Searchlights from the Word by G. Campbell Morgan: Numbers

Helpful outline sermon suggestion from every chapter from the Book of Numbers

Gene Exod Levi Numb Deut Josh Judg Ruth 1Sam 2Sam 1Kin 2Kin 1Chr 2Chr Ezra Nehe Esth Job_ Psal Prov Eccl Song Isai Jere Lame Ezek Dani Hose Joel Amos Obad Jona Mica Nahu Haba Zeph Hagg Zech Mala Matt Mark Luke John Acts Roma 1Cor 2Cor Gala Ephe Phil Colo 1The 2The 1Tim 2Tim Titu Phle Hebr Jame 1Pet 2Pet 1Joh 2Joh 3Joh Jude Reve

The Book of Numbers - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.

Chapter 1

As the Lord commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.
Numbers 1:19

The Book of Numbers records the wilderness experiences of the people of God. It resolves itself into the account of a long discipline due to disobedience. In the Divine programme, these people should now have gone up and possessed the land promised to them. Their entry was postponed for forty years through their failure, and this Book is occupied largely with matters pertaining to that period. It records two numberings of the people, one of the beginning, and the other at the close of the forty years. This first numbering was that of the men of war, and it was undertaken at the direct command of God. Those to be enrolled were the men of twenty years and upward. The numbering yielded an army of 603,550. This was the first movement in preparation for the coming of the people into the land. The nation had been created an instrument for the carrying out of Divine purposes for the world. Its first mission was punitive. The peoples occupying the land of Canaan had become utterly corrupt, and it was necessary in the interests of purity that they should be swept out. The chosen people were to be the instruments of this purifying process. They must be prepared for warfare, and this was the reason of the taking of this census. The reason for the preparation of this army must never be lost sight of. The story of the conquest of Canaan is not that of the spoliation of feeble peoples by a stronger, in order to possess territory. It is that of the purification of a land, in order that there might be planted in it a people from whose history blessing would come to all the nations.

Chapter 2

The children of Israel shall pitch every man by his own standard.
Numbers 2:2

This whole chapter is very full of interest as revealing the orderliness of the Divine arrangements. This host of God was not a mob, lacking order. It was a disciplined company, and in these provisions for its encampment this fact was emphasized. At the centre of everything was the Tent of Meeting, for ever reminding the people that they constituted a Theocracy, and that all their national life was centred in the God Who had called them to Himself. Nearest to this sacred centre - that is, around the enclosure of the courts - the Levites encamped; and thus the nation was kept in the consciousness of the fact that its first obligation was the service and worship of God. Beyond this encampment of priests and Levites came the tribes, and these again were in a Divinely-arranged order. On the east - that is, fronting the entrance - the standard-bearing tribe was Judah, with its symbol of a lion of gold on a field of scarlet. With Judah were Zebulun and Issachar. On the west, Ephraim's standard was a black ox on a field of gold. Associated with Ephraim were Manasseh and Benjamin. On the south, Reuben bore the standard on which was a man on a field of gold. Simeon and Gad were grouped with Reuben. On the north, Dan was the standard-bearing tribe, his symbol being an eagle of gold on a field of blue. With Dan were Naphtali and Asher. Thus the whole encamping of the people was beautifully symbolic of the nature of the national life, and of the presence and purpose of God therein.

Chapter 3

I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn.
Numbers 3:12

In this, and the following chapters, the service of the Levites is dealt with in detail. In the taking of the census for the men of war, the Levites were exempted from military service. This was a clear indication of the mind of God as to the true value of directly religious and spiritual work in national service. A fact which is sometimes overlooked in our thinking of the Levitical order is brought out in the words we have selected from this chapter. It is that the Levites were representatives. The first Divine arrangement was that the firstborn male in every family was to be consecrated to the service of God in the priesthood. Now, in all probability for the sake of cohesion and order, one tribe was set apart to represent the firstborn sons of the nation. In this first carrying out of the arrangement, the number of the tribe of Levi available was 22,000, while there were 22,273 firstborn sons. This company of 273 unrepresented by Levites had to pay a redemption price of five shekels each, which was devoted to the service of the sanctuary. In the light of these things it is interesting to remember that our Lord was the First-born, and so was a Priest according to the original Divine arrangement, and not according to the Levitical order. All those who are redeemed by Him, exercise a priesthood which results from their birthright in Him, and so have no need of any order of men to represent them in priestly work. In this way also the order of Levitical priesthood is done away in Christ.

Chapter 4

Every one according to his service, and according to his burden.
Numbers 4:49

In this chapter we have a continuation of the instructions concerning the Levites. It gives a minute account of their work in connection with the marching of the people. The duty of carrying all the holy furniture was that of the Kohathites. This furniture, however, they were not permitted to look upon, or touch. Aaron and his sons first entered the Holy Place and covered each sacred piece, affixing the staves which were to rest upon the shoulders of the Levites. On the march these holy vessels were in charge of Eleazar, who carried also the anointing oil and the sweet incense. The curtains and the tents which constituted the Tabernacle itself were carried by the Gershonites. They were under the charge of Ithamar. To the Merarites were committed the boards and bars and pillars, and other things which formed the foundations upon which the sacred hangings rested. These also were under the charge of Ithamar. All this is instructive, as it reveals the Divine thought and care for every detail of the life and worship of His people. It is of particular value, too, as it teaches us that in the thought of God every detail is sacred. These men were in this regard the "caretakers" of the House of God. How often we are prone to think meanly of "caretakers" in these modern times! Such thinking is utterly wrong. The men and women who have charge of the houses of our worship are rendering holy service.

