Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A portable tent, a sovereign God

Through the Bible in 90 days: Day 10

Read: Leviticus 26:27-Numbers 8:14

Verse that stood out: "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" (Numbers 6:24-26)

Ancient biblical texts did not come with title pages. As such, the titles for books of the Bible arose in different ways. Greeks gave books titles based upon their content. Hence, in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the forth book of the Torah was given the title, "Numbers." It does, after all, contain a lot of numbers. The Septuagint was the version of the Bible used by the early church so the Greek title has stuck. The rabbis, on the other hand, tended to entitle a book of the Bible based on the first few words of the book. In Hebrew the book of Numbers often goes by the title, "In the Wilderness" from verse one, "The Lord spoke to Moses in the Tent off Meeting in the Desert [wilderness] of Sinai."

This may not seem like a big deal, but titles can affect our perceptions of things. If we just think of the book of Numbers as a collection of census figures, we struggle to find any redemptive use for it in modern life. If we think of the book of Numbers as God's instructions for Israel's time in the wilderness, we at least are invited to think theologically about what it means to worship God even during those wilderness wanderings in our own lives, times in which we are divorced from a place of belonging.

Most ancient cultures worshiped deities that were associated with a specific locality. If you moved from one place to another, you found another god to worship. For instance, Bible scholar Lloyd Bailey points out, if you were on a boat, you might pray to Poseidon, the god of the sea. But if you were in the desert, you'd ask some other god for help. Israel on the other hand, believed that there was a single god who was sovereign over all places and all times. So that no matter where they were, they were to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even if that meant carrying all the various parts of the Tabernacle from place to place as the book of Numbers prescribes

The book of Numbers can be a little tedious. Its instructions for worship in the wilderness are primarily bound to a previous time and place. But its emphasis on a Sovereign God who reigns from Egypt to Canaan to every place in between? That's still right on target. For those of us who still find ourselves in the wilderness, it's good news to know even when we are without a place we are not without our LORD.

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