In all of my travels I have learned a few very important tips. I know where to shop in Paris when my luggage gets lost. I know where to get leaves from old C16th books in Istanbul. I know where the best sunset view is on Mykonos in the Greek Islands. One of the most important tips is this: Never use new or beautiful luggage on an overseas trek – it is sure to be abducted, lost or damaged. Occasionally I see people with brand new and very expensive designer luggage on the journey. I wonder if they have any idea how that nice piece of personal expression is about to get beaten up.
Today’s lesson is about God’s design for a society that is about to go on a journey – a nation on the road. Their nation was one that wanted to walk with Him – at least in its leadership. Though we don’t live in such a nation, we once did, and the desire to spread His Word and teach it to our citizenry marked a high point in our progress and expansion of the nation. It may be possible that we will have such a privilege again – we pray for such a thing. At the same time, we will always need to understand what God thought was most important to organizing a nation that would walk with Him – and that is one of the purposes of the Book of Numbers.
If you are an organizer, if you love the “container store”, this book is for you. If you find yourself frequently making lists, enjoying filing or organizing closets – this is your stop in the Bible. It is a book about God’s prescribed organization for the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Amid the biographies and stories of the journey, this book gives a peek at the priorities of God, through His organization. Look in the cabinets of a friend’s kitchen and their organization will clue you in to what they like to cook, and what they eat. Look into the Book of Numbers and you will see what God’s priorities for the nation to move forward were, and how believers were to organize the daunting journey ahead.
Don’t forget this critical connection point: You are also undertaking a journey from redemption to Promised Land – and your journey is through the harsh desert of life. There are friends and companions for this journey. There are oases of refreshment, and palms of joy to hide under for a season. At the same time – the environment is increasingly HOSTILE to the child of God. As the temperature rises and evil men dominate, a plan for movement through this plain will become more and more essential. Around what priorities did God shape the believers long ago as they faced the journey ahead? Here is our story…
Key Principle: God organized the nation around three critical priorities: identity and strength of family, centrality of worship and necessity of training (education).
In our first lesson from Numbers, we saw that preparation for any serious journey had to be undertaken with care and forethought. What should be packed? What is essential for safety? There is more to it than just a few band aids and a water bottle. The journey for the believer from the point of God’s rescue from darkness to the Promised Land will require a careful plan, meticulously executed.
• They heard God and knew it was essential to take HIS WORD on the journey.
• God told them to build the TEAM – for the journey cannot be taken alone.
• He instructed them to be prepared for a FIGHT – the journey would include battles.
• They were commanded to search diligently for current and future LEADERS from their ranks.
• They recognized, early on, the need to carefully OBEY God’s commands –not just discuss and learn them.
• And finally, they were to keep the WORSHIP OF GOD close to every step – journeying with the heart monitored.
A step closer to leaving Sinai, both the CIVIL leader (Moses) and the SACRED leader (Aaron) were called upon by God and told to order how the believers were physically arranged in their society.
• Numbers 2:1 makes the point that a proper society that honors God is led by men and women that HEAR from God. They are NOT embarrassed to say they know Him, nor are they embarrassed to suggest that He is knowable and speaking. We need leaders who will give us more than the “touchy feely” Hallmark card God – we need them to direct us to a God who SEES and REQUIRES things of us.
• The same verse makes another point –community leaders should not hesitate to stand on God’s priorities and call on people to follow them. We need bold leaders that are unapologetic about their core values – not timid leaders who choose right and wrong by the popular polls. Evil will get more brazen as time moves forward – but we cannot be bullied into backing away from truth. The most serious compromises happen when people represent something and then fold under pressure.
We saw it recently with a fast food chain. In July, Chick-fil-A came under fire when its president, Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press:
“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.”
Almost immediately came an unbelievable bullying by the “tolerance world”. Mayors weighed in and said they would deny the franchise a right to have a site in their city. In a quiet way the government message to businesses with Biblical views was unmistakable: “Open your mouth about your views in the public sector and we will punish you for your position.”
An openly rude and crude display flared across America. People formed protests that destroyed property and impeded business in thousands of restaurants. Christians rallied on Facebook and came back with a purchasing spree. Chickens across the country wept as sales skyrocketed. Finally, the company decided to pull its support from organizations that support a Biblical family agenda, and the company apologized in its new statement on “Who we are”, suggesting they wanted to stay away from any “social policy debates” in the future. Analysts say the company’s chances at expansion were curtailed by their public perception, making it sound as though they changed course for the sake of bottom line growth. Many supportive Christians were hurt, and felt betrayed.
