Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting (Numbers 1:1, NASB).
The book labeled Numbers in our Bible has a couple different names in Hebrew. The most common is bamidbar, which means “in the wilderness.” This is a much more befitting title because the wilderness wanderings of the nation of Israel are a picture of our Christian lives, individually and collectively.
God delivered His people Israel from the oppression of the enemy (Egypt). They spent the first year learning God’s covenant with them (the law) and building the tabernacle. After that time of preparation, God organized this rabble of a nation into a community — a people of God, the army of the Lord. God commanded a census . . . to form a military roster. He called out leaders and assigned placement (within the body), and He assigned a marching order.
All that in just the first four chapters of Numbers. The next six chapters are about personal purity, and then the journey “in the wilderness” begins. It was filled with complaining . . . and correction, with rebellion . . . and redemption. Paul writes about “our fathers [who] were under the cloud”:
With most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition (1 Corinthians 10:5-11).
Our Christian life begins when God delivers us, as He did the Israelites, from the oppression of the enemy. We spend some time learning God’s covenant with us (His Word) and building His dwelling place in our hearts (what the tabernacle symbolizes). After that time of preparation, then God calls us into the community — the people of God, the army of the Lord. And God assigns us a placement in the body of Christ. He assigns us marching orders.
Personal purity is important to God. We must keep ourselves undefiled, set apart for Him, as we begin our journey “in the wilderness.” Our journey is filled with complaining . . . and correction, with rebellion . . . and redemption. All this is the stuff of life “in the wilderness.”
God marched the army of Israel to the border of the Promised Land. But there were giants in the land and battles to be fought. The Israelites had a decision to make: follow God into battle or stay “in the wilderness.”
You and I face the same decision: join the army of the Lord and follow God into battle or continue to wander around “in the wilderness.”