- The offering is burned completely. It is rendered wholly unto the Lord with nothing held back, the smoke rising up and figuratively filling the nostrils of God is a pleasing aroma to Him. Check Eph 5:2 on this one.
- God demands absolute purity, so the animal sacrificed must be without blemish.
- Nothing of the offering is retained by the owner showing God’s complete possession of the sacrifice.
- The rituals are performed in a very public setting as an outward demonstration of faith and obedience.
- The blood is poured out on the altar representing the return of life to the giver of life, God.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Today's readings are Num 28-30.
While the offerings detailed in Num 15 were designed to show the gratitude of a redeemed people, the offerings outlined in Num 28-29 are an ongoing demonstration of how sacrifice for sin fits in the life of a Jew living in the time before Christ. Israel is unable to stop sinning. Sins require atonement. So, God fashions a complex series of sacrifices to be made on a continual basis, reminding Israel that they are always in need of deliverance even though they are God's people.
Notice how Num 28:2 is worded, God says that the sacrifices and offerings are, “…my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma…” At the onset, God makes it clear that the livestock and food being offered are already His. This establishes that His people are not owners of their belongings, but stewards.
There are regular offerings, daily offerings, Sabbath offerings, monthly offerings and festival offerings like The Passover, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. Note, the daily offerings and sacrifices continue during the feasts and festivals. In God’s economy, sins must be addressed on a daily basis.
The calendar year is filled with these rituals. Through them, we see that there will be a rhythm of life in the Promised Land, which they are about to enter. The abundance and regularity of the sacrifices called for is a guarantee that God will provide an abundance of livestock, grain, grapes and olives. The sacrifices total 113 bulls, 32 rams, 1,086 lambs, more than a ton of flour and a thousand jars of oil and wine each year. Although God will provide, Israel will have to be diligent to work together to provide the livestock, grain, grapes and olives for the sacrifices. In their diligence, they will put on display the unity and close relationship of God’s family.
Every ritual, ceremony, and feast is designed to remind the Jews of what God has done, what He is doing and what He has promised to do. Notice, every blood sacrifice is accompanied by a grain and drink offering. The blood sacrifice covers sin. The grain and drink offerings are thank offerings. Between the two types of offerings, sins are covered and thanks are rendered to God.
There is great symbolism in the burnt offerings. They reveal much about the character and nature of God and His relationship to His people.
Num 30 deals with vows made by women and reinforces the godly order of the family and marriage. It’s a rough and imperfect shadow of the structure that will eventually become the template for the body of Christ that will govern its relationship with Jesus.
Meanwhile, in all these arrangements and guidelines, we see that God gives His people a unique order. While some of the directives may seem archaic to us, to the Jews, living in the ancient culture of the Mideast, where women were something similar to chattel, they are liberating and mindful of the vital role women play in their society. While a Jewish woman lives under some structure and authority in the home, she is capable of making commitments and decisions. This is actually a far cry from how most women in other cultures were perceived and treated. In the Jewish family, the man was ultimately responsible for what happened in his home. But, the woman could make binding vows and could effectively manage the affairs of the family (Prov 31). For this to be effective, the man and woman, or the father and daughter, would have to work closely together, treating each other as equals while recognizing godly order to the way things are done.
Israel's social structures and laws defy the norm, creating a society of equals that occupy different roles. There is structure but not a series of social classes. In these early books of the Bible we see, not only God's progressive revelation of Himself to His people, but the foundation for the two New Testament statements that will summarize the Law: "Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and "You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself."
These three chapters will also serve as a stabilizing influence on Israel as Joshua assumes leadership from Moses. God continues to watch over His people, providing for them, protecting them and being faithful to His promises.
God's people are certainly unique and set apart. Their sacrifices are meaningful and carry with them blessing and peace with a holy God, who lives with His people and loves them. This is a contrast to pagan sacrifices which are offered out of fear and appeasement of a distant and capricious god.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Today's readings are Num 26-27.
God commands another census (Num 26:2). The first one was prior to Israel leaving Sinai (Num 1:2). The new census shows a total of 601,730 men capable of waging war (Num 26:51). Once again Israel is being prepared for battle!
That first census, nearly 38 years prior, counted 603,550 (Num 1:46). Interestingly enough, there are only two men who remain from the first census: Joshua and Caleb. This is because God decreed that none who were counted in that census would remain after Israel refused to go in and take Canaan, even though God had promised them victory.
So the census accomplishes more than one goal. It shows the strength of the army of Israel, but it also counts the cost of rebelling against God. After seeing multiplication, time and time again, in Israel's short history, for this period of time in the wilderness, they have stopped growing. It's a sobering example of one of the consequences of disobedience to the Father -- stunted growth! His children never lose their status as belonging to Him. But, they do slow their pace of growth, even bringing it to a halt.
The daughters of Zelophedad come forward in Num 27:1. They have no brothers. Therefore they have no inheritance. They come asking for a portion of land. Unlike those who died in the wilderness, these women are eager to receive the gift of the Promised Land. God makes provision for them to inherit their father's portion, a privilege unheard of in ancient times and a sign that the land God promises stays with those to whom He promises it forever. It's also an indicator that God's high view of women and how they are to be treated does not always line up with the culture.
