I’m amazed — stunned, actually — at the relentlessness of God’s grace.
In my seven-year Bible reading plan, I’m currently in Numbers. The literary and theological center of the book starts around Numbers 16. It’s not pretty. But it reveals a repeated pattern that shows us the severity of sin and the abundance of God’s grace.
A Repeated Pattern
A bunch of well-known leaders rebel against both Moses and Aaron.
Read the chapter and you realize how ugly things got. Accusations, defiance, pride, and conflict: it’s all there, along with its consequences. It’s a key moment in Israel’s history and a discouraging one.
God responds in judgment. The 250 well-known leaders end up dead. The ground opens up and swallows other of the rebels. God puts a reminder in place so the people don’t repeat the mistake.
The next day, the people grumble again. More ugliness. More discouragement. Failure after failure. God’s people just can’t seem to get it right.
And yet God responds with surprising grace.
- In Numbers 17, he reaffirms the priesthood. God provides a way for unholy people to approach a holy God.
- In Numbers 18, he ensures that the priests protect people from his holiness, and he provides for the needs of the priests.
- In Numbers 19, he provides cleansing for the impurity of his people.
It’s not the first time this pattern appears in Numbers. In Numbers 14, Israel doubts God, and then compounds their failure with presumption. Things look bleak. In Numbers 15, God turns a new page and provides instructions on sacrifices. He has every reason to abandon his people, but he keeps on coming back with grace.
All of this has me thinking.
Don’t skip over books like Numbers. I’ve heard so many people say that they do well in their Bible reading in Genesis and Exodus, but then get stuck in Leviticus and Numbers. Don’t be one of these people. Leviticus and Numbers pop off the page. They’re not boring at all. Find good tools if you need them, but don’t miss the stories, the tension, the drama of God’s grace.
Take sin seriously. Sin damages everything it touches. It’s ugly. Reading Leviticus and Numbers reminds us of the severity and consequences of sin, and also how prone we are to fall into it. Never treat sin casually. Never underestimate its ability to destroy you.
As you take sin seriously, revel in God’s grace. The sweet spot for the follower of Christ is a holy fear of God’s holiness coupled with a deep appreciation for his grace. The fear keeps us from sin; the appreciation of his grace keeps us from despair. Run as far away as you can from sin, but run as fast as you can to your Savior. You need him, and he’s made ample provision for you.
I’m so grateful for Numbers. I need to read stories of God’s relentless grace. I need to see the ugliness of sin and the danger it poses to my life. And then I need to see God, holy and gracious, judging sin and yet providing grace to the sinner. That’s the God of Numbers. That’s the God I need.