Wednesday, March 31, 2010

leaders building leaders

construction And Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the LORD directed through Moses.

Numbers 27:22-23


Every good leader finds other people to continue leadership. In the case of Moses, God provided Joshua. But Moses had a strong desire for assurance that the leadership of Israel would pass into capable hands (Numbers 27:15-17). I think Moses knew God’s choice would be Joshua. But he waited to hear from God, and then followed God’s desires completely in the choice and manner of appointment.


I am looking at this account with a little more humility these days. I have had 21 years of ministry, and I might get to enjoy another fifteen or twenty more. Best case: I am at the halfway point of my ministry service. Mill Creek has been blessed recently with a fine crop of motivated and gifted people in their 20’s and 30’s. It is time to spend a big chunk of my ministry investing myself in these new leaders so that the next godly generation will follow Jesus.


As I look at Moses’ life from this point in Numbers until the end of Deuteronomy, I will look for principles from him that will assist me in developing these leaders. God… give me a Joshua! It is what God has called me to do at this stage of my life. I am excited about it.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Administration as God’s desire

This was the list of the people of Israel, 601,730.

Numbers 26:51



The second large census taken of Israel recorded in the book of Numbers was for determining the fighting force of Israel’s army. At this point they have already taken some parts of the land through defense against their aggressors. It is important to realize that the 600,000 number represents men only who were twenty years of age and fit for war (Numbers 26:2-4). Following levitical guidelines, this number probably consisted of men from age 20 to 50 who were physically fit for warfare.


The actual number of Israelites was much higher when older men, those not physically capable of warfare, and women and children were factored into the tally. Easily this was a number of over one million people in the encampment. Israel was a large, mobile, city on the move. They needed places to settle. God was preparing them for the next step.


Although this census is to me one of the sleepier moments in the Penteteuch, I draw a lesson from it.  It is all about advance planning. God wanted Moses fully aware of the “boots on the ground” at his disposal. It was vital for Joshua’s future success. If God sees it as important and commands it, then I should not shrink from administrative duties for the greater cause of the Kingdom.


Monday, March 29, 2010

The reward of repentance.

Therefore say, 'Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.'"

Numbers 25:12-13


BaalUgarit God confirmed the Aaronic priesthood without reservation due to the actions of Aaron’s son Phineas in the matter of ending Israel’s flirtation with Moab’s Baal worship at Peor. This is not an easy account to read. Moab quietly seduced Israel into idolatry. It began as sort of a “cultural exchange” where Israel was invited to participate in feasts. It quickly progressed into idolatry with Baal worship that included prostitution. It got dirty and nasty really fast and Israel was caught in the trap. It ended with 24,000 dead in the camp by judgment of God with a plague. As Israel wept over her sin, a man flagrantly brought a Moabite temple whore into his tent. Phineas made the bold move to strike down these last two sinful idolaters to stave off a relapse.


It was this bold faith and action of the priest that led to God’s recognition and reward. God saw Phineas as possessing His feelings on the matter. And that is what made the difference. It saved the day for the entire nation because it prevented a second episode of idolatry and unfaithfulness. Sometimes having God’s heart means we are serious about sin in ourselves and in His people. And we will not sit around and watch God’s worship being defiled.


Two quick final observations: 1) Sin can be a slippery slope experience. Once you take a small step a really big fall can happen. What starts as a small choice can quickly become out of control until you are consumed by a driving passion. That is exactly what happened with Israel in this episode. They “met their neighbors” only to quickly be caught up in the exhilaration of a sexually driven false religion that made them forget their God and all He had done for their deliverance. 2) God will reward obedience when we are filled with His heart on the matter. It wasn’t that Phineas got mad that made the difference. It was that His outrage was God’s hurt heart on this matter and it led him to complete obedience for Israel. That was what God chose to reward with this covenant for the Aaronic priesthood.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Prophet for hire, part 3

smart donkey And Balak's anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together. And Balak said to Balaam, "I called you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have blessed them these three times. Therefore now flee to your own place. I said, 'I will certainly honor you,' but the LORD has held you back from honor."

