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Bible Time Period: Desert Wanderings
You taught Israel to walk in faith through 40 years’ wandering in the desert: Help me to trust in you today, O God.
Getting Israel out of Egypt and setting them up as his people was one thing. It will be quite another to purge Egypt from their hearts. They are children still, spiritually, and they need to learn to trust their Father and walk in faith before they are ready to possess the land that was promised them. The book of Numbers picks up the story here and tells how they fare in the period of “Desert Wanderings.”
The Book of Numbers gets its English name from the census God has them take at the start of the book and again at the end. (The book’s title in Hebrew, bemidbar, means “in the desert” – which is where they will spend the next 40 years, before entering Canaan.) The tribe of Levi is not counted in the census because they have no military role. After the incident with the golden calf, God set them apart from the other tribes to care for the Tabernacle. Notice their position in chapter 2 in relationship to the tabernacle and to the other tribes, which are being put into a formal marching order.
The Tabernacle provided a way for the people to approach God. What do all these careful instructions say about him?
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God further establishes a relationship with the Israelites by asking them to build a Tabernacle, His dwelling place. There were very strict specifications and rules regarding the Tabernacle. Death was the consequence of anyone going against God’s will. God had a very high standard for purity and obedience. Not everyone could just approach Him. Complete obedience was required. This was to show God was holy and powerful. He is a God of justice, exacting complete obedience to His instructions and whoever went against Him, would be cut off.
With Jesus, coming to live among us, He is a God of compassion and love. This is especially proven by His death on the Cross. God is now accessible to anyone, anytime and anywhere. He is approachable. The high standard that God exacted in the OT is upgraded and refined through Jesus.
Jesus was strictly obedient to God. We need only to be perfectly repentant. Without perfect repentantence we remain cut off
The veneration and respect God asks for in the carrying of the Tabernacle humbles me. The Israeltes couldn’t touch or even look at God, yet I am blessed enough to be able to take Him into my own hands at Mass. The more I think about it, the more awed I am by God’s love for me and how unworthy I am of this love.
Indeed! We all so blessed to have God’ grace bestowed upon us and we have the opportunity to enter into an intimate relationship with him whenever we take communion. As a pastor once told our congregation, with communion we all receive a little bit of heaven.
“…I am the Lord.” Numbers 2: 13
I wonder about what sort of thoughts went through the chosen peoples’ heads as they camped by Mt Sinai for quite a while. I know when I am in a state of flux, I need direction and rules to follow in order to complete a task that is before me. I also wonder if God gave these people something to work at, to accomplish and to stay under their own banner and be proud to belong to their family tribe.
God also seemed to be quite aware that conquering the promised land might have consequences. I was taken aback at the simple design of where the 12 tribes of Israel would station themselves! In the middle of all these tribes was the tabernacle! It was as if God wanted the chosen people to be the tabernacle’s protectors! What a huge task and a proud task for anyone to encounter.
God set rules, had Moses and Aaron conduct a census of able bodied men from the 12 tribes that could become God’s army in a pinch, and set a particular tribe (Levi’s) to tend to the tabernacle only. ‘God created order out of chaos’ in order for his people to proceed to the promised land.
I think God has clear instruction for us to obey before we may approach Him spiritually. We need to first stop sinning, humble ourselves and take up our cross, then follow him.
Hi, If we needed to stop sinning before we approached God no one could approach God. I think that God wants us to approach Him no matter where we are spiritually.We all sin every day. The best we can do is to make an honest effort to stop sinning. Jesus came to heal the sick and not the healthy. We need to thank God for the sacrament of reconciliation to humble ourselves before God and to ask forgiveness
I was thinking of our nation as a whole (or each one of us who blatantly violates His commands) and what we have become…completely sinning: Homosexuality, pornography, divorce, etc. God is only angry with our behavior. Stop the sinning and turn to God. This is the same God who was angered at His chosen people when they violated His laws back then as He is with us today.
Oh I see. I agree totally. We might just be worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. What kind of a society kills their own children? and yet we claim to be a Christian nation?
Thanks for sharing!
As an accountant by profession, I have fun taking inventory of souls and not any more inventory of merchandise in a supermarket. But hey, this is an inventory of able bodied men, an army in preparation to take over the Promised lad. So God commanded Moses and Aaron, “Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male individually, from twenty years old and above; all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies.”
I had fully audited and it took me a headache because the count doesn’t tally at first, I was suspecting that there was an anomaly between Moses and Aaron, so I double check God’s figures, (being afraid of strict God’s command) and God will suffer loses of souls with God’s total count of Six Hundred Three Thousand Five Hundred Fifty (603,550) in listed men souls. (really funny, I was wrong) Now the focus is towards taking the Promised Land and recognizing it will be a battle. Imagine how this census would affect the nation! As the count was made, every family would know preparation was being made for war.
