Numbers – My Mistake?
In the third paragraph of my post titled “Numbers 1 – Chronology”, I made a statement that is untrue, however, my readers let me get away with it. Maybe some readers didn’t really think about what I was saying and read past it. Maybe someone knew I misspoke, but out of kindness didn’t feel the need to point it out in the comments. In any case, I would like to call me out on this untruth – you know, hold myself accountable. And then I want to defend the untrue statement! Sound confusing? Stick with me, it will all become clear.
I’m glad my little factual faux pas occurred because it gives me an opportunity to point out something very important about the construction of the Holy Bible.
Here’s what I said that was untrue, “Exodus is the book that immediately precedes the book of numbers.” Wait what? What are the first five books of the Bible in the order they appear in our English Bibles? Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. I said Exodus was immediately before Numbers. In the Hebrew Bible the books are ordered differently, was that what I meant? Nope, if you consult the book order in the Hebrew Bible you will see that Leviticus is immediately before Numbers, not Exodus. The facts are in. It’s Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. I admit it I was wrong. But I was only wrong in a technical sense, not necessarily in a practical sense. I can almost hear some of your protests, “oh come on! Just admit you were wrong and let it drop already!”
Why am I spilling so much ink on this? Why even bring it up at all? Why not just set the record straight and move on? Here’s the thing. The nature of ink on a page, because of its physical properties, is it is very linear in nature. You read the first word, then the second word, and so on. You read the first chapter, the second chapter, the third chapter, and so on. Then, what many of us do is we move on to the next book of the Bible still using the linear approach to our reading, thinking that what comes next is what happened next.
Sometimes it is clear to us that the books may not be in chronological order. For example, I’ve never encountered a single individual who thought that the book of Psalms is a record of the next events immediately following the book of Job. The four gospels are even more obvious. You read Matthew through to the end, then the next book, Mark, starts the whole story over and Luke does the same thing!
Consider a painting of mountains, trees, maybe a stream. The artist does his best to make his two-dimensional surface appear three dimensional. As beautifully realistic as the painting may seem, at best, it will always only be an approximation of the actual three-dimensional world.
I would argue that the books Exodus through Numbers, maybe even Deuteronomy, is the same way. They are more multi-dimensional than they appear in two-dimensional writings.
The first five books of the Bible are considered the law. Exodus does contain law, however, there is a significant amount of historical narrative as well. The next book, Leviticus, is purely law and has essentially no narrative. It could have been penned before after or during the time the other books were recorded. Numbers, like Exodus, has a fair amount of both law and historical narrative. Another way to think about it is the book of Leviticus could be considered a parenthetical insert somewhere in the continuous narrative of Exodus and Numbers.
“Ok”, you may say, “so what? Why should I care?” I think the issue underscores the need for a consistent Bible study methodology. The one I attempt to follow is OICA. Observation, Interpretation, Correlation, and finally Application. This discussion brings Correlation into the limelight. It’s vitally important to a correct understanding of the Bible to gather related facts from our passage studied in context, but to also look for additional Biblical references that touch on, or plainly give additional detail about the thing being studied. We then take all the related passages and correlate them, building as it were a three-dimensional picture of the truth the Bible is revealing.
I often remember the skeptic’s mantra that the Bible is full of errors and is incoherent. But when I study God’s Holy Book I find the exact opposite to be true. The Bible is an intricately woven body of truth that accurately and understandably communicates God’s message to mankind. It is wonderfully multifaceted in its presentation, yet singular in its message. It is just one more reason why I find myself worshipping the God who penned it.
I would like to challenge you. I hope you never take everything I say as absolute truth. I’m a fallible human discussing the infallible word of God and I am bound to make mistakes. Anytime anyone talks about the Bible you should engage your intellect. Think about what was said. Study it out for yourself, comparing scripture with scripture and see if what is being said is actually so.
God truly is worthy of all praise and worship!