We have now considered the teaching of the Book of Numbers up to the end of chapter xxv. From this point to the end of the Book, we have eleven more chapters. Had our intention in this series been a study of each book as it stands, we should have dealt next with the structures and analysis of the remaining chapters. This work had been partly done, but upon weighing the matter over, and considering the teaching of these remaining chapters in the light of the title, “Fundamentals of dispensational truth”, we have decided to replace this detailed study by the briefest of summaries. So much of the ground is retraced in these chapters of Numbers, the new matter being largely connected with the re-adjustment of the people in view of the entry into the land, and the summary will be sufficient to lead on to the study of the fifth book of Moses, that of Deuteronomy.
Numbers xxvi. is occupied with the numbering of the people. This is the third census. The three occasions on which a census was taken are as follows:
(1) Before the building of the tabernacle (Exod. xxx. 11; xxxviii. 25). This provided silver for the work of the tabernacle.
(2) At the opening of the Book of Numbers, in the wilderness of Sinai (Numbers i.).
(3) The third numbering is recorded here in Numbers xxvi. The record is followed by this solemn comment:--
“These are they that were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho. But among these was not a man whom Moses and Aaron the priest numbered, when they numbered the children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, They shall surely die in the wilderness. And there was not left a man of them save Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua, the son of Nun” (Numb. xxvi. 63-65).
Even Moses is not spared. He, too, must suffer loss, because of his failure to sanctify the Lord at Meribah:--
“And the Lord said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered. For ye rebelled against My commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify Me at the water before their eyes” (Numb. xxvii. 12-14).
With these solemn words we may compare the witness of the apostle Paul:--
“Lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified . . . . . All our fathers were under the cloud . . . . . all . . . . . all . . . . . all . . . . . all, but with many of them God was not well pleased . . . . . Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. ix. 24 - x. 12).
“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief . . . . . So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us . . . . . any of you should seem to come short of it” (Heb. iii. 7 - iv. 1).
“This one thing I do, forgetting . . . . . reaching forth . . . . . I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. iii. 13, 14).
As we read these words, who among us would have the temerity to say that we are sure that that crown and prize are ours? We do not, of course, mean to cast the slightest doubt upon the absolutely perfect and inalienable position that every believer occupies in grace. The passage in view is not dealing with position in grace, but with service, running a race, fighting a good fight, finishing a course. There is as much difference between these two things as between the rock foundation once laid, and the subsequent erection built upon it that shall be tried by fire (I Corinthian iii.). When we are dealing with Israel in the Book of Numbers, we must remember that they are a redeemed people. Redemption had delivered them from the bondage of Egypt, and the Red Sea flowed between them. Moses himself was a saved man; yet he “suffered loss”. The reader would be helped in his study if he were to read Psalm.xc.&xci., noticing that Psalm xc. speaks of those whose carcases fell in the wilderness, while Psalm xci. speaks of those who, being under twenty years of age, were preserved for those forty years, and led into the land under Joshua.
A beautiful spirit is manifested in the reply of Moses in Numbers xxvii. to the sentence of death. He makes no complaint, he offers no excuses; he bows before the Lord, but asks that a successor shall be appointed.
Numbers xxvii. deals with the request of the daughters of Zelophedad, and the Lord’s answer. The latter, together with the further enactment given in the last chapter of Numbers, has to do with the law of the kinsman-redeemer, an important principle which underlies the beautiful account in the book of Ruth and the teaching of Scripture in connection with the Redeemer Himself (See the series on “Redemption”, volume XII, p.109). Chapters xxviii. & xxix. restate the law regarding various offerings and feasts. This was necessary for the guidance of the people about to enter the land, but does not demand a detailed study here.
Chapter xxx. is devoted to the question of vows: their fulfillment and their cancellation. A special place is given to the woman in the matter. Her vow can be rendered void either by her father, if she be unmarried, or by her husband, if she be married. The words, “He shall bear her iniquity” (xxx. 15) give us a faint picture of the relationship between Christ and His people. Moreover, the passage throws light upon the true status of women. It is introduced by the words: “This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded”. A word here may perhaps be in season when the tendency of the times, even among the Lord’s people, is to throw over the restraints of Scripture in the interests of a false “liberty” and “equality”. The treatment of the daughters of Zelophedad, taken together with this chapter, would help to give a balanced judgment.
