Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Telling God We Love Him

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.

“All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.

“All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body. Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he is holy to the LORD.

“And if any man dies very suddenly beside him and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it. On the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest to the entrance of the tent of meeting, and the priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned by reason of the dead body. And he shall consecrate his head that same day and separate himself to the LORD for the days of his separation and bring a male lamb a year old for a guilt offering. But the previous period shall be void, because his separation was defiled.

“And this is the law for the Nazirite, when the time of his separation has been completed: he shall be brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting, and he shall bring his gift to the LORD, one male lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish as a sin offering, and one ram without blemish as a peace offering, and a basket of unleavened bread, loaves of fine flour mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and their grain offering and their drink offerings. And the priest shall bring them before the LORD and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering, and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of peace offering to the LORD, with the basket of unleavened bread. The priest shall offer also its grain offering and its drink offering.  And the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire that is under the sacrifice of the peace offering. And the priest shall take the shoulder of the ram, when it is boiled, and one unleavened loaf out of the basket and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them on the hands of the Nazirite, after he has shaved the hair of his consecration, and the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD. They are a holy portion for the priest, together with the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed. And after that the Nazirite may drink wine.

“This is the law of the Nazirite. But if he vows an offering to the LORD above his Nazirite vow, as he can afford, in exact accordance with the vow that he takes, then he shall do in addition to the law of the Nazirite.”  (Numbers 6:1-21 ESV)

Continuing to deal with purity in the camp in preparation for war in Canaan, Yahweh makes sure that those who take a temporary vow of devotion to Him, called the Nazarite or the separated one’s vow, did what was required to maintain the integrity of the vow and thus the purity of the camp by following His requirements.  A Nazarite grew his or her hair long and did not cut it throughout the time of the vow, to show their devotion to God and followed some strict dietary rules and kept from touching dead bodies.

But if one inadvertently touched a dead body a cleansing must take place, including shaving of the hair, and the vow restarted and completed for the same length of time the Nazarite stipulated originally.  Then, when the time of the vow was over, the Nazarite was to offer sacrifice and burn his or her hair on the altar.  Any additional vows made must also be kept.

Though every Israelite was to be devoted to Yahweh, the Nazarite vow was a special way to demonstrate that.  Believers today are all to be devoted to Christ, but there may be special disciplines we take upon ourselves at times to demonstrate our devotion to Him (fasting, silence, chastity, etc.).  Doing these things does not make us more holy and are certainly not required.  They are strictly voluntary.  It is going out of our way to tell God we love Him.

Sometimes we think making a vow to God will obligate God to us and so we are tempted to think we can manipulate Him this way or strengthen ourselves in our resolve to live for Him.  These are both mistaken ideas about the vow.  Making a vow to God does not obligate Him to us but us to Him.  And taking a vow to be more holy is not a helpful way of becoming more holy.  We can’t just screw up our intensity and will power to become more holy.  Purity in the camp for us comes from spending quality time with Christ in prayer and communion with Him in His Word.

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Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Count the Cost

The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company. And there shall be with you a man from each tribe, each man being the head of the house of his fathers. And these are the names of the men who shall assist you… These were the ones chosen from the congregation, the chiefs of their ancestral tribes, the heads of the clans of Israel.

  Moses and Aaron took these men who had been named, and on the first day of the second month, they assembled the whole congregation together, who registered themselves by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names from twenty years old and upward, head by head, as the LORD commanded Moses. So he listed them in the wilderness of Sinai.

   The people of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: those listed of the tribe of Reuben were 46,500…those listed of the tribe of Simeon were 59,300… etc.

  These are those who were listed, whom Moses and Aaron listed with the help of the chiefs of Israel, twelve men, each representing his fathers’ house. So all those listed of the people of Israel, by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war in Israel—all those listed were 603,550. (Numbers 1:1-46 ESV)

God has brought Israel from Egypt, where they were in bondage, to the wilderness and to Mt. Sinai, where He gave them the Law, and now is ready for them to move from Sinai to the promised land of Canaan.  But first God commands a census to be taken to assess Israel’s fighting capacity.  Men are chosen from each tribe to help Moses count the men capable of fighting and then after adding up the number from each tribe, the total is 603,550 for the army of Israel.  This is where the book of Numbers gets its name in our English Bibles.  Another census will be recounted at the end of this book.

Jesus teaches us to count the cost before we engage in any endeavor, but elsewhere in Scripture it is made clear that Israel is not to assess its fighting strength unless God commands such an assessment.  David does so without God’s permission (2 Sam 24) and is disciplined for it.  God does not want us to believe that our own strength is what wins battles for us.  He wants us to trust Him, no matter the odds.  He will demonstrate this to Israel over and over, and to us.

