The fourth book of the Bible, Numbers, attributed to Moses, starts out with a census of God’s chosen people of Israel. They were coming out of Egypt. Then the book ends with a recount before they enter the land of Canaan. These numbers are gathered at the beginning and end of their Exodus because they had changed as things got off track for the Israelites. Most of older, original people who had crossed the Red Sea forgot the rescue by God (not man) out of 400 years of slavery. It slips their mind that they were given God’s covenant law and guidance to help them, and daily food provisions to survive.
Paul wrote the Israelites were baptized with Moses in the cloud and in the sea when they went through the Red Sea, completely surrounded by water. They were, in a sense, “immersed” as God began their deliverance, just as disciples of Christ are immersed subsequent to their conversion (1Cor 10:1-5).
Rather than faith and gratitude, they instead submitted to their worried lack thereof and repeated acts of insurgency, particularly when it came to entering the promised land of Canaan. Instead of remembering what God had done for them, the people at one point submitted to a sorcerer and magician who tried to manipulate God. The title of the book is creative as it’s not a book of math calculations but instead, it shows the decrease of numbers (and why) in the full of history encompassing a number of people over a period of 40 years of wandering (and wondering). Most of those poor folks turned their exodus into a 40-year jaunt roaming the desert in circles (what was a 200-mile journey that should have taken 15 days allowing for the size and logistics of the group) and never entered the land of Canaan. Instead, their children were the ones who entered this promised land. It took only three days for Israel to get out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get the “Egypt” out of them.
Water is a symbolic representation of Jesus in this book with the ritual cleaning and purification beyond the physical aspects of it. It’s through Him we can purify ourselves in daily sanctification. Plus, there is the aspect of unlimited water to quench our thirst with Jesus being the “spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14).
Moses did not enter the promised land when the time came. He was forbidden because he didn’t follow God’s instruction in the miracle he performed. Instead of speaking water into existence from a rock (to reveal God’s glory), instead, Moses struck the rock with a staff (Nm. 20:10-12). This action has referred to his sin of impatience. Moses did eventually, though, get to the promised land. It was on a mountain in the New Testament, Matthew (17:2) with Jesus “he was transfigured in front of his three disciples, his face shining as the sun, and his garments became white as the light.” Here the prophets Elijah and Moses appear and Jesus talks with them. This is a testimony to me that Moses did make it to the promised land. God didn’t nor does he forget his promises.
Numerals have significant meaning in the Bible. Specifically, the numbers I note are three, seven, and forty. Three, usually a trifecta, depicts completeness (found in the Trinity, the number [and type] of gifts from the Magi to baby Jesus, the three angels mentioned by name in the Bible: Gabriel, Michael, and Satan, the fallen angel mentioned in Isa. 14:14 and Ez. 28:14-18). Seven is also a number meaning completeness plus perfection, as in the seven days of creation, seven parables, seven churches in the book of Revelation. It derives much of its meaning from being tied directly to God’s creation of all things. The number forty symbolizes a period of testing, trial or probation (for example Israel wandering the desert for forty years, the ark drifting for forty days, and Jesus in the desert for forty days). There are about forty-four different numbers that have biblical significance and symbolism with their pattern’s consistently represented throughout the Bible’s in its different eras described by different writers.
Just as there are 66 books in the Bible to find nourishment from, the 66th chapter of Exodus (Chapter 16) is the manna provided from heaven. I acknowledge the Bible warns about adding or subtracting anything more to Scripture than what is there (Deu. 4:1-2, Rev. 22:18-19). The consistent coincidence in the use of numbers with their associated meaning is a pattern scholars note in their studies.
