I hated Vacation Bible School.
Well, only sometimes. From when I was really small up until I was about 11, Vacation Bible School was the bomb. I loved the silly little TV program (ours was called Chadder’s Theater) that went along with it. I loved snack time. I even enjoyed the games, despite being terrible at them.
But then I turned 12, and I guess I thought that meant I needed to leave childhood behind. Instead of participating in Vacation Bible School, I started helping out. I ran games or Chadder’s Theater or – and this I hated the most – I was an age group leader, which meant I stayed with one group of kids for the entire day, leading them around all the activities.
I still remember the pit I would feel in my stomach as I watched one kid and then another and then another and then still more join my group. It just made me nervous! I didn’t want to be in charge!
After all, when things go wrong, leaders get all the blame. Just ask Moses.
In this chapter, however, Moses is off the hook for a change. It’s census time. Every last Israelite man who is twenty or older is counted. It’s in preparation to move into the land of Canaan – the land would be divided up by population.
Knowing how prone the Israelites are to complaining, we can only imagine what it was like in their camp as the census got underway. I’d love to see how Moses got this done!
But even though Moses was in charge of the census, God was the real One in charge. He had been all this time. And it really shows just how remarkable that was when you read verse 51: “The total number of the men of Israel was 601,730”. The men.
The men!! If you add in the women and children, you’ve got at least three times that many people in the entire camp.
A, it’s wild because one man, Moses, bore the complaints and hijinks and rebellion of all those people for years.
B, it’s wild because God guided and kept and strengthened all of those people – almost two million of them.
Two million. It’s a good number to remember. Especially now, in times like these.
We’re a lot like the Israelites. If you’re honest, you already knew that. We complain a lot. We blame God a lot. When hardships or tragedies enter our lives, we think God is being unfair or He’s forgotten us or He’s simply not real.
But we’re forgetting the two million. If God could lead two million former slaves through a wilderness, through hostile nations, through droughts and famines, through sicknesses, and give them a name, a government, a law, a community, a hope for the future; then surely He can manage a financial crisis.
Surely He can manage corrupt governments.
Surely He can manage international conflicts.
Surely He can manage a global pandemic.
Maybe we tell ourselves these things, but we’re looking around. We’re seeing people dying. We’re seeing people suffering.
Almost like the entire generation that died in the wilderness, never once to see God’s promises come true. But “the Lord had told those Israelites they would surely die in the wilderness” (verse 65). He knew. He allowed it to happen. Because He had a plan. And He knew what was best for the Israelites.
The same has got to apply to us.
“I’ve got the whole world in My hands.”
I am not a fortune teller. I am not a prophet. I’m willing to bet neither are you. That means that neither of us know the future. We don’t know what’s coming.
But in order to plan things perfectly and in order to judge things perfectly, a knowledge of the future is absolutely a requirement. Else, you will make mistakes.
You won’t know how something will turn out. You won’t know what needs to be done now to make the future better.
There is only one Person in the entire universe who has that critical piece of knowledge, and that Person is, thankfully, our heavenly Father. That Person is, thankfully, the definition of wisdom and love.
And that Person can be trusted. He knows exactly what He is doing.
He’s testing our faith in Him. He’s forcing us to let go of all our distractions from Him. He’s showing us the futility of the things of this world. He’s challenging us to study Him more closely. He’s transforming us – into people who know Him, who trust Him, who believe in Him, and who will live forever with Him.
Romans 8:18 says “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
As we read the story of the Israelites, let’s find courage and faith in those pages. If God could lead those two million plus Israelites throughout the ages, then He can lead us.
No matter what.
What do you think? What does the sheer number of people God led through the wilderness make you think of? Comment below!