At about 1 PM on Thursday, a Ford Focus was traveling southbound on U.S. 27 near Hammock Road, when it was struck by a northbound Jaguar. The Jaguar went on to strike two more cars, resulting in a pileup that lasted most of Thursday afternoon and probably spawned two more accidents on or near the detour route, which included Flare Road, Brunns Road and Hammock Road. At the scene, one man from Sebring was pronounced dead. His wife was airlifted and reports suggest she is still on life support. The Jaguar driver was transported to Highlands Regional Medical Center. As if that wasn’t enough, at around 2:30 PM, a three-car accident was reported at Heron and Pigeon, just a few blocks from the detour route. Still later, at about 6 PM, a four-car accident was reported at Heron and Hammock, which seems to have been related to the detour. Wow, for a small town, Thursday was a tough traffic day! We hurt for the family that lost a loved one, though we don’t know them. We can’t imagine how difficult this time is.
At the same time, these three collisions illustrate a truth: Collisions are seldom simple affairs, and are usually messy. Because the corner I live on is a reasonably high traffic zone, I have on three occasions gone out front and discovered substantial portions of automobile in my front yard. Ask anyone who has ever cleaned up after an automobile accident – they leave behind a mess! Even in cases where (thankfully) no one is hurt, the mess can be significant.
What is true of automobile collisions is also true of “truth principle” collisions. “What are they?” you ask. Truth collisions are times when two principles, both true, seem to crash into one another. Navigating the choices of the world isn’t all that simple, even with a careful look at it through the Biblical world view. As an avid student of the Bible, I still have to admit there are times when two Biblical principles can conflict and compete for value. So as not to confuse the issue, perhaps an example or two would help:
Take, for example, the case for civil disobedience in the Bible. God’s Word makes clear that He calls His children to respect and obey authorities that are placed over their lives.
In specific passages like Romans 13 we read: “1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”
The timing of the command of God in this regard is quite significant, since Nero was ruling Rome, and NO HISTORIAN alive today would argue that he was a particularly good ruler. This wasn’t Paul shilling for Nero’s next election – this was the clear validation of a principle of respect for those in authority, and a clear call for loyalty for civil government by the Christian community of the first century.
Yet, the principle of Romans 13 isn’t the only principle a believer needed to take into account when dealing with civil authority. In other places, God also commanded us to obey Him above all others. When unjust authorities moved in ungodly ways, it brought people who loved God into conflict with the principle in Romans 13 and the two principles into conflict and collision.
Consider Daniel as he prayed. Daniel 6 unfolds the familiar story: Daniel 6:7 reminds us how Daniel was set up by jealous men before the king, and ended up in a lion’s den: “All the commissioners of the kingdom… have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den. 8 … 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction. 10 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.
This isn’t an isolated case. Consider Peter and John as they preached. The authorities arrested them and subsequently released them with a stern command to cease preaching about Jesus in Jerusalem. They didn’t listen. In Acts 5:27: “When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 “And we are witnesses of these things; and [so is] the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.“
The point of this lesson isn’t to bring a solution to the conflict of principle in issues of civil disobedience, but to establish that such conflicts exist. There are times when two principles of the Word of God seem to crash into one another. In each of the cases we just mentioned, God told His people in the passages two things – obey and respect authority (which appears in many ways throughout the Bible), and for His people to obey God before anything man would say to negate His Divine right to absolute obedience. Here then, is the obvious question “When two principles of the Word seem to collide, how do we know the right way to go?”
Key Principle: The application principles of God’s Word are complex and can appear to conflict with other principles. When that happens, the Lord has a way to help us discern His higher values.
The Situation (36:1)
Numbers 36 offered at the end of the journey with Moses’s leadership an important example of facing the collision of principles. The story needs a proper staging to make sense. Look at the opening verse, as we begin to discern seven principles to evaluate God’s direction in difficult and conflicting areas like these:
First, the Authority Principle
Our story opens with a group bringing a grievance to Moses:
Numbers 36:1 The family heads of the clan of Gilead son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, who were from the clans of the descendants of Joseph, came and spoke before Moses and the leaders, the heads of the Israelite families. 2 They said, “When the Lord commanded my lord to give the land as an inheritance to the Israelites by lot, he ordered you to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters.
The authority the presented the case to was the one that God placed in their lives. They recognized the authority involved and took the problem to the authority (36:1). They sought Moses and the tribal elder’s instruction, because these were the men that held the God-given authority in such spiritual matters. As part of the authority principle, they acknowledged the Word came from the Lord, not from men (36:2).
There are difficulties in discerning Scripture, and there will always be. God carved out a system in each age whereby people who truly desire to follow Him could search answers from leaders who were given their position by God, and were subsequently acknowledged by men. Leaders of the community of God’s people were to be wise men, but also Biblically knowledgeable. In the church such things were cared for by a call for ELDERS in places like 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
Without belaboring the point, let me mention something the family heads did NOT do: They didn’t ask the Midianites, Egyptians or Canaanites. They didn’t expect the WORLD to tell them what God thought about His own commands. Far too many believers today come to a difficult place of discernment in their walk, and turn to sources like an intelligent friend at work, or a website or blog by an unknown author to get answers to serious Biblical issues. I am not saying that Google somehow represents evil, but it may offer more confusion than help. If you have a serious medical issue, I suggest a doctor that you choose, and a second opinion behind that if you feel it necessary. I do NOT suggest diagnosis by WebMD – even though sources like that have their uses. If you observe such sites carefully, they warn they are NOT a replacement for a medical practitioner.
Not only did they NOT ask the WORLD, they found those who carefully sought God and His Word for the answers. In the same way, you may CHOOSE the local church you participate in, but one part of that choice should SURELY be: “Do they have Elders that can handle the Scripture well.” I mention this because I have been stunned to hear people who increasingly admit they attend places where they don’t have such confidence.
Just a short time ago, I was counseling someone who asked a complicated question from the Word. I prodded them to tell me what counsel they received from their own church leaders. They flatly admitted to me: “I can’t ask them. I know them all pretty well, and they don’t really have much knowledge of that depth in the Word.” I wanted to ask, but out of politeness just couldn’t, “Why are you going there?” My point is simple: You can choose what spiritual community you are a part of. In our area there are a number of good choices. When you choose, make sure it is based on more serious considerations than just programming and personality – make sure they can handle the Word well. Serious times are coming, and serious voices need to emerge. The authority principle is simply this: When conflicts arise in the Word, take them to Elders who have been noted for their knowledge and careful study of the Word.
Second, the Clarity Principle
Watch closely as the men present their Scriptural conflict to the tribal authorities. They said:
Numbers 36:3 Now suppose they [the daughters of Zelophehad] marry men from other Israelite tribes; then their inheritance will be taken from our ancestral inheritance and added to that of the tribe they marry into. And so part of the inheritance allotted to us will be taken away. 4 When the Year of Jubilee for the Israelites comes, their inheritance will be added to that of the tribe into which they marry, and their property will be taken from the tribal inheritance of our ancestors.”
Note as you were reading how carefully the problem was presented. In only a few words they framed the problem clearly, placing two principles of God’s Word that seemed in conflict in opposition to one another (36:3-5). Perhaps you missed what the conflict was all about:
On the one hand, the division of the land for the inheritance in Numbers 27 forced an inequity – those who were inheriting women without male heirs were left out. They complained to Moses and God made sure they were given their land rights. The principle of equity was upheld. On the other hand, the land rights were transferred from a woman to a man in marriage, because God’s principle of male priesthood over a family and its possessions was another value the Word taught. Because the women who had an inheritance were sure to marry, these two values of the Word were set to cause conflict.
When the women married, their land rights would be ceded to their husbands – and that had the potential of expanding the land allotment for some tribes by marriage and disrupting the long-term land apportionment among the tribes – another principle for God’s Word. With a conflict such as this – the whole map of the tribes could change in a few generations! God’s inheritance for a tribe could easily be eroded by means of marriages!
The clarity principle isn’t about the problem – but how the problem is posed. Note what they men of the tribes of Joseph did. They carefully outlined exactly what they were facing in the problem and why it was a problem to them. They were specific about the principles involved, and drew a line from the conflict to the confusing results. Moses and the tribal leaders were not entertaining some interpersonal slight, nor was the problem a simple administrative snafu – the issue was a conflict derived from the revealed Words of God. In short, after finding the right authority to present the case to, the men carefully highlighted the Biblical problem to their leaders.
Third, the Sovereignty Principle
The men of God knew they were facing something difficult, and they did what men and women of God should always do:
Numbers 36:5 Then at the Lord’s command Moses gave this order to the Israelites…
Can you see how the leader took the problem to the Lord before he spoke (36:5a)? Moses spoke at the Lord’s command. What a refreshing approach to spiritual problem solving! I cannot share clearly enough how self-dependent we have become in our day. Because we have the ability to network information, we often think in “crowd speak” – the language of the many. Got a question, there are a thousand sources for the answer. We have so many possibilities that are so immediate and seem so adequate, we don’t feel ill-equipped WITHOUT CONSULTING GOD. How can that be?
The Sovereignty Principle is this: God’s Word cannot be discerned without God’s Spirit, and a humble recognition of God’s right to make the rules. We are flawed, He is perfect. We are weak, He is unfailing. We are easily confused by emotions, personal sentiments that cloud clear judgment. God, the author of all truth, is not swayed and not fickle. When we want to know what HE thinks, it is always best to ASK HIM.
Fourth, the Acknowledgement Principle
The very first thing that Moses did when God gave him direction was point out the case was complicated, and God would solve it:
Numbers 36:5b “…“What the tribe of the descendants of Joseph is saying is right.”
The leader responded openly that a problem existed and God would address it (36:5b). The worst thing a leader can do is TRY TO SOLVE A PROBLEM BY IGNORING IT. Moses knew the men had a reasonable issue, and he made sure they knew that he knew.
Fifth, the Priority Principle
As Moses spoke, he needed to make sure the people knew which of the two conflicting principles took priority over the other. Numbers 36 continued:
Numbers 36:6 This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within their father’s tribal clan. 7 No inheritance in Israel is to pass from one tribe to another, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal inheritance of their ancestors.
Moses explained the prescription that made clear the higher value principle (36:6-7). The land inheritance had to be protected above the freedom of the women to marry any man of their own choosing.
Here is an essential principle for today’s conflict: God can limit who you can marry. The mantra of “we cannot choose who we love” is increasingly confusing LUST with LOVE. We need to be careful as believers not to fall into the trap out of soft-headed concern and miss-framed benevolence toward people, by opening for them choices that God did not give them. Since I am reading his biography, let me echo a voice of a now with Jesus brother:
“Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community
Let me follow that up with another of his writings that also reminded me not to stop speaking truth even when bullied by lobbying on every hand in our public presentation:
“The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the division which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord. But the end is also near, and they must hold on and persevere until it comes. Only he will be blessed who remains loyal to Jesus and his word until the end.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
As a follower of Jesus, you have made a choice to let Him lead. Would the One who wrote that light and darkness should have no fellowship together call you to marry one who is not a believer in Jesus? Do you REALLY believe that God would tell you to find someone who loves you deeply, but does not LOVE HIM, and marry them? In truth, God has the right to tell His people what they can and cannot do in every intimate area of life!
Think about the Priority Principle for a moment. It means that though both the inheritance rights of the women were important to God, they were not as important as the principles of maintaining the boundaries God set for the tribes. God wanted the tribes to maintain their size and shape. When two principles are in conflict, God will sort out in the rest of His revealed Word what He cares about more. Because that process is potentially dangerous, your choice of leadership becomes increasingly more important. As the curtain draws on moral thinking in our country, many so-called spiritual leaders will fold on issues of truth. Life will get more complex, as wrong is increasingly defined as right. It will take greater adeptness in the Word and greater sensitivity to the Spirit in the days ahead to get the right answer on conflicts, because many of the choices people will make were never contemplated by the believing community in the past – with good reason.
Sixth, the Direction Principle
Moses offered God’s response to the problem in clear terms that everyone could understand. He said:
Numbers 36:8 Every daughter who inherits land in any Israelite tribe must marry someone in her father’s tribal clan, so that every Israelite will possess the inheritance of their ancestors. 9 No inheritance may pass from one tribe to another, for each Israelite tribe is to keep the land it inherits.”
It is important to note the solution was clear and measureable so obedience would be obvious (36:8-9). When people have wrestled with conflicting principles, it is essential that seek God for clear lines, so that obedience may be openly understood. When the standards are blurred, even those who are living outside the problem are affected. Because we are in a relationship with God, it becomes increasingly important for us to UNDERSTAND WHAT HE CARES ABOUT when moving forward from a time of conflicted values. Note that when you read the end of the book of Numbers, the inheritance principles are repeated. Moses is not stuttering, he is making sure there is absolute clarity with regards to the answer to the query brought to him. The people of God must be clear and concise on the truth – and not get so wrapped in the theory of a relationship, we don’t truly follow God.
Look at verse nine. It begins with forceful language – NO INHERITANCE MAY PASS… There is a refreshing sense of clarity, and a resounding tenor of command – DO NOT DO THIS. When the voices of the church are muddled because we do not have those most capable to answer the question out front, obedience and disobedience is a muddy mess.
In the UK last week, a prominent “so called evangelical” wrote a five page article explaining that since the “law was done away with in Christ”, he was dropping his stand for traditional marriage between one man and one woman – based on the fact that laws such as those found in Leviticus 18 were “nailed to the cross”. His evidence?
There is only one only scripture that used the terminology “nailed it to the cross” if you were reading from the AV or NKJ, as it appears the writer was. That passage is found in Colossians 2:13-14: “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross“.
The reasoning appeared to have been this: We were alienated in our lost-ness from God because of the Law. When Jesus came, He nailed that Law to the cross and His death replaced any need we as believers have for the Law. Look carefully at Colossians 2, because that is NOT AT ALL what the text truly said. The Pastor saw two conflicting principles: our call as believers to be loving and kind as opposed to our standards of marriage that exclude how some people feel. He felt in conflict. His reach for the Bible took him to a passage that concluded the Cross cancelled the need to stand by the principles found in the Torah concerning marriage.
There are two profound problems with this approach:
First, it discounts the fact that all Scripture is profitable for teaching the truth (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible isn’t in two parts – an old part and a new part that cancels the old part. It is TRUE that Hebrews 8 and 9 clearly argued that the New Covenant of God cancelled the Old one. Yet, if you look at the writing of the passage, the reference is to ATONEMENT, not books of the Bible. In short, Hebrews said that Jesus replaced animal sacrifice, not that Colossians replaced Numbers. The fact is that we have studied for ten years together the principles that are found in the Hebrew Scriptures. NO, we don’t kill a goat to make God happy, but we DO depend on the principles of every one of the sixty-six books for direction. That is why we study them all, and not just the New Testament.
Second, if what he said was true, if the CROSS eliminated the Law, it eliminated ALL laws regarding things like bestiality. There are only four passages in the Bible that speak of it – and none are in the New Testament. They are ALL in the Law. If the law regarding homosexuality in Leviticus 18 is tossed aside at the Cross, what happens to the other laws in the same passage? Are we now allowed sex between blood relatives (cp. Lev. 18:6)? How about incest with a parent (18:7)? Can we marry our sisters now? (18:17). Do you see the problem? Christians that have been poorly taught to toss out the Hebrew Scriptures because they aren’t “under the Law” open the flood gates to every kind of impurity.
Third, it is not at all what Colossians 2 actually says. The NASB translation of the Colossian 2:14 passage is much clearer: “14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.. (Colossians 2:14, NASB). Jesus didn’t cancel out the principles of the Law, He took away the obligation we have to pay for the charge of unrighteousness, because His righteousness has replaced our unrighteousness. We don’t have an indictment against us anymore, because it has been satisfied.
But, didn’t Galatians 3:13 say that: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). Sure it did! The CURSE of the LAW was the penalty – not the LAW ITSELF. Jesus paid it all. I don’t owe it anymore. I don’t worry about the indictment of sin found in the Law to keep sacrificing – my “one size fits all” sacrifice of Messiah paid it all.
Not to over press the point, but how could it have truly condemned me if God doesn’t think it is so heinous that it no longer applies?
My point is not to make every student a “legal expert” in the Bible, but rather to show the severe danger when the Bible is poorly handled by big-hearted but soft-minded men. People need decisive direction that reflects what God’s Word actually says – and much more as the time of His return approaches.
Seventh, the Blessing Principle
Finally, we see the people blessed and happy in obedience. The Book of Numbers recorded:
Numbers 36:10 So Zelophehad’s daughters did as the Lord commanded Moses. 11 Zelophehad’s daughters—Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milkah and Noah—married their cousins on their father’s side. 12 They married within the clans of the descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in their father’s tribe and clan. 13 These are the commands and regulations the Lord gave through Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho.
As always, obedience brought blessing and order, and made even clearer God’s highest value in the case submitted (36:10-13). We need to keep saying it aloud, because our voices get shouted down in the world – there is MORE THAN LIMITATION that comes from the command of God – there is RICH BLESSING.
The world is very good at marking out the BENEFITS of doing what men want to do. Believers often recoil and do not make the case plain concerning the BENEFITS of obedience.
1 Kings 17 recalls the journey of Elijah from the brook with the ravens to Zarephath, where he met a widow who was about to prepare a “Last Supper” before her food ran out entirely. Elijah told her to trust God and he would keep the flour and oil coming until the drought was ended – and He did. Trust paid off. Following God’s Word kept her alive when others were starving.
Later, the protégé of Elijah, the younger man Elisha faced a woman who was starving. Her husband had died after serving the Lord faithfully for many years (2 Kings 4). Elisha told her to go a collect up from her neighbors as many jars as she could. She obeyed, and found that each was filled with oil! The more jars she had collected, the more God could bless her! Obedience brings blessing. Profound obedience brings profound blessing!
Not everything in the Scriptures is that simple. Sometimes the principles of one passage seem to collide with another – but God has provided seven important principles to help us consistently answer the problem.
The application principles of God’s Word are complex and can appear to conflict with other principles. When that happens, the Lord has a way to help us discern His higher values.
Have you ever watched the Winter Olympic Games, and seen two people gliding across the ice in perfect synchronization in an ice skating competition? The best of them are like two swans, floating across a ripple-less pond, beautiful in their graceful fluidity and elegant in their harmonized presentation. When you gaze at a performance executed at such a high level, you cannot help but be mesmerized! Imagine the staggering number of hours of practice of each move, and the muscle control developed in each athlete that competes. This is not a development of brute force of simple powerful muscle release – or power lifters would make great ice skaters! This is power developed under very specific controls; skill honed to precise movements and measures. Ice skating duos may well represent some of the top form in controlled strength and trained muscle use.
My problem is that I don’t know how to ice skate well, and though their movements appear elegant to me, I don’t have the training to really comprehend if they are moving correctly. In fact, their form may not be nearly as skilled as I give them credit for, because I am not up to the task of judging them appropriately. I am uninformed in the principles of the task, and ignorant of the rules of each maneuver. What I DO know is what I think about the beauty of each turn, each toss, and each spin. If feelings evoked were the standard, I would score them differently than the judges in many cases.
How are the skaters judged? On what basis can one get a “9.4” and another an “8.9” when both appeared to make the crowd very happy? The judges determine the value of the performance with an eye toward the assigned difficulty of each maneuver, as well as technical considerations on the execution of each part of the routine. They have a set of rules, another set of learned principles, and they apply them to the performance. It is rule bound, yet somewhat subjective — but never arbitrary. There can be disagreement in some part of the grading, but if it is graded properly – it is not simply “made up”.
I mention this, because as we open the story tucked near the end of the time of Moses’ leaderships of the people of Israel, we see a case where God set the same pattern for the walk of His people through the world. It will not all be nearly as graceful as ice skaters – that much is for sure – but it does follow a pattern. God’s people throughout the centuries often faced issues that required them to move beyond the simple application of a “black and white” written verse of Scripture – requiring a knowledge of the Word – but also a sense of God’s principles. Deciding specifics about an obedient life walking with the Lord is not always done by looking for a verse that mentions the subject. A great many modern problems are not specifically mentioned in the text of the Word, but the underlying principles revealing God’s desire are CLEARLY in the text.
Let’s say it this way: There are definite fixed RULES in the Word of God, but that won’t solve an issue not specified without more study of underlying principle. I must learn, as a follower of Jesus, what HE is like, in order to understand WHAT PLEASES HIM. I must not heed the voices of those who try to use grace as an abstraction to fixed truth, in order to license what God does not. Yet, I have to admit that not everything is as simple as “following the rules”. Many standards for following God are not as simple as standing by the yard stick at the carnival ride to show that I am tall enough to get entry – the Scriptures reveal obedience to be found in greater complexity – not always a simple “yes” or “no”. Why? Because a walk with God is a relationship, and relationships are more complex than qualifying for a carnival ride. Texts like Numbers 34 and 35 help illustrate a more accurate way for a believer to live in both obedience to God’s standard, and sensitivity to His direction in their daily walk.
Key Principle: Though the boundaries of God’s Word are absolute, the application of the principles must be made with discernment by God’s people to His revealed principles.
That explains why so much of the Bible is written in moralistic stories that are so messy. One day Jacob is walking the life of a trickster, the next he is facing God in a vision of a stairway to Heaven. Even later, he is stopping off at a prostitute’s tent beside a dirt path. His life, like the lives of all of the Biblical characters is froth with right and wrong turns – and the path helps us learn by example what we would otherwise only know by painful experience. To illustrate this truth, let’s start by observing the contents of the passage in Numbers 34 and 35:
• Numbers 34 is a record of two things: 1) the boundaries of the land as specified by God (34:1-15) and 2) the appointed people who God held responsible for making judgments and apportioning property (34:16-29).
• Numbers 35 is also a record of two things: 1) the division of special apportioned cities for the sons of Levi (35:1-8) and 2) specific commands regarding trials over accidental death.
These sound like four random stories, but they were organized together because they inform us of a very important truth of how God works in His people. They make clear that God sets boundaries, but knows those boundaries won’t answer every question of practical living – so He endorses a system of leadership and principle application to close the gap on what He specifically outlines.
Numbers 34 and the Boundary Lesson
As our text opens, we get a carefully recorded instruction on the borders of the land they were to conquer – the so-called “WHAT” portion. It begins with God’s simple instruction in 34:1:
Numbers 34:1 “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land of Canaan, this is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance, even the land of Canaan according to its borders.
The Call to Attention
When you read these words, it is clear what God has commanded. I have a land already marked out for you – and here it is. YOU don’t choose to take, let’s say, the Hittite lands of Turkey, or the Aramean lands of Syria – they aren’t for you. THIS is what I have selected for you. That seems simple – but it really isn’t. For a great many followers of Jesus, their problem starts with WILLFUL IGNORANCE. They simply don’t ASK God, by listening to His already prescribed words, what He wants.
