Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Numbering, the Mark, and the nearness of God

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
-- Luke 2:1

The word KJV translates as “taxed” actually means “enrolled” or “listed” or “counted”, like a census. It comes from a Greek word, apographo, and while it's used a few other times in the New Testament, you don't see it at all in the OT.

What you do see in the OT is the Hebrew word, “manah”, which also means to count or reckon, and that's the word used in II Samuel when David tells Joab to take a census of “his” people – the people of Israel and Judah.
Joab protests, trying to get the point across that it's the Lord who multiplies His people: they're not David's to count (II Sam. 24:3), echoing Moses' word to the Israelites, “The Lord your God hath multiplied you, and ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.” (Deut. 1:10).

But Satan had taken over David (II Sam. 24:1) and he was determined to get those numbers. It was only after he'd gone through with the counting that he realized he'd sinned against God, and as part of David's “atonement”, God sent a plague, and quickly reduced that census figure by 70,000.

God asserted Himself strongly that these are His people, and not anyone else's for the counting, and as David drew nearer to God, the plague was kept from the rest of the people (II Sam. 24:25).

So when Augustus decreed that there should be a census of the whole world, as if they were people who belonged to him, God was right there to assert Himself. Within half a century, it would become abndantly clear that “the whole world” did not belong to Augustus as they drew closer to God through Jesus. Rather than send a plague to kill people, He sent the way to new life – a different kind of plague on those who had been taken over by Satan, and a holy outbreak, as well.

Was there a cause-and-effect process at work here – as if taking a census causes God to assert Himself? Yes and no. It shows how Satan had entered into the people in power – David at that time, and Augustus at the time of the birth of Jesus -- causing them to want to count how many people they had under their "control". But it's also a sign of hope, because as Satan becomes more and more evident, it means we're about to see a magnificent move of God.

What does that mean for us today? In part, it means that, as we see Satan become more and more evident in our society, we can expect another such move of God. But more than that, we can see that there are two such moves of God in Scripture, and we should look for a third.

I believe that third move of God – related to counting or numbering the people – is in Revelation. “And (the second beast) causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
-- Rev. 13:16-17
This second beast wants all of us to be “counted” or “enrolled”, by means of his mark, holding the fear of economic deprivation over us if we don't receive it.

Remember, Satan has insidious ways of getting what he wants. He will not show up as anything blatantly evil, but as something masquerading as “for the common good”. It could be a “homeland security” initiative to identify and track potential terrorists; it could be some World Health Organization decree to keep tabs on people who might be carrying a disease; it could be something as innocuous as an electronic transit pass, which can be embedded in one's skin and passed through a sensor to open a turnstile.

But we are not to fear, but to remember: “From henceforth, let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” (Gal. 6:17) Paul is reminding us that, in Christ, we already have the only marks we need, and that the Lord will provide for those who have faith in His promise.

The Bible repeats incidents and themes to establish a precedent in our minds. We saw the “assertion of God” with David and again with Augustus, and can take comfort – in fact, rejoice – that, as we see more signs of Satan's increasing influence and feel more pressure from worldly sources, God is actually preparing for a mighty move to assert Himself.

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