Old Testament Survey - Lesson 10

Responding in Life and Ritual

Explore the profound themes of God's glory and grace as shown through tabernacle rituals described in Exodus 25 to Numbers 36. Learn about the tabernacle's design, function, and the spiritual significance behind its construction and daily rituals. The tabernacle served not just as a physical dwelling place of God but symbolized His presence among the Israelites without compromising His holiness. Discover the analogy between the tabernacle sacrifices and the future work of Christ. The lesson also emphasizes the holiness required of the Israelites, revealed through detailed divine instructions for proper worship and living. 

Daniel Block
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 10
Watching Now
Responding in Life and Ritual

I. Introduction to the Theme and Structure

A. Theme of the Lesson

B. Overview of Exodus 25-40 and Numbers

C. Three-Part Structure of the Lesson

II. Detailed Analysis of Exodus 25-40: God’s Presence and Its Challenges

A. Provision of God’s Presence

1. Description and Instructions of the Tabernacle

2. Role and Garments of Priests

B. Challenge to God’s Presence: The Golden Calf Incident

1. Description of the Incident

2. Moses’ Intercessory Prayer

C. Actualization of God’s Presence

1. Construction and Assembly of the Tabernacle

2. The Glory of the Lord Filling the Tabernacle

III. Theological and Ritualistic Insights of the Tabernacle

A. Design and Functions of the Tabernacle

1. Comparison with Non-Israelite Worship

2. Dual Meaning of the Tabernacle’s Names

B. Divine Origin and Construction of the Tabernacle

1. God’s Revelation of the Design

2. Community’s Involvement in the Construction

C. Significance of the Rituals

1. Not Messianic but Offering Forgiveness

2. Guidance on Interpretation from the Book of Hebrews

IV. Analysis of Leviticus: Holiness and Ritual Purity

A. Instructions on Offerings and Priesthood

1. Offerings for the People and the Priest

2. Consecration and Commencement of Priestly Duties

B. Ritual Purity

1. Dietary, Childbirth, Disease, and Bodily Emissions

2. Day of Atonement and Its Canonical Status

C. Holiness in Daily Life

1. The Holiness Code: From Life to Land

2. Covenant Fidelity: Blessings and Curses

V. Overview of Numbers: Preparation for the Promised Land

A. Administrative and Ethical Preparation

1. Organization of the Laity and the Levites

2. Instructions on Purity and the Nazarite Vow

B. Ceremonial and Spiritual Preparation

1. Consecration of the Tabernacle and Levites

2. Celebration of the Passover and the Aaronic Benediction

C. Registration and Role of the Troops

1. Initial and Second Registration of the Troops

2. Impact of the Desert Wanderings on the Tribes

  • Learning about the First Testament's language, geographical, and cultural contexts, and how these factors contribute to its frequent misinterpretation and underappreciation in modern times.
  • Gain insights into the literary and cosmic foundations of grace and glory in the Torah, understanding its role as more than law.
  • Learn that to be made in God's image entails embodying divine qualities and functioning as His representative on Earth, which extends a universal dignity upon all humans and shapes a theological ethic that influences how you treat others.
  • Genesis 1-3 frames human response to divine creation, emphasizing human dignity, work's moral role, free will's consequences, and the persistent grace amid sin.
  • This lesson reviews the Israelite covenant, understanding its stages, implications, and its role in God's redemptive plan.
  • Gain insights into Abraham's covenant with God, exploring his faith and God's promises.
  • Learn how the Exodus from Egypt marked Israel's transformation from a family to a nation under Yahweh.
  • Understand how the covenant at Sinai transforms Israel from slaves into a treasured nation destined for a divine mission, fulfilling God's ancient promises.
  • This lesson covers the covenantal expectations at Sinai. The covenantal agreement provided a constitutional and ethical framework for societal living, focusing on community rights and responsibilities.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into how the tabernacle was both a physical manifestation of God's presence and a profound symbol of His grace, emphasizing the holiness and detailed guidance He provided to the Israelites for worship and daily life.
  • Gain insights into Deuteronomy, recognizing its focus on teaching rather than legislation, and understanding Moses' role as an instructor of Yahweh's will.
  • In this lesson, you explore how to interpret the First Testament's historiographic writings, emphasizing the divine inspiration and literary artistry that guide the selective storytelling and theological themes.
  • Learn how the books of Joshua and Judges illustrate the fulfillment and failure of Israel's covenant with Yahweh, highlighting divine promise, cultural assimilation, and the cyclical nature of faith and apostasy.
