Numbers, numbers, and more numbers. No wonder this book is called Numbers! It is so tempting to simply avoid this repetitive and often seemingly lifeless book. I mean, it’s the Old Testament. Do we really need to be immersed in old rules and laws when we could just read about God’s grace and mercy?
Our culture tends to exalt God’s grace so highly that we so often forget His holiness. What we don’t realize is that without God’s holiness we would need no grace. His holiness and purity was chapter one in the redemption story. This book portrays a vital aspect of the Gospel. The book of Numbers vividly illustrates God’s holiness throughout, revealing to us the very reason why we need saving in the first place.
Ever since time was, with no beginning and no end, God existed in perfect harmony of holiness and purity within Himself (John 1:1). When He spoke the world into existence, He created it “good” and sin was yet to be committed (Genesis 2:25). However, in a single act of rebellion, Adam and Eve walked contrary to God’s perfection by sinning against Him. As punishment, Adam and Eve were forever banished from His holy presence because they were now marred by sin’s deadly curse.
Now why am I backing up this far in history? It is because without this understanding, we cannot understand our need to be brought back into God’s sweet and holy fellowship. Without some sort of bridge, we cannot enter into this communion with our holy God. While we lived in dark unrest, there lay a vast expanse separating us from the eternal life that we could not reach. But this was not the end of the story.
This is where the book of Numbers enters in with a glimmer of hope. In a sequence of miraculous events that showcased God’s faithfulness to His people, He led them to the Promised Land. Yet through His leading, Israel was still barred from entering into God’s fellowship. His very name sent a terrifying excitement, and being in God’s veiled presence caused Moses’ face to shine and “they were afraid to come near him” (Exodus 34:30).
Because God Himself was holy and set apart from evil, He desired for His people to be so as well. In Numbers 8:14, God separated the Levites for His special purposes to serve Him in His tabernacle. God then later established rules as Israel attacked the land of Midian (Numbers 31). He regulates this by stating, “Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work on goats’ hair, and every article of wood” (Numbers 31:19-20).
God required the best and nothing less. The people of Israel were to offer only sacrifices that were “without blemish” (Numbers 29:13). These alone would be acceptable to Him to cover sin. In order to bridge the gap between deplorable sinners and our holy and pure God, a perfect sacrifice had to cross that great divide.
Now as we ruminate on God’s infinite holiness, His grace cannot be forgotten. His holiness is what set us apart from Him, but His grace brought us back into communion with Him. Even after all the sin Israel committed in the wilderness, Numbers 14:18 says, “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and fourth generation.”
Worship God for His holiness as well as His grace and love. As you think on His holy separation from sinners, remember what you have been redeemed from. It is when we begin to grasp His holiness that we can rest in our communion with God and desire to lead others to experience this communion as well.
Let us now meditate on God’s infinite holiness and let that inform our worship.
Here is a link for a sermon by Ligon Duncan that goes through the Gospel in the book of Numbers. I’m sure you will be blessed by it!