Friday, February 29, 2008

Introduction to Numbers

Note: I am indebted for much of this background to a wonderful companion book, “What the Bible is All About” by Henrietta Mears. I recommend it to all!

This book might be called “The Wilderness Wandering”, as it chronicles the travels of the newly freed nation of Israel for about forty years. As Pastor Ron Lewis recently preached at KPIC, the wilderness has a way of revealing impurities and bad attitudes lurking deep within our hearts. Much of this wandering was unnecessary, brought about by the complaining and unbelief of Israel. As 1 Corinthians 10 reminds us, these things “were written for our instruction”, so we must use these records to warn us against similar sins and encourage us to trust God and His Word.

The books opens with the children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. The Law was given, the Tabernacle built, and the priests assigned their duties. God is a God of order, and we see God numbering and arranging the tribes and addressing duties of the priests and Levites in the first few chapters. Though these chapters may not seem as exciting to us to read as some of the narrative passages, yet in our Christian life often the details of ordering our lives and worship are not exciting but bear great fruit. From the details given in Numbers we can appreciate the wonder of God’s provision for His people: a camp with a circumference of about 12 miles, populated by 3,000,000 people, covered by a cloud by day to give them shade and a fire by night to give them light and heat, whose clothes and sandals did not wear out for 40 years, provided with food and water in the midst of an inhospitable desert. The explanation? God was in their midst!

The Israelites had no itinerary, but had to trust God to lead them step by step, much as we must follow the guidance of God in our lives one leading at a time. Their walk was marred by sin: grumbling about the food God provided, jealousy among the leadership. As they camped at Kadesh, they sent out 12 spies to report on the land they were promised. But when 10 of the spies gave a discouraging report, the people refused to take the land in unbelief, even though they were only about 11 days away from entering the Promised Land! For their fear and unbelief, that first generation was doomed to wander in the desert until they all had died; the second generation would enter the land, and the wilderness wandering would be their training. Often fear keeps us from enjoying all that God wants us to have: fear of what others will say, fear of what will happen if we put our trust completely in God.

The Israelites’ complaining and unbelief even induced Moses to stumble and sin with his mouth; this sin cost him the privilege of entering into the Promised Land. On their way to Canaan, the Israelites complained yet again, this time about the miraculous manna that God provided for them to eat. For this God sent poisonous snakes among them. Moses prayed for them, and God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and fasten it to a pole. If anyone bitten by snakes looked on the bronze serpent, they would be healed. In the New Testament, this event is shown to be symbolic of Christ: the whole human family has felt the Serpent’s sting of death (1 Cor. 15:56; Heb. 2:14-15); the only way we can survive is by looking upon Christ who took upon himself the likeness of sinful human flesh (Phil 2:7-8). When we look upon Him in faith, we live (John 3:14-15).

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