Tag Archives: numbers

Slightly Set Apart from the World

Numbers 15:37-41
37 The LORD said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. 39 You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. 40 Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. 41 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.’”

God commands Moses, in this excerpt from Numbers, to have the Israelites wear special tassels on their garments, which would move when they moved and be a visual reminder of their covenant with God.

As the rest of the Old Testament bears out, Israel has a hard time sticking to its promises, especially when the rest of the ancient world around it is worshipping other gods and doing things that God said He didn’t like, without any visible punishment. Especially in the book of Judges, Israel waffles back and forth between God and Ba’al (or between God and pretty much any other regional deity with purported powers).

God’s command, then, is not just a fashion statement but a way of setting apart the Israelites from the others. They would look slightly different from the Canaanites, and they would also (ideally) behave differently from neighboring nations as well because they would be daily reminded by the tassels on their clothes. Their tassels, much like their commandments, would mark them as God’s chosen people.

Our ‘Tassels’: Crosses and WWJD, Among Others

Today, Christians wear a variety of things that (supposedly) show their faith: crosses dangling from necklaces; WWJD bracelets; shirts with Bible verse references printed in grungy fonts; even Bible verse brooches and pins. We mark ourselves as different with fashion, and we’re not alone in that–across the world, different religions and different cultures have been using fashion as a symbol of their uniqueness for millennia.

But are we Christians using these symbols, these modern-day tassels, as visual reminders of our faith?

I would venture to say that much of Christian fashion symbolism is mainly worn for pretending or for boasting, and not much for reminding. We’re more concerned with what other people will think of us wearing these symbols (i.e., we’re “better people”) than really believing what they stand for. But other Christians and non-Christians who observe us will notice our behavior, whether good or bad, and compare it to that symbol we are wearing. When we sin, and someone else notices not only the sin but the religious symbols, they are more apt to think that Christianity is bogus.

Case in point: I knew plenty of “Christians” growing up who wore all the trappings of Christianity, all the shirts and bracelets, all the cross necklaces you could ever want…but they never really ACTED like Christians. Instead, they acted selfish, boorish, judgmental, self-righteous, childish, and/or reckless. This reflected badly not only on them, but on the faith their fashion professed. Their fashion choices claimed they were set apart from the world, but they acted like perfectly happy members of the world.

If we’re going to wear the fashions of Christianity, we should let those symbols remind us of our faith, and remind us to practice it every day, not just Wednesday night and Sunday morning. Wearing the cross doesn’t mean you’re saved, necessarily, but bending before the proverbial cross and accepting Jesus does. Wearing a WWJD bracelet doesn’t mean you’re trying to live as Jesus taught, but reading Jesus’ teachings and doing your best to follow them does. We just can’t fake being slightly set apart from the world.

No One is a Foreigner to God

Numbers 9:14
An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must do so in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for the alien and the native-born. (NIV)

Of course, God is not talking about asking one of the “little green men” to come and share Sunday dinner, but is speaking of any foreigner who wishes to celebrate with the Israelites. God stipulates throughout the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch) that foreigners, or aliens, must be treated in the same fashion as the native-born, and here again He emphasizes that inclusiveness. Even in the Old Testament, God was not just a God of one nation or of one race; if someone wanted to worship Him, all they needed to do was follow the rules and they were welcome.

My NIV translation notes that God still requires the foreigners to be circumcised to represent the covenant, but that they are welcome to share in Passover once that is complete. Since Christians do not always follow the circumcision rite, this may seem confusing to Christian readers. However, it is my belief that we can uphold this part of God’s Word by allowing anyone to fellowship with us if they express a genuine desire to learn more about God.

As this post’s title says, no one is a foreigner to God; He knows each and every one of us, even if we have not made the free will decision to be a Christian yet. Throughout the Pentateuch, God makes it clear that He doesn’t want us humans to worry so much about nationality, ethnicity, place of birth, gender, or anything else that separates us from a potential believer. We make so much fuss about “white churches” and “black churches,” “old-people’s churches” and “young-people’s churches,” etc., that sometimes we forget to reach out to people who may be different from us. We must remember that each person we meet is a child of God and deserves to know more about Him if they want to know.

What Do We Offer God These Days?

Numbers 7:23
And for a sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five he goats, five lambs of the first year: this was the offering of Nethanel the son of Zuar. (KJV)

This verse describes one of the offerings made at the dedication of the Tabernacle by leaders of the 12 tribes, and is part of the longest chapter in the first five books of the Bible. Each of the 12 tribe leaders brought identical sacrifices to show their dedication to the Lord, and to praise and honor Him for blessing them through Moses (recorded in the previous chapter of Numbers).

For modern believers, this kind of physical act of sacrifice seems alien. In this day and age, who would bring animals and precious objects to a modern Christian church as any kind of offering to God? Indeed, since the practice of sacrificing to atone for sin has been rendered unnecessary by Jesus, this kind of voluntary material tribute to God feels weird.

This does not mean, however, that we are exempt from thanking God. Just because we don’t bring our best plates and lambs to the altar anymore doesn’t mean we’re cleared to treat God like Santa Claus and just ask Him for things without being grateful. Yet many times we do just that–we cry out to Him only in times of sorrow or need. In times of health and happiness, sometimes we forget to tell God “Good job;” we forget to recognize how He protects us, and to praise Him for prayers answered.

Praising is just as important as praying. It’s not that God needs our praise, but that we need to praise Him in order to remember all that God has done for us, all the times He has taken care of us. We bring the sacrifice of praise, as this hymn states; instead of items, we bring our gratitude and humble hearts before God, and we let the memories of God’s faithfulness develop our trust in Him. Our praise and gratitude are literally the best things we can offer God today.