Numbers 1-4

Sunday Evening Bible Study

November 23, 1997

Introduction to Numbers

The name

Comes from the two "numberings", that took place during the forty years in the wilderness.

The first census, or numbering of the people took place at the beginning of the forty years, the second took place at the end, as they were about to enter the Promised Land.

The Context

Genesis, the book of beginnings, covers time from the Creation, through Joseph and the nation of Israel moving to Egypt because of the famine.

Exodus covers the deliverance of Israel from Egypt through Moses. It starts with Moses' birth, covers the plagues, escape through the Red Sea, the building of the tabernacle and God's general Laws

Leviticus is God's instructions to the priests on the specifics of worship, sacrifices, laws, etc., and is given over probably a month's time span, at the beginning of the wilderness wanderings.

Numbers covers the time span of the forty years in the wilderness.

The people start out as a mass of unorganized slaves, and end up forty years as a nation ready to conquer a new land. Numbers records the discipline of God that brought them to that point.

Deuteronomy was given just before the people entered the promised land, and is the giving of the Law one more time, but now to a different generation, one about to enter the promised land.

Numbers 1

:1-4 General instructions

:1 on the first day of the second month

This is exactly one month after the Tabernacle has been finished and raised (Exo. 40:17)


Get your worship life together first.

Then think about how youre going to live your life.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God (Mat. 6:33)

:2 Take a census

Purpose of the census

This census was for the purpose of counting able bodied men to fight.

Kind of a draft. Everybody twenty years old and up was counted as potential warriors.

I thought it was wrong to take a census!

David got in big trouble for taking a census.

The issue is not that taking a census is wrong of itself, but the reasons behind taking the census is what makes it wrong.

David seemed to be taking his census out of pride, wanting to boast himself in the size of his army.

Moses is taking a census out of obedience, God is telling him to. The purpose is to begin organizing and training Israel for war.


Sometimes its our motives that make something right or wrong.

There are lots of things that are like this.

They may be wrong for us to do when we do them for the wrong reasons, but if God is leading us, if our motives are correct, there's nothing to worry about!

1CO 13:1-3 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have {the gift of} prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed {the poor,} and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

1CO 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love.

:5-16 The names of the leaders of the tribes

These guys were to help in the census.

:17-19 Getting the number

The register according to family, tribe, etc.

:20-43 The actual numbers

Quickly look at their totals (Im not quite sure the reason for the order being this way, other than the fact that they will be grouped this way around the tabernacle in camp Num. 2)

Reuben 46,500 (Leah #1) (South group)

Simeon 59,300 (Leah #2) (South group)

Gad 45,650 (Zilpah-Leah #1) (South group)

Judah 74,600 (the largest tribe) (Leah #4) (East group)

Issachar 54,400 (Leah #5) (East group)

Zebulun 57,400 (Leah #6) (East group)

Ephraim 40,500 (Rachel #1/2) (West group)

Manasseh 32,200 (smallest tribe) (Rachel #1/2) (West group)

Benjamin 35,400 (Rachel #2) (West group)

Dan 62,700 (Bilhah-Rachel #1) (North group)

Asher 41,500 (Zilpah-Leah #2) (North group)

Naphtali 53,400 (Bilhah-Rachel #2) (North group)

Its always important when looking at Israel as a whole to be looking at "twelve tribes". Since Levi is not supposed to be included in this count of warriors, the tribe of Joseph is divided into its two parts, Ephraim and Manasseh.

:44-46 Total number

The total is 603,550

Since this only included fighting men, twenty years and up, it is estimated by many that the nation itself must have been nearly two million people at the time of the Exodus.

Keep these extremely large numbers in mind when you read about how they had trouble with things like food and water.

:47-54 The Levites

:50 the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony

They were not numbered for the purpose of counting them into the fighting army. Instead, their purpose was to take care of the tabernacle. They will be numbered, but for fulfilling a different purpose than fighting.

:53 the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle...

The Levites were to be a kind of "buffer" between God, and the things of God like the tabernacle, and between the people themselves.

The nation as a whole did not understand the principles of holiness and a Holy God. In fact the Levites didn't seem to comprehend it all too much either. But the Levites were set aside for learning how God was to be specifically related to.

Numbers 2

:1-9 Organizing the armies - 1st group

I think of the typical "unlikely fighting group" movie, where some army captain has to take a rag tag bunch of volunteers (like "The Dirty Dozen", or "the Mighty Ducks") and shape them into a fierce fighting force.

:2 by his own standard, with the banners...

The groups formed under specific "banners" or "signs".

You looked for the banner of your group to make sure you were in the right place.


His leading is by His love.

Heb. for "standard", degel, used in,

SOL 2:4 "He has brought me to {his} banquet hall, And his banner over me is love.

The banner was a kind of rallying point, with each tribe marching behind its own banner. It was also an instrument of guidance. When the trumpets would sound, the banners were picked up, and the people would march behind their tribes standard.

We too can find assurance that when we are following Gods leading, the direction Hes leading us is determined by His love. Thats His banner over us. Hes not out to destroy His own people. Hes a Good Shepherd leading His flock to the best pastures.

:3 east side... Judah

The entire army was going to be organized into four sub-groups.

The leader of the first sub-group was Judah, and included the tribes of Issachar, and Zebulun. They totaled 186,400 men.

When the people came to a place to stay, the groups were to form kind of a circle around the tabernacle. This group would be on the East side of the camp.

When it became time to set out, this group would go first.

:10-16 2nd group

:10 Reuben

Included Simeon and Gad, totalling 151,450

They camped on the south, setting out 2nd.

:17 In the middle.

The Levites and the tabernacle, during marches, would set out next.

