Yes its true. I was reading my bible this morning, enjoying the gas fireplace of our new rental in Edmonds, when I had the most amazing discoveries in the strangest of places: the book of Numbers. Every morning when I wake up before the kids, make my coffee, and have time with God, I try to read a few chapters of the New Testament, some scripture out of the wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, etc) and several chapters from a book in the OT. At first blush Numbers is a forgettable book in that it starts in media res of the biblical journey of God’s people from their time of captivity in Egypt to the Promised Land and its full of stuff like this:
“These then are the names of the men who shall stand with you: (E)of Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur;
-of Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai;
-of Judah, (F)Nahshon the son of Amminadab;
-of Issachar, Nethanel the son of Zuar;
-of Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon….”
This is Numbers 1 but you know what I mean right, the biblical lists from the OT that make our eyes glaze a bit when we encounter. But the strangest things happen when you spend time reading through an entire book like Numbers: you realize the God we pray to has much to teach us through His interactions with His holy people approximately 3700 years ago! The same lessons we struggle with today surfaced then and God’s patience, frustration, and sometimes anger with His people is staggering. We can actually glean lessons about living today from reading about how people lived then through scripture. A novel idea I know but when we go deeper than the chronology and “Holy Lists” and look closer, we get to really see truths about God.
1) The Cloud on the Tabernacle:
The book of Numbers gives this amazing physical description of the invisible God made visible. In this time, as God was leading the nation of Israel, literally from a place of enslavement to a place of great promise, He knew the journey through the desert would be back breaking and potentially spiritually treacherous. So He went with them, every day, the Lord went before them and every night He descended on the tabernacle at the edge of the camp. God’s presence could physically be seen in the form of a cloud (and at night by fire). “9:16: So it was continuously, the cloud would cover it by day and the appearance of fire by night.” And God led in very tangible ways, the people of Israel would merely follow the cloud when it lifted whether “two days or a month or a year”. Could you imagine how awesome that would be if you could physically just look over, see God hanging over the church or a specific “God Place” and know that you were meant to be exactly where you were. When do we move? Where do we go? Look at the cloud! He’s right there! The promise and provision here is striking. And yet the entire book of Numbers tells the story of God’s constant provision yet Israel’s almost constant wandering away from God and apparent lack of trust in where He was taking them. Hmmm…sounds familiar to my own life sometimes!
2) Moses and His brother in law:
Although some skeptics argue about who Hobab is (Numbers 10: 29), most agree he was Moses’ brother in law and probably an Arab from a different religion. Though Hobab wasn’t a Jew by birth, Moses invites him along the journey. Stay with me Hobab, Moses says in 10:32, and God will show you great things. Hobab has asked, I want to go back to my own land but Moses insists, “If you go with us, whatever good the Lord does for us, we will do for you.” There is so much beauty in this passage about telling God’s story to those outside our own group, sharing the message of provision of the Lord, of Moses strength and leadership. I love the connotation that the journey that God has called Israel to is one both from those with the birthrights of Jewish people and also non-Jewish people that have taken the journey too. Beautiful.
3) Moses Complaint:
We can’t do it alone. Moses is perhaps God’s greatest leader from all of the Biblical narrative and yet when you read the bible, you get the message over and over and over that Moses relied not on his own strength but on God’s. Moses didn’t consider Himself a superhero, merely one called by God into a great and transformative journey. Here Moses has heard the people complain that though God was providing daily bread for them to eat (literally manna that came down from heaven each morning with the dew), but they hungered for more. (this alone needs to be another entire blog post!) But in response to the people’s anger, Moses says, “I alone am not able to carry all this people, it is too burdensome for me.” Moses turns back to God again and again and again through the Exodus story to say God help me! You have led me here but I don’t think I can do it alone. Will you be near to me and give me help? And what does God say? Sure. From Moses turning his complaint to God, instead of allowing his personal frustration to build up walls of resentment with Father God, God is able to answer his call for help. God tells him, “Gather 70 men and meet me at the tent!” And God allows all 70 men of Moses choosing to come to the holy meeting place and the Holy Spirit was placed upon all the men to bear the burdens of the people along with Moses. “They shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it alone,” God promises in 11:17. The promise of provision here and the call to community is staggering. God desires to bring us into community with others as we complete His royal journeys. We do not need to carry life’s burdens on our own.
It is true- real treasure from unsuspecting places. It’s the beauty of daily time in the bible. Every day isn’t like this, but some days are, and it makes the boring days worth it. It is like going fishing, you don’t always catch something huge each time you fish, but you can’t ever catch something if you never leave the dock. And I would argue with fishing, and also with bible reading, you are transformed a little bit each and every time you set out.