This sacred volume opens in this Chapter, with the Lord's command to Moses, for the numbering the people: the persons appointed to this service; and exception of the Levites.
The period in which the Lord gave this commandment is not unmeriting notice. The Reader, by calculating the intermediate space, from Israel's going down into Egypt to this time, will see how the Lord's promise had been graciously accomplishing. In the space of 215 years, from 75 souls Israel was now multiplied to the vast number this chapter expresses, of so many hundred thousands. Well may we exclaim what hath God wrought! Read that scripture, and see what application you can make of it to your own experience: Joshua 23:14.
Had not this method of numbering by families a particular design, more clearly thereby to ascertain the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ? Hebrews 7:14.
Let the Reader remark with me, what dignity God hath put upon his people, in thus causing them to be numbered. At this time there were many nations, aye and great ones too in their own esteem, but yet no account is made of them. Whereas this handful of people is taken account of, as if the whole world was nothing in comparison of them. Reader, cannot you explain it? The Bible doth most fully. They were the Segullah, the jewels, the precious ones of God. And if the Reader would know the reason the prophet will tell him. Isaiah 43:1-4.
I only detain the Reader, after the perusal of these verses of names, (with whose sound we are scarcely acquainted, and of the persons themselves to whom they belong, we know nothing) I only detain him to observe, what a succession of persons and of generations doth the pilgrimage of the human life afford? Think, Reader, what an assembly that will be which, at the archangel's trumpet, shall arise to the wonders of eternity! John 5:28-29.
However uninteresting this account of names may seem to the Reader, yet spiritually considered, may it not serve to teach the happiness of those whose names are written in the book of life. Reader! depend upon it, the Lord knoweth them that are his. And if the Lord said to Moses, I know thee by name, and thou hast found favour in my sight; let no one doubt but that his people are all brought into the same account. Consult these sweet scriptures, Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Rev_20:12; Rev_21:27.
It is very endearing to behold the Lord Jesus giving in the account of his people. John 17:6-12.
There is certainly somewhat very striking in those scriptures which mention the number of the children of Israel. It is plain, that it is of the highest importance in the divine esteem, otherwise the Holy Ghost would not have caused it to be so particularly set down. Compare this with Revelation 7:4-8. Then hear what Paul saith, Romans 9:27, and Romans 11:26. Let the Reader pause to remark with me the superiority of attention, in point of numbers, which is paid to the tribe of Judah. Hebrews 7:14.
Pause again, my brother, and reflect, what a standing miracle of mercy must it have been in the Lord, to have fed this great multitude in the wilderness, day by day for forty years together. And when the Reader hath duly contemplated this subject, let him consider further, what an everlasting miracle it must be of grace in the Lord Jesus, to have fed, and to be still feeding, his flock from age to age, amidst all the wilderness dispensations of this world, and amidst all their own barrenness, and the hast of foes everywhere around them! Dearest Lamb of God! that art in the midst of the throne! do thou feed me with that living food, which is thyself, and tell me where thou feedest thy flocks at noon: for otherwise, where shall I find bread in this waste and howling wilderness? Revelation 7:17.
The separation of the Levites had certainly some very important signification. Perhaps to manifest the distinguishing tokens of grace. And it is probable, that it meant to show, that as in profession the whole people of Israel were distinguished from all other nations; so in a special manner among Israel, there were some eminently set apart by the Lord. Lord, grant me those sweet, special, appropriate, and personal characters, by which, as the church of old, I may say, My beloved is mine and I am his. Song 1-8.
Who can behold the Lord's attention to Israel, as recorded in this chapter, in commanding the people to be numbered and registered; without calling to mind the blessed and distinguishing privileges of the Lord's Israel in all ages. Oh! the happiness of that people and that person, whom the Lord marketh for his own, and of whom the Lord of hosts hath said, they shall be mine in that day, when I make up my jewels. Reader! I charge it upon thine heart and mine, that we both look well to that feature, by which the Lord's Israel are known: a separate, a chosen, a distinguished, a peculiar generation. Lo the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
Be not cast down, my poor afflicted brother, whosoever thou art, that through the temptations of the enemy, and the unbelief of thine own heart, art prompted to fear, as if there were but few which shall be found among the true Israelites. Read this chapter, and see how numerous they then were which were numbered: think what multitudes have been added since, from among the children which were then unborn; and though the carcases of so many from that deadly sin of unbelief, fell in the wilderness, yet never forget that the Lord hath in all ages a seed that shall serve him. See how in the short period of a few years the people multiplied, and comfort thyself with this assurance, the Lord's promise must be fulfilled; the Redeemer must see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied. Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel! But chiefly may my soul be led to look unto thee, thou dear Redeemer, through whose gracious undertaking thy people, which were far off are brought nigh; and from whose complete and finished salvation alone, their names are recorded in thy book of life. Hail! precious Jesus! It is thou who hast purchased for me this glorious privilege: It is by thy blood and righteousness secured for me; It is confirmed both by the Father's gift, and the Holy Spirit's seal: and shall I at length, not only read my name written there, but enter thereby into the joy of my Lord? Oh! may I rejoice more in this, than if the devils were all subject to me through thy name. For, by and by, I shall awake to the full enjoyment of the promised possession, and have a real, intimate, and soul-transforming communion, with all the persons of the Godhead, in the face of Jesus Christ.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent