The parasha for last week is entitled Bamidbar, meaning “In The Desert,” and it covers Numbers 1:1 – 4:20. The English name, Numbers, is because this book contains statistics, such as population figures, the totals of the priests and Levites, and other numerical data.
And, this name comes from the two census’ that were taken of Israel in the wilderness. Numbers is also the history of Israel during their wilderness travels.
This first chapter is a record of the first census taken of Israel after they had left Egypt. The census was a result of a decree given to Moses.
The decree came when Israel was still at Sinai, and it came from the Tabernacle, which meant it came from the Lord. This was one month after the Tabernacle was set up for the first time.
God not only decreed the census taking, but chose those who were to take the census.
God ordered that Moses and Aaron should have helpers.
Verse 16 says, “These were the renowned, princes of the tribes of their fathers, heads of thousands in Israel.” The word “renowned” means “called.” These men were called by God.
Numbers 1, can be divided into four major parts:
- The People to be Counted,
- The People who do the Counting,
- The People Who Were Counted,
- The People Who Were Not Counted,
For the people to be counted, this was a census of Jewish people, however, women and children were not to be counted. No one from the tribe of Levi was to be counted.
Only males were counted, but only men from twenty years old and upward. This tells us that this was a military census,
The Levites were not to be counted in this census because they were exempt from military service. They were set apart for the service of the Tabernacle and all its furnishings. Only they could erect and dismantle it; any others who touched it would die.
The Levites camped around the Tabernacle, which stood in the center of the camp, with the clan of Kohath on the south, Merari on the north, and Gershon on the west.
Moses and Aaron camped on the east, at the gate of the Tabernacle. In this way, the Levites protected the Tabernacle and all intruders were put to death.
And being next to the Tabernacle, they would see when the cloud signaled that the camp was going to move. While the Levites pitched their tents adjacent to the Tabernacle, the other tribes were located in the outer perimeter.
In chapter 2, we read that the encampment of Israel was organized into four sections of three tribes each. They were positioned according to direction. Each tribe was assigned a place to set up camp in relation to the Tabernacle.
East side of the Tabernacle: Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.
South side: Reuben, Simeon, and Gad.
West side: Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin.
North side: Dan Asher, and Naphtali.
The Tabernacle was the center of the encampment. The Tabernacle was a foreshadow of Messiah Yeshua. Today, God’s people are to center their lives around Yeshua, our Messiah.
Failure to do this will lead to a very disorganized, inefficient, chaotic life, just as Israel would be a greatly disorganized and confused camp if they did not organize their encampment around the Tabernacle.
The total area of the camp was about 3 square miles. Israel was organized into a highly structured holy war camp with three tribes on each side of the Tabernacle, and when on the march, six tribes in the front with six tribes bringing up the rear.
In the Roman army, a battalion consisted of 4000 to 6000 soldiers; by that count, Israel would have had at least 91 Battalions.
This biblical imagery pictures God as a divine warrior and his people as an army, and the Tabernacle, as the sign of Adonai’s holy and powerful presence, standing in the midst of the camp.
In chapter 3, we read that Aaron, the high priest, had four sons who were to assist him and succeed him in the sacred office.
But two of these four, Nadab and Abihu, died as the result of an arrogant deviation from authorized priestly procedure. This left the other two sons of Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar.
Since only Aaron and his direct descendants could serve as priests, it was impossible for them to fulfill all of Israel’s priestly needs by themselves.
3:12, Adonai said “I destroyed all the firstborn in Egypt. At that time, I chose all the firstborn from every family in Israel to be mine in a special way.
That included all the firstborn men and animals. But now I am choosing the Levites to take their place. Now they will be my special servants.”
The Levites were taken, instead of the firstborn sons of Israel, to perform the service at the Tabernacle. Since Aaron was a Levite this meant that all the priests were Levites but not all the Levites were priests.
So, all of the non-priests performed some of the other duties like breaking down, transporting and setting up the Tabernacle and serving in various other capacities.
In breaking down these responsibilities further, in chapter 4, we read that the Gershonites cared for the hangings and curtains of the Tabernacle.
The Kohathites had charge of the sacred vessels.
The Merarite’s had charge of the boards and sockets.
Some closing thoughts, The Scripture says that Moses wrote of Messiah. Within the camp of Israel there was an army that consisted of approximately 91 battalions of young, strong men of God. But Israel’s strength was not in these men, it was in the Tabernacle.
It was not the value of the Tabernacle’s gold or silver that made it powerful, nor was it the ark or the atonement seat that covered it, nor was it the stone tablets that it contained.
The true strength of Israel was the presence of the three-in-one God that dwelt among them and was represented in the Tabernacle.
Today we have an even greater Presence. 1 John 4:4, says “… the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
The Tabernacle was built during the time of Moses. Since then, we have had Messiah’s physical presence on earth as well as the sending of the Holy Spirit, which came to us after Messiah’s resurrection.
We are now covered by Adonai and Messiah from above and the presence of the Holy Spirit from within and although life here on earth is not easy, we can look to this great Three-In-One, to help us through all the battles and trials that we encounter until we are welcomed into heavenly glory.