  • The Book of Ruth, highlights divine providence, social justice, and personal righteousness while exploring the role of Boaz as a pivotal figure in maintaining the lineage of King David.
  • Samuel had a significant yet complex role in Israel's history; judge, priest, prophet, and crucial figure in establishing monarchy.
  • Learn of David's central role in the Bible, understanding his unique portrayal and the extensive attention he receives compared to other figures.
  • Learn about the Davidic covenant's role in shaping biblical history and theology, emphasizing its eternal impact on Israel and beyond.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles use historical events to underline theological themes, highlighting the role of scribes in documenting Israel’s history.
  • In this lesson on 1 and 2 Kings, review the downfall of Israel through kings' forgetfulness of God's covenants.
  • Learn about Solomon's temple's historical and theological significance, its divine design and purpose, and its role in Israelite worship and communal life.
  • Gain insights into the transformation and resilience of the Judean people during their exile in Babylon from 586-539 BC, exploring their struggles and adaptations in a new socio-political and religious context.
  • Learn about Daniel's exemplary life in Babylon, his integrity, and his prophetic visions, which highlight divine sovereignty and the vindication of the faithful amidst calamities.
  • Review the Persian period's impact on the Jewish diaspora, analyze the Book of Esther's literary and theological significance, and reflect on divine providence and cultural identity.
  • Explore the crucial roles of Ezra and Nehemiah in reconstructing the Jewish community and faith post-exile, understanding their historical significance, source materials, and theological insights.
  • Gain insight into the roles and significance of prophets in ancient Israel, learning about their historical context, and their critical function in guiding and correcting the nation through direct communication from Yahweh.
  • Learn about the lives and ministries of prophets Amos and Hosea, their calls for justice and return to divine covenant amidst Israel's political and spiritual turmoil, through prophetic books that blend personal biography with national prophecy.
  • This lesson reviews Jonah's struggle with divine grace and Micah's advocacy for justice and the messianic hope.
  • In this lesson, you learn how Isaiah's vision portrays the Messiah as king, servant, and conqueror, emphasizing his divine roles and global mission.
  • Learn of the political and social contexts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's exile, including Babylon's rise, Jerusalem's fall, and the crisis of faith portrayed in Lamentations, emphasizing hope amid despair through God's faithfulness.
  • Learn about Jeremiah's life and prophetic ministry, navigating challenges with kings, themes in the Book of Jeremiah, and profound passages on true religion and a future covenant, offering lessons on prophetic burdens, God's faithfulness, and spiritual transformation.
  • Explore Ezekiel's life as a priest in exile, his bizarre actions, and profound messages revealing Yahweh's passion and eternal promises of judgment and restoration.
  • Learn about Nahum and Joel's prophecies on judgment, hope, and Yahweh's character. Explore the day of the Lord and the expansion of the covenant community.
  • Explore Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah's prophecies. Discover themes of judgment, faith, and restoration in God's plan.
  • Gain insight into Haggai's role in motivating temple rebuilding during the Persian rule. His brief yet impactful ministry fosters hope and action amid community disillusionment, recoginizing God's presence and reign.
  • Gain deep insight into Hebrew poetry: its forms, parallelism, acrostics, and emotional depth. Explore its celebration and lamentation of Yahweh's glory.
  • Gain insight into Psalms which reflect diverse emotions and experiences. Structured into five divisions, attributed to various authors, their interpretation involves understanding Torah context, literary devices, and applying timeless principles to life.
  • Explore biblical wisdom's depth: from practical skill to moral insight, rooted in the fear of Yahweh. It contrasts with secular knowledge, emphasizing God's order and universal application.
  • Engage with Proverbs to unravel its diverse wisdom, from aphorisms to discourses. Understand its practical guidance for righteous living and leadership.
  • Discover the Song of Songs, a rich exploration of love's nature. From its allegorical interpretations to its celebration of covenantal love, it examines human relationships with wisdom and depth.
  • The book of Job offers insights into faith and suffering, exploring theological themes and character dynamics. It emphasizes trust in God amid life's most difficult trials.
  • Uncover Ecclesiastes' profound journey from despair to hope. Koheleth's existential ponderings contrast with the narrator's faith, urging a shift from worldly pursuits to finding fulfillment in God's sovereignty.

