Readings on Numbers: 1

Numbers; Exodus 33:7-11; Leviticus 4:12,21; Numbers 5-19; Psalm 132; Jeremiah 15:19-20; 1 Corinthians 1:9-16; 1 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 13:13  •  25 min. read  •  grade level: 5
Reading 1
PASSING by the numbering of the people and the redemption of the firstborn, we might begin with the laws and appointments of chapter 5; they were to keep the camp holy-put out the leper, and so on-" that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell." God's dwelling with them was on the ground of redemption, and He never dwelt with man until redemption was accomplished; but now the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. God had never dwelt with Abraham, but as soon as redemption was accomplished, He said, “I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God," Ex. 29:4545And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. (Exodus 29:45).
Ques. Was not God in the pillar of cloud before the tabernacle was set up?
Yes, but this was after redemption. And it is the same now, only that it is the Holy Ghost indwelling us, the habitation of God through the Spirit which God still insists shall be kept holy. He met Moses between the cherubim; but here it is, " I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory." And the different ordinances and sacrifices offered were founded upon the truth that God was there. An immense thing this was, but now it is a fact by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.
Ques. In chapter 7:89, Moses " heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy-seat that was upon the ark of testimony "?
Ques. But Moses went within the vail?
Yes, but he took off his own vail from his face when he went in. Aaron was only forbidden to enter after his sons had offered strange fire, otherwise he would I suppose, have gone in too. " The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest "; but now we have " boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus." And we have a high Priest, and we draw near. Great principles there are connected with this that we have to weigh. We are now told to go outside the camp; literally, this was then Jerusalem, but we have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. That was all suited to man on earth and as such was ordered by God, but it was the figure of the heavenly thing. God knew the moment when He was going to execute judgment upon the whole system, and so He tells these Hebrews to go outside the camp. They proposed to have the altar, but rejected the Christians, the sect of the Nazarenes. So it is written for us; we have the true altar now, for Christ rejected suffered outside; the altar is therefore there, and we must go forth to Him.
Ques. Has Moses' action in Ex. 33 any bearing on this?
I have no doubt it has. Only his action took place before the tabernacle was set up. He took his tent and pitched it afar off, outside the camp. That was something special to Moses, as it says, " With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold," Num. 12. That was when the cloudy pillar descended, and God talked with Moses outside the camp. There, too, we find Joshua again. Joshua departed not out of the tabernacle of the congregation; Moses also kept there, saving when he went into the camp to carry God's messages. As yet, the tabernacle had not been made, but when Moses gets outside the camp, he gives to the tent this name.
Ques. Was it Moses' own tent?
Yes, I suppose so, or a tent. Coming down from the mountain with directions for the tabernacle, he found the golden calf there and he smashed the tables of the law; then he went up and obtained mercy for the people. But he also took the tent and pitched it outside the camp.
Ques. Why were sacrifices burnt outside the camp?
In two cases this was so, they were treated as an unclean thing; but the fat of these was burnt upon the brazen altar. It was an additional element in the sacrifice.
When they had made the camp unclean with their idolatry, Moses could not take the law of God down to that state of things; he could not put such a law alongside the calf, and, as he did not know what to do, he smashed the tables beneath the mount, so that as a written law it never reached man at all. Then Moses goes up and obtains the mercy of God. Christ went outside Jerusalem, though it was the holy city.
Ques. Till Christ was rejected, was the camp still recognized?
Certainly, but it was passing away, judgment was coming upon it, and so he tells them to go out of it. In John 1, Christ, the real temple, is seen as rejected, yet until He was actually rejected in full, He calls the temple His Father's house.
Ques. Then the sin-offering burnt outside was in separation?
Not exactly; when it was for the whole congregation or for the priest, then the blood was brought into the holiest, and the animal was burnt outside as unclean.
Ques. What, in Christendom, answers now to the camp?
