"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."
Tonight we would like to study the book of Numbers with the title, "The Way of a Good soldier." The message has this title because in the book of Numbers the Lord organizes his children into an army and prepares them to fight the war to conquer the Promised Land.
In the New Testament Scriptures we learn that Christians are encouraged to live as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. This should be true with all who have chosen to live as missionaries. Christians are not just good minded people, kind and gentle to everyone. We, the missionaries, should not be like Timothy, for although Timothy, one of the Apostle Paul's disciples, was a good Christian, he was not a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul had to charge him saying, "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer."
One would wonder where the Apostle Paul might have picked up the idea that a good Christian should be a good soldier of Jesus as well. Being a Jew of Jews, we can rest assured that he must have studied the book of Numbers, and learned that our Lord Jesus is the supreme commander of his army, and he is not just a good shepherd but a good general. So let us briefly think about how the Lord organized his children as members of the Lord's army and led them to the Lord's battle.
First, the command to take a census.
Let us read 1:1-3 . The Lord's command to take a census meant to enlist soldiers to join the Lord's army. One thing that is interesting is that no one was supposed to say either, yes, or, no, for the request to enlist. By default, all Israelites, male and 20 years and older, must join the army. Another interesting point is that there is no age limit. Normally, if anyone is too old, he is considered incapable of fighting a battle, so he is categorically excluded. But it was not so with the Israelites. For example, Moses was about 80. Yet he still served as a member of the army. Caleb was 40 years old. Still he joined the army as a rank and file. After the forty years of wandering, by the time Caleb crossed Jordan he became 80. Yet, he remained a member of the Lord's army and fought the battle.
Another interesting point is that the Lord God recruited a bunch of slave people as the members of his army. Normally, a recruiter will carefully consider all the necessary conditions for someone to be a soldier candidate. For example, if anyone is not physically fit that person is excluded. But in the case of the Israelites no questions were asked about anyone. The only requirement is that you are a male who is 20 years or more.
Second, the organization of the Lord’s army.
Throughout the book of numbers we see that the Lord got the army organized so that the army would move like one person. Chapter 2 tells us that the members of the army were to camp in four groups: the east camp, south camp, west camp, and north camp. Each camp had its own leading tribe. At the center was the Lord's tabernacle surrounded by the priests and the Levites (3-4). Chapter 10 sets forth the marching order. Each camp consisted of four tribes. Each tribe had its own leader, and they encamped under their own standard. At this point let us read 1:51 and then 9:15-23, responsively.
In Chapter 22 the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho. At that time Balak, the king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse the Lord's army. In service of him, together with Balak, Balaam went up to Bamoth Baal, an elevated place where the Moabites worshiped the god Baal. From there Balaam could see part of the Israelites encamped down below (22:41). Then, as the Lord forced him to testify against the will of Balak, he shared an oracle about Israel. His first oracle included a remark that shows the beauty of the Lord's encampment. "From the rocky peaks I see them, from the heights I view them. I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like theirs!" His remark indicates that the Lord's camp looked truly beautiful, not just from a spiritual stand point but a physical standpoint as well. And the beauty came out of its organization. Let us not forget that in each camp there were four tribes. Each tribe consisted of families, and each family has parents, children, brothers and sisters, grand parents, grant children and so forth. Of course, the Israelites carried a lot of personal property, such as tents, cooking utensils, cattle, donkeys, oxen, rams, lambs, etc. Yet they were still organized. This reminds us of the way the Lord's church is called, that is, the "body" of Jesus Christ, for 1 Corinthians 12:12 reads, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." Thanks and praise be to the Lord who called us to be members of the his army where we profess that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.
Third, the fear of the Lord.
Undoubtedly, the most important point for a soldier to remember and never forget is that it is the Lord God who is the supreme commander of the Lord's army. Throughout the book of Numbers the Lord makes this point abundantly clear. In the book of Numbers the expression, "The Lord said to Moses," is repeated 66 times. This repetition shows us that it was the Lord who was in charge of the order. He was, and still is, the supreme commander, and he, not any human leader, such as Moses, Aaron, or the Levites, or any tribal leaders, was leading the Lord's army. It is the Lord alone who calls, organizes, trains, disciplines, and leads his army.
