The book of Numbers shows God at work through Moses to order and organize the new nation of Israel. The first part of the book focuses on worship, which depends on the work of priests in conjunction with laborers from every occupation. The essential work of those who represent God’s people is not to perform rituals, but to bless all people with God’s presence and reconciling love. All of us have the opportunity to bring blessing and reconciliation through our work, whether we think of ourselves as priests or not.
The second part of the book of Numbers traces the ordering of society as the people move towards the Promised Land. Passages in Numbers can help us gain a godly perspective on contemporary work issues such as offering the fruit of our labor to God, conflict resolution, retirement, leadership, property rights, economic productivity, succession planning, social relationships, honoring our commitments, and civic planning.
Leaders in Numbers—especially Moses—provide examples of what it means both to follow God’s guidance and to fail in doing so. Leaders have to be open to wisdom from other people and from surprising sources. Yet they need to remain firm in following God’s guidance as best as they can understand it. They must be bold enough to confront kings, yet humble enough to learn from the beasts of the field. No one in the book of Numbers succeeds completely in the task, but God remains faithful to his people in their successes and in their failings. Our mistakes have real—but not eternal—negative consequences, and we look for a hope beyond ourselves for the fulfillment of God’s love for us. We see God’s Spirit guiding Moses and hear God’s promise to give the leaders who come after Moses a portion of God’s Spirit too. By this, we ourselves can be encouraged in seeking God’s guidance for the opportunities and challenges in our work. Whatever we do, we can be confident of God’s presence with us as we work, for he tells us, “I the Lord dwell among the Israelites” (Num. 35:34) in whose steps we tread.