Strength for the Journey: "Building from Ashes" – Numbers 15

Post Apocal 2“There has to be a morning after!” the singer proclaimed. In the 1980s and 90s there were about a dozen iterations of film concerning how the world would recover from devastation “the day after” a nuclear or biological holocaust. When you have lived on the planet for a while, you start to see trends that are both identifiable and at times annoying in theme waves of the entertainment world. Who hasn’t wondered in recent years about the fascination with ZOMBIES? They seem to have replaced the ridiculous excitement concerning the “love lives” of vampires that swept Hollywood a few years ago. By now, wemay have long forgotten, the earlier decades that appeared to be more fixated on the human damage and recovery operations of earth in a post-apocalypse era. Essentially every film of that genre addressed a simple question: “How would man recover emotionally and physically from the struggle of near annihilation?” It seems like a silly exercise for a movie – but makes for good potential screen drama.

This isn’t a rant against Hollywood, it is a reminder of a dramatic moment in the lives of the ancient Israelites. Our story for this lesson is all about rebuilding from the ashes of defeat on the battlefield. They lost badly – but were told not to fight in the first place. They didn’t go WITH God, but in defiance of Him. Disobedience and rebellion did its destructive work. The people passed through the trauma of a defiant rebellion and faced the loss of a whole contingent of people who defied God and snubbed Moses. Numbers 14 doesn’t specify how many left the camp to occupy the Negev, nor how many fell in the battle – but it is clear that many did.

What God offered next was not anger, but help. The remaining people needed to hear anew from God. They needed to know He hadn’t left them in the wilderness to die – but STILL had a plan to get them to the Promised Land. He gave them hope, pressed them to sensitivity, and offered them a helpful reminder of the pledge they held in their hearts as His people.

Key Principle: When we rebel, we need to recall three principles: God isn’t done with us (encouragement principle), our failures can make us more sensitive to other people (empathy principle), and that sin has terrible consequences (effect principle).

Listen to the words that close that chapter:

Numbers 14:39 When Moses spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people mourned greatly. 40 In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, “Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.” 41 But Moses said, “Why then are you transgressing the commandment of the LORD, when it will not succeed? 42 “Do not go up, or you will be struck down before your enemies, for the LORD is not among you. 43 “For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there in front of you, and you will fall by the sword, inasmuch as you have turned back from following the LORD. And the LORD will not be with you.” 44 But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses left the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah.

The act of clear defiance, born out of fear and discouragement, left the ranks decimated and crushed the spirit of the remaining people. The Amalekites and Canaanites were emboldened – and Moses’ leadership both APPEARED painfully weak and, in fact, WAS weak – the people ignored his direct command to stay the impulse to rush off to battle.

The scene after the split was hard, made even harder by news of the crushing victory of their enemies. Yet, God’s Word offered re-direction and hope, as well as a renewed stern warning to follow Him in the days ahead and remember to listen more carefully…

The Encouragement Principle (Numbers 15:1-21)

From the ashes of failure, God beckoned Israel to hear a word of encouragement – He wasn’t finished with them in spite of their failures… they were STILL GOING HOME.

God spoke to Moses and told him to rally the troops and give them some encouraging words. What he said was essentially two new sets of laws for starting well in the land, and in their soon to be new home. Truthfully, on the first pass, this doesn’t look like a pick me up – it appears to be MORE RULES of things to DO. Yet, if you look more closely, you will see the encouragement clearly…

First, Remember you are heading to your new homeland – and My faithfulness will merit new grain and wine offerings added to your regular offerings.

Look closely at what God said, as He shared: “You will be going into the land as promised!”

Numbers 15:1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land where you are to live, which I am giving you, 3 then make an offering by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering or a sacrifice to fulfill a special vow, or as a freewill offering or in your appointed times, to make a soothing aroma to the LORD, from the herd or from the flock. 4 The one who presents his offering shall present to the LORD a grain offering of one-tenth [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of oil, 5 and you shall prepare wine for the drink offering, one-fourth of a hin, with the burnt offering or for the sacrifice, for each lamb. 6 Or for a ram you shall prepare as a grain offering two-tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with one-third of a hin of oil; 7 and for the drink offering you shall offer one-third of a hin of wine as a soothing aroma to the LORD. 8 When you prepare a bull as a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a special vow, or for peace offerings to the LORD, 9 then you shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three-tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with one-half a hin of oil; 10 and you shall offer as the drink offering one-half a hin of wine as an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD. 11 Thus it shall be done for each ox, or for each ram, or for each of the male lambs, or of the goats. 12 According to the number that you prepare, so you shall do for everyone according to their number. 13 All who are native shall do these things in this manner, in presenting an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD.