Susie finds a man in the office very appealing. He is handsome, kind and makes her feel like she is special. Her heart speeds up when he comes near. The sound of his voice touches her like nothing she ever experienced before. She knows that he is the ONE for her. The only problem is that he has already married another. Yet, she rationalizes, he seems so unhappy. She calls in and yells at him. She doesn’t seem to see in him what Suzie does. She ignores God’s land boundary, and reaches to pull him in, all the while popping into church on a Sunday morning, vacillating between feeling guilty and hoping she can talk God into her plan. She wants the blessing of God’s land, but she wants it in another territory.
Let’s make it crystal clear to all the Suzies that may be working a rationalization out there – God knows what He wants. He lays the boundaries and will not be talked into redrawing the lines because of pressure. Remember: God has no peers, so He feels no peer pressure. He places boundaries because they are the way He intends things to work best for all involved. Suzie may not see it, but the child of the object of her affection will have his young life forever altered if she acts selfishly, and violates the God-placed fences.
Numbers 34 then marks out the general lines of the fences. Since all my students know that I love Bible geography, they will recognize the deep temptation I had to explain each of the regions mentioned in 35:3-5 that follow the southern deserts of the land of Promise.
- Suffice it to say the land stretched across from the southern end of the Dead Sea in the Aravah to the Rafiah border, with a border that swept southward in the center to reach to the edges of the Paran desert south of Wadi Zin.
- The western edge was the Mediterranean Sea up to Lebanon (34:6).
- The northern border stretched from the Mediterranean to the Hermon range, across what is southern Lebanon today (34:7-9).
- The eastern border included all of the Sea of Galilee (Chinnereth) and largely followed the Jordan River, as the border does today (34:10-12).
The Lesson of Borders
As you keep reading, God reiterates that He has given a standard for the border. He knows where He wants the fences to be placed. Exodus 34:13-15 record:
So Moses commanded the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the land that you are to apportion by lot among you as a possession, which the Lord has commanded to give to the nine and a half tribes. For the tribe of the sons of Reuben have received theirs according to their fathers’ households, and the tribe of the sons of Gad according to their fathers’ households, and the half- tribe of Manasseh have received their possession. The two and a half tribes have received their possession across the Jordan opposite Jericho, eastward toward the sun rising.”
Beyond IGNORANCE, there is another very important lesson to every believer. Don’t get caught up in the geography and miss the real lesson. The emphasis of the text was not simply on the lines of the border, but on the WAY the border was determined. God set the parameters of the inheritance. He snipped at the edges of the maps to tell them what they had to work with to build a homeland that would please Him.
What was true of the timing of their birth and death, their gender at birth and their parentage was also true of their land inheritance – the parameters were set by God. At the same time, they WERE to use judgment concerning specifics within those set guidelines.
Yet, it is worth noting that God didn’t fix the borders so tightly that everything was specified. The land was filled with mountains and valleys, so the borders between the few places that were named required the people to settle the edges of each border and discern the best defensible path for the border. This is one of the KEY PROBLEMS for those who choose to focus on religious life, rather than a walk with God – a relational experience with the Lord of the every day. God WANTS every believer to face making JUDGMENTS in daily life based on the principles that He outlines. He doesn’t want us to follow a list of rules and then come to Him demanding Heaven because we kept the rules and scored enough points to get in. He wants a RELATIONSHIP, not some religious rule-keeping game that we can so easily fall into.
Let me ask you a pointed question: Is your focus on your faith about pleasing Jesus in daily life, or about keeping the rules well? Is the point of your Christian life about how WRONG people are in their choices, or about how SAD it is they are missing the JOY of walking with Jesus today, and experiencing HIM?
Keeping it Simple
In many cases, people COULD make sound judgment about how to mark out specific cases of property. The easiest places were those who lived along the shore line, since the rules were clearest there – the border is where the water meets the land. They didn’t need a committee to apply the rules, the surf made the judgment for them!
Here is a great lesson of its own: Younger believers should be kept from the edges of judgment that requires great discernment – help them to stay within the obvious places. Many people abstain from practices like drinking, dancing or watching certain movies or TV shows during the growing stages of their faith. That is as it should be. What is NOT correct, is to assume that is the standard mark of maturity – it is NOT. For instance, if I had the skill, I could dance with my wife – and nothing bad would result – regardless of those who believe I would somehow be violating a fence. Check the Scripture carefully, there is no violation in dancing with your life’s partner. The point of violation can be found when certain kinds of touch are applied to non-spouses – and that is where the normal dangers come into play. At the same time, with the skill level I DO have, however, nothing GOOD would result. Mature believers recognize danger areas and need to develop a sense of God’s direction in the principles of the Word. Abstaining is a great starting place, but not the goal. Discernment is the goal. If God indicates that your participation in something violates what He is pleased with – you must be able to set it aside – no matter what everyone else feels licensed to do. He has a plan for YOU, and you may be under the Nazarite vow of abstention because something special is planned for your life. Don’t run around judging everyone else – obey God wholly and wait for His called expectantly. If you are a young believer – stay away from the fences that require great discernment – God has provided voices that will help direct you.
The Lesson of Leaders
Not all of Numbers 34 is a geographical survey – in fact the bulk of it is about PEOPLE, and not LAND. It isn’t enough to have general parameters of a border, and then allow the people to fight out how they think the lines should work along any valley or mountain. There is a need for responsible leadership if the general parameters are going to be properly applied in specific cases. With that in mind, we next read the WHO section. Not everyone would be able to make such determinations, so the second part of the chapter deals with WHO would ultimately be responsible for the choices (34:16-29).
34:16 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “These are the names of the men who shall apportion the land to you for inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun.
The ultimate responsibility for the whole land apportioning project fell to a partnership between the civil authority invested in Joshua and the priestly responsibility invested in Eleazar, son of Aaron. These two worked in tandem to determine the military necessities, and the spiritual realities. I recognize the blend of “church and state” was one for a particular time and place, but it is easy in our modern culture to mistake the division for something it never was intended to become. The cry for “secularism” in modern culture is actually a cry for moral relativism in our day. We live in a time of vast social experimentation, applying rights where there are none, and making right, what is Biblically and morally outside of any reasonable defense beyond the simple standard, “I want to!” God made it clear – secular authority that ignores spiritual principles will become something abusive and ugly – so He placed the two together to be responsible.
Leaders are simply people, and they need checks and balances, as well as breaks. With that in mind, in addition to the two men, Eleazar and Joshua, the text spread out in “post-Jethro” thinking, the tasks of administration over key men from each tribe (34:18-29), and that record is given to us with each of their names:
Numbers 35:18 “You shall take one leader of every tribe to apportion the land for inheritance. These are the names of the men:of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh. Of the tribe of the sons of Simeon, Samuel the son of Ammihud. Of the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad the son of Chislon. Of the tribe of the sons of Dan a leader, Bukki the son of Jogli. Of the sons of Joseph:of the tribe of the sons of Manasseh a leader, Hanniel the son of Ephod. Of the tribe of the sons of Ephraim a leader, Kemuel the son of Shiphtan. Of the tribe of the sons of Zebulun a leader, Elizaphan the son of Parnach. Of the tribe of the sons of Issachar a leader, Paltiel the son of Azzan. Of the tribe of the sons of Asher a leader, Ahihud the son of Shelomi. Of the tribe of the sons of Naphtali a leader, Pedahel the son of Ammihud.” These are those whom the Lord commanded to apportion the inheritance to the sons of Israel in the land of Canaan.”
Here we see EXACTLY what Jethro called for with Moses years before at Mt. Horeb. Smart administration is shared administration. Teams offer some of the best management solutions. There is, in every major endeavor, the need for leadership, which is generally in the hands of an individual or two, and there is management which is best when distributed to the hands of many qualified people. Leadership is about vision and direction, while management is about accomplishing the specific tasks in a “nuts and bolts” practical fashion. Not everyone can point the direction, but many can solve the daily issues required to accomplish it.
Applying the Discernment
By now, some students of the Bible might begin to wonder about why God preserved this portion of the narrative for people beyond the day it was verbally delivered. It was a legal document of that generation, but why should we care about the division of the land of an inheritance that is not ours, and never will be. The answer is simple – the passage is a set up for what follows. Numbers 34 reminds us that God set up the general lines, and then left the people to operate within those lines based on the principles outlined in His Word – in their case the laws from Mt. Sinai, and the Deuteronomic laws of Mt. Nebo. As Numbers 35 opens, we can see this system at work in two essential cases:
• The distribution of the Levites in the land (35:1-5).
• The operation of the “cities of refuge” for those who argue a manslaughter defense in accidental death (35:6-29).
The text takes the easier one first, as it records God’s command to provide for the Levitical distribution in the land (35:1-5):
Numbers 35:1 “Now the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho, saying, 2 “Command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites from the inheritance of their possession cities to live in; and you shall give to the Levites pasture lands around the cities. 3 The cities shall be theirs to live in; and their pasture lands shall be for their cattle and for their herds and for all their beasts. 4 “The pasture lands of the cities which you shall give to the Levites shall extend from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits around. 5 You shall also measure outside the city on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits, with the city in the center. 5 This shall become theirs as pasture lands for the cities… 7 All the cities which you shall give to the Levites shall be forty- eight cities, together with their pasture lands. 8 As for the cities which you shall give from the possession of the sons of Israel, you shall take more from the larger and you shall take less from the smaller; each shall give some of his cities to the Levites in proportion to his possession which he inherits.”
Look closely at the commands of the Lord. God offered the COMMAND to the tribes to make the cities available (35:1-2), explained their purpose (35:3), then specified in exacting detail the land marked outside each city that was to belong to the Levitical land (35:4-5,7-8).
Move in closer: First, it was not given to the Levites to go and TAKE the land from the tribes; the tribal leaders were to cede the land to the Levites so they could develop forty-two cities, spread over the tribal territories (35:1-2). Levi’s children were to live amidst the other tribes with no distinct land allotment beyond these cities. They were to travel to and from the national sanctuary from a city within the boundary of each tribe, serving God uniquely among their fellow countrymen. The people of the other tribes needed to value and respect God’s plan for their spiritual leaders in order for those leaders to be effective. No spiritual leader could TAKE from the families what the families were unwilling to give to them.
In a very real way, the same is true today. As a Pastor, I can only lead those who let me do so. I cannot compel people to follow me, I can only continue to speak into the lives of those who choose to hear the instruction from the Word that we offer in this place. People must ultimately assume responsibility for their own spiritual growth, their own obedience and their own depth of understanding. The Pastoral role is one of equipping the believers to accomplish the work of the ministry. It involves casting vision for a specific way to accomplish the task, and careful instruction of God’s Word to set the boundaries. When that is done consistently and carefully, the Spirit uses that instruction to pull the hearts of believers to the tasks He has gifted them to accomplish. Yet, the process is a voluntary one. Only those who choose to learn, who choose to identify their giftedness, and who choose to submit to God’s call in their life will be best used of Him. All our lives count, but many will never have the joy of experiencing God’s powerful hand using them to accomplish great things, based on their own identification of His call, and yielded-ness to His empowering as their call unfolds in daily life.
In addition to that truth, we must also recall that they were to work and live as others did, caring for their households, albeit without a tribal allotment (35:3-4). They were to be shepherds, a worthy craft for those who would lead and care for the people of Israel. They were to care for the sanctuary of Israel, but they also needed to develop patience to care for her people as well. Shepherding offered them long hours of watchful caring practice that set them up perfectly for God’s intended spiritual work.
Think for a moment about what made a successful shepherd. They needed to be on guard against those hungry animals that would snatch away the weak of the flock. They needed to aware of the pains and distractions of the flock. They needed to develop an ear for the bleeting of the sheep – knowing which sound was that of something real and which was just fussing. All of that would be helpful in ministry to the people of Israel.
For those of you who lead people, and those who minister to others in leadership roles at every level of ministry, it is important to remember. If the sheep are hungry, they are unsettled. You must feed them. As they grow, their needs will change, and you will need to keep a watchful eye on the various stages of those in the flock. You need to offer greater food to those who consume it and use it well, and food that is easier to swallow for those who are young in their understanding. Part of the joy of ministry is to get to know those you lead, and enjoy the many ways God is using situations and other people to shape them into well-balanced and productive people for His glory.
If you read the verses that I skipped in our reading, you are aware there is the explanation of the provision and function of “the cities of refuge” (35:6, 9-29)” Numbers 35:6 recalls the command to provide the six cities as follows: 6 “The cities which you shall give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, which you shall give for the manslayer to flee to; and in addition to them you shall give forty- two cities.” Six of the forty-eight cities were clearly set aside for those who were involved in a slaying that could be deemed an accidental death. The Civil Code of Law in Exodus 21 specified the conditions of declaring a death accidental, and made clear the conditions of that judgment. In the case of an accidental death, the slayer was to move from his home to a city of refuge, and await trial by the congregation of Israel. If the death truly was deemed accidental, and not premeditated murder, they were told to remain there until the death of the high priest who held the office at the time of his sentence. If they chose not to do so, they risked retribution from the family of the one that had died at their hand. While remaining in the city of refuge, they could not be harmed. After “release” they also were untouchable to the injured family. The cities became self-exile points, with their own lands for raising crops and pasturing sheep and goats.
The Example: Discerning from both Word (Law) and Principle
The rest of Exodus 35 unfolded the proper use of the Levitical places of refuge, and the proper time to convict a murderer. It would be easy to get caught up in every detail of the text, and miss the bigger lesson it offers. Let me caution every student of the Word. God is unfolding something important to spiritual understanding that is not just a web of intricate details.
God offered this instruction beginning in Numbers 35:9-34, First, He opened with When the law should be enacted. God said the cities should be a part of the initial planning of the tribes when they get to the land of promise (9-12). Why? Because they are essential!
35:9 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11 then you shall select for yourselves cities to be your cities of refuge, that the manslayer who has killed any person unintentionally may flee there. 12 The cities shall be to you as a refuge from the avenger, so that the manslayer will not die until he stands before the congregation for trial.
The Need for a Plan: The time to learn the principles of a walk with God are BEFORE the situation arises. Planning is a God thing. Saving for a rainy day isn’t pessimism, because rainy days WILL COME. Outlining general ways to face some possible trouble shows wisdom and maturity. Living paycheck to paycheck is a disaster in the making. Here is the point: People WILL get hurt, and even killed. There has to be a mechanism to care for what comes next.
13 The cities which you are to give shall be your six cities of refuge. 14 You shall give three cities across the Jordan and three cities in the land of Canaan; they are to be cities of refuge… 19 The blood avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; he shall put him to death when he meets him…21 or if he struck him down with his hand in enmity, and [as a result] he died, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death, he is a murderer; the blood avenger shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.
The Need for a Process: The verses describe places where the tribes were to select six cities (13) that were superintended by the Levites as a place of REFUGE (miqlat) so that a BLOOD AVENGER cannot bring about penalty without proper trial. The blood redeemer is the GAAL, a word for redeemer that is upholding the “blood for blood” standard of 35:19 and 21. Here is one of the greatest misunderstanding Christians bring to their reading of the LAW. God didn’t say that wanting to see an injustice righted was the definition of VENGEANCE – it was NOT.
Vengeance was the desire to take the place of GOD in harming another because of the pain they inflicted upon you. When God prescribed in the Torah a legal mechanism of the death penalty, and then prescribed the one who represented the wounded family to personally take part – He provided a resolution with JUSTICE. Vengeance was the desire to operate as a vigilante in the place of God, not to be satisfied when the Biblically proper methods were used to right wrong. “Vengeance is MINE” said the Lord. For that reason, He instituted methods for governments to care for injustice, and warned those kings who would not act to do so. At the same time, He instituted DUE PROCESS, and delay of action and declaration of a need for a TRIAL by the congregation of Israel. Vengeance is to justice what punishment is to discipline – one is God-ordained, the other is flesh driven.
The Parameters for Judgment
As you finish out the passage, there are strict parameters set between those who could appeal to the process, and those who could not:
15 These six cities shall be for refuge for the sons of Israel, and for the alien and for the sojourner among them; that anyone who kills a person unintentionally may flee there.
The Requirement of Equity: It didn’t matter if you were a citizen, only that you were in the land when the event happened (35:15).
16 But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. 17 If he struck him down with a stone in the hand, by which he will die, and [as a result] he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. 18 Or if he struck him with a wooden object in the hand, by which he might die, and [as a result] he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. 20 If he pushed him of hatred, or threw something at him lying in wait and [as a result] he died, 21 or if he struck him down with his hand in enmity, and [as a result] he died, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death, he is a murderer; 22 But if he pushed him suddenly without enmity, or threw something at him without lying in wait, 23 or with any deadly object of stone, and without seeing it dropped on him so that he died, while he was not his enemy nor seeking his injury,
The Exclusion of Tools: I didn’t matter the intent if it was done with a tool – the person was guilty or MURDER. Therefore, if a tool struck another of metal (barzel in 35:16 is used of an axe or chain), or of stone (even) or wood (etz), the case was considered murder. This would have the net effect of making people VERY CAREFUL in the use of tools! In cases of murder, execution was to be carried out, if at all possible, with the nearest responsible relative of the injured party’s involvement (35:19,21). The issue was NOT malicious premeditation versus “crime of passion” – BOTH were considered murder. The issue in 35:20-23 was totally unintentional contact that resulted in death. Those who unintentionally killed another by unintended contact (shegagah of 35:11 is the word for “in error”; from shagag, to go astray or sin).
24 then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the blood avenger according to these ordinances. 25 The congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the blood avenger, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he fled; and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. 26 But if the manslayer at any time goes beyond the border of his city of refuge to which he may flee, 27 and the blood avenger finds him outside the border of his city of refuge, and the blood avenger kills the manslayer, he will not be guilty of blood 28because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest the manslayer shall return to the land of his possession. 29 These things shall be for a statutory ordinance to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 30 If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. 31 Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. 32 You shall not take ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to live in the land before the death of the priest. 33 So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. 34 You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel.‘”
The Rules for Trials: In cases of pleaded unintended contact, there were rules for the trial that included: 1) Multiple witnesses (35:30); 2) No bond or delay for murderer (35:31); 3) No bond for those who fled refuge place (35:32).
The passage ends with three statements that are the essential issues:
1. The land is profaned (chaneph) or polluted by unjust blood guilt (35:33).
2. There is no appropriate satisfaction (expiation is the word kaphar) apart from the blood for blood formula (35:33).
3. The real issue is that the crime was not simply man on man, it was an attack on God’s creation. The sin was an act of further rebellion, not just an inhumane act (35:34).
By the end, we arrive back at our principle – that God establishes parameters and leadership structures, and then expects us to operate within them as best we are able. The Word of God offers the fixed principle, but not the specifics of judgment in each case. General boundaries must be filled in by people who seek to follow God’s commands. Cases will arise that are not immediately clear, but God gave not only His Word, but our minds to discern the application of His principles, and our leadership structures to help make sense of the conflicting views.
Let me ask you to think of life in a different way than those who do not know Christ as Savior. Imagine that your life is not only about other PEOPLE you may offend, but about God Who knows every thought of your heart. He is the One Who gave you life. He gave you the air you breathe. He gave you the beautiful sunsets and the cool morning dew. He swept His hands across the land and gave us the canyons, prairies and cool river streams. He stretched out the stars of the Heavens as a canopy above us. He did all this – and He loves you. Not only does He love you, but He loves the rest of the people on the planet. He cares for sparrows that fall and hurting people who lay in hospital beds. He grows the infant to be the active toddler. He strokes the hairs of the lonely widow in the still of the night. He is a deeply caring, outlandishly loving God. He loves His creation.
When one harms another, He is deeply wounded. He is not unable to care for the situation – and one day He will right every wrong. He KNOWS justice. He KNOWS truth. He knows LIES and He knows HIDING. Does that make you want to pull closer to Him, or are you looking for a place to HIDE from HIM? The answer to that question will likely indicate to you whether you are trying to apply His Word and draw near to Him, or whether you are making up your own rules and hoping He won’t notice.
Though the boundaries of God’s Word are absolute, the application of the principles must be made with discernment by God’s people to His revealed principles.
Have you ever seen time lapse sequential photos? Through photo journaling, we are able to watch as a seed germinates and grows into a flower in thirty seconds. A single frame, taken at regular intervals, can be brought together with other frames in sequence, and the flower “grows” right before your eyes. Recently I saw a fascinating look from satellite photos of earth since the 1980’s until now. You can watch as Orlando grows outward, sprawling half-way across Florida’s inland counties. Even the changes in my own little town are noticeable from space. Watching a flower grow by staring at the pot in real time would be mind-numbingly boring. Watching it happen in high speed is fascinating. Sometimes the best way to notice the changes is when they are brought together in quick comparison.
Our passage for this lesson is a good example of how the diary of two generations can be brought together in time lapse to help pull out the lessons of God to His people. Numbers 33:1-49 read – at least to an emotionally detached Bible student – like a lifeless travel itinerary – empty place name after place name. The names don’t cast images on our minds because they weren’t OUR history – we hadn’t experienced the days and nights in those places. Yet, to the children of Israel those places were markers of God’s profound lessons to them – or at least they were supposed to be… Here is the problem: History isn’t well remembered even when it has been carefully documented. Powerful lessons to one generation can quickly dry on the page into dead words for the next generation. Standing at the edge of the Promised Land was a new generation of Israelites. The stories of God’s great victories over the gods of Egypt were just that – stories. They didn’t live through those events – their parents and grandparents did. The dramatic stories were fast losing their meaning and power.
Sociologists call the critical stories of a people’s heritage their “energizing mythology” – not a reference to the veracity of the events, but a reference to their power to create an ethos in a group. The bonding of people into a nation or community comes from the records of shared experiences that led to the formation of shared values. The record of God’s work in and through Moses was intended to help Israel move from an over-inflated family and rabble of ex-slaves to a nation – with common remembrances of the move of God in their midst. This is the overview of that process – the high speed “time lapse” journal, filled with snapshots that should bring back the pain of loss of feckless rebels and the contrasting warmth of comfort and care from a faithful God. This is both a historical overview, and a trail of learning and formation.
Key Principle: Before we move ahead, we should look back. Careful observations of the lessons of our past will help us make fewer mistakes in our bound forward.
That is why a nation needs its older members. Youth brings vitality and zeal, but not often wisdom – and a nation needs to look at choices of its future with wisdom.
The account opens: Numbers 33:1 “These are the journeys of the sons of Israel, by which they came out from the land of Egypt by their armies, under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.”
The story was intended to reflect “stages”. The Hebrew term “mas-sah’” (translated “journeys” in verse one) is derived from a term to “take up the camp” or “break camp”, but is figuratively used in the sense of the “stages” of a journey. A painfully literal translation of the opening verse says: “These are the stages of the camp movements of the sons of Israel which came out from the land of Egypt with her armies at the hands of Moses and Aaron.” In other words – this is a history lesson – a remembrance of the whole of the journey that is about to end with instructions to move forward into the Promised Land and begin the battle to possess it.
