I. Preparing to Travel to the Promised Land (Numbers 1:1–10:10)


I. Preparing to Travel to the Promised Land (1:1–10:10)

A. The Numbering and Organization of the Twelve Tribes (1:1–4:49)

1:1-16 Once the Israelites were living under a covenant with the Lord, it was time for the people to set out for the promised land of Canaan. But first, over two million souls had to be organized into a coherent and orderly traveling community. As it turned out, the Israelites would also need chastening, cleansing, repentance, and restoration in order to live in the presence of their holy God. The Lord himself got this massive process started with a command to Moses: Take a census of the entire Israelite community . . . counting the names of every male . . . twenty years old or more by their military divisions—everyone who can serve in Israel’s army (1:1-3). This count assessed Israel’s preparedness for war with the native Canaanites as the new nation approached the edge of their promised land.

1:17-43 The twelve tribes listed were all descended from the sons of Jacob (1:20-43), except for Ephraim and Manasseh (1:32-35), who replaced the tribe of Levi. These two tribes descended from Jacob’s son, Joseph. The Levites received no land inheritance because they were to serve as the Lord’s priests and temple servants.

The order in which each tribe is listed does not follow birth order. Rather, they are listed according to how they were to arrange themselves within the camp (see 2:1-34).

1:44-46 The census revealed the total number of available fighting men, those twenty years old or more (1:45), to be 603,550 (1:46; see Exod 12:37). Thus, the total number of people in this traveling band—including wives and children—would have been over two million strong. Moving so many people in an orderly way must have seemed mind-boggling.

1:47-50 As noted previously, the Levites were not included in this count (1:47-49). This is an indicator that even in the event of war, the worship of God was to remain paramount. The Levites were set aside to care for the tabernacle..., all its furnishings, and everything in it (1:50).

The Israelite camp was laid out in a cross shape, with three tribes grouped on each side of the tabernacle, which was situated in the middle. The Levites camped around the tabernacle within the perimeter of the camp and thus stood between the people and access to God. Even in the physical layout of the Israelite nation on the move, then, the message was clear that the people needed a human mediator to stand between them and God. The ultimate and perfect mediator would come in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who would die on a cross (see 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 8:6).

1:51-54 Just in case someone missed the message that God’s presence could not be approached by just anyone, a warning was given: Any unauthorized person who comes near the tabernacle is to be put to death (1:51). The Levites’ ministry in caring for, transporting, and setting up the tabernacle properly was crucial in God’s eyes. Doing it right would prevent his wrath from falling on the Israelite community (1:53). Here we are told, The Israelites did everything just as the Lord had commanded Moses (1:54). So far, so good.

2:1-2 The twelve tribes were to camp around the tent of meeting at a distance from it (2:2). This gave the Levites room to camp on the inside perimeter while also illustrating the importance of the Levites’ ministry of interceding before God on behalf of the nation. The fact that the Levite men were excused from military service demonstrates how essential their ministerial duties were to God.

2:3-9 The placement of the tribes around the camp, three tribes to a side, generally followed the various groupings of Jacob’s sons by his four wives: Leah and Rachel, the daughters of Laban, and their maidservants, Zilpah and Bilhah, respectively (see Gen 29–30). The three tribes on the east side were Judah . . . Issachar . . . Zebulun (2:3-9). They were all sons of Jacob by Leah. The east was the direction in which the tabernacle faced. This meant that the tribe of Judah led the way when the nation traveled. It was the appropriate position for the tribe from which kings would come. Judah’s leader, Nahshon son of Amminadab (2:3), is named in the genealogy of David (Ruth 4:20) and the genealogy of Christ (Matt 1:4).

2:10-17 Next, the tribes on the south side of the camp were listed: Reuben . . . Simeon . . . Gad (2:10-16). Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn through Leah, and Simeon was Leah’s second son. Gad was the son of Leah’s maidservant Zilpah, but his tribe was assigned in this group to take the place of Levi, Leah’s third son whose tribe had other duties (see 1:47-50). When they moved, the tribes were to move out just as they camped, each in his place, with their banners (2:17).

2:18-24 The west side of the camp included the tribes of Ephraim . . . Manasseh . . . Benjamin. Ephraim and Manasseh (the sons of Joseph) and Benjamin represented the two sons of Rachel; they were Jacob’s youngest sons. Benjamin was not only the baby of the family, but his tribe was also the smallest—later, in fact, it would be almost completely absorbed into the tribe of Judah. After the division of the kingdom of Israel into two parts hundreds of years into the nation’s history, the southern kingdom was known as Judah; it is often spoken of in the biblical accounts as if only one tribe lived there.

