Thursday, March 10, 2011

Crossing the Jordan (Num. 33-34)

SEAN - When you're on the edge of life's next horizon, it's good to look back on what God taught you during the last life-stage. Numbers 33-34 is that horizon. This post should be a little less controversial than the last one. The one chapter (Numbers 33) lets us look back on Israel's time in the wilderness; the other (Numbers 34) lets us look forward with them to a new life behind the borders of Canaan. We look back in history with the full knowledge of what Israel would become, but these Israeli people were unaware and full of excitement and anticipation. This is Israel getting to leave the desert that had been their home for 40 years.

Based on's Chronological Bible In a Year schedule. If anyone would like to join in, this blog's comments sections would be a good forum in which to share insights from the text.

This Side of the Jordan: The Kindness and Severity of God

Numbers 33 is just a list of all the places that Israel had camped at over the years. It helps us figure things out chronologically ("what order did these things happen in?") but the names of these places were also memories: Marah was where Israel tested God; Elim was a desert oasis which Israel found after nearly dying of thirst; Kadesh was where Moses lost his chance to enter the Promised Land; Mount Hor was where Aaron died. God had alternately cared for and judged and taught Israel in that desert for their entire lifetime up until that point. The children born in that desert were now middle-aged men. It was all they knew.

Stuck In the Middle: Reflecting and Looking Forward
Israel was now in the middle of two radically different stages of life - the world they knew was going to radically change. If I put myself in their sandals, there would have been a lot of reflection on what had happened up to that point and a lot of anticipation about entering Canaan. It's like that with every major life change. Don't we feel the weight of these changes when we move from being dependents to living on our own, for example? How about from single to married? How about becoming a parent? There is this unsettling and exciting and disturbing feeling that nothing will ever be the same again. And during that packing process, or engagement, or pregnancy, you have nothing but time to think about where you've come from and where you're going. Something is on the horizon, and all we can do is look at the map of our (now former) lives and say "that's where I was - I remember that" and then trace our finger down, "and that's where I'm going."

That Side of the Jordan: God Will Be With Us
Numbers 34
is a document telling Israel where its borders were going to be - really, telling them which nations to wipe out: nothing beyond the border of Edom, the Great Sea, Mount Hor, or Shepham. Israel would never be the kind of ever-expanding empire that always conquered the areas around it. The borders were firm and set and the limits were made public. Not only was God saying "I will be with you - you will be able to do this," but He was also saying "I will set the borders of the nations" and "I am God over other nations too - don't conquer Edom." The important part is where God says He will be with Israel. That's important for anyone to hear -"I will be with you"- as they move forward in the journey God has for them. To the one packing He says "I will be with you." To the one planning their wedding God says "I will be with you." To the one with a child on the way God says "I will be with you." And to an Israel on the edge of the Promised Land, getting ready to literally face down the giants, God said I will be with you.

Those are comforting words. For today, we remain with Ancient Israel, in the middle, full of reflection on what has been and excitement at what's to come.

Other comments and observations can be found in the comments section! Join in!

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