The book of Numbers starts off with Moses taking count of every man over the age of twenty, tribe by tribe, and then giving instruction on the layout of how they are to set up camp and march from place to place. Sometimes I don’t understand the relevance of some parts of the Bible. But I also know there’s always something to be gained from every part of scripture. Not a single word is actually irrelevant. Here’s what I get from this part of scripture…God offered no explanation as to why He wanted things set up this particular way but, “The People of Israel did everything that God commanded Moses. They did it all.” God does not owe any of us an explanation for why He asks certain things of us, but we do owe God our obedience.
God assigned each tribe/clan to a different task and role within the community. If one tribe did not complete their tasks, the whole nation would suffer. We are all parts of one body (which I know you’ve heard before). If every eye tried to be a mouth, the body couldn’t see where it was going and would run into walls left and right. The brain is the epicenter, controlling every aspect of the body keeping it alive and breathing and telling the heart to beat, etc. But the brain isn’t visible. Some of us (myself included) are so caught up in trying to be visible, we could be undermining God’s actual calling on our lives. Why do we try to step into roles we weren’t meant for? I look at the Bethel’s and Hillsong’s of the world and I want what they have. But what we don’t realize is all the behind the scenes blood, sweat, and tears that goes into their calling. And I don’t just mean the work it takes to write and produce and perform songs. I mean the intimate time they spend with God, the trials and hardships that produce the heart behind the lyrics, the obedience and sacrifice to Christ. If I’m not willing to put in the work, I am not going to produce the fruit. And I can say I’m willing but do my actions and the way I spend my time and live my life reflect my willingness. Am I actually willing or do I just want the glory? Aaaaannndddd…..what if I put in all the time with God growing my character and becoming closer to Him and never become a Bethel, or Hillsong, or Kari Jobe…IS HE ALONE WORTH IT? The ultimate goal is not what we want to achieve “for God”. The ultimate goal is to pursue Him and Him alone and He will direct our paths, whatever that looks like according to His will for our lives.
The Israelites wandered through the dessert for 40 years. They didn’t stay put. The tabernacle was large, complicated, with many parts, to be set up and torn down and moved in very specific ways. I think about what that must have been like…setting up and tearing down and moving around the dessert for 40 years!!!! When I first read through this I thought, “why not wait until they get settled in the promised land to make their temple?” I love my church. We are a start up in our 3rd year of ministry. We still rent a building, we still set up and tear down every Sunday, and we re in the process of looking for a new place to meet. It can be very easy to get discouraged and drained from the work it takes to set up and tear down every Sunday, the unknown of where we’ll end up next…and then I think of the Israelites. Are you waiting for something to happen in order to start worshiping God, to start ministering, to start living your life in the way you know you should be all along, even now, whatever your life might look like right now!! God says to come as you are. We will never be good enough, our lives will never be where we want or need them to be. We will always stumble and there will always be trouble in this life. Jesus is what makes us good, Jesus is what gives our life meaning and purpose, Jesus fulfills us. Whatever you’re waiting for will be fulfilled in Christ…so stop waiting.
The Levites had to be purified before they could approach the Sanctuary. The process of purification was quite extensive. To summarize, they had to shave their entire bodies, present several different types of offerings, wash all their clothes, wait 7 days, sacrifice again…and so on. Translation for today: we are the Levites and God is the sanctuary…BUT…we have already been purified by the blood of Jesus Christ. Nothing else is required of us. Like I said before, so many of us are waiting to be right and good and worthy before approaching God. What we don’t understand (my present self included) is that we are already right and good and worthy. Believing anything different is a slap in the face to the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. We try to operate from our own strength to be better, behave better, think better, be a better friend, mother, wife, employee…and the list goes on. Our focus is on behavior modification. GOD WANTS HEART TRANSFORMATION…and only He can transform the heart…and from that behaviors change. We have to be willing and open to allow His transformation within us…and the only way to do that is to spend regular time in His Word and in prayer/communion with Him.
At one point along their journey in the desert, Moses’ brother in law was going to leave them to go home to his own country instead of proceeding to the promised land with the Israelites. Moses pleaded with him saying, “Don’t leave us. You know all the best places to camp in the wilderness. We need your eyes. If you come with us, we’ll make sure that you share in all the good things God will do for us.” It wasn’t wrong that Moses wanted his brother in law to come along and share in the goodness of God. What struck me was the fact that Moses thought he needed his brother in law for guidance on “all the best places to camp.” They had GOD guiding them day and night. How often do we seek guidance from those around us before seeking God, if we even seek God at all. It’s not wrong to seek counsel…so long as it isn’t in place of seeking God first and foremost.
