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9th February

Numbers 1-4; Psalm 40

Bible in a Year
4 minutes
In this article
9th February

Numbers 1-4; Psalm 40

Bible in a Year
4 minutes


Numbers, like the three books before it, is traditionally attributed to Moses and is part of the Torah, which also includes Deuteronomy. While the Mosaic authorship is a long-standing tradition, modern scholarship suggests that the book is likely a compilation of oral traditions, historical events, and laws.

These were possibly edited and compiled over centuries, with some scholars suggesting that the final form may have been completed as late as the 5th Century BC.

The structure of the book is as follows:

Numbers 1-10 - Mt Sinai

  • Numbers 1-4 - Israel arranged with God in centre

  • Numbers 5-10 - Develop purity laws to maintain the purity of the camp

Numbers 10-12 - Travelling and the people complain

Numbers 13-19 - Wilderness of Paran

  • Numbers 13-14 - Spies explore promised land

  • Numbers 16-17 - Rebellion of Korah a Levite

  • Numbers 18-19 - Reconfirmation of the role of Levites and priests

Numbers 20-21 - Travelling and the people complain

Numbers 22-36 - Plains of Moab

  • Numbers 22-25 - Balaam and the King of Moab

  • Numbers 26-36 - The next generation prepare to enter the land.

The recurring theme of Numbers is the contrast between Israel’s rebellion and God’s faithfulness to them. Repeatedly the Israelites choose to complain and do things their own way. While God does often punish them, he always creates a way for restoration.

Numbers also carries on Leviticus’ themes of holiness and purity as the people require regular reminding of the life they have been called to.

The books follows the journey of the Israelites from Mount Sinai to the edge of Canaan, the promised land.

Numbers 1-4

As we begin the book of Numbers, let’s have a recap of the story so far. We start of with God creating the world and a perfect garden for people to live in. 

But the people decide to do their own things and we see a Fall in humanity, till eventually God is disowning the nations and putting other spiritual beings in charge of them. 

He then picks a family out of whom he will build a new nation. This nation will be God’s representatives on earth, leading the rest of humanity back to him. We watch as that family grows and relocates to Egypt, where it multiplies and becomes slaves. 

God then brings those people out of Egypt, using Moses, and then makes a commitment to them to be their God. He lays out the rules for them and gives them instructions on how to build a home, a tabernacle, for him to dwell in. 

Unfortunately, the sin of the people continues to contaminate them and the land leading to Moses not being able to meet with God in the tabernacle, the tent of meeting.

So God gives them a series of instructions through the book of Leviticus all about how to maintain their relationship with him, get cleansed of their contamination, and then continue to live right and clean before him. The language Leviticus uses is holy and pure.

Then we get to Numbers, which opens with Moses meeting with God in the tent of meeting. The process laid out in Leviticus has worked. God’s people can now meet with him.

God gives Moses some practical instruction on how to organise the camp of the people. The different tribes are counted up and organised, with each tribe being given a place in the camp. 

The tribe of Levi is then given responsibility for the tabernacle. They are further organised into three smaller tribes; Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites. Each were responsible for different parts of the tabernacle.

The Gersonhites were responsible for the tabernacle itself, the Kohathites were responsible for the tabernacle’s furniture, and the Merarites were responsible for the frames of the tabernacle and all accessories like pegs and cords.

They were all to take great care in the packing down and moving of the tabernacle. This was the space prepare to host God’s presence. They couldn’t treat it lightly.

A key feature of the organisation of all the tribes was to prepare them for war. They would be travelling through hostile land where they would be attacked. 

This is why they counted how many able-bodied young men, and why the camp is laid out defensively, with the most important part of the camp, the tabernacle, in the centre.

It also had a spiritual role. By being in the centre, everyone was daily reminded that the tabernacle, the presence of God, was the most important thing in their lives. It was the thing that they were to guard.

As Christians, are we guarding the presence of God in our lives? Is it the most important thing to us?

But there’s still more. What we’re to see here is a new creation motif. Just as God brought order to creation back in Genesis 1, here he is bringing order the nation of Israel.

In Genesis 1-2 we had the tree of life which was the source of life. Surrounding the tree was the Garden of Eden which existed to model God’s order and beauty. And then surrounding the garden was the rest of creation, ready to be shaped according to God’s order and beauty.

Here in Numbers, in the centre of the camp we have the tabernacle. God’s presence and the source of life. Surrounding the tabernacle are the Levites, the ones chosen to most closely model God’s order and beauty. And then surrounding the Levites is the rest of the nation, ready to be shaped according to God’s order and beauty.

To further reinforce this, Levites are set up as new Adam and Eve’s. We don’t notice it in the English because we use different words, but in the original Hebrew God charged the Levites with the same words he charged Adam and Eve.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
Genesis 2:15

They shall guard [keep] all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard [keep] over the people of Israel as they minister [work] at the tabernacle.
Number 3:8

God is starting again with a new creation, the nation of Israel. The question is will they do better than the original creation.

Psalm 40

This psalm is attributed to king David, and can fit into two categories. The first half is a thanksgiving psalm, while the second half is a lament psalm.

Psalm 40:1-3 - You saved me from the pit

Psalm 40:4-5 - Blessed are those who trust in you for your deeds are great

Psalm 40:6-8 - You desire obedience over sacrifice

Psalm 40:9-11 - I will not hold back my praise as you do not hold back your love and mercy

Psalm 40:12-17 - Deliver me from evil

The psalm opens with a reminder of how God has delivered in the past. He drew the psalmist out of a difficult situation and gave him firm ground to stand upon.

The psalmist is able to say blessed are those who trust in the Lord, because of the good things that the Lord has done. In return, the best way to please the Lord is not through offerings and sacrifices, but through obedience.

The psalmist’s confidence in God reaches a point where they cannot contain it. They have to share it with other people, and tell them about God’s faithfulness and love.

Having given thanks for the Lord, and spoken his praise, the psalmist now turns to the issue at hand. They have built themselves up and reminded themselves of all that God has done, so now they can address their current struggles with confidence.

Just as God has shown he will not withhold his mercy, or his faithful love, the psalmist now asks God to intervene in this situation. It feels like the psalmist is surrounded by their enemies and their own sin.

They ask the Lord to deliver them and put to shame all those who would seek them harm. But may God bless those who have supported the psalmist.

The psalm then end with a declaration of trust, while the psalmist may be poor and needy, God will always be their help and deliverer.

This psalm shows us the benefits of encouraging ourselves in who God is and what he has done for us, before we bring our troubles to him. This allows us to come to God in confidence.

Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.

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