Chapter 5

The priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water.
Numbers 5:17

These words occur in a section which emphasizes the necessity for the purity of the camp. All that were in any way unclean were to be put outside that camp. This does not mean that they were left to perish as the people continued their march, but that they were not permitted to retain their proper place with the tribes of their people. They were, for the time being, camp-followers only, shut out, until their purification was ensured, according to the provision made in the laws already given. It was also insisted upon that there must be moral rectitude among the people in their inter-relationships, and to this end restitution was constantly to be made by all such as had in any way sinned against their fellows. It is in this atmosphere that we find the careful, and to us at first, strange instructions as to the peril of jealousy between husband and wife. The very fact of these instructions shows how important it is, in the mind of God, that, in the interest of true national strength, family life should be maintained at its strongest and purest. It is well that we remind ourselves that this ordeal of drinking bitter water has no similarity to the ordeals by fire and poison of which we read in the history of the Dark Ages, and of barbarous peoples. The drinking of this water was perfectly harmless in itself. It only became proof of guilt by the act of God. If a woman, guilty of infidelity, consented to this ordeal, the tokens of her guilt were manifested, not by any action of the water, but by the act of God.

Chapter 6

So shall they put My Name upon the children of Israel.
Numbers 6:27

The solemn act of pronouncing this blessing was a distinct part of the worship of the Hebrew people. A reference to Leviticus 9:22 will show that it followed upon the completion of the presentation of the offerings. It consisted of a placing of the Name of Jehovah upon the people, that is, a declaration of His relationship to them. The formula was definitely fixed. That is the significance of the word "SO" which the Revised Version gives us. It was to be done in this way and in no other. The Name in itself was JEHOVAH, the Name signifying the infinite grace of God, wherein He bends to meet the need of His people, becoming to them at all times, exactly what they really need. The sentences of this benediction were interpretative of the values of that Name. The first sentence, "Jehovah bless thee, and keep thee," does not describe the way nor the nature of the blessing, but fixes attention upon the fact that God is its source. The second 'Sentence, "Jehovah make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee," declares, not only that God is the source of blessing, but that He is its channel, that through His activity it reaches men. The final sentence, "Jehovah lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace," is a declaration that the experience of the blessing in the soul is that of Jehovah Himself creating that experience. For us these words must ever speak of the Trinity. The Father is Jehovah the Source of blessing; the Son is Jehovah the Channel of blessing; the Spirit is Jehovah the Creator of the experience of blessing. "So," He has put His name upon us; so He has blessed us indeed.

Chapter 7

He heard the Voice speaking unto him from above the Mercy-seat.
Numbers 7:89

This is a brief statement of something that happened after the dedication and anointing of the altar. It was a great day, and all this longest chapter in the book is occupied with the account of it, and of the offerings of the princes. These offerings had been twelve days in course of presentation. They were purely voluntary. Not in answer to any compulsion or Divine requirement, but out of the consciousness of the importance of worship did the princes of the people offer willingly. Seeing that they were giving thus willingly, it was Divinely arranged that the giving in each case should be equal, thus precluding the possibility of any spirit of rivalry. When all was done, Moses entered the Tabernacle. The Revised Version here helps us, in that it renders very literally. Instead of attempting interpretation, as in the King James version by rendering, "he heard the voice of One," it translates directly, "he heard the Voice." This is perhaps the one instance in which we have a clear statement that in his communing with God, Moses did actually hear a voice. The communications which he received were more than subjective impressions; they were objective expressions. The place of the voice is definitely and carefully stated. It came "from above the mercy-seat, that was upon the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim." This is emphasized by the last statement, "and He spake unto him," which Rotherham has rendered: "So He spake unto him," with undoubted accuracy.

Chapter 8

The seven lamps shall give light in front of the candlestick.
Numbers 8:2

A reference to Exodus 25:31-37 will explain the "seven lamps" and the one "candlestick." The word "candlestick" would certainly be better rendered "lamp-stand." The word first occurs in Genesis 1:4, where it is used of sun, moon, and stars. These are light-holders. So also was this golden stand, which occupied a place in the Holy Place opposite the table of shew-bread. This light was given by the seven lamps which it held. Thus one light was shining, but it was sevenfold, coming from these seven lamps in the one light-holder. The statement that this light was to shine in front of the lampstand raises the inquiry as to what it fell upon within that Holy Place. As we have already said, opposite to the lampstand was the table of shew-bread. Upon that table the priests placed twelve cakes every Sabbath day, having frankincense on them. These were the symbols of the fellowship of the people with God. Upon that table the light from the golden lampstand ever fell. Thus were typified the great principles of the life of fellowship with God, which have their fulfilment for us in Christ. We have a table of communion, but it is well to remember that upon it the light is ever shining. We only have right to that table as we dwell in that light. The light for us comes from the Holy Spirit; but we are responsible for the reception of His in-dwelling; we have to keep the lamps trimmed.

