Friday, January 01, 2016

Reading in Numbers This Week #1 (Chapters 1-4)

41Quqi3pMxL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This post will resume my study of the Old Testament accompanied by various commentaries. I continued to read, but took a few weeks away from writing over Christmas. In December I have been working through a discussion on the book of Numbers, with the commentary, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness, by Iain M. Duguid. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Basically, Numbers continues the story of the exodus from Egypt from Sinai to the approach to the Promised Land 40 years later. The turning point of the book is the refusal of the people to believe God’s promise to enter the land, followed by a rebellion against God and his appointed leaders, Moses and Aaron (12-17). The people claim to be concerned about their children, but really the issue is lack of faith in God. God responds by making a decision to let that whole generation (except Joshua and Caleb) die in the wilderness and accomplishes the conquest through the very children they were worried about. In the book God prepares the people twice to enter the land, but the people receive this blessing only when they combine God’s promise with belief.

In broad terms we may say that the story of the book of Numbers is the story of two consecutive generations, a generation of unbelief that leads to death and a generation of faith that will lead to life. 18

The message of the book then is that God has provided his people with everything they need to experience blessing, but the reception of that blessing depends on their trusting God. To trust God is to embrace his purpose and mission for our lives and fully rely on his promises and on what he has provided. The evidence of this trust is obedience. Numbers shows us that God will inevitably accomplish his purpose but our participation in it is by faith. The book begins in chapters 1-4 with the organization of God’s people as the army of God and as a people oriented toward worship.

Organization begins with the census of the fighting men in Israel as the army of YHWH. Then the armed camp is arranged, with the king YHWH, represented by the tabernacle, in the middle of the camp.

Worship is a reorientation of our souls toward the center of the camp—a reminder that God is at the heart of everything that we do and are...We don’t simply want to sing about our commitment to love God or to spend our time looking at one another looking at him; we want instead to look directly at him as he has revealed himself in his Word. In worship we turn our hearts away from ourselves and our preoccupations and toward our true center, God himself, experiencing and enjoying his presence in our midst. Numbers 1.47-2.34, 38

God’s tent was in the midst of the camp not just because he is the center of our devotion, but because the center of the camp in the ancient world was the location of the king’s tent. God is our King. Numbers 1.47-2.34, 39

Thus the life of Judah shows us a different lesson. It shows us that even though sin may have its consequences, the experience of grace can have lasting consequences of its own: it can take and transform the results of our sin. Numbers 1.47-2.34, 43

In chapters 3-4 arrangements were made for the priests, Levites and moving of the tabernacle. The Levites’ main job was to protect the Tabernacle from unauthorized approach. The people’s victory and blessing would be dependent on their worship and obedience to the instructions coming from the center of the camp.

Coming into God’s presence is a “do or die” matter, then and now. It is not something to be taken lightly, as if it were a day trip to the beach. When we come to worship, we stand in the presence of the King of kings, the Lord of the universe. Numbers 3, 54

In the Scriptures we meet a God who is utterly transcendent and yet at the same time utterly immanent. Our God lives in a high and holy place (transcendence), yet also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit (immanence) (Isaiah 57:15). His ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not ours; yet he has created us in his image, and so we are able to know something of who he is. Numbers 4, 61

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