Numbers 10:11-36 (Part 1) – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! Turn and Face The Strange!

Posted: August 19, 2016 in 04-Numbers
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Numbers 10:11-36 (Part 1)

The Israelites Leave Sinai

Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange ( David Bowie had it right when in the song by the same name, he tells us that we must turn and face the strange. Change is never familiar. It is always different. If it was the same ol’, same ol’, it would not be change. I guess for me, in my life, change has been the only thing that hasn’t changed. I grew up, as many of you know who follow my blog, as a preacher’s kid, a PK, a son of a United Methodist preacher, a SOUMP, if you will. I was born on August 25, 1962 (yes my birthday is next Thursday and even though it will be the 54th anniversary of my birth, I still look forward to my birthday – it’s Christmas in the summertime!). At the time I was born, my dad was serving three churches in the Lamar, SC area (yeah, see if you can find that on a map of South Carolina), where he had been serving since June 1960. The Lamar Circuit (as this group of churches was called in the South Carolina Methodist Church) was my dad’s first full-time appointment after he was ordained as a pastor. He was a mere 21 years old at the time he was appointed. Mom was already one-month pregnant with my older brother when dad was appointed his first churches. She was a just a girl herself at age 20 at the time. She was only 18 years old when they married back on Christmas Day 1958. My brother was born in February 1961. My mom was only “un-pregnant” between my brother’s birth and my conception for 9 months. I came along in August 1962.


After those things happening, dad marries his high school sweetheart near the end of 1958. He gets his first appointment as a Methodist preacher, a year and half later in June 1960. My brother was born in February 1961. I follow up 18 months later in August 1962. Talk about the changes to my dad’s life all in a matter of 44 months. Guess what happened next? We moved in June 1963. I wasn’t even a year old, the first time we moved. My brother was just a little over 2 years old. My life was full of changes from that point. We moved from Lamar in June 1963 to Anderson, SC where we lived and dad served until June 1966. That year we moved to Walhalla, SC where my dad served 4 churches in the extreme northwestern part of South Carolina, at the tip of the Appalachian Mountain chain. Two years later in June 1968, we moved to another of the small towns of my life, Rembert, SC (near Sumter, SC which about an hour southeast of Columbia, home of Shaw AFB). In June 1970, we moved on again. I guess you have noticed, by now, that Methodist preachers move in June. In the 1970 version of June, we moved to Hartsville, SC. Hartsville’s claim to fame is that it the home to a huge Sonoco Paper Mill and that it is about 20 minutes away from the Darlington Raceway (over in, you guessed it, Darlington, SC). After that in June 1972, the Methodist Church moved us to Elgin, SC (just outside of Columbia). Elgin was at one time Blaney, SC. But at some point when the Elgin Watch Company built a plant there, they changed the name of the town. Talk about trying to make a new employer in town happy! In June 1974, in the wisdom of the Methodist Church, it was time for us to move again. This time, we moved to Anderson, SC for the second time. We were there until June of 1976. That particular June, we moved to Travelers Rest, SC (yes, that’s an actual town name – look it up, it’s a neat little town now as a suburb of Greenville, SC, but back in 1976 it was still very small town). By the grace of the Methodist Church, my dad was able to stay there until 1980. By that time, I had graduated high school and was in college down the road from Travelers Rest at Furman University – the Yale of the South, as it is called.


So, when you add it up. I went to K5 in Walhalla at Walhalla Elementary School. I went to 1st grade and 2nd grade at Hillcrest Elementary School in Dalzell, SC (yeah another small town) when we were living in Rembert, SC. I went to third and fourth grade at Thornwell Elementary School in Hartsville, SC. I went to 5th grade at Blaney Elementary School in Elgin and to Lugoff-Elgin Middle School for the 6th grade. Seventh and eighth grade saw me at Lakeside Middle School in Anderson, SC and then I actually got to put four grades back to back in one place in high school at Travelers Rest High School.  Let’s count that up. That’s seven different schools that I went to by the time I graduated from Devildog Nation in Travelers Rest. Change was simply part of my life. Change continues now in my adult life but God tends to let me live places a little longer now than He did went I was a kid. Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange. I guess because of the multitude of changes that I grew up with as a child, I tend to adjust to change pretty well. That was one of the advantages of growing up the way that I did. Some people have a hard time with change. I think all of us do to a certain extent. In order for many of us survive change, there must be some things that we hold onto. Family. Familiar objects like toys, cars, blankeys. All these things give us constants in times of change. For me it was family and the Methodist Church. No matter where we moved. I had my family. We were a tight-knit foursome, our little family was. Sure, me and my brother had our knock-down, drag-out fights but the family was the constant. And the church nearby that we served was a constant. I say we served. Because as a preacher’s family, the preacher might be the one getting paid but the whole family is serving even the kids. The church was the family business. It was the constant and we were the traveling band going from town to town. We were the Jesus gypsies. The Methodist vagabonds moving from one town to the next. The church was always there. The local franchise of the Methodist Church was there.


