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Numbers Sermon Outlines

The following outlines are based on the application sections of my Numbers commentary in Zondervan’s The Story of God Commentary series (2023). In that commentary, I end each chapter by discussing the practical points of application that flow from it. The summaries below are not meant to replace that discussion but to give the preacher an overview of the types of points that could be addressed when preaching on the relevant chapter.

            There are usually between two and four main points per chapter. I frame the main points as questions as a way to aid preachers who want to approach the text inductively. For those who are more comfortable with deductive sermons, the questions may be easily turned into indicative statements that focus on the main point in question.

             Finally, in some cases below I provide more than one title since the passage in question could be taken in more than one direction. When this happens, I separate titles with a semi-colon, e.g., "The Nature of Biblical Authority; The Good News of Substitution" (see at Numbers 3-4 below).

              You may jump to a chapter by clicking here: 1, 2, 3-4, 5:1-4, 5:5-10, 5:11-30, 6:1-21, 6:22-27, 7, 8:1-4, 8:5-26, 9:1-14, 9:15-10:10, 10:11-36, 11, 12, 13-14, 15, 16, 17:1-18:7, 18:8-32, 19, 20, 21:1-22:1, 22:2-40, 22:41-24:25, 25, 26, 27, 28-29, 30, 31:1-24, 31:25-54, 32, 33:1-49, 33:50-34:29, 35, 36.

Jay Sklar Numbers commentary Zondervan Story of God

Numbers 1

The Lord of Faithfulness, Holiness, and Mission


Main Idea of the Passage

Numbers 1 requires the Israelites to take a military census as they prepare to march towards the Promised Land with the Lord dwelling in their midst. The census, which shows the Israelites have multiplied as the Lord had promised, makes clear that the Lord can be trusted to keep his word. His trustworthiness, along with the fact he is now dwelling in their midst, should encourage them to carry out the mission that he has given them and to do so with bold faithfulness. Meanwhile, his holy presence also requires they respect his holy dwelling place as a sign of respect for him. 


Main Points


Why does it matter that this King keeps his promises?

  • While we often look negatively at a census list, modern examples show ways in which we can understand why they matter.

  • This census mattered to the original audience for different reasons, not least of which is the way it shows the Lord is faithful to his promises—an important truth for the Israelites to remember as they undertake the mission the Lord has given them.

  • The faithfulness the Lord showed to his promises to the Israelites is seen with even greater clarity in his sending of Jesus—an important truth for believers today to remember as they carry out the great mission the Lord has given them.


What does the almighty King do and call his people to do?

  • This chapter shows that the God who redeems us seeks relationship with us and privileges us with his mission. The latter is especially clear from the different names given to his dwelling place among the Israelites.

  • The New Testament underscores these same themes of redemption, relationship, and mission, each of which can be seen in relationship to Jesus.


How should we respond when a holy King dwells in our midst?

  • As Israel marches towards the promised land, the Lord dwells in their midst as a holy King, which has implications for the respect they are to show his dwelling place.

  • The New Testament continues to speak of God dwelling in our midst—not in a building, but in his people. This includes his dwelling in the midst of his corporate people (the Church) as well as his dwelling in individual believers. In both cases, these dwelling places of God must be shown deep respect as a way of honoring the holy God who dwells within them.

Numbers 2

Living with the Lord and His Mission at the Center


Main Idea of the Passage

As the Israelites prepare to march to the Promised Land, Numbers 2 describes each tribe’s place in the camp and in the marching order. The tribes are all camped around the Lord’s tent, where he takes center place as divine King, a physical picture of the centrality he is to take in their hearts. When the tribes are on the move, they are to do so in a certain order, with some leading and others following but with no cause for pride or envy because all are engaged in the King’s mission, not their own.



Main Points


Are our lives centered around the King?

  • The Lord was dwelling as covenant King in the very center of the camp. His placement there was a picture of the place he is to take in our lives: its very center.


Are we okay with not being first?

  • The Lord arranged the tribes in a certain order within the camp. When camp broke and the Israelites marched, some would take the lead while others would follow, but there was to be no rivalry because they were all working together for the King’s mission, not their own.

  • Paul gets at the same idea of order and role by using the metaphor of the body, stressing that while we each play a different role in the body, there is to be no jealousy because it is not about us but about Jesus, the one we represent. We are here to carry out his mission not our own.


Are we committed to his body?

  • In Numbers 1 and 2, speaking of the individual is impossible without also speaking of the tribe to which the individual belongs, reminding us that God always calls individuals to be a part of a larger community.

  • The New Testament emphasizes the same with various metaphors (parts of a body, stones in a temple, branches on a vine). In each metaphor, Jesus is central (it is his body, he is the chief cornerstone of the temple, he is the vine). If we are committed to him, we are to be committed to those connected to him as we seek to advance his mission in the world.

Numbers 3–4

The Nature of Biblical Authority; The Good News of Substitution


Main Idea of the Passage

These chapters describe the special tabernacle responsibilities that the Levites carried out on behalf of the Israelites. In doing so, they focus on three different areas. First, in describing the Levites’ special responsibilities on Israel’s behalf, they teach that those in spiritual authority (priests and Levites) are to serve and that those under spiritual authority (Israelites) are to follow. Second, by explaining the buffering role the Levites were to play between the Israelites and the Lord, these chapters emphasize the great respect that must be showed the Lord’s holy presence. Third, they introduce us to the biblical concept of substitution (one person standing in for another), which turns out to be a central biblical theme with important consequences.


Main Points


What is the goal of spiritual authority?

  • While the priests and Levites had special roles of spiritual authority within Israel, they were to exercise that authority in the service of others, especially that others might know and worship the Lord well.

  • Thus the Lord’s idea of authority is that it is for the purpose of service. Jesus made this especially clear when he washed his disciples’ feet.


What is the proper response to spiritual authority?

  • While those in authority are to serve, those under authority are to respect and support their leaders.

  • This was not only true within ancient Israel, it is equally true within the church today, as many verses in the New Testament emphasize (1 Thess 5:12–13a; 1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17).

What is the proper posture to have before a holy king?

  • The Levites were to camp as a protective ring around the Lord’s tent. On the one hand, this was to prevent the Israelites from barging improperly into his presence, which would be a severe sign of disrespect to an earthly king let alone the King of heaven. On the other hand, it would also protect the Israelites from exposing themselves to the Lord’s blazing holiness, which was dangerous to those that did not have the proper level of ritual holiness. Respect for the holy King is the theme that binds both of these concerns together.

  • While issues of ritual purity and impurity are no longer in play for believers, and while the death of Christ is so powerful it allows his followers to enter boldly into the Most Holy Place (Heb 10:19–22), the believer today is still exhorted to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (12:28–29, quoting Deut 4:24). Respect for the holy King is a theme that should continue in the lives of believers today.

What does a substitute do?

  • These chapters focus on the theme of substitution. In this case, the Levites are taken on behalf of the firstborn Israelites to serve at the tabernacle.

  • In the Old Testament more broadly, the theme of substitution is especially central when it comes to the judgment our sins deserve. The Lord, in his mercy and love for his sinful people, provides a substitute to bear that penalty on their behalf. This is seen in different ways.

  • In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the substitute was a blameless animal whose lifeblood the Lord accepted as a substitute for the sinner’s lifeblood (Lev 17:11). On the Day of Atonement, the substitute was the scapegoat, who bore the Israelites’ sins on its head so that did not need to bear them on theirs.

  • The New Testament picks up on these images and applies them to Jesus, the one who is the perfect sacrifice on our behalf and the one who has borne our sins in his body so that we did not need to bear them in ours.

Numbers 5:1–4

Seeking Holiness, Receiving Cleansing


Main Idea of the Passage

These verses emphasize that severe impurity must be removed from the camp as a sign of respect for the holy Lord who dwelt in its midst. In doing so, they emphasize that impurity and holiness must never mix.


Main Points

How do these laws about the camp relate to the church and to our lives?

  • The main idea behind these laws is that impurity and holiness were to be kept apart. Just as walking on someone’s white rug with muddy boots is a sign of disrespect, defiling the Lord’s holy spaces with impurity was a sign of disrespect. As a result, those with the severest ritual impurities—very “muddy boots”—were to dwell outside the camp so their impurity did not spread to the Lord’s tabernacle.

  • There are parallels to this in the New Testament. First, because the Church is considered to be the Lord’s holy tabernacle, those who claim to follow Jesus but are unrepentant of their sin are to be removed from the body (1 Cor 5; 2 Thess 3:14; Tit 3:10–11).

  • Second, those within the Church must seek holiness in their personal lives as a sign of respect that the holy King is present.


How does Jesus deal with our impurity?

  • When Jesus comes into contact with those that are ritually impure, his holiness does not break out against the people but against the impurity, destroying it and making them pure.

  • God’s hatred and incompatibility with impurity has not changed. Rather, in his desire to be among us in our impurity, he has made a way in Jesus to be even closer, ridding us not simply of ritual impurity but also of the sin that defiles us. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Numbers 5:5–10

Proper Repentance; Supporting the Lord’s Work


Main Idea of the Passage

This passage opens by teaching what to do when one person has defrauded another, thus emphasizing the nature of true repentance (5:6–7). This introduces its real focus, namely, ensuring the Israelites give their sacred contributions to the tabernacle to support the priests (5:8–10). This continues the preceding chapters’ theme (the tabernacle’s proper functioning in Israel’s midst) and reinforces the biblical principle that the Lord’s people must provide for their spiritual leaders (1 Cor 9:13–14; Gal 6:6).


Main Points

What does true repentance look like?

  • Repentance involves confessing the wrong and, where possible, correcting it, with restitution going above and beyond in making things right.

  • In the New Testament, the story of Zacchaeus beautifully illustrates the proper attitude to have when correcting past wrongs.


What do the Israelites’ holy gifts teach us about giving today?

  • The “sacred contributions” the Israelites gave went to support the priests and Levites and their service at the tabernacle. Without them, tabernacle worship could not continue; the Lord’s people must support their spiritual leaders.

  • The New Testament also emphasizes the importance of the Lord’s people providing for their spiritual leaders (1 Cor 9:13–14; cf. Gal 6:6). This allows the leaders to care properly for the Lord’s people and lead them in his ways.

Numbers 5:11–30

Sexual Faithfulness


Main Idea of the Passage

This passage is a long case law addressing suspected adultery. The attention it gives to this topic shows the importance the Lord puts on sexual fidelity in marriage.


Main Points


How does this law relate to our sexual practices today?

  • The Bible teaches that marital fidelity matters because the Lord has designed the family to be the bedrock of a society in which people can flourish.

  • The Bible also teaches that sex is only to be practiced in the context of marriage because God designed it as a way for couples to embody and recommit to the covenant relationship they entered into on their wedding day and because it means that children will be born into the context of a family.


