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The sacred historian records in this Chapter the number of the people previous to their going into Canaan. Particular notice is taken of the deaths of Dathan and Abiram; as also of the deaths of all that came out of Egypt, excepting Caleb and Joshua.
It should seem that the great design of the numbering of Israel was, with a view to impress upon the minds of the people the unalterable decrees of GOD. The LORD had sworn, that of all those men which had seen his glory, and his miracles, both in Egypt and in the wilderness, none of them should see the land of promise, because of their murmuring. And now, by the numbering the people, the vacancies found by death afforded proof of the divine veracity. See Numbers 14:21-24 .
Eleazar is joined in commission with Moses in the service; and the method of enumerating them is, as was before appointed, on their coming forth from Egypt at Mount Sinai. Numbers 1:1-3 .
I detain not the Reader through this whole relation, but to remark to him, with what particular emphasis reference is again had to the sin of Dathan and Abiram. Surely the HOLY GHOST intended by it to teach the Church, that the surest way to keep alive in the soul the preciousness of the LORD JESUS, is to keep alive a sense of sin, from which alone his great salvation can deliver us. I only add another observation on all these verses, and that is to remark from the numbers altogether, that GOD'S threatenings were minutely fulfilled. The people were not increased during the forty years; for the numbers are nearly the same as when taken at mount Sinai. And the whole of that race which came out of Egypt, excepting those whom the LORD had promised to reserve, were dead. Compare Numbers 1:46 , with the account here. I think it probable that Moses wrote the 90th Psalm upon this occasion. And what could be more suited to the purpose? See Psalms 90:0 throughout.
Observe, how the LORD appoints the boundaries of his people's habitation. Yes! all our resting places, and all our movements, our tents in this life, and our mansions of glory in another, are all graciously marked, and appointed, by the great Giver. Reader! take notice what the SON of GOD hath said concerning these things, Joh_17:2; Joh_14:2-3 ; Matthew 20:20-23 .
The Reader should take notice in this place that the tribe of Levi is not numbered with the general return of the other tribes of Israel, because these Levites peculiarly belonged to the LORD. See Numbers 3:11-13 . And let the Reader again take notice how the sin of Nadab, and Abihu is recorded. Leviticus 10:2 .
The same observations meet us here in the close of the Chapter, as cannot but occupy our thoughts through the whole of it; GOD'S unalterable word, the sure consequences of sin, and the certain issue of hardness and impenitence of heart. Hath he said, and shall he not do it; hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Numbers 23:19 .
IN the contemplation of the events recorded in this Chapter, I feel my heart constrained to cry out, LORD! what is man, whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of! Think, my soul, while thou here reviewest the dreadful ravages of death during forty years only, what destruction hath been made by death during nearly now six thousand years since sin first entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passeth upon all men, because all have sinned. But dearest JESUS! here again let me turn from the view of the desolations made by death, to behold thee in all the glories of thy redeeming character, as having by thy death overcome death, and opened the first view of the everlasting mansions of life, in thy triumph over the grave. Precious JESUS! thou art the Rock of ages. On thee may I be built, as a sure dwelling place. In thy book may my soul be found numbered! And when all the wilderness dispensations of a wilderness journey, and the wilderness itself, shall be destroyed, may an entrance into the Canaan of thy everlasting, unchanging love, be my portion among the numbered tribes of GOD.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 26". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28