Sunday, January 31, 2021
Saturday, January 30, 2021
After the earth swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and after fire destroyed the 250 men who rebelled with them, we were told, "The assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the tent of meeting." The people blamed Moses and Aaron for the deaths of their fellow countrymen instead of acknowledging that the dead men brought their punishment upon themselves because of their sin. It looks like a mob has formed against Moses and Aaron at the tabernacle, just as a mob formed against them earlier in the book of Numbers. And, as was the case with the previous occasion, I think the people want to kill Moses and Aaron.
The Lord's anger burned toward the people as we closed yesterday's passage and He warned Moses and Aaron to stand back from them so they would not be harmed when He brings destruction upon this multitude. At this, Moses and Aaron fell to the ground in prayer as a plague began to break out among those assembled against them. This is where we pick up our study today.
Moses receives an answer while he's on his knees before the Lord, so he instructs his brother what to do to turn the Lord's wrath away from the assembly before everyone gathered there is consumed. "Then Moses said to Aaron, 'Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the Lord; the plague has started.'" (Numbers 16:46)
We don't know what this plague was but it brought death swiftly, as we'll see momentarily. In the original language the word translated as "plague" also means "a blow, a strike". So we see that the people are being "struck down" but we can't say whether the plague was an illness, as we typically think of a plague, or whether Moses means the people were falling dead one by one as if an unseen swordsman were moving methodically through the assembly. I'm reminded of the way the death angel moved through Egypt on Passover night, striking down the firstborn males of the Egyptians and of their livestock. The Lord doesn't have to send a plague of disease in order to remove from this life those who are gathered together in anger against Moses and Aaron. If the Lord didn't "hold our souls in life", as Psalm 66:9 confirms He does, we would all drop dead. It's the Lord who gives us the next breath in our lungs. It's the Lord who wakes us up every morning and takes us through the day safely. So many perils come against us this life, both natural perils and manmade perils along with the perils of evil, for the Bible says Satan's intentions toward us are to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) Every time we make it through a day safely, we've made it through by the mercy and power of the Lord. What we're seeing in our text today may simply be that the Lord stops holding these people's souls in life by taking His hand of protection off them.
Now, before we go further, I want to point out that I'm not saying every death is a punishment from the Lord. Every human being is destined to die. (Hebrews 9:27) Both unbelievers and believers face death eventually because we all live in mortal human bodies. We may die according to the Lord's timing, when He allows it to happen naturally or we can bring an earlier death upon ourselves by sinful living or by unhealthy living. What's happening here in Chapter 16 is that people in the congregation are bringing an earlier-than-normal death upon themselves by fiercely opposing the Lord. By turning against Moses and Aaron and wanting them dead, they are opposing the Lord who has clearly demonstrated to them that He has chosen Moses and Aaron to be the political and spiritual leaders of the nation at this time in history.
Moses loves the people who have made themselves his enemies. Aaron loves them too, and he doesn't walk but runs to perform his priestly atoning duties on their behalf. "So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped." (Numbers 16:47-48) Moses intercedes for the people by prayer. Aaron intercedes for them by performing an atoning ritual. These men lived many centuries before Christ but they are doing what Jesus would do, for Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44)
It's easy to love those who love us and to pray for those who are good to us. The Lord Jesus, living in a human body, understood this. He also understood, living in a human body, that it's possible to overcome (with God's help) our human tendency to hate our enemies. That's why He said: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that you to? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:32-36) If we want to look like the children of God, we must do the things God would do. If we don't do the things God would do, we have no hope of leading anyone to Him. Do we have the right to be angry when we're mistreated by our fellow man? Yes, there is such a thing as "righteous indignation". It's normal to recognize things that are wrong and to feel righteously indignant over them. The Lord doesn't expect us to go through life without ever feeling angry over things that are wrong; He does, however, instruct us how to deal with those feelings, which is why the Bible says to believers, "In your anger do not sin." (Ephesians 4:26a) In other words: it's understandable to be angry about things that are wrong, but two wrongs don't make a right. We aren't to handle our feelings in sinful ways.
Moses and Aaron love and intercede for men who want them dead. These two guys look a whole lot like the children of God right now, don't they? They are loving like their Father. They are merciful like their Father. Like their Father, they are being kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. You and I may never be called upon to pray for someone who wants us dead, but as we walk through this life there are going to be people who don't like us, and people who talk about us behind our backs, and people who take advantage of us, and people who tell lies about us, and people who do something mean and spiteful to us anytime the opportunity arises. How are we to respond? Like Moses and Aaron responded. If they could beg God for mercy upon men who actually wanted them dead, can we not beg God for mercy upon someone who has gossiped about us or has cheated us out of something?
I have to tell you, this passage really speaks to me today. Something shocking and upsetting happened yesterday that affects my household in a big way---in a bad way. My husband and I are hurt and angry over what happened because what happened was wrong. It's normal to feel angry over something that's wrong, but how are we to deal with these feelings? The Bible says we are to pray for the person or persons who wronged us. I don't think that means we have to pray that life will be all sunshine and roses for wicked people; I think, though, that it definitely means we are to pray for wicked people to turn to the Lord. The only thing I can think of to pray about, in my own personal case this morning, is that the persons who've hurt us will come to salvation. They need the Lord. We find Moses and Aaron trying to save the lives of all the men who hate them because they know these men need the Lord. I don't think Moses and Aaron are asking the Lord to bless these men abundantly in every way in spite of how sinful they are. I think Moses and Aaron want the men to keep on living in hopes that the men will turn to the Lord in time.
The Lord spares the vast majority of the men who are assembled against Moses and Aaron. "But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah. Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting, for the plague had stopped." (Numbers 16:49-50) 14,700 men is a lot but we learned earlier in Numbers that there were over 600,000 men in Israel of the age and physical condition to fight in the army. This means there were men too young to join the army (aged 18 and 19) and men who weren't sound enough in body or mind to serve in the army. The Bible doesn't tell us how many men formed an angry mob to confront Moses and Aaron but we can be certain there were far more than 14,700 in the group. There could have been half a million or more. This means the Lord spared far more men from the plague than He allowed to die. Why did He allow some to die while sparing others? We can't say for certain, but perhaps the 14,700 were the worst offenders. Maybe they were the ones who incited the others against the Lord and against Moses and Aaron. Perhaps they were the ones who most fiercely wanted Moses and Aaron dead. It could be that they had already rejected the Lord more times than the others and, because He knew they always would reject Him and were capable of enticing others to reject Him, He removed them from the assembly for the sake of those who hadn't yet turned permanently and irrevocably away from Him.
The Lord is good and everything He does is right. We aren't always given an explanation for why He handles certain things in certain ways. A lot of times I don't think we could understand the explanation if He gave us one, for His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Just as my little dog wouldn't understand my explanations of why she can't have a whole bag of treats at one time or why I have to take her to the vet for her yearly shots or why I have to give her baths and toenail trims, we wouldn't understand God's explanations for everything He does. Even if He sat us down and tried to tell us why He allows certain things to happen, in a lot of cases I don't think we'd be able to see the big picture in the way He sees it. We don't have to see the big picture as long as we keep in mind that God is good. My pup knows that everything I do for her is for her own good and that it's coming from a loving heart. We are to keep in mind that everything God allows into our lives has a purpose to it and that our every circumstance comes from a loving heart because, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)
Our passage today is exactly what I need in this season of my life. I desire your prayers for my household and your prayers that we would respond to our current circumstances in a way that honors our Lord. I hope our study today has ministered to you too.
