I've spent quite a bit of time planning and listing in the last couple of weeks. I was counting down days until a big charity golf tournament I help run. (www.Scrambleforthekids.org) Counting heads, volunteers, welcome bags. Adding up donations and printing out rule sheets. Any big event takes a full set of lists.
In similar fashion, the book of Numbers functions as the planning and listing book for the newly formed nation of Israel. The book includes three separate censuses of the population, rules for the priesthood and people and a layout for the camp. I love that the tabernacle (where God lives) is right in the middle and the people live in a cross formation around. What a beautiful symbol. When all the planning and counting is done God leads the people out from the base of Mt. Sianai and off to give them the land he promised Abraham.
And then it starts. Complaining, fear, gossip, whining. The people grouch about the food, about Moses, about God. Ever been part of a team with an attitude problem? Get much done? Neither did the Israelites except for pain and judgment and delay.
It comes to a climax in Chapter 13. God tells Moses to send 12 spies, one for each tribe, into the land of Canaan. The spies were to take stock of the inhabitants and the quality of the promised land. Keep in mind that God had already promised this land would be their new home. The spies went and looked and came back with a report. Ten of them came back with fear and doubt. Two, Caleb and Joshua, came back full of faith that God would deliver on his promise. The people choose fear. And the result was a 40 year delay. Forty more years of complaints and whines and panic. Sigh. I'm 40 years old. When I look back on my 40 years I hate how much of that I have invested in fear and grumbling.
There used to be a pirate festival held each year under the St. John bridge in Portland, Oregon. Visitors could have their photo taken with a parrot, eat all manner of ye matey treats, plenty of cosplay, weaponry exhibitions and various pirate themed bands. It was a ton of crazy fun.
Swashbuckling pirates traded spars and insults. Lots of growling and hollering and carrying about. It was fun because it was fake. There is a reason that pirates are associated with the scull and cross bones. In reality, that whole rape and pillage thing was devastating.
The book of Numbers also is home to my ten-year-olds favorite Bible story. Chapter 22 tells the story of Balak and Balaam. Balak was the leader of Moab. The Moabites were - well - pirates of sorts. Violent and scary. Balak heard about the Israelites and decided to preemptively deal with this fledgling nation. His plan was to hire the local sorcerer to curse the nation. He set up a huge show. Costumes and animals and sacrifices and witnesses. Set Balaam up on the hill pointed out over the valley where Israel was camped.
Balaam however was recovering from the shock of his life. God had spoken to him through a donkey. I know. Sometimes I'm shocked about how God gets through to me as well. At any rate Balaam stood up in from of the Moabites and informed them that he was unable to curse Israel, he could only bless them.
Balak doesn't like this. So he gives Balaam another chance. New hill. More sacrificies. Curse them now! And again, Balaam gives blessing to Israel.
Here's where my kiddo thinks the story is hilarious. Balak drags the magician up yet another hill. Sets up another huge show. Sacrifices. Whole deal. "How about here????? Can you curse them here????" More blessings to Israel. Its a bit like Dr. Suess and Sam I am and the infamous green eggs and ham.
What I love about this story is that no matter what Israel does - God is still faithful to his promises. Sure there are some rotten and painful consequences to insubordination. Our behaviour usually has an impact on our future. But I love that out in the hills when others want us to be cursed there is God who has worked to bring blessings instead. When the pirates strike, I want God in my ship.
This photo of my daughter smiling while she's being held by a pirate is a great way to sum up the book of Numbers. Flirting with dissension, cuddling up with complaints, making gossips best friends, undermining authority or cheering on curses. It all seems stangely satisfying and harmless. But in reality its like being in the grip of death. Complaining erodes covenants. Whining steals joy. Grumbling undermines promises.
Follow your leader. Practice Gratitude. Walk with Courage. Count the cost, add it up. Get in line. Numbers is beautiful. God is faithful.
