Why did God bless us with the book of Numbers?
So we could fear the consequences of unfaithfulness and rest in the unfailing promises of God.
Why are there so many lists of names in the Bible? Many people wanting to read the greatest book ever written from cover to cover get stuck in the desert of Numbers (which is also what literally happens to God’s people in Numbers). But those names let you know just how literal God’s promises are; God said he would bring his people into the land of Canaan—we actually have a list of their names, so we know who received that promise. We do something similar with the history of our Church. One meeting from 1846 includes the names of Elder Jones, Hiram Culver, Lucy Jones, Eleanor Clough and about a half a dozen others. Those names give us a sense of connection with the past—they connect us to real people at a real time that was important to our Church here in Holly.
The book of Numbers does the same thing. The book begins where the story left off in Exodus. Remember, Moses builds the tabernacle, God’s glory fills it, and in Leviticus God tells Moses about all the sacrifices that will atone for the sins of the people so they can enjoy his presence. Then, at the beginning of Numbers the people are counted in preparation to enter the land where God promised to bless them abundantly.
But the past isn’t always pretty. The generation God rescued from Egypt got scared. They saw the size of the people who lived in Canaan, and they thought they were grasshoppers starting a war with giants. Even though they’d seen God’s power defeat Pharaoh, and God had been faithful to all his promises, they told God they wouldn’t go to the land he’d promised to give them. They said they would rather be slaves in Egypt.
In response to their rebellion God judges his own people, and sends them to wander in the desert for 40 years. The entire generation listed at the beginning of the book dies in the wilderness.
But what happens next? God blesses the next generation. They claim the promises their parents never received. Numbers teaches us that past failure does not guarantee future failure.
In Numbers we see the terrible consequences of sin; we see that beginning to follow God does not always mean we are faithful to the end. Christian, Numbers is a warning to you that you need to persevere to the end, either until Jesus calls you home, or he returns in glory. Be warned of the consequences of forsaking Christ in either word or deed. But Numbers also offers hope, and not just for the next generation. Even in the generation that failed, Caleb and Joshua believed God, and God blessed them for their faith. Christian, rest in the promises God has given you in Christ.
Church, recognize that we as God’s people need to focus on God’s promises. If we aren’t proud of the past, let us repent and trust God for the future. As Paul writes to Timothy, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13 ESV).