Friday, February 16, 2024

2024.02.16 Hopewell @Home ▫ Numbers 1

Read Numbers 1

Questions from the Scripture text: Who spoke to whom, where (Numbers 1:1)? When? What did He command him to take? Of whom (Numbers 1:2)? In what way (Numbers 1:3-4)? Which elders did the Lord select to oversee the census (Numbers 1:5-16)? How closely is this followed in Numbers 1:17-19? How many were there from Reuben (Numbers 1:20-21)? From Simeon (Numbers 1:22-23)? From Gad (Numbers 1:24-25)? From Judah (Numbers 1:26-27)? From Issachar (Numbers 1:28-29)? From Zebulun (Numbers 1:30-31)? From Ephraim (Numbers 1:32-33)? From Manasseh (Numbers 1:34-35)? From Benjamin (Numbers 1:36-37)? From Dan (Numbers 1:38-39)? From Asher (Numbers 1:40-41)? From Naphtali (Numbers 1:42-43)? How many in total (Numbers 1:44-46)? Who were not numbered (Numbers 1:47)? Why not (Numbers 1:48-49)? To what were they appointed (Numbers 1:50-51)? What if someone else drew near to do this work (end of Numbers 1:51)? Who were to pitch where in Numbers 1:52? But where were the Levites to camp (Numbers 1:53)? What determined all of this (Numbers 1:54)? 

What can we learn from a census? Numbers 1 prepares us for the evening sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these fifty-four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the Lord numbered His people to teach them many things about their upcoming time in the wilderness, which things we also need to learn. 

God’s rule over His people. YHWH commands a census. This is something that a king did in order to determine how much he might raise in taxes, or how many servants he could enlist in a building project, or how many soldiers for a war. In this case, it is in the form of an army (Numbers 1:3), but just now our point is to see that when the Lord numbers His people in this way, He is taking the place of a King. This is the King Whom Israel would one day reject (cf. 1 Samuel 8:7). 

God’s faithfulness to His promises. When Israel came down to Egypt, they numbered seventy (cf. Genesis 46:26–27). Now, the number of men above the age of 20 were 603,350, without including the Levites. This many households, in the middle of a baby boom that frightened Pharaoh, puts the total number at a minimum of two million, with as many as six million total people. How faithful the Lord has been to multiply His people (cf. Genesis 32:12)!

God’s testing His people’s faith. Those who wring their hands over purported (preposterous!) overpopulation today would surely have been stressing out at Sinai. We can only imagine the logistical (or judicial, societal, etc.) challenges that would arise among such a numerous people in the wilderness. He had given them manna and provided water. But was this sustainable? That depends upon whom you think does the sustaining. The Lord had brought His people out. This implied that the Lord would take care of them. He had multiplied them like this, in part, so that they could perceive that He was promising marvelous and miraculous provision! And He was testing their faith; would they trust in Him to work wonders?

God’s people’s responsibility. By numbering them and mustering them according to armies, the Lord was teaching Israel that they would have to fight for the promised land. Surely, He would deliver their enemies into their hands, as He had already done with the Amalekites in Rephidim (cf. Exodus 17:8–16). But they would be required to fight in taking Canaan, just as they had at that time. God’s people know that He works all things together for their good. But He tells us to fight, wrestle, run, and kill. And He refers to means of His grace as “armor” (cf. Numbers 6:11). He reminded His people of their responsibility then, and this reminds us that He teaches us our responsibilities throughout the Scripture. To him who knows the good that he ought to do, and does not do it, that is sin (cf. James 4:17).

God’s order among God’s people. The Lord divided them according to tribes. The Lord set a head over each tribe, in this case assigning each leader by name (Numbers 1:5-16). The Lord appointed the Levites to the tabernacle Numbers 1:47-53), which itself was a lifesaving mission (Numbers 1:53). Numbers 1:54 describes how it should be in the Lord’s church. His church, His order, His way. Spiritual oversight by shepherding elders. Oversight of temporal ministry by deacons. Recognizing whom He has called to each office by His Word. The Lord insists upon His order among His people. In a book in which there is going to be much rebellion, let churches see to it, by God’s grace, that they not be outclassed by the Israel of Numbers 1:54

In what area of your life do you most need to remember that you are the Lord’s possession and servant? How has the Lord most of all shown you His faithfulness (hint: roughly two thousand years ago)? How else has the Lord demonstrated His faithfulness to you? What situation in your life seems impossible? How does this test your faith? In what area of life have you been most tempted to shrink from your responsibility? What is God’s order for your home? For your church? Where do you, personally, fit into that?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You for Your faithfulness to gather each and every one of Your people to Yourself. Grant to us to rejoice to submit to You, to depend upon You, and to serve You, we ask through Christ, Amen!

Suggested songs: ARP116B “I Still Believed” or TPH61B “O Hear My Urgent Cry”

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