This Old Testament Survey course offers a deep exploration of the Old Testament's literary structure, divine covenants, and historical context. Lessons cover the Pentateuch, emphasizing its narrative over legalistic interpretations, and extend through key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses. Topics such as the covenant at Sinai, the concept of imago Dei, and the tabernacle rituals highlight the continuity of God's grace and the ethical implications of divine laws. The course critically addresses common misconceptions, the role of the Torah as instruction, and the portrayal of God’s plan, underscoring the relevance and complexity of these ancient texts.

Dr. Daniel Block 
Old Testament Survey
Responding in Life and Ritual
Lesson Transcript


The theme of this lesson is Responding to God's Glory and Grace in Life and Ritual, Exodus 25 to Numbers 36. This material breaks down into three parts. Of course, there is the section in Exodus 25, 1 to 40, verse 28, gives us God's gracious instructions for his maintaining his presence in the camp of Israel.

This section divides into the provision of God's presence, 25, 1 to 31, 18, which gives us a description, God's description, to Moses of the tabernacle and its personnel and the clothes of the priest and whatever. These are instructions on how to get ready for the provision that's coming. However, before they even get to building that or installing the priests, we have the challenge to his presence in 32, 1 to 34, 35.

This is the account of the golden calf incident. Moses is still up on the mountain receiving the document of the covenant, namely the 10 words inscribed on stone, and below, within 40 days, the people have gone back on their covenant commitments. You shall have no other gods besides me.

And the people say Aaron, make us gods who will take us from here. We don't know what's happened to this guy Moses. We need a god to go before us.

But that is resolved because of Moses' intercessory prayer, and then you have the actualization, amazing actualization, of God's presence despite their rebellion and their apostasy that in chapters 35 to 40, they build the tabernacle, they install the priests, and at the critical moment, they put it all together, and the glory of the Lord enters the tabernacle. The Lord now has his dwelling in the midst of the people. So what we need to talk about is the First Testament understanding of the tabernacle and its rituals.

On this matter, the first thing we need to say is that in its design and functions, many features of the tabernacle and its rituals resemble the design and practices of non-Israelite worship. The function of the tabernacle is reflected in its Hebrew names for the building. It's called a mishkan, from the root shakan, to dwell.

It's the dwelling place of God. But it's also called a mikdash, which means the holy place, the sanctuary. One title reflects God's imminence among the people.

It's his dwelling place. The other, his transcendence. It is still holy, and of course, at the heart of it is the holy of holies, the most holy place where God dwells.

A second comment, like all temples in the ancient world, the tabernacle was viewed primarily as a residence for God. It was not a place to gather the people primarily. It was where God lived.

It provided a way whereby he could be present in the midst of his people without compromising his holiness or destroying them through his holiness. Third, in its form and design, the tabernacle was patterned after the heavenly tabernacle. The author of Hebrews recognized the earthly tabernacle as a replica of the heavenly, Exodus 25, 8 to 9, and 25, 40.

Compare that with Hebrews 8 to 10. Fourth, the Israelite tabernacle was divine in origin, design, and construction. God revealed its design and function.

God's Spirit moved the people to donate the resources to build it, Exodus 25, 2 and 35, 21. God appointed the craftsmen and endowed them with divine gifts for the project, Exodus 35, 30 to 35. God signaled his seal of approval of the project when the glory of Yahweh entered the tabernacle, Exodus 40, 34 to 38.

So, from beginning to end, it was God's plan, God's building in its origin and actually in its construction. We also need to notice that the Mosaic legislation never associates the blood of bulls and goats with a Messiah. We are shifting our attention now to its ritual.

The Messianic figure appears as a sacrificial figure for the first time in Isaiah 53. That's the first time we have the sacrificial sin offering being associated with a Messianic figure. You have sin offerings in the Pentateuch, but they are never specifically identified as Messianic.

Six, the ceremonies of the Mosaic ritual offered to truly believing Israelites a way of actual forgiveness and fellowship with God. In our last session, we dealt with this from Leviticus 4 to 6, so that when the people brought their offerings in faith and humble hearts and repentance, God actually forgave their sin. It was His provision of grace.

Seven, eight, in studying the meaning of the tabernacle structure and its rituals for Israel, we are advised to follow the lead of the book of Hebrews. Major on the majors and avoid speculation on the significance of the details. Never in the Pentateuch do we have the text giving us interpretations of the significance of the gold or the acacia wood or specific features of the temple or the purple curtains, whatever.

They don't spend any time on that. What this is is a portable palace suitable for the King of kings and Lord of lords, the one who is enthroned in the heavens but wants to live among his people. Major on the majors, don't fuss about spiritualizing all the details.

