Names into Numbers

We could say it this way – the spirit of accusation and the impulse to empire are the primary manifestations of the satan.  That’s all under the heading of The Lamb gives you a name, the beast gives you a number.  What got Israel and King David in so much trouble in this episode was David started thinking about people not as persons but as numbers, as objects he could use for his own ego needs and economic self interests.  He’d gone from knowing person as names to seeing persons as numbers.

The Lamb gives you a name, the beast gives you a number.

Be suspicious of institutions, including churches, that are too obsessed with numbers.  Now, may the people of God be multiplied greatly.  And on the day of Pentecost the church was born and there were added to them 3000!   But, the Bible is always suspicious about getting too obsessed with numbers, so that in Revelation 7, when it’s talking about the people of God in prophetic, symbolic language, it says “And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:” Revelation‬ ‭7:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  What is 144,000?  It’s twelve times twelve times a thousand.  It’s twelve tribes of Israel, the covenant number that represents the people of God.  The twelve tribes, twelve disciples, the covenant community, multiplied by itself, then multiplied again by that number of exponential increase, a thousand-fold.  So it’s a symbolic number representing the whole community of the people of God, but then it leaps beyond that and says “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,” Revelation‬ ‭7:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  People from every tribe, every ethnicity, every language, that no one could number.   You can’t put a number on it.  Don’t try to put a number on it.  

Be suspicious of institutions in general and churches in particular if we become too obsessed with numbers, because it’s often based on economic interest and ego needs.  This economic self interest and ego needs is the phenomenon behind the beastly actions of totalitarian regimes.   When you see governments and regimes and administrations become dictatorial and totalitarian they are almost always guilty of turning names into numbers, persons into statistics, and people into things that can be used to meet ego needs and economic self interest.  This is what the beast does, and it’s what the Lamb never does.

This is one of the major themes of the book of Revelation, you have this great contrast all the time between beasts and the Lamb.  You have these beasts, these great big hideous beasts with seven heads coming up out of the sea, contrasted with a little lamb, a little baby lamb who kind of just trots out onto the world stage.   Look out little lamb, there are monsters loose!!  But the little lamb comes out, he’s already been slain anyway, he’s like a slaughtered little lamb, but he’s still alive.  He trots out onto the stage with all these Godzilla style monsters with their mighty roars, yet somehow before you know it, this slaughtered little lamb has conquered, and all of the beasts and the monsters are falling before the conquest of the lamb…

Another thing to be cautious of when we’re talking numbers and names is to be cautious of communication that turn everything into ones and zeroes.  Yes, I’m talking about our precious internet.  It’s still super new, and I’m not sure we know how to handle it yet.  There’s something loose among us that’s wonderful in its potential and possibilities and it is amazing to us.  But we need to be wary of things that turn names into numbers, going from analog to digital.  Maybe vinyl was better…we need to think about this.

Be cautious with forms of communication that turn everything into ones and zeroes, names into numbers, binary code, digital.  Is this why it’s so easy to behave beastly on Facebook and Twitter (and Instagram and whatever..)?   You know what I mean, using the internet, dealing with encrypted ones and zeroes.  It’s not flesh and blood it’s ones and zeroes.  Who gives you a name?  Who gives you a number?  When everything is turned into ones and zeroes, is that why we behave so beastly?   We talk to people over the internet, using ones and zeroes to communicate, in ways we would never talk to them face to face.  I wonder, this turning names into numbers thing, is that what brings out the beast in us?  We have to be careful with that, a little suspicious with it.


John Lewis

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