Overview of Numbers
Pastor Harrell tackles the often misunderstood book of Numbers. Learn how practical this book is to your life today.
Subscribe to this podcast on:
The Full Transcript
Welcome once again, to The Bible for Life Podcast, where it is our goal, our mission to lead and equip people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Today, Pastor Harrell tackles the often misunderstood book of Numbers and shows us how incredibly practical it actually is to our lives here today. We know you’ll be blessed, so buckle up and let’s go on a journey through this amazing book in God’s word together. Thanks for joining us. Here’s Pastor Ken Harrell.
Every one of us is on a journey towards spiritual maturity and while we would love it to be a non-stop, smooth sailing venture, the reality is most of us have experienced failure or disappointment, doubt, struggles in our lives. The truth is there may be some who are listening to this podcast and you’re picking up the pieces of a tragic season in your life, or maybe you’re going through something extremely painful right now. Maybe it’s because of something that you allowed in your life that you shouldn’t have or maybe it was really nothing that you did, but what happened to you. I remember Debbie and I years ago, having lunch with Johnny Erickson, spending the afternoon with her. And I remember myself having dinner with Elizabeth Elliott and both of them told me the story of their journey. I mean, Johnny, she was a young adult diving into the Chesapeake Bay and hitting her head on the bottom and as a result in a split second, she becomes a quadriplegic for the rest of her life.
Elizabeth Elliott, married to Jim Elliot and Jim and four other individuals, they were missionaries to the Oka Indians and Jim Elliott, along with the others experienced death at the hands of the Oka Indians. And they just shared their journey. Listen, folks, there is no such thing as instant maturity, that’s what the book of Numbers really shows us. The book of Numbers is about a journey, but it didn’t end happily ever after. It’s the story of a quite frankly, a tragic pilgrimage, a group of people who knew better, but didn’t live better. And they suffered the consequences because of a decision that they made in the crisis time in their lives. Now, let me establish the background to the book of Numbers. If you’ve been following our podcast in the book of Genesis, when you get to the end of the book of Genesis, the Israelites had grown to a large number.
Jacob’s family who was living in Canaan, which is Israel today, they were experiencing a severe famine. And when the book closes the Jews, the Hebrews are moving in mass to Egypt, which is down South. And the reason is because they’re in the midst of a severe famine and down in Egypt, there is food because God had sovereignly moved Joseph down there and Joseph, the son of Jacob now as the prime minister of Egypt and because of his wisdom and the decisions that he made there in Egypt, there’s food and Jacob’s family finds refuge. And they’re delivered from the famine that they were experiencing, either that, or they would have died of starvation. However, that dream of getting to Egypt, which they did, and that dream turned to ashes. In fact, it was a nightmare because 400 years later, there is now a Pharaoh who had no clue who Joseph was or how they had found favor with Pharaoh.
And this is the story of the book of Exodus. God told Moses to go back to Egypt and to tell Pharaoh to let His people go. And Moses brings His people out of Egypt under God’s protection. When you get to the book of Leviticus, they’re three months removed from Egypt and they end at the base of Mount Sinai where they spend a year. And while they’re at the base of Mount Sinai, during that years time, God gave them the 10 commandments. They received it. I mean, from the literal finger of God, he etched into the tablets of stone, the 10 commandments, they received the blueprints to the tabernacle, and they were told whom to worship, how to worship. And they’re even given a place to worship. And at the end of the book of Leviticus, the people are listening to the voice of God as He plans His next move.
The last book in the book of Leviticus says, “These are the commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai.” So when you flip over the next page in your Bible and you come to the book of Numbers, Numbers 1:1 begins with a word now, in other words, when is that? That’s at the end of that present time. Numbers 1:1 says, “Now the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of meeting on the first day of the second month in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt.” Now, notice the date, the first day of the second month of the second year. Second, from what point? After the Exodus. So they left Egypt, the Exodus has taken place. They get to Sinai, they’ve been there a year, at the beginning of the second month, after that year, they’re waiting on God to give them directions. And He’s about to tell them to begin a journey North, to Canaan, the promised land, the land that He promised to give them.
And at the beginning of Numbers, they’re getting the people ready for the journey North to Canaan, back to where their forefathers lived under the family of Jacob. Now, Exodus 40:17 says this, “And it came to pass in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, that tabernacle was raised up.” In other words, the tabernacle was completed. Now, get this straight in your mind, it’s the first day, of the first month, of the second year and the blueprints that God had given to him, they followed it and they finished the tabernacle on that date. And so it’s the first day of the second month that God spoke to him. In other words, for a full month, they enjoyed worship. You see, that’s the book of Leviticus. Leviticus taught them how to approach God, how a sinful person can know and love and fellowship with a holy God, that’s what the book of Leviticus is all about. And we covered that in our last episode.
Well, where did they come up with the name for the book of Numbers? Numbers 1:2, God said, “Take a census of all the congregation of the children, of Israel by their families, by their father’s houses, according to the number of names, every male individually.” In other words, God was telling him, be very careful in numbering the people, count the males of each man 20 years and older. Why? Because God was getting ready to move them and logistics were very critical in the moving of that many people or if war breaks out. So you got to take organization, that’s what’s taking place. But in verse 45, the Bible says, “So all were numbered of the children of Israel by their father’s houses from 20 years old and above, all who were able to go to war in Israel, all who were numbered were 603,550.”