The order to count the potential soldiers was not meant to imply that Israel would take the land because of superior forces or merely the bravery of these men – they would receive the Promised Land by the hand of God. Nevertheless, they still had to fight and know what they had available to them going into battle.
Of course this census/draft is for Moses’ benefit because God knows every hair on the head of every individual. I began to wonder if those who became 20 were enrolled or was there a different purpose. We know all these will be in the Desert for forty-years and all will never enter the Promised Land.
The Lord God wants to be in the center of all that is. All focus should be on Him. In the wilderness, the community surrounds itself strategically around the Tabernacle – the place of God among the people. Note the reference to this set up “in the wilderness”. The wilderness has no markers – the Tabernacle becomes that marker to guide The Levites (the priests) are next that surround the Tabernacle. They become the bridge between the community and God. There is a significant responsibility of the Levites to ensure that all procedures and customs are followed to the letter. The reason – they are the example before all in living in God’s way.
It’s been about a year since the Hebrew’s left Egypt. What a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the Hebrew’s readiness to inhabit the Promised Land. A military force of over 600,000 men were counted. The Tabernacle was built. The community identified as 12 strong tribes organized strategically and symbolically around their strength – God. This all took place before the Hebrew’s were exiled in the wilderness years and years – something must have happened after the census and military recruitment to prevent them from entering the Promised Land. The Hebrew’s were aligned militarily for battle against the inhabitants of the Promised Land but were they truly ready to be delivered into the Promised Land? Taking this a step further in our time – are we ready to be delivered into the goodness of Christ when we receive God through the Eucharist? When we receive Holy Communion, have we readied ourselves spiritually to enter into His kingdom as His children? Are we ready to do Christ’s work outside of Mass?
Form follows function. The way they are to set up camp with God’s presence at the center, and the various levels of tribes and their locations is significant, and with supernatural meaning as Joe alluded to.
In taking the census, Moses now knows the number of God’s chosen people which will be important for their journey to know where they stand and how they should organize as a society and who does what. Also, this instruction of taking the census kind of reiterates that God the Father knows them individually to be counted, not just as a vague mass of people he led out of Egypt.
A father knows all his children by name, family and age, etc. I think these chapters illustrate that.
You are so so so right about the numbering significance – so true. Remember Jesus’ call to repentance in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus mentions “those EIGHTEEN people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them”. This specific reference relates exactly what you said – God knows each one of us. Thanks for the reminder and importance of this, Helana.
God is the original Type A personality! God needed to bring order out of the chaos that was the Israelites and what better way than to establish rules and set boundaries. As a high school teacher, I did something similar each year. You have to start off with a strict set of rules to get the year started and the students organized. Then, once these are established, you can relax. I think that God relaxed when He sent us His Son. Jesus was our living example of how to live in a way that is pleasing to God and also to show us that God is a loving God.
God was able to create order among the Israelites family tribes, which was needed. The tribes were given instructions on how to camp around the Tabernacle, and it formed the sign of a cross. Levites were in the center with the other tribes situated to the E, S, W, and N. In order to enter the Tabernacle, “the entrance was on the east side and as one moved deeper into the Sanctuary toward the west, one moved closer to God in the far western part of the Tabernacle in the Holy of Holies where God’s presence resided above the Mercy-Seat of the Ark of the Covenant” (Agape Bible Study, 2010). God therefore had become the center focal point for all the Israelites.
The Tabernacle was the center of worship and was a special place to be respected by everyone. There were rules to approach the Tabernacle, everyone was not allowed to approach it, and grave consequences occurred if one did not obey them. Upon entering the outer court, the altar for sacrifice was located, followed by the water basin for cleansing. Only priests were allowed to enter the Holy Place, however only the High Priest was allowed entrance to the Holy of Holies once a year. It is an earned privilege to be in the presence of the Tabernacle, meant for those who obeyed Him.
These chapters contain such specific instructions for the organisation of the Israelites, even down to which tribe camps next to which. Like others, I notice that the tabernacle where God is present is center of the encampment with the people only moving when permitted. God said he would move the people “little by little” and this seems to be an example of moving the “stiff necked” people on a journey that is both spiritual and physical. Just like the Israelites, I have to learn that the journey of faith is moved through “little by little” in order to learn and grow spiritually so that I can conquer the challenges and be fully equipped to arrive at my promised destination.
wonderful reflections. Thank you.
I think God was beginning to lay the groundwork for the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus. So that scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus was a descendant from the house of David. As stated in Matthew, Chapter 1.
