Strength for the Journey: “On Time with God” – Numbers 28:1-15

ArrivalsSitting at an airport terminal, you will see on the board the words “delayed” and “on time”. Depending on what is on the arrival board, you will see reactions by the people reading it. Delays are followed by disgust, while “on time” arrivals bring a smile. We all love saving time, and not sitting around at a busy airport!

I want to ask a very important question that affects all of us, but it may seem to some of you so nerdy that it sounds a bit weird: What is time? We speak of it like it is a commodity, something we can “waste”, something we can “save” or something we can “spend”. We claim that “time is money” as a recognition of its value, with an intense awareness of the limited time a human life spans. We believe that “time works against us” in delay, and that “time heals wounds” in troubled moments. Yet, time isn’t a physical thing, and our expressions don’t seem to do it justice. Whether or not time itself is even “felt” as a sensation or experience has never been truly settled by philosophers and scientists. In its most basic definition, time is a sequence, a “dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future.” Someone has said: “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once”. Currently, the international unit of time, the second, is defined in terms of radiation emitted by caesium atoms.

For many of us, it is hooked to the Creation account in Genesis 1:14 and belongs to this universe, but not the metaphysical “angelic” or “Heavenly” realm. In our understanding, it was a device created. Further, the Bible seems clear that God is unaffected by time, and that He is greater than it, suggesting it was a created sequence not inherent in His nature. If our understanding is correct – in eternity I won’t need a watch, because time will lose any significance.

Today there are two prime contrasting philosophical viewpoints on time that you may have encountered in your education.

• One view, named after a brilliant Christian man of science, Sir Isaac Newton, is called “Newtonian time”. This view is that “time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe — a dimension independent of events, in which events occur in sequence”. Newton espoused the view, and many of us bought into it. It views time as a container through which things pass.

• Other philosophers believe time is part of a fundamental intellectual structure (cited together with space and number) within which humans sequence and compare events. It is, essentially, something made up by finite beings to incrementally measure meaning and experience. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant believed it was neither an event nor a thing, and by itself could not be intrinsically measurable nor “travelled”.

In the groups of sciences, time is one of the fundamental physical quantities we measure including things like special qualities (i.e. length, width, height), mass, temperature, velocity, and so forth. Modern scientists are continually asking the philosophical questions about the relationship between space and time, and have many wondered if there is a single continuum called “spacetime”.

This lesson looks at how an infinite God deals with man in time. It makes clear that while we are subject to time, God wants to be included in our every pursuit.

Key Principle: God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people.

The Hebrew Scriptures specifically instructed the observance of seven holidays called “Ha Moedim” (the appointments) and one monthly special remembrance called “Ha Rosh Ha Chodesh”, and a special weekly observance called the “Sabbath” (or “Shabbat”). These special “appointments with God”, unlike other holidays of society, were 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 these principles that should drive our study of the Word in the Torah.

It is easy for us to forget that after ten generations as Egyptian slaves, the ancient Israelites had lost much of their spiritual heritage in bondage, and the Law had as part of its purpose – the restoration of that identity and the forging of the nation in the Sinai wilderness. Hot off the desert sands from their trek out of Egypt, the ancient Hebrews had seen God move miraculously and decisively to set them free from their bondage. They had seen God defeat their foe. They watched in wonder as the mighty arm of the Lord worked in power through their once exiled shepherd prince. Moses, by now in the story, was late in years and yet mighty in faith. He began his own vital and thriving relationship with the God of his fathers some years before, after a “burning bush” encounter in the Midianite desert. Now Moses had thousands of refugee Israelites following him and trusting that his relationship with the God of Abraham would yield their freedom and safety.

To Sinai they went, this rabble of ex-slaves following their shepherd prince. They arrived three months into their rugged journey (Ex. 19:1), pitched their tents beneath the shadow of the mountain that would change their future forever. They arrived uncertain of their fortune, uncertain of their God’s purpose. Only a handful had any real understanding of the God of Abraham. Even their leader had to ask God’s name at the “burning bush”. There, God made clear the standards, values and ethics of this unique nation that was made to show Who He is to the world. He revealed His unique relationship with them. He was making of them a nation to display Himself. He wanted them to go home, but He wanted to go home with them.

Though we are not the same people, we have the same God Who has called us for the same purpose – to go with us in life’s journey and show Himself to others through us.

Step back and see the forest

Before we move forward in understanding the verses of Numbers 28:1-15, we need to look at the larger picture of what we dealing with, because we are “dropping into the middle” of a play already ongoing. Some words of explanation are in order. There are three important concepts to recall when we look at this portion of the Law of Moses:

• First, there are three kinds of Law in the Torah, not one. There is Civil Code (how to get along on the camping trip) given in Exodus and Numbers. There is Constitutional Code (how to set up a nation and what makes a Jew a Jew) in the book of Deuteronomy (which means “second law”). There is Criminal Code found in Leviticus (“you are broken inside, here is how to deal with it”). The third code was temporary and replaced by a singular sacrifice of Messiah – the others are still in effect for those to whom they were given. Jews are still defined by Constitutional Code, and our they are to measure civility within God’s definition. Non-Jewish followers of Jesus today are called to recognize the principles behind the Law, as Jesus showed in Matthew 5-7 – a “principle approach” to the commands.

• Second, the Civil Code of Law is contained in a record of ten chapters in Exodus and Numbers (4 in Exodus: 20-23; and 6 in Numbers: 5, 6, 15 and 28-30).

• Third, the passage we are dealing with is the end of that Civil Code found in Numbers 28 and 29. The final subjects deal with Offerings (the issue of the calendar of offerings and the specific number of animals to be offered) and in Numbers 30 deals with Vows. The Civil Code closes with notes on how God wanted to be included in the time schedule of His people, and how He wanted them to gauge HONESTY and INTEGRITY in relation to vows and promises.

Move in close to observe Numbers 28:1-15

In the next two lessons we will look at how God wanted His people to include Him in every step of their daily lives – all represented in Laws regarding observance of the Calendar. This time we will emphasize the “regular calendar journey”, and next time the “Holy day journey” through the year.

We want to highlight the point of the lesson: God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people.

God wanted the children of Israel to know more of Him than rules, laws, and Divine standards. The Torah was so much more. It was the expression of God’s heart. It was the expression of Who God is. It was the “spiritual training camp manual” for the wilderness journey. It was the guidebook for the ancient Kingdom of Israel. It was the outline of the key life principles that God desired His people to understand.

Start with the Command of God – Do what I told you according to My schedule:

Numbers 28:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the sons of Israel and say to them: ‘You shall be careful to present My offering, My food for My offerings by fire, of a soothing aroma to Me, at their appointed time.’

Let me begin with a simple principle – God must have preeminence in our TIME. Our lives are not designed to have long walks alone and short “camp times” with God.

Let me explain. When I was a young believer, I did not know how to include God in my daily thinking. Before my walk with God began, I didn’t pray, I didn’t read His Word, and I didn’t think I really wanted to do any of that. When I came to Christ, a new life began. I cared about different things. I stopped caring about things that no longer held my attention because they didn’t honor God. I didn’t mean for that to happen – it just did. As time passed, I learned the hard way the difference between “knowing Jesus as my Savior” and “being a Christian” – or follower of Jesus. The early stages of my walk had Jesus in my heart, for sure, but He wasn’t in my DAY or in my CHOICES. Jesus was the object of my worship, when I went to church. He was the God that spoke into my life at CAMP on those occasions when I would be invited to learn more of Him in a concentrated way. Yet, my walk with God looked more like occasional meetings than daily following – and it may be that way for some who are listening to this lesson right now.

Here is the truth: God doesn’t want and occasional spiritual rendezvous of “fling”. He was a daily and intimate relationship. The problem is I had no idea how to make that happen. Enter the truth of Numbers 28. God spelled LOVE from me this way: T-I-M-E. He wanted to be IN my daily life, not a weekend daddy.

Look at what He told Moses to pass to the people in verses one and two: BE CAREFUL to present the foodstuffs of the offerings ON THE TIME SCHEDULE I gave you.

Don’t miss the point. God wasn’t just talking about the fire and the offering. He was telling His people to make sure they were constantly working to be ready for each offering at the appointed time. You cannot offer a one year old spotless lamb if you aren’t raising lambs and keeping track of their age, as well as checking their condition carefully. You cannot offer a burnt offering without the proper collection of wood – and in desert areas that took extra time and energy. Preparation needed to be INTENTIONAL and CONTINUAL.

There is no more direct way I can say this: You and I have as much of God as we choose to have. We have as strong a relationship with Him as we CHOOSE to have. Starve out a relationship by offering it no time or energy and it will languish. God is not trying to be distant from us because He is too busy to hear us; we neglect to recognize our utter need for Him daily, and don’t intentionally put time and effort into growing in our walk. What weakens us is our distraction rooted in our misplaced belief that we can successfully navigate life without Him.

If we were honest, we would admit that most of us are addicted to entertainment, and are constantly distracted by it. We read much that adds little to our understanding, but reinforces our biases. We have been negligent in the feeding of our souls on truly good food, and feeding our Spirit on frequent times of refreshing in and with the Lord.

Daily Oleh, Minchah and Nesek:

Moses relayed God’s desire for three offerings that were to be a daily part of Israel’s journey and settlement in the new land.

28:3 “You shall say to them, ‘This is the offering by fire which you shall offer to the LORD: two male lambs one year old without defect [as] a continual burnt offering every day. 4 You shall offer the one lamb in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; 5 also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil. 6 It is a continual burnt offering which was ordained in Mount Sinai as a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. 7 Then the drink offering with it [shall be] a fourth of a hin for each lamb, in the holy place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink (shay-kawr’: Intensely alcoholic liquor) to the LORD. 8 The other lamb you shall offer at twilight; as the grain offering of the morning and as its drink offering, you shall offer it, an offering by fire, a soothing aroma to the LORD.

Three types of intermingled offerings are cited in the 28:3-8).

First, there is the Burnt offering (Oleh, see Leviticus 1): Here it is a total of two lambs (28:3), each unblemished and one year old, one in the morning and one at twilight, every day (28:4). Do it without fail, and remember the smell of the fire matters to me (28:6)!

The burnt offering was a completely consumed offering given wholly to the Lord for His enjoyment, with nothing taken for the servants. It reminds us:

1. God knows what He likes, and it isn’t always what we would think. It seems counter-intuitive that God would be soothed by a barbeque smell, but He is.

2. We are not to try to reason the point of His pleasure, we are to accept it and offer it. Our call is not to run God’s desires through some modern grid of pagan morality and judge whether God would have been elected to the board of the ASPCA, it is to find out what God says He desires and give it to Him. A Sovereign isn’t supposed to need to explain His commands to those who serve Him. When we try to put God’s desires through our own grid of pleasure or even acceptable practice – we force the Creator to become subject to the moral conscience of the created. No moral system can be hoisted over the Scriptures to evaluate God’s Word – it stands apart.

Second, there is the inclusion also of the Grain offering (Minchah, see Leviticus 2) – a symbolic offering that reminds us of two very important truths:

1. God wanted them to budget His part of their supplies FIRST. The grain was offered to God before it was ground, much less eaten.

2. God expected them to give whatever was available at that stages of the calendar, as we see when studying Leviticus chapter 2. The text says: Take the lamb, add 2.2 dry liters of finely ground flour and 5.5 liters of olive oil (28:5) – burn it completely. I will like it if it comes from a heart that truly does it to please Me. Otherwise, it will be a useless barbeque.

Simply stated, the Grain offering reminds us there is NO “PUTTING OFF” GOD. We give to Him BEFORE we take for ourselves. We give of what we have NOW, not what we hope to have later. Our God is the “ever present God of NOW”, not the “put-off with promises of tomorrow” kind.

Third, the “Nesek” (from “thing poured”) or libation offering accompanying the other offering (translated the drink offering). Add a libation of 5.5 liquid liters of intensely alcoholic liquor (28:7).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the libation was offered to represent the labors of the field, like an offering of a glass of your own house made wine from your own vineyard to an honored guest. It added honor, because it was hand-crafted and a part of your own personal labors. It was like offering someone any gift that you hand-crafted to perfection.

This was not simply a common wine (yayin) – it was “strong drink” (sheker) – like a strongly fermented grape brandy with higher alcoholic content likened more to our distilled liquor. The NIV sometimes translates this BEER, but that is an assumption based on the commonality of beer in ancient Egypt from which Israel was departing. Since beer was served uncut with additional water, unlike table wines of the period, some scholars think this was what was considered strong. Others think it was more likely akin to a stronger beverage – or may be uncut wine. It is true that wine was a symbol in Scripture of joy both to God and to man (Jud.9:13, Ps.104:15), and this characterizes the drink offering – but it appears likely this was something stronger, often used in passages alongside the term for wine as a separate product. It was probably used in the Tabernacle and Temple for some cleaning and hygienic affects, and is the same word for the anesthetic that was for those who were suffering or dying (Proverbs 31:6).

Paul referred to his efforts as the drink offering for the Lord through his life poured out for the believers of the early church:

  • Philippians 2:17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.
  • Later he made reference again to it as something that was a completion to his life: 2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.

It seems that Paul understood the all his labor and in ministry was like a carefully prepared and poured libation as he pressed from his body the last bit of effort in sacrificial service to His Master.

The drink offering reminds us that our lives will be poured out, the only questions are WHERE and FOR WHAT PURPOSE. We will ALL use up our body, and we will lose our zest and energy. The question is: “What will be soaked by the pouring of it?

• Will I celebrate my “Candy Crush” level?
• Will I be happy that I spent so much time following friends and “Liking” posts that I had little time and energy for concentrated ministry in some area?
• Will I pour out my life before some techno box of entertainment?

Let me ask you a serious question: “When was the last time Jesus was invited to walk through you channel selection, your DVD collection, your game closet and your playlist and offer His thoughts on what they contained?” I am not legalistically giving you a LIST, I am pointing you to the Lord Who makes the right list. Do we even ask His opinion anymore?

Additional Sabbath Offerings:

God wanted to walk with Israel daily, but He also commanded a weekly special break for a bit more than the everyday.

28:9 Then on the sabbath day two male lambs one year old without defect, and two-tenths [of an] [ephah] of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and its drink offering: 10 [This is] the burnt offering of every Sabbath in addition to the continual burnt offering and its drink offering.

There is to be an additional offering on Sabbath – two extra lambs, each with 4.4 extra liters of flour, along with an extra drink offering (28:9-10).

The Sabbath (whether in Exodus 20, Leviticus 23 or Numbers 28) was given to show three truths:

• God had specifically marked one day in seven for man to stop his work, and spend that day in a unique “rest celebration” of his Creator. Obedience was clear and so was disobedience. God was either in charge of the people, or He was not – and it was clear by how they responded to His command.

I admit that I weary of all the “reasoned arguments” against doing clear things God told us to do. I sit with people who try to explain why their abuse of their body with drugs isn’t so bad, or the sexual encounters were so understandable in light of our culture. When the smoke clears at the judgment of all the tactics and distractions of our rationalizations, we will be left to clearly gaze on our true reasons for disobedience – it is rebellion, plain and simple. We want to do what we want to do, but we are embarrassed by the bare-knuckled truth, so we rationalize away disobedience.

• God was not short on His instruction TO STOP OUR PURSUIT TO PROGRESS in such things as making money for the Sabbath (which means “rest“). Instructions can be found in Exodus 35, Lev. 25, Num. 15 and Dt. 15:32-35. It was as much an issue of TRUST that stopping labor wouldn’t cause us to LOSE GROUND, but actually help us do what we do better.

Have you ever been so intent on completing a project that you burned the midnight oil until you weren’t really producing anything of value? Time off with God was meant to rejuvenate. One other thing – it forced people to budget time. If manna was available six days, then preparation for Sabbath included working to gather for both the sixth and the seventh day.

When we give God what He commands we don’t LOSE, we LEARN. That is easily illustrated in giving of our FUNDS to the Lord. Before we were regular in our giving, we didn’t know how we could be. The call to give regularly and systematically helped us to budget our funds – just the way Israel was called to budget their time in preparing for and keeping the Sabbath.

• God outlined that both man and work animals would rest from their labor, and that this observance would be a memorial (Hebrew: Zakar, see Exodus 20:8) that would be kept distinct or “holy” from other days. God did not reveal the Sabbath simply to celebrate His rest, but to teach us something important about OUR NEEDS! The Sabbath was specified to be time of identification (Ex. 31:12-17).

The Sabbath was to signify the unique covenant God had made with the children of Israel (Ex. 31:12-17) and is the reason we don’t celebrate it – we aren’t them, and they aren’t us. The weekly celebration was to be a memory device so that the children of Israel would not forget the God of their fathers as they had in the bondage of Egypt. God was concerned that the success of the Israelites would take a more significant toll on their memory than slavery had before (Dt. 6).

At the same time, the Sabbatical principle was further underscored by the overall cycle of “sevens” God built within the calendar of the people. Time to learn and worship was essential. A time of reflection and anticipation was healthy. The Sabbath was truly made “for the man”!

Here is the problem with the way many of us look at REST: The most dangerous time may not be in the midst of the battle, but in the times of ease. If we forget our disciplines in the lazy days of summer, with little care for our armor and our prayer, we will find ourselves ill-equipped when the arrows fly. It is important to rest body, mind and spirit – but rest taken away from the source of our strength will not help us – it will deplete us. Take your rest while recalling His Words constantly, and sharing your thoughts with him repeatedly – and it will be rest indeed.

Additional Rosh Chodesh Offerings:

The passage of our study ends with a brief word about the additional offerings for the new month:

28:11 Then at the beginning of each of your months you shall present a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls and one ram, seven male lambs one year old without defect; 12 and three-tenths [of an] [ephah] of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, for each bull; and two-tenths of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, for the one ram; 13 and a tenth [of an] [ephah] of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering for each lamb, for a burnt offering of a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. 14 Their drink offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bull and a third of a hin for the ram and a fourth of a hin for a lamb; this is the burnt offering of each month throughout the months of the year. 15 And one male goat for a sin offering to the LORD; it shall be offered with its drink offering in addition to the continual burnt offering.

The start of the month also had additional offerings:

• An additional burnt offering of two bulls, (28:11) was mixed with 6.6 liters of fine flour – the grain offering accompanying each bull.

• One ram was offered with 2.2 liters of flour as well as each of the seven lambs.

• Libations totaling more than 53 of our bottles of wine were poured with each offering each month in addition to the normal daily allotments.

If the truth were told, some Israelites were probably adding the whole list of offerings up in their heads, and were wondering about the HIGH COST of following the God of Abraham. Don’t be squeamish, you would too if it was coming from your herd, or your bank account. God wasn’t being stingy – He provided all the animals, wine and grain to begin with! He wanted them to really understand:

God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people.

As we close this lesson, let me ask you something. “Why are we so stingy with God?” Why is it that we react inside against giving Him the time, talent and treasure of our life? I suspect the reasons are several, but let me take a stab at an answer: We don’t see the benefit of giving Him anything more than we have to. Rather than pour out our lives for Him last week, many of us poured them out for ourselves.

God wants to come along this week. He wants you to intentionally think through your week, and live it with Him and for Him. Are you ready?

Strength for the Journey: "For the People" – Numbers 26-27

gavel-WSYou cannot live in Central Florida and not know that one law firm has “drummed” in its advertising the phrase “for the people”. The ad hearkens back to the immortal words of President Lincoln at Gettysburg. President Lincoln delivered a speech during the American Civil War, on the chilled afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, while inaugurating the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, some four and a half months after the battle between Union armies and the Confederate troops. Not even two years later, on June 1, 1865, Senator Charles Sumner commented in his eulogy on the slain president that Lincoln was mistaken when he said that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” On the contrary, Sumner remarked, “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech.” The infamous speech was short, and a small part of it recalled:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. … The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that Lincoln headthese dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

I am transfixed by the last line of that short essay about government “of the people, by the people, for the people”. I know, we didn’t gather for some strange mix of Americana and Bible – our kingdom of celebration today is one “not of this world”. I mention it only because those words relate directly to our passage of study for this lesson in Numbers 26 and 27. The text contains a vital leadership lesson that was learned by Moses at the very end of his tenure as “Prime Minister of Israel” – of perhaps we should call him simply “Elder of Israel”. The lessons is clear…

Key Principle: We must learn to be both careful about doing right, but not become insensitive to people in the process.

The rules are very important, but they are incomplete when they become the total standard of life apart from a living relationship with people. This is a problem for people in leadership to remember – especially when they forget the rules were made for people.

• I am thinking of the Pharisees that were offended by the hungry disciples eating from the barley stalks as they walked through the fields.

• I am recalling a recent YouTube video of a decorated police officer clearly overreacting to a man in a hotel lobby and using excessive force only moments after meeting the man.

Leaders are servants and laws are meant to serve a community – not to inflict harm on it. Yet, sometimes we can get to be so legally minded, we lose our humanity. Moses found out that it was a problem 3500 years ago, and some of us experienced the same thing this past week.


In order to recognize the principle of our lesson, we must excavate the layers of progression in the Biblical passage. Essentially, three events led to three outcomes – and God taught the leader in the process. The events included:

1) Counting the people in a census (Numbers 26:1-51).
2) Casting lots for the apportionment of territory (Numbers 26:52-56).
3) Counting the Levite population that was given no land (Numbers 26:57-62).

These three simple events were intended to set the parameters of geography for the settling of each of the Israelite tribes after they conquered the land. Nobody got land in the counting or the lot casting – what they got was an understanding of what came next – the settlement of tribes in different territories. The story is NOT ABOUT the events, but the inadvertent INEQUITY that came from the events – that Moses never saw coming. Why? Because leaders, like everyone else, are HUMAN. They make mistakes. They forget things, and they don’t see the full range of effects of every rule, or every policy. Blunders are a part of everyday life. I like what Chuck Swindoll wrote years ago in his book Living Above the Level of Mediocrity about mistakes:

…Blunders are a sign of our humanity. Scripture records man’s mistakes to teach us. I think they fall into five categories:

1. Panic-prompted mistakes usually involve fear, hurry or worry.
2. Good intention mistakes come from wrong timing or wrong methods.
3. Passive negligence mistakes result from laziness, lack of discipline, or inconsistency.
4. Unrestrained curiosity mistakes relate to the demonic or sensational.
5. Blind spot mistakes usually come from ignorance, habit or influences.

A man opened a new business and his best friend sent him a flower arrangement. The friend dropped in a few days later to visit his buddy and was pained to see a sign that read, “Rest in Peace”. He called the florist to complain. The florist said, “It could be worse. Somewhere in this city is a cemetery with a flower arrangement that says: ‘Congratulations on your new location!’”

