After the Wedding

After the Wedding

A new series looking at God’s people living between the Exodus and the Promised Land. It is indeed a large book, 36 chapters at times. We’re going to cover ground more quickly, a few chapters at a time, and then we will be slowing down as well as we look through the reading God’s Word. If you would join me in prayer.

Blessed Lord, you have. Must all holy Scriptures be written for our learning? And, Lord, we long for them to be light to our feet and a lamp to our path. Father, grant to us to hear them, to read, to mark, to learn, and to inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which you have given to us in our Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we now pray. Amen.

Beginning. In verse one the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt. Saying take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel by clans, by father’s houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head, from 20 years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war. You and Aaron shall list them company by company, and there shall be with you a man from each tribe, each man being the head of the house of his fathers. Verse 47.

But the Levi’s were not listed with them by their ancestral tribe. For the Lord spoke to Moses, saying only the tribe of Levi you shall not list, and you shall not take a census of them among the people of Israel, but appoint the Levi’s over the tabernacle of the testimony and over all of its furnishing and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the Tabernacle and all of its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the Tabernacle. These are the people of Israel as listed by their father’s houses. All those listed in the camps by their companies were 603,550.

But the Levites were not listed among the people of Israel, and the Lord commanded Moses. Thus did the people of Israel. According to all, the Lord commanded Moses. So they camped by their standards. So they set out each one in his clan according to his father’s house.

The word of the Lord. You please be seated.

For mini. The Book of numbers. With its long, bleak landscape, it can feel like January and flathead. When is it going to end? And if you are one who’s going to read through the Bible program, numbers can be an uphill battle.

Come out of Leviticus and he’s like, Here we go again. It’s bleak. It’s difficult. And not only just the failures of God’s people, but the emphasis on religious rituals of the Old Covenant combined. With particular rules, regulations, organization, formations.

All of these are far removed, and they’re distant from us. The gulf is wide between ancient Israel wandering at the Sinai Peninsula and where we live today, the march from the victory of the Exodus to the hope of the Promised Land. It gets stalled out, with Israel spinning her wheels for 40 years. This seems to be one set of failures after the other, but Numbers shows us exactly why we need Jesus. Numbers connects the dots.

We know the new in light of the old. And when it came to walking with the Lord, israel had a hard time putting 1ft in front of the other, just like us. When I was younger, at times I think, with all these miraculous events, how could they be so dense? I don’t think that anymore, because I’m that dense with the things I’ve seen God do in my life.

And what we see is they live as a pilgrim people, between God’s powerful deliverance from Egypt in the promised land of Canaan, and we live as a pilgrim people between the cross and Christ’s return, between God’s powerful deliverance and the Promised Land. Living by faith has and continues to be hard for all of God’s people. But since we are a pilgrim people, we are in route. We are called to trust the Lord at every step along the way. There is a book titled On Marriage, and it says, after a wedding, there’s a marriage.

And it’s a playful title, and I think it helps capture in some ways Israel in the wilderness. After the ceremony, the new couple learns to live with one another in a marriage. Likewise, a covenant marriage has taken place here, so to speak. The miraculous deliverance of Exodus now gives way to forming a new nation. And in Exodus 19, the Lord says, you yourself are seeing what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.

Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to be a kingdom, a priest, and a holy nation. The Moses, he called the elders the people together, and they set before them all the words that the Lord had commanded, and all the people answered and said together, all that the Lord has spoken. We will do that’s like a marriage ceremony. There are vows, and then I do. I will be your God and you will be my people.

The problem is that Israel wanted an open marriage, while the Lord insisted on monogamy. And we see that the Lord is not just an abstract principle of goodness and holiness. He’s the living God in a real relationship with real people. And like a spouse, the Lord demands their faithfulness. And like an adulter and adulterers, israel refuses to live committed to him.

