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Module 06: The Failure of Human Mediation - The Weakness: Man

Module Guide: Numbers - The Book of Wandering

This pre-read guide is taken from the public domain source "The Analysed Bible in 3 Volumes" by G. Campbell Morgan.


The book of Numbers deals with the wilderness. It is principally the story of a long discipline due to disobedience. The national idea moves forward, for God ever protects His own purposes against the failure of His chosen instruments. In the book of Exodus we saw the emergence and consolidation of the nation which God had chosen to be the channel of communication between Himself and the world at large. In Leviticus we considered the laws of its worship. In Numbers the movement toward actual possession of the land commences. This movement, however, was hindered for nearly forty years, and the book is principally occupied with matters relating to that period. It closes with the account of the return of the people to the borders of the land.

Thus it naturally falls into three parts, the first dealing with the Preparation for Entrance (1-10); the second giving the story of the Exclusion and Wandering (11-25); while the last gives the account of how, after the long discipline, they were brought back and prepared for actual Possession (26-36).

On the Margin of the Land

In this division we watch the final movement of the chosen people in preparation for coming into the land, and in doing so observe the order of the camp, the purity of the camp, the worship of the camp, the movement of the camp.

By the command of Jehovah the men from twenty years and upwards were numbered. This was the first movement in preparation not merely for their entrance to the land, but for their carrying out of the Divine purpose. That purpose was first punitive. In the interests of purity corrupt peoples were to be swept out.

Definite instructions were given concerning the relative positions to be occupied by the tribes, both in the time of encampment and on the march. At the centre of everything was the Tabernacle. The Levites were encamped round the two sides and at the back thereof. Moses and the priests occupied the fourth side, close to the courts of worship. Outside the enclosure the tribes of the nation were grouped under their standards according to the Divine command. The service of the Levites was described in detail. Their sacred work was carefully apportioned both for the march and for places of encampment. All these provisions solemnly impressed upon the people the supreme importance of worship, and revealed to them the orderliness of Jehovah.

On the eve of the coming of the people into the land, the necessity for the purity of the camp was emphasized. All who were unclean were put outside. This, of course, does not mean that they were left to perish, but that they were not allowed to march in their proper place with the tribes of the people. For the time being they were camp-followers only. Moreover, the necessity for moral rectitude was insisted upon, and such as had in any way sinned against others made restitution.

Having provided for the purity of the camp by the exclusion of the unclean, special instructions were given concerning cases of peculiar and special devotion to a life of separation to God. There is absolutely nothing monastic in the order of the Nazarites. These men did not separate themselves from their fellow-men, or from their ordinary avocations, but remained in the midst of their fellows, and prosecuted their daily calling, though yet maintaining an attitude of special consecration. At the close of this section dealing with the purity of the camp, we find the specific form in which the priestly blessing was to be pronounced upon the people.

Immediately following are the arrangements concerning the worship of the camp. This section opens with an account of the voluntary offerings on the part of the princes. It is first to be noticed that the giving was voluntary, and next that it was equal, thus precluding the possibility of a spirit of rivalry, and indicating a great unity of purpose. While all the story might have been told in a few words, it is set forth with elaborate detail. Every man is named, and every gift is chronicled.

In the final arrangements concerning worship, before the moving forward of the people, the one symbol referred to is that of the light, which was the type of the witness-bearing of the nation. In the consecration of the Levites, no anointing oil or blood was used, neither was any specific dress provided. The sign of their cleansing was the simple one of water. Finally, the great Passover feast was observed. A month later a special observance of the same feast was arranged for such as, through defilement, were precluded from taking part in the first.

At last everything was ready for the march, and the hosts waited only the Divine will. The people were to follow the moving of the cloud, and to answer the hlast of the trumpet. Careful instructions were given concerning the use of these trumpets. Different notes suggested different meanings to those who listened. On the twentieth day of the second month the actual movement of the camp commenced. The division ends with the suggestive words which Moses used at the commencement and close of each successive movement of the hosts. They indicated the profound recognition on his part, and on that of the people, that everything centred around the presence and government of God, both in regard to the victory of Israel over her enemies, and her own safety and well-being.

