Sunday, April 24, 2016

Numbers: more than just census data of an ancient world

Numbers. Most people who read the Bible avoid this book. Many think it’s just a list of who begot whom. With this thought, I started reading and as I read, I realized that this book is so much more than just census data of an ancient world. Numbers contains the beautiful blessing which inspires encouragement and hope to those it receive it. Numbers also contains a little story which could be foreshadowing of Jesus. And Numbers contains rules about the importance of promises.

First, in Numbers 6:22-27, the Lord instructs Moses to teach Aaron and his sons this priestly blessing for the nation: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” This simple blessing has five parts which conveys the hope that God will do. First, “bless” and “keep” are for favor and protection. Favor is asking God to support the individual receiving the blessing. To keep is for protection. Protection in everyday life ot for travels, etc. Second, to “shine up on” is to be pleased with. The person is asking God to be pleased with the individual, his actions or his faith. Third, “be gracious” is to be merciful and compassionate. To be forgiving for any transgressions. Fourth, “turn his face” is to give his approval. Lastly, “give peace” is to grant the individual peace and comfort. This blessing demonstrates loves, encouragement and provides a model for us to care for others.

Second, in Numbers 21:4-9 is the story of the bronze snake and link to Jesus. To briefly sum up the story. The Israelites were traveling and they start to complain against God and Moses. The Lord sent venomous snakes which bite the people and many died. The person, realizing their sin, go to Moses to beg for mercy. The Lord instructs Moses to make a bronze snake and place it on a pole. Those who looked to the snake were healed. Those who did not, weren’t. In a book I read recently, the idea that the bronze snake represents Jesus. Those who look to Jesus are saved and given eternal life. Those who don’t and reject him are condemned to eternity without him. Life and death. It was not the bronze snake that healed the Israelites, it was their belief in God that he would. This is the same with believers who have faith in Jesus that he saves them.

Lastly, in Numbers 30, we are given instructions on the importance of vows. Vows are promises. Promises to God and to others which should be kept. In the ancient world, your word was your signature. In verses 1-2, God instructs Moses that a man must hold to his word. In the case of women, if she is unmarried and makes a vow, her father is responsible to make sure she fulfills the vow or forbids it to release her from the promise (verses 3-5). Her husband has the same responsibility (verses 6-8). If a father or husband knows about the vow and does nothing to fulfil it or nullify it, he is as guilt as she is for the broken promises. These conditions were to ensure that promises were not made rashly or in haste. No one is forced to make a vow but once one was made, it needed to be fulfilled. A promise is based on trust. A broken promise is broken trust and possibly a broken relationship.

There are so many more stories in Numbers which we could draw life lessons from. I’ve chosen three which stood out to me. The Priestly Blessing is an example of praying for ourselves and for others as we ask for God’s blessings in our lives. The Bronze Snake is an image of Jesus and his offer and promise of healing. Vows are promises which need to be made with full intention of fulfilling them as broken promises lead to broken trust and hurt.