Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Family

Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that we have met: how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time. And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers. And when we cried to the LORD, he heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory. Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him.  (Numbers 20:14-21 ESV)

Moses calls Edom brother to Israel because this nation was formed by the family of Esau, Jacob’s (Israel’s) twin brother.  Israel will not dispossess Edom.  Edom is not a Canaanite nation.  But it turns out from this exchange that they are not quite allies either, even being unwilling to simply let Israel pass through their territory.

At first Moses asks for passage and, in essence, the hospitality of not having to pay if they use any water from Edom’s rivers or ponds.  But after the first denial he offers to pay for such use.  Recall that the people of Israel are a company of 1-2 million people.

Edom’s failure to be good relatives is not excusable.  It will not be the last time they are a problem to Israel.  We must take care of family, with wisdom, of course.  We owe this to each other.  If we’re afraid of what it might cost us we must trust God that He will provide for us and in fact gave us what we have in order to help our family.

At the end of a long letter, C. S. Lewis wrote: “When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving toward the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.”

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Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Holy Symbols

And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there.

   Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”  And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him.

   Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 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.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy.  (Numbers 20:1-13 ESV)

Israel is brought to the place where they first staged to invade Canaan and refused to believe God.  This began their 40 year countdown for that generation to die off so the next one could take Canaan.  Miriam, Moses’ sister, is the most important woman in Israel and she dies.

When the people once again complain of lack of water and safety, Moses again goes before Yahweh to see what to do.  But instead of speaking to the rock that provides water he strikes it twice, obviously put out by the people and claiming that he will provide water.  For his unbelief he is prohibited by Yahweh from entering Canaan.

The rock was a holy object and, we are told by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, the rock was the Son of God following them as provider of water and life.  From God’s perspective the striking of the rock on the first occasion (Exodus 17) symbolized Jesus’ death for our salvation.  Speaking to the rock was to indicate his next coming as conquering king.  Moses, by disobeying God, violated the imagery He was developing.  The consequence was that he would not enter Canaan.

For violating he imagery of the Lord’s Supper Paul tells the congregation in Corinth that this is why some of them were sick and some had died.  God’s sacred symbols must be kept holy.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Making You Clean

Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come. And you shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered before him. And Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. And the heifer shall be burned in his sight. Its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned. And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. But the priest shall be unclean until evening. The one who burns the heifer shall wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water and shall be unclean until evening. And a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place. And they shall be kept for the water for impurity for the congregation of the people of Israel; it is a sin offering. And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. And this shall be a perpetual statute for the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them.  

  “Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean. Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him.

   “This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel that has no cover fastened on it is unclean. Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel. Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave.  And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean.

   “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. And it shall be a statute forever for them. The one who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and the one who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. And whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening.”  (Numbers 19:1-22 ESV)

Your father was one of those who refused to enter Canaan when Yahweh brought your people to its doorstep and now, with him, you are wandering around in the wilderness until this generation dies off.  Your father has just died in his tent.  Despite your grief you must deal with the fact that this has made the tent and all those in it unclean and incapable of approaching the Tabernacle for worship.  You must seek out someone who is clean (not ritually impure) to fetch water and ashes from the sacrificed heifer to sprinkle you and the tent on the third and seventh days after you became unclean.

You are re-enacting the reality that nothing is more important than being ritually pure before Yahweh and able to enter into His presence.  And the only way to be pure is through the sacrificial death of another, in this case the heifer.  But perhaps you are grieving so much that you don’t have it within you to seek out the cleansing water and ashes.  Maybe another who loves you does this for you and in seven days you are cleansed.

Why did we come to see that a relationship with God was more important than anything else?  Did someone help us?

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Supporting the Ministry

Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. This shall be yours of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every offering of theirs, every grain offering of theirs and every sin offering of theirs and every guilt offering of theirs, which they render to me, shall be most holy to you and to your sons. In a most holy place shall you eat it. Every male may eat it; it is holy to you. This also is yours: the contribution of their gift, all the wave offerings of the people of Israel. I have given them to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the LORD, I give to you. The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the LORD, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the LORD, shall be yours.

Nevertheless, the firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem.  And their redemption price (at a month old you shall redeem them) you shall fix at five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. But the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall burn their fat as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. But their flesh shall be yours, as the breast that is waved and as the right thigh are yours. All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the LORD I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD for you and for your offspring with you.” 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.

   “To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting, so that the people of Israel do not come near the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. But the Levites shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the people of Israel they shall have no inheritance.  For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.”

   And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe. And your contribution shall be counted to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress. So you shall also present a contribution to the LORD from all your tithes, which you receive from the people of Israel. And from it you shall give the LORD’s contribution to Aaron the priest. Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the LORD; from each its best part is to be dedicated.’ Therefore you shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall be counted to the Levites as produce of the threshing floor, and as produce of the winepress. And you may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward in return for your service in the tent of meeting.  And you shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have contributed the best of it. But you shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, lest you die.’”  (Numbers 18:8-32 ESV)

The support of the priests and the Levites comes from the people’s offerings of sacrificial animals and other gifts, and in the case of the Levites, from the monetary/goods tithe annually required.  God does not give their tribe land like He does the other tribes when they enter Canaan.  He is their “portion,” what they need to survive and thrive.

This is a covenant of salt, which the ESV Study Bible aptly describes:  Covenant of salt forever indicates a permanent and inviolable principle (cf. 2 Chron. 13:5). The significance of salt may be its qualities as a lasting preservative, well known throughout the ancient Near East, or its use as a seasoning of food, which would point to a shared meal between the two parties of the covenant as symbolic of their friendship and the binding nature of their agreement.

