Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Your Bigger Purpose

After the plague, the LORD said to Moses and to Eleazar the son of Aaron, the priest, “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers’ houses, all in Israel who are able to go to war.” And Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Take a census of the people, from twenty years old and upward,” as the LORD commanded Moses. The people of Israel who came out of the land of Egypt were:…

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

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Among these the land shall be divided for inheritance according to the number of names. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance; every tribe shall be given its inheritance in proportion to its list. But the land shall be divided by lot. According to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit. Their inheritance shall be divided according to lot between the larger and the smaller.”

This was the list of the Levites according to their clans:…

And those listed were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward. For they were not listed among the people of Israel, because there was no inheritance given to them among the people of Israel.

These were those listed by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who listed the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not one of those listed by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had listed the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said of them, “They shall die in the wilderness.” Not one of them was left, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.  (Numbers 26:1-65 ESV)

After 40 years in the wilderness all the previous generation who rebelled and refused to go in and fight against the Canaanites have died.  But when God tells Moses to number the current generation, it numbers nearly the same as that previous generation.  The numerical strength of Israel’s army has not decreased.

The numbering also determines who will get the bigger portions of land in Canaan.  That will be dependent on tribe size.  The Levites, of course, will not get land allotments but will live off of the tithe of the other tribes.

Two men from the previous generation remain a part of this army, Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who wanted to obey Yahweh and take the land.  They will get their chance this go round.  God will use those who trust and obey Him.

Are you a Joshua and Caleb or more like one of those who perished in the wilderness?  Will you trust God when He directs you in your life?  Will you even look to Him for what He wants your life to be about?  He wants to use you for His greater purposes.

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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 Exodus: The Glory of God in Us

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting…Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy…Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest.

This Moses did; according to all that the LORD commanded him, so he did. In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected…Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40, ESV)

Can you imagine getting up in the middle of the night in your encampment in the wilderness, walking outside your tent and seeing a burning fire in and around the Tabernacle, or during the day seeing a cloud emanating from it?  From the first day that the glory of Yahweh filled the Tabernacle there was powerful evidence that God was with His people in demonstrative form.  If the cloud was lifted off of the Tabernacle it was the signal that it was time to move and you packed up all your belongings and your tent, while the Levites attended to dismantling the Tabernacle and preparing it for transport.  Perhaps you hoped you could stay longer rather than shorter.

God showed in the way He displayed His glory in the Tabernacle that He really did want to dwell with His people and that His dwelling with them was not going to be a passive one.  He is always about pursuing the purpose of restoring His kingdom in this fallen world.  He went after a nation that He would use to be a witness to all nations of His greatness.  He is leading this nation through the wilderness after having judged Egypt for its wickedness and with a judgment for the nations of Canaan who have filled up their iniquity to the fullest (Genesis 15:16).

We are to pray daily for His kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10).  We are to move when He moves and stay when He stays as we look for opportunities to redeem the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).  We are the Tabernacle of God on earth today, His temple, His people, from whom He wants to demonstrate His glory.  People ought to see an evidence of His glory permeating our lives, fire and cloud.  The most obvious evidence of that glory, according to Jesus, will be our love for one another and for our neighbors (John 13:35).

How are we doing?

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Equipped by God

The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.” (Exodus 31:1-11, ESV)

When God gives us a task to perform He also gives us the ability to perform it. It may not be us He gives the ability to personally, but He will give it to our team. God intends us to work as teams and equips individuals differently to provide the various necessities a team has to accomplish its purpose. We are not to presume that our particular ability is supreme.  Rather, because they are all needed, we must understand what value each member brings to the team.

Do you understand what the Spirit of God has equipped you to do? Do you know your purpose? And do you appreciate those around you by knowing their purpose and valuing their gifts and talents? Whether you are Bezalel, Oholiab or one of the many men or women God has given ability to, you are operating as an expression of His abilities, serving in cooperation with His work, to achieve something wonderful and beneficial for your community, maybe even the whole world.

It’s those stately geese I find especially impressive. Winging their way to a warmer climate, they often cover thousands of miles before reaching their destination. Have you ever studied why they fly as they do? It is fascinating to read what has been discovered about their flight pattern as well as their in-flight habits. Four come to mind.