Exclusion and Wandering

In this second division of the book is revealed the failure of man. Its general movement may be indicated by the words, Discontent, Disaster, Discipline.

The discontent manifested itself first against God. At the beginning there was no open revolt against authority. The people were, however, in all probability, conscious of the irksomeness of restraint. They were learning that liberty was not license, and so throughout the camp the Lord heard the tone of murmuring and discontent. His judgment was sudden and swift. Moses became an intercessor, and the fire abated.

A second time discontent manifested itself, and this time it was expressed against circumstances. Influenced by the mixed multitude which had accompanied them, the people hungered after the things of Egypt, apparently forgetting the cruelty of its bondage. Moses was perplexed and perturbed, and he poured out his complaint into the ear of God. In infinite patience God talked with him, and to the murmuring people He sent quails, and through them the punishing plague. As the psalmist afterwards sung, "He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their souls."

A third time there was a manifestation of rebellion. Miriam and Aaron, in whose hearts there w^as evidently an under-current of jealousy, made the marriage of Moses to a Cushite woman the occasion of protesting against his exercise of authority. They were punished immediately, and pardoned in answer to the earnest cry of Moses.

The hour had now arrived when the people should have gone forward. The story of the sending of the spies, as told in Numbers, indicates that it was done in obedience to a Divine command. The comparison of this, however, with Moses' account of it in Deuteronomy will show that this command of the Lord was the sequel to a determination on the part of the people to do so. Tliis was in itself an act of suspicion and unbelief. The spies were sent, and in forty days returned, bringing with them a majority report and a minority report. All were agreed as to the desirability of the land. The majority, however, had seen the difficulties of possessing, and beyond this had seen nothing. The minority had seen first Jehovah, then the excellencies of the land, and finally the difficulties. The essential difference was that of the vision of God. The people were infiuenced, as, alas! men too often are, by the majority, and in unutterable folly they declared that it was preferable to return to Egypt. One of the most magnificent pictures in the Old Testament is presented to us as Moses interceded with God on behalf of the people. His plea, however, was not based upon pity in his heart for the sinning people, but upon that deeper passion for the honour of the name of God. The people were pardoned, but they must be excluded from the land. They had themselves rejected the land toward which God had brought them, and their punishment was that they should not enter it.

This decree of Jehovah was followed by an instance of false repentance. The men came to the consciousness of their unutterable folly, and then resolved to go up and possess the land in their own strength. The result was defeat and disaster.

Then began the long years of discipline. It is a story full of sadness. At first we follow the people through a period in which the results of their failure were manifest in their internal life. The Sabbath was violated, and the guilty one was punished. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram led an organized opposition against Moses, and were summarily dealt with. After this new arrangements were made, and old laws repealed. Then as the people, toward the close of the forty years, were led back into the neighbourhood of Kadesh-barnea, Miriam died, and was buried. In this neighbourhood, moreover, Moses and Aaron both failed in simple allegiance to God, and they also were excluded from the land.

It would seem as though the people were moving, on their own part, in an attempt to find their way into the land. Their endeavour to go in one direction, changed through the opposition of Edom, would seem to indicate the absence of the guiding pillar of cloud and fire. During this time Aaron died. His death was a solemn and impressive ceremony. The robes of his office were transferred to his son. He then died, and was buried amidst the lamentations of the people. The transference of the outward symbols of the priestly office taught the truth that the priesthood was greater than the man. In these final days of exclusion Balaam was hired to prophesy against the people of Jehovah.