The counting of the people was not a mistake, nor was the apportionment of land – but the tribal divisions of terrain overlooked some people – and that was at the heart of the lesson of sensitivity. Before we look at the three events, don’t forget – this family did not consider itself a NATION yet, but rather a series of tribes from one father who was now long dead. Let’s quickly scan the events on our way to the lesson:

Close up of Three Events

We will not read all the way through the legal document of families of Numbers 26:1-51. The recalling of specific names was very important to the individual families of the registry, but for time’s sake we will simply summarize the census as follows:

Event One: The Command and Execution of the Census (26:1-51)

Numbers 26:1 Then it came about after the plague, that the LORD spoke to Moses and to Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, saying, 2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers’ households, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel.” 3 So Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, 4 “[Take a census of the people] from twenty years old and upward, as the LORD has commanded Moses.” Now the sons of Israel who came out of the land of Egypt [were]:

• Sons of Reuben (26:4-11): 43,730
• Sons of Simeon (12-14): 22,200
• Sons of Gad (15-18): 40,500
• Sons of Judah (19-22): 76,500
• Sons of Isaachar (23-25): 64,300
• Sons of Zebulun (26-27): 60,500
• Sons of Manasseh (28-34): 52,600
• Sons of Ephraim (35-37): 32,500
• Sons of Benjamin (38-41): 46,600
• Sons of Dan (42-43): 64,400
• Sons of Asher (44-47): 53,400
• Sons of Naphtali (48-50): 45,400
• Sons of Israel at the end of the journey: 601,730 men over twenty who could fight.

This “head count” meant that all but 1820 of the 603,550 counted in Numbers 1:45-46 were replaced. The people were only slightly smaller in number than when they counted thirty-eight years before in the desert, but the people were almost ENTIRELY REPLACED. These were the children and grandchildren of the original census – their parents were all gone and buried in the sand and rock of the deserts behind them.

As we come toward the end of this book, we should recall there were three stages of Israel’s journey through the wilderness give the book of Numbers its structure:

(1) Nineteen days during Israel’s preparation for departure from their camp at the Holy Mountain of the Law (Num 1:1–10:10),

(2) A thirty-eight-and-one-half-year journey from the Mountain of the Law to the plains of Moab (Num 10:11–22:1).

(3) A few final months of Israel’s encampment on the plains of Moab shortly before they entered Canaan (Num 21–36).

God told them which way to go to be blessed – and they went another way. He wasn’t being cruel… that is the cost of doing life their own way. God had a future plan for Israel – but they would be cut out of it and it would be placed in the hands of another.

Event Two: The Command and Execution of the Lots (26:52-56)

Immediately after the tallying of the potential warriors, God commanded Moses to divvy up the land geographically, with larger portions going to larger tribes:

Numbers 26:52 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 53 “Among these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names. 54 “To the larger [group] you shall increase their inheritance, and to the smaller [group] you shall diminish their inheritance; each shall be given their inheritance according to those who were numbered of them. 55 “But the land shall be divided by lot. They shall receive their inheritance according to the names of the tribes of their fathers. 56 “According to the selection by lot, their inheritance shall be divided between the larger and the smaller [groups].”

This was probably very exciting for the people. Travel landless for a generation and you will hunger to settle down. Add to that, you are coming home to the place of your ancestry from a hot and inhospitable desert, and excitement abounds!

Event Three: The Counting of the Levites (26:57-62)

Numbers 26:57 These are those who were numbered of the Levites according to their families: of Gershon, the family of the Gershonites; of Kohath, the family of the Kohathites; of Merari, the family of the Merarites. 58 These are the families of Levi: the family of the Libnites, the family of the Hebronites, the family of the Mahlites, the family of the Mushites, the family of the Korahites. Kohath became the father of Amram. 59 The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amram: Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam. 60 To Aaron were born Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 61 But Nadab and Abihu died when they offered strange fire before the LORD. 62 Those who were numbered of them were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward, for they were not numbered among the sons of Israel since no inheritance was given to them among the sons of Israel.

Don’t forget that Moses was tied to this family – not only Aaron’s sons. As a result of the pedigree of Moses, his family would be landless. There was no way a disruption could have arisen about favoritism and nepotism in the ranks – Moses’ family got nothing in the land inheritance. The chief idea was to spread the Levitical families out among the population and have them act in priestly ways toward the people of the tribe in whose land they dwelt.

Truthfully, none of these three events appears all that relevant to a believer today on the surface. We could take some time to see the spiritual principles involved in God commanding the people, and the passage is not devoid of spiritual truth – but that does not appear to be the purpose of the record. The lesson is found by following the events to WHAT THEY CAUSED in Moses’ heart – as this is primarily a lesson in sensitivity. Look closely at the verses that followed the three events – and in each of the outcomes there is a lesson to treasure!

The three events led to three outcomes. Don’t forget the point of the story…
We must learn to be both careful about doing right, but not become insensitive to people in the process.

Close up of Three Results

Moses counted. The people cast lots. The Priestly family was counted… but the mundane events led to three important results:

1) Encouragement: God lifted Moses with a reminder that He keeps His promises (Numbers 26:63-65).
2) Exposure: A blind spot was uncovered in the inequity of the inheritance as it was proposed (Numbers 27:1-11).
3) Entreaty: The sensitivity lesson still fresh on his mind, Moses presented to God the need for one who will be “for the people” in his administration – and God calls Joshua to be his replacement (Numbers 27:12-23).

Lesson One: A Lesson of Encouragement (Numbers 26:63-65):

Look closely at the words of Numbers 26:64 But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. 65 For the LORD had said of them, “They shall surely die in the wilderness.” And not a man was left of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.

God lifted Moses with a reminder that the Lord keeps His promises. It may seem strange that such a lesson was needed for the old leader of Israel. By now, he was well-seasoned in his experiences with God. Did he not recognize that God follows through meticulously on His promises?

All of us, no matter how long we have walked with God, need to hear again this important truth: We must take God at His Word, and we must take His Word seriously. How very sad that so many, even in what is called “the church” of the modern era seem more concerned with public opinion than truth! If there is a God in Heaven, and if He is our Creator, and if He did offer us the story of the truth of events that will unfold in our world at the end of time – how can we trade temporal popularity for eternal truth?

Let me first illustrate how this is being played out, and then what we can – and must – do about it.

If you take the time to look back, you will discover the attacks against the veracity of the Bible were paired off with the rise of what has come to be known as “The Social Gospel”. When Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) studied theology at the University of Rochester, he joined one of hundreds of educational and “Christian” institutions funded by John D. Rockefeller. For a time he Pastored a Baptist Church among immigrants in the Big Apple until he joined the faculty at Rochester Theological Seminary — also funded by Rockefeller. In 1902 he became its Professor of Church History. As a professor he wrote books such as Christianizing the Social Order and A Theology for the Social Gospel. He had been educated to believe the Bible was not flawless, and that it offered – rather than salvation – a social ideology. He believed the Gospel was to be more relevant and compassionate to the hurting of his day. He introduced Jesus’s mission “not to save sinners from their sins” but as a Reformer with “a social passion for society.”

I mention him, because his influence is blowing in churches that are gearing to promote social philanthropy in the days ahead. Rauschenbusch called for political reform, ecumenical unity, social Justice and global peace. Important concepts of historic “Christian” theology – terms like “redemption” and “regeneration” were redefined to earthly meanings of peace and care. Listen to the authors of our day and see if you can pick out the subtlety:

• Pastor Brian McLaren’s recent book, The Secret Message of Jesus offers this message in the beginning: [Jesus actually] “came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world” (p.4).

• Professor Anthony (Tony) Campolo is professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. He wrote: “The gospel is not about… pie-in-the-sky when they die…. It is imperative that the up and coming generation recognize that the biblical Jesus was committed to the realization of a new social order in this world…. Becoming a Christian, therefore, is a call to social action.”

I am not saying these men have contributed nothing to the Gospel of Jesus – I simply cannot judge that extensively the work of another servant’s hands. I can say their works seem very wrong headed. I can caution that our youth are being attracted to the “bright lights” of philanthropy, because Jesus helped people. There is certainly nothing wrong with helping people – and it is a godly thing to do. There is, however, something VERY WRONG with orienting the teaching of Scripture to a social planning manual while both questioning the text’s historical truthfulness and ignoring its primary purpose. The Scripture is not nearly so flexible a thing.

God is Creator in the Bible. Man is the sinner that needed judicial reconciliation to God after the Fall in the Garden. The message of salvation is not primarily about the “empowerment of the poor” or the “enfranchising of the destitute” to a better life on earth. The Gospel is about a breach of mutiny against the Holy One. We must be clear that we are not using God’s Word to build a Kingdom on earth – but rather we are walking with God by His Word as part of a Kingdom that will come with a renewed earth.

Let’s not go too far afield. The lesson to Moses was that God literally fulfills His promises in real terms in every sense. When we diminish the literal quality of history or prophecy in the Bible, we open the door to remake its message entirely. Moses was encouraged to see God deliver on His promises, even when the promises were not positive for all the people he served.

You can count on God – and you can count on His Word. I don’t mean some cryptic version of truth that cannot be discerned. I mean that God does what God promises – seriously, literally, completely – whether His message is endorsed by theologians or popular on the streets.

Lesson Two: A Lesson of Exposure (Numbers 27:1-11):

At the heart of the lesson on sensitivity is the next story that resulted from the count.

Numbers 27:1 Then the daughters of Zelophehad, … 2 …stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the leaders and all the congregation, at the doorway of the tent of meeting, saying, 3 “Our father died in the wilderness, yet he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but he died in his own sin, and he had no sons. 4 “Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.” 5 So Moses brought their case before the LORD. 6 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 7 “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in [their] statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them. 8 “Further, you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. 9 If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 If his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his nearest relative in his own family, and he shall possess it; and it shall be a statutory ordinance to the sons of Israel, just as the LORD commanded Moses.‘”

A blind spot was uncovered in the inequity of the inheritance as the count was made and lots divided land. Some were unrepresented in the count. Women who had no inheritance knew elsewhere in the Law they were not to be passed over. A brother or near relative was to raise up the name in the place of the fallen one – as would happen in the story of Naomi told in the Book of Ruth.

This was a case of real inequity because the census neglected some who were undefined in the law. They lived at the edge, and now were being pushed out of a rightful inheritance. The fact is, sometimes people get taken advantage of because we don’t see them. Legal mechanisms don’t replace real relationships. When people don’t engage each other, they don’t really understand each other. It is easy for any of us to get so caught up in our own world, that we don’t see the problems of those around us well at all.

Mark this in your Bible as a “BLIND SPOT” lesson. It wasn’t that someone INTENDED wrong, it is that wrong happened in a place nobody was looking at the time. David Roper in The Law that Set You Free wrote a great illustration of a blind spot:

A close friend of mine has a friend who is a young attorney. He is a member of a sizeable law firm run by a rather traditional kind of boss who enjoys a special kind of ritual at Thanksgiving time. Every year this young attorney participates in this ritual because it means so much to his employer. On the large walnut table in the board room of the office suite sits a row of turkeys, one for each member in the firm. It isn’t just a matter of “if you want it you can have it; if you don’t you can leave it.” The members go through some rather involved protocol. Each man stands back and looks at his turkey. When the time comes, he steps forward and looks at his turkey, announcing how grateful he is for the turkey this Thanksgiving. This young attorney was single, lives alone, and had no use for a huge turkey. He has no idea how to fix it and even if it were properly prepared he has no way to use all the meat. Because it was expected of him, he took the turkey every year. One year his close friends at the law office replaced his turkey with on made of papier-mâché. They weighed it with lead to make it feel like a real turkey, but it was a bogus bird through and through. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, every gathered in the board room. When it came is turn, this young man stepped up, picked up the large bird and announced his gratitude for his job and for the turkey. Later that afternoon, he got on the bus heading to go home. With the big turkey on his lap he wondered what in the world he would do with it. A little farther down the bus line, a rather run-down, discouraged-looking man got on. The only available seat was next to our young attorney friend. The lawyer learned that the stranger had spent the entire day job-hunting with no luck, that he had a large family and was wondering what he would do for Thanksgiving tomorrow. The attorney was struck with a brilliant idea: This is my day for the good turn, I will give this man my turkey! Then he thought, “This man is no freeloader. He’s no bum.” He asked the man: “How much money do you have?” “Oh, a couple of dollars and a few cents” the man replied. “I would like to sell you this turkey” he said as he placed it on his lap. Sold” the man handed over the two dollars and some coins that he had. He was moved to tears, thrilled to death that his family would have a turkey for Thanksgiving. He got off the bus and waved goodbye to the attorney. “God bless you… Have a wonderful thanks giving, and ‘I’ll never forget you”. The bus pulled away from the curb, as both men smiled. The next Monday, the attorney went to work. His friends were dying to know about the turkey. You cannot imagine their chagrin when they heard the story of what happened. I understand through my friend, they all got on the bus every day that week looking in vain for a man who, as far as I know, to this day still entertains a misunderstanding about a guy who innocently sold him a fake turkey for a couple of bucks and a few cents.”

Sometimes we can hurt people, even when we don’t KNOW we are doing so. We can do it with WORDS that are insensitive, but we can also do it with short-sighted or ill-informed ideas for which we haven’t truly considered the outcomes. Moses got corrected by God, but he got something more… he got a message to BECOME MORE SENSITIVE to the people – not just the system and the rules.

Lesson Three: A Lesson of Entreaty (Numbers 27:12-23):

How do I know? Because of Moses’ prayer for a successor. Look at the words in Numbers 27: 15 Then Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, 16 “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, 17 who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD will not be like sheep which have no shepherd.” 18 So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; 19 and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and commission him in their sight …

The sensitivity lesson still fresh on his mind, Moses presented to God the need for one who will be “for the people” in his administration – and God called Joshua to be his replacement. Moses was satisfied – because he knew the mettle of Joshua, but he also knew his tenderness, and his care for the people.

We must learn to be both careful about doing right, but not become insensitive to people in the process.

W.H. Griffith Thomas offered a warning: “There is no greater foe to Christianity than mere profession. There is no greater discredit to Christianity today than to stand up for it, and yet not live it in our lives. There is no greater danger in the Christian world today than to stand up for the Bible, and yet to deny that Bible by the very way we defend it. There is no greater hindrance to Christianity today than to contend for orthodoxy, whatever the orthodoxy may be, and to deny it by the censoriousness, the hardness, the unattractiveness with which we champion our cause. Oh this power of personal testimony, with the heart filled with the love of Christ, the mind saturated with the teaching of Christ, the conscience sensitive to the law of Christ, the whole nature aglow with grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Listening to the Giants, 149-50, Warren Wiersbe, Baker 1980)

Strength for the Journey: “Hostile Takeover” – Numbers 25

Michael_Dell_2010How many of you own, or have owned a DELL computer? Any day now, Michael Dell will either maneuver to privately take back his computer company, or lose it forever. A meeting of Dell shareholders this week put off deciding on Mr. Dell’s $24.4 billion proposal to take the company private or financier Carl Icahn’s counteroffer. Icahn wanted to buy up the company and was rumored to be willing to chop it up and sell off the pieces. In some tough back room deals, that seems to have been abated, but some analysts think the danger still exists for a hostile takeover. I really don’t know what will happen to this once iconic computer hardware builder and his company. I DO know that hostile takeovers are a part of modern business.

I also know that, Biblically speaking, there is a battle for the future going on behind the ebb and flow of human history. God and his enemy are warring, until the time the Creator decides He has carried on long enough to show through history His flawless character and awesome nature. It is over, when the Creator says it is over. In the meantime, the enemy has been at work to discourage God’s people, embolden God’s enemies and disrupt God’s agenda – just as he has since he duped Adam and Eve in the garden. With each step of human history, God showed more of Who He is, and Satan did what he could to stop the flow and progress toward its unaltered end.

Our study of Scripture in the Book of Numbers has dropped us into a view of the enemy doing his work in classic form. By chapter 24, we saw the enemy at work, but as with most attacks, the demonic empowerment was masked by human players and activities. Yet, if you look closely at the account, it is not difficult to see that the devil left his fingerprints on the scene. The story since Numbers 22 has been about a small tribal desert kingdom called Moab, and their attempts to thwart Israel’s move into the lands promised to Abraham. That may sound like dry history – and it would be – but that isn’t all God exposed of the story. In fact, what he revealed was how the enemy works in the lives of believers, and in the lives of those who want to hinder them.

On the surface, Moab and its leader didn’t follow God, and they didn’t want to. They didn’t want God’s Word, and didn’t want to bless God’s people. They wanted the people of Israel stopped in their tracks and the God of Israel defamed and thwarted. Led by the chieftain named Balak, the leader of the Moabite warriors had joined forces with at least some of the Midianite tribes. These were the human “workers of distraction” – but the enemy of God was beneath the scene – working his deceptions.

We heard the serpent’s voice when Balak knew he couldn’t win if he stood “toe to toe” with Israel – so he tried to bribe a man of God. Israel was powerful and they were on the side with momentum. Balak tried an end run with a costly and elabortate religious deception inviting a known prophetic voice among God’s people to defect from the truth and speak lies. He offered to buy his voice, and when that didn’t work he tried to manipulate his understanding. When all else failed – he dismissed Balaam the prophet from his sight, disgusted that he couldn’t get what he wanted. Yet, he wasn’t done… What the enemy could not destroy in direct confrontation and manipulative confusion – he now attempted to destroy by offering enticements to compromise among God’s people.

Key Principle: When the devil cannot deceive believers with lies he will distract them with enticing playthings.

When God’s people have been entrenched in learning God’s Word, lies are harder to implant. Deception is tougher to pull off. That is one of the chief reasons we work hard in our respective ministries to explain the Word in such detail…Sometimes Satan tries to deceive anyway, but when he is unable to confuse followers of God with deception (because we have hidden the truth within), he will dangle before God’s people enticing distractions to compromise our walk and draw us away from forward progress in obedience. Numbers 25 uncovers two of the distractions the enemy uses to test God’s leaders, and to drag down God’s people.

Distraction of the Happy Holidays

Who doesn’t love a good holiday? When I think of holidays, I think of fun with family and friends, and I think of food… good food…lots of food. Apparently from the beginning of our text, so did the ancient followers of God – and the enemy knew that!

Numbers 25:1 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.

The Slide of the People

The name of “Shittim” is Hebrew for the “acacia tree”, and marks the name of a village where the people were still encamped north of the Dead Sea and east of the Jordan – opposite Jericho and Gilgal. They seemed to be happy with their progress toward the land of promise, and they felt themselves to be in a reasonably secure position. Add to that, instead of constant fighting, the warriors of Moab and Midian hung back, deciding to trade with Israel, and then extend some friendly invitations to them to join in a feast in honor of their god, Baal of Peor.

When a modern reader spots the word “harlot” they immediately conjure up sensual imagery – but that may not be at the center of the use of the term in Numbers 25:1. Remember the term “daughters” (banot) is not always a gender term, but often was used in antiquity to denote the people “beyond the wall” – or suburban commoners, as opposed to military and cultural elite. The use of the imagery sounds admittedly sexual, but it need not be understood that simply – since the case of harlotry seemed to be wrapped into the cultic worship of Baal. God often used this imagery for false worship, because idolatry apparently felt to Him as a faithful spouse would be on the discovery of the other’s unfaithfulness.

Note the slide into sinful idolatry – they didn’t get there without a process:

It started with idleness (“Israel remained” – 25:1): the people of God were not moving or fighting – they were resting and regrouping. This is often a time of real danger for God’s people. We saw it in the journey through the Sinai desert, and will see it again in characters like David – time off can be a problem to our discipline. When we are taken out of the strain of the battle, we can often vacation in our mind, our heart and eventually our morals. The most dangerous time may not be in the midst of the battle, but in the times of ease. If we forget our disciplines in the lazy days of summer, with little care for our armor and our prayer, we will find ourselves ill-equipped when the arrows fly. It is important to rest body, mind and spirit – but rest taken away from the source of our strength will not help us – it will deplete us. Take your rest while recalling His Words constantly, and sharing your thoughts with him repeatedly – and it will be rest indeed

• Next, in the state of undisciplined rest, the enemy planted invitation (“they invited” – 25:2). The enemy planted an enticement in the camp. To a casual observer, it may have looked like PROGRESS TOWARD PEACE, a time of cultural exchange and healthy dialogue – it was nothing of the sort. If you keep reading (verse 18) the text revealed that it was a trick put together by the same leaders that failed to stop Israel by other means in the past. It looked like peace – but it was a tactic of war. It sounded like harmony, but it was actually the hissing of a snake. The world is often inviting and very accepting of new people – because without standards there is no reason to hold back full partnership. Often when you want to do wrong, you will find it easy to find companions in the world. Yet, when the friends you find are not deeply bound to you – as the prodigal son found out when the money to finance his party ran out.

• In a short time, the people “ate” – and the participation step to the slide was engaged. It isn’t enough to watch – it is just a matter of time before we rationalize and then participate. This is the danger of entertainment patterns of the world. Hollywood deliberately and shamelessly offers a value system in their dramas and comedies. They are often the “Church of the Pagan Thinking” – and hapless believers sit in their indoctrinations without recognizing they are working hard to get people to believe a system of moral thinking that is very opposed to a Biblical world view. It isn’t intrinsically wrong to watch the movie – but it is VERY WRONG to watch it without guarding your mind and heart and questioning the value system behind the ideas put forward in the show or film. Participation leads to defection – because we fail to recognize the compromise of our lifestyle.

• Finally, comes the defection stage of the process. Verse 2 ends sadly: “they bowed down to their gods.” What started as an invitation ended as idolatry – and it happened quickly. That should be a warning to us to be ever so careful in our dealing with the world – whether by our social media on our phone, or by TV show in the living room. It can happen SO FAST, that we move from pure to poor – and it starts with releasing the disciplines of our mind and heart and drifting.

25:4 The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them [those involved in the idolatry – not the leaders!] 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.” …17 “Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; 18 for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor …”

The Response of the Lord

God didn’t sit on the sidelines during this blatant idolatry – He demanded repentance of the people. He called on those in leadership to pay a price – personally involving them in publicly bloodying their hands with those who should have been monitored carefully under their care. Look at the penalties and let them sink in:

My sin draws a fierce reaction from God. If I really understood how much my sin offends, wounds and sickens my Master, I would probably be more careful about my walk. The writers of Scripture that focused on the reverence and fear of God were no doubt more careful to walk uprightly before Him. The words of men of God like Joshua (who was alive at the time of this event) remind: “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.” I long to understand the voice of the prophet Amos when he said: A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?”