1. Those in front rotate their leadership. When one lead goose gets tired, it changes places with one in the wing of the V-formation and another flies point.

2. By flying as they do, the members of the flock create an upward air current for one another. Each flap of the wings literally creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. One author states that by flying in a V-formation, the whole flock gets 71 percent greater flying range than if each goose flew on its own.

3. When one goose gets sick or wounded, two fall out of formation with it and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with the struggler until it’s able to fly again.

4. The geese in the rear of the formation are the ones who do the honking. I suppose it’s their way of announcing that they’re following and that all is well. For sure, the repeated honks encourage those in front to stay at it. As I think about all this, one lesson stands out above all others: it is the natural instinct of geese to work together. Whether it’s rotating, flapping, helping, or simply honking, the flock is in it together…which enables them to accomplish what they set out to do.

Chuck Swindoll, letter, October, 1991.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Being Priests

“Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. Take one bull of the herd and two rams without blemish, and unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil… Then you shall take the garments, and put on Aaron the coat and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastpiece, and gird him with the skillfully woven band of the ephod. And you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown on the turban. You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him. Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.

“Then you shall bring the bull before the tent of meeting. Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the bull. Then you shall kill the bull before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and shall take part of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and the rest of the blood you shall pour out at the base of the altar. And you shall take all the fat that covers the entrails, and the long lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and burn them on the altar. But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering.

“Then you shall take one of the rams, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram and shall take its blood and throw it against the sides of the altar. Then you shall cut the ram into pieces, and wash its entrails and its legs, and put them with its pieces and its head, and burn the whole ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD. It is a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD.

“You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar. Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and his sons’ garments with him. He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him.

“You shall also take the fat from the ram and the fat tail and the fat that covers the entrails, and the long lobe of the liver and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and the right thigh (for it is a ram of ordination), and one loaf of bread and one cake of bread made with oil, and one wafer out of the basket of unleavened bread that is before the LORD. You shall put all these on the palms of Aaron and on the palms of his sons, and wave them for a wave offering before the LORD. Then you shall take them from their hands and burn them on the altar on top of the burnt offering, as a pleasing aroma before the LORD. It is a food offering to the LORD.

“You shall take the breast of the ram of Aaron’s ordination and wave it for a wave offering before the LORD, and it shall be your portion…

“The holy garments of Aaron shall be for his sons after him; they shall be anointed in them and ordained in them. The son who succeeds him as priest, who comes into the tent of meeting to minister in the Holy Place, shall wear them seven days…

“Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight… The other lamb you shall offer at twilight… There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God. (Exodus 29, ESV)

Here it is Yahweh’s intent to show that the priests must be purified by washing and by sacrifice and set apart to Him in this unusual way by garments and sacrifice. No one else may serve in the Tabernacle with the sacrifices except Aaron’s sons. Because they have this work they must be supported by the people and part of the sacrifice is given to them for food. As the sacrifices are made and their guilt is transferred to the animal the Tabernacle itself is made a holy place in which God will come and speak to Moses and lead His people. It is Israel’s privilege to have Yahweh dwell among them.

In Yahweh’s new economy with the coming of the king, Jesus, we are all priests to God and called upon to be set apart to Him. Our sacrifices are praise and good deeds as we proclaim the great King to all the world. Let’s be priests today.

Paul Althaus, the great interpreter of Luther’s theology, explains the original Reformation meaning of this term:

Luther never understands the priesthood of all believers merely in the sense of the Christian’s freedom to stand in a direct relationship to God without a human mediator. Rather, he constantly emphasizes the Christian’s evangelical authority to come before God on behalf of the brethren and also of the world. The universal priesthood expresses not religious individualism but its exact opposite, the reality of the congregation as a community.

Of course, Luther did believe that all Christians had direct access to God without recourse to what he polemically called “the tin gods and buffoons of this world.” But for Luther, the priesthood of all believers did not mean, “I am my own priest.” It meant rather: In the community of saints, God has so tempered the body that we are all priests to each other. We stand before God and intercede for one another, we proclaim God’s Word to one another and we celebrate his presence among us in worship, praise, and fellowship. Moreover, our priestly ministry does not terminate upon ourselves. It propels us into the world in service and witness.

