Bible Study with Jairus- Numbers 1The first chapter of the book of Numbers seems to be very boring and difficult to read because it is the list of names of the different tribes of Israel and the number of Israelites they counted. But behind these boring numbers, there is profound meaning. It’s like someone who doesn’t understand advanced mathematics or physics; numbers and formulas may be very boring for them. But for those who understand the principles, it’s very simple, and may also be very interesting.
The same is true when reading the Bible. Often, when we read a certain part of the Bible, we feel that it’s boring because we are not familiar with the “numbers and formulas” inside. But once we are familiar with these things, we may find it interesting.
So, how many boring numbers recorded in the first chapter of the Book of Numbers are related to our actual life and the church today? These two are closely connected. But we need the illumination of the Holy Spirit to help us understand this relationship.
I’ll use a historical story that the Chinese are familiar with to explain. Chinese legends always mention leaders who are good at commanding the army. For example, Zhuge Liang, who sets up an “Eight-Array Maze” when fighting the enemy. I won’t discuss how the “Eight Array Maze” works because I’m unsure of all the details. It involves divination in traditional Chinese culture (or something of that sort), so it is just a metaphor here. Usually, “Eight-Array Maze” refers to a complex and diverse military arrangement. If the soldiers follow the command according to this strategy, they will defeat the enemy. However, the enemy often thinks of ways to destroy this “Eight-Array Maze.”
We can think of the number of people who were counted in the Book of Numbers and the encampment later as an “Eight-Array Maze” or a complex battle structure established by God. If God’s people embattle the army according to this “Eight-Array Maze,” it will be very easy to defeat the enemy. And under the leadership of God’s appointed leaders Moses and Joshua, many battles were won. But we all know that later, the descendants of Israel couldn’t drive out the enemies of Israel completely. So in the end, they became thorns in their flesh, which made them fall. Therefore, Israel has suffered many defeats in its many years of war with neighboring countries.
Why is it that under the leadership of people like Moses, Joshua, and even Caleb, Israel could win the battle, but later, the Israelites were repeatedly defeated? Generally speaking, many Christians regard the book of Numbers as a book of war, because after Jehovah led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Israelites were formed into an army and were brought by Jehovah to the Promised Land (Land of Israel) to drive the enemy away. The Bible calls God the “The Lord of Hosts” many times (1 Sam. 1: 3; Psalm 24:10; Isa. 1: 9; Ha 1: 2). So as the leader of hosts, God is a great military strategist and conductor.
God does have an enemy, and His enemy is very cunning, but in a battle between God and His enemy, He will prevail. This battle however, becomes a little bit complicated because it involves people. God chooses to let people fight with Satan and his evil forces, and He often helps them. But if they are prideful and don’t accept the right guidance, they will naturally be defeated.
There is an old saying in China, “A true gentleman should keep silent while watching a chess game.” This means that when people play Chinese chess, they don’t like to hear others guiding them. Because the people who play chess think they are smart enough to play the game. Therefore, they don’t like others to guide them. Humans and Satan are like the two players in chess. God is the one watching. If people ask God for help, He will help them. But sometimes, people who play chess are reluctant to accept help, and God silently watches even though He is qualified at a high-level. When the person who plays chess loses, and humbly asks Him for help, He’ll step in and help.
God is always with us; watching us play chess or watching us fight our enemies. Sometimes, we are too full of ourselves. We don’t like being told what to do, so God keeps silent. But when we fail and humble ourselves and ask God for help, He will help us.
The history of the book of Numbers can be said to be a picture depicting how God’s people were able to win the battle through His guidance and under the correct leaders Moses and Joshua. The book of Joshua recorded many of the victorious battles that God’s people won, but by the time we get to the book of Judges, the Israelites suffered a crushing defeat.
So when we read the book of Numbers, we must pay attention to how God leads and enlightens people like Moses and Joshua to fight and also how God’s people cooperate. Moses and Joshua are leaders who obeyed God and who listened attentively to His voice. God’s people were also willing to obey and submit to Moses and Joshua’s leadership, enabling them to have many victories in battle. But in later years, the Israelites lacked good leaders like Moses and Joshua. Although God kept raising the judges, they continued to fail because of the idolatry of the Israelites and the fall after the judges were victorious.