Nine, if the New Testament describes the work of Christ in terms of the sacrifices of the First Testament, it is because of the analogical rather than predictive value of the symbols. Since God is the source of the tabernacle system, it is natural that He should have designed it in keeping with the future—future from the human perspective—in keeping with the future work of Christ. From our perspective on this side of the cross, we look back and we say, aha, and we grasp a perspective of His plan for humankind, but this Christological perspective was available to few, if any, First Testament saints.

As I mentioned earlier, Isaiah 53 provides the first and clearest hint of an association of the sacrificial lamb with the Davidic Messiah. That's the tabernacle. We move now to a second topic, B. A. was the tabernacle in Exodus 25 to chapter 40.

Now we move to the book of Leviticus. We've talked some about the constitutional documents within Leviticus, but we need to say a little bit more about the book itself. The book of Leviticus is a message on Yahweh's gracious revelation of His definition of holiness.

Now in this book, we can outline it rather simply by noting the big headings. First, in chapters 1 to chapter 7, we have instructions on offerings. You've got instructions for the offerer and instructions then for the officiary.

One is for the people, the other is for the persons officiating at the offerings. Second, chapter 8 to 10, the institution of the priesthood, and here the Lord reveals the manner in which the priests are to be consecrated, chapter 8, the commencement of the sacrifices, chapter 9, and then an interim, the desecration of the priesthood, an intervening narrative text in chapter 20. In chapter 11 to 15, we have instruction on ritual purity.

The defilement of improper diet is the topic of chapter 11, the defilement of childbirth, 12, 1 to 8, the defilement of disease, 13 to 14, chapters 13 to 14, and the defilement of bodily emissions, chapter 15. You can see from all of this that this is a very systematically organized book. In chapter 16, we have a special topic, namely the Day of Atonement.

It breaks down into five parts, the preparation of the high priest, special preparations in verses 1 to 4, the preparations of the offering, verses 5 to 10, the presentation of the sin offerings, verses 11 to 22, the purification of the officiaries, 23 to 28, and then a note on the permanence of this ritual, its canonical status, verses 29 to 34. That's the Day of Atonement, the high point of the book in my mind. Five, we have instructions on holy living.

Scholars usually call this the holiness code. This is chapter 17, verse 1 to 25, verse 55. It begins with a discussion of the sanctity of life, 17 to 18, then the sanctity of the community, 19 to 20, then the sanctity of worship, 21 to 24, and finally, the sanctity of the land, 25, 1 to 55.

In chapter 26, then, we have a shift to the appeal for covenant fidelity with the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience. Even in these curses, we have to recognize the grace of God. God treasures His relationship with His people.

We'll have more to say on this in Deuteronomy 28, but this relationship is special to God, so that at the end of the covenant revelation, in Leviticus 26, we are reaching the end. The Lord reminds the people of the significance, the importance of obedience, and the rewards for obedience to those who are members of the covenant community. But to ensure their future fidelity, He warns them of the consequences of persistent disobedience.

This is grace. We need to understand that God wants His people to stay on track for their sakes, and so He gives them the consequences of disobedience in the future. The chapter ends with the basis of hope for the future in verses 40 to 46, reminding all who read or all who hear this text that if Israel will ever go off track and if they will be punished with the curses for their disobedience—and they will—this reminds us that the judgment of Israel will not be the last word.

Written into the covenant document was the promise of Israel's future hope. God will not give up. His covenants are all eternal and irrevocable.

He will not withdraw them. After the curses, you have a reminder. This is not the end of the story.

Then, in chapter 27, we have more instructions on fulfilling commitments, and that takes us to the end of the book. We can make a few general observations on the instructions on holiness in Leviticus. First, we may define the theme of the book as the grace of God expressed in his revelation of what it means to be the holy people of Yahweh.

That's the theme. Second, according to the content of the grammar of 1.1, the book of Leviticus originally was linked directly to Exodus. The present division of the Torah into five books was necessitated by the limited content scribes could write on a single scroll.

So we don't have five books originally. We had five scrolls—the scroll of Genesis, the scroll of Exodus, the scroll of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Five scrolls.

Third, unlike Exodus and Numbers, the book of Leviticus consists almost entirely of prescriptive regulations revealed by God and presumably recorded by Moses at Mount Sinai, except for a few transitional statements in 1.1 and 8.4 to 10.7. The narratives of events are very rare in this section. We could say that the book of Leviticus is virtually all law, if by law you mean divinely prescribed behavior response of the Israelites to the covenant. Fourth, within the context of the ancient Near East where people were left to guess what it would take to avert the wrath of their gods, Yahweh's revelation of his will in such detail we must interpret as a glorious act of grace.