So that’s the first census that is taken. That’s where you get the name for the book of Numbers. They’re numbering all of the men, all of the people. And so there are now 603,550 people. That’s not counting the tribe of Levi because they didn’t go to battle because they were the priest and they served in the tabernacle verse 49 tells us that, of chapter one, “Only the tribe of Levi, you shall not number nor take a census of them among the children of Israel.” Now, what’s interesting is that in the book of Numbers, there are two census in chapter 26 toward the end of the 40 years, there’s a second census that’s taken. Chapter 26:2, take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel from 20 years old and above by their father’s houses, all who are able to go to war in Israel. And then verse 51 of that chapter says, “These are those who were numbered of the children of Israel, 601,730.”
Well, that’s a smaller number, in fact, it’s 1,820 less. And you say, “Well, why?” Well, that’s the story of the book of Numbers. You see the book of Numbers, you see God’s judgment coming on His people and there are an enormous numbers of deaths. Let me show you something. The journey from Mount Sinai, where they had been for a year to Canaan took 11 days, Deuteronomy 1 tells us that. The Bible says, “It is 11 days journey from Horeb, by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.” 11 days, but it took them 40 years in order to get to the promised land, why? Numbers 14:34 says, “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land 40 days for each day, you shall bear your guilt one year and namely 40 years and you shall know my rejection.” God’s judgment came upon Israel and they experienced one year for each day that the spies explored the land when Moses sent them over there.
From chapters one to chapters nine, they’re at Sinai, Mount Sinai. They’re there for several weeks. They’re preparing for the journey that God is about to tell them about. And they’re about to take, it’s a time of excitement. They’re dreaming. There’s a lot of hope. They’re told how to worship and how to remain pure and how to prepare for battle. In other words, in those first nine chapters of the book of Numbers, God prepared them for a journey, but from chapters 10 to 14 is just a few days. They get from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea and that’s the first journey, but they get to the edge of Canaan in just a few days, they’re about to enter into the promised land. And I’ll come back to that later. The final 22 chapters from chapter 15 to 36, the people are going in a circle, in the wilderness and they’re going to spend 40 long years in the wilderness until they finally learn to trust God. And a new generation is born.
Chapter nine, verse 15 says this, “Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, from evening until morning, it was above the tabernacle, like the appearance of fire so it was always the cloud covered it by day, the appearance of fire by night.” So get this in your mind, Israel, I mean, they never had to question the presence of God. Numbers 17:9 says, “Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey. And in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents.” I mean, even with a cloud and fire, they blew it because you see folks, you don’t need a cloud and you don’t need fire, you need faith. That’s where they failed. And that’s where you and I fail in our lives, in the faith to trust Him, to trust God.
Chapter 10:11 says, “Now it came to pass on the 20th day of the second month in the second year that the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle of the testimony. Now, that’s 20 days after chapter one, the cloud is lifted and they’re on their way. And verse 12 says, “And the children of Israel set out from the wilderness of Sinai on their journeys. Then the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran,” and that wilderness of Paran that is rough, hard, rocky, I mean, it’s dry and harsh real estate. So they get to Paran the cloud stops there, and you know what their response is? They complain. Chapter 11:1, “Now, when the people complained, it displeased the Lord for the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused, so the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp.” I mean, they complained, but you know what? That’s what happens in our lives. That’s what we do. Lord, let me know your will and I’ll do it. And He reveals His will and if we don’t like it, we begin to complain.
Well, in verse number four, the Bible tells us that they started to complain about the food. The Bible says, “Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving. So the children of Israel also wept again and said, who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, and the onions, the garlic, but now our hole is being dried up. There is nothing at all, except the manna before our eyes.” I mean, they said, “All we have is manna.” That was food that God miraculously gave them every day from heaven. You see folks it takes a heavenly appetite to enjoy heavenly food. And I’ll tell you this, if you don’t have a heavenly appetite, nothing God serves you is going to look good.
They said, “Send us meat.” Well, let’s look and see what God did. The Bible says in Numbers 11:31, “Now a wind went out from the Lord and it brought quail from the sea and left them fluttering near the camp about a day’s journey on this side and about a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp. And about two cubits above the surface of the ground,” a cubit was 18 inches. And so the quail are three feet deep. God says you wanted meat, I gave it to you. Chapter 11:32 says, “And the people stayed up all that day, all night and all the next day and gathered the quail. He who gathered least gathered 10 homers, or that was at least 50 bushels full of quail. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people. And the Lord struck the people with a very great plague.” I’m reminded what the Bible says in the 106 Psalm “And He gave them their request, but sent leanness to their soul.”
