The Book of Numbers

March 10, 2019

The Rector’s weekly letter to the congregation for March 10, 2019

The book of Numbers is the fourth book of the Bible. It has 36 chapters and 1289 verses. The book covers the 40-year wandering period of the Israelites from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. After being rescued from the slavery of Egypt, the Israelites went to Mount Sinai where God gave them the Law and other ordinances that were to regulate life in God’s nation. The Ten Commandments were statements of principle that would form the bedrock of the behavior of God’s people toward Him and toward one another.

This kind of stuff and life was new to the Israelites as they were accustomed to being unruly and ungovernable, causing the Egyptians headaches constantly. The Egyptians had resorted to harsh treatment against these riotous, uncontrollable, and disorderly people. The same people are now under an authority that has their best interests at heart, and the authority is laying down a framework of orderly living.

The Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai exactly two months after leaving Egypt according to Exodus 19:1. It is not clear how long they remained at that mountain before starting off for the Promised Land. Numbers 10:11 reports that they left Mount Sinai on the twentieth day of the second month in the second year after leaving Egypt.

At Mount Sinai, the people were numbered in a census to ascertain how many men there were of age 20 and older and healthy enough to be soldiers in case of war.  Each tribe had a leader who helped Moses and Aaron to count the people. The census found 603,550 men met the criteria set by God. The book derives its name from the fact of the numbering of the people.

After the people were numbered, God gave instructions for the journey to Canaan to begin. The people walked in their tribes and clans and they walked in battle formation. The journey should have taken them 11 days to complete, but when they reached the outskirts of the land, they refused to storm it, fearing the strength and physical size of the inhabitants. But God had told them that it would be He who would win the battle for them, not their own might nor ingenuity. Still the people rebelled and refused to fight, and there ensued an altercation between the whole lot of the people on one side, and Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb on the other. These four were for attacking the land right away, while the rest of the crowd was for withdrawing. Things came to a head and the crowd almost stoned the four who were urging the people to not fear the inhabitants, maintaining that God would fight for His people. God intervened and prevented the rebellious majority from killing the minority four.

After that refusal to march into the land at God’s command, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, like people who had lost their way, before eventually arriving at the border of Canaan, at a place called the Plains of Moab. All the men who were 20 years and older at Mount Sinai, died in the wanderings in the desert except Joshua and Caleb. Even Moses and Aaron died before arriving in Canaan.

Just like all books of the Bible, lots of spiritual food can be gleaned from this book. We notice, for example, that the D-Day eventually arrived for the Israelites to leave the comfort of Mount Sinai and set off for their true destiny, the Promised Land. Imagine the anxiety and the stuff they had to leave behind. A D-Day must come for every individual Christian to leave behind mediocre Christian living and march towards a deeper walk with God, which is the destiny of believers.  

Consider also that the journey to the Israelites’ destiny took them through the wilderness. The wilderness has never been a friendly place to live or walk in ever. Yet the wilderness is often the means used by God to toughen His people and ready them for their true destiny. It is grace, not spite, that prompts God to send us through a wilderness to steel and shape us so as to be able to fit the grand destiny He has for us.

Get Out of That Pit

by Beth Moore (2007:33, 38, 41, 45)

Satan’s progression

You can slip into a pit. Unlike the pit we get thrown into, we put ourselves into this one. But we didn’t mean to. We just weren’t watching where we were going. We got a little distracted, taken in by the new sights. The path didn’t seem bad; it just seemed new. Exhilarating. We thought we were still okay, but the next thing we knew we were in a hole, our feet ankle deep in mud.

You get into the pit yourself, but it wasn’t planned. Or wanted. Falling into a pit may have never entered your mind. You certainly didn’t mean for things to turn out the way they did. You didn’t see it coming, but now you’re in a hole.

Question: What are several ways a person might slip into a pit?

[Satan’s progression of temptation:] Distraction    > Addiction > Destruction

Satan aims to destroy, but that’s rarely his starting point. His usual opening is distraction. But he won’t allow a new focus to remain a distraction. The next step is addiction. It is a highly effective way to turn something we have (a sin-induced problem) into some place we live (a sin-induced pit). Defeat becomes a lifestyle. Satan is smug about his progress at this point but remember, addiction is not his goal. Destruction is. He wants to destroy our lives, callings, sense of godly significance, meaningful relationships, and intimacy with God.

Listen carefully: if you belong to Christ, Satan cannot destroy you. He can only convince you that you’re destroyed. No, beloved, you’re not.

….A small distraction that becomes a big distraction is a stronghold for the devil. Scripture defines it as any and “every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Anything that becomes a bigger preoccupation in your mind than the truth and knowledge of God, anything that dwarfs His truth and knowledge in your imagination, is a stronghold. If a relationship keeps me from prioritizing Christ and His Word, Satan is building a stronghold there. If watching what I eat becomes a major preoccupation rather than a means to better health, Satan is building a stronghold. If same-sex friendship takes on a dimension of jealousy usually limited to a male-female romance, Satan is building a stronghold.

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