That was the thing that came to mind this morning. My vagabond, traveling vaudeville show of a lifestyle that I lived (and loved and sometimes hated) growing up. That moving from one place to the next but there being constants in all that change was what I thought of as the Israelites move from Sinai to begin their, what would become, circuitous journey to the Promised Land. The constant in all of that was the constancy of the Tabernacle and the presence of the Lord. Let’s think about that as we read this passage for the first time today, Numbers 10:11-36:


11 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law. 12 Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. 13 They set out, this first time, at the Lord’s command through Moses.


14 The divisions of the camp of Judah went first, under their standard. Nahshon son of Amminadab was in command. 15 Nethanel son of Zuar was over the division of the tribe of Issachar, 16 and Eliab son of Helon was over the division of the tribe of Zebulun. 17 Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and Merarites, who carried it, set out.


18 The divisions of the camp of Reuben went next, under their standard. Elizur son of Shedeur was in command. 19 Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai was over the division of the tribe of Simeon, 20 and Eliasaph son of Deuel was over the division of the tribe of Gad. 21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things. The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived.


22 The divisions of the camp of Ephraim went next, under their standard. Elishama son of Ammihud was in command. 23 Gamaliel son of Pedahzur was over the division of the tribe of Manasseh, 24 and Abidan son of Gideoni was over the division of the tribe of Benjamin.


25 Finally, as the rear guard for all the units, the divisions of the camp of Dan set out under their standard. Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai was in command. 26 Pagiel son of Okran was over the division of the tribe of Asher, 27 and Ahira son of Enan was over the division of the tribe of Naphtali. 28 This was the order of march for the Israelite divisions as they set out.


29 Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place about which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.”


30 He answered, “No, I will not go; I am going back to my own land and my own people.”


31 But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. 32 If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.”


33 So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. 34 The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.


35 Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,


“Rise up, Lord!

    May your enemies be scattered;

    may your foes flee before you.”


36 Whenever it came to rest, he said,


“Return, Lord,

    to the countless thousands of Israel.”



Those who travel, move, or face new challenges know what it is to be uprooted. Life is full of changes. It is “fuller” of changes for some than for others, but we all face change at some point or points in our lives. Few things remain stable forever in our lives. Friends come. Friends go. Wives and husbands may even come and go. Houses are bought. Houses are sold. We move from town to town. We may even move from state to state or country to country. Through the circumstances of our lives, God leads us through many changes.  The people, places, and things in our lives change constantly. For example, in our church and if you work in a large enough church, there are constant changes in the staff. The only constant to a church staff is that is frequently changes. If you lead a small group, the people in it tend to change over time as the changes of participants lives cause them to leave or to come to your small group. Changes happen. My daughter and her husband face the daunting changes to the rest of their lives that a baby brings. Ralyn has already changed their lives in many ways. A birth can bring about major changes to our lives. Death can too. A friend of mine right now, whose wife died at age 41 after succumbing to the ravages of cancer, is dealing with a change that he did not desire. Life changes. Changes in jobs. Changes in schools. Changes. Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange.


The Israelites were constantly moving through the wilderness. They were able to handle change only because of God’s presence in the Tabernacle was always with them. He was their constant. He was their familiar. The portable Tabernacle signified God and his people moving together. For us, God, too, is our stability. He is our constant when life around us is changing. Life is a river that is constantly changing. It is not meant to stay the same. Time presses on and change is a result of that. The universe was created by God in one big instant and the universe has been evolving and changing ever since. It is simply the way things are. Change is real and change is constant. But, amidst all the changes, just as wherever I lived as a child I knew our church was nearby, we too know that God is nearby to us. He is with us. He is the pillar of smoke and fire that is the constant leading in our lives. God is with us always. He is our permanence. He is our reliability. He is our constant. He is the one thing that we can count on always. When everything else is changing around us, God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is perfection. He is permanence. He is our rock. He is our anchor in the stormy sea of changes.


Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange…with full knowledge of the constancy of God!


Amen and Amen.

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