Jesus in Numbers

Depressing and hopeful

The book of Numbers would be an incredibly depressing book if not for the thrilling notes of grace and mercy woven within and throughout it. Numbers follows the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness, a forty year trek that would test their dependence and trust in the God who had broken their chains of slavery in Egypt and miraculously delivered them through water to freedom. Spoiler alert: They fail this test. Repeatedly.

Despite their inclination towards wandering (both literally and metaphorically), God shows up again and again, telling his own story of his love, his justice, his mercy, and — if you look hard enough — glimpses of his future one-and-done act of chain breaking deliverance that would happen through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The intercessor

Jesus is all over the Old Testament, and the book of Numbers is no exception. From Exodus through Deuteronomy, we see Moses (the man God chose to lead the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to the promised land of milk and honey in Canaan) standing as an intercessor between God and the sinful Israelites. In Numbers, we see the group set out from Sinai (ch. 10), where they received the law, and literally one chapter later they begin to complain about the journey. God’s anger is kindled, and Moses steps in, prays for them, and turns God’s wrath away. We see this again and again, to the point where Moses was overwhelmed with his calling and cries out to God that the burden of carrying the cries of the Israelites is too much for him (11:14). We see him pray for the very people that are actively working against God’s great work in verses like 12:13, 14:5, and 16:22. 

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In Moses’s continual acts of intercession, we see a beautiful picture of Jesus’s greater act of intercession for all people, not just the Israelites. In chapter 20, however, we see where the life and intercession of Moses gives way, moving God’s story forward to the need for a greater intercessor. The people are grumbling, again, because they are running out of water. God tells Moses to take his staff and tell the rock that was near them to yield water for his people. In his anger and impatience, Moses yells at the Israelites, striking the rock with his staff twice. The very man who carried the law down the mountain crumbled under the weight of it. Because of this act, God tells him that he would not be the one to lead the Israelites into the promised land. It would be Caleb and Joshua, his assistant that trusted God in a time of uncertainty (13:30), that would bring the people into Canaan. The Apostle Paul tells us that the rock that Moses struck was Jesus himself (1 Corinthians 10:4), and it would be Jesus who would do the great and final act of intercession for us. Whereas Moses carried the law down the mountain, Jesus would carry it back up in the form of the cross where he would die a terrible death, irrevocably and unequivocally ending the curse that had burdened his people since humanity’s expulsion from the garden of Eden. Whereas Moses was overwhelmed with the burden of this one group of people, Jesus takes the burden of all people onto his shoulders alone on the cross. He bore the full brunt of our sinful lives, absorbing the wrath that Moses plead for God to turn away. Whereas Moses, and the law he represented, was not able to lead the Israelites into the promised land, Jesus leads us triumphantly into our promised land, our eternity with him.


To kill or be killed? Both! 

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We see a glimpse of the brutality of this act in Numbers as well, in the odd and ruthless story of Phineas and the spear in 25:1-9. The people had rebelled against God again, offering sacrifices to the Moab god Baal and marrying their women. God’s anger was kindled, and a plague began to ravage the Israelites. God had told Moses to, in no uncertain terms, end this by killing the men “who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.” One man stood in front of Moses, weeping, with a Midianite woman standing behind him, no doubt begging to avoid this. Phineas, who was a son of Aaron and therefore a priest of the Tabernacle, saw this and “took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel in the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly.” The plague stopped after this all took place.

In Jesus, we have a high priest that deals the final blow to sin to stop our plague of death with a thrust of a spear. Yet Jesus is also the one that takes that final death blow, a spear to the side while hanging on the cross. Though he is the only innocent one, it is his untimely and gruesome death that turns God’s wrath away once for all.


The gospel beforehand

Numbers is ripe with glimpses of the gospel, if only you look for it. I encourage you to read (or re-read) this beautiful book with it in mind, seeing yourself, as I do, in the annoyingly wayward Israelites, but also seeing the beautiful movements and whispers of grace, trustworthiness, and love that God breathes out again and again, first through his servant Moses, but ultimately through his Son Jesus Christ.

