Without a doubt the book of the Bible named Numbers is just that — numbers — and lots of them! To be honest (not that honesty is an excuse) but I never viewed Numbers as one of the most exciting Bible books. There isn’t a compassionate story about a brother placed in power by unscrupulous brothers redeeming those that he should hate, yet shows love like in Genesis. Or a very loving God calling out a group of slaves through mighty miracles of nature and spirit like in Exodus.
No, Numbers is about routine and that is why I have always shied away or rushed through with sleepy eyes. It makes Leviticus read like an action novel.
What kept getting to me as I read the Bible is my belief that All Scripture is inspired by God (it’s like feeling His breath as He speaks). If Scripture is divine in origin
…and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV);
then Numbers is important to God and it has to be important to me.
What is Numbers? Really…
Numbers is about the connecting of God’s people to Himself through the act of worship. The children of Israel were just coming out of Egypt after 400 hundred of years of slavery. Not American slavery, but the Egyptian slavery of indentured servitude. Your rights were very limited, but you had the right to live in your own community (of their choosing) and you earned a meager income to live off of.
But aside from the forced labor and the lack of property rights, the children of Israel did not have freedom of religion. They could not serve God in the capacity that He desired for them. There was even a time during the plagues when Pharaoh offered the Israelites a day trip into the wilderness for a worship conference (Exodus 10:11). Yet, God wanted something more and not even Moses understood to what degree and complexity He desired.
Through visions and divine conversation Moses received the instructions of how God’s own people would conduct themselves during their personal lives and spiritual lives. The two were distinct but not separate.
Now here I am at chapter 9 of Numbers and God repeats instructions 12 separate times. God commands for each prince (leader of a tribe in Israel, there are 12) that they should present offerings:
13And his offering was one silver charger, the weight thereof was an hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them were full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meat offering: 14One spoon of ten shekels of gold, full of incense: 15One young bullock, one ram, one lamb of the first year, for a burnt offering: 16One kid of the goats for a sin offering: 17And for a sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five he goats, five lambs of the first year: Numbers 9 (KJV).
This repeats 11 more times and each time I read it I tried not to get any significance from it until I finished reading it. Over and over again, I even tried to memorize the few sentences and I couldn’t.
I wondered why, if this was all being written down, why the repetition? I realize now that I am spoiled by the printing press and digital information. Most of these quotes I didn’t even type, I just copied and paste them in. This repetition was for learning and remembering even when no written text was available which in this case there may have been a copy or two available. That’s one book per million persons–that’s incredible to think and even harder to understand.
No wonder there was repetition!
What I also took from this chapter was how important people were for the economy of the priests, the Levites set aside for service. More on the economics of the Bible some other time.
For anyone looking to read Numbers or have stayed away because of the perceived monotony of repetition remember that we learn through repetition. So repeat these Numbers out loud and listen to how they come together. Trust that All Scripture, even Numbers and Leviticus, is a profit to our spiritual bank accounts. Even if we don’t see the immediate gains, the long term gains will show different.
Now, off to the next chapters.