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Numbers: Census and History of Israel

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 14:05
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Theology and Politics from a Conservative, Biblical Perspective

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Numbers highlights two censuses; one at the beginning (Numbers 1) and one at the end (Numbers 26), covering a period of nearly 40 years. According to one scholar, “The title the Jews used in their Hebrew Old Testament for this book comes from the fifth word in the book in the Hebrew text, bemidbar: ‘in the wilderness.’ This is, of course, appropriate since the Israelites spent most of the time covered in the narrative of Numbers in the wilderness.” [1]

Another author notes the following about the book of Numbers and Israel:

It is the wilderness book, recounting the trials, conflicts, and sins of the way… [2]

Essentially, though a book in the Old Testament about a group of people most of us cannot relate to, let it also be a reminder to us today of what can happen to people who take up a position of rebellion against God. This certainly applies to the lost people of this world, but it also applies to Christians, who rather than submit to His will for His good pleasure, are too often carried away from Him and controlled by the longings of this world.

Years ago, I enjoyed acting. In fact, I had my first acting “gig” in Kindergarten. I played the lead in “Peter Rabbit.” Yes, I was the rabbit and I hopped across that stage on cue. Believe it or not, I actually recall my teacher having to give me the cue to hop because I was a bit frozen with stage fright. As time went on, my love for acting grew. I found that I could memorize lines easily and since I enjoyed singing, I would try out for musicals or operettas. They were a good deal of fun.

Yet, over time, I realized that I was having to be extremely picky about what I would even audition for because the tide had turned in society. Long gone were the “Peter Rabbit” parts or other innocents. Most things were simply politically correct, dark or outright evil. It was frustrating and tiring. I stopped a while ago and I don’t see myself returning to what has become a veritable pig sty. But, I know people who claim Christ as Savior and who seem to have no difficulty auditioning for everything and I mean everything. It doesn’t matter to them what the role is because in their mind, it’s simply acting a part. It’s all make-believe. The trouble is that when they stand before our Lord and Savior at the Bema Seat of Judgment, I cannot help but wonder how they will feel when the words they uttered for a part in a play or movie will be heard in His Presence?

This is the same problem it appears the Israelites had, isn’t it? They simply weren’t concerned about God’s reaction until He actually presented it to them! In fact, it is really all too easy for each one of us to ignore the ramifications of our words or actions because we cannot see God physically. Oh sure, we “know” He’s there, but imagine how different you might act if Jesus was physically in the room with you. Imagine how you might temper your conversation or how quick you might be to get up and help your wife with the dishes, the cooking, or the cleaning. It is all in how we perceive Jesus, isn’t it?

So too with the Israelites, it was in how they perceived Jehovah…or failed to perceive Him at all. It often got them in quite a bit of trouble.

MEANING & AUTHOR
Moses is also credited with writing Numbers, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. If not for the Holy Spirit acting upon Moses, there is no way he could have continually dealt with the Israelites. After all, if they weren’t sinning, they were trying to overthrow Moses as leader. There were several times the people tried to kill Moses or at least wanted to and only God stopped them from doing it.

Imaging leading a group of people who were that ungrateful nearly all the time! Yet, Moses did it and he was able to do it because before God called him to lead Israel, God had spent roughly 80 years preparing Moses for that job, though Moses was certainly not aware of how he was being molded and fit for that position. Moses absolutely put up with quite a bit and one day, we’ll be able to talk with him face to face about those years as he – in fear and trepidation and leaning heavily upon God for strength – led that motley crew of a few million people from Egypt to the very edge of the Promised Land.

The book of Numbers is a book that should remind us of our propensity to wander away from God if left to our own desires. We must be diligent in serving Him and reminding ourselves that we need to do whatever it takes to remain true to our calling. Our calling is to faithfully submit our will for His at every turn.

Ultimately, God wants and expects our obedience today just as He wanted and expected the obedience of the Israelites centuries ago. The book of Numbers stands out as a book that highlights what can happen when God’s people say “no” to His commands. Like Satan, it is a way of attempting to come out from under His sovereignty.

TIME PERIOD
The book of Numbers takes place roughly between 1445 BC to 1400 BC and all the action occurs near the borders of Canaan, once the Israelites left the area of Mt. Sinai and moved to the Plains of Moab.

OUTLINE
A basic outline of Numbers might read like this:

  • Census – (Numbers 1 – 9)
  • Sinai to Canaan (Numbers 10 – 12)
  • Spies and Rebellion (Numbers 13 – 19)
  • Moab (Numbers 20 – 36)

Several authors and commentators have pointed out that a key verse or verses could be seen in Numbers 6:24 – 26.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

Certainly, the Lord is very much willing to do this and has done it by Himself taking the form of a man (through God the Son), living a sinless life (and thereby fulfilling every aspect of the Law without failure), and voluntarily offering His life as an atonement for ours so that we might have eternal life.

But He also wishes to bless us spiritually in this life through daily acts of graciousness. This comes when His face shines upon us and lifts us up, providing peace to our spirits. I guarantee you – and I bet you can attest to this as well – that those who sense that tremendous blessing are the ones who routinely submit their lives to Him, exchanging their will for His.

God is very much willing to enrich us spiritually and help us to understand the import and impact of those spiritual blessings in our daily lives. There is only one thing we must do and it is the most difficult in order to experience those blessings. It is to do as Jesus did, to submit to our heavenly Father’s will moment by moment, every day.

The book of Numbers highlights what can happen to people who fail to do this. Brothers and sisters, we cannot afford to live as they lived. We must endeavor to live as Jesus lived.

[1] http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/numbers.pdf, p. 1

[2] James Hall Brookes, An Outline of the Books of the Bible, p. 11

Theology and Politics from a Conservative, Biblical Perspective

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