A month had passed from the time Moses had the tabernacle built and put into operation. It was almost a year since the Exodus. God now told Moses that there should be an exact account, tribe by tribe, of how many males of twenty years and older were among the Israelites (Ex. 40:17; Numbers 1:1-3).
There were several reasons for taking this special census. One reason was that it was necessary to have an accurate record of tribes, families and individuals. Better order could thus be maintained whenever the people broke camp, moved, or made camp.
Accordingly, all males of twenty years and older were required to register at certain points, and to give information about themselves and their families (Num. 1:17-19). This census wasn’t to include strangers, men of the tribe of Levi, or any who were too old to go into battle in case the Israelites had to wage war against attacking armies (Num. 1:45, 47).
When all were registered and their numbers added, the able-bodied male Israelites amounted to 603,550 (Num. 1:45-46). This was quite an increase over the seventy males who had gone down into Egypt when Joseph was ruler. Together with women, children, strangers and the tribe of Levi, there were at least two million people compactly camped near Mt. Sinai.
Imagine, if you can, how much food and water were required by that many people. Besides, there were many tens of thousands of animals to feed. Without obedience to God’s plans of organization and to His laws, and without constant help from Him, it wouldn’t have been possible for such a huge number of people to continue to exist in the desert.
Of the twelve tribes, Judah was the largest with 74,600 men (Num. 1:20-43). It is today one of the smallest. The smallest tribe was Manasseh, with 32,200 men, but the tribe multiplied rapidly in later years and is today the largest! In these last days, Manasseh the United States of America-- has become the most powerful nation on Earth. Yet it is just one of the ten tribes of the “lost” House of Israel, which can no longer be considered as “lost.” Nevertheless, there are many self-styled authorities who are struggling to keep the knowledge about the ten tribes hidden forever because true knowledge of them doesn’t fit in with their narrow, erroneous doctrines. God said that the identity of the ten tribes would be made clear near the time of the end. It has long since been made clear to those who study the evidence with a desire to understand. Without that knowledge, one can’t understand very much of the Bible or of God’s great plan of salvation for the nations.
The census having been completed, Moses and Aaron were instructed by God concerning the layout of the camps of the various tribes. Up to that time there was fair order, but God wanted precise order and arrangement so that from that time on there would be proper system and control wherever the people camped (Num. 2).
Although the tribe of Levi wasn’t included in the census that had just been taken, it was numbered later by God’s order. Males were counted from a month old and upward, and were found to number exactly 22,000 (Num. 3:39).
Specific and definite duties were assigned to the various families of the Levites. There was no guesswork and no turn taking. Every one learned what he was to do. God had planned all of it so that there wouldn’t be any confusion (Num. 3:5-38; 4:1-33).
Speaking of confusion, the Bible says that God is not the author of it (I Cor. 14:33). That means that everything our Creator does is carefully thought out, systematic, orderly, true and perfect. He doesn’t like half-truths, disorder, conflict, theories, guesswork, false doctrines, lies or propaganda.
Have you ever imagined what terrible confusion would result if it were possible to add up all the thousands of conflicting beliefs and doctrines practiced by the hundreds of different denominations claiming the name of God and Christ?
God is the Head over Christ, Christ is the Head of His true church (I Cor. 11:3). He has nothing to do with today’s religious confusion except to draw out from this confused world the individuals who are zealously seeking the truth.
Before Israel left Sinai, God also gave them the order in which the various tribes were to break camp and spread out in their vast caravan on the move toward Canaan (Num. 10:11-28).
Meanwhile, there were other necessary instructions for that day from God. All unclean people those with leprosy and other contagious diseases and those exposed to dead bodies-- were to be separated within the camp or put far outside the camp to stay for various periods (Num. 5:1-4; Lev. 13:1-8; 15:1-13; 21;1-3). This was not only a health measure for the good of the people it was also because God didn’t want unclean persons existing so close to the holy area in which He was to dwell with the Israelites. These measures were necessary before the coming of the Holy Spirit. Cleanliness outside was to teach the people the need of God’s power to clean the human being from within through the Holy Spirit.
At the same time God also made plain certain rules that were to be observed by those who were not Levites who wished to be set apart for a time to be of special service to God. Israelites who wanted to do this were called Nazarites. They are not to be confused with the Levities. God honored the intentions of those individuals who wished to take Nazarite vows and blessed them for their zeal.
During the time people were Nazarites they (men or women) weren’t to shave nor cut their hair. They weren’t to touch any dead body. They weren’t to consume any wine. Neither were they to drink grape juice. Grapes, either fresh or dried, weren’t to be eaten (Num. 6:1-8). This was a sign of their special service.
