Numbers is well named – someone did an awful lot of counting. It is not an easy book, as the first part seems to be mainly lists of genealogies, and the second part has stories which I do not understand at all. I will tell you about the few snippets which seem to make some sense – the rest you can find someone wiser than me to explain. (I’m not sure if the problem is the English translation is dodgy, or if the books that were lost would explain more of the background.)
Basically, the book is a continuation of the laws in Leviticus, with lots of strange sounding rituals, a few rules, and some common sense (like, a boy isn’t old enough to fight until he’s 20, and not sensible enough to serve in the temple until he’s 30, but by 50 things are deteriorating, and he should be relieved of his duties!) There is a clear emphasis on worship, and the tabernacle was always the first thing to get sorted, before the wandering Israelites set up camp. Moses continues to lead, and is mostly wise, asking for help from God and people as necessary.
The people seem to complain a lot, but life must have been fairly tough. At one point they were sent manna, to eat. This looked, apparently, like bdellium. I’d never heard of that, so have found you a photograph to show you what it looked like. Not especially appetising to look at, if I’m honest. They also wanted meat, so God sent quail. Soon after this there was a plague, which makes you wonder if the birds were carrying the disease.
Moses has a rough time, and is blamed every time the people are discontent. In my experience, this still happens – people like to moan about the leader. Either the sermons are too long, or certain things (their favourite bits) are not preached on enough, or young/old/families are not being reached. Rarely do churches, even today, see a problem and look to themselves, to see what they need to be doing differently. Much much easier to blame the leadership. Moses had the added disadvantage of having his own siblings as followers. Does anyone ever, really, truly honour their little brother?
We meet Joshua, who was really called Hoshea but Moses changed his name. No idea why. (“Hello, what’s your name? Hoshea? Wow, that’s a silly name, let’s call you Joshua instead…”)
Then we have the bit about spying out the land, and the people not trusting God to give it to them. After they were punished, they were sorry (people are often sorry when facing punishment) but they still didn’t really grasp that the issue was not accepting that God is God, not them. This is still a problem today (especially amongst adolescent males – ask any school teacher). So, even when people claim to ‘return to God’, they still usually want that to happen on their terms, like God owes them. Hard for us to really understand that God is worth worshiping because he is God, not because of what we can get. This crops up a lot in the evangelical churches, where people are promised peace, joy, love in return for turning to God. Then when the divorce still goes through and they lose their job and someone precious dies, they feel short-changed, like God didn’t do his part.
Chapter 15 is definitely in the wrong place. Someone got in a muddle there.
Now, here is something which I find very challenging/do not understand. Quite often in Numbers, things are given holy status. So, the bad priests’ censers were hammered into plates, but those plates were holy. Later, in Chapter 19, water is blessed and then has special qualities. Is this right? Can things (and presuamably places) in themselves carry something of the holiness of God? I was raised as a good non-conformist, we shunned all icons, were told that it was our relationship with God that mattered, that places and things were simply ‘stuff’, nothing was special. But is that correct? I find this slightly worrying, as I have never credited any mere thing as holy, not even the Bible – to me this is just a book, the meaning is special but not the pages (in fact, when I was reading the Bible to a friend and translating it into Mandarin, I ripped out the book of Luke, so she could have a copy for herself). Is this wrong? What do you think? Obviously there is a danger that the things might become objects of worship themselves, which is clearly wrong. But is the opposite view also incorrect? Should we be careful with the Bible; behave differently in an empty church simply because it’s a church; believe that some places are actually holy? I know Catholic people have lots of icons/holy places. Are they right?
That is enough confusion for one week, so I’ll finish. The end of Numbers is next, then into Deuteronomy. Hoping they don’t raise too many new problems….
Thanks for reading.
On a different note…I spent yesterday putting JOANNA onto Kindle (not a stress-free activity!) It should now be available to buy as a Kindle book, if you search for it on Amazon, in whichever country you live in. JOANNA by Anne E Thompson. (If it’s not there, it should appear in a few hours, depending on when Amazon manage to make it ‘live’.)
If you live in the UK, the link is below (and if you could please please please add a quick review, it would mean so much. Thanks):