Numbers 24:10-11


This is the end of the matter between Balak and Balaam. God used the pagan seer to shut down and frustrate an enemy of Israel. And in the process Balaam learns some things. His prophecies in Numbers 24 sort of “seal the deal” for Israel’s success in the eyes of her enemies. And he is convinced that God will ultimately destroy Moab and all those who oppose Israel’s move into the Promised Land.


Balaam is an interesting study because of who he is. He is used by God, even inspired by God, to deliver these messages. Yet, we cannot be convinced he ultimately comes to know God. He seems more interested in divination than devotion. And his final verdict in scripture is that he was a deceiver (Revelation 2:14).


Still, it is more than amusing that God would use Balaam to get his truth out. And obviously what happened made it back to Israel because of these scriptures providing record of the events. Balaam would eventually die in the conquest of Canaan. But God’s truth and His plan for His people would continue… forever.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Prophet for hire: part 2

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.

Numbers 23:19-20


Flying_Donkey Poor Balak! He has paid good money to hire Balaam to place a curse on Israel. He has tried three different times, really four if you count the initial encounter with Balaam, and each time Balaam comes back with a blessing for the people that Balak hates. And it comes at the cost of building 21 altars and sacrificing 21 oxen and 21 sheep. This was a serious investment on his part in the hopes he could secure Israel’s demise.


But this much was true about Balaam… whatever message he “channeled” he stayed faithful to the content. He may have sold out to the highest bidder in terms of religious services, but he had enough sense to realize that he was dealing with the “real deal” when the God of Israel spoke to him. He may have been easy, but he was not quite sleazy.


The humor in these episodes is obvious. A pagan king and a flim-flam celebrity psychic “to the stars” would be used by God to confirm Israel’s purposes in His plan. And no one was going to stand in the way of what God was doing. Even the gods and religious practices of the people of Canaan would fall before the power and will of Yahweh. Israel’s God would be shown as having sovereignty over all people. They might get frustrated at the collapse of their pagan worldview. But they clearly and repeatedly saw the truth.


God gave grace to Balak through Balaam’s oracles. It enraged the pagan king, but he could not deny the truth of it. God managed to irrefutably establish His sovereignty, literally at Balak’s expense! It is funny, powerful, and tragic all at the same time!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Prophet for hire: part 1

But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, "Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God to do less or more.”

Numbers 22:18


donkey (4 years) The story of Balaam is an interesting one, and not just because of the part of the story where his donkey speaks to him. It is a crucial story because it is clear that regardless of his past practices, Balaam 1) knows he has heard from the true God on this matter, and 2) claims some level of commitment to being faithful to God’s Word. This is seen in his statement that he cannot say “less or more” than what God has given to him. It is seen in his claim that to “the LORD my God.”


But Balaam is a study in decline. His firm resolve that no amount of money could persuade him to curse Israel if this was not God’s command begins to wilt in the repeated offers from Balak. Eventually he caves in, at least to meet with this rich patron who believes Balaam has the power to curse an entire nation. But even then, God has a bigger plan at work. The reluctant “prophet for hire” will still be used to get Balak’s attention and to witness to the greatness of what God is doing with His people Israel.


Balaam, however, would eventually be undone by these slow accommodations to greed.  He is known in future generations as a false prophet who loved to gain from wrongdoing (2 Peter 2:15). He would eventually die under the later conquest of Canaan because his advice to Balak resulted in Israel falling to prostitution and idolatry.


The lesson of Balaam is that little choices can lead to major slides from truth and from commitment to God. Balaam was a pagan oracle who had a brief dramatic encounter with the true God, only to fall away into materialistic greed and be judged by God. He serves forever as a warning to be true to God’s message, no matter what tempts us away.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Victory for spiritual losers.

So they defeated him and his sons and all his people, until he had no survivor left. And they possessed his land.

Numbers 21:35


This chapter actually recounts the very initial conquests Israel experienced in battle as they began moving into Canaan.  They began by settling the western banks of the Jordan River. The territories they seized were a result of defensive warfare in which aggressive nations came to attack them. God eventually brought them the complete victory which resulted in Israel taking some of the land promised to them by God so long ago.


serpent These initial victories came at the hand of God’s grace, because Israel still was not the nation they should have been in terms of spiritual commitment. What interests me is that after the first victory, there is an immediate failure (the infamous bronze serpent episode: Numbers 21:4-9). But God graciously responds to Moses’ plea for the people and once again they are back on track conquering their aggressors again. Moses is getting a taste of what the next generation of leadership will know.  And God is continuing to develop a faithful generation that will want to obey His leading in the conquest of Canaan.


Israel is advancing spiritually as a nation throughout the book of Numbers. But they are falling forward in stutter steps. They aren’t quite the noble heroes we would hope for. They struggle with unbelief and selfish complaining even after God has saved them from threatened destruction from a larger and established nation. They just can’t seem to stay spiritually consistent. But God is faithful. And that is the insight worth considering for today.


We may fail. We may struggle with consistency. Our faith may be small at times. And our sins may overwhelm us when we fail. But God is faithful. He will lead us beyond our failures so that He gets the glory. We experience profound grace when He does this.


Friday, March 19, 2010

celebrity failures

Benny-Hinn-9381 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them."

Numbers 20:12


Moses and Aaron eventually fell into the same condition as their generation. They failed to believe and trust God. In the waters of Meribah Moses chose to display his anger dramatically. He made it more important than strict obedience to God’s command. That is why this swift sentence came upon them. It was a horrible offense against a wise and holy God. When you read Moses’ speech in front of the rock, it is clear he has his personal interests at heart, more than God’s holiness.


Spiritual leadership can experience the same difficulty today. It is so easy to let personal feelings and emotions get in the way of obeying God’s call. And if we are not careful, we will certainly draw attention away from the God we are supposed to be leading people to know, love, and understand.


I know there have been times in my ministry service where I have miserably failed by drawing attention to my own personality or feelings. It is easy to do. People like the drama. They will be drawn to entertainment and entertaining them can be easy and lucrative (see Benny Hinn), but any time celebrity personality is enjoined with God, true worship is lost, gone, outta’ there! Really. Let’s stay away from developing any kind of Christian celebrity culture. Let’s draw near to God!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

sin, death, and ritual impurity

red-cow If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean.

Numbers 19:20


God gave ancient Israel certain practices regarding ritual impurity in His worship that do not correlate well to the New Testament experience of life in Christ. This chapter is one of those kinds of things. At issue is not whether the ashes of a dead bovine mixed with water essentially convey holiness. The point is obedience to God’s command on the subject. Certain life experiences rendered a person “unclean” regarding contact with God in worship or contact with His people in the assembly.


The “water for impurity” made from the ashes of the red heifer was used daily no doubt. One of the main situations described in this passage involved ritual impurity when coming in contact with a dead body. And people lived and died in the desert camp daily. So on any given day there were hundreds of people who had become ceremonially unclean. The practices in Numbers 19 brought them back to a ritual purity that allowed full participation in worship again after confronting the death process personally.


We tend to read hygiene into this sort of thing. That was not the issue. I think the reason ritual impurity existed at the presence of death was to remind Israel that the curse on sin is death. There is a consequence. Paul called death the wages of sin for good reason. Death separates us from God because sin separates us from Him. Participating in a ritual that restored purity emphasized this over and over again in Israel.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

God as inheritance and portion

And the LORD said to Aaron, "You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.”

Numbers 18:20


Garcia Studio, Inc.
933 Fielder Avenue NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
404-892-2334 God made it clear to Aaron and his descendents that the priestly duties of service to Him were a unique blessing and privilege. God blesses Aaron and his family with this birthright. Other Israelites might get land and houses in the Promised Land. The priests and Levites would get God Himself as their inheritance.


This chapter contains details for the support of the priests and of worship of Yahweh. All the tithes and offerings that came in would be collected by the priests. From that, 90% was available to support the priestly class. The top 10% was offered by the priests as their tithe (a tithe of the tithes) before the Lord. The rest was used to provide for all the priests and Levites and their families who guarded and served in the worship of the Lord. When God told Aaron He would be his portion, He backed it up with real support from the nation of Israel. God would provide for His servants. He would use His people to do this.


It interests me how much those involved in such ministry would need to trust God. They were forbidden from having any other means of support. When times were hard, they had to see God provide quite literally through His people. And the bulk of the budget for operating the sacrificial system was labor. 90% of the received gifts went to provide for priests, Levites, and their families. A lot of people were dependent upon God being their portion and inheritance!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The lesson of the staff

And the LORD said to Moses, "Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die."