Thursday, January 28, 2021
In yesterday's study the Lord judged Korah and his followers who rebelled against the authority of Moses and Aaron. This rebellion was actually against the Lord who appointed Moses and Aaron to the positions they hold. To prove to the assembly that this level of rebellion will not be allowed to stand, and to prove that Moses and Aaron were not acting on their own will but on the will of the Lord, the Lord caused Korah and his 250 followers and the two Reubenites to perish. Korah and the two Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, fell into the earth when the Lord caused a large chasm to open underneath them. The 250 men who were attempting to be priests (against the Lord's will) were consumed by fire from the Lord.
This is where we pick up our study today. "The Lord said to Moses, 'Tell Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, to remove the censers from the charred remains and scatter the coals some distance away, for the censers are holy---the censers of the men who sinned at the cost of their lives. Hammer the censers into sheets to overlay the altar, for they were presented before the Lord and have become holy. Let them be a sign to the Israelites.'" (Numbers 16:36-38)
The censers are to be preserved because incense has been offered in them to the Lord. But they will no longer be used as censers now that these men used them in their sin. Instead the censers will be a perpetual reminder of the dangers of blaspheming a holy God. To reject God's decision in choosing a particular family line of the tribe of Levi to be priests is to reject the authority and sovereignty of God. The rebellion of these men was a result of their opinion that God has no right to choose who will stand before Him to present offerings and sacrifices and incense. These men wanted to impose their will over God's will. God most certainly does have the right to choose whom He wants to be ordained to stand before Him in His house to perform the holy office of priest. To put it in modern terms, what kind of pastor would we want for our church? Do we want a person who has been called by God to shepherd the flock? Or do we want a person who has presumptuously taken it upon themselves to lead the church without the calling and blessing of God upon him? I don't want a pastor who is attempting to lead the church in his own strength without the Lord having called him to the office of preacher. I want a pastor whom the Lord has chosen and called to minister to the congregation.
One of the priests chosen by God, Aaron's son Eleazar, collects the censers and ensures they are hammered into sheets to overlay the altar. "So Eleazar the priest collected the bronze censers brought by those who had been burned to death, and he had them hammered out to overlay the altar, as the Lord directed him through Moses. This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the Lord, or he would become like Korah and his followers." (Numbers 16:39-40) When we get to 1 Kings 13, after the ten northern tribes of Israel (a kingdom which will retain the name of Israel) split away from the two southern tribes (a kingdom which will be known as Judah) we'll find King Jeroboam of Israel sinfully appointing priests "from all sorts of people". We'll be told, "Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated". This will be the beginning of the downfall of the northern kingdom which will eventually fall into such idolatry that the Lord will bring the kingdom of Assyria against it to conquer it.
The Lord has put an end to the rebellion of Chapter 16 and to the men who started it. Everything will calm down now for a while, right? I am sure Moses and Aaron hoped that would be the case, but it isn't. The community is saddened and shocked by the death of the men who opposed the Lord but by the next day their sadness and shock have turned to anger---anger which they direct at Moses and Aaron. "The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 'You have killed the Lord's people,' they said." (Numbers 16:41) Their statement is incorrect. First of all, Korah, Dathan, Abiram and the 250 men who tried to be priests against the Lord's will were not the Lord's people except in the sense that they were of Israel. These men had not made God the Lord of their lives; they had made themselves the lords of their lives. Secondly, Moses and Aaron didn't kill anybody. They didn't lay a finger on any of the men. The Lord is the one who opened the earth under Dathan, Abiram, and Korah. The Lord is the one who sent fire to consume the 250 men with the censers. These things happened right before the assembly's very eyes and it was plain to see Moses and Aaron took no action against the men.
Why does the assembly turn on Moses and Aaron again? The people beheld the Lord's power and judgment but in their hearts they found fault with it. There's nothing they can do to the Lord to satisfy their anger toward Him for how He handled the rebellion. But Moses and Aaron are living, breathing, mortal human beings standing right in front of them, so the people direct all their negative feelings toward them. Moses and Aaron become the focus of the people's anger.
I think another plot is brewing to stone Moses and Aaron to death because we find the community once again forming an angry mob. "But when the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the tent of meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord appeared. Then Moses and Aaron went to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord said to Moses, 'Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.'" (Numbers 16:42-45a) The members of this mob have learned nothing from what just happened to over 250 men of their community. Their hearts are still focused on man and not on God. God's anger burns against them for their stubborn refusal to acknowledge Him as sovereign Lord and once again He longs to just put an end to them.
In tomorrow's study we'll see how this action-packed chapter comes to an end.
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Korah and his followers want to be priests and leaders even though this isn't what the Lord has called these particular men to do in life. They've questioned the authority of Moses and the authority of the Lord who chose and enabled Moses to lead them out of Egypt and to the promised land. They've accused both Moses and the Lord of wanting to kill them in the wilderness. They've accused Moses of having brought them out of slavery in Egypt only to force them into slavery to himself. Moses bowed down on the ground and prayed to the Lord for guidance and the Lord gave him the instructions he's about to give Korah and his men.
"Moses said to Korah, 'You and all your followers are to appear before the Lord tomorrow---you and they and Aaron. Each man is to take his censer and put incense in it---250 censers in all---and present it before the Lord. You and Aaron are to present your censers also.'" (Numbers 16:16-17) These men want to be priests and they will be allowed to appear before the Lord carrying the censers of priests. Moses is saying to them, "We will let God decide. If He wants you to be priests, you can be priests. He previously made it clear that only Aaron and his sons and their descendants are to serve Him as priests, but just in case He's changed His mind (as you seem to believe He ought to), we'll put the matter before Him and see what He says."
These men are in the wrong. But sometimes the only way to prove to a person that they are in the wrong is to let them keep going until they hit rock bottom and are compelled to face their mistakes. Moses has not been able to talk sense into them. They remain stubbornly persistent in their rebellion against the Lord. This situation wouldn't have ended up the way it's going to end up if only they'd listened to Moses or consulted the Lord in a spirit of obedience and humility. But since they refuse to listen to the reason of man or of God, they are going to have their sinful hearts judged in the sight of the whole congregation.
On the following day the men do what the Lord instructed Moses to tell them to do. "When Korah had gathered all his followers in opposition to them at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the glory of the Lord appeared to the entire assembly." (Numbers 16:19) This is probably a reference to the cloud of the Lord's presence which we've previously talked about several times in our study of the Old Testament. It's important that the Lord's glory appears in the sight of all the people. This way there will be no doubt that what happens in our passage today is not a randomly occurring natural disaster but that it comes straight from the hand of a God who has put these rebellious men on trial and found them guilty.
"The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.' But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, 'O God, the God who gives breath to all living things, will You be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?'" (Numbers 16:20-22) The Lord threatens to be done with the entire assembly, perhaps because the sympathies of the people lie more with the rebels than with Moses and Aaron. And if their sympathies lie with the rebels, they aren't on the side of God who calls whom He wants to be leaders and priests. If God had wanted Korah and his men to be priests, He would have appointed them as priests.
Does God actually intend to destroy all the people except Moses and Aaron? Yes and no. God doesn't make empty threats or empty promises. If Moses and Aaron hadn't interceded for the people, I think the Lord would have destroyed the people. If He destroyed all but the families of Moses and Aaron He could still keep His promise to Abraham about bringing his descendants into the promised land. But the Lord knew Moses and Aaron would intercede for the people. So why does He propose doing a thing which He's powerful enough to do and within His rights to do, knowing He won't actually have to do it? I think it's because He wants Moses and Aaron to pray for mercy upon the people. As we've seen ever since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, the people are continually grumbling against Moses and Aaron. It would be easy for Moses and Aaron to hold a grudge against them. It would be easy for Moses and Aaron to become so weary and so frustrated and so angry that they no longer care what happens to the assembly. Prayer softens the heart of the person who prays and I think that's why God says what He says. He wants Moses and Aaron to pray on behalf of the people and He knows Moses and Aaron will pray on behalf of the people. Praying for the people helps Moses and Aaron to keep loving them. They are going to need to keep loving them if they are going to be able to keep leading them.
