EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
Though the Law, biblically speaking, is determined to be the Pentateuch (again, that’s the first five books of the Bible written by Moses), we’ve already highlighted the major points of how Christ appeared in Genesis and Exodus. Exodus explains the deliverance of the Ten Commandments, which climax into a more complete legislative system for God’s people as outlined in great detail in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, which is why these three books are handled together here.
As the Law is further explained, we see the role of Christ peppered throughout. “Leviticus” is Latin for “of [or relating to] the Levites,” and stems from the Hebrew vayikra, which translates “the Lord called,” in reference to the descendants of Levi called by God to be priests over Israel. (If you’re wondering why the Levites were chosen above the other tribes, it traces back to Exodus 32:19–29, when the Levites rallied together and put three thousand of their brothers to the sword for worshipping the golden calf.) As such, we could view the book of Leviticus as a “manual for the priests” as they performed their duties in the tent or Tabernacle and later the Temple. For the most part, the book is made up of regulations explaining how acts of consecration, cleanliness, purity, offerings, sacrifices, vows, and other rituals were to be carried out by the priests and the rest of Israel; how the priesthood would operate and what governance guidelines/procedures applied to the management of their office; how the Tabernacle was to be furnished and cared for; and judicial laws for civilization. (Note, however, that there is a small amount of historical narrative in Leviticus recorded in chapters 8–9, 10:1–7, 10:16–20, and 24:10–14.)
But far from it being a mere collection of rules, Leviticus marks a moment in history when God’s people were completely set apart from the rest of the pagan world, spiritually as well as physically. Without Leviticus, the human race wouldn’t have the instructions needed to fully appreciate and respect either our relationship with God or the immense level of respect His house would need to be given while generations of His people followed and interacted with Him. We would never have grasped what is or is not moral, because we wouldn’t have had the handbook that identified what this mysterious thing called “sin” even is beyond what was provided in Exodus and what was illustrated in the mishap of the Garden. Further, without Leviticus and the ancients’ willingness to follow its parameters of conduct in relation to cleanliness, sanitation, and hygiene, we can assume the Bible may have ended right then and there when all of Israel died off as a result of disease.
Critical to understanding the angle of Christ’s involvement, however, is noting the parallel of the priests as the people God appointed to uphold the holiness standards of the Jews, thereby making them a people God could cohabitate with, protect, bless, direct, and—most importantly—save!
Every law the Levitical priests had to follow ultimately contributed to the spiritual wellness of people who have an inherent sin nature toward being presentable and acceptable to God. Each animal sacrifice was a covering of sin—a sign that sin had been paid for. Only then could the Jews find forgiveness and be seen as whole and clean in God’s sight. Sin is a serious offense to God, an act of direct rebellion worthy only of death, and it is only by fully comprehending how horrible sin is that we realize how badly we need to have a means of separating ourselves from it. A priest was a mediator and intercessor for the people and during the services rendered to God, but he was also one set apart as holy to perform the services needed to assist the covering of sins for the people. His lifestyle was pious to the extreme, and although it was considered a privilege and honor to be a priest of God, it was a great weight and responsibility as well.
Within the group of priests, one would be chosen to be the high priest. He was considered the most consecrated, devout, and righteous among priests. He, alone, was deemed worthy to enter the Holy of Holies (or Most Holy Place) of the Tabernacle—and only once per year, on the Day of Atonement—to place the blood of the sacrifice on the Ark of the Covenant as a covering for the sins of the people.