One of the things the enemy has effectively erased in many if not most of the believers I have known in my life is the FEAR of a HOLY GOD. Jonathan Edwards’ view of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” has become such an old school understanding of God that few really ever FEAR God. Some even teach that it is not healthy to do so. Interestingly, Paul argued that such fearlessness was a sign of one who was pagan in Romans 3:18 when he said “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.”

To think that my sin is not an affront to God’s absolute holiness is nonsense. To think that because “I am saved by grace” such a blatant mutiny of heart against God causes Him no pain is dim-witted. It is what God referred to as spiritual unfaithfulness – the term harlot is used. What will help me more than a constant excuse of “human fallibility” or “calling on grace as a means of license” is to deliberately place God HIGH ABOVE everyone else – to see Him as Supreme and worthy of obedience. Fear of God isn’t a bad thing – because reducing Him to another friend without that balancing truth of His awesome power can easily lead to casual sinfulness.

My sin forces leaders to deal with me. How heavy was Paul’s heart dealing with Demas or Alexander the Coppersmith? The enemy uses even the believers to hurt other believers in their defections from God. I LOVE to be with men and women of God that are on fire for Jesus – but I am wearied by the number of defections from the Word both in teaching and in lifestyle that spoil the sense of safety in a circle of believers. We must remember that when we openly sin – we force other believers to defend, rebuke and otherwise drain their resources.

My sin defames the people of God. Imagine what the people of Moab thought of Israel after they partied together. Do you think the testimony of God was marred by their compromise? Of course you do – and you are right. Participation in behaviors that dishonor and displease God pull down His Holy name and confuse the world around us about what we really believe, and how much we really believe it.

When my sin is dealt with, it makes my God look mean – and the world watches. A disobedient child puts the parent and their response on display. In the same way, a disobedient believer challenges God to deal with them. When He does, the world responds as though God is unloving and mean – when the very opposite is true.

Let’s try a different strategy. Let’s recall often in our day that God is there and He is paying attention to what I am thinking about, to what I want, to what I am laughing at, to what I am watching. Let’s them imagine that He is TRULY HOLY, and that we belong to Him! Will that help me walk with Him? I think it might!

Distraction of Brazen Disobedience

The narrative of the “Distraction of the Happy Holiday” was lumped together with a second event I am calling the “Distraction of Brazen Disobedience” for a didactic purpose – God wanted to make clear how each attack was related and how bother were just another form of the attack we have observed through Balak in the case of Balaam in Numbers 22-24. This distraction method is an effective ploy the enemy uses in dealing with God’s people and their forward progress. The next example of this “places a shock value” into the story.

Have you ever been sitting in a public place and literally SHOCKED by the outrageous outfit someone was wearing? Have you ever been speechlessly STUNNED by the embarrassingly immodest dress of someone that walked by you? If you have, you will understand the SHOCK VALUE of brazen disobedience, and the distraction of this ploy will be obvious to you.

Numbers 25:6 Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, 8 and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. 9 Those who died by the plague were 24,000. …17 “Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; 18 for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you … in the affair of Cozbi, the daughter of the leader of Midian, their sister who was slain on the day of the plague because of Peor.”

God told the people not to marry outside of Israel. A look ahead at 25:14 explains that a man named Zimri, son of Salu the Simeonite defied that order, and took Cozbi, daughter of the chieftain Zur of Midian. When God told them how to interact with the people of the land they were going to see, He said in Deuteronomy 7:3 “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. 4″For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.” In short, Zimri son of salu “BLEW OFF” GOD’S WORD.

Note that Zimri didn’t just disobey – he FLAUNTED disobedience. Flagrant personal disregard for God’s Word is dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as PUBLIC DISPLAY of disobedience. Look at the description:

• Brought her to his relatives (25:6).
• In the sight of Moses (25:6).
• In the sight of the congregation (25:6).
• At the doorway of the tent of meeting (25:6).

Zimri didn’t make a quiet mistake – he made a flagrant, public, disgusting confrontation with God at the place where God met Israel. That was his plan. It was an attack against the Lord’s Word, and it was a huge distraction to God’s leaders. I truly believe that Moses’ jaw dropped at HOW DEFIANT this action was in front of him. I don’t think his relatives knew how to respond! I suspect the whole of the congregation was so stunned, no one was sure what to do next.

By reading in the end of verse 8 and the beginning of verse 9, more of the context of that day becomes clear. The people of Israel were gathering at the Tabernacle, but the place was filled with sadness and sickness. People were dying in large numbers, and the people were heart-sick. A plague filled the camp, and the people were seeking God and trying to figure out what would abate His wrath.

In walked an Israelite man who simply and publicly snubbed God’s Word and defied God’s authority in his choice of a spouse.

If Zimri were alive today, he would say things like: “It isn’t anybody’s business who I sleep with but mine!” His life, he thought, was his own. God was about to show him that his life was also going to be short-lived. I don’t know how God could make it clearer

Sitting in a group of people near the door of the Tabernacle was Phinehas, son of Eleazar, grandson of Aaron – a priest who knew God’s law. He didn’t appear to be “on duty” that day – he was “in the midst of the congregation” when he responded. He “arose” – suggesting that he was sitting down when Zimri strolled up to the door of the tent of meeting. He grabbed a spear from someone nearby, perhaps a guard who was standing near the silver trumpets placed at the gate for an emergency war alarm – we simply don’t know. What is clear is that Phinehas had the presence of mind to deal with the problem promptly and powerfully. He didn’t think, he stood strongly for the Lord in the face of open defiance. He chased Zimri and Cozbi and thrust the spear into both of them.

I know what that sounds like when you read it out loud. It sounds mean and savage. It is clearly an unusual story set in a very specific time and place – and not one I want people to think is generally acceptable to God. I don’t want someone taking out sharp objects and looking for sinners in the sanctuary – that isn’t how it works. While I want that to be clear – I also want it clear that everything we are being fed in modern Christian media seems to be saying only one thing: LOVE THEM WITHOUT QUESTIONING WHAT THEY ARE DOING. A twisted pagan definition of tolerance is overtaking our sense of care about how GOD FEELS when flagrant violations are routinely left to pass as acceptable. I have observed in Israel for thirty years this thinking: if we keeping supporting the guy that totally despises us, someday they will grow friendly to us. I have some news, and I don’t mean to be abrupt – they won’t. They won’t love you because you let them walk all over TRUTH as you sit quietly amidst the flowers and think warm thoughts.

We must be loving, and we must be kind – but we must NOT begin to think that such love and kindness cannot challenge flagrant violations of moral truth. We need to deliberately challenge the thinking that Love, or for that matter real tolerance means never telling someone they are wrong. Here is the truth: Tolerance of Biblically defined “immorality” will increasingly lead to intolerance of Biblically defined “morality”. The emboldened pagan will not allow a voice that says they are wrong. Count on it. Backing up and conceding will get us nothing when it comes to truth.

I keeping hearing that the best way we can represent Jesus is BE LIKE HIM. Usually is it followed by an analysis of a morally soft mind that calls us to LOVE and LISTEN and ACCEPT – but that isn’t the Jesus of the Bible.

• He didn’t agree with Satan’s challenge to his identity – He answered with Scripture (Mt. 4:10).
• He didn’t just heal people, He told them to repent – and change their behavior! (Mt. 4:17).
• He didn’t just accept good behavior –He challenged the hearts of people (Mt. 5:20).
• He didn’t play nice with other speakers who didn’t represent God well – He called then false talkers and ravenous wolves (Mt. 7:15).
• He didn’t accept part-time and fair weather disciples but told them nothing was more important – and they should put every other goal, and every other relationship behind the call to listen and obey Him (Mt. 8:20).

I don’t want to sound belligerent – I DO love people. At the same time, there is a soft-headed notion of Jesus that doesn’t represent His HOLINESS. I don’t serve a toothless lion of the tribe of Judah. I serve a Savior who is both powerful and pointed in His demand that we not place other agendas before Him.

Results of Vigilance to Follow God’s Word

Obviously, there are blessings to obeying God, and there are serious consequences for ignoring His stated commands and creating our own moral system in replacement of His Word. Just to reinforce the point – let’s look at both sides:

Blessings of Obedience

Numbers 25:8b “…So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. 9 Those who died by the plague were 24,000. 10 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. 12 “Therefore say, Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; 13 and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.‘”

Count the blessings:

1. The death by plague was stopped by God above (25:8-9).
2. The wrath of God was turned away from His people (25:11). Don’t forget – the wrath is not simply “anger” in the human sense of the term – the words don’t really do justice to God’s way of working. God was INCENSED with the mutiny, and its judgment demonstrated graphically there were those who would boldly stand up for the right thing.
3. God had occasion to reward the man who stood up for right (25:11-12).
4. God offered a man who committed a violent act a future of peace (25:12).
5. The sin of Israel was atoned (covered- 25:13).

Consequences of Compromise

25:8 and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body.14 Now the name of the slain man of Israel who was slain with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father’s household among the Simeonites. 15 The name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was head of the people of a father’s household in Midian. 16 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; 18 for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor and in the affair of Cozbi, the daughter of the leader of Midian, their sister who was slain on the day of the plague because of Peor.

Face the consequences of sinful compromises:

1. A man was compelled to take the life of two other people – and that was not easy then, or now (25:8).
2. Two people faced being stabbed in public before their families (25:8).
3. Two families mourned their children’s death (25:8).
4. Two people were forever remembered in defiance in God’s Word (25:14-15).
5. Hostility and a state of war was created by the exposing of the plot to compromise Israel (25:17-18).
6. The landscape was filled with graves of a plague (25:18).

Is it not ever so clear that the wages of sin is DEATH? Is it not equally clear that standing up for God and His Word may not be easy , but in the long run it will be better not only for the one who stands up, but for the whole community?

We must remember that the current wind that calls for the church to roll over on sin and immorality is a hot wind that will decimate the landscape of our country. Divorce broke down the family. Sexual promiscuity will break down individual identity and moral constraints that come with loving bonds. Stiffen your resolve to stand up for truth by standing strong in your own family, and lovingly prepare now to catch those tiny souls that are about to swept under by the currents of arrogant godless men and women. The pressure to accommodate to a new standard of wickedness in order to keep us more popular or relevant has the scaly skin of a snake hanging upon them – and we must not be duped.

Step away from the compromise of moral truth in your own heart and life. God sees it, and God knows what we are entertaining ourselves with. Remember…

When the devil cannot deceive believers with lies he will distract them with enticing playthings.

Strength for the Journey: “Who Speaks for God?” – Numbers 23:27-24:25

jay carneyEvery important leader needs an eloquent spokesman. It isn’t enough to be right, or to have good policy initiatives, the leader needs a consistent, clear voice that can present the views with persuasive arguments and kind personality. President after President in our country has found that to be true. Yet, somehow as believers we forget that God placed us in that important role of spokesmen and women for Him. Many of us have the unique opportunity to speak for God at work, in our trailer park or condo association, or sitting around the kitchen table with our dear friends. If you have ever been in the situation in which God used your life and voice to share His love and His grace, you know what I mean. If you know Jesus and that hasn’t yet been your experience, get ready – your time is coming.

Key Principle: To speak for God, we need to first understand what He has said to us, and then share it with enthusiasm and compassion – regardless of whether people like what they hear.

A First Lesson:

It has taken us a few lessons, but we have been following a fascinating story of a noted itinerant preacher of antiquity who suffered from a spiritual “heart attack” and passed through a recovery. The account is found in Numbers 22 to 24. Our first lesson of the series (in Numbers 22) reminded us of some delegations of Moabite men that enticed a prophet to leave his home in Mesopotamia and follow them to Moab for a paid prophetic assignment. Moab was ruled by a chief named Balak, who had a demoralized army in the face of the overwhelming Israelite advance from the deserts of the south, and he imported Balaam to prophesy a pre-conceived curse over Israel to help him bolster the spirits of his fighters. Balaam agreed to come to Moab because although he was a prophet, he was not walking in obedience to God at that time. In disobedience and greed, he traveled – and God met him on the way to confront him with his compromises. It was his “heart attack” – a confrontation with his wayward heart before God – that ended in repentance with a picture of the stumbling of a believer, and his restoration by God. Unfortunately, being right with God didn’t help the fact that he was now in Moab in the difficult situation of compromise before the chief and armies of pagan Moab. By the close of the Numbers 22, Balaam stood observing Israel from a pagan high place – a place he never would have gone as a prophet of God, while his nostrils were filled with the smell of pagan sacrifices. Balaam faced the results of his compromised life. He had to keep going with his agreement, even though he knew that he shouldn’t be in the relationship.

A Second Lesson:

In the second lesson of the series we dropped into the scene with the two men engaging one another in Numbers 23. In that story, we found there is only one RIGHT WAY to handle God’s Word, and three WRONG WAYS to react to it. Balaam’s life was a picture of the RIGHT way is to respond – to allow “molding”: He faced the Word of God, repented from his stubbornness and obeyed (22:34-35). Yet, Balak was not a believer in the God of Abraham. He responded to the Word of God in three distinct WRONG WAYS that we have all seen repeated by people through the ages:

Manipulating: Balak tried to manipulate the Word of God to say what he wanted to say (23:11-12). He pressed Balaam to hear from God, and then “work the message” to be what Balak wanted it to say. We have all seen this approach before – it is all too common even in our own day.

Misinforming: Balak suggested it was “just a matter of interpretation and perspective” (23:13-14). When Balaam and his God wouldn’t validate the wrong message of Balak, the chieftain suggested the problem was one of perspective. He just wasn’t “seeing it properly” and needed help interpreting what he heard from God. Who hasn’t heard the old: “that’s just your interpretation!” statement from someone who didn’t like the plain reading of the text?

Muzzling: Balak wanted Balaam to stop speaking if it wasn’t what he wanted to hear (23:25). Nearing exasperation over the stubbornness of the prophet and the resistance of God’s Words to bending, Balak just wanted Balaam to STOP TALKING. “If you can’t say something bad, say nothing at all!” he said.

There we are. The world tried to “buy” a message from God that conformed to its own definitions of morality. Standing in the way in the unyielding truth of God’s message – truth didn’t bend with popular sentiment – that isn’t how it works. We pick up our reading in the end of the story…

One Last Attempt:

Numbers 23:27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Please come, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will be agreeable with God that you curse them for me from there.” 28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor which overlooks the wasteland. 29 Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me here.” 30 Balak did just as Balaam had said, and offered up a bull and a ram on [each] altar.

Poor Balak! He kept trying to get God’s Word under control! Why wouldn’t God just shut up and do what He was told? The answer was simple: the Sovereign of the Universe bows for no man. He needs no popular vote of approval to know He is right and true. It is not just His response, it is His very character. When you have spun planets, you don’t need to get compliments to feel important – you know you are!

Observe God’s Unveiling of Truth

1: God made it clear that His position was not negotiable – first to Balaam:

24:1 When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times to seek omens but he set his face toward the wilderness. 2 And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him.

Look at the first phrase of Numbers 24. When the world needed to hear from God, it needed the clear tones of a believer who was SURE of what God has spoken. Balaam had fiddled around long enough. Move here, altars, rams dead, fires lit…searching out God, move there, more altars, sacrifices… searching out God… it was time to quit and just listen to EXACTLY what God wanted shared with the pagan world in front of him. I can’t help but feel that some hesitation was probably the result of a desire on his part to survive the scene. Balaam was, after all, in front of an army of a potential enemy and far from home. Nobody wants to volunteer to be in tomorrow’s obituary section quite that easily.

As we face a generation bound to redefine the most important foundations of morality, I have to ask, “Where are the brave men and women of God who will speak the message that pleases the Lord?” I trust some are engaging this passage right now. We need bold believers – hopeful, helpful men and women of God who will speak His Word and not pull back from the public square. We need preachers and teachers who will not shrink from the truth under the hot lights of the interview – but in tender firmness will make clear that God has spoken and is not unsure of what He wants.

Balaam quit looking at the omens – quit the endless searching of the signs – and just opened his mouth to deliver God’s message. He did two things:

• First, he turned his face toward the wilderness, where Israel had encamped after a generation of journeys. In other words, he faced squarely the desolate place that God used to form a rabble into a nation that He intended to use.

• Second, Balaam moved his eyes (in verse two) directly into the line of the object of God’s prophetic vision – the tents of the sons of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Look at the words, “tribe by tribe”. You can picture the slow and deliberate way his eyes moved across the tent tops as he took time to survey the multiplied seed of Abraham.

The church that is unconvinced that God’s standards are immovable and correct will waiver with public opinion rather than stand true in the storm.

2: God’s Spirit blew in with the truth:

The last part of verse two simply ends: “and the Spirit of God came upon him.” Even though it was long past time to quit dawdling and speak up –he wasn’t ready to do that by himself. The verse continues and notes “the Ruach of God came upon him”. God breathed His Spirit and Balaam was filled with the very Word of God. Does that sound exciting? Wouldn’t you LOVE to have that experience? You can! All you need do is read aloud the words that follow, and you too will utter the prophetic words of the Living One of Israel!

The believer that thinks you can argue people to faith doesn’t understand the operation of the Holy Spirit in communicating truth!

3: The prophet clearly and loudly pronounced that God spoke:

3 He took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened; 4 The oracle of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered,

Balaam made clear that the prophecy was NOT his own idea, but the powerful and transforming Word of God! Note the description in verses three and four:

• He heard the Word of God.
• He saw the visions of God.
• He couldn’t see the physical world (tripped and fell) but he could grasp the spiritual world (his eyes were uncovered).

This is the message for which the world is thirsting. It is the clear, crisp, quenching water of truth to a wandering heart – the message of one who will record and echo ONLY what God has said.

• Let missions ring with the sound to the 533 people groups that have yet to be engaged with the Gospel – for 70 million people have not been touched with the HOPE found in Jesus!

• While the message spreads abroad, let our pulpits clearly call men and women back to the Holy Word of God that must again be heard in our land.

They must know His Word and speak His Word. We cannot walk about proclaiming a God who is so small that He could not write the story of His work and preserve it faithfully – for such a God is too weak to heal the broken families of our nation! We need the proclamation of the Bible as God’s truth – clearly, systematically, unapologetically taught from one cover to the other. Nothing else will do! Nothing else has that purpose, that promise and that power!

The church that expends all its energy in social causes but neglects prayer and pronouncing the Word of God will find its energies used up on the wrong life – temporal improvement over eternal pronouncement.

4: The prophet learned that God’s message didn’t just offer the thoughts of God’s mind – the message openly exposed His heart.

5 How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel! 6 “Like valleys that stretch out, Like gardens beside the river, Like aloes planted by the LORD, Like cedars beside the waters. 7 “Water will flow from his buckets, And his seed [will be] by many waters, And his king shall be higher than Agag, And his kingdom shall be exalted. 8 “God brings him out of Egypt, He is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He will devour the nations [who are] his adversaries, And will crush their bones in pieces, And shatter [them] with his arrows. 9 “He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him? Blessed is everyone who blesses you, And cursed is everyone who curses you.”

God isn’t hiding what He wants or how He feels. He is ready to reveal to any who will listen. Look at how clear God was about the objects of His blessing:

• God was pleased to see them where they were (24:5 – “fair” is the Hebrew term for pleasant or good, the word “tov”).
• God knew they weren’t staying there (24:5b – “dwellings” is the term “mishkan”- the term “tabernacle” which is laden with the implication of a temporary nature).
• God delighted to see the growth of the people (24:6 – they were like a “river” – the term “valleys” was nachal, the river beds).
• God celebrated the camp teeming with life (24:6 – the term “gardens” – “gannah” is one wrought with living imagery!)
• God was present with them in the camp! (24:6 – the people were “like aloes planted by the Lord” – a reference to God’s investment in their placement – the God whose robes are fragrant with such aloes and cassia (Ps. 46:8).
• God was strengthening and growing Israel for great things! (24:6 – the phrase “like cedars beside the waters” is a picture of something with a great, deep and rich future!
• God wanted them to multiply as He exalted their kingdom! (24:7).
• God would fight for His people, and stand opposed to any who fight her (24:8).
• God renewed His promise to BLESS those who BLESSED HER (24:9).

Here is the point: God isn’t as vague about what He loves and what He wants. If we learn and teach His Word carefully – we will understand not only WHAT God instructed, but a larger picture of WHY HE CARES ABOUT what He has said.

Let me offer an example. In the Bible – self-discipline is a GOOD THING. We live in a time when people want to make the claim that abstinence education won’t work – because kids will have sex. Almost without missing a beat in the sentence, our schools move to tackle obesity. If our nation refuses to see the truth that there are massive benefits to insisting on students using moral restraint and self-discipline – we will pay a price in early funerals and inflated health care costs. God has spoken – self-discipline is a GOOD thing because it is a GOD thing.

• Marriage is HOLY because God made it. Sexuality is a HOLY EXPRESSION of God’s Sovereign choice of our body based on HIS desire, not our mood and our ability to convince the pagan world around us. Life is SACRED because it people hold HIS BREATH.

• If we divorce our country from a basic understanding of the things God said were important, we will kill our nation. God hasn’t been silent… His people have become timid and uninformed of what He has said – and we do not carry the message into the streets because we are not sure what we are to say. It is not the growth of secularism among the unsaved that is our chief problem – it is the distance between God’s Word and the bold lifestyles of God’s people that is killing us. We MUST know what He has said, and be clear in both word and deed to reflect just that.

We aren’t preaching “pet peeves” of the Pastor. We are trying to connect the dots between the unbiblical attitudes that are widely being adopted and the out workings of damage they will create. God’s heart is in our home, our community and our eternity. When we don’t speak against the areas the deceiver is shouting, we let God’s heart be set aside for the drifting standard of our culture.

5: The unbelievers made clear their rejection.

10 Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! 11 “Therefore, flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the LORD has held you back from honor.”

This is the good news. Balaam did not need to play religious games with unbelievers anymore. They wanted him gone, and in truth – he wanted to go home. This is the benefit of clarity. When we can cogently defend the Scriptures but do so with love and humility – people who KNOW they want to be in charge of their own lives simply send us away. The contrast is clear. In the days ahead, it will be very clear that there are three groups of people in our country:

• Unbelievers who don’t want God, His standards or any moral restraint unless it benefits them directly in some obvious way.

• Believers who want to surrender to God and follow Him.

• A shrinking number of people who BOTH want God and any freedom that seems fun. They will be squeezed out – and that is a good thing. The fence they have been walking upon is about to become virtually impossible to straddle.

The believer that places his hope on God’s smile and not the affirmation of the crowd will please his Master. The others will please their cultural peers – but then face a Master whose desires were swept aside in this life.

6: The believer that has committed to follow the Word is able to point to his testimony.