For time’s sake, I have traced in my study the whole of the record, and will press it together into the lessons that should flash before our minds as we read about the places. There were certainly many other lessons that could have been included. We are simply observers, not participants to the fourteen thousand five hundred cold nights and hot days of travel. We sit in temperature controlled rooms on padded chairs to critique the exhausted responses of camp crammed ex-slaves on a perilous and uncomfortable journey with uncertain leaders and little cohesive bond.
Numbers 33:2 Moses recorded their starting places according to their journeys by the command of the LORD, and these are their journeys according to their starting places.
When you read this whole chapter, the details are overwhelming, because the places don’t evoke any image in our minds. It is as painful as watching a long slide show of your friend’s vacation that you weren’t a part of, about places you haven’t seen. Our passage includes three parts:
- Four lists of encampments that were struck and removed during the journey are reviewed quickly.
- Sandwiched in the middle of the four lists is a passing geographical reminder of the encampment at Sinai, where Moses met God in worship and was given major portions of the three codes of law.
- Finally, it ends with God speaking to the people by relaying a message about entering the land through Moses – that includes four instructions and a single warning.
Stage One: Eleven Camps from Ramses to the Mountain of the Law (Exodus 12-19).
First, let’s notice that twelve camps are named, and eleven journeys between them recounted in order. Along the way, let’s think about what God communicated to His people. You cannot read the first part of the journey out of Egypt, and not recognize that GOD HAS A PLAN FOR HIS PEOPLE.
1. Shouts and Cries: It began with the death and pain of Egypt contrasted with celebration and departure of Israel: Numbers 33:3 They journeyed from Rameses in the first month (Ex.13:4), on the fifteenth day of the first month [Nisan or Abib]; on the next day after the Passover the sons of Israel started out boldly in the sight of all the Egyptians, 4 while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn whom the LORD had struck down among them. The LORD had also executed judgments on their gods. 5 Then the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses and camped in Succoth (Exodus 12:12-37).
2. Heavenly GPS: Next was the story of God’s miraculous guidance. Numbers 33:6 They journeyed from Succoth and camped in Etham (Exodus 13:20), which is on the edge of the wilderness. This is the part of the journey when God first placed the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day to guide them (Ex. 13:21-22).
3. Baiting: God sets up Pharaoh. Numbers 33:7 They journeyed from Etham and turned back to Pi-hahiroth (Exodus 14:2), which faces Baal-zephon, and they camped before Migdol. Exodus 14 tells the story of how God told Moses to camp by the sea after wandering a bit (remembered in the places named here) so that Pharaoh would see them wandering and chase after them! (Exodus 14:1-5). Pharaoh took the bait and chased after them. God parted the sea, and then swallowed up the Egyptians, causing great reverence to overtake the people of Israel (Exodus 14:31).
GOD HAS A PLAN. It may not always appear that God is at work, and sometimes the way God works is so incredibly difficult to discern. Who beside our God would have planned for Pharaoh to resist so that a contest could form and God could fill the hands of His people? Who would have thought ahead to the coming generations of Pharaohs and recognized the need to bring Egypt and her self-made gods to their needs before the Holy One, so that Israel would be left unmolested to flourish when they arrived in Canaan? God did! He did it according to a plan. Who would have thought of a desert GPS guidance system to get the people to follow Him? God did! He knew where He wanted His people and when. Who would have told the people to appear to be wandering so He could draw Pharaoh in and crush his chariots – the one danger that would have haunted Israel for the next four decades in the wilderness of Sin? God did! Because He wanted Israel to settle down and organize into a nation.
When it appears this old world is spinning out of control, it isn’t. God IS at work. His plan is complex, and His power is unbounded by human will. No Congress can overrule Him. If He allows something, it won’t be simply human sin sickness that causes it – it passed through God’s stamp of approval toward His plan. That is easier to say that to truly accept.
Did not this plan put His own people in more peril? Did not this plan drag out the bitter hardship of slavery and abuse on His people longer? Yes, it did. When a believer exclaims: “God has a plan!” they do so in the face of a world that would reshape God to their own sense of justice, their own sense of fairness, and their own sense of timing. God has a plan – but men and women who do not believe in Him do not like to hear that. He is not a malleable God – He will not be shaped, trained to jump through the hoops of our timing. Ultimately, belief that God has a plan is an expression of belief in God’s Sovereignty. A Sovereign has no need to explain the details of His plan to His followers. Job discovered that lesson.
When people demand that God explain Himself, they are often saying they don’t believe that He knows what He knows, sees what He sees and understands what He understands. Recognizing that God has a plan is recognition of God’s place above our lives – and that is something a non-believer does not WANT to do. Nevertheless, God has a plan!
Not only that, but WHERE GOD GUIDES, GOD PROVIDES. Look at the whole next segment of the journey to the Mountain of the Law:
4. Bitterness: The people face the reality they are unprepared for the desert. 33:8 They journeyed from before Pi-Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness; and they went three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah (Ex. 15:22). Thirsty, the people came to Marah, a place of bitter calcium and magnesium springs, and found water that would cause terrible cramps and intestinal distress. God provided what they NEEDED, not what they WANTED.
5. Blessing: Numbers 33:9 They journeyed from Marah and came to Elim; and in Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there (cp. Ex. 15:23-27). The people learned that God had prepared places of rest and provision in the wilderness, in spite of the inhospitable appearance. God had PLENTY for them in places they knew nothing of, yet they needed to keep following Him past bitterness and into blessing.
6. Numbers 33:10 They journeyed from Elim and camped by the Red Sea (omitted in the Ex. 15-17 list, but less than 2 miles away – probably not considered important in the primary account). The hot desert also had some cool breezes, and the food supplies at the shore were helpful to stretch the supplies.
7. Bread: Numbers 33:11 They journeyed from the Red Sea and camped in the wilderness of Sin. Exodus 16 recounts this journey to have taken place one month into their travels, more than half way to the Mountain of the Law. At the point their grain had run out, God began providing the manna to them for the next forty years, until they came into Canaan (Josh 5:10-12). Cheese they had, perhaps even some eggs, but the staple of grain used to supplement both man and flock was running scarce – and God showed something new. God has more options to supply than we can see.
8. Birds: Numbers 33:12 They journeyed from the wilderness of Sin and camped at Dophkah. In the journey into the wilderness of Sin, they left the sea, and any fish they could have caught. Turning inland, they hungered for something more than manna, and God gave them quails. The sites are not named in the Exodus 16 account beyond the region (16:1), but they apparently included Dophkah and Alush – and are recapped in 17:1. The people could not risk
9. Numbers 33:13 They journeyed from Dophkah and camped at Alush.
10. Drink and Defend: Numbers 33:14 “They journeyed from Alush and camped at Rephidim (Ex. 17:1); now it was there that the people had no water to drink”. The story of Exodus 17 opens with the grumbling of thirsty Israelites, and the instruction for Moses to STRIKE the rock and get water from it near to Horeb (Ex.17:6), and area familiar to Moses (Exodus 3:1). Moses renamed the place he associated with his CALL by God the new names of Massah (Heb: trial) and later a similar place called Meribah (Heb: provocation). Meribah is not the same place as Massah and not at the same time, but connected by the same “water from the rock” experience in Numbers 20:8-11– except Meribah is where God said SPEAK to the rock (all remembered in Psalm 95:7-8). Shortly after God provided the water from the rock on the west of Horeb – a band of marauding Amalekites attacked (perhaps because they were taking the stored water?) and Joshua got his first command of an army of Israel to fight (Ex. 17:8-16) and the victory was celebrated by giving God the title “Yahweh Nissi – the Lord our Banner” (17:15).
11. Consultation: The Amalekites weren’t the only one who heard about Israel’s camp in the Wilderness of Sin – the Midianites also heard. Sometime during the time of camping at Rephidim, perhaps near the end of the fifty days of the journey, Jethro (Reuel) the father-in-law of Moses came out to see Moses and his family (Exodus 18) and told Moses to spread out the workload. Numbers 33:15 They journeyed from Rephidim and camped in the wilderness of Sinai (Ex. 19:1-2). Fifty days after Passover (12:18), they arrived from Egypt to the Mountain of the Law (19:1).
WHERE GOD GUIDES, GOD PROVIDES. He can provide water in a desert for thousands, or counsel in a tent for one leader. He can fill a net with fish, or a hungry belly with manna. He can store rain water in a rock wall or supply strength from a team mate holding up your arms during a conflict.
Stage Two: Fifty Days Later – Camping by the Mountain of the Law (Ten Months- Exodus 20-40; Numbers 1:1-10:11).
They arrived at the Mountain and met God. Some only saw His power from a distance, seventy saw Him pass by a prepared lunch table. One talked with Him and got a tablet cut from His hand. Here is the lesson: GOD KNOWS WHAT HE THINKS. He wasn’t waiting for a poll or survey to make the rules of right and wrong. He wasn’t “getting input” from Moses. God knows what is right, because God DEFINES what is right. He also is keenly aware that fallen human nature isn’t keen on following what is right…
During the time Moses was on the Mountain of the Law (forty days – Ex. 24:18), the people rebelled. Three thousand were involved in a calf worship uprising, together with an orgy that followed the inaugural celebration (Ex. 32). God tipped off Moses, who seemed in no hurry to go back to the people, and Moses angrily broke the tablets he brought from God when he saw the party. He called on Levites to kill those involved (3,000 according to 32:18). In the face of this bold mutiny, God threatened not to go personally with Moses to the Promised Land, though He would supply an angelic guide. Moses pleaded with God, and God relented and replaced the tablets (Ex. 34:1ff). He kept meeting with Moses, who walked from the presence of the Holy One with a shining face (Ex. 34:29ff).
Our faith is built on the truth that GOD KNOWS WHAT HE THINKS. He doesn’t need men to try to make right more popular. He requires only that we live by His Spirit and His Word – and that we understand His absolute right to move in history, and in our lives. We don’t have to understand his reasons, we have to follow His Words. We don’t need to make His Words softer to win him a greater popularity, we need to speak them openly, cherish them lovingly, and live them humbly. If the Bible means anything in all its content, it means this: GOD KNOWS WHAT HE THINKS AND SAYS WHAT HE MEANS.
Stage Three: Moving from the Mountain of the Law to Kadesh (Numbers 10:11-14:38).
The next stage after Sinai illustrates vividly the common frailties of people. The people didn’t trust Moses, and they didn’t trust God. They wanted what they wanted, when they wanted it. They fussed and fumed…
1. Greed: Numbers 33:16 They journeyed from the wilderness of Sinai and camped at Kibroth-hattaavah (Numbers 10:11-11:35). The people left the mountain in fanfare thirteen months after their departure from Egypt (Num. 10:11). The camp moved out, complete with a new worship center of the Tabernacle. Complaints about the conditions caused a fire to break out on the edge of the camp, and GREED overcame people on God’s next wave of quail brought to the camp – so a sickness set in killing those who incessantly cried for more than they needed. They buried many at the site of the “grave of the greedy” or Kibroth – hatta ‘avah.
2. Healing: Numbers 33:17 They journeyed from Kibroth-hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth (Num. 10:34-35). To get away from the cemetery, they founded a little village (chatser) and called it “The Villages”, or Hazeroth. It took time to heal from their losses.
3. Mistrust: Numbers 33:18 They journeyed from Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah [in Paran -Num 12:16]. (The whole encampment encompasses the stories of Num. 13:1-14:38). It began with Moses’ own family expressing jealousy about Moses and his special relationship with God. Miriam stalled all forward movement while she recovered from God’s temporary plague of leprosy. Next was the mistrust of the spies sent to the Hebron plateau. They returned with grapes and stories – but the majority of the spies would not urge the people to take the land as God instructed.
This stage, filled with rebellion and grave stones, reminds us of an essential truth: GOD’S PLAN REQUIRES OUR SURRENDER. God’s people need to follow God’s Word and God’s will – or disaster follows. When we want and pursue what God says we AREN’T SUPPOSED TO HAVE, we wound those around us. When we delay in following God’s stated purposes, we stifle God’s blessings. We go on in a desert while God provides in the land He called us to live in. Believers are called to surrender their WANTS to God and TRUST HIM for the direction and provision. We won’t find the provision in a place He hasn’t told us to be. Conversely, we will experience greater communion with Him when we walk beside Him, and refuse to wander off.
Stage Four: Eighteen Encampments in the southern deserts of Israel ending at Kadesh (Numbers 14:39-20:14).
In our recent studies in the Book of Numbers we have followed the lessons of the eighteen camps mentions in 33:19-36 There is no cross reference for these in another travel log outside of Numbers. Based on Deuteronomy 1:46-2:1 it appears Israel encamped for a length of time at Kadesh the first time “many days” at the time of the spies search, and God’s penalties to the people as a result of their disbelief. The record is near to Rithmah, an undermined location not far from Kadesh. Numbers includes the list of camps without commentary:
Numbers 33:19 They journeyed from Rithmah and camped at Rimmon-perez. 20 They journeyed from Rimmon-perez and camped at Libnah. 21 They journeyed from Libnah and camped at Rissah. 22 They journeyed from Rissah and camped in Kehelathah. 23 They journeyed from Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher. 24 They journeyed from Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah. 25 They journeyed from Haradah and camped at Makheloth. 26 They journeyed from Makheloth and camped at Tahath. 27 They journeyed from Tahath and camped at Terah. 28 They journeyed from Terah and camped at Mithkah. 29 They journeyed from Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah. 30 They journeyed from Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth. 31 They journeyed from Moseroth and camped at Bene-jaakan. 32 They journeyed from Bene-jaakan and camped at Hor-haggidgad. 33 They journeyed from Hor-haggidgad and camped at Jotbathah. 34 They journeyed from Jotbathah and camped at Abronah. 35 They journeyed from Abronah and camped at Ezion-geber. 36 They journeyed from Ezion-geber and camped in the wilderness of Zin, that is, Kadesh.
The eighteen encampments chronicle the venture of most of the thirty eight of the total forty years of wandering. It then took another two years in Transjordan to place the people in the valley opposite Jericho. This was forty years to reach what would have been a march of only a few days to get into the heart of the Promised Land when the spies went up from Kadesh through Wadi Zin.
A fourth lesson is so obvious in this section: WHEN GOD CALLS – ANSWER HIM. God told the people to go in to the land, but they chose a “plan b” for their lives. How many believers can identify with that?
• God told you to marry a believer, but you didn’t – plan b created a huge difficulty.
• God told you to live within your means – but plan b has meant years of recovery from debts.
• God told you to study His Word and know it – but years of distraction in your plan b has made you spiritually anemic and open to making the wrong judgments.
We could go ON and ON… but we all get the point. Delayed obedience is disobedience. WHEN GOD IS CALLING – PICK UP THE PHONE.
Stage Five: Ten Encampments from Kadesh to the Jordan River (Numbers 20:14-33:49; cp. Numbers 26:63).
Tired of running and ready to head, at least little by little, toward the Promised Land – the children of Israel moved another ten times – largely making their way AROUND THE LAND through Transjordan – a choice that would cost them two and one-half tribes, a deeply destructive compromise with women of the region and several difficult battles is recounted in a simple quick reference:
Numbers 33:37 They journeyed from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, at the edge of the land of Edom. 38 Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the LORD, and died there in the fortieth year after the sons of Israel had come from the land of Egypt, on the first [day] in the fifth month. 39 Aaron was one hundred twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor. 40 Now the Canaanite, the king of Arad who lived in the Negev in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the sons of Israel. 41 Then they journeyed from Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah. 42 They journeyed from Zalmonah and camped at Punon. 43 They journeyed from Punon and camped at Oboth. 44 They journeyed from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, at the border of Moab. 45 They journeyed from Iyim and camped at Dibon-gad. 46 They journeyed from Dibon-gad and camped at Almon-diblathaim. 47 They journeyed from Almon-diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo. 48 They journeyed from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan [opposite] Jericho. 49 They camped by the Jordan, from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab.
At the risk of being overly OBVIOUS, there is a simple lesson we have in these eleven places and ten journeys: NOT BEING WHERE YOU ARE TOLD LEAVES YOU OPEN TO ENCOUNTERING TESTS FOR WHICH YOU AREN’T PREPARED. Skip school and hang out with trouble makers off campus and you will end up facing challenges you may not have bargained for. Sneak into the party with the “druggies” and “partiers” and you will be confronted with peer pressure and choices on a whole different level. Choose a philosophy program in a godless institution, and you may find yourself standing like a tree in front of a flame thrower. Spend late hours at the office under pressure with the new intern and you may find yourself ruining your marriage. CHOOSE TO SPEND YOUR TIME WHERE GOD HAS TOLD YOU TO BE. You may feel ready for the tests, but no one EVER failed when they avoided the test altogether.
The end of the passage is four commands and a warning in the Laws of Conquest. The four commands included:
The whole of the travel log had a point – and that was to let the lessons of the past inform the choices concerning the future. God gave four brisk and simple commands:
Numbers 33:50 Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan [opposite] Jericho, saying, 51 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them:
Command One: DON’T COMPROMISE WITH WICKEDNESS. Numbers 33:51b… ‘When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52 then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places;
Command Two: DON’T STOP SHORT OF OBEDIENCE. Numbers 33:53 and you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it.
Command Three: TRUST MY DIRECTION AND PROVISION AGAIN. Numbers 33:54 You shall inherit the land by lot according to your families; to the larger you shall give more inheritance, and to the smaller you shall give less inheritance. Wherever the lot falls to anyone, that shall be his.
Command Four: PRESERVE THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FAMILY STRUCTURE. Numbers 33:54b…”You shall inherit according to the tribes of your fathers.
The One Warning:
Five stages gave way to a record of four commands that eventually came down to ONE WARNING: BE THE DISTINCT PEOPLE I HAVE CALLED YOU TO BE, OR YOU WILL NOT BE A PEOPLE AT ALL.
Numbers 33:55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them [will become] as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live. 56 And as I plan to do to them, so I will do to you.'”
Don’t get smug about being my children, act out of humility and obedience. How do we accomplish that? The best was is to LOOK BACK, and review the lessons God already taught you:
• God has a plan
• Where God guides, God provides.
• God knows what He thinks, and says what He means.
• God’s plan requires surrender.
• When God calls – answer Him.
• Choose to be where He tells you – or face testing that exposes your weakness.
Before we move ahead, we should look back. Careful observations of the lessons of our past will help us make fewer mistakes in our bound forward.
You cannot look anywhere in the news and not see a reference to the current political showdown happening in Washington. As I write, the United States government is partially shut down, or to hear some say it “slimmed down”. In any case, they are in some way furloughing many employees. The media is filled with blame, fear and hostility. To CNN it is obvious that Republicans are to blame, particularly their arch enemies found in the “Tea Party Movement”. To Fox News, it is the so-called “Obamacare” and the Democrats that are the divisive, intransigent ones. Pundits are prognosticating and Facebook is alight with one part of America telling the other part of America how truly dumb they are. It is so heartwarming, when the nation strains against itself, isn’t it? My favorite story came this week from a busload of cranky World War II vets that pushed their way into their officially closed memorial in Washington, D.C. and then told the Capitol police “not to bother them” or they’d have another war on their hands! How wonderful to see Brokaw’s “greatest generation” about to launch another military maneuver, albeit this one closer to home. It seems everywhere we hear the voices of those who are affected by the current situation saying in unison: “For Heaven’s sake, find a COMPROMISE!”
When we come to worship and study God’s Word, we don’t gather to heal the nation’s rifts, nor do we want to even begin to suggest the solution to its various policy issues. We are believers, and among us are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and most of all… a mass of people who are SICK of hearing about dysfunctional government. Why did I open this “can of worms” as I propped open my Bible today?
In the great irony of God’s timing for our study, the text of Numbers 32 is all about a political compromise.
The compromise called for by men in the Israelite camp, and eventually condoned by their leader, Moses – was the wrong kind of compromise. It was the WORST KIND of compromise. It took advantage of an aged and retiring leader’s weariness, and negated God’s specific commands to get the people into the land of promise and settle them there.
Key Principle: Political compromises are to be expected, but spiritual compromises are to be rebuffed. Compromise that defies God’s directions isn’t compromise – it’s called something else… SIN!
Let’s just be honest. Political decision making is ALWAYS about compromise. Horse trading is the stuff of a Congress. That’s what they do, and that’s what we should expect. Ideologues don’t always make the best legislators, because political life is about finding the common ground, not forcing everyone to accept only your ground. That is the reason I do not personally want to create a “Christian nation” – because it would never truly be one, and it would shift a personal walk with God to the drift of following a Christian culture. Because I don’t want the country to be hostile to the Bible doesn’t automatically mean I want to run the country. I don’t – and I don’t think I would make a particularly good politician. The work of a Pastor is about representing a Monarch and His Sovereign absolutes – not about finding “common ground” moral tenets. I accept the need for political compromise and coalition building, while I reject that method of determining ultimate truth and morality. I work for One Master, and my opinions must increasingly be conformed to His – because His are the only ones that will stand in the end.
One of the great benefits of any believer seeking to live in conformity with the fixed principles of the Scripture is that they are ever learning to resist a compromise caused by placing ultimate trust in their feelings. The Bible teaches that one of the byproducts of Eden’s failure is that the heart has become untrustworthy, often deceptive and morally fickle. As our nation promotes popular “feeling-based” decision making, we increasingly expose the inconsistency of that logic. The same society that counsels an anorexic through illness considers gender to be defined by inner feeling. A young woman who starves herself or “purges and binges”, based on her inner feelings of obesity may seek a radical surgical removal of sexual organs because they “see themselves emotionally as a different gender than their body’s biological components. That is their unquestioned right in some states. Worse yet, any attempt to counsel caution concerning such a radical approach is met with scathing rebuke and even legal action. The error of trusting feelings as the key baseline of decision making will extract a toll on our society – because it is rooted in a lie. Our feelings are not the best compass for our path. Our compass comes from God’s revealed record of truth.
Here is the point: Politicians can compromise on policies, but no one can afford to compromise on ethics that are rooted in absolute truths from God’s Word.
Let’s look at an example that will shed some light on the problem and its solution… Go back three thousand five hundred years in time, and sit down beside the camp fire of the elders of Israel. Look around. Moses looks exhausted. He has at least forty years more on his body than the oldest person to hear this lesson. He has been at this leadership thing for an entire generation, and the people he has been leading were not the light-hearted compliant types. He looks like a bearded Charlton Heston on a bad hair day, and that was before he heard what the Reubenites and Gadites were proposing. Listen in…
The Request (32:1-5)
Numbers 32:1 Now the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad had an exceedingly large number of livestock. So when they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that it was indeed a place suitable for livestock, 2 the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben came and spoke to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, 3 “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon, 4 the land which the LORD conquered before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” 5 They said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession; do not take us across the Jordan.”