How do we guard ourselves from marital infidelity?

  • Psychologists and counselors group affairs into different categories: one-night stands, affairs that grow out of an emotional relationship, and philandering (regularly committing affairs).

  • Knowing the different categories can help us in guarding ourselves from them since the Bible gives different words of advice corresponding to the different categories.


What motivates us towards marital fidelity?

  • Two motivations are at play here. One is a fear of God, in this case, a literal fear of his discipline or judgment if we engage in sexual immorality.

  • But the overarching motivation should be our love for God, which the Bible regularly connects to obeying God and walking in his ways (Exod 20:6; John 14:15; 1 John 5:3). 

  • God has provided the ultimate model of marital faithfulness for us in Jesus’ relationship to his followers, which is likened to a marriage, with Jesus as groom and the church as the bride. Jesus has been completely faithful to his bride—to us!—despite all our weaknesses and imperfections, and delights to help us be the same towards our spouse.

Numbers 6:1–21

Complete Dedication to the Lord


Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter describes the rules governing a vow by which someone dedicates themselves to the Lord for a period of time as a Nazirite. In so doing, it shows us that Nazirites were visual reminders to all Israelites of the dedication they should have to the Lord.



Main Points


What were Nazirites reminders of?

  • Nazirites, who had dedicated themselves in a special way to the Lord, were visual reminders to the Israelites to do the same. All Israel had been called to be his kingdom of priests and holy nation on behalf of the world.

  • The New Testament describes believers today as the Lord’s kingdom of priests and holy nation and calls them to carry out this role on behalf of the world.


What kind of dedication does the Lord require?

  • The Nazirites’ vow required complete dedication to the Lord, putting him above all else in life.

  • Jesus calls his followers to treat him in the same way, putting him above all else in life.

Where did the Nazirites live out this type of dedication?

  • The Nazirites did not live out their dedication by withdrawing from society but by remaining in the very midst of it. Whole-hearted dedication to the Lord and daily living can go hand in hand.

  • The same is true for the believer today; we can follow Jesus wholeheartedly in the midst of our everyday, ordinary activities. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

Numbers 6:22–27

The Lord of Blessing; A Leader’s Call to Pray; The Source of Blessing


Main Idea of the Passage

The blessing that the priests were to pray over the Israelites is described in these verses. They teach us that blessing involves physical and especially spiritual provision, that it comes from God, and that the leaders of the Lord’s people are to pray for it on their behalf.


Main Points

What is blessing?

  • The biblical idea of blessing includes material provision for our physical needs but finds its ultimate meaning in relationship with God. This has two implications.

  • On the one hand, we must be careful not to ignore material needs; after all, the Lord has made us as physical creatures.

  • On the other hand, we must not turn material things into ultimate things since they can never truly satisfy. Only God can meet our heart’s deepest need because we have been made for relationship with him and ultimate blessing is found only in that relationship.

How do we find true blessing (part 1)?

  • While the priests are to pray for the Israelites to be blessed, it is the Lord, not the priests, who is the ultimate source of that blessing.

  • The fact that the Lord commands priests to pray that his people be blessed shows us his heart for his people: he wants them to experience his blessing. This truth is seen most clearly in his sending of Jesus, through whom we can enter into relationship with God and experience the ultimate blessing for which we’ve been created.

How do we find true blessing (part 2)? 

  • While the Lord is the ultimate source of blessing, spiritual leaders are to pray on behalf of his people for them to experience his blessing.

  • Congregations should therefore consider whether their job descriptions for their pastors allow pastors time to pray. And pastors and other spiritual leaders should consider whether they are praying on behalf of their people with earnest hope and faith, knowing that the Lord delights to bless those for whom they pray.

How do we hope when blessing has not yet come?

  • In a fallen and imperfect world, most of us can identify areas of our lives that seem to lack blessing. How can we hope when our prayers for blessing seem not to be heard?

  • Jesus’s high priestly prayer shows the way. In it, he prays most of all that we would draw near to God, know him and his love, and live out that love before the world. If we have these foundational and ultimate blessings in place, then we are secure and can have hope no matter what other areas we still lack blessing. As Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:1b–13). Because he belonged to Jesus, his life was built on a bedrock of blessing that enabled him to live a life of grateful hope.

Numbers 7

The Importance of Unity; Who’s Going to Pay the Electricity Bill?


Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter lists the gifts that are brought to aid in transporting the Lord’s tabernacle and in equipping it for the Lord’s worship. It emphasizes the importance of worshipping God (and his provision of a way for us to draw near to him), the need for his people to provide materially for such worship to take place, and the unity and equality of all God’s people before him.


Main Points


Why focus so much on an altar? 

  • The altar was the Israelites’ lifeline to God. Through the sacrificial worship there, the Israelites repaired, maintained, and enjoyed their relationship with the Lord. Significantly, the Lord provided the design for this altar; he is the one who provides the way for us to maintain relationship with him.

  • As the Bible’s story continues, the focus shifts from earthly priests offering sacrifices on an altar to Jesus, God in the flesh, who serves as both final priest and sacrifice so that we might know and worship God. Once again, this is God’s doing. Relationship with God happens because he makes a way, not because we create our own.

Who’s going to pay the electricity bill?

  • The Levites were called to dismantle, transport, and reassemble the tabernacle. This was practical and unexciting work and yet crucial for the Lord’s worship to continue. Without it, there was no tabernacle and no altar. To do it, the Levites needed the other tribes to provide for practical, if unexciting, needs. To put it in modern terms, for churches to be open for Sunday morning worship, someone must pay the electricity bill.

  • In today’s context, this means supporting our spiritual leaders, providing for our worship spaces, for musical instruments, and for the training of future ministry leaders. Doing so is to say that the Lord’s worship, and his being known in our communities, matters to us.

Which tribe matters most?

  • It would be human nature for the Israelites to compare their tribes against one another and to ask how they ranked in terms of importance or value. This chapter speaks against such comparisons by emphasizing the tribes’ unity and equality. Unity because every tribe brings offerings for the Levites’ support (7:2–3) and the altar’s dedication (7:10–88). Equality because every tribe brings exactly the same gift.

  • In today’s context, we are not to compare ourselves to our brothers and sisters to see how we rank in terms of importance or value. The disciples did so and were rebuked by Jesus (Luke 22:24–27), and the Corinthians did so and were rebuked by Paul (1 Cor 12:12–16, 20–27; 13:1–8a).

  • There are certainly differences among the Lord’s people in terms of role, but the Bible emphasizes the unity of God’s people as they worship and serve him.

Numbers 8:1–4

The Lord Who Shines His Favor on Us; Our Need of Favor


Main Idea of the Passage

These verses describe how the high priest is to make sure that the lamp in the Holy Place is to be continually lit and to shine its light forward on the twelve loaves representing Israel. The symbolism of these activities communicated to the Israelites that the Lord was continually dwelling among them and that he delighted to shine his blessing and favor on his people.



Main Points


Are we trying to make it on our own?

  • This passage is rich with symbolism. Broadly speaking, the light continually burning in the Lord’s tabernacle indicates his continual presence (if the lights are on, someone’s home), and the high priest’s efforts to make it burn continually represent Israel’s continual service before him.

  • Specifically speaking, by having the priest make sure the light of the lampstand shone on the twelve loaves that represented the Israelites, the Lord was showing his desire to shine his blessing on his people.

  • The Israelites were to learn not only that they were in need of his blessing but also that he delighted to give it to them.

  • Today, we see not only that we are in need of the blessing of life found in Jesus but also that the Lord delights to give it to us.

Numbers 8:5–26

Leadership Requirements and Transitions


Main Idea of the Passage

Numbers 3 noted that the Levites were taken in place of all the firstborn Israelites to serve at the tabernacle. This passage focuses on how it was done and on the results, focusing especially on the purification of the Levites. Its lessons include the importance of spiritual maturity and moral purity among the Lord’s people as well as the fact that spiritual leaders are to be visual reminders of the dedication all believers owe to the Lord and the way in which they are to represent him in this world.


Main Points


Why have age requirements for the Levites?


  • Levites could not start tabernacle work until age 25 and had to retire at age 50.

  • The starting age requirement was not simply about physical maturity (since this happens before age 25) but also mental, emotional and spiritual maturity, as appropriate for those handling the Lord’s holy possessions. Similarly, the New Testament emphasizes spiritual maturity for those taking on leadership roles among the Lord’s people (1 Tim 3:1–13; 4:12; 2 Tim 2:22; Tit 2:7).

  • The retirement age may be related to the heavy work of tabernacle transport, though it may be noted that retired Levites were still able to help with other, presumably less taxing, work (8:26). This introduces a principle: our physical abilities diminish as we age, and we are wise to step down at some point from certain leadership roles so other gifted leaders can step into them. Often, we will still be able to help in other ways (8:26), but our role will become more one of support than of primary leadership.

What does God primarily require of his servants?

  • Many of this chapter’s rites focus on ritual purification for the Levites, which is a major goal of this ceremony. 

  • Such purification was necessary because they were handling the Lord’s holy things; entering into a higher state of ritual purity was a sign of respect for the holiness of these things and of their holy owner, the Lord. As a principle, the Lord’s servants show their respect for his holiness by cleansing themselves of defilement and seeking to be pure.

  • These requirements for ritual purity were to serve as reminders of the equal need for moral purity, especially among those in positions of spiritual leadership.

  • The New Testament emphasizes the same need for moral purity among the leaders of the Lord’s people, whether elders (who are more comparable priests) (1 Tim 3:1–7), or deacons (who are more comparable to Levites (1 Tim 3:8–9, 12–13).

What are the Levites reminders of?

  • The Levites were substitutes for the firstborn Israelites. Since the Levites were dedicated to the Lord, it was a reminder that all the firstborn were as well.

  • Moreover, since the firstborn were representatives of all Israel, the Levites were a reminder that every Israelite was to be dedicated to the Lord. In particular, since firstborn sons in the ancient world would be representatives to their communities on behalf of their father, the Israelites were to be representatives to the world on behalf of the Lord.

  • In today’s context, spiritual leaders are to be a reminder to the rest of the Lord’s people of the dedication that we owe to the Lord and the way we are to serve as his representatives in this world.

  • The ultimate model of such dedication and service is the Lord Jesus; our call as believers is to follow his example in reverent and grateful love.

Numbers 9:1–14

Celebrating Redemption; When the Nations Join in Worship


Main Idea of the Passage

This passage describes the way in which the Israelites were to celebrate the Passover and what to do if they were unable to participate in the celebration at its regularly scheduled time. It emphasizes the importance of regularly celebrating the Lord’s redemption of his people, models the desire that believers should have for doing so, and stresses the Lord’s desire that those outside of his people come to express faith in him so they might also celebrate his redemption in their lives.