LAURA RINAS / GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

The Introverted Christian

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved people. Or at least, the “idea” of people. This may seem horrific to some of my more extroverted friends, but I could happily go sit in the middle of the Mall of America for hours, by myself, contentedly watching strangers pass by me with their families. There is a certain beauty in how people interact with each other, and I consider it a great honor to see it unfold. I just don’t want to be a part of it.

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My inclination towards introversion, coupled with depression and social anxiety, makes pushing into community, in any capacity, a very real struggle for me. In a culture that is driven by this weird dichotomy of seeming connected to everyone but also being driven forward by a fierce independence makes what is already an incredibly hard struggle even murkier. Where do we, as Christians, draw the line between what feels right and good about our social interactions and what might feel uncomfortable? How do we balance, as introverts, our real and very necessary need for solitude with the need for community?

To make this less confusing, let’s look at our Truth first. Where does the Bible say we should land on this scale? The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, gives us a beautiful image of who we are in the context of a body of believers. Let’s read through 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 21-27.

[12] For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. [13] For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit…

[21] The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” [22] On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, [23] and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, [24] which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, [25] that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. [26] If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

[27] Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Regardless of how we feel, Paul is saying that we are part of a body. And, as it goes in our own bodies, we not only play a vital role in the growth of the church, but we are also very much dependent on the other parts of the body for our own growth. The beauty of Christ’s body, the church, is that, though we may all be very different (by race, spiritual giftings, political standings, spiritual maturity, etc), we are one body, drinking from the same cup.

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For a long time, I did not think of church as a priority. I fell into the temptation of spreading my introverted inclinations over and on top of my need for Christian fellowship. I had Jesus, and that was enough. Despite my isolated efforts, however, my faith waned and I slowly grew less dependent on Christ as my Savior. I had no one to check my spiritual blind spots, and, not surprisingly, my reflex tended to dismiss and excuse my own sins. As I grew more independent in life, I grew more independent in my faith. As Paul puts it here, I was an eye, thinking that what it could see was all there was. I was an eye who forgot that the things that she saw would be so much richer if I had the sense of touch the fingers provided, or the sense of smell the nose provided, or the gift of hearing the ears provided. Instead, I accepted this incomplete picture as the whole, and suffered greatly for it.

When my family moved to Minneapolis and eventually found our church almost three years ago, I went through a bit of a culture shock, to say the least. I was suddenly surrounded by people who wanted, and some who just expected, to be a part of our lives. It was jarring and uncomfortable, and yet we kept coming back. We felt more at home, sitting there in the back pew, casting our eyes down at the floor during that horrific “WHY DON’T YOU SAY HI TO YOUR NEIGHBOR” time, than we had anywhere else. Something about the very real presence of the heartbeat of community drew us in, despite our knee-jerk reflex to pull our hands away. I understand now that the heartbeat that drew us in was the undeniable life-giving push and pull of the gospel that is repeated every Sunday. The heartbeat of Christ’s death and resurrection is the steady rhythm that calls to our very bones and reminds them whose and what they are. As Paul says in verse 27, “Now you are the body of Christ.” Through God’s great mercy, we are enveloped in the safety of Christ’s body. And it’s his heartbeat, his work, that pushes life into every limb.

With this great truth, however, comes another. As Paul says in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” As Christ’s body was sacrificed for the good of all, we must be ready and willing to offer our lives as a living sacrifice for God’s great glory. I do not deny that pushing into community feels sacrificial at times. I often come home from our gatherings and collapse on the couch, weary from head to toe from social aspect of it. I still seek times and places of solitude to recharge. And yet, I have never experienced the growth, in both faith and maturity, that has come from God working through the church body. I have come to know God more deeply than I could have ever hoped to on my own. The picture would have never been more than that, a picture, a single capture, instead of a living, breathing, redeeming broken-but-whole body that IS Jesus in the Church. I experience God’s truth, God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s mercy through the arms and words of the people that are in this body with me. It is, surely, a wonderful, tiring, blessed thing to behold.

