Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, A The Counting, 1 The Combatants, Text: 1:1-54

Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, A The Counting, 1 The Combatants, Text: 1:1-54

INTRODUCTION


The Book of Numbers, called also “In the wilderness,” opens with the second month of the second year after the exodus, and goes on to the arrival of the tribes in the plains of Moab by the Jordan forty years later. It is history but it also carries forward the teaching of Exodus and Leviticus. It flows in three main channels: the separateness of Israel as a people, the separateness of the tribe of Levi and the priesthood, and the separateness and authority of Jehovah. As we have observed in our first study God is the hero here. It is not Moses or Joshua or the people. Israel could never become a great people in the sense in which the nations of the world were great. Among the nations, greatness was sought in spite of morality, defying all that the Lord commanded. Israel would never be great in wealth, territory, influence, but she was to be true. As they were, so we are. She existed for Jahweh, while the gods of other nations existed for them and catered to them. The Lord did not exist by the will of His people and He did not exist simply to meet their needs. He was the self-existent Lord. We like them have turned everything upside down. We ask what God follows our nation when we should ask where are we in the plan of the God of all nations, who is there, and what is our duty. The primary reason for Israel’s failure is the primitive notion that Jahweh was the exclusive property of Israel, the pledged patron of the nation. This tended to impair any sense of His moral purity. An ignorant and immoral people could not have a right conception of Divine holiness; and the more it was accepted as a commonplace of faith that Jehovah knew them alone of all the families of the earth, the more was right belief towards Him imperiled. A psalmist who in the name of God reproves “the wicked” indicates the danger: “You thought that I was altogether such an one as yourself.” Our text today is about  preparation for  battle, and contains three main thoughts which we shall call the commandment, the conscription, and the commission.

I THE COMMANDMENT


There was a plague in Israel in I Chronicles 21 which killed 70,000 men of Israel. It occurred because David decided to number the army. There were over a million men but 70,000 died. We read in I Chronicles 21:1-4, Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.” But Joab replied, “May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?” The king’s word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. Obviously, no good could come of this, and in the wake of his fateful decision, God gave David options for punishment. He chose to commit them into the hand of God rather than the hand of his enemies. That is how the 70,000 perished. It little mattered what the size of the army was if the Lord was not on their side. Here in Numbers 1 there is another earlier census. This time however, in sharp contrast, God commands the numbering. This time he wanted Israel and Moses to know exactly how many fighting men were available before the conquest of Canaan began. God spoke and told Moses to list every fighting man by name. We read in verses 1-4, The Lord spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. He said: “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army. One man from each tribe, each of them the head of his family, is to help you. The chapter tells us that Moses did exactly what the Lord commanded in verse 54, The Israelites did all this just as the Lord commanded Moses. This points up the vital importance of proceeding exactly according to the Word of the Lord. It was the same deed that David later performed, and yet the exact same thing is commended here that is later condemned. We tend to focus on the outward performance of an act while God is concerned with the motivation for it. This is true in all of life just as it was true that what Moses did was faithful obedience and what David did was prideful disobedience. Let us apply this to our own lives.

II THE CONSCRIPTION

The draft of fighting men is described in verses 5-46,  These are the names of the men who are to assist you: from Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur; from Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai; from Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab; from Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar; from Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon; from the sons of Joseph: from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur; from Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni;  from Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai; from Asher, Pagiel son of Okran; from Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel; from Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan.” These were the men appointed from the community, the leaders of their ancestral tribes. They were the heads of the clans of Israel. Moses and Aaron took these men whose names had been specified, and they called the whole community together on the first day of the second month. The people registered their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one, as the Lord commanded Moses. And so he counted them in the Desert of Sinai: From the descendants of Reuben the firstborn son of Israel: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, one by one, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Reuben was 46,500. From the descendants of Simeon: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were counted and listed by name, one by one, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Simeon was 59,300. From the descendants of Gad: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Gad was 45,650. From the descendants of Judah: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Judah was 74,600. From the descendants of Issachar: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Issachar was 54,400. From the descendants of Zebulun: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Zebulun was 57,400. From the sons of Joseph: From the descendants of Ephraim: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Ephraim was 40,500. From the descendants of Manasseh: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Manasseh was 32,200. From the descendants of Benjamin: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Benjamin was 35,400. From the descendants of Dan: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Dan was 62,700. From the descendants of Asher: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Asher was 41,500. From the descendants of Naphtali: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Naphtali was 53,400. These were the men counted by Moses and Aaron and the twelve leaders of Israel, each one representing his family. All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. The total number was 603,550. I know that this is tedious reading for us, but remember a few things. Keeping track of their heritage was vital to Israel. Also, they actually had to count by name. Although this is a time when many people go to “Ancestors.com“ to discover their own heritage, it is a tedious thing to work in a census. I know how tedious it is, because I was a census taker for the United States in the year 2000. I led a team through many frustrations and countless reports. In Israel, the heads of families or clans were charged with this responsibility. This was also a very hard task because the men were being selected to go into battle and they might not come home. I lived through the Second World War and the military draft. You had a number with the Selective Service and when your number came up you reported for your physical. Families lived in daily apprehension that their son or brother or father would be called up. You could be deferred if you were a member of congress, a  pacifist who was a conscientious objector, or if you didn’t pass the physical. Ministers were exempted as were divinity students, exemptions were granted for certain occupations like miners, farmers, and railway workers. You could also obtain an exemption if you could prove to the Draft Board that it would be a hardship on your family, children or parents. And finally if you were employed in some position that was essential to the government's needs. But most of these were subject to further review. In Israel there was only one deferment and we read about that next.

III THE COMMISSION


The Levites had a commission directly from God and we read about that in verses 47-53, The ancestral tribe of the Levites, however, was not counted along with the others. The Lord had said to Moses: “You must not count the tribe of Levi or include them in the census of the other Israelites. Instead, appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the covenant law—over all its furnishings and everything belonging to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they are to take care of it and encamp around it. Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who approaches it is to be put to death. The Israelites are to set up their tents by divisions, each of them in their own camp under their standard. The Levites, however, are to set up their tents around the tabernacle of the covenant law so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelite community. The Levites are to be responsible for the care of the tabernacle of the covenant law.” Ever since conscription was adopted by the U.S. during the Civil War, ministers, priests and seminarians have been automatically exempt from military draft. Today, 101,500 men are classified as 4D— exempt as ordained clerics or seminarians. During the Vietnam war President Johnson's proposed new selective service law, while tightening up on other categories of exemptions, maintained the clerical exception. Thus it was in Israel, but the Levites though exempt from actual military service were, as many clergy in our own time, acting as chaplains. As you may recall only Levites were permitted to carry the sacred Ark of the Covenant. Among other features the Ark was covered by the gold Mercy Seat and it was the throne of God in their midst when encamped and marching with them when they moved. As such it was a powerful reminder that they did not fight alone. Just like our courageous military chaplains in the armed services today, the lives of the Levites were in jeopardy in conflict. The plain truth is that we have all been drafted into the Lord’s army. So called lay people and ministers alike are soldiers of the Lord. Paul’s advice to Timothy in II Timothy 2:1-7 is for each and everyone of us, You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.