2:25-34 The last group listed was to camp on the north side and move out last. These three tribes were Dan . . . Asher . . . Naphtali (2:25-31). Dan and Naphtali were the sons of Bilhah, while Asher was the son of Zilpah. Here once again, we read, The Israelites did everything the Lord commanded (2:34).

3:1-3 The most important item in the Israelite camp was the tent of meeting—the tabernacle that housed the holy presence of the Lord. So it follows that the most important assignments any Israelite could have were those that pertained to the worship in and care of the structure. Before the nation departed for the promised land, Moses assigned the duties of the tabernacle to the Levites.

While both Moses and Aaron were descendants of Levi, only Aaron and his descendants were chosen by God to serve as priests. The rest of the Levites were commanded to assist the priests as necessary and to care for the tabernacle and its furnishings. The first of the Levites to be listed were Aaron and his four sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve (3:3).

3:4 Moses reminded his readers that Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s eldest sons who were also priests, had died in the Lord’s presence when they presented unauthorized fire before the Lord in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no sons (see Lev 10:1-2). That left Eleazar and Ithamar, who served as priests under the direction of Aaron their father.

3:5-10 God told Moses to bring the tribe of Levi near and present them to the priest Aaron to assist him (3:5-6). The Levites’ duties were explained in general terms in 3:7-10 and given in more detail later in chapter 4. One important warning was attached: These non-priestly Levites were not to have anything to do with the sanctuary where the sacrifices were made, on pain of death (3:10).

3:11-13 God sovereignly chose the Levites for this service. He declared, The Levites belong to me, because every firstborn belongs to me (3:12-13). This is a reference to what happened during the exodus. When God struck down every firstborn in . . . Egypt, he consecrated every firstborn in Israel to himself (3:13; see Exod 13:2, 15). Thus, he could have claimed every firstborn male in Israel to be set aside for his service at the tabernacle. But instead he chose the Levites to serve in place of every firstborn Israelite (3:12).

3:14-26 When it came time to count the Le-vites and assign them their duties and positions, they were divided according to Levi’s sons by name: Gershon, Kohath, and Mera-ri, who were also the heads of clans (3:17-20). The Gershonite clans were placed on the west side (3:23). They were responsible for the tabernacle, the tent, its covering, the screen for the entrance to the tent of meeting, the hangings of the courtyard, the screen for the entrance to the courtyard . . . and the tent ropes (3:25-26).

3:27-32 Next the Kohathites who camped on the south side are mentioned (3:29). Their duties involved the furnishings of the tabernacle, including the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the sanctuary utensils . . . and the screen (3:29-31). Thus, they were charged with the care of the tabernacle’s holy objects, which is probably why Eleazar son of Aaron the priest was their supervisor (3:32). Interestingly, Moses was also a Kohathite through his father Amram (see Exod 6:18, 20).

3:33-39 The third Levite group consisted of the Merarite clans who were camped on the north side of the tabernacle (3:35). Their responsibilities were to dismantle, carry, and set up the tabernacle’s wooden framework and all the other wood and metal connecting items that supported it (3:36-37). That left the east side of the tabernacle to be occupied by Moses, Aaron, and his sons the priests (3:38), who had overall responsibility for the ministry of the tabernacle. The total number of male Levites registered was 22,000 (3:39).

3:40-51 God’s redemption of the firstborn of all the males in Israel was something he took so seriously that a precise count was made to ensure there were enough Levites to redeem every firstborn male in the camp (3:40-42). The Levite count was 22,000 (3:39), but the firstborn count among the Israelites was 22,273 (3:43). So something had to be done to redeem the extra 273 firstborn Israelites (3:46). The solution was to take up a collection of five shekels of silver for each of the 273 males as their redemption price. This, a total of 1,365 shekels, was to be given to Aaron and his sons. This was done in obedience to the Lord (3:47-51).

4:1-8 Those who were to perform service among the Levites had to be from thirty years old to fifty (4:3; cf. 4:23, 30). So a census was taken of each of the three Levite clans to identify those who would be responsible for taking down and moving the tabernacle and its articles. As we saw previously, the Kohathites bore the responsibility for transporting the most holy objects, including the ark of the testimony and the table of the Presence (4:4-7). These were carefully covered with leather and cloth wrappings by the priests, and poles were inserted through the rings in the ark and the table, so they could be carried without being touched or even seen (see 4:7-8).