Main Points


Why was the Passover to be regularly celebrated?

  • The Passover celebrated the greatest act of deliverance in Israel’s history: the Lord rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt. By celebrating this regularly, the Israelites were not only giving due praise to God for his mighty deliverance but also strengthening their own faith by remembering the strong and saving nature of the God they served.

  • Several parallels suggest the Lord’s Supper functions like the Passover meal for believers today, and celebrating it regularly gives due praise to God for his mighty deliverance in Jesus and also strengthening their own faith by remembering the strong and saving nature of the God they serve.


What model do these Israelites provide?

  • Some Israelites were ritually impure at the time of the Passover and thus could not partake. Their response to the situation models two positive behaviors.

  • First, they treat this meal as holy and not to be eaten in an unworthy manner. This response forms another link between Passover and the Lord’s Supper since Christians are strongly warned not to partake “in an unworthy manner” (1 Cor 11:27).

  • Second, they model a proper desire to celebrate the Passover, so much so their case goes before the Supreme Court: the Lord himself (Num 9:7–8)! Christians may ask themselves if they have the same desire to celebrate God’s redemption in Christ.

Why have a law for non-Israelites?

  • The final law anticipates non-Israelites will come to believe in the Lord and embrace his covenant (9:14). This is in keeping with the Lord’s earlier promise to Abraham that through him “all peoples on earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). By requiring “the same regulations” for resident aliens as for native-born (Num 9:14), this passage encourages Israel to treat the nations in their midst with the same love and mercy they themselves have received from God.

  • Christians do well to ask whether they take a similar loving approach to those who do not yet follow Jesus. On the one hand, there are distinctions to be maintained. In Israel, non-Israelites could not partake of the Passover without having the covenant sign (circumcision), and today the Lord’s Supper is only for those who have had the covenant sign (baptism). And yet such distinctions must not detract Christians from demonstrating the same love to those outside the church that they themselves have received from God (cf. Tit 3:1–2 with 3:3–7). 

Numbers 9:15–10:10

The Lord Whose Presence Empowers Obedience; The Need for Skilled Musicians


Main Idea of the Passage

The Israelites are on the verge of breaking camp and departing for the promised land. The text now covers two items relevant to their imminent departure: the cloud of glory, which will lead them, and the silver trumpets, which are an auditory way of giving the camp more specific instructions as well as a means for priests to pray on Israel’s behalf. In doing so, we see that the proper response to the King of glory is bold obedience, that skilled musicians have a role in leading God’s people, that the Lord guides his people to the promised land of rest, and the Lord’s people need to acknowledge to the Lord their need of his help.


Main Points


What is the proper response to a King of glory?

  • The Lord’s appearance in glory in the midst of his people was to encourage their obedience and faithfulness. When the King of glory is with you, you have nothing to fear and can obey boldly.

  • The New Testament explains that Jesus appeared as the King of glory in the midst of Israel and teaches that he continues to be present with his people today as King. Because this King of glory is with us, we have nothing to fear and can obey boldly.

What does a trumpet sound do (part 1)?

  • Trumpet sounds were used in the ancient world to communicate messages to large groups of people.

  • In Israel, if this communication were to take place, it meant that the trumpet-blowing priests had to practice. This communicates an importance principle: from the beginning, skillful musicians have had a role in leading God’s people.

  • Moreover, the fact that the signals are sounded in this context only by priests (10:8), as the Lord’s servants, underscores he is using these signals to lead his people. The Lord is the one who leads his people to the promised land of rest. In the New Testament, Jesus picks up on this gathering trumpet call in a profound way when he speaks of the elect being assembled at the end time by means of a trumpet call (Matt 24:30–31), showing that the Lord is the one who leads his people to the promised land of eternal rest.

What does a trumpet sound do (part 2)?

  • The Bible uses the language of “remembrance” to refer to the Lord showing his people special favor as a way to show them that they are in the forefront of his thoughts. The trumpets were to be sounded as musical prayers requesting such remembrance, and the very making of such prayers was a way for Israel to acknowledge how much they, as the Lord’s weak and finite creatures, needed his power and favor and strength.

  • Today, the believer has equal need of such favor from the Lord and, just as the Israelites were to offer musical prayers asking for the Lord’s help, the believer today is to offer his or her prayers as a way to ask for his help. As Jesus teaches in a parable (Luke 18:1–8), they can do so with the certain knowledge that the Lord delights to show his children favor.

Numbers 10:11–36

The Lord Who Leads His People to a Land of Rest; When the Nations Enter the Lord’s Land of Rest


Main Idea of the Passage

In this passage, Israel finally departs for the promised land in battle formation, showing us what their camp will look like on the march. There is a strong focus on the Lord being with them and leading them. As a result, the passage teaches that the Lord’s presence means his people need not fear, that the Lord leads his people to places of rest, and the Lord calls his people to help the world enter into his rest.


Main Points


What keeps us from being afraid?

  • While the Israelites were facing many frightening unknowns as they marched towards a land filled with enemies, they had nothing to fear because the Lord himself was with them. The ark, which receives special focus as a symbol of God’s presence, is called “the ark of the covenant of the Lord,” a reminder that Israel’s covenant-keeping God was in their midst and would be faithful to his promises to bless and protect.

  • Psalm 68 looks back to this passage and elaborates on the fact that the Lord is a God who delivers his people and they therefore have nothing to fear.

Where does the Lord lead his people to?

  • In this passage, the ark seeks a “resting place” for the Lord’s people next stop, language that points to the far greater rest they will experience once in the promised land. As a principle, the Lord leads his people to a place of rest.

  • Other verses make clear what this “rest” involves: security, freedom from enemies, peace, a lack of fear and worry—all because the Lord is with his people as a shepherd is with his sheep.

  • As the story of the Bible moves on, the Lord provides his own son as a shepherd to give us soul-satisfying rest. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28–30). 

Who is this rest for?

  • Moses invites his non-Israelite brother-in-law, Hobab, to join the Israelites as they travel to the promised land. He thus Moses models that the Lord intends his people to share their covenant blessings with the world.

  • This is in direct keeping with the Lord’s original words to Israel’s forefather, Abraham: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).

  • It is also in keeping with the Lord’s call for Israel to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” since the role of priests is to help people to know, love, and worship God.

  • In the New Testament, followers of Jesus are called to step into this priestly role (1 Pet 2:9).

Numbers 11

Lamenting Versus Complaining; Complaining: A Burden to Leadership


Main Idea of the Passage

The book of Numbers now takes a tragic turn as the Israelites begin to rebel against the Lord and his leaders in various ways. This chapter tells the story of two different rebellions, the Lord’s judgment, and Moses’s intercession on Israel’s behalf. It teaches us through negative example what complaining is, makes clear the negative view the Lord takes of complaining, shows the ways that complaining impacts leaders, and contrasts Moses’s legitimate lamenting with the Israelites’ sinful complaining.


Main Points


What leads to complaining?

  • Complaining happens when we experience hardship while forgetting God’s goodness.

  • In these two stories, the Israelites not only forget all the good God has already done, they deny his goodness in general.

  • Little wonder that Paul so clearly exhorts Christians not to imitate Israel in these ways: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation’” (Phil 2:14–15a). Complaining does not bring us closer to God; it takes us further from him because it causes us to deny who he is.


How does God view complaining?

  • To complain is not simply to sin with our lips; it is to betray a relationship. For the Israelites, their complaining means they have abandoned their trust in the Lord and ultimately denied his very character.

  • The Lord’s anger here is not surprising; what is surprising is that he took so long to get angry! That he has not brought judgment sooner is a testimony to his long-suffering and patient nature.

  • The fact he does respond with anger, however, also warns about the dangers of betraying relationship with the Lord in this way.

How does complaining impact our leaders (and how should they respond)?

  • Even in the best of circumstances, the responsibilities that come with leadership can be a crushing weight. This weight grows exponentially when those being led grumble and complain, asking of the leader things he or she is incapable to give. No wonder the New Testament exhorts Christians to submit to our leaders’ authority in the church, recognizing the weight of their responsibility and responding to them in such a way “that their work will be a joy, not a burden” (Heb 13:17).

  • Moses models for leaders what to do when they feel the burden of their role: take it to the Lord and ask for his help (Num 11:11–15).

  • When his prayer is answered, and the Lord provides seventy other Spirit-anointed leaders to help bear the burden (11:24–27), Moses is not jealous others will now share in having authority; he is thrilled the Lord’s people have Spirit-anointed leaders over them—and wishes for more (11:29)! He shows the goal of leadership is not to be the main Spirit-led leader who receives all the glory, but for the people to be led by the Spirit so the Lord might be glorified. 

What’s the difference between complaining and lamenting?

  • While the Bible forbids complaining, it encourages lamenting, and Moses provides a good model here about how to do it (11:11–15).

  • The difference between lament and complaint is crucial. In lament, we still look to our loving King for help. In complaint, we deny his loving kingship.

  • Jesus himself lamented while on the cross. On the one hand, he expressed his pain honestly: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). He is quoting a lament Psalm (Ps 22:1), expressing great depth of feeling but still looking to God in his suffering. 

  • On the other hand, he affirmed his ongoing trust: “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). These words also come from a lament psalm (Ps 31:5), which is not surprising: lament psalms typically include strong affirmations the Lord can be trusted in the midst of our trials because he is good and hears our prayers.

  • The Lord’s character is therefore what ultimately keeps us from slipping into complaint.

Numbers 12

Bad Leaders, Good Leaders, Good Servants


Main Idea of the Passage

This marks the third of three complaint stories that began in chapter 11. The first two involve complaints against Moses by the people; this one involves complaints against him by fellow leaders (Miriam and Aaron). The Lord himself vindicates Moses and highlights his unique role as Israel’s prophetic leader. The chapter as a whole provides a study in what bad leaders look like, what good leaders look like, and what good servants look like.


Main Points


What do bad leaders look like?

  • Once we focus on honor and glory for ourselves we will be jealous and envious of anyone with whom we have to share these things. Miriam and Aaron show how real this temptation is for leaders in particular.

  • In the New Testament, the same negative example can be seen by some in Paul’s day who preached Christ out of envy and rivalry (Phil 1:15–17).


What do good leaders look like?

  • In the previous chapter, when others were given a special portion of the Lord’s Spirit to enable their leadership, Moses responds with deep thankfulness (11:29). He views his role ultimately as one of service to the Lord in order to bring him glory and honor, which is how leaders should view their roles.

  • The Scriptures repeatedly model and exhort such servant-leadership (e.g., 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 4:5). Paul models this in his own response to those who were preaching Christ out of their own envy: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice!” (Phil 1:18). 


What do good servants look like?

  • This story is not only about leading but also about how to respond to the Lord’s authority (cf. Deut 24:8–9).

