The Bible is rich with measurements, from paces and handbreadths to ephahs and hins. One of the first things described in cubits [generally considered to be the length of a forearm] was Noah’s ark. And here, New Jerusalem is described in stadia [generally considered to be 600 feet, give or take]. But really, who cares?
The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia [1,200 miles] in length, and as wide and high as it is long [a cube].
Some people seem to think these measurements confirm, by specificity, the reality of what is being written about. In other words, the ark must be real, why else describe it in such detail? Some people have taken these descriptions and measurements to such “lengths” (pun intended), to recreate the items or places, either in life size or intricate models.
Another set of folks are fascinated by the actual numbers in scripture (a type of numerology if you will), citing the repetition of certain numbers and their implication.
I’m sure all of these studies are fascinating and may even give additional insights to the richness of the text. Of course, there are a number of holy document that have received the same treatment. Numbers, measurements, dates (and dating) are just a few of the ways that humans establish themselves in space and time.
Personally, I’m still trying to come to grips with the relationship between the European kilometer and the mile, or the length of my son’s ship in the Navy in relationship to something I know (it’s about two football fields, he finally said). I can barely figure out if a chair in the store will fit in my living room, much less the size of the ark, the temple, or the New Jerusalem. In the old days, when I felt much more compelled to diligently read every word of scripture (including the begats via the King James), I tried to picture every length, breadth, Old Testament celebration and sacrifice. I was determined to figure out the secret meaning or mystery embedded there.
I confess, today, I’m much more cavalier. I’ve been through the Bible, from front to back, more times than I can accurately count (another falling down, I’ve stopped keeping track), and honestly, I’m no closer to uncovering the ultimate number or truth. If anything, I’m backing off the detail and looking for the big picture. In the same way the Pharisees were chastised by Jesus for trying to tithe on spices used in foods [Matthew 23:23], I’m letting go of it too.
I’m not counting how many people I have “brought to Christ” or with how many people I have shared the gospel. I’m done with measuring my effectiveness as a human being by how many people I speak to or speak to me, or how many agree with me or how many people read my blog. I will not be running for office so I won’t need to count how many people vote for me.
My faith and my ability to love others is not really measurable, so why try? The size of my church doesn’t really tell much of a story either. It’s time to give up the cubits and work the quality of the event, the encounter, the moment.