"NUMBERS: Its Messianic Types," by Ronald Ginther


"Numbers, Its Messianic Types and Connection with the Cross,"

By Ronald Ginther

Numbers, the fourth book of Moses, takes its name from the Greek words that refer to the censuses taken at God's command. The Hebrew name, however, according to Eerdman's, is "Bemidbar," or "In the Wilderness." It is about two years since deliverance from Egypt, and Moses at God's leading is guiding the Israelites through the wilderness to the Promised Land. It is only a matter of days or two weeks at the most on the direct routes, but the Israelite pilgrimage to the land promised by God consumed forty years and one whole generation (the adult generation, except for Joshua and Caleb the two faithful spies, which dies out first before the grown children enter in). What a horrible tragedy, so only two of the original generation got to enter into the Promised Land! And forty years--a generational span of time had to pass first! Why? What had delayed the fulfillment of God's promise to Israel so drastically? Numbers tell us exactly what made the delay and how. We do well, eve in this terminal generation of the Church Age, to heed the hard lessons the Israelites learned in the wilderness lest we stumble and, like them, fail to enter into God's rest (explained in the Book of Hebrews)!

First we must understand that Israelites were deeply, deeply polluted by 430 years residency in Egypt, which itself is spiritually a type of the world. It that doesn't picture it to you, know that oppression is not necessarily an ennobling experience, as we know from the seventy year long Soviet Communist occupations of many Eastern European nations and also Russia. We mention this particularly to point out the clear connection of Numbers to our own times. Just as those countries were corrupted to the point of collapse in most cases, so was Israel. Under the lash and subject to cruel deprivation by the Pharaoh and his taskmasters, they did not turn into suffering saints but mostly became an even more idolatrous, stubborn, provocative, rebellious people than they were in the days of Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. We must also remind ourselves that the Israelites did not have the Holy Spirit within them; instead they followed the leader God chose, Moses, upon whom God put His Spirit.

This deep and fatal corruption of the Israelites gushes uncontrollably forth like blackened brooks across a beautiful, green landscape in their behavior toward God and his appointed spokesman and commander, Moses, time and time again. It dooms an entire generation and nearly dooms the whole race. God was about to destroy them all utterly (intending to spare Moses and begin a new race of Chosen People through him), but withheld his wrath only because Moses stood in the gap, pleading that the people be spared for the sake of God's own name and reputation. This brave, selfless act of Moses, by the way, prefigured the intercessory role demanded of the Church today, that of standing in the gap for the world, which would have been destroyed long ago due to the ever increasing level of wickedness, rebellion against God, and violence. Moses the Intercessor, then, was a Type of Christ, Who the Book of Hebrews, Chapters 6-9, portrays as our Intercessor on high at the throne of God.

But what is Messianic about Numbers? First, the Cross! It appears at least twice. Some commentaries, including Eerdman's, see no special symbolic significance in the specific layout of the tribes that camped around the Ark according to the specific instructions of God. In Chapter 2, 1-31, the order of the camps is given by the Lord God. On the east side were the tribes of Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. On the west side were Ephraim Manasseh and Benjamin. On the north side were Dan, Asher and Naphtali. On the south side were the tribes of Reuben, Simeon and Gad. Draw it out yourself what this divine order portrays. It forms a cross, unmistakably. This spectacular cross-figure (at least seven centuries before the Phoenicians invented it for executing criminals) is what Balaam the prophet from Pethor of Mesopotamia saw when he was taken to a high mountain top to view the camp by the enemy king, Balak. No wonder he was astonished when he spoke his inspired account in his poetic blessings (which Balak hated to hear instead of the curses he had insisted the prophet hurl at the Israelites!). Eerdman's states that the distance of the tribes from the Ark at the center may have been 1,000 yards, but with such a vast assembly what was 1,000 yards? From a distance it would have seemed negligible. Critics say the description may be "idealized" and that biblical writers (including Moses) used "artificial literary devices" and "weren't always concerned with spatial and chronological precision" or exactitude. As our own view, we would say that to always be of a mind to strain at gnats will almost certainly guarantee that you will swallow a camel. Yes, there can be excesses and mishandlings of symbols and "literary devices," by uninspired writers outside scripture, but God wasn't pathologically afraid of religious interpretations, fortunately. He has written the Cross as a type not only in the Israelites' order of their camps but as a banner or ensign in the same book of Numbers (more about this later on).

