Oh Numbers. Apparently there are issues with the numbers. They don’t make sense in light of archaeological findings in the region. Okay. That doesn’t actually bother me all that much.
See, numbers are odd cultural constructs. They represent something absolute, but are still communicated through language. I have no problem believing that language shifted somewhere in a way we don’t particularly understand and that leaves our interpretation of their records a bit off.
This, though, is where there’s some trouble with the concept of how we accept Scripture. See, I was raised to believe that every word in the Bible, (excepting some liberal and adulterated ‘translations,’) has been protected by the Spirit and is more than inerrant, it is literally true and directly applicable.
I believe the message of the Bible has been protected by the Spirit. I believe most of the Bible is an historical account. I believe that the Bible is a living document with layers of meaning and complex applications. But do I believe it is completely literally true?
I understand why people want to believe this, but I also understand how it causes problems. It causes problems with Numbers, to begin with. It causes problems with how we understand Job. It causes problems with books like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation.
There’s also a copy of the Bible out there that says: “Thou shalt commit adultery.”
This is why it’s so very important to consider historical context, cultural context, and literary context in both the book of the Bible and the entire Scripture when attempting to understand what a particular passage is trying to say.
Far more important than the literal number on the page is the process of the census, the arrangement of the camps, the duty of the tribes. I don’t know, maybe even the comparative sizes of the tribes. Am I going to trust the Bible any less because we haven’t quite worked out how to translate those numbers? Absolutely not.
I think if you’re looking for reasons to distrust the Bible, you’ll find them. I think if you’re going to miss the point, you’re going to miss the point. Sometimes, I think we definitely miss the forest because we’re arguing over the lichen growing on the trees.