And then the journey starts. So by way of introduction to Numbers and overview, we see that the first five books of the Bible are really one story in five large segments that break them up to make them scroll size. Numbers picks up right where Exodus and Leviticus leads off. Israel had just experienced this dramatic and miraculous deliverance from Egypt. They received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.

The civil and ceremonial laws are all in front of them, and now they’re here, ready to move forward. And even in the Exodus, we saw kind of a preview of coming attractions with the whole golden calf incident. Amazing things happening, and they blow it within days. That’s setting us up for Numbers. The name Numbers, it comes from the Greek translation, which they refer to as Arithmet, which we get arithmetic counting, and it’s because of the two sentences in the book.

The Hebrew title is a better one. It means in the wilderness because that’s where they were for a long time, in the wilderness. And Numbers is about two generations, the first generation of under 20, which come later, and those 20 and older who all died in the wilderness, that’s what takes place. The first generation dies out and the second generation takes over. And we see that in chapters 26 to 36, a new preparation for going into the promised lands.

Because the first one failed. The first ten chapters, it covers 20 days. The last 15 chapters covers five months. Chapters ten to 21, 38 years. What should have been a really short trip wasn’t that far.

Turns into 38 years of a purgatorial detour, a hellish road trip that doesn’t stop. Keep in mind the Bible is a story of God saving his people. It’s not a patchwork quilt, but a continuous narrative that culminates in Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, creation, fall, redemption. Numbers Squarely teaches us fall, even while it points to redemption. Hear this from Old Testament scholar Roland Harrison in his commentary numbers.

He said this he said, despite all the evidence of God’s presence with them and of his power working on their behalf, the Hebrews found it difficult to obey simple instructions that if followed guaranteed safety, material possessions and spiritual blessing. Can anyone relate to that?

Despite all the evidence of God’s presence with them, of his power working through on their behalf, all the Hebrew found it difficult to obey simple instructions that have followed guaranteed safety, material possessions and spiritual blessing.

Oh, I think we understand that.

And there are a lot of details of worship and life here that are difficult for us as we think of ancient Israel, but not the issue of the heart. We understand their issue of the heart, and we need to keep that in front of us continually as we work through the book. And it begins with this organization of a new nation. The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness at Sinai, gives a specific time and a date of when this occurred. And they are to take a census of all the congregation of Israel, and there to do so for all the males 20 years and older.

This is their military draft. And then each one is to be accounted according to their family tribes. And we know throughout human history the primary reasons for countries, kingdoms to take a census. Taxes, they want more money. And for the military here, Israel is going to war.

And they need to know exactly what they have to do, that the Exodus was all about God’s miraculous deliverance, and Israel stands by and watches what God does. For them, entering into the Promised Land is about Israel doing her part. There are obligations that come with the covenant. They will go to war and the Lord will be with them. And we see in verse 32 that these are the people of Israel.

They’re listed by their Father’s house. I want to see this listed. All the different tribes other than the house of Levi, which we’ll get to later. And the total number was over 600,000 of all those who could go to war. Now, the large number of people is not an immediate and easy problem to solve.

Different solutions have been offered, but none have gained universal acceptance. And what do I mean by that? If you have 600,000 fighting men, that makes a total population of two to 3 million. So external evidence currently, archaeology doesn’t support that sort of numbers. It may later, I don’t know.

But currently we don’t see those types of numbers possible in the Promised Land. And before I get too far, this is not a conservative versus liberal issue. This is a textual issue. Everyone has to deal with this. Jericho, the population at this time is about 2500 people.

So externally, it’s like this is a large number. Internally, within the Bible itself, the number of deaths recorded in a particular battle don’t seem to follow these large numbers. Joshua Seven tells us that Israel’s completely routed at the Battle of AI and 36 people died. And if you do the math in numbers three, and it gives you these percentages of the first born sons, which are redeemed, you end up with the numbers being about one first born son to 27 brothers in a household. That’s not counting sisters.