Secondly, the manna from heaven that fell to the earth to feed the Israelites for forty years in the wilderness, whatever it was, prefigured Christ, the Bread of Heaven. How do we know that? He stated that it spoke of Himself. Just as the life-giving manna was rejected by the Israelites, who lusted for quail and "real wheat bread" in place of it, so was Christ rejected by his generation. Though called "manna" by the people, which meant, "What is it?", the nourishing bread flour (which resembled fine coriander seed) fell from heaven, for it was called "angels' food in scripture. So Christ the Bread of Heaven descended from heaven to earth to feed humanity. He fed them both spiritually and physically. On the night before His trials and crucifixion and death, He spoke of his body and blood, instituting the observance of Communion, whereby his followers would always in partaking o bread and wine in memory of Christ eat the body and drink the body, spiritually, of the beloved Lord Jesus. But we need to return to Numbers!

Thirdly, in Numbers 20:11, Moses was so angry with the rebellious, stubborn ("stiff-necked") and almost constantly provocative people that he raved at them and then struck the rock twice, though commanded to speak to it by God so that the people might have life-saving water. Despite Moses's anger and disobedience (which apparently cost him his going into the Promised Land), water gushed forth abundantly, for the New Testament declares that the rock was Christ the Rock of Israel in truth. So we have water-giving rock in Numbers as a type of Christ, and it is a most wonderful type, indeed.

Fourthly, Numbers 21: 9 gives us the Bronze Serpent God commanded Moses to set upon a pole (forming a kind of ensign or banner that the people had to look upon to be healed or they would die when bitten by the serpents in a special plague sent by God in punishment). How fitting a type of Christ it was, as Christ too was lifted up upon a Roman pole or stake, horrible to look upon as he was after horrendous and bloody beatings and floggings, his body ripped to shreds, his face disfigured, and with his hands and feet nailed to the wood beams. Yes, horrible as a serpent to look upon, but nevertheless a life-sparing Antidote for the poisonous and lethal bite of sin, death, and that old Serpent, the devil! What a magnificent type this particular one is! How could it be more clear? To the Jews this figure was a stumbling block to Christ which many rejected, for Christ they thought would present a far more appealing appearance as the Messiah. To the Greeks it was folly--for of what use was a Cross or a Serpent on a pole, they couldn't conceive anything ideal or pleasingly and stimulating to the intellect in it. But to the saved, blood-bought believer in Christ, the Bronze Serpent and the Cross are beautiful, glorious, and life-giving! Praise to God.

As I write this about the Bronze Serpent, news reports tell of the Galileo spacecraft traveling at over 100,000 miles an hour and sent intentionally to burn up in the atmosphere of Jupiter. How ephemeral are man's works in comparison with God's. God's Bronze Serpent raised up by Moses on a stake in the wilderness will be famed forever in the Word, as a Type of Christ, and the Galileo spacecraft, which had its brief day of fame in the science and space exploration of 20-21st Century, has already begun to sink into oblivion.

Fifthly, in Chapter 27 Joshua (his name is changed from Hoshea) is chosen by God to succeed Moses. He will lead the people into the Promised Land. Joshua, then, whose name is the same name as Yeshua (or Jesus), is a forerunner and also a type of Christ.

In conclusion, counting Moses who acted at critical moments as a Type of Christ in his intercessory role (though his whole span of ministry may be said to be intercessory), we have six types of Christ clearly shown in Numbers. There may well be others. Can you find and point them out? To follow this is Deuteronomy, a book that Christ several times when tempted by Satan in the wilderness. The fifth book of Moses, Deuteronomy, also contains Messianic types, which are highly significant to us today, just as those of Numbers have, we trust, proven significant to Emmaus Walkers. A last thought: In the period covered by Numbers, the Ark was carried 1,000 yards distant from the rest of the people--except for those God chose to carry the Ark, the others could approach no nearer and not be slain by the holiness and glory of God. Ephesians 2:13-16: "But now in Christ you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation." Let us give all thanks to God!