A month had passed from the time Moses had the tabernacle built and put into operation. It was a year since the Exodus. God informed Moses that that it was time to find out how many males of twenty years and older were among the Israelites. (Exodus 40:17; Numbers 1:1-3.)
The First Census
It was necessary to have accurate record of the people so that order could be maintained, especially when the people broke camp. Accordingly, all males of twenty years and older were required to register at certain points, and to give information about themselves and their families. (Numbers 1:17-19.) This census wasn't to include strangers, men of the tribe of Levi, or any who were too old to go into battle in case the Israelites had to wage war against attacking armies. (Numbers 1:45, 47.) When all were registered and their numbers added, the able-bodied male Israelites amounted to 603,550. (Numbers 1:45-46.) This was quite an increase over the seventy males who had gone down into Egypt when Joseph was ruler. Together with women, children, strangers and the tribe of Levi, there were at least two million people compactly camped near Mt. Sinai! Besides, there were many tens of thousands of animals to feed. So much food and water were required that there had to be special order and control by God's leadership through Moses. Of the twelve tribes, Judah was the largest with 74,600 men. (Numbers 1:26-27.) It is today one of the smaller. The smallest tribe numbered at that time was Manasseh, with 32,200 men, but the tribe multiplied rapidly in later years and is today one of the largest! In these last days, Manasseh — whose descendants are the stock that founded the United States of America — has become the most powerful nation on Earth. Yet it is just one of the ten tribes of the "lost" House of Israel, which can no longer be considered as "lost." Nevertheless, there are many self-styled authorities who are struggling to keep the knowledge about the ten tribes hidden forever because true knowledge of them doesn't fit in with their narrow, erroneous doctrines. God said that the identity of the ten tribes would be made clear near the time of the end. It has long since been made clear to those who study the evidence with a desire to understand. Without that knowledge, one can't understand very much of the Bible or of God's great plan of salvation for the nations.
God Requires Order
The census having been completed, Moses and Aaron were instructed by God concerning the lay-out of the camps of the various tribes. Up to that time there was fair order, but God wanted precise order and arrangement so that from that time on there would be proper system and control whenever the people camped. (Numbers 2.) Although the tribe of Levi wasn't included in the census that had just been taken, it was numbered later by God's order. Males were counted from a month old and upward, and were found to number exactly 22,000. (Numbers 3:39.) Specific and definite duties were assigned to the various families of the Levites. Everyone learned what he was to do. God had planned all of it so that there wouldn't be any confusion. (Numbers 3:5-38; 4:4-33.) God dislikes confusion. (I Corinthians 14:33.) That means that everything our Creator does is carefully thought out, systematic, orderly, true and perfect. He doesn't like half-truths, disorder, conflict, theories, guesswork, false doctrines, lies or propaganda. God has nothing to do with today's religious confusion except to draw out from this confused world the individuals who are zealously seeking the truth. Before Israel left Sinai, God also gave them the order in which the various tribes were to break camp and spread out in their vast caravan on the move toward Canaan. (Numbers 10:11-28.) Meanwhile, there were other necessary instructions for that day from God. All unclean people — those with leprosy and other contagious diseases and those exposed to dead bodies — were to be separated within the camp or put far outside the camp to stay for various periods. (Numbers 5:1-4; Leviticus 13:1-8; 15:1-13; 21:1-3.) This was not only a health measure for the good of the people. God didn't want unclean persons existing so close to the holy area in which He was to dwell with the Israelites. These measures were necessary before the coming of the Holy Spirit. Cleanliness outside was to teach the people the need of God's power to clean the human being from within through the Holy Spirit. At this same time God also made plain certain rules for those who were not Levites, but who wished to be set apart for a time of special service to God. Israelites who wanted to do this were called nazarites. They are not to be confused with the Levites. God honored the intentions of those individuals who wished to take nazarite vows and blessed them for their zeal. During the time people were nazarites they (men or women) weren't to shave nor cut their hair. They weren't to touch any dead body. They weren't to consume any wine. Neither were they to drink grape juice. Grapes, either fresh or dried, weren't to be eaten. (Numbers 6:1-8.) This was a SIGN of their special service.
