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Lesson 1: The New Order *

Introduction: How are you at math? Did you know that mathematical formulas govern much of our physical world? Scientists are still trying match the things they observe to the math they know. They have a very long way to go to figure it all out, assuming they can. Imagine then, a book of the Bible called "Numbers." Would the Creator of the Universe, the one who created things "by the numbers" have a book about order? It seems so. If you are like me, I have a lot to learn about math and God's order, so let's dive right into our new study on the book of Numbers!

  1. The Census


    1. Read Numbers 1:1-5. Do you sometimes wonder whether God is involved in your life? What level of involvement do we see here? (God gives them specific instructions, down to naming the helpers!)


      1. What is the reason for this census? (It is for the army.)


      2. Thinks about what you know about the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Does God win battles "by the numbers?" Is He a "I've got more men than you" kind of God?


      3. We know that God has an odd way of winning battles. When God worked with Gideon (Judges 7), God kept reducing the number of men in the army. In the battle of the valley of Beracah (2 Chronicles 20) God had the choir lead the soldiers into battle. Why would God rely on conventional army order here? (The important point is that God is God and we are not. However God wants to do it, we should just follow in faith. However, order is something that is characteristic of God.)


    2. Read Numbers 1:44-46. What do you think about the size of this army? (It is huge!)


    3. Read Numbers 1:47-51. What is the role of the Levites? (To be in charge of the Tabernacle of God.)


      1. What does this say about the idea of organized religion?


      2. Why not number the Levites? Would it not be good to know how many temple helpers you had? (The point of the census was to organize for the army. God's order was that the Levites were not to be part of the army.)


        1. Why did God make this distinction? Why not have warrior priests?


      3. Read Numbers 3:14-16. Here we see God does take a census of the Levites. What is different in this census? (They counted all the boys from a month of age, not just those who were 20 or older who could fight.)


        1. Why this distinction? (Again, under God's organization the Levites are not part of the battle class.)


      4. My father was drafted into the army and fought in Europe in World War II. When he was in college, fellows who were religion/theology majors were exempted from the draft. I remember my father suggesting that the draft, rather than an allegiance to God, might have motivated the choice of some in their college majors. Do you think this exemption was based on Numbers? If so, why would it make any sense in modern times?


  2. Holy God


    1. Read Numbers 1:51-53. If anyone other than a Levite went by the tabernacle, they would die. If their tents got too close to the tabernacle, "wrath" would fall on them. Why is that?


      1. Read Numbers 8:19. How does this explain the "wrath" problem with approaching God?(God was holy. They were sinners. When a sinner approached a Holy God he would die.)


      2. Let's start with me. I always wore a suit and tie to church. I did this from when I was a teen to when I was in my 40's. Maybe even longer. Today I do not. I always wear a coat, but I wear things to church that I am not allowed to wear in a courtroom. Am I neglecting the distinction between sinners and a Holy God?


      3. In my church, children regularly run in front of the platform during the sermon. Adults, who could walk out of the sanctuary through the back doors, regularly walk right in front of the platform to exit the sanctuary. Is this inconsistent with what we have read in Numbers?


      4. Read Colossians 1:19-20. Is it now safe to approach a Holy God? (Yes. I'm am still concerned about a lack of "respect" in the sanctuary and I'm open to a debate about whether wearing a suit and tie should be required or does more harm than good. But, the line that separated the regular Israelite from God has been erased by Jesus. Praise Him!)


        1. Should we be concerned about completely ignoring the separation between the holy and the common?


  3. God's Order


    1. Read Numbers 2:1-7. The text goes on to list each tribe, the leader, and the place of encampment. In the middle are the Levites and the tabernacle (Tent of Meeting). Imagine someone saying "What difference does it make where my group camps?" What would you say?


      1. Would it really make any difference if, say, two of the tribes swapped places? What if the tribe of Reuben voted that they would rather not be on the south side, but would like to be on the west. The tribe of Manasseh would rather be south than west. Would God care if Reuben and Manasseh traded places?


      2. What about today? If God says to worship Him on Saturday ( Exodus 20:10)are we free to swap with another day?


      3. If the answer is "we are under a new covenant," then does this mean God's will no longer matters? God is some person in the attic who we can ignore?


    2. Do you think that God's order was purely arbitrary? Why did He select the Levites for such an important role?


      1. Read Exodus 32:19-20. What is the background story here? (When Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people were making a golden calf and worshiping it!)


      2. Read Exodus 32:25-26. Tell me whether the choice of the Levites as God's special workers was arbitrary? (They were the tribe that was faithful during the golden calf insurrection.)


    3. Read Numbers 3:11-13. Whose place did the Levites take? (The first born sons.)


      1. Is the selection of the first born son as special to God purely arbitrary, while the selection of the Levites a merits-based decision? (It sure seems that way.)


    4. Read Numbers 3:2-6. We learned that the Levites were selected because they stood for God when all others failed Him. What do we learn about the selection of Aaron and his family to be the High Priests?


      1. Let's go back to our golden calf story and look at Aaron's role. Read Exodus 32:21-24. In light of this history, would you select Aaron and his sons as your high priests?


      2. Why do Nadab and Abihu fall dead for using "unauthorized fire" and Aaron lives when he led (or at least facilitated) the people in worshiping the golden calf? (It makes no sense on the surface.)


      3. What lesson do we find in this? (Sometimes when it comes to God's decisions we say, "I get it. I understand." Sometimes the decision appears to be arbitrary (and may be). As a mere human, I just do not know. The lesson for me is that I must just obey God. Whether the reason is obvious or not, God requires obedience and I owe it to Him.)


    5. Friend, we have seen that God is not only interested in order, He is interested in the smallest details of our life with Him. If you think God does not care about you, or does not care whether you obey Him, Numbers tells us otherwise. Will determine today to obey God, regardless of whether you understand all of God's reasoning?


  4. Next week: Preparing a People.
* Copr. 2009, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2017 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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