Wonderful Numbers

Ask a lot of Bible readers on which three books they find most challenging to read, chances are the Book of Numbers will be among them—along with its forerunner, Leviticus.

However, there is much to be gleaned from this book. Numbers relates the story of Israel's journey from Mt. Sinai to the plains of Moab on the border of Canaan. The book details the murmuring and rebellion of God's people and of their subsequent judgment. Those whom God had redeemed from slavery in Egypt and with whom He had made a covenant at Mt. Sinai responded not with faith, gratitude and obedience, but with unbelief, ingratitude and repeated acts of rebellion, which came to extreme expression in their refusal to undertake the conquest of Canaan (see chapter 14). Thus, the community of the redeemed forfeited their part in the Promised Land. They were condemned to live out their lives in the desert; only their children would enjoy the fulfillment of the promise that had originally been theirs.

What is important for us to understand is how much the NT writers referred to Numbers to get their message across. As God dwelt (tabernacled) among His people in their Wilderness Journey through the Tent of Meeting, to John 1:14 where the beloved apostle wrote how the Word dwelt among us (tabernacled among us) and ultimately to our eternal lives being spent by His side (Revelation 21:3).

John also refers back to Numbers when he draws comparisons to the bronze serpent Moses set up in Numbers 21:4-9 to the image of Christ on the cross. Moses declared that if a serpent bit anyone, all they needed to do was look upon the image and they will live. In Acts 2:21 and in Romans 10:13, we have assurances of all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

In Numbers 22, we see the errors of the prophet Balaam in his selfish desires and his willingness to help create stumbling blocks for the nation of Israel. Both Jude 11 and Revelation 2:14 recount his wrongful deeds as examples of the dangers facing the early church.

But it is the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:2–11 who makes the most use of Numbers. After using the examples of how God supplied water and manna in the wilderness for Israel (Numbers 11:11–35; 20:2–13), he takes the complaining, idolatry, and sexual immorality these people participated in as examples of how we, as the body of Christ, should not behave lest we also become guilty of putting the Lord to the test.

So, Numbers is a wonderful book demonstrating the unfathomable mercy of God in that while He was fully justified to wipe them off of the face of the earth, He chose to preserve the nation in general. Certainly, there was punishment for the wickedness, but there remained infinite love as well.

In this, we see the work of our Savior. His love is endless if only you will take hold of His garment and accept His free gift. Put your whole trust in Him and let go of the evil that lives within you. Just as in this magnificent OT Book, only those faithful to the Lord will remain with Him for all eternity.

Which side will you be on?