What’s in a number? Numbers 1-2

Today’s reading: Number 1-2.

What’s in a number? Sometimes much more than you know, especially when God does the math. When I think of this book, Numbers, I can’t help but think of the Walk through the Bible illustration meant to sum up the content of the book. It showed some people-sized numbers, with faces and legs, wandering around in a desert. The book of Numbers tells the story of the 38-year trek the Israelites took to get from Mt. Sinai to the Promised Land. It should not have taken them nearly that long, and the explanation for their delay is an important part of the book.

But back to the numbers. Numbers is not just about wandering in the wilderness; it also contains two census recordings of the Israelite men (not counting women and children). The numbers are specific, but seem irrelevant on first glance: from the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad, 151,450 men; from the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon, 186, 400 men; from the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, 108,100 men; from the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali, 157,600 men.  In addition to the numbers we are told how the tribes are encamped:

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family. On the east, toward the sunrise, the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard. The leader of the people of Judah is Nahshon son of Amminadab. His division numbers 74,600. The tribe of Issachar will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Issachar is Nethanel son of Zuar. His division numbers 54,400. The tribe of Zebulun will be next. The leader of the people of Zebulun is Eliab son of Helon. His division numbers 57,400.  All the men assigned to the camp of Judah, according to their divisions, number 186,400. Numbers 2:1-9

In similar fashion three tribes are place to the south, west, and north of the tabernacle. Now, if we picture these tribes in their camps along their commanded compass point, and in length according to their census number, we get the following picture:

camp3This picturing of the cross in the camp doesn’t originate with me. It’s part of that wise reminder that “the New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed, the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed.” I’d encourage you to visit this website for another revealing illustration of Israel’s wilderness camp by Abe Goolsby.

A census was taken of the tribes of Israel in the wilderness two years after they had left Egypt. It only numbered males who were over twenty: the men capable of active service in war. By thus taking a census of his people, the Lord showed that he valued each one of them. They were registered by their families and by their names; thus were they personally enrolled in the family book of the living God, and he thus, in effect, said to each one of them, “I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” By the registration of each man by name, he felt that he was not lost in the crowd; but was by person and pedigree owned as one of those to whom the Lord had promised the land which flowed with milk and honey. There was good reason for taking the number of the people just as the nation was forming, so that in the wilderness they might be arranged, and marshalled, and disciplined for the conflict which lay before them. Charles Spurgeon

Image of camp from article by Chuck Missler.


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