Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Reading Numbers

This book is a mix of three things: preparing to leave Sinai, the sojourn in the wilderness, and preparing to enter Canaan. A census occurs at the beginning of the first and third sections. The first section is devoted to the organization of the people for their camping and marching. Imagine concentric squares with the tabernacle at the middle. The first square around the tabernacle consist of Moses and Aaron and families, and the three clans that make up the tribe of Levi, with one camp on each side of the square. The second ring is made up of the tribes divided into groups of three, each group of three on a side. The marching order of the tribes puts the tabernacle in the center of the tribes (see Numbers 2).

The wilderness sojourn is the best-known part of the Book of Numbers, essentially beginning with the refusal of the people to enter the land, and ending with them camped by the Jordan, being prophesied over by Balaam.

The last section begins with the second census (40 years after the first, during which the total number of Israelite fighting men has dropped (certainly unexpected after the prolific fecundity of the people in Exodus, as described in Exodus 1). Moses then makes preparations for Israel to enter the land, beginning and ending with the questions regarding the daughters of Zelophehad.

The intent of the book is to remind the people of God that we are under his marching orders, and that we are to move out and forward according to those directions. While it is easy to point the finger at the disobedient Israelites, many Christians (and many churches) spend years wandering in the wilderness due to fundamental disobedience to God's instructions for how we are to conduct our lives here.

No comments: