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4. And with you there shall be a man of every tribe ; every one head of the house of his fathers.
Such is the commencement of the fourth book of Moses, called Numbers. It is so named, like the three preceding books, in reference to its contents, since two accounts are handed down in it of the numbering of the children of Israel. The former of these, as we learn from the passage we have just read, records the census that was taken in the second year of the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness; and the latter, as we shall afterwards find, in the twentysixth chapter, that which occurred in the last year, thirty-nine years afterwards.
There was comparatively but slight difference in the two amounts, the second containing about eighteen hundred fewer persons than that of which we are now reading, but both exceeding six hundred thousand fighting men, besides women and children. For, after recording how many of each tribe were numbered, we read; [Here may be read from verse 5. to 43 inclusive.]
44. These are those that were numbered, which Moses and Aaron numbered, and the princes of Israel, being twelve men : each one was for the house of his fathers.
45. So were all those that were numbered of the children of Israel, by the house of their fathers, from
twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war in Israel ;
46. Even all they that were numbered were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty.
A most prodigious increase of Abraham's little progeny, and a wonderful completion of one of the most remarkable of God's promises, that the patriarch's seed should be “ as the sand on the sea shore, and as the stars of heaven for multitude.”
But there is a solemn fact connected with this generation, to which we would not omit all reference even here, and with which some of the most interesting portions of the book upon which we are entering, will be found connected. None were counted in this numbering, unless they were turned of twenty years, having therefore passed the dangers and sicknesses of childhood, and possessing every prospect of arriving at a good old age: yet with the exception of two individuals, all this generation, this immense multitude, for there were, as we have seen, more than six hundred thousand men, besides women and children, was cut off during the forty years that followed.
It is well thus, at the commencement of this book, to impress upon our minds this great and
solemn fact; for astonished, as we cannot but be, at the wonderful completion of God's promises to Abraham, in the increase of his descendants, we cannot but be equally surprised to find this unlooked-for, unexampled result. All this vast multitude reared but to perish prematurely, as man would express it, in the wilderness ! And whence was this? A single word will answer the inquiry, it was sin. Sin which has always been the destroyer of our race, sin which first nestled amidst the flowers of Eden, could not be excluded from the sands of Sinai.
“ With whom,” says the apostle to the Hebrews,* “ with whom was he (God) grieved forty years ? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in“ because of unbe
We shall have many opportunities, as we proceed, of examining the nature as well as the effects of this sin; it is sufficient at present, while struck with wonder at the almost countless hosts, which, with but a very short journey between them and the promised land, were destined never to place a single foot with
* Heb. ii. 17-19.
in its frontier, that we endeavour to profit by an exclusion so remarkable, by a mortality so uncommon.
Who can refrain from a secret prayer, that he may benefit by the lesson? Who will not strive to avail himself of the apostle's caution ? “ Let us, therefore, fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.”
We are all, like Israel, at this moment traversing the dreary sands of the desert; of us, as of them, God has taken an account; the fighting men, the “ good soldiers of Jesus Christ,” are all numbered; “ a promise,” as we have just seen, is left of entering into rest, a rest with which the blessings of Canaan could not bear a moment's competition. Shall any of us, who have reason to hope that we are indeed enlisted in that holy army, even “ seem to come short of it ?" May God forbid ! may He who has given the promise, give grace and strength for its attainment, and may we, on our part, never draw back; never hesitate in that warfare, until we have fought the good fight, and kept the faith, and finished the course, and for the alone merits of our ever blessed Redeemer, entered into the rest, and obtained the crown!
NUMBERS i. 47–54.
47. But the Levites after the tribe of their fathers were not numbered among them.
48. For the Lord had spoken unto Moses, saying,
49. Only thou shalt not number the tribe of Levi, neither take the sum of them among the children of Israel ;
50. But thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: they shall bear the tabernacle, and all the vessels thereof : and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle.
51. And when the tabernacle setteth forward, the Levites shall take it down ; and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up : and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.
We find, from these verses, that the Levites were not to be numbered among the congregation of Israel : the reason is obvious, they were to be in an especial manner devoted to the service of God and the tabernacle, and as they could not swell the ranks of Israel, they were not to be counted among the thousands of Israel.