In the Bible, the book of Numbers (the fourth of the first five books of the Bible known as the Pentateuch, all written by Moses) opens up with just that—numbers.
Numbers Chapter One lists the total number of the men of all twelve tribes of Israel who were “twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war in Israel” (1:45), with the exception of the tribe of Levi (1:47). The Levites were not numbered among the rest of the children of Israel, as they were to be set apart as a special tribe to the Lord for the purpose of caring for the Tabernacle, its vessels, and all the things that went along with it. When it was time to take down the Tabernacle, transport it, and set it up again in its new location, the Levites were tasked with handling all of it, and if anyone besides a Levite touched the Tabernacle, its articles or its furniture, they were to be executed (1:50-51). Later on, we learn the involvement of the Levites with the Tabernacle extended to include the priesthood—all the priests and ministers about the Tabernacle, and eventually the Temple in Jerusalem (the Tabernacle was its predecessor), were to be Levites.
In Chapter Two, the Lord details the order by which the twelve tribes of Israel were to encamp around the Tabernacle. Each tribe was instructed to “surround” the Tabernacle in something akin to concentric circles (imagine a target with twelve circles—the Tabernacle would be the “bullseye”). Again, the tribe of Levi is singled out and given a special place with their encampments set up as the “inner circle” of the camp of Israel, closest in proximity to the Tabernacle. This obviously makes sense, as they were given the job of dealing with it.
Levi, from his priestly duties all the way down to the position of his encampments, was to be wholly (from whence comes “holy”) connected with, and dedicated to, the duties of Tabernacle worship. He also served as a sort of “buffer,” or a mediator between the Lord and the rest of the children of Israel (1:53; 2:17).
In Chapter Three, God commands that all the males from the tribe of Levi (from a month old and upward) be numbered. That number comes to an “even” 22,000 (v39). Next, the Lord tells them to count up all the rest of the firstborn sons of Israel, from the eleven other tribes, from a month old and up. When this is done, the tally is 22,273 (v43). Comparing those numbers, the Lord says, “Alright, the number of males from the tribe of Levi is very close to the total number of all the firstborn of Israel; so I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. “Israel, all of your firstborn sons are to be dedicated as holy unto Me; but instead of taking all of them, I’m going to claim only the tribe of Levi for Myself and the service of My holy things, and I’m going to have him represent all the firstborn of Israel for Me.”
Now, before we go further, it should be remembered that God is always interested in what comes first—the first-fruits of the harvest, the firstborn of all children, the firstborn of the livestock, etc.—because God comes first. If it’s in first place, it’s in God’s place, and therefore represents Him, in a way. He wants (and deserves) to have FIRST PLACE in all things. Pharaoh (a type of the Antichrist) attempted to murder all the sons born to Israel while they were in Egypt (Exo. 1:16), which ends up “ticking God off” (you don’t want to do that!) to the point where He sends Moses to threaten the life of Pharaoh’s son. God said to Pharaoh, “Look here, bright-eyes; Israel is my FIRSTBORN SON, and because I’M NUMBER ONE, He represents ME; and if you don’t let him go and leave him alone, I’m going to take YOUR firstborn, and there won’t be a solitary thing you can do about it.” God made good on His threat, as usual, and claims not only Pharaoh’s firstborn, but all the firstborn of Egypt (Exo. 4:23; 12:29). Of course, these events foreshadow the attempt of Herod (another type of the Antichrist) to slay God’s only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, by murdering the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas (Matt. 2:16). That’s why God reserves the right to first place—it represents HIM and His SON.
Having recognized this, we can understand the significance of what God is doing with the tribe of Levi in Numbers 1-3. Levi is going to be special to God, because He’s going to be in first place; he will represent the FIRSTBORN of God’s chosen people.
But there’s a problem: God is mathematically exact; and 22,000 is close, but definitely not the same as 22,273 (unless you went to public school). So, in order to make up for the difference between Levi’s 22,000 and Israel’s 22,273, the Lord decides to purchase this odd-numbered surplus (273) of the firstborn of Israel with money (it’s His own money, acquired from the tithes given into the treasury by all Israel), and redeem them for Himself. The purchase price goes to the HIGH PRIEST and his sons (vs. 46-51). God is redeeming someone and purchasing them for Himself, and awarding the value to the High Priest. As a born-again child of God who has been “bought” (I Cor. 6:20) and “redeemed" (I Pet. 1:18), this transaction should intrigue you; further, as a Bible-reader, you should get the sense there must be more to this situation than what appears on the surface. And, upon doing a little digging, we find some hidden treasure (Prov. 2:4).
Now, the name of the book we are studying is Numbers; wouldn’t we be foolish not to pay attention to the numbers in the Book of Numbers? Take this odd number “273” to which we’ve just been introduced. Did you know that number turns up again in the Bible?
Why didn’t you know that? Don’t you know that “every word of God is pure” (Prov. 30:5), and not one of those pure words is in the Book by accident? There is no such thing as a random word—or a random number—with the Lord. He invented math, remember? Are you paying attention, then, to the words and numbers He purposely placed in His Book?
Ok, good. I thought you were.
