READ: Numbers 33-34
THINK: Sometimes it’s easy for us to read chapters like these – or, more accurately, skim them – and wonder why in the world this stuff is in the Bible. Seriously, who cares right? Reading a bunch of weird place names seems more appropriate for geography class than for Scripture, and it feels significantly less inspiring than reading some of the incredible stuff that Jesus said or David sang or Paul wrote. So why is it here, and why is it worth reading?
Please allow me to put on my history nerd hat for just a moment. History is critically important. If you ask me, it’s worth getting an undergraduate degree in, but that’s just one guy’s opinion. I won’t launch into a long lecture on the subject, but I will say this: we cannot fully understand where we are without understanding where we’ve been. Historical knowledge is our collective memory. Without individual memory, a person loses his or her identity. Imagine if you woke up one morning with no memory whatsoever. It would dramatically shift your understanding of self and the choices you made going forward if you had no idea how you got to where you are. In the same way, collective memory gives us a fuller experience of life and community and humanity as we remember where we’ve been and how we got to where we are. This is specifically poignant for us when we understand history as God’s story, and we think about it in terms of remembering what God did, how God moved and shaped us, and who God revealed himself to be in the past and what that means for the present.
That is why this stuff is in the Bible. To remind the nation of Israel about who God is and how powerfully he moved and provided and loved. To help them remember where they’d been so they could get a fuller sense of where they were and who God was calling and equipping them to be. To us, thousands of years later, all of those places just seem like weird names from a faraway land. But for the Israelites each one marked a moment of encounter with God as he shaped their story. They read Kibroth Hataavah and remember the “Graves of Craving” when they grumbled against the manna God provided, gorged themselves on quail, and died. They read Rephidim and recalled the battle in which God allowed them to defeat a vastly superior Amalekite army so long as Moses’ hands were in the air – and how when Moses got tired then Aaron and Joshua held his arms up. Each place symbolized a moment in their collective story that God was shaping and writing in them where they encountered him and learned something about who he was and who he was calling them to be.
Do you ever take time to look back at the stops along your journey? If you don’t, that’s totally normal. I don’t think most of us often do. But we should. We should because doing so gives us a better sense of where we are and how we got here and why we are the way we are. And remembering the many ways in which God showed up for us and the incredible things we’ve learned about him along the way gives us a bigger sense of who he is in our lives right now.
PRAY: Take some time today to reflect on the story of your life. Write down at least 5 key points or stops along your journey and then think about what you learned about who God is and who he’s calling you to be. Thank God for the story he has given you, and for never abandoning you in any part of it. Thank him for revealing himself to you. Ask him to help you get a fuller sense of how he is at work constantly along the pathway of your life.