There are not so many people who will own up to having read the book of Numbers. In the first place, it’s in the Old Testament which is rarely a favorite. And it starts off with, as the book title would indicate, listing the census numbers of the people who were in the process of escaping from slavery in Egypt. For 5 or 6 chapters. Not the most enticing or exciting stuff.[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/306369-wandering-in-the-wilderness.mp3]
It probably helps to understand a bit about why they were counting off. Shortly before the beginning of Numbers the Hebrew people had escaped from something like 400 years of slavery in Egypt and are now traipsing across the desert, trying to find their new home. Something like 603,550 men plus women and children to be precise, according to Numbers 1:46. Imagine getting life sorted for around a million and a half people. That’s the deal for all the counting.
However, in Hebrew the title of this 4th book in the Bible is “In the Wilderness” and that’s probably a better title to think about in terms of the contents. The census and lists of numbers are important in the context of that many people moving from point A to point B with lots of points in between. But most of the stories in Numbers are related to being in the wilderness, as the Hebrew title attests.
Which is fairly appropriate for us today. We’re not wandering through a desert geography so much but many of us have felt, or still feel, like we’re wandering in a faith geography. There was a time not so very long ago where you lived your entire life within a few miles of where you born and you learned faith from your parents and maybe one or two pastors. Your entire life.
Now? It’s a little different story. It isn’t at all uncommon to live a fair distance from where you were born and we’re in the middle of a couple of generations of not having strong faith learning at home. And how many pastors have you known in your life? Add to this the accessibility of faith learning through social media and broadcast media, both good and bad, and it’s no wonder we wander in the wilderness of faith sometimes. It can be a little confusing, can it not?
My daughter Starsha and I trade memes we run across. I’ve overheard the same kind of talk about God at the coffee shop on occasion, too.
Here’s a favorite them. Guess you fry in hell if you don’t love Jesus but sharing, “I’m saved” will cover you.
For the Santa Claus God crowd waiting by their inbox.
Let me just say this about that.
That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
That’s why stories like today’s Donkey Tales from Numbers are important. Balak wanted curses brought down on God’s people wandering in the wilderness and enlisted Balaam to do it. But Balaam just couldn’t. Because God wouldn’t. Balak wanted one self serving thing but God had a different idea. An idea to stand with God’s people and not bring curses down on them.
We know this about God because of Jesus Christ. God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ to be with us, to save us from our sin. That’s the kind of God we serve, not the God who curses others and promises silly things.
Stories like Balaam and a bunch of other stories mus be shared to protect us from the less than helpful stories about God that we hear at the coffee shop or see online.
That’s why Bible studies are important. That’s why small groups are important. That’s why FAITH5 is important. That’s why cross generational faith formation is important. It is important to share the stories of faith, stories from the Bible and stories of joy and lament in our faith lives. We’ve all got a story and it is the stories of faith that anchor us. It is the stories of faith shared together that bring us back from the wilderness.