Welcome back to our ongoing series about the gospel of each book of the Bible. Our premise is a simple one—what if there was only one book from the Holy Bible, as our sole source of divine Scriptures? What would this one book teach us? What Gospel would we find there?
In this way, we not only find out that all the books in the Bible are useful for edifying and equipping, but we also see the consistent story that is found throughout all Scripture. We see that the Bible is a coherent story of God’s love for us, throughout the different eras, different authors, and different genres of writings.
Numbers is a strange book. Not just the title, but everything that the author recorded seems to be rather unordinary. It is a book of censuses, different lists of leader’s names, and the identification of future national borders. This is not a book that most would consider divine or spiritually authoritative based on such a description. But that is what the fourth book that Moses wrote is. That is what God desired to be a part of what the Jews call the Torah, or the Law. What was written in the book of Numbers may seem strange to our 21st century sensibilities, but what is recorded there is still of infinite worth. Between the censuses, the lists of names, and the towns with strange names, there are powerful and eternal truths for us to learn. While a person could rightfully spend a lifetime gleaning the truth of God from these pages, we will look at three things that we need to hear now.
1. God Is Forgiving
Israel was a notoriously disobedient people group. Throughout the book of Numbers, they challenge God and the leadership that He put into place. They did not seem to trust God and His ability to do what He said. They whined and complained that life in transition from slavery to freedom through the desert, was worse than their time in Egypt. They figured they should have stayed there to die. Israel thought that was a better way to spend the rest of their days instead of the way God was leading them.
Even when God did make mana fall from heaven and brought quail for them to eat, they were not convinced that God was going to take care of them. They didn’t trust the man God put in charge either. Even though God spoke through Moses, even though God used Moses time and time again to give Israel the things that they needed, Israel rebelled. And with each rebellion, God proved that He was in control, that He knew what He was doing, and that Moses was the man God wanted to lead Israel. Still, that wasn’t enough for Israel, and they continued in their rebellion.
After one particular rebellion, Moses went to God, pleading with Him not to destroy these grumbling people. Moses prays and quotes what God had said from the book of Exodus,
“The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.” – Numbers 14.18, Exodus 34.6
Even though those who were unrepentant would reap their rewards, and though there were consequences for Israel’s sin, God was always offering forgiveness to His children. In response to Moses’ petition and quotation, God speaks and shares this powerful truth, as though it had happened before Moses asked,
“I have forgiven them” – Numbers 14.20
Even in the face of sin and continuous rebellion, God was and is now willing to offer forgiveness for His children.
2. God Is Not A Chauvinist
There are people that will read the book of Numbers and conclude that God is a chauvinist. He puts a man in charge of the whole nation. Men are the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. Men were used as the workers in the Tabernacle. The only prominent woman in the book appears to be Moses’ sister, Miriam, and that is only because she is Moses’ sister. To our modern understanding, setting up a male dominated society is wrong. Women deserve equal right and representation.
Unfortunately, the reality is that women were not seen in the eyes of men as equal. All societies were largely male dominated, but that doesn’t mean that God was okay with that. So God pushed the envelope. When God was sharing with Moses what land would belong to each tribe of Israel, there were some women that took issue with this. They still recognized that society was male driven, but knew that family honour was not to be refused, and declared that just because they didn’t have brothers or husbands, or that their husbands were dead, they should not be discounted or refused land.
“Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.” – Numbers 27.4
This was a bold move. For women to speak up, to demand anything in a time when women were thought of as property to sell and trade—these women were pushing the boundaries of societal norms. And God approved of what they were doing.
“What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and turn their father’s inheritance over to them.” – Numbers 27.7
God approved women having property. He approved them having an inheritance—an honour that was limited to men at the time. And He doesn’t only say it once. At the end of Numbers, the issue of this land and inheritance is complicated, but God affirms the women and their solution. No matter what happened God was siding with the women, for their right to this land and inheritance. That is not the move of a chauvinist. That is the move of a progressive.
(I can foresee some complaining about this, and I will quickly elaborate. Yes, God made a progressive move in the early history of the Bible to give these women land and an inheritance. That was a big deal in its day and in that culture. Yes, today this should be a given.
God was starting to pull Israel towards what He wanted—equality. God created men and women for equality, and even though sin and rebellion had tainted His creation, He was working towards restoring it. He couldn’t simply give humanity an overhaul, or impede on their freewill, so God slowly pulled Israel towards His perfect plan. You have to walk before you can run, and before that you must crawl. Before women would be allowed to vote and speak freely as the Civil Rights Movement and similar social movements made possible, God was advocating for these things, slowly shifting culture mindsets. It may not have been as fast as we would have liked, but that is the nature of change, not the nature of God. God wants equality between all men and women, just as He originally intended. God is not a chauvinist.)
3. God Dwells With Us
God is often seen as a far away individual. Even in the book of Numbers, He seems to be off in Heaven, and Israel, with the rest of humanity, is here on the Earth. God appears to speak and interact with them on occasion, but stays at a distance. This idea has permeated modern culture and societal thinking, but that is not what the book of Numbers teaches.
Though it is written almost at the end of Numbers, this powerful reminder is left ringing in the ears of the reader.
“Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.” – Numbers 35.34
The LORD God dwells on the Earth, even in the land where Israel was, and where they were going. He was not far away, seated in Heaven, only to look down on Earth. Rather this God that provided them food and water, this God that pulled them towards His perfect design and will, this God that offered them forgiveness of sin and rebellion, was right there. His home was there with the people of Israel, not far away somewhere. He lives here to have relationship with His people, to know them and be known by them. This was true then, and it still rings true today.
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