From today we begin our study of the truly mind-blowing awesome Book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Torah.
I think the title “Numbers” is quite misleading.
It imparts the idea that we’re going to be bombarded with a bunch of population censuses and genealogies.
While we will encounter some of that kind of material, rest assured a good portion of Numbers is packed with some of the most exciting and memorable stories to be found anywhere in all the Scriptures.
So without any further ado, let’s get started!
As is customary, I’m going to start with a couple of introductory posts to get ourselves oriented and mentally warmed up before we jump into our text study.
First, understand that at this stage in the Scriptures, it has only been about one year since the Israelites left Egypt.
But what an incredible year it has been!
Within this short time span, so much has happened to the Hebrews at breakneck speed.
Now recall when the Hebrews first went down to Egypt, they were just a small clan consisting of only 75 souls.
Yet four centuries later, when God through Moses took them out of Egypt, they had grown to around 3 million people.
Think about that time span of four centuries for a second.
I bet most folks would have difficulty wrapping their heads around just how long a time period four centuries really is.
When reading about historical accounts in a printed book, I think gaining a true perspective and sense of time spans can be difficult.
Tom Bradford in his awesome Torah Class (www.torahclass.com) draws an interesting analogy to the ancient Israelites at this stage in their young history to the founding years of America.
He asks us to consider that the founding of the United States of America occurred only about 200 years ago.
That’s only HALF the amount of time Israel was in Egypt!
Based on this fascinating analogy, he asks us to consider the following.
If you’re American, can you relate to America’s early history in a way that personally and intimately resonates with you?
Probably not, right?
For many Americans of my generation, the events of the American Revolution are fuzzy at best and shrouded in inscrutable mystery at worst.
Sure, we’ve all heard the stories of George Washington chopping down his cherry tree and been taught about the Boston Tea Party or of Paul Revere’s midnight ride through the cities shouting “The British are coming!“
However, I think we also recognize that although these stories are based on truth, most likely the portrayal of these events have been polished and exaggerated to make the characters seem legendary and to promote a certain political viewpoint.
The truth is that despite the huge volume of Revolutionary War records available to scholars, they have yet to reach a consensus of what really happened during the formative years of the United States.
Even the Supreme Court of our nation to this day can’t come to an agreement on what the original intentions of the men who wrote our constitution were.
Now with this analogy in mind, let’s put ourselves in the position of those Israelites who were slaves in Egypt right before Moses came on the scene.
Growing up, they would’ve been told the story of how Jacob brought his sons and their families from the Land of Canaan down into Egypt because of the famine that had struck.
They would’ve heard the stories of how Jacob’s son Joseph had went from prison to being elevated to 2nd in command in Egypt and how through Joseph, the Hebrews had prospered in Egypt.
And they would’ve been taught about the promises God first gave to Abraham that were passed down to Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.
However, in the midst of their current circumstances, do you think all of these stories and the promises of God were at the forefront of their minds?
They were too busy with the challenges of just trying to get through the day than to ponder that they were an important part of God’s cosmic prophetic puzzle that was about to unfold in spectacular fashion.
The truth is Abraham would NOT have recognized the Israelites in Egypt as being his progeny.
The Israelites in Egypt right before Moses arrived were now thoroughly Egyptian in thought and culture.
Yet they never did entirely forget their origins.
They knew they were foreigners in a foreign land.
The fact that they were now slaves made this uncomfortable fact crystal clear.
And I’m sure from time to time, some lone voices crying out in the wilderness arose to remind the people of who they were and who their God was.
Yet, I’m also sure that the majority of the population viewed these people as hangers-on to lost hopes and ancient myths.
Isn’t it the same today?
People like me who are on fire for God and passionate about getting His Word out to the nations are viewed as crazy fanatics and losers.
Honestly, most of my friends from my high school and college days and even my own parents don’t know what to make of me.
I’ve never been one to seek approval from society and the world and as a result my value system is so completely foreign to your average person out there.
Here’s the thing.
In the days leading up to Moses, your average Hebrew probably wasn’t meditating daily on the promises YHWH had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that one day they would be given a land of their own flowing with milk and honey.
Your average Israelite in Egypt had for the most part given up and resigned themselves to their current circumstances.
The 4-centuries-old hope of a homeland was nothing but a distant memory, just as the events that led to the birth of America which gave us the freedoms we enjoy today are distant memories we usually don’t think about.
The mindset and mental state of your average Hebrew just prior to Moses showing up was indifference, plain and simple.
I’m going to continue with this line of thought from the next post.
And just in case you’re wondering, trust me all of this is setting the stage for our study of the truly awesome Book of Numbers.