Sunday, August 05, 2007

Matt's Messages - Take A Census (Again)

“Take a Census (Again)”
Life in the Wilderness
August 5, 2007
Numbers 26:1-27:23

This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for in the book of Numbers!

It’s time to take a census–again!

It doesn’t get more exciting than that, does it?!

They don’t call it the “book of Numbers” for nothing!

As we have seen, it is full of numbers. In this case, numbers of men being counted like they had been in chapters 1 and 2.

And actually, this is a very exciting thing. Because it means that the first generation of Israel had died in the wilderness, and God was getting the second generation of Israel was ready again to march into the Promised Land.

That’s pretty exciting!

In fact, there are a lot of exciting things to see here about Who God is, if we crunch the numbers carefully and look with eyes of faith.

Numbers chapter 26, verse 1.

“After the plague the LORD said to Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, ‘Take a census of the whole Israelite community by families–all those twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army of Israel.’ So on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them and said, ‘Take a census of the men twenty years old or more, as the LORD commanded Moses.’”

Notice when this happened–“After the plague.”

That’s the plague from last chapter, which we saw last week came from Israelite men hooking up with Moabite women and participating in pagan worship.

But Phinehas was zealous for the honor of God and ended the plague with his atoning attack on Zimri and Cozbi.

The plague was over, 24,000 Israelites had died, and God was ready to count them all again.

Now, let me see if you were paying attention. Which Israelites were being counted?

Male or female? Male.
How old? 20 years old and up.

We’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a census by who are being counted. This is first off, a military census–just like the first one.

How many fighting men are there?

Does everybody remember when we did this back in January?

I don’t remember how many fighting men there were that day. About 35, I think.

Let’s see how many there are today.

Stand up and be counted if you are a man 20 years old or older who would be able and willing to fight if need be.

Now, in our case, it’s only been 8 months since we took our first census.

But in this case, it has been about 40 years. And none of the men counted the first time except for Joshua and Caleb are being counted the second time.

Last time, they were being counted at the base of Mount Sinai. This time, they are camped across the Jordan from Jericho–on the plains of Moab, right across from the Promised Land.

Then the twelve tribes were counted. Starting with the firstborn, Reuben.

“These were the Israelites who came out of Egypt: The descendants of Reuben, the firstborn son of Israel, were: through Hanoch, the Hanochite clan; through Pallu, the Palluite clan; through Hezron, the Hezronite clan; through Carmi, the Carmite clan. These were the clans of Reuben; those numbered were 43,730. [Now the sub-clans of Reuben.] The son of Pallu was Eliab, and the sons of Eliab were Nemuel, Dathan and Abiram. The same Dathan and Abiram were the community officials who rebelled against Moses and Aaron and were among Korah's followers when they rebelled against the LORD. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them along with Korah, whose followers died when the fire devoured the 250 men. And they served as a warning sign. The line of Korah, however, did not die out.”

Notice that God remembers the good and the bad. And he even points out the bad as a “warning sign.”

The next tribe is Simeon. V.12

“The descendants of Simeon by their clans were: through Nemuel, the Nemuelite clan; through Jamin, the Jaminite clan; through Jakin, the Jakinite clan; through Zerah, the Zerahite clan; through Shaul, the Shaulite clan. These were the clans of Simeon; there were 22,200 men.”

This is the most drastic number difference between the two census.

In the original census, Simeon had 59,300 men. They have lost 62% of their fighting men. Remember what tribe Zimri was from in the Baal rebellion last week? Simeon.

I’m not going to read all of these names this morning.

Gad is in verses 15 through 18. His tribe totaled 40,500.

Judah is in verses 19 through 22. His tribe totaled 76,500.

Notice that his sons Er and Onan are mentioned in verses 19 and 20. Er and Onan died way back in Genesis chapter 38 when they were wicked and didn’t provide a son for Tamar. They didn’t have any kids, but they are listed as warning sign, too.

Issachar is in verses 23 through 25 totaling out at 64,300.

Zebulun is verses 26 and 27 at 60,500.

Joseph’s two half-tribes Manasseh (52,700) and Ephraim (32,500) are counted in verses 28 through 37.

There is also a mention in verse 33 of a man named Zelophehad who had only daughters and we’ll learn more about him and them in the next chapter.

Benjamin and his clans are found in verses 38 through 41 and totaled 45,600.

Dan is verses 42 and 43 with 64,400.

Asher is verses 44 through 47 with 53,400.

And Naphtali brings up the rear in verses 48 through 50 numbering at 45,400.

