I’ve always been fascinated with numbers in the Bible. I suppose it’s the reliability of numbers that offer me consolation and inspiration. One cannot change numbers. 2 + 2 will always equal 4. My next birthday won’t be the number 29 no matter how I wish it to be. God certainly has a thing for certain numbers and I look forward to asking Him about it someday.
For now, I’d like to focus on the number 40, which comes up numerous times throughout the Bible. In particular, the 40 years spent in the wilderness by the Israelites. As the story goes, the Israelites were cast into the desert due to their unbelief. Led by Moses, they wandered the desert 40 years, punished by God, before finally reaching the promised land. How hard it must have been; with the sun bearing down by day and no cover from the harsh cold of the night. Most of their time was spent stationary, nothing to do but wonder if God had abandoned them. All but two of the men over 20 years of age died on the trip; fathers, husbands, brothers, sons. They must have wanted to give up time and time again. There was certainly finger-pointing, most often at Moses and God. 40 years of misery, brought on by their own behavior and still they grumbled the entire time. As we know, God had not abandoned His people. He provided their needs, as explained in part in Deuteronomy 29:5, their clothes and sandals never wore out. They had manna to eat and water to drink. When they complained that the water didn’t taste good (seriously people?!) God sweetened the water for them. For those that understood God was still with them, though few that seemed to be, the trip must have been all the more difficult. To cry out to the Lord, know he can hear you and yet your prayers to go unanswered… at least in your timeframe.
Eventually, as we obviously know, the Israelites completed their long trip to the promised land. What should have taken a couple of weeks to travel took them a much longer time. One has to question how many times they made the same mistakes over and over again. After the reelection of Barack Obama, we Conservatives and Republicans find ourselves back in the wilderness. In the week that has past, we’ve sounded a lot like the Israelites. There have been many complaints and much finger-pointing. Some have suggested throwing out groups within the party to, perhaps, make it to the promised land quicker. Some would like to succeed and just give away that which has been promised. Still others, like John Boehner, have seemingly given up completely. The party is all over the place on what direction to go in and it’s only been 4 years. Will we make the same mistakes over and over? How many years until we reach our promised land? I can’t be sure how long we’ll be in the wilderness, but I’m willing to bet that constructive ideas that don’t forgo the values of our party will make the trip easier. While we are waiting on our next Reagan (who was, by the way, our 40th President) or Moses to lead us now is the time to be strong in our convictions, knowing that our promise land lay ahead.