We’re finishing up our time at Mount Sinai this week and preparing to head out for the Promised Land! All looks good for now, but cue the “Are we there, yet?” loop. The golden calf incident is behind us and the Lord will still go up in the midst of the people because his presence is what makes them distinct. We’re left with an amazing truth at the end of this week as the people of Israel “bear Yahweh’s name” into their new land. What a privilege and a responsibility!
For the first time in the Bible, we’re given the command “love your neighbor as yourself.” Looking at the broader context, the Lord’s holiness influences every area of life – as you can tell from the repetition in these chapters about “being holy as the Lord is holy.”
Today, we’re introduced to the Sabbath year and the Year of Jubilee. As you read, consider the implications this would have had if Israel had actually practiced it. It’s uniquely created to prevent greed and systemic injustice. What might it mean when Jesus comes on the scene in Luke 4:18-19 proclaiming good news to the poor and liberty to the captives?
Friends – we made it through Leviticus! Way to go! Chapter 26 is one of the most significant texts in Leviticus. This will become the standard by which Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant is judged. There will be blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. God has no tricks up his sleeve. He’s offering clarity for his people so they can know how to rightly be in relationship with himself.
“Numbers” is actually a terrible name for this book. In Hebrew it’s titled, “In the Wilderness,” which is much more helpful in orienting us to where the people of Israel are as we read. Here’s a roadmap for the book. These first two chapters help us see why it’s called Numbers in English – there’s lots of counting. In Exodus, we’ve learned what the tabernacle is like. In Leviticus, we learned what happens inside of it. Numbers provides the next logical step of how the Israelites set up camp around it and how it would travel.
Each clan of the Levites are given a task within the tabernacle and responsibility for packing it up when they move camp. I’m particularly struck by verse 4:47, “Everyone who could come to do the service of ministry and the service of bearing burdens in the tent of meeting.” I think this is a wonderful encouragement to the church, the new covenant congregation where all believers are now priests who “bear one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” as Paul encourages us in Galatians 6:2.
In chapter five, there’s a lot of talk about “breaking faith” - which is again kind of the Lord to give clarity about how to rightly relate to him. In chapter six, we read of the Nazirite vow, which becomes a key feature in other passages (like the Samson account). We should spend a few moments reflecting on 6:22-27. When the priests bless the people, they’re putting the Lord’s name on the people! That’s cool, and significant! Here’s a quote from a book called Bearing God’s Name by Carmen Joy Imes:
“Others should be able to tell just by looking at Israel that they belong to Yahweh. What they wear, what they eat, how they treat one another, who they are intimate with, how they do business – all these reflect on Yahweh. If [Israel] fails, Yahweh’s name – his reputation – is at stake. When they do fail, the prophets charge them with profaning Yahweh’s name among the nations.”