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Christ in Numbers: Lessons from the Wilderness

The book of Numbers continues the story of the Israelite’s journey to the Promised Land. The Israelites had just come out of Egypt, walked through the Red Sea, and were led into the wilderness. Their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land should have taken eleven days, but instead, it took forty years because of their unbelief and disobedience.

Numbers takes place in the wilderness, where God tested the Israelites, and they failed. None of the disobedient generation made it to the Promised Land except for two Israelites who remained faithful.

The Israelites’ plight shows us that when people repeatedly choose unbelief, they will not receive God’s promises  (Hebrews 3:19). When people choose to disobey God, they are left to wander around aimlessly without purpose in the wilderness called life and will not enter the blessings of God’s promises. 

Within the pages of Numbers, we find hints of the coming Messiah. Not only can we find types of Jesus in persons like Moses, we see types in events such as the Exodus and articles such as Aaron’s rod. Here, we will explore Jesus in the Book of Numbers and discover how, through these hints, truths about our Messiah are revealed. We will see Jesus in the Israelite’s wanderings in the wilderness,  Aaron’s Rod, the Red Heifer, the Brazen Serpent, and in Balaam.

WILDERNESS WANDERINGS

We see Christ in the Israelites’ journey to the promised land. Like the Israelites, Jesus came out of Egypt (Matt. 2:15), through the waters of baptism (Matt. 3:16), and was led into the wilderness (Matt. 4:1), where Satan tested Him for forty days. But where the Israelites failed in their testing in the wilderness, and a generation was denied access to the promised land, Jesus succeeded and opened the promised land to all who would follow Him.

AARON’S STAFF (ROD)

Numbers 17

By Augustin Hirschvogel (1503 – 1553)

During the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, Korah, a Levite, and his followers thought Moses and Aaron had too much power and conspired against Moses. Because of their rebellion, God caused the earth to open and swallow them. However, God’s warning did not put an end to the rebellion. Other tribal leaders joined in. In response, God sent a plague that killed 14,700 of the Israelites. But this didn’t stop the rebellion either. Finally, God put an end to the unrest altogether by using Aaron’s staff to confirm Israel’s leader.

Moses took a staff from each of the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. Each leader’s name was written on a staff, Aaron’s on the staff of the tribe of Levi. The staffs were placed in the Tabernacle in front of the ark of the covenant and left there overnight. God instructed Moses that “the staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout, and I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites” (Numbers 17:5). The next day, upon examination of Aaron’s staff, Moses saw that “it had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds” (Numbers 17:8). The grumblings against Moses and Aaron stopped.

Ways Aaron’s staff Revealed Truths About Christ 

Like Aaron’s staff, Jesus Christ was also a living branch that sprouted from a root that appeared to be dead (Isaiah 11:1 and Isaiah 53:2). After the Babylonians took the Israelites captive, it appeared that the Davidic branch was dead. But, Isaiah prophesied that “A shoot will come up from the branch of Jesse; from his roots, a Branch will bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1). This Branch was Jesus Christ.

In the same way that Aaron’s staff was cut-off from a living tree, God’s Son, Jesus, was also cut-off. He was killed. But like Aaron’s rod that sprouted life, Jesus defied all laws of nature and was resurrected.

The resurrection of Aaron’s rod declared who God had chosen. Likewise, the resurrection of Jesus settled any dispute of whether Jesus was God’s chosen one. Lastly,  after the staff budded, it was placed in the presence of the Lord. Similarly, after Jesus was resurrected, He went back to the presence of His Father.  

RED HEIFER

Numbers 19 

A red heifer was part of a purification ritual to make clean those who had come into contact with the dead and allow them back in the presence of God. A Priest would take a red heifer without blemish who had never been under a yoke and slaughter it outside of camp and then burn it.  The red heifer’s ashes would be used in the cleansing water.

The red heifer and Christ have three main similarities. First, both were without blemish. Second, both were sacrificed outside of camp. Christ was crucified outside of Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:11-12). As the ashes of the red heifer cleansed people from the contamination of death, the blood of Christ saves us from the penalty and corruption of death and enables us to be in the presence of God. (Hebrews 9:13-14).

BRAZEN SERPENT

Numbers 21:4-9

The Brazen Serpent, Artist: Tissot, Photographer: John Parnell, Photo © The Jewish Museum, New York

As the Israelites traveled through the wilderness, they constantly grumbled and complained. Despite repeated warnings and punishment for complaining against God and Moses (Numbers 11:1Numbers 14:2), God finally had enough. He sent venomous snakes among the Israelites, and many died (Numbers 21:6).  God’s judgment and mercy are inseparable. When you see one, you will find the other.  

Although God sent the snakes as a judgment against Israel, He also gave them a way out. Here is what He told Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived (Numbers 21:8-9). Because God is holy, He must deal with our sin (judgment). Because He is love, he chooses to offer us mercy. 

Ways the Brazen Serpent Revealed Truths About Christ

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 3:14-15 

First, both the serpent and Jesus were lifted up. The Israelites looked to a snake on a pole for healing from poisonous venom, just like we look to the Savior on a cross to heal us from the poison of sin.  Secondly, the Israelites were given a way to escape from immediate physical death, just like we are given a way to escape from eternal spiritual death.  Thirdly, in faith, the Israelites had to look at the bronze serpent on the pole, believing that they would be saved just as we, in faith, have to look at Jesus on the cross, believing that we will be saved.  

BALAAM AS A PROPHECY OF HOPE

By Gustav Jäger

Numbers 22:1-Numbers 24:25

Balaam was a prophet called upon by the King of Moab to curse the Israelites. Although Balaam was a Jewish prophet, his heart was wicked: he was willing to trade Israel’s well-being for the love of money. God warned Balaam not to curse the Israelites because God had blessed them. Balaam tried anyway.  In response, God sent an Angel to stop Balaam. Each time Balaam would try to curse Israel, he would bless them instead.  

Interestingly, this wicked prophet prophesied about the coming Messiah. He said, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth” (Numbers 24:17).

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near.” 

Balaam prophesied about someone who wasn’t with the Israelites at that moment, and He wasn’t coming soon. But He would eventually come. 

“A star will come out of Jacob” 

The star has long been a symbol of power. Balaam hinted at a coming ruler. And from where? From Jacob.  Jesus was a descendant of Jacob (Luke 3:23, 34).

“a scepter will rise out of Israel.”  

The scepter speaks of the ruling power of the coming Messiah. Jesus is King.

From Numbers, we learn the importance of belief and obedience and how, without those two elements, we will have difficulty entering the blessings of God’s promises on this side of heaven. We also learn that hints of Christ come in the most unexpected places: in a rod, a red heifer, a brazen serpent, and an evil prophet.  Each reveals a truth about the coming Messiah and draw us closer to His side.

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I am a truth seeker by nature. My passion is studying God's Word and sharing His Truth with others.

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