Jesus, when he mentioned counting the cost, was not talking about determining if I have the resources to be his disciple, but deciding whether I was willing to bear my own cross and renounce all that I have to be his disciple.  That is the cost of following him.  That was what God was asking Israel to do.  Determining how many fighting men there were was not to see if they had enough to go to battle against the Canaanites but to show that war under God’s direction was going to be the cost.  Will we follow Him no matter where He leads?

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.    (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Grow Old

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14, ESV)

How do you get mature?  The author of Hebrews gives us some clues when he has to say to his readers that they are not mature but are like babies who can only take in milk.  He wants to talk about Jesus’ priesthood after the order of Melchizedek but can’t.  Let’s make a list of what they needed to do and what we may need to do to grow.

  1. Sharpen your hearing.  I am distressed by the number of times when someone tries to make a cogent remark on Facebook only to get responses that totally miss the point.  A immature person doesn’t listen.  Instead, he or she looks only for opportunities to vent or express a view but does not look for an opportunity to learn.  Open your ears and your heart to see if God is not trying to teach you something.  Even someone you disagree with can be your teacher.  Humility is a requisite for learning.
  2. Try something beyond your current understanding.  Challenge yourself to get off the baby food.  I remember checking a book out of a Christian college library only to find it so difficult to understand that I sought out others who had checked out the book for help.  They hadn’t actually read it.  So my only hope was to try again.  I read it again and it began to make sense.  It became life changing, in fact.  I’m so glad I didn’t give up on it.  This has happened to me several times.  The most powerful ideas are often harder to grasp.  Peter talks about some of Paul’s “Scriptures” being hard to understand.  Push yourself with God’s help.
  3. Apply what your learn.  Maturity is the ability to discern what is good and evil and choosing the good.  It takes practice because we are challenged in so many situations in life to make decisions about how the good applies.  Your powers of discernment increase the more you exercise them.  If you find a challenge to your life in Scripture but don’t apply and obey it you will find your heart getting duller and duller.  You’ll remain a baby spiritually.

But what if someone never becomes anything more than babyish in their spiritual life?  The author of Hebrews is going to speak to this.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Jesus Sits so We Can Ride

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:3-4, ESV)

This writer is still introducing his topic for this letter/tractate and admonishment of this congregation tempted to return to their former understanding of how Jews should live in covenant with God before Jesus’ claim to have come as the expected bridegroom for his bride, his people.  He has introduced the theme of Jesus’ supreme character as revealer, suggesting that Jesus’ revelation supersedes all others and therefore must be listened to and obeyed.

Now he mentions Jesus’ purification for sins accomplished by his sacrificial death on the Roman cross of execution.  But he emphasizes what happened after Jesus made purification, that he sat down at God’s right hand.  This suggests two things that should startle the readers and us, if we are tempted to return to our former way of life.  One, his authority is equal to God’s.  He is God’s right hand ruler.  His word is God the Father’s word.  None supersede him, so he must be obeyed.  Two, sitting suggests a finished work.  He’ll later highlight the fact that there was no chair in the Tabernacle, no rest for the priest, who could never finally finish offering sacrifices because those sacrifices never really purified sin like Jesus’ sacrifice has.  He gets to sit because his work is finished.  You can’t go back to that which was incomplete.

We probably have already is some ways found ourselves “going back” from our faith in Christ.  I find myself slipping into life as routine over and over.  I forget there has been a battle raging and that I’m a participant in it on God’s side and nothing is routine about that.  I forget that every situation in my life is an opportunity to experience God’s leadership in my life and to bear witness to His presence in my life.  I want to take a break, go back, so to speak, from the adventure of living the new reality created for me by my Savior.  It doesn’t always feel like an adventure because I’m too often depending on my own resources to accomplish it.

Strangely, Jesus’ sitting down is the basis for his increased activity in expanding his kingdom and the basis for my enjoying his energy at work in and through me in that same endeavor.  Stephen Curtis Chapman’s wonderful song, The Great Adventure, should become more and more autobiographical for us:

Saddle up your horses, we’ve got a trail to blaze, Through the wild blue yonder of God’s amazing grace.  Let’s follow our leader into the glorious unknown.  This is a life like no other, whoa, whoa, this is the great adventure.  We’ll travel long, over mountains so high, We’ll go through valleys so low.  Still through it all we’ll find that This is the greatest journey that the human heart will ever see.  The love of God will take us far beyond our wildest dreams

If you want to, you can listen to the whole thing here.  Get back on that horse, that steed of magnificent beauty and power.  Why walk when you can ride?