  • On the one hand, this means we must submit ourselves to the authority of the Bible, which represents the very words of God.

  • On the other hand, this means we must submit ourselves to Jesus, the Word of God incarnate.

Numbers 13–14

The Importance of Obedience and our Hope after Disobedience; The Lord Who Forgives and Disciplines; Biblical Faith Versus Religion


Main Idea of the Passage

These chapters tell the story of the Israelites’ rebelling against the Lord and rejecting his covenant promises as well as the way in which Moses intercedes on their behalf in the face of the Lord’s coming judgment. As the story unfolds, we learn that obedience is motivated by faith in the Lord’s presence and faithfulness, that obedience is central to the life of faith, that in our disobedience we can turn back to the Lord with hope in his merciful forgiveness, and that religion ultimately looks to oneself for salvation while biblical faith looks only to the Lord.


Main Points


What motivates our obedience?

  • Ten of the spies lacked faith in God’s power and led the people to do the same, resulting in a desire to abandon the journey to the promised land and to return to slavery in Egypt.

  • Two of the spies had faith in God’s power and exhorted the people to march into the land boldly.

  • The contrast makes clear that obedience is not motivated by confidence in our abilities but by confidence in the Lord’s faithfulness and his presence with us. This in turn emboldens our obedience, especially when it is scary or costly.

  • The reality that Jesus is the King of kings and his promise to be with us “to the very end of the age” (Matt 20:20) is meant to give us courage to obey, especially when obedience is scary or costly.

Why does obedience matter?

  • There are at least three answers. First, we think of sin as simply breaking one of God’s rules, but the Bible portrays sin as much more than that: it is to personally despise the Lord (Num 14:11, 33).

  • Second, when we turn away from the living God, we turn away from the abundant and eternal life that he offers. The writer of Hebrews makes exactly this point, using the first generation of Israelites in Numbers as a negative example (Hebrews 3:1–12).

  • Finally, a lack of obedience can lead to the Lord’s discipline in our lives, which can be painful (Num 14:20–22; cf. Heb 12:11).


What hope do we have in our disobedience?

  • Moses’s prayer on behalf of the Israelites is driven by two different realities.

  • On the one hand, he prays for mercy on the Israelites in order to safeguard the Lord’s own reputation and glory. Moses has been captivated by the goodness and greatness of who the Lord is and cannot stand the thought that anyone would defame him instead of falling in praise before him. This is the motivation in prayer Jesus teaches us when he begins his model prayer with the word, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt 6:9).

  • On the other hand, Moses appeals to the Lord’s merciful love. The Lord had already revealed himself to Moses as a God full of mercy but as a God who also treats sin seriously (Exod 34:6–7). Moses acknowledges both but appeals in particular to the Lord’s merciful steadfast love. For Moses, deep hope for disobedient sinners can be found in the merciful love of God.

  • How much more so in Jesus! He is the clearest sign of the merciful and steadfast love of the Lord towards sinners.

How does the story end?

  • Unfortunately, the story of Numbers 13–14 ends with yet one more act of disobedience on the Israelites’ part. They acknowledge their sin but decide to try and take the land in their own strength (14:39–45). They have not understood that the Lord’s covenant promises are a gift of his grace, to be received through faith, instead of something they can earn on their own.

  • That is the difference between human religion and biblical faith. Human religion teaches you to acknowledge your sin but to be the one who makes up for it to save yourself; biblical faith teaches you to acknowledge your sin and cast yourself on Jesus as the only one who can save you.

Numbers 15

The Lord Who Pours Forth Grace; The Gift of Grace and the Dangers of Sin; The Lord’s People: Priests to the Nations


Main Idea of the Passage

Coming right after the Israelites’ rebellion in chapter 14, this chapter is a showcase of the Lord’s grace, whether by affirming the promise of the promised land and continued worship to the next generation (15:2–16), assuring that the Israelites’ needs would be met there (15:17–21), providing sacrificial atonement for forgiveness (15:22–29), or underscoring the Lord is a redeeming God (15:41). In the chapter’s midst, however, there is also a strong warning against the dangers of apostate sin (15:30:36). As a result, the chapter shows us how the Lord demonstrates his grace, shows us how to respond to it properly, warns us that his grace does not make sin safe, and reminds us of our gracious calling to be the Lord’s priestly kingdom.



Main Points


How does the Lord demonstrate his grace?

  • In this chapter, the Lord demonstrates grace in at least four different ways (see Main Idea above), all of which make clear he will continue to show his faithfulness and love not simply by staying in relationship with the Israelites but also by taking care of their deepest needs.


What is the proper response to grace?

  • Responding properly to such grace takes on different forms. In our response of worship, we will want to do so exactly as he commands (cf. 15:1–16). In the ancient world, as in the modern, there was a certain protocol to follow when coming into a king’s presence (cf. Esther 5:1–2), and following it showed the king respect.

  • In our response of giving (cf. 15:17–21), we will want to do so by giving our best and doing so cheerfully because our hearts are overflowing with deep thankfulness for all the Lord has given us.

Why does grace not make sin safe?

  • The Lord is very gracious but this does not mean it is safe to sin. The warning about sacrificial atonement not being available for “defiant” sin—what might also be called “apostate” sin”—makes this clear (15:30–31).

  • Three further points of clarification may be made. First, in between unintentional sin and defiant sin is a third category: intentional but not defiant sin. What qualifies for this type of sin is debated but the fact that it is not mentioned in this chapter shows how dangerous it is; we should never sin intentionally.

  • Second, forgiveness for defiant sin is possible, not by means of an individual bringing a sacrifice, but by means of a mediator (like Moses) interceding on someone’s behalf. If forgiveness was granted, there could still be severe discipline.

  • Third, Jesus’s sacrifice is so great that it can atone for any category of sin, and yet the New Testament still repeats dire warnings against committing defiant sin. Why? Because if we reject him, we have rejected our only hope of forgiveness.

What has the Lord graciously called us to be?

  • The Lord commands the Israelites to wear tassels as a visual reminder that they are a kingdom of priests, serving the heavenly King, and must be careful to follow his commands.

  • On the one hand, this reminder would help protect them from “prostituting [themselves] by chasing after the lusts of [their] own hearts and eyes” (Num 15:39). 

  • On the other hand, this reminder would them to follow the Lord’s commands so that their obedience would show that they indeed belonged to him.

  • The Lord underscores this relationship by closing the chapter with the words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be to you for a God” (15:41a). This is similar to language elsewhere to describe adoption and marriage; it is highly relational and emphasizes the Lord’s real desire for us: not punishment, but relationship.

Numbers 16

The Lord Who Judges and Vindicates; Leadership: Rebuking and Interceding


Main Idea of the Passage

Numbers 16 contains two stories that are different in the details but the same in displaying not only our human stubbornness to commit evil but also the Lord’s opposition to evil and thus our need for someone to stand in the gap on our behalf to seek the Lord’s mercy. In particular, this chapter shows: how sinning against others is rooted in envy, bitterness, and in refusing to acknowledge our own sin; how the Lord responds with judgment for sin and vindication of his servants; how godly leaders rebuke the sin of others (especially of other leaders) and look to the Lord for vindication; how the triggers of the past and putting family ahead of God can lead to further sin; and how godly leaders respond by interceding for others, even others who have sinned against them.


Main Points

What is the problem?

  • The first story begins with a rebellion whose major characters are Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. All three are rebelling against the leadership the Lord has established but they fall into two different camps in terms of why they are rebelling.

  • In the first camp is Korah, who, despite the privileges he had at the tabernacle as a Levite, was envious of the extra privileges given to priests at the tabernacle. His heart was not motivated by a desire to serve but by a desire for power and prestige.

  • In the second camp are Dathan and Abiram, who are not fueled by a desire for the priesthood as much as by the bitterness of not receiving the promised land and by the humiliation (so they thought) of submitting to Moses’s leadership. Underlying this was a refusal to acknowledge their own sin and its consequences.


How does the Lord respond?

  • Especially for the sake of Moses and Aaron, the Lord responds with a test and two vindicating judgments.

  • The test was to offer incense, which only priests could do. The Lord would use this as a way to show who were truly his priests and who was appointed to lead his people. He would make this clear by two different judgments.

  • In the first, Dathan, Abiram and their families are swallowed up by the earth, making clear to all that Moses was Israel’s leader. (The commentary goes on to discuss the apologetic questions that come up with regard to this story.)

  • In the second, fire from the Lord breaks out and consumes the 250 men at the tabernacle who are presenting incense, making clear that Aaron is the Lord’s chosen priestly representative.

  • The stories are sobering but also an encouragement to leaders that the Lord watches over them and will vindicate them.


How does Moses respond?

  • First, he does not hesitate to rebuke sin, especially of the leaders. Similar rebukes of leaders can be found in the New Testament, whether from Jesus himself (Matthew 23; Mark 7:6–13) or from Paul (Gal 2:11–14; 2 Tim 2:17–19; see also 1 Tim 5:20). Sometimes godliness means we “overlook a transgression” (Prov 19:11), but sometimes godliness means we rebuke sinful behavior, especially on the part of leaders.

  • Second, Moses looks to the Lord for vindication (16:5). A natural reflex to slander is to take matters into our own hands; the godly reflex is to look first to the Lord for vindication and help.

How do the people respond?

  • Whereas Moses looks to the Lord to bring about justice, the people refuse to accept the Lord’s justice. Why?

  • On the one hand, their experience of unjust leadership in Egypt could have influenced the way they viewed leadership under Moses.

  • On the other hand, it is a natural human tendency to defend those we love, even when they are in the wrong. But the Bible is clear that we must not put human loyalties above loyalty to God (see Luke 14:26). Our commitment to Jesus is to utterly eclipse any human loyalty we might have. God always comes first.

How does the story end?

  • Since the people are repeating the rebellion of the leaders who had just been judged, it is not surprising that the Lord’s judgment comes again (the plague).

  • Despite the fact that Moses and Aaron are the ones they sinned against, it is Moses and Aaron who intercede on the people’s behalf, choosing to overlook these wrongs for the sake of seeking the Lord’s mercy and love for a sinful people. Aaron’s intercession in particular is highlighted here, performing atonement on the people’s behalf.

  • The Bible says this is precisely what Jesus does for us, though in a far greater way and on a far deeper level.

Numbers 17:1–18:7

The Weighty Role of Spiritual Leadership; The Gospel: An Open Invitation


Main Idea of the Passage

Coming after the rebellions and judgments of Numbers 16, the Lord now intervenes with a final miraculous sign—perhaps to head off a third rebellion (and judgment)!—to verify that only Aaron and his family can serve as tabernacle priests (17:1–11). The people are convinced and swing to the opposite extreme, now fearing to have God’s tabernacle in their midst lest they die like their rebellious countrymen (17:12–13)! The Lord reassures them they need not fear—as long as the Israelites, Levites, and priests all stick to their God-ordained roles (18:1–7). This section of Scripture therefore emphasizes that God does want us to know him, that we must come to him on his terms and not our own, and that the responsibilities of spiritual leadership call for diligence on the part of leaders and encouragement from those that follow them.


