Numbers and Organized Religion

It wouldn’t have occurred to a Jewish person to think there was anything other than organized religion! And for the enlightened follower of Yahweh, that such a structure was oppressive wouldn’t even have moved the needle for them (I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ – Psalm 122:1 and elsewhere). If they could have somehow grasped such an idea, it would have been applied to whatever form of paganism they had been exposed to.

Today if you search for quotes on organized religion or go to Goodreads or a similar site, the animus toward it is overwhelming. Nobody has anything good to say about it. We are all familiar with the abuses and failings associated with OR, but from the one-sidedness displayed, you would think that no lives have ever been saved and transformed, no people fed or clothed, no hospitals built or orphans taken care of.

I’ve argued the case elsewhere, so I’ll only say here that Jesus was against anything that enslaved or abused but He was the product of OR and spoke of establishing His church. If you believe in the Jesus the NT speaks about, you believe in the church! He wasn’t blind and didn’t gloss over the shortcomings of different groups of His (read His words to the seven churches in Asia in Revelation 2-3), but He believed and practiced community and you can’t have that without authority. Not the kind where power is lorded over people until they are bent and broken, but the loving, serving, guiding kind of leadership we see exemplified by people like Moses.

There is organization everywhere you look in Numbers—the first census organized them with a view toward taking the land, while the second had that in mind but also spoke of the allotment of the land (26:52-56). Then Israel was organized in regard to how they set up camp (2), the duties of the Levites (5) and on it goes. Interspersed throughout the book are sections dealing with the organization of sacrifices and offerings (5-10, 15, 18-19, etc.). What we have in chapters 28-29 is one of those sections.

Taken as a unit, it’s not hard to see that one purpose of this section was to present the nation with a schedule for sacrifices. We are told sacrifices were to be offered each day (28:1ff), at the end of each week (Sabbath – v. 9ff), at the beginning of each month (v. 11ff) and during the special times they were to celebrate each year (v. 16ff). Numerous writers have noted the correspondence between this schedule and creation—the daily offerings taking place in the morning and evening, the ones recognizing the Sabbath, months (lunar) and harvest (sun).

Beyond that, the schedule provided structure in the sense that it wove God into their calendar. Olson makes the point that these two chapters organized the nation in terms of time just as the arrangement of the camp organized them in terms of space. Time, in all its different manifestations, belongs to God and is given as a gift to man. It is segmented in different ways not to oppress or burden, but to liberate and help man to live in rhythm.

Whether you run, jog or just walk, we all recognize the importance of rhythm. Without the coordination of our arm, legs, eyes, and other body parts, we would fall flat on our face. If we want to get somewhere, we have to find our rhythm. The schedule of sacrifices did that for Israel. It synced them with creation.

Rather than filling time, Israel was to be formed and framed by it. The sacrificial schedule made it clear that Israel was to structure their life around God. This is what disciples do as living sacrifices. They refuse to follow the status quo of structure as being primarily about work or school, meals, sleep, etc. Instead, they find renewal through structuring their lives around Him. Spirituality and structure intertwine. 

Organization is a beautiful thing. We don’t rail against it when we’re taken into the operating room—we greatly want it! We don’t speak of it as oppressive when we’re doing financial, educational, or other types of planning—we understand its value! We teach our children to make their beds and pick up their toys. Why is it so different when it comes to spiritual matters?

. . . Train yourself to be godly (1 Timothy 4:12). It won’t do to worship organization, but structure and spirituality are not opposing forces!



Published by A Taste of Grace with Bruce Green

I grew up the among the cotton fields, red clay and aerospace industry of north Alabama. My wife and I are blessed with three adult children and five grandchildren.

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