Greg Matarrelli looks at the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 15 and the book of Numbers) and what this has to say to the Christian life.
We’re now on the book of Numbers in our Bible reading plan. If you haven’t started the Bible reading plan, it’s not too late to start! Pick it up here. If you’re lagging behind, don’t worry – getting through is what’s important, even if it takes you more than just this year!
Numbers is really important in our story of the people of God. We end the book with the new people of God on the brink of getting into the Promised Land because the generation who left Egypt failed to get into Canaan. It tells us what happened in the wilderness. Don’t forget that the whole journey of Israel is an example of our journey with God. God’s people have to learn to persist in faith to get to the Promised Land. We too will have to learn to persist in faith in order to come to achieve all we have to for God. We will all face what Israel did.
Numbers is a great example of what not to do with God. Half of the book need not to have been written, if Israel did what it should have. Israel spends 40 needless years waiting for about two million people to die so a new two million plus two from the old generation (Joshua and Caleb) can go into the Promised Land.
Scholars break the book up in different ways. Remember at the end of Leviticus God’s people now had a sacrificial system, a way of living, a priesthood, a book of covenant and a tabernacle. Now they needed to get their army and organise themselves before heading into the Promised Land. Here is one way to break up the book:
Experiences of the older generation in the wilderness: Numbers 1-25
- Preparations for entering the Promised Land from the south: 1-10
- The first census and the organization of the people: 1-4
- Commands and rituals to observe in preparation for entering the land: 5-9
- The departure from Sinai: 10
- The rebellion and judgment of the unbelieving generation: 11- 25
- The cycle of rebellion, atonement, and death: 11 -20
- The climax of rebellion, hope, and the end of dying: 21- 25
Prospects of the younger generation in the land: Numbers 26- 36
- Preparations for entering the Promised Land from the east: 26 – 32
- The second census: 26
- Provisions and commands to observe in preparation for entering the land: 27—30
- Reprisal against Midian and the settlement of the Trans-jordanian Tribes: 31 -32
- Warning and encouragement of the younger generation: 33 – 36
- Review of the journey from Egypt 33:1-49
- Anticipation of the Promised Land 33:50 – 36:13
Like all Old Testament writings there are many different teachings and elements on which you could focus. Just reading through Numbers to get through it is boring. Try looking at the characters. There is a lot to learn from Moses, Aaron and Miriam. Try listing their strengths and weaknesses. You could focus on the people. Notice their grumbling, willingness to follow, and grumbling again. Examine yourself in the light of them.
Primary lessons from Numbers
1. God’s people only move forward when they trust his promises and lean on his strength. The census at the beginning and the end are there to prove this. Their size and strength wasn’t keeping them out of Canaan, it was their lack of trust in God.
2. We learn that God is faithful and stern. The New Testament reiterates the kindness and sternness of God in Romans 11:22. God is patient and kind. He bears up with our sins and troubles. But God also makes sure to deal with those same troubles. He will discipline us out of them.
3. The lessons on holiness continue.
4. We see God’s promise of Jesus wonderfully in Numbers.
In our Life Groups we’ll be unpacking questions and discussing the points above. For now, as you go through Numbers, consider these points. And think about Jesus’ ministry and life and how it relates to the book – there are a lot of exciting insights here!