24:12 Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, 13 Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the LORD, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the LORD speaks, that I will speak’? 14 “And now, behold, I am going to my people; come, [and] I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come.”

There is a simplicity and elegance to being able to show that no compromise was made to the Word of God in your life. That is exciting news. When we bow and scrape to be loved by the world, we are tolerated by them for a time, but in the end, they are using us. When we are clear about the Word and do not allow ourselves to be baited into battles of emotional ego or be compromised by our financial dealings, etc. we have a platform of testimony to stand upon.

Churches must pull back from the borrowing of money to grow, and pay attention to maximizing their budgets. When we need money, the pressure becomes greater to compromise truth, allow bad behavior and look the other way. If we don’t borrow it, we won’t owe it. The borrower is the slave of the lender unless the borrower decides to work more in cash and less in loan. Ministries are going to get tighter to run in a world that is less benevolent to the things of God – and we must be faithful to care for the ministry, but inside of it we must be smarter with stewardship than ever before!

The church that is beholden to the world’s system will not be an honest broker of God’s truth.

7: God offered a very special picture of the future – but not until it was clear who was willing to follow and who was NOT:

Balaam offered a second set of prophecies – and this time he uncovered four specific promises of God:

He made clear the future of Moab, who just openly rejected God’s Word (but He offered a surprise of a Messianic prophecy!):

15 He took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, 16 The oracle of him who hears the words of God, And knows the knowledge of the Most High, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. 17 “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth.

We have spoken about this prophecy in the past – but it promised that a Messiah would arise from Israel, and that every deception would one day be broken down – including the Balak “pay for prophecy” plan!

He spoke concerning Moab’s southern neighbor Edom, who resisted Israel’s move through their territory when it was offered in peace:

18 “Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly. 19 “One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city.”

Here is the warning: Block God’s people from obeying His Word – and there will be a price to be paid. Let our modern courts and legislators take note.

He addressed the Amalekites that had warred against Israel in the desert over the long journey through the wilderness:

20 And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, “Amalek was the first of the nations, But his end [shall be] destruction.”

Here again came a lesson: Kick God’s people when they are down, and God will get the last kick.

He exposed the ruin of the Kenites, who also would not aid Israel.

21 And he looked at the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, “Your dwelling place is enduring, And your nest is set in the cliff. 22 “Nevertheless Kain will be consumed; How long will Asshur keep you captive?” 23 Then he took up his discourse and said, “Alas, who can live except God has ordained it? 24 “But ships [shall come] from the coast of Kittim, And they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber; So they also [will come] to destruction.” 25 Then Balaam arose and departed and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way.

Over and over God showed this truth: He knows how to protect His people, and He knows what He cares about. He was with them in the battle with Sihon. He stood with them as they fought Og in Bashan. He gave strength to them as they battled Amalek with Moses’ hands held high. He never left them, even when they forsook Him.

He waited for them to seek His face, hear His Word, and share His Word.

If you are used of God to share what He has said and done, you will find new strength, new hope, and new enthusiasm!

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was present at the Vienna Music Hall where his oratorio The Creation was being performed. Weakened by age, the great composer was confined to a wheelchair. As the majestic work moved along, the audience was caught up with tremendous emotion. When the passage “And there was light!” was reached, the chorus and orchestra burst forth in such power that the crowd could no longer restrain its enthusiasm. The vast assembly rose in spontaneous applause. Haydn struggled to stand and motioned for silence. With his hand pointed toward heaven, he said, “No, no, not from me, but from thence comes all!” Having given the glory and praise to the Creator, he fell back into his chair exhausted. (sermon central illustrations).

Oh that some would find His truth so compelling, and His promises to important, they would collapse in exhaustion from expending energy accurately reflecting God’s Word!

To speak for God, we need to first understand what He has said to us, and then share it with enthusiasm and compassion – regardless of whether people like what they hear.

Strength for the Journey: “Message Discarded” – Numbers 23:1-26

Close up of a graduation cap and a certificate with a ribbonA young man graduated from high school in a very affluent area of California. His father was well to do, having made a fortune in the days of the high tech boom. He was a fine Christian man, and loved his son deeply. On graduation day, the youth found a small box on his bed, with a card attached. Anxiously, he opened the box and found in it a Bible, with a little note from his father. The boy was angry. He loved his dad, but he couldn’t believe that he only got a Bible for all the hard work he put in to graduate near the top of his class. As the day wore on, he saw his classmates and heard all about the great gifts their parents gave them – the list was filled with “over the top” items of cars, trips, boats and the like. The young man in our story became more enraged, upset that his father didn’t give him more. When he came home, he never spoke to his father. He threw the Bible on his desk, and never opened the attached card. Disgusted with his father’s cheap attitude, the next morning he blew up at breakfast and unloaded a piece of his mind, before he marched out the door to the sound of the honk of his friend and off to his job as a golf caddy. Later that same day he got a call that his father was rushed to the hospital with a heart attack, and was in critical condition – not expected to live. Stunned by the news, he rushed to the hospital, but not before his father was gone. Friends and family tried to comfort him, but by day’s end he sat again in his room, staring at the wrapping on desk, and the attached card. On the envelope it merely said: “To my son”. He opened the card. Taped within the card was a key and a note that said: “The Bible is the gift of God to every believer – it will help you get around. In the garage downstairs is a new car – it will help you get around as well. I am proud of you son. I love you very much. Dad.”

I don’t think anyone – the boy I just mentioned included – thinks he reacted in a right way. He clearly acted selfishly, and spoke on an entirely selfish impulse. Discarding the message without really reading and grasping what his father said was a critical mistake… but sadly it is not a RARE one. I believe his story highlights in my mind the way we respond to precious gifts, and I have in mind today the very special gift of God’s Word that the boy’s father knew was so very precious.

Key Principle: God’s Word is a gift to men – but only if we rightly receive it.

There are four common ways people respond to God’s Word. Some believe – they see what the content of the message truly reveals and they repent and respond with bowed knee. Yet, many do not. They often employ one of three other responses to the Word. Some cynically use it to make a point they formed without it – a form of manipulation of the truth. Others attempt to confuse people by offering the notion that it is all so subject to private interpretation it is impossible to know the truth. Still others reject the message outright – and just tell the one who clearly speaks God’s Word to shut up and leave them alone! These responses of rejection aren’t new in our post-modern world, Balak of Moab demonstrated the same three rejections thousands of years ago!

When we open to Numbers 23, we are entering a story, an already underway mini-series ticked into the Bible. In the last episode of the series (in Numbers 22), we encountered a Moabite chieftain named Balak and a prophet he brought in from Mesopotamia with a commission to curse Israel. That prophet was named Balaam. Balak had a demoralized army that needed encouragement, and he imported Balaam to prophesy a pre-conceived curse over Israel to help him bolster the spirits of the Moabites. Balaam came because though he was a prophet, he was not walking in obedience to God – so God met him on the way and confronted him with his own compromises. Balaam ended the last chapter as a repentant prophet. Now in Moab, he was repentant, but caught in the difficult situation of compromises caused by his earlier disobedient agreement to come to Moab. By the end of the last episode (chapter 22), Balaam observed Israel from a pagan high place – a place he never would have gone as a prophet of God, while his nostrils were filled with the smell of pagan sacrifices. Awakened from the stupor of his disobedience, Balaam now faced dealing with the results of his compromised life. Balaam had to keep going with his agreement, even though he knew that he shouldn’t be in the relationship. We drop into the scene with the two men talking to one another as we enter Numbers 23…

There were six steps in the story that lead us to the REACTION TO THE MESSAGE – which is the point of the whole study:

1: Religion: The believer, Balaam, made up the religious observance with something that seemed right (23:1).

Numbers 23:1 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me here.”

In the absence of real relationship with God, the charade of religious practice still made sense to the manipulative chieftain Balak. Perhaps Balaam the seer believed that God would speak, but it is clear that the religious practice of the sacrifices, as far as Balak was concerned, was a mere set up for the manipulation of his people. The high cost of religion was a perfectly acceptable cost for a cynical power broker – and it still is. Beware of those who claim a relationship with God but do not walk as He has commanded – it is a clear sign they are using faith as a cloak to gain power or influence. This applies to individuals, but also to political parties and establishments. It is the singular reason the church must not be aligned with a single party – because she has too often been used.

Believers must be able to peer through the mere frequent mention of Jesus, God and Bible as the whole evaluation of a political figure’s true commitment to Jesus and His message. Don’t vote for someone because they quote the Bible, or claim to be a Christian. Christianity is more than a simple declaration – it is a relationship with the Living God through the sacrifice of Jesus. It is trusting in the completed work at Calvary – where Jesus died – as the full satisfaction of sin. That is the entry point to your walk with God. At the same time, not every action of a born again person reflects Jesus or Christianity. Christian thinking and Christian action are measurable against the text of Scripture. One who claims to be a believer but demonstrates little or no impulse to uphold the key principles of God’s Word may well be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The fact is that people have used religious words and God talk for millennia to gain political power – and our time is no different from the day Balak cynically did so years ago. Believers need to recognize that helping politicians USE religion to win voter confidence is a mistake on our part.

2: Mimickery: The unbeliever, Balak, mimicked the believer and offered to a God he did not truly serve – perhaps in order to appease this God on the “off chance” He was real – but surely to win the crowd over (23:2).

Numbers 23:2 Balak did just as Balaam had spoken, and Balak and Balaam offered up a bull and a ram on each altar.

The behavior of a believer in front of the world is incredibly important. Because unbelievers don’t know God, they don’t know how to relate to Him at all. In many cases, they take their cues from us. If we who know God enter a time of worship and do things in a haphazard way, the unbeliever in our midst will learn from us that worship and respect that do not reflect our true understanding of God.

Ponder this: What does it say about the importance we place on our worship if we don’t prepare both heart and body for it as though meeting corporately with God is something special? Would unbelievers observe your desire to be a part of the worship service and think that your time in worship is something that is “a) optional, b) important, or c) essential” to your faith? Is it possible that we have the right theology but may give the wrong “signals” to those who may observe our walk? It appears Balaam had Balak sacrifice alongside of him – when Balak had little or no respect for the God of Abraham. What cues did he learn from the believer in front of him?

3: Promise: The believer was now left with a new choice – speak with integrity what he knew was the truth, or go back to the lies that brought him into the camp.

Balaam claims he will seek God and bring a faithful message (something he failed to do in the last chapter). The question is: “After meeting God and repenting of his compromise, will he now faithfully represent Him?”

Numbers 23:3 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go; perhaps the LORD will come to meet me, and whatever He shows me I will tell you.” So he went to a bare hill.

Balaam got away from the high place, and went to be alone with God. He told Balak to remain behind and tend to his altar while he got alone with God. What an important choice – to get alone and listen to God’s voice. Believers cannot be what we must in PUBLIC until we are what we must be in PRIVATE before the Lord.

4: Reflection: God met the prophet, and the prophet anxiously shared the size and nature of the offering he made.

Numbers 23:4 Now God met Balaam, and he said to Him, “I have set up the seven altars, and I have offered up a bull and a ram on each altar.”

This is not an uncommon thread in Scripture. Many times men who know God make up their minds what God would want – not based on any command of God. The absence of consistent obedience brings with it the absence of certainty about God’s direction in daily affairs. In cases like that, believers end up trying to talk God into their observance, as though He doesn’t know what pleases Him.

Balaam informed God of the number of altars and rams in an apparent desire to hear the Lord’s approval. The last time they met together, Balaam was chastised. This time he wanted to restart the discussion on a more positive note. There is no comment in the text from God about the rams or the altars – but God does use the Seer. How many religious practices have been created by men in place of simple obedience – and at what price? From the ram’s perspective it was not a good day at the worship center, and we don’t know if there was any particular need for their blood to be spilt at a worship celebration led by pagans for a cynical power grabbing exercise. What we can say with certainty is that Balaam, like any believer was UNCERTAIN he was doing right when he wasn’t following the expressed Word of God.

5: Revelation: God decided to share a word with Balaam in the situation, because God wanted to work a plan.

Numbers 23:5 Then the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and you shall speak thus.

Don’t get the idea that because “it worked” that God was somehow completely happy with how all this came to be. Pragmatism is the notion that because something worked it is a correct way to do it. That is very contemporary, but also very flawed thinking. Ask any mathematics teacher – the correct method of finding the sum is every bit as important as the correct sum itself. If one does something the wrong way and it works, it can cripple them from discovering the right way to do something. God constantly turns wrong into right when it serves His purpose to do so in the Bible. Though that is true, it doesn’t make the wrong way correct. The ability to recognize that truth – that God works in spite of men – is one of the key lessons that made the Patriarch Joseph a hopeful man in the midst of an unfair imprisonment.

Joseph said it this way:

Genesis 50:15 “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” 16 So they sent [a message] to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, 17 Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”‘ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? 20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, [but] God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. 21 “So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

There is a special and deep lesson of encouragement that enters the heart of any believer that can see God’s loving hand in the course of life’s difficult and most unfair moments. Joseph clearly could. He know that when God wanted to work, He could act “in”, perhaps “through”, and always “in spite of” ungodly men and devious evil actions.

In spite of Balak’s cynicism, and Balaam’s earlier compromises, God was at work and spoke clearly. He can do that when He chooses. He needs no church, no choir, no special setting. God can clearly touch His creation on a bare hill on a hot and sunny day – and He did.

6: Proclamation: Balaam returned with a message from God. All eyes were trained on him.

Numbers 23:6 So he returned to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, he and all the leaders of Moab. 7 He took up his discourse and said, “From Aram Balak has brought me, Moab’s king from the mountains of the East, Come curse Jacob for me, And come, denounce Israel!’ 8 “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced? 9 “As I see him from the top of the rocks, And I look at him from the hills; Behold, a people [who] dwells apart, And will not be reckoned among the nations. 10 “Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, And let my end be like his!”

It appears that when Balaam returned with his message, he held nothing back. It also appears that he may have thought this would be his last prophecy as a living prophet! His choice was clear – he would serve God faithfully now:

• He made clear that Balak brought him there to offer a prepared message of cursing and denunciation (23:7).

• He specified that God HAD spoken, and that God’s Word did not conform to what Balak wanted (23:8).

• He confirmed that God’s promises concerning Israel were true and secure (23:9-10).

• He pledged his desire to die and be recalled as a man of truth, rather than to celebrate a concocted message (23:10b).

The proper choice for the man of God is to speak the Word of God without apology. We must learn to speak with enormous love and true winsomeness – but we dare not prostitute the message of the Living One to become more acceptable to the crowd about us. Balaam admitted in his message that God had been faithful to His promises. Genesis 13 and 28 both promised to make a great nation out of Abraham’s children – and God did exactly that! How desperate we are in modern America to hear the unashamed voices of those who will “speak the truth in love”! It is easy to become hollow, and equally easy to sound harsh – we need NEW VOICES.

At this point in our lesson – the text changes direction. The tone of the relationship between Balak and Balaam shifts as Balak no longer controls the message of God for his own political purposes. His responses are three that should be familiar to believers today:

Three Ways Unbelievers Respond to the Clarity of God’s Word

First, some will try again to MANIPULATE the Word for their own purposes:

Balak revealed that he didn’t truly believe that God was at work at all – he cynically saw only TWO MEN at work here.

Numbers 23:11 Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have actually blessed them!”

The world is perfectly happy for us to have a Bible that we claim is truth – so long as it does not say anything that conflicts with their predetermined moral sense of “fairness” or “tolerance”. They don’t mind us hearing a message from “God” as long as He says affirming things, nice things, happy things, things that bless them and ordain future blessing for them. When we sing “God bless America” it is a harmless and sentimental tradition. When we call America to BLESS GOD by following His Word – it is restrictive, intolerant and wholly unloving. Why?

The bottom line is they don’t believe that God has truly spoken at all – the text is the mere record of some benevolent philanthropist “do-gooders” that were harmlessly spouting a meaningless set of rules in antiquity. Further, they aren’t really “on board” with the idea that even their Creator should have the right to tell them how to live! Americans increasingly want a benevolent God who brings prosperity – a “friends with benefits” view of the Almighty.

Here is a truth every modern western believer must recognize: The Bible is an entirely offensive book to a man or woman who desires to write their own moral code. It lays out the case for a Holy God and a rebellious mankind. Though it is clearly poised to offer the love and hope of salvation – one can only desire salvation if we first embraced our lost-ness, and that strikes at the heart of rationalist man’s self-reliance. In the end, if a man or woman truly believes there is a God in Heaven and they accept the Bible as His Word – they desire to become tuned to what God said concerning them. Sitting at the feet of the Sovereign One is not forced servitude – but a joyful act of worship. Conversely, if one sees the Bible merely as a good book by good men alone – they find fault with texts that seek to limit their responses to impulses to do as they like. The issue is both their fundamental belief in God’s existence and their trust in the veracity of the Biblical record.

Our lives really are, to a great extent, morally defined by our recognition or rejection of the first line of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth.” If we truly accept that the God of the Bible is our Creator, we are willing accept His right to direct and instruction His creation. In that hour the Bible becomes more than a tale of ancient men; it draws us to an understanding of the God who made us. If we do not believe He is Creator, we are free to create our own system of morality based on any principles that our heart desires – and many are doing just that. Even so, our culture is only recently emboldened to frame the Bible as evil. We should expect to see more of that in the future, and the Biblical definitions of right and wrong are seen as more offensive and intolerant. For the time being, we are still largely living with the manipulative use of the text – where one can claim that it is not true, but then argue that it is somehow essential to our system of morality. Political use of the Bible for such blatant manipulation is a farce – no matter who does it.

Balaam verbalizes the lesson of the believer who has faced God and been convicted – he cannot pretend that God is silent, unengaged, or malleable.

Numbers 23:12 He replied, “Must I not be careful to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?”

In the face of manipulation, the believer falls back to the truth as presented and basically says: “Look, I didn’t write the stuff. I am here to report what God said – nothing more, nothing less!” Isn’t that a GREAT RESPONSE?

Second, some will try to REINTERPRET the Word of God –

…to get a reading more favorable to their own view: “Maybe you didn’t see things from the right angle! Look again!” Balak says.

Numbers 23:13 Then Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place from where you may see them, although you will only see the extreme end of them and will not see all of them; and curse them for me from there.” 14 So he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on [each] altar.

Why go to all the trouble of rebuilding the altars? Why look in another direction when the LORD had spoken ever so clearly? It is simple. When people cannot refute the content of the Word of God – they quickly move to “Well, that is how YOU interpret the Bible!” The Word that was as clear as “NO, YOU CANNOT CURSE THEM!” somehow becomes so hard to interpret.

We see this all the time. People do gymnastics to the Bible to make it less clear than it is. Words like “Thou shalt not” or “It is an abomination before the Lord” become new statements like: “I am not sure you can be so clear, you know I have heard many other religious people say the Bible is too hard to interpret.

Let me direct here: The Bible has some passages that are poetic, and some that are symbolic – but they are not most of the content. Of the 1189 chapters in the English Bible, the overwhelming number of them can be understood at face value by a school child reading them. I am not saying the Spirit of God doesn’t give greater comprehension to the applications, but I am saying that Joseph’s color coat isn’t so hard to see when you read the story. Most of the text is a straightforward story – with little need to embrace years of seminary study. When Paul told Timothy and Titus how to act in their relationships with others, it was not deeply cryptic language.

Look at how Balaam humored Balak, perhaps because only one of them had a standing army that both could see on that hill…

15 And he said to Balak, “Stand here beside your burnt offering while I myself meet [the LORD] over there.” 16 Then the LORD met Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” 17 He came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the leaders of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the LORD spoken?” 18 Then he took up his discourse and said, “Arise, O Balak, and hear; Give ear to me, O son of Zippor! 19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? 20 “Behold, I have received [a command] to bless; When He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it. 21 “He has not observed misfortune in Jacob; Nor has He seen trouble in Israel; The LORD his God is with him, And the shout of a king is among them. 22 “God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox. 23 “For there is no omen against Jacob, Nor is there any divination against Israel; At the proper time it shall be said to Jacob And to Israel, what God has done! 24 “Behold, a people rises like a lioness, And as a lion it lifts itself; It will not lie down until it devours the prey, And drinks the blood of the slain.”

Here is the fundamental problem with unbelievers using the Bible – they aren’t willing to see God as the One who is unmovable, and man as the one who must change. Balak wanted a change of message, so he claimed that a change of venue might help. Balaam wanted to make the point that no matter how Balak felt – God is God. He is not subject to the popular vote, or the shifting winds of human morality. If God says it is good and right – then it is, no matter what people think.

Oh that the church, so impacted by rationalism and so distracted by the bright lights of cultural fame, would learn that God is not worried about men’s agreement to His absolute rule over Creation….

Finally, when all else fails, some will just tell the believer to SHUT UP!

25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Do not curse them at all nor bless them at all!” 26 But Balaam replied to Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘Whatever the LORD speaks, that I must do’?”

There are four responses to God’s truth:

• The first is demonstrated by Balaam who confronted in disobedience, repented and chose to hear and obey God’s Word as delivered.

The next three are familiar to anyone who works in a secular world environment.

• There was Balak’s first response when he refused the truth and tried to manipulate in private the words spoken in public.

• The second response was to confuse the issue by suggesting it was merely a question of “interpretation” of the words – that Balaam had simply interpreted God’s words incorrectly and seen Israel from the wrong angle.

• The last was an open call to reject the words – a plea to cease offering the words if they will not be as desired.

God’s Word is a gift to men – but only if we rightly receive it.

The story isn’t finished yet, because Balak had invested a great deal in the scene and wasn’t ready to give up – but that is for our next lesson (in Numbers 23:27-30). Stay tuned!

Strength for the Journey: “Jackass – the Original Series” – Numbers 22

JackassBetween 2000 and 2002, MTV began a TV series called “Jackass” (followed by a series of movies by the same name). The series and the films featured people performing dangerous, often crude and self-afflicting stunts and pranks. The basic idea began two years before, in 1998, when actor Johnny Knoxville began testing self-defense weapons on his own body for a magazine article. For his writing, Knoxville “tasered” himself, “maced” himself and eventually even shot himself (while wearing a bullet-proof vest). The stunts got worse from there…

The show’s stunts began a significant controversy over use of the airwaves, which helped the show’s rise in viewer numbers. The series creators thought they offered sufficient cautions…During the show and in every episode, “Jackass” featured carefully worded disclaimers warning watchers that these stunts should not be imitated, and specifying that stunts done at home could not be submitted and aired on TV. Their logo: a ‘skull and crutches‘- was posted at the bottom right of the screen to further warn of risk. Nevertheless, copycats began and the show took hits in the public storm:

  • On January 29, 2001, Senator Joseph Lieberman condemned MTV and Jackass after a copycat incident in which a 13-year-old Connecticut teenager was left in critical condition with severe burns. MTV responded to the criticism by canceling all airings of Jackass before 10:00 PM.
  • In another case, Matt-Dillion Shannon, from New Zealand, was sentenced in 2012 to three years in prison for dousing of a 16-year-old with gasoline and setting him alight: an act Shannon’s lawyer claimed was inspired by the Jackass series.

