In Leviticus we see a people of worshipers around a sanctuary in the presence of God. In Numbers we see a people in the wilderness in the presence of enemies. It is a people of warriors to defend the sanctuary. This is also our task, to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3). “The faith” means the content of faith, that what is believed. Here we must think of the truths about the Lord Jesus and His work and its consequences.
There are different types of fight, both in terms of the area where the fight is fought and the nature of the fight:
1. We see Israel fighting in the wilderness, but also in the land.
2. We see Israel fighting an offensive fight, but also a defensive fight.
3. We see Israel fighting a fight to which they are called, but we also see them fighting a fight in which they have ended up through their own fault.
All these aspects of the struggle are reflected in our lives as believers. The struggle in the wilderness is that of daily life. In this we may have to deal with struggles that we have to avoid, but sometimes take on voluntarily and a kind of struggle that we cannot avoid.
For example, if we first join the world and then try to get rid of it, or read books and watch films that capture our thoughts and feelings, we have to struggle to get rid of it and be freed from it. We could have avoided that battle by keeping ourselves separated from the world. In order to avoid this battle, the Lord Jesus teaches us to pray: “Do not lead us into temptation” (Mt 6:13a).
There is also a kind of struggle that we cannot always avoid, for example when we do our work. Then we come into contact with things that can give rise to conflict, for example a question to participate in something that you, as a Christian, know that you cannot participate in. We often notice that the enemy attacks us on our weak spot. We see that enemy represented in Amalek (Deu 25:17-18; Exo 17:8-13).
The Israelites must consciously seek out and engage in the struggle in the land. We read about this in the book of Joshua. For us, this battle speaks of conquering the values of Scripture in connection with the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, which we find above all in the letter to the Ephesians. We must also defend these blessings and not allow them to be robbed from us. For this God gives us His armor (Eph 6:10-18).
It is also important to know which fight we should not fight and that is the fight against sin within us. This fight is presented to us in Romans 7 (Rom 7:1-24). It is the struggle of one born again to accomplish in his own strength, the power of the flesh, the law of God. This struggle the born again always loses. He will only be freed from this struggle when he sees the accomplished work of the Lord Jesus (Rom 7:25).
Numbers describes the walk and service of the people of God during their journey through the wilderness. In Exodus, we read about the beginning of the people who travel through the wilderness here. In Exodus 15-18 we also have a part of the wilderness journey. There everything is still under grace. After the law is giving at Mount Sinai the relationship between God and the people changes (Exodus 19-20). In Numbers we see how God immediately punishes when the people transgress and fail, because now the law is the foundation of God’s dealings with them. In this book, the enemy is not so much the personal enemy, but rather the influences that causes murmuring and revolt, for example. Evil does not penetrate, but breaks out.
The journey through the wilderness is a history of failure. Instead of a rapid advance to Canaan in the “eleven days’ [journey]” it takes (Deu 1:2), it takes them forty years. This book teaches us the lesson of the believer’s trial, in which his failure becomes clear and in which it also becomes clear how much he depends on the grace of God. The grace of God does not fail.
God remains the God of grace. He shows this in the tabernacle, in which the way to Him is drawn out. In Leviticus the priests and their service are in the foreground (the name Leviticus does not do justice to the book). Numbers is the book of numbers (hence the name). In Numbers, the Levite service is in the foreground.
The wilderness journey is not part of God’s counsels, but is an example of His ways with us. It shows the spiritual journey of the believer through the world – the wilderness – where the flesh is being tested. Everything that happens to the people in the wilderness are lessons for us, for it has happened “as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved” (1Cor 10:6,11). There the people get to know themselves and there they get to know God (Deu 8:2). We will thank God not only for the redemption from Egypt, but also for His tolerance of us in the wilderness, for all His love and care, His upbringing. We learn that in the wilderness of life.
Numbers is not a ‘quick bite’ reading. It is not for people who are unwilling to dedicate time and energy to the study of God’s Word. However, those who are prepared to study this book will find much of the Lord Jesus in it and will discover rich lessons for his life of faith.
Division of the book
1. The encampment of the people and the preparations for the journey (Numbers 1-10:10).
a. The order (Numbers 1-2).
b. The Levites set apart (Numbers 3-4).
c. What to do in case of unfaithfulness (Numbers 5).
d. Faithfulness of the individual in case of general unfaithfulness (Numbers 6).
e. The travel aids (Numbers 7-10:11).
2. The journey (Numbers 10:11-21:20).
3. The people in the plains of Moab (Numbers 21:21-34:13).