4:9-20 The lampstand . . . gold altar . . . bronze altar and all their utensils were also prepared for travel (4:9-14). Once everything was properly covered and organized, the Kohathites could carry them. But if they touched any of the holy objects, they would die (4:15). It was the job of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest to make sure everything was done according to God’s command so that the Kohathites did not incur his wrath in their transportation duties (4:16-20).

4:21-28 The Gershonites were in charge of the cloth and leather parts of the tabernacle, including the curtains . . . the covering . . . the screen for the entrance . . . the hangings of the courtyard . . . along with . . . all the equipment for their service (4:25-26). The leader of this work was Aaron’s son Ithamar (4:28).

4:29-33 The Merarites were the “heavy haulers” among the Levites, transporting the wooden and metal parts of the tabernacle over which the cloth and leather were hung. Ithamar also led this group (4:33).

4:34-49 When the census was conducted, there were more than enough Levites to share the work. The number of men qualified to serve were 2,750 registered Kohathite men, 2,630 registered Gershonite men, and 3,200 registered Merarite men (4:34-45). Thus, there was a total of 8,580 Levites in the Lord’s service (4:48). Each man’s assignment was as the Lord commanded Moses (4:49). With that many men assigned to serve the needs of transporting the tabernacle, the work could be shared among them. No one would be overburdened. This cooperative approach should carry over into the church.

B. Instructions for the Journey (5:1–10:10)

5:1-4 If the organization of the Israelites traveling to the promised land was important, their sanctification—that is, their status as the set-apart people of God—was critical. God had delivered his people out of Egypt, but it was time to get Egypt out of his people. That, however, would prove to be a forty-year process, requiring God’s infinite patience and disciplining hand.

God’s holiness was manifested in a visible way in the tabernacle, which was in the center of the Israelites’ camp and served as the symbol of God’s presence in their midst. The people were called to be holy because the Lord is holy (see Lev 19:2). Part of their spiritual holiness was linked to the condition of their bodies and to proper relationships with their fellow covenant members. The regulations of chapter 5 spell out several of these stipulations, isolating as “unclean” anyone among them having a skin disease, anyone with a discharge, or anyone who was defiled because of contact with a corpse (5:2). Such people had to go outside the camp so that they didn’t defile the Israelite encampment where the Lord dwelled (5:3-4).

Importantly, the issue here was ceremonial uncleanness, not an inherent spiritual inferiority within the suffering individual or a wholesale rejection of contaminated persons. There were procedures for cleansing and restoring the affected people to the camp with their fellow Israelites (see Lev 13:1-46; 14:1-32; 15:1-32; 22:4-9). Nevertheless, isolating someone with a skin disease that could turn out to be contagious also had health benefits in a large community.

This chapter on regulations for Israel’s life and worship is a good place for a reminder that one purpose for the book of Numbers was to warn Moses’s readers that as long as Israel obeyed the Lord by living according to his law, the nation would prosper. But the reverse was also true. (And if you know the rest of the story, you know that by the end of the book things went badly for Israel. That they would receive their just desserts is more than a history lesson for us. The principle of faith in God versus unbelief and the consequences belonging to each choice still holds true today.)

5:5-6 The regulation presented here involved a person who committed any sin against another (5:6). Since such a sin was some kind of moral or legal violation, serious steps had to be taken to make it right. But even before the offended party was addressed, an important point was made. Everyone needed to be reminded that any sin in Israel’s kingdom community was ultimately a sin against the Lord and made the person guilty in his sight (5:6).

We never sin in a vacuum either. Our sin always affects other people—either directly or indirectly. But first and foremost, our sin is always an offense against our Creator. King David understood this. Even though he committed adultery (wronging both Bathsheba and her husband Uriah) and murder (by having Uriah killed), David knew that he had offended God most of all. For it was God who said, “Do not murder,” and “Do not commit adultery” (Exod 20:13-14). This is why David prayed, “Against you—you alone—I have sinned and done this evil in your sight” (Ps 51:4).

