A counting, A complaining, A detour
In hindsight we sometimes kick ourselves. Because in hindsight things are so clearly obvious. Of course smoking that much would yellow your teeth, of course gambling would lose you all the money and you always remember those brief moments of clarity that gave you an out. To walk away. But once again you deicide to walk a little further into the door.
We find a people of over 2 million people (probably a third or a fourth) Who were birthed in slavery. Horrid oppression. God had rescued them in miraculous ways, walked them through a whole sea and gotten them away from the horrible place. He then spoke to them of his love and asked for their trust. He rebuilt them into people, a community of not slaves but strong, tight knit, holy members of a people. A people destined for a promise land.
After giving them life guidelines that were to produce life and love He took them further into the wilderness to plan out and construct a dwelling place so that he could come down and chill with them and be more close and intimate. Teaching them how to behave and prepare for his coming so that he could come.
So we find us in the midst of community given freedom, rest, purpose and a dwelling place next door to the loving creator who wants to be with them.
Lets pause for a sec.
Working around the clock with no union, no holiday pay nothing. Barely food enough to live, versus chill out time with friends and family and God. These guys had it made. Bread from the sky.. clothes that never wear out.
But before God finally took them to the paradise like promise land. (lets be honest it was like jasper or glacier national park or Tasmania or the jungles of west Thailand. Just imagine the most beautiful place on earth. That’s where Gods taking them. But before he could, God decided to count all his people.
God had gotten the people of israels trust. He had become their king. Their leader. In place of the awful pharaoh. He had taught his people about themselves and how to live and love each other. Now he wanted to make it official. “These are your people, I am your king and if we work together through trust and obedience – THIS THING IS GOING TO HAPPEN”
So he got the accountants to count all the people, group by group. Twenty years and up – all the men. This was his army. Not the priests (we’ll get to them) But everyone who could say yes when God said “run at those other men”. It wasn’t about military strength. Or only the most trained men in warfare. It was the weak and unskilled Jeremy Randalls as well. Because when God says I want you to stab those guys in the face, its probably easier to do so when 4500 other dudes say yes at the same time right? The numbers did bolster courage somewhat. Or did it?
It came to around the .6 million mark. Of men able to fight.
So you have the whole of the nation of Israel coming out to watch as their men are counted.
What does that do to a nation? The promise land in sight and your God subtly hinting “I have this in the bag, we will do this”
They then divided back into their tribes and camped in set apart areas. Together, but separate. Individual but communal. And who was in the middle of them? God. The centre of this group of tribes that he had claimed as his own people.
THE FIRST BORN
When a father has kids he doesn’t mind having girls, cause they his princesses but in the back of his heart as his wife is pushing the watermelon sized baby out hes internally yelling “MAKE IT A BOY MAKE IT A BOY” specially first born boys. There is something amazingly special in the father son relationship. Teaching, passing on stories. That boy gets the inheritances and the family status. So early on in the piece God taught the Israelites that when giving a gift, you give the best gift. It honours both the gift receiver and the gift giver – “this is my best I want to bless you”. So part of the special relationship with God and his people, instead of asking for all the first born boys – the fathers best. The creator asked for a set apart people, special group – a whole tribe. The levites. The stand in as proxy type first borns.
So after the numbering of all the fighters, the first born were then counted. And the levites were counted. To see if the proxy first borns, covered the actual first borns.
The first borns outnumbered them by almost three hundred. So to cover that God asked the rest of the tribes to collect the covering monies. 5 pieces of silver for each first born not covered.
So here we see God making sure Israel knew how to give good gifts. Learning more about serving God through the levites by serving the Levites. But God was honouring his people by letting all the dads keep their first born sons.
God: ok before we head out on this awesome adventure I’m taking you on, I need to train you in a couple of things.
The people of Israel: what do you mean, like ninja skills?
God: less ninja skills and more trust and formation. I’m going to give you roles and places to do those roles and timings of when you do them. Do you understand and trust me?
Israel: What are our roles?
God: I need to you all to stand in these places that I have assigned you. Camp there when we stop, and when we leave I need you to leave in this order.
Israel: that’s cool.
God: Levites I need your three main families to be in charge of carrying stuff on wagons, by hand and you other guys need to be in charge of all the nice stuff. But before you touch anything the higher priests need to prepare some of it so that you can actually touch it. And be sure you touch it in the right way. And the rest of you Israelites I need you to go no where near the tabernacle unless I tell you. I want to hang out with you guys so bad but we need to do it this way so that I can. Yeh?
Israel: that sounds pretty cool. But why does that family get to touch the good stuff?
God: because I need you to know what I think of you and not what others think of you. If I assigned you to clean up cow poop, I would give you that job as the amazingly gifted men you are. Humans may think otherwise but I consider you a precious treasure. So I need you to trust me that your job is important and given to you from me and not a punishment. Stop thinking comparatively.
Part of the prep of their months in the wilderness was God purifying the camp. Making it so that he could move smoothly amongst his people, so that when they came to warfare there would be no road blocks.
So God then reminds them of a couple of important purity things.
Anyone unlean – wet dreams, menstruation, skin diseases, those who have touched dead people – send them out of the camp. Make sure that disease and uncleanness can’t spread around the camp defiling it.
