THE NUMBERED PEOPLE
"Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to number by their divisions all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army." Numbers 1:2-3
These verses bring us to the camp of Israel still circling Sinai's base. Christian thought—waiting for dews of heavenly grace—delights to linger here. Let us observe the people closely. They are snatched by God's hand from tyrannizing foes. A miracle of care supplies their daily needs. A moving pillar guides their way. The law has been repeated to them amid terrific phenomena. Moreover they are fenced around by strict peculiarities of social custom and of typical worship. Their contact with the world is broken. They move amid the nations of the earth, as a stream flowing through the ocean's bed, unmingling with contiguous waves. God near, with sheltering arms, is their defense. Goodness and mercy guard their present steps. The land of promised rest is the horizon of their hopes.
Reader, these annals are a historic mirror. They picture a heavenly Father's special dealings with each child of faith. In every age and place there is an Israel thus mercifully loved, and led, and fed. The antitype will never fail, until the last Christian's course is run.
Hence precious teaching meets us in the study of this chart. We often err and fail, through dim discernment of our state. Peace would abound, and comforts cheer, and strength put forth more vigor, if right perceptions shed a clearer light. Let us, then, view ourselves in Israel's varied story. Our every step finds counterpart in them.
The parallel is quickly drawn. They once groaned bitterly in cruel bondage. But mercy set them free. Believer, you too were once a slave at Satan's will. He ruled you with an iron yoke. But now the chain is broken, and you rejoice, the ransomed freed-man of the Lord. Egypt is escaped. The tyrant holds you not.
Israel's tribes are journeying, as strangers, through a desert-waste. And is not yours a wilderness-wandering? The abiding country is not here. The rest is far away. But they are escorted and protected by a heavenly guide. So, too, a beckoning hand marks out your wanderings by day—by night. Is your soul needy? The bread of life fails not. Are you athirst? The wells of life are ever open.
They had heard "the voice of words"—the fiery law. This law has also pierced the deep recesses of your inner man. You have thus learned the glorious righteousness of God—the hateful sinfulness of sin—your ruined state in SELF. You hence are taught to prize the grace of your curse-bearing Lord, and the rich worth of His imputed merits.
Was Israel God's special portion? You, too, are not your own. You are a purchased property—a peculiar race. You shun the world, as a forbidden path—a rebel camp—an uncongenial climate—an alien tribe—a Jael's tent—a land of filth and snares.
This is a scanty outline. Daily experience fills in the picture. Let each similitude be traced. For each is a fruitful school of wisdom and improvement. There is, indeed, no novel thought in this recital. Each Bible-reader knows these things. But common truths—like common blessings—soon lose their point. Colors soon fade, without renewing touch. The flame expires, without reviving breath. Reader, be wise, and often trace your own case in this predictive story.
And now, before the people move, God speaks again. He gives command to register the Number of each tribe. Account must be distinctly taken. All names must be recorded. Their multitudes must all be reckoned and exactly known.
New instruction meets us here. God ever leads us in a brightening path. Fresh dealings are fresh seeds of wisdom. They call us to discern anew His mind. May, then, this Numbering-act enrich faith's stores!
In common matters, men count possessions, which are choice, and dear, and prized. They, whose base joys are fixed on this world's pelf—thus calculate their gold. Their coffers are often opened. Frequent reckonings review the contents. See, too, the watchful shepherd's care. His marking eye perpetually surveys the flock. As they go forth—as they return—the Number is most diligently kept.
Do we, then, stray beyond sound limits—do we indulge unfounded fancy—when in God's Numbering we read God's love? Do not clear characters here write, that His people are thus Numbered, because loved—counted, because prized? This truth extends to all the children of faith's family. My soul, come bow before it. Its worth exceeds all worlds.
There is no blessedness like his, whose glowing gratitude often realizes, My God loves me—my name is in His heart. The Lord of all creation esteems me among His choicest jewels.
The knowledge of this fact is reached by happy steps. They are all scripturally firm. Review them. Why was Jesus sent to bear your sins, and deck you in His robe of righteousness? Why did Jehovah inflict on Him the hell-pains, which were justly yours? Why was Christ slain? Why are you spared? There can be only one reply, 'God loves you'.
And why did the Spirit speed to arouse your sleeping conscience—to show self's ruin, and the remedy of the Cross? Why did your adamantine heart dissolve, and unbelief melt into faith, and your whole heart clasp Jesus, as its own? There can be only one reply, 'God loves you'.
How is it, that your slender bark still rides above the raging billows of an engulfing world? How is it, that your tottering feet are still upheld along the slippery hill, which leads to Zion's heights? The strength is not your own. It is most freely given. There can be only one reply, 'God loves you'.