That’s a lot of people. And in Deuteronomy, seven indicates that Israel was smaller than the people of Canaan and that the Lord would dry them out little by little. Well, two to 3 million of them would be larger than the total population. And then you look at chronicles and kings and the payment of money versus shekels of taxation, that sort of thing, it’s just difficult to make it all line up. So were the numbers symbolic?

Did they speak about other things than just this year counting? Was there a different counting system that we’re just not aware of or are these simply just straightforward numbers? And we just give it credit to the miraculous? Well, Hebrew uses letters for numbers, and there’s a question then of how some of the letters are to be understood in light of large numbers. For example, the tribal Ruben here is mentioned at 46,500, some say, well, does that refer to 46 units of 500 fighting men per family?

All this together. Several Old Testament scholars end up saying, in short, we lack the materials in the text to solve this problem. The problem is with us, it’s not with the text. They understood what they were talking about, we just don’t quite understand what that means for us. And most probably they don’t really care.

10,000 or million users skip over it as you’re reading it, but it’s something that every commentator with numbers has to deal with and it’s a bit complicated to answer. We just need to recognize that sometimes there are complicated things that we got to do, heavy lifting to walk through. So there you go. Chapter one, the fighting men are counted. It’s clear the numerical abundance is a blessing from God.

God has blessed Israel with lots of people. And then in chapter two, the Lord speaks to Moses and Aaron saying the people are to camp according to their standard with the banners of the Father’s house, and they’re to camp facing the tent of meeting on every side. So for a moving nation, all this is super practical information. Doesn’t seem like it’s us, but for them this is really important. They’re not a ragtag bunch of people, they’re to be organized.

The Tabernacle is at the very center of camp, and each tribe has a proper place around it. The God of Israel takes the prominent role. His presence is with his people. He’s central to their existence. And the ordering of the camp reflects God’s holiness.

Israel was not just to approach God any old way. They wanted to. There was an order, there’s a structure, there is a holiness prescription and, and the role of the Levites was central to that. And we’ll look at that next week. Tabernacle in the middle, the Levites surrounding.

And then there were three tribes in each direction around that. And that was the organization for them. Besides just flow of traffic issues, it’s also strategic. Battles are won or lost on how troops are organized and moved. One of the great advantages of the Roman legions was how well their troops were ordered.

That was a big part of that. A Roman legion had about 5000 men and their baggage train. Their supply line could stretch out two and a half miles behind them. Every soldier could carry as much as they could, but then they had all this extra gear. They had about 1000 animals to carry the, the tents, the food, the siege equipment, all the items necessary for an army at war.

That’s just a part of the logistics for 5000 people fighting the Helvetic tribe in Gaul, which is modern France. Julius Caesar, he won great renown because of defeating them. And one of the things he did was that they were crossing a river. He waited for three quarters of their army to cross this big river, Seion, and then he attacked the other part with all the baggage train, and he scored a victory with all that because he paid attention to a troop movement. They were tactically really efficient in how they dealt with other people.

Life and death depended on how you ordered yourself in the ancient world. Israel’s no different. In verse 34, they did exactly what the Lord had asked. According to all the Lord commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards. And when we read that they did according to all that the Lord commanded them, we need to take note of that, because that doesn’t happen very often.

They got the first camp part right, but they don’t seem to do much better after that. And I imagine there’s just great excitement. They come out of Egypt, the promised lands in front of them. They’re super excited. They’re going to go back to their ancestral home of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

400 years of slavery in Egypt. Now, think about that for a minute. 400 years ago, 1623. Think about that very often.

Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, 1620. That’s how much time has gone by.

And now they’re coming as a people into this entire new world, from a family to a tribe to a nation, a chosen nation of all the peoples of the earth. They had witnessed what you and I just dream about the plagues of Egypt crossing the Red Sea, the fire and smoke on Mount Sinai, the provision of daily manna. How different it would be if we were there now. We would not have struggled when water and food were not easily at hand. We would have marched through the wilderness with no thought of greener pastures, of where we came from.