Having redeemed Israel from bondage, Yahweh could have left them ignorant with respect to an appropriate response to his saving grace. But Yahweh speaks. Yahweh speaks in the language of the people.

Yahweh reveals to them the appropriate response to his saving grace, and we have to call this now his revelatory grace. In fact, I've said before, the greater the detail in God's prescription for his people, the greater the grace. Five, Leviticus 16 describes the ritual to be followed on Yom Kippur to this day, the holiest day of the Israelite calendar.

And then six, for those who want to investigate the relationship between the First Testament and New Testament perspectives on holiness, Leviticus 19 may serve as a representative text. We have a counterpart in 1 Peter 1, 13 to 12 in the New Testament, but Leviticus 19 is a representative text of what it means to be holy. This passage presents the First Testament understanding of many things, the motivation and rationale for holiness, that is, knowledge of the character of God, reverence for God, gratitude for salvation of God.

That's verses 2, 14, and 13. So, right at the front, knowledge of the character of God. Be holy as I, the Lord your God, am holy.

Reverence for God, verse 14, right in the middle, you shall fear the Lord your God, be in awe of him. And then third, gratitude for his salvation, for the Lord has rescued you from the bondage of slavery in Egypt, verse 36. That's the motivation for holiness.

Second, the dimensions of holiness in Leviticus 19. The intermingling of ritualistic, ethical, economic, and social regulations reflects the normative First Testament view that holiness affects all of life. It cannot be compartmentalized.

When I was teaching a course on the book of Leviticus, I reminded my students that if they ever handed in a paper like Leviticus 19, I will send it back to them and say, you've got to organize this a lot, lot better. But I have now changed my mind about that. This is not chaos.

This is not disorganization. It is theologically profound. Holiness cannot be compartmentalized to one day a week or one hour of one day of the week or one type of activity.

Everything about us needs to be wholly sanctified. You shall love, demonstrate love for the Lord your God with all your inner being, with your whole body, and with all your resources, which means that time, resources, life, my very being belong to God. This passage, Leviticus 19, presents a healthy corrective for those who dismiss the regulations of the First Testament as totally irrelevant for New Testament believers.

There are 54 commands in Leviticus 19 of all sorts, but of these 54 commands for those who think that you don't have to keep laws from the Old Testament—that's their word, now that we're New Testament Christians—unless the New Testament affirms those Old Testament laws. Well, study this text, and you will find that the vast majority of these 54 in this chapter are actually reiterated in the New Testament. We come, then, to the book of Numbers.

Numbers is about the Lord's gracious preparation of Israel for occupying the Promised Land. They're still at Mount Sinai, but on God's calendar tomorrow—I'm using that figuratively—the next event on our schedule is the conquest of the Promised Land. So, the events of Sinai are almost complete, and before long, very shortly, they will see the glory of the Lord lift and guide them in moving them to the Promised Land.

Well, in chapters 1, 1 to 9, 23, you have the Lord preparing them. We can give a quick outline of this section. We have, first of all, administrative preparation, chapters 1 to 4, the organization of the laity and the organization of the Levites, and there are sub-points for each of these.

Chapters 5 to 6 involve ethical preparation. You have regulations concerning defilement, the case of the leper, the case of the sinner, and the case of the adulterous—constant reminders that we are to be a holy people, and that means being pure. And then there are also regulations concerning the Nazarite in chapter 6. In chapter 6, 22 to 27, we have instructions on spiritual preparation.

Here's where we have the Aaronic Benediction. The Lord charges the Levitical priests to bless the people with, may the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord be gracious to you, may he lift his countenance upon you and give you peace. This is that short section right here as they're getting ready to go and take the Promised Land.

In chapter 7 to 9, we have more ceremonial preparation, the consecration of the tabernacle, the consecration of Levites, the celebration of the Passover. Before they leave Sinai, they celebrate it for the first time as a memorial to what God has done. So, that's an outline of the first nine chapters.

But before we go farther, we have to deal with one subject that shows up in chapter 2, namely the organization of the laity involving the registration of the Israelite troops. Remember, the next event on the calendar is the conquest. In our Bibles, the heading for this section is often called the census of Israel.