The men who came to Moses represented some of the front line troops of the second wave of any attack. In Numbers 2 the order of the march was given:
• Issachar, Judah and Zebulon lead the campaigns as the tribes situated at the EAST of the camp.
• Reuben, Gad and Simeon were second in the campaigns as the tribes to the SOUTH of the camp.
• With an interlude for the Tabernacle and the Levites, the camp continued its march bringing on line those WEST of the camp – Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh.
• Finally, the NORTH side of the camp brought up the rear – Asher, Dan and Naphtali.
To Moses and the children of Israel, going into battle without the men of Reuben and Gad was like going in with one boot off – it felt incomplete. That played into Moses’ first reaction to their request. Look closely at the request, and take it apart – because its reasoning should trouble you:
First, the desire to stay east of the Jordan seemed to be based primarily on the fact that God had already blessed them with a large herd and flock between them. The men of these tribes had already traversed the slopes of the Gilead uplift, and the Jordan Valley’s fertile plain. The PUSH for the decision is revealed in the words: “had an exceedingly large number of livestock” in verse one. Isn’t it strange how God’s recent additions to their flocks from the Midianite raid, and His continual good hand on them made them conclude they should solve the issue apart from His already stated truth found in His Word?
Some may counter, “Wait! Isn’t this PART of the Land of Father Abraham’s promise?” Lots of believers think so, but that doesn’t fit what Moses and the men of his time thought. Moses reached the land Reuben and Gad wanted, and Moses wasn’t – according to God’s own revealed Word – going into the Land of Promise that was their destination. Living on the east of the Jordan was living on the edge of the promise, but not inside it. It was living with one foot in the Lord’s will, and another in the world’s way. They chose it because they had a practical problem that came from the blessing of God – but they chose a path in violation of God’s stated will. If it was fine with God to settle BEFORE reaching the Land of Promise, they were fine in Egypt, or Sinai, or Paran, or Zin or Edom’s Wadi Rum, or Moab’s plateau. Those WEREN’T OK WITH GOD. – and neither was this choice.
The second thing to notice is the choice was based on what appeared to be good pastureland. They couldn’t look forward to see what their choice would mean to the future. They didn’t know that they would be a people that suffered more bloodshed than other tribes because of their choice. They couldn’t know that when the time came for invasion, they would fall eight full years before any other region. They made a choice because they saw their CURRENT STRENGTH to stand against enemies, and the CURRENT PROSPERITY of the region. They judged on appearance, like Lot chose the Sodom and Gomorrah. They chose of practicality that defied Biblical principle. They chose wrongly.
Thirdly, note they used GOD TALK but not revealed principles of God’s Word when they fashioned their request. They said: “the land which the LORD conquered before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock!” (32:4). The openly acknowledged God’s empowering in the wars, but overlooked God’s clear call to bring the people into the Land of Promise. The logic of the compromise was pragmatism – since this works, it must be acceptable to God (32:3-5). The problem is that what works must always be placed in the context of God’s revealed Word – but they weren’t doing that.
Moses’ First Reaction (32:6-15)
Moses heard the words and they hit him like the stone that knocked down Goliath. He was “floored” by the request. From his toes the red rash of boiling anger rose within him. He got warmer in a moment than he had been able to get in his tent for the last twenty years! Look at the reaction:
6 But Moses said to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here? 7 “Now why are you discouraging the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land which the LORD has given them? 8 “This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. 9 “For when they went up to the valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the sons of Israel so that they did not go into the land which the LORD had given them. 10 “So the LORD’S anger burned in that day, and He swore, saying, 11 None of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob; for they did not follow Me fully, 12 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have followed the LORD fully.’ 13 “So the LORD’S anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the entire generation of those who had done evil in the sight of the LORD was destroyed. 14 “Now behold, you have risen up in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to add still more to the burning anger of the LORD against Israel. 15 “For if you turn away from following Him, He will once more abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all these people.”
Take apart Moses’ issue with the request – because it is revealing in what it OMITS:
1. Moses assumed the tribes of the second wave were “bowing out” of their responsibility to fight the war ahead with their brothers (32:6). That wasn’t what they wanted, but that is what he heard.
2. Moses expressed fear that a splinter off would cause the remaining people to face discouragement to do what God wanted – to enter and take the Land of Promise (32:7). He underscored the idea that he KNEW God wanted them across the river displacing the Amorites and other Canaanites.
3. Moses immediately connected the request with the past – because he had both the benefit and the hindrance of aged thinking (32:8-9). He automatically connected the request with another time in which the plantiffs called the whole congregation to forsake acquiring the land – but that wasn’t justified. His analysis was flawed.
4. Moses feared the wrath of God falling anew on the people because of what appeared to be a peaceful insurrection (32:10-15). He saw his life’s work evaporating in front of him.
The problem with Moses reaction was that it wasn’t the real problem. It was all about the practicality and mechanics, but not about the central issue: THEY WERE ON A MISSION FROM GOD. The real problem was that God didn’t tell them it was fine to peel some tribes off on the way to the objective God gave them. Don’t forget, also, that Moses DIDN’T stop and talk to God about this affront to the plan of the Holy One of Israel. He didn’t call out the line as “Follow ALL of what God told us, or their will be trouble.” Moses threw down the practical reasons, and that opened the door to compromise based on pragmatism – based on filling the needs Moses could calculate. Keep reading, and more of the “heart problem” of the tribes making the request will become CLEAR…
A Second Attempt (32:16-19)
Having survived the initial reaction of Moses, they came back to assuage his fears and answer his objections…
16 Then they came near to him and said, “We will build here sheepfolds for our livestock and cities for our little ones; 17 but we ourselves will be armed ready [to go] before the sons of Israel, until we have brought them to their place, while our little ones live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 “We will not return to our homes until every one of the sons of Israel has possessed his inheritance. 19 “For we will not have an inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has fallen to us on this side of the Jordan toward the east.”
I cannot help but smile at the record of the conversation, and marvel at the obtuse view of the Reubenite and Gadite spokesmen. Did you hear what they said? Look again at the words:
First, we will provide a place for our sheep, THEN we will provide a place for our children (32:16). Seriously? You will build the SHOP for your business and THEN make sure a roof is over the head of you offspring? Well, that’s good to know that the children will EVENTUALLY get a place. What’s next, we’ll feed the kids next week because this is SHEARING SEASON? Note that Moses gets the order correct in the reply in 32:24. He said: “OK guys, build a place for your children and THEN a place for your animals. Reuben and Gad’s children may have known how to raise flocks, but I truly wonder about their priorities concerning their children.
Second, note the promise they made in 32:17-18. Essentially they said this: “OK, Mo, we get it. We will build a place for our children and flocks, and then we will leave our families for HOWEVER LONG IT TAKES to fight. Yes, Mo, all the fighters will go. Don’t worry, mom will be fine without us for a few months, years or decades. No matter – whatever it takes, our family will make due without us!” Seriously! How do you think this story will “play out” when dad is gone for a generation or so? Stay tuned…
Third, as if the practicality of their promise wasn’t so short-sighted to be absurd, they snuck the critical line at the end in 32:19 – they wouldn’t have the inheritance God directed – but the one they wanted.
Let me paraphrase the whole passage: “Moses, here is the deal. We will get our shop put together, and then, oh, yeah, we will fix a place for our families. We will build it STRONG since we won’t stick around to, you know, raise them and protect them. Instead, we will go off and help the other tribes for as long as it takes on our way back to doing what we want and ignoring what God said to do – to live together in the Land of Promise. We found our own, thanks.”
Moses’ Second Response (32:20-24)
As stunning as it seems, Moses BOUGHT IT. The wear on the man must have been tremendous…
20 So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will arm yourselves before the LORD for the war, 21 and all of you armed men cross over the Jordan before the LORD until He has driven His enemies out from before Him, 22 and the land is subdued before the LORD, then afterward you shall return and be free of obligation toward the LORD and toward Israel, and this land shall be yours for a possession before the LORD. 23 “But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out. 24 “Build yourselves cities for your little ones, and sheepfolds for your sheep, and do what you have promised.”
Moses was about to pronounce aloud one of his most famous sayings, and he offered it in the middle of a totally wrong solution to the proposed compromise. Look at the progression ramping up to it:
First, he told them the terms were not negotiable – they had to suit up and fight (32:20) and they could not abandon the army until the job was complete (32:21-22a). Then he stepped right on God’s command and told them they were FREE of obligation to the Lord toward the other tribes, and they could have the land they wanted (32:22b)! Stop for a second and consider what was happening.
If they could possess the land later, why not COME with Israel – ALL OF THEM – and return after the battles were fought? Would someone else occupy the land in the interim? Maybe, but wouldn’t their wives and children face that same problem with the army off fighting a war?
Let me ask another question: When did God turn the promises and covenants over to Moses to write an addendum?
When we compromise on God’s Word, we aren’t compromising our OWN WORD. His principles, His promises and His prescriptions are HIS TO ASSIGN. Moses may have gotten to write down the Word, but he was NEVER THE AUTHOR.
Some of you can see where I am heading. The pulpit today is the repository, the guardian, the mouthpiece of His Word – not ours. We can compromise on many things that don’t violate His principles. Not every believer has the same political outlook – and there is no reason why they should. We can have differing opinions on a great many things. God’s Word doesn’t specify how much time a child should spent studying mathematics per day, or what should be included in a child’s lunch. Healthy debate isn’t un-Christian or devilish. We learn from listening to each other, from hearing another view point, from considering life from another’s window view. Yet, we must also be careful to filter all of what we read, see, hear and believe through the screen of God’s stated Word. We can’t cancel Hell because it offends, or remake marriage because more people would “feel comfortable” with our stance. Our work is to study carefully and proclaim clearly – not make everyone happy with God’s position on issues.
Moses made the classic mistake that so many of us do – he gave away in compromise what was NOT HIS to give. He made OK something God said was NOT OK.
It wasn’t over… the compromising tribal sons spoke again…
The Promise (32:25-27)
25 The sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben spoke to Moses, saying, “Your servants will do just as my lord commands. 26 “Our little ones, our wives, our livestock and all our cattle shall remain there in the cities of Gilead; 27 while your servants, everyone who is armed for war, will cross over in the presence of the LORD to battle, just as my lord says.”
They essentially said: “We shall live by the rules we have proposed, that you have so graciously accepted. We are ready to fully and completely live this agreement that has been molded around our own desires and needs. Aren’t we the flexible ones!”
Moses’ Instruction to Eleazar and Joshua (32:28-32)
Moses passed the corrupted instructions to Eleazar and Josh – but no word on how they felt about what he said. He was Moses, and this was the end of his administration…
28 So Moses gave command concerning them to Eleazar the priest, and to Joshua the son of Nun, and to the heads of the fathers’ [households] of the tribes of the sons of Israel. 29 Moses said to them, “If the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben, everyone who is armed for battle, will cross with you over the Jordan in the presence of the LORD, and the land is subdued before you, then you shall give them the land of Gilead for a possession; 30 but if they will not cross over with you armed, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.” 31 The sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben answered, saying, “As the LORD has said to your servants, so we will do. 32 “We ourselves will cross over armed in the presence of the LORD into the land of Canaan, and the possession of our inheritance [shall remain] with us across the Jordan.”
Look at how commanding the words of Moses were, considering they weren’t a good representation of what God told him to do. They have the RING of a legal standard, without the stamp of approval of the Eternal Lawgiver. Moses passed the whole agreement, with all its compromises, and all its future problems. It wasn’t his best day in government.
The Compromise Enacted (32:33-42)
33 So Moses gave to them, to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Reuben and to the half-tribe of Joseph’s son Manasseh, the kingdom of Sihon, king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og, the king of Bashan, the land with its cities with [their] territories, the cities of the surrounding land. 34 The sons of Gad built Dibon and Ataroth and Aroer, 35 and Atroth-shophan and Jazer and Jogbehah, 36 and Beth-nimrah and Beth-haran as fortified cities, and sheepfolds for sheep. 37 The sons of Reuben built Heshbon and Elealeh and Kiriathaim, 38 and Nebo and Baal-meon– [their] names being changed– and Sibmah, and they gave [other] names to the cities which they built. 39 The sons of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead and took it, and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it. 40 So Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he lived in it. 41 Jair the son of Manasseh went and took its towns, and called them Havvoth-jair. 42 Nobah went and took Kenath and its villages, and called it Nobah after his own name.
Numbers 32:33 opens with the summary that “Moses gave the sons of Reuben and Gad… then comes the half-tribe of Manasseh.” Wait a minute? How did another half tribe get in on the action? Now we aren’t JUST dividing the nation, we are dividing extended families. How did THAT happen?
Don’t miss that, in the end, even more people compromised than those who asked in beginning! Compromise creep is natural in a fallen world. Standards based on self-benefit are inevitable destined to become more popular than lines drawn on grand principles. The short-sighted choose based on CURRENT BENEFIT, not based on long-term effects – and often have no patience to grapple with grand moral principles.
Long ago, someone said: “Compromise is the art of giving your opponent that which he is not powerful enough to take.” Nobody FORCED Moses to accept something less than God commanded – he did that all on his own… just like we do.
Maybe he did it out of compassion. He looked at that nice pastureland and saw the flocks of Reuben and thought: “Wouldn’t that be nice for them! That would just so PERFECTLY meet their needs!” Prayerlessly, and with no consultation with God’s fore-revealed principles, Moses spoke words of compromise, and the people of Reuben celebrated them. He didn’t see the heartache ahead – because compromise is so big it blocks the view of all that.
There is an old fable about the hunter and the bear that met in the forest. The hunter held up his rifle to put down the bear when to his surprise the bear looked him in the eye and started to speak his language perfectly. The bear said: “Sir, I have never harmed you. Why do you want to shoot me?” The man answered: “I am cold, and I need the warmth your big furry coat gives to you!” The man asked: “When we met in the forest, you raised your paws as if to attack me. Why did you do that?” The bear replied: “Because I am hungry, and I thought you could provide me with something to eat!” The bear continued: “Perhaps we can make a compromise that will give us both what we wanted!” The hunter lowered his rifle, and the compromise was made. Walking out of the forest, the full bear carried the hunter in his stomach, a place that was no doubt warm.
Political compromises are to be expected, but spiritual compromises are to be rebuffed. Compromise that defies God’s directions isn’t compromise – it’s called something else… SIN!
America is again facing a new wave of returnee servicemen who have been serving in fields of conflict. They bring home with them some challenges. To illustrate this, I clipped this out of the Buffalo News from a few months ago about this College year in New York schools:
“When Dan Frontera enrolled in graduate school at the University at Buffalo, he found himself yelling at two fellow students, one reeking of alcohol, who browsed Facebook instead of listening to the lecture. During Frank Grillo’s first week at Daemen College, he stormed out of class after hearing two young women complain about getting mud on their Ugg boots and remembering his boots being “completely covered in blood.” And Matt Ziemendorf usually counts how many people are in the room and identifies all the exits as he enters classrooms at Niagara University. These young men are a different type of college student. Veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan increasingly are turning to higher education as they leave the military and confront an economy still rebounding from recession. They’re often older than other students, and frequently have spouses and children. They’re not interested in partying, and many try to finish their degrees as quickly as possible. Some also struggle with mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD… Veterans are generally more respectful of professors and more focused on their work than many other students, said Andrew Overfield, coordinator of veterans services at Canisius. Administrators at other local colleges agreed. That discipline, Overfield said, helps veterans finish school as fast as they can. … But veterans, despite their maturity, often have trouble with the transition from the service to academia. Many grapple with the loss of the military’s strict routine. “The thing I struggled with for the longest time was, you no longer have your senior NCOs and stuff like that giving you orders,” Ziemendorf said, referring to noncommissioned officers. “You’re kind of figuring this out on your own.”…Jason Gilliland at Buffalo State and Frontera, who’s now the veterans affairs coordinator at ECC. [These men] are both pursuing master’s degrees in the higher education field at Buffalo State, so as they help students navigate the transition from deployment to academia, they are going through the same thing. … Being a veteran himself, Gilliland can understand a veteran with PTSD “hitting the deck” upon hearing construction noises on campus, and can point him to a place where he can get help. And being a student himself, Frontera can understand what it’s like to be surrounded by younger college students who are nothing like you.” (By Luke Hammill on July 15, 2013).
Returning veterans often have many hurdles to overcome, and some who hear this lesson today remember the experience all too well from their own past. When Stephen E. Ambrose wrote his book, Band of Brothers, he featured the awkward return to civilian life at the end of the work, because it was part of the war. The men didn’t return to a new life, it was the re-acquisition of the old life by an entirely changed young man that was often so difficult. Our lesson today is about the same kind of problem, albeit from a short and bloody conflict – not a sustained campaign far away. Returning veterans pose special problems. Yet, it is not only about them. It is also about the expressions of GRATITUDE after a time of God’s unusual provision and pronounced protection – and we ALL need that lesson!
I mention this because if you look into the text of Scripture, you will find the narrative of Numbers 31 contains two distinct stories: 1) the command of God and execution of a raid on Midian, and 2) the return of the raiders and the purification and offerings from the spoils. In our last lesson, we handled the first part of the story – the stirring account of a battle that forced us to face an issue that was uncomfortable – that God has the absolute right to act on behalf of His people and His plan in pronounced ways to bring about His plan. Today we face the second half of the story, in which we must deal with the aftermath of the bloody battle – including the dividing of the spoils and the required offerings to the Lord. The response to the battle was as telling a story and the execution of it. In some ways, the story was similar to what an allied WWII veteran may tell about his service. Neither were wars of personal vendetta, and neither group of returnees came back wringing their hands with glee at the hurt they put on another people group. The Biblical raid was executed in obedience to God’s command, and the chief expression of returnees was relief and thanksgiving to God. That is the story for our lesson today.
Remember, the people didn’t fight to prove anything. They didn’t fight to resolve any leftover feelings in them. They may have had feelings about the Midianites, but the fighting came about at the behest of the Lord, relayed through the instruction of Moses. They marched out with a priest, with holy silver trumpets of the Tabernacle, and with the confidence they were following God’s holy command. With these tools of mind and heart, they were invited by God to participate in a powerful victory. Swiftly the tides of war turned into the fortune of spoils and they returned with arms full of loot – their tunics still stained with the blood of the battle and their skin still covered with the dust and grime of the swift passage through the desert sands. Arriving at the camp, they were relieved and exhausted… but they were not allowed to drop in their tents and run into the arms of their wives and children. Something else came first. There was a time of healing, purifying and worshipful giving. They needed to understand a truth that we need to revisit…
Key Principle: The highest calling for a follower of God is obedient and repeated dedication to the Lord – everything else comes second.
The WAR was a step of OBEDIENCE. Would the RESPONSE be one of GRATITUDE and REDEDICATION?
Before the embraces of loved ones, before sitting around the campfire to share the story of the battle with their children – there had to be planned “down time” alone with God. There was a time of rededication, rest and re-orientation. There was time for celebrating with the comrades in arms, and the quiet thanksgiving of men who returned from a battle whole, along with their brothers and fellow soldiers. The re-entry to society was planned and prescribed by God. The nightmares of war needed to find a place inside of them to rest in their memory – and God was prepared to help them deal with it all. God never calls people to do things He won’t help them through.
Drop your eyes into the scene of the returnees, and listen to the speech they heard outside the camp…
Purification Instructions from Eleazar:
Numbers 31:21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers who had gone into battle, “This is what is required by the law that the Lord gave Moses: 22 Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead 23 and anything else that can withstand fire must be put through the fire, and then it will be clean. But it must also be purified with the water of cleansing. And whatever cannot withstand fire must be put through that water. 24 On the seventh day wash your clothes and you will be clean. Then you may come into the camp.”
We pick up the story with the High Priest of Israel telling the warriors what to do with the spoils they were carrying home. The remnants of war – its ribbons, weaponry and its victory spoils – all needed a place to be laid before the Lord and cleansed, both physically and spiritually. It was required of a warrior to take the things from his hands and place them before the Lord for cleansing. The passage offers three important principles of cleansing the fighters and their victory spoils.
There were three “Principles of Cleansing” found here:
1. Required Consecration: Cleansing wasn’t just a good idea – it was a God-ordained and revealed idea (31:21). The best surgeon isn’t ready simply because of training – there must be scrubbing. The idea that a fully prepared and fully qualified person should be given time to set aside after a difficult, even harrowing experience is a God idea. Preparation must be matched by periodic purification – and that wasn’t optional. It isn’t just qualification that makes one eligible to effectively serve God today – but purification. Even as a believer and follower of Messiah, I must recognize that purity in my walk will be tarnished while passing through the streets of a fallen world. Jesus told His Disciples that periodic “foot washing” was still absolutely essential – even for those who left the house fully clean that morning.
Two essential truths regarding purification must always be regarded. First, the means of purification has always been exclusively available by God’s provision – God alone can declare me clean by the means that God alone provided. I cannot earn clean-ness before the Holy One any way but through His provided cleansing agent. Second, the application of cleansing has always been personal and deliberate – I alone am responsible to apply what God offers to cleanse my life. No well-meaning parent can do it. No friend can act on my behalf to apply it. Just as God is solely responsible for the provision; I am solely responsible for the application of what He provided. God gave the washing solution at great cost to Himself; I must apply it carefully to my stained life.
Look again at our returning warriors in Numbers. They went through a time of slaughter. It changed them. Killing, even when done for a just purpose before God, was never easy. Ask the man who pulls the switch before the convict who has been sentenced to death – killing is hard. It is supposed to be hard. In war, we must move against compassion, against humanity itself. It was a necessary affront, because it was in obedience to God’s command – but it was still hard. The return of the veteran warrior required “down time” in a “compression tank-like” experience before returning to home and family. The warrior needed to get clean before God and men in the quiet of the desert outside the camp.
2. Careful Scrutiny: The goods brought from the battle had to be heat-purified and then water-purified. (31:22-23). Some things needed to be destroyed and smelted. Shapes that were inappropriate for the camp of God’s people would need to be reduced to liquid and re-formed. All of the spoils would need heating to eliminate any dangerous bacteria or germs that could harm God’s people. Items unable to be heated must be thoroughly washed (31:23b). The warriors needed to detoxify their implements of war and the spoils they brought back. While they did so, they had time to let the events sink into their hearts.
The point is that interacting and ingesting the goods of the world is a dangerous proposition. We are so familiar with handling dangerous things of the world, that we have become glib about their volatility and hazard to our lives. We flip on a TV and nonchalantly laugh at stained humor about things as sacred as marriage, honesty and truth. We watch routinely as people engage in marriage activities outside the holy bonds of that commitment. In war, the rules change. The strong defeat the weak – and not always the right win. Even when they do, the behaviors of warriors, amped up on testosterone and the taste of blood, is not always exemplary. The language of the barracks often reflects the tensions of war.