The Lord hears the prayers of Moses and Aaron. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Say to the assembly, 'Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.' Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. He warned the assembly, 'Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all of their sins.' So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents." (Numbers 16:23-27) Korah and the 250 men with him are already standing outside with their censers of incense. In yesterday's passage Dathan and Abiram refused to come before Moses when he called them, so they are still at their tents. The word rendered "tent" means "temporary shelter, movable shelter, tabernacle" and is the same word as is used when speaking of the tabernacle of the Lord. Some scholars believe the use of this word indicates that Dathan and Abiram and their families are not coming out of their own tents in verse 27 but that they're coming out of the tabernacle. If that's the case, this would mean they've defiled the tabernacle with their presumptuous sin of going inside it to try to perform the duties of priests without being ordained as priests.
"Then Moses said, 'This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.'" (Numbers 16:28-30) The men have accused Moses of taking it upon himself to appoint himself to lead the people to the promised land. They've accused him of giving the priesthood to Aaron and his sons, not because this was the Lord's will but because Moses wanted to give exalted positions to his family. What the Lord is about to do will show the whole congregation that Moses was installed as leader by the Lord's choice and Aaron and his family line were installed as priests by the Lord's choice.
"As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; and they perished and were gone from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, 'The earth is going to swallow us too!' And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense." (Numbers 16:31-35) Moses said the Lord was going to do "something totally new" and there's no doubt that He did. This is indisputable proof that the men who perished were sinning against the Lord when they said the things they did. It's proof that the Lord is right and they were wrong. It's proof that the Lord is in control of all things and that He is in charge of appointing the political and spiritual leaders of Israel.
Korah's family line doesn't perish with them. Those who joined in rebellion with him perished with him, but it appears his sons (or at least some of them) didn't sin against the Lord along with him, for later in the Bible we find descendants of Korah going about the duties the Lord assigned to them. Notably, we find them happy with their assignments, saying, "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." (Psalm 84:10b) In Numbers 16 we find Korah unhappy with being a doorkeeper in the house of God, and that may be because he hadn't really made God his God. But in Psalm 84, authored by "the sons of Korah", we find his descendants worshiping God with their whole hearts and being more than happy to serve Him in His house in whatever way they can.
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
A close kinsman of Moses and Aaron, a man named Korah, has gathered a large group of men to oppose the leadership of Moses and Aaron. These men are a bunch of discontents. They're unhappy with the jobs appointed to them by the Lord and feel they should be assigned duties where they can be in the public eye and become well known. Moses prayed to the Lord for guidance and then announced to the men that on the following day the Lord would make it known who is right with Him and who is not. At this point in our study, we are still in the day in which the men brought their complaints to Moses and asked him who he thinks he is and asked him what gives him and Aaron the right to be the political and religious leaders of the community.
The majority of the unhappy gang are from the tribe of Levi, but two men of the tribe of Reuben have joined in with the rebels. Their names are Dathan and Abiram. After saying his piece to Korah and the other Levites in the passage we studied yesterday, Moses calls the two Reubenites to account for their behavior but they refuse to come into his presence. "Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. But they said, 'We will not come! Isn't it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? And now you also want to lord it over us! Moreover, you haven't brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Do you want to treat these men like slaves? No, we will not come!'" (Numbers 16:12-14)
Wow, talk about rewriting history! These men are practically delusional in their denial of their suffering in the past and in their denial of the reason for their current predicament of being stuck in the wilderness. They fondly recall the land of their slavery and harsh treatment as a land flowing with milk and honey. Was there plentiful food in Egypt? Yes, but they ate it under the yoke of oppression. Not only do they blame Moses for leading them out of Egypt---the land they now view with rose-colored glasses---but they blame Moses for not having already brought them into the promised land---a land they've been told flows with milk and honey. They could already be taking hold of the promised land if pretty much the entire community hadn't refused to enter it in Chapter 14. Their faith failed them in Chapter 14 and as a result they accused the Lord of having bad intentions toward them. They turned all their anxiety and all their anger toward Moses and Aaron and intended to kill them and then run back to Egypt as fast as they could go. Nothing that's happening in Chapter 16 is Moses' fault but all the blame is being heaped on him.
Why are they playing the blame game? When we find ourselves in a mess of our own making it's easier to put the blame on someone else than to admit we're responsible for our own poor circumstances. It's easier to remember the past as being more pleasant than it actually was. It's easier to go backward where we know what to expect (like the Israelites wanting to go back to Egypt) than to forge ahead bravely in faith into the future. The unhappy men in our current chapter have no one to blame but themselves for their circumstances but it's so much easier to point their fingers at Moses. These men's hearts aren't right with the Lord and they make no attempt to make things right with the Lord. If only they'd faced their mistakes honestly and repented of them, things would have turned out differently.
Moses appeals to the Lord, who knows all things, to be a witness to his honesty. "Then Moses became very angry and said to the Lord, 'Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.'" (Numbers 16:15) Moses has not treated anyone "like slaves" as the two Reubenites accuse him of doing.
When Moses implores the Lord, "Do not accept their offering," it is believed that he's speaking of the offerings these men want to make as self-appointed priests. They will be presented with a choice in tomorrow's study to continue with their presumptuous desire to be priests without the Lord's blessing or whether to recognize they're in the wrong and to repent. They are not lawfully allowed to be priests---these two are not even of the tribe of Levi, much less of Aaron's line---and they have no right to perform the duties of a priest. The Lord plainly said to Moses in Numbers 3:10: "Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary is to be put to death." The entire community witnessed the ordination of Aaron and his sons. Everyone knows what the Lord said about this matter, but certain men in the community (including the two Reubenites) want to take the office of priest without the Lord's blessing. As my commentary on Numbers by Adam Clarke says about Numbers 16:15, when Moses asks the Lord not to accept the offerings of these men, there was no danger of the Lord accepting their offerings because, "They wished to set up a priesthood and a sacrificial system of their own; and God never has blessed, and never can bless, any scheme of salvation which is not of His own appointment. Man is ever supposing that he can mend his Maker's work, or that he can make one of his own that will do in its place."
God is the one who sets the terms of salvation. We cannot attain it by any method other than the one He has prescribed. This is why the Lord Jesus Christ said, "No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) This is the method by which we are to be saved: by placing our faith in Christ who paid our sin debt in full for us on the cross. We will not have success with a plan of salvation of our own making. We can't attain righteousness by trying to live a perfect life; we'll fail. We are not capable of living a sin-free life. Once we realize we can't live a perfect life, we must not make the mistake of thinking we can achieve salvation by living as if God is going to weigh our deeds on a set of scales and impute righteousness to us if our good deeds outweigh the bad; there's nothing Scriptural whatsoever about such a doctrine. Another trap we don't want to fall into is believing we can perform acts of penance designed to "undo" our mistakes. The past can't be changed; it can only be atoned for, and the only atonement God accepts is that which His son made on the cross. We must be careful not to be like the rebellious men of Numbers 16 who think there are many paths to God and that each person can forge their own path to Him in their own way. The Bible doesn't support such a doctrine. On the contrary, it condemns it.
As we move on through our chapter tomorrow, we find the attitude of the discontented men condemned by the Lord. Their rebellion against Moses and Aaron---and against the Lord Himself who appointed them to their positions---will not stand. These men may be grumbling against Moses and Aaron but at heart their grievance is actually with the Lord. They do not like His plan. They don't want to accept His plan. They don't want to abide by His plan. Because they are unrepentant, and because they present a danger to the community, the Lord will judge them in the sight of the whole community.
