#2 in the Series, “Numbers in so many Words”
The book of Numbers is the story of God’s Kingdom – his warriors, his workers, his worshipers – and their progression in the wilderness.
In part one of this series, God instructed Moses and Aaron to count the warriors, to prepare them for the journey that was ahead. That was in chapters one and two.
Before we leave the warriors and turn our attention to the workers, I’d like to spend a moment examining…
The Circumstances They Were In
Let’s pick up the story in the next-to-last verse of chapter 2.
Numbers 2:32 In summary, the troops of Israel listed by their families totaled 603,550.
Stop for a moment and think about that number. 603,550. That’s the size of the army now moving through the wilderness. Did you know that the number of U.S. troops deployed around the world, in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and other troubled areas – total – is only about 350,000? Did you know that countries like France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Japan…none of those countries even have 300,000 active troops, much less that number of active troops that are deployed.
Think about the resources that these countries pour into sustaining their troops. Billions of dollars are used to provide food, clothing, and essential supplies just to live, with more for weapons and artillery necessary to fight.
But these 600,000 – along with their families, women and children not eligible to fight – look where they are and what they have.
They are in the wilderness, cut off from their homes, their gardens, their farms. In the wilderness, not only without food, without water, without the ability to raise corn or wheat. They didn’t pass a WalMart or Target on the way. They couldn’t run to Publix for a gallon of milk or even stop somewhere for a glass of water.
What did they have?
This army had no supply lines coming from the rear. There were no allied nations to provide a forward base of operations, no friends on which to rely, no transports to meet them at the next stop.
And, where was the next stop? They had no global positioning system, no accurate maps, no satellite imagery.
What did they have?
600,000 troops, over three million people total, moving through the wilderness, without a plan, without experienced military leaders and commanders. They didn’t have any West Point graduates, they didn’t have any military intelligence, no four-star generals, just an 80-year-old ex-sheep-watcher and his brother.
I know you may have seen Cecil B. DeMille’s movie, so when you think of Moses you think of Charlton Heston. But when I read the story I think Dick Van Dyke and his brother, Jerry. Yeah, that’s Moses doing a pratfall over a boulder and Aaron playing a banjo.
What did they have?
No storehouses, no warehouses, not even a garage or a pod. When they found water, or were given bread and meat – what they got today wasn’t good for tomorrow. When they stopped for the night, there was nothing left, not even a single crumb for the next day. Each morning they would start from scratch. Each morning was another scramble for bread, another gathering of provision.
Where were they? In the wilderness. And what did they have?
Centuries later Paul would write to the church at Corinth.
1st Corinthians 10:11 All these events happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us, who live at the time when this age is drawing to a close.
Their Connection to Us
Paul couldn’t have been clearer. ALL these events happened to them as examples for US. Why? Because…
We are the Habitation of God
This is one of the most remarkable things of all, and something that we sometimes take for granted. Of all the people in the earth, of all the tribes, and nations, this homeless, helpless, band of refugees making their way across the wilderness – this was the group of people with whom God chose to live.
He made His home – His habitation – with them. Not with the rich in Egypt, not with the powerful of Assyria, not with the intelligent in Babylon – he lived with the children of Israel.
Why not Egypt? Why not Assryria? Why not the others? What was so special about Israel?
Before we answer that, remember that the answer applies to us, too. God has made His habitation with us, and when I say “us” and “we”, who do I mean? The Church, His Church, that group of individuals that belongs to God and have been identified as His Church, the Church that Jesus said He would build.
- Just because you attend a particular church or are part of a certain denomination, don’t think for a minute that you’re automatically included. Even if you attend the same church I do.
- Just because your grandmother was a good Baptist, or your family have been devout Catholics as long as you can remember, or some other family member was a pastor, minister or missionary – don’t assume that you are included in His Church.
- Just because you know who God is and what He did for you, that doesn’t mean you’re in.
- When it’s all over, plenty of people will be saying, Lord, Lord, we were part of Your Church, and He’ll say, I don’t think so.
Because God doesn’t make His home with everyone. His habitation is with His church.
Ephesians 2:20-21 We are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also joined together as part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.