Chapter 9

At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the Lord they encamped.
Numbers 9:18

Our chapter brings us to the moment when everything was ready, so far as Divine provision was concerned, for the march to the promised land. The hosts of God waited only for the Divine will. This was to be made known through the cloud. The first appearing of this cloud was in connection with the actual exodus, and from henceforth it was the appointed symbol and token of the Divine presence. It was a remarkably suggestive one, at once mystic and revealing. There has been a good deal of speculation as to the nature of this cloud. It is surely best, reverently to consider it as a supernatural manifestation, indicating the presence and guidance of God. The instructions given were most definite, that the people were only to move in obedience to the movement of the cloud. It was at once a beneficent and drastic provision. It lifted all responsibility from them, except that of simple obedience. They were not called upon to consider the time or direction of their march, but they were not allowed to object or delay. We have no longer any such visible means of guidance, but the guidance is as sure for us as for them; and it is given to us to know it by the life of maintained fellowship with the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. In proportion as that is maintained by our fulfilling of the true conditions, there need be no place or time in which we may not discover what is the will of God for us.

Chapter 10

Thou shalt be to us instead of eyes.
Numbers 10:31

This is a very suggestive story. Reuel was the father of Zipporah, and so he was Moses' father-in-law (Exod. 2:18-21). Hobab, therefore, was his brother-in-law. Just as they were on the eve of departure from Sinai to go into the promised land, Moses sought to persuade him to accompany them. His first appeal was made in the words: "Come with us and we will do thee good." Hobab declined this invitation. Then Moses used another method as he said: "Thou shalt be to us instead of eyes." The words immediately following this appeal, "And they set forward from the mount of Jehovah," leaves no room for doubt that Hobab went. Wherein lay the difference between the argument which failed and that which succeeded? However good the intention, and however true the statement, the first appeal was to selfishness. It promised the man that he should gain something by going. The second was an appeal for help. It suggested that his knowledge of the wilderness would be of service, that he could do something for others which would be of real value to them. The first failed. The second succeeded. Is there not something here that we do well to consider? We are very prone to make our appeal to selfishness - granted, on a high level, but still to selfishness. Would not the appeal that calls to service and sacrifice to the heroic be far more forceful? One thing is certain, and that is that this was the supreme note in Christ's call to men in the days of His flesh. He certainly desires us to come to Him that He may do us good; but He ever calls us as those whom He needs to serve Him, by serving others.

Chapter 11

The mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting.
Numbers 11:4

The mixed multitude was a perpetual source of trouble to Israel. For an explanation of this multitude we must refer to Exodus 12. 38. There the statement is simply made that such a multitude accompanied them on their journeys. They were merely camp-followers. The fact of their presence was apparently innocent and harmless. The issue proves that it was far otherwise. The influence on the children of Israel of these people was that of making them dissatisfied. The statement in Exodus shows that they were wealthy, having "flocks and herds, even very much cattle." Perhaps that accounted for the willingness of the people of God to permit them to accompany them. The fact that they had such possessions would seem also to suggest that they were more than adventurers. They had a certain interest in the migration - one of curiosity, perhaps. The only thing that is certain is that they were not of the Theocracy; and not having true part or lot in the Divine movement, they fell a-lusting after the things of Egypt, and infected the people of God with the same unholy desire. What significant teaching there is in this story for the Church of God! How often she has been defiled and weakened by the influence of camp-followers! The mixed multitude which have no vital relation with Christ, but who follow out of curiosity and interest that is less than absolute, are a perpetual menace to the people of God. Better far, a fellowship of souls all actually sharing the life of Christ, and loyal to His enterprise, though it be small in numbers, than a crowd of those who follow outwardly, but in whose heart there is yet the lusting for the things of evil.

Chapter 12

The Lord spake suddenly unto Moses.
Numbers 12:4

That is an arresting statement. It marks an action on the part of God, so definite and immediate, that to Moses His speech was that of suddenness. It lends emphasis to the importance of this story. It is the story of rebellion against Moses, the God-appointed leader of the people, on the part of Miriam his sister, and Aaron his brother. The occasion was that of Moses' marriage with a Cushite woman. This was not the reason of it. It gave Miriam and Aaron an opportunity of acting upon a deeper feeling of jealousy which was present in their hearts. They resented the exercise of Moses' authority, evidently desiring to share it with him in a larger degree. The story illustrates a great truth in human experience. Sooner or later, if there be hidden evil, circumstances will occur in which it will be outwardly manifested. Stern and majestic Was the Divine method of dealing with this outbreak. The sudden summons of God brought these three people out from the host, and into the immediate presence of God. Then in the plainest terms Jehovah vindicated His servant. Thus are we taught that God will not permit any interference with His appointments. To question the authority of those whom He appoints is to question His authority. There is great beauty in the end of the story. Aaron pleaded with Moses on behalf of his sister. Moses pleaded with God on her behalf. The cry was heard, and after seven days Miriam was restored. Surely He is ever a God ready to pardon. Nevertheless, the warning was solemn and severe, showing that rebellion is most reprehensible when it is manifested by the most highly placed.

Chapter 13

Numbers 13:28

This is the revealing word as to the report of the majority of the spies. The Hebrew word means cessation, an end; and when used adverbially it signifies, no further! It suggests that what has already been said is all that can be said in that direction; and therefore that now other things are to be said, which will have a corrective effect on the things already said. The report of these men so far has been entirely favourable concerning the land. They were convinced of its desirability. They had clearly seen its excellencies. "Howbeit," they had also seen the difficulties, the strength of the inhabitants, the fenced cities, and the compactness of the enemies they would have to encounter. They had seen themselves also in comparison with these enemies, and they were but as grasshoppers. The remarkable fact is that in their report there was no reference to God. They would seem to have lost sight of Him completely for the time being. In that lay the secret of their failure. Human calculations are not wrong. They are wrong when they do not take account of all the quantities; and unutterably wrong when they omit the chief quantity. What a revealing story it is! How constantly we are all in danger of making the same mistake! The way of God is revealed to us; we see it, and recognize all its advantages; "howbeit," we see the difficulties, and become so occupied with them as to lose sight of God. Then our hearts fail us, and fear paralyses us, and quite naturally. The foes massed against the people of God are always mightier than are they, if they are called upon to act alone.

