Literally and thematically Numbers is stuck in the desert.
If you are wanting to get on with the bible’s plot, skip a book (or 2). The short triumphant march to claim Canaan, the promised land, becomes a lifetime of walking in circles, because the people tell God they don’t want Canaan (and BTW we hate the stinkin’ food you provide us every day!) Their wish comes true, they indeed don’t get Canaan. However, God honours his promise and plan, and their children do.
The narrative flow of the book seems to keep getting stuck too. Its half story, half law book. Something happens, then you get a chapter of sacrifice law, something else happens, and you get rules about clothing tassles or festival times.
But its a powerful example of the life of the saved. It’s about life after slavery in Egypt (which ironically, can appear a lot more comfortable) and before the promised land, for us, heaven. Numbers is like any believer’s life on earth. Walking in circles!
And the massive israelite camp is set up as a circle, with all the different tribes fanning out from the priests at the centre, who surround the tabernacle, which houses the very presence of God. Our God, the author of life, love itself.
God’s part is to be constant against our inconstancy, loving us despite us losing it, to move to Plan B when our rebellious spirit and selfishness stuffs up Plan A.
Our part is to learn discipline – a life learning to curb our habits and put God at the centre of our life, as he was at the centre of their camp, before them and within them.
The law starts to have the same context Jesus would give it. They are already out of egypt, they are in a state of grace and God will keep his promise. They are working out (walking out?) the salvation they already have.
Plan A – a God-centric camp ready to quickly move to claim the promised land
1 600000 men ready to fight for the promised land
2 Camp organisation – God-centric wheel
3 At the centre: Levites, the chosen of the chosen, set aside for God’s work
4 Rituals for how the Levites move the tabernacle – so holy
5 Sexual and practical purity in the camp
6 How to be set aside for Holiness within holiness, the Nazarite vow
God’s people, god’s presence
7 Dedication of the Tabernacle – God’s presence with Moses extended to the people
8 Levites Tabernacle duties, a life in God’s presence
9 The first passover – we still celebrate it – levites represent the saved first born
10 A life of faith. They walk how god wants, when god want, he provides all
Plan B: Losin’ it and the consequences…
11 A tale of Moses and the people. Contentment vs rising discontent
12 Aaron and wife Miriam lead a rebellion against Moses. Humility vs ambition
13 Recon on the holy land, AKA, that moment when you suspect that if there is a God, he doesn’t really know what he’s doing
14 The people lose their faith in God. Only their children will see the promised land
Hard lessons while wandering
15 Reminder of sacrifice meanings, and tassles to wear to remind them of the law
16 A sink hole for the leaders of the rebellion, a plague for the rest
17 A sign of hope amidst the plague – but I get that the people just feel traumatised
18 Aaron gets a “tick off” and refresher course in his priestly duty
19 Death vs life. Purification rituals. God is life, they must choose him
20 The end of the wandering generation: they are where they were in ch13
Back to Plan A with a new generation (who are still pretty hopeless)
21 Now making progress, the people still grumble as God punishes and saves
22 Moab stands between them and Canaan. Moab enlists a holy man Balaam, but the real God gets to him first via a speaking donkey
23 Balaam is supposed to bless Moab’s plan to destroy Israel. He predicts disaster.
24 As the Moab king gets more and more angry, Balaam speaks “truth to power”
25 Meanwhile the Israelites are…. sleeping with Moab temple prostitutes! Noooo!
26 Second census the new force to take Canaan. God keeps his promise, despite us!
27 Moses commissions Joshua, forward ho to canaan, their inheritance… almost
Preparing to claim the land – realisation of God’s promise
28 Dealing with sin, its real, its painful… for them, many sacrifices
29 Israelites preserved their identity through lots of festivals and shared worship
30 Rules on the vows of women… patriarchal, but perhaps relatively progressive?
31 The destruction of Moab as God warned. Except the Israelites don’t, quite.
32 The first claim to the land doesn’t stop them all working together on the mission
33 Summary – where they’ve been and what they must do: purge the land.
34 Scoping the land, rules for who will get what. In which I feel guilt…
35 Arrangements for the priests in canaan… quite like christians today!
36 Protecting the promised land from being lost through marriage.