Question: "Why should we care about how the Israelites camped and traveled?"
Answer: Some people see the wilderness journey of the Israelites, as set down in the book of Numbers, as an unimportant part of the Bible. The record of where they camped, how long they were there, etc., is full of tedious detail, according to some. However, there are many key principles revealed in this account that provide applicable truth for our lives today. In fact, 1 Corinthians 10:1–12 focuses on the travels of the Israelites and says, “These things happened to them as examples” for us (verse 11).
First of all, there is the important principle of making God the central focus of all of life. In Western society, religion or spirituality is often seen as just one aspect of life. The wilderness journey reveals God’s role in every aspect of life, from the food we eat to where we sleep to how we interact with others and how we worship God.
The wilderness travels of the Israelites also provide good examples of God at work in the everyday situations of life. The daily provision of food in the form of manna reminds of us our daily bread (Luke 11:3), the provision of water from a rock is a picture of the salvation Christ gives (John 7:38; 1 Corinthians 10:4), and the ability to overcome powerful enemies shows God’s power over evil (Luke 10:17).
How the Israelites camped helps reveal the importance of community in our spiritual lives. In contrast with the popular rise of today’s individualized spirituality, the Israelites worshiped at the tabernacle, celebrated Passover and other holy days, and operated daily in community.
The way the Israelites traveled reveals our total dependence upon God. He led them in a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar fire by night (Numbers 14:14). The tabernacle, the place of worship, was placed in the center of the people, in the very heart of the camp. An entire tribe (Levi) was set apart to care for the tools and times of worship. Worship was not a thing to do once a week but a daily expression of a heart devoted to God.
In their travels through the wilderness, the Israelites experienced many special works of God to provide for their needs and direct their hearts toward Him. We do not require supernatural events for us to follow Jesus, but see in the pages of Numbers an awareness of God’s supernatural power that should encourage us to trust Him with every aspect of our lives.