Main Points

Does God want us to know him?

  • In view of the judgments of chapter 16, and the further sign in chapter 17 that only Aaron’s family can serve as priests, the Israelites conclude they can’t draw near to God at all.

  • But the issue was not that God was unknowable or unapproachable; the issue is that he must be approached on his terms, not our own (the very point that Korah and his followers missed in the previous chapter).

  • The very reason the Lord provided priests was so that they could draw near to him and have people to intercede on their behalf. In his grace and love, he makes a way for a sinful people to know him, draw near to him, and experience his joy and love.

  • The parallels to Jesus as our great high priest are clear. He is the final high priest who atones for our sin, intercedes on our behalf before God, and leads us into God’s presence so that we might know and worship him (Heb 4:14–16; 7:25; 10:19–23). He is the God-appointed way—the only God-appointed way (John 14:6)—for us to know and draw close to God. 


Spiritual leadership: how hard can it be?

  • As any airline pilot knows, there are tremendous responsibilities that come with leadership roles. The same was true for priests and Levites: if they are not faithful in their work, the results could be lethal since they were responsible for guarding the Lord’s holy home from treasonous acts of disrespect.

  • This reminds us of the weight that spiritual leaders bear, a weight well described in the book of Hebrews: “[your leaders] are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb 13:17).

  • This calls for leaders to be diligent in their duties and faithful in their calling, all the while reminded that the Lord loves to help them do so as they cry out to him for help. It also calls for church members to encourage and submit to their leaders who bear such a weighty responsibility “so that their work will be a joy, not a burden” (Heb 13:17).

Numbers 18:8–32

Giving Back to the One Who Meets Our Deepest Needs


Main Idea of the Passage

Because priests’ and Levites’ duties were focused here, and because they were not given large tracts of land like the other tribes (see at 18:20), a question arises: How will their material needs be met? The remainder of this chapter explains how the Lord would do so, especially through the Israelites’ gifts to the tabernacle. As a result, this chapter teaches us about what we proclaim when we give to the Lord’s work, why giving is important for his work to continue, and how those who depend on our gifts are a reminder of how the Lord (and not material things) is truly our ultimate good in life.



Main Points


What do we learn about giving to the Lord?

  • When the Israelites gave their firstfruits to the Lord, they were expressing thankfulness for God’s faithful provision, stating that the Lord was worthy of their greatest honor, and demonstrating faith that the Lord would provide so that their own needs would be met.

  • When Christians give today to support the work of Christ’s church, they are doing these very same things. They can do so with a joy that comes from thankfulness for his goodness and trust in his provision.


What do we learn about giving to his servants?

  • A key theme of these verses is that the Lord’s people must provide for their spiritual leaders’ needs. As the Israelites faithfully gave their gifts to the Lord for his servants, it not only reminded the priests and Levites of the Lord’s generous provision, it also enabled them to focus serving at his tabernacle and thus allowed the Lord’s worship to continue.

  • For these same reasons, congregations today do well to consider if they are providing adequately for their leaders’ material needs.

What do we learn from the Lord’s provision for his servants?

  • By telling the priests and Levites that instead of having large tracts of land they will have the Lord as their portion and inheritance (18:20), the Lord is affirming that he will provide for their needs as his servants. 

  • But this verse also points to life’s ultimate goal and good: relationship with the Lord. Because he was their portion (and not the land, as for other Israelites), the Lord would use the priests and Levites as a reminder to the Israelites that their ultimate good was not the land but the Lord.

  • Later Israelites understood this and used the language of “portion” to describe the Lord as their ultimate good and ultimate source of hope and strength (Ps 16:5; 73:26; 142:5; Lam 3:4).

  • For the believer today, our potion is found in Jesus, through whom we experience our ultimate good and source of hope and strength, and he will supply all our needs. “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matt 19:29). The Lord indeed loves to provide for his servants!

Numbers 19

Being Cleansed


Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter describes the ritual impurity that comes from corpses and how to cleanse oneself from it. In underscoring how important ritual cleansing is and how freely and graciously the Lord made it available, the chapter reminds us how important moral cleansing is and how freely and graciously the Lord makes it available in Jesus.



Main Points


What is ritual impurity anyway?

  • Ritual states can be likened to how the state of a person’s health might impact where they can go at a hospital and what they can do there. A healthy person can enter a hospital and hold a newborn baby; someone with a bad cold cannot. Your state of health determines where you can go and what you can do. Similarly, a ritual state determines where someone could go and what they could do ritually.

  • One purpose of laws involving ritual states was to remind the Israelites of moral realities, especially of the need to avoid moral defilement and to seek moral purity.


Why are dead bodies ritually defiling?

  • At the end of the day, we are not told why a corpse was ritually defiling.

  • This reminds us that when reading Numbers, we are not always aware of the rationale behind a certain law but we can usually discern the law’s purpose. In this case, though we do not know why a corpse was ritually defiling we can see that the purpose of the laws in this chapter was to help the Israelites become ritually pure.


How does cleansing happen?

  • At the ritual level, cleansing happens by means of the waters of purification, which enabled the Israelites to experience the benefits of a purification offering without having to go through the steep cost of every family member bringing a sacrificial animal. The Lord not only provides cleansing for the community, he provides it freely.

  • When we remember that the laws about ritual states were reminders about moral realities, we are able to see that Numbers 19 is a profound reminder to us of our need of the Lord to cleanse us, not ritually but morally.

  • In the Old Testament, this is already seen in the way that cleansing language is used in the context of sin (Ps 51:7).

  • In the New Testament, the author of Hebrews alludes to Numbers 19 in describing the cleansing God accomplishes through Jesus and underscores that it is profoundly moral: “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (9:13–14).


These laws emphasize the importance of seeking moral purity and dealing properly with moral impurity in our sex lives  


  • By encouraging the Israelites to seek ritual purity with regard to their sexual organs, the Lord reminds them to do the same at the moral level. Practically speaking, this meant seeking to honor the Lord in their sex lives by avoiding sexual immorality.

  • Because our bodies belong to the Lord, we must respect them as holy, one application of which is sexual purity. The New Testament in fact exhorts believers towards sexual purity in light of the fact that our very bodies are tabernacles of the living God (1 Cor 6:18–20).

  • It is important to remember that the Lord provides cleansing for impurity in all its forms, meaning that even when we sin sexually, it is not beyond the cleansing power made available in Jesus, whose blood “purifies us from allunrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Numbers 20

The Lord’s Discipline of Leaders


Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter tells the story of why Moses and Aaron were forbidden from entering the promised land. In doing so it highlights the severity of their sin, reminds us of the stricter judgment that leaders face, and provides a contrast between Aaron as a sinful and mortal high priest with Jesus as righteous and eternal high priest.



Main Points


Isn’t the “rebellion” of Moses and Aaron understandable?

  • At first glance, the punishment Moses and Aaron receive in this story far exceeds their crime: no entry into the promised land because of one angry outburst? This seems especially severe in light of how much Moses and Aaron have put up with from the Israelites over the years.

  • What is more, other passages make clear the people share in the blame (Deut 1:37; 3:26; 42; Ps 106:32–33).


Why is the punishment so severe?

  • The answer to the question has two complementary parts. To begin, the punishment is not because of Moses’ anger but what he did in that anger. In this case, Moses not only directly disobeyed God in front of all the people, he also put himself and Aaron in God’s place, making themselves out to be the people’s savior: “Must we bring you water out of this rock?” (20:10). If we can imagine the blasphemy of a pastor celebrating communion in his own name, claiming that the bread and wine represent his body instead of Jesus’ body, we are beginning to understand the severity of what Moses is doing here (and Aaron along with him). 

  • The second reason for the punishment’s severity is related to the fact Moses and Aaron are leaders. The Scriptures emphasize that leaders of the Lord’s people will be held to higher account (cf. James 3:1).

  • We may further note that Aaron is also involved in the sin, showing us he is a high priest who is both sinful and mortal. This stands in strong contract to Jesus, perfect righteous and immortal and who “always lives to intercede” for those who come to God through him (Hebrews 7:23–25).

Numbers 21:1–22:1

The Lord Who Fights Our Battles and Delivers Us From Evil; Judgment and Deliverance


Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter brings the Israelites to the plains of Moab (21:10–20; 22:1), where they will stay until entering the Promised Land in the book of Joshua. Along the way, we see two instances of the Israelites trusting in the Lord and winning battles against various enemies (21:1–3, 21–35) and another instance of their rebelling against the Lord and his leaders and experiencing his judgment and then deliverance (21:4–9). Taken together, these stories teach us that victory in battle comes from the Lord, that the Lord brings his judgment to bear against evil, and that the Lord provides a way to be delivered from such judgment.



Main Points


Where does victory in battle come from?

  • Two stories show us the Israelites believing the Lord would rescue them in battle and the Lord doing so.

  • Later biblical writers celebrate these chapters’ victories as amazing displays of the Lord’s saving power (Pss 135:11–12; 136:18–22). In doing so, they remind us that the Lord is the one who fights for his people and thus to fix our eyes on him and not the size of the problem confronting us.


Why such severe destruction?

  • In reading the Lord’s call for Israel to totally destroy a people, three questions are important.

  • First, what does the Hebrew term for “totally destroy” (hāram) mean? Giving someone or something irrevocably to the Lord (see NIV text note), which in a war context meant death or destruction.


How can we avoid such judgment?

  • In response to yet another instance of the Israelites railing against the Lord and his leaders, the Lord sends venomous snakes into their midst (21:4–9), and the Lord directs that a bronze serpent be made and placed on a pole so that those who looked at it might live.

  • This solution had two immediate advantages. First, placing the serpent on a pole was the quickest way to make available a public “visual antidote.” And because this came at the Lord’s direction, it signaled that the healing came from him. Second, the bronze serpent could serve as a physical reminder of warning to future generations, like the bronze censers of Korah’s faithless followers (16:36–40) or like Aaron’s staff (17:10).

  • A longer term advantage was that this event could serve as an illustration of what the Lord’s son would one day do: be lifted up himself on a pole so that those who looked to him with faith would be saved (see John 3:14–15, where Jesus refers to this story).

  • This also leads to the final point to make about the Lord’s judgment: he takes it on himself. Our sin deserves God’s judgment (Rom 6:23), but God in his love takes this judgment upon himself in Jesus Christ (Rom 5:8). Jesus allowed himself to be devoted to destruction in our place so that through faith in him we might live. What God’s justice demands, his love has provided.