As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, the number 273 shows up in one other place in the scriptures. We’ll have to flip the Bible all the way over toward the back end, and pick up Acts 27.
In Acts 27 we find ourselves in company with the apostle Paul, who is presently numbered among many other prisoners aboard a ship sailing to Rome. Paul had been arrested and, rather than wait around for the Jews to hire a fellow inmate to “shiv him” in a Jerusalem jail, he appealed to Caesar to have his case tried in Rome. So, Paul and certain other prisoners, in the custody of a centurion called Julius, boarded a vessel (in fact it took two boats, ultimately) enroute to Rome by way of the Mediterranean Sea.
The voyage was a difficult one, and things went from bad to worse. The seas were so rough, and the winds so contrary, the crew and its complement were forced to dump their cargo and ration their food for fear they would run out before they reached land again. To make a long story short, the boat ended up in the middle of a typhoon, and neither the sun nor the stars (necessary for navigation) appeared for a period of DAYS. It’s at this point the writer of the book of Acts, Luke, who was along for the ride, pens these words—“all hope that we should be saved was then taken away” (v20).
Suddenly, amid the fear and calamity, Paul stands up and makes an announcement to his shipmates: “Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” (v21-25).
And it was as God told Paul. Of course it was; for God to say something is the same as for Him to PRODUCE that thing. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, remember? “Hath he said, and shall he not do it? or Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num. 23:19). The chapter ends with Paul, the Roman soldiers, and all the prisoners escaping to the shore of a nearby island with their lives, despite the ship breaking apart and sinking.
Now, what has any of this got to do with the Levites and the number 273? We call the readers attention to verse 24, and the words “God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” When you stop and think about it, isn’t that a strange thing for God to promise Paul? Why wouldn’t He just promise to save Paul and his friends (v2)? Why save the lives of all those lost criminals, and the Roman guards to boot?
The answer is found when one examines the number of people “given to Paul” (v24—strange wording, huh?) to be saved along with him. In verse 37, the Lord conveniently tells us the total number of people on the ship was “two hundred threescore and sixteen souls.” That’s 276 people. Isn’t that something?
“But Bro. Cochran, the number we’re looking for from earlier is 273; not 276, right?”
Right, but you forgot to subtract the THREE CHRISTIANS who were present—Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus (v1, 2). That leaves 273 souls whose lives were promised and “given” to Paul (and company) by God to make it SAFE TO SHORE.
There’s a hidden blessing for the student of scripture found here. Go back and pick up the 273 Israelites from the book of Numbers. That’s 273 extra men from the children of Israel that God didn’t have to take for Himself (He could have “called it even” at 22,000). Rather, God chose to PURCHASE these men for a PRICE, and then give their value to the HIGH PRIEST. These men were apparently special to the Lord; He didn’t want them left out, nor could He, in His holiness, allow for the numbers not to be exact!
When we slide this template over our story in the book of Acts, we discover that Paul matches the High Priest, who had 273 men “given” to him as a gift by the Lord. And anybody knows Who our great High Priest is—it’s the Lord Jesus Christ: “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;” (Heb. 3:1). Paul is a picture of Jesus Christ, in this passage. (He’s got two other men with him, as well; so there’s THREE of them, picturing the Godhead.)
If Paul is a picture of Jesus Christ, then the 273 men God promises to Paul are a picture of saved Christians in the body of Christ who have been redeemed by God the Father and bought with a price—the price was the blood of His Son.
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the PRECIOUS BLOOD OF CHRIST, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:” (I Pet. 1:18, 19)
We are then awarded to Jesus Christ for what He endured. Hebrews 12:2 states the Lord Jesus, “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” For reasons unknown to you and me, OUR SALVATION AND FELLOWSHIP was the “joy that was set before Him,” and WE turn out to be His reward. I don’t get it, but glory to God!
God saved the lives of the 273 who sailed with Paul. Rest assured, those of us who are saved, purchased, redeemed, and now belong to Jesus Christ will certainly make it safe to shore, as they did. All of us. IT’S A PROMISE.
Now I belong to Jesus;
Jesus Belongs to me;
Not for the years of time alone;
But for ETERNITY!
The splintered and weather-beaten body of Christ in this age is sinking like a rock into the abyss of worldliness, compromise, infidelity, and satanic deception brought on by the rejection of the word and words of God. Those who still have, believe, and stand for the truth are strewn about amidst the wreckage, and floating with their heads just above water on what’s left of the ship. But, “Be of good cheer,” and hold fast to the truth of the Book. Our Captain will get us all “safe to land,” and not ONE SOUL He’s purchased and given to His Son will be lost.
Now that little study shows you the mathematical exactness of the word of God, and the care He takes to maintain His types and lessons in the Bible, even in obscure, seemingly non-consequential passages. Don’t overlook them. Incidentally, it also shows you that you can’t find all the truth with a computerized Bible program, Bible app, or even a concordance—you have to READ and compare scripture with scripture. Looking up the number “273” will get no hits in the book of Acts.
So once again, the King James Bible proves to be a rare gem from every angle; whether Its proportions and colors are admired superficially with the naked eye, or all It’s infinite facets examined through the jeweler’s loop, “how unsearchable are It’s judgments, and Its ways past finding out!”