Exodus Day Thirty-Two
August 13, 2020, 5:00 AM

Numbers
Exodus 12:37

“The people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth,
about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.”

Numbers are more than numbers in the Bible. Numbers, to us moderns, merely designate, categorize, or enumerate. (Imagine that, numbers enumerating!) Prosaically cut and dried. Pedestrian. But in ancient minds— a Biblical vantage point – numbers were filled with meaning; loaded with symbolic import; and used artfully, expressively and meaningfully. The mere presence of a number in the flow of the text meant a world of meaning. An example of this phenomenon in our own day would be the use of logos. When you see the “C” of the Chick-fil-A logo, you don’t need anything but that chicken head “C” to communicate a world of southern, culinary delight (…for normal people.) The Nike “Swoosh.” The Amazon “a.” The Disney Cinderella Castle. You get the picture. Similarly, sort of, in the Bible, numbers served this mental-picturing-leading purpose.

The numbers 3, 4, 7, 10, 12, 40 and multiples of these numbers accentuate and emphasize further, are often used as literary devices throughout the Bible. Three is the Divine number. Holy, Holy, Holy and the Tri-Unity of the Godhead— Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Four, the number of the earth. The four corners of the globe. The symbolic number of the nations. The four living creatures bearing and guarding the holiness of God, representing God’s sovereignty over the world. The four-fold Gospels for the world. Seven and Ten, the numbers of completion and fullness. And, when you see multiples of these numbers, you get fullness on steroids— such as One Thousand Years, which translates as the growing, increasing fullness of the Kingdom of God on earth. (I must point out that when Biblical numbers are halved, it usually means attenuation of what’s described. We shall come to this shortly.) The number Twelve, the number of God’s elect (e.g. the 144,000 in Rev. 7:4-10 ), the tribes of Israel and the apostles. And Forty, the number of testing and preparation. 40 days and nights in the Ark. Three forty-year segments to the life of Moses. Forty years in the wilderness wanderings to match the forty days in the wilderness for the Lord Jesus. Bible numbers, doing theology without words. Doing divine exposition with numeric pictures stimulated by numbers infused with imagery of people, places, things and ideas.

As the Exodus out of Egypt commences, we have the opening description of the beginning of the journey highlighted today: “The people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” 600,000 men – not including women and children. That would put the number of Exod–ees at well over a million, and then some. That’s a lot of people! Leaving aside the question of whether this number communicates something else (it may), I note that this begins a description of the journey to the Promised Land, which involves another number that I do want to talk about. This trip will make numerous pit-stops along the way, before reaching the destination. The people of God travel in various stages before they reach the cusp of paydirt forty years hence.

If you go to Numbers 33:1-49, you find a detailed itinerary of the journey and the encampments: “These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places. They set out from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. On the day after the Passover, the people of Israel went out triumphantly in the sight of all the Egyptians.” (33:1-3). It ends forty-six verses later on this note— “They camped by the Jordan from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab.” (33:49). The end of the wilderness years outside the Promised Land! Of course, once in the Land there are still battles to fight. If you track the Story carefully, you see that the end of the Exodus period doesn’t find completion until the day Solomon dedicates the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Shekinah Glory fills the space. (This topic is a blog post in and of itself. We shall attempt to mind-wrap this someday.) But from the perspective of the Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy), reaching the Plains of Moab is the equivalent of the prequel, “Mission Accomplished!” They have made it to the shoreline of heaven. That’s why I call this blog “The Plains of Moab.” We, the Church of Jesus, are symbolically part of that wilderness generation, waiting for Jesus to come back and to lead us definitively into the Promised Land— The Land Flowing with Milk and Honey – The New Heavens and New Earth – The New Jerusalem – Back to the Garden of Eden. Wow, that’s a pile of synonymous metaphors! (Pictured below, Qasr el-Yahud, the baptismal site of Jesus, and the entry point from the Plains of Moab into the Promised Land. If you look to the left in the picture, you can see the cave purported to be the home of John the Baptist.)

That’s the appetizer. Now to the main entrée for today: In Numbers 33, if you took the time to go through that itinerary, you’d count forty-two encampments from Succoth to the banks of the Jordan River. 42 is a loaded number. We find the number forty-two most prominently in the book of Revelation.

“‘Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days [that’s 42 months!], clothed in sackcloth.’ These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” (Rev. 11:1-4).

“When the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. [3½ years, which is 42 months.]” (Rev. 12:13-14)

“The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.” (Rev. 13:5).

I must point out that 42 months, which is 3½ years, literarily expressed as a “time, and times, and half a time,” is half of the number seven. Seven attenuated. This period of time we’ve inhabited since Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father seems as if badness is ascendant (Rev. 11:1-4). This period of time is the time of the dragon’s (devil) raging against the Church (Rev. 12:13-14). That’s where we are now. The time where evil and all the attendant woes that attend devilish fumes in the world look as if they are going to swallow all that’s good (Rev. 13:5). That’s where we are now. Having noted this depressing picture, here’s the upside: The period of 42 months is half of seven. Attenuation! A period of time that's growing weaker. These days are numbered before the unstoppable plans of God. It is a symbolic blown kiss from God saying, “I got this.” “This won’t last forever.” “This is my world, and my purposes will stand.” You can count on it.

Now, let’s return to the Exodus encampments in the wilderness. Forty-two encampments to represent the pilgrimage we are on in this life, this side of the Jordan. Times of testing. Times of frustration. Times of failures. Times of faithlessness. Times of victories. Times of worship. Times of exploration. Times of learning. Times of discipline. Times of anticipation. That was the wilderness for Israel. This is the wilderness of the current age, the age between the First Coming and Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. The message from God is that this world and its plans and ways are known and worked to his good purposes. As believers, we love Romans 8:28. We Romans 8:28 all over the place, moving through this pilgrim way. Numbers are so meaningful in the Bible. We miss so much encouragement if we read Biblical numbers in a modern, pedestrian way. So be aware... God paints by the numbers!

I must leave this picture with you today, because, after today’s blog, you probably think this is what I look like as I teach. Be blessed today! All smiles.

 


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