Sunday, January 07, 2007

Matt's Messages - Why Numbers?

“Why Numbers?”
The Book of Numbers: Life in the Wilderness
January 7, 2007
Numbers 1:1

We have a new year, and we have a new project–studying our way through the Old Testament Book of Numbers.

Let me begin by making this statement: The Book of Numbers will probably be the strangest book of the Bible that we have ever studied together all the way through.

Numbers is a strange little complex book–not quite like anything else in the Bible. It is full of all kinds of different types of writing: lists of names, genealogies, censuses (hence the name Numbers), cryptic rites of purification and sacrifice, a travelog of places visited by the Israelites, poetry, prophecy, blessings, manifestations of God, law codes, stories about personality and leadership conflicts, stories about spies and heroes and daring feats of faith, stories about destruction and judgment. And a whole bunch of other things in a format that, at least initially, isn’t very clear how it fits together.

Some day, we’ll work our way through Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and one day Revelation, but until we do, Numbers will probably be the strangest book that we have ever studied together–it will take some real work to understand.

Maybe you’ve had this experience, too. Many people have tried to read the Bible from cover to cover the first time and they make it through Genesis and Exodus and maybe Leviticus, but by the time they reach Numbers, they know they’re in trouble. It’s a very complex book.

So, I want to start our series this morning by answering the question: “Why Numbers?” If the Book of Numbers is so difficult to interpret, why study it together this year? Why not do something easier? Why Numbers?

I have three answers:


One of my favorite passages in the Bible is 2 Timothy chapter 3, verses 16 and 17.

Do you have that one memorized? You should.

It says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

It says, “All Scripture.”

What do you think Paul was talking about there? Well, by extension, it does refer to the New Testament and all of the Holy Writings about Jesus and His Gospel. But when Paul wrote 2 Timothy, they didn’t have very much New Testament yet.

They mostly had the Old Testament. And the most famous part of the Old Testament was the Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Numbers is Holy Scripture.

You could paraphrase that passage to say, “The Book of Numbers is God-breathed and [the Book of Numbers] is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the [Lanse Free Church and all of its people] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Romans 15:4 says, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Because Numbers is holy Scripture, we can expect to be taught, to be encouraged, and to be given hope as we study and apply it to our lives.

We’re going to watch as Israel fails God again and again, but also as God is faithful to Israel again and again.

And you and I are very much like Israel. Israel is in our Bibles to teach us what we often act like and how we need to change.

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul writes, “These things [the stuff that happens in the Book of Numbers] happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (V.11).

So, we can be sure that Numbers is a book of application–even if we need to do some work to discover it.

Numbers is Holy Scripture.

It is God’s gift to us. And we need to unwrap it.


I have decided to preach through the Old Testament’s key books one at a time, in order, in odd numbered years.

In 2003, we preached through the Book of Genesis. How many were here for that? How many were not?

In 2005, we preached through the Book of Exodus. How many were here for that? How many were not?

Now, it’s 2007, and we are going to go through the Book of Numbers.

Now, you might be wondering why not the Book of Leviticus? That’s Holy Scripture, too, isn’t it? It sure is.

Someday, we will study Leviticus together, too. But Leviticus is kind of mainly a handbook for the priests to correctly operate the sacrificial system that was introduced in Exodus and is practiced in Numbers. So, it’s more like a companion book to the others and doesn’t move the Big Story along very much.

I was taught in Bible school that there are 11 key books of the Old Testament that tell the Big Story of what God is doing in His World: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. If you come to Sunday School next Sunday, I’m planning to explain the Big Story of the Whole Bible in 45 minutes.

So, at this point, I’m planning to take the next key book each year. 2009 will be Joshua. 2011 will be Judges. 2013 will be 1 Samuel. And so on. I may change some of this as we go, of course.

But here’s the point. I’m trying to do this as a gift to you.

A big part of my job is to teach you the Bible, and help you apply it to your life.

And I want to give you the whole Bible–not just the easy parts.

And I want to give you the Big Picture of the Big Story, not just the trees but the forest.

I want to do the hard work of studying the difficult parts of the Bible and give them to you to work into your life–as a gift.

I didn’t grow up with that kind of systematic biblical preaching. I had a taste of it from time to time in churches and ministries that our family would visit.

But when I got a steady diet of biblical preaching like that my first year of college, it totally transformed my life, and I recognize it for what it was–a gift.

And I want to give that gift to you.

My vision is that in the year 2023, when we finish Nehemiah (if the Lord wills that we stay on this schedule), our church will be so much stronger.

There will be 21 year olds like my son Peter that will have the Big Picture of the Big Story firmly embedded in their minds.

And we will have all been carried along in the sweep of redemptive history–all leading to Jesus Christ.

Will that be hard work? I expect so. And sometimes, look at a book like Numbers, I think it would be a lot easier to just preach the New Testament letters.

But I think it’s worth it, and I want to give it to you as a gift.

Something you can do for me is pray for me as I prepare these messages. As an under-shepherd of the Great Shepherd, I want to lead you into green grasses that restore your soul. I’d appreciate your prayers as I try to unwrap God’s gift to you.


You don’t have to wait until the year 2023 to get to Jesus. As we saw in Genesis and in Exodus, we’re going to see that Numbers points to Jesus again and again and again.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me!”

Numbers testifies about Jesus.

Like we said last week, Jesus is the Biggest Rock in our jar. And therefore, we need to make the connections from the strange little Old Testament book of Numbers to the God-Man who came that first Christmas.

Jesus is Here in Numbers.

And so will we be.

Let me give you an introduction to our adventure by looking at verse 1 of chapter 1. Just one verse today. The first one.

Numbers chapter 1, verse 1.

“The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.”

Now, there is a lot of information here that gets us oriented to what’s going on.

The first thing to point out is something you can’t see, but it’s there in Hebrew.

The verse actually begins with a word that we often translate, “And” or “Then.”

The beginning of Numbers actually picks up right where Exodus leaves off. There is only one month between Exodus 40 and Numbers 1. And later on, we’ll see that there is more overlap than that.

Numbers doesn’t appear out of nowhere, it continues the story that was started in Genesis and continued in Exodus.

Let me see what you remember about Genesis. Time for a pop quiz!

Question #1. Who was the Main Character of the Book of Genesis? [God]

I’ll give you 3 guesses (and two don’t count!) as to Who is the Main Character of the Book of Numbers....[God is, too.]

Notice Who is introduced first in this passage!

“The LORD spoke to Moses”

In Genesis, God was revealed as a Creator God, a Holy God, a Faithful God, a Gracious God, and a Sovereign God (in 50 chapters).

In Exodus, we found out that God is a Rescuing God and a God who is present with His People.

That same God is revealed on every page of the Book of Numbers. As we study it, we’re going to keep asking ourselves, “What do we learn here about Who God is?”

Genesis Pop Quiz Question #2. Who was the “Best Supporting Actor” of the Book of Genesis? [Abraham]

That’s right. A wandering nomad from Southern Iraq took center stage in Genesis chapters 12 through 24.

Who was the Best Supporting Actor in the Book of Exodus? His name was Moses, and he’s still the Best Supporting Actor in this book, too.

Look at verse 1 again.

“The LORD spoke to...Moses”

We’re going to learn more about Moses both good and not so good.

There are other key characters like Aaron, Miriam, Korah, Balaam, and all of the children of Israel, but Moses stands out.

Genesis Pop Quiz Question #3. God made some promises to Abraham in the book of Genesis. What are the Three Main Promises of the Abrahamic covenant? [Land. Offspring. Blessing.]

Good. Now, after Exodus, starting in Numbers, how are the promises doing?

Let’s start with Land. Do they have the Promised Land? No. They do not. The Book of Genesis ended with Israel in Egypt. They did not posses any of the land of Canaan except a burial plot at the Cave of Machpelah.

Then in Exodus, they left Egypt. How far did they get? Mt. Sinai.

It took them 3 months to get there and then they’ve been there for a year. Camping at the base of Mount Sinai. They got the Law. They built the Tabernacle. Exodus 39 says that God moved into the Tabernacle “on the first day of the first month in the second year” (39:17).

What does this say? Numbers 1:1

“The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.”

Numbers begins one month later.

How long will it take for them to get the Promised Land?

We’re going to learn that it’s going to take 40 years.

Numbers is the story of why that is.

It’s a book that completely takes place in the “in-between,” in-between rescue from Egypt and receiving the Promised Land.

It’s a book that completely takes place (v.1) “in the desert.” Or another translation would be “In the Wilderness.”