Christ Was No Nazarite
Many people have believed that Jesus Christ was a nazarite because he was raised in Nazareth, a town in the district of Galilee about seventy miles north of Jerusalem. This is not true. People who come from or who are in Nazareth are called Nazarenes. They aren't nazarites unless they have taken the nazarite vow. Christ was not a nazarite. He drank wine. (Matthew 11:19.) If He had been a nazarite He could not have drunk wine without sinning and losing His place as our Saviour. Some who believe Jesus was a nazarite mistakenly claim that the wine Jesus drank was grape juice — but even grape juice was forbidden to nazarites! Because of assuming that Christ was a nazarite, many people have believed that He had long hair flowing down to his shoulders. Christ didn't have long hair! By-gone half-pagan artists, trying to make Jesus look pious, gave him a sick, sad, effeminate appearance, and even went so far as to add long hair in their vain imagination. No man knows how Jesus looked. Inasmuch as Christ was a hard-working carpenter who ate only clean foods and observed the laws of good health, we know he was a very masculine fellow with physical strength and endurance. Because he loved all people, he was a sociable, friendly, cheerful person who was thoughtful of others and courteous at all times. What matters most, however, is what Christ is like now. Hebrews 1:2-4 and Revelation 1:12-16 tell us of Christ's present power and appearance.
Transporting the Tabernacle
One morning Moses was called out of his tent to see an unusually large crowd slowly approaching the tabernacle from a distance. But it wasn't the crowd that commanded his attention. Six covered wagons, each drawn by two oxen, stood between the crowd and the tabernacle! "These are gifts from the heads of the twelve tribes," an officer explained. "They're being offered to help carry the equipment of the tabernacle." (Numbers 7:1-3.) Moses was a little puzzled as to whether or not he should accept the wagons for that purpose. He knew that the ark, for one thing, was to be carried on the shoulders of men, but God hadn't yet made it known how most of the heavy equipment would be moved. Later, back inside his tent, Moses quickly knelt in prayer to ask God what should be done. "Accept the gifts they have offered," God answered. "Give the wagons to the Levites to use. This is as I have planned it to be." (Numbers 7:4-5.) Moses was relieved to hear this from God, and he was happy to realize that the gifts from the Israelite princes were of their own idea and free will. - After donning his best attire, Moses went out to the waiting princes of the twelve tribes. He happily accepted the wagons and the oxen, and turned them over to Aaron so that they could be put into special use by the Levites. (Verses 6-8.) The wagons and the oxen weren't the only gifts from the heads of the Israelite tribes. So many other things were brought in that the prince of each tribe was assigned a particular day in which to present his gifts and make his offerings. (Verses 10-11.) The total from all the tribes amounted to twelve large silver dishes in which to knead dough for the shewbread, twelve deep silver bowls (all of them filled with fine flour mixed with oil) for receiving blood for sacrifices, twelve golden spoons filled with incense, twelve kids, thirty-six bullocks, seventy-two rams, sixty male goats and seventy-two lambs. (Numbers 7:12-23, 84-88.) After the tribes had finished giving these things, Moses went into the tabernacle to thank God for what so many people had contributed. Thereupon a voice spoke out of the mercy seat. It was God's voice directing Moses to tell Aaron concerning matters having to do with the tabernacle and the Levites. (Numbers 7:89; 8:1-2.) The instructions included those touching on the Passover. The Passover is always to be observed on the fourteenth day of the first month, Nisan. But for those away on a journey, those who for any reason are unable to keep it on that date, the Passover is to be observed on the fourteenth day of the SECOND month, Iyar. (Numbers 9:9-12.) This also applies to the New Testament Passover memorial to be observed by Christians today, as recorded in Matthew 26:26-28. Those who for some special reason can't observe the New Testament Passover (with unleavened bread and wine as a memorial of Christ's death. The need for the sacrifice of the paschal lamb ceased at Christ's death for He was the Lamb of God offered for the sins of the world. God also instructed that two long trumpets of solid silver should be made for use in contacting the people. The blowing of only one trumpet was to summon the heads of the tribes for a meeting. The blowing of both trumpets was either to call for a solemn assembly of all the people or was the signal to move out of camp. They were also to be blown in such varying manners that the hearers would instantly recognize an alarm to prepare for war, happy occasions, solemn days, beginnings of months and times of offerings. (Numbers 10:1-10.) One might doubt that two trumpets, even large and long, could be heard by two million scattered over miles. But a horn of the type God wanted made, blown by a strong person of good lung capacity, could easily be heard for miles in the clear desert air in the vicinity of Mt. Sinai. One morning shortly after the trumpets had been made and put into use, the Israelites came out of their tents to see that the cloud had moved away from the tabernacle during the night and was high in the sky! It wasn't long afterward that the two silver trumpets, lustily blown by Aaron's two sons, blasted out the signal for the breaking of camp.
