The Book of Numbers does what it says: it names and numbers Israel.
Here we find numerous lists of tribes and families listed and counted. Here is another origins document naming the original members of this newly called out tribal people; a people who will eventually become the nation and kingdom of Israel.
As it opens, Numbers is set at the holy mountain, Sinai (or Horeb as it is sometimes named) and its first ten chapters complete the Exodus story about the giving of the Law.
Exodus 19:1 to Numbers 10:10 describes how this ragtag rescued people were received into a formal covenant of relationship with the God who brought them out of Egypt. Here they receive instructions about how to live within this covenantal relationship.
But always keep in mind that these five books of the Pentateuch were actually written or edited or complied centuries after the events they record. The Hebrew Scriptures as we know them came into being around the time of the Babylonian Exile – either during their time in Babylon or not long afterwards.
Like many ancient peoples, the story of Israel was first preserved by their storytellers.
Oral histories of events and geneologies were handed down from generation to generation until they were finally written down. This founding story of the exodus from slavery and the covenant with YHWH became Israel’s Scripture during another painful time of exile and alienation from their God centuries later.
This exiled people knew full well they had broken covenant with their God and brought this tragedy upon themselves. And so as they recounted and retold the stories of their ancestors, they surely were confessing again their own faithlessness in light of the covenant faithfulness of the One Who Called them.
Israel told the old old stories with a stubborn hope that the God of Covenant would keep covenant and rescue them once again. As you read, consider the implications of Israel retelling these ancient stories through the lens of their current estrangement. It makes these stories all the more poignant.
We finish Hebrews this week with the famous list of Israel’s heroes of faith. How many of these Old Testament characters do you recognize?
Notice how slowly we are moving through the Gospel of Luke. This is intentional: take your time to ponder the life and times of the one who finally lived wholly and perfectly within this covenant relationship with YHWH: Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s Messiah.