Bible Commentary/Sunday School Text, Hmar Christian Leaders’ Forum (HCLF), Hmar: The Sunday School Board of HCLF selected the book of Numbers (Nambar in Hmar) to be the text for adult’ Sunday school for all churches for the year 2010. The then serving secretary, Rev. Dr. Lalhmuoklien was assigned to write the accompanying commentary of the text, and Nambar Hrilfiena was published in early 2010. Dr. Lalhmuoklien is currently a teaching faculty at Evangelical College of Theology. He has held posts of General Secretary of Missions and General Director of ECCI, and Finance Secretary and Education Secretary at his denominational church, EAC.
The fourth among Moses’ Pentateuch, the book of Numbers was known as ‘Numberi’ in the Vulgate, the first Latin Bible, following which the English translations called Numbers. In the Hebrews Bible, it appears as ‘Bemidbar’ meaning ‘wilderness’. The book is called Numbers because the first chapters 1 to 4 and chapter 26 recorded general census of the Israelites. The time period of the book of Numbers was known to covered 1444 to 1405 B.C. which recorded 39 years of the journey of the Israelites in the ‘wilderness’: Numbers started while the Israelites were at Mount Sinai, the second month and second year after Israel’s exodus from Aigupta (The exodus recorded in Exo. 12:3 was the first month) and ended at Kadesh-Barnea. At Kadesh Barnea, the border of Canaan, they rebel against God refusing to entered the Promised Land and God condemn to “wander” in the wilderness, passing through plains of Moab, Edom, and finally at Bethjesimoth, near Jordan.
The author divides the commentary into five main units: The Israel at Mount Sinai (1:1 – 10:10); The jouney from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-Barnea (10:11 – 12:16); The Israelites at Kadesh-Barnea (13:1 – 19:22); The journey from Kadesh-Barnea to Moab (20:1 – 21:35); The Isrealites at Moab (22:1 – 36:13). The book of Numbers recorded ‘the Lord spoke to Moses’ about 150 times, in about 20 different ways. God ordered the census of Israelites, recorded in Chapters 1:1 – 4:49, to number all the men above 20 years, ‘able to serve in the army’. A man ‘choosen’ from each tribes helped the process and the tribes of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, gad, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, the sons of Joseph – Ephriam and Manasse, Benzamin, Dan, Asher and Naphtali were found to be 6,03,550. The choosen men from each tribes were later designated as leaders during the arrangement of the Tribal camps (2:1-34), the offerings made in ‘the name of heads of each families’ (7:1-78) and when the Israel advanced from Mount Sinai (10:11 – 36). The Levi tribe was not counted in the census. They were given “wholly” to Aaron for performing duties at the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle. Levi and its clans – Gerson, Kohath and Merari – were numbered, every male amonth old or more, totaling 22, 000 in Chapter 3.
The events recorded in 1:1-10:1 did not follow a regular time-wrap: Israel celebrated its first Passover in Aigupta at the start of the first month and year; (a) In Exo. 40:1-33, the Lord told Moses to set up the Tebernacle on the first day of the first month in the second year. The dedication of the Tabernacle in 7:1-89 took place at the same time; (b) Then, the Israelites celebrated their second Passover at the fourteenth day of the first month in the second year (9:1-15); (c) The census in the first chapter took place at the first day of the second month of the second year; (d) Finally, the day the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle to set off Israel from the Mount of Sinai (10:11) was on the twentieth day of the second month of the second year.
During the time Israel set off from Sinai to the desert of Paran in 10:11-12:16, the people complained and rebel against the Lord and Miriam and Aaron talk against Moses’ leadership. The significant feature of the period is Moses’ chracter testimonial by God who declared him greater than other prophets. God speaks to Moses ‘face to face’. And God help him unburdened him by bestowing the spirit on the seventy leaders chosen from the people.
Then, Israel moved toward Canaan, the Promised Land. They encamped at Kadesh-Barnea, which was called En-Mishpat in Gen 14:7. During the period in 13:1 – 20:13, Israel ‘refuse’ the Lord’s commands to enter Canaan, the land of abundant and ‘flowing milk and honey’. Twelve men from each Tribe were sent to explore Canaan during July – ‘It was the season for the first ripe grapes’. The spies explored Canaan for forty days and came back to report to the people. Except Joshua and Caleb, the other spies reported back that the land was inhabitated by giants – the Nephilin and the neighbouring occupants were ‘stronger’ than them. The Lord was furious and many people died. Then, the Lord designated Aaron and the tribe of Levi to work at the Tabernacle.
In 20:1 – 21:35, Israel set off from Kadesh-Barnea to Moab. The days of Moses came to a closer end, and the encounters he faced seem to bother him hard. While his sister Miriam died (20:1) and the people gathered to opposed him and Aaron (20:2-5). The Lord announced that he and Aaron will not enter Canaan for Moses ‘did not trust’ the Lord ‘enough to honor him as holy in the sights of the Israelites’. Then, Edom raised refusing Israel to pass through its land (20:14-21). And Aaron died on Mount Hor (20:29).
