tassels & forgetful wanderers
The book of Numbers along with Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Exodus, get short shrift for being heavy laden with minutiae, but I must confess, I love that stuff. The way some people read it, though. It’s as if they just cracked open a dust encrusted Bible, and they can’t wait to snap it shut. But with Jesus I see this gorgeous pattern of symbolic buildings, jewelry, and outfits that the God who adores his people set up to help them out. Because all they had was what they saw.
And all they saw was human stuff. It was cool but it didn’t initially inspire them to imagine God.
So, they (the Trinity) sat around together (just go with it) and said, “We need to let them have a lot of symbols. Types of what is true. A lot of things they can look at and hold on to, because it’s going to be a while before we send the God-man down. When we show them how we want the temple to come together, they will get a glimpse of the glory of heaven and the perfection of holiness (Exodus 25-31). This one wonderful way we can live in the midst of this people. When we give them priestly attire and show them it is a very big honor that only the Levites will get to have, then they will know that I mean business. There is no mingling of holy and blemished. But I want to speak to them face to face, too. We need to show how important that is to me.”
Then I think they said, “Let’s let certain symbols reverberate with God-ness. And we need some tassels.”
Numbers 15:37-41 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.” (ESV)
God has always understood that we are forgetful. But he has, since forever ago and for forever going forward, wanted to be our God.
Apparently it is also not lost on him that on top of being forgetful, we are easily enchanted by the things that our hearts and eyes want to bow down to. So, when Moses was getting his notes together so that he could go and explain God (sure, explain God, no problem) to people who were waiting to know him, God gave him a talisman to use, a spiritual object imbued with meaning. God’s covenant people were to create and sew special fringe tassels to the corners of their robes, and each one was to have a cord of blue “that your eye may affect your mind and heart.” (Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Numbers, circa mid 1600’s). To assist their memories. Their pesky memories. Their whoring disobedient memories. To help them not forget their God. The one who saved them, fed them, shod them, guarded them, smote their enemies, led them, followed them, made them promises and set them in a fruitful land. That God.
Oh, what kindness. How good of God to give us so many reminders. How much I want to stop forgetting.
Do you ever wonder why there are so many stories in the Bible about how much God wants us not to forget our bad old days? One would think that bad memories would brand us pretty sincerely – so well that when we close our eyes we still smell the carbon. But God knows we want to stuff our sadness and badness, and that we cope with brokeness by finding compartments, closets, and deep pits to throw it into. The problem with burying our worst memories is that they fester and lie to us about who he is and how it went.
Somewhere a long the way, certain stories and memories of mine got sealed in emotional Tupperware. I hear them rumbling to get free. That’s what happens when wild change meets creative rebirth. As I write, I’m about to head half way across the country for a small-scale retreat with some amazing but unknown folks. What about my crazy? That I generally have a healthy way of managing when I’m in my own world?
You better believe I’m feeling weak in the knees over what will come out of it. God is stirring me up to make more of me. As whole and free as I feel, just like you, I still have my sad years, my huge mistakes, my reeking regrets. What if they pop out for an encore? With new people? Far from home? Will I remember my God – the one who says I am new?
Our warfare has ended
In Numbers, just prior to that day when Moses got to give God’s people a new way to remember him, the Israelites had gotten excited about repenting and tried to storm into God’s presence unworthily and unprepared (Numbers 14:40-42) I get like that. Quick, God, let’s clean up the mess. Scrub-a-dub-dub. All better? And he says, not so fast. It’s time to stop hiding layers of shame. This week God is causing me to be refreshed in the backward shoulder glance. You too? Let me just tell you we are safe with him. This looking back is not for nothing. He bids us to remember (waves tassels in our faces) so that he can truly-madly-deeply be our God.
When you see him as he is, back in those terrible days WITH you, choreographing your victory dance, then you’ll know that you know that you know he was God in it. That he is the God we long for, the One who is near.
And if he is near, then you really are
- adding to the glory with your beautifully disastrous life
- marked by his mercy indelibly
- tasseled up to never forget all the treasures of those times and how they made you fierce
- re-tooled for the way forward in ways that are precisely crafted with & by God for the life you live now.
And once and for all, because you remember, you might just find a voice to thank him – a voice you were powerless to find not that long ago. You might even sing with that voice, instead of crying.