To us, it can seem a little out of date. We don't pay much attention to tribes in 21st century America. We only have a census every few years, and even then it doesn't seem to have a bearing on how we live. We tend to focus only on our immediate family, not the long line of ancestors that have gone before us, or the many extended family that we have.
But Numbers is not a throw away book. God had good purposes in mind when he placed Numbers in the Bible. If all of Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for our life (2 Tim. 3:16-17), then Numbers is for us, too. Numbers is God's word to us. So I encourage you to consider it with me. Crack open the pages of your Old Testament and you will find Numbers four books in, after Leviticus (that's a good one to read, too).
So what does that have to do with us?
A lot, actually.
Why is it so important that the Israelites count their members? It all goes back to a promise God made to Abraham.
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:5-6).God promised Abraham (childless, old, and one half of an infertile couple) that he would multiply his offspring until they were too numerous to count, like the stars in the night sky. When God is numbering his people it is not some arbitrary exercise to boost their self esteem in the wilderness. It is designed to stir their hearts to trust him more. The God who promised great things to Abraham is doing this very thing in the most unlikely place--in the middle of the lonely, dangerous, and destitute wilderness.
And this has tremendous implications for us. The same God who preserved and multiplied his people is keeping his promises to us in every circumstance.
The word of God is powerful. Every last letter of it. Numbers, like every other God-breathed book of the Bible, is teaching us that God always keeps his promises. He is always working in the lives of his people. And he is sustaining and building us up even in the most weary wilderness.