Every Sink My Toothbrush Rested On
It’s not often we look in the book of Numbers to see how it applies to our lives today. But Thailand missionary Bekah Farber has found great peace in how God uses that book to show just how much he cares for us, both then and now.
(Listen to Bakah’s audio version of this story.)
By Bekah Farber
Zziip! Zzzzziiiiiiip. Zzzzzzzziiiiiiiiiip. The suitcases are ready.
My heart and stomach try to trade places, and I almost start crying. It’s time to travel. Again.
My kids are excited. My friends are happy for me. My chiropractor is jealous. After all, we’re about to flee the Midwest for a week on the central Californian coast with my husband’s family!
For me, a suitcase zipper is a complex sound. Yes, it can signal the excitement of a new beginning, or the anticipation of a getaway or vacation.
But it’s also the sound of disrupted routines, of a loss of control and the comfort of the known – when and what I’m going to eat that day, where my hairbrush is hiding in the vast cavern of my suitcase, what my pillow will feel like that night.
And it’s also the sound of separation and pain. As a child, it meant that it was time to say goodbye to my parents for another semester of boarding school, or that I was about to trade my life in one hemisphere for life in another.
Granted, this time around, I was probably not feeling particularly ready to travel again, as this would be our third trip in three weeks’ time, having just de-boarded an airplane three days earlier.
But God was so kind to me. We had on-time, smooth flights. Our children acted like the seasoned travelers they are. The giant sapphire eye of the Pacific Ocean gleamed and winked as our plane descended, and the palm branches of Santa Barbara waved their arms in welcome. The knot in my soul began to unwind, but the Lord’s deepest kindness came in the surprising package of Numbers, Chapter 33, read in the cold morning light of my in-laws’ kitchen on our second day there. Here’s a sample:
“So the people of Israel set out from Rameses and camped at Succoth. And they set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. And they set out from Etham… and they camped before Migdol. And they set out … and camped … And they set out and they camped … And they set out and camped … And they set out … and camped …” (Numbers 33:5ff).
Are you still with me? From verse 5 all the way through to verse 49, it’s one big catalogue of all the places the Israelites camped during their desert wanderings, full of unpronounceable and esoteric place names: Pi-hahiroth, Dophkah, Kibroth-hattaavah, Makheloth, Benejaakan, Hor-haggidgad, Johbathah … (!!).
Why would God choose to devote 45 verses of precious Scripture to a travel diary? And just in case we’d be tempted to yawn and “ho-hum” through this passage, the Scripture itself reinforces that this is something the Lord expressly wanted recorded: “Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord.” (Num. 33:2)
As I read through Numbers 33, I suddenly found myself immensely comforted by the 42 occurrences of the word “camped.” The details of Israel’s wandering were important to the Lord, important enough to record in detail, by place name, even if, today, we don’t know where many of those places are–or were.
Bekah, I heard the Holy Spirit gently whisper to me, I know about every journey you’ve ever taken. I care about the name of every place you have ever visited or lived. I am well aware of your wanderings.
Not having a permanent home is difficult: rootlessness can lead to an unsettling loss of identity. “When humans become geographically unmoored, either voluntarily or involuntarily, they put themselves at risk of losing … recognition of themselves.” (Keeping Place, Jen Pollock Michel) In other words, “Who am I anymore, after all this moving around?”
But Numbers 33 speaks to this issue as well, beginning with, and almost bookending the passage with the phrase “the people of Israel” (verses 1, 5 and 40). These are God’s special people, chosen for God’s purpose. They are no longer just Hebrews, or even Israelites, but the people of Israel, with identity and purpose. No matter what hemisphere I am living in, my primary identity is that I am a child of God. That identity does not change, regardless of how many times I move. Indeed, that identity trumps the importance of any physical location!
One last thing: Numbers 9:16 established that the Lord was ever-present with the Israelites throughout their wilderness wanderings: “So it was always: the cloud covered [the tabernacle] by day and the appearance of fire by night.” And the cloud and fire weren’t “just there.” They were abiding there (9:22), indicating a close, sustained relationship of God with His people.
It’s the same for you and for me. Maybe you have literally “set out and camped” for much of your life. Maybe your body has stayed put, but you have wandered in an emotional wilderness. The God of Israel has known every step of your journey, and He has cared about every stage of it. As His child, a member of his household, you can join Moses in saying, “O Lord, you have always been our home.” (Psalm 90:1)
To learn more about the Farber family’s ministry, please visit their PartnerHub page.
About the author: Bekah and her family live in Thailand. She and her husband, Brian, were part of a church planting ministry in Central Thailand for a decade. They’re now in Bangkok working in discipleship and an equipping ministry with Thai churches. Bekah grew up in Indonesia and also spent two years teaching in the Philippines. She says, “Although I have not always been faithful to the Lord, He has always been faithful to me.”