I'm a fan. A full fledged linked up and following fan. You should fan with me. Here is The Bible Project's YouTube walk through of Numbers.
Click for a handy infographic from Newspring all about the book of Numbers.
This photo is from the 2015 Baltimore riots. The line of civilians guarding the police is a beautiful reminder to me that we can protect each other. The people standing in front of the police potentially sacrifice their safety to provide a covering. Anytime someone dons a uniform and rushes into a burning building or a crime scene to save others a similiar sacrifice happens.
In Exodus, Moses warned the people that a final and devastating plague was coming and they were all in the line of fire. Unless they carefully followed directions. The people were told to sacrifice a lamb and paint their doorframes with the blood of the lamb. When the executioner came by to kill their firstborn sons he would see the doorframe and pass over. God provided a way for the people to remain safe inspite of the judgment headed their way. Protection required sacrifice. It usually does.
Protection requires sacrifice.
Exodus provides another hint of God's grand plan to restore people by showing how a sacrifice works to cover people under judgment. The Egyptions finally relent and the people head out of town. Two large barriers to freedom lay in their path. The massive Red Sea and the return of their enemy.
The Red Sea
If it had been me and I was an Israeli mama holding a baby in one arm, my posessions in the other and I was being asked to step into the Red Sea while the slave owners chased me down I would have been terrified. This story makes me think I've never been in a situation where I had to trust God with the lives of my children, with my full livihood, with my future on the line and my painful history chasing me down. The only thing they had going for them was that God said he would deliver them. The promise was more than plenty. Next chapter over and the enemy is vanquished, the future is bright and a miracle has been logged in their collective history.
The greatest miracles come in times of pain.
Moses heads up Mt. Sinai for a conference with God. God laid out the laws he wanted the people to follow. Three chapters including the Ten Commandments and a variety of social justice laws to protect the people from being as brutal to each other as the slavery they just escaped.
Sad thing when free people enslave themselves.
Moses went down the mountain and gave a report. Mind you, they’d just been dramatically rescued from slavery and seen the Red Sea part so they were in an amiable mood to accept rules from the One who’d saved them. Exodus 24:7 says the people said "All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!" I like the exclamation point.
Moses goes back up the mountain. God resumes the conference with Moses. He’s gone forty days. It takes eight chapters. God lays out the plan for the tabernacle, offerings, priests clothing, altar and or meeting place. This is very exciting. Slightly overwhelming. I’m sure Moses was panicked. The creator of the universe wanted to spend time with His people. Moses is writing all the details down. Surely he’s trying to figure out where he’s going to find someone who knows how to carve Acacia wood or spin fine linen.
This is what I do. When I feel like God has asked me to do something I charge out with lots of questions. How am I going to do this? Who am I going to find to help?
Guess what? In Chapter 31 God says to Moses "See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge and in all kinds of craftsmanship to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze…" It goes on from there. I need to remember this next time I spin into overdrive.
God has a plan already.
The Golden Cow:
So Moses goes down the mountain all ready to give the good news to the people. God is coming to meet with you! You promised to listen to what He said so He’s coming to lead us! Moses has been gone a month. And the people were worshipping a golden cow. Just lovely. I do this too. I see God do amazing things in my life. I promise to listen. I get tired of waiting. My attention wavers. I end up over in a corner obsessed with something other than what’s eternal. Facebook or Pokemon or my fingernails or my checkbook. Sigh. Golden Cows.
Exodus has many more stories and lessons . Stories that tell of how God provides; manna, quail, and fire by night. Stories of loyalty and creativity and wise delegation; Aaron, Jethro and Miriam. Songs of praise and laments of pain. You really are going to have to read it yourself. See if you can identify what has to be the lamest excuse ever provided for a bad decision. Send me an email if you find it, or let me know what inspires you from Exodus and I'll send you something fun.
The Bible Project Exodus Part 2. Seriously if you have not taken the time to watch these you should. Love, love, love them.
Do you love symbols and history? If so, this is the book for you.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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