This would be the practice until the Messiah came. Then He, through His once-and-for-all blood sacrifice for all sin, would become not the mere replacement of this rite, but its fulfillment from both perspectives: Jesus would become the Sacrifice as well as the High Priest who offered the Sacrifice to the Father on the day He bled and died. The writer of Hebrews identified this transformation beautifully. Let’s reflect on the following passage, with brackets added for clarification:
For the law [at the time of Leviticus] having a shadow of good things to come [looked forward to a better way through the Messiah to come], and not the very image of the things [though it did not directly show what that better way looked like], can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect [the sacrifices of the Law could never completely present a people as perfect unto God the way the Messiah could].… But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins [no matter what, the blood of bulls and goats—even perfect ones—could not completely remove sin].…
Then said he [Christ], “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.” He [Christ] taketh away the first [He took away the first kind of sacrifice], that he may establish the second [so that He could establish Himself as the second, perfect, and effective kind by which a true removal of sin, and not mere covering]. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all [no more annual sacrifices].…
[And God said:] “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus [no longer needing a human priest, we now enter the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus on the cross once for all], By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh [His flesh became the new and living sin-removing way by which we are all able to come into the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place so we can enter into the presence of God as perfect and spotless]; And having an high priest over the house of God [by this, Jesus is our High Priest!]…
Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren [Jesus saw fit to become human], that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God [so that He might now become our Intercessor and Mediator], to make reconciliation for the sins of the people [in presenting Himself as Sacrifice, He reconciled people to God].…
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. (Hebrews 10:2–4, 9–10, 17–21; 2:17; 3:1)
Though the Jews wouldn’t completely see and understand this for what it really was, Jesus’ role as we see it in the book of Leviticus was to become the High Priest mediator and intercessor for all.
The book of Numbers in English is named after the Greek Septuagint title of this fourth biblical book, relating to the numbering of the tribes of Israel in the first four chapters. Its original title—Hebrew Bemidbar, meaning “in the desert [or wilderness]”—was perhaps more suitable to the book’s narrative beyond just the counting. It opens at the foot of Mt. Sinai as the Lord delivers the Ten Commandments and closes forty years later as Israel is finally proceeding into the Promised Land. (Is it perhaps a bit unfortunate that many today see a biblical narrative devalued by a title that references only its numerical status? We digress…) Our goal herein is not to discuss the numbering of the tribes, but to focus on our Savior’s role in each book of the Word, so we will proceed with Numbers’ “wilderness” theme in focus.
Deuteronomy confuses folks sometimes because, at the onset, it appears to repeat many laws and events recorded in the first four books. The very name of the book insinuates that as well. Originally called Devarim (Hebrew for “words,” which is ambiguous), the name “Deuteronomy” was later assigned in Greek translations—and though the etymology of the title is complicated, suffice it to say that it does not mean “second law,” as many believe, but actually “repetition” or “copy.” In other words, it’s not a “second” to anything, but a “copy” of the first, as it pertains to what was covered in the previous books. As to why it was included in this way, it might be assumed that Moses felt the need to readdress specific issues with his audience that were not being given the proper attention prior, as well as to leave them with some parting words that didn’t appear in the other documents. Since “words” was the original title of the book, that theory is not far-fetched.
(Interestingly, the narrative closes in part by describing Moses’ death and burial on a mountain by the hand of God, which causes some to wonder how he could have been the author toward the end. Scholars have taken generally two stances on this: 1) Moses personally wrote this book, ending it near the time of death, and the beginning of the book of Joshua actually begins near the end of Deuteronomy before it would in our contemporary Bibles; 2) Deuteronomy was not penned by the hand of Moses and was actually recorded at a slightly later date in Israel, but he was accredited as the author since the record was a “copy” of pieces of his original work [with the obvious exception of his death account].)
The overall outline of the Numbers and Deuteronomy narratives (as well as blips from the other three books of the Pentateuch) can be frustrating to readers who appreciate the idea that promises should be kept. It kinda goes like this: Israel promises to obey God and then doesn’t; Israel is grateful to the Lord for His mercy and provisions, then moans and complains about the circumstances they, themselves, created (often through idolatry); Israel begs for mercy again, promises again not to repeat the offense, then disobeys or worships false gods all the more the next time the temptation presents itself. Truly, it’s a wonder Israel ever inherited the Promised Land. That they did proves that even when people don’t keep their promises, our Heavenly Father keeps His. However, the wilderness story is also evidence that going against God again and again results in the delay (not the dismissal) of the blessing we might have otherwise been given beforehand, as well as the punishment earned for disobedience:
But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it. (Numbers 14:21–23)
A generation of disbelieving forsakers of the Lord had to die out so that their sons and daughters could inherit the Promised Land.
Meanwhile, however, they were more than cared for with all they needed to survive, including the miraculous water and bread from heaven that kept their bodies nourished, their throats satisfied from the dryness of the desert, and their bellies fed. The Lord even kept their shoes and clothes brand new (Deuteronomy 8:4; 29:5)! But through the bread and water, God was preparing a parallel that would later become undeniable through the words of His Son. Consider this New Testament passage:
Then Jesus said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.”
