Surveying the Text: Numbers

Introduction:

The dates for Numbers encompass the entire 40 years in the wilderness, following the Exodus in 1440 B.C.—and it extends throughout that 40 year period. The name of the book comes from the fact that it contains the results of two censuses.

To the modern reader, the book can seem like something of a jumble. There are narrative sections, there are random laws, there are census lists, there is the prophetic word given by the pagan prophet Balaam, and though he was a true prophet, he was not a true man. But there is a structure to the whole thing.

The Text:

“And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Num. 21:5–9).

Summary of the Text:

The two census lists are given prior to two invasions, one abortive and one more effectual. The results of the censuses are roughly the same—around 600,000 fighting men. The people traveled first from Egypt to Sinai, and from Sinai to Kadesh. To invade Canaan from the south would be more natural, and Kadesh was that place. But the people gave way to fear in response to the negative report of the ten spies, and then when they attempted to invade, they were ignominiously defeated. But by the end of the book, they are poised to invade Canaan from the east, across the Jordan, from the plains of Moab. The first travel narrative is found in 9:15-14:45 and the second is found in 20:1-22.

Leadership:

One theme of this book has to do with leadership, and challenges to that leadership that arose. You would think that someone who had wrecked Egypt, divided the Red Sea, and drowned Pharaoh, would have a secure spot as a leader. But not so with Moses (16-17). Selfish ambition always blindly takes what the grace of God has given as a starting point.

While Korah’s rebellion was a big deal, there were also challenges to the leadership of Moses that were a little closer to home. Numbers 12 tells us that Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of a “Cushite woman” he had married. This is a bit obscure, but Josephus tells us the back story, and it might even be true. When Moses was still a prince of Egypt, he once besieged a city in Ethiopia named Saba. The queen of that city fell in love with Moses from the city wall, and offered to surrender the city if he married her, which he did. If that were the case, and this woman belatedly showed up in the Israelite camp in the wilderness one day, one can easily imagine how it would disrupt the organizational flow chart, and not to Miriam’s liking.

Imagine the Point

“It is thus mainly through imagination that we touch the feelings, and thereby bring truth powerfully to bear upon the will, which is the end and very essence of eloquence” (Broadus, Preparation and Delivery, p. 399).

An Unknown Known Language

For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries” (1 Cor. 14:2).

The gift of tongues is an exercise in mystery. A man speaking in tongues is a man who is speaking mysteries in his spirit. It is a mystery because the language is unknown to those present, and unknown to him.

Because he is speaking to God, we know that God understands him. This means that the language is unknown, not that it is unknowable. It is an unknown tongue, which is not the same thing as gibberish.

When the disciples spoke in tongues at Pentecost, it happened that many foreign speakers were present in Jerusalem because of the festival. What Paul says here about tongue-speaking Corinth was not the case in Jerusalem. They began speaking in other tongues (glossa, Acts 2:4), and when a crowd gathered, they heard them speaking in their own languages (dialektos, Acts 2:6). We get the word dialect from that word. They were speaking in known languages.

The saints in Corinth were doing the same thing, but the languages were not known to anyone on the premises—we will learn what the point of that was a bit later in the chapter.

Surveying the Text: Leviticus

Introduction:

The dates of this book are roughly the same as what we find for Exodus. It provides detailed instruction for worship, picking up where Exodus stopped. The name of the book comes from a Greek phrase for “pertaining to the Levites,” that phrase being levitikon, which was then run through a Latin filter. During the course of this book, Israel is still camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai, at the beginning of their 40 years in the wilderness.

The Text:

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:1–2).

Summary of the Text:

This book is about ritual righteousness—which must never be detached from actual righteousness. Here the laws for worship are laid out, the Holiness Code is defined, and the annual calendar for the Israelites is established.

The Levitical Code is set out in the first sixteen chapters (1-16). This is followed by what is commonly called the Holiness Code (17-25). A few miscellaneous things conclude the book (26-27)—blessings and curses, vows and tithes.

The Second Greatest Commandment:

This book is where the second greatest commandment is found (Lev. 19:18). It is sometimes easy to assume that the ritual precision that is required by a book like Leviticus means that they somehow didn’t understand the main point. But that is not the case at all.

Cleansing, Consecration, Communion:

Whenever someone is exiled from the camp, remember that God dwelt with them in the center of the camp. God is holy, and is in the midst of the camp. This means that the camp had to be be kept holy as well.

Because Christ has come, we no longer worship God by means of actual physical sacrifices. Because of this—even though this is a great blessing for us—we oftentimes do not pay close enough attention to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. They were not all sacrifices for sin. They had a grain offering. They had a whole burnt offering, also considered as an ascension offering. This was a consecration offering, where the entire animal ascended to God in the column of smoke. There was a fellowship offering, also known as a peace offering. A purification offering took care of accidental defilements (4:1-5:13), and the guilt offering was for sin (5:14-6:7).

When sacrifices are mentioned together in the OT, the order is guilt/ascension/peace. This is why many churches (whether intentionally or not) follow a similar pattern—resting in Christ’s fulfillment of all of this—when they confess sin (guilt), when they sing and hear sermons (ascension), and when they partake of communion (peace). The order is biblical, but it also makes natural sense. You wash the day off your hands before coming to the dinner table, and not after.

The Testimony of Jesus

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #161

Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1).

The justly famous thirteenth chapter of Corinthians has firmly established the ranking of the fruit of the Spirit over against the gifts of the Spirit. Out of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love, and in his description of the fruit of the Spirit elsewhere, he lists love in the first place (Gal. 5:22). We saw this same truth earlier in this book. The Corinthians were gifted with every spiritual gift (1 Cor. 1:7) but that did not make them spiritual men (1 Cor. 3:1).

Having established this, he then turns to give us a ranking of the spiritual gifts themselves. Just as the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit are not equal, so also the gifts of the Spirit are not equal. That is why he says here that they are to pursue love in the first instance, and after that they are to desire the spiritual gifts. Once they have turned to the gifts, the gift to be valued above all the others is the gift of prophesy.

What is it to prophesy? The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10), and so to speak the Word of God faithfully, in such a way as to turn everyone to Jesus, is the spirit of prophecy. That spirit can come upon a man directly, as it did the prophets of old, or it can be given to a man ministerially, as he speaks authoritatively from the Scriptures.

The Edge of the Sword

“It is a matter on which preachers seldom bestow any thoughtful attention; and yet few things are so important to their real success, as the possession, the culture, the control, of imagination” (Broadus, Preparation and Delivery, p. 396).

Surveying the Text: Exodus

Introduction:

The three great themes of Exodus are the deliverance God brings to His people, the giving of the law, and the establishment of the tabernacle. There are other important themes as well, such as the recurring disobedience of the people. Remember as we work through the Bible, each book contributes to the grand theme of all Scripture, which is the redemption of God’s people, accomplished in the context of His reconciliation of all things in Heaven and on earth (Col. 1:20).

The Text:

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:5–7).

Summary of the Text:

What are the dates of the book? The book of Exodus begins with the death of Joseph (c. 1600 B.C.), but most of it centers on Israel’s encampment at the base of Mt. Sinai (c. 1440 B.C).

The first part of Exodus is simply narrative (Ex. 1-20), showing the deliverance from Egypt and culminating in the giving of the Ten Commandments. In chapters 21-24, we find a collection of assorted laws which amplify the Ten Commandments, and then the last part of the book concerns the building of the tabernacle (25-31). Woven throughout the whole thing we find the grumbling and disobedience of Israel.

The Definition of Israel:

This is the book that defines Israel for us. There are three distinctives that set Israel apart from other nations. The first is their national deliverance from the tyranny of Pharaoh. They have a historical foundation as a people together. Second, on the basis of this deliverance, this exodus, God gives them His law as a sign of His grace to them. Note particularly the preamble to the Ten Commandments. God identifies Himself as the one who brought them out of the house of bondage, and so the law represents moral liberty. Third, God establishes His tabernacle in their midst so that His presence might be with them. This means that God delivered them, God instructs them, and God accompanies them.