I, much to the chagrin of my children and in the process to me, changed my name after my nest emptied. I considered the biblical meaning of the number three: completeness. When I changed my name, legally, for the second time (having had three names first my given name, my married one with this being my third) I thought I am going to have to live up to this name as it is going to be with me for the rest of my remaining days. I chose a one-word moniker. (bet you thought the author of this book’s name was a nom de plume.) It was pure crazy foolishness I admit, but I wanted a new name to launch this last era of my life. The hassles I have giving myself with a one-word moniker are ongoing. The list of pseudonyms and alias I have now when business, academic, and entities of government issuing organizations try and make sense of my name are ludicrous. When I introduce myself to a class of students, I tell this antidote about having a single moniker with its associated complications (particularly when it comes to filling out digitized forms requiring a first and a last name) to make a teaching point. If anything, the students remember my name when I substitute in that school again in the future.
I am stuck with the name. I still like it. I remind myself of the number “three” meaning in my third name change and I am damned and determined to end well. The administrative challenges my name causes is a foreshadowing that this “completion” deal, in general, is not going to be easy.
“Every saint has a past. And every sinner has a future” says Oscar Wilde, who probably knew more than a little about this subject than most. How could the people of Israel go so off course, literally and figuratively? Why does God use imperfect people for his perfect plan? We can ask the same today.
Consider the roll call of God’s flawed heroes: a talent pool that has always been thin when it comes to moral perfection:
Abraham lied about his wife.
Jacob was another liar.
Moses was hot-tempered and a murderer.
Rehab was a prostitute.
Samson had serious problems with lust and anger.
David, an adulterer.
Paul persecuted the church.
Peter denied Christ.
It’s our brokenness. Yet we are still used by God. That builds more of a bridge for people of the ages more than pretending wholeness (holiness) ever does. If the heroes mentioned attained any status (and they did), it’s not because of its rooted in their moral perfection but more in their uncompromising dedication to the will of God. It’s their rugged trust in His promises rather than lapsing into the continual idolatry of the earthly habits of their neighbors.
One of the most confounding, yet wonderfully reassuring, things about God is His ways are not our ways. In 1Corinthians 1:27 state “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; He chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” Whatever the accomplishments of life that occur are only through Him. When you work toward a goal, uncertain if you will do well or accomplish it, then unbeknownst and totally unperceivable goodness comes of it, rest assured you are working in a place that God is blessing. Christian pastor and author Rick Warren says: “God always uses imperfect people in imperfect situations to accomplish his perfect will.”
One life verse for me is: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Rev. 3:8).
Gratitude helps put things in perspective when times are difficult, something the older generation from the exodus in the desert have difficulty recalling and it cost them. One of the things about getting older (if not wiser) is forgetting how often we got through, survived times thought dreadful particularly when we encounter another one comes around the bend in our life.
Moses sent twelve spies on a reconnaissance during the final part of their journey through the plains of Moab before the Israelite army’s set out to seize the land of Canaan. Joshua and Caleb, two of the twelve, stand alone in encouraging Israel to move forward immediate and take possession of the land. (Nm. 13:17-21, Jos. 14:7) The remaining ten spies said defeat was for certain and not to try it. Joshua and Caleb looked at the good things and trusted in God to provide their victory. They knew God would be present with them based on their experience. The rest could only see weakness against the numbers and strength of the enemy. The older “Exodus” generation forgot the victories and provisions provided previously by God. This attitude ended up costing an additional 38 years and them never reaching the promised land.
Being grateful through our remembrances of deliverance is not fluff or some positive mental attitude hype to get through life. It’s a lesson to remember when we think by default that being the elder makes us right. A lesson also worth remembering is when thinking by default that being the elder makes us right all the time. That our perspective or way is the better one.
There are many promises in the Bible on how God is always with us. Still, confusion and forgetfulness set in about what God can do. He never promised to keep us away from trouble, to take us around, up and over them. He does promise to go through them with us (Ps. 46:10, 23:4, Mt. 28:20). Recounting the memories of acknowledgment of His provision, not done by man’s hand alone, softens the blunt force of hard situations. We come alongside God and play out His will with our obedient execution.
A character from Virginia Woolf’s book “To the Lighthouse” said: “A light here requires a shadow there.”