Tuesday, February 10, 2015

#81. The Book of Numbers. My breach of promise (Numbers.xiv.34).

     The English title of this fourth book of Moses is taken from the one given it by the LXX.  Arithmoi, which has its origin in the fact that the opening chapter deals with the numbering of the tribes of Israel.  The title of the book in the Hebrew Bible, however, is B’midbar, “In the wilderness”, which indicates the true setting of its tragic story.  Perhaps the verse that best epitomizes the book is  Numb.xiv.34:--

     “After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.”

     “My breach of promise”!  What an expression to come from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!  What a revelation of the complete apostacy of His people!  It was for the guidance and comfort of this people that Moses wrote  Psalm xc.  and also, as we believe,  Psalm xci.   Most readers know that the Psalms are divided into five books, each of which corresponds with one of the books of Moses.  The fourth of these comprises  Psalms xc.-cvi.,  and is the Numbers section, which is appropriately opened by the Psalm of Moses.  This Psalm has a direct bearing upon the condition of those men who, being twenty years old and upwards, were condemned to die in the wilderness, while  Psalm xci.  speaks to those, their children, who were to be spared and carried triumphantly through the wilderness and into the promised land.

     The references in  Psalm xc.  to the 40 years’ wandering in the wilderness are:--

     “Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, return ye children of men” (xc.3).
     “All our days are passed away in Thy wrath, we spend our years as a tale that is told” (9).
     “The days of our years are threescore years and ten” (10).
     “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (12).

     The statement concerning the threescore years and ten refers primarily to the children of Israel.  Any man who was twenty years of age when Israel were turned back into the wilderness could “number his days”—he would die at, or before, attaining 60 years—so with all the rest, 70 years being a fair average.

     In this plight Israel’s hope is in the Lord and His “return”, which will be the better realized when we consider the general structure of the Psalm.  But before this is set out, we must consider the relationship of the two Psalms together.  The Companion Bible says that  “Psalms xc. and xci.  are evidently one Psalm in two parts”, and the reader of the Hebrew Bible will find nothing to suggest the end of one Psalm and the beginning of another.  In the absence of any division it is more easily seen that the opening verse of  Psalm xc.  corresponds with the opening verse of  Psalm xci.:--

     “Lord Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations” (Psa. xc. 1).
     “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psa. xci. 1).

     The two Psalms, taken together, exhibit the following theme:--

Psalms   xc.   &   xci.

A   |   xc. 1, 2.   The Lord.   The dwelling place of His people.
     B   |   xc. 3-17.   Result of being expelled from this security.
A   |   xci. 1.   The Lord.   The dwelling place of His people.
     B   |   xci. 2-15.   Result of abiding under His shadow.

     While  Psalm xc.  speaks to Israel as condemned to die in the wilderness,  Psalm xci.  assures their children that none of the instruments of destruction — the snare of the fowler, the noisome pestilence, the terror by night, the arrow by day, the lion and the adder — shall come nigh or hurt them.

     The expansion of that part of  Psalm xc.  which shows Israel’s condemnation and hope is as follows:

Psalm   xc.   3-15.

A   |   3.   Return.   Spoken in wrath.
     B   |   4.   1,000 years are but as yesterday and as a watch in the night.
          C   |   5.   Carried away as with a flood.
               D   |   a   |   6.   In morning flourish.   In evening cut down.
                            b   |   7, 8.   Consumed by Thine anger . . . . . wrath.
          C   |   9, 10.   Passed away as a tale told.
               D   |       b   |   11.   Power of Thine anger . . . . . wrath.
                        a   |   12.   Teach us to number our days.
A   |   13.   Return . . . . . repent.
     B   |   14, 15.   According to the days of affliction.   Satisfy us in the morning.

     It is not our present purpose to give an exposition of these Psalms, but they have been quoted here because of the light they throw upon the lessons of the Book of Numbers.   Psalm xcv.  also makes pointed reference to the Book of Numbers and is, in turn, quoted at length in the Epistle to the Hebrews.   Chapters ii. & iv.  of the epistle to the Hebrews particularly allude to Israel’s failure in the wilderness.  In them Joshua’s leadership is used as a type of the great Captain Who shall yet lead many sons to glory, “Jesus” in  Heb. iv. 8  being not the Lord, but Joshua.

     Closely associated with the numbering of Israel and their failure in the wilderness is the appointment of the Levites, the rebellion of Korah, and the inability of the priesthood to lead the people.  All this, as Hebrews teaches, reveals the need of Christ, the one true, perfect High Priest.

     What we must keep in mind as we seek the typical lesson of the Book of Numbers, is that this people, rebellious though they were, suffering loss as they did, were nevertheless a redeemed people.  The truth is summed up in the words of  I Cor. iii. 15:  “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss:  but he himself shall be saved;  yet so as by fire.”

     The wilderness journeyings of Israel fall into two parts.  The first of these was according to divine purpose.  It commenced at the shores of the Red Sea, led through Marah and Elim to Sinai, and thence to Kadesh Barnea.  From the 1st of Abib, in which the Exodus commenced, to the time of the arrival at Kadesh Barnea was sixteen months.  As we have said, this period of Israel’s wilderness experiences was of divine purpose, and in it were taught them many precious lessons, as at Marah, Elim, and again in connection with Amalek.  During that period the law was given from Sinai and the tabernacle built.  The forty years’ wandering, however, was a result of unbelief and we must be careful to keep these two periods distinct.  Some having seen the forty years of unbelief have said, "There is no wilderness experience for the believer to-day", and so become an easy prey to those who would urge them to act as though heavenly places were already attained, and reigning a present reality.  We would urge any such to consider the fact that the earlier part of Israel’s wilderness experiences was by God’s ordering for their teaching and profit;  like Abraham, their father, they did not enter immediately into possession of the land, but became strangers and pilgrims, tent-dwellers, ever moving on.  The sixteen months’ wilderness experience of Israel and the life-long pilgrimage of Abraham (Hebrews xi.) are examples of how we may enjoy the blessings that are ours in Christ, by faith.  The actual entry into the land, and the fall of Jericho under Joshua, anticipate the day of redemption and the redemption of the purchased possession.

     The book of Exodus, and  Numbers i.-xii.  record the first wilderness experience, and contain much that illuminates the believer in his experience to-day.  The remainder of the Book of Numbers deals with the period of unbelief and resumption of the journey.  Deuteronomy concludes the story, and Joshua, a type of the risen Christ (“Moses My servant is dead:  now therefore arise”,  Josh. i. 2),  leads Israel into the land of promise.

     The truth of the mystery is of course entirely dissociated from what we have been considering.  So far as the dispensational teaching of the epistle to the Ephesians is concerned, it is an act of unbelief to attempt to discover in the O.T. that which God never revealed there.  Its distinctive doctrine, too, transcends anything that is set forth in type in the law, yet we may learn from these O.T. types the broad principles that underlie the distinction between the truths of Hope and Prize, between Ephesians and Philippians, between Living and Reigning, between the Overcomers, like Caleb, and Overcome, like those who perished in the wilderness.  It is naturally outside the scope of these articles to attempt a detailed exposition of these books — all that we can hope to do is to point out those more obvious passages that illuminate the ways of God and His people, suggest lines of practical teaching, and generally set forth those underlying fundamentals of dispensational truth which it is the prime object of The Berean Expositor to make plain.

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