 9:1–14. Review your notes and answers and think about how each of these things matters in your life today.
Tips for Small Groups: To get the most out of this section, form pairs or trios and have group members take turns answering these questions. Be honest and as open as you can in this discussion, but most of all, be encouraging and supportive of others. Be sensitive to those who are going through particularly difficult times and don't press for people to speak if they're uncomfortable doing so.
11. In Moses' day, God gave His people specific rules and commands. Does that sort of relationship with God appeal to you? Why or why not? What is it about a system of rules that can appear to be freeing?
12. What are some of the modern rituals in your church experience that resonate with you? What are rituals that don't resonate? How can you get more out of the rituals and traditions in your church life?
13. In what ways do you consider yourself a "priest" today? How does that term make you feel? What is it about the role of the priests in Moses' time that speaks to you? Does anything about their role trouble you?
14. Think of one or two things that you have learned that you'd like to work on in the coming week. Remember that this is all about quality, not quantity. It's better to work on one specific area of life and do it well than to work on many and do poorly (or to be so overwhelmed that you simply don't try).
Do you want to see how the value Moses placed on "order" might apply in your life? Be specific. Go back through Numbers 1—4; 9:1–14 and put a star next to the phrase or verse that is most encouraging to you. Consider memorizing this verse.
Real-Life Application Ideas: Moses and the leaders of the Israelites placed a high value on organization. As you consider the "battles" ahead of you in the coming weeks (work, family, community, etc.), how well organized are you to face them? Take some time to consider not only the practical concerns related to what's on your plate but also the spiritual dimension. Have you bathed the battles before you in prayer? Have you spent time in study about the issues surrounding those situations? Make a battle plan and stick to it.
15. Write a prayer below (or simply pray one in silence), inviting God to work on your mind and heart in those areas you've noted in the Going Forward section. Be honest about your desires and fears.
Excerpted from The Wiersbe BIBLE STUDY SERIES: NUMBERS by Warren W. Wiersbe. Copyright © 2013 Warren W. Wiersbe. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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