Wherever I find the world united to the Church or to religion, that is the camp. Persons who have brought in false doctrine are the vessels to dishonor, and we have books called " The Christian World," and so on, but one cannot take it all in in a lump. In Jer. 15, we have the separating the precious from the vile. There we see Jeremiah in constant exercise of heart before God and man; in verse 15, he calls for vengeance, saying, " Revenge me of my persecutors,... for thy sake I have suffered rebuke." But then he adds, " Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart," whilst in verse 17 he does not rejoice, but is filled with indignation. He is representing Jerusalem before God, and God says to him, " If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me: and if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them." The first returning is in the way of testimony, then, if Jerusalem comes back, you will have the blessing. You must not, however, fight the evil-" return not thou unto them "-but let them return unto thee. "And I will make thee unto this people a fenced brasen wall: and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the LORD." There is the principle for us. God's word, with all the blessed things that are in it, becomes the joy and rejoicing of the heart. We must take God's word, and separate the precious from the vile, and then we become as God's mouth.
Christ's reproach, that He is an outcast, a rejected Lord. Hanged as a malefactor, He was in the fullest reproach, and in more than reproach; and we go there to Him. It is easy to condemn those who do so and then say, God will never leave His people, despite the evil-I believe all that, too-but if we are to be as His mouth, we must in practice separate the precious from the vile.
Ques. And gather the good into vessels?
That is the same thing. And if we are to be as His mouth, we shall have to be " a fenced brasen wall."
Ques. What is being God's mouth?
All Jeremiah's words, as a prophet, were absolutely God's words; that is being as God's mouth.
Ques. What is the " fenced brasen wall? "
A strong thing that cannot be broken.
Ques. The " taking forth the precious from the vile " is practically separating between them?
Yes. It is easier to speak about evil. The Edomites could say, ' Down with it' because it was God's city; and on the other hand, priests were saying, " The temple of the LORD, are these." The professing church takes the one side, even Papists own the Holy Ghost and that Christ died for sinners; but Edomites, i.e., infidels, seek to pull down everything. In view of all that, I could not sit with the mockers, and rejoice; that would not do. Papists hold more truth than most Protestants, yet I cannot go with them; I cannot walk with either. Other things there are, too; take, say, the Establishment, with the world and the Church mixed up all together, a great system with a profession to be one body, which the world recognizes, and which takes in unconverted people avowedly; there I do not find separation of the precious from the vile; but dross, if it is dross, I reject as such. I have to make the difference and lay hold of whatever is precious, and this I accept and own. I have no doubt we are in the last days, and our business is with the precious. But then we have that which is of great moment: " Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name." The word of God becomes that which is eaten and digested into the soul, and which gives me the consciousness so far of what is precious and of what is vile. If we turn to 2 Tim. 3, we shall find the same thing. There it is not crying But against the evil. We are now in these last days, and verses 2-5 are true all around us; so the instruction given to us is, " From such turn away." Paul then speaks of the mischief they do, and he tells us that " all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived." He further appeals to Timothy to continue in the things he has learned and has been assured of, knowing from whom he had learned them (we now have them from Paul, or Peter, or from God); and adds, that from a child he had known the holy Scriptures which were given by inspiration of God, and were profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God might be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. That is to say, that when the state of the church in a general sense has become thus, having the form of godliness but denying the power of it, I am to turn away from it. And what am I to turn to? Why, says the apostle, you have the Scriptures, God's word! Thus it was with Jeremiah; he was testifying against Jerusalem, and he found the words of God. And again, in Philadelphia, I find that which Christ approves, " Thou... hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name." Holiness and truth are what God will always own, but all over the country people are now turning infidel. Only to-day I have received a letter from America, where things are ten times worse than they were a very short time back. It is from Boston where things are growing to such a pitch that a prominent minister there, speaking from the pulpit, gave up as uninspired all the word of God, save the four gospels. He said, too, that when a man dies, he does not know what becomes of him ' • it is like a man going down the street and turning round the corner out of sight. Ward Beecher gave out that he does not believe in eternal punishment, and all over that country they are discussing whether there is a hell or not.