So, let’s go back to the question: why? Why us? Why not everyone? Why isn’t it enough just to be a good person? Why isn’t it enough just to go to church, to be kind to animals, to live in America, to vote for the right people or put the right bumper stickers on your car?
What was it about the children of Israel that made them so special? What is it about us that makes us so special?
One more thing before I answer that question.
We Were Created to Live in Him
Key to understanding why He now lives among us is to recognize that His original plan was that we were to live in Him.
Genesis 1:27 So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them.
We were patterned after God himself.
He Created us with Intelligence, so we could know Him.
He created us with Emotion, so we could Love Him.
He created us with Will, so we could Choose to Obey Him.
Don’t get ahead of me, because I know you know what happened. We soon failed to know Him, to love Him, to obey Him. But before that, before Adam doubted the personal Word of God, before Adam chose to follow His lust rather than God’s love, before Adam and Eve took the path of willful disobedience, before that…
It was perfect. They walked with God. Their intelligence, emotion, and will rested perfectly inside the sphere of God’s Keeping, inside the place of His Care, inside the place of His Strength.
When they were IN Him, their intelligence was enlightened, their emotion was enkindled, their will was energized.
Adam and Eve enjoyed personal fellowship with God. They knew God personally, and that knowing produced love for him, which in turn caused them to act cooperatively according to his will.
That’s why everything was perfect. It wasn’t their surroundings. It wasn’t their circumstances. What made everything perfect was that they were perfectly submitted to God.
However, rather than continuing to live in that place of perfect submission to His will out of a perfect love that knew and was known perfectly – they began to doubt God’s Word. Then they gave their emotions to fear and lust and envy and greed, and, finally – they chose to disobey. In other words, they sinned.
And in that moment – in what was the worst and most cataclysmic moment in all of eternity – all of creation changed, and the earth knew death, and humanity was ruined.
And do you know what the most startling thing was about that moment? If you had been a fly on the wall, or a bug on a nearby tree and had watched the entire transaction take place, the most noticeable and amazing thing you would have noticed would have been – that nothing seemed any different.
The sky was still blue, the grass was still green. In fact, if you had been Adam and Eve, you wouldn’t have realized it at first either. Nothing seemed different. There had been no bolt of lightning, no thunderclap or earthquake or volcanic eruption.
“See? I didn’t die! I wasn’t destroyed. In fact, I seem – better. In fact, yes, I feel better! My intelligence? Intact – no, better! I see things as they are. I see you as you are, and, oh, by the way, you’re naked. Oh! I’m naked, too!
How embarrassing! But that shows my emotions are working, too. In fact, there’s a flood of new emotions I’ve never felt before. I have feelings I can’t describe.
And my will? Still strong. Stronger than ever! Better than ever! I’m not tied down like I used to be. I’m making my own choices, blazing my own trail, doing my own thing. Nobody has to tell me what to do anymore, no, sir!
I’m a new man – intelligent, impassioned, and independent!”
We commit the most hostile and rebellious acts possible, daring and defying God, and we mistake the silence of the heavens as consent.
Sin Takes Us From Our Natural Habitat
Emperor penguins aren’t so nimble in the Sahara and I wouldn’t bet on a hippopotamus in a race up a rocky cliff. Penguins and Hippopotamuses are phenomenal creatures. Even out of their element, they have power.
Man, even in sin, is a phenomenal creature, capable of many, many things. Sin didn’t make man lose his powers. He’s still intelligent, still emotional, still able to choose. It’s just that now, in sin, he’s out of his element.
And the intelligence that was able to know God, can’t; and the emotion that was able to love God, doesn’t; and the will that was able to choose God, won’t.
But since that’s what we were created to do, since our Intelligence demands to Know and Be Known, and our Emotion yearns for an Object of Expression, and our Will requires a Governor – and our God isn’t available – we find…
Three idols from the Old Testament are representative of our continual push to find satisfaction for our souls…
– who was a deification of Nature, specifically of the most amazing thing in Nature, which is the ability to produce and reproduce. The intelligence that is searching for God latches onto this, extolling Nature as worthy to be god, everything that is natural to be true and right and good.
