Years ago I served in Israel with a great teacher of the land of the Bible, Dr. Jim Fleming. He was a mentor to me in many ways, and continues to be a friend to this day. I met Jim when I was a student in Jerusalem, and he was looking for some help in the study center he built inside Damascus Gate. Those were great years of learning for me, and I had one of the best in the field as my teacher. He used to give lectures to groups in our classroom, and I would set it up, clean it up, and prepare for the next group. As a bonus, I got to listen to the whole repertoire of his teaching over those years.
To one small group, in particular, Jim lectured about the monasteries of the Judean wilderness. He included historic overviews of the monastic movements – both Jewish and Christian, and archaeological details about places the students were going to visit on their field study with him the next day. I was fascinated. Some of the group asked questions about distances in miles of one place to another, and neither Jim nor I understood what they were really saying. You see, they were planning, a few of them, a hike in the desert. They wanted to see some of the sites not included in their field study, and they thought by knowing the mileage from one place to another they could get a sense of the time it would take for the hike. They were terribly WRONG about that assumption.
The wilderness is a perilous place, and the ravines formed by fissures in the earth and later erosion make passage through the desert hazardous – even before you factor in the intense heat and fracturing geology. A few miles can take a day if the terrain is tough enough. Because of a faulty assumption, our little group left for a hike without sleeping bags, sufficient water for a two day journey, and food. What looked like a simple few miles on a map was actually a two day trek that was arduous and dangerous. In the end, the Israeli army had to assist them back to civilization because they were not adequately prepared.
I mention this story because I am meeting many believers that don’t seem to really recognize the journey that they are on, and the perils of that journey. They don’t work diligently at preparation for the journey ahead, because they somehow think it will be easier that it is. A good beginning point to look at this truth is the opening chapter of Numbers, and its key principle.
Key Principle: To get from slavery to the land of promise, we need to heed God’s careful direction about what will be required for the journey.
Believers are on a journey. They were slaves to sin and darkness, but they have been set free. We LOVE that truth and are encouraged to celebrate it when we walk like we are still enslaved. At the same time, we need to recognize that the journey from slavery to the land of promise passes THROUGH the desert of pain, heat, attack and uncertainty that we call our present life. It isn’t all heavy and hard – there will be dancing and singing. At the same time, we are mistaken if we believe the deliverance from slavery has placed us ALREADY in the place of peace. It has not. Life is hard, and the atmosphere around us is not always encouraging to bolster us in a peaceful walk. God is journeying with us, but His purpose is for us to learn of Him during the journey, and follow Him in confidence regardless of the circumstances.
What should I take on the journey? How do I know which way to go? Am I to “go it alone” or lock arms with others? All this and much more has been instructed in the visual model provided through our “older brother” Israel, and their journey. God has provided in snapshots from his past, six requirements to pack for the journey – because all six will be essential to safe arrival in the Promised Land.
Six Essentials to Pack for the Trip
1: Don’t forget your Bible.
Our journey begins with God’s Word defining the priorities and parameters of everything we need to be concerned about (Numbers 1:1).
Numbers 1:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying,
A month had passed since the Tabernacle was set up, and God again spoke to Moses – that is the beginning of the journey from Sinai. The The beginnings of the CIVIL CODE of the Law were given. Exodus 20-23 were etched out and in the box. For those who wonder why Leviticus is placed in our modern Bible after Exodus – it is because that CRIMINAL CODE or “Atonement Law” was also given largely at Sinai. Interjecting the book of the priests after the dedication of the Tabernacle in the end of Exodus makes sense. In Numbers 1-10, the preparation to leave Sinai got underway.
The people of God were not ready to successfully navigate the harsh desert with the simple message of salvation in the Passover – they needed more guidance on walking together. They needed God’s Word on how to LIVE, not just how they were RESCUED. It is often the temptation of those with evangelistic hearts to try to push very quickly to get people sharing their faith, and that is a proper and good focus. At the same time, we must train them on how to walk in a dangerous world. God kept them idle and away from the world for a time to transmit and get them familiar with His words about WALKING.