Monday, January 25, 2021
We begin Chapter 16 today and the account known as "Korah's Rebellion". Korah is a very close kinsman to Moses. They are both the grandsons of Kohath (the son of Levi, the son of Jacob), with Moses being a child of Kohath's son Amram and Korah being a child of Kohath's son Izhar.
Korah is going to lead a rebellion. You would think a strong rebellion would not arise at this particular time. In our previous chapter the death penalty was passed on a man for rebelling against the Lord and deliberately breaking the Sabbath laws in the sight of his fellow countrymen. In the chapter before that we found the Lord sending a plague on ten of the twelve men who were sent to spy out the promised land. Those ten men incited rebellion throughout the community to the point where the people contemplated stoning Moses and Aaron to death and selecting a man to lead them back to slavery. The deaths of eleven men in the two preceding chapters ought to have given anyone second thoughts about mounting a rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron and---by extension---mounting a rebellion against the Lord. But a batch of bad characters are going to rise up against the men the Lord has appointed to lead Israel (politically and spiritually) at this time because they feel their duties in the community and at the tabernacle are less prominent and exalted than they'd like them to be.
"Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites---Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth---became insolent and rose up against Moses. With him were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, 'You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly?'" (Numbers 16:1-3) Korah and his followers are saying, "Who do you think you are, Moses and Aaron? Why do you think you are better than the rest of us? We are all the Lord's people. He has delivered all of us from Egypt and He is in the midst of all of us. Why, then, do you feel He can only speak through you? Moses and Aaron, we are of the same family line, yet only Aaron and his sons are allowed to be priests even though many of the rest of us are also of the tribe of Levi. Why has the Kohathite division of the tribe of Levi been relegated to being doorkeepers and furniture transporters at the tabernacle? If we are all the Lord's people, why aren't we all equal in authority? Why must we have a leader like Moses over us? Why must we have a priest like Aaron over us? Why can't we all just do our own thing as seems best to us?"
Korah is preaching about equality but equality is not what he actually wants. These are just the words he's using to get other men of Israel on his side. He doesn't really want everyone in Israel to hold the same amount of authority. He wants to usurp Moses' authority, which becomes clear to us when we get to our next paragraph. Korah feels he is just as qualified as Moses to be a political leader. He feels his family line is just as qualified as Aaron's family line to be priests. After all, he's just as closely related to the patriarchs as Moses and Aaron. He is at the same level in the family tree as Moses and Aaron. He feels like he was cheated out of the opportunity to be a Moses or an Aaron and that his family line is just as deserving of holding high offices in the nation as the family line of Moses and Aaron.
Moses, just as he did when the people rebelled against going forward into the promised land, falls to his knees in prayer before he says or does anything in response to this current rebellion. "When Moses heard this, he fell facedown. Then he said to Korah and all his followers: 'In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to Him and who is holy, and He will have that person come near Him. The man He chooses He will cause to come near Him. You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the Lord. The man the Lord chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!'" (Numbers 16:4-7) Moses seeks the Lord's counsel before addressing the men, and in his address we clearly see that Korah wants to usurp Moses' authority because Moses tells him: "Tomorrow the Lord will choose who is to be leader of Israel. He will show us whether He still wants me to lead the people or whether He wants you to take my place." Korah doesn't want equality with Moses; he wants to take the place of Moses. Moses understands that and says, "Let's see who the Lord wants to lead Israel. He is the ultimate authority; let's allow Him to have the last word on this matter."
Moses echoes the words these rebels spoke to him by telling them they've gone too far. They said to him and to Aaron in verse 3, "You have gone too far!" In other words, "You have taken too much upon yourselves! You have appointed yourselves the political and religious leaders over us. You have assigned each tribe and the divisions of each tribe their duties in the community and in the tabernacle. Who made you guys the bosses of us all? Was it the Lord? Or did you appoint yourselves?" Moses reacts by saying, "You Levites have gone too far! You are rebelling against the Lord, for He is the one who assigned the duties of every tribe and division and man of Israel."
These men are unhappy with the plans the Lord has for their lives. They want something different for themselves than the Lord wants for them. "Moses also said to Korah, 'Now listen, you Levites! Isn't it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near Himself to do the work at the Lord's tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near Himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?" (Numbers 16:8-11) Moses says something like this: "The Lord called the tribe of Levi, out of all the tribes of Israel, to serve at the tabernacle. He assigned each of you very valuable duties there. You should feel honored by being called to work in the service of the Lord at the structure in which His glory comes down upon the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. To work in the tabernacle is to work in the place closest to the manifestation of God's presence. Yet this isn't good enough for you because you can't all be priests. If you were all priests, who would keep everything running smoothly at the tabernacle? Who would transport the tabernacle and its furnishings from place to place? If all of you were priests, who would assist the priests? If all of you were priests, who would minister to the congregation in all the other ways they need to be ministered to? Why are you grumbling against Aaron as if he chose to be high priest of Israel or as if he chose which roles each of you would play in the service of our Lord? The Lord appointed Aaron to be a priest. The Lord chose the duties each of you were assigned."
Korah and the men with him don't want to do any type of work that must be done behind the scenes. They don't want to play supporting roles. They want to play the lead roles---roles in which honor and glory comes to them. Instead of having a spirit of humility which says, "To God be the glory! May everything I do point others to Him", they have a spirit of pride which says, "Our jobs at the tabernacle aren't visible enough. We want to be in the public eye all the time. We want people to know our names and admire us and look up to us. We want people to bow their heads reverently when we walk by. To us be the glory!"
The Lord is going to make it clear to the entire congregation who He has chosen to be the political and religious leaders of the nation. If the Lord had wanted Korah in charge then He would have put Korah in charge. If the Lord wants Moses deposed and Korah installed in his place, the Lord is more than able to make this happen. Tomorrow, as Moses said, "the Lord will show who belongs to Him and who is holy, and He will have that person come near Him. The man He chooses He will cause to come near Him."
Sunday, January 24, 2021
We'll be concluding Chapter 15 today with a segment of Scripture regarding a particular type of embellishment, intended to promote godly living, that is to be sewn onto the edges of the people's garments. This embellishment is there for the purpose of reminding the Israelites they are to be holy: set apart for the Lord's service, separate from idolaters, different from the cultures around them. We are going to talk about how the sight of these items on the edges of garments served to remind the people every day, all day long, that they belonged to the Lord and must live in a way that honored the Lord. We'll also talk about how these items figure in one of the miraculous healings performed by Jesus.
"The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all My commands and will be consecrated to your God.'" (Numbers 15:37-40) The color blue likely symbolizes the Lord's divinity---the glory of God.
We think of Him being seated on His throne in heaven, so we have a tendency to look upward, point upward, or think upward when communing with the Lord or talking about the Lord. Blue is the color of the sky and the color blue tends to be associated in our thoughts with the throne room of God. When we think about God we can't help thinking "up", so to speak, and even when our heads are bowed in prayer our thoughts and our words are perceived by us as streaming in an "upward" direction toward the Lord. We often lift our hands toward heaven in praise or in supplication, symbolically reaching toward God who is seated in the heavens. We think of our prayers as rising upwards toward God, and indeed the Bible uses this terminology by saying that the prayers of the Lord's people rise up to Him like the smoke of the sacred incense. (Psalm 141:2, Revelation 8:4) The blue cord on the tassels is intended to make the wearer of the tassels focus their thoughts heavenward. If our thoughts are focused upward toward our holy God, we will be less likely to focus on things of this world that might lead us astray.