– was a god of cruelty, before whom little children were sacrificed. But in the warped understanding of our godless emotions, lust is equal to love and nothing should stand in the way of my happiness.
– was the god of wealth, easily worshipped, since the golden rule is that he who has the gold rules, and what could be better than everyone submitting to my will?
David caught the irony of it all, the ironic part being that all around us are the clues, the signs, the road markers, the billboards, that the One, True God is active and alive and at work – and we – the ones He specifically created to know and love and choose Him – we can’t see Him; we can’t hear Him; we don’t feel him; we can’t sense His nearness to us.
Psalm 115:4-8 Their idols are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. 5 They cannot talk, though they have mouths, or see, though they have eyes! 6 They cannot hear with their ears, or smell with their noses, 7 or feel with their hands, or walk with their feet, or utter sounds with their throats! 8 And those who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them.
Man is always like his god.
Adam and Eve wanted to live naturally, do what they wanted, and make their own way. They weren’t satisfied with what they heard – they wanted to see and experience what was hidden.
They not only got what they wanted, they became what they chased – natural, lustful, confused, naked.
Only when they heard again the voice of God did the reality of their decision come to clear focus. But what could they do?
I Can’t Go Back By Trying Harder.
What happens when you “fix” the problem? What happens when you finally do what you know you should? What happens when you quit the habit, when you make amends, when you start doing what you know you should? If it’s just you trying to fix the problem, nothing happens. Just as Adam and Eve couldn’t fix their problem with fig leaves, we can’t fix ours by working on our weaknesses.
We have three specific questions that we haven’t answered yet.
1. How do we get back into the presence of God? Once we’ve sinned, how do we fix it?
2. Why was God only with the children of Israel and why is He only in His Church? Why does He seem exclusive?
3. What did they have? In the wilderness, how did they make it? What did they have?
Compassion: God Offers; We Trust
When sin has separated us from God, the only way back is by His compassion. He loves you, and invites you back. Then it’s up to you to trust Him.
God offered compassion to Israel, they trusted Him, relationship restored.
God offers compassion to you. Do you trust Him? If so, relationship restored.
What’s restored? You are. Your intelligence is once again able to know Him; your emotions able once again to love Him; and your will is once again able to choose to obey Him. You are able to live once again in His image.
Colossians 1:12-14 always thanking the Father, who has enabled you to share the inheritance that belongs to God’s holy people, who live in the light. 13 For he has rescued us from the one who rules in the kingdom of darkness, and he has brought us into the Kingdom of his dear Son. 14 God has purchased our freedom with his blood and has forgiven all our sins.
Isaiah 30:18 But the LORD still waits for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for him to help them.
We still need His compassion everyday, because the one thing that hasn’t been restored is the earth. The Garden of Eden is gone. So, even though we can once again enjoy the relationship that Adam and Eve once had with God, we can’t do it in a perfect world like they had.
We, like the children of Israel, are in the wilderness. The wilderness can’t provide joy or anything that will satisfy.
What did they have in the wilderness? Just this: God’s offer of compassion. And they trusted.
1st Corinthians 10:1-5 I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, what happened to our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. God guided all of them by sending a cloud that moved along ahead of them, and he brought them all safely through the waters of the sea on dry ground. 2 As followers of Moses, they were all baptized in the cloud and the sea. 3 And all of them ate the same miraculous food, 4and all of them drank the same miraculous water. For they all drank from the miraculous rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ.
This world is a wilderness for your soul. You can’t find satisfaction here. That’s why relationships haven’t satisfied you. That’s why your activities haven’t satisfied you. That’s why the parties haven’t satisfied you. That’s why retirement hasn’t satisfied you.
Is anything too hard for God? No.
If you have sinned, what should you do? Trust Christ.
If you have accepted His offer and now belong to His Church, what should you do? Trust Christ.
Do you need provision? Trust Christ.
Do you need companionship? Trust Christ.
Do you need help for your mind? Trust Christ.
Do you need help for your emotions? Trust Christ
Do you need strength in your will? Trust Christ.
If God is in the equation, no other factors are necessary. If God is not in the equation no other factors are sufficient.