I have often noted that the Bible contains in about 15% a message on “How to find God”. The balance of its pages are about “How to follow God”. I find it interesting that a conscious and encouraged shift in a fifty year period on the Gospel and “getting people saved” has led the American church to a low point in moral standard of living among believers. More people claim Jesus as Savior that are walking in open opposition to moral statements of Jesus than ever before. They may have satisfied themselves in the 15% of Scripture, but they are either unfamiliar (which is often the case) with the balance of the Word, or they live in defiance and rationalization of it. I still am constantly hearing arguments in the ranks about the value of knowing large portions of the Word of God. On a popular preacher’s website I can find a thousand sermons on the Romans Road to salvation, but a mere nine messages on Numbers 1, and NONE of them about the principles at the heart of the passage. How can this be?
We have been tricked into thinking that only a small portion of God’s truth is really essential. Remember, the Bible itself offers the answer:
When Paul told Timothy in 2 Tim 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” … he made it clear that the whole of Scripture was essential for the whole of equipping. Our enemy has so convinced the church of the non-essential nature of much of the text, they are wholly unfamiliar with parts of God’s essential training manual. The Word of God on HOW TO WALK is 85% of the book – and you will need a manual because desert animals are unfamiliar and desert landscape is treacherous.
If you are in a church that does not deliberately cover the whole of the Bible – if that is NOT its focus – choose a different church. From time to time people have said to me things like: “Why do you spend so much time in the ‘Old Testament’?” The very question presupposes that God is less at work in one part of His Word than the other. Does that sound like 2 Timothy 3 :16, which was written at a time when much of the Word was the “Old Testament”? You need God’s Word on the journey – keep it close and know it well. It will save your life. It will warn you of the dangers. It will comfort you in the blazing heat of the day and the cold nights of the desert. It will light your path in the dark and become your sword under attack.
2: Don’t go alone.
The journey to get to the Land of Promise requires a TEAM – it was not made to be an “individual” experience (Number 1:2).
Numbers 1:2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head…
On the leadership level of Moses, I have in mind that he formed his team around the families, and didn’t walk back alone. At the same time, before we move into that idea, I think it is worth mentioning that God told Moses to pull the people into ranks by families, and by men that are ready to fight FOR their family. The work of God in history has often rested on the shoulders of men of character who were prepared to defend their family in the face of adversity – and it is still the call of God to His people.
We need men that understand the toughness of the journey, and have decided to go forward with God and their family. They are men who are willing to be counted on to DO the tough work of defense. Adam’s passivity killed the promise of godliness for many in the Garden. Abraham’s passivity drew the family into a raging conflict that is still wounding the planet. Lot’s passivity nearly ended his family line…
God has called on men to be GUARDIANS of the family. I suspect the passivity of men is not an occasional anomaly in Scripture – but rather stories of warning regarding a man’s natural temptation to be cared for, instead of showing active care. Scriptural warnings, found in the models of the men that failed to guard, must become a bugle call to men of our day to learn to reason – to think seriously about the issues we face. We must push our minds to grasp the issues and consider how best to defend our sons and our daughters from the immoral onslaught. We must see ourselves, with all our failings, as men that God can use – but only if we take up our posts. Your child’s teacher is NOT the one God gave primary responsibility to educate your child – you are. Your government is NOT the one God charged to care for the health, nutrition and safety of your child – you are. Programs can help – but YOU must be engaged or you will succumb to passivity.