In the last unit, Isael were at the plains of Moab (22:1 – 36:13). Israel with the lord’s assistance wages war against its enemies and raise above them. As they entered Canaaan, the inhabitants were terrified. While others fought to destroy them, other tried to curse them. At their last journey Israel encamped along Jordan. They defeated the Canaanite king of Arad (21:21-25), the Amalekites (Exo 17:8-16), Sihon king of Amorites (21:33-35) and Og king of Bashan (21:33-35). Balak, son of Zippor, summon Balaam to curse Israel who blessed them instead (22:1 – 24:25). But Israel was seduced by Baal of Peor which brought the fury of God upon them. From chapter 26, Numbers took a turned into a new theme which saw new generation of Israel. They were about to occupied the Promised Land. And in chapter 31, the vengeance on Moab happened, the last war Israel fought in the presence of Moses.
The mission of the book of Numbers is to show “God’s people should walk in faith relaying in His words”. To enlarge this mission, Israel rebel against God, not trusting Him enough. They complained about ‘their hardships in the hearing of the Lord’; Miriam and Aaron talk against Moses; Israel rebel against entering Canaan in Kadesh-Barnea; Moses’ sinned; and Israel worshipped Baal of Peor. However, God remains faithful in his promised to Israel despite their rebellious and lacking trust, forsake his name. He guided them with power and miracles and led them to the Promised Land.
Dr. Lalhmuoklien’s Namber Hrilfiena expolored its textual reference with significance and relevance, its credential lies in the fact that despite the demand historical background in the critical discipline, to engage its core audience intercepted the text analysis to its strength . It approaches the exposition with depth and accurate reference to detailed commentary and personal emphasis and finely executes its language usages.
Below are some of its textual commentaries:
- The cloud above the Tabernacle in 9:15 was the same cloud which led them from Aigupta. In Hebrews, it was called ‘Kebod YHWH’, which means God’s glory. At times, it was refer as ‘sekinah’, meaning ‘the Lord who live among His people’ (Exo 24:16;40:34,35,38). After the Taberbacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. The cloud above the Tabernacle looks like fire by the evening. The cloud stays with Israel at all time, and this set Israel apart from the rest of the people on the earth. And this was the reason the Apostle Paul, in the letter to Romans, greatly emphasies on this signbificant: “The people of Israel, theirs is the adoption as sons; theres the devine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the Law, the temple worship and the promises (Rom 9:4). Israel is the only one to witness the physical present of God among them. In the same way, today, the believers’ Church has God, the Lord Immanuel and Holy Spirit dwells in them.
- In chapter 8:20-24, the High Priest and the Levi tribe were not included in the land shares or inheritance (Deut 10:9; 12:12, 14:27,29; 18:1; Jos 14:4; 18:7). The Lord was their shars and inheritance. God had called them for His work and he arranged their needs. The Levi tribe had been called to work at the Tent of Meeting, ‘a lasting ordinace for generations to come’. They will be responsible for Israel’ offences against the Tent of Meeting. God has given them all the tithe and offerings by the people. When the lands of Canaan were allotted, the Levi tribe was not assigned any. And they were not allotted even after Israel had entered Canaan. Instead, each Tibes gave towns to them, as seen in Joshua 21. The same principle is applicable in today Church settings. The Church workers must not participate in other activities other than the Church’. Society, politics, businesses, etc must not deter them from their sole responsibility in the Church. The Church must also see through this and not neglect them. It’s the Church responsibility to provide for them.
- Joshua and Caleb, two of the twelve spies, tell of Canaan as land of abundance and was indeed ‘flowing with milk and honey’. However, the other spies reported of its ‘gaint’ inhabitants – the Nephilin, and its ‘strong’ neighbouring occupants. Then, Israel refuses to enter the land. The reason for their rebellion was their loss of faith in God as the writer of Hebrews had said: “And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief: (Heb 3:17-19). God punished those who lost their faith to wander in the wilderness.
- 21:8-9: Moses made a bronze snake…..when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived. Jesus used this bronze snake to emphasis his death on the Cross (John 3:14). Moses’ bronze snake and Jesus’ Cross were meant to symbolizes God’s love. Everyone has sinned and we’ll died and meet God for judgement one day (Heb 9:27). If we look at Christ who died on the Cross for us we’ll be save, and we’ll lived. The one who look at the bronze snake were healed from the snake bite but the believers of Jesus Christ got eternal Salvation.
- The cities of refuge mentioned in 35:22-28 were ‘city of refuge for one accused of murder’ (Jos 21:13,21,27,32,38). These cities were for the Israelites and ‘the other people living among them’, for anyone who had accidentally committed murder. The accused murderer will face trails at the gate, and until proven guilty, it’s not legal to kill them. If the murder was found unintentional and ‘without malice aforethought’, he is to stay in that city until the death of the high priest who was serving at that time (Jos 20:4,6). The cities of refuge and its purpose also gave a clear picture of Christ’ salvation, the gospel truth. That is: “…we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encourage” (Heb 6:18). Anyone who accidentally killed someone could ‘flee’ to any of these cities. And in the same way, there’s no condemnation in Christ Jesus and Christ’s our refuge and comfort (Rom 8:1). These cities were designated not just for Israel but to everyone – foriengers and travelers. Likewise, Christ’s salvation didn’t differentiate people, it’s for everyone. Whoever flee to these cites were protected and saved, in the same way, the leaf of Christ’s clothe is free for anyone who want to be heal and need peaceful comfort.
Page 2: Excerpt of the first chapter (Pages 2-12)