Friday, March 2, 2012

Numbers...Who Knew?

Well, I’m a little surprised. Numbers, a part of my Bible that rarely sees the light of the sun, is proving to be very interesting! It starts out a little slow, but then it gets exciting fast. We learn a lot about Moses: the difficulties of leading a wandering nation in its infancy; his marriage to an Ethiopian woman and the murmuring and judgment that ensued; and perhaps most of all Moses’ character. God calls him the most humble man on earth. That’s good stuff. As a leader, I’m learning a lot from Moses.

What’s more? I’m seeing that the book of Numbers is pivotal in God’s Story. There’s the crucial moment when the spies go to explore the Promised Land. They come back impressed. The land is indeed “flowing with milk and honey.” But 10 of the 12 spies don’t believe they can conquer the bigger, more numerous Canaanites. Correction: they don’t believe God can. Remember? No less than six times in Exodus, God promised to “drive out” the people and give Israel the land. And what’s the result of their disbelief? Forty hard years of wandering for a generation whose dead bodies get buried in the wilderness. Imagine if they had simply believed. God would have given them that great land and they would have lived happily ever after eating food from crops they didn’t plant and living in houses and cities they didn’t have to build! What a shame.

After the fateful faithlessness, there’s a lot of rebellion and people dying. “When will they learn?” I ask myself. Then I remember my own rebellion and how I seem to never learn. I turn 45 next month. By comparison, if all the rebellious behavior in my life since I was five years old was compressed in a book as short as Numbers, I’d seem more deserving of death than most of them. But God has shown me grace and mercy that I don’t deserve.

Speaking of grace, perhaps my favorite story in Numbers is a clear picture of God’s grace for those who believe. The scene begins in a familiar way: everyone is complaining. So God lets them experience consequences—in this case, a venomous snake infestation. Snakes are everywhere, biting people and causing much suffering and death. The people cry out, and Moses prays for them. God’s answer is really weird. Make a bronze snake—an unclean animal that symbolizes original sin and the curse—and put it on a pole. Everyone who looks at it will live!

Wait, in John...didn’t we hear something like that? Jesus said:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:14-18)

Hmmm. We rebels are bitten by original sin and the curse. As a result we suffer pain and die. But “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21) and lifted him up on the cross that we might believe and live.

There’s much more to Numbers than numbers. There’s sin, consequences, and some really cool ways that God shows his grace—ways that point forward to his ultimate act of grace: the cross. Who knew?

Above is the bronze serpent incident as it appears on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo. I think it captures the feeling of panic that must have been a very real part of the scene. Click on it for a closer view.


Anonymous said...

Great thoughts, Chad! Isn't it funny how obedience doesn't have to make sense to be purposeful?

Anonymous said...

Interesting connection you pointed out--serpent with sin. I hadn't realized that. I've wondered, too, at how God used the very symbol (Moses' bronze serpent) of what had bitten the Israelites, to also heal them. BUT, isn't that the same thing God has done with Christ's death--the consequence brought on by our sin, when placed on Christ, also brings about the pardon for our sin. Would you agree?
Delana Taylor

Chad Sparks said...

Yes. I think that's precisely the point! Well said.

Anonymous said...

The snake story was interesting and hard to understand. I kinda knew that there was something more to it and appreciate the explanation.
I am loving Numbers too. It is really better than I expected it to be. I was kinda bracing myself for boredom. REading the bible like this all the way through is really changing my life. I am understanding it for the first time, even though I grew up in church. Thank you and the elders for leading us to do this challenge!