Monday, January 30, 2012

The Book of Numbers

Genesis Life Project Week 4 : Numbers
Matt Roberts

The Hebrew title for the book of Numbers is bemidbar, which is literally translated as "wanderings in the desert". What a fitting title for this book. We pick up in the story after one year has passed since Moses and the Israelites walked out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. Israel has just received the promise of their own land at the base of Mt. Sinai and very detailed instructions of how to get there. It was a 9 day walk from Egypt to the promised land, the path was laid out before them, God was with them, this promise seemed like a slam dunk. But it wasn't. What should have happened didn't. They knew what was expected and they did the opposite. They took the long way, a 9 day walk turned into a 38 year journey.
The first detour Israel exited onto was a detour of fear. In only one years time they stood on the precipice of a new land, a new life, a new beginning. The promises of God were clear, "I am giving YOU this Land". Twelve spies were sent out and what they found was both wonderful and terrifying. The land was fruitful and beautiful. It was like nothing they had ever seen before but it was also inhabited by giants and armies and seemingly insurmountable odds. All of a sudden God's promises seemed to pale in comparison to what stood before them. They were afraid. Paralyzed by fear. They had stood at the border of the promised land, peeked into a world so perfect that it made the dry and dusty wilderness seem like a distant memory. Yet they chose fear over promise, wilderness over paradise, to be wanderers in a strange land instead of a glorious homecoming. Fear robbed promise, robbed the next 38 years, and robbed God's purposes and promise from Israel.

Isn't it funny that one wrong turn, one wrong decision always seems to lead to two more? It seems as if the moment the people chose not to grab hold of their promised land everything else began to fall apart. The next detour Israel charged into was the detour of rebellion. At the time I am sure it felt like a shortcut. "Why is God bringing us to this land only to let us die?". God is clearly confused, I know a better way! Over and over God spoke and His people completely ignored Him. He commanded them to seize their promise and they retreated in fear. He asked them to follow and lift up their leader and they found it much easier to throw rocks at him. He told them to speak to the rock for water and they struck it. He gave them a law to live by and they despised it. Over and over again God was leading His people towards promise and time and time again they rebelled declaring "our ways are better than Yours!".

The third detour Israel took was the detour of apathy. Soon wandering began to feel normal. The wilderness began to feel like home. Israel was no longer a promise driven people. They stopped waking up every morning driven by a passion and a purpose. They had been convinced that this nomadic life was all that was left for them. So they stopped caring. Stopped fighting. Stopped living. Stopped hoping for something more. The wilderness was too vast, they had walked for too long, and the beauty they beheld standing at the gateway to their promise seemed too long ago to remember. They had their shot and they missed! In their minds they lost, the game was over and the wilderness was all that was left.

So they gave up and made the wilderness home. But even when they quit on God, God never quit on them. While they wandered God's presence stayed with them. When they retreated in fear God kept whispering promise and potential. When they rebelled God forgave and when they quit God kept
pushing them towards His promise. He commanded them to build a Tabernacle in the middle of their camp in the wilderness so that He could dwell among them. His presence rested over the community as a cloud during the day and a fire in the sky at night. No matter how far off track Israel got God pursued them, loved them and stayed faithful in spite of them.

Aren't you glad God is faithful through our wanderings? We live in a world that offers more detours from the promises of God than ever before. Big shiny signs that promise an easier road, a shortcut through rough times, an escape from the reality of the journey. But just like with Israel those detours lead to nowhere. We find ourselves stuck in the wildernesses of life scared of what is in front of us, stubbornly fighting to find our own way through it, and exhaustedly asking "is this it?". The good news is that God doesn't abandon us in the wilderness. His presence stays with us like the cloud in the book of Numbers and He is always reminding us that His promises do not come with an expiration date. No matter how long and how far we have wandered God calls us back to His path of promise whispering into our hearts the whole way that we were not created for the wilderness. God gave his only Son, Jesus to meet us right in the middle of our wilderness of sin and carry us into the promise of relationship with Him.

1/30/12 - 2/4/12
Monday 1/30/12 - Numbers 1-3
Tuesday 1/31/12 - Numbers 5-10
Wednesday 2/1/12 - Numbers 11-17
Thursday 2/2/12 - Numbers 18-22
Friday 2/3/12 - Numbers 23-25, 27-30
Saturday 2/4/12 - Numbers 31 - 36

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