Posted by: SandreS | December 5, 2009

God’s Outsiders: The Called-Out Ones (A Biblical Look at God’s Ecclesia), Part 33

Numbering People: A Gentile Obsession

We have an inherent obsession with numbering people. We are impressed by it. It is a vexation of our spirit that carries over into our view of spiritual life. We assume that if it is of God, or for God, it must be large and involve many people.

Listen to what people say:

“How many believe what you believe?”
“How many do you have on Sunday?”
“How many were at the Conference?”
“How many are attending Bible study now?”
“How many are on your mailing list?”
“How many …?”

Just pay attention next time you are with other Christians. You might be amazed at how central this concept is thought to be in our “spiritual” life.

However God is not so obsessed and impressed. He is not bound or motivated by such a Gentile viewpoint.

Let’s reflect on a few Biblical examples.

Noah and the Ark

And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly (II Peter 2:5).

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water (I Peter 3:20).

God’s work in the ark resulted in the world-wide saving of eight souls. Count them – eight souls. This is not very impressive by Gentile standards (nor Christendom’s either!).

Gideon’s 300

Israel was facing the Midianites in battle, who, with the Amalekites were situated,

Along in the valley like grasshoppers for a multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for a multitude (Judges 7:12).

Gideon had one small problem: he “only” had 32,000 men to fight against them. God, however, had a different view. He thought that Gideon had too many in his army.

The people that are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying, “Mine own hand has saved me” (Judges 7:2).

So God had Gideon reduce the number. He told Gideon to tell the people, “Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart …” (:3). The result? 22,000 departed. Gideon’s army was reduced to 10,000 men. Yet God said that there were still “too many” (:4), so He gave them a test that resulted in the release of another 9,700 men. Gideon was then left with an army of 300.

God used Gideon and his army of 300 to do the job against “a multitude”!

The 3,000 and 5,000 in Acts

The Book of Acts is sometimes viewed as a place where positive significance is given to “large” numbers:

Then they that gladly received His word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41).

Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand (Acts 4:4).

This all sounds very impressive doesn’t it? Yet these two numberings are really a part of the indictment against Israel. Think about it for a moment: God had been dealing with Israel (Abraham’s physical descendants) for over two millennia. He had sent them a host of prophets; He had given them His Word; He had sent them His Son; and what was the national result? 5,000 men! 5,000 men from an entire nation? 5,000 men from an entire nation after over 2,000 years of work!? This would seem more like an indictment against the Nation. So maybe we need to adjust our Gentile thinking to match the context – maybe these numbers are not as impressive as they may first appear.

Garden of Eden

The ultimate illustration may be at the very beginning. In Eden’s garden, how many people did God make? He made one man and one woman. Now, think about that for a moment – He could have made multiple men and women. In so doing he could have provided other women for Eve with whom to do “girl things.” He could have provided a wonderful opportunity in the garden for “women’s fellowship and Bible study meetings” – but this was not in the mind of God.

In making multiple men, God also could have provided Adam with other men with whom to do “guy things.” They could have had “men’s meetings,” and they could have had a sympathetic ear as they shared things that they could not talk about with their wives (what things?) – yet, neither was this not in the mind of God.

Then, of course, in making multiple men and women, God could have provided other couples for Adam and Eve with whom to “hang out” and do “group” things together. These multiple couples could have also provided children for Cain and Able with whom to socialize. They could have played together, and even have been assembled together for social and educational purposes – but neither was this necessary in the mind of God.

God Is Interested in Weighing People

As we study the Scriptures, one thing which we will learn is that God is not so concerned with counting people, but in weighing them:

You are weighed in the balances, and are found wanting (Daniel 5:27).

The issue with God is one of personal faithfulness:

Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man is found faithful (I Corinthians 4:2).

… The same commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also (II Timothy 2:2).

Sort, Not Size

God is looking not for size, but a certain sort of work!

… The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is (I Corinthians 3:13).

Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr.
Bible Student’s Notebook
© 2000, 2009

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