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  • « 1599 Geneva Bible - Calvin Legacy Edition | Main | Abandon Despair and Banish Your Laments »

    Images of the Savior (36 -- The Formation of the Kingdom)

    And they set out from the Mount of Yahweh, on a journey of three days; and the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh set out before them on a journey of three days, to seek out for them a resting place. And the cloud of Yahweh was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp. And it came to pass that, whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Yahweh, and let your enemies be scattered; and let those that hate you flee from before you”; and whenever it rested, he said, “Return, O Yahweh, to the myriad thousands of Israel”. – Numbers 10:33-36

    When we arrive at the book of Numbers, in our journey through the five books of Moses, a very considerable portion of the Pentateuch has passed since Israel first arrived at Mount Sinai, comprising half of Exodus and the entire book of Leviticus. But in spite of this lengthy segment of text, we find the hosts of Israel still gathered together at the foot of Mount Sinai, so that, for the entirety of one and a half of Moses' five books, they have made no progress in their journey whatsoever. This very fact emphasizes the utterly crucial and significant nature of what took place on Mount Sinai; for the Holy Spirit has seen fit to devote a very large part of the foundational books of the Law to detailing the events of that one monumental episode. As we move into a consideration of the book of Numbers, therefore, it would behoove us to give a little reflection to what had in fact transpired at the Holy Mount of Yahweh, and how the thing that had there taken place undergirds and gives meaning to the next event in Israel's history, when she sets out from the mountain to journey across the wilderness. In this reflection, we will learn much of the nature of the Church, and see many glimpses of the Savior, which will serve to encourage and instruct us today, as we move across the wilderness of this world, a united body and kingdom of priests, under the headship of Christ.

    The basic gist of what had happened on Mount Sinai, which is so monumental an accomplishment in redemptive history, may be summed up in this one phrase: God there fulfilled his promise of making Abraham into a nation and a kingdom, who should be his people forever. Prior to this time, God had been at work for over four hundred years, multiplying and preserving the offspring of Abraham his chosen servant, in order to fulfill his promise that they should be as the stars of the heaven (Genesis 15:5); then, in the first part of the Book of Exodus, he brought them out of Egypt with a strong arm, and with many plagues and miracles, which were as so many pangs attending the birth of a nation; and immediately after bringing them out from Egypt, and delivering them from their enemies, God then brought them to his Holy Mount, where he did what he promised to do long before, and made them into a kingdom and a people. So that, the entire one and a half books that we have just been discussing really give the account of the formation of a kingdom, which should prove to be the long-awaited Kingdom of God on this earth (howbeit merely in shadow-form at this time), and which should never have end. The long list of laws and regulations and instructions that we find in Leviticus is really the constitution of God's new nation; and when Israel finally leaves the Mount, she has become one nation, under God, thoroughly organized and officially chartered, with Christ the King at her head. Thus the Israelites' first stay at Mount Sinai was the birthday of the Church, in fulfillment of God's promise made to Abraham.

    Now, as we enter the fourth book of the Pentateuch, we find at first that a fairly detailed account is given of the practical and orderly structuring of this new nation, before the history is given of her setting out on her journey across the wilderness. We may learn from this that God is a God of order, and that no matter involving the life and practice of his Church is insignificant, but that he is pleased sovereignly to superintend and guide her in every detail. So let us now observe a few things about this practical structuring of the Kingdom, and how we may apply those truths, and what we may learn of Christ from the types and foreshadows that God was pleased to weave into this functional organization.

    We encounter first, in our survey of the first few chapters of the book of Numbers, that event from which the book took its name, i.e., a numbering, or census of the people, who proved to be over six hundred thousand mature men, who were able to go to war, besides the women, children, and the priestly tribe of Levi. From this census, we may infer several things: first, that God's people is a very numerous people, as the stars of the heaven, even as he had promised to make them; and we must not forget that this is just the firstfruits, the first generation of God's great Kingdom, of which there would be no end to its increase (see Isaiah 9:6-7). And so, at the conclusion of history, we will find an innumerable multitude, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, gathered together before the throne as the one vast and unified people of God (Revelation 5:9-14). This census, emphasizing the great number of the people of Israel, is a foretaste of that final, blood-bought throng, and underscores the lavishness of God's great act of redemption, and the greatness of the Kingdom that he would bring about upon this earth. And then, we may also learn that God's Kingdom is very particularly chosen by him, and that he knows those who are his by name. All those who are in God's Kingdom have been set apart from eternity, and called by name, even as every name of the hosts of Israel was recorded and accounted for in this census; and so we may be assured that, in all the vast multitudes of Israel, he will not overlook the meanest of his saints, but has written them up in his book, and will not forget them forever (cf. Isaiah 49:15-16).

    After this census, we read of the ordering of God's Kingdom by tribes, and the designation of the place, function, and service that each individual tribe should have, some with greater prominence, as Judah, the first in importance and number, who pitched first toward the rising of the sun, and was the head and advance guard of Israel's hosts. We may learn from this, that God himself has a place and office for each of his people, and that it is not ours to be jealous and strive for higher and greater positions in his Kingdom, as the heathen do (see Matthew 18:1-4; Luke 22:24-30). We are the body of Christ, and each one is to serve in his own position by the power of God (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11-13; 1 Peter 4:10-11).

    In the following chapter, we have an account of the substitution of the tribe of Levi for the firstborn who belonged most especially to God. The Levites were not to go off to war, but were to serve God in his tabernacle, as the firstborn of Israel, and to be as priests to the people. In this account, we may learn that the truest and highest form of service to God is not in the carnal and outward things, such as going off to war, but in the spiritual things, such as prayer and intercession for the people. Today, the entire Church is as the tribe of Levi, for she is an assembly of firstborn (Hebrews 12:23), a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:10), and her warfare is spiritual, and not carnal (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:11-18). We may certainly conclude from this, that we are to labor for the spread of God's Kingdom, in this present time, not as the twelve tribes of old, who fought with swords and arrows, in the manner consistent with the shadowy and typical era preceding the advent of Christ, but as the tribe of Levi, the firstborn of Israel; and hence, all such historical occurrences as the crusades of the middle ages and the pogroms of the Russian czars are ill-informed, and misunderstand the nature of the Kingdom, and are a blight on the name of the King, and a tragic misrepresentation of Jesus the Lord.

    In the next chapters we have such foundational events and instructions described for us as the trial of jealousy, which is for the purpose of revealing the purity or impurity of a suspected adulteress; the way in which a person might devote himself wholly to God's service as a Nazarite; the way in which the tabernacle and altar were dedicated and began to be used, and the blessing which the priest should give to the people; the keeping of the first passover; the resting of the cloud of glory on the tabernacle; the making of trumpets with which to call the hosts of Israel together, and tell them when to set out; and the going forth of the Ark of the Covenant, to lead God's people through the wilderness. We may derive from all these events and instructions many lessons pertaining to the functioning and maintenance of the Church, not the least being the need for utter purity, for the ongoing remembrance and celebration of God's sacraments, founded upon his great redemptive acts, and looking forward to their eventual culmination, when the Kingdom comes in its fullest expression, and for the faithful, orderly, and community-wide responsibility to set off in unflagging perseverance across the wilderness, under the headship of Christ, until we reach the promised land. But rather than touch upon all these things individually, we must simply conclude our brief survey of Israel's formation as a Kingdom, and the way in which she began to function as a nation, and to set off in pursuit of the promised land, with an enumeration of the several types and foreshadows of the Christ.

    We see the first foreshadow of the Messiah in the priest's coming to the people with a blessing, and mediating the Lord's favorable presence (Numbers 6:22-27). This blessing was fully brought to the people of God only when their final High Priest, Jesus Christ, came and brought to them the true presence of God, and bought for them an eternal peace in the light of his countenance.

    Second, we see a foreshadow of the Savior in the instructions regarding the taking of a Nazirite vow: for Jesus was raised in the town of Nazareth for this reason, that, although he was not strictly a Nazirite after this order, and so was able to drink wine (e.g. Matthew 11:19), touch the dead (e.g. Luke 7:14-15), etc., yet he would be called a Nazarene, to suggest that he was the true fulfillment of the man set apart by a Nazirite vow (Matthew 2:23; cf. Judges 13:5). Now, he is the ultimate fulfillment of this typical office in several respects: first, he was utterly set apart for the work of God (John 17:18-19); second, he alone was truly and entirely pure; and third, when he left his disciples to perform that work for which he had been set apart, he refused to drink the fruit of the vine until he had accomplished his task, and could in celebration of his success drink it with them again in the Kingdom (Matthew 26:26-29); and after that, he also refused to drink the wine mingled with gall (Matthew 27:34); in this way, he fulfilled the sign of the Nazirite, who could partake of no fruit of the vine during the time he was set apart for God's service.

    Third, there is a type of the Christ in the coming of the cloud upon the tabernacle, overshadowing it with the glory of God, and providing guidance and protection for the hosts, as it led them through the wilderness. As we have elsewhere observed, this cloud was typical of Christ's taking on a human body, and so bringing the glory of God into a visible form. In the wilderness, the cloud filled the tabernacle and guided the people; but in the days of Christ, God's glory would fill the true tabernacle, which is the body of Christ; and after he had taken on human flesh, he would ascend on high, and guide and protect his people from his holy throne, until they should arrive safely home in the New Jerusalem.

    Fourth, and finally, we may view the Ark of the Covenant as typical of the Christ; for Christ himself took on a human body to be a covenant of the people (Isaiah 42:6); and in his body, he perfectly fulfilled the Law of God, and became true bread from heaven for his people (John 6:32-59); and so the Ark, which symbolized the holy covenant, and contained both the unbroken tablets of the law and a jar of the manna with which God sustained his people in the wilderness, was a very instructive type of Christ. Therefore, the final event in this portion of Numbers, when the people are finally just about to set out from the Holy Mount, in pursuance of the promised land, is a very great foreshadow of the work of Christ; for at that time, the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of the people for a three days' journey, to seek out a resting place for them; and then, after those three days, it brought the people into their resting place, and scattered all their enemies, and returned to dwell in their presence. In the same way, Jesus Christ went for three days into the depths of the earth, in order to prepare a resting place for his people (John 14:1-3); and when he did so, he scattered all their enemies, and afterward came back to dwell with them forever. So, as the newly-born Church first sets out from the Holy Mount, it is with a sign and promise of what the Christ should accomplish for her, going out before her to prepare a place where she might dwell with him in peace forevermore.

    Posted by Nathan on December 11, 2008 12:26 PM

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