A matter of perspective


The Book of Numbers in Hebrew is called במדבר “In the Desert (Wilderness)” and it speaks of the time when the children of Israel wandered in the desert after their redemption from slavery in Egypt. The book records the numerous events that occurred in their decades of wandering. The first words of chapter 1 describe to us an interesting fact, which is that God spoke to Moses after they had already wandered one year:

Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying…”

Numbers 1:1

God gave a very specific set of instructions to Moses and the children of Israel regarding the next steps that they were to take on their way to the Land of Promise. As we well know — and are going to learn together — Israel did not obey God, which resulted in not just another 39 years in the desert, but also that an entire generation was not permitted to enter the Land of Promise.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Israel had listened to God’s instructions. How tragic that they lost so much time wandering the desert, and that the same generation which was taken out of Egypt missed out on experiencing the ultimate promise of God. And this was all due to their lack of faith!

I entitled this blog entry, “A Matter of Perspective” because when we read chapter 1, we find some interesting things about the population of Israel during that time:

Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies.

Numbers 1:2–3

God’s instruction to Israel was to count every male from the age of 20 and above. This is important because these males were the ones who would lead Israel into the Promised Land, by an army. We understand from this that Israel’s entrance to the Land would possibly require military action.

Later on in Chapter 1, we read of the total number of these men:

These are the ones who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron numbered, with the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each of whom was of his father’s household. So all the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war in Israel, even all the numbered men were 603,550.

Numbers 1:44–46

As I was reading this account, I got to thinking about how many people — men, women, & children — there were in the camp. The Scriptures tell us that there were 603,550 men over the age of 20, and most commentaries I read estimate that there were most likely 2,000,000 people in all! Talk about a huge perspective shift!

Let’s think of this a moment… 2,000,000 people were traveling in the desert together. Can you imagine how immense that must have been? These people would have needed water, food, and other essential items which were required for survival. Not only that, but Moses had to oversee 2,000,000 people! I must confess that I have an entirely new appreciation for Moses rising to the challenge of leading so many people through the desert. And more importantly, I have a new appreciation for God’s supernatural provision for the children of Israel through it all.

As we continue to study this book, I want to encourage us to read slowly, and think through the small details, which will help us to better understand the bigger picture.