Verse 51 provides the bottom line:

“The total number of the men of Israel was 601,730.”

Does anyone remember what the total was of the last census?

Are they very far off?

Nope. 603,550. That’s just 3/10ths of a percent difference. We’ll come back to that.

It turns out that there is a second reason for this census. And that is equitably dividing up the land. V.52

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘The land is to be allotted to them as an inheritance based on the number of names. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one; each is to receive its inheritance according to the number of those listed. Be sure that the land is distributed by lot. What each group inherits will be according to the names for its ancestral tribe. Each inheritance is to be distributed by lot among the larger and smaller groups.’”

Oh ho! So, this census was really important to these people because however many their tribe had today was how much land they got.

The larger got larger land. The smaller got smaller land.

But it was equitable. The actual locations were chosen by lot.

There is one tribe that hasn’t been counted yet. They’re the tribe that doesn’t get an inheritance of land. Who is that? The Levites. V.57

“These were the Levites who were counted by their clans: through Gershon, the Gershonite clan; through Kohath, the Kohathite clan; through Merari, the Merarite clan. These also were Levite clans: the Libnite clan, the Hebronite clan, the Mahlite clan, the Mushite clan, the Korahite clan. (Kohath was the forefather of Amram; the name of Amram's wife was Jochebed, a descendant of Levi, who was born to the Levites in Egypt. To Amram she bore Aaron, Moses and their sister Miriam. Aaron was the father of Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. But Nadab and Abihu died when they made an offering before the LORD with unauthorized fire.) All the male Levites a month old or more numbered 23,000. They were not counted along with the other Israelites because they received no inheritance among them.”

And here is the summation of the whole thing. V.63

“These are the ones counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest when they counted the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. For the LORD had told those Israelites they would surely die in the desert, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.”

That’s sobering, isn’t it?

Not one of them except for Caleb and Joshua were the same as those counted 40 years before.

Okay, that’s the census. Now, let’s crunch the numbers.

What do they mean? What do they teach? What does this census show us about our God?


Did you notice how many bad names were included in this census?

You’d think that maybe God wouldn’t want to mention names like: Korah, Dathan and Abiram, Er and Onan, and Nadab and Abihu.”

Those guys were bad eggs!

This is a new generation! Why do we need to bring those guys up again?

Look back at v.10.

“They served as a warning sign.”

Warning! God takes disobedience seriously!

The earth may open and swallow you.
You may not have any children or grandchildren.
You may be struck by lightning.

Warning! God takes disobedience seriously!

The greatest example of this is the first generation.

They all died. Every one of them except for the faith-filled spies, Caleb and Joshua.

And entire generation. More than half a million men.

Warning! God takes disobedience seriously!

Are you living in disobedience?

Are you flirting with disobedience?

There is no condemnation for those who are Christ Jesus, but there is Fatherly displeasure and discipline.

God does wink at disobedience. He takes it very seriously.

If you are walking in disobedience, now is the time to repent.

Maybe what you are doing doesn’t feel bad. It feels good.

But you know that it is wrong.

Repentance is a turning away from sin and toward the Lord. It starts in the heart and then works itself out in our behavior.

These numbers, these names, this census calls each of us to examine our hearts and to repent of disobedience.

Because God takes disobedience seriously.

But, praise the Lord, that’s not all this census says!

It also says that God is faithful.


God Takes Disobedience Seriously.
But He Also Keeps His Promises Faithfully. Doesn’t he?!

The most amazing feature of this census is the total.

601,730 fighting men.

Despite losing 603,548 men in the wilderness, Israel is still alive and kicking!

They have a over half a million fighting men!

What is that?

That’s God keeping a promise, isn’t it? What promise?

Offspring, right? From the Abrahamic Covenant?

You might have expected after the Retreat of Unbelief, Korah’s Rebellion, and last week’s plague because of Baal, that there would hardly be anything left of Israel.

But God always keeps His promises!

What are the other promises of the Abrahamic Covenant?

Land and Blessing. We saw blessing with Balaam.

What about land? Well, that was the point of verses 52 through 56.

They aren’t in the Land, yet. But they’re already planning to divide it up.

God is faithfully keeping His promises!

What should be our response to that? Faith, right? Trusting.

That’s what we see in the lives of Zelophehad’s daughters in the first part of chapter 27. Look at v.1.

“The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. They approached the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly, and said, ‘Our father died in the desert. He was not among Korah's followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. Why should our father's name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father's relatives.’”

Do you see the problem?

