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.
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
Friday, February 17, 2017
Today's readings are Num 16-17.
Korah, a Levite serving in the tabernacle but not a priest, challenges Aaron's position as high priest and mediator (Num 16:1-3). God has placed Aaron and the Levites between the Tabernacle and the people for a reason. The people can only approach God through their appointed and ordained priest and mediator. The Levites’ job is to guard the tabernacle and the priests. The priests’ job is to go before the Lord on behalf of the people, including the Levites. Korah and his followers want to take a shortcut and go directly before God themselves claiming to be just as holy as the priests. God takes the lives of Korah and those who follow him showing that rejection of God's High Priest comes with a terrible price (Num 16:4-35).
Notice what happens with the censers the rebellious people carry in Num 16:36-40. These utensils are retrieved from the debris and made into something sacred. While many would look at them as tainted, we see in their refashioning that God determines what is holy. They are transformed and made holy when He declares them suitable for His purposes. His purpose for the censers is that they be a reminder of the sacred position of the high priest and the penalty that accompanies rebellion against the authority he represents.
The declaration of holiness regarding the censers is an image of the doctrine of justification wherein God pronounces His children holy and righteous, fit for entering into His presence. The censers, which were used by evil people, are fashioned into something holy. Isn’t this what God does to those who believe in His only Son? Doesn’t He transform us into people who can enter into His presence? In other words, if God can redeem censers and declare them to be holy, He can do the same for us by pulling us out of the debris of our lives and making us fit for His purposes, making us a reminder of His redemption through the true High Priest, Jesus Christ.
Incredibly, in Num 16:41, the people continue to grumble about the leaders God has placed over them. Moses intervenes again. Time and again, we see the importance of a mediator and advocate between man and God (Num 16:43-47). Yet, as we have seen, there is a price to pay for open rebellion. God sends a plague among the people. Aaron, another mediator, stands between the dead and the living and the plague ceases (Num 16:48). This intervention is another lesson in how God’s plan of redemption, only God’s appointed priests can save His people!
The people clearly need a sign that Moses and Aaron are God’s chosen leaders for this congregation. Unsubstantiated rumors and false accusation from Korah and his followers have shaken the confidence of the tribes, and they don’t know if Moses and Aaron have acted correctly. Apparently, the ground opening up and swallowing Korah and his family and fire coming down from heaven on everyone else who rebelled was not convincing enough for some.
In Num 17:1-11, God miraculously and graciously shows that Aaron is His chosen priest by bringing life out of a dead piece of wood. As Aaron’s staff buds and the others’ do not, we see that God not only chooses but resurrects. God can bring life out of a dead piece of wood. If He can do that, He can bring life to His children as well.
As Aaron is vindicated, the priestly line is established once and for all (Num 17:12-13).
As Aaron is vindicated, the priestly line is established once and for all (Num 17:12-13).
The people respond appropriately to the sign. But, was the sign necessary? Many years later, a disciple named Thomas will doubt until he personally sees and touches the wounds of Christ. Christ tells him, “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:28).
Posted by John Kuvakas at 4:11 PM
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Today's readings are Num 14-15.
In Num 13, the spies came back from the Promised Land with tales of a dangerous land populated by giants (Num 13:32-33).
Amazingly, in Num 14:1-4, the same people who watched the plagues fall upon the Egyptians while they remained untouched, who saw the waters of the Red Sea part, who crossed the Red Sea on dry land only to see it close in upon the Egyptian army and drown them, the people who saw water come from a rock, the glory of God descend upon Mt Sinai, then the tabernacle—those same people--now fear the report of the spies and doubt the promises of God to give them the land. To make matters worse, they cry out their desire to return to Egypt.
