The Old Testament Presents... Reflections of Christ
by Paul R. Van Gorder
The book of Numbers records the wilderness journeyings of the children of Israel. A key phrase of the book, ''all who were able to go forth to war,'' appears 14 times in chapter one. In typology, the theme of Numbers is service and walk.
The location of this book in the Pentateuch is of considerable significance.
This is the Divine order; the order in the life of a Christian. Sad to say, Numbers does not give the record of a holy, sanctified walk by Israel. In fact, it might better be called ''the book of murmurings.'' Instead of marching into Canaan within a few weeks of leaving Egypt, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.
  1. Sinai to Kadesh-barnea (Num 1-12)
  2. Rebellion at Kadesh-barnea, and 38 Years of Wandering (13-33)
  3. Return to Kadesh-barnea and Related Events (34-36)
Let us now turn to an analysis of the major themes of the book of Numbers as they relate to our overall purpose, a study of Christ in the Old Testament.
The way the camp of Israel was arranged was significant. The tabernacle was in the center, and three tribes were located on each side of the tabernacle. Remember, the tabernacle and its furnishings speak graphically of Christ and His work.
[See the Diagram of the Tabernacle. (This link opens a new browser window).]

After Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden, cherubim guarded the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:24). A representation of these cherubim was attached to the mercy-seat over the ark of the covenant. In Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10 [1:5-11; 10:14,15], we read again of these same living creatures. Finally, we see them in the Revelation [Rev 4:6-8]. The cherubim have the face of a lion, the face of an ox, the face of a man, and the face of an eagle.

On the east of the tabernacle, three tribes were located with Judah as the standard bearer, the lion [Gen 49:9]. On the west side were three tribes with Ephraim as standard bearer, the ox. On the south, three tribes camped with Reuben as standard bearer, the man. The three remaining tribes were located on the north with Dan as standard bearer, the eagle. This may well speak of Christ as pictured in the four gospels: king (lion), servant (ox), man, and God (eagle).

As you read the first nine chapters of Numbers and observe the minuteness of every detail, you will learn that every tribe and every family had its own work and carried it out. How wonderful if the church, the body of Christ, would be as faithful!

THE NAZIRITE [or, Nazarite] (chapter 6)
A Nazirite was a lay person [ie., a common person, unrecognized as a religious leader] who was bound by a vow of consecration to God's service. Certain practices characterized the Nazirite.
THE CLOUD (chapter 9)
After the Israelites were all numbered, in place, and ready to go forward, then the cloud would lift and they would march (Num 9:15-19). Whenever the cloud settled, they camped. The pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day indicated God's leading by His presence.

Similarly, the believer has the word of Christ. ''I am the light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life'' (John 8:12). Not only did Israel have the pillar of cloud by day, but also a pillar of fire by night. The Holy Spirit, our ''fire,'' has come down to ''guide [us] into all truth'' (John 16:13). The Christian may joyfully sing with the poet,

''He leadeth me! O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate'er I do, where'er I be,
Still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me.''

AARON'S ROD THAT BUDDED (chapters 16,17)
A rebellion arose within Israel, led by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; they wanted to usurp the office of the priesthood. They hurled the accusation that ''ye take too much upon you'' (Num 16:3) against Moses and Aaron. The judgment of God fell upon them and the earth swallowed them up. Then the children of Israel, the congregation, gathered against Moses and Aaron and murmured because of the death of these rebels.

God validated the priesthood of Aaron by having the princes of each of the tribes come with a rod. The name of each prince was inscribed upon the rod, and Aaron's name was inscribed upon that of Levi. The 12 rods were spread out before the ark of the covenant. The next morning, only one of those rods had life in it. Aaron's rod had budded, bloomed, and yielded almonds. The hand of God reaffirmed convincingly that Aaron and his family were His choice for the priesthood.

The Lord Jesus Christ has been ''declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead'' (Romans 1:4). By that resurrection, God accepted and designated the Lord Jesus as the ever-living High Priest. The religions of the world can only point to dead leaders, for sepulchres still hold fast the remains of those leaders. Christians alone have a living, interceding High Priest. ''Seeing, then, that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession'' (Heb 4:14).