Five daughters, no sons, his family name will disappear, and there will be no property for these ladies.

Z wasn’t a follower of Korah, but he didn’t go with Joshua and Caleb either.

He died for his own sin.

And these ladies want to know if they can inherit some property. (Which was, I think, unheard-of in those days.)

Moses doesn’t know. He asks God. V.5

“So Moses brought their case before the LORD and the LORD said to him, ‘What Zelophehad's daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father's relatives and turn their father's inheritance over to them. Say to the Israelites, 'If a man dies and leaves no son, turn his inheritance over to his daughter. If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father's brothers. If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to be a legal requirement for the Israelites, as the LORD commanded Moses.’”

What does God hear in these ladies’ request?


They step forward before the leaders of the people!

And they believe with all of their hearts that the LAND promise was going to be fulfilled.

Are they in the Land yet?

Why talk about it?

Because they are trusting that God is going to keep His promises faithfully.

This is not just a glimpse into God’s heart for women or His sense of justice and equity.

It is God’s delight in finding faith in these ladies who trust Him to keep His promises.

Are you trusting in God’s promises?

Do you believe that what God has said He will do?

We say that we do, but our actions often betray our unbelief.

God has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us through His great and precious promises.

Do you know the promises?

Do you know the promise that pertains to the problem that you are going through right now?

I’m sure you’re going through some problem right now.

Do you know that there are promises that pertain to that problem?

Great and precious promises that you can take to the bank that will get you through?

You and I need to spend more time in this book mining it for the great and precious promises and then trusting in them through whatever going through.

Because this census tells us that God Keeps His Promises Faithfully.

We need to be like Zelophehad’s daughters and trust Him.

The third (and last) thing I want to show you in these chapters is from verses 12 through 23 of chapter 27.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up this mountain in the Abarim range and see the land I have given the Israelites. After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy before their eyes.’ (These were the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin. [Numbers chapter 20]) Moses said to the LORD, ‘May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’ So the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the LORD. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.’ Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed through Moses.”

As you can see, we are coming to the end of the book of Numbers and it won’t be long until the events of the book of Joshua begin to unfold.

There has not just been a change from one generation to another.

There is now going to be a change from one leader to another. One shepherd to another.

And that lead me to our last point.


Did you notice the “shepherd” language? Especially in verse 17.

Moses has seen himself as a shepherd. And with him going off of the scene, he’s concerned that Israel continue to have a shepherd.

“May the LORD appoint a man over this the LORD’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

Does that sound familiar to you?

A month ago, Jim Culbertson preached on Matthew 9 from this pulpit.

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

And we know that He came to be the Good Shepherd!

God was gracious to Israel and gave them a new Spirit-filled leader in Joshua. Just what they needed.

Do you know what Joshua’s name means?

It is Yeshua. It means “God saves.”

And it is a earlier form of the name that came to be: “Jesus.”

God gives His Shepherds Graciously!

He sees that we are like sheep without a shepherd.

What is that?

It’s helpless! Sheep are dumb. They can get lost walking into an open garage!

They need a shepherd or they die.

And we are sheep. We are helpless. Lost in our sins. Without hope in this world.

But God sees that we are like sheep without a shepherd, and He graciously sends us One.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep....I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Worship at the Lord’s Table

That is what we celebrate at this Table this morning.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for us sheep.

God Takes Disobedience Seriously.

He does not wink at sin. He does not leave the guilty unpunished.

They are a “warning sign” for us to repent.

But He doesn’t stop there for His sheep.

He gives them a perfect Shepherd who takes the place of the sheep and lays down His life to save them.

If we trust in Jesus and what He did on the Cross, we receive salvation and life to the full.

Because He gave what we could never give to pay what we could never pay.

And then He took up His life again!

And in doing so, He keeps all of His promises faithfully.

Every one of them is “YES” in Christ Jesus.

As we eat and drink this memorial meal, God is specially present to bless us.

Take this time to focus on Him.

Look briefly at your own heart and discern if there is any known sin that needs to be confessed and repented of.

God takes disobedience seriously.

But don’t stay focused on your heart.

Focus on God’s heart and how faithful He is.

Thank Him for every one of His promises which He will not fail to keep.

Talk to Him about a promise that pertains to a problem you are going through right now. And tell Him that you are going to trust that promise.

And focus on God’s heart and how gracious He is.

He gave us a Joshua–a Savior so that we would not be like sheep without a Shepherd.

A Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

Thank Him for the Shepherd and for His blood spilled and His body broken for you.