Respect Jehovah, Urges the Book of Numbers
JEHOVAH GOD deserves the wholehearted respect of his worshipers. They must obey him and loyally cooperate with his appointed servants. How well this is stressed in the Bible book of Numbers!
This book’s name is based on the two censuses, or numberings, of the Israelites recorded in chapters 1 through 4 and 26. Numbers was written by Moses on the plains of Moab in 1473 B.C.E. and primarily covers 38 years and 9 months, reaching back to 1512 B.C.E.—Numbers 1:1; Deuteronomy 1:3.
Recorded in the three sections of Numbers are events at Mount Sinai (1:1–10:10), later in the wilderness (10:11–21:35) and on the plains of Moab (22:1–36:13). But what can these incidents teach us? Are there principles in Numbers that can benefit Jehovah’s Witnesses today?
Contents Promote Respect for God
The Israelites have been at the base of Mount Sinai for about a year when Jehovah commands Moses to take a census. Except for the Levites, all the males 20 years of age and upward are registered, and their number is 603,550. In place of the firstborn, God takes the Levites for tabernacle service. Instructions are given as to the line of march, in which Judah, the most populous tribe, is to take the lead. At God’s command, the Levites are then registered and assigned sacred duties.—Numbers 1:1–4:49.
Jehovah’s commands on quarantine are followed by his giving laws such as those pertaining to cases of jealousy as to wifely faithfulness and vows made by Nazirites. Then some details are given concerning tabernacle service. At the erection of the tabernacle and the inauguration of the altar, tribal chieftains had made valuable offerings. After the pattern given in a vision from Jehovah, Moses had a lampstand made. When its lamps were lit and the Levites were cleansed, they could begin serving.—Numbers 5:1–8:26.
Instructions on the Passover are reviewed. The making and breaking of camp is directed by a miraculous cloud over the tabernacle. The people encamp and pull away “at the order of Jehovah.” For convening the assembly and other purposes, two silver trumpets are to be used.—Numbers 9:1–10:10.
On the 20th day of the second month in the second year after the departure from Egypt, the cloud above the tabernacle begins to move and Israel is on the march. Cases of unjustified complaint occur. One of these is a cry for meat, but greediness manifests itself when Jehovah supplies quail. Miriam and Aaron complain against their brother Moses, and as punishment Miriam is temporarily stricken with leprosy. How this should prompt us to show respect for God-given authority!—Numbers 10:11–12:16.
Twelve spies are sent into the Promised Land and return with luscious fruits 40 days later. But ten spies make so much of the inhabitants’ size and of their fortified cities that the discouraged Israelites want to return to Egypt. In vain the faithful spies Joshua and Caleb urge them to exercise faith in Jehovah. When the people talk of stoning Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, God says that he will strike and drive away the entire nation. But Moses intercedes and Jehovah decrees that the people will wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until all those 20 years of age and older have died. The only exceptions are to be Joshua, Caleb and the tribe of Levi. Next, the Israelites try to invade the Promised Land, only to suffer a disheartening defeat.—Numbers 13:1–14:45.
Various laws involving offerings, Sabbath violation and the use of fringes on garments are given next. Then Korah, Dathan, Abiram, On and 250 chieftains speak against Moses and Aaron. The result of this gross disrespect? Jehovah destroys Korah and the 250 by fire, whereas the other rebels perish when the earth opens up, swallowing them along with their families and possessions. The very next day the Israelites murmur against Moses and Aaron, and for this lack of respect 14,700 die in a scourge from Jehovah. To end the murmuring and show that he has chosen Aaron of the tribe of Levi, God causes Aaron’s rod to bud. This is followed by regulations involving the duties of priests and Levites and the cleansing of the people from defilement.—Numbers 15:1–19:22.
At Kadesh there is a cry for water. Because Moses and Aaron do not sanctify Jehovah for miraculously providing it, they are told that they will not enter the Promised Land. Leaving Kadesh, the people arrive at Mount Hor, where Aaron dies and his son Eleazar is made the high priest. The Israelites next defeat the king of Arad. Later, they speak against God and Moses, and this time Jehovah sends poisonous serpents among them as a punishment. Those bitten are cured only by gazing at a copper serpent that God tells Moses to make and set upon a pole. Thereafter, Israel defeats Amorite King Sihon and Og the king of Bashan, taking possession of their lands.—Numbers 20:1–21:35.
Events on the plains of Moab are related next. Moabite King Balak hires Balaam to curse the Israelites, but three times he blesses them instead. Balaam is instrumental in causing Baal-worshiping women to lead Israel into sexual immorality and idolatry. Jehovah destroys 24,000 wrongdoers before Phinehas stops the plague by executing an immoral Israelite man and a Midianitess.—Numbers 22:1–25:18; 31:15, 16.
After another census is taken and a precedent is set as to the inheritance rights of daughters, Moses views the Promised Land and commissions Joshua as his successor. Instructions are provided on daily, weekly, monthly and yearly offerings, as well as on the making of vows. Then vengeance is taken on the Midianites for their part in causing the Israelites to sin against God.—Numbers 26:1–31:54.
The tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh are granted inheritances east of the Jordan but on condition that they share in conquering the land west of that river. Next, there is a list of Israel’s many encampments from Egypt to the plains of Moab. The Israelites then receive commands related to residence in the Promised Land. Among other things, they are to destroy the appendages of false religion and drive out the inhabitants. Boundaries of the land are defined, chieftains are designated to help Joshua and Eleazar to apportion it, and 48 cities are assigned to the Levites. Six refuge cities are set aside and instructions are provided on handling cases involving unintentional manslaughter and murder. Finally, laws are given on the marriage of heiresses.—Numbers 32:1–36:13.