The Levites must tithe from the tithe they receive from the people.  Their tithe goes to support the priests.  This shows that they must trust Yahweh to provide for them and that the priests are the ultimate authorities over them.

Paul says (1 Timothy 5:17) the elders who rule and teach well are worthy of double honor (payment) and this comes from the gifts the members of the church give.

Are you doing your part to support those who serve you?

A friend of mine tells the story of an acquaintance who wanted to know if a frozen turkey would still be good after a year in the freezer.  My friend’s opinion was that it probably would not be harmful if thawed and cooked, but also that it would not taste very good.  And the acquaintance said, “I’ll give it to the food bank then.”  There is a kind of giving that looks like giving but really isn’t.  It gives away nothing essential.  (Celebration, March 1997)

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Iniquity and the Sanctuary

So the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood. And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. They shall keep guard over you and over the whole tent, but shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar lest they, and you, die. They shall join you and keep guard over the tent of meeting for all the service of the tent, and no outsider shall come near you. And you shall keep guard over the sanctuary and over the altar, that there may never again be wrath on the people of Israel. And behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the people of Israel. They are a gift to you, given to the LORD, to do the service of the tent of meeting. And you and your sons with you shall guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood as a gift, and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”  (Numbers 18:1-7 ESV)

There is danger associated with the presence of God.  For sinful people to have no mediator between them and God leads to God’s wrath being poured out on sinners.  There is danger for the priests and Levites, if they do not adequately guard the tabernacle where God’s presence dwells.  If they allow a breach of the holy place they too will die.

God is teaching Israel and us that there must be someone who can make atonement for us in order for us to escape His wrath.  He will not turn a blind eye to sin, no matter how much He loves us.  But that same love has provided Jesus as our priest and mediator, satisfying the just demands of a holy God by taking our guilt on himself and dying in our place.

Jesus’ priesthood, however, is not the gift of Aaron’s priesthood but the gift of the priesthood of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7).  Yahweh promised that David’s descendant, the Messiah, would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.  The author of Hebrews argues persuasively that this demonstrates Jesus’ superior priesthood.  God has made a way through Jesus that means we will never face the death penalty.  A way into the holy of holies has been achieved through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Recognizing the Opportunity for Repentance

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs. And Moses deposited the staffs before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.

   On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the LORD to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his 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.”  Thus did Moses; as the LORD commanded him, so he did.

   And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, shall die. Are we all to perish?”  (Numbers 17:1-13 ESV)

Yahweh gives further proof that only Aaron and his family are chosen for ministering as priests in the tabernacle.  Though someone would possibly argue that a rod was already in the tabernacle belonging to Aaron with buds on it, it is impossible for a dead piece of wood, no matter if it is already in the tabernacle or not, to bear fruit.  Plus they all saw each man write his name on the rods placed before the ark of the covenant in the most Holy Place.

When it is evident that only Aaron’s rod buds the people get fearful because they have registered rebellion against God’s choice.  They fear He will break out against them again when they come near the tabernacle.  But the fact that God produced this test is evidence that He wants them to be reminded and to repent of their rebellion.

God always gives us an opportunity to repent.  Your own conscience may keep you from repenting, but God is offering it nonetheless.  Receive His rebuke and recognize your opportunity for repentance.

Conscience is a three-pointed thing in my heart that turns around when I do something wrong, and the points hurt a lot. But if I keep doing bad, the points eventually wear off, and then it doesn’t hurt any more.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Safe Responsibility

Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him. Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company; put fire in them and put incense on them before the LORD tomorrow, and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the LORD and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the LORD that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?”

   And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and they said, “We will not come up. Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.” And Moses was very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them.”

   And Moses said to Korah, “Be present, you and all your company, before the LORD, you and they, and Aaron, tomorrow. And let every one of you take his censer and put incense on it, and every one of you bring before the LORD his censer, 250 censers; you also, and Aaron, each his censer.” So every man took his censer and put fire in them and laid incense on them and stood at the entrance of the tent of meeting with Moses and Aaron. Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.

   And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?” And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Say to the congregation, Get away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.”

   Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. And he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.” So they got away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. And Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones. And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.  If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.”

   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. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.

    Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Tell Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest to take up the censers out of the blaze. Then scatter the fire far and wide, for they have become holy. As for the censers of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar, for they offered them before the LORD, and they became holy. Thus they shall be a sign to the people of Israel.”  So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned had offered, and they were hammered out as a covering for the altar, to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the LORD, lest he become like Korah and his company—as the LORD said to him through Moses.

   But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD.” And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared. And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.”  So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, besides those who died in the affair of Korah. And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped.  (Numbers 16:1-50 ESV)

Korah and allies believe Moses and Aaron have been enriching themselves with their privileged position and argues that everyone in the camp is holy (has a right to come before Yahweh without Moses and Aaron) and therefore he wants to be priest.  Others in the confederacy argue that Moses has brought them from a place of milk and honey (prosperity) in Egypt (Have they forgotten?) and failed to acquire a new place of milk and honey.

Moses is angry and exposes the motivation of the protestors but proposes a test to see who Yahweh picks as leadership.  The next day Yahweh shows in a terrifying way who is leader.  Moses gives those who would repent a chance to get away from the tents of these rebels.  The next day, however, more people come against Moses and this time God sends a plague among them that is only stopped by Aaron the priest waving a censer of incense.

God chooses His leaders for ministering in the tabernacle, a dangerous job if not done properly.  No one should presume on how to approach Him but obey His directions.  And no one should take on a responsibility that God has not given them.  Leaders who do have God’s charge to serve do not need to uphold their own authority.  God will handle it.