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Posts Tagged ‘census’

Counting

3 Million people to see/hear Pope Francis

3 Million people to see/hear Pope Francis

This is the first census of the Israelites and based on the line, “who were able to serve in Israel’s army,” this was a census to determine their military strength. The Levites, however, since they would be responsible for the Tabernacle, were not counted; they would not participate in war. And of course, no women were counted and no children or teens under twenty.

. . . and they called the whole community together on the first day of the second month. The people registered their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one . . . All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. The total number was 603,550. The ancestral tribe of the Levites, however, was not counted along with the others. [Numbers 1:18, 45-47, NIV]

So how many people were really out there in the desert? Most scholars say upwards to 3 million. That’s a lot of people in one place. That would less people than in Los Angeles proper but more people than Chicago. That would be more than Lisbon, Spain but less than Warsaw, Poland. That’s more people that live on Jamaica but less than live on Puerto Rico.

It’s a big number.

But let’s go back to the men. They listed each one by name on what? I don’t really know. Papyrus maybe, animal skins? But let’s imagine that they had 8 1/2 by 11 inch pieces of paper. That’s 4,020 sheets of paper, assuming 150 names per sheet. That’s 8 reams of paper (almost a case). I’m just saying, if they really “wrote down” all the names, 600,000 is a lot of names and a lot of ink and a lot of surfaces to write them.

The business of “census” was huge. The time to do it was huge as well. In ancient times, let’s assume it took 30 secopapyrusnds to write one person’s name (ink, dip, dip, dip), that would be about 208 days if they worked non-stop, 416 days if they worked 12 hour days which is also unlikely, but if they only worked 6 hours a day, it would have taken more than two years just to write down everyone’s name at 30 seconds per name if only one person was doing the work. Okay, that’s unlikely, so let’s assume that 12 people were doing the writing (one per clan), then maybe only half a year or so.

In any case, that’s a long time.

Just this reason alone would have made it unreasonable to count the girls, I guess. But we all know about that part, that women were property and so, they would get counted until they decided to count the sheep and the goats. And then, it would be a one potato, two potato kind of thing, not by name. Hate that, but it was the way of their world.

Why do we count? In the U.S., we count for political and social reasons, not unlike David who got into all kinds of trouble for calling an unauthorized census [2 Samuel 24]. It’s as though the numbers are the proof. How many people came to the program? How many people came to church? How many people got saved? How many people are a particular race or size or whatever. How many dollars were accumulated? We are obsessed with counting. And in the end, it’s just arithmetic. There are so many reasons, so many exclusions, so many circumstances. What do the numbers mean? They are a photograph of a moment and nothing more.

I think we need to find other ways of measuring success, other ways of measuring life.

cemeteryAnd interestingly enough, while we are preoccupied in the numbers when it comes to collecting or promoting or showing off, we seem to slide over the numbers of tragedy: 230,000 in the 2004 Japanese tsunami; 159,000 in the 2010 Haiti earthquake; over 3 million in the Chinese floods of 1931; 60 – 80 million in World War II, 16 – 30 million in World War I; up to 4 million in the Vietnam Wars and 1.2 million in the Korean War (and these are just in the 20th century). These are numbers we toss out like so much salt on a winter road.

What are you counting today?

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numbersWhat 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 thatcounting days 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.

For if everything I own is God’s, then I don’t need to really count or worry about that number being large or small. If I could just stay focused on the quality of my relationships, the quality of my service, the quality of my work and lifestyle, then the numbers game could fall away and into the very hands of the Christ who lives within me: teacher, guide, savior, CEO.

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