The message of the show, perhaps more than any other was this: “Don’t try this at home. This is dangerous, and can really hurt you or those around you.” Here is an interesting thought… MTV didn’t actually start the series by this name, however… I submit the first REAL episode of Jackass was already famous millennia before in written form. The original episode was a story of a stubborn celebrity and his wise side-kick – his donkey. In the original story, found in Numbers 22, the Jackass was a man named Balaam, and the donkey was a spiritually sensitive, garden variety, God-used donkey. The story offered a window to an important truth…

Key Principle: God knows more than our actions – He knows our intentions. He is a God of the heart, not simply of the hands. There is simply no hiding from Him.

You see, God peers well below our skin. His eye is not limited to the surface, nor is His vision ever inaccurate. He is able to see us at every level – microscopic, elemental and even intentional. He does not merely hear what we say – He hears what we mean. He knows what we ponder and measures our true heart’s desire. He knows us better than we could ever know ourselves.

Tucked into the record of the journey of Israel east of the Dead Sea during the last part of their journey with Moses toward the Promised Land is a story of an itinerant preacher that was brought in from far away Mesopotamia to pronounce a message cursing the incursion of Israel on the land of the Moabite tribes…

The text offers vignettes of four distinct personalities:

The first is God Himself – who is at work all through the story, but loudest in the confrontation near the end. Next the story exposes two different kinds of people – those who knew God, and those who needed God. Inside the story of those who knew God the people are divided further – between those who were obedient to God and those who were disobedient – just as any room of people studying the story today. Among men, then, there were three other personalities:

• The obedient believers in the story are the children of Israel. They have proven themselves imperfect and stubborn – but in this story they are doing what God said, and are progressing in their call.

• The disobedient believer is a seer named Balaam who lived in Mesopotamia, and knew the Lord. He could ask of God and hear His voice, but the seer was not walking in faithfulness and integrity.

• The unbelievers were the Moabites, led by their chief – a man named Balak. He didn’t claim to truly believe in the LORD, but he wanted to blunt the invincible reputation of Israel that caused his own army to quake in their sandals at the mention of their name.

The text develops three distinct parts of the story:

Just as there are four personalities in the text, there are three parts to the story. First, there is the context – God’s people advancing. Next, there is the confusion, where the absence of inner confusion in the camp forces God’s enemy to search for and find a perfect ally – the disobedient believer outside the advancing camp. Finally the narrative turns toward the confrontation – God’s dialogue with the true “jackass” of the text – the disobedient and hypocritical believer (not the spiritually discerning donkey he was riding upon!) and the results of that confrontation. Let’s take the story apart…

First, the Context: God’s People were finally moving forward

Obedient believers are a threat to the enemy following God’s commands (21:21-22:4).

• When internal strife, disbelief and disobedience were no longer keeping the people from doing what God said they should do, they moved ahead against the Amorites in the area between the Arnon and Zered wadis, and cut through the opposing armies (21:21-32). The power of the believer is exponentially increased through obedience to God’s commands.

• They marched on the plateau east of the Jordan River all the way to Bashan and defeated tribal chiefs in the region (modern Golan Heights – 21:33-35). The opposition melts when God is moving.

Israel conquered just as God directed. A once defeated rabble now acted as a sharpened fighting force when they walked in obedience and surrender. The people of God today must grasp that we are powerful agents in God’s mighty hand – when we are surrendered to His purposes. No act of Congress or court can block our ability to show compassion to the sick, to pass a cup of cold water to a thirsty child, to open our doors to hospitality and feed hungry people. When the church acts in obedience, she acts in power. When she acts in disobedience, she creates confusion, hypocrisy and cynicism.

God has His own press secretaries that can compound the testimony of His people (22:1-4).

22:1 Then the sons of Israel journeyed, and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan [opposite] Jericho. 2 Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3 So Moab was in great fear because of the people, for they were numerous; and Moab was in dread of the sons of Israel…

• The Moabites feared the size and strength of the army of Israel (22:1-4). The reputation of the believers and their God was clear and powerful in their obedience. They were not much physically stronger than when Edom refused them entry – but this time they were walking together and in obedience.

I frequently run into believers that are worried about God’s reputation in these days, as if the Most High is somehow a concerned fading celebrity or aging politician. He is neither. He started it all, and the Bible makes clear that He will be there for the last act of a rebel. He has no fear that popular opinion will somehow cause Him to cease to exist or become less relevant. Long ago God made the point with stinging clarity to Job – there simply is no one that God fears. He has no equal, and He needs no one to tell Him how to run the world – though many feel self-qualified to do so. He is not defensive, because He has in His hands the whole plan of human history. His people should not therefore be defensive – but gentle and unbending to the moral whim of popular sentiment.

Second, the Confusion: Unbelievers look for an ally in Disobedient believers

Unbelievers recognize external power, but not the real source of strength (22:5-7).

22:5 So he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, at Pethor, which is near the River, [in] the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me. 6 “Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” 7 So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the [fees for] divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam and repeated Balak’s words to him.

• Balak of Moab knew of a great Seer who spoke for the LORD, but thought that Seer could determine or manipulate the message he received from God (22:5-6). The issue wasn’t simply that Balak believed that Balaam could KNOW who would win – he wanted to thwart the psychological advantage of Israel’s string of victories with the news of a curse amongst his own troops. The world will causally and cynically use both God’s Word and God’s people for their own end game.

Do not blame them – they do not know the power of the Word of the Living God. They do not feel the warmth of the fire. They know only the cold, and believe all references to the heat are but myth. We were like them, so we should be understanding.

• Balak thought the fee paid could win him a favorable outcome with God (22:7). Don’t miss the important lesson here. When God’s enemy wants to find an ally, they look for the believer that is not walking in obedience to God’s Word.

Ponder that for a moment. Right in the room of every church today are some of the enemy’s most potent allies. They have a form of godliness, but they practice it in self-will. When the enemy desires to attack God’s plan – they are the ones he will use to accomplish the damage. That’s worth a moment, and a sobering thought about our own heart and its surrender to the Master’s beckoning.

Disobedient believers are selfish, and neither represent God well, nor serve others honestly (22:8-14).

22:8 He said to them, “Spend the night here, and I will bring word back to you as the LORD may speak to me.” And the leaders of Moab stayed with Balaam. 9 Then God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” 10 Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent [word] to me, 11 Behold, there is a people who came out of Egypt and they cover the surface of the land; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I may be able to fight against them and drive them out.'” 12 God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” 13 So Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s leaders, “Go back to your land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” 14 The leaders of Moab arose and went to Balak and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”

• Disobedient believers promise (by implication or open statement) to accurately reflect God’s Word to the people who want to know it (22:8). Instead of refusing to participate in any way, they make a show of their fake obedience to God. In many ways, it would be better for a man or woman to never meet a believer – than to meet a disobedient one. If they never met one, God could meet them through other means. If they know disobedient ones, God has a hurdle to overcome to reach their heart.

• Though the disobedient believer hears and understands God’s Word when they seek Him (22:9-12), they will undoubtedly choose to report only part of what God said – either not taking it all seriously or evaluating the other part as that which would make them less palatable to the world (22:13). God’s Word is not blocked from them in their disobedience – they simply dismiss uncomfortable parts of it.

• They leave a negative view of themselves before the world, without carefully explaining God’s point of view from His Word (22:14). God had a representative on the scene who failed to represent Him in his disobedient state – setting up further compromise in the future. If Balaam had carefully explained the truth – all the truth – God shared with him, he could have left Balak with better information, and would have removed the obstacle of further temptation from himself.

Think for a moment about the Moabites that heard the “half record” from God…Unbelievers who have not received the faithful record of God’s Word, keep pressing for their own objectives with their own false understanding (22:15-21).

22:15 Then Balak again sent leaders, more numerous and more distinguished than the former. 16 They came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor, ‘Let nothing, I beg you, hinder you from coming to me; 17 for I will indeed honor you richly, and I will do whatever you say to me. Please come then, curse this people for me.'” 18 Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the LORD my God. 19 “Now please, you also stay here tonight, and I will find out what else the LORD will speak to me.” 20 God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise up [and] go with them; but only the word which I speak to you shall you do.” 21 So Balaam arose in the morning, and saddled his donkey and went with the leaders of Moab.

• Balak didn’t hear what God said concerning Israel, only that Balaam was unable to come to them – so he proceeded without understanding (22;15a-16). The believer’s task is as a faithful witness. Failure to offer truth because we believe people will not accept it is taking the work of others in our hands

• Balak offered Balaam more money and honored him with a more prestigious delegation (22:15b, 17). The world uses tools that work among lost men – enticements in the physical world like fame and fortune.

• Even the disobedient believer knows that such enticements should be openly shunned – and he appears to do so publicly (22:18-19). Disobedient believers are the hypocrites that turn the world’s hunger for God off.

• God let the compromising prophet move ahead in his own desires and his lusts set up the confrontation and conviction (22:20-21). Knowing the man’s heart to press forward, God opened the door and “gave him over” to his desire. Had he truly believed what God told him before – that God was with Israel – there is no way he would have gone with the men. Believers who don’t take God’s Word seriously are headed for a confrontation with God – either before death or after.

Third, the Confrontation: God dealt with a disobedient follower

The disobedient believer God permission to play out his own desires (22:22a).

22:22a But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as an adversary against him

• In the story, it is not immediately clear why God would give Balaam permission to do something that He didn’t really WANT the man to do. God was asked, God answered, and now God was in the way – so there is certainly MORE TO THE STORY than the surface. A further search of Scripture answers the problem. It appears God gave him over to wrong desires and allowed him to go – so that God could lead him back to repentance. Reading the story it may not be immediately apparent, but God offered more commentary on the story in four other places in His Word. The first two, from the Hebrew Scriptures, are both a reflection of the history, used to remind people of God’s faithfulness and the ongoing penalty of God for the incident:

Deuteronomy 23:3 “No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their [descendants], even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the LORD, 4 because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. 5 “Nevertheless, the LORD your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you. 6 “You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days.

Micah 6:5 “My people, remember now What Balak king of Moab counseled And what Balaam son of Beor answered him, [And] from Shittim to Gilgal, So that you might know the righteous acts of the LORD.”

Essentially, both Moses and Micah offer the truth that the historical event of Balaam was a ploy, and that he was a prophet for hire. Yet, later commentary on the event in the Christian Scriptures offered a clearer window into Balaam’s reasons for wanting to go with the men. Peter and Jude both comment:

Speaking of disobedient people in the assembly of the early church, Peter comments in 2 Peter 2:12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15 forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the [son] of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, [for] a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. Peter clearly indicates that Balaam was “on the take” and working from his fallen nature and its lusts – not on behalf of God’s true intent. God sometimes gives people over to what they truly want to teach them something important.

Jude offers a nearly identical insight when referring to disobedient and defiant people in the early church in Jude 1:10 But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. 11 Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. The reference appears to be warning that some are fussing in the body because of a burning passion for physical gain. They were apparently willing to trade truth for cash.

Don’t forget a truth from Scripture about God’s emotions as they are recorded. We read that God was ANGRY. That grammatical term, like all human terms about God is only bluntly accurate. When I am angry, I am acting in selfishness. I am normally making myself, my desires and my comfort more important than those around me. When God does it, it is a function of truth. There is a sense in which it is entirely beyond the grasp of human language to define with specificity the emotional responses of God. His anger usually leads to teaching the object of His anger. Mine does not. I am forced to conclude the word, when applied to God is a blunt and crude description of His true feelings limited by human language.

God hadn’t left the scene, but was setting up a confrontation with the wayward believer (22:22b).

22:22b “…Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him”.

• God didn’t send him alone into the world – there were some who (in the mercy of God) could still point the way back to God. Sometimes the real jackass isn’t obvious.

On the way to a confrontation with God, many disobedient believers fight God’s Word and God’s messengers (22:23-30).

22:23 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way. 24 Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, [with] a wall on this side and a wall on that side. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he struck her again. 26 The angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick.

• Spiritual sensitivity sinks when disobedience flourishes (22:23-27). For a while, the disobedient believer would be at odds with those who were sensitive to God’s leading – but they are God’s redirecting gift. Jude says it this way: Jude 1:22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Watch Balaam as he traveled. The donkey saw God’s interruption, the seer did not. The donkey turned to save his master and for that she was struck by her master (22:23).

A second time the donkey avoided calamity for his master and she was struck again for the small pain he caused him (22:24-25).

The third encounter caused the donkey to lay down in the pathway, which got her a beating with a stick (22:26-27).

In some ways, obedient believers are like the donkey, trying to warn the disobedient but getting beaten by them. Obedient and spiritually sensitive believers should sense the privilege of being used by God when disobedient believers react against them. Sometimes our job includes taking an unfair shot.

22:28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.” 30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.

• God has a way of speaking to the disobedient believer – and convicting them with truth while allowing them to continue to disobey (22:28-30). Note the donkey walking “in his own way” was analogous to the true jackass – Balaam – walking HIS OWN WAY. We can often detect a flaw in others because we have mastered it in ourselves!

In effect, God empowered the donkey to argue with the Jackass on his back. “Knock it off!” complained the donkey. “I am not doing anything wrong! I have been with you for a LONG time, will you please wake up and pay attention to what is happening and QUIT SMACKING ME!” The DONKEY seemed to have more spiritual comprehension than the man riding upon her.

The confrontation between donkey (a faithful servant) and her master (the disobedient believer set up the confrontation with the LORD (a faithful Master, 22:31-35) and the true jackass of the story (the disobedient believer).

22:31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground. 32 The angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me. 33 “But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.” 34 Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me. Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I will turn back.” 35 But the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I tell you.” So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak.

• God made Balaam see what his disobedient eyes could not naturally see – this is part of the process of conviction (22:31). Disobedience often blinds us to God’s warnings until we are ready to place God back in charge of our life.

• The angel of the LORD repeated the question about abuse to the donkey that the animal raised earlier (22:32). When we don’t hold God in His rightful place, we can easily abuse the place of others around us. I have seen this many times. Leaders who are not surrendered to God can easily be tyrants – even in the household of faith. Surrendered leaders are much more sensitive servants than unsurrendered ones.

• God’s emissary made clear the donkey was faithful, while the seer was not (22:33). God speaks against the poor handling of truth, and the abuse of His servants.

• The arrow of conviction found its mark, and the seer admitted his sin, offering to turn back and go home (22:34). Repentance is agreeing with God about my sin, and offering back to God the right to re-direct my steps.

• God used even the disobedience, once surrendered, to advance His agenda (22:35). When a testimony is broken, it will take time to fix, even though the sin is forgiven.

The final results of the confrontation were a renewed prophet that had, through earlier compromise, put himself in real discomfort by his poor testimony (22:36-41).

22:36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, which is on the Arnon border, at the extreme end of the border. 37 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not urgently send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me? Am I really unable to honor you?” 38 So Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come now to you! Am I able to speak anything at all? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I shall speak.” 39 And Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent [some] to Balaam and the leaders who were with him. 41 Then it came about in the morning that Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, and he saw from there a portion of the people.

• The unbeliever felt entitled to the loyalty of the once disobedient believer (22:36-37). When the ungodly buy a man, they own him. Herein is the quiet warning: Don’t be manipulated by men to feed lusts for fame or fortune, power or pleasure. The borrower becomes the slave to the lender!

• The unbeliever thought he could cynically read the motivation of the believer – because in disobedience they were very much the same (22:37). Now they were not, but he didn’t know that. Renewal before God and renewal before men are not the same process.

• The unbeliever heard the claims of the believer – but he didn’t really believe them – why would he (22:38)? The track record of this believer was that he could be manipulated by enticement – and that his walk with God was just a show. Hypocrites naturally sow the seed of cynicism in those around them.

• The unbeliever offered religious practice in place of relationship (22:39-41). By the end of the story, there stood the once disobedient believer in a high place of Baal, with the smoke of a pagan offering in his nostrils – being coached along by a pagan.

Don’t mistake the positive nature of the end of the story.

The narrative began with obedient believers moving forward, and a disobedient seer brought in as an ally to the world. The scene ends with all the believers doing right. Despite the compromises and discomfort created by the disobedience of the past – there was much reason to hope – because all of God’s people were now following His instructions. That is the goal of instruction.

Paul said it best to Timothy long ago: 1 Timothy 1:5 “But the goal of our instruction is love (right action) from a pure heart (clean thinking) and a good conscience (proper innate self-judgment) and a sincere faith (vision as God says things are).” Right instruction leads to correct and unselfish actions that come from proper discernment based on truth.

God knows more than our actions – He knows our intentions. He is a God of the heart, not simply of the hands. There is simply no hiding from Him.

Strength for the Journey: “Painful Lessons” – Numbers 21

woman frustrated“Why can’t I get this stupid car to start!” she cried, as she watched the minute hand moving, step by step, to the killing of her new job. She knew that if she was late again, it was over. Tears ran down her cheeks as she cried out to God, angry that He didn’t seem to listen to her. “Why won’t you help me?” she said bitterly. “Just when I get my hopes up, they are smashed again – by things I can’t help!” …This wasn’t the beginning of her story – that was long before. She grew up in a good home, and learned right from wrong. She left one day in a rebellious rage – convinced that she could make it without the rules in her life. Her choices alienated her friends and hurt her family – but she was determined to live on her own by her own rules… She would make life accept her directions. The problem quickly became apparent… life wouldn’t cooperate. People didn’t give her a fair chance. Some took advantage. Cash tapped, the car couldn’t be fully maintained. Now she was living with the results of a broken car – and that was killing her chances at getting the cash necessary to have the car fixed properly. She felt sick, but couldn’t afford a doctor or the medicines to get better. She had dreams, but was watching them slip away. All the while, she kept any sense of a walk with God and His Word at a distance – somehow thinking that He would be too busy to notice her choices, or that she would be strong enough to pull off life without His help. Thoughts of Him only came in these angry and disappointed moments… Discontented with her life, the road back to Him was as clear as ever – but she seemed more willing to believe the lie that she could make it on her own, than the truth. She needed to come back to His arms, and surrender her stubbornness. Here is the truth:

Key Principle: Much of our pain is because we don’t want to do what God has made plain to us that we should. Even more pain is caused by our refusal to recognize God’s redirection back to Him.

I am going to challenge in this lesson an assumption. Many assume that people are NOT SURE that what they are doing in their self-made lives is wrong. The Bible poses a number of stories that seem to identify the problem – not as much one of ignorance – as one of defiance. To be sure, some are ignorant of His will. Still others, however, have been carefully taught truth. They simply refuse to believe that life is as the Bible describes it, and life’s purposes are as the Scripture defines. They believe they have found another way to a meaningful life… and they continue in that belief even when it is apparent to those watching that it is not working. The live in a self-made delusion created by their will overpowering the truth around them.

Our text in this lesson illustrates the problem of listening to God, as well as blaming Him for our choices. There are a series of short stories lumped together here. The first story is very short – just three verses. The story helps frame a very basic truth. Let’s identify that truth, then take a few moments to set that teaching into the wall of the bigger truths in the background of the Word of God….The text opens with…

Story One – A Provided Victory: God heard the cry of those who were willing to do His will – and gave them provision.

The Problem: An enemy threatened:

Numbers 21:1 When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, then he fought against Israel and took some of them captive.

The people had been refused by Edom to pass through their territory along the journey (it is not clear in the timeline if this already happened, but it appears as though it did). That isn’t so unreasonable. Not everyone wanted a large army and a massive encampment of people to pass by their cities – and the Edomites were clear on that point. Now Israel journeyed north and east through the basin called the Negev. The open plain exposed them to the local population that also mistrusted their intentions. Arad saw a threat and attacked – getting some hostages to question about the plan. If they knew the whole truth and told the whole truth – that God had promised the land to them after they WIPED OUT the people of the land – this would have done nothing to make Israel’s trip through the land more peaceful.

The Prescription: A prayer was offered:

21:2 So Israel made a vow to the LORD and said, “If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.”

Facing the loss of their brothers in the hostage situation, and recognizing that they would certainly be forced to fight or take flight back to the uninviting wilderness of Zin, the people came to a standstill. They could not go forward, and they did not want to go back. At that moment, someone came up with the startling idea to LOOK UP! When the people turned to God, they did it in harmony with a request that was EXACTLY what God told them to do originally. They were now prepared to take a “baby step” of obedience.

Don’t forget this truth: God is invested in helping His people when they are invested in obeying His commands. When we are angled to DO what God said we should – God is motivated to help us get it done. In our study through the Gospel of John, we saw this repeatedly in Jesus’ statements made on the night of His betrayal:

• John 14:13-14 ESV: Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in My name, I will do it.

• John 15:7 ESV: If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

• John 15:16 ESV: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.

• John 16:24 ESV: Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

• John 16:23-24 ESV: In that day you will ask nothing of Me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Did Jesus have a stuttering problem? I mean, why did He repeat this line so many times in one night as it is recalled by the Evangelist in the record? The answer may be simpler than you think.

The men needed the most basic lesson that could be offered to them: “God is willing to work through you, if you are willing to let Him do it.” As a Pastor and a Christian leader, I am completely convinced that many people don’t see that truth. They don’t understand that God is ready, willing and eager to work in and through them. Repetition is needed when stubborn disbelief must be battled.

The converse is also true. God has little vested interest in making a success of the thief’s prayer life. People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that God wants us to have everything WE want to have – but that is not the case. God is not interested in feeding our desires to fulfill our own dreams without Him. That is both bad for us, and unhelpful to accomplishing His purposes. Selfish prayers are simply verbalizations of a selfish heart – and that isn’t what God is trying to build in us. Here, God helped them do what God had already told them to do.

The Product: The Lord heard and delivered:

21:3 The LORD heard the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites; then they utterly destroyed them and their cities. Thus the name of the place was called Hormah.

This is one of the most elemental lessons that even the youngest follower of God experiences. It is NOT the sum total of growth – it is a mere first step. That first step is this: “When I walk according to God’s revealed will – He may offer success as an encouragement to help me move forward in the journey.” There are other factors we learn as we grow – like the work of the adversary to discourage us even when we do right, or the work of growing in trust of God’s Sovereignty when good actions bring results that look bad in the short term… those truths are also taught in the Word. Yet, in the life of the weakened and discouraged believer – sometimes God drops back to the most elemental lesson: I DO care that you tried to do right, and I will offer you encouragement through the results. This short three verses are a reflection of that truth.