Let me ask a question: “What was the agenda that they were supporting?” What is the Biblical view of family that was so threatening to modern Americans? Why was their support desired, and what was its importance. Do we really lose anything important when we sit quietly and fail to engage in prayer as the redefining of the family by bullies takes place? We lose a basic structure of blessing for our children. Let me explain by continuing to look at Numbers 2…
God wanted to underscore the importance of identity by FAMILY (2:1-2a; 3-31).
God identified people and their place according to their family. If you read much of Numbers 2, this is unmistakable:
Numbers 2:1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 “The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households…
• 2:3 “Now those who camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah, … 5 “Those who camp next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar… 7 “Then comes the tribe of Zebulun, … 9 … They shall set out first.
• 2:10 “On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Reuben … 12 … next to him shall be the tribe of Simeon, …14 “Then comes the tribe of Gad…16 … And they shall set out second.
• 2:18 “On the west side shall be the standard of the camp of Ephraim …20 “Next to him shall be the tribe of Manasseh, … 22 “Then comes the tribe of Benjamin, … 24 … And they shall set out third.
• 2:25 “On the north side shall be the standard of the camp of Dan … 27 “Those who camp next to him shall be the tribe of Asher, … 29 “Then comes the tribe of Naphtali, … 31 …They shall set out last by their standards.”
When God was preparing to move the people toward their destination in the Promised Land, he helped them to understand their IDENTITY. This is a key to understanding the Biblical importance of the FAMILY.
When you take into account that the core laws of the so called “Ten Commandments” (in Exodus 20) deal first with the relationship of a man or woman with God (in the first four commands) and next their relationship with one another (in the last six commands), it is striking that the opening command of relationships is found verse 12: “Honor your father and mother …” Before God addressed how to treat people, He addressed the family.
God began relationship law with the family because He created the family as the basic building block of a society. The health and progress of any society is contingent on the success of its family units. The enemy has declared war on it, because the defeat of the family unit, or the convoluting of its components is key to swaying people quickly and violently away from all things of God. It is a true statement, the old adage: “A family can survive without a nation, but a nation cannot survive without the family.”
God’s Word made this clear through the Apostle Paul’s writings to Timothy of the “last days”: “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents …” (2 Timothy 3:2). I remember as a youth thinking that seemed out of place in the list. It seemed minor to me then, because I did not understand the bigger issue: Kill the family and you will kill the nation. You will tear down each person’s foundational identity. Natural bonding processes will break down. Mothers will no longer see the nurturing and protection of their children as their highest goal. Fathers will no longer see the blessings that come from remaining in difficult places and pressing through with God’s promises to victory. Children will grow up angry and unattached to their parents, uninformed in morality, and uninterested in God.
It is worth pointing out that Moses was used of God to simply offer: “Honor your father and mother” not honor your “baby daddy” and your “Monday momma”. The complications to modern life that have been caused by the casual commitment to marriage and the social policy of open divorce for $99 have left our country spiritually impoverished. Connect the dots. No clear understanding of “father and mother” and you will have no clear understanding of self.
The movement to “redefine” marriage and family is endorsed by Washington, but led by media. The call to normalization of homosexuality is not for the purpose of growing a tolerant nation that truly desires to follow a moral path – it is for the removal of boundaries that will take us to head-spinning and degraded positions as quickly as “open divorce” led us to where we are in my lifetime. This is not simply an issue of politics – it is at the heart of God’s agenda.
People will say to you: “If two people are in love in a committed relationship, why shouldn’t they marry?” Here is the bottom line to our view: Homosexuality is outside of God’s order for life, and that pattern is clearly and unmistakably pronounced in His Holy Word, the Bible. God is not “anti-gay,” He is “anti-sin” – and sin is defined by HIS VIEW of what HE DESIGNED and for WHAT PURPOSE He designed it – plain and simple.
One Pastor suggested: “The next time someone calls you “homophobic” for your position, call “Bibliophobic” for theirs.” Our position has been around since the Bible itself. Sharing our view were kings and former Presidents for generations and millennia. We didn’t make up biology, nor did we write the Bible. Lest you be tricked, Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 are painfully clear about God’s use of sexuality and His definition of right and wrong.
God’s explanation for the acceptance of the gay lifestyle is that men and women wanted to overwrite His rules on use of their bodies and He let them. He “turned them over” to their shameful desires. His order for the family is ever to be a man and woman, covenanted together before Him as husband and wife. The modern culture can mock this narrative, they can denigrate the place of both a man and a woman in the child’s formation – but they cannot replace the biological necessity that is so terribly obvious. In sex, a man and woman are both essential to the product. Biblically stated, in child-rearing – the same is true. Children need men and women in their formation. They need the commitment to one another through hard things that a marriage should demonstrate. Without it, they will lack something that will take deliberate replacement. I am not arguing that they will be ruined – I am arguing that doing it differently will take specific and targeted effort to make up for the lack of what was intended. It will be harder to raise them well, and easier for the system to fail.