5:7-10 Make no mistake, however, the offended human victim of sin also has to be compensated. So the Lord instituted the principle of recompense with the repayment of the wrong plus a fifth of the value of whatever was taken, damaged, or lost (5:7). If there was no one to whom such a payment could be made, it was to go to the Lord for the priest, along with the atonement ram by which the priest will make atonement for the guilty person (5:8). In following these instructions carefully, the violator helped ensure that any wrongdoing would be thoroughly purged from among the people.

5:11-14 The rest of this chapter deals with a husband who had a feeling of jealousy (5:13-14), suspecting that his wife had committed adultery with another man. Adultery was a sin that could not be tolerated under the Mosaic covenant because, once again, every sin is first a violation against the Lord. The procedure for establishing a wife’s guilt or innocence sounds strange to us, but it was prescribed by God himself.

5:15-26 The process began with the husband bringing his wife to the priest, along with an offering of barley flour to deal with possible guilt (5:15). The priest would then take holy water in a clay bowl and mix it with dust from the tabernacle floor to make a bitter drink, which the woman would be required to consume after affirming that she was innocent of adultery and accepting a curse if she were lying. The words of the cruse would also be written on a scroll and then washed off into the mixture the woman had to drink (5:16-24).

5:27-31 If the woman were innocent, no harm would come to her (5:28). But if she were guilty, the curse would supernaturally render her sterile (5:27). Some modern critics of the Bible have pointed to this as an example of how the Bible affirms the oppression of women, but it is actually an example of how God supernaturally protected women in a time before there was any other way to prove their innocence. God was the perfect Judge in these cases; he is also the best witness any defendant could have in a trial.

6:1-8 Serving the Lord at the tabernacle was limited to the priests and other servants who belonged to the tribe of Levi. But any Israelite could consecrate himself or herself to the Lord for a time of special separation and devotion by taking a Nazirite vow (6:2). Usually this was done for a limited period of time. In the case of Paul in Acts 18:18, his haircut was the sign that he was ending his vow (see Num 6:18).

But in the case of two famous Old Testament Nazirites, Samuel (see 1 Sam 1:11) and Samson (see Judg 13:5), their vows were lifelong. Interestingly, both vows were made before these boys were born. Samuel’s vow was made by his mother Hannah, pledging him to the Lord’s service. In Judges, God himself told Samson’s parents to make him a Naz-irite. Samuel honored his vow, while Samson famously violated his own in several ways and made an unholy mess of his life.

The normal procedure, however, was for the person to make his or her own decision to undertake a Nazirite vow. Three stipulations highlighted the separateness of consecration: abstinence from wine and beer or anything produced by the grapevine; no cutting of the hair throughout the time of the vow of consecration, and no going near a dead body (6:3-6). By following these guidelines, the Nazirite would be set apart for the Lord’s service. He or she would be holy to the Lord during the time of consecration (6:8).

6:9-12 If a Nazirite accidentally became defiled, there were rituals prescribed to cleanse him and re-establish his consecration so he could resume his vow. (See commentary on Judg 6:1-8.) Samson, for instance, violated his vows when he scooped honey from a dead lion (see Judg 14:5-9) and when he revealed his secret to Delilah, leading her to cut his hair (see Judg 16:17-19). There is no record that Samson ever tried to undergo the prescribed rituals to reinstate his Nazirite status. But since God was the one who designated Samson as a Nazirite, he graciously restored his Nazarite status with his supernatural strength when his hair began to grow again (see Judg 16:22).

6:13-17 When the period of consecration was over, the Nazirite was to present to the Lord three unblemished animals at the tabernacle as a burnt offering . . . a sin offering and a fellowship offering (6:14). The burnt offering symbolized complete consecration to God, the sin offering atoned for any sins the Nazirite may have unintentionally committed during his vow period, and the fellowship offering denoted that he and the Lord were in harmony.

6:18-21 Then the Nazirite would shave his consecrated head and throw the hair into the fire (6:18) on the altar, symbolizing the completion of his vow. The priest would give him the boiled shoulder from the ram, one unleavened cake from the basket, and one unleavened wafer (6:19), which the Nazirite would present or wave before the Lord. Then he and the priest would eat the sacrifice together in a meal. With these steps completed, the Nazirite was released from his vow.

6:22-27 This chapter ends with a beautiful priestly blessing designed to place the Lord’s name on his people (6:27): May the Lord bless you and protect you; may the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the Lord look with favor on you and give you peace (6:24-26). God’s instruction to Moses, This is how you are to bless the Israelites (6:22), is similar to Jesus’s introduction to the Lord’s Prayer for his disciples: “You should pray like this” (Matt 6:9). This blessing, then, is a formula that acts as a guide for God’s people to bless others.

