Numbers 17

A symbol of hope in the midst of a plague. Each of the tribes of Israel are reprsented by a budding staff. Wood that was dead starts to grow afresh.

The aren’t barriers between God’s disasters and natural disasters, God made nature and set it in motion.

The people remain terrified of death, of God, of their predicament, despite the sign of hope. 

I’ve been swamped by a feeling of meaninglessness as I attended an after may when my birthday and that of my oldest son occur. He is a challenging and quietly suffering fellow who drains things of meaning – he can’t help it. 

Open my heart to hope father. Don’t let him, or me, despair.

Numbers 16

This feels like the sequel to chapter 14 where the people reached a low point and wished they never left Egypt.

The leaders of the rebellion are swallowed up by the earth. So there is no doubt that Moses is not lording over them, the lord is. And a plague hits Israel.

Moses leadership is directly challenged and Egypt is called the land of milk and honey… They have lost hope in any future. The selective past is fertile land for populists. It’s #MIGA.. make Israel great again.

A sink hole and an epidemic. These are spiritualised and serve as a reminder that God is in control. I must remember, we all die. All born into sin. It’s about recognising God. Without him, even no disaster is a disaster. With him, no calamity is a calamity.

Numbers 15

Huh? What happened to the narrative?

At a dramatic point where the Israelites have openly referred the whole adventure, we turn to sacrificial rules.

It’s like teaching a child: you’ve fallen off the bike, let’s go back to the start…

The types of sacrifice described are of increasing seriousness. The first are the joyful celebrations, the overflow of gratitude for God’s blessing. 

Then the unintended sins, thoughtlessness, misguided behaviours.

Then presumptuous sin. Flagrant flouting of God’s law. This is punishable by being cut off. It’s followed, shockingly by the story of a stoning of someone who refuses to follow the Sabbath.

Then physical reminders, tassles on garments are to call to mind the law of the lord.

It’s a strange arrangement, I don’t fully get the content or purpose here. But we have a good who is riding his rebellious people there is a way back from the brink. They don’t want the destruction of open rebellion. They can remember, be blessed and restore their relationship with him again.

Numbers 14

Here’s the rebellion. A sad, tragic chapter.

Of course the people bought the negative spin about Canaan in the last chapter.  In the populist manner, the negative narrative resonates with their growing fear, self obsession and discontent. They were already grumbling before the negative report on the promised land.  They completely fall apart.

I mustn’t buy my own negative spin about my local church.

God’s anger burns, Moses pleads.

God wants to start again with just Moses.

Moses’ logic with God is a model of pragmatism. If the Israelites are all slaughtered in the desert, God will look bad, regardless of how much they deserve it.

But Moses does really get God on a profound level. He sees the love, the patience, the forgiveness. He understands the problem of sin and the tension of it. When he asks God to forgive them, God says he already has.

The problem they both have is the inability of the people to hold onto a hope, a promise that they are chosen and that God is real and they should trust him. They’ve had the Exodus, the tent of meeting, the manna and quail, water from the rock, seen the punishment for sin in the tabernacle when Aaron’s sons died, and after the incident with the calf and the quail, etc. They’ve heard and celebrated the Levitical law.

And they have heard the believer spies, Caleb and Joshua, who understand that God can give them the land, and don’t trash talk it. The people have heard the case that God can do going forward what he has done to get them to where they are.

Note, despite all these reasons they have to believe, they’ve had less concrete stuff to go on than our generation, just consider that.  Why do so many not believe?  Why do I feel daunted at the resources cf. task of my local church?

The Amercian Christians who see Donald Trump as a means of advancing God’s kingdom have lost it even more profoundly than the Israelites, IMHO.  They trust in chariots and horses.

I’ll trust in the name of the Lord.

So the dread consquence is spelled out. The Israelite’s children will inherit the promised land, but none of the disbelieving generation will see it. They will die in the wilderness. But they will have the comfort of a life long enough to have children, and knowing they will inherit the promised land.

Joshua and Caleb are the only ones who will see it.

Give me/us faith to see it too.

Numbers 13

An advance party of representatives from the tribes does recon in Canaan.

The are three reports in a sense.

The uncoloured one says it’s a great place to live but the people are strong and in fortified cities.

Caleb from Judah gives the pro spin: we can beat them, it will be great. The tacit message accepts that they probably can’t beat them on their own, but accounts for having God’s promise on their side.

The rest give the negative spin: the people are Giants (lie), we’ll never beat them (faithless), and the land isn’t that great anyway (lie).

So its a spiritual issue, because its not any land, it’s God’s promised land. The negative reports can’t imagine God’s help. They are defeatist and exaggerate the danger. They must have been crushing for morale and faith. They come as a killer blow after two chapters of stories of unrest and doubt.

I went to my first parish council meeting last night and it’s tempting to wonder at the organisation God’s has entrusted his great mission to.