Many people have believed that Christ was a Nazarite because he was born and raised in Nazareth, a town in the district of Galilee about seventy miles north of Jerusalem. This is not true. People who come from or who are in Nazareth are called Nazarenes. They aren’t Nazarites unless they have taken the Nazarite vow. Christ was not a Nazarite. He drank wine (Matt. 11:19). If He had been a Nazarite he could not have drunk wine without sinning and losing His place as our Saviour. Some mistakenly claim that wine was grape juice but even grape juice was forbidden to Nazarites!
Because of assuming that Christ was a Nazarite, many people have believed that He had long hair flowing down to his shoulders. Christ didn’t have long hair? Bygone half-pagan artists, trying to make Jesus look pious gave him a sick sad, effeminate appearance, and even went so far as to add long hair in their vain imaginations. No man knows how Jesus looked.
Inasmuch as Christ was a hard-working carpenter who ate only clean foods and observed the laws of good health, we know he was a very masculine fellow with great physical strength and endurance. Because he loved all people, he was a sociable, friendly, cheerful person who was thoughtful of others and courteous at all times. What matters most, however, is what Christ is like now, inasmuch as we shouldn’t be trying to worship a Saviour who is merely a human being or who is dead. Heb. 1:2-4; Rev. 1:12-16 tells us of Christ’s present power and appearance.
After the tabernacle had been erected, something was taking place of which even Moses probably had no knowledge. Each tribe except the Levites was preparing what was hoped to be a surprise.
One morning Moses was called out of his tent to see an unusually large crowd slowly approaching the tabernacle from a distance. But it wasn’t the crowd that commanded his attention.
Six covered wagons, each drawn by two oxen, stood between the crowd and the tabernacle!
“Where did these come from?” Moses inquired of an officer. “I haven’t seen wagons since we left Egypt.”
“These are gifts from the heads of the twelve tribes,” the officer answered. “Parts of them have been assembled from pieces of chariots picked up on the east shore of the Red Sea gulf.”
“But what are they for?” Moses asked. “They’re being offered to help carry the equipment of the tabernacle,” was the answer (Num. 7:1-3).
Moses was a little puzzled as to whether or not he should accept the wagons for that purpose. He knew that the ark, for one thing, was to be carried on the shoulders of men, but God hadn’t yet made it known how most of the heavy equipment would be moved.
“The princes of the tribes await your inspection and approval,” the officer instructed his aide.
“Tell them I must return to my tent and dress for this unusual occasion,” Moses instructed his aide.
Moses was actually in doubt as to what should be done. If it weren’t God’s will to carry the tabernacle equipment in the proffered wagons, then Moses would have the unpleasant task of rejecting the gifts from the loyal and well-meaning Israelites. Back inside his tent he quickly knelt in prayer, to ask God what should be done.
“Accept the gifts they have offered, “God answered. “Give the wagons to the Levites to use. This is as I have planned it to be” (Num. 7:4-5).
Moses was relieved to hear this from God, and he was happy to realize that the gifts from the Israelite princes were of their own idea and free will.
After donning his best attire, Moses went out to the waiting princes of the twelve tribes. He happily accepted the wagons and the oxen, and turned them over to Aaron so that they could be put into special use by the Levites (vs. 6-8).
However, the wagons and the oxen weren’t the only gifts from the heads of the Israelite tribes. So many other things were brought in that the prince of each tribe was assigned a particular day in which to present his gifts and make his offerings (vs. 10-11).
The total from all the tribes amounted to twelve large silver dishes in which to knead dough for the shew-bread, twelve deep silver bowls (all of them filled with fine flour mixed with oil) for receiving blood for sacrifices, twelve golden spoons filled with incense, twelve kids, thirty-six bullocks, seventy two rams, sixty male goats and seventy-two lambs (Num. 7:12-23, 84-88).
After the tribes had finished giving these things, Moses went into the tabernacle to thank God for what so many people had contributed out of desire to help. Thereupon a voice thundered out of the mercy seat. It was God’s voice directing Moses what he should tell Aaron concerning those matters having to do with the tabernacles and the Levites (Num. 7:89; 8:1-2).
Among the instructions were those touching on the Passover. The Passover is always to be observed on the eve of the 14th day of the first month, Nisan. But for those away on a journey, those who for any reason are unable to keep it on that day the Passover is to be observed on the 14th day of the second month, Iyar (Num. 9:9-12).
This also applies to the New Testament Passover memorial to be observed by Christians today, as recorded in Matthew 26:26-28.Those who for some special reason can’t observe the New Testament Passover (with unleavened bread and wine as a memorial of Christ’s death) on the original date should make every effort to observe it exactly a month later according to God’s sacred calendar.