I shared with those in the bible study that the current condition of Christianity in the United States is the same situation as described in the book of Judges. It’s like Israel’s repeated failure in history. Of course, this is not to discourage our American brothers and sisters. Many people talk about how God will judge the United States and how it will fail. This does not necessarily mean that God is not helping America. Just like the example of chess I mentioned earlier and the example in the book of Judges, when American churches continue to fail and start to humble themselves and ask God for help, He will help them to stand up again and achieve victory in battles.
So, not only do I disagree with many people’s negative views on the future of American churches, but I am also full of hope and confidence in the future of American churches because when people realize that they need God’s help, victory is not far away. However, I know that many people are discouraged by the negative state of American churches. Recently while studying for my Ph.D. at the United Theological Seminary, I met a man who pastors a United Methodist Church. This church is located in an unsafe neighborhood and there are only a few elderly people in the congregation. He told me that the Methodist Church is currently facing division because it questions the authority of the Bible and because of its approach to homosexuality. This denomination was once one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States but its population has shrunk dramatically and is facing much division. I have met many Christians in the said denomination who love the Lord with all their heart and who worry about their denomination’s future and the future of the United States and this pastor is one of them. I tried to comfort him, saying that God’s great revival would soon come to the United States, and American churches will have a good future. This wasn’t what he was seeing or experiencing, so I’m not sure if my words of encouragement had any effect.
Since we are reading the book of Numbers, we should look at how God can achieve victory in battles, and how God’s strategy and tactics are used. I might as well discuss a few points on this.
First, God’s strategy is roundabout and patient. We know of God’s displeasure with those who lived in Canaan. He called Abraham to come there and promised to give the land to Abraham and his descendants. Actually, God had already given this land to the Israelites. Just like in the New Testament, we are more than conquerors through the redemption of Jesus Christ. But the Israelites had to go through battles before they could finally enter the Promised Land. On the one hand, God told Abraham that the Amorites had not yet reached its full measure (NIV, Genesis 15:16), so Abraham and his descendants had to be slaves in Egypt for 400 years. When the time came, God would bring them into the Promised Land again. Do you know why God did this? On the one hand, God is giving the Canaanites time to repent; on the other hand, God is helping the Israelites build up strength because Abraham alone or his hundreds of followers didn’t have enough power to drive all the Canaanites out. So God adopted a roundabout strategy, a strategic retreat. He let Abraham and his followers retreat to Egypt to recuperate, build up strength and multiply, waiting until their strength grew to the place that they were ready to fight and win.
We’ve now covered the background of the book of Numbers. When the number of Israelites had multiplied to a point where more than 600,000 men were over 20 years old, it was then estimated that the number of Israelites exceeded 2 to 3 million, when you add women, children and the elderly. Abraham’s strength which was weak before, has now grown into millions of people who have the power to knock out the enemies of Canaan.
Similarly, for the church to achieve final victory, it needs a process of building up strength. Consuming one’s power too early is equivalent to dying. Christians and churches need to know how to build up their strength. But the enemy is very cunning. They often cause trouble, leading the church to fight. Just like Goliath’s scolding, if you don’t have enough strength and you fight Goliath rashly, you’re on a dead-end street. But David is different. He has been accumulating power in the wilderness. By the time he came out to challenge Goliath, his power had been accumulated enough to defeat Goliath. When he was in the wilderness before, he had already defeated the lion and the bear with the help of God.
I’ve heard that one of the reasons the Communist Party was able to gain victory and defeat the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) during the Chinese Civil War was because the Kuomintang’s strength at that time was concentrated on fighting the Japanese. The Communist Party tried to avoid fierce conflict with the Japanese. Instead they concentrated on accumulating strength. There’s a story, about Peng Dehuai, a military leader of the Communist Party who launched the “Hundred Regiments Offensive” and was in direct conflict with the Japanese, but was blamed by Mao Zedong, because Peng Dehuai’s military operations destroyed Mao’s strategy. After the end of World War II, the Japanese were defeated, and the Kuomintang’s strength was also exhausted. But the Communist Party’s strength increased, so they were able to win the victory in the Chinese Civil War. Of course, this is just a story. We don’t know if it is true or not. We are not discussing politics here. We are just using this example to illustrate the importance of accumulating strength.
God knows the importance of accumulating strength very well. When the Israelites didn’t have enough strength, He placed them in Egypt as slaves. On the surface, it seemed that the Israelites were slaves and were tormented by the Egyptians. This was God’s good intention. The purpose was to let the Israelites multiply and be fruitful. Unfortunately, many Israelites kept complaining, and it wasn’t until 400 years later that God heard their complaints and sent Moses to save them.
