Be quiet and eat your manna
Numbers 11: I’ll take some of the Spirit that is on you and place it on them.
There’s a problem with the manna. It still tastes fine and supplies, apparently, the recommended daily dietary needs. However, manna for breakfast, lunch, and supper seven days a week is boring. In Egypt they had meat, cucumbers and melons, onions and garlic. In the wilderness they have manna, manna, and more manna. In their dietary frustration they complain to God’s, man, Moses and for him this is the breaking moment. He’s angry with the people and he’s angry with God. In fact, he declares, if this is the way it has to be he would just as soon be dead. Moses has been burning the candle at both ends and now the fire has met in the middle. People, like Moses, who have performed admirably through the most difficult circumstances, hit the wall and suddenly some minor problem causes them to crash. Know what? I think it’s Moses’ own fault. His father-in-law, Jethro, told him he couldn’t do it all alone back in Exodus 18 and a plan was set up at that time. After that Moses spent time on the mountain with God, the terrible golden calf incident and some other things happened. I don’t know this for sure, but it looks like the plan Jethro suggested has dropped by the way and Moses is back to being “the guy” for everything. If this is true the result is predictable: Moses finds himself drowning in responsibility. Leaders need to remember that no matter how skillfully they organize things in the beginning and no matter how high the quality of leadership that’s brought on board, that they must continue to hold the plan in shape. Otherwise, things will unravel, and, over time everything will once again be propped up against them.
Take Away: Skillful leadership includes recognizing, training, and empowering others. It also includes the providing of constant maintenance.
Sign me up
Numbers 10: If you come with us, we’ll make sure that you share in all the good things God will do for us.
What a sight it is! Banners are flying, the Ark of the Covenant is leading the way, and the Pillar of Cloud is overhead. It’s time for the Israelites break camp. Hundreds of thousands of people with all their possessions move forward with precision and purpose. In just a few months this nation of slaves has been transformed into an organized, decisive people of God. During the organizational process, Hobab, the brother-in-law of Moses has kept company with the Israelites. Now, as they prepare to break camp he tells Moses that he’s going to leave for home. He’s not an Israelite and his family and neighbors are elsewhere. Moses, though, encourages him to cast his lot with God’s people. For one thing Hobab is an outdoorsman, familiar with this territory to the east of Egypt. His expertise will come in handy in the days to come. For another, he’s welcome to share in the blessing of these descendants of Abraham. If he stays, Moses promises, he’ll get a part of the blessing God has for them. Today, I’m drawn to this good man who, before we ever hear of the righteous Cornelius of the book of Acts, or follow Paul and Silas on that first missionary journey, connects himself to the people of God. That’s what I’ve done too. I don’t deserve it and should, instead, be forever an outsider. Instead, as Moses did long ago, God’s Son Jesus invites me to tag along. When I agree, he connects me to himself, making me a citizen of a country that will forever be blessed by the Lord.
Take Away: How wonderful it is to be invited to join God’s people on their journey!
Numbers 9: They camped at God’s command and they marched at God’s command.
It’s pretty straightforward. There’s a big cloud that glows like fire at night. All they have to do is follow it. When it moves, they move. When it stands still, they stand still. That’s the one that catches my attention: “stand still.” I do a lot better job of moving. After all, I’m a valuable part of the Kingdom of God and I’m sure the Lord needs for me to be in the game from start to finish. Other players might get a break but no bench time for me! Well, seriously, I know there’s always something else to be done. I need to take note that even as the Lord leads the Israelites in this clear and unmistakable way that sometimes he leads them to stop. For one thing that means taking time out. God built a day off into the very fabric of Creation. A minimum of one day out of seven is a day for the Pillar of Cloud in our lives to stand still. Another thing that comes to mind is that I don’t listen to God very well when I’m on the move. His Voice is precious, but it’s often so quiet that I won’t hear it at all unless I still my life and pay attention. Every day needs to have times when the Pillar of Cloud stands still for a while and I focus my attention entirely on the Lord.
Take Away: Taking time out is not only a good thing to do, it’s actually a requirement.
Now that I have your attention
Numbers 7: When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with God, he heard the Voice [of God]…He spoke with him.
