Question: Please explain the type and antitype of Israel’s marches and encampments (Numbers 9: 17).
Answer: Numbers 9: 17 reads: “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.”
This passage contains an important and interesting type and antitype to all Bible students. Two actions are mentioned in this verse – marching and encamping. We can understand what they mean by recognizing that in the Scriptures Fleshly Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan type Spiritual Israel’s journey from this present evil world to the Kingdom (Hebrews 3: 1-4) (1 Corinthians 10: 1-14). We find frequent reference to the Christian life as a walk, a journey, and to Christians as strangers and pilgrims having in this life no permanent residence but travelling to another and better (1 Peter 2: 11).
Israel’s Marches – Type and Antitype
As Fleshly Israel progressed toward Canaan from one station to another, thus ever nearing Canaan, so they by their marches from station to station type the various features of progress that we make in the Christian life, taking us farther and farther from the present evil world and leading us ever nearer to fitness for, and to the Kingdom. We make this progress especially by three kinds of steps in the Christian life: (1) study of God’s Word; (2) ministry of, and according to God’s Word; and (3) practice of God’s Word, including Christian watchfulness and prayer. Thus, we grow in knowledge, service, and grace (2 Peter 3: 18) (Romans 12: 1).
The three things mentioned in the preceding paragraph encompass the active part of the Christian life. The various marches of the Israelites typed different features of these three steps of our Christian journey. The order in general is: (1) to learn the special Truth typed by the pillar’s advance; (2) to help our brethren learn, spread, and practice it; and (3) to develop the Christian graces involved in this pertinent Truth. (1) Our learning the pertinent Truth is typed by the Israelites’ keeping their eyes on the advancing pillar; (2) our ministering this Truth to others is typed by the stronger Israelites’ helping their weaker brethren to see the way before them, helping them carry their too heavy burdens, and encouraging them to march on; and (3) our progress in grace is typed by the Israelites’ walking onward, step by step, from the beginning to the end of each march.
Israel’s Encampments – Type and Antitype
But there is another part to the Christian life additional to its three active and developing features. There is a passive part to the Christian life, for we must endure trials and tests of character, suffering for zeal in Truth and righteousness and persecution for loyal adherence to these (Matthew 5: 10-12). They express endurance, not development, hence are passive. These experiences are typed by Israel’s encampments. Their resting in their camps represent the passive part of the Christian life. Just as the character of a march fittingly type progress in the Christian life, so the character of an encamping fittingly types standing under trial, suffering, and persecution (Ephesians 6: 13).
All of Israel’s typical trials between Egypt and Canaan occurred while they were encamped, which suggests the thought that our trial time is our camping time. They were tried for the first time while encamped at the Red Sea (Exodus 14: 2-20). Other trials they faced while encamped include the manna (Numbers 11: 4-34), Moses’ long stay in the mountain (Exodus 32: 1-35), in the matter of Baalpeor (Numbers 25: 1-18), with the fiery serpents (Numbers 21: 4-9), and with Korah, Dathan, Abiram, etc. (Numbers 16: 1-50). St. Paul referred to all these as typical of the trials of God’s people (1 Corinthians 10: 5-14). The trial of Miriam and Aaron as to Moses’ wife and as to Moses himself as God’s special mouthpiece occurred while Israel was encamped (Numbers 12: 1-16). The last type the trial of certain crown-losers and crown-retainers as to the Church as of lowly origin and as to Jesus as God’s special Mouthpiece. Furthermore, the great trial incidental to the report of the ten spies occurred while Israel was encamped (Numbers 13: 26–14: 45). This was typical of a general trial of God’s real and nominal people in the Jewish and Gospel Harvests.
Our encamping experiences consist of three forms of endurance:
(1.) First, we must successfully bear whatever of pressure our development in head and heart receives. So far as our heads are concerned, the pressure comes from subtle error, along with plausible but wrong arguments, that the adversary through his mouthpieces presents to our minds in an effort to lead us into error and away from the Truth. And if our hearts are not full of love for, and loyal to the Truth already learned (2 Thessalonians 2: 9-12), we will succumb to one form or another of his delusions. Then, our hearts – graces and good sentiments – are subjected to the pressure of sore trial, that may come in a single form, a double form, or even in a manifold form, since we must be tested on all points of character. The following are some of the means of our trials: losses, disappointments, delays, restraints, shelvings, our and others’ faults and lacks, hardships, necessities, misunderstandings, false brethren, weariness, privations, sickness, poverty, pain, persecution, etc.
(2.) A second form of endurance comes from pressure borne down upon our body due to our loyalty in study and service. Ordinarily the daily work of the brethren is quite exhausting. If in addition to such weariness we devote extra time to study and service, increasing weariness will be felt. The head becomes tired from study, and the head and body often become weary from service. Often this weariness results in much loss of sleep and nerve fatigue. The Lord puts us into circumstances requiring great self-denial, privation, and physical endurance, if we would be faithful to His Truth and its study and service.
(3.) Finally, endurance must be shown amid persecution for loyalty to the Truth in its study, service, and practice, particularly its service. Persecution has taken the forms of reviling, slandering, hatred, despite, boycotting, commercially and socially, excommunication, imprisonment, stripes, tortures, and even violent death. Many have not suffered the most extreme of these, yet all the faithful must be tested by the pressure of persecution in some ways at least.