Continuing the story just one month after the close of Exodus, the book of Numbers tracks the journey from Mount Sinai through the wilderness to end short at the Jordan River. ETA 39 years, for what should have been an 11-day trip. Sounds like a traveller’s nightmare.
According to Charles Ryrie, the Hebrew title of the book taken from verse 1 means, “in the wilderness” but the Greek translation of the Old Testament names the book Numbers because of the heavy accounting, particularly in the first few chapters.
Usually, the only time a census is taken is in preparation for battle. God knows that if His people are to not only possess the land but preserve it for generations to come they will have to fight for it every step of the way. But little do they know, their first and most difficult adversary will be themselves.
God’s people must learn to walk by faith, not by sight, if they are to fulfill their God-given destiny. The critical lesson is trusting God every step of the way and obeying even when they don’t see the reason why. We will do well to observe where they went wrong and learn from their mistakes.
But for now, it’s all about the census. The Hebrews head out of the starting gate with flying colours as more than 600,000 fit and capable men stand up to be counted for battle. This means the total population lies somewhere between 2 and 3 million, denoting exponential growth from the original 70 Joseph admitted into Emergency in EGH.
Chapter after chapter not only numbers the men of each tribe, but describes their position in the camp central to the tabernacle. Instead of the first-born being dedicated to God, the tribe of Levi is set apart to assist in the work of the tabernacle and as such, they find their place in the innermost circle for accessibility and protection.
The twelve tribes are catalogued one by one as they bring their offerings to the tabernacle. Each one is noted in respect to what they have brought both in weight and value. You can’t help but wonder why God couldn’t have summed it up in one sentence but instead, He acknowledges and honours each tribe separately. It brings to mind 1 Samuel 2:30 where God declares that He will honour those who honour Him. No one can accuse God of not giving credit where credit is due.
In Chapter 4, God debriefs the Hebrews on how things will transpire once He gives orders to move forward. Aaron and his sons will start the tear-down by removing the veil and covering the vessels. Moving is not a matter of just renting a U-Haul and picking up some boxes from the grocery store. There are clear-cut, explicit rules to be followed or it will mean death, even for two small men with big hearts who make one wrong move.
The tabernacle and all of its components are at the core of the battalion, safe and sound in the event of an attack. At the heart of the regiment is the precious Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat, representing the Glory and Presence of God.
After a few more laws are given concerning Nazarite vows, God speaks a blessing over the people, one you’ve no doubt heard at least once in your lifetime, quite possibly from an Irishman: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.”
And God’s face does shine upon His people as He literally gloats over them like a proud father for several chapters on end. The kids’ behaviour is stellar and clearly, God is pleased. Everything is shiny and new and it’s a good beginning for everyone. Which makes me want to leave it there before taking one step further into the dreaded wilderness.
Being right with God is like a fresh snow that covers the ground and makes everything look clean and beautiful. Remember the Etch-a-Sketch you got for Christmas as a child? Or your friend did and you wish you had gotten one too? Even though you made some ugly mistakes on it, with the flip of a page, the slate was clean and you could start fresh again.
There’s nothing like the feeling that all is well and God is pleased. When was the last time you felt that way? Was it yesterday, long ago or never? If never, then now is the time to get right with God. If it was yesterday or long ago, it’s time to confess and renew your faith in Christ. If you’re on track, then you want everyone to experience what you have with God.
No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, God’s love is unconditional. Get that, not only in your head but in your heart. Concerning your behaviour, unless you’re Jesus, you’re prone to falling. But when you’re in right relationship with God, you become more like His Son. Sorry, you won’t be perfect until the day Christ returns for His Bride, but until then, you’re changed from glory to glory. That means spending time with God will change you for the better if you’re doing it right. Not legalistically punching a clock, but sincerely spending time together, enjoying His presence, hearing His voice, and learning who He is and who you are in relation to Him is what it’s all about.
Are you open, vulnerable and transparent with God or are you hiding, pretending or playing a role? Tip: God knows you better than you know yourself. There’s no point in trying to fool Him.
Know that regardless of your past, God is pleased with you. He may not be pleased with your behaviour or actions, but He is pleased with you as a person. He loves you. He wants a relationship. And He wants you to know Him. No matter what level you’re at, take time today to explore that. And as you do, may His face shine upon you…