Face the truth: the world is full of moral poison. Authorities in education, celebrities in entertainment, and pundits in politics have drifted from reason – their moral compass utterly askew. Real men will be more diligent in this generation to watch the attempts to spoil the innocence of their children than in days past. We will watch more closely than we do at the cheating of their family budget by erroneous billing. We must understand that the next generation of children is COUNTING ON the current generation of parents. The children aren’t conscious of it. They cannot verbalize the need – but it is a dire need nevertheless. Real men will step up and defend their families by walking with God and keeping a keen eye on the attempts to assault the values of our families. We cannot, we will not, we must not be passive.
We must teach our sons and daughters to live as the few, lovingly and compassionately but in an unyielding way to the will of the many. The broad way is not Jesus’ way – and it leads to a different place. The narrow way is not to be “narrow minded” by “narrow in moral judgment” because of their committed Biblical world view. We must recognize that peer pressure of our generation has now given way to an unending number of perverse groups that can woo the hearts of our children into darkness through the flat screen of world interface. The “net” is a place where just as many are being trapped and tangled in it, as are being connected and “networked” to good purpose. It is not an inherently evil place; it is the reflection of the world which is already a fallen place. We, therefore, fathers and husbands, mothers and wives – must become the diligent guardians of the next generation. It is our holy calling and God’s blessed trust placed in our hands. Don’t waste more time on self while your son and daughter slip away –pay attention to their spiritual, emotional and educational growth needs above your own hunger to have fun and enjoy life – and save our future nation one child at a time.
We do not neglect our children in passivity – we DESTROY THEM. We leave them in the cold before the hungry wolves and predators of moral thinking – and it is time we remember our commitment to defend our common future.
Ravi Zacharias put it well when he said, “In an attempt to be reasonable, man has become irrational. In an attempt to deify himself, he has defaced himself. In an attempt to be free, he has made himself a slave. And like Alexander the Great, he has conquered the world around him but has not yet conquered himself.” (Bible Illustrator #2139, 12/1997.1255). That is my generation, but it need not be the next one – of men will rise up and be counted to defend their children and their homes.
Moses was told to count heads of households, because they would face opposition. I want to ask you very pointedly:
• Can we count on you to stand by your spouse?
• Can we count on you to walk away from situations that would compromise your purity?
• Can we count on you to stand with the Gospel and lovingly take a stand when it counts at work?
• Can we count on you to show respect to those in authority, but reject any attempt to subvert the place of our faith in public life?
We need a team to move forward, and we are counting on men stepping up to lead.
3: Don’t go unarmed.
The journey will be a BATTLE, and preparation is essential (Numbers 1:3).
Numbers 1:3 “…from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies.”
The term “tsva-ot” is the term for “hosts” or “armies”. We are foolish to think the enemy of God will give the people of God a free pass to get to the safety of the Promised Land. He will not. We will need to fight.
• We will need to be kind and compassionate, but pointed about attempts by our schools to wipe out the truth about the Christian past and influence on our Constitution and our key documents. We don’t need to be harsh or cynical – but rather “wise as serpent while harmless as doves.” That isn’t a suggestion – it is a command.
• We will need to be respectful and competent, but diligent to see the reading books that are being placed in the hands of our students. I have now confronted two teachers (both kindly, but directly) with the kinds of reading assignments students have been given in our own schools. Classics have been, on several occasions, replaced with trashy immoral products. Teachers, in an effort to engage marginal students, have introduced debased works, poorly written, and called it literature. Many are the good teachers – but smart are the inspecting parents. I am not knit picking – I am talking about serious moral darkness that came into homes of our children through assignments from school. Pay attention. Don’t wait until your child is walking away from truth. An educational system was founded in this country to bring young people to godliness. It is no longer focused in that way, and we must stand up when darkness parades as light.
The journey through the wilderness should NOT be taken on with the attitude that is will be a leisure stroll. It is a battle. Good people will be hit, and good families will be wounded. Know that God provided us with His Word and EACH OTHER – to walk in lines and stand at one another’s back.
4: Don’t go with your ears closed.
The journey will require LEADERSHIP (Numbers 1:4-16) – and leaders have to hear well.