Jesus would have followed the instructions given in verses 37-40 above. He would have worn tassels with blue cords on the corners of His garments. Did Jesus need to be reminded to live a holy life? No, but Jesus was born under the Old Testament law and He kept the law. He is the only human being who ever perfectly kept the law. He obeyed every word God the Father ever said, and this included wearing the tassels with the blue cords. These tassels with their blue cords are mentioned in a story supplied to us in Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, and Luke 8:43-48. In this story an unnamed woman had been suffering from a bleeding disorder for twelve years. Such a disorder would have rendered her ceremonially unclean and physically unwell. She had seen many physicians and had tried many "cures" and had spent all her money, but instead of experiencing any relief her condition continued to grow worse. There was nothing left to try, medically speaking. She'd tried every reputable treatment and probably every alternative treatment as well. But as Jesus passes by on His way to heal the critically ill daughter of a synagogue leader, this woman is filled with the faith to believe if she can manage to touch just the edge of His garment, she will be made whole. We don't want to miss how great her faith is. She doesn't think she needs to have a conversation with Him. She doesn't think she needs Him to place a hand on her head and pronounce a blessing upon her. She doesn't think she needs Him to instruct her on some sort of action to take that will result in healing. She doesn't even think it will take Him knowing she's there. She believes the Lord Jesus Christ is so holy and so capable of doing all things that merely brushing one of the tassels of His garment with the tips of her fingers will make her well.
Various versions of the Holy Bible render these passages from Matthew, Mark, and Luke in different ways. Some say she touched the "hem" of Jesus' garment. Some merely say she touched "His clothes". But in the original Greek, the word used by the gospel writers to indicate the portion of His garment that she touched would be most properly rendered as "a fringe, a tuft, an appendage, or a tassel". As Jesus passes by this sick woman in the crowd, she makes a leap of faith and reaches out toward Him so that one of the tassels with the blue cord on the edge of His garment (likely His prayer shawl) brushes the fingertips of one trembling hand. And she is made whole!
Not only is she made whole, but Jesus realizes healing power has gone out from Him. He didn't see the woman in the crowd. He didn't speak to her. She didn't implore Him to heal her. But He knew she was there because He felt healing power transfer from Himself to this woman of faith. He didn't allow her faith to go unacknowledged; He stopped and called her forth in front of the crowd and said, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." This woman had been ceremonially unclean for twelve years. Not only was she unable to take part in religious services at the temple, but even in her own household no one could lie on a bed she'd used or sit on a chair she'd used or touch any garment she'd worn. Imagine the stigma she bore! Imagine her sadness and depression! Imagine how worthless she must have told herself she was! This, I believe, is why Jesus called her forth in this huge crowd and pronounced her whole in front of everyone there. He restored her dignity and sense of self-worth! There was a procedure she'd have had to undertake at the temple by bringing the prescribed offerings for a person who had been made whole from an issue of blood, and no doubt she did that, but Jesus knew she'd suffered so much and for so long that going through the process prescribed by the law wasn't going to be enough to heal the brokenness of spirit she'd endured for so long. She would be rendered ceremonially clean by the law and would be able to resume normal life in every way, but this particular lady needed a healing of spirit that could only be accomplished by the Lord declaring her whole in front of many witnesses.
Precious friends, when the Lord declares us whole, we are whole! When He makes us clean, we are clean! No matter what is in our past, when we come to Christ and accept Him as our Savior, we are made clean from our past just as surely as the woman in the gospel accounts was made clean of her blood disorder. Our old lives and old natures are gone and we are made fresh and new: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation is come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17) Even though we still sometimes make mistakes after coming to Christ (because we are still living in mortal bodies in a fallen world), when we confess our mistakes He forgives us of them and makes us clean from them. (1 John 1:9)
The tassels with the blue cords are a visual reminder to the Israelites that they are the Lord's people. Because they are the Lord's people, they are to think and talk and behave like the Lord's people. As they go about their daily lives they will see these tassels with their blue cords swinging back and forth on the edges of their garments. This sends a continual message to their minds of: "I belong to the Lord. I am to obey the Lord's commands. I am different from the people of the idolatrous cultures around me. I serve the living God. God is holy and I must honor Him by being holy. God loves me and is good to me and I will thank Him for His love and goodness by doing what is right in His eyes."
Our chapter concludes with the Lord saying to the Israelites: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God." (Numbers 15:41) The Lord has said many times, "I am the Lord your God", so far in the Old Testament. He keeps repeating this message because the Israelites are going to a land where the Lord is not accepted or honored as God. The people need to have it firmly fixed in their hearts and minds that the Lord is God---their God---before they ever step foot in the promised land.
You and I need to keep this firmly fixed in our hearts and minds too because we interact with unbelievers every day. For one thing, if we don't remind ourselves who we are in the Lord, we can more easily be drawn into ungodly behaviors of the culture around us. For another thing, if we don't remind ourselves who we are in the Lord, we won't be capable of leading unbelievers to the faith. When conducting business over the phone or in person, many of the people we interact with don't serve our God. At school or in the workplace there are people who don't know the Lord. Unbelievers are around us in the grocery stores and restaurants. Unbelievers are driving on the same roads we drive. We all probably have unbelievers among our family members and friends. There are even unbelievers in our places of worship; not everyone who attends services is attending because they know the Lord. Because we are surrounded by unbelievers, it's extremely important that we speak and behave like people who know the Lord. If we don't look like we belong to the Lord, our testimony will have no effect on those who don't know the Lord. We have to be different. We can't afford to blend into the culture and swim with the stream because if we do we will not be able to lead others to faith. Souls are at stake! If we don't live godly lives that honor our Lord, how can we hope to draw anyone to Him? If lost people don't feel like we love them, why should they believe the Lord loves them? If we don't display a spirit of mercy and forgiveness, what would make them think the Lord wants to extend mercy and forgiveness to them? If God is our Father, we should look like Him.
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Thursday's passage dealt with what many versions of the Bible translate as "presumptuous sin" which was characterized as a sin where the offender blasphemes the Lord, despises Him, and purposely breaks His commands out of hatred and disrespect for the Lord. The Lord said the Israelites were to excommunicate anyone who sins in this manner. A person like this is too dangerous to the congregation of Israel to allow them to remain to keep stirring up strife and rebellion.
In Chapter 14 the Lord allowed a plague to come upon and take the lives of ten of the twelve men who were sent to the promised land on a reconnaissance mission. These ten men returned with faithless, ugly reports. They blasphemed the Lord by accusing Him of rescuing them from Egypt only to cause them to die in the wilderness. They stirred the people into a frenzy of doubt and panic which led to an assassination plot against Moses and Aaron and a plan to return to the land of their oppression instead of moving forward in faith to possess the land the Lord promised them. They intended to appoint a leader in place of Moses---a man who would take them back to Pharaoh where they would become the subjects of the wicked king of Egypt---and I suspect all ten of the men who stirred up the crowd were vying for position of new leader. The Lord Himself excommunicated these men and He did it by death. The threat to Israel was too large and too imminent for Him to allow the men to survive. They were about to bring about the downfall of the entire community and He could not allow that to happen.
But in Chapter 15 the Lord hasn't told the people to put to death a person who sins presumptuously against Him. He simply told them to put the offender out of the congregation. An incident occurs in today's passage that temporary throws the people into confusion. A person purposely breaks one of the ten commandments, and although this is certainly a sin that qualifies him for excommunication, it's also a sin that qualifies for the death penalty.
