#1 in the Series, “Numbers in so many Words”
(Note: This is the beginning of a series on the Book of Numbers. For the reasons why I’m tackling this particular book, see my previous post (Numb3rs: The Intro).)
The book of Numbers is the fourth book of the testimony of Moses, and therefore the fourth book of our Bibles. Even though the English titles given to the books are not considered to be inspired and part of the actual revelation of God, in these first few books of the Bible they do give us a great picture of what we find in each book.
Genesis – Beginning of Life, birth of God’s people, beginning of relationship.
Exodus – Redemption and exit from slavery, renewal and rebirth.
Leviticus – Establishment of worship and deeper relationship. (Hebrew – title is “Vayikra”, from the first three words – “and he called”)
Major Themes in the Book of Numbers
Numbers = Quantity
When I think of numbers, I think of quantity, of large numbers. If there were six or twelve people making a journey through the wilderness, I think the book could have been called caravan or company. It’s easier to defeat a few or even one, much harder to destroy a vast army.
And the enemy would have you believe that you are alone. Worse, the enemy of your soul would have you be alone, to decide that relationship with the body of Christ is not worth having – all the better to defeat you.
Numbers = Description
Numbers are a way of describing our world. Our height, our weight, how many hairs on our head – these describe and define us. That is also true of the world of mathematics. Math is the process of using numbers to describe the world and its relationships. And in the Book of Numbers we have a description of God’s world, of God’s kingdom, and what it looks like.
Numbers = Process
The word numbers also makes me think of how things can be both simple and complex. I have a first grader in my house1 that is working with numbers, and things are pretty simple – addition, subtraction, skip counting by three. I have a tenth grader in my house that is working with numbers, and things aren’t quite as simple – exponential notation, logarithms. The church is a complex and ever-changing collection of personalities in the process of becoming one.
Numbers is the story of walking and warfare in the wilderness.2
Hopefully you can see that this story, taking place in rural Asia over 3400 years ago, has direct application to us in 21st century America.
The walking that we do is everyday life. The King James way to say “live” is “walk”, as when Paul says in Romans 8, “Let us walk honestly, as in the day.” So first, we can relate to the book of Numbers because it tells us about life.
Then there’s warfare. I know many people are probably tired of hearing about warfare, the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, and all that.
But, again, we know that for the Christian, there is an enemy who is trying to steal, kill, and destroy us. And so we relate to the book of Numbers because it tells us about the struggle of living on the battleground of the enemy.
The Hebrew title for this book is actually ba-midbar, or, “in the wilderness”. This is the story of what happens in the wilderness, and therefore, applies directly to us. We are in the middle, between bondage and beauty, following the promise, but not quite yet to its full realization. This book has quite a lot to say to us.
So let’s begin…
Numbers 1:1-3 (ESV) The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, 2Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. 3From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company.
To Succeed in the Journey…
I must declare my bloodline.
Before anything else could be done, the Lord spoke to Moses, Take a census. Why? Do you think God was confused? Did he lose track? Was he wondering where all these people came from?
The declaration is for my benefit. I must be positive of my standing in Christ. It is essential that I am able to trace my bloodline.
It’s amazing that many Christians can’t positively declare who they are in Christ. Can you imagine someone in the camp of Israel struggling with their identity?
I’m not quite sure. I hope I’m an Israelite, but sometimes I just don’t know. I’m afraid I’m not really part of Israel.
No, they had to be like Paul, who could say, “circumcised on the eighth day of my life, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew.”
I must be able to declare – God is my father! I have been adopted, born-again of water and the Spirit of God.
1st John 3:1 See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for he allows us to be called his children, and we really are! But the people who belong to this world don’t know God, so they don’t understand that we are his children.
Galatians 3:26 So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and now all the promises God gave to him belong to you.
Silence & Confusion Live Together.
My wife will tell you that. When I’m silent, she’s confused. Sometimes we’re silent because we’re confused. Sometimes we’re confused because we’re silent.
If you’re confused about your place in God’s kingdom, you won’t make much of a declaration, and if you do, it won’t be worth much.
And if you’re not able to declare who you are in Christ, you’re probably creating quite a bit of confusion to those around you.
When we are unable to declare our bloodline, when we are unable to persuasively declare – not only verbally, but by our actions! – who we are in Christ, then we will be confused about…
Confused about Place and Purpose
No progress was going to be made from Sinai until this ordering took place. How in the world were two million people going to make any progress as a mob?