This is not a census. This is a registration of the troops, and the point is to record the names of all of those who will be fighting against the Canaanites, and then they give the totals. That's almost a secondary issue.

But this happens here in chapter 2, and it happens again in Numbers chapter 26. We have two numberings of the people, I should say, two registrations of the troops for the conquest of Canaan. Why do we need two? These actually frame the book.

Well, the first one is the first registration happens at Mount Sinai before they even leave, and they are expecting to conquer the Canaanites tomorrow. They're expecting tomorrow we're marching into the land, and so you have a registration. But what happens between chapter 2 and chapters 1 and 2 and chapter 26 in the book of Numbers? Of course, they get to the promised land in chapters 12, 13, and 14, and they're told to go into the land, and they send the scouts out, and they come back with a report.

This is a wonderful land, but oy vey, we saw the giants. We can't do this. And the people refuse to go in.

In this great act of infidelity, faithlessness, their hearts fail them, and the Lord says, fine. You don't want the land. You won't get it.

So, he says, turn around, and they turn around and head back into the desert where they wander in circles. That's Deuteronomy's expression in chapter 2. They wandered in circles for 38 years. The purpose of those 38 years was to get rid of that generation.

God was going to start anew. Fine. You don't want to take the land because you're concerned they'll slaughter your children.

I will take you and will send your children in. Those 38 years, if you take the numbers of numbers literally, you have about a population of two million here. I think actually there's a way of interpreting them, but if you take the numbers literally, there would have been 49.5 funerals for men every day for 38 years.

You have to double that for women. That gets you close to 100, and then you'd have to deal with a lot of infant mortality. The dominant sound in the Israelite camp for 38 years was the death wail, the sound that they heard as they were leaving Egypt.

Remember when the Lord took the firstborn in every Egyptian household? The death wail. This is a sad, sad story, but it's not over until they're all gone except, of course, for these representatives, Joshua and Caleb, who say, we can go in with the Lord's help. Let's do it.

God is with us, and they encourage the people, but the majority votes against it, and so only Joshua and Caleb and their representative families, I would assume, perhaps even clans, they're the ones that will go into the land because they had faith. So the second numbering happens in chapter 26. After that fiasco, after the 38 years, we're getting ready to enter the land one more time.

Let's register the troops. The interesting thing about this second registration that you can see in this chart, in the first registration you have 603,550. I actually think the word thousand represents clans or the troops from a clan, 603 clan worth.

In the second one, we have 601,730. The population drops by 20, and then to this we need to add Levites, but in this process, the population of Israel drops by 1,820. What's happened here? This is remarkable, really.

The tribes had been unequal in size from the beginning. We observe that from the chart. Second, the desert wanderings resulted in a net loss of 820 men of military age, which contrasts with what had been happening to the population before they ever left Egypt.

Second, the desert wanderings resulted in the net loss of 1,820 men of military age, according to the chart. This contrasts with what had been happening to the population before they ever left Egypt. Despite the Pharaoh's enslavement, no matter how hard he tried to out the people, the population was bursting, multiplying like crazy.

Ironically, when the Israelites were slaves, they multiplied, but as soon as they were free, the population stagnated and, in fact, shriveled. Third, the effect of the period of wandering differed greatly from tribe to tribe. Simeon's losses represent 60% of the total, which means that there's hardly anybody left of Simeon.

Is this intended as a fulfillment of Genesis 49, 5-7, Jacob's supposed blessing of the tribe of Simeon? Gad's, Ephraim's, and Naphtali's losses were also substantial. The narratives provide no clues for this discrimination. It's just an interesting observation.

Four, Judah's coming political hegemony over the nation is being prepared for by this tribe's extraordinary fertility during these 30 years. They are multiplying. They are 70, or they are maintaining their population and increasing a little bit, but they're at 76,000, whereas Simeon is down to 22,000.

Judah's future role, I think the groundwork is being laid here. Judah's coming political hegemony over the nation is being prepared for by the tribe's extraordinary fertility. By contrast, there is no hint of Ephraim's coming hegemony over the northern tribes.

But what is the point of this registration? What is the significance of the numerical registration in context? First, the purpose of the Lord's command was not to take a census of the people, but to register, muster the troops. Second, the numbers demonstrate that the camp of Israel was a walking mortuary. I've already noticed this.

At the rate of the deaths, there must have been 100 funerals a day and more, meaning that the dominant sound in this camp was the death wail. Third, the deaths indicate that the curse was upon the nation of Israel during the wanderings. According to Exodus 1.7, the nation had been experiencing Yahweh's extraordinary blessing even while suffering terrible oppression, and now that they are free, they are cursed.