7:1-6 In chapter 7 Moses took a step backward to recall the day when Israel finished setting up the tabernacle and consecrated it and all its furnishings (7:1). With the tabernacle complete and dedicated, the leaders of Israel . . . brought as their offering before the Lord six covered carts and twelve oxen . . . and presented them in front of the tabernacle (7:2-3). Moses then presented these gifts to the Levites (7:5-6) for their use in transporting the tabernacle to the promised land.

7:7-8 These carts and oxen were distributed based on the duties of the various Levitical families. The Gershonites were given two carts and four oxen corresponding to their service (7:7), which involved transporting the lighter cloth and leather parts of the sacred tent, while the Merarites received four carts and eight oxen corresponding to their service (7:8) of carrying the much heavier metal and wooden pieces (see 4:21-33).

7:9 But Moses did not give carts or oxen to the Kohathites, since their responsibility was service related to the holy objects carried on their shoulders. These men carried the ark of the covenant and the altars on poles rather than on carts so that no one would touch these sacred objects (see 4:1-20). Later, King David’s failure to transport the ark in the right way would cost Uzzah his life when he reached out to steady the ark as it was transported by ox and cart (see 2 Sam 6:1-8).

7:10-11 What follows in the remainder of the chapter is a list of the dedication gift for the altar that the leaders of each of the twelve tribes brought for the altar in the tabernacle (7:10). God called each leader to come on a separate day to present his offering for the dedication (7:11) so that each gift could be honored and celebrated individually.

7:12-83 The presentation of gifts began with Nahshon . . . from the tribe of Judah (7:12), the tribe that led the way when Israel moved out. His generous offering consisted of one silver dish . . . one silver basin . . . one gold bowl . . . one young bull, one ram, and one male lamb a year old . . . one male goat . . . and two bulls, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old (7:13-17). The leaders of the other eleven tribes followed suit, coming on each of the next eleven days in the same order as the arrangement of the tribes encamped around the tabernacle (7:18-83; see 2:3-31). They brought offerings identical to Nahshon’s.

7:84-89 After all of the gifts were added up (7:84-88), Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord and heard his voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony (7:89). This was a pivotal moment establishing a new level of communication between God and his people. Moses spoke directly to God in his sanctuary, and God spoke directly to Moses.

8:1-12 The Lord’s next set of instructions was for the priests and Levites. First, Aaron was to light the seven lamps in the tabernacle (8:2). Then came the instructions for the cleansing and consecration of the Levites for their service. Their outward purification required them to be sprinkled with the purification water, to have their entire bodies shaved, and to wash their clothes (8:6-7). These steps to purify themselves outwardly (8:7) were followed by internal cleansing, accomplished by the offering of one young bull as a burnt offering and a second young bull for a sin offering to atone for unintentional sins (8:8-12).

Once these ceremonies were complete, the Levites were brought out to be presented by Aaron to the entire Israelite community (8:9). There, before the Lord, Aaron was to have the Israelites lay their hands on them (8:10) in a service we would recognize today as a form of ordination. It was called a presentation offering to the Lord from the Israelites, so that the Levites could perform the Lord’s work (8:11). Thus, the Levites were a gift to the Lord, and the people were investing them with the authority to execute their ministry. The Levites concluded this solemn ceremony by laying their hands on the heads of the bulls. The sin offering atoned for sin, and the burnt offering symbolized total commitment to God (8:12).

8:13-19 God then made a presentation and gift of his own. He told Moses to have the Levites stand before Aaron and his sons . . . to present them before the Lord as a presentation offering (8:13). The reason was to separate the Levites from the rest of the Israelites so that the Levites would belong to God (8:13-14). As stated earlier (3:11-13; see Exod 13:2, 15), God’s special possession of the Levites was based on his redemption of the firstborn of all the males of Israel in the tenth plague of the exodus from Egypt. Instead of calling out every firstborn male from every tribe for his service, God chose the Levites for this sacred task (8:16-18). God then turned around and gave the Levites exclusively to Aaron and his sons to perform the work for the Israelites at the tent of meeting. This was to protect the rest of the community from bringing a plague upon themselves by coming in contact with the sacred objects of the sanctuary (8:19), thereby defiling themselves and suffering death.