Numbers 17:10


cartoon aarons staff


The Lord created this little object lesson for Israel to prevent any further uprisings against the household of Aaron in the priesthood. The test was a simple one. A staff was collected from the elders of each of the twelve tribes. One staff for each tribe, with Aaron’s standing for Levi. These staffs were placed before in front of the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle for an overnight stay in God’s presence. The next morning Aaron’s staff had miraculously budded, bloomed, and produced almonds. That got the attention of Israel as a confirming sign. This was exactly what God wanted.


The response of the people in Numbers 17:12-13 is fearful, respectful and contrite in repentance. They are so overcome by this sign (coming right on the heels of God’s swift judgment at Korah’s rebellion) that they are afraid to even come near the tabernacle to worship. Continued revelation from God in the next chapter will help reassure and lesson this anxiety. For now, it is healthy. God’s goal was to quash rebellion in the worship of Him and the display of His power. And that has happened with this simple yet powerful symbol.


The rod of Aaron’s that budded was kept inside the ark of covenant as a reminder of this moment in Israel’s journey. It served to confirm both the power of God and the perpetuity of the priests who would serve Him and the nation at the altar. God will confirm His right to receive our full worship, not because His is bound to do so, but out of His mercy to His people. This brought His people back from the brink of destruction. God knew this. And they said as much themselves. It is right for God to use His power (the staff of Aaron that budded) and His justice (instantaneous destruction of Korah and those who took part in his rebellion) to call His people back to the proper worship that is due to God alone.


Monday, March 15, 2010

swift judgment

Korah falls And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods.

Numbers 16:31-32


This was the most significant rebellion yet in Israel. It was not so much against Moses as it was against God as is made clear in this chapter. That is why this dramatic judgment falls on Korah and his household. He thought he could lead a coalition of new leaders to replace Aaron and his sons and overthrow God’s choice for priests and leaders in Israel. God answered pretty dramatically with this sinkhole that sucked away all traces of the rebellion!


And all those who followed Korah in spiritual rebellion were consumed by fire that torched all those who thought they could offer incense instead of Aaron’s sons. And then a plague supernaturally spread through the camp quickly killing off another 14,700 people. This was significant and attention-getting. God once again confirmed to a stubborn people that He was in control and that the methods and men He had chosen were best.


It bothers me when I secretly wish that this kind of judgment were quickly evident today. I am hurt when I hear other Christians talk this way. I would much rather know deep mercy and grace in Christ. But there is a day when this sort of dramatically visible confirmation of God’s rulership over man’s rebellion will be seen again (2 Peter 3:9-10). It is clear that God’s patience and mercy have reserved the expression of His outward wrath and judgment for that future time. He is sovereign. That is His plan. And I will faithfully seek to live and preach the gospel so that repentance might come to some. Seeing Korah and company swallowed up into Hell today is not a pleasant vision. The trauma of that reality in the past compels me with the gospel reality in the present.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Sanctification has a goal and a purpose.

direction arrow So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.

Numbers 15:40


There is a very simple reminder in this verse. When I am called to be holy, I am called to an object / person that enables me to be so. Israel kept the law even in its most unusual aspects, like making tassels on garments, as a means to grow closer to the God Who had claim on them.


There was nothing innately holy about a fringe of cloth or even about avoiding one food or another. Instead, what the Law was meant to do was create an atmosphere of obedience that drew the heart to God as the object of holiness. In the remembering and doing of the requirements, a relationship to God in holiness was developed and pursued.


Sanctification calls us to God.  I often focus on what I am saved from. But I am equally saved to a relationship with God. That makes obedience all the more precious and important.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Waiting out an entire generation


…not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected.

Numbers 14:30-31


Israel rejected God when they rejected His call to enter the Promised Land. And God had to bring some sort of lesson to this disobedience. The consequence was that for the next four decades the nation would be doomed to nomadic wandering in a desert that doomed them to daily remember their faithlessness. An entire generation would eventually die. And their children would have the faith and courage to obey God. Faith and obedience always go hand in hand. You can’t just say you believe God and then live by your own wishes.