Chapter 14

If the Lord delight in us, then ...
Numbers 14:8

These are the outstanding words of the minority report. They reveal the difference in viewpoint between the minority and the majority. These men saw all the others saw, and more. They had clear apprehension of the goodness of the land; they were by no means blind to the formidable nature of the difficulties that stood between them and possession. But they saw God. They started with that vision, and saw everything else in its light. Therefore the enemies were "as bread" for them; their defences were removed, if indeed Jehovah were with them. Yet these men also saw that there was a condition and they named it in the words: "If - Jehovah delight in us." In these words there was surely the recognition of a fact, and the statement of a responsibility. The fact was patent. Jehovah did delight in them. He had ransomed them from slavery, brought them to Himself, provided for all their need, promised them this very land. What further proofs could they have of His delight in them? Nevertheless, they were in danger of placing themselves outside the benefits of that delight, by their rebellion and their unworthy fear. These things were surely written for our learning. Every call of God to His people is a call to those in whom He delights. Therefore they should know that no difficulties need daunt them. They are not called to meet them in their own strength. He will be with them in the path of obedience.

Chapter 15

… That they put upon the fringe of each border a cord of blue.
Numbers 15:38

This was a sign for the coming days of wilderness wanderings. The first part of the chapter is occupied with the repetition of certain laws already given, and their enforcement as binding. This repetition and enforcement are explained by the opening words: "When ye be come into the land." In the Divine discipline of the people for their failure in faith, they were about to turn their faces from the land which they might at once have possessed; and in this reiteration of certain laws for their dwelling within that land, there was at once a prophecy of the ultimate fulfilment of Divine intention, and a means of preserving in their minds the principles of the law by which they were to be governed. It would also serve to remind them that even in the wilderness they were to live as those belonging to the land, even though for the time being they were excluded from it. The purpose of this cord of blue was distinctly declared. It was a symbol of the deepest truth concerning their national life. The colour blue was always the symbol of heavenly beauty, and thus they were constantly reminded that they were under the direct government of God. It was to help them to remember the one great fact which they had forgotten, when they had permitted the difficulties of the way to fill them with fear. In the fuller light and glory of our fellowship with the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit, such material signs should not be necessary, but it would be a daring thing to say that they are wholly wrong. If some outward sign helps us to remember, then let us use it; only let us ever fear lest we become so accustomed to it, that we forget its true significance.

Chapter 16

The Lord will show who are His, and who is holy.
Numbers 16:5

This chapter gives the account of a strong and organized opposition to Moses and Aaron; and in these words we have the appeal which Moses made for a Divine decision. The attitude taken up by those who organized the movement was plausible and popular. It was democratic in its expression: "All the congregation are holy, every one of them, and Jehovah is among them." It was a plea for equal rights, and for independence of action. Moses chose the only method of reply to such an attitude. It was that of calling for the submission of the case to God, Whose authority was called in question. The answer was immediate. When presently the censers of the offending men were beaten out into a covering for the altar, a provision was made for a perpetual witness to the danger of intruding upon service in any other way than that of the Divine appointment. The whole story serves to show how false may be the most apparently popular movements. The voice of the people is by no means always the voice of God. The declaration that all men have equal rights may be entirely false. It is fundamentally true that all men have an equal right to direct dealings with God, and to receive the law of life from Him. But within that law are provisions which give to each man his service, and no man has any right to serve in any way not directly appointed by God. We have no right to choose the place or character of what we shall do. Therefore we sin against God when we rebel against the exercise by any man of an authority which has been given him by God.

Chapter 17

The man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud.
Numbers 17:5

Thus a supernatural sign was given to the people in vindication of Aaron's right to the position which he held. The reason for this was clearly stated in the words: "I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel which they murmur against you." Mark well the form of this statement. The murmuring of the people was against Moses and Aaron, but God saw that it was murmuring against Himself. The sign was efficacious; for while the spirit of rebellion manifested itself subsequently in other ways, it may safely be said that any complaint against the rights of the God-appointed priesthood ceased from this time. The blossoming and fruit-bearing of Aaron's rod undoubtedly resulted from the direct and super-natural action of God, but it was in itself a most suggestive sign. It taught both the people and the priests that their prevailing mediation was due, not to anything inherent in themselves, but to the direct action of Jehovah through them. As the rods of the other princes were unable to bud or blossom or bear fruit of themselves, so also was that of Aaron, apart from this Divine action. The proof of authority was this manifestation of Divine appointment in life. The principle still obtains. All our fruit is from God. Its absence proves that we have no authority. Its presence proves that we have, but also that the authority is finally His, and not our own. Fruit-bearing will ever give us a sense of authority and deep humility of spirit.