God’s first word, when repeated to the people, packed a real punch. He began by telling them WHEN YOU ENTER THE LAND – as an underlying assumption. They WERE going to make it there. The people would not be snuffed out in the wilderness. God wasn’t done with them yet. Moses’ pleas with God were effective.

Look closer at what God told them to do WHEN they arrived: When they made any offering by fire – an oleh offering (burnt) or vow offering – whether at a feast or at any other time, they were to add a grain offering of thanks (a shelmim) in recognition that God delivered on His promise to give them the land (15:3-12). It is easy to see this as a NEW RESPONSIBILITY, but it was much more than that. It was both a message that God’s promise would be fulfilled, and that they would be required to REMEMBER His blessing and faithfulness.

Have you ever asked God for something for a long time? Have you ever really cried out to God for something or some situation? We are often much more diligent about remembering our NEEDS before Him than we are at RECALLING HIS FAITHFULNESS for all that God has done for us already.

Which got more of your attention this week: the silly workings of our blinded government, or times of thanksgiving over what God has already done for you? If you are like most of us – thankfulness played less a role than it should have.

Look at the instructions in the first twelve verses of the chapter:

• When you offer, the one who offers the sacrifice should add a tenth offering of a hin (one hin is about five liters) grain and a quarter hin offering of oil (15:4) and add one quarter hin of wine for a drink offering per lamb offered (15:5).
• For a ram, add two tenths a hin of grain with one third hin oil (15:6), and a drink offering of one hin per ram (15:7).
• For a bull, three tenths hin of grain, with one half hin oil and a drink offering of a half fin (15:9-10).

Here is my point: Each of these formulas was SPECIFIC and DETAILED. Did the extra MEMORIAL FOR GOD’S FAITHFULNESS seem haphazard or well planned? I think it is clear that God wanted a very specific remembrance of Him keeping His promise to the people.

The bottom line of these verses is this: God commanded His people NOT TO QUICKLY AND EASILY SLUFF OFF HIS ENDURING FAITHFULNESS IN SPITE OF THEIR FICKLE BEHAVIOR. Remember, many Israelites were just slaughtered for their rebellion. These who were hearing of this set of new commands were their KIN – and they were left to pick up the pieces of the rebellion.

God saw them, and God wanted them to know two things:

• You can trust Me to get you where I promised you I would take you.
• I expect you to take thankfulness seriously.

Can we not see the same God reflected in our lives? Did God not tell the Philippian believers: “He that began a good work in them will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”? Did not that SAME God tell believers among the early Hebrews (Heb 12):28 “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29for our God is a consuming fire.” Does it sound like God expects believers to be THANKFUL AS He continues to be FAITHFUL?

Now skip down to verse 17 to see the second kind of new home:

God even made that thankfulness practical in the HOME, and not just the NATION.

Again He offered an underlying encouragement that is implied in the command: “You will be in the land for generations, as you have dreamed.” He said:

Numbers 15:17 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 18 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land where I bring you, 19 then it shall be, that when you eat of the food of the land, you shall lift up an offering to the LORD. 20 Of the first of your dough you shall lift up a cake as an offering; as the offering of the threshing floor, so you shall lift it up. 21 From the first of your dough you shall give to the LORD an offering throughout your generations.

Here God addressed mothers of households, and daughters that would leave their homes for the home of their new husband. They would take starter dough from momma’s kitchen, and start an new kitchen – for generation after generation. Here God said that the new produce of the land would have a wave offering lifted before Him, out of the goods of the threshing floor. Dough would be burned to the Lord to recall His faithfulness. This pushed the thankfulness from a NATIONAL STAGE, to a personal household.

The ending point of the commands for added offerings was simple: You will go to the land, and you will be there a LONG TIME. You must remember that I have brought you there, and I have kept my promises. In this, the devastated people could face the loss of so many friends, and know that God was not leaving them to die. They could be encouraged.

The Empathy Principle (15:14-16)

With the encouragements in clear view, there is a second lesson of rebellion. From the same ashes of failure, God called on the people to be empathetic – and set ONE STANDARD for those who desire to be a part of them.

We skipped over a few verses that are part of the national law, but they are not unimportant, even in our day…

Numbers 15:14 If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he [wishes to] make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, just as you do so he shall do. 15 [As for] the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns [with you], a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the LORD. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.'”

Clearly not all of this passage is about EMPATHY, some related to making sure that non-Israelites respected the Law of God. At the same time, SOME OF THE TEXT reflects a tenderness about those who sojourned with Israel. How do I know? Put the text in context. The people suffered a devastating loss, and they were accompanied by others who now were likely greater in ration than before. In times of loss, scapegoating and blame can rise quickly. God took THIS opportunity to press Israel not to see them as different than themselves. Some have suggested that perhaps the “rabble” of aliens incited the people to rebel – as they had in the past. That is possible. Equally possible is that Israel found it easy to lay the blame at their doorstep.

