Let’s face it: Numbers isn’t the kind of book you just naturally pick up to while away a few hours on a weekend. It’s part of the Old Testament law, for one thing. That’s bad enough. None of us likes law very much. But in addition, it’s also called Numbers. Some who score very high on their achievement tests or who major in mathematics are interested in numbers. But the rest of us think they are generally pretty irrelevant. And this title isn’t an aberration either—it really is about numbers, at least the first section of the book is. It’s about the numbering of the tribes of the people of Israel, and the arrangement of their camp, and the purification of the people for their march. That’s just not terribly appealing. For the title of the sermon, someone had suggested that I call it “Numbers: An Audit,” since people do not find audits by the Internal Revenue Service appealing, either.

Earlier in our study, I said that the Jubilee year began with the sounding of the trumpet. One day, according to the teaching of Paul, another trumpet is going to sound for us: “…and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16b-17). Are you cherishing this hope? If you are waiting for the sounding of the trumpet, for the day when you will be caught up to be with Jesus Christ forever, then it will give you a right perspective on the things you possess now, and you’ll live for God in this world. Do you have that perspective? Does that really matter to you? If it doesn’t, the time to do it is now. Don’t wait. Life is short. It’s passing away. Make it count, and make it count right now. 

The long and concluding section of this chapter is verses 35 to 55, which has to do with duties to the poor. You might say, at first glance, “Why in the world are these duties to the poor here at all? Why does this belong in a chapter having to do with the Jubilee?” Well it shows that the central concern of the chapter is to protect or help the poor. There are a number of cases here.

There’s another important idea in this chapter, and it’s that of the kinsman-redeemer (see vv. 25-28). If a family was poor and was forced to sell their land, it wasn’t always necessary for them to wait till the Year of Jubilee came around to get it back. That could be a lifetime away. If that year came in your youth, you may be an old man before you got your land back. However, it was possible for the land to be bought back and restored to the original owner by a near relative who was called a kinsman-redeemer. Or, if the original owner prospered, he had the right to buy it back again. Now the amount the original owner had to pay was the difference between what the buyer had paid for it originally and the amount of crops that he had gotten out of it in the meantime. So if he had paid for ten years of crops and only three harvests had gone by, he had to be paid for the seven years of crops.

In this year the land was to revert to the original family owners. But if you look at the text carefully, that’s not the way the chapter itself talks about it. The text actually speaks not of the land returning to the people but of the people returning to the land. Now that must be important because it’s said five times over (see vv. 10, 13, 27, 28, and 41). The point seems to be that God is more concerned with the people than the land. We usually think the other way around. We are glad to manipulate people or get rid of people as long as we can accumulate our holdings. Now today, of course, it’s not generally land so much as it is bank accounts and stocks and so forth. But we manipulate people in order to have things. God says what’s important is the people, not the things.