TODAY’S READING: Numbers 1–2
Accepting the early date for the Exodus, Israel likely reached the plains of Moab (southern Jordan) around 1406 BC. Canaan needed to be conquered, and conquest demanded armies, and armies demanded organization. A census is an official count of a population, used to assert governmental power, raise taxes, or pull together an army. Jehovah spoke to Moses and told him to take a census to pull together all those able to go to war (1:1–4). War loomed as Canaan must be conquered and kept. Historians tell us that Pharaoh Amenhotep II led two campaigns into Canaan from 1405–1403 BC.
The name for the book of Numbers in the Hebrew Bible is “In the Wilderness.” It was in the wilderness that Israel organized to travel and to fight. Some of the grumbling introduced in Exodus hit a crescendo in the wilderness and God once again showed that complainers don’t inherit the promised land. God’s missionary assignment proved harder than anticipated as whiners don’t make warriors. God would train and use Israel to bring His judgment on the nations of Canaan, but the process required they learn a lesson.
The lesson Israel had to learn from this signal part of their own history, however, was far from comforting. The fact was that if God could use Israel as the agent of His judgment on wicked nations, he could rapidly apply the same principle in reverse to Israel itself. In short, if they adopted the wicked ways of the nations they had driven out, they would suffer the same fate at the hands of other nations. YHWH could use Israel as the agent of judgment on other nations; he could equally use other nations as the agent of judgment on Israel. Warnings to this effect abound in the Torah.
The Pentateuch drips with missions richness. Numbers as a book includes more priestly instructions, a census or two, laws and regulations, and narrative. These seemingly disjointed components harmonize when we remember the Bible is a missionary book and God is a missionary God. Everything God does in human history drives at His redemptive work that will be efficacious for every people group on earth. God organizes, trains, and equips His people so that we may be agents and warriors for His glory in all the earth. When we align with (giving to, praying for, and going in missions) and organize around (robust sending structures which prioritize church planting among the unreached) His battle plans, He blesses us. When we fearfully (focus first on those at home), selfishly (decry partnership with the wider, global body of Christ), or queasily (recoil from His wrath, judgment, holiness, and power) shrink back from blessing the nations, then God uses the nations to judge us.
God will be glorified in the nations. Our choice is whether we participate in that as a vessel of honor or whether God uses us as an example of what not to do. We can be either His ambassador or His exile to the Makonde people of Mozambique. Ambassadors tend to have a broader, more joyous assignment.
 The Chronological Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. 147.
 Christopher J. H. Wright. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006. 459.