Numbers 1:4 “With you, moreover, there shall be a man of each tribe, each one head of his father’s household. 5 “These then are the names of the men who shall stand with you: of Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur; 6 of Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai; 7 of Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab; 8 of Issachar, Nethanel the son of Zuar; 9of Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon; 10 of the sons of Joseph: of Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud; of Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur; 11 of Benjamin, Abidan the son of Gideoni; 12 of Dan, Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai; 13 of Asher, Pagiel the son of Ochran; 14 of Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel; 15 of Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan. 16 “These are they who were called of the congregation, the leaders of their fathers’ tribes; they were the heads of divisions of Israel.”
God instructed Moses to know the names of each ranking head. He would need that team for consultation, and for the execution of both civilian and military direction. God wanted Moses to mark well those that were the leadership net of the children of Israel. He was not to attempt to lead the people with only HIS VOICE. He was to circle about him others who were God-designated leaders. He would give special attention to developing THEM – and they would work with the people.
I had lunch the other day with a young missionary couple who were here from Central America waiting on VISA renewals. I questioned them about the work they were involved in – and many of you are familiar with it. They labored at a café, working to present Christ in what has turned out to be an effective ministry of both evangelism and discipleship. I asked them about what they learned. One of the key concepts they were experiencing was MULTIPLICATION. As they focused on building the ones that came to help and assist at the café, those workers became more productive in ministry. They were able to run the place more effectively, while discipling others to do even greater work.
Moses was supposed to do that very thing – because it is essential to progress in the extreme environment of the desert journey. I believe that developing leaders IS developing the future. We are making a mistake in any movement if we believe otherwise in my view. Jesus left no buildings in the wake of His earth walk – He left trained men. Paul left disciples and disciplers – from which we all came to Christ.
I remember when I was in high school wrestling. One of the exercises we used to train was a simple game. The wrestling mats has a circle in the middle, a bit more than a dzen feet across. In this game, you were to attempt to off balance your opponent and get some portion of his body to touch outside the circle. The exercise was an attempt to strengthen the team member to “stand his ground” when pushed. That is what leadership training must be. We are to deliberately identify future leaders and teach them that the enemy of their soul will work to push them off balance and step outside obedience to God. They must learn to stand – but not in their own strength. They must learn how to use the power and provision of God in practical ways. They must learn to lead others to do so.
5: Don’t go with only theory.
The journey will require OBEDIENCE to God’s commands – not just knowledge of them (Numbers 1:17-46).
The longest part of the chapter is given to the NUMBERS of each tribe – hence the English name of the Book. The Hebrew name is simply: “B’midbar” or “in the desert”. Look at the display of the 603,550 men that could string a bow to fight – twenty years and older.
Numbers 1:17 So Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name, 18 and they assembled all the congregation together on the first of the second month. Then they registered by ancestry in their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, head by head, 19 just as the LORD had commanded Moses. So he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.
1. 20-21 “…sons of Reuben … 46,500”.
2. 22-23 “…sons of Simeon … 59,300.”
3. 24-25 “…sons of Gad, 45,650.
4. 26-27 “…sons of Judah, 74,600.
5. 28-29 “…sons of Issachar, 54,400.
6. 30-31 “…sons of Zebulun, 57,400.
7. 32-33 “…sons of Joseph, namely by Ephraim, 40,500.
8. 34-35 “…sons of Manasseh, 32,200.
9. 36-37 “…sons of Benjamin, 35,400.
10. 38-39 “…sons of Dan, 62,700.
11. 40-41 “…sons of Asher, 41,500.
12. 42-43 “…sons of Naphtali, 53,400.
44 These are the ones who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron numbered, with the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each of whom was of his father’s household. 45 So all the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war in Israel, 46 even all the numbered men were 603,550.