Let us all rise and read 1:51 again. "Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who goes near it shall be put to death." Here the expression, "shall be [or must be] put to death," is repeated four times in the book of Numbers. The four references that are related to the sanctity of the Lord's command post helped the Israelites come to the keen realization that the Lord was indeed among them. Electricity is invisible. But when you get an electric shock you realize that electricity is for real. The question then is why is it that the Lord did not allow anyone to approach him at random? Why would any unauthorized approach result in sudden death? The message is clear: there is someone whose existence is more important than the matter of life and death: his words, his commands, his order, his purpose, his will, and his everything. In the Bible, the awareness of the Lord, being more important than even the matter of our life and death, is called "the fear of the Lord." And a good solider is always aware that the Lord is present among the camp, the Lord who created the universe and everything in it, the Lord who sustains his creation, the Lord with whom nothing is impossible. Thus a good soldier has a keen sense that he belongs to the army where the Lord is the supreme commander. Moses had this sense. Caleb had the same sense. Joshua had this sense. But some rebels were not sensitive to this. In fact, the absolute majority of the Israelites did not have this sense and they failed to operate with the fear of the Lord even after witnessing such disastrous events as the earth opening its mouth and swallowing up Korah and all who belonged to him. [Let us read 16:31-35, 41-50.]
The reason for this fear of God being the key for a man to be a good soldier of the Lord lies in who the Lord is and what the Lord is able to do. There are tons of examples that illustrate this point. But for the sake of time let us all rise and read Numbers 20:8: "Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink."Apparently, so much water came out that all the Israelites drank water. The question is, "What must they have been thinking as the water traveled down their throats, quenching their thirst?" That is a good question.
Again, the fear of the Lord makes a man to be a good soldier of the Lord. On a positive note, the fear of the Lord keeps a solider to be brave. It convicts him of the victories guaranteed. As he faces hardships and difficulties, all by faith in the Lord with whom nothing is impossible, he naturally meets challenges and wins victories. On a negative note, fhe fear of the Lord keeps him from sinning. It saves him from suffering from losses. In view of the events described in the book of Numbers the preventable losses include disciplinary actions, such as the losses that came out of their complaints because of hardships on the journey in Chapter 11, Miriam becoming leprous due to her lack of fear of the Lord (12), Korah and his company becoming zapped in an earthquake (26-17), all the unbelievers collapsing in the desert for their unbelief due to the bad influence from those who spied out the land but made bad reports (13-14), Moses and Aaron not showing full respect to the Lord by getting the water from the rock by striking it, not speaking to it as the Lord had told them and thereby not being able to get into the promised land (20).
So tonight, as we come to the Monday meeting for prayer, it is my prayer that as Christian soldiers all of us would settle for the truth that the Lord is among us. When we have faith in him and fight the Lord's battle in holy fear of the Lord, the Lord will certainly bless us by providing us with abundant provisions and grant us victory after victory. The Lord will help us overcome all enemies.
One word: The way of a good soldier of Christ
1. Compare the result of the census in Numbers 1 with the result of the second census recorded in Numbers 26. Think about how the number decreased and why.
. Joshua 14:7,10
. East - Judah, Issachar, Zebulun; South - Reuben, Simeon, Gad; West - Epharim, Manasseh, Benjamin; and North - Dan, Naphtali, Asher.
. Judah (for East); Reuben (for South); Ephraim (for West); and Dan (for North).
. Judah's East camp goes first, then the Levites take down the tabernacle, so that the Lord's command post follows, which is then followed by Reuben's South camp, then West, then North proceed.
. Lion for Judah; Man for Reuben; Ox for Ephraim; and Eagle for Dan.
. Numbers 3:10,38; 18:7, in addition to 1:51. They are all related to the sanctity of the Tabernacle where the Lord established a command post.
. Compare this event with what the Lord commanded Moses in Exodus 17:6, for there the Lord commanded Moses to get the water by "striking" the rock, rather than, 'speaking' to the rock. Notice that there is progression on the way to get the water. In the latter case (getting the water by speaking), Moses needed more faith than the former.
For the blessed provisions for those who work in holy fear of the Lord, consider also the following: healing via the Bronze snake (21b); water from the rock (20a); water at Beer (21c); festivals (Daily offerings, Sabbath offerings, Monthly offerings, the Passover, feat of weeks, feast of trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles in 28-29); the promise of the star that will come out of Jacob (24:17 - Balaam's forth oracle; and the Lord’s provision for women (27a)).
. For 'enemies to overcome,' consider the following: Edomites (20b); Balaam and Balaam (22-24); Moab seducing Israel (25); Arad (21a); Amorites (Gen 9:22; 15:16-19): Sihon and Og (21d) [Gen 10:16; Deuteronomy 3:11; Only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaites. His bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide. It is still in Rabbah of the Ammonites; Moab (22-25) [Gen 19:37 – descendants from the child born out of the union between Lot and his first daughter)] Baal of Peor (25:3); Vengeance on the Midianites (31).