Origen, a third-century theologian, wrote that “when the Gospels or the Apostle or the Psalms are read, another person joyfully receives them, gladly embraces them…But if the book of Numbers is read, that person will judge that there is nothing helpful [and] will constantly spit them out as heavy and burdensome food.” Origen himself did not hold this opinion, but the tendency to ignore or overlook the book of Numbers was as prevalent 1700 years ago as it is today.
This past Sunday Kairos Hollywood started a nine-week series through the Book of Numbers and I encouraged our community to spend time each week reading through Numbers over the next nine weeks. I shared four reasons (feel free to add your own!) why we should read Numbers today.
1. Numbers’ wilderness setting mirrors our own journey through life.
When we feel tired, exhausted, worn out, and depressed, unable to satisfy our cravings, unable to find, hear, or experience the voice of God in the midst of the chaos we find ourselves in. The people of God have a long history of journeying through the shadows of this world and we can find hope in the stories of God’s presence through the stories of the past.
2. It is part of the Scriptures – the record of God’s word throughout history.
Numbers was not, primarily, written for scholars or intellectuals or historians or archeologists. It was inspired by God’s spirit for the people of God. For us. Paul writes in 1 Cor 10:11 that “these things happened TO THEM as examples and were written down as warnings FOR US.”
3. Discipleship is not always easy and not simple.
Sometimes the call to discipleship involves not having your hopes, dreams, and prayers answered. Sometimes it means sacrifice. And sometimes it means spending time reading ancient books that can be really difficult to understand and can raise really tough questions for us and our understanding of God.
4. As a church committed to participating in God’s mission here in this time and in this place, we must read Numbers.
The story, the characters, and the trajectory are all highly pertinent – strategic, even – to our work as a community in Hollywood.
On the importance of Numbers, Old Testament scholar Dennis Olson writes this:
We may find it hard to get hooked into a story that seems to have such a mechanical and numerical beginning. But for the ancient readers of the book, such lists and numbers bore crucial insights into the very soul of their identity, their unity, their relationship to God, and their place within the community of God’s people. The lists of names and numbers are the material and tangible signs of God’s blessing, God’s faithfulness to past promises and the surety of God’s future promise keeping (Olson, Numbers, 15).
Sunday is the second week in the series…and we’ll be dealing with Levites, priests, holiness, and purity. Exciting stuff!