For God’s servant, the time for inspection allowed them to settle down and look at everything they returned with from that experience, and take the time to allow God to cleanse it, stain by awful stain. I don’t want to stretch the point. There was dirt and germ removal – but that wasn’t all there was too the cleaning. It included scrutiny – looking carefully for any impurity.
3. Personal Responsibility: With the command of God, there was one week of “down time” for each warrior, during the thorough cleansing of clothing, implements and body before resuming their post (31:24). Time alone in intimate inspection and re-consecration was interwoven here. The purification of one’s own life was one’s own responsibility. No one else knew what was hidden.
All three principles added up to one important truth: Warriors need a space between the battle and the resumption of daily life. The lack of that space will make the re-entry harder. The warrior may not sense the need, and anxious to return, they will plow back into the daily grind. God COMMANDED it, simply because the warrior wasn’t always conscious of the needs they had – and they were entirely unfamiliar with the corrupting issues of bacteria and germs. Don’t so fixate of the physical cleaning, however, and forget that God included in the command the mental, emotional and spiritual needs they carried home with them. As Pastor Warren Wiersbe once quipped: “God didn’t just want CONQUERING SOLDIERS, he wanted CLEAN SOLDIERS – He always does”.
The Tribute Offering
The text moved past the men and their cleansing, and then reminded us that in every blessing, no matter how hard fought to obtain, there must be recognition that we have what we have because our Lord has made it possible.
Numbers 31:25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured. 27 Divide the spoils equally between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community. 28 From the soldiers who fought in the battle, set apart as tribute for the Lord one out of every five hundred, whether people, cattle, donkeys or sheep. 29 Take this tribute from their half share and give it to Eleazar the priest as the Lord’s part. 30 From the Israelites’ half, select one out of every fifty, whether people, cattle, donkeys, sheep or other animals. Give them to the Levites, who are responsible for the care of the Lord’s tabernacle.” 31 So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses.
These verses offer three “Principles of Tribute”:
The children of Israel just fought a Holy War – a war directed by God for His own purposes. The taxing of tribute was the required recognition of God’s goodness in the victory – a “tithe against the blessing”, if you will. Like the “Shelmim Offering” (Thanksgiving Offering) of Leviticus 2, it was a “thank you” to the Lord, that was expected by Him, and prescribed by His Word.
1. Accounting: First, an inventory needed to be taken by the priests accompanied by tribal leaders of all animals captured (31:25-26). This included both inspection and counting. Any diseased animals would need to be disposed, while a strict counting of the whole size of the material blessing was authenticated. The people doing this were priest, but they were accompanied by the watchful eye of the secular leaders. Following a new material acquisition, there was an inspection that was publicly executed and entirely verified. Getting the material blessing wasn’t the end – it was the beginning of taking the responsibility to steward well. That responsibility needed transparency, so the accounting was swift, accurate and public.
2. Dividing: Second, the spoils needed to be divided in two – half for the fighters, and the other half to be divided over the families of Israel (31:27). Clearly those who fought got a higher amount of the spoils, but those who were not able also were blessed by the victory. Some people are enabled to stand on the front line – but those who no longer can, should also be recognized for their value in the struggle. Those who did not fight were able to be a part of the support system, and needed to be blessed in the rewards as well. The prize was to the nation, not simply to the army.
3. Giving: Third, soldiers were to have an offering based on 1:500 “man to animal” ratio – given to the priestly families – the Cohenim (31:28-29). The animal tribute among the non-fighting populace was by a 1:50 ratio, given to the Levite families (31:30). The whole system that God set up was to work together. God’s people needed those who operated the Tabernacle, and those who cared for the administration of God’s work in their midst. This was a state religion, given at a unique time in the life of a certain people. Yet, the principle of giving place to the operations of ministry is elsewhere validated in Scripture. No nation can long endure that pits itself at odds with God’s stated desires for man – and pushes God’s people to the periphery.
A nation must recognize the place of God. Our forefathers knew that in the open praise of Thanksgiving. The History Channel reminds: “In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.”
Today the holiday continues without the “guest of honor” in most of our public institutions, as American shrink in fear of lawsuits from secularists that threaten every imaginable venue because they have been forced to hear about a God they don’t believe in. What bothers them is NOT that they have to hear of a “god” they believe is false – for they show little impatience with public recalling of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny (and I suppose they don’t believe in them either). What bothers them is the WE still believe that God is real, just like our forefathers did. That belief seems to be at the center of their disdain. It bugs them…
We don’t come to church to bemoan culture – even when we know that culture is desperately looking for a replacement for their Creator. We come to be among those, planted in places all around the globe, who WORSHIP the King.
• We will not be stingy, because God has been so gracious and blessed us in abundance.
• We will not be silent, for God has given us a reason to sing.
• We will not be angry, for despite the changes in our culture, God has promised at the end of days to wipe every tear from our eyes.
• We will not be timid, for a God so great deserves our full throated praise for Who He is and all He has done.
Our nation that rewards with greatest income those who can play a ball game, but cannot afford more than minimum wage for one who works with our children and our elderly speaks with little moral authority. Our God, who cares for us “from the rising of the sun to the setting of the same” beckons us to praise Him with our giving. The Gospel must go forth, and we will use the wealth He has given us to make that happen. The poor and the needy must be cared for, and we will not withhold our help. Let the nation grow cold – and let the church be the church. Let us look and act with generosity and charity!
The Inventory and Tribute Offering
As we continue with our story of the returnees, we get an inventory…
Numbers 31:32 The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 33 72,000 cattle, 34 61,000 donkeys 35 and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man. 36 The half share of those who fought in the battle was: 337,500 sheep, 37 of which the tribute for the Lord was 675; 38 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the Lord was 72; 39 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the Lord was 61; 40 16,000 people, of whom the tribute for the Lord was 32. 41 Moses gave the tribute to Eleazar the priest as the Lord’s part, as the Lord commanded Moses. 42 The half belonging to the Israelites, which Moses set apart from that of the fighting men— 43 the community’s half—was 337,500 sheep, 44 36,000 cattle, 4530,500 donkeys 46 and 16,000 people. 47 From the Israelites’ half, Moses selected one out of every fifty people and animals, as the Lord commanded him, and gave them to the Levites, who were responsible for the care of the Lord’s tabernacle.
The real question was: How will they meet the continuing needs of ministry? God’s answer was to organize ministry and its support through the people.
This section provided three “Principles of Support” of God’s ministry among the people:
1. The first part of the narrative offered the totals of each category (31:32-35), followed by the divided half to the soldiers (31:36), and the amount taken in tribute (31:37-40). It was one thing to learn about the ratios, it was another thing to actually take the amount that was to be offered and carefully separate out the gift. The theory of giving is only helpful if followed by the ACTION of giving.
Let’s think seriously about the idea of GENEROSITY for a moment…People often think that their giving would change if they had MORE to give. Yet, the truth is the majority of the giving is done by those who have little. Pastor Bobby Scobey related a story:
“Don’t say you would give if only you had something to give. There was a farmer who asked his neighbor, “If you had a million dollars, would you give me half of it?” The second fellow was amazed at the question and replied, “Of course, I would do that in a minute.” The questioner persisted, “If you had cars, would you give me one of them?” The friend said, “I can’t believe you asked that. Since we are such good friends, sure; you know I would give you one.” Third question: “If you had two hogs, would you give me one?” The other guy said, “Shoot, man, you know I’ve got two hogs.”
God is honored by what I give, not what I intend to give. Theoretical sacrifice wasn’t what God instructed Israel – actual hard numbers are given to prove that point!
2. The second part of the narrative detailed the part that went to the Cohenim (priests) that was carefully given by Moses in accordance with the Lord’s instruction (31:41). God called out certain men to serve as the intercessor between the people and God – and they and their families needed to be cared for by the people in the process. They were to lead the people in worship, but were, in another sense, dependent upon the people for sustenance. It isn’t wrong for God’s people to shoulder that responsibility – it is appropriate.
I am not bucking for a raise, here – just commenting on the truth. I have had the fortunate circumstance of watching God pour blessing on my life – material, emotional and spiritual. I know some of the finest people this old planet has ever witnessed. I am surrounded by blessing! At the same time, it is my responsibility to faithfully represent the Word of God. Our staff gets wonderful support from our flock – and that is the way it is supposed to be. God has honored your sacrifices and blessed our work together because of your obedience. We all do this ministry together!
3. The last part of this text shows how the animals were the numbers divided among the people (31:42-46) and the amounts that were given in tribute offering to the Levites (31:47). In addition to caring for those who interceded for the people – God also devised a system of caring for both the physical operations of the worship center, and a way to spread out across the camp those who could serve God by serving the people – the Levitical formula. God provided increase, and the people needed to make sure the needs of those who sacrificed a portion of inheritance in this life were cared for as well.
He does the same in our ministry today! Just as you care for the staff, so there are missionaries serving in far flung places in the name of Christ. They, like Levites of old, have traded a land inheritance to be those who work for the Lord in the midst of a tribe that owns the land on which they labor. They live in faraway lands, and miss their families and their friends – all for the cause of the Gospel. Why? In Heaven, French people will stand beside you and remind you that your obedience in giving provided a man or woman who gave them the Gospel. You will meet Cambodians, Africans, Arabs, Europeans, Asians, and many others who were reached by the support you helped with! God blessed us to be a blessing to others. It is our rightful tribute.
A Thanksgiving Offering Added
The final part of the passage displays what happens when people have faced crisis, and seen God deliver blessing.
Numbers 31:48 Then the officers who were over the units of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—went to Moses 49 and said to him, “Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing. 50 So we have brought as an offering to the Lord the gold articles each of us acquired—armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings and necklaces—to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.” 51 Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted from them the gold—all the crafted articles. 52 All the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds that Moses and Eleazar presented as a gift to the Lord weighed 16,750 shekels.(about 420 pounds) 53 Each soldier had taken plunder for himself. 54 Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds and brought it into the tent of meeting as a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord.
Finally, there are three “Principles of Blessing” in the account.
1. First, there was recognition of God’s goodness to them – rejoicing over the protection of God (31:48-49). When the officers looked carefully at the roster of the returnees – they saw it clearly. God brought the entire army back… not one of their men was lost! They were amazed at God’s protection, and overjoyed at His grace!
Have you thanked God for the many times in the last months you have been spared from harm? Every day there are those who wake up and dream of harming our nation and wounding our people. Yet, God has been good and offered protection. Diligent men and women serve our country in a variety of services, and God uses them to protect us. Police, rescue workers, firemen and many others stand by to help if an emergency strikes. There has never been a people, since the beginning of history, that has been so thoroughly guarded and protected by agencies as ours. Yet, we complain. We act as though we deserve peace, prosperity and stability. Have you thanked God for the protection that we have enjoyed?
2. Recognition that is REAL is followed by RESPONSE that is measureable – responsive offerings for God’s goodness (31:50). The result of their collective joy was an offering to God – not compulsory, but as an overflow of their heart! God protected them, but God also showered them with good gifts -and they wanted to give them back to Him!
Let me ask you directly: If God dropped a large amount of money on you right now, would you find it hard to give to Him an offering from it? How quickly and steadfastly do you own the things He provides for you? Isn’t it just possible that God is not placing more in your hands because He knows you would squander it on things that don’t honor Him – selfish pleasures that don’t advance His Kingdom at all?
These men looked that the wealth they accumulated. They recalled the men that lay in the camp, fallen in battle and dispossessed of all their earthly goods. Facing death helps us sort out priorities. The men saw that God saved them, and God blessed them – and no one had to convince them of God’s goodness. No one had to beg them to give. They volunteered.
Let me say something that could sting just a little bit. Those who see God as He is, and themselves as they are – should be inclined to generosity in giving. When we truly recognize the depth of our own sinfulness and the size of the Lord’s gift to us – we see His marvelous generosity toward us. We know of His liberality. It challenges us to respond well.
3. Reception of Freewill Offering and placement before God (31:51-54). The priests took the offering that was given and laid it before God. Mere Midianite trinkets took on the sweet smell of offerings to the Most High God. The people rejoiced, and God was pleased.
As little as I normally speak about giving and generosity, I am still a preacher, and the subject is dangerous in our hands…In fact, it reminds me to warn you with a story:
A barber in a small town was busy cutting hair one day when the local cop walked in to get a haircut. And the barber was feeling a bit generous that day, so he said to the cop… “Since you do such a good job protecting us, and watching over us… today’s haircut is free.” The cop said he appreciated that, and the next day when the barber showed up at his shop, there were a dozen donuts waiting for him. In walks a local florist. The barber tells him how much he appreciates all the work that he has done around town, planting bushes and flowers and making the town look real nice, so he gives him a free haircut. The next day, the barber shows up at his shop and there are a dozen flowers waiting for him. In walks the local preacher, the barber tells him how he is feeling generous that day, and how much he appreciates all his hard work with the children and taking care of the needs of the people, so the preacher gets a free haircut. The next the barber shows up at his shop, and there are a dozen preachers waiting there for him. (Taken from sermon central illustrations).
Seriously, we have followed the Israelites from their beginnings to nearly the end of Moses’ life as we have studied together – and very few times did we end this way – with the people at peace and God pleased with them. What did it take? It took OBEDIENCE. It took practical DEDICATION to what God called them to accomplish. It took understanding the truth….
The highest calling for a follower of God is obedient and repeated dedication to the Lord – everything else comes second.
Idolatry is the single most talked about problem in all of Scripture – but you don’t hear it that much in the western church. When we do mention it, we picture some primitive tribe far away, not people we see every day. According to the Bible, most people are idolaters. Now, I readily admit that in the modern world of the west, most do not think of themselves as idolaters – but in the Biblical terminology that is exactly how they would be described. This isn’t a new problem, but one that accompanies the ages. It was John Calvin who wrote: “Everyone of us is, even from our mother’s womb a master craftsman of idols.”
We may not build elaborate temples and construct vast sacrificial platforms. We may not bow to a statue of some hideous creature or sumptuous human form, but each of us serves something with vigilant allegiance – even if it is ourselves. The Biblical definition for idolatry is “anything that takes God’s rightful place in our life as it regards our hungers, choices and desires.” For some it is money, for others an inordinate craving for the love of another. For some it is surely power. Some yearn deeply for success and will cast aside any principle for the perks of material gain. For some the driving hunger is fame. For some, every waking moment seems to be a search for sexual gratification. Some make a god of their career, while others exalt their body to serve the god of image and strength. To a great many in our culture, the god of comfort and pleasure demands our highest allegiance. I have to agree with Kyle Idelman who wrote: “Behind every sin struggle that you and I have is a false god that is winning the war in our lives.”
We must be careful not to allow other things to come between us and God. The Bible warns us in many places concerning this – but there is another “twist” on idolatry I want you to notice – our modern attempts to re-shape God into something that is more acceptable to our sense of fairness and justice. We began to see this in the last chapter, where we noted the “modern clash of culture” we have with the text of Scripture regarding the judicial responsibility of women (Numbers 30). We noted the unchanging principles of God’s Word are sometimes openly offensive to modern sensibilities, and that in our day the church is quickly succumbing to the need to be loved by the world rather than firmly committed to holding the treasure of the Creator’s words above all else. If you have been listening, you know the media LOVES any church that wants to update and re-think the Bible’s most clear statements to conform with the morals of modernity.
I don’t want to obfuscate and sound so theoretical I skirt needed discomfort, so let me say it plainly: Our culture is at war with the God of the Bible as He is presented in the text. They don’t WANT HIM. IF they want any god (and many do not), they want to be able to shape what He cares about. They want to tell Him what the Bible SHOULD say. They want to re-make the rules on marriage, finance, sexual behavior, honesty – all of it. The parts of the Bible about God’s love are no problem. The problem is all the other things God says… God the Sovereign is being demoted to God the elected… and there is a reason.
Many Christians simply don’t understand that from the opening line, the Bible is deeply offensive to the modern sensibilities of our culture. Its pages open with a simple claim: “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth.” If that claim is true – if God DID in fact create all that is and then defined its purpose (as the rest of Genesis 1 claims) – everything finds its real meaning and definition in Him. He defines justice. He defines goodness. He defines mercy. He defines truth. Even more offensive is the notion that in such a case, God isn’t forced to act according to modern man’s ever flexing sense of fairness… a truly burning offense to modern man. Our culture cries out for a creator that can be shaped! Our nation seeks a god that blesses us without questioning our gluttony for endless pleasures and encourages us without challenging our flexible morality and unrestrained perversions.
A God that pre-existed the material world, a God that created all things– is fundamentally at odds with the gods of modern men. Why? If God created, He was not a creation of good men – He is the author, not the tale. If God created, He has by definition a Sovereign right to be recognized as Who He is. He cannot be forced into rules that His creation attempts to subject Him to, nor can He be shaped by men’s thinking, for we were shaped by His hands. He is the Untamable God – the writer of a story in which we find ourselves characters.
Key Principle: God isn’t forced to act according to our sense of justice – He defines justice. He defines goodness. He defines mercy. He defines truth… This is the truly offensive word of the Bible to modern man.
Let me challenge you with a story from the Bible that will help us see even our own temptation to shape God. Like the last lesson – this one challenges our modern definitions of fair and just, and forces us to rethink how our minds have been pressed into the world’s mold. There is much in the passage, so we will deal with it in two parts – this is the first installment.
Part One: The Last Battle for Moses
The first half of the chapter is constructed as a record of four scenes:
• God commands Moses
• Moses passes marching orders to leaders
• Israel’s army routs Midian
• Moses meets the returnees
This is a story about a war. It is the plan and execution of a surprise attack, initiated by God against a devious enemy that had caused problems in the past for Israel. It is a tough story to read – with butchery and blood of men and women, and the enslaving of children. It is a frank look at the rugged and brutal existence of God’s people long ago… and it is not easy to seriously contemplate.
Scene One – God to Moses:
It opens with God talking to Moses. Take a moment and pull in your focus to listen to a short and direct command from God given millennia ago:
Numbers 31:1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”
The opening line of the story is no doubt a summary of a longer conversation, but in the short two sentences we see the revelation of three facts:
First, God wasn’t willing to let the terrible abuse of His people by devious men who tried to destroy God’s plan in and through them remain unanswered.
When we read “take vengeance” as Christians, we are perhaps uncomfortable with a kind of call from God, since it seems contrary to the call of God to us – and it meant the brutal killing of human beings. Don’t you feel a reaction? Perhaps it will help if you recall the event that God was referencing in his command, and see if it puts this command in context. Numbers 25:1 reported: “While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. 2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel. 4 The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” 5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.”
While observing this first fact – that God wouldn’t let the abuse go – it occurs to me that four ideas surface that we should take a few minutes to explore on the way to helping us make sense of this command of God for vengeance:
- God called Moses in with the plan to pay back Midian for their sin. This wasn’t a political stunt, and it wasn’t done with a malicious heart on the part of Moses. Vengeance is God’s alone – and we are not to cook up ways to hurt people who hurt us. Moses was acting as the hand of God in a specific situation – and we aren’t Moses. We don’t have the history of the same kind of communion with God and don’t have the same responsibilities before God as he did.
- We don’t recognize how hurt the people of Israel were concerning the resultant plague that decimated them, killing 24,000 of their family and friends (Numbers 25:9) directly because of that sin. These deceivers felt like cloaked terrorists, and the event felt like a 9/11 cataclysm to the people. America WANTED to fight after they were attacked. After Pearl Harbor, there was no ground swell of a peacenik American. When people are hurt and victimized, their sense of JUSTICE overwhelms them. God’s call probably satisfied many people who lost loved ones that were casualties of another’s misdeeds. Some of you may be keen to ask: “Wait! These didn’t die in an attack – the plague of the Lord took their lives. That isn’t the same thing!” (I want to address this, but I will do so later in the lesson).
- We don’t recognize how deeply God abhors those who ensnare His people in idolatry and licentious living. To God, these tribesmen were like an ancient form of a street “drug pusher” – offering something free and getting people “hooked” – while steadily “milking” their life from them. If you have ever felt that there was a special place in Hell reserved for such people, you know a bit of the outrage of God over what they were doing. He HATES the deliberate perversion of a child. He DETESTS the beckoning of the tempter who creates enslaving pornography and traffics in human flesh of those held in bondage. He LOATHES the voices of those who arrogantly challenge His right to keep His people distinct from filth.
- We must recognize that God worked with Israel in unique ways in the past in regards to national direction, and this view of “carnal warfare” is not the same in our nation and time in history. We follow a chosen value at Grace called “Non-resistance”. We are not pacifists, and do not believe that Jesus’ commands to individual believers translate to national instructions, but we do believe there is a profound difference in the way we should handle what our forefathers called “carnal strife” – fancy terms for “national wars”. Non-resistance in our doctrinal statement means essentially that we do not believe that our nation or our church are to involve themselves in battles that are designed to “carry out the Lord’s vengeance on them” as stated in Numbers 31:3. Serving in the country’s armed forces is not a problem for us – but it would be if our country tried to execute a war claiming it was the “arm of God”. In our time, we believe there is a distinction between the Kingdom “not of this world” that we serve, and the earthly kingdom to which we show allegiance as a matter of obedience to Romans 13 and those who are in authority. Our movement came from a time in European history when people were killing each other in the name of Jesus – and we don’t believe in that. We can and will defend our national interests as loyal citizens, but we will not defend the nation claiming it is “the command of the Lord” over another people. We make a distinction between our faith Kingdom and our earthly Kingdom that ancient Israel did not need to make.
God wouldn’t let it go, but there is more in this little reading of Numbers 31:1-2.
Second, Moses needed to care for the response and not let it pass to his successor. There would be plenty of fighting that Joshua needed to contend with – but God wanted this chapter finished by Moses’ administration. It wasn’t wise to place the clean-up operations on the shoulder of the new guy. As we slip out of a long-held role of leadership, sometimes we are tempted to “let things go” and not press to the final tape with our best efforts. It would have been easy to see how Moses could have felt it best not to “re-open a can of worms” and rather “let sleeping dogs lie” – the laissez faire (“leave it be”, literally “let do”) form of leadership. Because of that temptation, and because God wanted to balance the scales of judgment, He simply stepped in and instructed that Moses clean up this problem.
Third, this was the LAST big assignment Moses needed to face as leader. He would be “retired” after this war. Moses was probably looking forward to resting from the weight of the office, and since many of his friends were already gone, he probably knew it was time for a new leader. From what we can tell, the words of God didn’t threaten him, they comforted him.
Scene Two – Moses to Men:
There are more than two verses to consider in the story! Keep reading…The instruction firmly planted in his ears, Moses drew the people together and faithfully reported to him all that God told him to say:
Numbers 31:3 So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites so that they may carry out the Lord’s vengeance on them. 4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.” 5 So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel.
He told them to get ranked, dressed and ready for battle. He delivered the reason, just as God gave it to him – it was God’s idea, not his. The objective was given by the Most High, but the plan needed to be executed in their hands.