The sacrifice of the paschal lamb ceased at Christ’s death for he was the Lamb of God offered for the sins of the world.
God also instructed that two long trumpets of solid silver should be made for use in contacting the people. The blowing of only one trumpet was to summon the heads of the tribes for a meeting. The blowing of both trumpets was either to call for a solemn assembly of the people or was the signal to move out of camp. They were also to be blown in such varying manners that the hearers would instantly recognize an alarm to prepare for war, happy, occasions, solemn days, beginnings of months and times of offerings (Num. 10:1-10).
One might doubt that two trumpets even large and long, could be heard by millions. But a horn of the type God wanted made, blown by a strong person of good lung capacity, could easily be heard for miles in the clear desert air in the vicinity of Mt. Sinai.
One morning shortly after the trumpets had been made and put into use, the Israelites came out of their tents to see that the cloud had moved away from the tabernacle during the night and was high in the sky! It wasn’t long afterward that the two silver trumpets, lustily blown by Aaron’s two sons, blasted out the signal for the breaking of camp.
There was great excitement among the people, they had been encamped before Mt. Sinai for almost a year, and the signal to move on was no small matter to them. Men hurried to get their livestock and tents ready to move. Woodsmen and hunters rushed back from the mountains. Women worked feverishly to get the family belongings together. Excited at the thought of going somewhere, children ran happily about, but not to become lost or get in the way.
Meanwhile, men were swiftly working to take down the tabernacle and pack it for moving. They had been so well-trained in this task that it was done in a remarkably short time. It was rather astonishing that millions of people were ready to move so quickly on such short notice.
In accordance with God’s orders, the first tribe to move out of camp was Judah. Others followed in the order given them. The Levites carrying the tabernacle equipment were spaced in two different areas among the other tribes. The tribe of Naphtali was the last to leave (Num. 10:11-28).
A few hours later the mammoth caravan had disappeared through the mountain passes to the northeast, leaving the Sinai valley silent and lonely.
Among the strangers who had stayed with the Israelites as Sinai was Hobab, Jethro’s son. This brother-in-law of Moses, along with a clan he headed, had joined them when he came with his father to visit Moses and bring Zipporah, Moses’ wife. As a native of the desert, he had a keen knowledge of the desert. Moses therefore hoped that Hobab and his people would go along with the Israelites.
“Come with us to Canaan,” Moses said to Hobab as Hobab’s mounted men rode along for a while with the Israelites. “God has promised us a fertile land there. It would be a good place for you to settle down. Meanwhile, you and your men can help us by being our scouts and by teaching us how to live in this wilderness.”
“The desert has always been our home,” Hobab replied. “I don’t think we’d be exactly happy in farming regions.”
“But you would learn to love the greener, more productive land,” Moses pointed out. “There would be more food and water there. You and your family would be better off (Num. 10:29-32).
Hobab, who loved God and saw that God’s people needed him, joined his clan to the tribe of Judah, which always led the way when the Israelites caravan moved through the wilderness. In this way his men could use their knowledge of the desert in choosing the best pathway for the Israelites to use in following the cloud and the pillar of fire. After the Israelites entered Palestine, Hobab and his relatives, the Kenites, settled down with the tribe of Judah, choosing for themselves a wilderness area which was similar to their old home land (Judges 1:16).
In any event, they weren’t going to reach Canaan until 39 years later!
For three days the vast line of humanity and animals slowly struggled across the dunes of drifting sand and the rocky plains and hillsides, characteristic of that region. Moses uttered a public prayer each time they started out and each time they stopped to camp (Num. 10:33-36).
After not having been on the march for a year, the Israelites soon discovered that there was hardship in traveling several miles a day across the blazing desert. Most of them were cheerful, each day looking forward to the cool night and the rest that came with it.
However, as usual, there were those who began to complain. Little by little these complaints grew. By the end of the third day from Sinai, there were many who were loudly voicing their grievances to those about them.
“This is worse than slaving for the Egyptians!” they yelled. “We all should join together and demand less travel and more rest! If we try to keep this up, we shall all die!”
Before Israelite officers could organize to quell the shouting, a peculiar thing happened. The pillar of fire, blazing in the sky above the ark, flared upward. The evening air felt as though it were suddenly charged with some tremendous force about to explode.
That is exactly what happened. Throughout the whole camp, as though they had come out of nowhere, were strange, sizzling bolts of fire. They hissed and streaked in all directions many of them ploughing into the people who had just been shouting so loudly (Num. 11:1).
It happened so suddenly that most of the people hardly had time to be frightened. But now they froze in alarm as they found themselves staring at the lifeless smoking bodies of those who had complained!
God means business! Human beings need to realize that complaining about how God directs His servants is rebellion against the Government of God!
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.