MANual Lessons from Numbers

Our journey through The MANual continues with the book of Numbers that’s subtitled “Ultimate Survivor” and the ongoing adventure of the people of Israel.

The saying goes, “you don’t know where you are going unless you know where you’ve been.” This was the case for the Israelites. My hope is these lessons and big stories of the Bible will guide us to become better men.

The Ultimate Survivor Game

Numbers, like Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus is another of the five books of Moses. It consists of 36 chapters written from 1445-1406 BC about the exiled people of Israel. Camping at the base of Mount Sinai, they prepare to move into the desert region called Kadesh, at the border of the land of Canaan. 

The first 10 chapters follow the numerous laws and regulations the Israelites received from the Lord in Leviticus. These disciplines were needed to help keep purity in their camp and preserve a spiritual and physical lifestyle that kept them distinct from the nations around them.

Chapter 1 outlines the specific directions of a census to identify the number of men fit for military service. It’s an exhaustive list of the men 20 years old or more, one from each tribe, each the head of his family, to assist Moses with the journey. The list totaled 603,550 men who become the twelve tribes of Israel. 

The exception was the Levites, who were responsible for the set-up and take-down of the Tabernacle; the “Holy Place” which contained the “Most Holy Place” with the Ark of the Covenant. Since this was a full-time job, the Levites weren’t required to serve in the military but needed to remain pure while working on the tabernacle.


Responsibility has its privileges and its price.  The Levites were responsible for keeping the Tabernacle running smoothly as it moved throughout the exile journey.

As men, we also have responsibilities at home, at work, at church.  We must also keep ourselves pure and free from sin to be effective.

  • Do you view these responsibilities as a privilege or a burden?
  • What price have you paid as a result of your responsibility in these areas? Bypassing a promotion that requires a lot of travel? Being a stay-home dad? Committing to teaching children in Sunday School?
  • How do you consider yourself a “tabernacle” used for the Lord?

Chapters 11-14 in Numbers describe the Israelites’ first approach to the Promised Land after leaving Mount Sinai. They were prevented from entering Canaan due to their constant complaints about the long, winding trip, and lack of meat or water when all they had was manna to eat. Their contempt for Moses – and also for God, grew each day.

Moses led the people by himself until his brother, Aaron, and his wife, Miriam, confronted him. God helped Moses recognize his poor leadership skills and the importance of delegating some of the work. But the people rebelled and demanded a new leader. 

As the nation prepares to leave Mount Sinai, a leader from each family group is chosen to go on a covert reconnaissance mission. Chapter 13 gives the names of the leaders of twelve tribes, along with their family group and father’s name. The twelve were assigned to explore the new land and return with their assessment.   

Joshua and Caleb

Listed among these leaders in Number 13 are Caleb, son of Jephunneh, and Hoshea, better known as Joshua. Verse 16 says, “Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua.” As told in the book of Exodus, Hoshea was a companion of Moses and a field general in Israel’s army. He was the only person to accompany Moses when he received the Ten Commandments from God.

Moses renamed Hoshea as Joshua because knew where this man would find his strength and his salvation. In Hebrew, Hoshea means salvation, whereas Joshua means God is salvation. The name change was not only a blessing to Joshua but an encouragement as Moses told presumably him: “I see in you a man that trusts God in his difficulties.”

Caleb was from the tribe of Judah. He was born while the nation of Israel was enslaved in Egypt and likely spent the first 40 years of his life helping construct Egypt’s great building projects.

In ancient cultures, people were given names that reflected the circumstances or time of their birth. For example, Moses’ name means, “to draw out,” as in “drawn out of the water of the Nile.” Peter’s name means “rock” since his confession of Jesus as the Messiah made him the rock upon which the church was built. Since the tradition was that the father chose the name, Jephunneh might have chosen Caleb, which means “dog” after saying “Because we as slaves, we are treated like dogs.” 

Caleb’s boldness rested on his understanding of God, not in his confidence in Israel’s ability to conquer the land. He was not so much a man of great faith, but a man who had faith in a great God.

Upon returning from Canaan with the other spies, Joshua speaks encouragingly about the land of milk and honey. Caleb enthusiastically wants to boldly move forward. But 10 of the spies felt the giant inhabitants of Canaan were too powerful to conquer.

Due to his fearless trust in God, Caleb became one of only two adults (along with Joshua) to enter the Promised Land. Caleb maintained his vigor, even at age 85 to lead the new generation of the Israelites to conquer the land.

After Moses died, Joshua succeeded him as leader of the Israelites and led the conquest of Canaan. Caleb outlived Joshua and set the tone for the next generation to be devoted to God’s ways.

The middle of Numbers describes the rebellion against Moses by Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 other false priests who are then destroyed by fire.  The people of Israel continue to complain and 14,700 men die from a plague from God, which is stopped after a burnt sacrifice from Aaron who is anointed with the tribal staff of the Levites. 

The people move on to the wilderness of Zin and Aaron’s wife, Miriam dies. The Israelites complain of thirst so Moses again strikes a rock to spring water, attributing this miracle to his own powers. God then punishes Moses by telling him he will not enter the Promised Land. Aaron dies at Mount Hor, and his son, Eleazar becomes the new high priest. 

Now that an older generation has died, a new generation is poised to enter the Promised Land. However, neighboring nations caused the people to begin worshipping other gods. The story of the selfish sorcerer, Balaam, his talking donkey, and multiple oracles are intended to curse Israel. The Israelites began committing sexual immorality with the Moabites and 24,000 died from yet another plague.

Keeping Pure

Something pure is free from all contaminants and impurities; separated from what is defiled and mixed. God’s purity refers to His “separateness” from evil. He wants us to separate ourselves from our sin by drawing sharp boundaries as well. 

  • Where in your life have you let the lines between right and wrong blur?
  • How can you pray and serve so that purity permeates all of your thoughts, your marriage, your family, your job, and even your church? 

God Buddy Focus

God gives us the responsibilities and laws to help us maintain a lifestyle distinct from those around us. He is serious about our flagrant disobedience and sends us into the proverbial wilderness to demonstrate it. He commands us to purge sins and bad influences in our lives, just as He commanded to the Israelites while in Canaan. Responsibility to commands and eradicating sins are vital to becoming more godly men. 

But God also sends us people who can help us overcome the “giants” we encounter in our life as He did by pairing Caleb and Joshua. 

This week:

  1. Identify the “giants” (fears, sins, people) in your life that keep you from eradicating the impurities in your life. 
  2. Find one of two God Buddies who can help you overcome those giants. Set-up a meeting with them in the next week to ask them for help.

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