If they were ever attacked, the tabernacle would be protected equally from the front and the rear.

While camping, the tabernacle was surrounded by the twelve tribes.

This provides protection for the tabernacle on all sides.

Its a picture of putting God in the center of their life.

It shows equal access to God by all tribes.

:18-24 3rd group

:18 Ephraim

Included Manasseh and Benjamin, totalling 108,100.

They set out third, camping on the west.

:25-31 4th group

:25 Dan

Included Asher and Naphtali, totalling 157,600.

They set out last, camping on the north.

:32-34 Summary of arrangement

Theres another way of looking at the camping arrangement.

There are four groups surrounding a central group.

Two groups are of equal size, of the other two groups, one is larger, one is smaller.

The camp arrangement might have looked something like this:








Depending on your perspective, it forms a cross. If the Israelites camped this way, then as the Midianites watched them from the hills around them, they would have seen a cross. Hmmm.

I wonder if people should be seeing the cross in the way that we camp, in the way our homes are kept.

Numbers 3

Now we move to the tribe that's been left out of all these arrangements, the tribe of Levi.

:1-4 Aaron's family

They were to serve as the priests. They were one of the families in the tribe of Levi.

Nadab and Abihu - see Lev.10.

Killed for offering to God something He didn't ask for, all excited about the things going on, possibly even drunk. They were really "on fire" for the Lord. Ha, ha.

:5-10 Levite's ministry

They were to be Aaron's servants, helping him to perform his ministry.

We're going to get into some specific responsibilities of some of the families, but they all had the ministry of helping worship in the tabernacle.

:11-13 God's right to use them

The firstborn all belonged to God, because He had set them apart for Himself during the Passover.

Now God is swapping the Levites for the first-born of all the people.

God's putting His possessions to good use.

:14-20 Levite census

Three sub-divisions of Levites: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

:21-26 Gershon

Just as the other twelve tribes were to camp in a specific order around the tabernacle, the Levites camped in the inner circle, in specific places, around the tabernacle.

7,500 men, duties in vs.25,26, on the west

:27-32 Kohath

8,600 men, duties in vs.31, on the south

This was the family that Aaron was from, they hence dealt with the more intimate items of the tabernacle.

:33-37 Merari

6,200 men, duties in vs.36, on the north

:38-39 Summary

22,000 men

Moses, Aaron, their families on east of tabernacle, the entrance.

:40-51 Firstborn swap

God has Moses count all the firstborn in Israel, which was 22,273, and swap them for the 22,000 Levites.

The Levites were to be paid a "ransom" (five shekels a piece) for the extra 273 they couldn't match.

Now the Levites were legally God's possession.

Numbers 4

:1-16 Kohath's duties

:3 from thirty years old

I find it interesting that a Levite's ministry began at age 30, and Jesus' ministry also began around age 30.

:5 Aaron and his sons...

These duties pertained to whenever the people moved from one place to another, which they did quite often in the wilderness.

The priests were to go in to the tabernacle first, and cover up all the objects with blue cloth, then a covering of porpoise skins.

The blue cloth kept the objects out of sight of the average person, lest they die.

The porpoise skins probably formed some kind of waterproof covering for travel purposes.

:17-20 Kohath's protection

:18 Do not let ... the Kohathites be cut off

If an average Kohathite did his job without the coverings being on the tabernacle furniture, he would be wiped out by the holiness of God.

So the priests gave a kind of protective ministry to the Kohathites by covering up the furniture first.


Your ministry can help others do theirs.

There are certain kinds of ministries that some of you are more suited for than others.

And it's important that you do your part, so others won't have to pick up the slack and end up doing things they weren't designed for.

Example: I think that it's generally not a good idea for a male pastor to do a lot of extended counseling with women. It's just not wise. But pastors aren't the only ones who can counsel. There are mature, godly women who are just as good, usually lots better than pastors at counseling.

Another example: Think about missionaries out in some foreign land. Giving them financial support keeps them from having to get side jobs to support their families, and our help gives them more time to minister.

Another example: I know some pastors who couldn't get near the amount of things done that they do if it weren't for a couple of quiet, background people, who are always taking care of details, setting things up, etc.

What are your gifts? What are your ministries? What are the things you're suited for far better than anyone else?

:21-28 Gershon's ministry

They were in charge of carrying all the fabric portions of the tent and courtyard.

:29-33 Merari's ministry

They were in charge of carrying the heavy structural support pieces of the tabernacle - boards, sockets, etc.

:34-49 Summary of Levitical service numbers

These were those from age 30 to 50.

Kohath: 2750

Gershon: 2630

Merari: 3200

Total: 8580

:19 appoint them every one to his service

What's been going on? God has been in the process of organizing the nation into a lean, mean, fighting machine.

Part of the job of being a spiritual leader is giving people responsibility, their own spot, their own ministry.


Organization can be spiritual.

Sometimes I get the idea from some people that to be spiritual, we need to just "let things happen". As if it's unspiritual to plan and organize. Not so.

If we want to be a healthy body, a lean, mean, ministry machine, we need to each take our place in the Body

We don't do it quite this way, telling people what to do in the church, but the principle is still the same. Everybody has their job to do.



You have great value - you have a ministry.

Not because you completed some course, or got some degree, or won a contest.

But because God put His Spirit in you, gave you spiritual gifts, and expects you to function within the Body.

Within the Body doesn't necessarily mean within the four walls of this building. Your ministry may be to the people you work with. But it's important that you see that God has put a vital mission in your hands, to do what He wants you to do.

Your ministry is vital

The Body is sick if the parts don't do what they're supposed to.

The rest of us need you.

God is the organizer

He's placed you, He's given you a part.