Numbers. I crunch them for a living. I am passionate about accounting for things, diligently ensuring everything balances and ties out. The last missing penny has been known to haunt me. So how did I miss out on the book of Numbers in the Bible for most of my life? This little jewel has my inner bean counter mesmerized!
This book gives the exact accounting of the tribes of Israel. They did a census. Their camp was arranged in a certain order. And towards the end of chapter 3, God is clearly after my nerdy, number-crunching, perfectionist heart!
Originally, God had called each firstborn male Israelite to be dedicated to Him as a requirement of the Passover (see Exodus 13). But in Numbers, God is assigning the Levites to the role of working for His Tabernacle. Why? Because they were the tribe willing to boldly stand up against the unholy golden calf incident (it got bloody – see Exodus 32). So the Levite firstborn sons would be a substitution for all of Israel’s firstborn sons. But here’s the fun part.
The numbers didn’t work. Gasp!
There were 22,000 male Levites and 22,273 firstborn Israelites. My accountant heart is racing. We MUST do something about the difference! Lest I ever doubt that my vocation came from God, here’s the kicker – He DID do something about it. He commanded that the extra 273 be accounted for by paying five shekels for each one.
I know, I know. There are many of you out there who are not bouncing off the walls with excitement over this little accounting lesson. You don’t spend your free time trying to reconcile that last penny, and I’m grateful to you for the reality check that gives me permission to let it go. There are certainly times when it makes sense to just move on. But this was not one of those times. This was serious business. This was setting up the priestly station and creating a system for humanity to follow God, the Creator of the universe and Savior of our souls. It needed to be exactly right.
I love the way Whitney Capps sums it up in the First 5 devotional on this chapter. She says, “This may seem unnecessarily tedious to us, but this reminds us that God is perfect, exact and does not count close as ‘good enough.’ All God does reflects His character. When He asks us to be set apart for Him, He wants us completely set apart. Close is not close enough. Let’s not stop short of full devotion.” Amen, sister!
This is where I must tear myself away from the numbers and focus on the character of God. He reminds me through the Old Testament that He is serious about how we follow Him. He doesn’t want me to get complacent in my devotion to Him. There are rules and commandments and consequences for disobedience.
Do you believe there are also rewards for surrender? I’ve witnessed God’s math firsthand when I submitted to His will a few years ago. He asked some big things of my family that required careers to be left behind. We said yes, but I told Him I was worried about the money and I trusted Him to provide. On the same day my husband quit his job, God answered with a raise for me that was the exact amount – to the penny – that we needed to make ends meet. When He said we needed to sell our house and move, I was pretty sure it was impossible. It wasn’t the right time, location, market, etc. But we said yes, and God sold that impossible house in one day for the exact amount – to the penny – that we needed to move forward. These are not coincidences. This is God’s math. Certainly He’s the ultimate example of perfect, but maybe that’s not all He’s trying to say. Maybe He uses down-to-the-penny miracles so we will believe.
He cares about the numbers.
He cares about the details.
He cares about the laws.
He created them!
Are we taking God seriously? Are we “all in” when we follow Him? Or are we trying to rationalize how much we can get away with and still be Christians, a little too eager to call it “good enough”?
Sometimes I catch myself falling into this trap – casually saying Jesus died for me, His sacrifice covers it, and I’m not so bad compared to the next guy. I show up at church. I try my best (most days). I go through the Christian motions. But I also must remember that Jesus is my Savior, not my excuse.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. ~Matthew 5:17 (NIV)
What if we let the numbers convict us? Each time we balance our checkbooks. Each time we review our credit card bills. Each time we file our taxes. I pray that each rogue penny will be a reminder to us all. Not that we must chase the penny – that we must chase God.
Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” ~Matthew 22:37 (NIV)
In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
~Luke 14:33 (NIV)
For more on the concept of perfectionism, try Holy Ping Pong.