Arrangements are made for Joshua to lead God's people when Moses dies, showing that God provides for His children through His faithfulness, not through any one particular man (Num 27:12-23). We also see, in these chapters that God chooses leaders, sets them up and brings them down.
Posted by John Kuvakas at 9:20 PM
Monday, February 20, 2017
Today's readings are Num 23-25.
The strange case of Balaam continues as he and Balak offer sacrifices. The Lord speaks to Balaam in a series oracles that are increasingly hostile to Balak while revealing certain truths about God and His relationship with His people.
In the first oracle (Num 23:1-11) God makes it clear that no one will effectively curse those He blesses. His people are set apart from the nations and belong to Him. In this oracle, God reveals that He knows about Balak and his plan.
In Balaam's second oracle (Num 23:13-30) Balak hears that God's promises to Israel will not be revoked and His people will be victorious. No divination or magic will be successful against them. They will gain victory over their adversaries, enemies like Balak!
In the third oracle (Num 24:1-10), the Spirit of God prophesies through Balaam saying that those who bless God's people will be blessed and those who curse God's people will be cursed.
Balaam's parting oracle comes (Num 24:15-25) as he prophesies the defeat of Moab. Balaam adds an additional three prophecies concerning the nations of Canaan, all of whom will be defeated by Israel. The Amalekites will fall (Num 24:20). The Kenites will fall (Num 24:21-22). Assyria will fall (Num 24:23-24). The prophecies are long term, some of them occurring during David’s time. Significantly, the fallen nations will suffer defeat at the hands of other ungodly nations. God will demonstrate His sovereign authority over everything in creation by using nations that do not worship Him to eliminate each other.
Balak believed he could manipulate God into cursing Israel by using Balaam, a man who practiced divination (Josh 13:21-22). God is steadfast and faithful to His chosen ones. He will not be manipulated by any man.
But, we also see that people like Balaam who are not part of God's chosen people are capable of doing good things, godly things. Those godly actions alone do not make them part of the God's family. Balaam, because he is not entirely committed to God, even though God spoke to him and used him, will come to a terrible end (Num 31:8,16; 2 Pet 2:15; Rev 2:14).
This should serve as a caution to us not to immediately assume someone is from God just because they know or speak His word. Until we see godly character and a godly heart, we should be careful in assuming that godly rhetoric indicates godly character or heavenly motivation. God spoke through Balaam, but he was a pagan worshiper (Num 22:5) and a man who wanted to kill his donkey for being obedient to God. The situation with the donkey was actually quite comical, but there is much to be learned from it. Lest we think there is something special about Balaam, we should see that God spoke through the donkey as clearly as He did through the pagan diviner. Both were tools to be used in God's hands for His glory.
In the next chapter, we see that the threat to Israel is not only external. Some of the Israelites disobey God by marrying Moabite women and, incredibly, worshiping Baal, a pagan god (Num 25:1-3). Turning from the one true God toward a false god is actually a more dangerous threat than Balak posed.
God commands Moses to kill all those who are blatantly sinning against Him by worshipping Baal (Num 23:4-5). Note, more Jews die as a result of their disobedience than as a result of war with Moab! Phineas is particularly zealous in pursuing the Baal worshipers. Through the actions of holy people and the onset of a plague that kills 24,000, God's anger is vented.
Yet again, that death is the consequence of rebellion against God. It is far more dangerous and fatal to rebel against God than it is to fight for Him. His standards are absolute perfection in obeying His commandments. He will do whatever is necessary to eradicate sin among His children. It is also becoming increasingly apparent that His children are utterly incapable of being perfect. They consistently find themselves in need of an advocate, a mediator, a savior who will stand between them and the wrath of God.
You and I are no different than Israel. We long to please God but are unable. We, like them, need a savior, even while we are experiencing God's grace and mercy. God is, indeed merciful but will not tolerate sin among His people. Since Israel is incapable of doing what He requires and because of His great love for His children, God provides Moses and Aaron to guide them and intercede for them. They are the ones who stand between the people and their God. Still, Moses and Aaron are imperfect men. Sacrifices must be made continually. Since we are no different than Israel, God has provided His Son to stand between Him and us. The Holy Spirit guides us and Jesus intercedes for us. The difference between Israel and us is not in our human natures, which are the same, it is in the nature of the One who guides us and intercedes for us.
Posted by John Kuvakas at 8:21 PM
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Today's readings are Num 21-22.
In spite of Israel's rebellion, God continues to show His faithfulness by giving them victories and protecting them (Num 21:1-3). The victory depicted in these first three verses is in Arad, near the southern border of Canaan. Israel is on their way south, moving away from Canaan, destined to continue their wanderings until the generation that fashioned the golden calf passes away. Arad is in the Negeb (Negev), an arid region bordering the desert. Here’s what it looks like today.