"While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day." (Numbers 15:32) When giving instructions regarding keeping the Sabbath day holy, the Lord said, "Observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death." (Exodus 31:14-15) Every person in the community was aware of the commandment to observe the Sabbath and the penalty for not observing it. "Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, 'These are the things the Lord has commanded you to do. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.'" (Exodus 35:1-3) We can clearly see that the man who gathered wood on the Sabbath was certainly aware that it was the Sabbath and that he was not to work (gathering wood qualifies as work) or light a fire on the Sabbath. Because this incident occurs in a passage of Numbers that deals with those who commit presumptuous sins, Moses is letting us know that the man who gathered firewood on the Sabbath and who intended to build a fire on the Sabbath was doing it in purposeful disobedience to God. This man deliberately broke the Sabbath because he disrespected the holiness of the Lord. The Sabbath was just like any other day to him; he did not regard it as holy because he did not regard the Lord as holy. While picking up the kindling, he probably had the attitude, "Yes, I'm working on the Sabbath! So what? What's the Lord going to do about it?"
Based on what the Lord has previously said about Sabbath-breakers, I believe the community knows what should be done with this man but at the same time I think they may be wondering whether the Lord's instruction to excommunicate presumptuous offenders is an amendment to or overrides His previous instruction to put a Sabbath-breaker to death. After having recovered from and repented of their murderous plot toward Moses and Aaron, they may be loathe to commit any type of harm upon any person---even when the law commands it. We find them unsure how to proceed in our next verse: "Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him." (Numbers 15:33-34) They want to make sure the Lord still wants a Sabbath-breaker put to death.
This is a death penalty case at this point in the history of ancient Israel. The Lord's word is clear on that. The circumstances are also clear; there's no doubt the man actually did what he's accused of doing. There are at least two witnesses to the man's crime against the Lord, for we are told "those who found him" took him to Moses and Aaron and the assembly. This fulfills the law that no one can be put to death without the eyewitness testimony of two or more persons. (Deuteronomy 17:12, Deuteronomy 19:15) There's no problem with their case against the man. The problem appears to lie in their understanding of whether or not the Lord still wants them to carry out the death penalty for Sabbath-breaking or whether the law has been amended and He only wants them to excommunicate the man. Or perhaps the problem is that they do understand that the death penalty is still the sentence for a Sabbath-breaker but that they are reluctant to impose such a harsh penalty even though the Lord's will is clear on this matter.
When we did our study of Exodus we discussed how imperative it was for the people to regard the Sabbath as holy. Failing to honor the seventh day of the week by setting it aside for the Lord could cause them not to set aside time with the Lord. If they worked seven days a week, time for the Lord wouldn't be prioritized, possibly causing many to completely forego prayer and the study of His laws and commandments. This would lead to some forsaking the Lord entirely and/or falling into idolatrous practices. Also, if the people could not observe one day a week in the Lord's honor, it would be easy to stop ascribing as much honor to the Lord as is due Him. When we stop thinking of the Lord as someone so high above us that we can't even comprehend His glory and holiness and power, we stop walking in His ways. We stop obeying His laws and commandments. We stop setting aside time to commune with Him. We start thinking our will for ourselves is as important (or more important) than God's will for our lives. We stop consulting Him when we have important decisions to make. We follow our own sinful desires instead of following the principles of holy living. If we can't set aside some time each week (preferably each day) to spend in God's word and to spend in prayer, it won't be long before we start drifting from a close relationship from the Lord. And when we fall away from closeness from the Lord, we start falling into sin.
In our passage today no one wants to lay a finger on the Sabbath-breaker without doublechecking whether capital punishment is still the Lord's will for such a crime. Whether or not they should have been confused about this matter, at least they handle their confusion in the right way. They ask the Lord what to do and He tells them, through Moses, that His previous command to put a Sabbath-breaker to death still stands. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.' So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses." (Numbers 15:35-36)
At this pivotal moment in Israel's history, it's absolutely essential that they deal with various types of sin exactly in the way the Lord prescribes. If this man broke the Sabbath and nothing happened, imagine how many more would be tempted to break the Sabbath. If this man got away with an action that amounts to spitting in the Lord's face, imagine how many more would feel encouraged to be scornful of the Lord. Israel will begin taking over the promised land in the next generation. That land is filled with idolatrous tribes. If Israel does not have the Lord seated on the throne of her heart, and if she does not lift Him up to the highest degree in her mind, she could easily fall away from Him and fall into the idolatry rampant in the land of Canaan. Instead of becoming the powerful nation God promised she would be if she remained loyal to Him, the same punishment would fall on Israel as is going to fall on the sinful pagans of Canaan. The Lord was very clear about that in Leviticus 26:14-46. The Lord intends to uproot the idolatrous tribes of the promised land and plant Israel in their place. But if Israel falls into the same sin as these tribes, He will do to her the same thing He did to those who inhabited the land before her.
The entire community has to take part in putting the Sabbath-breaker to death. This should deeply impress upon them what a serious crime it is to revile the Lord in their hearts and reject His words. This should help keep them from making the same mistake. The man who broke the Sabbath broke faith with the Lord in his heart long before he decided to openly defy one of the ten commandments in the sight of his fellow countrymen. If he had been right with the Lord in his heart, his behavior would have reflected that. But he despised the Lord in his heart and scoffed at the Lord's commandments and felt he was above the Lord's law and not obligated to keep it. He set himself up as god of his own life. He enthroned himself as king of his heart and put himself above God. This is idolatry. This is just as much idolatry as if he made a sacrifice to a false god and bowed on his knees in front of a graven image. Taking part in his execution is intended to show the people they will be in danger of failing to regard the Lord as holy if they stop regarding the Sabbath day as holy. And if they stop regarding the Lord as holy, they will begin doing unholy things, and the blessings of the promised land will be removed from them.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Yesterday we talked about the offerings for unintentional sins committed by individuals or by the community as a whole. Today we learn what Numbers 15 says the Israelites must do about a particular type of intentional sin. For this special type of sin there is no offering to bring that will allow the person to remain in the congregation of Israel.
"But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel. Because they have despised the Lord's word and broken His commands, they must surely be cut off; their guilt remains on them." (Numbers 15:30-31) The word rendered "defiantly" (or "presumptuously" in some versions such as the KJV) in the original language means something like: "to exalt oneself, to lift high, to be lifted up in pride". A Bible commentary I often consult is one by David Guzik, who says of this passage: "Literally, to sin presumptuously means to sin 'with a high hand'. It speaks of a flagrant rebellion against God, the law of Moses, and the nation as a whole." Another commentator whose writings I sometimes read, Adam Clarke, says the defiant and presumptuous sin of verses 30 and 31 is this type: "Bold, daring acts of transgression against the fullest evidence, and in despite of the Divine authority".
Our passage is talking about those who set themselves up above God by speaking out against Him and by trying to lead others astray from Him. Verses 30 and 31 come at a time when ten men have just lost their lives for inciting rebellion against God and against Moses and Aaron whom God has, at this juncture in history, appointed as the human political and religious leaders of Israel. These ten men set almost the entire community into an uproar to the point that many of them wanted to stone Moses and Aaron to death, select a leader who would do their will instead of God's will, and return to slavery in Egypt under a cruel and wicked king. The type of people the Lord commands Israel to excommunicate are the type who, as verses 30 and 31 says, blaspheme the Lord, despise His word, and break His commandments. The ten men who lost their lives in our previous chapter blasphemed the Lord by saying He could not and was not going to enable Israel to take the promised land; they called God a liar. They accused God of having bad intentions toward Israel by saying He had brought them to the borders of the promised land with the intention of allowing their soldiers to fall by the sword and their children and wives to be taken captive. The ten men turned the people against Moses and Aaron, almost causing their assassination. The ten men made slavery and oppression look better to the people than liberty and prosperity in a new land.
God Himself excommunicated these ten men by allowing them to die, for they were too dangerous and held too much sway over the people to be allowed to continue living. But in the future the Lord says that Israel is to put out of the congregation anyone who speaks blasphemy against the Lord and who tries to entice others to turn against the Lord along with them.
In the New Testament we find the Apostle Paul recommending the excommunication of a church member. The man in question was having an affair with his own stepmother. This fact was common knowledge and the members of the church knew the man was openly living in blatant, unrepentant sin, yet no one took any action to ensure that this man wasn't allowed to be a bad influence on the congregation. The church leadership should have taken him aside privately to lovingly counsel him about his lifestyle and urge him to repent. The church leadership or the congregation---or both---should have objected to this man taking part in their services while he was living proudly and brazenly in sin. But no one said a word. On the contrary, Paul says, "You are proud!" (1 Corinthians 5:2) The word translated as "proud" is similar in meaning to the word translated as "defiant" or "presumptuous" in our text from Numbers 15. It means to "lift oneself up, to bear oneself loftily, to be puffed up". The congregation wasn't mourning that one of their members had fallen into sin, as Paul says they should be in 1 Corinthians 5, but instead they had the attitude of, "So what?" Instead of being sad, they were defiant. Paul called them out on their wrong attitude and advised them to put the man out of their congregation for the purpose of causing him to feel sorrowful and repentant. Later, in 2 Corinthians 2, we learn that the man did repent and that Paul advised the church to accept him back into the congregation lovingly and as their brother in Christ. He said, "You ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed with excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him." (2 Corinthians 2:7-8)
It would not be Christlike if the congregation refused to accept the repentant man back into church. The Lord has accepted his repentance; the church would be hypocritical not to do likewise. They aren't to berate him by saying, "You should have known better!" What would that accomplish? He's already come to see that he should have known better. He's sorry for his sin. He's made things right with the Lord and now he's trying to make things right with his brothers and sisters in Christ. If they refuse to accept his apology in the right spirit, they are sinning against him and against the Lord who has already forgiven him.
What are we to do when someone realizes the error of their ways, repents to the Lord, and seeks the forgiveness of their fellow believers whom they have wronged? Here is the answer: "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently." (Galatians 6:1a) When someone comes to us in guilt and sorrow, we aren't to haughtily pronounce, "I told you so!" We aren't to exclaim, "You got what you deserved!" We aren't to put them down by saying, "What did you expect? How did you not see this was going to go horribly wrong?" Is that what Christ says when we come to Him and confess our mistakes? No, He restores us gently in love. A person who realizes they have erred greatly is already beating themselves up for it. They already feel terrible. They already feel like a fool. They already wish they hadn't sinned against the Lord and/or against their fellow man. Why would we want to heap more guilt and grief upon them? What would that accomplish except exalting ourselves by being able to say, "I told you so! I was right and you were wrong! If only you'd listened to me!"
No one has the right to say things like that except the Lord whose laws and commandments have been broken. And yet He offers forgiveness instead. He extends mercy instead. How can we refuse to do likewise?
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
The Lord is speaking about how the Israelites are to bring offerings to Him when they reach the promised land. Any non-Israelite who believes in and worships the Lord is to bring their offerings in the same manner.
"Everyone who is native-born must do these things in this way when they present a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. For the generations to come, whenever a foreigner or anyone else living among you presents a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, they must do exactly as you do. The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: the same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you." (Numbers 15:13-16) A Gentile who converted to the God of Israel was to observe the same religious customs as a native-born Israelite. The same faith that saved the Israelite saved the Gentile; therefore the Bible says, "You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord."
There is equality here. The Lord accepts the faith of one person in the same way He accepts the faith of another person. He doesn't count one nationality or race "better than" or "less than" another. In the New Testament we find both Jews and Gentiles joining the Christian church and the Apostle Paul urged the members not to discriminate against each other for being from different backgrounds. He appealed to them to love one another and maintain a spirit of unity since they were all of one family in the Lord. "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:2-6)
We have to be careful in our congregations never to discriminate against each other. The same faith that saves one saves another. In the Lord's eyes we are the same, no matter where we came from or what we've done in the past. The faith of the person who grew up in church and who has always been a law-abiding citizen is not more valuable than the faith of the person who gave their heart to the Lord while incarcerated in prison. The faith of the poor is as valuable as the faith of the wealthy. The faith of the one who came to the Lord late in life is as valuable as the faith of the person who has served the Lord for many decades. The faith of the person of one race is as valuable as the faith of the person from any other race. The faith of the female is as valuable as the faith of the male. We are "the same before the Lord". (Numbers 15:15b)
"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you enter the land to which I am taking you and you eat the food of the land, present a portion as an offering to the Lord. Present a loaf from the first of your ground meal and present it as an offering from the threshing floor. Throughout the generations to come you are to give this offering to the Lord from the first of your ground meal." (Numbers 15:17-21) We noted yesterday, when we began Chapter 15, that the Lord is careful to begin each set of the instructions in this chapter by saying, "When you enter the land". Instead of entering the land in the very near future, there is now going to be a forty-year delay due to the rebellion which occurred upon the return of the twelve spies from the land of Canaan. The Israelites' entry into the promised land has been delayed but not cancelled. The Lord keeps reminding them of this over and over as He provides instructions for going about their religious lives in the promised land.
Can we cause a delay in blessings the Lord wants to give us? We certainly can. Our disobedience and doubt can delay or even divert blessings from us. Failure to trust the Lord can keep us from moving ahead when He says to move ahead. Failure to seek the Lord's will before making a decision can cause us to make the wrong decision. I am sure I have delayed blessings or missed out on blessings altogether because my faith was too weak to move boldly ahead in the direction the Lord said, or because I didn't seek His will in an important decision and went the wrong way, or because I was in a rebellious spirit and deliberately chose to do the opposite of what He instructed me to do. This is why it's so important that we daily remain in close contact with our Lord through the study of His word and through prayer. We can't really know Him if we don't study His words. We can't build a solid foundation of faith unless we are familiar with the most important guidebook of all: the Holy Bible. This book should be consulted for encouragement and guidance on a regular basis. Time should be spent in prayer on a regular basis, talking to and listening to the Lord. This is how we build relationships with our fellow human beings; this is how we build our relationship with the Lord: by spending time with Him. If we build upon this foundation of faith, day after day after day, we'll be less likely to suffer a crisis of faith when the Lord tells us to move ahead toward some great blessing. We'll be less likely to make a big decision that goes against Biblical principles. We'll be less likely to want to be disobedient and do the opposite of what the Lord tells us to do. This means we'll be less likely to miss out on beautiful blessings the Lord wants to give us.
Monday, January 18, 2021
Chapter 14 was about rebellion. Right after the rebellion of our previous chapter comes this chapter which deals with various supplementary offerings that the people will bring to the Lord after they arrive in the promised land. Following the shame of their rebellion and their resounding defeat when they went up against their enemies without the Lord's approval, the people may be harboring some doubts about whether God still loves them. The Lord's words in Chapter 15 are proof that He still intends to give the land to Israel and make her into a great nation. He would not speak of offerings in the promised land if He wasn't going to take them there. Because of their rebellion there will be a forty-year delay in taking possession of the land, but it is still going to happen. And because it is still going to happen, the Lord talks about supplementary offerings the people will bring to him there.
"The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'After you enter the land I am giving you as a home and you present to the Lord food offerings from the herd or the flock, as an aroma pleasing to the Lord---whether burnt offerings or sacrifices, for special vows or freewill offerings or festival offerings---then the person who brings an offering shall present to the Lord a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of olive oil. With each lamb for the burnt offering or the sacrifice, prepare a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering.'" (Numbers 15:1-5) The Lord's words are very reassuring when He says, "After you enter the land I am giving you as a home". He doesn't say, "If you enter the promised land," or, "If I still give you the land for your home". He has not given up on Israel and I am glad He is not a God who gives up easily. If He were, where would I be today? He had to put a lot of effort into bringing me---a little lost lamb---into the sheepfold. I wasn't seeking Him; He was seeking me. I was living in rebellion and sin but He kept working with me anyway. The Lord is patient and I am glad He is.