The “Provided Victory” above was a sample lesson in God’s encouragement. It is an important truth to help encourage us, but it is not the WHOLE truth concerning how I should view God, merely an important piece of the puzzle. Because I have become aware that some will pose their circumstances against this truth and be quick to dismiss it if their circumstances don’t work exactly that way, I want to stop for a moment and put that truth into the wall of larger balancing truths for God. To do that, I invite you to look at a few verses in Ephesians chapter two.

Paul pointed out to the 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.” (Eph. 2:1-3).

Pick out three words that are voices of betrayers in the passage… world, prince and flesh.

Now consider this: When we say the words: “Walk with God!” we have a specific meaning in mind. To walk with the Master is to obey Him, to carefully heed His Word on the issues of our life. It isn’t just some sentimental feeling that Jesus is with us – it is a deliberate invitation to God to journey with us through life- side by side. It means we are seeking to understand the voices of our three opponents that pull our heart from God’s direction – the fallen and misguided world, the inner longings of the selfish flesh, and the deceptions of God’s arch enemy.

First, there is the fallen world around us. Many are the voices that will offer counsel on the sacredness of being personally happy – even if that includes abandoning the hard work of building a good marriage and family, and the steadfast commitment to our own promises. A rising tide of voices will tell you that your sexual identity is in no way linked to your physiology – but a matter of how you feel about yourself and others around you – in spite of the fact that God formed your body to fit a plan He has for you. A worldly choir can always be found to sing the praises of selfish thinking – how to love myself, pamper myself and place my own needs above others around me. These are the voices of a fallen world that has lost the heart of Jesus.

How can I say that? Because at the core of Jesus’ heart was the honor of His Heavenly Father above His own desires. Deeply intertwined in that was also His deep hunger to rescue the unlovable – those of us who mutinied against His Father. In other words, Jesus loved His Father’s honor and His Father’s creation MORE than His own comfort and His own exaltation. Any fair reading of Philippians 2 must conclude that Paul called on the believers at Philippi to “have the same set of values as Jesus Himself did when He left the comforts of Heaven and chose a low place”. The “other-person-centered” life of Jesus was a pattern to stand squarely against the self-orientation of our age. This is called the Christian life – following the pattern of Jesus in direct opposition to the thinking of the world around us. This is an essential part of what we mean when we say “walk with God”. The destination of such a journey is HIS HONOR, not our comfort. Following Jesus means doing what is best for THE OTHERS AROUND US and not what would make us more comfortable.

Next, we said there is also the constant nagging of the fallen flesh within. The world’s appeal is on the outside – but the flesh hungers from within. It rationalizes selfishness and its appetites are ever drawn to wanton disregard for God’s boundaries. We want what God says we must walk away from. For some it is improper controls at the buffet line. For others it is improper use of our bodies in sensuality. For still others it is the stubborn resistance to let God control the decisions of our lives. Following Jesus means ceding control of choices within to the Spirit of God, based on careful study of God’s revealed Word, and humble submission to the principles found within it.

Finally, there is the deception efforts of the Devil. God’s enemy hates Him, and hates those who follow Him. He is a roaring lion (trying to make us afraid by the sounds he makes) and at the same time he represents a true danger. He seeks to destroy the believer. He cannot MAKE you sin – but he can dangle enticement at key moments of weakness. He cannot DESTROY your spirit and its living connection to God – but he may have permission to harm your body. As Warren Wiersbe pointed out when he studied the four times Satan showed up in the Hebrew Scriptures:

• In the case of Eve he wanted her to grow IGNORANT of God’s will (he asked her “Has God really said…?”).
• In the case of Job he wanted him to grow IMPATIENT with God’s will (he struck his body and family).
• In the case of David he wanted him to grow INDEPENDENT of God’s will (he called on him to count the people in a census to illustrate his might).
• In the case of Zechariah he wanted him to bring INDICTMENT of God’s will (he saw a vision of the High Priest Joshua with dirt all over him – showing God chose a defective man).

The point is this: you may do GOOD (and walk carefully according to God’s Word) and things may work out. When that happens – REJOICE and thank God for the encouragement. At the same time, recognize that you may do GOOD and carefully follow God’s Word and things don’t seem to go well. If that happens, it may be that your flesh is blinded by an inner hunger – and you aren’t seeing it properly. It may be that you have listened to the voices of the world around you and you cannot hear the truth about the results of your sacrifice. It may be that God has allowed His enemy to test you. Life isn’t as simple as “I paid my bills on time, and now good things should happen to me.” Yes, there will be benefits to doing right – but there may be other factors that cause your roof to leak or your car to break even if you paid all your bills on time and helped little old ladies across the street.

The bottom line is that mature believers don’t DO RIGHT just to GET GOOD RESULTS. That would be all about US.

A mature believer does right (follows God’s Word) because it honors God. That is today’s blessing, and its own reward. If things work out – all the better. If they do not – we can seek God about the trials of life and He has promised to clue us in as to what He is doing. James made that clear. While we seek Him on these things, we should take joy that He is happy we did right because our heart was aimed at making Him smile.

The lesson of Numbers 21:1-3 is that God may offer encouragement when we do right – and in any case it is what we are CALLED to do. Moving on, there is another lesson God taught the people.

Story Two – A Planned Defeat: God heard the people when they were unwilling to be content in in their own choices – and He gave them more trouble.

The problem: Discontent (This wasn’t external – but inside the camp):

21:4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey.

The geographic statement reveals that the people went on the south road toward the Red Sea in an attempt to flank any army that would meet then in Edom. They swung south and then east to bypass the protected areas by going far into the desert plateau. The strategy was a sound military one – and it showed both ingenuity and forethought. At the same time, the problems of water, heat and discomfort would have made this a very tricky choice, and God never told them to take the long way around.

In the verses just before He made victory possible when they cried out to Him and sought to do His exposed will – but that didn’t keep them DOING it. They decided to go around, and they complained about it as if God MADE them do it – and MADE it harder on them. Their hardship came from their choices – not His direction. Yet, they forgot that – and blamed Him!

Have you ever done that? Have you made a choice to buy a car without a single breath of prayer, and then cried out to God, “Why did You do this to me?” when you were sitting in your driveway late for an appointment with a car that was broken… again? Did you ever shake your fist at God and tell Him that you “just don’t understand why relationships don’t work for you” when you get involved with people that are well outside of what God’s Word says you should be looking for?

How often even believers make choices that are not in harmony with God’s Word, and then become quickly discontented when the choices don’t work out. It is funny how we think. Perhaps when we do right and get right – we may quickly start to think that we somehow deserve blessing because it came from our faithfulness. In almost the next breath, we think that if we choose outside the lines of God’s stated principles – God is to blame when things don’t “work out”. “If God is good, why am I going through this?” Perhaps the answer is as simple as “God didn’t want you to choose what led you into the situation”.

In the case of Israel, He got blamed for a choice that He never encouraged, and an issue He was never consulted about.

The Prescription: Complaint (speak against the leadership of Moses and care of God):

21:5 The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.

As the people left the point of entry the spies reported from, the Lord kept meeting Israel’s most basic needs, but He didn’t seem to be coming through with the abundant life they truly wanted and felt they were promised. They were quick to complain. What they seemed to have forgotten was that grapes WERE GROWING JUST FINE – back where HE TOLD THEM TO GO. Because they chose to turn another way – they found none of that blessing and then complained as if God was “holding out on them”. He wasn’t – they were holding out on Him. Let me illustrate the problem:

You have just won a vacation to a wonderful resort – all expenses paid. Dinner shows, meals and accommodation are all included. They even included in the package not only air tickets, but a beautiful red convertible to drive for the holiday. This has the potential to be a wonderful vacation. You study the brochure and look at the pictures – you can hardly believe how beautiful the place is. You get on the plane on the appointed day and fly there with your spouse, and pick up your rental car. You follow the map to the entrance of the resort. Just as you reach the resort, you decide to turn opposite the signs go into a wooded area across from the entrance. In the woods you see an abandoned shack. Instead of going back to the resort entrance, you and your spouse spend the whole vacation in the misery of an abandoned shack. When you get home, you write to the company and complain that none of the amenities you expected were in the shack, in spite of the fact that you chose not to go where you were told. Is it there fault?

Many times our failure to obey brings hardship, as God’s richest blessings go untouched and untapped by the wayward. In the place of His praise comes our complaint – in the place of His peace comes our unending turmoil. The lesson must be learned anew – what I have comes from God’s hand. The right course of action is to acknowledge that, and follow His direction. All other courses bring pain.

The First Product: Pain (The problem was a proper perspective – so God “refocused” them with troubles).

21:6 The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.

It seems sometimes the only way for God to get us to reverse wrong-headed course on the journey is to put a wall in our way that makes us stop and recognize how obstinate we are truly becoming. My dad used to say, “We spank even for bad attitude!” He knew that sometimes we just couldn’t seem to shake off the nasty, sour heart without the assistance of an outside source of encouragement to reconsider our mouth and our defiance. Sometimes a good whack was in order. He seems to have gotten the idea from the Bible, of all places!

While some may be sitting here thinking God isn’t acting in a loving and caring manor, let me challenge you with a thought.

Calgary Canada is in the midst of a gripping flood. If a man decided to jump into the water that was raging from the floods and he drowned, would you think this was a result of the water’s evil, or the man’s poor choice?

I don’t want to sound insensitive, but very often as a society we create our own troubles by deliberate departure from what God’s Word has stated is the right way to operate a society. The same is true in our homes, and in our personal lives. Let me be incredibly deliberate: When you choose to commit adultery – the pain to your family is not God’s doing. The snakes lived in a desert they were not commanded to be in. Their choice to enter that desert and not follow God’s direction led them to the fiery serpents.

True, the text is clear God sent the snakes – and that fact alone causes some people to cry out “foul!” because God is not subject to their inept view of love that has been misshaped by the modern definition of “tolerance”. It is equally clear WHY God sent these serpents. The people were NOT in the right place, and they were NOT following God’s instructions. People don’t normally fall from a ledge they don’t climb! I am not suggesting that innocent people don’t get hurt – I am suggesting that guilty people get hurt all the time – and they cannot blame God for putting them in harm’s way when that was their defiant choice. That blame ignores the core problem- rejection of the truth. This is why we have created a nation of victims – because we refuse to take responsibility for our choices.

The children of Israel KNEW what God wanted – but they didn’t choose to do it. That put them in the wrong place and opened the door to pain they would not have otherwise known.

God did not bring the serpents because He was mad at them, but because He wanted to underscore again the truth: When we walk in disobedience, we open the door to greater and greater suffering. This pain was real, serious and deadly to some – but it saved many others. Keep reading.

The Second Product: Repentance. The people got the message – guilt wasn’t buried deeply.

21:7 So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people.

Whether we admit it aloud or not, often we know EXACTLY what we are doing that is displeasing to God – but we don’t admit it until troubles pour in. Those troubles – as serious and painful as they are – are not to scar and wound us – they are to “fix” the problem within. The only solution is repentance, and the call to repentance is prompted by trouble.

Forgiveness had to be orchestrated by God – but responded to by men.

21:8 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery [serpent], and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” 9 And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

Up went the pole – the symbol of God’s solution to the sinful rebellion. He provided a place of healing, but they needed to respond to it – or die in their pain. We could spend hours here, but any student of the Bible gets the point. We caused the sin and the pain that came with it, and God provided a place of healing and resolution.

A Pattern of Renewal: God redrew the pattern before His people – follow Me and I will give the lands and people over to you.

The rest of the passage details a series of camps and battles:

Numbers 21:10 Now the sons of Israel moved out and camped in Oboth. 11 …from Oboth [to]… Iyeabarim, …opposite Moab, to the east. 12 … they set out and camped in Wadi Zered. 13 … they journeyed and camped on the other side of the Arnon, … in the wilderness that comes out of the border of the Amorites, … 16 From there [they continued] to Beer, that is the well where the LORD said to Moses, “Assemble the people, that I may give them water.” 17 Then Israel sang this song: “Spring up, O well! Sing to it! 18 “The well, which the leaders sank, Which the nobles of the people dug, With the scepter [and] with their staffs.”

The chapter ends with a story of military victory over the Amorites – God keeping His promise to cause the people of the land to flee before Israel. Israel enjoyed victory, because they were back on track. Angry and rebellious hearts were softened by snake bites. They got the point…

Much of our pain is because we don’t want to do what God has made plain to us that we should. Even more pain is caused by our refusal to recognize God’s redirection back to Him.

To close this lesson, let’s sit with Jesus one night. He was chatting with a Pharisee who had real questions about a walk with God. Rome ruled Jerusalem, and they made life difficult. The Temple had corrupt powers pressing for ungodly actions. Nicodemus wasn’t sure why God wasn’t stepping in… Jesus told him that God WAS… and the message was RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM. Jesus told him that he needed a NEW LIFE:

John 3:7: “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ …9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? … 14 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

Jesus said that He would be lifted up for the sins of people. He would be like the bronze serpent on the pole. God provided a way to take away the sting and death – but men had to respond. Their response would determine their healing.

Strength for the Journey: “No Respect” – Numbers 20

Rodney_Dangerfield_1It was the comedian Rodney Dangerfield that coined the phrase: “I don’t get no respect!” He was born Jacob Rodney Cohen, November 22, 1921 and died in California on October 5, 2004. He developed hundreds of monologues on the theme of being disrespected. Early in the 1960’s, with a divorce at his back, debts mounting, and no opportunities to move forward in show business, Rodney figured out that his problem was that he didn’t have a persona on stage that people could identify with – one that would distinguish him from similar comics of the time. He began to develop a character for whom nothing goes right – with the chief cause a lack of respect for him. Brought on as a last minute replacement on the Ed Sullivan show, his fortunes turned in a few months. By the 1980s he had a number of film roles, including Easy Money, Caddyshack, and Back to School. He is remembered for famous one liners like:

• I get no respect. I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet.

• I get no respect. My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.

• It must be true that I am ugly… I have never gotten any respect. When I was born I was so ugly the doctor slapped my mother… and countless others…

I mention that comedian, because he drilled in his monologue a complaint that God had long ago with His own chosen leaders of His people – and one He may have with us – God gets little respect! “What?” you reply. “Don’t we build church buildings in His honor, sing praises to His name, and spend hours listening to messages from His Word?” Perhaps we do, but that isn’t the sign of respect and honor God truly wants. He isn’t in this to be the center of the newest hymnal, nor to have more buildings built in His honor. The Creator of the Grand Canyon doesn’t need US to figure out how to put some rocks together and make something beautiful in His honor.

Here is the truth: God doesn’t measure our reverence for Him by the number of dollars we give, the hours of sermons to which we give attentive ear, nor the care with which we practice our ministry work for Him. God measures reverence by the care we give to following His Word as He gave it. When we ignore His Word, or when we relax our ears from carefully listening and in turn ease away from bringing our hands to strict obedience to what He has commanded – we show Him supreme disrespect.

Key Principle: When we don’t follow God’s Word carefully, we show that we don’t truly hold Him in the high place He belongs in our life. He is not MORE to us if His Word is not MORE to us!

The story in our lesson is NOT about the children of Israel, but about two GOOD men and their SIMPLE sin. It is about the LEADERS that no longer took special care to listen to God’s Word carefully, but relaxed their obedience – and thereby showed a lack of real respect for God.

How did Moses and Aaron lose the sense of AWE of God’s MAJESTY? How did God’s Word become something that was casual and able to be take lightly?

The answer is found in the fact that they gave greater regard to their circumstances than to the Holy Words of the Lord above. Note the context, because that has much to do with the problem. Moses and Aaron lived with:

The Problem (20:1-5)

Disregard: For one thing – it came at a time when Moses and Aaron had gone a long way with God.

Numbers 20:1 Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month;

A careful reading of Numbers 20-21 shows this section to detail the last stage of the journey of Israel – from Kadesh around Mount Seir to the heights of Pisgah, near the Jordan, and the various incidents connected with that journey (compare Numbers 33:37-41). This is near the end of Moses’ life – and thirty-eight years into the trip. The opening comment mentions a “first month” – which must be compared to Numbers 33:37-41 (cp. Num 20:28).

In the end, we can see that thirty-seven years has passed, and Moses and Aaron have been at it a LONG TIME. More than thirty years has passed since Numbers 13 and the spies incident.

• People have lived their whole lives after the departure from Egypt.
• Many younger men know little of God’s miracles by experience – they know by Word alone.
• Moses has been in charge as long as they have been alive – and people that have contended for leadership have been put down – time and again.

The biggest issue is not the OUTSIDE WORLD, but what is going on INSIDE the leaders. They have gotten used to the title – and they have become complacent about the PERSON they serve. Familiarity brings contempt.

Here is a warning: When you have a long history with God, when you have walked a long path, and you accept that God need not throw lightning bolts to be firmly believed by you – you do not require signs and demonstrations of His might any longer. He has done the marvelous in front of you – and you believe His Word without the fireworks. At the same time, we must learn that is becomes necessary in that time to work not to lose the AWE of the Creator and His deep relationship with us. Like any relationship, it is easy to “settle in” and eventually lose the driving passions of youth –that is not unusual. Yet, in losing the passion and zeal that comes with stirring miracles and Divine displays, we should at the same time be gaining a depth of love and understanding of God’s greater purposes – but that is not always the case. In our loss of passion, we can also lose AWE – a sense of the sheer MAJESTY of our Creator and His love for us.

Moses and Aaron became USED to a relationship with God, and a ministry for God. They grew into thinking of themselves as PARTNERS and not servants. That seeded a subtle disregard in their heart. They no longer saw their intense NEED of God for every decision, every hour. As they “owned” their part as leaders – God lost the dedication that marked the days of their desperation years before. DISREGARD was the one problem –and it had very clear four very symptoms:

Discomfort: The people were now facing the “hard” desert at Zin:

Numbers 20:1 Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month;

Things grew particularly tough! None of the desert experience was EASY in our modern sense of the term. Time went by SLOWLY in the camp. Days were intensely hot, and nights were often uncomfortably cold. Much of their day was taken up by dealing with the needs of survival. The weather and MOLD were as much an enemy as a neighboring tribe. The leaders were aging – they had been at it for an entire generation – and Moses recognized that he wasn’t getting any younger. It is quite possible that Moses felt the time drawing near to his own end (perhaps Miriam and Aaron were showing signs of their demise) and began moving the people toward the closer position. The problem is, that was a more uncomfortable and difficult place.

Central Sinai is not what the pictures often show. Southern Sinai is the rocky and mountainous part. The softer beds and sands are found in the center of the peninsula, where Wadi el-Arish offers sandy stretches on either side of the wadi (dry river) bed. Pitching a tent in el-Arish is MUCH easier than in Zin – where the rock IS the surface of the ground. Driving spikes for a tent in Zin is nearly impossible… it is a hard, hot and hostile environment – even by wilderness standards.

Disillusionment: The loss of Miriam:

Numbers 20:1b “and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there.

Personal pain stung the leader. Moses lost his companion, friend and sister. His link to his family was growing thinner – and that made it an especially painful loss. The tenderness of a sister was lost – and the memories of a lifetime of camping trips couldn’t make up for the sense of deep loss.

Beyond that pain was the realization that the team was aging and dying out. Moses was attending more funerals and doctor appointments than anything else in his schedule. Life seemed to be more about maintenance than excitement. What started as powerful flashes of God’s power now seemed to be dying out in a whimper at the grave side.

Desperation: severe shortage of water:

Numbers 20:2 There was no water for the congregation…”

God’s care seemed lagging. Again the issue of water that plagued Moses’ entire journey reduced the loyalty of his people to a hostile and complaining lot. Who could blame them? They were thirsty, and the God of all provision didn’t seem to be watching. With the personal loss of Miriam, Moses may have felt the lack of water more than in the past. Death had left its sting, and Moses was nursing a hurt in the face of non-stop complaints.

Disputes: the people came against the leadership.

Numbers 20:2b “…and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. 3 The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! 4 “Why then have you brought the LORD’S assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? 5 “Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.”

Listen to their complaints.

• First, we should have died trying to enter the land like our brothers who snubbed God’s direction and charged in! (20:3).

• Second, why did YOU bring us here to THIS wasteland? (20:4).

• Third, why did you MAKE US leave Egypt (a place of abundance) for this wasted and dry place? (20:5)

Discord was rising. The people were hurt, and as so often is the case – “Hurt people hurt people!” They lashed out against Moses and Aaron, because they couldn’t slap God in the face at the moment of their intense thirst. The older among Israel’s children KNEW Moses didn’t cause the trip or the lack they now faced – but there were many present who had not seen God’s hand in their generation. Yesterday’s powerful display became old news – and the current generation could not live off of the passing generation’s lessons learned in the blowing of the wind across the water, or the fire falling as a guardian before the face of Pharaoh. Without a new display, the miracles of God would swiftly become tales of mass hysteria. They needed a fresh move of God if they were to be stilled in the face of their startling lack.

Are we really so different? When God led a handful of people safely through storms of the Atlantic Ocean, they fell on the beach and knelt on the sands of the New World. They came, according to their own words, to both escape persecution of their religious faith and to bring the Gospel to the red man. Most of what we know about the Pilgrim expedition, and their original “Thanksgiving” of 1621 comes from original accounts of the young colony’s leaders, Governor William Bradford and Master Edward Winslow – from the quills in their own hand. They tell a tale of marvelous provision of a personal God, His Divine intervention at every turn of the journey. That tale has been reduced to a godless version for our contemporary school children that still get a day of Thanksgiving off of school – but don’t have a God to go with it – at least not one endorsed in our educational system. We did not begin where we are – and neither did the people in the Sinai so long ago…they needed a fresh fire from Heaven – as often so do we!

Note also that the people brought up the ONE TIME when people simply threw the leadership of Moses overboard and went off to defeat the Canaanites. The scene was particularly painful to Moses – though for much of the crowd is was as distant as Richard Nixon and Watergate – an old scandal only addressed by grey-headed pundits.

There it was – a time of particular toughness, when the leader was in pain, the needs were abundant and discord was growing in the ranks… Moses was looking for a way to get out of leadership and find a retirement home to check into – he was empty inside and surrounded by an angry and thirsty mob. His companion was an old man with a stick – and things didn’t look like they were going particularly well.

The Reaction (20:6-13)

First, there was the “appearance” of worship (20:6-8).

Take a moment and look at the next paragraph – because what it reveals may surprise you. Moses REACTED in frustration rather than responded in worship. He ACTED OUT rather than withdrawing to God for a time of healing. Initially, that is not what it looks like. Watch Moses and Aaron go into the doorway and drop on their faces… and God showed up with more instruction. That looks like worship, doesn’t it?

