The Bible Experiment Numbers
We’ve officially made it to Numbers. Exciting stuff. For those of you just wandering through, I’ve been slowly walking my way through every book of the Bible in an attempt to write at least 1,000 words about each book. The goal is to deal with the controversial bits, the interesting bits, and the enlightening bits in order to digest the point of the book and try and make sense of why its been included in the Bible. If you’d like to follow along from the beginning you can do so here.
Summary: The book of numbers is largely Narrative History as far as its genre. It was written by Moses tells about how Israel prepared to enter the promise land. But the children of Israel sinned and then were punished. And then it describes Moses taking two population censuses, hence the name Numbers.
The last time here we cogitated a bit about Leviticus. And boy did we have a bit of fun to ponder. And from a functional standpoint Numbers is very similar to Leviticus. We see the continuation of the establishment of the temple. We watch as the Levites are setup as the tribe to care for the worship practices for Israel and all the details around that. I really don’t want to talk much about the Kohathites, and how they were to carry the holy things. Or how the Gershonnites were to carry the coverings of the holy things. Yeah… I mean, we can if you want. But, there are a number of crazy things that happen in Numbers that I would rather jump to if you don’t mind. Hearing no objections I move that we “skip a bit brother.”
Numbers 11 – So we finally get to see the real overriding theme of the book of Numbers. Here the Israelites were in the desert – wondering around. And man are the Jews just upset about everything. They are grumbling about pretty much everything. And in 11 we see them mad that they are stuck with manna… they want meat. And they grumble about it so much that it says that it angered God. This is an awesome quote:
Numbers 11:1 – “Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lordheard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.”
Come on. That’s awesome. God was so torqued with the Israelite’s grumbling that the fire of his anger burnt some of the outside of the camp. And then the people cried out to Moses to get him to make God to make it stop. Really? Was that like a proverbial shot across the bow? What is that about? Not perfectly sure – but I do get out of this example that God really really dislikes grumbling and that was totally where the Jews were going. First its meat. Then its Moses. Then its the big canaanites. And then its water. Man they grumbled a lot. And it says explicitly that it was because of their grumbling that they did not head into the promise land. And its because of their Grumbling that we see the old guard begin to die off. Miriam and Aaron pass away. And Moses, the Lord’s man, isn’t even immune from God’s judgement. So my own personal take away from this is that complaining just isn’t ok.
[pullquote]If the Bible is a Love Story – then it makes sense that God would be angry if his love was running around on him. Right?[/pullquote]
If you say no – then I quickly follow up and ask, so you’d be ok with your spouse running around on you? Seriously? God is chasing down the children of Israel and desiring to be intimately connected into their lives daily. But the Jews were going way out of their way to chase after other loves. We do this today. We search for ways to fill the God shaped hole in our chest. Drugs, alcohol, sex, money, possessions, etc etc. But nothing satisfies because we were made to live in connection with him and everything else is just a cheap copy of that relationship we were intended for.
As Numbers continues we get to see this play out in glorious detail from a very positive side of the relationship. The Israelites by now are enormous in number. So when the camp across the street from Balaak he completely wigs out and runs to get the prophet Balaam to prophecy against the Israelites so that he can defeat them in battle. Right? Simple enough. Balaak is frightened of the Israelites and so he wants to get someone to curse them.
Got it. So what happens next. Balak’s men go to Balaam and pay him to curse them. He takes the money. And he’s like coo. Whatever. I’ll go and talk to God and then I will pronounce my curse from God. But God is not like other gods. He’s a bit feistier seeing as though he’s real, and they are not. And so he tells Balaam – nah. I don’t think I’m going to let you curse them. So Balaam sends them away. Obviously Balak isn’t cool with that, so he sends more money. And Balaam, patient as he is, says he’ll go to God again and check in. And again God says – nope, not budging – the Israelites are my special people. You can’t touch them. He communicates this to Balak’s men but they convince him to go anyway.
God is less than keen about this and sends an angel to kill Balaam as he’s riding his donkey. Right? But the donkey basically ducks for cover. And Balaam beats the donkey. And then the donkey pulls a Shrek and begins yelling at Balaam. So one of the greatest conversations in the entire Bible ensues between a prophet, a donkey and an angel:
Donkey: “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
Balaam: “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.”
Donkey: “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?”
Angel: “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.”
Balaam: “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.”
Angel: “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.”
So God intervened on Israel’s behalf. Instead of allowing this evil prophet to curse them and be beaten in battle he sends his angel to intervene. And then what happens next? Awesomeness. Balaam goes and meets Balak and they find a spot where they can see a bit of the camp of Israel – they build seven altars and they offer a ram and a bull on each altar (7 bulls, 7 rams… 14 animals, let’s count! It’ll be FUN!). And then Balaam proceeds to bless Israel. Hahah. Balak comes unglued. Obviously. I mean, he payed this guy to come CURSE these guys. And what does he do? He gives them the God hookup.
“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
the oracle of him who hears the words of God,
who sees the vision of the Almighty,
falling down with his eyes uncovered:
How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
your encampments, O Israel!”
Balak then decides to take Balaam to a different location where they build seven more altars. And offer seven more rams and seven more bulls (14 more!!) as sacrifices. And then Balaam blesses Israel again. Balak isn’t the smartest guy on the block because he does this two more times for a total of four times. And I just – for giggles – looked up what a ram would cost today. Oh, and a bull, while I was at it. A quality ram costs $600. And a bull runs about $3000. You see where I’m going with this don’t you? It turns into an equation something like this:
And basically what Balak ends up with is a $100,800 sacrifice bill… and all to bless his enemies! Despite their grumbling, God continued to look out for his people and bless them. This continues through the rest of the book as the people continue screwing up by worshipping other gods (Baal et al.) and inviting all kinds of wrath from God. But even with their wanderings God continues to bless the people during their wanderings and even prepares them for the path forward into the promised land.
For me personally, I can relate to these clueless wanderers. I too manage to find other ways to convince myself to be content in spite of God. I love my x-box. I love my two car garage and CX-9 with a kickin’ Bose audio system and DVD. I love my Mac book pro, my ipad and my iphone. I love my addiction to caffeine and copious quantities of books. I love my movies and my guys nights out. I find a million ways to be happy besides the only one true way to stay happy, which is through my relationship to the one true God that is looking out for me and protecting me even when I don’t realize it. This particular post speaks to that. But I promise you that the one true God is chasing your heart and wants you to know that He loves you completely.