James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying,Numbers 1:1-4:49
NUMBER AND ORDER OF THE TRIBES
A secondary name for Numbers might be The Book of the Journeyings since it gives the story of Israel from Sinai to the arrival on the border of Canaan. Examine Numbers 1:1 and perceive that the time covered by Exodus and Leviticus was not more than fourteen months, while that of Numbers is over thirty-eight years. You will doubtless find a map in the back of your Bible which will aid in mastering this book. The journey will be seen to be first northwest as far as Kadesh, then south to the fork of the Red Sea, and finally northwest as before, around the land of Edom to Moab.
We will keep this geographical outline in mind, considering first the principal events at Sinai before they start, then what occurred between Sinai and Kadesh, and finally between Kadesh and Moab.
THE BOOK OF THE MURMURINGS
The book might be called the book of the murmurings as well as journeyings, for it is pervaded with a spirit of disobedience and rebellion against God, justifying the abstract given of the period in Psalm 95:10.
While annals of many powerful nations of this period are entirely forgotten, these of a comparative handful of people are preserved (despite their ungrateful spirit) because of the relation they bear to the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ. This accounts for the divine long-suffering towards them, and all the exhibits of divine love the book contains. We have rehearsed this before, but it is well to keep it in mind as we pursue our studies. Read 1 Corinthians 10 to discover how their history is a kind of object lesson illustrating God’s dealings with us spiritually.
THE TRIBES NUMBERED (Numbers 1)
What was Moses commanded to do, and when was he commanded to do it (Numbers 1:1-2)? What people were thus to be numbered, and why (Numbers 1:2-3)?
Comparing 4 and 16, what description is given of the heads of houses who were to be with Moses and Aaron in this matter?
Renowned means them that were called out of the different tribes for leadership; and princes stands for the same thing. These were usually the oldest son in each tribe after the manner of the nomads of the East today.
On what basis was the numbering conducted (Numbers 1:18)? This reference to pedigrees is important, as showing the care taken about genealogies. This was to keep the Aaronic order intact, but especially as a provision for tracing the descent of the Messiah through Judah.
Which tribe was the most numerous (Numbers 1:27)? Can you recall how this fulfills Jacob’s prophecy (Genesis 49)? What prophecy of his is fulfilled in Numbers 1:32-35? What was the sum of the enrollment (Numbers 1:46)? What an increase from the seventy-five who went down into Egypt 215 years before! And yet this did not include the women and children, nor the old men, nor the tribe of Levi! It is estimated there were two and a half million in all.
About the Levites. What direction is given concerning them (Numbers 1:47-49)? What were they to do, and where were they to camp, and why (Numbers 1:50-53)?
THE TRIBES ARRANGED (Numbers 2)
What was the rallying point for each family in the camp (Numbers 2:2)? We do not know the colors or forms of these ensigns, but possibly they were copied after Egypt minus their idolatrous symbols, and were of a fan-like form made of feathers, shawls, etc., and lifted on long poles. Some think they were symbols borrowed from Jacob’s blessing on the tribes, and that Judah’s ensign was a lion, Benjamin’s a wolf, and so on. Perhaps the color was determined by the precious stone representing the tribe in the high priest’s breastplate.
Were the tribes, other than the Levites, allowed to pitch their tents near the tabernacle (Numbers 2:2)? Which tribes took the lead on the march (Numbers 2:3-9)? What seems to have formed the central company (Numbers 2:17)?
THE LEVITES’ SERVICE (Numbers 3-4)
What genealogy is given at the opening of this chapter (Numbers 3:1-4)? What shows the subordination of the rest of the Levites to the family of Aaron (Numbers 3:6-7)? Give the history of the choice of this tribe in Numbers 3:12-13. Who chose them? In substitution for whom? On what ground were the latter taken by the Lord?
On what different principle were the Levites numbered from the other tribes (Numbers 3:15)? Can you give a reason for this? Name the three sub-divisions of this tribe (Numbers 3:17). What was the particular place and charge of each (Numbers 3:23; Numbers 3:25-26; Numbers 3:29; Numbers 3:31; Numbers 3:35-37)? Who was Eleazar and what official position had he (Numbers 3:32)? Compare 1 Kings 4:4 and 2 Kings 25:18. What location was assigned Moses and the family of Aaron (Numbers 3:38)?
Why was a new reckoning of all the males to be made (Numbers 3:40-46)? How much was the ransom money (Numbers 3:47)? (A shekel was equal to about 60 cents.) What was the age limit of Levitical service (Numbers 4:3)? Compare Numbers 8:23-26. What precautions were necessary in the case of the Kohathites (Numbers 4:15)? Compare also verses 17-20. What carrying work was assigned the Gershonites (Numbers 4:24-26)? Which of the sons of Aaron had the immediate charge of them (Numbers 4:28)? What was assigned the Merarites (Numbers 4:31-32)? What word in Numbers 4:32 indicates that an inventory was kept of all the little things that nothing might be lost? What a lesson this teaches as to God’s regard for the details of His service, and His interest in trivial things. What a strong light it flashes on the meaning of obedience.
1. What threefold geographical division of Numbers might be made?
2. What secondary name might be given to the book? Why?
3. Interpret “renowned” and “princes.”
4. How many Israelites in the gross are supposed to have come out of Egypt?
5. Give an illustration of obedience in this lesson.