One thing about these ancient Israelites: they know how to throw a party. The dedication of the Tent of Meeting lasts twelve days with each day having its own pageantry and symbolism. Each of the family tree groups gets a day of its own and as the days progress each family is connected to this sacred place. The offerings have been made and now Moses, instead of going up on the mountain to meet with God, enters the Most Holy Place in the new Worship Center to complete its dedication. In an awesome moment, there above the Covenant Chest and between the golden angels God’s Voice is heard. Wow! No longer will it take a trip up Mount Sinai for a meeting with the Lord. Instead, he comes to them, dwelling right there at the heart of their camp. It’s impressive to remember that this wasn’t Moses’ idea. The building and furnishing of the Tabernacle was initiated by the Lord, himself. The Israelites don’t have to figure out some way to get God’s attention. In fact, from the very beginning of their story it’s the Lord who has reached out to them, initiating a relationship with them. So it is to this day. It isn’t that I figure out just what I have to do to get God to respond to me. Instead, from the start, he reaches out to me, inviting me to be his very own. When I hear and respond I find that the Almighty is more than willing to allow me to connect my life to his.
Take Away: God has always been a communicating God.
Numbers 6: This is how you are to bless the People of Israel.
Progress is being made and it’s about time to put the new Tent of Meeting into service. The various sacrifices have been described along with the duties of those who will serve in this portable worship center. God has something he wants the priests to say: “God bless you and keep you, God smile on you and gift you, God look you full in the face and make you prosper.” Note that this isn’t something the priests or even Moses thought up. God wants this to be said because, he says, “I will confirm it by blessing them.” Isn’t it wonderful to be reminded that God desires to bless his people! He wants to keep us, to gift us, and to prosper us. Now, I could spend time here talking about what all this means, especially, in light of all the “health and wealth” teaching around. Instead, though, I’d rather just be reminded here of the good will God has toward us. We don’t hear Moses saying to the priests, “Let’s make it our habit to ask God to bless us.” Instead, here’s God, Himself, saying, “I want to bless you and as a reminder of that, here’s what I want you to say.” Thank you, Lord, for not only your blessings, but for your desire to bless.
Take Away: We are recipients of an abundance of good will from the Lord.
Numbers 5: Tell the People of Israel, When a man or woman commits any sin, the person has broken trust with God, is guilty, and must confess the sin.
The book of Numbers is about naming names. It also contains considerable practical instruction on how this nation of former slaves is going to function as a People of God. Reading Numbers is not always the most uplifting devotional reading one might do. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth reading here. Instead, we have to do a little prospecting to find the gold. This statement from Numbers 5 is a good example of that. Moses explains to the people the true nature of sin; that it is a breaking of trust with God. It isn’t a mistake and it isn’t human shortcoming. Rather, it’s behaving in a disloyal way toward God. Still, there’s hope rather than condemnation here. In spite of the guilt, there’s the possibility of restoration. First, the sinner must acknowledge his sin by confessing it. No excuses are allowed. The offender must meet the issue head on. Second, restitution is to be made. True to the nature of the book, a practical approach is outlined: restore the full amount of the offense plus 20 percent. The concept is even expanded to include just who is to receive the compensation in extenuating circumstances. As a person who lives under the New Covenant, I’m not bound by the letter of the Law. Still, though, the concepts here apply. To sin is to break trust with God. The first step to restoration is to acknowledge my failure. The second is to make things right. The specific steps to a remedy are different but the concept sounds a whole lot like the Sermon on the Mount.
Take Away: Confession and restitution lead to restoration.
They did it all
Numbers 1: The People of Israel did everything that God commanded Moses. They did it all.
The story of the Israelites seems to be either “hot” or “cold.” They either march forward in victorious obedience or shrink back in the sin of unbelief. I think that’s rather unfair. For one thing, by its very nature the Bible is a book of spectacular success or spectacular failure. At times decades of ordinary events are skipped to jump to the next big event. The first chapter of Numbers sets up the census and the coming description of other everyday duties of various servants. The mountain top of the Ten Commands is history and the failure to enter Canaan lies ahead. For now, they are learning the ropes of living day by day as God’s people. As we read the Bible it appears that the day to day part is minor, just a way to mark time between the big stuff. In reality it’s the opposite. Most sentences used to describe life end with periods. Only a few earn exclamation marks. At this point, Moses’ congregation earns high marks. “They did it all.”
Take Away: The real measure of our Christianity is how we handle the day-to-day, ordinary part of our lives.