God built into the next generation of Israelites a robust faith. They knew that their lives would be better by trusting God. They lived with the horrible consequences of judgment. As each body of the generation that rejected Canaan was buried in the sand of Sinai, a growing sense of something new coming down the line had to fill the next generation with hope. And when the time came for them to cross over, they enthusiastically accepted the challenge.


This chapter of Numbers is not very grace-filled (at least at first glance). But God did hear Moses’ prayer and chose NOT to eradicate the nation and build a new one from Moses. God was actually merciful by punishing just one generation and promising anew His deliverance to a new generation. And the lessons they learned on the necessary mutual requirements of faith and obedience would define a generation that would conquer and receive.


I often wonder how they felt. What was it like to wait for an entire generation to die off? Did they count down the last few survivors, waiting for them to fall so they could move forward? We don’t know. But we do know that they did not grumble like their parents did. That may be the big lesson to learn. Real faith and real obedience does not complain or suggest “better ways” to God.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Two responses – one call

shadow But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it."

Numbers 13:30


This is an amazing chapter. It is a turning point for a generation. Moses appointed representatives from the tribes of Israel to spy out the land of Canaan in preparation for taking possession of what God had promised. Joshua and Caleb came back with their faith strengthened, ready to let God lead them. Ten spies did not have that faith response. All twelve had been given the same orders, went on the same mission, and had the same experiences. Only two of them had a response of trust in God and commitment to the call.


How is it that so many leaders could have totally opposite responses to God’s call? It wasn’t like God gave them a choice. Their orders were to find out information so that Israel could take possession of the Promised Land. But by the end of their mission, they ceased seeing themselves as fact-finders and instead became advisors and policy-makers for the nation. Their mission warped into their own “shadow mission” – a corruption of their skills, orders, and calling. Lack of faith caused them to take control of the “outcome”. They would not fight what they saw as an unbeatable foe. And God was not in the equation as they talked about their options.


Caleb’s response was the right one - in direct opposition to the fearful cowardice of the faithless majority who now had switched to fulfilling their shadow mission. I just love it that he spoke up first, loudly and boldly! He was ready to do what God asked. He knew that victory would come despite the odds because God was bigger and stronger than any earthly army. The Canaanites did not know Israel’s God. That was the power for winning! His faith should have been how all of Israel followed the report. But it wasn’t. The majority report of doom and unbelief (Numbers 13:31-32) would eventually win the hearts and minds of the nation.


Even today these two wildly different responses can follow God’s call. We can run forward in faith, true to our mission as followers of Jesus. Or we can fall back, failing in fear – feeding the dark thoughts of our self-gratifying shadow mission. Which will it be for believers today? Our culture is equally intimidating. Canaanites are still giants. But God has given us a call… to change lives and be the church in a world that is radically opposed to the gospel. And faith will see us through to receive what God wants to give us!


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

God is the best defense

Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?

Numbers 12:7-8


calvin arguming Jealous of their brother’s leadership and evidently prejudiced against Moses’ gentile wife, Miriam and Aaron turn against him and unwittingly turn against God in their complaints. At issue is the spiritual leadership that God gave to Moses. Miriam had prophesied after the Red Sea crossing (see Exodus 15:20) and Aaron served as High Priest. Their challenge to Moses assumes that they were spiritually his equal and better qualified to lead Israel then their “gentile-loving” brother.


The pretense for their claim to authority is an incipient bit of racism. They speak against the “Cushite” wife of Moses. Elsewhere she is said to be Midianite. Some old commentators among the rabbis suggest that Midia and Cush shared a porous border, potentially making Zipporah’s ancestry Ethiopian, perhaps even black African. Perhaps because of emerging Jewish identity through the new commitment to the Law at Sinai, Moses’ family resented these close gentile connections in their brother. God certainly had not said anything bad about this, in fact, Moses was already married to a gentile when God chose him to be the leader of the Exodus generation. It was the evil hearts of Aaron and Miriam that did not like the situation.


God quickly defended Moses as leader and as clearly His choice for the job. Miriam was struck with advanced leprosy, making her truly unclean, worse than the “gentile” she despised. Gentiles could enter the outer courts of the tabernacle. Lepers could not. The punishment fell upon her 1) perhaps because she led the complaining and accusations in the revolt, and 2) because Aaron was the High Priest, God sovereignly and mercifully spared the nation the trauma of an unclean priest forcing the appointment of a new High Priest.