Evan as they continue to grumble and complain, God continues to show that there are consequences not only for rebellion but for being ungrateful as well. He sends poisonous serpents among them (Num 20:6) but grants delivery from them if they are willing to look upward for their salvation (Num 20:9). The bronze serpent they are to gaze upon is not a charm or an icon. It is an example of God’s provision and would later serve as a picture of Jesus bearing God’s curse and being lifted up on a tree for our salvation (Jn 3:14, Gal 3:13). The lesson to be learned here is to look to God’s provision for salvation and deliverance and nowhere else.
God remains faithful to deliver Israel's enemies into their hands. As Israel’s reputation spreads, more and more tribes become fearful of them and prepare for war with them. As they arrive at the plains of Moab, God begins giving Israel land on the eastern banks of the Jordan River (Num 21:21-27), first between two rivers, the Arnon and the Jabbock. Then, Israel takes Bashan, further north (Num 21:31-35).
In the Plains of Moab, King Balak unites with Midian and seeks help from a prophet and diviner, Balaam (Num 22:1-14). Balak pays Balaam to pronounce curses on Israel. Even though God speaks to Balaam (Num 22:9) and uses him, Balaam is not one of God's people. His belief and awareness of who God is, is similar to that of demons (James 2:19). He is actually a type of anti-Moses (2 Pete 2:15-16). This is not the only time in the Bible where we see God speak to someone other than His children to warn them not to work against His people (Gen 20:3, Gen 31:24). Balaam's story shows us that no one is beyond God's sovereign control and influence as God uses him to bless Israel instead of cursing them.
God tells Ballam what to say (Num 21:12-13) but He has to use Balaam's donkey to make His instructions clear (Num 21;22-30). Apparently, God can speak to and through anyone or any animal!
Balaam has been filled with the fear of God but wants to please Balak as well (Num 22:36-41). In the following chapter, Balaam will issue oracles that Balak hopes will become curses. Instead, God will turn each one into a blessing for Israel.
God's plan for all of these events is to bring Israel into the Promised Land. In this we see another way God functions in the world, He will use everything and everyone in His creation to accomplish His plan and fulfill His promises, even those who don’t believe in and worship Him as the One True God, like Balaam and Balak.
Posted by John Kuvakas at 9:46 PM
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Today's readings are Num 18-20.
After Korah's rebellion and its consequences are described in Num 16-17, the priesthood is reaffirmed in Num 18. But, this time we see more detail in how it will be structured. The Levites will guard the outside of the tabernacle while Aaron and his descendants will guard the innermost places. This is to protect any outsiders from approaching and causing judgment to fall. There is an obvious structure with the high priests standing between God and the camp, in touch with both, and then the Levites serving the high priests and maintaining the purity and holiness of the house of God. Collectively, the Levites' and priests' jobs are to bear the burden of the sins of the people. In return, the entire nation honors them with their their tithes and offerings. Significantly, the holy offerings go to Aaron and his sons (Num 18:19). Those offerings will be sacrificed and will also sustain the priests. The tithe goes to the Levites who are more numerous than Aaron and his sons (Num 18:21). In this manner, the Levites and priests are supported by the community as they minister.
Num 19 provides cautions against coming into contact with corpses. It also details the guidelines for cleansing those who do. These cautions and rituals emphasize the spiritual separation between life and death. Life has nothing to do with death. Death is the result of sin. It taints life. God intends to cleanse His people of death and the consequences of sin. He gives them a picture of what that cleansing looks like in the physical world. Death and life must remain separated.
Num 20:1 begins with a notable death, Miriam’s. Astonishingly, Num 20:2 depicts the people complaining again. This time they grumble over a lack of water. God tells Moses to speak to the rock at Meribah (Num 20:8). God will provide water from the rock. Reading carefully, we see that Moses says he and Aaron will provide the water and strikes the rock instead (Num 20:11-12). Not only does Moses do more than God told him, he insinuates that he and Aaron, not God, will produce water from the rock. For his disobedience, Moses will not enter the Promised Land. Moses’s consequences are another indication that God's people can suffer real-time consequences for their sin without being eternally disenfranchised by God.
Edom’s king refuses passage to the Hebrews (Num 20:14-21). This slight of God’s people will have its own consequences further down the road. God promised Abraham (Gen 12:3) that He will bless those who bless him and his descendants and curse those who curse them.
God tells Moses to bring Aaron to the top of Mount Hor to ordain Aaron's son as his replacement (Num 20:22-29). Aaron will die there, just as God said he would. Notice that God frequently reveals to His prophets their time and place of dying. These moments are accompanied by exceptionally short narratives of the time of death. Even more startling is the fact that the participants seem to go willingly every time. It speaks well of the Jews, as flawed as they may be, that their trust is in God, even unto their death.
Their example should be an encouragement to us that death is not the worst thing that can happen to a Christian. It is appropriate to mourn and grieve over the dead—we miss them! But, our grief is for the loss of their fellowship, not for them. They are with the Lord! Likewise, we should face our own mortality, in God’s perfect timing, with an anticipation of being in His presence eternally with no tears, no sickness, no sin and pure joy.
Posted by John Kuvakas at 3:15 PM