Something wrong with this picture. Four, among many lessons concerning the character of Yahweh that the Israelites were to learn from the events associated with the Exodus was the fact that he keeps his word. I am Yahweh.

I speak. I keep my word. This applies not only to his faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham, but also the sentence pronounced upon his people that the entire generation would die in the desert, and they did.

And five, the interpretation of the desert wanderings provided in Deuteronomy highlights the irony of the Israelite experience. Although Yahweh was providing for the nation in every way—they had enough to eat, their clothes didn't wear out, they could not escape his sentence of death—that's Deuteronomy chapter 8. This experience of the Israelites teaches us several profound theological lessons. First, humans are fickle.

The past experience of the grace and the power of God is no guarantee that they will trust him when faced with new challenges. He had just brought them out of Egypt with signs and wonders, and they forgot it all. And he had just met with them at Sinai.

It's all gone in their minds. Second, God interprets unbelief as rebellion against himself. This is a treasonous act deserving of the death penalty.

Third, God is under no obligation to those who refuse to trust him or presume upon his grace. Fourth, the material well-being of a person is no indication of his or her standing before God. The key to life is not found in bread or any other material substance, but in trust in him, expressed in wholehearted obedience.

That's Deuteronomy's take on these events in chapter 8, verses 1 to 6. Five, God is gracious. In a world of death, his commitment to life prevails. Though that generation died in the desert, people are having children.

A new generation arose to claim the territory and the future for which they were predestined. Moses' plea for pardon was based on the character of Yahweh as it had been revealed at Sinai. Compare chapter 14, 18 to 19, and Exodus 34, 6 to 7, these amazing prayers of intercession by Moses.

If people were forgiven, it was never because they deserved to be forgiven. It is to be attributed exclusively to the compassionate heart of God. Six, God responds to self-sacrificing prayer of a righteous person.

This is chapter 14. Moses' response to the unbelief of the Israelites and their refusal to enter the land was no less remarkable than it had been at the time of the golden calf incident. For the second time, Yahweh threatened to wipe out the nation and begin anew with Moses.

But Moses rejected the heady offer. Instead, he pleaded with God to be gracious and to forgive his rebellious people. Six, God may pardon the sinner, but this does not mean that all the consequences of sin are canceled.

The rebels were pardoned, but the death sentence upon them stood. 14, 20 to 25, God's grace is seen in that the sentence is not imposed upon subsequent generations of Israel. They survive.

The nation survives by God's grace. And seven, ultimately God's grace toward his people are—God's gracious actions toward his people are determined by a concern for his glory and his own reputation. This was the issue Moses had put before him.

Lord, you can't afford to destroy this nation. What will the nation say? Because of the possibility of misinterpretation by the Egyptians, Moses told Yahweh he could not afford to do that, to get rid of them. And finally, the sentence that rests upon a community need not rest upon each individual.

Though the rest of that generation would perish, Caleb would live to see the promises of God fulfilled, chapter 14, 24, and so would Joshua and presumably their families as well. So much for the narratives between the two registrations of the troops. A quick review of the material in Numbers from Sinai to the plains of Moab.

We'll give you just a bird's eye view of what's happening here, and we can organize the material in Numbers 10 to 36 based on geography. First, from Sinai to Kadesh Barnea. This takes us from chapter 10 to chapter 12.

You have the departure from Sinai, the signal for the chapter, the glory lifts, and the people follow. Then you have three miserable stopping places, chapters 11 and 12, Taborah, Kivroth, Hatavah, Hazaroth, and of course this generation of Israelites is proving at every turn that their hearts haven't changed. A couple of observations here.

This text recounts the second phase of the desert narrative. Stage one was from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai. Stage two is from Mount Sinai to Kadesh Barnea.

Stage three, Kadesh Barnea to Moab, that will be Numbers 20 to 21. As in the other stages, all three stages, the dominant motif in these accounts is the people's murmuring. They're always grumbling, but these accounts serve three purposes.

One, again and again, they demonstrate the fickleness of the human heart. That's our problem. Two, they demonstrate the faithfulness and patience of Yahweh.

If I had been God, I would have given up on this whole lot a long time ago. But in his mercy, he spares them. But there's a third purpose, to plead with the reader not to provoke Yahweh with unbelief and ingratitude, as the people did at Kivroth, Hatavah, and at Kadesh Barnea, and other places.

