Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Theology of Numbers: God's Community

There are many attributes of God which draw our praise and lead to worship. One that has little chance to make such an impact is community. Within the Triune Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a perfect relationship and interaction--having done so and will do so for all eternity. With this in view, we should expect to find in Scripture God working in such a way that promotes community with himself as not just a participant but the central figure.

The building of community runs through Numbers in various ways. From the encampment organization at Sinai to the encampment in the Trans-Jordan, God works within his elect to build a united body working together for the common good which is found only in him. The Lord did his work in predominately three ways which are expanded below.

Organized around the Tent of Meeting. God is organized and orderly as seen by reading the opening chapters of Genesis. The physical world was brought together step by step with intricate design to maintain life and ultimately to glorify the Creator. By placing himself at the center, the Lord focuses the attention of his people so that they are forced to have others in the line-of-sight when looking on him. In addition, each does his part according to God's order and arrangement to the benefit of all.

There is a goal. We are not speaking here of God's goals, of course, but those of his people. Looking back at this book we see and remember that the ultimate prize was a promised flowing with milk and honey. Israel forgot that during the wandering. We might be tempted to excuse the people when recounting what they had to endure: lack of water, discontent with the food, internal conflict (chap. 12-14), and external raids (21:1-25:5). Any of these singly could best a dedicated group, and each did just that to Israel for a season. The people forgot that it had been enabled from the very beginning of the journey through God's empowerment to not only endure the desert but to enter victoriously into Canaan (chap. 32). In retrospect, Israel's cardinal sin was to reject the promised rest (14:1-38, Cf. Heb. 4).

Revelation during the journey. The Lord had delivered through Moses several laws in the books Exodus and Leviticus. The revelation during the wandering was basically elaboration or explanation of what had been given at Sinai. In addition, different transmission methods were used in teaching. Several examples are given in canonical order.

The Ark of the Covenant (10:33) The ark was a reminder of God's dwelling place with men having promised to dwell above the mercy seat. God, through the Levites carrying the ark, led the procession as sovereign and went ahead to find a resting place for his people.

Judgment and blessing (11:1-23, 31-35) In a relatively short span of time, the people complained about their circumstances and the lack of variety in diet. God does not want a complaining people, so he first sent the judgement of fire but followed with the continued grace of manna and the bounty of quail, following with a great plague to deal with those who stirred up the people.

Holy Spirit (11:24-30) The elders were appointed to be Moses' assistants. The Holy Spirit came upon and endowed them with authority. Later he enabled Balaam to speak the word of God (24:2-9). God both qualified and equipped these men for the job.

Opposition of Aaron and Miriam (12:6-8) Miriam was the eldest of the siblings and watched over Moses when he was placed in the Nile waters. Aaron, the middle child, had been anointed as high priest. Their familial acquaintance clouded their perspective and place. Though Moses was youngest, he communed face-to-face with God. Each had their respective roles and enablement in God's dealing with the people, and he alone had the right of choice.

Spying out the land (13-14) The Lord had promised Israel that the land was theirs for the taking. The spies brought back proof of the goodness of the land, yet the balked at any idea to trust God and enter. Because of this, God condemns the entire generation to die in the wilderness. Yet after the judgement is passed, he renews his promise to the nation (15:1) though it be delayed.

Degrees of sin (15) The punishment is to be equal to the sin. For the Sabbath-breaker, the judgment was just in that he had sinned with premeditation (or in arrogance) which deserved death. The unintentional sin could be covered with the appropriate sacrifice, because there was no evil design but an accidental infringement.

Levitical leadership (16-17) In similar fashion to the family power struggle earlier, Korah determined that he had as much right to the priesthood as Aaron. He was backed by Dathan, Abiram, and On from the tribe of Reuben in an attempt to influence via the right of the firstborn. God reconfirms Aaron's priestly work and position through the budding of the almond branch on his staff.

Priests, Levites, and offerings (18-19) The Lord recapitulates the law surrounding the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices along with instuction of how they are to be supported.

Moses' sin (20) Moses got so tired of those complaining, rebellious people that he hit the rock when he should have spoken to it. We know that Moses received punishment, and he accused the people of that in the first four chapters of Deuteronomy, saying, “I could not go in because of you.” It almost sounds petulant, but Moses laid the finger right where the blame lay. The people tried and tired him.

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