Gardens Beside a River

IMG_5909 After my first attempt on Leviticus, I decided that I would try a different approach with Numbers, try to listen to it more carefully, instead of interupting so much. So I set out intending to

  • read slowly – take 3 weeks over it,
  • save all my questions till the end,
  • not take a peek at anyone else’s opinion till I’d finished it.

Reading it slowly This was not easy. I didn’t really come out of automatic till I read the prophecies of Balaam :

‘I see people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my final end be like theirs!’

Then I saw the point of the numbers and the counting and the ‘ten thousand thousands’. This was a successful people, a blessed people, a people of numberless thousands, thriving on the will of God. And I just love the music in:

“How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel! “Like valleys they spread out, like gardens beside a river, like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from their buckets; their seed will have abundant water.”

It might be the time of year, my anemones are in flower, and Dad always said they were the lilies of the field, but it reminds me of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field of the New Testament. Israel relied on God and flourished.


  • Are the numbers realistic? Does it matter? (2)
  • Where is God in this? I’m not going to repeat what I said about Leviticus.

Taking a peek at the other blogposts

Jacksdavie (1) helped me make sense of the forty years – the lesson of patience and of God’s view not being ours.

You will have noticed that I didn’t quote Balaam’s prophecies about Israel destroying nations. Israel in the desert is not only huge, it is a huge army. God is clear, he wants a tally of men of fighting age – these are not refugees they are invaders en route to claim the land God promised them by killing or driving out those who already live there.

I’m not happy with this, either (2). Numbers seems to be more about blaming God for everything that goes wrong – boring food, plague and looking to him to put it right – snakes, water; and about God punishing with death those who sin. I was really taken with Julian of Norwich’s view of sin – necessary but not to be dwelt on – ‘contrition, compassion and a true longing for God’ is how she thinks we should respond to our own sins.

Nick Parish took the need for confession from his reading of Numbers (4).

And thank you, @paulblakey (3). I was putting Balaam’s donkey with the burning bush – a bit close to animism, you not only made me smile, you gave me a fresh view. Well, two fresh views really, I am wandering in the desert because I will keep making the same mistakes.

Thanks to

1. Numbers: Receiving and Sharing Blessing (@jacksdavie) This means trusting that God will provide for our needs, and having the patience to see this fulfilled, not expecting God to act instantly but in own his time. Equally, we should recognise where, or rather who, blessings come from. While I was thinking about this I realised that’s why it is so important to thank the Giver of those gifts, and not throw the blessing back in God’s face by complaining He did not give you enough, or that He gave you the wrong thing.

2. Dealing with difficult Numbers (TheAlethiophile) Being a disciple doesn’t mean we have all the answers. It means we are constantly learning.

3. “If God can use a donkey he can use me!” @paulblakey They wandered around in circles dealing with the same issues and same problems – is that true of your life? God is communicating with you!

4. Spiritual Disciplines: The Holy Habit of Confession. (@longingtobeholy) But as I was reading through Numbers, I came across that bit in chapter 14. Ten of the 12 spies have messed up and convinced God’s people to ignore God’s promises. The same ten spies have also been struck down.

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