God’s word to them was this: make ONE SACRIFICE standard. Have ONE LAW for them – the same as you do for all of you. There cannot be two standards of Law and right living. They must JOIN Israel in their walk, or they must not come along. Israel had no business expecting the Amalekites or Edomites to conform to the Laws of God – but they had every right to INSIST those who came with them did. In the same way, believers cannot expect the WORLD to live by our standards – but we can call on those IN THE HOUSEHOLD to uphold standards found in God’s Word. This is the reason that Paul wrote to Corinth:

1 Corinthians 5:9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I [did] not at all [mean] with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler– not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within [the church]? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

The people needed to keep those who were with them in ONE CLASS – not a lower and less significant or less capable group. They were to expect the same level of decency and adherence to the Word. They were also not to be HARDER on them than Israel. They were to empathize and offer them a sheltering tribe of safety – if they were willing to be like Israel – subject to God’s Word.

The Effect Principle (15:22-41)

God didn’t forget the sin that caused the devastation – He used it to instruct them about themselves. He made clear that there are different kinds of sin.

First, there are individual sins of omission – when the call of God has been ignored. There is a remedy: offering sacrifice and atonement (15:22-29).

Why is OMISSION a SIN and not simply a MISTAKE? Doesn’t EVERYONE FORGET to do right sometimes? Yes, we do. At the same time, our rebellion often comes from NEGLECT – commission of sin often stems from the omission of walking properly and carefully. A careless life is a dangerous one. We need to be reminded of this. This is ESPECIALLY TRUE of those who lead:

By Leaders: It is also essential that we understand the different standard for those in leadership (15:22-26).

Numbers 15:22 But when you unwittingly fail and do not observe all these commandments, which the LORD has spoken to Moses, 23 [even] all that the LORD has commanded you through Moses, from the day when the LORD gave commandment and onward throughout your generations, 24 then it shall be, if it is done unintentionally, without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one bull for a burnt offering, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one male goat for a sin offering. 25 Then the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and they will be forgiven; for it was an error, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their error. 26 So all the congregation of the sons of Israel will be forgiven, with the alien who sojourns among them, for [it happened] to all the people through error.

The “YOU” of verse 22 is modified by the phrase “without the knowledge of the congregation” – and is therefore thought to be LEADERSHIP sins. It is a sin of omission, so it was does not mean “intentionally hidden” – but rather a sin of neglect by a leader. When you read carefully Numbers 15:25-26, the Hebrew suggests that a leader had omitted a prescribed ordinance of God – causing the whole of the congregation to be deficient in observance. God offered a remedy in sacrifice –but the special section is echoed in later Scripture:

James 3:1 reminds: “Let not many [of you] become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

The people of God need responsible and careful LEADERS. This is no luxury. We need men who KNOW the Word, who HANDLE IT WELL and who WALK IN WHAT THEY ARE TEACHING. The days are eroding this reality. I watched a professor on a You Tube just yesterday mention that a friend of his who happened to be a rabbi was complaining about how Pastors have messed up MINISTRY WORK. The rabbi said something like: “We in ministry used to be men of the Word, serious students who learned and taught. You guys have come in and become amateur counselors, polished showmen and verbal cheerleaders – and you have changed ministry. Now we can barely convince people that knowing the text of Scripture is all that important!” I agree with the rabbi. We have to get back to a serious understanding of the Word.

In the Congregation: We must all be sensitive to walking uprightly.

Numbers 15:27 Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. 28 The priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven. 29 You shall have one law for him who does [anything] unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them.

It is true that leaders can lead us astray – but each of us also bears some responsibility to keep watch over our lives. Sometimes we overlook things because we were poorly trained, but other times because we were living carelessly. When that happened in Israel, they were to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY to call it to the attention of the priest. When it happens to the believer, we take the problem to our High Priest in Heaven. 1 John 1:9 reminds: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Here is the point: SIN IS A CAUSE THAT ANTICIPATES A COMING EFFECT. Omission breeds commission. Laziness and lack of discipline breed sinful behaviors.

How long will some believers not heed the warning that there is more to walking with God than trying to AVOID SIN. The best way to stay out of doing wrong is focus on a disciplined lifestyle of doing RIGHT!