Chapter 18

I give you the priesthood as a service of gift.
Numbers 18:7

This chapter moves in the same realm of thought, that of the Divine appointment of the priesthood. The reason for these repetitions and reemphases is explicitly stated in the words: "That there be wrath no more upon the children of Israel" (verse 5). A reference to the closing verses of the previous chapter (12 and 13) will show how the recent events had produced a spirit of dejection almost amounting to despair in the minds of the people. Such a mental mood was wholly healthy, for it proved that the people had profited by the severe judgment that had fallen upon them. To this troubled condition of mind these words were now spoken, and through them there runs the repeated affirmation of the fact of the Divine appointment of the service of the priesthood. Among the rest these words, "I give you the priest-hood as a service of gift," emphasized again the fact that these priests, and these people had done nothing to merit the provision. It was wholly one of grace, a gift from God. Therefore it was not less, but more, important that they should recognize its sanctity. This is ever so. Love demands a loyalty more thorough than anything else. To hold in contempt any provision of the Divine Love, is a most heinous sin. Whatever service is ours as a result of the giving of grace, is the most holy and sacred service, and therefore to be rendered with the uttermost devotion.

Chapter 19

A water of separation.
Numbers 19:9

This is a very interesting chapter, because it gives us the account of a new and special provision made for these people during the time they would be moving about from place to place. When in the course of such movement the camp was not pitched, and therefore the ordinary methods of the ceremonial law could not be observed, provision was made for ceremonial cleansing. This water of impurity was water with which ashes, specially provided, were mixed. With solemn ceremony and most minute carefulness, a red heifer was sacrificed. The whole of it was to be burned, and as it burned, cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet were mingled with it. The ashes from this burning were those appointed for mixture with water in order to prepare this special "water of impurity." Without attempting to deal with all the details of the suggestiveness of the sacrifice and the burning, we note this special provision. It emphasized the need for constant cleansing, but it also revealed the fact that there need be no postponement of such cleansing in times when the duly appointed place and method were not available. In the course of our reading it reminds us of the wonder of God's fulfilment in Christ of all thus typified. For us, there are, or should be definitely appointed times and places for confession and the claiming of cleansing; but we need not carry the burden and pollution when, for any reason, we are unable to avail ourselves of these. The infinite worth and merit of our Lord's redeeming work are available to us at all times, and in all places. Let us never fail to apprehend this truth, or to appropriate this grace.

Chapter 20

Because ye believed not in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.
Numbers 20:12

Perhaps there is no story in all the Old Testament more searching for all who are called to lead the people of. God, than this of the failure of Moses. There is no honest heart which can fail to understand the action of Moses. What he did was most natural. Therein lay the wrong of it. If that sounds a hard thing to say, let the story be considered. The people murmured against Moses because they were without water; and that, in spite of all the evidences they had received of the Divine care and provision. Moses and Aaron went to Jehovah, and received instructions what to do. These instructions had in them no note of rebuke. Thus assured, Moses went before the people, and, as the Psalmist said, "spake unadvisedly with his lips" (Psa. 106:33). By this manifestation of anger, which as we have said was so very natural, the servant of God misrepresented God to the people. His failure was due to the fact that for the moment his faith failed to reach the highest level of activity. He still believed in God, and in His power; but he did not believe in Him to sanctify Him in the eyes of His people. The lesson is indeed a very searching one. Right things may be done in so wrong a way as to produce evil results. There is a hymn in which in the first two lines we may miss the deep meaning, if we are not thoughtful –

That is far more than a prayer that we may be able to deliver the Lord's message. It is rather that we may do so in His tone, with His temper. This is where Moses failed, and for this failure he was excluded from the Land.

Chapter 21

Any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived.
Numbers 21:9

And that, not because there was any healing virtue in the brazen serpent, but because the look was one of obedience to the Divine command. It was a simple provision, but it touched the deepest facts of life. These people had sinned in their rebellion against the government of God. They were suffering through the Divine action consequent upon their sin, for "Jehovah sent fiery serpents among the people"; and that as punishment. The serpent on the pole was there by the command of God, and for their healing they were told to look at it. In doing so, they bowed to the Divine will, and thus made it possible for God to restore them and heal them. The principles revealed are of abiding application. Rebellion always issues in suffering and disaster. Repentance and return ever lead to healing itself. Thus we see how the sanctions of God's righteousness are preserved in the exercise of His mercy. It is so in regard to man's salvation by Christ. The benefit of His atoning work may only be appropriated by return to the government of God. This return consists in repentance and faith, whereby men turn to God from idols, and commit themselves to Him through the One Whom He has appointed. Thus in infinite grace He has made a way back to Himself, and so to healing for all men, which is of the simplest nature as to human action, but which is of the very essence of His righteous requirements.

Chapter 22

I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.
Numbers 22:18

These words record a truth which Balaam knew. If he acted in accordance with them all would have been well with him. He tried to act in response to the base motive of greed. Hence his disaster. We have no knowledge of who he was, save that he was the son of Beor, and dwelt at Pethor - by the river. He appears first as a man of understanding, and one who realized his limitation by the Divine government, as these words reveal. The story is startling. He was first forbidden, and afterwards commanded to go. The only explanation that is satisfactory is that, while attempting to maintain an external obedience to this supreme will of God, his heart was lusting after the riches offered to him by Balak. That is revealed to us in the words of Peter: "Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the hire of wrongdoing." In all this we see the working of a perpetual principle. Man is ever compelled to work out what is deepest within him, while all the time God, by that very compulsion, is making possible the change of that deepest thing, if it be evil. Circumstances are ever overruled by God, for the development to outward manifestation of the inward facts of life. This man loved the hire of wrongdoing, and therefore he was compelled to go forward, even though the sin of his action was revealed by the Divine interventions. He was attempting to compromise between loyalty to the Divine government and love of hire, greed, and the deepest motive was this very greed. Thus in the fullest sense, he could not go beyond the word of Jehovah. By that he was held and compelled.

