NUMBERS 1 and 2
The Book of Numbers covers a period of 38 years and 9 months, most of which was a complete waste of time! The actual distance to the Promised Land could have been covered in a matter of weeks or months at the most. The Hebrew name for Numbers is “In the Desert” and it describes in greater detail what happened to Israel, unsurprisingly, in the desert! If Exodus has a theme of redemption and rescue, then Numbers is quite depressing by comparison – cataloguing the times when all Israel’s great leaders fell from grace and when rebellion was the name of the game. The key outcome of the rebellion was that, although Israel did indeed enter and occupy the Promised Land according to God’s covenant vows to them, it was not the same Israel that began that journey forty years earlier – except for two men and their families. There are some additional notes entitled “Wanderings”, which explain this in more detail: https://1drv.ms/w/s!AqmXwc9NXEEFhZYZpmQRDzWF7kEujA?e=VgXd19 .
First a census was taken of all the fighting men of all the clans (or tribes), with the significant exception of Levi. So how do we still end up with 12 clans then? The answer is found back in Genesis 48:5-6: Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph became two clans each directly inheriting from Jacob. This was clearly the Lord’s plan to replace Levi amongst the land-occupying and enemy-fighting clans in order to set Levi apart for the special service to the tabernacle and later the temple. Presumably, this census would have also yielded complete family genealogies in addition to knowing how many fighting men each clan would be able to contribute.
The head men of each clan were therefore briefed to come up with this information a.s.a.p. and to present it to Moses in triplicate the next day. (I made that last bit up!) Israel ended up with a grand total of 603,550 fighting men – a huge army for that era and obviously very threatening to the surrounding nations. When you added in their wives and children, the total number of people could easily have exceeded two and a half million. The fact of the census indicates to me that the Lord cares deeply about each and every one of us; not only does he know us personally, but he also knows the number of the hairs on our heads.
As well as individuals, there was a careful arrangement of each clan in their encampment around the tabernacle. Three camps to the East, under the authority of Judah, three to the South, under Reuben, three to the West under Ephraim, and three to the North under Dan. All these camps were a significant distance from the tabernacle in the centre; the Levites set up their camp surrounding the tabernacle and acting as a kind of buffer between the holy places and the rest of Israel. That was just as well, considering that anyone else who wandered inadvertently near the tabernacle would be put to death. (Careful how you sleepwalk!)
If you think that policing a large football match takes a lot of logistical planning and careful execution, then try dealing with fifty football match crowds all at once! By breaking the exercise down into its subunits of clans and families, and by designating trustworthy leaders at each level, and by communicating well with these leaders, a total chaotic free-for-all was happily avoided. The test of effective leadership in God’s church is how well it trains up its next generation of leaders and how well it communicates with them, envisions them, and trusts them to themselves disciple others. This discipleship methodology does not just work for organisation but also for growth in the church.