Numbers 22:2–40

The Lord Who Blesses is the Sovereign Lord; Blessing and Submission; The Love of Money and Its Dangers


Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter introduces us to the character of Balaam, who Balak wants to hire in order to curse the Israelites. As the story unfolds, we are reminded that God’s posture toward his people is one of blessing, that love of money can lead to all manner of evil, and that only the Lord has the final say about spiritual realities (and therefore about how we live our lives). 



Main Points

What is God’s posture toward his people?

  • In the ancient world, the threat of being cursed was something to be feared. But Balak’s desire to hire Balaam to curse Israel should not have caused Israel to fear as long as they remembered the Lord’s words to their forefather, Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse” (Gen 12:3a). 

  • The Lord’s words to Abraham illustrate the larger point: God’s posture toward his people is one of blessing, as several verses at key points in the biblical story makes clear (Gen 1:28; 12:3; Num 6:24).

  • Today, God’s blessing on Abraham has spread to all peoples who believe in Abraham’s ultimate descendant, Jesus (Gal 3:14). In Jesus, God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:3). In short, God leans toward his children with blessing in his eyes and love in his arms. Even his discipline is a sign of his love (Heb 12:5–6).


What is at the root of Balaam’s wrong?

  • A careful reading of this chapter shows that it highlights Balaam’s temptation to commit evil for the sake of financial gain, something the New Testament authors also pick up on (2 Pet 2:15; Jude 1:11).

  • Not surprisingly, many of the Lord’s laws warn people about the evils that come because of a love of money (Lev 19:13, 35; Deut 16:19). Jesus put the matter very plainly (Matt 6:24; Mark 8:36).


Who has the final say about spiritual realities?

  • Balak thinks that existing spiritual powers can be controlled by human activity; this story emphasizes that is not the case.

  • On the one hand, it uses piercing irony to show that when it comes to spiritual realities, one of the most respected pagan spiritual leaders of the day is dumber than his donkey.

  • On the other hand, it underscores that the Lord is not subject to the whims of any person, no matter what their spiritual standing in the world’s eyes. All are subject to his sovereign power and will (22:20, 35).

  • The Israelites need to learn this as they have already shown places where they thought they could impose their will on the Lord’s (Num 14:39–45; 16:1–35). We repeat this mistake when we let the Bible inform part of our beliefs but not all of them. When we do so, we are putting ourselves in the place of God, saying that his will must ultimately conform to our own.

  • The Gospel calls us to die to ourselves as we submit to his loving lordship over all of our lives. As Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Numbers 22:41–24:25

The Lord Who Blesses and His King of Blessing; The Love of Money and Its Dangers


Main Idea of the Passage

God’s intent to bring this blessing to bear on Israel is underscored in Numbers 23–24 when the words of Balaam—a pagan diviner hired to curse Israel!—make use of the Genesis promises to describe Israel’s present and future reality. As the story unfolds, it warns against the dangers of greed and of opposing the Lord, encourages that God desires to bless his people and all creation, and looks forward to a coming king through whom God would bless the world.



Main Points

How is this story a warning?

  • The first warning is the character of Balaam, who obviously learns many true things about God but who, later in Numbers, ultimately rebels against the Lord because of his greedy desires. He shows that knowing God’s truth is not guarantee of relationship with God; living faith is required.

  • The second warning of this story is the character of Balak, who opposes the ones whom God has blessed. To oppose those whom God has blessed in his fatherly love and care is to invite his protective anger. This happens today when anyone attacks the followers of Jesus (Rev 6:12–17; 11:1–14; 16:4–7; 18:19–19:2). The surest way to quick judgment is to curse those whom God has blessed, for in doing so we incite the wrath of their heavenly Father. 


How is this story an encouragement?

  • Repeatedly in Balaam’s oracles it becomes clear that God has not cursed his people but blessed them and would continue to do so.

  • This blessing was never an end in itself. From the very beginning, God’s intent in blessing Israel was so that through them “all peoples on earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). As the biblical story moves forward, this blessing is made available in the most remarkable way in Abraham’s ultimate descendant, Jesus (Gal 3:8, 16).

  • In short, God’s first wish is for all peoples to experience his blessing, a blessing that now finds its fulfillment in the joy of knowing our Maker and Redeemer through Christ. Blessing and relationship are thus at the heart of who God is.


Where is this story headed?

  • In Balaam’s fourth oracle he speaks of a coming king (24:17). The oracle goes on to describe how this king will defeat Israel’s enemies and will find its initial fulfillment several centuries later in King David.

  • Its ultimate fulfillment, however, is found in Jesus, who is great David’s far greater son.

  • In Jesus, all the warnings and encouragement of this story come together. In terms of warnings: to put other priorities ahead of him is to forfeit our souls. To fight against him is to fight against God.

  • In terms of encouragement, God’s desire is not to battle us but to save us. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). He desires our blessing and makes it freely available to us in Jesus.

Numbers 25

Sin: A Betrayal Against the Lord and His World; How Sin Disrupts our Calling


Main Idea of the Passage

In this chapter, Israel once more practices idolatry. Their first fateful step towards it begins with sexual immorality, which becomes a sad metaphor for the spiritual adultery they then commit against the Lord. In reading this story, we see the serious nature of the sins of sexual immorality and idolatry, are shown that sin is treason against God and a betrayal against his world, and are reminded that the Lord in his love has provided atonement for our sin through Jesus taking on himself the punishment our sins deserved.



Main Points

What is at the heart of the problem?

  • There are two sins here. The first is sexual immorality, in this case, by intermingling with those worshipping other gods (Num 25:1). It leads to the second: idolatry (25:2).

  • Idolatry was not a minor sin. For the Israelites to worship other gods was an adulterous betrayal against their true covenant partner, the Lord. We tend to think of sin as breaking a rule; the Bible thinks of it as betraying a relationship.


Why is the punishment so severe?

  • The question can be answered in two complementary ways. The first is related to the seriousness of the wrong against God. Israel’s unfaithfulness is an act of treason as well as a betrayal of love. They have spit in the face of their great King and faithful husband at the same time.

  • The second is that Israel is also sinning against God’s world. God had called them to be a kingdom of priests in the world, in this way helping the world to know, love, and worship God. By turning away from the Lord they were turning away from this calling and thus closing off the channel of God’s blessing for his world—and God does not take that lightly.

  • Jesus emphasized the same for the believer today (John 15:1–2, 8). The Lord’s severe discipline is often the other side of the coin to his extravagant love for his world.


How far does the Lord’s love go?

  • Those leading in the sin of idolatry were to have their corpses exposed, that is, hung up or impaled on a tree, a sign of God’s cursing on the person.  In Numbers 25, such an execution was meant to turn away God’s wrath by bringing appropriate justice to bear on the guilty. In Jesus’ case, however, it turned God’s wrath away by means of the innocent bearing justice on the guilty’s behalf. Similarly, Phinehas acted faithfully as a priest by atoning for Israel’s sin by slaying the guilty; Jesus acted faithfully as a priest by atoning for our sin by allowing himself to be slain.

  • This story thus serves as a strong warning to cling to the Lord in faithful love and also points forward to the ministry of a great high priest who would become the most unbelievably good display of the Lord’s love. Putting the Lord first is thus not something we do unwillingly or regretfully; rather, it becomes the most natural response in the world to such an extravagant love.

Numbers 26

The Lord’s Faithfulness in Judgment and Blessing


Main Idea of the Passage

This second part could be entitled, “The Second Generation: A New Start for Israel on the Cusp of Entering the Promised Land.” Just as the story of the first generation of Israelites began with censuses (1–4) and then further preparations for marching into the promised land (5:1–10:10), so the story of the second generation of Israelites also starts with a census (26) and then further preparations for marching into the promised land (27–36). This chapter describes the taking of the census and serves as a reminder that God’s faithfulness to his promises is both a warning (he will be faithful to bring judgment to bear against sin) and an encouragement (he will be faithful to bring about his covenant promises for his faithful children).


Main Points


How is God’s faithfulness to his promises a warning?

  • This chapter concludes by noting that with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, none of those counted in the first census were counted in the second (26:63–64). The Lord had promised to bring his justice to bear on the disobedient (14:29–30), and he was faithful to his word.

  • Further, this chapter has three other references to the Lord’s judgment coming on the disobedient, each serving as a warning: the Lord is indeed compassionate and gracious and forgiving of sin but he “does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exod 34:7).

  • In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews looks back on the first generation of Israelites as a special warning to us today not to reject the Lord (Hebrews 3–4). Unlike the Israelites, we must avoid sin at all costs and never treat it lightly.


How is God’s faithfulness to his promises an encouragement?

  • Another census is needed because the Israelites will soon enter the land, meaning they need to know their numbers for purposes of war (26:2) and for dividing up the land fairly among themselves (26:52–54). The census was an encouragement that the Lord’s long-awaited promise of the land would shortly come to pass.

  • The chapter’s final words also focused on Caleb and Joshua (26:63–65), the two faithful spies, who would receive the land the Lord had promised them (14:24, 30). The chapter thus finishes on a note of God’s faithfulness to fulfill his covenant promises for his faithful covenant children.

  • If we ask why Caleb and Joshua were faithful, the answer is that they believed the Lord was faithful to keep his promises (14:7–8). This shows that our obedience is not rooted in our strength but in God’s faithful character, a faithfulness that is all the more clear today because of what we have seen the Lord do in sending Jesus.

Numbers 27

The Leader as Shepherd; The Lord’s Word Versus Cultural Values


Main Idea of the Passage

Both stories in this chapter look forward to life in the promised land. Zelophehad’s daughters want to ensure they inherit property there (27:1–11) and Moses wants to ensure there is someone to lead Israel there (27:12–23). Taken together, the stories teach us to trust in the Lord’s faithfulness and to let his word be the standard against which cultural practices are measured, remind us that biblical leadership is often compared to the role of a shepherd who protects and cares for the flock, and exhort biblical leaders to seek the Lord’s guidance and direction as they lead his people.



Main Points


What do we learn from Zelophehad’s daughters about faith?

  • Generally speaking, Zelophehad’s daughters model trust in the Lord’s faithfulness. They make their request because they believe that God’s promise to grant Israel the land will happen soon (27:3–4).

  • More specifically speaking, Zelophehad’s daughters model a faith that seeks the Lord and his word to address injustice. In their case, the injustice they experienced was rooted in cultural practices among God’s people and they looked for a word from the Lord to address it.

  • In church history, the opposite has often happened: culture is not challenged in light of God’s Word but the teaching of God’s Word is challenged (or ignored!) in light of cultural concerns. We face an ongoing danger of enshrining certain cultural values and never letting God’s Word speak to them.


What do we learn from Moses about leadership?

  • Moses’s action in this story model that a good leader is like a good shepherd who cares earnestly for the flock and protects them.