Then he goes into one of the coolest tests ever – if a man suspects his wife has slept around behind his back take her to the priest. The priest will then make up a drink that she must drink including the ink from the curse written down – and if she drinks it and she has slept around the water will make her sterile. Unable to make babies. But if she hasn’t, if she is still faithful to her husband then the water will not effect her.
God wanted marriages to be committed to each other and open and honest….
Then they talk about the nazarite vow – men would take a vow of purity to spend time getting closer with God.
Nazarites would stop cutting their hair, not touch anything fruit or drink from the vine. And stayed away from dead people. (I’m wondering if the Israelites liked touching dead bodies or something)
So nazarites usually looked like hobos, but were completely sane and holy. If you touched any of the things you were staying away from you had to shave your head.
God wanted his people to really trust him, because there would be times later where he would ask them to do huge things that without God would be impossible.
In response to Gods goodness the leaders of the tribes of Israel had a giving time en masse. Wagons, cows, golden spoons, goats and later on they started getting creative and started giving spoons of incense. Each leader came and gave. For twelve days, the people of God had a giving party. It wasn’t just a little giving either. It was huge. Gold and pack animals for transporting Gods people places.
After the party died down a different giving time began. Lives. The levites were reserved by God for lives of the priesthood. The tribes men would begin serving God at 25 and retire at 50. God need them pure, clean and set apart. So the men went through a large time of purification. Their lives were given to act on behalf of the entire people of Israel. So when the time came to celebrate Passover the levites were extremely busy, like retail at Christmas time. Celebrating freedom and Gods rescue. As the celebrations were prepared for, some of the men who were quarantined outside the camp wanted to be included. They sent a message to Moses to ask – “Although we are in quarenteen can we also praise God and worship him for liberating us.’ Moses went to check with God. God was delighted. That his people wanted to praise his name. He ok’d it They would be allowed to celebrate and join the festivities a month afterwards when they were clean again.
But anyone who wasn’t quarantined or away on a trip who didn’t celebrate with the others we cut off from the community. God was so committed to the community of Israel being united and blessed through communal celebration that he wouldn’t hear of any division. Any evil intent. He was all about partying together as one.
God has also set up an amazing guidance system, in the day he appeared as a cloud about the people to guide them through the light hours and in the darkness he sent fire. Warm, light, powerful. I imagine it to be an amazing alarm clock. Waking up to “Billy!! Billy, the clouds moving dude we need to go, get up you lazy jew.” And if you ever had insomnia you could just go hang out with the giant bon fire in the sky. God was present and obvious and a blessing to them.
Probably After or even before God thought about billy sleeping in and holding up the camp site he asked moses to design some trumpets. An even funner way to wake up in the mornings. Trumpets. But the trumpets were also used to celebrate and signal war. So I imagine some mornings to be quite confusing but still joyous. God also had a very speciic marching order planned out and specific men to lead each tribe out. So he organized that every morning there would be trumpets and order. Guiding with shape.
In amongst the people of Israel were no Israelites, including moses’ own brother in law. He was a midianite. In amongst all the preparation to leave on a journey the brother in law told moses he would go home now. Moses invited him a long even more then before, affirming that the brother in law knew all the places the Israelites should camp.
Other non jews began to grumble up the back, like the class clown who incites a whole class to make the relief teacher cry they began sutbly. They had been farmers and graziers, they craved meat and meat in abundance. Their imaginations started thinking about steak and bbq and hot dogs and curries. Their mouths started to water and all those who heard them speak started wanting meat more and more. One one them held out the manna that God had provided, that had kept them alive and well fed up to this point. “I HATE THIS STUFF” the man cried “IT tastes like cardboard” everyone else started agreeing and the rabble got louder and louder and more and more of the Israelites looked back to hear what was happening.
God had earlier blazed fire around the camp until Moses prayed and still the foreign quarter complained, making mothers weep in frustration and finally Moses exploded.
“Im sick of these losers – they whine and whine at me like im their mother. But I have no milk to give them, I have no meat for them. I cant carry these nappy wearing babies. Especially not when there is millions of them. I need your help lord.”
Straight away God not only answers his question but he goes the next step, completely outside of moses imagination. “Get me 70 leaders to help you. Im going to put some spirit into them and tell the people to clean themselves and get ready for meat cause they will have it. I wont just give them meat for a day but for a month. Im gong to give them so much meat that they will hate meat. You asked for meat I will give you what you ask.”
And then one of the funniest responses from God is reported. Naively Moses makes the point to God that they have 500,000 foot soldiers, men who love meat, men that eat a lot of meat. He asks – are you serious, even if we killed all of our animals we couldn’t eat meat for a month, how are you going to find al that meat” a reaction that is echoed hundreds of years later in the life of Jesus God looks moses in the eye and asks “are you serious? Have you seen a limit to my power? Watch this.”
God then gathered the leaders, put some spirit in them and then it is found out that 2 of the leaders didn’t even turn up. They were just chilling at a camp site nearby. But Gods spirit was still put on them so they started prophesying. AND EVERYONE LOST their sheets. One litte guy legged it to moses “moses two guys are prophesying you have to stop them”
Moses sighed, looked at the boy and said “ I wish everybody were Gods prophets and they all had his spirit” (desire accomplished laters)
Now I’m wondering if moses ever wondered