THE RED HEIFER (chapter 19)
God prescribed for Israel both a basis and method of cleansing. The sacrifice was to be a red heifer that was without blemish or spot and that had never borne a yoke. This speaks of the spotless character of Christ, who never came under the yoke of the curse for sin. That heifer was slain outside the camp. So also our Lord, though holy, was treated as unclean. By this He became the substitute for the unclean.

The entire sacrifice had to be consumed. Christ offered Himself-- every part-- unto God. Cedar and hyssop and scarlet were cast into the midst of the burning sacrifice. The ashes from the sacrifice were gathered up and laid in a clean place-- set apart for those that were defiled. Likewise, our Lord went through the agony and sacrifice of Calvary, and His body was laid in a clean, new tomb. But He did not remain there. He arose from the grave, and ''He ever liveth to make intercession for us'' (Heb 7:25).

The Israelites were told, ''He who toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days'' (Num 19:11). Just a touch was enough to make a person unclean. Death is the work of sin, and the entire race has come under sin's penalty. ''There is none righteous, no, not one'' (Rom 3:10). The believer in Jesus, after he has received by faith the sacrifice of Christ, comes in contact with the defilement of the flesh and of the world. Just a touch of sin is enough to break fellowship with God and render a person unclean.

For such an unclean person in Israel, the priest sprinkled the ashes of the burnt heifer in running water and put them into a container. Then a clean person would dip hyssop in the water and sprinkle it upon the tent, the utensils, and the person that had become unclean. This speaks of cleansing from the defilement of sin. The slaying of the sacrifice and the keeping of the ashes were not enough. For the sacrifice to be effective, it had to be appropriated through the ceremony of the running water.

How vividly this speaks of the water of the Word! The Lord Jesus said, ''Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you'' (John 15:3). Just as it was running water for Israel, so it is by the moving of the Spirit of God through the Word that we are convicted of our sin and also cleansed from it. Paul said that Christ gave Himself for the church ''that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word'' (Eph 5:26). The apostle John wrote, ''But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness'' (1John 1:7-9).

For the eighth time on their wilderness journey, the children of Israel murmured and complained. So God sent fiery serpents among them in judgment. When they were bitten by those snakes, the venom spread throughout their bodies. All across the camp of Israel, people were dying. So God commanded Moses to prepare a bronze serpent, that looked like the ones that had bitten the people, and place it upon a pole. We know that this bronze serpent was a type of Christ lifted up on the cross and made sin for us, because He said,
And, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
even so must the Son of man be lifted up,
That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
(John 3:14-16)
Note these significant facts:
  1. The bronze serpent on the pole was divinely provided. Salvation is of the Lord.
  2. It was divinely suitable. Every person who was bitten could look and be healed. The remedy was within reach. ''Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth'' (Isa 45:22).
  3. It was divinely effectual. Numbers 21 says that anyone who looked would be healed. God did the saving; man simply looked in faith.
The Lord Jesus Christ is also seen in the unique provision in this chapter in Numbers. The cities of refuge were a type of Christ, sheltering the sinner from judgment. They may also be applied to Israel, who slew the Prince of life ''through ignorance'' (Acts 3:17).

The believing sinner, even though he is guilty, has this promise from God's Word: ''There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus'' (Rom 8:1). The writer to the Hebrews said, ''That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us'' (Heb 6:18).

Yes, my friend, in its pictures of Christ's person and work, the book of Numbers corroborates the statement of our Lord that ''they are they which testify of Me'' (John 5:39).

Return to table of contents for ''The Old Testament Presents... Reflections of Christ,''
written by Paul R. Van Gorder, Copyright 1982 by RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI.
Used by permission [within The Book from].
Further distribution is not allowed without permission from RBC.

For another brief look at this book of the Bible,
see the related chapter in Christ in All the Scriptures, by A.M. Hodgkin.

Go to The Book opening page.