  • This metaphor for leadership occurs frequently in the Old Testament for human leaders     (2 Sam 5:2; Ps 78:70–71; Jer 3:15; Ezek 34:2–10), and in the Old and New Testaments for the Lord himself (Ps 23:1; Ps 78:52; Isa 40:11; John 10:11, 14).

  • We do well to ask if we think of leadership in the church foremost in terms of protection and care (and not in terms of prestige or power).

What is the key to being a good shepherd?

  • When the Lord identifies Joshua as Israel’s next leader, he makes clear that Joshua must follow the Lord’s lead (27:21). Seeking the Lord’s guidance and direction is what marks good shepherds since they recognize they are under-shepherds to the ultimate Good Shepherd (cf. 1 Pet 5:2–4).

Numbers 28–29

Celebrating the Lord’s Character and Deeds


Main Idea of the Passage

These chapters describe the religious days and festivals that the Israelites were to celebrate regularly as a community. In doing so, they remind us of the importance of regular, communal celebrations of the Lord’s character and deeds, teach the lavish celebration that the Lord’s character and deeds calls for, and point forward to Jesus’s character and deeds and the importance of regularly celebrating them.



Main Points


Why have so much detail on religious rituals?

  • While moderns can sometimes view rituals as primitive magic, the Israelites were to view rituals as enacted prayers: a way of saying with the body and with ceremony what the heart felt or needed, whether that be the Lord’s help or giving the Lord praise.

  • Israelites also had to be aware not to let rituals become impersonal, meaningless ceremony; they were to be performed with hearts full of love and faith.

  • These particular rituals would ensure that the Israelites were regularly bringing offerings that underscored the Lord was worthy of their worship and that they depended on him for forgiveness and favor.

  • The fact that these rituals were to be done regularly throughout the year meant they would serve as constant reminders of who the Lord is and the importance of staying close to him.

  • Throughout the history of the church, a religious calendar has developed that can help Christians today also to remember who the Lord is and the importance of staying close to him.


How were these special days and celebrations to be observed?

  • They were not only to be observed regularly and just as the Lord commanded but also communally and in some cases lavishly.

  • The communal nature of these special days was a reminder to the Israelites that they were a covenant family who was to worship and serve the Lord together. Similarly, the New Testament exhorts believers to gather regularly in the context of a local church (Heb 10:24–25), worshipping and serving the Lord together with them.

  • The lavish nature of some of these celebrations is especially clear with the Festival of Tabernacles, celebrated at the harvest’s conclusion (29:12–38). This festival was not only to remind the Israelites of the Lord’s deliverance and provision but also to celebrate these things lavishly. The Lord provides good gifts and invites us to partake of them and to celebrate them with gusto because these are the good gifts of our father.

How do these special days and celebrations prepare us for Jesus?

  • These special days and celebrations foreshadowed deeper realities that came about in Jesus (Col 2:16–17). This becomes especially clear with the Passover (Num 28:16–25) and the Day of Atonement (29:7–11).

  • The New Testament use the Passover to explain Jesus’s death (Matt. 26:17; 27:15–26) and describe him as “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7), both of which are appropriate since Jesus’s sacrifice delivers us from judgment and leads us out of slavery into relationship with God. During the communion meal, Christians remember and proclaim, “Jesus, you are the mighty Savior, the sacrificial lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (cf. Isa. 53:5–12; John 1:29).

  • The New Testament also uses the Day of Atonement to illustrate how Jesus is the great High Priest who cleanses our sin (Heb 9:7, 12; 9:24–10:10; 10:19–22) and who, like the scapegoat, bears our sin so that we do not have to (1 Pet 2:24).

  • By the end of these two chapters, Christians do well to ask how they might regularly remember and celebrate who the Lord is and what he has done on their behalf, how they might do so in community, and how they might do so lavishly and with sincere hearts of faith.

Numbers 30

Costly Obedience


Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter describes rules surrounding vows and oaths, which in this context refer to promises to give the Lord something (vows) or promises to abstain from something (oaths). The chapter underscores that vows and oaths must be kept, even if costly. Other passages will make clear that Christians can still take vows and oaths and that there are certain circumstances where vows or oaths may be modified or annulled.



Main Points


What’s the point if you’re an Israelite?

  • The basic principle of this chapter is that vows and oaths to the Lord must be kept, even if costly. A later text describes doing so as a mark of the godly person (Ps 15:4).

  • While vows and oaths are not as common among believers today, the underlying principle remains: our commitment to follow Jesus must be kept, no matter the cost. To modify the language of Psalm 15:4, a Christian is to be a person who “maintains obedience to Christ even when it hurts, and does not change their mind.” True love and honor is shown most clearly with costly obedience, and Jesus is worthy of all the love and honor we could possibly give.


Can we still make oaths and vows?

  • In this passage, vows are promises to God to give him something in response to answered prayer and oaths are promises to God to deny oneself in some way, such as fasting, often for the purpose of focused prayer.

  • The New Testament does not forbid these types of vows or oaths forbidden (though other types of oaths are forbidden [Matt 5:33–37; Jas 5:12). Christians may therefore make vows and oaths today, and the most familiar example of the former are wedding vows, though Christians might make vows or oaths in other contexts.

  • But in the Bible, vows and oaths are always voluntary and we should remember the Bible’s own warning: “It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it” (Eccl 5:5). We must take this warning very seriously; promises to God must be fulfilled.


Are there any other cases when a vow or oath may be nullified?

  • Two other passages are helpful in filling out the picture of this chapter and of answering the question of whether there are cases when a vow or oath may be nullified.

  • The first is Lev 27:2–8, which teaches that there were certain cases in which a person could make a substitute for something they had vowed as long as they do so under the direction and oversight of spiritual authority. As applied today, these verses would suggest those in spiritual authority in the person’s local church would be those in a position to help someone determine if their vow was unrealistic or overly costly, and if so, what they might substitute instead.

  • The second passage is 1 Samuel 14, where Saul made a foolish oath. In this case, the people of God collectively were able to annul the previous oath with one of their own, and did so because they recognized that what Saul had sworn was not simply foolish but unpleasing to God and unjust. Once again, the person making the oath was not making the decision; the covenant community as a whole weighed in and decided the oath should be annulled.

  • On the one hand, the spiritual authorities or covenant community as a whole can help so that we do not wrongly label a promise as too costly (so that we can get out of it). On the other hand, they can help us not to carry through with promises that are indeed impossible or unwise. Through it all, our deepest desire should be to honor our commitments to the Lord—even when it hurts—because we long to honor him as the one worthy of our worship and praise.

Numbers 31:1–24

Being Ready for Judgment


Main Idea of the Passage

This passage tells the story of the Israelites battle against the Midianites and the subsequent cleansing rites required. In doing so, it warns that the Lord will bring judgment to bear against sin and reminds us to deal properly with moral impurity as a sign of reverence for the holy Lord.



Main Points


How is this story a warning?

  • While God’s ultimate vision for this world is one of peace, war will sometimes be necessary in a fallen world for the sake of self-defense or of justice.

  • In this chapter, the Lord calls his people into battle in order to execute his justice. Earlier, he had brought justice to bear against his own people for their sin with the Midianites (Numbers 25). Now he brings it to bear against the Midianites for leading his people into sin. (See also comments at Numbers 21:1–22:1, “Why Such Severe Destruction?”) This stands as a warning, even today, that God’s judgment against sin will come and we must be ready for it. 

  • Jesus makes just this point in Matt 24:37–51 when he speaks of the need to be ready for the day he returns and final judgment comes. He warns us because he loves us and wants us to be ready, but his warning is real and his love will not overlook a life of unrepentant rebellion against him.


What does ritual impurity have to do with us?

  • Due to the death that took place in warfare, the Israelite warriors became ritually impure (see comments above at Numbers 19). 

  • The soldiers therefore had to cleanse themselves and any spoil so that they did not bring impurity into the camp that might defile the Lord’s holy tabernacle. Defiling the tabernacle would be a sign of treasonous disrespect, a declaration you cared little for the Lord and his holiness.

  • Since ritual states were to remind the Israelites of moral realities, the lesson in this case was that just as one must deal properly with ritual impurity to show proper reverence to the Lord, so also one must deal properly with moral impurity to do the same.

  • The Bible therefore uses the language of cleansing when speaking of the need to deal properly with sin, both in the Old Testament (Isa 1:16) and in the New Testament (2 Cor 7:1; 2 Tim 2:21).

  • Believers are therefore to rid impure acts from their lives and to come to Jesus for cleansing for any sin we have committed.

Numbers 31:25–54

How and Why to Give


Main Idea of the Passage

This passage describes the dividing of spoils from war. In doing so, it teaches that our financial giving should support fellow believers as a sign that they are our brothers and sisters and should support the spiritual leaders of the Lord’s people as a sign of our desire for his worship to continue.



Main Points


How does the division of ancient spoils teach us about modern giving?

  • There are two relevant observations. First, all people partook of the spoils. The soldiers received more (as appropriate for their service) but everyone partook of the fruits of victory. The Israelites viewed themselves as a body and thus shared with the whole body. This same impulse is evident in the New Testament (Acts 2:44–45; 2 Cor 8:14).

  • Second, the Israelites were to make sure to support the priests and Levites (31:28–30, 36–40). Since priests and Levites were central to the tabernacle’s functioning and therefore to the Lord’s worship (Numbers 3–4), supporting them showed that learning God’s Word and worshipping the Lord properly were top priorities. Again, the same impulse may be seen in the New Testament (1 Cor 9:14 [cf. Mark 10:10]; Gal 6:6).

Numbers 32

Costly Love for One Another; United in Mission


Main Idea of the Passage

In 21:21–22:1, we learn of various battles Israel wins east of the Jordan, taking over a substantial amount of land. This chapter tells how that land came to be settled by the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh’s tribe. In doing so, it reminds us that our decisions can impact others and must therefore be in keeping with God’s ways so that they impact others positively and not negatively. It also stresses the importance of unity among the people of God so that they can accomplish the purposes of God.



Main Points


Aren’t my decisions an individual matter?

  • Many of us today find it natural to think that our decisions are individual matters: we have the right to make them and they primarily affect only ourselves. But our decisions can have a profound impact on others that can be devastating, especially when they are not in keeping with God’s ways. This is at the heart of Moses’s concern with the request of the two and a half tribes.

  • The fact our decisions can impact others means that we must avoid decisions that are not in keeping with God’s ways so that we are not modeling such behavior to others and leading others astray. See Matt 18:6–7.

  • We must also remember that our decisions can impact people positively, especially when they model the behavior God commands (see Prov 13:20a), which is an exhortation for us to make decisions in keeping with God’s holy ways.


Why is unity so important?

  • While some tribes would settle on the east side of the Jordan, they nevertheless commit to join Israel in battle on the west side of the Jordan. What this models is the importance of God’s people maintaining unity as they work together to accomplish God’s purposes.

  • This unity matters because God has chosen to work in this world by means of his people, and his people are always a corporate entity, made up of many individuals, be it Israel in the Old Testament or the church in the New Testament.

  • Not surprisingly therefore, in his high priestly prayer, Jesus prays for the unity of those who would follow him, asking that they be united in love as a living testimony to the world that the God they follow is a God of love (17:20–23)). To live in the unity that comes from love is to reflect the character of God to the watching world, testifying that we love one another because he has first loved us.

  • This also means that if the body is divided—if we do not love one another well—we will not be able to carry out God’s purposes for us in this world because we cannot show the world who he is. And if they can’t see him in us, his people, chances are they will not see him at all.

Numbers 33:1–49

The Lord Who Judges and Forgives


Main Idea of the Passage

This passage contains the Israelites’ travel itinerary from leaving Egypt to where they are currently encamped. The itinerary reminds us of the Israelites’ many faithless deeds, of the Lord’s judgment for them, but also of the Lord’s mercy, faithfulness, and provision along the way.



Main Points


What did Israel do?

  • The list of names in this passage not only maps out Israel’s past, it mentions many of the places that highlight the Israelites’ faithless behavior over the past forty years.


How did the Lord respond?

  • The names in this list give reminders of two main types of responses from the Lord. Some names trigger memories of the Lord’s judgment (33:15–17, 36, 48). These judgments stand as strong warnings to future generations: do not repeat these sins so that you do not experience the same judgment.

  • Other names in the list recall the Lord’s mercy, faithfulness, and provision as he led them to the promised land (33:3–4, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14–16, 45, 47–48). The believer today has assurance of the same as we follow Jesus, the ultimate redeemer who displays God’s sovereign power and love by rescuing us from the forces of evil and the evil we ourselves have committed.


The Lord will discipline his covenant people in order to bring them back to him

  • Those who reject the Lord and his ways do not experience the blessings of 26:4–12 but the curses of 26:14–39.

  • The curses are not meant to be an end in themselves. They are meant as discipline to lead his people back to his life-giving ways.

  • The same type of discipline continues into New Testament times as a continued sign of the Lord’s fatherly care for us (Heb 12:5–11).

  • Such discipline is not only for the good of his people but also for the good of his world insofar as it leads his people back to their mission of embodying God’s character into the world so the world might come to know him.


The Lord graciously welcomes back his sinful people when they turn from their sin and turn to him


  • The Lord has not created humanity to experience his punishment and death but his fellowship and life and therefore gladly receives them back when they turn from their sin.

  • He has made an ultimate way of forgiveness and return possible in and through Jesus, who has borne the penalty our sin deserves that we might be accepted into God’s family as his beloved adopted children.

Numbers 33:50–34:29

Turning from Idols to Enjoy Life with God


Main Idea of the Passage

The remaining portion of Numbers addresses matters related to living life in the promised land. In this passage, we learn about dispossessing the land’s inhabitants and distributing it (33:50–56), the land’s boundaries (34:1–15), and those who would apportion the land (34:16–29). Inheritance language is used throughout to describe the land.



Main Points


What does dispossessing the nations have to do with us today?

  • One reason Israel had to dispossess the nations was because the Lord had called them to enact his judgment for the gross evil these nations were committing (Gen 15:16; Lev 18:24–27; 20:23–24).

  • But dispossessing the nations was not simply to exercise God’s judgment; it was also to protect his people spiritually. “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor 15:33; cf. Prov 13:20; 22:24–25).

  • One specific application Paul makes of this is that if someone claims to follow Jesus and yet refuses to live according to Jesus’s teaching, we must not continue in close relationship with them as though they belong to Christ (2 Thess 3:6, 14–15). Paul knows this would not only give them false hope, it would also endanger God’s people because it would make sin normative, which in turn would mean the people of God could no longer carry out their mission. It is impossible for God’s people to reflect his light and life while they embrace deeds of darkness and death.


What does eradicating idolatry have to do with us today?

  • During Israel’s day, the worship of physical idols was not only a living reality, it was normative. The reason the Lord treats it so seriously is because idolatry is at its heart an act of betrayal against him.

  • Idolatry was also a living reality in New Testament times and is a living reality in many places of the world today. But even if we live in cultures where we do not make actual gods of wood or stone to bow before, other things can function exactly like idols in our lives, be it money, a career, a lifestyle, a relationship, etc.

  • Eradicating actual idols means getting rid of them. As for things that function like idols, the underlying principle is that idolatry must be treated as a danger which can drag us into hell—because it can (Matt 5:28–29). This means dealing radically with any of the idols in our lives.

What does an ancient map have to do with us today?

  • This passage sketches out the contours of the promised land that the Lord would give the Israelites.

  • The language used to describe receiving the land is the language of inheritance, which pictures the Lord as the generous father passing on a rich gift to his children.

  • While this chapter focuses on the land itself, other texts make clear it is not simply the land that was the good gift, but the land as a place where God himself would walk in Israel’s midst (Lev 26:11–12).

  • The picture of the Lord’s covenant people receiving an inheritance from him is used in the New Testament to refer to the eternal heavenly inheritance that awaits those who become his children through faith in Jesus (Col 1:12–14; 1 Pet 1:3–5) and where God himself will dwell in their midst (Rev 7:15–17).

Numbers 35

The Lord Who Values Life and Redeems Lives; Providing for the Levites


Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter continues the focus on preparing for life in the promised land by naming the cities appointed for the Levites there as well as the cities of refuge appointed there. In doing so, it reminds us of whole-hearted dedication to the Lord and of providing for the needs of his leaders, it emphasizes how deeply the Lord values life, and it provides a picture of how the lifeblood of high priests can substitute for the lifeblood of the guilty and cleanse their wrong.



Main Points


What might it look like today to provide cities for Levites today?

  • Instead of receiving large tracts of land for their inheritance like the other Israelites, the Levites were to serve the priests at the tabernacle and their inheritance was to consist of the Israelites’ tithes to the Lord (18:21–24). As such, they reminded all Israelites that the ultimate inheritance one lived for was not real estate but relationship with the living God. 

  • In today’s context, we no longer have Levites, but we do have pastors and ministry leaders who have given up other means of income—often far more lucrative—in order to serve the Lord in a full-time capacity.

  • On the one hand, their dedication can remind us that every believer has been called to serve the Lord in whatever vocation they might be.

  • On the other hand, the fact that the Israelites were to provide for them so that tabernacle worship could continue reminds us to provide for our spiritual leaders so that the ministry of the church can continue.


What do the laws about cities of refuge teach us about the Lord’s view of human life?

  • In at least three different ways, these laws show how deeply the Lord values human life. First, the city of refuge was there to protect the innocent. Second, the highest standards of proof were necessary to convict of a capital crime (35:30). Third, the loss of life was taken with the utmost seriousness.

  • In the context of Numbers 35 in particular, we do well to ask, “How can we value life by supporting efforts to reform legal and judicial systems towards increasing standards of justice? In what ways do our legal and judicial systems favor the rich and majority cultures and penalize the poor and minority cultures? At what points do these systems not take certain crimes serious enough? What might reform look like in all of these areas, and how can we support it so that human life might flourish?”


How does the death of the high priest prepare us for the rest of the story?

  • In cases of manslaughter, the unintentional killer had to remain in the city of refuge “until the death of the high priest” (35:25b), at which point they could go free. This is because when the high priest died, his lifeblood now served, like a sacrifice, in place of the lifeblood of the guilty, cleansing the land and allowing them to go home.

  • This picture anticipates and prepares us for what Jesus Christ would do. The book of Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus is not only the ultimate high priest (7:26; 8:1), but that “he sacrificed for…sins once for all when he offered himself” (7:27; cf. 9:12, 28; 10:10). His lifeblood in place of ours. And his blood is sufficient to cleanse the stain of any sin, no matter how deep (1 John 1:9).

Numbers 36

Costly Obedience and Rich Inheritance


Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter concludes the book by returning to questions about land inheritance that arose because of the situation of Zelophehad’s daughters. The story shows us that these daughters are a model of trusting faith in the Lord and that they are willing to accept limitations on their lives in order to be faithful to God’s words. Their anticipation of a share in the promised land is a pointer to the anticipation that followers of Jesus can have for a share in a far greater promised land, a future inheritance that emboldens our whole-hearted obedience today.



Main Points


Is this fair?

  • While Zelophehad’s five daughters had earlier gained the right for any daughter to inherit land when a father died without sons (27:1–11), this chapter introduces a limitation: any such daughter needs to marry within the tribal clan.

  • We might see this as unfair for at least two reasons. First, we often think of romance as the primary deciding factor in marriage, making this limitation seem unfair and oppressive. But in biblical times and throughout history, many other factors were priorities in choosing a spouse (such as various economic and social factors).

  • Second, we often think individualistically and therefore see marriage as a completely personal choice. In Israel’s day, they thought corporately, recognizing that their choice of a marriage partner impacted the rest of their clan and tribe. In this particular case, a tribe’s overall land inheritance was at stake.

  • In this light, we have no reason to think Zelophehad’s daughters would have agreed with us that this limitation was oppressive; indeed, to choose otherwise may have seemed to them to be incredibly selfish.

  • Their obedient faith places them among other female biblical characters that God’s people do well to emulate (such as Rahab in Joshua 2, Hannah in 1 Samuel 1–2, and Mary in Luke 1).


What do these five women model?

  • This passage emphasizes their obedience, an obedience that meant they were not afraid to accept certain limits on their lives if that meant being faithful to God’s word.

  • Following their example today may well impact our choice of marriage partners since we, too, have limitations (we must marry a fellow believer; 1 Cor 7:39).

  • But following Christ means obeying him in all aspects of life, and this will require limitations in all sorts of areas that those around us may not accept, be it with our money, our time, indeed, with our entire life.

What is the hope of our inheritance?

  • The promised land of Canaan and its blessings was a picture of the far greater promised land of heaven with its far deeper blessings (Hebrews 3–4). And just as belief and covenant faithfulness were required to enter into Canaan, so too belief and covenant faithfulness are required to enter into heaven.

  • For the believer today, such belief and faithfulness is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who guarantees our future in a land of eternal blessing and rest.

  • Knowing where the path of faith leads, and the One who walks with us on the path, is what enables costly obedience now. It matters not if the path goes through the wilderness; Jesus is with us and is guiding us to the promised land of rest. It matters not if enemies stand in the way; Jesus is with us and will fight for us and take us safely to the promised land of rest. This is a sure and certain hope that enables us to sacrifice joyfully and obey boldly, for our end is sure—and in Christ, is a promised land beyond all we can ask or imagine.

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