The book of Numbers in the Bible is largely about, well …, numbers. Right off the bat in the first verse, we find God instructing Moses to get some guys together and start counting the people. It was not really a national census, but more like a draft registration, because they weren’t sent out to count everybody. They were only recording the names of those who were able to serve in the army and go to war. You might say that the guiding standard of this project was, ‘if you can’t or won’t fight, then you don’t count.’
I’m sure this wasn’t a popular project. After all, they were already pretty occupied with the whole ‘uproot your entire life, abandon your culture, live in a tent with no ‘pop-up’ mechanism, meander around in the desert all day with scorpions and other repulsive creatures, and eat the same food morning, noon, and night’ kind of thing. They had a backlog of murmuring and whining to do already, and now Moses adds draft registration? Somebody probably said, “Wait a minute. I thought we were coming out here in the desert for praise and worship—and then we’d be dismissed to our new home in the Promised Land, where we’d all lie around in grassy meadows with milk and honey flowing everywhere. Nobody said anything about fighting anybody!”
It couldn’t have been easy for the registrars, either. They had no digitized database, and not even a decent pad and pencil to work with. Their pens were made of bones, or feathers, or some such thing, and they had nothing but animal skins or maybe some parchment to write on—and no white-out. If I had been there, I would have been working on some short-cuts, you know, like acronyms, and nick-names. Moses would have been saying, “Gallagher, how come you’ve got 375 on your list named ‘Bo’?”
In any case, it appears that the Lord was anticipating some activities along the way to the Promised Land that involved more than just strolling along singing, ‘We’re Marching to Zion’. It’s pretty clear that He was expecting some opposition at some point in the journey that would be threatening and physically aggressive. Shocking, isn’t it? Perhaps we ought to pause here and indulge in a collective gasp of incredulity that the God of peace and love and kindness and all those other warm and fuzzy things should even think of sending people out to fight. But clearly, He did.
With all the conflict going on in the world, maybe we need to take a fresh look at the matter of war and fighting, and consider our response to that whole issue. We, as Americans, and especially as Christian Americans, have enemies that are very real, and who will cut off the heads of those they declare to be their enemies—and even put the grisly event on TV. The issues confronting us aren’t just academic debates about ideological differences, and will not remain confined to an oratorical tournament between and among our stable of bloated ego-centric politicians and pundits. Neither will the matter be restricted to a series of current events discussions held inside the sanitized and protective walls of buildings that declare themselves to be a ‘church’. The issue of wars and fighting that we face as a nation must be recognized and acknowledged by those who are genuinely followers of Jesus Christ, and we must determine how, or perhaps whether, we should, or will, respond.
We’re quick to shift the matter to the spiritual realm and leave it there. We remind ourselves that we don’t conduct war “according to the flesh,” and “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal…” (II Cor. 10:3-4), but that passage has a different kind of war in view. Those verses are telling us that we can’t win spiritual conflicts with physical exercises. What we’re seeing in Iraq and Syria and other places presents a different set of questions.
Let’s not make the foolish mistake of thinking that what’s going on in that entire region is anything other than a religious war. Those conflicts are not over political differences, though politics are involved, unfortunately. The fighting is not about money, though there’s a lot of it involved. It is more than an ethnic power struggle, though the issue is undeniably central. These wars are about whose god will be allowed acknowledgment and worship. That issue soars above and beyond anything else. We face those whose religious zeal motivates them not only to fight, but to commit atrocities against innocent human beings, and certainly to die for the god they serve. As followers of Jesus, how do we deal with that?
Suppose this war did invade our country—our town—our neighborhood. What if we were the ones at risk instead of the seemingly nameless people half a world away? If we responded in like manner as the majority of Americans who currently deal with their ‘Christian’ lives, we would have cause for grave concern. A majority of those flying our banner would decide that too many polls are ‘trending’ toward the enemy’s point of view, and they would just go along with those folks and try to learn to love them, too. After all, God understands, and He forgives everything. A majority of those in our ranks would prefer to just lay low, try to stay off the radar, and let the paid professionals do the fighting—you know, the same way they’ve been dealing with other challenging issues – like personal evangelism, defending marriage, promoting traditional family values, protecting unborn babies, preserving God’s name and place in the public square, upholding our God-given freedoms and liberties, and standing against the exaltation of godless, moral reprobates in positions of prominence and leadership. After all, the paid professionals have been doing so well for us so far – or have they really? We might discover that a majority of those we counted on would be content to keep their involvement down to a 15 minute prayer meeting, followed by some animated discussions over snacks and coffee.
What if God anticipated that some ‘spiritual warfare’ would run into physical opposition between here and the ‘Promised Land’? I wonder what the roll would look like if He decided once again to start taking names like He did with Moses, and if it came down to this… ‘If you won’t fight, then you don’t count’?
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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