John Calvin interpreted the priesthood of all believers in terms of the church’s participation in the threefold office of Christ as Prophet, King, and Priest. Specifically, every Christian is mandated to be a representative of Christ in his redemptive outreach to the world: “All believers … should seek to bring others into the church, and should strive to lead the wanderers back to the road, should stretch forth a hand to the fallen and should win over the outsiders.” In other words, the priesthood of believers is not a prerogative on which we can rest; it is a commission which sends us forth into the world to exercise a priestly ministry not for ourselves, but for others—“the outsiders”—not instead of Christ, to be sure, but for the sake of Christ and at his behest. – First Things, The Priesthood of All Believers, Timothy George

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: God’s Lampstand

“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.” (Exodus 25:31-40, ESV)

This article is from ligonier.org:

“The lampstand was among the most ornate pieces created for use in the tabernacle, and those familiar with modern Judaism would know that the lampstand looked basically like a seven-branched menorah. It also resembled a tree with the cups at the end of each branch designed to mimic the appearance of almond blossoms with sculpted calyxes (outermost parts of a flower) and flowers (25:31–36). Many scholars believe that God commanded the floral design in order to remind the Israelites of the Tree of Life from the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9). This is certainly an appropriate conclusion as true life is found only in the Lord’s presence (Ps. 16:11), and this presence was made manifest in the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34–35). Almonds were also a symbol of hope and fruitfulness in the ancient Mediterranean world, so these ideas were also brought to mind when priests saw the lampstand.

Of course, the lampstand also served the very practical purpose of providing light for the priests to do their work, since there were no windows in the tabernacle through which natural light could enter. The almond blossom-shaped cups would have been filled with olive oil, and wicks would have been inserted into the oil and lit to provide light. Aside from helping the priest see, the light from the lampstand would have also been a physical depiction of the truth that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

Because of the proximity to the Lord’s presence, the lampstand was also made out of valuable materials like gold and fine wood. That it was “made of hammered work” (Ex. 25:31) means that a wooden frame was created and then covered with “a talent of pure gold” (seventy-five pounds; vv. 37–39), which was hammered out to create the lampstand’s ornate appearance. God deserves the very best to be used for His worship, and thus He commanded Israel to use the finest materials in His presence.”

God is the light of the world, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But Jesus has also told us we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). God shines through us as we serve Him in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. The churches in Revelation are therefore represented as lampstands (Revelation 1&2). If we hide our light we are foolish. But shining it gives others a chance to come out of the darkness.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Your Promised Land

“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.

“But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.

“When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” (Exodus 23:20-33, ESV)

The word “angel” means “messenger” and Yahweh says here that this messenger who is going to accompany Israel and guard them on the way has His name, Yahweh, in him. The nation must be careful to obey this messenger and if they do they will have complete victory over all enemies. It is quite likely that this messenger is the Son, the pre-incarnate Jesus (before he took on human nature), the second person of the Trinity.

Yahweh promises that in Canaan, if Israel worships Him alone and makes no covenants with any in the land, that He will remove all their enemies and make them supernaturally prosperous, with no miscarriages, abundant supply of food, and eventually a homeland that stretches from the Red Sea that He miraculously enabled them to cross, to the Euphrates River in the north. Though Israel’s record of obedience will be quite spotty, in the day of Solomon Yahweh will nevertheless give Israel a time of prosperity much like this and land dimensions like this.

Yahweh also acknowledges the mutual dependence of the ecosystems He created and explains that He will not immediately drive out the current inhabitants lest the land get overrun with wild beasts.  God is the ultimate ecologist.

There is so much God wants to do for us and so little we trust Him for. In our covenant with Him He has not promised perfect prosperity, despite the teachings of prosperity gospel preachers, but He has promised to use us to spread the kingdom message to the whole world and see the powers of the kingdom irrupting into this present age.  He is not immediately bringing the kingdom but using us to “conquer” territory from the devil little by little.  And there is always the need to maintain the conquered land.  Where do you see idolatry rampant in your sphere of influence?  What is your plan under God for taking it in His name?  May we trust Him for our Canaan victories, our promised land.