I remember teaching a Wednesday night class years ago. It wasn’t very big—15, many 20 people—mostly 30-somethings in age. I don’t remember what the class was about, but we got off on a tangent about how the church of the previous generation didn’t know grace like we did. The discussion went on for a little while with the prevalent thinking being that the current generation was rescuing the church from its legalistic past. Just about the time this collective back-patting reached a crescendo, someone posed the question, And when our kids are the age we are now, what do you think they’ll say they’re rescuing the church from?
The question had the same kind of impact Jesus’ statement, Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone, had when they brought the woman to Him who had been caught in adultery. We all just kind of looked at each other and suddenly, we didn’t have much to say. Hopefully, when we later reflected on the class, our takeaway wasn’t about how much we knew about grace, but how much we needed to learn about humility. We all have blind spots and of course . . . we tend to be blind to our blind spots.
Society is fluid. It is dynamic rather than static, changing rather than unchanging. In seemingly ever other news cycle or whatever is trending on social media, there is a demand made for our immediate attention, our absolute allegiance, and our urgent involvement to whatever issue has bubbled up. What isn’t called for is a reasoned discussion or a diplomatic debate. Whatever the issue is, it was apparently decided while we were sleeping and our ultimatum is to get on the train right now or be left at the station.
All of this tends to result in intense fragmentation at the individual, community, national and international levels. People feel pulled in so many different directions. It’s not unlike what Paul addressed in Ephesians 4, where he spoke of the disciples at Ephesus being tossed by the waves and blown by the wind of every new teaching that was brought into the commercial seaport from every part of the world.
The biblical witness can enable us to see things as they really are (instead of merely as we are). Being rooted in the Scripture helps us to avoid becoming overly enamored with society’s pendulum swings—it challenges us to look at things from the entirety of God’s revelation rather than in a piecemeal, popular fashion. It’s a lot like buying your groceries. Whether you do it online or go in the store, most of us work off some kind of list. That’s because the while the grocery store will always have specials and other things that catch your eye and look appealing, your list reminds you of what you really need. That’s one of the functions of Scripture, it helps us to identify and clarify the things that important in the kingdom of God.
That provides us with one entry point for thinking about the book of Numbers (though there are many others). Granted, this book is not at the top of anyone’s list of books of the Bible they want to study. For many, just the title of the book is enough to drive them off—who wants to read a book about numbers? Nonetheless, it’s part of the biblical witness and that alone makes it worthy of our attention. In terms of its narrative and laws, it makes a solid contribution to our understanding of God and His will for our lives. As part of the biblical witness, it is absolutely what we need to give us the perspective to work through the issues of our day.