How are you going to make progress in your life without first settling the question of who you belong to, whose you are, what you are in Christ?
Some people are embarrassed about their bloodline, because they’re embarrassed about who their parents, grandparents, or some distant relative was. Maybe their parents weren’t married. Maybe their grandfather was a criminal.
I should probably relate to that, since my mother was conceived outside of a marriage relationship. She never knew her birth father – didn’t even know she was adopted until she was 55. But that’s not where my bloodline began.
Other people are pretty proud of their bloodline. There were famous people in the bloodline. Perhaps their grandmother was a great artist, or their great-great-grandfather was a war hero. It doesn’t matter, because that’s not where their bloodline began.
If you trace it all back, quite naturally, we are of the bloodline of Adam, and that’s a pretty sad fact, because that means our inheritance is failure, bad character, and death.
Romans 5:12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.
There’s the confusion – I think I’m a Christian, but by blood, I’m a child of Adam. NO! Because only through Jesus Christ can we go back one step further. Our family tree doesn’t stop at Adam.
Romans 5:18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brought condemnation upon everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness makes all people right in God’s sight and gives them life.
Can you imagine Israelites not knowing their bloodline, not being sure who their father or father’s father was? God could. That’s why he told them not to intermarry with the pagan nations. He knew that once there was confusion in the bloodline, there would be compromise and complacency.
That’s what happens with us, when we forget who we are, when we forget who our Father is and we begin to act like the world around us. When we forget that we are children of the Kingdom and instead take our primary identity from our job or relationships or desires, suddenly, our life is about our job, or our friends, or our money, or our security, or our desires.
1st Peter 2:9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
Confused about Peace and Power
Then there’s the question of war. Not being able to answer the question of your bloodline doesn’t change your bloodline. But it leaves you unable to not only progress, but conquer.
There are too many Christians, still unsettled about their bloodline, unable to go forth to war, disabled from victorious living. The biggest reason is that they don’t even know what real war is. They’re still fighting themselves, and they take that for war. Your doubts and fears are not the war. The confusion you have created for yourself is not spiritual warfare.
Can you imagine someone in the camp of Israel…
…oh, this is so hard! The Hittites and Jebusites don’t have to do this! My tent is drafty, the food is terrible, and you’ll never believe where I had to go to the restroom this morning! War is really hard!
Ephesians 6:12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.
What is my bloodline?
Am I simply child of Adam , or am I a child of God?
If you don’t know the answer to that question – if you aren’t convinced of the answer to that question – you will have an exceedingly difficult time in determining your place or purpose, you will struggle to attain peace or power.
Let’s move on…
Numbers 2:1-2 (NLT) Then the LORD gave these instructions to Moses and Aaron: 2“Each tribe will be assigned its own area in the camp, and the various groups will camp beneath their family banners. The Tabernacle will be located at the center of these tribal compounds.
I must display my banner.
My banner must reflect my captain.
Our banner is Christ. Nothing else is true if this is not true. The other things that come after are irrelevant and insignificant without this fact.
My banner must reflect my calling.
We’re each given gifts, talents, abilities, personalities, experiences, backgrounds which put us in a unique place in the Kingdom. Because of that, God has a unique calling on your life.
My banner must reflect my commitment.
Yet, while we each have a particular, specific calling, we also must not forget our relation to each other. We will have duties and tasks that won’t mean much directly to our calling, but are necessary for the overall good of the camp.
That’s not my ministry. That’s not my calling. That’s not my job.
A higher calling doesn’t exempt us from lower responsibilities.
What’s on my banner?
Is my life aligned under the leadership of Christ?
Am I following the leading of my own lusts, desires, hopes, dreams, or am I following the call he has placed on my life?
Am I committed to convenience or am I truly committed to the Kingdom of God?
Romans 8:14-16 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family – calling him “Father, dear Father.” 16For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children.
The identification of banners and bloodlines set us up for the battles that are ahead.
What is your bloodline? What’s on your banner? Are you ready for battle?
1 That just shows how long ago this series began. My “first grader” is now a sixth grader and her math is much harder.
2 This definition – and many of the thoughts in this entire series – come from a commentary by an author I only know as C.H.M. His commentary is the only one that discusses the themes and ideas of numbers at any length. (Yes, I’ve read Matthew Henry, but that’s completely different.)