Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Reflection on Numbers 1-4: God's Ledger

As I began to read the book of Numbers, it became apparent from the first chapter why it is titled the book of "Numbers."  God instructed Moses to take a census of the people of Israel.  As a result, they counted all the men old enough to fight in the army from the various tribes and were laid out by camps around the tent of meeting.  Even the Levites, who were exempted from the battlefield, were numbered and arranged by their various priestly and levitical families and duties.  When all was said and done, everyone was numbered and accounted for.

The only reason the text gives as to the purpose of this accounting was to survey the number of people eligible to go out to battle.  It gives a number of the size of the fighting force in Israel.  But for whose benefit was this?  It doesn't seem that God would need to know the number of the righting men.  The number of men is irrelevant to God, as he demonstrated with people such as Gideon in the book of Judges.  One man and God is always a majority, regardless of the size of the opposing army.

Maybe this was to be a revelation to God's people and to the nations of how God had blessed his people and multiplied them.  God wanted his people to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, according to Genesis 1-11.  In Exodus 19, God said that Israel would be a nation of priests.  As a priestly nation, they would have special access to God and be able to demonstrate God's character and goodness to the rest of the world.  In a far clearer way than the heavens that declare the glory of God, his priestly nation would declare his glory through their observance of God's Torah that God had given to them for their good.

Maybe it is to show that God's promise was not yet fully fulfilled.  God promised a childless Abraham a son and many descendants who would eventually have a land of their own.  In fact, God had promised Abraham in Genesis 32 that his descendants would be too great to be numbered.  God's people had been granted land in Numbers, but they were too few to be numberless.  There was still yet more to be fulfilled in God's promise.  God's blessing would overflow much more than this.

In Revelation 7, we see a highly symbolic picture of God's people on the earth from each tribe accounted for in a similar way to what we see in Numbers.  However, each tribe has a symbolic apocalyptic number of 12,000.  12, the symbolic number of God's people times 1,000, which is the number of completeness multiplied.  All of God's people in their completeness were accounted for.  This reminds me of the numbering of the tribes in the book of Numbers.  This was an accounting of the military force of God's people.  This is a reminder that God's people are in a state of spiritual conflict while on this earth.  After all, Jesus said that we are not of the world, and the world loves its own, but hated Christ and his followers.  But the text in Revelation also says that they were "sealed."  So not only was every single person accounted for in God's army, but God placed his seal on them to identify them as belonging to him and protect them. 

Then, the scene shifts up to Heaven, the throne room of God.  The text describes it as a "multitude which no one could count from every tribe, nation, people and tongues." This is a reminder of the promise that God made to Abraham that through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed and that his descendants would be innumerable.  God's people, who are from every tribe, nation, and language, are safe in the hands of God.

This reminds me that God is faithful to his promises.  At times it may seem as though we are alone and God does not see us.  Sometimes we may forget about God's promises, but God never forgets.  God sees our struggle and hardships and nothing is ever beyond his notice.  Jesus makes this point when he talks about how God numbers even the hair on our head.  In Matthew 10:29-31, he said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows."

Jesus, the good shepherd, has accounted for every single sheep.  All of us are on his heart, and none of us are beneath his notice.  We are much more than a number to him.  In John 10, I am reminded that Jesus said that he knows his sheep by name.  In his book of life, we are more than a number.  He has our names, which he knows intimately, written in his book of life.   In fact, it is even more intimate than this.  In Isaiah 49:15-16, God says, "Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.  Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me."  God has us tattooed or etched on his hands.  We are much more than a number and much more than a name in a book to our God.  We are near to his heart like a baby is to his mother!

Lord, how loving, kind, and compassionate you are!  You are our Father, and you are our Mother.  You protect us and provide for us.  You love us and nurture us.  Thank you for reminding us of these things in your word so that we can grow in hope, and encouragement.  Help us to see ourselves and one another the way that you see us.  Help us to love as you love.  Help us to look to Jesus as our example of true love in action.  Thank you in his name, Amen!

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