When God liberated the chosen people, they seemed to be lost and needed guidance. God remedied that problem by giving the separate clans a certain responsibility for mainlining God’s tabernacle and the safety of the chosen people. Now, these people had something to do. They were not just wanderers in the desert, they had a purpose. God also showed that He is and was accessible, but reverence and respect along with His rules, needed to be taken quite seriously.
How many times have I felt that I needed some guidance because I had lost my perspective on my spiritual goals for myself? During this time of searching, I,too, became a wanderer within my own desert. God didn’t turn His back on me, He assisted me through my prayers and talks with Him. I think God even allowed me to take credit for figuring out my dilemma! God is all loving and oh so patient, especially with me!
Thank you Pnky B4 Brain, You spoke to me! I too am searching for God’s appointed job for me. Beginning in 2014 till now, I actually think I am gaining on it! I hope to be confident with it by end of 2015!
Kevin, We’ll pray in unison to God for the guidance! Best of luck with your search and for me, I won’t give up. One of the songs in West Side Story has a statement; “Something’s coming, something great, If I can wait. I don’t know what it is but it is going to be great!” Whatever God gives to me to assist my ultimate quest of eternal life with Him, I will welcome with a soulful celebration!
I, too, thank Avila for the wonderful reflection. I often overlook the application to our current life directions or wanderings when I read these verses.
In these chapters, I see God preparing the people for their arduous journey ahead of which they have no clue. Also, careful planning and organization up front helps prevent chaos and confusion under pressure later on. God is placed in the center of their lives, a true focal point. Additionally, by appointing the Levites as the priestly tribe, God is assuring there is always a loyal tribe to protect and oversee the Ark even when chaos prevails and the others scatter. Further, God is setting the foundation for the shepherding of his people and the long line of religious who will have this role in the millennia to come.
God is way beyond our ken! He condescends, giving us tools and simple language to communicate with Him, worship Him; not because He needs it, but because we need it. The purest materials and the highest forms of respect and adoration are mere symbols and indications of heart conditions that help us to realize how far beyond our understanding God is, and how blessed we truly are that Love comes down in spite of us.
I am in awe at the reverence. We seemed to have lost a sense of reverence. Mass catechesis has emphasized the people of God to the extent that the sense of reverence and His Holiness is so far above us is lost. We do have his life and we are made holy, but He is to be praised and worshiped-not us. The tabernacle being central in the formation of a army contingency shows that God is in control and He will lead. I think of Joan of Arc having the troops pray and go to confession before battle. If we are not lead by the Lord than we are lost before we start-we are lead by false leaders. To Him be the glory and praise.
What do all the careful instructions say about God? I find myself trying to figure out God’s reasoning and plans, which, when I think about it, is ridiculous! Who can know the mind of God? The main thing that goes through my mind in the Tabernacle at our church and how it contains God Himself. There is no pillar of cloud, no Levites, no thousands to take care of it, and no veil. Should we all prostrate ourselves in His presence? It would seem so minor compared………
As God continues instructions to Moses and Aaron for the people, is a little confusing for me, but it has to be part of the plan to keep the people from roaming and going astray from their faith. The tabernacle is so important in the Lords process to remind all the tribes this is a focal point in their lives no matter what place they are assembled. This place of worship is again God’s way for the chosen people who were taken from slavery out of Egypt, to use the tabernacle as their sanctuary for freedom.
The tabernacle is kind of a big deal in the Bible.
Like any place that’s fit for a god, the tabernacle gets a whole lot of attention in the Bible. Back in Exodus, God gave Moses super-specific instructions on how to build it. In Leviticus, he doled out lots of rules on how people should worship there and what kinds of sacrifices he liked to smell wafting through the tent flaps.
since we’re gonna be on the move in Numbers, God has tons of thoughts to share about how exactly he’d like the Israelites to schlep this huge thing through the desert every so often. There are chapters and chapters giving very specific details about who is in charge of packing away the incense and who gets the privilege of carrying the tent poles through the wilderness.
This might seem like overkill at first, but not when you think about the significance of this place. This was God’s literal home. It’s the place he comes to dwell with the people and be in their midst. The Israelites can’t risk making God unhappy—he might decide to move out of their neighborhood. Property values would definitely plummet. 🙂
Basically, the tabernacle doubled as a town hall. Since it was a place that was well known and important to the community, it was a good space to go when there were issues that needed to be addressed and divinely appointed leaders to be challenged.
God wanted close communication, and he already realized that simple instructions just never got through, so he had to get specific and lead the people closely. He cared enough to make sure there were no miscommunications this time.
Our belief and faith in God should continually be open to what, where, and when he is driving our love to grow by our purpose of our journey of earth for Him. He was specific in every aspect as to how the tabernacle was built, who tended to specifics to what and how groups would continue prioritizing it from this day forward. He starts off so specific with this in the Book of Numbers. And, he is very clear of the consequences if we choose to go against his choices.