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Tuesday January 1 – Introduction, and the LORD counts Israel

The Book of Numbers describes the travels of the People of Israel from Sinai to the Promised Land. The LORD is bringing His people into His land, the land already promised to Abraham. The book does not mention all the events of this time period, but rather offers a selection. These 40 years are formative years for the people. As Israel travels, it learns, grows and develops. This explains the combination of historical material and ceremonial laws. As the LORD is leading them, He is also teaching them, teaching them how to live as His people in His land.

The title “Numbers” is derived from that fact that people were counted twice. The first counting is in the first chapter of the book and another one is at the end of the book, chapter 26. These two countings represent two generations. The first involves the generation that left Egypt but was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of unbelief (see Hebrews 3 & 4). The second represents the new generation who will be allowed to enter Canaan. The Book of Numbers speaks of God’s covenant faithfulness in spite of man’s disobedience.

Numbers is very relevant for us today. The New Testament uses the image of traveling or sojourning, to describe the life of the church in this world. We are called sojourners in 1 Peter 2:11. Also in Hebrews 3 and 4, a direct connection is made between Israel in the wilderness and the church in the New Testament. Redeemed by the blood of Christ, we are on the way to the Promised Land, the New Jerusalem. God’s people can only go forward when they trust and obey the LORD. May the devotions of this month encourage us in our travels.

The LORD counts His people

 All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. – Numbers 1:45

Scripture reading: Numbers 1:1-19; 44-46

The Book of Numbers begins with the LORD instructing Moses to count the men twenty years and older. The total number is 603,550. This may not seem the most exciting way to start a book. Yet, this chapter is important in the context of God’s work. Note the following:

  • The counting: Parents tend to count their children when they go on an outing. It shows their concern that all are included and cared for. The LORD, having redeemed His children by His grace, makes sure they are all accounted for.
  • The number: It describes the wonders of God’s faithfulness. His promises to Abraham are being fulfilled; these are all Abraham’s descendants.
  • The organization: God’s nation is an organized people. The census goes according to fathers’ houses, clans and tribes. God’s covenant continues from generation to generation.
  • The age: The fact that men 20 years and older were counted points to an army. The expression “those able to go to war” shows this too. This nation is the army of the LORD, enlisted in His battle. Our LORD is King.

These elements are important for us as well. Our King, the Lord Jesus, is leading us in 2019. He counts us, making sure not one stays behind. He is faithful to His promises and uses our families in His gathering work. He calls us all to put on the whole armor of God. He, Who counts the stars and knows their names, knows us by name and leads us onward.

Suggestions for prayer

As we look back, we thank the LORD for His unfailing love and care over His people and over our lives. Looking ahead, we pray for strength to serve the mighty King of kings in the New Year.

This daily devotional is available in a print edition you can buy at Nearer to God Devotional. Rev. Douwe G. J. Agema is currently minister of Living Word Canadian Reformed Church in Guelph and also teaches several courses at Covenant Canadian Reformed Teachers’ College.


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