Scene Three – Men to War:
Gathered and ready, off they went to attack as they were told to do. They were strong physically, and walked with an emotional certainty knowing they were following the Lord’s command.
Numbers 31:6 Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling. 7 They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man. 8 Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. 9 The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. 10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. 11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, 12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho.
Moses SENT them, but Eleazar the High Priest ACCOMPANIED them with articles from the Tabernacle – the silver trumpets used to call them to war from its doorway. The men apparently attacked the Midianite encampment with complete surprise – and the slaughter was thorough. Every fighting man of that tribal encampment was killed. Five chieftains were encamped there – though the text does not inform us why they were all in that one camp. It looks like a “pow-wow” was interrupted at just the right time!
Did you notice that Balaam the prophet was also with them? At the end of his time with Chief Balak, Numbers 24:25 recorded: “Then Balaam arose and departed and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way.” What was he STILL DOING IN THE MIDIANITE CAMP? Truthfully, we do not know. It could be that he returned to his tent at the end of Numbers 24 with the intent of going home, but decided to stay around and see how the whole thing worked out. Some have even suggested that he set out to return to Mesopotamia, but was again summoned by tribesmen that wished to hire his services. 2 Peter 2:15 certainly left the door open to that when it recorded his legacy as: “forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” I cannot prove it, but I suspect that he found himself seduced by the sensual cult that pervaded the camp of Midian, and he wasn’t willing to go back home.
Because I feel it inappropriate, I will not graphically remind you of the cultic practices, except to say they were sensual and orgiastic. The women captured by Israel’s raiders were some of the same enchantresses from the “cultic orgy” of Numbers 25 that drew them into trouble with God and His Word. It is also important to mention that the so-called “towns” or “cities” Israel burned in verse ten were “encampments” and “maqads” or safe havens – cave structures that stored food and water for the journey through their surrounding territory. Moses was trying to make it clear that every Midianite in the area was taken, and the raiders checked carefully the region around the camp. What they brought back was a rich trove of stored materials, and a certainty that there would be no immediate counter-attack.
Scene Four – Moses Met Returnees:
Collecting the spoils of the encampments in the region, and the supplies of the maqads, they returned to Moses – with flocks, herds, plunder, women and children. The reading that follows is a bit jarring:
Numbers 31:13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. 15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. 19 “Anyone who has killed someone or touched someone who was killed must stay outside the camp seven days. On the third and seventh days you must purify yourselves and your captives. 20 Purify every garment as well as everything made of leather, goat hair or wood.”
The record of the return reveals that Moses looked at what they brought back. He was, no doubt, relieved to see them all come home. Any leader would be. He walked out of the camp to meet Eleazar the High Priest, and address the commanders of the tribal warriors of Israel. As he saw them, dirt and blood still dried on their skin and tunics, his eyes scanned the crowd. He saw the spoils of silver and gold, the trinkets and treasures of a people now defeated and dispatched. Then the smile slipped from his face… His mouth dropped open. Could it be? Were the very women that stood before him those who had seduced the children of Israel and brought about the idolatry and plagues a short time before? What had his army done? Why had they let them live? Here is the question at the heart of the narrative’s application for our study.
When my unbelieving friends want to criticize the Bible, verses like the one we just read are the very ones they use. They sound barbaric. Any Pastor would rather avoid these texts and hide inside the warmth of the Gospels or the reasoned argumentation of the Apostle Paul. This record is sickening to anyone who is not calloused. We are speaking of the death of women and children. How can this be in our Bible?
Despite what my students may say, I am not an un-compassionate man. Seriously, I ache when I see scenes from Damascus today, or Egypt, or Libya, or Afghanistan or Iraq. I cannot easily endure the sight of killing – and I have seen it before, and handled fallen bodies with my own hands. When you really look at war, you learn that, up close, all wars seem like crimes – regardless of the point. Who can take the life of a child and not be changed forever by the taking? I watched in horror as the footage was released of those who were painfully gasping for breath as they suffered the effects of Sarin nerve gas in Syria.
You see, the burning desire for God to fit into our feelings, our inner barometer of justice – makes us vulnerable to a sinful reshaping of God. Do you recall the key principle I cited for the study?
“God isn’t forced to act according to our sense of justice – He defines justice. He defines goodness. He defines mercy. He defines truth… This is the truly offensive word of the Bible to modern man.”
Let’s remember when we read of this tale that God was leading the people through the journey to the Promised Land. They were following Him when the enemy attacked through a slick traveling preacher named Balaam and his suggestion to win their hearts through sinful compromise. He may have sounded like a man of god, but the rattle of a snake was present behind his voice. He didn’t seem like such an offensive character – he was not a vulgar and boisterous man. He did not stand on the hillside shouting obscenities to his foes. He sat in a meeting, and quietly planned seduction and destruction of God’s people. He laid out the plans with care and shared with tribal chiefs how they could make God’s people GIVE THEM a victory they knew they could not TAKE by force. That’s the way the enemy really works most effectively. Why assault us openly when he can lull us into conformity and then force us into slavery?
Let’s recall when we encounter this story that God directed the assault on the people and that God had the absolute right to do so. That is where the real justice issue plows into our culture. It is that same sense of justice that is causing the modern “church of tolerance” so pervasive in our day – to reshape the Bible on a narrative on the mention of Hell. It offends an American culture that doesn’t truly accept authority – even from a Creator. In our culturally accepted arrogance, we feel qualified to shake our fist at Heaven itself and demand that God get into the box of our sense of fairness. He can’t kill if we don’t think He has that right. He can’t demand a man to take his only son and place him on an altar and sacrifice him at God’s call. God doesn’t really OWN people – He isn’t really ENTITLED to do as He pleases with my life… do you see where this is going?
Here is the crux of the struggle. A believer cannot truly make sense of God’s commands if they don’t remember God’s position as Creator, Master and Sovereign.
When we compromise on the Sovereignty of God, we destroy the Bible. We declare God subject to human will. We make Him answerable to US and not us to HIM. We draw back in fear of rejection or hunger for acceptance from a broken and temporary world and do not represent the God Who is not intimidated by the strongest of men. We stand, like David’s brothers, quaking before a defiant Goliath as he mocked the God of Abraham.
I simply argue that I cannot make the God of the Bible palatable to the arrogant voices of modernity. I have no way to bend God so low as to serve men’s pleasures, or to flex His sayings to make what is popular right. If the work of the shepherd in a church is going to be measured in terms of common popularity, I suspect those of us standing with the plain reading of the text will not be deemed successful this side of Heaven. No matter. All I can do is be as kind as possible, but be true to the Word as well.
Given time, people will re-write and explain away every counter-cultural statement of the Bible – including the Gospel itself. I like something Pastor Tim Keller wrote: “The universal religion of humankind is: We develop a good record and give it to God, and then he owes us. [God should weigh out the good I have done in my life and let me into Heaven.] The gospel is: God develops a good record and gives it to us, then we owe him (Rom. 1:17). [God sent His Son to save us.] In short, to say a good person, not just Christians, can find God is to say good works are enough to find God. You can believe that faith in Christ is not necessary or you can believe that we are saved by grace, but you cannot believe in both at once. So the apparently inclusive approach is really quite exclusive. It says, “The good people can find God, and the bad people do not.” But what about us moral failures? We are excluded. The gospel says, “The people who know they aren’t good can find God, and the people who think they are good do not.” Then what about non-Christians, all of whom must, by definition, believe their moral efforts help them reach God? They are excluded. So both approaches are exclusive, but the gospel’s is the more inclusive …. It says joyfully, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been at the gates of hell. You can be welcomed and embraced fully and instantly through Christ.” (taken from “Preaching Today”).
One who embraces the God of the Bible recognizes a truth the world is blinded to. They grasp that there is no compassion in man greater than compassion found in man’s Creator – He invented love, He invented care. God didn’t ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac without a plan to save both of them. God’s compassion was so great that HE GAVE HIS SON. He sent Jesus. He allowed Him to be nailed to a Cross. Then, in the midst of the agony and tears, God did the unthinkable. He left Jesus there. He allowed Jesus to experience the utter anguish of Hell – the separation from God Himself. Jesus had existed as ONE with the Father throughout the ages back to eternity. On a terrible early afternoon outside of Jerusalem as the sky grew dark, God turned His back on His Son. The separation tore at the universe on a molecular level. Jesus’ great punishment was not simply that He was stripped of His clothes in a body beaten nearly beyond recognition. His profound punishment was not simply that his skin was torn through by the piercing nails into his flesh. These things were horrible, but paled in comparison to the absolute horror of the tearing away of His Father.
Hell is exactly that. It is, at its essense, the removal of God’s presence. All the grace, gentleness and love evacuates like the day’s heat in the cloudless desert. The cold settles and the darkness envelopes the soul. The physical pains are real and descriptive, but the separation from God is the reason the thirteeeth century poet Dante Alighieri placed above the gates of Hell these words: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”. Jesus did that for me and you – because that was required to save us from our mutiny.
You can try to make God fit into your mold – but God’s face will be shaped in your heart to look like your own. America is suffering from a need to have a man-like Christ in the place of a Christ-like Christian.
God isn’t forced to act according to our sense of justice – He defines justice. He defines goodness. He defines mercy. He defines truth… This is the truly offensive word of the Bible to modern man.
Perhaps nothing is more beautiful than a quartet of musical master performers playing soft chamber music on perfectly tuned and delicate strings. The dips and vibrations of the music are incredibly soothing to me. Conversely, nothing is more difficult to listen to than the dissonant sounds of an instrument utterly out of tune.
I am being brief because I want to get to the point, and I don’t want the point to be muddled by a cute opening story. Today we tackle a tough passage. It will not be boring, nor will it be complex. It will, however, be openly rejected by much of the church in our country at the beginning of this century. What we desire to study will be both TRUE and TERRIBLY UNPOPULAR – because the tones of this passage will sound as dissonant to the accepted morays of modernity. The Bible is not a book that flexes with man’s fickle sense of progress – it speaks as a foundational set of truths by the Creator. Those who do not believe that have already dismissed its message – and they control the “culture shaping” airwaves of our day. In Numbers 30 we are looking at a passage that was once in tune with our nation and her people, but no more. Yet, as our culture has walked away from Biblical truth, many have made God, our very Creator, the villain that works against our freedom and happiness. Even in the church, we find ourselves at odds with some key truths of Scripture.
Let me mention two, and then look carefully at one of them – because it is the heart of our passage for this lesson. We have been thoroughly taught that America was designed to be a “melting pot” of many people into one. At one time that was true. The corollary teaching that has been a subtext to many a politician’s speech has been this popular notion that PLURALITY is what makes America strong. I want deliberately to argue that is both an unwise premise and an untrue statement. Only a strong culture can accept many into its shores and resist giving up its long held tenets. As a nation keenly and deliberately built on certain Biblical premises expressed clearly in the Declaration of Independence, we were at one time able to accept masses into Ellis Island without diluting the essential nature of our understanding of national purpose and cosmic plan. Weakened from the inside, we no longer have such a resolve. Let me illustrate:
When a doctor that heads the department of surgery or a local government sponsored “health care review board” at our local hospital is Buddhist and believes in reincarnation, how do you suppose that will affect his view of the dignity of human life, and the amount of effort and cost that should be expended in the prolongation of life of a senior citizen?
Is plurality always a strength? Should not the dignity of man found in their ONE life on the earth be the deciding factor. No, if you are from a generation that equates pluralism with strength and the demand to stand on founding principle as a throw-back to some red neck form of ignorance. Pluralism is the sweet brand of polytheism that now reigns in the hallways of Kansas public schools that are challenged in court at the very mention Jesus, but enforce policies whereby students learn the five pillars of Islam. Pluralism in a culture that doesn’t know its own foundation is a tsunami pushing against a building that is unattached to a foundation. Yet, ask students across the country, and they will not only not know much of the Bible, they will overwhelmingly believe what they have been taught – pluralism is GOOD, and always the BEST WAY FORWARD.
If you find yourself troubled by the first illustration we just offered, you will find yourself enraged at the next one. We are going to tackle a treasured misbelief so dear, that many believers would fight with their last sinew of strength to defend a principle that just won’t hold up in the court of clear Biblical study. I don’t want to pick a fight, but the time to back up when the culture leans in to push the text around is long over. These clashes must be answered with LOVE, but that love does not imply a PUSH OVER DOCTRINE.
Key Principle: Our true purpose is determined by our Creator, not our culture. It is in that purpose we find peace.
Before we dive in, let’s set the passage in context. The “Civil Code” of Law in Exodus and Numbers finds its last chapter here. The subjects of Civil Code began with the Core Values of Exodus 20, along with some case studies on issues regarding Servants, Injuries, Property, Social Issues and Celebrations in Exodus 21-23. The Exodus account ends with an affirmation that the people of Israel would stand by that Law as a covenant with God (Exodus 24). The laws were to them, but the principles within those laws made clear the priorities of a changeless God that we serve today – and in that way the laws were also for us (in principle form). Numbers continued that Civil Code of Law in passages like:
• Numbers 5 that dealt with the purity in marriage and the faithfulness of a spouse.
• Numbers 6 we discussed the issues of purity again, and saw the Nazarite vow before the Lord.
• Numbers 15 we observed the “basics” of Jewish observance of religious rites that pleased God.
• As we end our view of the Civil Code, we have discussed offerings given to the Lord.
• In the end, we read of the very important statement concerning the subject of making VOWS before God.
Take a deep breath, because the lesson today isn’t about VOWS – it is about judicial responsibility before God. It is about the direct clash the Bible has with our modern assumption that God has made us all, in every way, absolutely EQUAL before Him. Let me be very clear to state something I believe to be overwhelmingly Biblical, but undeniably at odds with modern western culture… God did not make all men and women equal in responsibility before Him- though He made them all absolutely equal in value before Him.
I am not suggesting that our sex determines our VALUE before God – but it does determine our judicial equality and our culpability before God. The Bible nowhere tries to make the case that women have the same spiritual culpability and judicial responsibility before God as men. That doesn’t make them any LESS than it makes those of us without a WOMB less a parent. It makes us DIFFERENT, but modern western thinkers ABHOR DIFFERENCES – for they can only see one size for everyone. In modernity, there must be equal pay for one who cannot lift the jackhammer as for one who can – or somehow it is NOT FAIR.
Don’t write off what we are studying yet, for the Bible offers a very complete explanation that has been so thoroughly erased from our culture, that many young women would trade the Bible away for the promise of an equality that will leave them both empty and adrift.
First, let’s wrestle with the text before us, then we shall put it in a larger Biblical context. We will address it in a series of five principles:
Principle One: Tough Issues are supposed to be handled by leaders, and carefully explained to the people.
Look at the opening of Numbers 30:1 Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: “This is what the Lord commands…16 These are the regulations the Lord gave Moses concerning relationships between a man and his wife, and between a father and his young daughter still living at home.
Moses spent no time explaining God’s right to prescribe truth. That would have been foolish! This was the generation who spent time in the desert. They knew God stood for them in front of the Amalekites that attempted to wipe them out. Their parents told them of the parting of the Sea when Pharaoh launched an attack on them. Stories of manna and water from rocks filled their childhood ears – so God’s power and their protection was nothing new to them. Yet, like the miracles God performed to get a few small wooden vessels across the Atlantic to the shores of the new world; like the powerful record of God’s abundant provisions of dried corn to prayerful and desperate settlers at Plymouth Rock – many stories had lost their power over time. Moses simply took the Word of the Lord and spoke it. That was the beginning of power, and still is.
When the pulpits of our land ring with a serious tone of the truth of God’s Word – there will be seriousness about our sin. When our schools again remember that a Personal and Loving God gave us a world to live in – there will be the bowing of the knees of our people rather than the arrogance of entitlement. When Washington stops trying to placate the insatiable perversions of men and turns its sights again to the Heavens – the family will take wings and rise from the desperate ashes we have enflamed. Judgment begins with the household of God. Truth begins with the knowledge of the Lord. Where there is neither truth, nor seriousness over sin – folly reigns – and with it increasing darkness, higher expense, and less safety to good citizens.
Look at the words of the last verse of Numbers 30. This is the regulation of God. These are truths about how the Creator views the responsibility of men (fathers and later husbands) of a woman. This is God’s expectation, and behind it is a simple principle – people are to pattern respect, understanding and rules by what God says is right.
Principle Two: Your word is your bond before God!!
Moses moved to the simple statement that has been deeply eroded in our own litigious society. Numbers 30:2 When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.
Here is the standard of a vow. Keep your word. Don’t look for a thousand justifications in piles of paperwork to somehow recuse yourself from keeping a promise. When you say you will do something, let your word be your bond. When you carefully speak to the Lord concerning an issue in your life, and you outline your own willingness to make a change – keep what you have promised. When you sign it, stop looking for ways to say you shouldn’t have to do what you signed.
I know in the slippery world we live in this principle is getting harder to deal with. Recently, I had to take a child to the hospital and was handed a form and told I had to sign it. I replied, I need to know something about the cost. I cannot simply sign that “I will be responsible for payment” when the amount could be $1,000 or $1,000,000. The man at the desk looked at me as if I grew an extra head. “Just sign it, that’s what everyone does!” I found no comfort in those words, and I know that it isn’t always as simple as doing what you said, when you cannot even know what promise you are making.
What I can say is this: a great many people are trying to skirt the rules they knew very well when they made promises. Let me try it this way: When you agreed to do your job, you may have been given sick days as part of your contract. These SICK DAYS are not extra vacation days. They are exactly what they are called – SICK DAYS. I cannot tell you as an employer how many people used them up on silliness, and then posited that I wasn’t a nice guy because now they “were actually sick!” Let’s stick to honest use of our tongues. If you have to lie to sell it, leave the work. If you have to cheat to win, quit the contest. If your word is no longer important to you – know that it IS IMPORTANT to God.
Principle Three: Women do not share equal judicial culpability before God.
Here is where we really get into some trouble with modern culture. First, listen to what Moses said God told him in Numbers 30:3 “When a young woman still living in her father’s household makes a vow to the Lord or obligates herself by a pledge 4 and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. 5 But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the Lord will release her because her father has forbidden her.
Look carefully at the conditions. This is a young woman that has not been married, and she is at her father’s home. She vows to the Lord something that she must do. When her father became aware of the vow, he had the power of a veto over her decision. At the same time, if she made the choice but her father rescinded her vow – God cleared her of responsibility for the vow.
Look at another case to underscore the point in the text. In Numbers 30:6 “If she marries after she makes a vow or after her lips utter a rash promise by which she obligates herself 7 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her, then her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 8 But if her husband forbids her when he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her or the rash promise by which she obligates herself, and the Lord will release her.
In the second case the woman is outside her father’s home, and living with her husband. She is an adult, and she is capable to busy herself in commerce, as Proverbs 31 clearly says. If she makes a rash promise and her husband hears and rejects the terms – God releases her from the guilt involved in that promise. This is one reason why the Bible insisted on parental involvement in the wedding process – something our culture now assumes to be utterly unimportant.
While some of you are ready to fight back about this as if God was robbing this woman of some intrinsic dignity and value – don’t forget the premise. Our true purpose is determined by our Creator, not our culture. It is in that purpose we find peace. God protected women in a way that our society has desperately tried to define as bondage.
When our culture followed God’s law, I could open a door for a woman without her feeling as though I was somehow stating that she could not manage to turn a knob and pull it. I could exempt her from the awful conditions of combat to keep her as a protected and cherished part of our homes that would not be subjected to the forced situations that plague our military even as we speak. We think we made women free – but we didn’t. We demeaned them by making them do things they were not meant to do. The horrors of war are just the beginning. The world stands back and cannot fathom the harm done to women in India, when a group of empowered men assault a woman in broad daylight. I will speak from my own experience – war is worse. It is unquestionably, unfathomably worse. Amped up with testosterone and with the taste of blood in the mouths of warriors, there is no place for a woman in a combat zone. You can agree or not, but I have been there, and I will not change my mind after the horrors I have seen.
Enough of my opinion, the text is what is important. The text makes certain that a woman is protected from ultimate judicial responsibility. That much is clear and undeniable.
Principle Four: There are women without coverings.
God never wanted it to be this way, but one of the most difficult parts of becoming a widow or a divorcee as a woman was to have your covering removed. The protection that a woman had under the law did not extend to such cases, as found in Numbers 30:9 “Any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her.
Here I can offer only one comfort: the fair warning should make one more careful about making agreements when uncovered. Advise should be sought, as it will make things safer. Fortunately for believers, we have a family beyond the physical, and this is one place the covering can be, at least in part, restored. That was part of the purpose of Paul’s careful instructions concerning widows to Timothy.
Principle Five: A husband is judicially responsible for his wife.
When you read the last part of the passage, it appears a repeat – but it is not. The purpose is to emphasize the end. In Numbers 30:10 “If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath 11 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 12 But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the Lord will release her. 13 Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself. 14 But if her husband says nothing to her about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them. 15 If, however, he nullifies them some time after he hears about them, then he must bear the consequences of her wrongdoing.”
The point of the passage is that the husband is held fully responsible for his wife’s vow if knows about it and does not swiftly nullify it. This is because of the judicial chain of responsibility of the Bible.
If you look elsewhere in the Bible, you will see how this truth plays out in life for a believer, even today. Let’s looks at three passages that will help us see it:
First, let’s recall when, how and why women were created in Genesis 2.
Genesis 2:18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought [them] to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
• God had the intention of making woman to help man because he would be alone, and that was not good (2:18).
• God made her to be different (“nehged” is translated “suitable” but also “apart from” or “opposite” him – 2:18).
• God waited for man to recognize that there was no one “like” him, even though it was clear to God already (2:19-20). This is a common pattern, where God allowed man to learn what he needed to by experience.
• God fashioned woman FROM man – so that he would cherish her as part of himself. Self-preservation and its paired value of EGO were very much a part of man from the beginning (2:21-23).
Here is the part we often read past. The point of the passage wasn’t supposed to offer a science lesson on woman’s creation – it was much more. The whole POINT to the story was the end in 2:24. God formed the family based on the MAN HAVING THE JUDICIAL RESPONSIBILITY before God and making himself responsible for covering the woman. The woman was to be HIS RESPONSIBILITY to love and protect, to cherish and provide for. This wasn’t supposed to be about her taking responsibility for HIM. That is the projection of values that are foreign to the Biblical idea.
I simply argue that we MUST teach young men to care for women with a special protective cover. They should not mock, mimic or molest – but treat them with respect, care and courtesy. It MUST come from within the church – because the society is at odds with this under the guise of “equal rights”. I will say it again – because I do not have a womb does not make me less a parent. Value is not the same as function. She is to be prized, but she is to be protected. That is the clear pattern of the text.
Second, let’s examine the cataclysm of the Fall in Genesis 3 and observe what happened to women in the aftermath of the Fall.
