What is it with human beings and counting? How many kids do you have? How many dogs and cats? How many people came to church on Sunday? How many books were checked out of the library? I mean, what does it really mean anyway, these sum totals?
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. [Luke 2:1, NIV]
Apparently, the main reason that censuses were taken in the past was for tax purposes. According to the article in Wikipedia, the census around the time of Jesus birth was actually the Census of Quirinius, based on the history written by Josephus (however, there are historical problems with this date and the generally accepted date of Jesus’s birth–a challenge for the scholars I suppose, but that relevant to me. However, for more about this conflict, read the article). And apparently, the Jews resented the taking of the census anyway because of its implications for the domination of Rome over their country and their livelihoods. The prevailing opinion was that the taxation would be too high (sound familiar?). The zealots began their rebellion during these times.
In modern times, the census (supposedly) ensures that all people will be adequately represented in our government through representatives and senators and the like. However, that system is currently very broken and no census will fix it.
So, let’s go back to the more general idea of counting. Why do we count the number of people or things in a place at a certain time? Why do we believe that the higher the number, the more successful we are or the more plenteous our booty? When it comes to money, the rich get richer and the poor wish harder.
By the way, there’s no census in heaven.
In fact, all of this counting and measuring is human in origin. As is time. How much and how little? How many and how few? How long and how short? We compare to one another and we compare to history (as though the circumstances in the past could actually compare to whatever is now). Sort of silly really.
There is another biblical story about the census that has completely different aspect [I Chronicles 21], in which David declares that a census would be taken, without the blessing and/or direction of God. According to one scholar, “. . . God was angry at David, in those times, [because] a man only had the right to count or number what belonged to him.” And I find that concept fascinating. Perhaps we need to consider if we are counting too many things that are not ours to count?
This then begs for the challenge, does God own everything? Have I given over that “ownership” or not?
Read Psalm 50:10-12: ” . . . for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.“