Ques. It is the rapid progress of all this that is so extraordinary?
It is indeed. Take the case of men of science discussing creation, calling it evolution, of protoplasms or anything else; it is all alike unbelief. The younger ministers of this country are pretty much the same. And it is no good not looking at the evil in the face. The Free Church of Scotland has gone from its ground, and is, practically, an infidel body, though there are individual exceptions still to be found in it. A short time since, a deacon of an Independent Church asked, in view of all this, ' What are we to do? ' and he was told that he had better hold his tongue; others felt the same, only they were not bold enough to say so. Another has said, ' When it says, " Thus saith the Loan," I say nothing about that, but the rest in Scripture is only a credible history.' But I ask, have you a credible history of the creation, written by the morning stars, or someone to tell us about it, or have you a credible history of the flood? Oh, say they, the gospels differ; but if any man has a spiritual understanding, he sees that in the different gospels God is giving in each one of them the moral bearing of a certain view of Christ. Men only see in them Matthew, Mark, or Luke, but they never see a trace of God. Of course, Matthew is a credible historian, but they leave God out. Look at 1 Cor. 2 and you will see the absurdity of it all; suppose you take up heavenly things, well, what are they? Nobody has been there to tell me; " What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? " But God has revealed these things unto us by His Spirit. And we have received, not the spirit which is of the world, but the Spirit which is of God. The things themselves have been received by the Spirit's own revelation of them. They are communicated to us by words taught of the Spirit, and then they are received in our minds by the power of the Holy Ghost. Yet people say Paul's statements are revelations from God, but that Paul only gave them to us the best way he could! ' It is no such thing,' says Paul, I give you what I have received, a revelation, and that in words which I have been taught for the purpose.' And the next thing is, those who hear these words from the Spirit, by Paul, do not understand one atom about them except by the Spirit.
Ques. Does, the " words... which the Holy Ghost teacheth," apply to all Scripture?
Of course it does.
Ques. How far do you admit the human element?
Fully, in every possible way. I admit the human in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is the beauty and blessedness of Him. Ques. But was there anything not divine in Him as Man? Nothing.
Ques. What are the " things " to which Paul refers?
The things which God had ordained before the world unto our glory. The Holy Ghost has come down, putting Himself in human circumstances, and saying, these things were ordained for our glory, and it is, "us," "us," "us," all through. In the Old Testament it was not so, when they searched it; there is that difference in character between the Old Testament and the New. And very wonderful it is, that the Holy Ghost has taken His place in the midst of the saints, to unfold to them what He has caused to be written, and I bless God for it.
Ques. Can you explain how Paul got these words?
No, I cannot, and what is more, if I could, I do not think I could make you understand it. But the word is the " lively oracles."
Ques. Is the " unto us," confined to the apostles?
Yes. People say that they believe in inspiration, and that Shakespeare was inspired. But did he get a revelation? You cannot receive things from heaven unless they are revealed. Every Scripture is given by inspiration of God. But others say that we must go back to the beginning and see what the Fathers say; but are the Fathers the beginning? I own I must have what is from the beginning; this is what I want, but I cannot be content with anything lower down.
No, it is " every scripture," that is to say, everything that comes under that title. We find the devil speaking, and that, of course, is not inspired, but the writer who gave it was inspired to give it.
Ques. The only question that remains is, how are we to know what is inspired?
" The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." I was brought up to know the Scriptures, and I am very thankful that it was so.
Ques. And is there now nothing further to be revealed?
No; we have to try whatever comes by this word. If people do not believe, it is because they are not of My sheep.
Ques. What of the apocryphal gospels?
Only read them, and then pretend that a man is brought into any difficulty by them! I put it on you to read them, and ask any company of intelligent people about them.
Ques. Is it not remarkable that they should have passed current at the time?