Sin entered the garden with the Tempter taking the form of the serpent. In Genesis 3:16 God spoke to the woman about her rebellion and its consequences: “To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”
Even the most casual reading reveals three truths: First, God levied a measure of discipline on the woman directly. Second, the reproductive system and pain were part of the discipline. Third, she would have a desire that was part of the discipline – a passion for something regarding her husband that was followed by the phrase – “Your husband will rule over you!” The term for “desire” is seldom used in Scripture, but is used in cases where one stretched out to gain something they wanted – they reached for it. The term “rule” simply translates “have dominion”. A simple reading is this: You will reach for control, but I have given that to him. You aren’t in charge, but you will want to be.
“Chauvinist!” You may yell. Ok, I don’t believe if you knew me you would believe that, but I am willing to accept that in “modern culture terms” that is what it looks like. Rack that one up alongside the notion of “tolerance” that is now making it impossible to agree with the Bible on marriage and morality and still be considered a truly “loving” person. Rather than being a reactionary, let’s simply evaluate what the Bible actually says. For those who don’t like it, that is a different problem than those who don’t hear it clearly or understand it thoroughly.
Third, let’s observe the way Paul applied the truths about women to leadership issues in the church.
Paul’s argument about women leading in the church had nothing to do with their personal capability to do so. He didn’t stop women from Pastoral ministry because he thought they were less adequate in their mind or heart. He did so because the Scripture doesn’t allow us to overrule the judicial standards of God because we wanted God to do things more in keeping with our culture.
Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, [and] then Eve. 14 And [it was] not Adam [who] was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But [women] will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.
Paul argued the reasons she was to quietly learn in the public worship meetings of the church were because of the order of creation, and the order of the deception involved in the Fall in the Garden. In another letter, this one to the Corinthian church he said this in 1 Corinthians 11:7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have [a symbol of] authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. … 16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
Here Paul added to the order of creation and fall, and inserted PURPOSE of Creation, and because of some on-looking angels, that seem to still be open to rebellion. He finished the passage with a note that ALL THE CHURCHES were so instructed – resisting the notion that this was but a localized principle for the women in Corinth.
Finally, let’s see how Numbers 30 applies in principle to the background of these three other passages.
Let me say it gently, carefully, but ever so clearly. God made women from men and held them under a man’s judicial responsibility. They were designed to be cherished not abused, protected not objectified. Our culture stands opposed to this. They want EQUAL RIGHTS to mean that she serves in combat, and she is treated in all respects as though her body is identical to his. It offends common logic, and worse yet – is flat out un-Biblical.
Now the point of the lesson:
Our true purpose is determined by our Creator, not our culture. It is in that purpose we find peace.
We won’t find peace in our society by erasing the Bible – we will find confusion. We won’t free women by saddling them with weight they were not designed to carry – regardless of how many people in our society say we will. These are the voices that say “family” is a cultural term. These are the voices that say “gender” is in your “head” and not determined by your biology. Watch the social services budgets soar as we create more confused, more entitled, more broken people. They wanted easy divorce – they got it. They want now to erase the other lines. The Bible will not go with them – so they will fight to extinguish its message. We will, filled with love and compassion – look them in the eye and tell them they are wrong. The undoing of the foundation will be the undoing of the society it built. Of that, I have no doubt.
We will deal honestly with the clash of cultures, just as Christians have done for centuries. We will wash their dirty feet and hug filthy bodies. We will work hard and provide for ourselves to be an example to the ever growing community of the confused and needy. Their freedoms will enslave them, but we will show them where the key that unlocks the shackles can be found. The Savior still has the keys!
Are you surprised at how fast a year goes by? I am always surprised at how fast time flies. One of the unexpected realities of how my life has been structured after starting the school at GCBI is how the pattern of school has again become my own. Each year, we start with 1189 chapters of the Bible to complete, page by page – and work frantically to get through it without pressing it so quickly that it is not meaningful. Just about the time that school is over, we are cleaning up the last of the Bible, and then we graduate the students and fly off to Israel with them. There is a two month retooling, and then we have to get set up for the next group. I love the process, but I feel like I blink, and we are back at it again. Those close to the process know that our coverage of the Bible has grown to be more and more thorough with each passing year, as we press to do the job a little better with each group.
For some of you, the year looks like getting the children ready for school and living for the next vacation. I am not talking about the CHILDREN living for the vacation, though that may also be true – I am talking about YOU trying to keep up the energy to make it through to the next break. Many of you are working, providing a proper home for your children, and trying to keep it all together. Morning at your house may be a breakfast mess while lunch bags are being prepared, and children are trying to find homework. For those who are past that stage, you remember it “oh so well!” Years rush by, and it seems like seasons brush lightly the landscape and then give way to the next.
God knew that our lives would be like a vapor, and He said so. He knew that we would get caught up in the pursuit of all kinds of things. Fortunes are made by spending life blood and profitably using the seconds that tick by on the clock. Even among those who do not make much money, there is a hope of a time nearing the last quarter of life that they may live without the daily grind of going to a job. It may never happen, but the hope still lives within us. God directed His people to the “break times” of life, so that they would walk through the years with Him. As this is the second part of the lesson, we should remind ourselves what the point of our study has been and the point of the record of the Annual Calendar law truly was…
Key Principle: God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people. When a community recognizes the value of following appointed times with God – it secures deep values in the hearts of its people.
When God structured the calendar for Israel, He outlined a daily, weekly and monthly calendar of offerings and “appointments”, just as we pointed out in our last lesson. At the same time, He delineated a series of appointed feasts for the annual national observance of His people.
• First, we looked at the day, week and month portion found in Numbers 28:1-15.
• Next, we followed the annual “daytimer” calendar through the twelve months – and even into a thirteenth one periodically added to correct the calendar! In Numbers 28:16-31 the Moedim (appointed times) of the Spring are explained.
• Today’s lesson encompasses the Fall Moedim – the final three of seven feast times (Num. 29).
The Annual Feast Calendar
The seven feasts are each given specific reference in Leviticus 23 and in Numbers 28-29, and are listed in the order they were celebrated in the calendar year. The spring festivals include the first four mentioned, the autumn festivals are the last three:
1. Passover (or Pesach, Nisan 14th, the first day of Unleavened Bread) Lev. 23:4,5; Numbers 28:16.
2. Unleavened Bread (the week of Chag Hamatzot) Lev. 23:6-8; Numbers 28:17-25).
3. First Fruits (or Bukkurim on Nisan 16th, the second day of unleavened bread) Lev. 23:9-14; Numbers 28:26).
4. Weeks (also called Shavuot or Pentecost) Lev. 23:15-22; Numbers 28:26-31).
5. Trumpets (also called Yom T’ruach or Rosh Hashanah) Lev. 23:23-35; Numbers 29:1-6.
6. Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippor) Lev. 23:26-32; Number 29:7-11.
7. Tabernacles (or Sukkot) Lev. 23:34-44; Numbers 29:12-38.
Look back at the Lessons of the Spring Festivals (the first four moedim):
First, the Principle from Passover:
God offered Passover to remind His people that they needed to PERSONALLY APPROPRIATE the means He provided for atonement – and that is true of all of us as well.
In our lesson, we briefly followed the progression of the sacrifice for redemption that unfolded – and how it was to be appropriated into each person’s life. In Exodus 12:3-5, God gave careful instruction about the preparation of the home before the Lord executed judgment on the Egyptian firstborn. Each man was instructed to take “A LAMB” (12:3) for his house. If “THE LAMB” (12:4) was too much for the small household, the man was to share with his neighbor and not waste. The lamb was to be spotless, sacrificed that its blood may be used as a marker. It was to be killed and personally applied as “YOUR LAMB” (12:5). Individuals would have to use the blood, nothing else would suffice. People needed to personally believe and act upon the message of God and follow the instruction of God to be saved from calamity and set free from bondage.
Second, the Principle from the Feast of Unleavened Bread:
God told them to “get the leaven out” for a week to remind them that SALVATION belongs to the Lord, but INTENTIONAL LIVING is the domain of God’s people – and that is something we must constantly recall.
Leaven in the Bible was normally prohibited by God in connection with offerings and sacrifices. (Lev. 2:11). From the instruction came the Chametz cleansing that became the background for “Spring cleaning”. Jews remove all leaven from their homes, and destroy it or sell it. As the feast approaches each year, the message is clear: Get the leaven out. Though Passover was all about God’s provision to save – something theologians called “justification”, Unleavened Bread was all about a man’s work of intentional removal of corrupting influences. This is termed by theologians as “sanctification”- a term that means “set apart for a specific use, often a holy use.” The usable vessel before God was to be free of leaven, and recall God’s purposes were to make a new and clean people to serve Him.
Third, the Principle in the Feast of First Fruits:
Tucked in the middle, God gave a promise in the form of another practice called First Fruits – that HE was going to provide something beyond their understanding – the provision of a NEW LIFE through the resurrection of the dead. Physical death isn’t our end. It isn’t even the end of this body. It will be reconstituted for a future – a renewed body based on the current model, but with all the new technology of Heaven.
The most interesting thing about the Feast of Firstfruits is the fact that it was NOT commanded to be on a counted date, as in the case of Passover – Lev. 23:5. Rather this was the to ALWAYS be celebrated on the same day of the week – Sunday, rather than a calculated DATE (Lev. 23:4,15,24,27,34). Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15, the feast for that Sunday following Passover was a “shadow” of Messiah’s resurrection (and eventually OUR resurrection!). The point of John 20:1 “On the first day of the week” was to REMIND EARLY FOLLOWERS OF THE SPECIAL DAY on which Messiah was raised. It was the Feast of First Fruits! This was the lesson of Paul to Corinth (1 Cor. 15:20-32), that the resurrection of Jesus was the CLEAR answer to the shadowy symbol of the waving of the sheaf commanded so long before!
Fourth, the Principle in the Shavuot Offerings (Feast of Weeks):
Fifty days after the festival of first fruits, the festival of Shavuot or “weeks” began. The Greek word for “fifty days” is Pentecost, and the festival received this name in ancient Jewish sources from the Second Temple Period. This was the time that recalled the “Giving of the Law” in Exodus, a time when many synagogues still have an all-night reading of Scripture as part of the celebration of the Torah.
This Moed had a strange instruction. In contrast to the feast of “unleavened bread” where all leaven was to be purged from the sacrifice and it was to be clean of fermenting corruption, the feast of weeks includes two loaves of meal baked with leaven (Lev. 23:17). The leaven was prescribed as part of the ceremony, and obedient faithful could do nothing less than obey. Why include the leaven in the loaves? What was God’s intention in this “shadowy symbol”? For the answer, we move to a much later time in the Bible, in the Book of Acts. Acts 2:1 reminds us that the Spirit of God came upon the first followers of Jesus at Pentecost. The disciples were gathered together to recall the giving of the Law at Sinai that occurred fifty days after Pesach in Exodus, and the Spirit came upon them and began to write the Law on their hearts. In front of them on the table was a simple symbol – leavened bread. God was forming something that would be a part of His plan – His church. It would not replace Israel, but it would carry the message of His love while a darkness and blindness descended for a time over the Jewish people. Thirty-five hundred years ago, God already announced the plan of a second group of people to carry His name that were not one nation – and He did it through a feast.
The Four Spring Moedim offer me these four truths:
- If I want salvation, I need to listen to what God provided and receive it.
- If I want to become what He intends, I need to get some things out of my life.
- If I really listen to Him – He is offering me more than “a saved NOW” – He is offering me “a RISEN THEN”!
- When God began His special work on Israel’s redemption, He started by creating time of veiled darkness where He offered the world an opportunity for relationship.
The long, hot, dry summer rolled through Israel each year. As the Autumn neared, the season for “Moedim” again drew near, and the last three lessons of the calendar were offered:
In Jerusalem, you can feel the festival season coming the way you can feel the opening of schools in North American each school year. This calendar year, Rosh Hashanah will occur on the night of September 5-6, 2013, as the Jewish “New Year” is marked. Immediately after the beginning of the year, a period called the “ten awesome days” ensues, in which Jewish people introspectively consider their lives before Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement”, which will be celebrated on September 14, 2013. Five days later, the Appointment of God to recall the time in the wilderness journey comes upon the people at Sukkot or the “Feast of Tabernacles” takes place between September 19-20, 2013.
Rosh Hashanah Offerings (Yom T’ruach or Feast of Trumpets):
Numbers 29:1 Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall also have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. It will be to you a day for blowing trumpets. 2 You shall offer a burnt offering as a soothing aroma to the LORD: one bull, one ram, [and] seven male lambs one year old without defect; 3 also their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths [of an] [ephah] for the bull, two-tenths for the ram, 4 and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs. 5 [Offer] one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you, 6 besides the burnt offering of the new moon and its grain offering, and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings, according to their ordinance, for a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD.
When you read the passage in Numbers 29, it is hard to see the simple truth about the day that has become the “opening” of the Jewish sacred year. The new year celebration in most cultures is a “secular” event. Here God commanded a burnt, grain and drink additional offering set, along with a special “day of blowing trumpets” to mark the occasion. Before fireworks, people had trumpets to blast away at special occasions – and this was a special day. This marked the beginning of the new call to God to bring the rains and provide a harvest. It was a cry to God to renew the economy – and nothing could sound to the modern ear more SECULAR than dollars and cents (or shekels and agorot!).
God wanted Israel to know that to separate the “sacred” from the “secular” violated the very spirit of the Torah. Because of the combination of calendars in ancient Israel, there are literally several “New Year’s Days” in the calendar. In rabbinic tradition, there is even a new year beginning for trees, a new year for animals, a new sacred year and a new civil year for administration. The “Day of Trumpet Blowing” (Yom T’ruach) was prescribed by God as the beginning of the civil year, or “secular” year. It was prescribed as the beginning date for financial transactions, for market purposes, and for military services. It also introduced the highest holy days of the month Tishri, the sacred seventh month (by religious calendar reckoning) that contained the highest holy days. It was simply the “ringing in” of a new civil calendar year. Why would God include this in His list of sacred observances (Lev. 23:23-25)?
God knew that His children are tempted to compartmentalize their faith into only one part of their lives, but God was to be Lord of all parts of the lives of the people under the covenant. He wanted every aspect of their lives to be attached to their Divine relationship. Even the wearing of the royal blue ribbon in the prayer shawl (tallith) and tassels (tsit-tsiot) was to help remind them of the special relationship (Num. 15:38ff). Their “faith” must not be separate from the functions of life. Sacred and secular were to be one, all under the leadership of the Lord God.
Is this still a temptation for the people of God? Yes, it is, and it is growing. A Jewish friend of mine in Jerusalem used to carefully observe his faith, but cheated in his business. I called it to his attention one day, and he said this: “Business is business and Moshe is Moshe!” The implication was clear: My faith and my business practices are not related. That is a violation of the Torah principle found in this feast.
Today educators are becoming more brazen, separating morality and honest history from what we are training our young people to believe. Listen to an excerpt from Marvin Olasky of World Magazine:
“Two days before the summer solstice, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences with great fanfare released “The Heart of the Matter,” a blue-ribbon-panel document emphasizing the need to beef up teaching of the humanities. …the AAAS commission in 92 pages came out in support of “full literacy … cohesive curricula … new partnerships.” Why should we love the humanities? …The AAAS tells us, “We live in a nation that has been built … on a foundation of humanistic and social science scholarship, from our Founding rooted in Enlightenment philosophy to a future informed by the compilation and analysis of Big Data.” The author says… “Really? I thought our nation grew in the belief that we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights. America’s founders quoted the Bible a lot more than any Enlightenment text. They treasured life and liberty, not Big Data. Why should we love the humanities? “Humanists and social scientists are particularly well suited to address … the ethical questions attending the adoption of new technologies; the social conditions that provide context for international policy decisions regarding the environment, global health, and human rights; and the cultural differences that aid or hinder global security.” Really? Houston Baptist professor Micah Mattix put it well: “Does anyone who has taken a humanities course at a secular college or university in the past 10 years doubt that instead of teaching us who we are, many humanities courses teach that identity is constructed; that instead of teaching the classical and cardinal virtues, they recommend the self-serving virtues of moral relativism and egalitarianism; and that instead of helping students to become better husbands, wives, and citizens, the real focus is on making them more autonomous?”… The writer continued: “Instead of plowing through the AAAS report, I’d suggest reading a piece now on the internet that’s only eight pages long, John Milton’s “Of Education” (1644). Milton opposed the leading humanities teachers of his day, the “monsieurs of Paris [who] take our hopeful youth into their slight and prodigal custodies and send them over back again transformed into mimics, apes, and kickshaws.” …”The goal of education”, Milton wrote, should be “to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him.”
We are training people to distance faith and moral understanding from “real thinking” and “real living”, and the end of this system will bring nothing but relativism that paralyzes our workforce and endangers our local communities. Raise children that don’t connect GOD to MONEY and then stand back and watch how MONEY BECOMES THEIR GOD. Teach children that INTEGRITY is not as important as SUCCESS and you have launched the next generation of Wall Street tycoons and Harvard cutthroat plagiarizers. Sacred is secular, and secular sacred. God is either the foundation, or there is no foundation – and the building we are attempting to build will fall when the storms blow against it. One thing my years of life on the planet has told me is this: “Count on storms coming!”
Yom Kippor (Day of Atonement) Offerings:
Most everyone is familiar with the term “Yom Kippor” which simply means in Hebrew: “day of covering”. The covering refers back to the atonement blood poured on the mercy seat to cover the sins of the priest and the people in ancient Israel. Here are a few words:
Numbers 29:7 Then on the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall humble yourselves; you shall not do any work. 8 You shall present a burnt offering to the LORD [as] a soothing aroma: one bull, one ram, seven male lambs one year old, having them without defect; 9 and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths [of an] [ephah] for the bull, two-tenths for the one ram, 10 a tenth for each of the seven lambs; 11 one male goat for a sin offering, besides the sin offering of atonement and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings.
Look at the blood tally: ONE BULL, ONE RAM, SEVEN MALE LAMBS. That is ON TOP OF the daily sacrifice – and in addition to the grain and drink accompanying offerings. The point is: MANY ANIMALS DIED IN REPLACEMENT OF PEOPLE’S SIN. There is an incredible high price for sin, and God required death as a penalty – just as He told Adam and Eve that He would. The command was given with serious tone, that each of the children of Israel would be impressed the seriousness of the day (Lev. 23:29) or they would be cut off from the house of Israel.
Shepherds from all throughout the land of Israel understood the significance of the sacrifice to Israel. For months, they cared for and cautiously groomed the livestock that would be used for atonement sacrifices. The price of sin was paid by the animal suited for sacrifice. The solemn Sabbath was observed by the High Priest of the nation, as he adorned the priestly garb and made a sin sacrifice at the Temple (Lev. 16:29-34ff). The sin offerings were prescribed to include a sacrifice for the sin of his family, then an offering for the cleansing of the sanctuary, and finally an offering for the sin of the people of Israel. The sin was to be atoned by the sprinkling of the blood of the spotless sacrifice on the Mercy Seat of the Holy of Holies. The price of sin had to be paid in the atoning sacrifice that included blood.
We cannot, we must not, as believers, forget the importance of the price of sin and the power of the blood that saves us even today. Do not mute the bloodiness in our message:
Hebrews 9:11 “But when Christ appeared [as] a high priest …12… through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”
Blood and death aren’t a pretty part of our message – but they are the essence of it – that Jesus paid for the sins of men, and the power of the blood is unstoppable! Forty-three times in the writings of the early Christian Scriptures we read of the blood of Jesus that was shed to wash away sin. The very last time, in Revelation 12, John wrote: “And they overcame Him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” This is the overcoming blood with the power to SAVE, but also the power to ENABLE believers in dark days to withstand the deceptions and accusations of Satan. Judas betrayed “innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). Peter called it “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:9). It is called the “cleansing blood” in 1 John 1:7 and the “washing blood” in Rev. 1:5. Over and over the blood is mentioned – always powerful, always encountering the dirty and leaving it sin cleaned. The wages of sin is death, but the blood of the sacrifice can wash away the stain – so said the God of Yom Kippor.
A very long “shopping list” like section of Numbers 29 invited the people to count off the sacrifices, day by day, of the seven day feast of Tabernacles. It begins in Numbers 29:12 “Then on the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work, and you shall observe a feast to the LORD for seven days.”
Next, for the week-long feast God commanded daily grain and drink offerings paired off by a long but decreasing tally of bulls, with two rams and fourteen male lambs daily as follows:
• On the first day… thirteen bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (13-15).
• Then on the second day: twelve bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (17-19).
• Then on the third day: eleven bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (20-22).
• Then on the fourth day: ten bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (23-25).
• Then on the fifth day: nine bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (26-28).
• Then on the sixth day: eight bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (29-31).
• Then on the seventh day: seven bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (32-34).
• On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly; you shall do no laborious work. 36 …one bull, one ram, seven male lambs one year old without defect; (35-38).
The time of Sukkot in Israel was originally the “end of harvest” feast (cp. Ex. 23:17), also called the “in gathering”. The autumn harvest was now nearly completed. After the long and hot summer months in Judea, God had again shown His faithfulness to Israel in bringing in the “miracle crop” of grapes. The olives and grain harvests now all stored, the celebration of God’s faithfulness to the children of Israel completed the calendar of sacred observances. At the same time, the “BOOTHS” were not simply a reference to the agricultural harvest shelters – it was an image that hearkened back to the tents in the wilderness as God led Israel from Egypt, and made a nation from an extended family.
The feast of Booths, Tabernacles or Sukkot reminded the children of Israel of God’s great work of salvation from the bondage of the Egyptian Pharaohs. The children of Israel were commanded to live in huts (Lev. 23:42) or booths during the week of the festival (see also Neh. 8:14-18), to remind them of the travel through the wilderness. Sacrifices during this time were prescribed to include 189 animals (Num. 29:12-38), and the week was full of reminders of the faithfulness of God in the wilderness journey (Lev. 23:43). The faithfulness of God was taught to each generation of Israel as they sat in their booths, recalling the wilderness journey.
God had shown Himself merciful and faithful to the children of Israel in the desert wilderness. The dividing of the Sea, the manna of the wilderness, the cloud of guidance, and the pillar of fire were all images to be recalled to each new generation of Israelite children from within the sukkah, that they might remember and understand their Father in Heaven. At the end of the journey was their promised home, a land that was theirs by Divine covenant. God had freed the people, lead them, and finally gave them cities “that they did not build” with “wells they did not dig” (Dt.6). Israel was never to forget. Israel was to always teach their generations that the God of Abraham keeps His covenants. He is faithful to bring His people home.
