By Kevin Cauley
We live in a very analytical society that is concerned with the constant association of numbers and success. Businesses mull over sales quotas and production numbers like cows ruminate cud. When our elected officials talk about the budget, we want to know the numbers. Even in matters of opinion we want to know what the polls say. There is even a television show now called “NUMB3RS” in which a mathematician uses equations to solve crimes. Our general philosophy seems to be, “If the numbers are up, life is good. If the numbers are down, then something’s got to change!”
Numbers also play a role in the scriptures. The number 40, for example, occurs several times. There were 40 days and nights of rain in the flood (Genesis 7:4, 12). Moses was in Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights (Exodus 24:18). Jesus fasted for the same period of time (Matthew 4:2) and there are many other examples.
There were also certain specific times in which God was directly concerned with numbers. One such instance was when the children of Israel were coming out of the land of Egypt. The book of Numbers begins with this statement, “Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls; From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.” Exodus 30:12 tells us that at least one reason for this was so each man could pay a ransom for his redemption out of Egypt. God had his reasons.
There was another time, however, when God was displeased with man’s concern for numbers. During David’s reign, he commanded Joab to number the people (2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21).
While God never states a specific reason as to why He is displeased, even Joab seems to know; he tells David that God would ensure that Israel was multiplied (2 Samuel 24:3, 1 Chronicles 21:3). From Joab’s counsel as well as from a comment in 1 Chronicles 27:23 it appears that David’s desire was to trust in the numbers instead of trusting in God. After the census was completed, David acknowledged his sin, but the children of Israel were punished with a plague; 70,000 died as a result of David’s lack of faith. Where do we place our faith? In a recent article in the “Christian Chronicle,” it was stated that the churches of Christ have failed to keep pace with the population growth in the United States. I’m sure that there will be some who will be alarmed. But why should we be? God doesn’t play by the numbers. With Gideon he took a mere 300 men and destroyed an army of thousands. God populated the world by just two people and then repopulated it again with eight. What about Noah’s record? He failed to keep pace with the population gain of the entire world not just for a few short years, but for 100! Yet, when all was said and done, he and his family WERE the population!
The article also asked the question “Why?” Some speculated, but offered no real answers. No doubt part of the answer is that we’ve begun to trust in numbers instead of trusting in God. When we place our trust in the numbers are we not guilty of the same sin as David? If we are, then we need to repent and change our ways. Regardless of what the numbers say, our job is to put our faith in God because after all is said and done, it is God that gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7, Colossians 2:19). God doesn’t need our numbers to accomplish His will; God doesn’t need us to keep up with the population growth; God doesn’t need us to understand why we haven’t. What God demands is that we stay faithful to Him no matter what (Revelation 2:10).