Well, no, for the professing church never had the truth of God; one cannot even find justification by faith in any of the old Fathers, so Milner says. There was no teaching among them of Christ's work, as in Romans, Hebrews, and so on. And their morality was just as bad. I hardly think I have ever found in the Fathers the right sense of a single passage of Scripture. Remember, too, that human education is not faith and will never give faith. What is needed to have real faith is the Spirit of God opening the eyes and turning people from the power of Satan unto God. One may present the truth, but if God does not change the will, it produces anger. Man's mind is always atheist when it is sifted out. So where the mind is working for itself, it is necessarily atheistical, for my mind cannot go beyond my mind, or else it is not my mind; but if God cannot go beyond my mind, then it is not God. The Lord brought this out in John 4. The woman did not understand a single word about the water, and she says, " Give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw." But when Jesus says, " Go, call thy husband," etc., she replies, " Sir, I perceive that thou are a prophet." She did not say that He had told her rightly, but the word of God carried with it the authority of God in her soul. So when the word of God reaches the conscience, it puts me in my place, and it also puts God in His right place towards me.
Ques. Why is the conscience never infidel?
It cannot be, because it knows right and wrong and refers to God. When man lost God as he did in the garden, then he got a conscience. The mass of infidelity is hypocrisy; if you go and tell a man all that he ever did, he will not stand it.
Ques. How do you account for the traces of another hand in the Pentateuch?
Another hand! I do not care if there are fifty hands.
Ques. How were all the books put together into one book?
It is said Ezra did it, and that the grand synagogue did it, but that on the face of it is merely an addition. Recollect that we have the Lord, and the apostles, too, sanctioning all that they had, as it was, and all that we now have. I remember a man-a nice man, too-who had declared against inspiration; speaking of the New Testament, he said that while he refused to take that up, yet he owned that an honest man cannot deny that the apostles quoted the Old Testament, but then they were all wrong together. Well then, I said, it is a question whether the apostles knew better what Christianity is, or you. Christ says, Moses wrote of Me, and you say no. And again, the more they attempt, as they are doing in some quarters, to decry the apostles as mere fishermen of Galilee, the more they elevate the word. I think God allowed the earliest Fathers to drop down morally (and perhaps at once), and also not to know the difference between the apostles themselves and those who were next to them.
Ques. What of the Apocrypha?
This does not profess to be by the Holy Ghost; but only to be according to the writer's capacity.
That is the revelation. But now I receive the Spirit, and so now I realize these things by the Spirit; this is the way of their, communication. The other point, in verse 14, is also true, viz., that it is by the Spirit we apprehend them. If a person were to come and tell me that something heavenly had been revealed to him by. the Spirit, I should not believe him, but I should ask where is it in Scripture?
In Num. 5, we have the Spirit's jealousy to test whether or no there was any evil there. Then follows in chapter 6 the question of Nazariteship, i.e., entire separation to God. God must have the camp holy; and if any question affecting this was raised, there was the way of detecting it.
Ques. Does not chapter 6 show what Israel ought to have been as a Nazarite to God?
Yes, and it gives also the blessing at the end. Christ alone was the true Nazarite, but that ought to be true of all of us in one sense.
Ques. In chapter 8, verses 2 and 3, there is a remarkable expression, " over against "?
Ques. You once said you thought it meant, to light up the face of the candlestick, to illuminate it?
Very likely it does.
Ques. Were the lamps burning night and day?
Then, next, the Levites were given to the priests. And those who kept the Passover had to be circumcised. And the cloud was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was to be no starting to journey unless the cloud removed; i.e., divine guidance.
In chapter 10, we have the order of march for the whole camp; but at the close of the chapter the ark removes from that order and goes first; that is, the LORD steps out of His place to lead them. In Psa. 132, there is a similar change; in verse 5, David seeks a habitation for God; in verse 13, God answers by choosing Zion. In verse 8, David says, "Arise, 0 Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength"; in verse 14, God answers, " This is my rest forever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it."
Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness;
I will also clothe her priests with salvation:
And let thy saints shout for joy.