I am deeply thankful to the Lord for the committed Christian couples who have clung to Jesus and each other through the storms of life. I believe wholeheartedly that their commitment and sacrifice to remain faithful will have an impact for generations to come. Make no mistake – God’s intent for the journey of the Christian life was to begin with those who saw the necessity of organizing around the FAMILY UNIT.
What if I came to Christ from a really messed up family? Good question. First, let me say this: “Join the club.” There are many in the family of God like you. Second, let me urge you this way: “How you came in is NOT your responsibility, but how YOU CHOOSE to behave in light of God’s commitment to the design of the family IS your responsibility.”
We must see the importance of what is being re-written in our time. God organized through the family and there are spiritual lessons that can be most easily be understood when we have the stability of a God-fearing family around us. The move forward was organized around the family in Numbers 2, and it is in our churches as well.
• Be the man or woman of God that will pay any price to take care of your parents, your spouse and your children.
• Don’t pawn off the moral education of your children to a state provided agency.
• Don’t take the easy way out when your marriage gets in rough waters. Generations from now, your descendants will be glad you stuck with it.
God wanted the whole society to recognize the central place of WORSHIP:
A second basic lesson of Numbers 2 can be found in the place of WORSHIP in the community. Again, our world is answering the generations that founded churches with a harsh voice. Remember this: the hospitals of our country were begun by believers to help people. The educational institutions of our country were begun to help people know Christ and His Word. The original charities of the country were designed by men and women with a heart for God. These facts of history are not being taught, but they haven’t vanished. They are facts of our country’s formation. WORSHIP OF GOD was at the center of our nation’s founding.
The cornerstone of the Capitol building was laid by President George Washington in 1793 but Congress moved into the building in by November of 1800. Congressional records on December 4, 1800, show that Congress approved the use of the US Capitol building as a church building. When you hear in school that someone says: “The Founding Fathers believed in separation of church and state”, tell them the phrase came from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to a church group two days after he again attended church at the Capitol listening to his friend, Rev. John Leland, on January 3, 1802. James Madison attended church in the Capitol as well. In fact, from Jefferson through Abraham Lincoln, many presidents attended church at the Capitol; and it was common practice for Members of Congress to attend those services. For a time the US Marine Corps Band participated in the early Capitol church services. The rostrum of the “Speaker of the House” was used as a preacher’s pulpit; and Congress purchased the hymnals used in the services. Don’t get DUPED by the re-telling of our history. Our Founding Fathers believed that there was NO CONNECTION between the use of public buildings and the establishment clause of the Constitution. You would be hard pressed to find any teacher that acknowledges what is still a matter of public record in the Congress. Once we were a nation that was unembarrassed to call ourselves Christian, and put the worship of the Living God at our center.
Go back and look at two places where you can see this truth in God’s Word:
• Worship was to be the focal point of all the nation (2:2b).
2:2b “… they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance.
• Worship was to be chiefly protected by the nation (2:17).
2:17 “Then the tent of meeting shall set out with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; just as they camp, so they shall set out, every man in his place by their standards.
If I were the enemy, I would attack the family – and I would attack the notion that WORSHIP was anything more than a scam of religious sounding hucksters trying to get your wallet in their offering plate.
The purpose of our worship is for a believer to glorify, honor, praise, exalt, and meet God in a way that is pleasing to Him. It is the shrinking of self before the greatness of God. Because “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6,10) – and because the process of worship calls on man to “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up“, the center of worship cannot be filled a stubborn, willful, self-reliant follower – God will back away from such a place.
What pushed God from the center of America is what pushes God from the center of my life – the notion that He is a luxury and not the very air I breathe, the very food I eat. Ironically, prosperity was part of God’s blessing, but also part of our societal departure from the God that blessed us. When we see God as non-essential to our survival, we have enthroned ourselves. We have embraced our own image. We have bowed to our own self will to determine our future and our choices. We have believed a lie –we can provide for ourselves a great future based on our own ingenuity – but we cannot. The dark nature within each of us will eventually twist every step forward to an entitlement to feed the fleshly and base desires. In a short span of years we will warrant one lust after the other. Eventually we will exhaust our resources on self-oriented “rights bound” thinking – pushing responsibility on others while indulging self. Man cannot sit on the throne of his own life and not end up self-consumed. It is only a matter of time.
