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.
A book of the Bible that really counts
Numbers 1: Number the congregation
The book of Numbers may be the most accurately named book of the Bible. As Moses organizes these hundreds of thousands of people we read page after page of names and numbers. In fact, the Lord even gives Moses a list of the names of those who are to name the names in accomplishing this huge task. It’s all very practical and reasonable. If nothing else, Numbers reminds us that our service of the Lord isn’t all about worship services and sermons. Often there are practical things to be done: statistics to be compiled, organizational meetings to attend, and plans to be made. Such endeavors don’t “feel” very spiritual but they’re part of forming mere humans into a people of God, organized and ready to serve. Having said all that, I confess that I don’t find much devotional material in the lists of the Book of Numbers. I may fast forward through them and focus on some of the other events of this book of the Bible.
Take Away: Sometimes being a people of God includes taking care of business in addition to focusing on worship and other “spiritual” activities.