8:20-22 The chapter concludes by affirming that Moses, Aaron, and the entire Israelite community obeyed God’s commands (8:20). Unfortunately, this will contrast sharply with the whining and rebellion of the Israelites once they hit the road toward Canaan. Even in the face of God’s miraculous deliverance, the Israelites often failed to trust God when the going got tough.

8:23-26 The beginning age of tabernacle service for the Levites was twenty-five. Nevertheless, the upper limit remained at fifty years (8:24-25). The men had to retire from active service at that age, but they could assist their fellow Levites by performing lighter duties (8:26). This was a merciful provision that would prevent men who may not be physically able from failing in their duties and simultaneously bringing defilement on the nation.

Earlier, in 4:3, we read that the minimum age for Levitical service was “thirty” years old. This seeming discrepancy is less glaring when we realize that the events in chapter 4 actually happened after the events in 7:1–9:14 (see 7:1). For some reason unknown to us, the age was raised from twenty-five to thirty during that time. Some Bible commentators suggest that this could have happened after the deaths of Nadab and Abihu (3:4; see Lev 10:1-2). If that is the case, it could be that the age was raised to ensure greater spiritual maturity on the part of the priests. Or, it could be that the Levites entered an apprentice phase at age twenty-five and then entered full service at thirty.

9:1-5 God underscored the importance of the Passover by commanding Moses to have Israel observe this festival at its appointed time on the fourteenth day of [the first] month at twilight (9:2-3). The first Passover was celebrated prior to the exodus from Egypt. It was through the events of the Passover that the Lord delivered his people from slavery. So it was appropriate to celebrate it again in the first month of the nation’s second year out from Egypt (9:1).

9:6-8 There were some Israelites who had been disqualified from participating in the Passover on the appointed day because of their contact with a human corpse (9:6). Such contact brought spiritual defilement on them. They came to Moses to ask, Why should we be excluded from presenting the Lord’s offering at its appointed time . . .? (9:7). This was only the second Passover, so Moses had no precedent from which to answer them. So he instructed them to wait while he went before the Lord to see what he would command about the matter (9:8).

9:9-11 God’s answer was gracious and provided an ordinance for future generations. Those in a similar situation could wait a month and observe the Passover in the second month, on the fourteenth day at twilight (9:11), still keeping all of the required regulations. They wouldn’t have to miss out.

9:12-14 Then God dealt with two further cases that Moses didn’t anticipate. The first concerned an Israelite who simply skipped the Passover. That person was to be cut off from his people, bearing the consequences of his sin (9:13), which would have meant banishment or death. Interestingly, in the New Testament era, similar mistreatment of the Lord’s Supper by the Corinthians resulted in sickness or death (see 1 Cor 11:28-30). The second case dealt with an alien among the Israelites who wanted to observe the Passover. Such a person was permitted to do so, as long as it was done according to the Passover statute and its ordinances (9:14). Aliens who wanted to become followers of the Lord were to be given the same privilege as native Israelites in this case.

9:15-23 The Israelites had an unmistakable divine GPS guiding them during their entire time in the wilderness, and God’s guidance was always reliable. They were guided by the Lord’s cloud that covered the tabernacle (9:15). When the cloud hovered low over the tabernacle, the Israelites remained in camp; when the cloud lifted, the Israelites broke camp and followed the cloud until it stopped again over a new location (9:17-18). No matter how long or short a stay between those journeys, Moses recorded that the people carried out the Lord’s requirement and did not set out (9:19) until he told them to move.

Unfortunately, though, the Israelites as a whole do not obey God much throughout the remainder of the book. A few individuals, including Moses and Aaron, are said later to obey God, but that’s it. From this point forward in Numbers, we will hear mostly grumbling and rumbling coming from the tents of Israel.

10:1-10 Keeping over two million people organized required a lot of precision and clear signals, especially in times of danger or war. So God prescribed a series of blasts from trumpets that would be used to call either the entire congregation or their leaders to rally at the tabernacle or set out as needed (10:2-5). These trumpets were blown on all occasions by the priests (10:8). The trumpet sound during battle was especially impor-tant as a reminder to the Israelites that the Lord was going before them and would save them from their enemies (10:9). Trumpets also became a key part of Israel’s sacrifices and festivals, serving as auditory reminders that the Lord alone was their God (10:10).