Now the Lord spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai … “Take a census of all the congregation of the child of Israel …”
God instructed Moses to count the Israelites, but He also warned Moses that counting people was risky. One of the risks was that, when made part of a large crowd, people can start to feel insignificant.
We all know what it’s like to look at the masses of people and lament: “What possible difference could I make? I am but one of millions; a mere spec on the earth!”
What’s interesting in the verse we are considering today is the Hebrew word translated “take a census”. The Hebrew word literally means to “shake or to lift one’s head”. There are plenty of other words in Hebrew that mean “to count” but when commanding Moses to number the people, God uses this more complicated word. Why?
God instructs Moses to count the people by having them lift their heads, signifying each person’s worth and value. As each person lifted their head to be counted they were reminding themselves (and the crowd around them) that they had a unique contribution to make, even as part of a larger group.
As a church, we must honour individuality whilst resisting individualism. To honor individuality is to recognize that each person is created uniquely by God and so offers something no-one else can. The team is enriched for having you as part of it.
But we must never confuse individuality with its insidious perversion, individualism, which refuses to recognize the team at all.
The question is not to count or not to count, to congregate or not to congregate. The question is whether we can be mature enough to hold two truths at the same time. First that I am unique and have a valuable contribution to make. And second, that I am called to express my unique contribution as a member of God’s family.