When my mother died, my brothers and I cleaned out her house and divided up all her stuff. There were some things nobody wanted, some things only one or two of us wanted, and some things we had to auction to the highest bidder before we scratched out one another’s eyes over them.
An inheritance is worth buying when the thing involved matters to you. This is something of what today’s passages include.
God tells Moses to divide up the Promised Land, the inheritance he’s giving his people after so many years wandering in the wilderness, and to do it based on population numbers. The tribes with the most people get the biggest pieces, which makes sense, when you think about it: they’d need the most room, 26:52-56.
It’s not how anybody I know passes down wealth to their kids and grandkids though. At least I’ve never heard of anyone leaving one child more than another, based on his number of children or grandchildren. We usually think we’ve gotta be fair and give each of our kids the exact same thing.
But God gives each of Israel’s kids different sized pieces of land, depending on how many folks they have. In fact, God tells Moses to take a census once they arrive at this spot on the plains of Moab across from Jericho. God wants Moses to know what the numbers are, since they’ve had some rebellion along the way and a couple of plagues have wiped out thousands.
As far as I can tell, he has at least two good reasons for counting them: he wants Moses to know how many soldiers he’s got left to fight when it comes time to enter the promised land. And he wants to be sure that everybody gets a fair sized piece of the land he’s promised them, 26:1-4, 52-56
God is precise, counting everybody twenty years old and up, in order to ensure that nobody gets left out of the goodies he’s got coming. Moses even lists all the names by their tribal family heads, and it’s a little dull, to be honest, unless you’re a fan of reading genealogies with names like Zelophehad and Hoglah, 26:4-51.
What sticks with me though is that God’s a stickler, providing for both present and future generations in the gift of this land. He’s also a stickler in keeping his word that no one who rebelled and refused to go in the first time is left alive. That whole generation is now rotting in the wilderness, just as God’s said they would, 26:63-65.
God delights to give. But he doesn’t force anybody to follow him and receive. He’s a both/and God, both loving and judging, full of grace and consequences, just like any good father is. God keeps his word to his people, even when they fail to keep theirs to him.
And while he’s promised this land for years upon years, he didn’t let just anybody go in. The unbelieving, older generation, the ones who walked through the Red Sea and drank water out of rocks and were led by a fire-cloud, weren’t allowed in, nor were the others who died in those plagues and judgments.
God’s requirement wasn’t perfection. His sacrificial system was all about forgiveness for sin. But he didn’t coddle openly rebellious folks–those who didn’t want to have anything to do with him. These he let go, whether by opening the earth and burying them alive or letting poisonous snakes do their business, Nu 16, 21.
They rejected him. The God who was careful enough to count and record names so that everybody got an equal inheritance was kind, not cruel. He was careful and meticulous, making sure that no one was left out who wanted to be in. Anybody who wanted to be counted among his people was counted and got land, even Egyptians and other aliens. God was all-inclusive before it was even a thing, Ez 47:21-23; Nu 15:14-16.
This is still who God is: he doesn’t change, Mal 3:6.
David teaches us how to pray when we’re afraid God’s unhappy with us. We don’t have to bow and scrape to make ourselves acceptable. We don’t have to make everything OK. We can never make ourselves good enough to deserve him, anyway.
Here’s the problem: God’s angry with David and his men and has let their enemies win. But David asks God to help them anyway, 60:1-3.
How can David pray that God will relent and restore them in the midst of his letting the bad guys win? Because David knows God’s unfailing love—those who fear him get helped; those God loves, get delivered, 60:4-5.
David is confident that God will help because he’s measured off the promised land for his people. He’s got them figured into the inheritance. They’re his, for goodness sake, and belong to him. While he’s disciplined them, he hasn’t abandoned them. The ones who get abandoned are David’s enemies, 60:6-8.
God will “give us aid against the enemy,” which as it turns out, is all the help they need. David knows that “human help is worthless.” It’s God’s help that wins the day–and no one else’s, 60:9-12.
We can be confident that the God who made us his, who has an inheritance waiting for us in heaven, who gives us his presence within us now, who gave us Jesus, hasn’t walked off and left us when we’ve messed up, but will help us when we call because of his great love, 60: 4-5.
David knew that “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies,” 60:12.
And because God wins over sin and enemies and death—even the Enemy—what have we to fear?
Only that we won’t respond to him.
God wants to woo us and win us and wow us with himself so that we fall on our faces in worship. The God who counts us also keeps track of everything else about us–our tears, our fears, our failures, our hairs–and he still says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Mt 11:28.
The inheritance that costs us nothing, cost him everything, and he was willing to pay it because we matter this much to him.
It’s God, for the win.
For more about God’s obsession with numbers because of love, see March 4–The Numbers Guy.
Numbers 26 and Psalm 60 are selected for today in The One Year Bible.