We talk in our day about faithfulness, but on the level of the daily grind, we don’t seem to treasure it. We like the quick fix over the long and arduous process that brings lasting success. It seems we don’t say enough about those who stick by the stuff over the long haul, but that is becoming rarer. I am speaking of the mom and dad that work hard at their marriage and stay together through thick and thin. I am speaking of the teacher who quietly pictures Jesus in a classroom as each year brings more compromised curriculum and hostility toward God and His Word. I am speaking of the many who make ministry happen in a local body. Max Lucado wrote of this idea of faithfulness, when he said:
Norman Geisler, as a child, went to a DVBS because he was invited by some neighbor children. He went back to the same church for Sunday School classes for 400 Sundays. Each week he was faithfully picked up by a bus driver. Week after week he attended church, but never made a commitment to Christ. Finally, during his senior year in High School, after being picked up for church over 400 times, he did commit his life to Christ. What if that bus driver had given up on Geisler at 395? What if the bus driver had said, “This kid is going nowhere spiritually, why waste any more time on him?” – Max Lucado, God Came Near, Multnomah Press, 1987, p. 133.
Don’t forget, not only did a church stay faithful – so did GOD. How many years did he wait for YOU to open your heart to Him? How many blasphemies came from your lips while God was patiently wooing you to Jesus? How many nights were spent in beds you didn’t belong, or grasping a bottle that didn’t hold the real answers – but God was patient with you? The message of Sukkot was patience and faithfulness – attributes of God that have made all the difference in our lives.
The passage closes with the reinforcing truth that all the observances were to be observed strictly according to the command of God: Numbers 29:39 You shall present these to the LORD at your appointed times, besides your votive offerings and your freewill offerings, for your burnt offerings and for your grain offerings and for your drink offerings and for your peace offerings.'” 40 Moses spoke to the sons of Israel in accordance with all that the LORD had commanded Moses.
Let’s say it clearly, before we turn the page of this text to another lesson:
• God made an offering available for our salvation, but we have to personally appropriate it.
• God planned that after we were HIS, there would be some “cleaning house” in our lives.
• God had a plan from long ago that would conquer death and offer a new life in resurrection!
• God’s plan for Israel’s rejection of Him also included drawing others to Him on the way to turning His face back to Israel – and He called the His “church” – his “called out ones”.
• God refuses to see Himself segmented and secluded from all parts of our life.
• Sin has a terrible price, and death and blood were dragged in by our mutiny against God.
• God has been ever faithful to provide all that He has promised to people who deserve exactly none of it.
That is the message of God’s appointed times.
About a year ago, I was searching for some information to help someone with a loved one that was living in the nightmare of a food disorder. I didn’t have any background in the subject, since “Near East Archaeology” and “Rabbinic Judaism” – the subjects that captured the majority of my education – offered little help on the subject. Searching through the libraries of information, I found a new book, published the month I began my search. Because it was a novel, I found only a little help there, but I recall the book in part because the story line struck me as the right kind of plot for the journey of self-understanding. It is called A Year to Remember by author Shelly Bell. The story was all about a woman named Sara Friedman. The publisher advertised the book this way:
“When her younger brother marries on her twenty-ninth birthday, food addict Sara Friedman drunkenly vows to three hundred wedding guests to find and marry her soul mate within the year. After her humiliating toast becomes a YouTube sensation, she permits a national morning show to chronicle her search. With the help of best friend, Missy, she plunges head first into the shallow end of the dating pool. Her journey leads her to question the true meaning of soul mates, as she decides between fulfilling her vow to marry before her thirtieth birthday and following her heart’s desire. But before she can make the biggest decision of her life, Sara must begin to take her first steps toward recovery from her addiction to food.”
From the opening, it was way too girly for me, so I didn’t read it – but the title stuck in my mind. We are not going to explore food addictions in this lesson, though the Bible does have words about taking care of the body that Jesus gave us and paid for at the Cross of Calvary. Instead, I want to focus on the title of that novel: “A Year to Remember”.
When God structured the calendar for Israel, He outlined a daily, weekly and monthly calendar of offerings and “appointments”, just as we pointed out in our last lesson. At the same time, He delineated a series of appointed feasts for the annual national observance of His people. Last time we looked at the day, week and month portion found in Numbers 28:1-15. In this lesson we will follow the annual “daytimer” calendar through the twelve months – and even into a thirteenth one periodically added to correct the calendar!
Key Principle: God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people. When a community recognizes the value of following appointed times with God – it secures deep values in the hearts of its people.
God knew what He was doing when He instructed the observance of seven holidays called “Ha Moedim” (or appointments). These weren’t man made remembrances, they were “appointments with God”, directly mandated by God for the people of Israel. Remember: though the Law was not something we as Christians from the nations are called to observe, its principles (given to our older brother Israel), still clearly help us understand our Father’s cares and desires. It is always the principle that should drive our study of the Word – not the prescription – since we aren’t the people to whom the text was written. Each Moed has guiding principles and truths about our Father that are not only worth the time, but were included in His Word to teach us, correct us and comfort us.
There are too many of them for us to do this in ONE LESSON. Instead, let’s break it the way the chapters of Numbers are today. This lesson will be about the SPRING FESTIVALS in Numbers 29:16-31; the next lesson will embrace the Autumn festivals of Numbers 29.
Don’t forget – holidays are about INDIVIDUAL recognition, but also about COMMUNITY and FAMILY observance. They strengthen both – individuals and communities, families, towns and churches. They aren’t just something you do yourself, they are communal efforts. When we as a church acknowledge a special appointment with God, we demonstrate our value system, and help people understand what we truly believe. Let me illustrate how that works in looking back to the history of the Moedim.
The Annual Feast Calendar
The seven feasts are each given specific reference in Leviticus 23 and in Numbers 28-29, and are listed in the order they were celebrated in the calendar year. The spring festivals include the first four mentioned, the autumn festivals are the last three:
1. Passover (or Pesach, Nisan 14th, the first day of Unleavened Bread) Lev. 23:4,5; Numbers 28:16.
2. Unleavened Bread (the week of Chag Hamatzot) Lev. 23:6-8; Numbers 28:17-25).
3. First Fruits (or Bukkurim on Nisan 16th, the second day of unleavened bread) Lev. 23:9-14; Numbers 28:26).
4. Weeks (also called Shavuot or Pentecost) Lev. 23:15-22; Numbers 28:26-31).
5. Trumpets (also called Yom T’ruach or Rosh Hashanah) Lev. 23:23-35; Numbers 29:1-6.
6. Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippor) Lev. 23:26-32; Number 29:7-11.
7. Tabernacles (or Sukkot) Lev. 23:34-44; Numbers 29:12-38.
The Principle from Passover:
Numbers 28:16 Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’S Passover.
There are not many words that describe the occasion in Numbers 28, because it was like describing Christmas to most of you – it was all very well explained elsewhere.
Passover, was the time that recalled in Exodus 12 the move of the hand of God on the firstborn of the Egyptians that did not mark their doorposts or tent posts with the blood of a spotless lamb. The deal was simple: mark the door with blood, and the Lord will turn His face away and not exercise His wrath. It was an important exercise to help Israel clearly understand that God wanted each generation of Israelites to recall the need for individual, personal belief that played out in actions – in order for the people to be saved from the wrath of God that they deserved. Man mutinied against God, and the wrath of God was the consequence. Don’t forget, the wrath of God was His consistency – not just an angry response. It is the “cause and effect” nature of God that has left His fingerprints on our world.
The Hebrew term for “wrath” is from the three letter ALEPH-BET-RESH or A-V-R, the very root word from which the name of the Hebrews comes. They are a symbol of God’s consistency. Here is what He told them to do that first Pesach:
Israel found itself in bondage for ten generations. After serving Egyptian Pharaohs, the cries of the children of Israel went up before the Lord God, and He sent a deliverer to release His captive children. He sent a series of plagues designed to press on fickle Pharaoh as well as teach His people of Himself until God finally pronounced that He would send a plague that would be forever remembered. Exodus 12 records that the power of God would strike down the firstborn of every home in Egypt not protected by the mark of lamb’s blood on the door or tent post.
If we had time, we would follow the progression of the great story of redemption that unfolded. If you mark your Bible and check Exodus 12:3-5, you will see that God gave careful instruction about the preparation of the home before the Lord executed judgment on the Egyptian firstborn. Each man was instructed to take “A LAMB” (12:3) for his house. If “THE LAMB” (12:4) was too much for the small household, the man was to share with his neighbor and not waste. The lamb was to be spotless, sacrificed that its blood may be used as a marker. It was to be killed and personally applied as “YOUR LAMB” (12:5). Individuals would have to use the blood, nothing else would suffice. God set the standard of atonement and the people needed to trust that God would keep His word. They would have to silently wait and trust that the blood was enough to protect them from the judgment of God, when it came.
Don’t get caught up in the tents, the flocks and the Egyptian sand. God made some simple points:
1. God alone sets the standard of what pleases Him. No amount of service in replacement of the lamb would keep people from the wrath of God – period.
2. People needed to personally believe the message of God and follow the instruction of God to be saved from calamity and set free from bondage.
3. God took no time to explain why that payment was suitable – He set a standard of obedience, and did not ask our opinion.
It is so very important that we understand this in a time when our rulers are all chosen by our populace. God is an absolute Sovereign. He has no need to politic to gain our favor. He is God, and His Word is absolute. If we ignore it, we face the penalty, and we have only ourselves to blame.
Don’t die thinking God will put a scale before you and balance your good and evil deeds. That isn’t what He said He would accept. He wants the blood covering of a sacrifice. That is the reason believers celebrate the death of Jesus before the Resurrection of Jesus. God outlined that a lamb had to die, and blood needed to be shed – or that judicial payment for mutiny was not fulfilled. Good people that helped their neighbors and paid their taxes on time died in the wrath of God if they didn’t use the blood covering as He instructed. That should tell us something about our own efforts to please God apart from His standards.
The Principle from the Feast of Unleavened Bread:
Immediately following the Passover, God added to the original holy day a week long observance called the “Feast of Unleavened Bread”. He described it in Numbers 28:17-25. Look at the beginning, and I will summarize the other verses:
Numbers 28:17 On the fifteenth day of this month [shall be] a feast, unleavened bread [shall be] eaten for seven days.
On the first day, verses 18 and 19 describe the burnt offering. Verses 20-22 describe the grain offering measured against the appropriate animal, and verse 23 describes that these offerings are IN ADDITION to the regular daily offerings. Verse 24 reminded the people to do it every day for the whole seven day stretch, and verse 25 told them to take the seventh day off work and meet in worship.
Many believers are familiar with the pictures and stories of leaven in the Bible, but some may not recall the imagery. Leaven was normally prohibited by God in connection with offerings and sacrifices. Lev. 2:11 excluded its use in most of the sacrifices claiming it was a corruption of the sacrifice. God made a standard that leaven was corrupt and unusable in this context – though fermented beverages were allowed. The issue may have been to limit the time and assure freshness in the offering, we simply cannot say. We do know that a festival of one week with unraised bread was a CHANGE from the norm, and many rabbis suggested the symbol would remind them of the journey, where they could not remain in a place for a long time. That sounds right, because the Biblical argument was simply the reminder that between two Sabbath rests, this week long observance was intended to remind them that “the Lord brought the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Ex. 12:17).
From the instruction came the Chametz cleansing that became the background for “Spring cleaning”. Jews remove all leaven from their homes, and destroy it or sell it. It is a fascinating part of Jewish life in Jerusalem. As the feast approaches each year, the message is clear: Get the leaven out. The day after the Passover sacrifice and meal, a week-long festival ensues (Lev. 23:6). Instruction on the festival is given in Exodus 12:15-20 (cp. Lev. 2:11 for leaven) and today supermarkets quarantine all leavened materials and sell them to off shore companies. On my old street in Jerusalem, little piles of dust were burned from the cleaning of my neighbor’s homes.
The principle behind the cleaning out of the leaven was well illustrated by the teaching of an old fisherman. The fisherman took his small boat out to sea early each morning to catch the fish for the market. He moved along the surface of the water with great ease, for the boat was well designed for fishing. On one occasion, the old fisherman took his son with him to the sea. His son was unaccustomed to the boat and began to tip the small craft as he walked around inside it. The older fisherman raised his voice and exclaimed, “Sit down! The boat is fine in the sea, but we don’t want the sea inside the boat!” That same “keep the sea out of the boat” principle is the message of the feast of Unleavened Bread, a message of a clean walk.
What is the deal with keeping leaven out of the house, and out of the bread? The yeasts that were used in making bread came with them out of Egypt. Most people had very few implement to make up a kitchen, but the “starter dough” with its infused leaven was something they took on any journey. There were no fast food restaurants in Sinai, and if they wanted to make any bread by-product, the starter dough was essential. How they used it with manna is not at all clear, but the truth behind the festival was – they were to set aside using leaven – and eat bread WITHOUT IT. In this way, Egypt and its corrupting influence needed to be set aside by the people. The principle of cleansing the house from leaven (chametz cleansing) was an illustration of the need to live a life that was intentional about separation from corruption and sin.
Passover was about God’s provision to save – something theologians called “justification”. Unleavened Bread was all about a man’s work of intentional removal of corrupting influences, termed by theologians as “sanctification”- a term that means “set apart for a specific use, often a holy use.” The usable vessel before God was to be free of leaven, and recall God’s purposes were to make a new and clean people to serve Him.
This concept constantly needs to be reaffirmed, especially in the American “Bible belt”, where cultural Christianity can easily replace an intentional walk of obedience to Jesus Christ. It isn’t enough to go to a Billy Graham Crusade, pray a prayer and walk an aisle. God didn’t just call you from the world so that you could live as you choose and then retire to Heaven when you die. That isn’t a new idea that came with televangelists; it has always been a deception of the enemy. All the way back in the beginning of the church, Paul wrote of this, reminding the early believers in Jesus that God had bigger plans for their lives:
Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
In salvation, a follower of Jesus DOES get the promise of Heaven, but in Ephesians 2, God wanted them to recall that He had a bigger purpose – to create through each of their lives of intentional yielding, a picture of God’s handiwork done in a life interrupted by His grace. The message of the church cannot be ONLY about JUSTIFICATION or it becomes utterly imbalanced. John 3:16 is a wellspring of life – but it is not the only truth in the book. We must not forget the story is not one only of personal benefits apart from personal commitments. That idea may sell well today, but it is only PART of the story of God’s grace. His story was never intended to be a license for selfish living followed by retirement in Heavenly bliss. We are saved by grace, but the reason we are saved is not only for ourselves. We are to become a living display of His workmanship. If that were not true, the Scriptures would be much shorter on instructions of life, and there would be no need to “strive against sin”. Our call is to preach BOTH – God’s undeserved favor that saves, and the intentional active pursuit of our walk with God once He offers us new life.
The Principle in the Feast of First Fruits:
Numbers 28:26 Also on the day of the first fruits, when you present a new grain offering to the LORD.
There is but a small half verse on the Feast of First Fruits in our passage, so we will but mention the principle that is clear if one takes the time to study Leviticus 23:9-14. The Sabbath had given the children of Israel the necessary understanding that a close of cycle and rest was necessary. What the Sabbath did for the end of one’s work, the feast of First Fruits outlined for the “beginnings” of life. The beginning of the harvest was the setting for this important lesson. God wanted the children of Israel to understand that He had provided for them, and they were to respond to His gracious giving. All they possessed was undeserved blessing (Dt. 6), and all they had belonged to God (even their children, see Ex. 13:2).
Frankly, on payday it is easy to think we earned the money, and it is ours. For a farmer, the harvest is the beginning of the payday. Hours of plowing, planting, watering and waiting begin to show FRUIT for the labor, pun intended. THAT was the very time Israel was to make an offering of thanksgiving, an offering of anticipation of continued blessing (“first” fruits implies later fruits), and an offering of acknowledgment.
Yet, tucked within the TIMING of the “Feast of First Fruits” the Apostle Paul also reminded early believers that God had a picture waiting –Jewish believers could clearly see it in the first century – but it may not be as obvious to us today. Tucked between the command for Jews to celebrate Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost) was a “Feast of First Fruits”. This feast involved taking the un-ripened grain THE SUNDAY AFTER PASSOVER and bringing it to the priest at the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) to wave it before the Lord, make a lamb offering. The offering included a meal offering, a wine offering and special dietary commands for the day (Lev. 23:9-14).
The most interesting thing about the Feast of Firstfruits is the fact that it was NOT commanded to be on a counted date, as in the case of Passover – Lev. 23:5. Rather this is the only feast in the chapter to ALWAYS be celebrated on the same day of the week – Sunday! Remarkably, all of the other feasts are all based on a calculated DATE (Lev. 23:4,15,24,27,34). Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15, the feast for that Sunday following Passover was a “shadow” of Messiah’s resurrection (and eventually OUR resurrection!).
The point of John 20:1 “On the first day of the week” was to REMIND EARLY FOLLOWERS OF THE SPECIAL DAY on which Messiah was raised. It was the Feast of First Fruits! This was the beginning of the “countdown” to Pentecost (Lev. 23:15), but it was much more. This was the day they celebrated the COMING OF A GREAT HARVEST! What a spiritual picture! This was the lesson of Paul to Corinth (1 Cor. 15:20-32), that the resurrection of Jesus was the CLEAR answer to the shadowy symbol of the waving of the sheaf commanded so long before!
Don’t forget that in the Hebrew mind, harvest and judgment were indelibly linked together. One is usually expressed in the terms of the other. This is true in the terms of the prophets as they express God “treading out the grapes of wrath”, in the same way Jesus used it (Mt. 13 “reapers” that were angels). To the Hebrew mind, God does not judge man. Man grows his fruit, and God harvests that which man grows. What YOU sow, YOU reap! It is man’s own doing that causes his rotten fruit in the end. It is this same connection that evoked the link between the Jezreel Valley (the largest growth and harvest area in the country) and the “Valley of Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16- the valley of God’s judgment of the nations).
In the Feast of the First Fruits, God intended that Israel would understand the offering to be about things to come. Paul argued:
• Jesus has been raised! (15:20)
• As a man he conquered death, for the actions of a man brought death! (15:21-22)
• Jesus was raised as the first fruits offering (15:23), then the end comes, eventually destroying even death! (15:24-26)
• God has subjected everything to Him, and will bring it all to pass! (15:27-28)
• If Jesus wasn’t raised, the rest of the harvest could not be certain, and we may be lost! (15:29-32)
The early church celebrated the Sunday of the First Fruits, and began early to understand that this was the great symbolic show that God would bring about our resurrection as sure as the spring harvest follows the winter rains! The resurrected Jesus is the “first fruits” of our own eternal life, and His life is promised to us after our physical death (cp. 1 Cor. 15:35-58)
We are moving quickly, so let’s review:
God offered Passover to remind His people that they needed to PERSONALLY APPROPRIATE the means He provided for atonement – and that is true of all of us as well.
God told them to “get the leaven out” for a week to remind them that SALVATION belongs to the Lord, but INTENTIONAL LIVING is the domain of God’s people – and that is something we must constantly recall.
Tucked in the middle, God gave a promise in the form of another practice called First Fruits – that HE was going to provide something beyond their understanding – the provision of a NEW LIFE through the resurrection of the dead. Physical death isn’t our end. It isn’t even the end of this body. It will be reconstituted for a future – a renewed body based on the current model, but with all the new technology of Heaven.
If I want salvation, I need to listen to what God provided and receive it. If I want to become what He intends, I need to get some things out of my life. If I really listen to Him – He is offering me more than “a saved NOW” – He is offering me “a RISEN THEN”! Death has lost its sting, because it is no longer a mystery, nor a one way door.
Each Spring, there is one more festival that we need to consider…
The Principle in the Shavuot Offerings (Feast of Weeks):
Numbers 28:26b …In your [Feast of] Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. 27 You shall offer a burnt offering for a soothing aroma to the LORD: two young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs one year old; 28 and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths [of an] [ephah] for each bull, two-tenths for the one ram, 29 a tenth for each of the seven lambs; 30 [also] one male goat to make atonement for you. 31 Besides the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, you shall present [them] with their drink offerings. They shall be without defect.
In Israel, the summer months are long, hot and dry for most of the land. The spring grass is withered and brown. The flowers that dotted the Galilee landscape give way to the dark rocks and dry weeds that cover every uncultivated field. The time of the long awaited first rains of Autumn usually produce celebration, as children go outside in the rain and dance for joy (even some of us as adults join them)! The rains awaken the land to new life, and the promise of another harvest! The harvest is the life blood of any agricultural people, and the children of Israel awaited the harvest with great anticipation.
Fifty days after the festival of first fruits, the major part (if not all) of the harvest was completed. The festival of Shavuot or “weeks” began. The Greek word for “fifty days” is Pentecost, and the festival received this name in ancient Jewish sources from the Second Temple Period. Regardless of which name was used, the timing of the feast, and the peculiar instructions for the observance of the feast give the clearest indications of the meaning and purpose of this holy festival.
This feast was truly a celebration of the harvest (it is called the “harvest feast”, see Ex. 23:16). It expressed God’s gracious provision to His people for yet another year. In contrast to the feast of “unleavened bread” where all leaven was to be purged from the sacrifice and it was to be clean of fermenting corruption, the feast of weeks includes two loaves of meal baked with leaven (Lev. 23:17). The leaven was prescribed as part of the ceremony, and obedient faithful could do nothing less than obey. Why include the leaven in the loaves? What was God’s intention in this “shadowy symbol”? Why allow a corrupting influence in an observance characterized by His holy worship?
God had a plan… and we are a part of it. Don’t forget, the leaven in the loaves at Shavuot wasn’t the only corruption was found in the festival…there were people there. In addition to understanding the need to intentionally get some things out of our lives, God showed that He was planning to bond people once outside of His family into it. God was going, at the time of Pentecost, to move in people that were once strangers to His promise.
Acts 2:1 reminds us that the Spirit of God came upon the first followers of Jesus at Pentecost. The disciples were gathered together to recall the giving of the Law at Sinai that occurred fifty days after Pesach in Exodus, and the Spirit came upon them and began to write the Law on their hearts. In front of them on the table was a simple symbol – leavened bread. God was forming something that would be a part of His plan – His church. It would not replace Israel, but it would carry the message of His love while a darkness and blindness descended for a time over the Jewish people.
Do you recall that passage in Ephesians 2 were looked at earlier? Keep reading:
Ephesians 2:11 “Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands—12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Thirty-five hundred years ago, God already announced the plan to provide a lamb, require a standard, reveal the new life of resurrection and draw in a second group of people to carry His name that were not one nation – and He did it through a series of feasts.
God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people. When a community recognizes the value of following appointed times with God – it secures deep values in the hearts of its people.
I heard a Pastor make an observation not long ago. He said: “One of the surprising things about the Bible is that it never says that Jesus rushed anywhere. He was busy, but He found time to pray and accomplished discipleship training and WORLD REDEMPTION in three short years. While doing that, he played with children and guiltlessly took an occasional nap during boat rides. He went to weddings and even stuck around at the reception. The Bible doesn’t say, “If you hurry, you can catch up with God.” It says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10) Jesus’ promise was “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Time isn’t supposed to be an enemy – just a chance to steward life.”