Moses meekly let God be His defense. By pleading for Miriam’s healing, he proved to his family and a watching nation that his closeness to God’s heart was the strength of his leadership. Miriam was healed after a week-long exile from the camp. Aaron was spared by God’s mercy. And God used the incident to strengthen the leadership of Moses among an increasingly difficult nation.


Monday, March 8, 2010


whining And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.

Numbers 11:1


I hate to see this. Israel’s track record to this point in the Book of Numbers has been good. But just under a third of the way through the book, the story takes a rough turn. One of the features of the Book of Numbers is its recounting of Israel’s grumbling, complaining, and rebelling against God. And this chapter records the first few moments of that part of the story.


There complaints start out as a very generic kind of griping. They complain about their misfortunes. Undoubtedly there were murmurs about desert life, about being forced to eek out a nomad’s existence. And God chose to get their attention through a fire that consumed the outward edges of the camp… perhaps where the grumbling originated. And this got their attention. Moses interceded with God and the fire was quenched.


The second episode shows that they did not learn their lesson. They missed the perceived smorgasbord of food that was theirs in Egypt. Of course the tradeoff was slavery, which they neglected to mention in their sinful reminiscing. God again was upset at them, but graciously provided more quail than they could handle. During their feast, a plague breaks out (could it have been some kind of food poisoning?) before they have even finished eating (the text is very direct - “while the meat was yet between their teeth”). So a second episode of complaining has resulted in judgment. Has Israel learned a lesson yet? Wait and see.


Watch where you complain. God can quickly show you that your perspective is short-sighted by taking you a place you never wanted to go. I know this thought has my attention right now. I think I will look for ways to find praise for God in my present circumstances. When things aren’t as I want them to be, it is time to be drawn to worship, not whining!


Friday, March 5, 2010

Mobile worship

GYPSY MISSION TENT And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, "Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you." And when it rested, he said, "Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel."

Numbers 10:35-36


God literally led the nation of Israel in the wilderness. Most of this chapter goes into long and involved detail as to just how the camp was moved from location to location. First, the cloud of God’s presence would lift from above the tabernacle. Trumpets were blown to summon the people to muster for moving the camp. Then the tribes went forward in specific formation and order, following the ark of the covenant to a new campsite.


Moses made these times significant for worship by focusing on God Who was leading them. He had a special prayer for when the ark set out. He had another one for when God’s presence settled back in and the relocation was complete. These became spiritual moments for Isarel, even as they packed and moved and relocated the camp.


Following God is worshiping Him during the hard work. That is a simple, but meaningful truth principle to remember. And it may involve daily routine as well as breaks in that routine that shake us up. Israel worshiped in the tabernacle when camp was set up. And they also worshiped by literally looking for God’s leadership as they moved about the wilderness, not sure where they would end up. So worshiping is both a time for “standing still” and an experience we can know while “on the move”.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Obedience, part 2.

glowing bible So Moses told the sons of Israel to observe the Passover. They observed the Passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses, so the sons of Israel did.

Numbers 9:4-5


When things went well for Israel in the wilderness it was because they followed closely what God told them to do. In this case it was with keeping the Passover even while nomads in the desert. They were learning obedience and learning it quite well. These clear successes in the Book of Numbers show us that Israel was capable of following God’s terms. The Law itself was not unreasonable.


Really, all of chapter nine focuses on this obedience. The last part of the chapter focuses on how this was defined in a visible way for the entire camp of Israelites. God’s presence was manifested in the middle of the camp above the tabernacle. A cloud was visible by day there. At night it glowed like fire. All of Israel could turn toward the middle of camp at any time and know what to do. They looked to God. If His presence lifted away from the tabernacle, the broke camp and followed Him (Numbers 9:23). It was that direct.


It is not quite as visible today, but I believe the process is equally direct. Christians still must center on God’s presence. Now it is found through obeying His Word. I find God in the pages of the Bible as clearly and irrefutably as if a cloud or fire hovered over my Bible! We must set biblical truth smack in the middle of our lives. From there we can get direction. God will lead us clearly. We were created to shape and rule this earth under the guidance of God. To walk with Him in this way we must be close to Him. To know His thoughts, we must live and dwell with His Word at the center of all we do. We must read it to do that. Really…. read it… and do what it says.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Simple obedience should not be undervalued.

rmdn_obedience_zone Then after that the Levites went in to perform their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron and before his sons; just as the LORD had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them.