As you read Numbers, you may well be impressed by its emphasis on showing respect for Jehovah and those appointed to carry responsibility among his people. But you may wonder about some points. So the following questions and answers may be of interest.
Events at Mount Sinai
• 5:11-31—What actually happened to a wife guilty of adultery?
No affliction was brought on by the water itself. But it was drunk before Jehovah, who knew whether the woman was guilty of adultery. If she was, he would make her belly swell and her thigh fall away. Evidently the thigh is used here euphemistically for the procreative organs. (Compare Genesis 46:26.) “Fall away” suggests that these organs atrophied, making conception impossible. This would harmonize with the fact that if the woman was innocent her husband was to make her pregnant.
• 8:25, 26—Does the principle of the law on Levite retirement apply to Jehovah’s people today?
The priests were assisted by all the qualified males of the three main Levite families. In time, the Levites would become numerous, but the number of service openings at the sanctuary was limited. Doubtless, then, both out of consideration for age and to prevent overcrowding of such offices, Jehovah instructed that male Levites reaching 50 should be retired from obligatory service, although they could still assist voluntarily. However, this establishes no rule for spiritual Israelites and their companions because they are not under the Law. (Romans 6:14; Ephesians 2:11-16) If old age should incapacitate a Christian for a certain responsibility, he may be shifted to a form of service that he can perform. For Jehovah’s Witnesses there is no retirement from preaching the good news of the Kingdom.
Wandering From Place to Place
• 12:1—Why did Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses because of his Cushite wife?
This was more than an objection to the wife of Moses. The actual motive was a desire for greater power, especially on Miriam’s part. Moses’ wife, Zipporah, had been away but had rejoined him, and Miriam feared being replaced as first lady in the camp. (Exodus 18:1-5) So she got Aaron to join her in criticizing Moses for marrying a Cushite and in challenging his unique position before God. For this, Jehovah castigated both Miriam and Aaron, but the fact that only she was stricken with leprosy may suggest that she was the instigator. Aaron’s right attitude was shown by his confession and plea in behalf of leprous Miriam. (Numbers 12:10-13) As for Zipporah, she was the daughter of Reuel the Midianite. (Genesis 25:1, 2; Numbers 10:29) At Habakkuk 3:7 “the land of Midian” is paralleled with Cushan, which evidently is another name for Midian or relates to a neighboring country. Moreover, certain Arabic tribes were called Kusi or Kushim. So it seems that “Cushite” was not limited to descendants of Ham through Cush but was also applied to some inhabitants of Midian. Therefore, Zipporah could be called a Cushite.
• 21:14, 15—What was “the book of the Wars of Jehovah”?
Undoubtedly, this was a reliable historical record of the wars of Jehovah’s people. It may have begun with Abraham’s successful action against the four kings who had captured Lot and his family. (Genesis 14:1-16) The Scriptures refer to various uninspired writings, some of which were used as source material by inspired Bible writers.—Joshua 10:12, 13; 1 Kings 11:41; 14:19, 29.
On the Plains of Moab
• 22:20-22—Since Jehovah told Balaam to go with Balak’s men, why was He angry when that prophet went with them?
Jehovah told Balaam that he could not curse the Israelites, but the greedy prophet went with the intention of doing so in order to be rewarded by Moabite King Balak. (2 Peter 2:15, 16; Jude 11) For that reason God’s anger blazed against Balaam. Of course, Jehovah disapproved of any cursing of Israel. But Balaam, like Cain, was headstrong in disregarding God’s will. (Genesis 4:6-8) After Jehovah changed each intended malediction into a blessing, Balaam’s perversity moved him to suggest that Balak use women of Moab and Midian to seduce the Israelites and involve them in Baal worship. (Deuteronomy 23:5; Numbers 31:15, 16; Revelation 2:14) This brought God’s wrath upon Israel and resulted in the death of 24,000. Later, greedy Balaam died at the hands of those he sought to curse. (Numbers 25:1-9; 31:8) What a warning against greed!
• 25:10-13—How was this promise regarding the priesthood fulfilled?
The high priesthood seems to have continued in the line of Phinehas until the time of High Priest Eli, a descendant of Ithamar. This change probably was made because of a temporary disqualification in Phinehas’ line. But King Solomon replaced Ithamar’s descendant Abiathar with High Priest Zadok, who descended from Phinehas. (1 Kings 1:1-14; 2:26, 27, 35) As far as the historical record shows, apparently the line of Phinehas thereafter continued in the high priesthood for many years.
• 30:6-8—Can a Christian woman’s husband set aside her vows?
No, for Jesus’ followers are not under the Law. Jehovah now deals with persons individually with regard to vows, and a Christian husband is not authorized to cancel or forbid them. Of course, a Christian wife should not make vows that conflict with God’s Word or her Scriptural duties toward her husband.—Ecclesiastes 5:2-6.
Of Great Value to Us
A valuable link in the record leading to the establishment of God’s Kingdom is provided by the book of Numbers. It also points to Jesus Christ. For instance, the animal sacrifices and use of the red-cow ashes pointed to the far greater provision for cleansing through Jesus’ sacrifice. (Numbers 19:2-9; Hebrews 9:13, 14) The incident involving the copper serpent foreshadowed Jehovah’s grand provision for eternal life through Christ.—Numbers 21:8, 9; John 3:14, 15.
The book of Numbers can help us to avoid idolatry and sexual immorality. It alerts us to the danger of murmuring against God, his appointees and his provisions. And surely this thrilling account should move us to show utmost respect for our loving God, Jehovah.
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How should Miriam’s punishment affect our view of God-given authority?