What a picture this is of the life of many a child of God today. Redeemed out of the bondage of Satan, yet failing to enter into the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ. Do we not all know, either in the past or in the present, something of the wilderness life of failure and defeat? Yet, even in their wandering, the Lord did not forsake His people: He had compassion on them, He let them enjoy His provision and protection and guidance day by day.
The standards under which the tribes were ranged, the Ark of the Covenant going before, the substitution of the tribe of Levi in the place of the first-born to do the work of the Sanctuary, and their consecration, the coverings of the various vessels during the march, the law of the Nazarite, --all teach fresh lessons to those who have ears to hear.
The book opens with all the congregation appearing before Moses and Aaron to declare their pedigree (Num 1:18). How many of us can do this spiritually? How many can respond to the test given by Peter: ''Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear'' (1Pet 3:15, RV)? Let us pause and ask ourselves whether we have indeed known the great change which Christ taught us is absolutely necessary when He said, ''Ye must be born again.''
Surely, in the light of Calvary, our gifts should exceed the measure of the Israelites under the Law-- but how far we come short! There are some who say, ''The Jew gave a tithe, I give much more than a tenth of my income''; and yet if they really examined their accounts they would be surprised to find that they are giving less than a tenth. Besides, the tithe was only a small part of what the Israelites gave. The various other tributes probably brought the amount up to about one-fourth or even one-third of their incomes, and yet it was only after this had been paid that their free-will offerings began! If we as Christians were to give in like proportion, there would be no lack for our Foreign Missions or any other part of the work of the Lord entrusted to our care.
Immediately after this incident, the representatives of each tribe were commanded by God to bring a rod and lay it up in the Tabernacle before the testimony, and in the morning the rod of the man whom God should choose, should blossom. The rods lay there through the dark hours of the night, and in the morning, the rod of Aaron alone brought forth buds, and bloomed flowers, and yielded almonds. The rulers' rods were symbols of mere natural power-- Aaron's of spiritual power. Natural power may reform and civilize, the power of Jesus alone can change men's hearts and impart new life (ch. 17).
The Priests and Levites were to have no inheritance in the land because the Lord Himself was their inheritance (ch. 18). They were no losers. All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the wheat was theirs ''by reason of the anointing.'' As we are the Lord's priests, He Himself is likewise the portion of our inheritance, and we have all, in Him, and can say, ''Yea, I have a goodly heritage'' [Psa 16:5,6].
The time came when Aaron must die (ch. 20). Moses was commanded to take him up into Mount Hor and strip him of his priestly robes and put them upon Eleazar his son, and Aaron died there in the top of the Mount. Here the type falls short of the glorious Anti-type. ''There ariseth another Priest who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life'' (Heb 7:15,16). It was on account of the disobedience of Moses and Aaron in striking the rock that they were not allowed to enter the Promised Land. On the first occasion, in Exodus, the Rock was a type of our smitten Saviour. But only once was He smitten for us. On the second occasion, they were commanded to speak to the Rock. The Hebrew word for rock in Ex 17:6 signifies a low-lying bed-rock. The word in Numbers 20:8 is a high and exalted rock.
It was perhaps to this water that our Lord referred in His conversation with Nicodemus, when He said, ''Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.'' Nicodemus' failure to understand the type called forth our Lord's reproof, ''Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things?'' (Joh 3:10, RV). How much of the teaching of the New Testament we Christians miss, through our neglect of the study of the types.
Our Lord claimed this as a picture of the salvation which men were to find in Himself. It is plain that the power to save did not lie in the serpent of brass. Wherein did it lie? There is no answer to that question till we come to the Cross of Calvary. The Son of Man, who is also the Son of God, hung there for us. ''There is life for a look at the Crucified One'' [hymn]. The poison of sin is working death in man's experience today. The divinely appointed remedy was a serpent of brass lifted up, harmless, but bearing the image of that which wrought the woe. ''For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin: that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him'' (2Cor 5:21).
There is a point, in the application which Christ made of this type to Himself, which is often missed. It is this -- that regeneration, or the new birth, takes place as the result of faith in Christ's sacrifice for sin. The bitten Israelites were not merely healed by looking at the serpent, they received life. Bitten-- they were as good as dead, death was already working in them; and every one that looked-- lived. So when Nicodemus was puzzling over Christ's words, ''Ye must be born again,'' and querying how the new birth could take place, Jesus pointed him straight away to Calvary, and said, ''As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life'' (John 3:14,15).
Every bitten Israelite that looked-- lived; every child of Adam-- ''dead in trespasses and sins'' -- who has looked to Jesus as his Saviour has received eternal life from Him. All down the ages, ever since the Gospel was first preached, there has been a multitude whom no man can number, of young and old, ignorant and learned, rich and poor, people of every clime and in every imaginable outward condition of life, who have all had this one circumstance, and many of them this one circumstance only, in common-- that when they came as lost sinners to the Saviour the same result happened with each, they became ''new creatures'' in Christ Jesus.
The prophet from a far-off land who was called in to curse God's people could only bless them, and the words of his blessing form a prophecy which has remarkably described the Israelites ever since they were first uttered, over thirty centuries ago. ''The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations'' -- words which, among others, no doubt, Frederick the Great's chaplain had in his mind when the Emperor asked him to prove the truth of the Bible in one word, and he answered, ''Israel.'' In these books of Moses many points were prophesied about Israel and the land which are true to day. For instance--
Again, Balaam looked down the ages and saw One who was to come. ''I shall see Him, but not now; I shall behold Him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel... out of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion'' (Num 24:17,19). ''Where is He that is born the King of the Jews? for we have seen His Star in the east, and are come to worship Him'' (Mat 2:2). Where is the King? We have seen His Star. The Star and the Sceptre were foretold nearly 1500 years before they came to pass. And the wise men saw the star, shining in all its splendour, above all other stars in brightness, over the lowly spot where lay the Babe of Bethlehem. ''I, Jesus, have sent Mine Angel to testify unto you these things in the Churches. I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning Star.'' (Rev 22:16).