Two censuses are recorded in the Numbers, at the beginning and the end in the fourth book. These numbers are gathered to counting the Israelites (on the Exodus or exiting generation from Egypt and on the new or entering generation into the promised land). Throughout the Bible, a census or genealogy show the importance of who was God’s chosen line of people. The intent is the separation of this people group from surrounding pagan ones of that era and to show from who the Messiah will come.
The original people who initially crossed the Red Sea when escaping the bondage of Egypt had forgetful memories. They forgot they were rescued by God (not by man) out of four centuries of slavery, then given God’s covenant law and guidance to help them, and the provision of divine delivery of daily food to survive. Paul compares the Israelites as being baptized with Moses in the cloud and in the sea. When they went through the Red Sea, surrounded by water. They were, in a sense, immersed as God began their deliverance, just as disciples of Christ are immersed immediately after their conversion (1Cor. 10:1-5).
Rather than faith and gratitude, they instead submitted to their worried lack of provisions and repeated acts of insurgency, particularly when it came to entering the promised land of Canaan. In a spiritual amnesia, they forgot 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 a different count of the populace in the full of history encompassing several people over a period of forty years of wandering (and wondering). Most of those poor folks turned their exodus into a forty-year jaunt roaming the desert in circles (what was a two-hundred-mile journey that should have taken fifteen days allowing for the size and logistics of the group) and never entered the land of Canaan. Numbers 14:3 sums it up well. Instead, their children were the ones who entered this promised land. There’s a saying that it took only three days for Israelites to get out of Egypt, but it took forty years to get the “Egypt” out of them. Truth be told it took a lot longer than forty years as the rest of the Bible contests.
Water is a symbolic representation of Jesus in this book with the ritual cleansing 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 now. He was forbidden because he didn’t follow God’s instruction about the miracle of speaking water into existence from a rock (to reveal God’s glory) as opposed to what Moses did do by striking the rock with a staff (Nm. 20:10-12). This is 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 (17:2-3) 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.” At that point, 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 forget his promise to him.
Numerals have significant meaning in the Bible as did names (as shown in the example in the Genesis Chapter). Three, God’s trifecta, depicts completeness (found in the Trinity, the number of gifts from the Magi to baby Jesus, the angels mentioned by name in the Bible: Gabriel (the messenger), Michael (the archangel), and Lucifer, the fallen angel (cf. Isa. 14: 12-14, Ezk. 28:14-18) aka Satan. Seven is the number representing completeness and perfection (tied to God’s creation of all things), both physically and spiritually, like the seven days of creation, seven parables, seven churches in the book of Revelation. And the number forty symbolizes testing, trail or probationary period (for example Israel desert wanderings, the days Noah’s ark was adrift and the temptation of Jesus in the desert). Be leery of those calling themselves Christian numerologist, a nonexistent title in Christian circles and usually discounted. Most particularly, best to dismiss biblical number enthusiast theorizing on so called biblical codes in scripture to try and predict end times (Col. 2:8).
Just as there are sixty-six books in the Bible to find spiritual nourishment; in the sixty-sixth 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 (cf. Dt. 4:1-2, Rev. 22:18-19). The consistent coincidence in the use of numbers and the repeated use of them in the different eras shows a pattern the scholars acknowledge in importance.
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 name of the author of this 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 given myself with a one-word moniker are ongoing. There are consequences I pay for this pretentiousness. 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 interesting, to say the least as they try to make it fit into their standardized forms. When I introduce myself to a class of students, I tell this antidote of 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 and it definitely delineates another chapter in my life.
Just as numbers have meaning in the Bible so do names (as shown in the example in the Genesis chapter). These meanings help readers to further understand the theme of the books of the Bible which is why I try to include the meaning of biblical author’s name. In life today, picking names for children and g-kids, I still look up their biblical meaning (yeah it’s a bit of a fetish with me).
I am stuck with my name. I still like it. I remind myself of the meaning of 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 be asked 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:
Noah got drunk.
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.
The disciples were of low repute
Peter denied Christ.
Paul persecuted the church.
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 a 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). Like Thomas Merton says, I have come to believe the desire to please God does indeed please God, whether (my complete) desire is fulfilled or not.
Gratitude helps put things in perspective when times are difficult something the older generation of the Exodus had difficulty comprehending and it cost them. One of the things about getting older (if not wiser) is forgetting how often we got through times that we thought were dreadful particularly when we encounter another one.
Moses sends twelve spies to do a reconnaissance during the final part of their journey, which meant going through the plains of Moab before the Israelites army’s set out to seize the land of Canaan. Joshua and Caleb, two of the twelve, stand alone in encouraging Israel to take possession of the land (cf. 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 that could result in the attainment and wanted to go for it. They knew God would be present with them. The rest could only see their weakness against the numbers and strength of the enemy. The older “Exodus” generation forgot their victories and provisions provided previously by God. This attitude ended up costing them 38 more years and them never reaching the promised land.
It’s a lesson to remember when we think by default being the elder makes us right. Being grateful for remembering is not fluff or some positive mental attitude hype to get through life when you remember and realize God is on your side.
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 (cf. Ps. 23:4, Matt. 28:20). Recounting the memories of acknowledging it was only through His provision, not by man’s hand, softens the blunt force of hard situations. I play my part in the execution.
A character from Virginia Woolf’s book To the Lighthouse said, “A light here requires a shadow there.”