God Numbers and Orders the Nation of Israel (Numbers 1:1-2:34)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

Prior to the Exodus, Israel had never been a nation. Israel began as the family of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants, prospered as a clan under Joseph’s leadership, but fell into bondage as an ethnic minority in Egypt. The Israelite population in Egypt grew to become nation-sized (Exod. 12:37) but, as an enslaved people, they were permitted no national institutions or organizations. They had departed Egypt as a barely organized refugee mob (Exod. 12:34-39) who now had to be organized into a functioning nation.

God directs Moses to enumerate the population (the first census, Num. 1:1-3) and create a provisional government headed by tribal leaders (Num. 1:4-16). Under God’s further direction, Moses appoints a religious order, the Levites, and equips them with resources to build the tabernacle of the covenant (Num. 1:48-54). He lays out camp housing for all the people, then regiments the men of fighting age into military echelons, and appoints commanders and officers (Num. 2:1-9). He creates a bureaucracy, delegates authority to qualified leaders, and institutes a civil judiciary and court of appeal (this is told in Exodus 18:1-27, rather than in Numbers). Before Israel can come into possession of the Promised Land (Gen. 28:15) and fulfill its mission to bless all the nations (Gen. 18:18), the nation had to be ordered effectively.

Moses’ activities of organization, leadership, governance, and resource development are closely paralleled in virtually every sector of society today—business, government, military, education, religion, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, even families. In this sense, Moses is the godfather of all managers, accountants, statisticians, economists, military officers, governors, judges, police, headmasters, community organizers, and myriad others. The detailed attention Numbers gives to organizing workers, training leaders, creating civic institutions, developing logistical capabilities, structuring defenses, and developing accounting systems suggests that God still guides and empowers the ordering, governing, resourcing, and maintaining of social structures today. 



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