When omission of right thinking and right living has been allowed, rebellion will take root. In short order, we will plunge into murky deception and deluded thinking. Some have stopped daily reading of the Word, and you are on your way. The world is still speaking loudly into your ear every day – but you have slowed down God’s Word coming in. What will be the effect? Your mind will not be transformed, and eventually your heart will resist its yielding. Look at the process as it creeps forward…

Numbers 15:30 But the person who does [anything] defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt [will be] on him.'”

Rebels defy God’s authority and challenge His right to lead. They make alternative rules to His HOLY WORD, and despise the truth – which is what HE has said. They are dangerous to the people of God – and need to be separated out from them – or the effect will spread. We are easily prone to rebellion since the Garden – and we don’t seem to sense the seriousness and heinous nature of sin in God’s eyes.

To illustrate the idea, Moses included a “Case Study” –an event that took place that highlighted the issue of defiance and what God wanted done.

Numbers 15:32 Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation; 34 and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

Before you get lost in the severity of the punishment, I want you to be careful to observe several truths from the short story:

First, the man had very few rules to follow in the desert. The problem was one of priority of God’s Word.

Second, the man had six days to get sufficient wood. Even if something incredible happened to make his wood pile unusable, he could have asked a neighbor to supply it until after Sabbath. The problem was one of respect of God’s person.

Third, He could have planned for the wood usage. His sin started long before the violation that he got caught in. The problem was one of discipline of his time and effort.

It is TRUE that God took the violation VERY SERIOUSLY. He always does. At the same time, if one starts in sober and serious reverence – the issue tends to come up less often later. When the people saw the severity of the punishment, they understood more of the severity of the crime. When crime is left unpunished, eventually people will question whether it is a crime at all.

Consider the honesty and integrity of people after Ananias and Sapphira were carried out fo the church in body bags. I suspect the problem of lying was dramatically dissipated, at least for a time. In all likelihood, the week after the stick gatherer was buried, nobody was doing work on Sabbath.

One Kind of Help – A Remembrance Ornament

God drove the point of obedience home with a command to mark their daily costume with something that would help them recall the seriousness of sin in their lives. The text closes:

Numbers 15:37 The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, 38 “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. 39 “It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, 40 so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God. 41 “I am the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the LORD your God.”

Don’t skip past the words of this remembrance marker – there is a great lesson here! There is a POINT to a CHASTITY RING on a young person’s finger – just as there is for a ring on a married man or woman’s hand. Markers help us to recall our commitment.

• If you put a bumper sticker on your car about Jesus – please drive like a Christian. Don’t break the law, and don’t cut people off. Jesus shouldn’t have to get beat again for your poor adherence to the rules.

• If you wear a wedding ring, please act like you are, in fact, married. Your ring should ache when you aren’t thinking in a way that befits your station in life.

• If you wear a “Jesus loves you” t-shirt, is it too much to ask if I implore you to behave in public like you share His love for the lost? If you are rude, crude or lude – Jesus’ name gets dragged down.

Should you wear the ring, the t-shirt or affix the sticker. By all means YES, especially if it will force you to remember to LIVE BETTER.

We must be absolutely clear as believers that SIN HAS A CONSEQUENCE, and it should help us to back off the edge. We cannot live as we choose and then blame God for the outcome…

Philip Yancey, in his book “Reaching for the Invisible God” describes it this way:

“When Princess Diana died in an automobile accident, a minister was interviewed and was asked the question “How can God allow such a terrible tragedy?” And I loved his response. He said, “Could it have had something to do with a drunk driver going ninety miles an hour in a narrow tunnel? Just How, exactly, was God involved…”

• “Years ago, boxer, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, killed a Korean opponent with a hard right hand to the head. At the press conference after the Korean’s death, Mancini said, “Sometimes I wonder why God does the things he does.”

• In a letter to Dr. Dobson, a young woman asked this anguished question, “Four years ago, I was dating a man and became pregnant. I was devastated. I asked God, “Why have you allowed this to happen to me?”

• Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother a couple years ago who pushed her two sons into a lake to drown and then blamed a fictional car-jacker for the deed, wrote in her confession: “I dropped to the lowest point when I allowed my children to go down that ramp into the water without me. I took off running and screaming, ‘Oh God! Oh God, no! What have I done? Why did you let this happen?”

Now the question remains, exactly what role did God play in a boxer beating his opponent to death, a teenage couple giving into temptation in the back seat of a car, or a mother drowning her children? Is God responsible for these acts? To the contrary, they are examples of incredible human free will being exercised on a fallen planet. And yet it’s in our nature as mortal, frail, fallen people to lash out at one who is not responsible for these things, that being God.

When we rebel, we need to recall three principles: God isn’t done with us (encouragement principle), our failures can make us more sensitive to other people (empathy principle), and that sin has terrible consequences (effect principle).