Guidance in a Number

In Uncategorized by Roger Staub

Emotional violence is escalating in unlikely places; dark doings under the guise of ‘truth’ and godliness.

Perhaps you share with me a concern over the flood tide of relationships that have suffered or ended in recent years, owing largely to conflicts generated by the pandemic, or politics, or some personal ideology.  Indeed, you may have experienced it first-hand.  It is certainly perplexing and painful, and I sympathize.

Often these relationships, many of them decades long, ended with little dialogue or explanation; a rather abrupt introduction to ‘cancel culture.’  I have spoken to at least a dozen friends who are experiencing this.  Their dismay is profound, and their attempts at a remedy have been spurned, sometimes mocked.  What is equally disturbing is that I’m referring to fractures within the Christian community and within Christian families.  The roots of this cultural epidemic are a sad study in ignorance, fear, and misinformation . . . . and they are likely to remain strong.    

Meantime, those who have suffered its pain must find a way to process their loss and disappointment and move forward.  Should they simply accept the rejection and paint those folks out of their lives, or can these mini-tragedies be processed in a way that enables a continuance of life and growth?

Sometimes a simple thing like a number can be the gateway to a holy understanding, and map for us a way out of a wilderness of hurt.  I was really surprised and blessed when I saw it!

“And they offered sacrifices at the dedication of the house of God . . . and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the twelve tribes of Israel.”  Ezra 6:17

The Temple had been rebuilt in Jerusalem and the returning Jews were gathered to celebrate.  Following the ancient customs left by Moses, they offered extravagant animal sacrifices to express appreciation to God for His providence in returning them to their homeland after 70 years of Babylonian captivity, and for the restoration of their house of worship.  What arrested my attention in reading this again was their preparation for sacrifice; sin offerings of twelve male goats representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  The fact was, there were only two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, who were present that day to celebrate!

The other 10 tribes, known scripturally as Israel, had been taken captive, scattered and assimilated within the Assyrian Empire, and essentially lost almost 150 years before. These celebrants had no personal relation or connection to them at all.  The long history between Judah and Israel was troubled, often violent. Yet, these Jews were continuing to offer sacrifices on behalf of those ‘lost’ members of their fractured nation.

What does this simple number ‘12’ suggest and is there something we can learn from this example? 

Actually, this story reminds me of the present distress in the modern Church. Huge ‘disconnects’ between various factions of the Church make them, for all intents and purposes, entirely lost to one another.  To press the analogy further, many believers have, in my view, been ‘taken captive’ by ideologies, causes, and affiliations that make them almost alien to me; virtually unrecognizable and unreachable.  These disconnects can originate in the realm of ideals or doctrine, politics or race or culture; any of which have the potential to ‘derail’ otherwise good folks, sometimes even resulting in abusive language and misbehavior. To some of these Christians I would be a  fraud, a sellout; as foreign to them as they are to me.

So then, what should my response be to these folks?  Our little passage from Ezra is of such great value.

Obviously there was a lingering sense of solidarity in Judah and Benjamin; a loyalty to, if nothing else, the memory of better days, and perhaps a hope and prayer for recovery and restoration.  No explanation is given for their inclusive sacrifices for all twelve of Israel’s historic tribes, and perhaps none is needed.  When you are born under the same banner, the same Name, the same truth, then conscience dictates an enduring loyalty to ‘those others’ whether they ever acknowledge you or not.  They may be distanced from us but they are not out of our scope of concern.  We remember, we pray, we maintain an open heart.   It’s not about us, after all, but about our witness. 

Judah and Benjamin were a mere ‘remnant’ of the once unified nation, and the few scriptures which mention a remnant all suggest that their faithfulness is ultimately for the benefit of the whole. (1 Peter 2:9)  

Within the community of the faithful it is never about who is right or wrong, spiritual or carnal, silly or sophisticated.  The greater question is: What does the world see when they look at us?  Is the nature of our Master most visible among and between us, or are they seeing and hearing something very different?  Many of those estranged souls may never recover their sensibilities about God’s Kingdom and its priorities.  We may be as distanced from them as Judah was from those ‘long-gone’ tribes scattered across the nations, but nonetheless, they are ‘family.’  

So, I’m going to continue to offer up my ‘sacrifices’ of prayer for them, as if they were still with us.  And I’ll be asking, like the old Methodist Prayer Book puts it, “that God will grant them repentance and a better mind.”  I’m still counting on God having ‘the last word.’