Why was this account ordered to be taken and kept? The old commentator Matthew Henry offered some ideas that I refreshed to make simpler:
1. First, it helped to graphically illustrate the way God kept His promise to Abraham to multiply his seed abundantly. The promise was renewed to Jacob (Gen. 28:14) and the children of Israel could see that God kept His promise literally.
2. Second, Moses was a shepherd and he knew that shepherds always counted their flock before moving on – to see if any were missing.
3. Third, it was to mark out a difference between the Israelites and the mixed multitude that were among them. Scripture reminds: “The Lord knows those that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19), “He knows them by name” (cp. Phil, 4:3); but he will say to others, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”
4. Finally, it made easier the administration of justice and movement of a military force. Uncounted, it was more a rabble than an army.
Don’t lose the point in all the details. Moses was told to count, and Moses counted. God told him to do hard things, and he obeyed. The life of the believer is to be a life of obedience, not simple a self indulged life of theological theory. We are to KNOW what God has said, but we are to DO what God has instructed. Obedience is the hallmark of faith.
6: Don’t forget your heart matters.
The journey will require God-pleasing worship (Numbers 1:47-54).
Numbers 1:47 The Levites, however, were not numbered among them by their fathers’ tribe. 48 For the LORD had spoken to Moses, saying, 49 “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you take their census among the sons of Israel. 50 “But you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle. 51 “So when the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle encamps, the Levites shall set it up. But the layman who comes near shall be put to death. 52 “The sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own standard, according to their armies. 53 “But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no wrath on the congregation of the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony.” 54 Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all which the LORD had commanded Moses, so they did.
More than an army will be required – leadership in worship and growth in the Lord will also need to be organized and appointed. One group, a small one, will be tasked with overseeing the worship and intercession to keep the people on track. They will lead us in seeking God. They will prod us to hasten to obedience to His Word. They will draw from our hearts praise, and speak into our ears words of transformation. They are NOT for themselves, they are for God’s people and their growth. They have been given a great privilege – to serve the King by serving their brothers and sisters.
At the end of the day, we can learn God’s Word and keep God’s Word – but that will not be enough. We must be called to fall in love with God’s PERSON. We must be led to WORSHIP His majesty, celebrate His kindness, joy in His provision, trust in His protection. The best Bible teachers I know have no desire to be remembered as a teachers that led students to THEMSELVES – but as a vessel that pointed constantly and joyously to the Savior. It is the desire of such a heart to have those who join the journey do so longing not so much for the streets of gold and the echoes of grandma’s voice long gone – but to see the Savior’s eyes, and the Father who sits on the throne.
We do not simply walk this life to grit our teeth and wince at the pain of darkness. We walk this life through a desert awaiting time inside the walls of our King’s castle. It is not just the delight of comfort to come – it is the joy of His Presence that marks the mature believer’s anticipation!
We must see the journey ahead and take it seriously. To get from slavery to the land of promise, we need to heed God’s careful direction about what will be required for the journey.
There was a king who had all his world could afford. The thing he loved most, however, was to laugh. Once while being entertained a jester came along wishing to join in the festival of activities and also wishing to perform for him. His opportunity came and he put the best comical show together he had ever done and the king never laughed so hard. Once the activity was all over the king wanted to hire this jester to be his personal jester. Once hired the king in humor handed him a small stick and said, “You are the most foolish man alive. When you find someone more foolish than you, then you give them this stick,” and the king laughed heartily. After many years had passed by the king lay sick on his death bed ready to go at any moment. He called for his jester, for he wanted to laugh one more time before he died. When the jester was through he asked to speak to the king personally. Once alone with the king the jester asked, “king where are you going?” The king responded, “on a far journey.” The jester asked again, “and how do you plan to get there?” Again the king responded, “I don’t know.” Then the jester pulled the stick from his back pocket and handed it to the king. The king was stunned and asked why he had given him the stick. The jester replied, “King today I have found a more foolish man than I. For you see, I only trifled with the things of life, but you have trifled with things of eternity!” (sermon central illustrations).