A tiny group of people, saddled with a magnificent but crumbling building we can’t imagine (or probably even justify) keeping maintained. $350,000 needed for the belltower. Meanwhile, making tiny dents on a vast spiritual and social task that seems insurmountable.

The size of the problems vs. our resources for them – seems preposterously unequal.

Wandering in the wilderness really doesn’t work on any level without a promise and hope in it.

Numbers 12

Aaron and his wife Miriam try to consolidate their power to challenge Moses, claiming that God speaks though them too.

God gives Miriam a skin disease. Moses pleads for her and after 7 days she is healed and clean.

What’s with Aaron, Moses’ brother. He escapes punishment yet again, even though he led the calf challenge to God.  Does the high priest believe or not?  Maybe he is a good man who sometimes hears the politics of the situation louder than god’s voice. Maybe he’s identifying an unrest in the people, a swelling demand for more traditional strong leadership.

God’s tribute to Moses, given in the presence of Aaron and Miriam, is remarkable. He is more than a prophet, who are spoken to in dreams. Moses sees God’s form and hears his voice direct.

This chapter has the verse I remembered and quoted in the last chapter. He is a humble man, the most humble on the face of the earth.

Numbers 11

The negativity returns in complaints about how boring the manna is. They don’t like God’s catering. By the end of the chapter they will attribute a plague illness to God’s judgement on this attitude.

But before that God says “you want meat, I’ll give you meat” and more quails than they know what to do with arrive. The complainers barely start to consume the quail before the plague hits and their time has come.

One of those harsh things. Their discontent has built from a rosy and selective memory of their slavery “back in Egypt we had corn and leeks etc”

The transaction is a fascinating picture of Moses’ relationship with God. He feels the burden of representing them to god and god to them.  He’s exhausted, and god gives him a break.  He appoints 70 elders to temporarily give one off prophesy to the people… prophesy being telling the truth to the people, presumably about how ungrateful and unfaithful their attitude is being.

2 of the elders are not there at the commissioning and prophesy anyway, which seems to give the impression that they have a special blessing not being surrogates for Moses.  He dismisses concern for that.  He’s just happy that God’s truth is told, and not concerned for his own credit or glory.

They said he was a very humble man.  Remember, he had trouble speaking to the Pharaoh.  He also eschewed the wealth he was adopted into in solidarity with the people.  Not greedy, not lauding over them.

This chapter is a story of small minded self absorbed faithlessness and humble, god focussed faithfulness. In the concrete and literal manner of the old testament, one is rewarded and one punished by god.

Numbers 10

The practicalities of leaving camp and setting up again. The Silver trumpet sounds and it’s time to go.

So they set off, 3 days and then camp in the desert of Parhan. Sounds great!

Moses calls on God for security whenever they leave ‘may God scatter his enemies. They are very dependent on God for security, totally for food. It a striking walk of faith, this whole nation.

Numbers 9

The first month of the second year out from Egypt the Israelites celebrate Passover, still done and transformed to the Lord’s supper for Christians.

It’s an extraordinarily long tradition. I think it should give pause to those who say the whole thing never happened.

The fate of the Egyptians is the fate of us all. There but for the grace of God. The passover is framed as what God didn’t do to the Isralites – and they symbolically gave their first born to his service in return.

Then the story tells of how life continued at the call of God. The cloud of his presence would stay over the tabernacle until it was time to move on. Could be a day, could be a year. Talk about being aware of his presence and guidance.

A number of my peers, in their 50s and early 60s are positioning themselves for retirement, changing jobs moving on. It’s quite an age for a shake up.

The Christians among us have usually lost a lot of the drive of ambition at our age, and I do believe some of them are being directed more by a desire to serve God than earlier in life. I ache to do more music. Is that a call to service? Or a phantom unfulfilled earthly ambition that I should let go? I thought of that as I accepted to be a warden at my church last week. The cloud moved and settled on warden. It’s not mine to direct.

The Israelites would wander 40 years in the desert. Exodus had a one year timeline, Leviticus was a month or so. Numbers spans something resembling life.

They start by being ready for the battle, military preparation to take the holy land. Then, guided by God, life.

Numbers 8

The lamp stands set up in the tabernacle are symbolic as well as practical. They hold the lights but are not the light. In revelation the church is described as lamp stands, the platform for God’s light.

Imagining the inside of the tent. All that smoke, 2 altars and incense. Almost no other light. 

The levites are dedicated to God’s service. This is the rest of practical help, the priests were dedicated back in Leviticus. 

Were reminded that they are the substitute for the first born sins of all Israel. They shave their bodies for purification. 

They retire at 50 and mentor the next generation, but don’t work.

There were 10s of thousands of them in the count, I don’t imagine it being that hard a life in some regards. 

The are elements of a model for full time Christian ministry. Even minor roles are to have that sense of dedication, being aware of representing the service and support of those who are giving.