The Book of Numbers takes its name from the two numberings of the men of war in chapters 1--4 and 26,27. The first was made the second year after the nation had left Egypt, and the second was made 38 years later, when the new generation was about to enter Canaan. These numberings were not of the entire nation, but only of the men able to fight. The first census revealed there were 603,550 available men; the second, 601,730.
Numbers is the wilderness book of the Old Testament. It describes the failure of the nation at Kadesh-Barnea, and their wanderings in the wilderness until the unbelieving old generation had died. Israel's wilderness wanderings have been described as "the longest funeral march in history." Only Caleb and Joshua of the older generation were permitted to enter Canaan, because they had trusted God and opposed the decision of the nation to turn back at Kadesh-Barnea. Even Moses was forbidden to go into the Promised Land because of his sin when he smote the rock instead of speaking to it.
Genesis is the Book of Beginnings, Exodus the Book of Redemption, and Leviticus the Book of Atonement and Worship. Numbers, on the other hand, is the Book of Testing. The author of this wilderness book was Moses. In chapter 1:1-46 we have the actual account of the numbering of the people. The command to number (verses 1-4) was given one month after the erection of the Tabernacle (see Exodus 40:17). Notice in verses 47-54 that the Levites were excluded in the numbering and separated to Tabernacle service.
The tribes are arranged in chapter 2. The camp of God's people was divinely arranged and ordered, with the Tabernacle in the center (showing that God's worship and service were to be central). The entire arrangement of each tribe is given in verses 3-34.
In chapters 3 and 4 the Levites were assigned to their work. The job of the Levitical Priests was sacrifice and intercession as representatives of the nation of Israel. Divine sovereign grace was exemplified in the choice of the Levites for holy Tabernacle ministry (Genesis 34:25-31; 49:5-7). In general, the work of the Levitical Priests was the care and transportation of the Tabernacle. Notice that the Levites were numbered at birth, rather than at twenty years of age, because they were set forth for specific duties as described in chapters 3 and 4. The other eleven tribes were numbered for the purpose of knowing the men available for war.
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