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.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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