Chapter 23

I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether.
Numbers 23:11

This was Balak's word about the prophesying of Balaam; and how true it was is evident as his four messages are considered. They constitute a remarkable unfolding of truth concerning the people of God. The first consisted of a vision of the nation as separated from all others, and its central words are: "Lo, it is a people that dwell alone." It ended with a sigh which shows how profound was this man's conviction of the high privilege of Israel: "Let me die the death of the righteous: And let my last end be like his!" The second prophecy celebrated the fact that the people, being God-governed and God-guided must be victorious. Its central statement is: "Jehovah his God is with him; And the shout of a king is among them." It was after the first of these that Balak used these particular words. After the second he asked that nothing more should be said: but now Balaam insisted that he must utter all Jehovah had to say. The story is a remarkable revelation of how completely a man is in the grasp of God. While Balaam was being compelled to carry out his deepest desires, he was absolutely prevented from uttering a word, which could in any wise harm the people of God. How unutterably futile is that pride of will, which makes men imagine that they can escape the will of God! They may change their experience of the power of God, but they cannot escape from it.

Chapter 24

And the Spirit of God came upon him.
Numbers 24:2

In this chapter we have the third and fourth of Balaam's prophecies. After the first and second, he was taken to yet another place of vision, and from the top of Peor looked out over the wilderness. Knowing that it was the purpose of God to bless Israel, he used no enchantments this time. But he did not seek the word of Jehovah as on the two previous occasions. It would appear as though there was an attempt on his part to speak from himself, and this perchance in the interest of the greed that was in his heart. He could not thus escape. When he did not seek God, the Spirit of God came upon him, and again he spoke only the things which God would have him speak. This third prophecy consisted of a vision of a people victorious and prosperous, a glorious forecast of ultimate conditions. The central words were: "Haw goodly are thy tents, 0 Jacob, Thy tabernacles, 0 Israel." This message aroused Balak's anger, and he bade Balaam be gone. But if he would, he could not. There was yet another word of God to be proclaimed. Its keynote was: "There shall come forth a Star out of Jacob," and it foretold the ultimate victory of God and therefore of His people. While the story of Balaam is full of solemn warning, the account of God's dealings with him and Balak is full of encouragement. The fact that those who desired to curse were compelled to utter only words of blessing, is significant ; but even more wonderful were the messages thus delivered, as showing the Divine purpose for His people.

Chapter 25

I give unto him My covenant of peace
Numbers 25:12

In the letter to the church at Pergamum we learn that "Balaam … taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication" (Rev. 2. z4). This chapter opens with the declaration that: "The people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab; for they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods." This, then, was the work of Balaam. When he could not utter a curse against Israel, he taught Balak how to seduce them from their loyalty. The action appeared to be one of pure neighbourliness, but it was a corrupting of the covenant. The story of Phinehas is that of one man, loyal to God, and jealous for his honour, daring to violate these false conventionalities, and visiting with swift and terrible punishment one daring wrongdoer. That action stayed the plague, and saved Israel. Action like that of Phinehas is not easy. It brings the man who dare take it into the place of grave peril, especially when it is directed against some popular movement. Yet to that man is given God's covenant of peace. That is the only peace which is worthwhile for man or nation. The price of it may be stern conflict, and a hazarding of all ease and quietness: but it is peace indeed, for it is right relationship with the principles of righteousness, and so with God.

Chapter 26

There was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.
Numbers 26:65

With this chapter we begin what is really the third and last section of this Book of Numbers. In it we have the account of the second numbering of the people, and their preparation for coming into possession of the land from which they had been excluded for forty years. In the census many of the names occurring in the first are omitted, and others have taken their place. Two men only of those who had come to the margin of the land were now to pass over into its possession. These were Caleb and Joshua, the men who constituted the minority, the men who had seen much more than enemies and walled cities, because their vision of God had been unclouded. Loyal in heart to their God and their faith they had shared the discipline of the nation, and had seen the whole generation of unbelieving men pass away. They had been preserved, an elect remnant, and a living link with the great deliverance wrought by the Exodus. Thus we see God's continuity of purpose, notwithstanding the change of persons. It is always so. I may fail to enter in because of unbelief and disobedience, but the day of entry will come. Happy are those who being of another spirit, walk with God, not only through the processes, but into the accomplishment, of His purposes. The secret of such life is always the same, that of a clear vision of God. To lose that, is to see all other things in a false light, and to be either lured by the deceitfulness of sin, or filled with unworthy fears. To see God, is to see everything in the true light, and so to be able to walk without stumbling.

Chapter 27

When thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people.
Numbers 27:13

There is something inexpressibly solemn in the story of Moses. In the plan of God the time was come when it was necessary that the people should go in and possess the land from which they had been excluded so long. Moses was not permitted to enter with them. In a sad hour he had failed to represent God truthfully to the people (chapter 20); and this was the punishment of that failure. There was no relaxing of this discipline even in the case of this man. Nevertheless there was great tenderness in God's dealings with him in these closing scenes, and the evidence of his greatness is marked by his perfect acquiescence in the will of God. When this command to ascend the mountain, and look upon the land he could not enter, was given to him, his one anxiety was for the flock of God, that it might have a shepherd. He knew, as no other man knew, their weakness, and the necessity for one to lead them according to the will of God. The request was granted, and to him was given the joy and satisfaction of knowing that the appointed man was one of God's own choosing. The account of his going is given at the end of Deuteronomy, but these words bring the facts before us in this book, which is the book revealing the Divine discipline of failing people; and it serves to keep before us the fact that the most faithful servants of God cannot escape the results of their failures in this life. The compensations of grace are found afterwards, and to this man it was given to:

