Bible reading for April 24.
"Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head." (Num 1:2)
Israel's emancipation from Egypt and their stay at Mount Sinai, reported in Exodus and Leviticus, covered about one year's time. The next book, Numbers, will cover about 40 years, basically, a period of one generation. It was a period of national testing, and generally, the nation did poorly. (If you are a person prone to complain about things, then this is the book for you!) It is an historical narrative of Israel's wilderness wanderings. The title comes from the census that the Lord commanded Moses to take of the people (vv 1-3). It is "Numbers", as in, numbering the people. The purpose was to organize the tribes and to determine military strength. The total population of Israel at this point was about two-plus million people.
The reporting of names and numbers may seem formulaic and repetitive, but remember, these are the national archives of the people of God at that time. It's a kind of congressional record for them. There will be another census a generation later, before they enter the promised land (chapter 26). Such a census was something that only the Lord could command, since numbering to determine military strength was considered prideful and self-trusting once they had settled in the land of Canaan (See 2 Sam 24).
The Levites were exempt from military service and hence were not numbered: "But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony" (vv 53-53). The word for "keep guard" [shamar, "keep watch, protect"] is the same used by God to command Adam to "keep" the garden of Eden (Gen 2:15). The sanctuary of Israel was not only a picture of the new creation to come, it also represented the garden that God planted at the first creation. The tabernacle (and later the temple) was a kind of oasis of God's presence for his people. We know now that Christ is the ultimate sanctuary of God's presence for us. Pastors and teachers in the church today also have a kind of levitical, or custodial role, to guard and protect the gospel and sound doctrine: "...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4:2; cf Titus 1:9).
In an echo of this, the twelve tribes in the book of Revelation (Rev 7:4; cf Rev 14:1-3) are also numbered and will stand as faithful witnesses before a hostile world. Whether this is speaking specifically of Jewish believers during the great tribulation, or of the church generally living in a dark world, the point is clear: God's people have been delivered from bondage (as from Egypt or Babylon) and now faithfully worship and serve Christ alone as King.
My takeaway: Like Israel I am on my way to the promised land. Do I actually live this way? Do I think of myself as a sojourner in a wilderness age? Do I have a heart to advance Christ's kingdom and to keep and protect the sound teaching of the gospel? And how am I faring in the testing that I face? (There will be more on this topic of testing as we read through the book of Numbers!)
"Vindicate me, O LORD, my God, according to your righteousness, and let them not rejoice over me!" (35:24)
Betrayed. The particular setting of this psalm is not known, but David never writes simply as an individual with complaints. God has called him to reign over Israel with a just and righteous rule. His opponents and his betrayers -- similar to Judas in the gospels -- are likely those powerful people who had different ideas about what the kingdom of Israel should look like. David failed seriously at several points, but it does seem that this shepherd-turned-king had a heart for God's justice in Israel. And he had his share of enemies!
So when we read David's call for judgment against them we need to remember two things. First, it is not about a personal vendetta on David's part, but is about maintaining a just society under God's law. These are people he treated fairly. His words in verse 12, "They repay me evil for good" are similar to those of Jesus in John 15:25, "They hated me without a cause." And as king, David had a special interest in the protection of the poor (Ps 35:10). The "poor" in the Psalms are not merely those without money, they are those whose only wealth is the Lord himself. They trust in the Lord as their portion in life (Ps 73:26; Matt 5:3).
Secondly, David here prays for God's involvement on his behalf, rather than taking action himself. Most kings of his day would simply eliminate their opponents by execution. David calls upon the Lord for his intervention: "Say to my soul, 'I am your salvation!'" (v 3) So, he is not being vengeful, but is calling on God to act in righteousness. The New Testament also teaches this principle: "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'" (Rom 12:19).
God's purpose is to gather a people for himself -- chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, renewed by the Spirit. He himself will lead us into a new creation and dwell among us forever under his reign of righteousness. When we as believers come under his kingdom rule in this life we too encounter opposition (Matt 5:10). Psalms like this one remind us that it is good to pray, "Lord, may your kingdom come, may your will be done one earth as it is in heaven." We too should wait patiently upon the Lord for his wise and timely handling of those who hate us for the gospel's sake.
Image credit: photo of men praying at the western wall in Jerusalem, by Shutterstock.
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.