Israelites Resume the March
There was great excitement among the people. They had been encamped before Mt. Sinai for almost a year, and the signal had arrived to move on. The cloud had moved upward from the tabernacle. Men hurried to get their livestock and tents ready to move. Woodsmen and hunters rushed back from the mountains. Women worked feverishly to get the family belongings together. Excited at the thought of going somewhere, children ran happily about, but not to become lost or get in the way. Meanwhile, men took down the tabernacle. They had been so well trained in this task that it was done in a remarkably short time. It was rather astonishing that two million people were ready to move so quickly on such short notice. In accordance with God's orders, the first tribe to move out of camp was Judah. Others followed in the order given them. The Levites, carrying the tabernacle equipment, were spaced in two different areas among the other tribes. The tribe of Naphtali was the last to leave. (Numbers 10:11-28.) A few hours later the mammoth caravan had disappeared through the mountain passes to the northeast, leaving the Sinai valley silent and lonely. Among the strangers who had stayed with the Israelites at Sinai was Hobab, Jethro's son. This brother-in-law of Moses, along with a clan he headed, had joined them when he came with his father to visit Moses and bring Zipporah, Moses' wife. As a native of the desert, he had a keen knowledge of the desert. Moses therefore hoped that Hobab and his people would go along with the Israelites. Hobab, who loved God and saw that God's people needed him, joined his clan to the tribe of Judah, which always led the way when the Israelite caravan moved through the wilderness. In this way his men could use their knowledge of the desert in choosing the best pathway for the Israelites to use in following the cloud and the pillar of fire. After the Israelites entered Palestine, Hobab and his relatives, the Kenites, settled down with the tribe of Judah, choosing for themselves a wilderness area that was similar to their old homeland. (Judges 1:16.) In any event, probably Moses wouldn't have pressed him to go with them if Moses could have foreseen that they weren't going to reach Canaan until 39 years later! For three days the vast line of humanity and animals slowly struggled across the rocky plains and hillsides characteristic of that region. Moses uttered a public prayer for protection each time they started out and each time they camped. (Numbers 10:33-36.)
Complaining IS Rebellion
As usual, there were those who began to complain. By the end of the third day from Sinai, there were many who were loudly voicing their grievances to those about them. "This is worse than slaving for the Egyptians!" they yelled. "We all should join together and demand less travel and more rest! If we try to keep this up, we shall all die!" Before Israelite officers could organize to quell the shouting, a peculiar thing happened. The pillar of fire, blazing in the sky above the ark, flared upward. The evening air felt as though it were suddenly charged with some tremendous force about to explode. That is exactly what happened. Throughout the whole camp, as though they had come out of nowhere, were strange, sizzling bolts of fire. They hissed and streaked in all directions — many of them ploughing into the people who had just been shouting so loudly. (Numbers 11:1.) It happened so suddenly that most of the people hardly had time to be frightened. But now they froze in alarm as they found themselves staring at the lifeless bodies of those who had complained! God meant business! Complaining about how God directs His servants IS rebellion against the Government of God!