In Numbers xxxi. Moses is commanded to avenge the children of Israel upon the Midianites. This is the last command laid upon Moses: “afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people”. Midian is defeated. Balaam is slain. The spoils of war are purified with fire and the water of separation. A great difference is made between the levy imposed upon those who actually went out to the battle, and the remainder of the congregation who stayed at home.
The prey taken was of three kinds: persons (verses 12, 18, 35), beasts (verses 32-34) and money & goods (22 & 50). These were divided among the congregation and the army. In this we have an anticipation of David’s ruling concerning “his part . . . . . that tarrieth by the stuff” (I Sam. xxx. 24). On the other hand there is due recognition of the active part played by the soldier, whose levy was “one soul of five hundred” whilst that of the congregation was “one portion of fifty” (Numb. xxxi. 27-30). At the close of this levy, a census was taken of the warriors, which revealed the fact that there “lacked not one” of them. Moved with gratitude, they bring an oblation, to make an atonement for their souls.
Chapter xxxii. is mainly concerned with the request of Reuben and Gad, that their inheritance should be allotted to them in the land of Gilead because “the place was a place for cattle”. They requested that they should not be brought “over Jordan” (xxxii. 1-5). Their request was granted, upon condition that they sent their quota to war, until Israel had entered into their own possessions. There is an important lesson here, which we shall probably consider in our study of the Book of Joshua and its typical teaching. We may anticipate, however, without going into detail:--
(1) It was the possession of cattle, not the glory of the Lord, or the following of His will, that influenced Reuben and Gad.
(2) It was an attempt to reverse God’s order — which was the conquest of Canaan first, and then the spreading out to occupy the land “from sea to sea”.
(3) The gaining of their request meant that many never returned to wife and children or inheritance. And when Israel began to be taken into captivity, they were among the first to go.
It is “natural” to shirk the crossing of Jordan, but it is foreign to the teaching of Scripture.
Chapter xxxiii. is occupied with a record of the journeys of Israel. The word “journeys” in verse one is, in the Hebrew, “pullings up”, and has reference to the tent pegs. The whole is a record of pilgrimage, and a remainder of the way in which the Lord had led the people, suffering their ways, providing food and raiment, and eventually leading them into the land of promise.
Chapter xxxiv. fixes the bounds of the inheritance.
Chapter xxxv. provides for the tribe of Levi forty-eight cities, of which six are reserved as cities of refuge for the man-slayer (verses 1-6). Three of these cities were in the land of Canaan, and three on the other side of Jordan (14). The avenger of blood is the kinsman-redeemer; and this chapter, together with those that deal with the problem of the daughters of Zelophedad, provided a twofold aspect of the work of the Redeemer, corresponding to the two words, “destroy” and “deliver” in Hebrews ii. 14, 15.
From another angle, the avenger of blood may be regarded as symbolizing the law, from whom the man-slayer was not freed until the death of the High Priest.
Chapter xxxvi. brings this book to a close with the added statement already considered regarding the case of the inheritance passing to the daughter of a family. Marriage within the tribe is the only restriction; freedom of choice is allowed within these limits. This may well be taken as an illustration of the vexed question of the freedom of choice among moral agents. Man must of necessity be free; otherwise he ceases to be either moral or responsible. His freedom, however, is not absolute but relative; for God’s will shall with certainty be accomplished. Freedom of choice is not permitted to spoil the inheritance or ourselves or of others, for this inheritance has much to do with the great purpose of the ages. We ask the reader to observe that we use the words, “freedom of choice” and not “freedom of will’. Who among us can say “I will” and not feel how much he is bound by circumstances?
With this survey we conclude our study of the book of pilgrimage; and look forward with interest to the restatement which is contained in the book of Deuteronomy.