God commanded the Israelites to celebrate passover on a specific day. But some of the Israelites were unclean at the time God commanded passover be celebrated. They went to Moses and said, “[…] why should we be be barred from bringing God’s offering along with other Israelites on the day set for Passover?” “Moses said, ‘Give me some time; I’ll find out what God says in your circumstances.” It’s ok to not have all the answers!!! Moses parted the Red Sea, spent time in the actual presence of God…and he ALWAYS consulted God. Why should we think we are any different than Moses in our need to consult God in EVERY circumstance. The difference for us is that we have direct access!! We no longer need to go through someone else to seek God’s guidance. I read self help books and seek guidance and prayers from friends, and that’s not bad UNLESS I’m not reading God’s Word or seeking His guidance in prayer for myself. It can be difficult to differentiate between our own thoughts and desires and what God might be speaking into our lives. That’s why prayer AND GOD’S WORD are vital because you can test everything against it.
How quickly we forget the goodness and faithfulness of God when we’re in the wilderness. Throughout their wandering, the Israelites complained about everything…to the point they wanted to return to Egypt…THEY WANTED TO RETURN TO SLAVERY. Imagine being alive at that time and actually seeing God part the Red Sea….and then forgetting (or being so blatantly ungrateful). Of course this angered God…but His response was to provide…and provide abundantly. Here’s a thought…throughout the Old Testament, when the people would turn away and substitute their desires in place of God’s, He gave them what they wanted, and it never went well for them…until they repented and God forgave them and restored them to Himself. Why do we insist on going through this cycle instead of trusting God’s Will all along. God’s Will will be accomplished regardless and our salvation is not usurped because of our struggle (and we are guaranteed to have struggle in this life)…but we don’t have to make the journey as difficult as possible!!!!
After scouting out the promised land, the Israelites were in an uproar planning to overthrow Moses and head back to Egypt. God was furious!!! But here’s the wonderful thing about God, His love and faithfulness are not dependent on ours. His grace and mercy are a product of His character, not ours, forever and always. I read this and want God to strike them all dead…and then He reminds me of all my shortcomings, all the times I blatantly did something I knew was wrong and chose to do it anyway, all the times I look back and feel shame and regret over something I’ve done or said and realize God forgives even that. But remember this…even though we are forgiven and have salvation, our actions are not without consequence. God forgave the Israelites over and over – but their sin did not go unpunished. The ground swallowed some, fire incinerated some, there were plagues and poisonous snakes. While it may not be that dramatic in this day and age (and I’m also NOT saying natural disasters and tragedies are a punishment for sin)…like cause and effect, there is always a consequence for the sin in our lives. That can look like broken relationships, loss of trust, shame and guilt, you name it. While all sin cannot be avoided, blatant intentional sin can. The more we remain in Christ, the more our sinful desires subside.
In chapter 16, “250 leaders of the congregation of Israel, prominent men with positions in the counsel” confronted Moses, challenging his authority and accusing him of wrongfully bringing them out of Egypt. Take special note that these were prominent men with positions in counsel. A couple months back I learned of some communications sent to our pastor that challenged his teachings and I remember thinking, “who does that person think they are?” And then I remembered a time when I struggled with falling under the authority of a previous pastor. I never challenged that pastor or their teaching (it wasn’t their teaching I struggled with) but I sought counsel for how to serve under a pastor I didn’t know if I could trust. Ultimately God challenged me. It wasn’t the pastor I wasn’t trusting, it was God. It was God’s church and He had the power to put whomever He wanted in that position and I had to trust that God knew what He was doing. We are all human, including pastors, but they have a HUGE responsibility and are accountable only to God. We have to trust that our pastors are seeking God in everything. If not, it is God’s job to deal with them. In the end, my relationship with my previous pastor was restored and I was able to build a relationship with her based on who she was as a person, mom, wife…instead of any expectation that she should be perfect and make decisions that I agreed with. It is not our job to critique our leadership, it is our job to support and pray for them and come along side them whatever they decide.
The major theme here is that God brought the Israelites out of slavery and was leading them to the promised land…but the results weren’t immediate and it was a difficult journey to get there. We are not promised an easy life but we need to trust God through the difficult journey. The relevance of scripture is often times just the ability to learn from the mistakes and/or victories of others. There is no irrelevant part of scripture. If you are reading it with an open heart and an open mind, God will speak to you through it. But the most important part is to actually pick it up and read it. Being in the Word and spending time with God is the answer to every question and every struggle. I think I said this back in my Genesis post but, when I started reading the Bible, I was doing it just to do it, to say I read it, to get through the whole thing and have accomplished something. Even then, God did so much work on me through His Word. And now I’m reading it again with even more revelation. I can’t imagine what I’ll get out of it a third and fourth time. We are never done growing and God is never done speaking to us…but we have to actively listen.