God gave them quail and that satisfy, you know why? Because their heart really wasn’t trusting God. They wanted their own way. They wanted a little bit of Egypt and a little bit of Sinai and little bit of Kadesh-barnea and little bit of Canaan. Yeah, you give us that God, and we’ll be satisfied. This book is so practical, this book of Numbers, but let me tell you, it went from bad to worse because in chapter 13, they come to Kadesh-barnea and the Bible says, “And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one, a leader among them.” So Moses did exactly what God said.
Verse 17, “Then Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, go up this way into the South and go up into the mountains and see what the land is like. Whether the people who dwell there, in it, are strong or weak, few or many, whether the land they dwell in is good or bad. Whether the cities, they inhabit are like camps or strongholds, whether the land is rich or poor, whether they’re foes they’re not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land. Now, the time was the season of the first ripe grapes. By the way, you see in verse number 23, where the Bible says, “Then they came to the valley of Eshcol and there cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes. And they carried, I mean, the cluster was so large, they carried it between two of the men, two of them on a pole. They also brought some pomegranates and figs.
That’s the symbol, grapes, that was a symbol that the Israeli, [inaudible 00:19:46] is amused to have on the side of its curse, that they brought back fruit from the land. But let me tell you, they brought back something else. They brought back a heart of unbelief. Versus 27 says, “Then they told him, in saying, when they got back, we went to the land where you sent us, it truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who dwell in the land are strong and the cities are fortified and very large. And moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South, the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites dwell in the mountains, and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.
And they gave the children of Israel, a bad report of the land, which they had spied out saying, the land through which we had gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great statue, there we saw the giants, the descendants of Anak, they came from giants and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight. And so were we in their sight. And so they cast a vote 10 of the spies that Moses sent out said, “No, let’s stay. Let’s stay here. Let’s not cross over.” But Joshua and Caleb said, “We’re going in, let’s go.” Chapter 14:1, “So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron and all the whole congregation said to them, if only we had died in the land of Egypt or if only we had died in the wilderness. Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword?”
I mean, God said, when you go to Canaan, He said, you’re going to a land that I’ve promised you, I’ll give it to you. So folks why are they voting? I’ll tell you why they’re voting because they compared, those 10 spies, they compared themselves to the giants. They didn’t compare the giants to God. And when you do that in your life, and I do that in my life, when we compare what we’re going through, the giants that we face to ourselves, then we’re living life from the horizontal. And you know the results, the result that they experience was God’s judgment. God said in Numbers 14:27, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, who complain against me? I’ve heard the complaints, which the children of Israel make against me say to them, as I live says the Lord, just as you have spoken in my hearing so I will do to you, the carcasses of you who have complained against me shall fall in the wilderness.
All of you who were numbered according to your entire number from 20 years old and above, except for Caleb, the son of Jephunneht and Joshua, the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land, which I swore I would make you dwell in.” Folks, as we come to the end of the book of Numbers, let me remind us, when God says go, that’s not a multiple choice, we go. You break down the book of Numbers into those three sections. Let me give you an application of this. In that first section, they’re anticipating, they’re dreaming, in the second section, there’s unbelieving and there’s complaining. And then in the third section they’re finally trusting God, but it’s a little too late because by the thousands upon thousands, they died during that 40 year wandering in the wilderness. Let me give you three things, I would encourage you to take the time and jot these down because they’re three valuable lessons that we can glean from this book of Numbers.
The first one is this, complainant is usually contagious, and I’ll tell you, it affects others with the same disease. You show me someone that’s a complainer and I’ll show you someone who’s contagious. And the devil loves to use that complaining. But if anyone ought to have victory over complaining, it’s the born again, child of God. And I just want to encourage you, if that happens to be a part of your life, if there’s a propensity to complain or to grumble, like the children of Israel did the God, if you don’t like the circumstances that you find yourself in and you’re complaining, I would encourage you, don’t do it. Second lesson, doubting can be disastrous. See God promised them, God said the land’s yours, I’ve given it to you, it’s the promised land. But when those spies went over, those 10 came back, not Joshua and Caleb, but the other 10, they came back and they just doubted and it was contagious and it spread throughout the camp.
And it can be disastrous because you know what? They lost a whole generation of adult men and others during those 40 years in the wilderness. God said, nobody above this age, save Joshua and Caleb are going to get into the promise land. No one’s going to get into the promised land. All of those adult men died because of their doubting. Last thing I would tell you is this, wandering is always humbling, for whatever reason you find yourself in, it’s like you’re wandering in the wilderness, that’s a very humbling experience. In fact, over in the book of Deuteronomy, I think it’s chapter eight, the Bible tells us that rather than taking that 11 day journey, it took them 40 years to get there. And what God was doing during that 40 years is He was humbling Israel. And now Moses is standing with the new generation 40 years later, and God is saying to them, trust me, I know what I’m doing.
And I want to close this episode on the book of Numbers by just reiterating those words God said, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.” And whatever you’re facing, whatever you will face in your life remember those words from God, Trust me I know what I’m doing.
We sincerely hope you’ve been blessed by this episode of The Bible for Life Podcast as Pastor Harrell has walked us through the book of Numbers. Be sure to check back as we explore the book of Deuteronomy in the next lesson, but until then, for the issues of life, for the rest of your life, it’s The Bible for Life.