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Thursday, June 2, 2022

Jesus in the Torah: Numbers

The book of Numbers is so named because it records that the children of Israel were numbered (counted) on two different occasions (chapters 1 and 26). In this connection, it is interesting to note that God told Abraham that he would "multiply" his seed, and that they would someday be "as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore." (Genesis 22:17) This multiplication of his seed was, of course, to be accomplished by Jesus Christ - who would make his followers "children of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7, 29), and who John predicted would one day be found presiding over "a great multitude, which no man could number." (Revelation 7:9)

The book is also the story of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness for forty years (Numbers 14:33-34 and 32:13). In this connection, it is interesting to note that the synoptic gospels record that Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness for forty days and nights (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13). Moreover, in this regard, it is also interesting to note that - just as the book of Numbers is organized into three great subplots (the preparation of the Israelites to inherit the Promised Land, their failure to do so and subsequent punishment for that failure, and the preparation of a new generation of Israelites to replace the one which had failed), the gospels of Matthew and Luke inform us that Christ had to suffer three different temptations at the hands of Satan! And, as we shall see in the final post in this series, those gospels inform us that Christ quoted from the book of Deuteronomy in answer to all three of Satan's temptations.

Finally, with regard to the forgoing allusions to scriptural numerology, we would be remiss not to point out that God chose twelve men (one to represent each of the tribes of Israel) to spy out the Promised Land before the children of Israel actually entered and took possession of it (Numbers 13). In similar fashion, the gospels inform us that Christ chose twelve men to be his disciples (Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:14-19, Luke 6:12-16, and John 6:70) and sent them out to preach to the Israelites in Judea (Matthew 10:5-42). For Christians, these numerical parallels are clearly intentional/deliberate. In other words, these are NOT accidental/coincidental!

Now, we have already discussed how the New Testament book of Hebrews portrays Christ in the role of our high priest and compared/contrasted him with both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. Obviously, those observation would also apply to what the book of Numbers has to say about the Aaronic priesthood. Moreover, when the responsibilities of the Aaronic priesthood are outlined in the eighteenth chapter of the book, we are again reminded of the superiority of Christ acting alone in the role of high priest (not needing the assistance/help of others and not requiring the blood of animals to perform his duties).

Many Christians also see Jesus in the rituals surrounding the red heifer outlined in the nineteenth chapter of Numbers. Like the red heifer, Christ was without spot or blemish (I Peter 1:19). It should also be noted that Eleazar was instructed to sacrifice the red heifer outside of the camp of Israel (verse 3). In this connection, it is interesting to note that the author of the epistle to the Hebrews observed that: "We <Christians> have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach." (13:10-13) Finally, just as Christ's sacrifice saves Christians from death (Romans 6:23), the ashes of the red heifer were used to cleanse the Israelites from being contaminated by death (Numbers 19:11-19).

In the twenty-first chapter of Numbers, we are told that "the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died." (Verse 6) According to the narrative, this was part of God's punishment of the people for their rebellion against him and Moses (verse 5). This was followed by the people's repentance and some peculiar instructions by God to remedy the problem of the deadly snake bites (verses 7-8). Then, we read: "And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." (Verse 9) Interestingly, in the Gospel of John, we are informed that Christ connected himself with this story. We read there that Jesus 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." (3:14-15) Hence, just as the Israelites were saved from death by looking up at the serpent on a pole, Christians are saved from death by the appearance of Christ hanging on the cross!

There is also an interesting account of a prophet by the name of Balaam that is found in three chapters of the book of Numbers (22-24). And, although he is repeatedly asked by Balak to curse the children of Israel, we are told that God caused Balaam to instead pronounce blessings on his people. Then, in the twenty-fourth chapter, we read what many Christians consider to be a prophecy about Jesus Christ. In this connection, the critical prophecy is seen as Balaam's statement that "I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth...Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city." (24:17-19) Moreover, even if we insist that this passage refers to David, most Christians will remind their critics that David was a figure of Jesus Christ!

Finally, the review and summary of the offerings in chapters twenty-eight and twenty-nine of this book reminds us once again of the superiority of Christ's offering of himself - one time for all times. Hence, like the three books which precede it, Christians see many references to Jesus in the book of Numbers. For them, Christ's symbolic fulfillment of the narratives, laws, and rituals contained in these books of the Torah is clear, extensive, and much more important/significant than any scientific or historical errors that we might be able to find in them!

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