This week we read in Numbers that God asked Moses to “take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel” through a variety of head counts. In Hosea, we learn that “the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which shall neither be numbered nor counted.”
How do we move from the requirement of being counted to becoming numberless? And what does that mean?
Here are my thoughts.
As the people approached the wilderness (indeed, as we each approach our own form of wilderness), counting is crucial. Our ancestors numbered men, priests, and money. We count all the physical features and assets that give us the strength to defend ourselves, and the capacity to work a worthy will in the world.
We, also, count and protect our spiritual assets that serve the soul and meet inner needs.
Put another way, and in both senses of the word, we count so that we count, as individuals and community alike, and we are all counted as people with the potential to properly organize our God-given lives.
Coming to live in God’s ways, the prophet seems to say, is what makes people “the Children of the Living God.” This is an especially important insight for people (all of us) who stray from the right path, for it is a return to such living that brings people back together, with each other, and with God.
Amazingly, Hosea shows us there’s even more. He goes deeper into the concept of right living to teach explicitly what it includes and what difference it makes.
The prophet does so simply by describing the vows that our Partner has made with us: “I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in loving kindness and compassion. I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Eternal.”
These ways – righteousness and justice, loving-kindness and compassion, all on the foundation of faith – are what count the most. Indeed it will be when the people of the whole world practice them that “the children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea,” so purposeful and so plentiful as to be incapable of being numbered.
At that time, in the words of the lovely hymn,
“All the world shall come to serve Thee
And bless Thy glorious Name,
And Thy righteousness triumphant
The islands shall acclaim…
And all their congregations
So loud Thy praise shall sing,
That the uttermost peoples hearing,
Shall hail Thee crowned King.”