Numbers 8:22


The Levites as a tribe were dedicated solely to the service of the Lord in worship at the tabernacle. They were uniquely, publically dedicated to this service. Any male Levite, from the age of 25 until mandatory retirement at 50, was trained to serve in the work of the sacrifices and worship of Yahweh. It was a life vocation.


Moses, Aaron, and the people of Israel heard God on this request. The Levites obeyed God’s call. A special tribe and class of people was then called and pressed into service before God. And the nation obeyed, rejoiced in God, and was blessed by this obedience.


There is just a surface thought that grabs my attention as I read this chapter. It has to do with obedience to God. Obeying God above and beyond my own whims is an important practice. It is a living and practical outcome of faith. Israel did not analyze these instructions. There was no debate or counter-offer back to God. They followed what God asked. Period. No discussion. It involved sacrifice and change, particularly for all the families in the tribe of Levi, but they did it willingly. That attitude of willing obedience is still important for believers today.


My present circumstances demand simple and complete obedience. Honestly, there are times when my flesh does not want to obey. Ministry is demanding and it takes a toll on what my fleshly self wants out of life for ME. But that simple obedience is more valuable than many other things I might give to God. I know He wants to satisfy me when I sacrifice. I will be satisfied in God when I do so. I value this above anything else I want, because, frankly, it is all I know in life.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Mercy Seat

Now when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him.

Numbers 7:89

mercy seat

Moses had a place

to talk with You

in a tent You designed

and Your people built

he would come before Your face

and You would meet him too.


Before a golden ark gleaming

he would bring his heart

and You would listen

always there in Your glory

knowing, and requests receiving

from angel wings You answered every part.


I imagine Moses always content

with the conversation You would give

in that holy place he met You

as You were worshiped, held in awe,

he would go out sharing the message you meant

for others to know and Israel lived.


And there is a holy place I go

each morning in the pages of Your Word

there I sit in reverence speaking,

waiting, listening, talking with You

and Your truth changes me and I know

I must share what I’ve heard from my Lord.


I write it down in my faltering way

not quite able to capture the glory and wonder

You stick with me through my failings

and my successes, ready to lift me up

and I will know it all the time, every day

if I will commit Your Word to trust and ponder.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Even dedicated people will do wrong…

Then the priest shall present them before the LORD and shall offer his sin offering and his burnt offering.

Numbers 6:16


dreadlocked dude What is interesting about this verse is that it describes the condition of ending a Nazirite vow. This was a special vow that a person could take to dedicate themselves uniquely to the Lord. They set themselves apart by not cutting their hair, refraining from wine and all products made of grapes (hard to do in a Mediterranean culture), and avoiding any potential contact with dead bodies of people or animals. It was a unique vow meant to help the person who took the vow concentrate on their relationship with the Lord. And the hairstyle made it visible to everyone else in the person’s life. The most notorious Nazirite in the Old Testament was Samson. But Paul in the the Book of Acts appears to have taken this kind of vow at one point.


What is interesting was that at the end of the time period of the vow (set by the person taking the vow) in addition to a haircut by the priest, the person also offered a sin offering along with additional offerings. Even though the vow was meant to concentrate on sanctification, the sacrifice of the vow was not enough to remove the guilt of the sin. They still did wrong things. The sin offering was meant to deal with that issue. The Nazirite vow then did not make them sinless, or even “more holy” than someone else, even though they were concentrating on God with an unusual fervor. God still had to atone for sin despite the efforts of the Nazirite.


Here is where I am going with this. God knew we have a tendency to trust in our efforts, and the Law, though it was good, by nature fed this in us. And the Nazirite rules were even more restrictive. It would be easy to think that keeping the rules made me holy. God made sure that was not the external emphasis for the Nazirites by insisting that sin offerings be part of the vow. The same principle holds true today. When we come to faith in Christ, we are saved by His work, not our own. And He keeps us holy, even as we are called to obey. I still must confess my sins. I still must seek forgiveness from God and those I may sin against. This will always be the case until I reside with God in heaven.