Numbers 20:6 Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them; 7 and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.

Come on, can’t you hear the keyboard playing in the background, the lights low in an intense moment before God? They approached, they acknowledged God’s holiness and their broken condition, and God’s manifest presence appeared before them. His Word came. It was not uncertain or garbled – it was specific and measurable. God told both men to assemble the people, speak to the rock cliff before them, and have on the ready ways to collect a flow of water. God made clear HOW they were to do what they were about to do. Don’t skip the details here – they are at the heart of the story. God’s work, done God’s way was about to supply God’s people. All looks right – but that is because we cannot see the heart of the leaders. We see only the appearance of worship – not the place where it MUST OCCUR – in the human heart. Surrender was not present, only the physical signs of it. Knees were bent, but hearts were not yielded – and that is show without substance. The God who hung the stars is never impressed with a man’s ability to put on a show.

Let me say it with unmistakable clarity – the service is not where we can see if one truly worshipped. It is seen in the life AFTER the worship time. It is seen in what the person who fell, cried, sang and held their hand high with their BIC lighter raised and lit before God – did AFTER they left the room. One can have an EXPERIENCE of the soul – the part of me that is emotionally affirmed – but not have a real move of God within. That can only be tested by my obedience to God’s command and call.

Second, there was “selective” obedience (20:9-13)

Again, I am choosing my words carefully to reflect the issue that God made clear in His response. Look at what Moses did in the face of God’s revelation:

Numbers 20:9 “So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; 10 and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.

Moses stepped out between the rock cliff and the assembly. He had in his hand the rod of God’s revealed truth. God popped buds from a dead stick years before to show a sign of endorsement of the Aaronic priesthood. Now the stick that was once a symbol of LIFE and ENDORSEMENT would become a tool for disobedience and sinful display in the hands of a hardened veteran leader who was not listening carefully to God’s Word anymore.

Listen to the tenor of Moses’ speech before he slammed the rock. He called the people REBELS. That was true – but not terribly understanding in light of the current troubles. The people were THIRSTY, and the canteens were empty. Yes, they said some harsh things to Moses, and their hearts were not right. In his stung state, feeling the loss of Miriam, perhaps he took things more personally. At the same time, Moses had many times in the past pleaded with God to save them – and now he seems too disgusted and too tired to care if they perished or not. Leadership wore him down. The faces of his friends had disappeared, and their children had – one by one – replaced them in the camp. He was surrounded by strangers – old and exhausted.

Moses didn’t speak to the ROCK – he spoke to the people. He didn’t speak to the CLIFF – he smacked it with the holy symbol of God’s endorsement. He didn’t do it ONCE – he did it TWICE. He got the desired result – water flowed… but he did it with all the stiffness of his younger self – striking down the Egyptian in the city long before. His will prevailed over God’s will – and that made clear that his time with God just before was not one of surrender – true worship – but one of a perfunctory visit to the Almighty in the face of a camp crisis. It was his moment on the capitol steps, singing with Congressman and Senators “God Bless America” when the pain of the nation gripped them after 9/11. The “worship” was verbal not “cardial” – as the heart was not moved beyond emotional stirring into the realm of the spirit – where surrender to God actually occurs. Worship only occurs when surrender occurs. There is no other form of true worship.

Why strike the rock? As we have seen on other occasions, the place where sedimentary rock and metamorphic rock (like granite) joins can become a place of water storage in the desert. Moses knew that. I have seen it, and watched a Bedouin guide get water by striking a rock in the desert. I have seen a wilderness camp instructor do the same thing in western Pennsylvania. Moses did what he KNEW, not what he was TOLD. He did the right thing the wrong way. He relied on his ability not God’s miraculous power. Only God could get the water by speech.

Finally, there was God’s Offense (20:12-13).

That’s right. God got offended. Listen to what the Most High said to His servant gone AWOL in heart:

Numbers 20:12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” 13 Those [were] the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the LORD, and He proved Himself holy among them.

You didn’t BELIEVE Me. You didn’t TREAT ME AS HOLY right in front of My people…Now look at the END of verse 13. God PROVED Himself HOLY among His people by excluding the leaders from entering the Promised Land. The penalty is SO VERY BIG, that we have to spend a moment here and reckon the scene. God wasn’t impressed with the prayer time, or the bowing – if it did lead to LIFE CHOICES of obedience. Time in church won’t make God happy if the Word that you hear there doesn’t change your life choices. If the revealed truth of God is not followed – the sheer reverence we are to have for Him is not real. God knows that when we surrender, we walk according to His desires. When we do not – we walk according to our own plans. How can it be measured? The answer is found in the text. When we don’t heed the Word of God, we snub the claim of God to lead us – and we take the throne to ourselves – doing things the way WE THINK they should be done. In that moment of decision, we supremely disrespect God, and He is aware of the decision as well as the disrespect. It is not simply the decision God responded to, but the self-willed heart that produced it.

Let me ask a pointed question: We have engaged this lesson by choice. Are we willing to embrace the truth of it? Is it not plain that what God truly wants from His people is their careful observance of His Word, and then a vigilant obedience to that Word? If that is the case, then we will only be able to judge whether or not we worshiped in this hour by the care we take to perform what God has instructed in the coming hours. We are not working FOR His love – but rather working BECAUSE we recognize His Majesty, His uniqueness, His absolute and distinct right to have control of the daily life choices of His followers. Here is the real question: Is Jesus in charge of us? If not, there are some results we should anticipate…

Three Results (20:14-29)

Moses heard God’s punishment at Meribah – that neither he nor Aaron would see the Promised Land before death. There appears no reaction in the text. Moses kept going with the plan to get the people home. If he felt remorse and pain, it is not contained in this record. What IS contained in the three stories of results is that things didn’t go as Moses planned them.

Delay of the Progress (20:14-21)

Numbers 20:14 From Kadesh Moses then sent messengers to the king of Edom: “Thus your brother Israel has said, You know all the hardship that has befallen us; 15 that our fathers went down to Egypt, and we stayed in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians treated us and our fathers badly. 16 But when we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out from Egypt; now behold, we are at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or through vineyard; we will not even drink water from a well. We will go along the king’s highway, not turning to the right or left, until we pass through your territory.'” 18 Edom, however, said to him, “You shall not pass through us, or I will come out with the sword against you.” 19 Again, the sons of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if I and my livestock do drink any of your water, then I will pay its price. Let me only pass through on my feet, nothing [else].” 20 But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against him with a heavy force and with a strong hand. 21 Thus Edom refused to allow Israel to pass through his territory; so Israel turned away from him.

Moses sent for permission to pass through Edom, east of the Dead Sea, to allow the children of Israel to get OUT of Zin and move to a position perched over Canaan in the east. God’s plan was to have the land east of the Jordan partially settled with Israel, but Moses didn’t seem to know that.

Moses sent a messenger with a plea and a history of the people (20:14-17). Edom flatly refused (20:18). Moses responded with an offer of payment for passage (20:19), but this was summarily rejected as well (20:20) and this response was underscored by a sizeable force sent to end the discussion. Moses withdrew, and the people were back in the tough landscape of Zin, walking in REVERSE of their goal. Water or no, that cannot have been an easy march with that crowd!

Diversion of the Prize (20:22-24)

Numbers 20:22 Now when they set out from Kadesh, the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. 23 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying, 24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the sons of Israel, because you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah.

Time passed. After a period back in Kadesh (far west of the Edomite mountains) Moses directed the people BACK to the edge of Edom. The Edomite army was back home at their farms by then, but Moses felt the urge to push again to their border. It may have felt like thrashing around to his followers. When they reached the border of Edom, God spoke again to Moses and Aaron. Mount Hor is situated “in the edge of the land of Edom” (Numbers 33:37). Since antiquity, writers like Josephus identified that mountain with one called today Jebel Nebi Harun (“Mountain of the Prophet Aaron” in Arabic), a twin-peaked mountain about 5000’ above sea level in the Edomite Mountains (east of the Arabah valley). Even today the summit has a shrine called the Tomb of Aaron, which may cover the grave of Aaron.

The bottom line is that uncertainty and meandering accompanied the delay that resulted from the leaders outward show of worship without inner surrender. The people withdrew, the people returned, the people didn’t know what would be next. Vision dies when worship fades. Direction becomes uncertain when obedience becomes lax. Many a movement, and many a ministry can testify to the pattern illustrated on the slopes of Mt. Hor long ago. The prize of the Promised Land was no longer the destination – for Aaron the destination was replaced with the grave. –as it has for so many movements and people who wouldn’t take God’s Word seriously. Surely Aaron would have died one day, but the commentary on his life that accompanied that death would likely NOT have been a penalty for disobedience as it was here.

Death of the Partner (20:25-29)

Meandering Moses now faced a third penalty – another sting from death:

Numbers 20:25 “Take Aaron and his son Eleazar and bring them up to Mount Hor; 26 and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron will be gathered [to his people], and will die there.” 27 So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 After Moses had stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29 When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.

The camp was broken-hearted, and weeping could be heard from the tents round about. There was no good way to say goodbye to his brother – that is certain. Yet, the taste of death is all the more bitter when it comes on the back of hardness and disobedience. Moses and Aaron never crossed into the Promised Land in this life – they never reached their full potential following God. What more could they have done for Israel during the early days of the conquest? Would the period of the Judges have been so dark so quickly had they entered and established the people? We cannot know. What we CAN know is this: When we don’t follow God’s Word carefully, we show that we don’t truly hold Him in the high place He belongs in our life. He is not MORE to us if His Word is not MORE to us!

Gordon Dahl once said, “Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship.” I simply argue that worship is a dangerous playground. When the writer H.G. Wells said, “Until a man has found God, he begins at no beginning and works to no end!” he set the stage properly. I was meant to WORSHIP – and that happens when I take His Words seriously, and then follow them carefully.

Strength for the Journey: “Bench Time” – Numbers 19:7-22

riding bench1Did you ever get BENCHED by your coach? One of the most emotionally challenging times for any athlete is the time they have been “benched”. This is a time to watch, encourage those on the field and stay engaged… but that is hard to do. Bench warmers invariably become critics, especially if they are benched by the coach for reasons that are not mutually agreed. Why bench a perfectly good player? Sometimes they are ineligible to play at that moment because they have an attitude problem. Perhaps they have been so overstressed physically, the coach has decided a break from the game will prevent a breakdown in their body. In any case, the best athlete’s know they cannot run “wide open” all the time without breaks, and they aren’t necessarily the most qualified person to know when they need to be set down for a time. Athletes have been known to continue to unwisely play with injuries rather than go to the bench. Benching is part of the coach’s job. Here’s the problem: bench time will only truly help if they will truly use that time to recoup their energy, and restore their vigor for the game ahead. Bench time doesn’t change our attitude, it just gives us time to think about it. The choice to change is ours.

That is perhaps a “cryptic way” to introduce the story of our text in Numbers 19. God benched workers in His service, and they hadn’t done anything disobedient or wrong – He simply took them out of the lineup and called them “ineligible” for a time. One Biblical term for this ineligible state is the Biblical term “DEFILED”. Especially for modern Christians, we need to recognize the ancient context for this term. For many Christians, they read the term “defiled” in the Bible and ALWAYS think of it as a reflection of some specific sin committed by the defiled one – when that is often not the case. Sometimes God set aside an obedient and committed follower for the purpose of giving them specific time to renew their walk with Him while He cared for the physical, spiritual and emotional effects that living in a fallen world had on them.

Key Principle: God knows how to bring comfort, but we don’t always know how to receive it. We must carefully open our hearts to God’s “washing and waiting” work, when God benches us, to be fully restored and equipped to face the future.

This will take a few minutes to develop in our text, but if we are patient, there is great reward in this truth. God knows there are times in our lives that we need to get alone with Him and have Him bind up the wounds of our hearts from dealing with the blistering effects of sin – both in our world and in our lives. As we seek to understand this truth, let’s divide the text of Numbers 19 into three parts:

• Numbers 19:1-6 is the pattern of redemption – the ultimate payment for sin and its effects that must be judicially cared for before the face of a righteous God. Without the payment of sin’s debt, there is no washing and no resolution.

• Numbers 19:7-19 offer the practice of benching – some examples of specific cases of defilement. These offer a reminder that we have specific times in our lives that we need to stop, wash and wait. They aren’t about OUR sin, but about the fact that we live in a FALLEN WORLD. That reality, along with the reminders of our frailty, must remind us that we have times when God will bench His followers – because they need time off with Him to be restored.

• Numbers 19:20-22 contains verses that offer some purposes of benching – general defining statements that help us recognize the purposes God had for giving this law to our older brother Israel.

Again, not to confuse you, but to offer clarity, let me state two very important underlying assumptions of this study:

• First, modern believers who came to God through Jesus are not legally in view in the physical practice of the commands of Numbers. I am not a Jew, and I was not at Sinai making any covenant agreement with God – even in seed form. My ethnicity, so far as I know, had me physically in the loins of another people at the time. I am not suggesting that God wants us to kill bulls outside the camp. I am saying that He commanded Israel to do so, and then included the record of it in the Scripture. Since, as Paul reminded Timothy of old that “all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for doctrine, reproof and instruction”, we are looking for eternal principle in temporal law. In other words, what is revealed about the character and desires of our Changeless God in the actual and specific laws He gave to Israel of old? That is the point of the study. We don’t want to SPIRITUALIZE away the fact that they were told to kill bulls, we want to see the patterns in it that God intended us to see – so that we can address in our lives the things that move our Father’s heart.

• Second, we absolutely recognize that PART of the purpose of the laws given by God was for dealing with health issues: bacteria and disease spread in a people that did not know have access to our modern physical sciences and hygiene. We must make that point strongly. God told them what He told them, in part, to help them keep from spreading rampant disease amongst the camp of Israel (and later the nation of Israel). The fact is, though, that not all the laws that protected against the spread of disease are limited to that singular application of the text. Let’s take a look…

The Pattern of Redemption (Numbers 19:1-6)

In our last Numbers lesson, we spent time reviewing the incredibly important pattern found in the first part of this chapter. Again, we didn’t spiritualize away the bulls, but showed carefully that writers of the Christian Scriptures dropped back to the explanation of Numbers 19:1-6 to show how Messiah fit a pattern of redemption.

Take a look at the verse to renew our thinking…

Numbers 19:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2 “This is the statute of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer in which is no defect [and] on which a yoke has never been placed. 3 You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be brought outside the camp and be slaughtered in his presence. 4 Next Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. 5 Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight; its hide and its flesh and its blood, with its refuse, shall be burned. 6 The priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet [material] and cast it into the midst of the burning heifer.

When looking closely at the opening verses of the chapter, we made the points that:

• God defined what sin is and how to fix it. He did it throughout the Bible. Sin isn’t a behavior deemed by popular culture to harm humankind (in their ever-changing and limited moral mindset) – it is the violation of the stated will of the Creator of the Universe. In other words, if you dismiss a personal Creator, you open the floodgates to consensus morality. That is why modern men are swift to dismiss the Creator from the room.

• The sacrifice was to be made under the auspices of the priest, and outside the camp. The writers of the Gospels kept this pattern in mind when they highlighted the place and personnel involved in the Crucifixion story (as we saw in our earlier lesson).

• The sacrifice was to be made of a faultless bull, and it was to be totally destroyed – in that case reduced to ash. Both the guiltlessness of Messiah and the total forfeiture of His body followed that pattern.

• The accompanying of hyssop, purple cloth and wood all played a role in the sacrifice – something the New Testament writers point out in the scenes of Messiah’s death. There was a cross beam carried by Simon the Cyrene. There was a purple robe placed on the bleeding body of Messiah. There was a hussop brush hoisted to His mouth on the Cross.

The essential truth each point illustrated was simply this: God carefully offered both the instructions for a specific sacrifice, and a pattern for the future solution for sin that He eventually provided in Messiah’s coming and dying for us. Jesus came to replace Levitical “atonement law” with “total and complete justification”. As the writer of Hebrews argued, Sin was cared for ONCE FOR ALL at the Cross. It was a place of gruesome pain, foul smells, horrid punishment and bloody death. Messiah gave His life for us, and that satisfied God’s judicial requirement for redemption from the mutiny with God and brought the one and only escape from personal payment for sin by substituting Jesus in our place. The only continuing need we have is to ACCEPT THE GIFT. Without doing that, the gift lay in front of men and women, with no one choosing to unwrap it and take it as their own. Only acceptance of the gift activates the effect in an individual life. As one guy said recently: “You gotta grab it and keep it to call it your own!”

That was the pattern aspect of the Red Heifer’s sacrifice, and the application of it – as New Testament writers appropriately did –in the sacrifice of Messiah. That was a model that was to make the coming of Messiah’s story more evident as it unfolded. At the same time, the original purpose of the sacrifice was to gain the ash that had its own purpose in the story.

Follow the ashes back to the original story – and that will open the door to the second part of the chapter… The truth is disclosed that there were BENCH TIMES God has planned for followers to experience.

These were NOT because that follower had sinned – but because MAN HAD SINNED, and they lived in a fallen world that was swallowed up by the effects of the mutiny…

The Practice of Benching (Numbers 19:7-19):

God brought cases of defilement that required BENCHING of His followers. First, let’s establish that a believer could be BENCHED without doing wrong – because that needs to be demonstrated from the Scripture. Pick up the reading in Numbers 19:7-10:

Numbers 19:7 The priest shall then wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward come into the camp, but the priest shall be unclean until evening. 8 The one who burns it shall also wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water, and shall be unclean until evening. 9 Now a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place, and the congregation of the sons of Israel shall keep it as water to remove impurity; it is purification from sin. 10 The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; and it shall be a perpetual statute to the sons of Israel and to the alien who sojourns among them.

Note the three men that were defiled and in need of “bench time” in the verses.

• First, there was the PRIEST that had followed every requirement of God’s stated law in verses 1-6, but had HANDLED AN ANIMAL AS IT WAS SLAUGHTERED. He was to WASH and to WAIT until that evening (19:7).

• Next, there was the one who BURNED the sacrifice. He also obeyed, but he HANDLED THE CARCASS of the animal – and he was due to WASH and WAIT until that evening (19:8).

• Third, the man who GATHERED up the ashes of the red heifer when the fire completely consumed the animal was to do his work gathering and storing (19:9) and then he was to WASH and WAIT until the evening (19:10).

What is CLEAR was that ALL THREE were walking in obedience and doing what God told them to do. None of them were held back from doing God’s work because they were in sin, or walking opposed to God’s stated intent. In other words, you don’t have to be DOING WRONG to get put on the BENCH for a period of time by God.

If it wasn’t sin, then let me ask: “Why were they “benched” for a time?” One could argue effectively that the first two handled something that was a health hazard. That was much less likely to be the case in the third man – who was dealing with the ash, as opposed to the carcass. Handling ashes was far less likely to cause specific bacterial danger. What if the issue wasn’t simply bacteria? What if the health hazard was only PART of the picture? What if handling something sacred, something so sobering, so intertwined with the lost state of mankind had its own need to sit on the bench and reflect awhile? Keep that thought for a moment and then recognize why the ashes were to be kept. The were a solution for defilement both for Israel and those who lived among her. The ashes would be used to purify those defiled.. and the preparation of them was a HOLY ACT. It was surrounded in sober and careful practice, and followed by a “time out” of reflection and waiting.

Let me posit this: Even when you are walking in obedience to God, there are times when you will handle the issues related to and resulting from the mutiny since the “Fall of man” in very specific ways. In times like that, God may bench you for a time so that you can be comforted by Him and regroup under His gentle hand.

Remember the penalties of “the Fall” in the Garden back in Genesis 3:7?

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. 8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave [to be] with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

What came from the fall was:

• LOSS of INNOCENCE – “eyes were opened” (3:7a),
• DEATH of intrinsic positive SELF IMAGE – “knew they were naked” (3:7b),
• SHAME – “covered themselves” (3:7b);
• DISTANCE from God – “hid themselves” (3:8)
• GUILT – the FEAR to be seen of God – “I was afraid because I was naked” (3:10).
• BLAME: Man tried to blame the woman (3:12)! Woman blamed the tempter (3:13)!

Coming out of the Garden in chapter three, humankind encountered a new world. The rules were different from the ones that humanity was created to live within. Adam, his wife and his children were faced with adapting to a world that was alien to them. The distance created by rebellion left a vacuum in His heart that was shaped like God, but could quickly be filled with a self-enthroned man. Man lacked the intimate and loving work of the Father within, and he would face moment by moment the choice of yielding to God’s hand or being full of self.

Yet, something even more powerful came into being as a result of the Fall… Bigger than shame and guilt, more powerful than the urge to blame…blistering forth came the shackles of death, and the grief of separation. In fact, in the background to that cataclysmic moment, you can hear the words of Scripture in the anthem behind the scene… (Ezekiel 18:4, 20) “The soul who sins will die.” DEATH came from the Fall. Paul wrote it to the Romans: “The wages of sin is death…”

Look back in Numbers 19 for cases that defile – REASONS WHY ONE WAS BENCHED FOR A TIME:

One who handles a dead body, as in Numbers 19:11 The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days. 12 That one shall purify himself from uncleanness with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, [and then] he will be clean; but if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. 13 Anyone who touches a corpse, the body of a man who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from Israel. Because the water for impurity was not sprinkled on him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is still on him. Very likely, this directed our thoughts back to the loved ones who carefully washed and prepared their brother, sister, mother or father for the grace. They hadn’t sinned; they were doing what they should do. At the same, the sinful state of fallen man brought death, and handling death brought time on the BENCH.

Those in the locus of the dead are defiled, even if they didn’t touch the person, as in Numbers 19:14 This is the law when a man dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean for seven days. 15 Every open vessel, which has no covering tied down on it, shall be unclean. Though the people in view were likely not those who handled their loved one’s body, they lived in the place where the loss was felt sorely. They watched and waited, as their loved one slipped away. They were BENCHED as well for a time.

One who handles the remains of the dead are defiled as in Numbers 19:16 Also, anyone who in the open field touches one who has been slain with a sword or who has died [naturally], or a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean for seven days. In view here may be one who happened upon a fallen one – whether they knew the person or not. It also regarded one who plowed up bones in a field, even if they didn’t know at the moment why these bones were present. They were BENCHED.

All three of these people – the one who handled the dying or cared for the body of their loved one, the one who lived in the place where their loved one died, and the one who happened upon the remains of one – whether they knew them or not – were all defiled. Again, there clearly was a health issue here – at least in the first two cases – but that doesn’t seem to be the whole story. Handling dried old bones presents very little danger more than the handling of other dirty and old objects. It seems like God wanted to say something MORE than just – “Get clean or you will spread disease!”