Not quite the Sahara, but not the glorious land that they were supposed to have moved into.

The Hebrew Bible doesn’t use the word “Numbers” as the title for this book. It uses that phrase from verse, “In the Wilderness.” And I think that’s a better title for this book than Numbers (as good as that is).

I’ve entitled this sermon series, “Life in the Wilderness.”

And what about offspring? We’re going to see next week when they take the census that God has indeed been keeping that promise!

And what about blessing? It’s all over the place in this book. Often, directly tied to obedience, but not always.

Genesis Pop Quiz Question #4. What was Abraham the Father of? [Faith.]

The key question that presents itself to two generations of Israelites in the Book of Numbers is what is going to characterize their life in wilderness? Faith or Unbelief?

The book of Numbers is a call to trust God even when you can’t see it, especially when you can’t see it.

Do you need that lesson? I know that I do.

When we are stuck in the wilderness, we need to be reminded to trust God.

Genesis Pop Quiz Question #5. What spiritual reality was Jacob’s life all about? [Grace.]

Not getting what we deserve and getting what we do not deserve.

In Exodus, we learned that God’s grace is great and demonstrates itself in mighty acts of salvation. God is a gracious God.

We’re going to see that again and again in Numbers as the people complain and grumble and rebel and reject God–and yet He still loves them and cares for them and leads them where they need to go.

He’s holy! We’ll see that, too. But He’s gracious, amazingly gracious!

Genesis Pop Quiz Question #6. What spiritual reality was Joseph’s life all about? [Sovereignty.] Or providence. God rules this world. This world is God’s world.

That’s obvious in Numbers, too, even though Israel keeps forgetting.

Question #7. What is the theme of the book of Genesis? Does anybody remember?
[God Always Keeps His Promises.]

And that’s the theme of the whole Pentateuch and the Book of Numbers included.

God makes promises.
God keeps His promises.

And even when we are living “in the wilderness,” we need to trust Him to do so.


Two reasons:

#1. God is present.

Notice in verse 1 that God talked to Moses...where? In the “Tent of Meeting” or the Tabernacle.

Remember that the Tent of Meeting was a place of worship, but even more than that, it was a place that said “God is here.”

God has come to live with His people.

He has taken up residence. He has pitched a tent in the center of His people.

You can trust Him...even in the Wilderness.

And we know that God is present with us in Jesus.

Two weeks ago, we heard about the angel telling Joseph, “They will call Mary’s son, ‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God is With Us.’”

John put it this way: “The Word became flesh and [tabernacled] among us.”

God is present. And we can trust Him even in the wilderness.

And #2. God has saved us.

Look again at verse 1. “The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the [Wilderness] of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.”

There’s a reminder there in the first verse of the Red Sea Rescue.

The Passover, the blood on the doorposts, the death of the Firstborn, the chase to the Red Sea, the powerful tsunami of God that wiped out Pharaoh’s army–the Red Sea Rescue!

Worship at the Lord’s Table

Which we learned then was just a picture of the greater Rescue that was to come–the Cross of Christ.

Which is what this table represents.

Two thousand years ago, when God’s Son became Man in the person of Jesus Christ, God was accomplishing the Greatest Rescue ever.

God was out to save fickle, rebellious, grumbling sinners like you and me, and He did it by giving His own Son to die as a ransom for our sins.

Everyone and anyone who turns from their sins and trusts in the Rescuer will be saved.

Have you been rescued?

If not, we invite you, today, to trust Jesus Christ as your Rescuer.

Tell Him that you need Him, that you want Him, and that you trust Him to save you from your sins. And He will!

This table represents His body and blood sacrificed for sinners.

If you have been rescued (and only if you have been rescued), you are invited to eat and drink from this table with us today.

We who are Christ-followers need to use this time to say, “Jesus, Thank You.”

And to commit ourselves again to trust Him.

He is present. And He has saved us.

It doesn’t always feel like it.

It feels like we are living in the wilderness.

But make no mistake.

God is present: Immanuel.
God has saved us: Jesus.

We can trust Him.

My wife and I had “one of those weeks.” I’m sure that you’ve had them yourself.

Nothing seemed to go right.

Ask us sometime, and we can give you the list.

But we were strengthened this week by this fact: God is present. Tent of Meeting.

And God has saved us “out of Egypt.”

We can trust Him.