We finish up with Numbers today! 4 books of the Bible down and 62 to go.....aren't you proud of yourself and feeling good about your accomplishment?
Chapter 34 delineates the borders of this new nation that Israel is about to become. These borders are 5000 years old and still important today. From the time of the exile until today, Israel has thought of themselves in terms of these geographical dimensions. When Israel was reconstituted following WWII these were the political boundaries that they sought. In the 1967 6-day war, these boundaries were re-established and Israel protects them fiercely today. They believe that God gave them this land in covenant with Abraham!!
Chapter 35 provides property to the Levites who were given no ancestral land. These are the men who are given to the Lord and who will care for the tabernacle and the Sabbath and the many sacrifices. Notice that the cities that they are given are scattered throughout the land. If you equate the Levites with modern day Pastors, consider what this means. God did not set up a place and say, "come to me." Rather he instructed the Levites to be scattered throughout the land to be with the people. So we are called to be scattered across the length and breadth of the world, to do God's work, to preach scriptural holiness and to pronounce the good news of Jesus Christ. So, too, is the Christian disciple called to be "in the world, but not of the world" and to participate in the eternally important work of reclaiming the world for God and his purposes.
Secondly, chapter 35 establishes cities of refuge, places where men may go to find sanctuary until justice can be done. It is from this concept that our notion of the church as a sanctuary comes from...a place where we can find mercy until justice comes. Justice is a very important part of Christianity and God provides for it in this new land. Evidence is required and a single witness is not enough to condemn a man. The death of an innocent is a serious thing. Our judicial system has its basis in the Judeo ethic of the Old Testament. As the Jewish system became perverted by the error and sin of man; so it appears that our system favors the wealthy and the privileged. This flies in the face of God's demand that we do justice to the alien, the foriegner, the poor and the underprivileged.
Finally, chapter 36 reminds us that Numbers began in the wilderness, but it ends on the Banks of the Jordan river, just across from Jericho. Will the people called by God enter into victory this time or will the cower in the face of obstacles? How like Israel are many of us who die in the wilderness because we do not fully trust in God and his promises. How many will not enter into the promised land of peace and plenty because we do not have the faith to move forward at God's command? If we are Israel, what would it take for us to move across the Jordan and become the church that God desires for us to become?
Just a post script to Sunday's services; we had nearly 300 in worship. The turnout for the chili lunch sponsored by the Cub Scouts was fantastic. I heard from several visitors who were very excited about the flavor of our church. Thanks for being the church; for being warm and welcoming. Folks cannot know the love of Jesus if the people are not willing to love in his name. Keep the faith and keep loving.