Let me offer a few observations without going very far from the text itself.

• First, passing through the end of life with a loved one is obviously exhausting and heart rending. The process of death is neither pretty nor a light-hearted matter. I am in that room often. It is HARD. It is SAD – in the best of circumstances. Even among believers, it feels terrible to know that they will not be a part of our daily lives this side of Heaven. The plain fact is that although “absent from the body, present with the Lord” is our loved one – we MISS THEM TERRIBLY. I sit with dear friends that have lost the other half of THEMSELVES. They struggle to smile because the pain is so real. They don’t lack faith. They just miss their loved one. Life isn’t the same on a planet that only has memories of them. I love my life here, but I admit that as the years pass, it gets harder as the shepherd in a place where I bury so many of my close friends… it comes with the work. You take the blessings with the challenges – that is life!

• Second, dealing with death, no matter how long we anticipate it – is a shock to our system. Grief is a PROCESS, and it doesn’t move by quickly. The deeper the love, the longer the grief. The five stages of grief defined by behaviorists are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These are the way we learn to cope with the one we lost – and no stage is simple. People are complex beings, and grief is a deep process. It comes in waves, and often creates inner turmoil that is incredibly unsettling – even to the most balanced among us.

Here are three simple truths that I believe can be gleaned from the BENCHING or DEFILEMENT text:

  • There is a specific time – immediately following the strain and shock of the death of a loved one – that we should NOT try to move on. In the text, there was a specific week of “down time”.
  • There was a specified process to get “cleansed” during that time. This is both physical and hygienic, and spiritual. The down time was not just to CRY, but a time to seek God and receive comfort from His hands. That is why the defilement was considered a SPIRITUAL MATTER – not just a physical threat to health.
  • There was a limit of time to be set aside. NO ONE thinks that grieving could have been completed in a week – NO ONE. The point is that there was to be an end to TIME OFF and TIME AWAY from the community. Everyone knew how long it was. There was no confusion of expectation. You took the week off, and you went through the process, then on the eighth day – still with a hole in your heart that missed your loved one – you GOT UP AND WENT BACK TO YOUR LIFE.

If you don’t hear carefully, what I am saying will sound COLD, and UNCARING. If you hear what I believe is part of the intent of the text – I think you will see that is NOT the case…Look for a moment at the verse that remind us “How to get clean” in defilement among our ancient brothers:

Numbers 19:17 Then for the unclean [person] they shall take some of the ashes of the burnt purification from sin and flowing water shall be added to them in a vessel. 18 A clean person shall take hyssop and dip [it] in the water, and sprinkle [it] on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there, and on the one who touched the bone or the one slain or the one dying [naturally] or the grave. 19 Then the clean [person] shall sprinkle on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify him from uncleanness, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe [himself] in water and shall be clean by evening.

Note there is a specific number of days and a specified process. The fact remains that you cannot control the grieving process, but you can keep yourself from withdrawing back inside like a turtle in the midst of danger. There is a way that you can eventually get moving ahead in your life.

There is always a temptation to retreat from people in the pain process. God specified how long you should collapse into His arms, and when to get up. Never ending dramatic displays of pain were not acceptable. There was a process – a very painful process – but one that God brought by His own hand to comfort our broken hearts.

The Purposes of Benching (Numbers 19:20-22)

God didn’t create legislation without intention and purpose. He offers a command – but He also teaches us about ourselves, and our world. The end of the passage says:

Numbers 19:20 But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself from uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD; the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean. 21 So it shall be a perpetual statute for them. And he who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and he who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. 22 Furthermore, anything that the unclean [person] touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches [it] shall be unclean until evening.‘”

• Clearly, the text says that the mentioned cleansing process is REQUIRED. (19:20).

• In addition, the ramifications of being lax in this area are much bigger than just ONE FAMILY. It will affect the WORSHIP CENTER (19:20b).

• The condition wasn’t just related to the DESERT experience – they would carry it as a law for all their generations (19:21).

• Benching for defilement was God’s idea – and God’s prescription for those who were in contact with the extremity of the results of the Fall.

Let me suggest that God had a very important principle He wanted to communicate:

God knows how to bring comfort, but we don’t always know how to receive it. We must carefully open our hearts to God’s “washing and waiting” work, when God calls on it in us, to be fully restored and equipped to face the future.

In our rush ahead and “never look back” society, we forget how important a process of getting through the difficult times can be.

If we don’t take the time to receive God’s comfort and grow through the process – it will leave a scar on our lives. It did on mine, because I was too young to know this truth when it happened… I am reading from a People Magazine article called: ”The Birth of a Settlement” (November 1982) by James R. Gaines

James wrote: “Last July 2, a 27-year-old American emigrant living in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa was murdered. His name was David Rosenfeld. By nightfall, a young Arab from the tiny village of Ferdis had confessed to the killing. The next morning Israeli soldiers blew up the home of another suspect in Ferdis, Muhammad Ali Mubarak, 26; a dozen members of his family, including his father and mother, were committed to the streets…Born in Philadelphia, David [Rosenfeld] graduated from George Washington University with a B.A. in history in June 1979. That summer, two days after their wedding, David and Dorit Rosenfeld emigrated to Israel. Dorit’s first impression of Tekoa was dispiriting: She found it isolated, grim. But David saw in it every settler’s vision, the reclamation of his biblical homeland. An instant convert to the cause, he took to it with a convert’s zeal: He spoke to friends of the lush vegetation that would one day be coaxed from the barren hills that stretched out in every direction from his perch atop the Herodion, and as supervisor of that out-of-the-way site he dreamed of vastly expanding tourism… David was stabbed more than 80 times that morning. He had left his Uzi submachine gun at home. A few minutes later a young American archaeologist, Randy Smith, found him lying face down in the ticket office of the Herodion in a spreading pool of blood. Numbed by the sight, Smith found himself absently counting the wounds in David’s back. The young soldiers who came to the scene tried vainly to resuscitate David but soon gave up, sickened and openly weeping.”

I was arrested for a time, but after I was released later that day I went back to work. I shouldn’t have. Healing was required. I just didn’t know it. Psalm 126:5 says: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. 6 He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying [his] bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves [with him].” Someone reminded me recently that: “It is helpful to remember that it is not the SORROW but the SOWING while weeping that brings forth future sheaves.” There is a process of washing and waiting – and then there is the working while weeping. Eventually, if we allow God to deal with our pain, we will feel it slipping ever so slowly away…

Strength for the Journey: “Bathing in Ashes” – Numbers 19:1-6

models3When I was a kid, I liked to build models. I especially liked building ships, planes and World War II reconstructions. I could spend hours putting a battle scene together, only to rip into it like the scars left after actual warfare. I lived in my imagination, and recounted battles of long ago. Some were real battles that I read about – others were a product of a pre-teen lost in a vision of the his own little plastic world. It wasn’t until a few years later I got firecrackers, and then things really got interesting… but that is for another time. I confess that I learned a great deal by observing models – and it seems that is something I was made to be able to do.

Whether on the shop floor or in an art class, God made many of us to pick up patterns and reproduce by models. Like many men, I confess that I often didn’t follow the directions – rather I looked at the picture on the box. I wanted my copy to look like the one on the box – because that is what I bought. In the store, all I had was the picture on a box, and that was the pattern in my mind. The value of seeing a complete version in a picture was that I could recognize when I made my copy successfully.

God also loves models. He paints pictures of spiritual truths, and shares them with us – so that we can celebrate His unfolding plan with Him. He gave models to Israel long ago that help us know about the way He accomplishes things in men – like redeeming a lost man or restoring a fallen brother. These patterns are often more clear later in Scripture – because God’s story is progressive. He sometimes introduced something into the Scripture, and only many years later cleared up why that element was necessary. The text we are studying in our lesson today is one of His most elaborate models — that of the “Parah Adumah” – or the “Red Heifer”. This picture showed how God modeled restoration for the defiled – and redeemed the filthy. The model vibrantly pictured the coming plans of Redeemer – and left us with a picture on the box to look at when Messiah came to redeem and restore.

Key Principle: God planned very carefully the details of our redemption – and offered pictures long before to make the process clear.

The fact is that salvation and reconciliation to God had a pattern long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. God didn’t leave man guessing – He offered the general model of the sacrificial system to help us understand substitution and atonement. He also offer a model in the form of one specific sacrifice- the Parah Adumah. The pattern of that sacrifice was so clearly a pattern of future redemption, that details of it became important to the story of the Good News (Gospel) account. Let’s look at the text and draw out the sketch to be filled in with the Gospel details.

Pretend that Numbers 19 is a “paint by numbers” pattern. God drew out the black and white lines, and then later added the colors in another time, on the hillside called Calvary…

Underlying the pattern is this: God demonstrated in the pattern that redemption and reconciliation to God were essential – because of an internal nature of continual mutiny and rebellion.

God established clearly that people cannot and will not follow rules – and will not act in a way that honors His moral authority over their lives. We are born with a desire to do things our own way. Isaiah knew it, and wrote the words of the Lord in Isaiah 53:6 “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” Listen to those words carefully and you will hear the pattern… All men and women do what they CHOOSE, but God took the pain of that mutiny and the effect of that rebellion – and placed it on HIS OWN SHOULDERS. Those who know God because of the choice to give our lives to Jesus understand this clearly. Isaiah prophesied of something that has changed our lives.

The very first part of the Bible is the Law – but one of the major features of reading the Torah (the Law) is that it clearly established the lines of acceptance and violation – and like the fingerprints left on the wet paint with the sign “DO NOT TOUCH” – the Law made clear man was badly broken inside. The Law offered standards – in part – to visually help us all understand that we don’t do what God said – even when it is clear – because we DON’T WANT TO. That was Paul’s point in Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Don’t get lost in the verbiage. Paul said that one man mutinied in the Garden, and passed that fallen and broken state to all his children. One outcome of that rebellion was immediate separation from God – a broken relationship that separated us from spending an eternity with our Creator. Physical death of the body is a mere symbol of a spiritual reality – things are broken since the Fall. Yet, without the Law, it would NOT have been clear how broken man truly is. The fact is that we are optimists about ourselves and our own intentions. The Law showed that we simply WON’T do right. We just CAN’T on our own. That wet paint sign is too tempting. That speed limit sign is for other people. We know better… or at least we live like we do.

Our story in Numbers is a great sampling of human failure!

Walk back into the story of the Israelites in the desert we have been following. Constant rebellion made Moses’ life ridiculously difficult. Think back over the last few chapters:

• First, the spies were sent into the land, and their negative report left Israel in tears (Numbers 13). God promised them the land – and FEAR kept them from obedience. Disappointment set in.

• Next, growing out of disappointment came the sore of open INSURRECTION that pressed Moses to fall before God to defend the people and keep them from summary judgment – but in God’s patience the people only stepped up rebellion further! They rushed hastily into the land against Moses’ clear command. It was a disaster. The people of God were routed and the enemies of Israel were celebrating and picking up the spoils of war (Numbers 14).

• In the wake of that awful decision to fight without God’s direction and presence, God regrouped the people with Moses and presented some NEW LAWS. These were meant to both encourage the people that they WOULD be entering the land, and warn the people that future rebellion would need to be faced soberly, with the consequences of sin clearly outlined (Numbers 15).

• No sooner had God offered encouragement, then (in Numbers 16) another leadership rebellion pushed the camp into chaos. The text recounted first how Moses dealt with rebels, and then how God dealt with them. This rebellion left no body bags or burials, the earth SWALLOWED the rebels up in one moment.

• By Numbers 17, God used the staff of a man to show His power, direction and approval. God used a stick to show endorsement – bringing empowering new life and productivity to a dead stick.

• In Numbers 18, the issue came up a third time — WHO WOULD LEAD THEM. By that point, the text was clear – people didn’t like God’s choices for them – they wanted to make their own. Are we really any different? I don’t think so!

Five chapters, three open rebellions, and earth swallowing and body bags… you would think anyone reading this account would stop right now and evaluate their walk and their obedience… but most of us pass by these images like a traffic accident on the highway. We know the results of rebellion MAY someday befall us, but we keep driving along, hoping that it won’t happen today… The setting of the sacrifice of Numbers 19 is clear – we need God to step in with answers to our sin-sick nature – or we won’t be able to change. If God doesn’t clean us up, we won’t get clean – period.

Zoom into Numbers 19 and pick out with me some of the elements of this paint by numbers sketch, so we can fill in the colors with later Scripture:

Element One: Sin violation is both an issue of sacred and secular authority –

It simply cannot be relegated to only one. Note the opening in Numbers 19:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying…

In Numbers 19:1, after wave upon wave of flagrant rebellion, God spoke to both the civil leader (Moses) and the religious leader (Aaron) to directly answer the rebellious violations in the camp.

He didn’t divide religion from state laws – because it isn’t really possible to do so. We need to be clear here…It is a foolish errand to attempt to divorce religion from the state – simply because state laws are formed as a reflection of moral precepts that are deeply rooted in religious life.

Americans today aren’t truly trying to separate church and state- they are trying to replace WHICH “church” the modern state follows. They prefer the moral relativism of today’s experts in atheistic humanist lab coats, not what appears to be archaic Biblical precepts. When people argue for “separation of church and state”, they are not arguing that NO moral precepts under gird civil law, they are arguing that they don’t like the moral precepts upon which our laws have historically been based. They chip away at the foundation, supposing they are gaining more personal freedom by dislodging the Biblical root of our jurisprudence.

With each decade we spend more and more to keep ourselves safe in a society that cannot agree on the simplicity of what is “good” and “right”. We cannot agree on the most basic protections and principles. In our unbounded celebration of growing American diversity, we seem to have lost our essential core value system – and we cannot find common ground with our own founders.

In point of fact, all laws are rooted in moral principle – and the modern attempts are nothing more than merely dislodging the Biblical foundation and replacing it with a new national religion – naturalistic humanism.

I am not arguing that there is no difference between the law of the state and the Bible, I am arguing as did President Washington – that state morality was intended to be rooted in Biblical precept. He said: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” (George Washington). Those who long to preserve the Biblical foundation to our state heritage are not trying to change the country – we are resisting the replacement of the ethical system upon which our laws are based.

Element Two: Both sin and its remedy is defined by God.

The standard is inscribed by God’s Word – not by popular opinion. Numbers 19:2 “This is the statute of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying…

Men will never figure out what is RIGHT and GOOD without God. We cannot see the truth in the fallen world, because all creation has been affected by the Fall. In a recent defense of homosexual unions, one so-called “Christian” author claimed in an interview that since “such things happen in nature” it must be against the natural order to forbid such unions. The author has overlooked two important truths:

  • First, Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. In other words, you cannot get a clear picture of what God intended by looking at a fallen world that is waiting to be fixed by God.
  • Second, because of the sin nature, we all want to NATURALLY do things that the law must not sanction. Lust is natural, so restriction is both warranted and helpful. Laws are intended, in many cases, to BLOCK us from doing what we would do if we could.

The point is this: only GOD can be trusted with the answer to where we are today. We are broke inside, and increasingly, as we stray from Biblical moorings in society, we are broke on the outside as well. The answers are not found in NATURE, nor are they found WITHIN MAN – they are found in God’s Word. He created all things, and He knows both their PURPOSE and their DESTINY.

Element Three: God has provided a way to fix what is broke in man.

God provided a substitute to die in our place outside the camp. Numbers 19:2 “…‘Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer in which is no defect [and] on which a yoke has never been placed. 3 You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be brought outside the camp and be slaughtered in his presence.

The paint by numbers line sketch is simple here. There must be an unblemished substitute that is killed outside the camp under the authority of the Priest of the people.

The Gospels unfold the gruesome story of Jesus before Annas, then the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas and a court of the Sanhedrin early one Friday morning two thousand years ago. Blindfolded and slapped by Caiaphas’ men – Jesus was eventually remanded into Roman custody before being nailed to the Cross outside the city wall of Jerusalem.

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews fills in the color on the sketch in Hebrews 13:11 “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest [as an offering] for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking [the city] which is to come.”

The author called the early Jewish followers of Jesus to STOP trying to fit in to the world about them, and take on the reproach of the Savior. Embrace the reality: we don’t fit here anymore. We aren’t called to be popular – we are called to be Christ-like. His most important contribution to mankind was made OUTSIDE the walls of the city – in a place of filth and sorrow. He was our substitute, and His life was take because of our sin. That is an essential element of the Gospel: God sent His Son to fix what we could not repair given any amount of time or effort. On a hill outside the ancient city of Jebus, Abraham took his son Isaac and offered him up to God. On another hill nearby – outside the city called by that time Jerusalem – God offered up HIS SON. The first time the sacrifice was stopped, the second time it was NOT.

Element Four: Total faith in the offering set up by God was ALL it would take to fix the problem.

God didn’t tell them to make the offering and then set out to please Him by building a great Temple or helping a little old lady across the camp’s major camel traffic lane… What God provided was complete. Numbers 19:4 Next Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times.

Eleazar took a small amount of the blood from the animal onto his fingers and sprinkled it toward the very heart of the camp, where the Mishkan – the “Tent of meeting” stood. He didn’t do it once – he was commanded to be careful to do it SEVEN TIMES. You needn’t look hard in the Bible to find out that God likes the number seven. The Bible opens with the story of the complete cycle of the week in Genesis 1:1-2:3 – the story of the seven days. Pass the Torah and its many references to the Shabbat every seventh day and pause to look at Joshua marching around Jericho for seven days, complete with seven blasts on the trumpet on the seventh pass of the seventh day. Pick up Joshua 6 and you will read these words:

Joshua 6:4 “Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. 5 “It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.”

We could go all the way through the Bible, where we would finally end in Revelation with a judgment of seven seals in Revelation 6, followed by seven trumpets in Revelation 8-9 and seven bowls in Revelation 16.

Here is the point: Seven was the perfect number of completion. It was the JUST RIGHT that Goldilocks was searching for in the den of the bears. It was COMPLETE.

Element Five: The solution was in death and a blood sacrifice.

Sometimes in our modern world, that offends our sensitivities. We are, thankfully, a “save the whales” community. We don’t kill animals just for the fun of it. There are sportsmen – but they will tell you that they do not attempt to be cruel to the prey in the hunt. Focus on the end of verse four and the phrase: “…sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times.”

Blood was the perfect cleansing solution. It came from a young cow that had one color hair and never had a yoke placed upon it, nor was she ever calved. The sacrifice was PURE and UNBLEMISHED – spotless of its own accord – and cut open and bled. Again the line sketch is filled in with color much later by the writer to the Hebrews in chapter 9:

Hebrews 9:11 “But when Christ appeared …12… through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? … 19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. 22 And according to the Law, [one may] almost [say], all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

The life blood was the highest price one could pay. When you give up your life, you give all – and that is exactly what Jesus did. Nothing less than a full and complete sacrifice would do in God’s system of dealing with rebellion.

Let me be clear: Someone will pay for your sin. It will be YOU in eternal judgment, or it will be JESUS covering you with His blood because you CHOSE to trust in Him and Him alone for your salvation. There are no other options.

• You cannot work your way in: For Ephesians 2 expressly says: 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.

• You will not “will power” your way to doing right deeds to balance the scales in your favor. Romans 5 states our position without Jesus very clearly: 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. We, apart from the work Jesus did at the Cross for us – are completely HOPELESS and HELPLESS.

We must never fail to be absolutely clear about this ONE THING: Jesus is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. He said it clearly in John 14:6 “No one comes to the Father by but me!

Element Six: Tossed into the sacrificial fire were reminders of the sickness of man and the prescription for the cure.

Number 19 continues with a strange mentioning of some items that were tossed into the fire as the sacrificial red heifer was reduced to ashes in a fire. Numbers 19:5 “Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight; its hide and its flesh and its blood, with its refuse, shall be burned. 6 The priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet [material] and cast it into the midst of the burning heifer.”

The animal was thoroughly inspected. The Mishnah reminds that even two hairs of another color would disqualify the animal for sacrifice. The heifer was fully inspected, and being found blameless – it was put to death. Luke reminds us of that scene in the sacrifice of Jesus, where He was found guiltless – but nevertheless killed… Luke 23:4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5 But they kept on insisting, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee even as far as this place.

The animal was slaughtered, and the carcass was burnt, but the bones were not broken, reduced by the fire itself. John 19:36 made the point that at the death of Jesus “For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN.”

While the heifer was burnt, the priest would tossed in cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet into the sacrificial fire. These three elements are not only found HERE, but also in Leviticus 14:4 as part of the cleansing and restoration of a LEPER.

  • The cedar was an important wood in ancient times – possessing resistance to disease and rot. It is impossible to know what kind of wood the sacrifice of Jesus took place upon – but it is no stretch to understand that a piece of WOOD was prominent in the story or redemption at the CROSS>
  • The hyssop was used to offer Jesus a drink on the cross (Matthew 27:48), but was a poetic expression in the Bible for cleansing – as in Psalm 51:7, when David said “purge me with hyssop” — admitting he was a bad as a leper. It was used to put the blood of the lamb on the door post at the Exodus.
  • The scarlet was the color of the mocking “king’s robe” put on Jesus at His torture by the soldiers (Matthew 27:28). A cloth of the wealthy, Luke reminds us that Pilate and Herod Antipas became friends over the JOKE of King Jesus passed between them that day.

The object is not to become obsessed with symbolism, but it is also to be able to understand the connection between the model and its fulfillment. God knew what He was doing from the beginning of Creation – and we can trust the plan is unfolding as He planned.

Babbie Mason wrote these words, “God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. When you don’t understand and can’t see His plan, when you can’t trace His hand, TRUST HIS HEART.” This is one aspect of properly understanding the wonder of God’s Word.

God planned very carefully the details of our redemption – and offered pictures long before to make the process clear.

Let me close this lesson with a word of warning. God unfolds His plan over ions of time – but you and I don’t have eternity to make up our minds to follow Him. We live, staring in the face of a ticking clock. The days of our lives are numbered, but unknown to us.

There is a fable which tells of three apprentice devils who were coming to this earth to finish their apprenticeship. They were talking to Satan, the chief of the devils, about their plans to tempt and to ruin men. The first said, “I will tell them that there is no God.” Satan said, “That will not delude many, for they know that there is a God.” The second said, “I will tell men that there is no hell.” Satan answered, “You will deceive no one that way; men know even now that there is a hell for sin.” The third said, “I will tell men that there is no hurry.” “Go,” said Satan, “and you will ruin men by the thousands.” (William Barclay: The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2 [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], p. 317. From a sermon by Matthew Kratz, The parable of the Faithful & Wise Servant, 7/17/2010)

The most dangerous delusion is that delay is acceptable because there is plenty of time.