So, while mowing the yard (where some of my best thinking can be done – along with the shower, of course), I came up with a great start to a sermon on Numbers (unfortunately, it won’t go in my paper, but I figured I should get it out of my head so I can actually write the paper). I blame this on my dad who put it into my head to write a paper like a sermon. 🙂
Does anyone out there collect stamps or coins? My father and I used to collect both, and we’d look up the history and value of the items, make sure they were as clean as possible and store them carefully. And each time we added a new one, we’d go back over some of our favorites, or we’d keep track of how many of which type of thing we had. And each time we met new people who were interested – either other collectors, or soon to be collectors – we would drag them out and show and tell. It was a labor of love.
The book of Numbers begins and ends with a census. God wanted a count of how many people in each family there were, how many soldiers or people who could become soldiers, and among the Levites, how many male children from age 1 month and up. According to the Tanakh, Moses, who was tasked with collecting these numbers, wasn’t all that comfortable with going into the tents of those where mothers might be nursing, and God told him not to worry about it – you count yours, and I’ll count mine. And in Numbers, Chapter 3, verse 16, it says: “So Moses counted them according to God’s word, just as he was commanded.” They figured that God’s word let Moses know how many babies were inside.
Numbers is a book about God’s love. The Bible in its entirety, of course, is about God’s love for His creation, but Numbers keeps track of us. It reminds us where we came from, who our family is, what our history says. It tells us of a parent’s loving discipline for those who are unfaithful – to God, to each other, to their own promises. It sets standards and laws for a people who had been enslaved for so long, they weren’t quite sure how to interact as a free people anymore, to become the great nation that God wanted them to be. And it taught them that consequences can be quite harsh when you choose to disobey those laws.
The first generation of those wandering in the desert for 40 years all died before reaching the promised land because of their unfaithfulness. And the second generation, somewhat, learned from their ancestors’ mistakes, and remained mostly faithful. There’s a difference of 1820 men between the first census and the second. That’s actually more people, as there were associated wives and children under 20 with them. But God counted each one as precious to Him, and brought them into the promised land – showing His own faithfulness to His word and grace to the Israelites.