Chapter 28

My oblation, My food for My offerings, made by fire, of a sweet savour unto Me, shall ye observe to offer unto Me in their due season, - Num. 28:2

In this and the next chapter we have a repetition of the laws concerning the great religious observances of the nation. This repetition is an orderly statement covering the whole year, and thus showing its relationship throughout to spiritual things. It was thus set forth anew on the eve of their entering upon possession of the land, in order that the arrangements for worship might be duly carried out. First we find the religious rites connected with the smaller time divisions, those of the days, and the weeks, and the months (28:1-15). Then we, have those associated with the year, those of the Spring-time, Passover, and Pentecost (28:16-31), and finally those of the Autumn, Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles (29). The words we have emphasized are those which, introducing this section, reveal the value of these rites. The first word, "My oblation," covers the whole ground; the rest interpret. The word here rendered oblation by our revisers is the Hebrew word Korban. It always refers to the present which secures admittance. Today in the East it is called the Face-offering. Thus we see the meaning of these religious rites. They recognized the relation of men to God, and their need of Him for all life. They need Him every day, every week, every month, every year. Because all time is thus arranged for in Divine relationship so also is all activity. If the time be redeemed, all activity is sanctified.

Chapter 29

These ye shall offer unto the Lord in your set feasts, beside your vows, and your freewill offerings
Numbers 29:39

Thus, as at the beginning of this section (see previous note), the real value of these religious rites was declared; at its close, stress is now laid upon the fact that all these things are to be done as to Jehovah. The observances which sanctified the year were far more than a recognition of certain religious principles; they were means of positive and direct dealing with God Himself. For that reason all were sacrificial. Not only must the worshippers bring gifts - they must bring gifts which were ordained, and in which the necessity for expiation of sin was perpetually recognized. A glance over the whole ground again will show how an increase in the number of sacrifices, and a growing importance in the religious rites, is marked in the growth of the time divisions. Daily, one lamb in the morning, and one in the evening, was offered. Weekly, that is on the Sabbath, two he-lambs were offered, in addition to the continual burnt-offering. Monthly, two young bullocks, one ram, and seven he-lambs were offered, again in addition to the continual burnt-offering. That increase is most marked in the great yearly feasts. All this is very full of significance. We need God; and to gain what we need, we must condition all our days by approach to Him through the putting away of sin. The one perfect sacrifice is provided in Christ. We must never begin a day, a week, a month, a year, apart from the appropriation by faith of the value of that Sacrifice. Only thus have we right of access to God; only thus, any hope that life will be what it ought to be.

Chapter 30

These are the statutes which the Lord commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, between a father and his daughter.
Numbers 30:16

This is really a very arresting chapter. At first it may seem to have very little application to our modern civilization. But if it be carefully considered, it will be seen that it consists of a series of enactments based, upon a fundamental principle of human society. The chapter is concerned with vows; and principally those of women. Let us state these provisions in other words: The vow of a man is declared to be absolutely binding; from it there is no release. In the case of women this is not so. If a woman dwelling in her father's house take a vow upon her, her father has the power to forbid, and so to release her. If he do not so, then the vow is binding. In the case of a woman dwelling with her husband, the husband has a like power. If he do not exercise it, then her vow is also binding. In the case of a widow, or one divorced, if her vow is made in her widowhood or while she is divorced, it is absolutely binding. If it was made while she dwelt with her husband, and he forbade it, she is released. If he did not forbid it, then it is binding upon her. Now what did these careful enactments mean? They are of the utmost importance, as they reveal the Divine conception of the necessity for the maintenance of the unity of the family. In no family must there be two supreme authorities; and here, as always in the Divine arrangement, the headship is vested in the husband and father. It can easily be seen how, were this otherwise, through religious vows discord and probably disruption in family life would ensue. The measure in which modern society has departed from this ideal, is the measure of its insecurity.

Chapter 31

Moses was wroth with the officers of the host.
Numbers 31:14

This is a chapter of terror, recording an avenging, by the order of God, which was terrible indeed. We have stressed these particular words because they emphasize all the rest. Moses was wroth with the officers, not because of the severity of the judgment they had executed on Midian, but rather because, they had failed to carry out the judgment completely. In order to understand this we must recognize the cause of the wrath. Here we touch again the history of Balaam. He was still living, and from the fact that he was numbered among the slain, we may safely infer that he was still exerting his evil influence. This man, who under Divine compulsion had been compelled to bless when he intended to curse, had yet wrought the most terrible evil in Israel, in that he had been the means of causing the nation to commit fornication with the corrupt people of Midian. The words of Moses show that this had been definite and dreadful (see verses 15, 16). The holy seed was polluted. Therefore the judgment upon the polluting people was drastic. Again we say, this is a chapter of terror; but it is well that we recognize that there is a false pity which is of the essence of cruelty. That is true love which makes no terms with evil, and which is able, in circumstances of stern necessity, to adopt stern measures and carry them out without relenting.