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Rest to Work

And the LORD said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”

And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. (Exodus 31:12-18, ESV)

Yahweh makes a point to emphasize the law concerning Sabbath. It is a sign between them, an evidence that He has spoken to them and constituted them a nation, setting them apart (sanctifying them). It is a set apart or holy day and failure to keep it by resting from work profanes it, acts as if it is not holy, and so must be punished with the death penalty. Israel is to keep this Sabbath forever as a reminder of Yahweh’s creative activity followed by His rest. They can trust that if they make this day holy and don’t work, God will provide for them.

With this last instruction, Yahweh hands Moses (he has been on the mountain top with God for forty days) the two stone tablets on which He personally engraved or etched the 10 commandments. Moses has written these commandments and laws of God, but the stone tablets are a symbol of the whole law and to be kept as a token of His covenant in the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place.

The principle of the Sabbath is still important for those who believe and are not Jewish. Though we may view any or every day as holy (Romans 14:5,6) it is important that we observe Sabbath, that is, trust God to provide for us without thinking we need to work every day to make it happen. Recent research indicates that greater physical health results from a shorter work week. We are built for work but we are also built by God for rest. All our lives cannot be taken up with work.

You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.  (Anne Quindlen, A Short Guide to a Happy Life)

He who cannot rest, cannot work; he who cannot let go, cannot hold on; he who cannot find footing, cannot go forward.  Harry Emerson Fosdick

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Investing Value

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. (Exodus 25:1-9, ESV)

Just as Yahweh had a meal with the priests and Moses, so He wants to have fellowship and communion with the nation of Israel as a whole. He wants to dwell in their midst. His “dwelling place,” however, cannot be just any place. For the people to understand and acknowledge just how amazing He is there must be a tent of His design and that is costly to put together. And they must make an investment in it. God enriched them through the gifts the Egyptians gave them as they left the country. What they received from the hand of God they may now offer for this tent.

It is often observed that what people get for free they treat with less value. If I’m going to pay you $500 for advice I’m more likely to take your advice. We value what we invest in. This doesn’t mean that our places of meeting as the church have to be ornate like the tabernacle, but we must have an investment in them. And even more importantly, we must have an investment in the Lord. Our hearts must move us to contribute to the things He values, especially His work in the world to see the gospel of the kingdom made known. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be, also” (Matthew 6:21).

Andrew Fuller was a British preacher seeking money for a Christian orphanage in London. He went to a businessman he knew and explained the need. The businessman said, “Andrew, here’s 5 lbs. seeing it’s for you.” Fuller wisely tore up the check and said, “It’s not for me.”  The businessman wrote another. “Here’s 10 lbs, seeing it’s for Jesus Christ.”

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Learning Worship and Rest

“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.

“Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.

“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD.

“You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning.

“The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” (Exodus 23:10-19, ESV)

In line with the law of Sabbath, God institutes a Sabbath year for Israel, commanding her to not work her fields every seventh year, with the intention that what grows by itself will be a supply for the poor and the beasts of the field (God cares for both). Like the Sabbath day, they rest and trust that God will provide what they need, just like He did the manna. Rest is proper for the human and for the beast and for the land. Even the foreigner is to keep this law, meaning that foreigners among them cannot be used by the Israelites to circumvent this law.

Worship of God alone also includes keeping the prescribed festivals, particularly Unleavened Bread, which includes Passover, and the Feast of Harvest or Pentecost, that occurred 50 days later. The Feast of Ingathering also must be kept, another harvest festival later in the year. No one should come empty handed, bringing a tithe or some portion of their harvest to recognize God’s provision. These three times are incumbent on all male head of households in the family.

Unleavened bread is again made the standard of all meal that is offered with sacrifices to Yahweh and the need to burn on the altar any fat from the sacrifice within the day is made clear. Another standard is to bring the best of one’s firstfruits. This is a time to honor the Lord’s provision, not try to bring the worst and selfishly keep the best for yourself. And a final standard is to avoid boiling young goat meat in its mothers milk, a pagan practice that God wants Israel to keep separate from.

Sabbath laws remind us that God owns everything and is capable of providing for us when we don’t work.  It is an exercise in trust as well as rest.  Do you rest well?  Or do you find yourself not knowing how to rest?  Ironically, we need to work at rest, preparing ourselves for it and planning it well.  Not trusting God may be a hindrance to our rest.  We rest in Him and then we rest ourselves.

Festival laws remind us that worship is essential to our mental and spiritual health.  Giving time and attention to worship is, just like rest, something we need to prepare and plan for.  We ready our spirits to celebrate the Lord.  And such celebration is a communal thing, not just an individual experience.  Socially we need this experience of community worship.

See Learning to Rest by Sheryl Giesbrecht, Hitting the Pause Button! 5 Strategies for Reducing Stress and Learning to Rest by Kelly Smith