Did you ever take road trips with your family? Everyone piled into the station wagon or the minivan and twenty minutes into the trip, someone had to use the bathroom.
You'd stop at a rest stop to take care of business, and mom or dad would do a head count when everyone piled back in, to make sure no one was left behind.
Numbers and Leadership
The very first thing that God tells Moses to do in the Book of Numbers is to take a census, which is a fancy word for head count. Numbers 1:2 God was seeking to count and characterize the leaders, soldiers, and priests of the Israelites as they began their road trip from Mt. Sinai to the plains of Moab.
The two leaders who organized the road trip were brothers, Moses and Aaron. Pastor Miles tells us that a leader is a person with influence and asks us if we are leading anyone to God? Leadership, Miles continues, is a gift from God, and we are responsible for finding out what our gifts are and how best to use them.
Are you counted in God's army? Where do you belong? Are you a leader? Leaders that don't use their gift become bored, and no one wants that! Besides, God will one day hold us accountable for how we used the gifts that He blessed us with.
Remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14? Our goal should be to hear Jesus say to us some day, Well done, good and faithful servant.
Fly the Banner High
Numbers 2:32 tells us that 603,550 soldiers were counted in the army. All the twelve tribes of Israel were counted among the soldiers, all males between the ages of 20 and 50.
On the east side, the tribe of Judah camped under their banner of the lion. Judah included the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun, and was 186,400 soldiers total.
South side was represented by the tribe Reuben. Simeon and Gad were also under the banner of Reuben, a man.
Representing the west side, the tribe of Ephraim carried the banner of the ox. Ephraim included the tribes of Manasseh and Benjamin under their banner.
Finally, the Tribe of Dan represented the north side and counted Asher and Naphtali under their banner, the eagle. These four camps protected the tabernacle of meeting which was at the center.
When we look at the formation of the tribes, we see that God instructed them to form the shape of a cross, a foreshadowing of our Jesus. When God commanded the Israelites to pull up their tent stakes and move, Judah led; Reuben went after Judah, then the tribe of Ephraim and finally the tribe of Dan. There marched the Nation of Israel, moving through the desert in the shape of the cross.
New Testament Tie-ins
The four banners (or standards) of the tribes are seen again in all four gospels of the New Testament and in the prophetic book of Ezekiel. The book of Matthew shows us Jesus as Messiah (the lion; in Mark we see Jesus as a beast of burden (an ox) that was killed on our behalf. Luke presents Jesus as the son of man (a man) and John shows us Jesus as the Son of God, depicted by an eagle.
In Ezekiel 1:10, "Zeke" dreams of an angelic likeness of four living creatures all having the likeness of a man, but with four faces-a lion on the right, an ox on the left, a man, and an eagle. This is no coincidence. From the Pentateuch to the New Testament, God's images of Christ are consistent; further evidence that our bible is one unified message.
Now, the Levites weren't counted along with the others, just as God had instructed Moses in Numbers 1:47-53. God's plan for the Levites was for them to camp immediately (as in right alongside of) around the tabernacle of the testimony.
God counted 22,000 Levites to care for the tabernacle, its furnishings, the camp around the tabernacle, taking it down and setting it up in the next location indicated by God.
Knowing our Roles
The Levites all had designated tasks: they attended to the needs of the priest Aaron (yes, Moses' brother) and the needs of the whole congregation before the tabernacle. Numbers 3:7 Their job was to help people have a relationship with God.
Miles puts the question to us: Whose burden are you carrying? Who do you pray for?
Be willing to help the person you pray for, and expect God to call on you at an "inopportune time." Be willing to step up and help those we pray for, not simply pray for them and leave the rest to someone else.
The ancient Israelites had Christ in their midst and did not realize it. We sometimes fail to recognize that He's in our midst today, wanting to take our burdens and be the High Priest and Lord of our lives. Let's not be like the ancient Israelites in the Book of Numbers, who wandered through the desert for 40 years when the Promised Land was a mere 11-day trek away.
Find out what gifts God has blessed you with and use them for God's purposes.