Psalm 95. In chapters 13 to 14, we have the people in and around Kadesh Barnea, and we see the price of unbelief and rebellion. There is the test of faith in sending out the spies, and the report of the spies, and the response to the spies' report, and it's all a sad story.

In chapter 15, you've got further instructions on cultic matters, a challenge to Moses' authority, chapter 16, the deposition of Aaron's staff, chapter 17, and further instructions for the Levites, 18, and then finally more instructions concerning defilement in 19. Just a few observations of this material. In this, the most impressive scene recorded in 1410b to 19, Moses interceded on behalf of his people after Yahweh threatened to destroy them for refusing to enter the land.

Reminiscent of Exodus 32, 7 to 14, Moses pleaded earnestly with God, appealing to his reputation and his character to his people to pardon his people for their sin, and you know the story. Yahweh graciously relented. In 20 and 21, we have from Kadesh to the plains of Moab, just putting in time.

In chapter 20, verses 1 to 29, you've got family matters, the death of Miriam, the rebellion of Moses, the rejection of Edom, and the death of Aaron. When we come to chapter 21, we have a few separate stories, incidents, the victory over the king of Arad, the matter of the serpents biting the people in the Lord's miraculous rescue, miscellaneous pit stops, and then the victory over the Amorite kings east of the Jordan. This text recounts the third phase of the desert wanderings.

As in the other stages, the dominant motif again is murmuring. How awful that is, forever complaining. When we look at chapters 22 to 36, this section is dominated by Balaam, an alien prophet from up in Mesopotamia whom the king of Moab hires to curse the Israelites.

He is hired to curse the Israelites, but every word that comes out of his mouth turns out to be a blessing. This is a fascinating story. His oracles are all in poetic format.

He's obviously inspired by Yahweh, the God of Israel, and when God inspires somebody, even somebody whose intentions are all wrong, they turn out to be positive for God's people. God gets his work done. The narrative divides into two more or less equal parts, the first dealing with how Balaam is engaged and then the second with his oracles.

The mold in which the engagement of Balaam is cast is the opposite of normal call narratives, which already hints at the author's view of this man. Normally, in the commissioning of a prophet, the Lord takes the initiative. In fact, he must often deal with considerable resistance by the person being called.

But in the present instance, the human takes the initiative and is forced to deal with the resistance on the part of Yahweh. Third, Balaam passed on four major oracles and three minor ones. There are oracles concerning Amalek, the Kenite, and Asher and Eber.

God is controlling what comes out of his mouth. The narrative is dominated by dialogue. The longest segment of speeches occurs in verses 21 to 27.

Otherwise, you've got a strange story in which the silence is finally broken by the speech of a donkey. No wonder critics have trouble with these texts. While the author is fascinated by negotiations that eventually bring Balaam to Balak, king of Moab, it's clear from the change into poetic mode that for him, the oracles are the most important.

By describing the conflict of wills between Balaam and Yahweh, and particularly by the repeated references to Balaam being able to pronounce only what Yahweh permits him to say, the narrator highlights, heightens the reader's anticipation for the oracles. A few comments on the significance of these oracles. First, Yahweh is sovereign, the sovereign lord of history.

That sovereignty is exercised by his word, his messenger, his spirit, and it extends to his people, their enemies, and even to animals at donkey talks. Second, Yahweh is the divine protector of his people. Those whom he has blessed cannot be cursed apart from his permission.

To pose as the enemy of God's people is to make oneself the enemy of God. That's Balak's problem, the king of Moab. As a matter of fact, Yahweh will build his kingdom and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Fourth, Yahweh is faithful to his promises. Balaam's oracles reiterate many themes found in the Abrahamic promises, the covenants, and the blessings. God is not a human being that he should lie.

For him to declare something is for him to do it. Chapter 23, verses 19 to 20. And fourth, Yahweh is able to take the evil schemes of men and turn them into his blessings.

Five, Yahweh sometimes uses the most unlikely agents to accomplish his tasks. In later scripture, Balaam receives extremely bad press. He's remembered as a greedy prophet determined to capitalize on his clairvoyant powers, and in so doing serves as a warning for all who would serve in the Lord's kingdom for personal gain.

Read 2 Peter 2, 25, Jude 11, Revelation 2, 14. And six, Yahweh looks ahead to the coming of the Messiah. In Numbers 24, 17, the pagan prophet Balaam sees a star and a scepter coming from Jacob, Israel, and crushing the foreheads of the enemy.

What an ending to that amazing story.