Then said they unto him, “Lord, evermore give us this bread.”
And Jesus said unto them, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:32–35)
This is God, Himself, in the flesh as the Son, accomplishing three things in order. He: 1) identifies that it is literally the bread and water in the story of “Moses,” so there can be no interpretation that Jesus may have been referring to some other historical moment or symbolism other than the wilderness epic by which He would now be identified as the character “appearing” in Exodus through Deuteronomy; 2) explains that the bread (and water) was sent from heaven by the Father in the same way the Son was sent from heaven by the Father; 3) states plainly that “the bread of God” in this New Testament time “is he which cometh down from heaven [Jesus],” irrefutably linking Himself to this same miracle—but this time, instead of temporary, physical sustenance, He will give “[eternal] life unto the world.” In case His listeners were still confused, He states succinctly that anyone who comes to Him in faith will never hunger or thirst (spiritually), because He is the wilderness bread and water in the flesh. If we stopped here, it would be enough to see quite powerfully how Jesus was foreshadowed in the desert. However, the next part involves an oft-missed and obscure detail that, once seen, cannot be unseen, and is therefore sure to widen the eyes of some of the most devout readers of the Word.
One of the most iconic intervention accounts we read about from Exodus through Deuteronomy is the Cloud by day and the Fire by night that leads Israel and the tent (the portable Tabernacle) as they wander, as well as provides shade during the day and light at night. (Why do we capitalize these terms? You will see in a moment…) We are including a lengthy excerpt of Numbers to highlight the repeated mention of this provision:
And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony: and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents. At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the Lord they pitched: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents. And when the cloud tarried long upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord, and journeyed not. And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the Lord they abode in their tents, and according to the commandment of the Lord they journeyed. And so it was, when the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed. Or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not: but when it was taken up, they journeyed. At the commandment of the Lord they rested in the tents, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed: they kept the charge of the Lord, at the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses. (Numbers 9:15–23)
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It’s clear Moses really wanted his readers to see that the Cloud and the Fire Pillar were directly responsible for leading the people. It’s likewise obvious by the end of the passage that the movements of these elements are “the commandment of the Lord.” But is it possible that this is a theophany? Is it possible that God, Himself, is the Cloud and Pillar?
Exodus 13:21 clarifies the answer in no uncertain terms: “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.” All the while the Israelites were seeing clouds and fire, they were viewing a theophany. Now, observe what happens several verses later, in Exodus 14:19: “And the Angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them.”
Whoa…wait a second. This doesn’t just identify that the Cloud and Pillar of Fire is a literal appearance of God. It states it is “the Angel of God”! (Refer to the section, “What Is a Theophany/Christophany?” under the header, “Before We Proceed” if you need a reminder as to why this term often identifies a Christophany.) Therefore, if an impressive number of scholars are correct in their interpretations, Israel is here being led through the wilderness by Jesus as Cloud and Fire! It changes how we view the journey quite a bit, doesn’t it?
To be fair, scholars aren’t necessarily unanimous in concluding the Cloud and Pillar are Christ. Whereas nearly all reputable scholars allow for the interpretation that the Cloud and Pillar are certainly God, in at least a theophany, some believe that dubbing it as a Christophany is taking interpretational liberty. (The reason for their hesitation in this reference isn’t always clear, since these same learned men often treat other passages with identical language and syntax as “Christophanies.” But internal evidence by the Apostle Paul strongly leans in this direction. In fact, in his address to the Corinthians, he even takes it a step farther, linking Jesus to the Rock that miraculously produced water for their thirst:
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1–4)
Jesus is the Bread, the Water, the Cloud, the Pillar, and the Rock—all vivid symbols directly out of the Exodus–Deuteronomy Scriptures! (And actually, though it does seem awkward for our finite minds to imagine, we might question how literally Paul meant his words when he said that Jesus was the Rock in this scene. It seems absurd at first to imagine Jesus Christ in an Old Testament Christophany embodying the form of a stone, but if He did, or even if it is a symbol of Him, it may explain why Moses striking it in anger would result in his being prohibited from entering the Promised Land. Moses was ever faithful and obedient to God even as he lived in a nation of folks who repeatedly disobeyed God, so it’s hard to see why his decision to hit a rock with his staff would cause him to be kicked out of the land his people would inherit. But if we realize that what he struck was Jesus or an Old Testament type of Jesus because of the life-giving water the stone then produced, suddenly we imagine Moses ramming his holy tool into it and our minds collectively scream, “No! Don’t do it Moses! That’s Jesus!” Interesting brain candy, at the least.) It would be shameful, then, to overlook how He is typified by what occurred in Numbers 21:8–9. Consider briefly:
And the Lord said unto Moses, “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” 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.
