Thus did the people of Israel; they did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses.
The Book of Numbers begins with a census. The goal of this assessment is to determine the eligible fighting force for the army of Israel. It came at the command of God (Numbers 1:1-2), was expected to be obeyed, and was immediately administrated by Moses through a list of representatives and officials from each of the twelve tribes (Numbers 1:5-15). It was an administrative task, but because God was behind the request, it was not just routine administrivia.
The fourth book of the Old Testament tends to get a bad rap among today’s Christians precisely because it begins and ends with a census. It does not help that someone gave it the cumbersome and rather mathematical-sounding name of “Numbers”… BORING! But it isn’t. Along the way in this first chapter we learn that there were assistants to Moses from each of the twelve tribes. There was shared spiritual leadership in Israel. That is a good thing. We learn God exempted the ministry professionals, the Levites, from military service because they were already called into service in the tabernacle. God seemed to place equal value on religious and societal service. That is a good thing and worth noting in a culture where we often divorce the sacred and secular for all the wrong reasons. Of course this was a people who were governed by a legislation that came directly from the finger and lips of God. But there are principles that illuminate Christians in response to culture today. I kind of think this is interesting stuff… even if the name still sounds boring!
And of course the end of chapter one shows the reward of complete obedience. The people did everything that God had commanded Moses. That has to “count” for something!
I got my “Census 2010” reminder letter from the Federal Government yesterday. I know that my experience with it will be nothing like this passage. For one thing, the letter had at least five languages in the P.S. (Russian was one of them… Russian, really?), and promised/threatened me with the prospective loss of government funding for stuff in my community if I did not fill it out accurately. So I will do my civic duty with a pen next week. That is also the week I sit down with my accountant for income tax preparation. Sometimes life has this dimension to it… I learned that from the Book of Numbers.