Friday, April 18, 2008

Theology of Numbers: God's Care

The people mentioned previously who are bored or confused by Numbers will probably not expect any depth of theology in it. On the other hand, they may see theology as boring and confusing, so there would be no surprise. In fact there are several elements of God's work that become clear when examined. The first concerns the Lord's care for his people. This was manifest in four ways:

Presence – From the first day out of Egypt, YHWH was with his people. First, he led the nation "by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light . . . [which] did not depart from before the people" (Exodus 13:21-22). This continued throughout the wilderness journey (Numbers 9:15-23). Certainly, the people knew the correct general direction—knowledge was not the issue. What they lacked was wisdom concerning timing in travel and best path.

Second was the promise to Moses that "I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel" (Exodus 25:22). God chose to dwell among his people and be intimately involved with the affairs of life by giving instruction through his servant Moses. This was explicitly demonstrated when Moses and Aaron each had his authority questioned (Numbers 12:4-9 and 16:19-21 respectively).

God's desire is to be dwelling among his people. This covenantal concept was delivered to Joseph through an angel “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) for the fulfillment of the prophecy that “'the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23). God was with his people.

Provision – Throughout the wilderness journey, the Lord supplied abundantly.
  1. Manna was supplied six days per week and was versatile for preparation as the people could ground, beat, boil, and make cakes with it (Numbers 11:7-9).
  2. Quail was provided when the people grumbled though it was used also to judge them (Numbers 11:31-35).
  3. Water was miraculously given when needed most (Numbers 20:8).
Though they felt forsaken in their need, the supply came in its proper time and portion. Jesus reiterates this promise with a reminder to put the kingdom of God before all else and he will supply the need (Matthew 6:25-34).

Patience – The Israelites constantly grumbled against the provision of God. At times the divine patience wore thin and the people experienced disciplinary judgments. God’s forbearance, however, is indicated in the fact that he did not abandon his people.

Protection – The desert weather did not adversely affect the people. Sihon and Og, with mighty armies, were not able to prevail against Israel (Numbers 21). The would-be curses of Balaam were turned into blessings (Numbers 23-24).

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