Chapter 32

Shall your brethren go to the war, and shall ye sit here!
Numbers 32:6

In these words Moses revealed the wrong principle actuating Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. They desired to settle and prosper on the wrong side of Jordan in order to escape the responsibilities of war. Moses, by his speech and action, brought them to a confession of willingness to share that responsibility with the rest of the tribes, but the whole story is one of failure. It was a wrong desire on the part of the tribes. The distinctly avowed purpose of Jehovah was that they should go over Jordan. They desired to compromise, and indeed succeeded in doing so. In the case of Moses it is noticeable that we have no account of his seeking Divine guidance, as he had so constantly done in other matters. His own first conviction was against granting the request. He pointed out that in essence it was of the same spirit which their fathers had manifested forty years before, and which had resulted in the long and weary discipline. Urging their plea and promising to cross the Jordan to help in the coming conflict, the desire of these people triumphed, and Moses permitted their settlement. Subsequent events proved the wrong of that decision. The whole event should teach us that no merely selfish desire for early and easy realization of peace and prosperity should ever be permitted to interfere with the declared will of God. No policy of compromise can ever justify a coming short of Divine purpose. Peaceable settlements on the wrong side of the river are the inspiration and causes of conflict in subsequent days.

Chapter 33

Ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones … and demolish all their high places.
Numbers 33:52

This was the distinct command of God to a people whom He had wondrously led and prepared, by delivering, them from Egypt's slavery, and disciplining them for forty years in the wilderness. They were now to come into the possession of the land which He had appointed to them. They were His people, and the purpose of their coming into that land was that of the manifestation of Himself, and that of the carrying out of His programme. While their possession was to be in order to the preservation of the nation until the Deliverer of all the nations should come, it was in the first place in order to the cleansing of that land from a people utterly polluted and corrupt. It was necessary that the latter should be utterly dispossessed, and every trace of their worship swept away, wherever found. This charge was accompanied by warnings, uttered in simple terms, and yet of the most solemn nature. No false pity or selfish motive was to operate in such fashion as to leave any corrupting influence behind. The unequivocal command to drive out all, was based upon the tenderest regard of God for the well-being of the chosen people, and through them, the whole race. To tolerate what God has condemned to destruction, is to retain what in itself will prove to be a source of continual difficulty and suffering. The most solemn words of all are those with which the chapter ends: "And it shall come to pass, that as I thought to do unto them, so will I do unto you." God's elections to blessing are dependent upon obedience to His will.

Chapter 34

This is the land which ye shall inherit by lot.
Numbers 34:13

In this chapter we have the arrangements Divinely made for the positive side of the purpose for which the people were to be brought into this land. They were really to take possession of it, and so, to realize its resources and their own national life. Again the Divine care is manifested, in that the division was made by Divine choice and arrangement. A careful examination will show how, as to amount of territory, that division was based upon the comparative needs of the tribes; and as to position, it was based upon the will of Jehovah, which unquestionably was based upon His perfect knowledge of the characteristics of the different tribes. The divisions given were for those who were about to pass over into the land beyond Jordan. Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh had no part in this inheritance. Thrice over it is said: "They have received." They had made their own choice, and it was now ratified. Long after, they were the first to be captured and carried away. While the arrangement for division was Divine, human instruments were appointed to see them carried out. They were the priest Eleazar; the leader, Joshua; and the princes of the tribes. Among these, one name arrests our attention. It is that of Caleb. Thus he reaped the reward of his fidelity. How wonderfully this story illustrates the order and beauty of the Divine government, and of the principles of obedience through which we may derive the blessing and benefit thereof.

Chapter 35

Ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you.
Numbers 35:11

The provision of these cities of refuge was a proof of the mercy and justice of God. These people were naturally fierce and vindictive. The law of God had made life sacred, and the punishment of taking it had been solemnly declared in the words: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." Yet it was quite possible that in connection with the taking of human life there might be extenuating circumstances. For premeditated murder there was no forgiveness, and for the murderer in such case, no city of refuge was provided. For killing in haste, under sudden impulse of passion, such provision was made. These cities were not provided that men might evade justice, but the justice might be ensured. It is quite possible to do unjust things in the name of justice. It was against such a possibility that these cities were provided. Further, the fact that a man-slayer reached one of these cities did not ensure him against enquiry and investigation. It provided for the possibility thereof, and indeed made it obligatory. Thus the man had an opportunity of explanation, and the nation the certainty of just action. The wrong of taking human life was marked in the case of the man-slayer who was not found worthy of the death-penalty, in that it was provided that he must remain in the city until the death of the high priest. It is a wonderful illustration of the strict and impartial justice of God in all His dealings with sin. While it cannot be excused, the sinner is never punished unjustly.

Chapter 36

The children of Israel shall cleave everyone to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.
Numbers 36:7

This word was uttered in connection with the question of the inheritance of women, which had already been raised through the application of the daughters of Zelophehad. It was now opened again by the heads of the tribes. It was possible that these women night marry men out of other tribes. In that case their inheritance would pass over to another tribe. Therefore it was now enacted that they must only marry within their own tribe. By this law, the Divine purpose that the settlement in the land should be orderly and sustained, was ensured of realization. Thus closes the Book of Numbers. It is essentially the Book of the Wilderness. The nation was on the eve of entering the land. The actual history is resumed in the last chapter of Deuteronomy. It is impossible to have studied this book without having been impressed, first, with the failure of the people. It is a record of long-continued stubbornness and folly. Yet we are prevented from thinking hardly of this people by the fact that the book is a record of the unwearying patience and perpetual faithfulness of God. Throughout, the progress of a Divine movement is manifest. It is not of man, but of Jehovah. Indeed, it is hardly a history of the Hebrew people, being far more a revelation of the sure procedure of God toward the final working out into human history of the redemptive purpose of His heart; the first movements of which were recorded in Genesis, the central work of which was accomplished by the Son of God, and the final victories of which are not vet.