Thursday, March 6, 2008

what's the count?

51. Numbers 1-2

It is the custom of the American Church to count and keep track of the number of people who attend each church. Many churches are known for the number of people who attend, and in some cases they are known more for this number than for the witness for God that they are to the community. Because of this focus on numbers there are some who would argue that numbers are not what is important, rather the condition of the hearts of those who attend church. (These are undoubtedly the churches with fewer numbers) So what is the answer? To count or not to count, that is the question.

Bamidbar is a Hebrew word, which is the fifth word of the Book of Numbers, it means "In the wilderness". The Book of Numbers in the Hebrew Tanach is called Bamidbar. While the Hebrew Tanach begins by focusing on the place where the Hebrews are when the book is written, Jewish scholars who study the Torah take note of God counting his people in the book of Numbers.
Because they were dear to Him, He counted them often. When they left Egypt, He counted them (Exod. 12:37); when [many] fell because [of the sin] of the golden calf, He counted them to know the number of the survivors (Exod. 32:28); when He came to cause His Divine Presence to rest among them, He counted them. On the first of Nissan (the Hebrew month in which the Passover falls), the Mishkan (the Tabranacle) was erected, and on the first of Iyar, He counted them.
It is interesting that the Jewish writer points out that God counted them because "they were dear to him." It reminds me of when Jesus tells the story of the lost sheep. God cares about each one in his flock. He cares about numbers insofar as those numbers represent those who are dear to him.

So if we count to make ourselves look good, we are probably wrong. If we count so that we can keep track of those who are dear to God, then we are probably right. May we love people and keep track of them with the most sincere hearts and with pure motives for these people are dear to God.

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