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Numbers Chapter 1 starts with the counting of the men in Israel, who were 20 years and above, who are able to go to war. This took place in the camp at Mt. Sinai, one year after they had left Egypt. Mt. Sinai was in the arabian desert, a place where God brought Israel so they could spend quality time with him; the desert was a place of intimacy between God and Israel. God changed Israel from dressing, eating, living, and worshipping like Egyptians during this period. The next step was for them to march to the land of Canaan, a 2 weeks journey, and take it by war.
In Numbers Chapter 2 the camp was re-organized, in such a way that the tribes were arranged around the tabernacle (the temple); 3 tribes were on the east side facing the entrance to the tabernacle, 3 on the west side (the back), 3 on the north side, and 3 on the south side. Based on the population of the tribes, some Bible scholars have noted that the arrangement of the camp formed the shape of the cross when viewed from above (click on the image on this blog to see how this looked).
Chapters 3 to 9 records various instructions to the Levites (the priests), about their job caring for the tabernacle; and instructions on lifestyle for the people. While these might seem much, remember that Israel was a new nation without laws, culture, and tradition; God had to start from scratch. Note that in our countries today, though we have laws, our governments continue to make new laws.
We then get to amazing Chapter 10; after two years camping at Mt. Sinai, God told them to move. Now, the men counted in Chapter 1 were a total of 603,550; when women and children are included, the camp had at least 2 million people. Moving such a large number of people could cause confusion and chaos, but God had given them sufficient instructions on how to move in a very orderly manner like an army. This is a masterpiece on how to organize a people to work together in unity.
However, God’s beautiful plan, for them to take over the promised land after 2 weeks of travel, would very quickly meet with murmurings, complaints, doubts, and rebellion from the people. We get into a tragic period in the story of Israel. The events during this period told from Numbers Chapters 11 to 25, took 38 years, at the end of which 603,548 of those men counted in Chapter 1 all died in the wilderness.
Paul referenced this epic tragedy in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 (New Living Translation) (shortened): “I don’t want you to forget… about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them… Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did… These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.”
Dear God, give us grace and strength to go all the way with you, Amen!