Talking to a friend the other day about heading through the bible in 90 days he expressed his difficulty with the book of Numbers. He told me that all of those numbers and genealogies and divisions and the such seem pointless (my wording). I confidently told him that if he learned to read these texts with purpose, he would find much more in some of these places then he expected. “Look for the main themes” I counseled. Well if I sound muffled, it is because my foot is in my mouth.
That said, let me offer some random reflections you may find absolutely pointless.
Leviticus 26 is similar to Deuteronomy 28. Both passages lay out “Rewards” or “Blessings” for obedience to God’s covenant, and “Punishments” or “Curses” for constant disobedience.
But there is a passage in this text that I would like to draw your attention to. It is the first occurrence where “circumcised” and “heart” are linked together, and only in the negative (“uncircumcised”):
But if they confess their sins… then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled… I will remember my covenant with Jacob” – Leviticus 26:40-42
This is a relatively early usage, though it occurs quite some time after circumcised is mandated by God in the Abrahamic covenant back in Genesis 17. It is important none-the-less because, just as we learned there that the covenant people of God are not simply genetic or ethnic people, born of Abraham, but anyone who joins the family of God by circumcision. Now we see, and it is crucial to point out, that one can be “circumcised” and yet still fall under the curse or punishment of disobedience of God (that is, they could land themselves outside of the covenant of God). Here is what we learn: Circumcision – even in the Old Testament – was an outward act of an inward event. This will become more clear as we continue our journey through the Old Testament.
It is not about a “nation” called “Israel” or an “ethnic” group. It is about the “Family of God” who – in the Old Testament context – enter the family by faith symbolized and sealed through the act of circumcision.
Now there is one comment I want to make about something I read in the early chapters of Numbers. I was baffled early as I read through Exodus how God continues to instruct Moses and the Israelites to give their first born child to God as a firstfruits. During those passages no qualifications are mentioned. I thought, did God mean symbolically? If so, how did that act distinguish that child from his younger siblings? Further, in the context it seems to be a very literal command. There is no hint of a “symbolic” reference here any more then when God demands a tithe of Israel’s firstfruits of the field.
Finally, here in Numbers, we receive that qualification:
The Lord also said to Moses, “Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the Lord.” – Numbers 3:44-45
Next I’d like to draw your attention to the Lord’s official “blessing” prayer he gave for Israel (Numbers 6:22-27):
This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”
So they will put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them.
Now I know where John Waller’s lyrics came from. Good song (“Priestly Blessing” I believe is the title).
The final thing I’d like to point out in passing is Numbers 8:4 where we read: “The lampstand was made exactly like the pattern the Lord had shown Moses“. This verse calls to memory passages such as Hebrews 10:1 where the New Testament explicitly teaches that the law, tabernacle, the sacrifices all were merely a shadow or copy of the reality.