Themes in Numbers (01): Through the Wilderness
In the Wilderness: Themes from Numbers (01) - Following God through the Wilderness.
Numbers 9:15–18 - Now on the day that the tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and in the evening it was like the appearance of fire over the tabernacle, until morning. 16 So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. 17 Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp.
The book of Numbers provides the sad story of the journey of Israel from Sinai into the Promised Land (Canaan). It shows the failings of a generation of people and gives instruction by this example to us. “With most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness . . . Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction” (1Cor. 10:5-6, 11). This short Lenten series will glean some of these lessons for our instruction.
The book’s name arises from the first verse, calling for a census to number the people. However, the Hebrew name is from “The Lord spoke” (yadabar) and this is a major theme which begins and ends the book (over 150 times in 20 ways). God revealed His leadership of Israel to Moses and thus the people were to follow Moses. But they failed to faithfully follow him (Num. 11, 12, 14).
Israel had been led to Sinai by the Lord and given the Covenant Law. They were to be fitted and arranged as a mighty army and march out to victory following God’s presence seen and heard in the glory-cloud. Yet they would not fully trust the Lord and remained powerless in fear, as many examples illustrate. Their faith was fleeting and weak (comp. Ex. 14:31/Num. 14:11): “And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?’”
Lessons for Lent
1) God leads us through the wilderness. God leads us into the wilderness in order to lead us out of the wilderness. The lent (“length”) of the journey is according to our faith.
2) God leads us by His Word. At this time Moses was the recipient of this definitive Word (Num. 12:6–8). They rebelled against God by disrespect of Moses.
3) God leads us through His presence with His people. His glory-cloud later engulfed the Temple and after idolatry, His presence departed. It came again on the mountain of Transfiguration. Finally, it rested upon the disciples in the upper room at Pentecost and was extended to the nations. The Church in many diverse congregations is the location of God’s presence today. Let us journey through Lent by trusting Him, heeding His Word and seeking His presence with His Church.
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more