When did this love commence?—Tell me, when God began to be, and I will tell you, when His love began. Will not this love expire? Can God be no more God? While God is God, He must be love.
God loves you! Would that the eye of faith forever rested on this glorious truth! Heroic might will brace the inner man, just as this thrives and strengthens. God loves you! What an amazing impulse to bear the willing servant over all mountains of doubt, and fear, and hindrance! God loves you! What a strong shield to ward off Satan's darts! God loves you! It is victory, before one blow is struck. It is a pillow of unfailing peace. It is light in the dark day of trial. It is a cordial of invigorating comfort. It is the holy wing to lift above the world. It is a foretaste of a sure heaven.
Next, who are Numbered? The young—the weak—the female—stand apart. None are enrolled, but those whose age and strength enable them for WAR.
Christ's service is a mighty work—a valiant struggle—a determined fight. Satan disputes each onward step. We must undauntedly resist. The world presents its countless troops—all quick to wound—and skilled to capture. We must defy them with unwavering front. The flesh is an internal foe—haunting the secret chambers of the heart, and entwined around our very being. It gives no respite. No respite must be given to it.
Believer, yours is this warrior-life. Fight, as one fighting for eternity. Strive, as one striving for a kingdom. March, as one resolute to take heaven by storm. Jesus calls—commands—precedes. Follow Him boldly. The Numbered host is Numbered for the fight. The fighting host will soon shout, Victory. No one will triumph, who has never fought. No one, who truly fights, will fail. Each Numbered soldier paid a ransom price. Ex. 30:12. The rich—the poor—were equally assessed. There was no difference for differing age or state.
The Gospel of this fact is clear. All in Christ's camp are ransomed by His blood. All join the chosen band, confessing, that they need redemption, and glorying in redemption found. All plead one sacrifice. All bring the same expiation-price.
Next count the register. It presents a vast array of Numbered warriors. They stretch beyond six hundred thousand men. Numb. 1:46. Whence is this marvelous increase? One family had entered Egypt. Hardship, and cruelty, and toil had done their worst to keep them low. But now, within the lapse of a short period, they stand an army of this vast extent. Whence is this multiplied expanse?
God's early promise was their portion. "I will make of you a great nation." Gen. 12:2. God's purpose never fails. When He has spoken, seeming impossibilities may rise—but all in vain—fulfillment will not tarry. The Numbered People prove, that our God is Truth as well as Love. His promise is a seed, which surely ripens into fruit.
Reader, behold again this multitude. It is an emblem of a far larger host. The conflict will soon end; and then before the throne a countless company will be spread. Rev. 7:9. They are the saved from every nation—kindred—people—tongue. Their robes are white; for Jesus's blood has washed them. Their hands wave palms; for they have conquered in His name. Say—say—will you rejoice and triumph with them? Say—say—are you now warring, a comrade in these ranks? The fight is prelude to the crown.
About a year has passed since the last Numbering of this family. The Levites then formed part of the collected mass. They are not now included. They stand apart, a separate portion. But mark a wondrous fact. The Number then and now amounts exactly to the same. Israel has surrendered Levi's tribe, but Israel's forces are not thereby less. Here is a profitable lesson. We never lose by giving to the Lord. Selfishness is poverty. Christian benevolence is wealth. We often grudgingly withhold. The result is loss, not gain. The coffers drain not, which supply God's cause. The more thus given is the more possessed. They, who thus lay out, lay up.
Reader, once more survey the Numbered People. You are inclined to say, this band will safely reach the promised land. Surely their willing steps will ever run in the appointed way. Alas! two, and two only, steadfastly adhere. The multitude distrust the Lord. They wilfully provoke Him. Therefore just indignation dooms them to exclusion. Their corpses strew the desert. And one by one they line the road with graves. They fall, a dreadful proof, that outward privileges alone do not save. Unbelief nullified their many means of grace. It poisoned their cup of blessing. "They could not enter in, because of unbelief." Heb. 3:19.
Ah, unbelief! It is the sin of sins—the misery of miseries—the hopeless malady—the death of souls—the bar, which shuts out Christ.
Reader, is this vile viper lurking in your heart? Oh! drag it to the cross, and slay it there. Implore the Spirit, by His mighty sword, to hew it into shreds. If it survives, you die. The case is clear. Can he be healed, who scorns the only cure? Can he reach home, who leaves the only homeward path? Can he be cleansed, who flees the only cleansing stream? Can he go in, who will not pass the door? Can he escape from the fast-sinking wreck, who spurns the life-boat? Who can reach God, who puts aside the Mediator? Who can be saved, who tramples down the only Savior? Unbelief rejects the Gospel, and so perishes. It turns God's truth into a lie, and it goes hence to learn its folly, where faith never comes. Many may be Numbered, as the Church's sons, who are not Numbered, as the heirs of life.