On the Margin of the Land

The third and last section of the book of Numbers is devoted to 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 a study of this division there are discoverable two movements. The first chronicles historic facts in their sequence, and the other is an insistence upon the Divine government by the repetition of certain laws with new emphasis and applications. There is a marked continuity of purpose, notwithstanding the change of persons. Two men only of those who had come to the margin were allowed to pass into the land. The time for the passing of Moses had come, and in all God's dealings with him there is manifest a great tenderness. The final account of his death is reserved for the ending of the next book. In this, however, we have the story how he publicly appointed his successor. When the call of God came to him to ascend the mountain and view the land, and to be gathered to his people, the final passion of his heart was that which had so long sustained him in the midst of all the trying circumstances of his work as leader. He thought of the great congregation as the congregation of Jehovah, and prayed for the appointment of a successor. Thus there was granted to him the satisfaction of knowing that the one who succeeded him in leading the people was the man of God's own choice.

After a repetition of the laws concerning the great religious observances of the people, we have the account of a war directly connected with the sin of the people, resulting from the influence of Balaam. In the battle Balaam was slain. Even here the imperfection of the people was manifest in the desire on the part of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to settle on the wrong side of the Jordan. Moses failed in judgment in allowing them to do so, out of which failure trouble arose in after-years.

The book ends with a list of the journeyings of the people during the period of their exclusion, and a repetition of laws with special reference to settlement in the land. Through all the book there is manifest the forward movement, not of men, but of Jehovah. It is a revelation of the sure procedure of God toward the final working out into human history of His purposes for the world.


Part A: ON THE MARGIN OF THE LAND - Numbers 1:1-10:36

A.1. The Order of the Camp - Num. 1:1-4:49

  1. The Census - 1:1-1:54
  2. The Encampment - 2:1-2:34
  3. The Levites - 3:1-4:49

A.2. The Purity of the Camp - Num. 5:1-6:27

  1. Purification from Pollution - 5:1-5:31
  2. Special Dedication - 6:1-6:27

A.3. The Worship of the Camp - Num. 7:1-9:14

  1. Offerings of the Princes - 7:1-7:89
  2. Order of Worship - 8:1-8:26
  3. Passover and Purification - 9:1-9:14

A.4. The Movement of the Camp - Num. 9:15-10:36

  1. Determined by the Cloud - 9:15-9:23
  2. The Method of Summons and Order of the March - 10:1-10:36

Part B: EXCLUSION AND WANDERING - Numbers 11:1-25:18

B.1. Discontent - Num. 11:1-12:16

  1. Against God (the people) - 11:1-11:3
  2. Against Circumstances (the mixed multitude) - 11:4-11:35
  3. Against Moses (Miriam and Aaron) - 12:1-12:16

B.2. Disaster - Num. 13:1-14:45

  1. Fear, Sending of Spies - 13:1-13:33
  2. Rebellion - 14:1-14:35
  3. Presumption - 14:36-14:45

B.3. Discipline - Num. 15:1-25:18

  1. Domestic - 15:1-20:13
    1. The Sabbath-breaker - 15:1-15:41
    2. Korah, Datham and Abiram - 16:1-16:50
    3. Laws - 17:1-19:22
    4. Death of Miriam - 20:1-20:1
    5. Failure of Moses and Aaron - 20:2-20:13
  2. Foreign - 20:14-25:18
    1. Edom - 20:14-20:21
    2. Death of Aaron - 20:22-20:29
    3. Victory over Canaanites - 21:1-21:3
    4. Murmuring - 21:4-21:9
    5. Sihon and Og - 21:10-21:35
    6. Balaam - 22:1-25:18

Part C: ON THE MARGIN OF THE LAND - Numbers 26:1-36:13

C.1. The Census - Num. 26:1-26:65

C.2. The Inheritance of Women - Num. 27:1-27:11

C.3. The Summons to Moses (Sequel Deut. 34) - Num. 27:12-27:23

C.4. Repetition of Laws - Num. 28:1-30:16

C.5. War with Midian - Num. 31:1-31:54

C.6. Settlement of Reuben, Gad and half-tribe of Manasseh - Num. 32:1-32:42

C.7. List of Journeyings - Num. 33:1-33:49

C.8. Repetition of Laws - Num. 33:50-36:13

Note: To the best of our knowledge we are of the understanding that the above material, being published in 1907 and freely available elsewhere on the internet in various formats, is in the public domain.