When Jesus was speaking to the intelligent Nicodemus in John 3:14–17, He 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. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
This passage, of course, includes the ever-popular John 3:16 verse believers have since relied on for salvation through faith. In fact, many have it memorized and quote it often. But, in our experience, few grasp that this eternal-life promise directly follows Jesus’ mention of the fiery serpent of Moses. Jesus, Himself, in this conversation with Nicodemus, identifies the bronze snake as a type of His forthcoming cross—a prophetic description of how He would go on to save the entire planet. Galatians 3:13 states: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.’” The word “tree” here is translated from the Greek xylon, which alternatively translates to “pole.” In fact, the NIV translation ends the verse like this: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” God told Moses to set the serpent upon a “pole” (Hebrew nes), and those who had faith enough to look upon it and accept the miracle of its saving power would live, despite the fatal venom of a snakebite. Jesus hung upon a cursed pole, and those who have faith enough to look at the cross and accept the miracle of its saving power will live eternally in the presence of God, despite the spiritual fatality caused by the poison of sin.
This brings us to a final thought regarding how Jesus’ death on the “cursed pole” is foretold in the final book of the Pentateuch. Though it is largely a continued record of the Mosaic Law, it’s interesting to note how important the book of Deuteronomy was to Jesus; He quoted from it more often in His teaching and conversation than from any other book of the Old Testament. Asked which of the Commandments were the most important, His answer came from the words in Deuteronomy: “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength’” (Mark 12:28–30; cf. Deuteronomy 6:4–5). When He went into the desert to fast and prepare for the three temptations of Satan, all three of His rebuttals against the tempter originated from this final book of Moses (Luke 4:1–13). How poetic, then, that the most important and life-giving act in world history would be one Jesus identified as His own curse from this area of Scripture.
Deuteronomy 21:22–23 explains that anyone who has committed a sin grave enough to justify being put to death by being hung on a pole is cursed, “for he that is hanged is accursed of God.” This sentence allowed the offender to be on display as a sign of judgment and as a warning to the rest of Israel. This passage also mentions that the offender’s “body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day.” Though unbeknownst to the Israelites during the time of Moses, the long-awaited Messiah would someday willingly take the curse of sin from the whole world upon Himself, and His body would even be buried during the day (Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:42).
How can a person not love Jesus after seeing the miracle of what He accomplished…for us! It’s a gift of life that never stops giving, it will always be true, and it came at a cost we will never have to pay. A death by cross-hanging was humiliating, horrible, and shameful—not only for God’s people, Israel, but for Rome and the rest of the ancient world as well. Jesus’ coming, His death, and especially the Resurrection proved He was precisely who and what He said He was: the Almighty, the All-Powerful, the Son of God who loved and taught from the Law, and whose death on the Deuteronomic, cursed pole fulfilled every letter of that Law (Matthew 5:17–20)!
Let’s recap where we’re at super quick: Up to this point in God’s progressive revelation story, we have had in Genesis the account of Creation, as well as of the Fall with its first prophecy of the Someday Savior. In this book we also see record of the first covenant between God and Abraham—and by extension, his descendants—establishing that a nation from his seed would eventually inherit the Promised Land.
Exodus details the enslavement of God’s people (Abraham’s offspring through Isaac and Jacob, who became Israel) and their deliverance through God’s servant, Moses. Meanwhile, the Christological approach to Exodus shows how the early laws were set up to be fulfilled by that Savior, and the Passover foreshadowed how that would happen.
The books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy continue with the record of laws that would be fulfilled by the Savior, as well as provide some interesting narrative moments where we get a “sneak peek” of the Messiah before His Incarnation (meaning before He walked the earth as a man).
However, at the end of Deuteronomy, we are still waiting for God’s people to inherit the Promised Land. This brings us to Joshua.
UP NEXT: Jesus In Joshua And Judges