Today, whether as individual Christians or church groups, God often puts us in a stressful environment to develop our character within, allowing us to multiply and be fruitful. But we don’t always recognize God’s good intentions and instead complain like the Israelites.
There is a story about a type of bamboo in China called Mao Bamboo. When the farmers plant this bamboo on the first year, it is just an inch tall; in the second year, it grows an inch taller; in the third year, it grows an inch taller again; in the fourth year, it still grows an inch tall; but the farmers are working hard to keep it watered. By the fifth year, it will grow several feet tall every week, and within a year, it will be dozens of feet tall. Why? Because in the first four years, the bamboo has deepened its roots each year dozens of feet down in the ground. Although above ground, it seems to be only a few inches tall, it is deeply rooted in the ground, so when the fifth year comes, the bamboo can grow dozens of feet tall above ground in a year.
Some people say that if the enemy can’t take God’s calling from you, he will let you fight prematurely when you are immature. Just like Moses, who tried to rely on his own power to save the Israelites when it wasn’t time yet, leading him to get into trouble. He retreated into the wilderness for forty years and became a shepherd. It seemed like he was wasting time. But actually, Moses was accumulating strength. When the time came, God used him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
From my personal point of view, one of the biggest problems with the American church today is that the church or individual Christians don’t have deep enough roots in their lives. If your spiritual roots are not deep enough, you can’t withstand the enemy’s attacks and trials. We must learn to accumulate enough strength to defeat the enemy.
Many Christians lack a life that places equal emphasis on personal prayer and Bible reading. They also lack experiencing the transformation of the soul through the work of the cross. Therefore, the individual is superficial in their Christian life. When trials and temptations from the enemy come, they are weak and shrink. The same goes for the church.
Many people are saying that a great revival is coming, but without every Christian taking root in their lives, a great revival will not come. Even if it does, it won’t last that long. The multiplication of life takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight. It was like when the Israelites left Egypt, they had experienced 400 years of multiplying before they could finally form a huge army.
Second, God’s strategy is that His people have good leaders and that people obey these leaders.
It would be a shame if God had many wonderful strategies and plans, but we don’t have a leader like Moses, who can execute them. We must have a leader who can clearly hear the voice of God and express it well or a faithful and confident leader like Joshua, who could lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. But if the church leaders don’t have a close relationship with God just like Moses, or have complete faith in God like Joshua, then naturally, God’s people will often fail in battles. Satan often incites attacks against church leaders, causing them to fail. Once the church leaders fail, it is difficult for the church to prevail.
Paul teaches us first to pray for political leaders in the world. Actually, the same is true for the church. We must pray for the church leaders.
In addition to the church’s need for such a leader, God’s people also need to be obedient. We should be willing to obey God’s reign and rule through Moses and Joshua. But God’s people often rebel. For example, when the Israelites told Samuel they needed a king, Jehovah told Samuel that the Israelites did not dislike him, they disliked Jehovah as their king. Satan’s strategy is often to attack God’s chosen people, let them live in the spirit of rebellion, and make them refuse to obey any discipline. This type of situation, often used as an excuse against legalism, is the reality of rebelling against God. This spirit of rebellion is very popular in the culture of American society. It naturally affects the church.
Third, God’s strategy is to have the twelve tribes work together as one body with their own gifts. We are all members of the body of Christ. We are all imperfect. All of us have the calling and gifts of God. We need to come along side each other and work together.
Each of the twelve tribes of God performs its own role. Each one is responsible for its own ministry. For example, the Bible specifically mentions the tribe of Issachar were men who understood the times (NIV, 1 Chronicles 12:32). In layman’s terms, the said tribe has the gift of prophecy. They know what to do in a certain period of time.
Each of us is a member of the body of Christ. As Paul said, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard.” (NIV, 1 Corinthians 2:9). But one of the tricks of the enemy is to let our fellow brothers and sisters sow discord, valuing their own gifts and calling but not recognizing the calling and gifts in others. Or, conversely, clearly, they are eyes, but they are eager to do the work of a mouth. In the natural realm, people can’t do their own job, nor can they unite and cooperate nor can the church win the war through the natural realm.
In short, the book of Numbers is very rich. I hope that when we read the book of Numbers in the future, we can learn more about the battle strategies that God has created for us in His wisdom. I am deeply convinced that this will bring a lot of inspiration to the spiritual warfare that is happening in churches today.