What does it say?
The book’s name comes from the numbering (census) of war-ready males at the beginning (Num 1) and a second census toward the end. Don’t feel like you have to pronounce each name and number, but the information is here when you need it. Just skim this chapter and see the highlights. This is the second month of the epic story of Israel in the desert (1:1) after the one-month parenthesis of Leviticus. Do notice that the Levites are not numbered and why (1:47-54).
The 12 tribes of Israel take strategic and defensive military positions around the tabernacle. Again, spare yourself pain and save your eyes to scrutinize when it counts, but get an idea of the three tribes on each of the flanks of the tabernacle (Num 2). Also see the summary (2:32-34) that again emphasizes that the Levites were not numbered.
What does it mean?
Since you saved some time by skimming today, read 1 Corinthians 10:1-12 for a meaningful summary of Numbers in light of the New Testament.
Why are there still 12 tribes if Levi is not counted? Remember that Joseph got two portions with Ephraim and Manasseh.
The first generation numbered came out of Egypt and died in the desert. The second census numbers the generation that grew up in the desert and entered the Promised Land. Understanding this is key to understanding the book. Chapter 20 is the watershed, as Aaron dies during the 40th year in the desert, marking the transition to the new generation that will enter the land. Besides two numberings and two generations, we will see two times of journeying and two times of instruction. The first generation will move from progress to crisis; the new generation will move from crisis to progress. Got it?
Numbers is a book of movement. To be specific, much of the movement is of a military nature. The census numbers males above 20 years of age. The tabernacle is protected by a military formation. Battles will be fought. We must be careful not to become obsessed with this, but even the New Testament makes frequent use of military images. We are on God’s mission, and it is fraught with danger and enemies. This is not a new story; the story continues.
How will I respond?
Is there an aspect of your life where you feel like you are wandering or spinning your wheels? Ask God today to use the example of Israel in Numbers to teach you what you need to learn to move forward. Make this your overall learning objective as your continue reading Numbers.