The amount of flour, olive oil, or wine brought with an offering varies according to the size of an offering. "With a ram prepare a grain offering of two-tenth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with a third of a hin of olive oil, and a third of a hin of wine as a drink offering. Offer it as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. When you prepare a young bull as a burnt offering or sacrifice, for a special vow or a fellowship offering to the Lord, bring with the bull a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with half a hin of olive oil, and also bring half a hin of wine as a drink offering. This will be a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Each bull or ram, each lamb or young goat, is to be prepared in this manner. Do this for each one, for as many as you prepare." (Numbers 15:6-12) The material in this chapter may not seem all that exciting to us after the action included in some of the previous chapters, but I think it's important at this point for the Lord to get the people back to the basics. He's helping them to focus their minds on their worship services in the future in the promised land.
When we realize we've gotten off track and out of the Lord's will, the first thing we need to do is confess and repent. But the second thing we need to do is get back to the basics of our faith: spending time in the Lord's word and spending time in prayer with Him. In Chapter 14 we found the people being sorry for their rebellion, although they went about trying to "fix it" in the wrong way by going up to attack some of the tribes in Canaan even though the Lord had already said that, as discipline for their rebellion, He would not be with the army during this generation of fighting men. We can't "fix" our own sin, so the Lord brings the people back to the basics of their faith, and these basics include sacrifices and offerings for sin. In doing this He reminds them that righteousness comes from Him. No one can do enough good works to make themselves righteous. No one can perform enough deeds to undo or make up for their sins. We sin daily, multiple times a day. We could never keep an accurate count of our sins, much less do enough to atone for them. Salvation is by faith, not by works. Here in Chapter 15 the Lord reminds the people that their righteousness comes through faith in Him, not through any works they can perform with sinful human hands.
Sunday, January 17, 2021
The Lord is not going to strike the entire camp with a plague, but He will pass sentence on the ten men who stirred the people to rebellion. If these ten men had returned from spying out the land of Canaan with faith-filled reports like Joshua and Caleb did, the assembly would not have fallen into such disbelief that they accused the Lord of intending to let all their soldiers be killed and their women and children taken captive. The assembly would not have proposed killing Moses and Aaron and then choosing a new leader to take them back to slavery in Egypt. The crime of these ten men is a capital crime in the Lord's eyes. They caused the people to speak out bitterly against the Lord who loves them and who is providing faithfully for them. They caused the people to prefer slavery in Egypt to freedom as a sovereign nation in the promised land. The Lord decides these ten men are too dangerous to be left alive because they will keep on stirring up strife and enticing their fellow man to turn away from the Lord.
"So the men Moses sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it---these men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord. Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived." (Numbers 14:36-38) What was the "bad report" these men spread? Was it that many of the cities were large and fortified by walls? No, this was true. Was it that some of the giant, warlike Anakim were in the land? No, this was true. Their bad report was that, "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." (Numbers 13:31) The reason this is a bad report is that the Lord is on the side of Israel. Who is stronger than the Lord? No one! Therefore the people of Canaan are not stronger than the Israelites. This is why Caleb said, "We can certainly do it." (Numbers 13:30. This is why Joshua said, "The Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them." (Numbers 14:9)
When the ten men told the people they weren't strong enough to take the promised land, what they were really saying was that the Lord wasn't strong enough. The ten men were attacking not only the power of the Lord, but also the integrity of the Lord, because the Lord made the promise on oath to Abraham that Abraham's descendants would be given this land and become a great nation in it. The ten men are saying, "The Lord's word is no good." In this moment in Chapter 14 the people are looking at and listening to the ten faithless men instead of looking at and listening to the Lord. Because the ten men hold too much sway over the people, and because there is a very real and present danger of the men inciting the assassination of Moses and Aaron, and because the people are ready to turn back to slavery instead of moving forward in faith, the Lord cannot allow the ten men to go on living. If He does, they will prevent the tribes of Israel becoming the nation of Israel. They will cause the Israelites to return to slavery in Egypt where, over time, they would assimilate into the Egyptian culture and eventually forsake the God of Abraham.
"When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, 'Now we are ready to go up to the land the Lord promised. Surely we have sinned!'" (Numbers 14:39-40)The people are shocked to learn the ten men have perished from the illness that suddenly struck them. Their shock turns to sorrow that they ever trusted the men at all. They realize the death of these men is the judgment of the Lord and now they know they were wrong to doubt the Lord and believe the bad report of the men. It's appropriate for them to feel sorry for doubting the Lord, and it's definitely appropriate for them to repent, but they are wrong for deciding that now they will go up and attack the inhabitants of the promised land. The reason this is an unwise decision is because the Lord has already sentenced them for their former faithlessness by declaring that forty years will pass before Israel takes possession of the promised land. And during that forty years, every man of fighting age who spoke against the Lord's ability to give them the land will perish in the wilderness. It's too late to say, "Now we will go up and fight for the land," because the Lord is not with the army at this time.
"But Moses said, 'Why are you disobeying the Lord's command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and the Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, He will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.'" (Numbers 14:41-43) Moses tries to prevent them from going to battle by reminding them what the Lord has said. They've repented of their previous rebellion, which is good, but they have entered a new rebellion. The Lord could not have been more clear when He said that the current generation of fighting men will not take possession of the land but that it will be the next generation to whom He will give it. In attempting to fight the Amalekites and Canaanites now, they are rebelling against God who plainly said He would not give success to the generation of Israel's soldiers who doubted Him: "In this wilderness your bodies will fall---every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against Me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun." (Numbers 14:29-30)
The army ignores Moses and forges ahead. "Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord's covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in the hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah." (Numbers 14:44-45) Moses remained in the camp because he knew the Lord was not with the army. Moses was not going to put his "seal of approval" on this doomed endeavor by going out with the troops. Also the ark of the covenant remained in the camp, signifying that the Lord was not with the army. Later in the Bible, when Israel is doing what's right by seeking the Lord's will before going into any battles, we'll find them taking the ark along with them to symbolize the Lord's presence in the army. But they aren't allowed to take it now, in Chapter 14, because the Lord is not with the army. Shame, defeat, injuries, and loss of life occur because the soldiers engage the Amalekites and Canaanites in battle during a time when they know the Lord isn't with Israel's soldiers. This didn't have to happen.
When our plans go awry it's important to stop and consider whether our plans were the Lord's plans to begin with. Did we forge ahead and do what we wanted without consulting Him? Did we make sure we were in the Lord's will or did we just assume we were in the right and that the Lord would back us up? The Lord is never obligated to "get on board" with what we're doing. On the contrary, we are obligated to get on board with Him. This is why the Bible instructs us, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6) The smartest thing we could ever possibly do, before making any big decision, is to make sure this is the direction the Lord wants us to go. We cannot assume we are in the right, for, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12) We can't trust in human wisdom or follow our hearts because the human heart is "deceitful above all things". (Jeremiah 7:9) When we encounter defeat we must ask ourselves whether we brought it upon ourselves by going in a direction the Lord never intended us to go. If God is for us, no one can be against us. But if we've gotten out of the Lord's will and done a thing He never wanted us to do, we are responsible for our own defeat. The appropriate action to take is to feel sorry for our sin and confess it and repent of it, having learned that the best way to live victorious lives is to seek the Lord's will before making any big, potentially life-altering decisions.