Much mystery in the modern church has been placed on the idea of WORSHIP. It is probably worth recalling what worship IS, and how the Bible frames the subject.
Worship is NOT teaching the Bible, though that can be part of it. Worship is NOT singing, though music can be a vehicle to help it be accomplished. It is NOT giving money in an offering plate, though that can be an act out of a heart that is worshiping.
Our most simple definition of worship is the “Recognition of God’s place in our lives and our celebration of that place.” Let me offer a well-known example from the life of Isaiah:
Isaiah 6:1 “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
A quick skipping of the stones across the top of the pond of this passage offers the simple outline:
1. Worship begins with seeing the person of the Lord – exalted and enthroned (6:1). He is high above.
2. Worship focuses me on the place of the Lord – in His holiness and elevation of God (6:2-4). He is not like me.
3. Worship tunes me in to the power of the Lord – enveloping not only Heaven – but earth! (6:3b). He is at work in the here and now.
4. Worship forces me to move my eyes from the perfection of God to the perverseness of self – the stains of my heart and life (6:5). I am a sinner.
5. Worship reminds me that purification from God is available. He alone can cleanse, and I can be made whole by Him! (6:6-7). He will wash my sin away when I ask Him to do it.
6. Worship pulls my heart to listen to the plan of God – His voice is speaking (6:8a).
7. Worship, real worship, is met by my opening of the will to follow the purposes of God in my life when His appearance has faded into memory (6:8b).
Remember, our Master told the woman at the well that God loves worship. John 4:23-24, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Jesus reminded her that worship is PRESCRIBED – not anyway we want, but “in spirit and in truth”. His followers can worship God only in the ways He deems acceptable to Him.
• Worshiping in “spirit” means that there is HEART involved. It is not sterile and cerebral. We worship on the inside, where our breath and our spirit live. It is not simply an external issue – it comes from authentic surrender and celebration within.
• Worshiping in “truth” means that there is CONTENT involved. It is not all emotional and spontaneous. We worship from the inside OUT, but it has expression from propositional truth. We don’t just FEEL IT, we LEARN IT. We grow in it. We understand God and life better because we grow in His truth.
God built into the camp a DISCIPLESHIP STRATEGY (2:32-34):
He designed the camp to have those who were trained to know and follow God most closely spread out among the people:
Numbers 2: 32 These are the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households; the total of the numbered men of the camps by their armies, 603,550. 33 The Levites, however, were not numbered among the sons of Israel, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 34 Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, every one by his family according to his father’s household.
Levites were not given a single area to live in the camp – they were to spread out. In the land later, they were commanded to “spread out” and live in every area of the land. They could not follow God and end up in one “holy huddle”.
We have to remember that following God in Israel was still a minority affair.
• Extract from Christendom the indwelling of God’s Spirit.
• Now take away the Word of God – all the Bibles that we have in our homes – both real believers and people who drop by every Christmas and Easter to say they are Christian.
• Now take away the hymnal and common culture of the Bible statements that float around the internet and Walmart sale calendars.
One of the great ironies of the Bible is the name LEVI is the word “ATTACHED”. When he was born, his mother Leah was trying to get Jacob to LOVE HER, and thought mistakenly that having his babies would attach the man to her. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. She called him “attached” as a statement of HOPE – but it didn’t work.
Interestingly, the sons of Levi were to “attach” themselves to people all over the land, and work to continually “attach” the people to God. It was the work of the Levitical line, and especially those from the lines of priests, to intercede for the people, to encourage a walk with God among the people, to show the people they were God’s special inheritance.
One of the great privileges we have as believers today is to represent God to people in our lives, and help them find Him. We are signs that point to Him; we are representatives of what a walk with Him will do in a surrendered life. It is the reason our TESTIMONY is such an issue. Our generation’s path back to God largely depends in the human frame on our clarity of lifestyle and commitment to common mission. Ours is a great privilege – to open the door to people beaten down by sinful lifestyles and unattached cold selfishness – and expose them to connection, love, acceptance by God and joy with one another.
We must be grown to full strength, that we can spread out and stand for God in our offices, our communities, our families. They may not know it, but they NEED us – because they NEED GOD. Remember, we will never reach the world in a church service – we will only get ready to do the heavy lifting it will take in the training and worship involved in such a service. The field is outside the door – and we are called and commanded to get out there and do the work of connection between God and man. It is not just a responsibility – it is a great privilege!
God organized the nation around three critical priorities: identity and strength of family, centrality of worship and necessity of training (education). We would be wise to try, as much as is within our power, to do the same.