Look at their situation carefully. The congregation has neither seen the giants for themselves nor directly experienced any danger. They have only heard the report of the spies. From the very moment they left Egypt up to this point, the only thing they have directly experienced has been the blessing and protection of God. Now, they hear a report that tells them little more than the armor they brought out of Egypt will be put to good use. Instead of trusting that God is with them and has equipped them for battle, they react in fear and trepidation. Furthermore, upon hearing the reports, the congregation begins acting in an astoundingly ungodly manner.
There’s a profound lesson in here for us. In a day when all manner of information comes to us via questionable sources, most of it designed to alarm the church and/or the general population, we would do well to verify the facts in light of Scripture, check our hearts in light of God’s holiness and bite our tongues before we repeat spurious information that may needlessly alarm, antagonize or at the very least, misinform others.
In Num 14:5-12, in return for Israel’s lack of faith, we learn another lesson on the necessity of a mediator between God and His people. Notice, Moses’ successful appeal is founded on the integrity of God’s name and reputation, not the worthiness of the people (Num 14:13-19).
God relents but there is a real-world price to pay for their rebellion and ungratefulness. Israel will wander in the desert until the entire generation of men twenty and older, except for Joshua and Caleb, dies (Num 14:26-35). Some try to take the land anyway (Num 14:39-45). They are defeated. Without God and His blessing, they are powerless. It’s a good lesson for all of us.
Num 15:1-31 is even more amazing, particularly in light of the events in Num 14. God gives instructions as to what sacrifices they are to make when He ushers His people into the Promised Land! Their punishment is real but God's promises are not negated! He is faithful, even when His children are not.
We see a sobering reminder that Israel’s punishment has neither separated them from God nor abrogated His rules for holiness among his people (Num 15:32-36).
God graciously gives them a reminder of His commandments by telling them to add tassels to their garments (Num 15:37-41). The tassels are a constant reminder to follow the word of God rather than their feelings. To the Jew, the sight of the tassel will bring to mind the time they reacted to their situation and their fears rather than the promises of God.
Posted by John Kuvakas at 10:19 PM
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Today's readings are Num 11-13.
Oh, how quickly things can change! Upon leaving Sinai, Israel was in high spirits. In Num 11:1-8, after only three days on the journey (Num 10:33), God's people are in the wilderness fo Paran and once again complaining.
Moses laments over the grumbling congregation, asking God to just kill him. Instead, gives Moses elders to help him with the work of the ministry. God has a plan for His people, one that depends on Him and His faithfulness, not theirs. He will get them to the Promised Land but they will continue to stumble along the way. As for Moses and his frustration in leadership, we see that God does not remove His people from ministry because it is too difficult. However, He will enable and equip them to do what He calls them to do.
As for the people, they learn a lesson about complaining (Num 11:4-6). It seems that the people struggle with being happy with the blessings they've received and constantly wind up wanting more than what God is giving them. Their fickle nature and refusal to be content with the blessings they already have lead to disaster (Num 11:31-35).
Miriam and Aaron learn similar lessons about complaining in Num 12:1-9. They are numbered among the primary leaders of Israel but allow petty jealousy and envy to interfere with God’s established leadership structure which places Moses at the head (Num 12:2). God affirms Moses’s position by describing the unique nature of His relationship with him (Num 12:7-8).
The people pay for their complaints and lack of appreciation. Miriam does as well (Num 12:10). Apparently, even leaders can be fickle making them subject to God’s chastisement. God graciously provides for her and heals her (Num 12:10-16) once again demonstrating His love for His children in spite of their lack of faithfulness and gratitude. It should be noted that God's love does not preclude consequences for ungodly actions (Num 12:14-15). While the price Miriam pays is not eternal, the whole incident is very painful and trying for her.
In Num 13:1-20, Moses sends spies into Canaan. They return with reports about the land being everything God promised it to be. But, the spies are intimidated by the people occupying the land. Ignoring the promises of God and the fact that God had prepared them for battle, they insist that Israel will be unable to take the land.
This will be interesting. What happens when God's people evaluate His promises in light of their circumstances rather than His faithfulness?
Posted by John Kuvakas at 9:14 PM