Day 34--Forged in the Wilderness--"Offered Service: Numbers 1 - 4
February 3, 2021, 6:49 AM

Day 34--Numbers 1 – 4

Forged in the Wilderness “Offered Service”

The first detail—it’s easy to determine why the book is called Numbers—we begin with counting, counting the number of men in the tribes, counting the numbers who will be servants and priests at the tabernacle.

But here’s an interesting nugget: in Hebrew the book is called Bemidbar, which mean In the Wilderness, and that’s another gloss on the book we are about to leap into. Well, leap is a kind of overstatement. Perhaps wade into is a better one because all these numbers, all the census information, can be dry for us to read. Can I confess to skimming just a little bit as I read today?

There are important details to note. The LORD says twice that the reason for the census is so that they will know how many men are able to go to war. Clearly the road is not expected to be easy for the Israelites and they now have to be prepared to fight even in the wilderness. The LORD also indicates that the Levites, those from the priestly clan who are descendants of Aaron, will be accepted as substitutes for his, God’s, claim on all the firstborn from the vast Israelite tribes. In other words, God has a long memory, and all the firstborn in the camp of Israel were to be ‘given’ to God, or prescribed to service for God, since the Pass Over. The Levites now stand in for the firstborn of all the people. The Levites are now consecrated strictly to the LORD and to the care of his tabernacle. (Num 3: 40-51)

The book is divided into three main sections:

  1. Chaps 1-10: Preparations for their travel in the wilderness—they have nearly 40 more years of wandering and organization is essential.
  2. Chaps 11-25: Traveling in the wilderness
  3. Chaps 26-36: The end of wilderness travel and preparations for entering the Promised Land in Canaan.

Keep in mind also that of all the people that are being counted, only two of them, Joshua and Caleb, will actually make it into the Promised Land. Only the descendants of those being counted in our reading today will form the new country in the new land. Why? Because the people, including Moses, acted in fear and disobedience just as they got to the Promised Land, and only those two men were faithful and brave in the LORD.

One of my bible commentaries says this “When it comes to the journey of faith, distance matters less than direction.” What an apt phrase! Perhaps you do not know that the journey the people of Israel should have been completed in a few weeks—one writer said just 11 days, but it was more likely about three weeks--yet they ended up wandering for 40 years until they could take possession of the land God had promised them. Why?

Because there were important lessons to learn, essential relationships to form. Every time we read about the sacredness of the Tabernacle, we should remember that God is forming his people to be holy, to have respect, to understand the power of the Holy One who leads his chosen people. Quite simply, the people would not have been ready to begin the new nation that God had called them to be if they settled quickly into their new country. They would have been carrying the baggage of their old lives, the resentments of their former relationships, and perhaps even impure worship practices of other gods that they had learned in Egypt. The people were to be made holy, and holiness takes time and dedication.

Note also that I said ‘the people’. All of our readings so far emphasize the importance of community and people groups vs. stark individualism. Our culture today is characterized by this kind of individualism whether we like it or not, but we too are being trained by God to be part of something bigger than we are, we too are called to act as community, as church, which is the Body of Christ.

Read N.T. Wright’s reflection/meditation carefully today. One of the challenges in our Christian life is that we are so individually connected to God that we often forget that we are created to be part of the Body. The Israelite people were being given a strange gift from God in their wandering, which was that they had plenty of time to forge a sense of common destiny at a time when they were likely to be forgetting their national identity and heritage.

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,

ML

 

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