So I encourage you, if you are unsure about the role of community, or perhaps very sure about its role (which is not in your life, thank-you-very-much), to push into what God says about you in his Word. Acknowledge that He who created you knows who you are, and what you need, and has provided that for you. And I can say from experience, the church is a great place to start.

LAURA RINAS / GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

A God Who Speaks to Us

We (Christians) worship and serve a God who has spoken to us. He isn’t a god who lords over the earth, distant from mankind, keeping us guessing as to who he is, what he values, or how he reigns. Instead, we serve a personal God who has spoken to us in several ways; especially through the Bible.

The Bible is important to me (and us) for so many reasons. God’s word encourages us in our faiths and trials, convicts us in our sins, directs us in our questions, inclines us further to Christ, and (maybe most importantly) tells us the gospel: how salvation is found for sinners in Christ alone. The Bible tells us God’s character and how, in light of that, we should live as believers. The Bible is critical because the gospel is critical; it’s our hope and ultimate truth.

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Practically, learning about God’s revelation to us through the Bible is helpful in several ways. It reinforces my need to be in the Bible each day. Each day I need to be reminded of the gospel, each day I need to be saved from my sins. As I learn more about the Bible (how to read it, what questions to ask, the main points to see), I find myself more equipped and also more encouraged in the time I spend reading it. The more I learn regarding how to read the Bible, the more captivating and relevant it becomes.

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God wrote the Bible as one big story, not a series of fragmented, unrelated ones. When we read the Old Testament in light of the gospel; not only does the Old Testament make more sense, it also is all the more encouraging to see the ways God clearly pointed to Jesus thousands of years before Jesus walked the earth. Jesus himself explained that the Old Testament is actually about himself (Luke 24:17).

So through the lens of Jesus and the good news of his salvation, we can see the biblical storyline as a single 11 part story running from Genesis to Revelation:

Our identity (Genesis 1-2): Creation

Our problem (Genesis 3): The Fall

His solution promised (Genesis 4-50): Abraham

His solution pictured (Exodus): The Exodus

His solution pointed to (Exodus-Deuteronomy): Sinai/Law

His solution prefigured (Joshua-2 Chronicles): Kings, the Temple

His solution predicted (Ezra-Malachi): Exile and Prophecy

His solution personified (the gospels): The Coming of Jesus

His solution purchased (told in the gospels, explained in Romans-Revelation):  The Cross

His hope proclaimed (told in the gospels and Acts): The Resurrection and Pentecost

His and our return (Revelation): Eternity in the New Heaven and Earth (*adapted from Porterbrook’s Bible in MIssional Perspective [2015])

Finally, the Bible is final; God is not adding to it still. I’ve noticed a growing movement, especially in the realm of Christian women’s ministry, in which women claim God has spoken/is speaking to them. While this phrase can mean a ton of different things, it is helpful to remember that God has primarily spoken to us by his word (the Bible) and he doesn’t “speak” things to anyone that contradict the Bible. Additionally, we should always compare someone’s “revelation” to the Word of God because his word carries authority. The finality of God’s word was especially important to me years ago when I was exploring Mormonism, a religion that has added several documents in the past 200 years that they claim equal the Bible in importance, authority, accuracy, and divine authorship. To see the Bible warn against adding to God’s word helps us distinguish false religions in a very clear way.

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In conclusion, the Bible is critical in the life of a believer and in the Church. We need it to know the heart of God and to know the gospel. Like we read in 2 Timothy, the Bible is literally God’s words and it is good “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Praise God that he loves us and would give us so great a gift.

ELLEN ZIMMERMANN/GUEST CONTRIBUTOR