Who Is in Our Center?
God was fed up with Israel.
After bringing Israel through the desert and providing for them, they reached Canaan, sent spies into the land, and eight out of ten of them said it was too hard to conquer. Israel is ready to stone Moses and Aaron, and God speaks:
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people spurn me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.’”
“But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O Lord are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.’”
Numbers 14:11-14 (NASB)
Leaving aside the near annihilation of Israel for a minute, I want to look at the word “midst” or “among”. That word in Hebrew is qareb, which means “the nearest part, the center”. Using the word “center” is, I believe, a better way to understand this scripture.
Earlier in Numbers, God is explaining exactly how he wants Israel to camp when they travel in the wilderness.
“The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance.” Numbers 2:2
Israel camped around the presence of God like petals on a flower. On the east side were the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. On the south were Rueben, Simeon, and Gad. On the west were Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. On the north side were Dan, and Asher. Add in the priestly tribe of Levi and we have 12 tribes.
When Moses told God “You are in the midst of this people”, it was a statement of fact. His presence was not just among them. It was at the center. All of daily life in the wilderness revolved around that tent. If the pillar of cloud rose up and moved, so did an entire country. If it rested somewhere, that determined where everyone camped.
Dr. Jim Wilder is a neurotheologian and author. He explains that in childhood development the word 'love' is often called “attachment” to better define what is happening. The child receives food, warmth, communication, and affection from the parents. This teaches the child how to think, talk, and be human. He says, “Every verse you know of where it says ‘love’ substitute the word ‘attachment’ and you will have the same meaning or better.”
Israel spent 400 years in captivity, and they thought like it. In crisis situations they longed to go back to Egypt. They had become attached to their captors. God had to sever their attachment to Egypt, and grow their attachment to Him. He provided food and water, he healed their disease, and He camped in their center. When Moses pled to God on behalf of Israel, he so understood the heart of God he appealed to that fact, “You, O Lord, are in their qareb.”
After His resurrection and just before He ascends to Heaven Jesus tells His disciples:
“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49
And then He ascends. So the disciples travel to Jerusalem-
“These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers...” Acts 1:14
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from Heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” Acts 2:1-4
The symbolism was clear to the people in the upper room. Israel camped around a pillar of cloud and fire. God lived in their center. Now all the disciples and followers of Jesus are praying and begin to see fire rest on each person. Now God wasn’t just in their center, He was in their centers.
Imagine the love and attachment you would feel to those around you in that room. That unity was a mark of the church in its infancy. God even used the sign of the Holy Spirit to deal with prejudice in the Jewish community.
When Peter, urged by a vision, went to Cornelius’ house, that was unacceptable in Jewish culture. Cornelius was a Gentile, and supposedly outside God’s promises. But as Peter was speaking, Cornelius and his whole household were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in other tongues. God was in their centers too. God used this event and others to show the Jews what Jesus had accomplished on the cross. No more Jews and Gentiles. This is a new Israel. God wants everyone to camp around and attach to Him.
We live in a fractured world. Name any dividing line, and you can find two groups frothing at the mouth over it. The church claims to offer something better. But if we offer them doctrine or a nice service or even community for its own sake we are fooling ourselves.
We cannot camp around doctrines. We can’t camp around intellectual agreements, or vision statements, or social justice. We can’t camp around tolerance or celebrity. We can’t even camp around worship or togetherness.
We have to camp around a person.
Next week we'll look at church and see how it does or does not encourage attachments between people.
To learn more, I highly recommend this sermon by Dr. Jim Wilder on "Attachment Love."