And her saints shall shout aloud for joy.
For thy servant David’s sake turn not away the face of thine anointed.
There will I make the horn of David to bud; I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed.
And in the Psalm, there are no more enemies left, they are all clothed with shame.
The answers surpass the prayers.
Ques. Is it only in a general way that this guidance of the cloud can be applied now?
But saints are guided as they wait on God. Remember, it was a pillar of a cloud, not a cloud and a pillar. Then the people complained and murmured, though God led them so.
Ques. But in chapter 10 we have the blowing of trumpets?
Yes, that was the testimony of God in the camp.
Ques. " If ye go to war... ye shall be remembered." It does not say they were to fight?
No, but blowing the trumpets is the testimony before God beforehand; it was a question of God being with them all through. We find the same thing in the Revelation where " they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony " (chap. 12:11); the testimony was in their hands.
Then we have the sad history of the various forms of unbelief in their going through the wilderness. And in chapter 19, the red heifer, which is the only institution of a sacrifice in the book of Numbers, though others are offered. Infidels say this 19th chapter has got into its wrong place, but it would be of no use at all in Leviticus.
Ques. Why did they complain about the manna?
Christ there had lost His value, it was only dry food; they wanted something of the world, something Egyptian.
Ques. All the food of Egypt was on the ground or under its surface, but the food of Canaan is up in the air, grapes, figs, pomegranates, etc., in the first heavens?
I see; the great thing is that they had the food, but whether the figure in that difference was meant, is another thing. Christ is the bread come down from heaven which we can have and enjoy. It is not the corn of the land here, but the supply for the wilderness.
Ques. What is the change of its color and taste from Exodus?
Different descriptions of it, that is all.
Ques. Which was best, the "honey" or the "fresh oil"?
Are you tired of Christ, i.e., of nothing but Christ?
Ques. But they could not get anything else in the wilderness?
Not unless, as Moses says, they killed all the cattle; they could get nothing from the ground. And Moses got tested, too. The burden of this willful, wayward people through the wilderness was an immense one for Moses, and he loses, though God does not in form rebuke him.
In answer to his complaint (chap. 11:11-15), God tells him to bring seventy of the elders, and He adds, " I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone." Moses loses something of the importance of his place; God does not say, I will give them of My Spirit, but, “I will take of the spirit that is upon thee, and will put it upon them," which really was a strong rebuke.
Ques. But in the intercourse of Moses with God, do we not see the same nearness of communion as in Abraham?
Yes; he was a most blessed man, but even so he could not go into the land.
Ques. What was the dew upon which the manna fell a figure of?
I do not know. Up to Sinai, as we have seen, God had proved His divine glory by giving them all they wanted without a reproach, but here He visits them with His displeasure. And even Moses' faith is feeble, and he asks whether they were to kill all the flocks and the herds? And yet beautiful grace is shown in Moses when two of them did not come up, but abode in the camp. "Enviest thou for my sake?" he says; "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets!"
Ques. Why were the people so visited, when God gave them their wish?
They ought to have said, 'The LORD could have given us quails in a minute, what fools we have been,' but instead of that, they set upon the quails to devour them. There was no sign, that I see, of self-judgment, for they flew upon the quails instead of humbling themselves about their murmurings when they saw them.
Ques. What about the names here?
All the names have a meaning.
Ques. What of this Ethiopian woman whom Moses had married?
They were glad of an excuse to blame Moses; it took place, I suppose, at the time he was driven out of Egypt. It would most likely be a different woman from Zipporah; because she would be a Cushite, and not an Ethiopian.
Ques. Was it right on Moses' part?
It might not have been very spiritual, but there was no law then.
Ques. What is the lesson to be learned from chapter 12?
There is this, I believe, to be learned in it: the professing church has set up to believe that it is that which God owns, and so it does not like Christ to be King when He comes again. They revolt against the Royalty of Christ, and want to set up the prophet and the priest which as a present thing we have.