III. BY BEING NUMBERED
The children of Israel were formed into a fighting army by being numbered by their families and leaders (vv. 1-16) and according to their age (vv. 20-46).
A. By the Families and Their Leaders
The children of Israel were numbered by the families and their leaders, that is, by the source of life and under its leadership (authority). The families refer to the source of life. In our spiritual history, there should be a source of life. Even in the church life today, we must have a family. Who brought you to Christ? Who begot you in Christ? In other words, who is your spiritual father? In this matter, the Bible is balanced. Of course, God is our divine Father. Nevertheless, Paul told the Corinthian believers that they might have had "ten thousand guides in Christ, yet not many fathers," for in Christ Jesus he had begotten them through the gospel (1 Cor. 4:15), imparting the divine life into them so that they became children of God and members of Christ. Thus, those believers belonged to Paul’s "family." They did not hear the gospel, repent, and believe apart from him as their spiritual father, their source. As believers in Christ, we all have three kinds of fathers: a fleshly father, a spiritual father, and the divine Father. Today’s numbering depends on the source of life.
The leaders in Numbers 1 refer to the leadership under the authority of Christ in His Body. Just as there is order in our physical body, there must be a good order among the members in the church life. There must be some kind of leadership. Without leadership, it is impossible to maintain a proper situation. (Those who claim that there should be no leadership in the church eventually assume the leadership and become the strongest leaders.) For the church to be formed into a fighting army, we need the source of life and also the leadership in life.
B. According to Age
The numbering is also according to age, according to maturity in life. Besides the source of life and the leadership in life, there is the need of the maturity in life. These three things must be bound together as a strong cord. Today, some care only for spirituality, only for maturity; however, we should care not only for the maturity of life but also for the source of life and the authority of life.
1. From Twenty Years Old and Above
The numbering was of all the males from twenty years old and above (vv. 2-3). This refers to those who were able to go forth to war.
2. Excluding All Females
and the Males under Twenty Years Old
This numbering excluded all females and the males under twenty years old. The females signify those who are spiritually weaker, and the males under twenty signify those who are spiritually immature. The sisters in the church life today should not feel excluded by this, because spiritually speaking they may be men, the stronger ones. What counts here is not our natural status but the spiritual nature of our being. Those who are weaker and those who are immature are not qualified to go forth to war.
(Life-Study of Numbers, Chapter 2, by Witness Lee)