(this transcript has been lightly edited for readability)
I have to give you some time clues here because the length of a particular book doesn't tell you the period of time. Leviticus was all lived, the entire Leviticus was lived at the base of Mount Sinai, maybe about a year. Numbers encompasses forty years; Deuteronomy, probably anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks. So the time period doesn’t always correspond to the length of the passage, just a little thing on the side there.
Well, Numbers, what would I call Numbers? Well, my title for Numbers is, “Grace, Rebellion, And Travail.” What Numbers powerfully presents is that, even in the face of magnificent gifts of grace, we are still able, often willing to rebel against the plan, the purpose, and the call of God.
And that presents the moral struggle that the rest of the redemptive story will be about; it's about that struggle of submission of my heart to this God who owns me and has called me to Himself. You would think that, after the outpouring of grace, we’d get it and there would be no rebellion in our hearts. And you would think that in the life of Israel, what a magnificent outpouring of God's goodness on these people. And they were on a short trip to the land that He had promised them, and they rebelled against His purpose; they rebelled against His power; they questioned His goodness. And what resulted were forty years of travail.
It's a powerful message that rebelling against God never goes anywhere good. And yet in the middle of this horrible story of travail, forty years, you see again the grace of the Lord Jesus. These people can't provide for themselves, and so God sends down manna from heaven. We know, we have chapter and verse for the fact, that the manna was not very attractive, not very delicious. It says that you actually have a bit of a recipe that manna was cooked with olive oil. This is hysterical and it says, when it was done, it tasted like olive oil. That meant the manna had no taste of its own.
And God's people didn't like the manna, and they hungered for the leaks, and onions, and the things that they ate in slavery. Think about that! Jesus boldly declares, to us in John, that He's the manna from heaven. That provision of manna is actually a finger pointing to the Bread that would come that would ultimately satisfy the hearts, our hearts, the Bread of Life, Jesus.
Now, I want to make this confession. I’m like those people in the wilderness. The Bread of Jesus isn’t always a thing that attracts me. I'm still susceptible to placing my eyes on and setting my desires on other bread, bread that I think will satisfy me more…the bread of human acceptance, the bread of personal power and success, the bread of affluence, the bread of ease, fill in the blank. And in so doing, I'd rather have slavery than the freedom that Jesus can give me.
Numbers exegetes our struggle; we’re like those people more than we’re unlike them, and it warns us that rebellion never goes anywhere good. And what we actually hunger for will only ever be found in the Bread of Life, Jesus.