In Numbers 9, Moses gives the Israelites instructions on how to celebrate the Passover meal in remembrance of their deliverance from the clutches of Egypt’s Pharoah. This is how it reads:
9 The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, 2 “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. 3 Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.”
4 So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, 5 and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses.
The part which struck me was this last sentence: The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses. This is astonishing actually. Usually when instructions are given, people deviate from the instructions, even if just a little. But these Israelites did everything exactly as commanded.
For those of us who are parents (or bosses, or managers, or business owners) we would recognize this as an unusual phenomenon. Almost always something is lost in transmission and there is some variance.
I started thinking about this in terms of our Christian obedience. The Bible, even the New Testament alone, is chock full of commandments. The instructions are clear, non-negotiable and straightforward e.g. Forgive one another as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13). Yet how often do we try to fudge it, moderate it, alter it, reduce it, relativise it. There is a gap between the command and our obedience to it.
Thinking about it using the metaphor of data transmission, we can see that packets of data are lost or distorted. This is what Wikipedia says about the problem:
Synchronous transmission uses no start and stop bits, but instead synchronizes transmission speeds at both the receiving and sending end of the transmission using clock signal(s) built into each component.[vague] A continual stream of data is then sent between the two nodes. Due to there being no start and stop bits the data transfer rate is quicker although more errors will occur, as the clocks will eventually get out of sync, and the receiving device would have the wrong time that had been agreed in the protocol for sending/receiving data, so some bytes could become corrupted (by losing bits). Ways to get around this problem include re-synchronization of the clocks and use of check digits to ensure the byte is correctly interpreted and received.
Apart from the very geek-iest of us, that might, in itself, require some translation. It means this: data, in the process of being transferred, gets corrupted, and checks need to be in place to ascertain accuracy, namely, re-synchronizing clocks and using check digits.
For the Christian, the equivalent of clocks and check digits would be the Bible and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. When there is a gap between command and obedience, the Word of God and the witness of the Spirit will alert us to the fact.
We may think we are getting it right, but we need to check ourselves. It requires a certain humility to sit under the judgment of the Bible and the conviction of the Spirit, but when we are in possession of hearts that are inherently deceitful and wicked, such error-checking is absolutely essential to our discipleship.
Take time today to pray, to read the Word, to ask God to reveal where this gap may be in your own discipleship, and be open to his correction and recalibration.