And when God hemmed us in on every side so that we could not survive unless we trusted and obeyed what he commanded, though we couldn’t really see how it was going to work out, no doubt we would have done so.

Given your own struggles, do you believe that the things that you’ve seen God do in your life, which a little while later you’re questioning his goodness because the next problem comes up?

There are no half measures to the life of faith. We’re no different. One commentator said, numbers is for real people with problems who live in the real world. It’s not sanitized life in a vacuum, which some talk about, which we do not experience because it doesn’t really exist. Or if you’re familiar with christian writer Philip Yancy said, modern churches tend to feature testimonies of spiritual success, never failures, which only makes the struggles in the pew feel worse.

You see, that where it’s all about the happy clappy, the good outcome, the wonderful thing, which they happen, and we need to hear that. But what about the stories that don’t end with the car, the spouse, the trip to Hawaii, the $100,000? That’s the small percentage. What about the rest? And Philip fiance, he goes on, he says, yet delve.

A bit deeper in church history and you’ll find a different story of those who strained to swim upstream like spawning salmon, and they die. And Numbers tells us that in the midst of this, god is gracious to have hearted people.

That’s the good news.

And just like the Lord had to provide for the miraculous exodus, he’s going to have to provide for the trip on the way to glory, the sinful struggle of the human heart must be overcome by someone other than us. Jesus name means Yahweh, saves our wayward. Hearts will have to depend on his faithfulness if we’re going to make it from a wedding to a marriage. Because on our own, we don’t do so well. We’re fairly faithless people.

We struggle. We struggle because we want to do the things we want to do. We struggle not doing the things that God has asked us to. We’re overcome with our fears, our anxieties, our frustrations, our angers. All those things bombard us and how easily we give in to them, just like they did.

And the solution for all of this is the same. They need someone bigger than themselves, with a greater commitment, a greater faithfulness than they can muster to take them through to the end. Numbers is pointing the way in all which religious exercises and rituals and worships and patterns and organization, all of that is pointing a picture for us and taking us forward to the culmination of Jesus. And so thorough is the victory of Jesus that we have to take time to go back and understand some of how the Old Testament sacrifices worked. Because our world is now so far removed from that.

Because, praise God, Jesus has been victorious. He has died for our sins and was raised on the third day and has promised that he will take us with Him. He will return heaven on earth because of Him, not because we’re such good followers. That’s good news. And in the bleakness of Numbers, see yourself, because we wouldn’t be any different.

What happens when you lose a job? Health struggles come. Somebody runs into the back of your car. This person said this thing at school or work and and everything just starts to unravel.

That’s what they did. They just did it on a different scale.

And that’s us. That is humanity apart from their God and Savior. And God comes into the midst of that Emmanuel God with us to provide not just the salvation, but the means of glory and preservation to get there. It’s all God. And we then enter in as worshippers recipients of his faithfulness, of his grace.

And then we are called as that people to go and to share and to extend that out into the world that needs to hear this message. Because brothers and sisters, it’s numbers in here, it’s numbers out there.

Some of the time period stuff changes, but the heart is the same.

Don’t get mixed up on some of the antiquity parts. Look at the heart behind it and you’re like, oh, this is just modern life, modern life. And you know, 1500 BC hasn’t changed much from 2023. We need Jesus. He is the solution, he is the answer.

His faithfulness is what is going to enable us to go from a wedding to a marriage, the marriage supper of the land. Pray with me.

Father, we indeed are so thankful and grateful that you have not left us along the way, that you have provided what we lack. And Father, help us to see that. Help us, Lord, to be able to trust in your faithfulness even when it seems to be behind a dark cloud of providence. Father, help us to see beyond what’s in front of us, that we would walk with the eyes of faith, with the hope of Jesus before us, Lord, that indeed you would be central encamped in the very heart of our lives and everything else will be organized according to the out. We bless you, we praise your name.

Alter Jesus.

Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription