Daily Thoughts on Numbers: Our Canaans

Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, “Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into field or vineyard. We will not drink the water of a well. We will go by the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.” But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. He gathered all his people together and went out against Israel to the wilderness and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. And Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as to the Ammonites, for the border of the Ammonites was strong. And Israel took all these cities, and Israel settled in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and taken all his land out of his hand, as far as the Arnon. Therefore the ballad singers say,

   “Come to Heshbon, let it be built; let the city of Sihon be established.  For fire came out from Heshbon, flame from the city of Sihon.  It devoured Ar of Moab, and swallowed the heights of the Arnon.  Woe to you, O Moab!  You are undone, O people of Chemosh!  He has made his sons fugitives, and his daughters captives, to an Amorite king, Sihon.  So we overthrew them; Heshbon, as far as Dibon, perished; and we laid waste as far as Nophah; fire spread as far as Medeba.”

Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites. And Moses sent to spy out Jazer, and they captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who were there. Then they turned and went up by the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei.  But the LORD said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people, and his land. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” So they defeated him and his sons and all his people, until he had no survivor left. And they possessed his land.  (Numbers 21:21-35 ESV)

If Sihon had allowed the Israelites to pass through his land he would have retained his land, but his attack of the people led to his defeat and Israel possesses his territory.  He is an Amorite, one of the peoples God has been preparing to judge because of their wickedness.  When another Amorite king, Og, also attacks and is defeated, Israel has even more territory to settle in.

God told Moses that Israel did not need to fear the Amorites, that He would give them into their hand.  Yahweh is showing Israel that He is able to give her victory over all the inhabitants of Canaan when they cross over the Jordan.  He is able to give us victor over our enemies, Satan included.

So why aren’t we more bold to conquer territories of injustice in the power of God?  What about that neighborhood that is falling to drug dealers?  What about that business that is preying on the poor?  What about those children who are ending up basically parent-less and fending for themselves?  If God calls us to do something about it He will also grant us strength to overcome.

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Daily Thoughts on Numbers: Service

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.”

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the LORD.” (Numbers 3:5-13 ESV)

Aaron and his sons cannot accomplish all that needs to be done in regard to approaching God with sacrifice, so Yahweh gives Aaron’s tribe, the Levites, to Aaron to serve him and all subsequent high priests after him.  The high priest in effect becomes the clan leader.

The responsibility of the Levites is to guard Aaron and the people as they minister at the tabernacle.  When they are making sacrifice the Levites maintain God’s proscribed decorum or order, killing any who wrongly approach Yahweh.  This is what the Jews were claiming to do when the apostle Paul brought, they thought, Gentiles into the Temple area (Acts 21:27-29).

The Levites also serve as Israel’s firstborn in place of each individual family’s firstborn.  When God killed the firstborn sons of Egypt to move Pharaoh to release Israel from bondage, he required every Israelite firstborn to be dedicated to Him.  Now He accepts this whole tribe as the dedicated ones, serving Him in the sanctuary.

God calls some as leaders and some as servants to the leaders.  Each is a high and necessary calling.

A chisel is a lifeless piece of steel, but controlled by the hand of the sculptor, it can aid in producing wondrous statuary. Who can estimate the blessing caused mankind because of yielded obedience to Christ’s call by Peter, James, John, Paul, Luther, Livingstone, Carey, Hudson Taylor, Moody and a host of others? Who can estimate the catastrophe to all concerned had they not obeyed? [Gospel Herald]

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: Slavery

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. (Exodus 21:1-11, ESV)

Slavery has always been a harsh reality in our fallen world. Though Yahweh does not abolish slavery in this social context He does regulate it for Hebrews in a way totally contrary to the norms of their culture. Recognizing that some would get into debt they could not pay and resort to selling themselves to another to cover their debt, Yahweh regulates how this is to work among Israelites.

An Israelite can only be held as a slave for six years unless he makes a voluntary choice after that time to be a slave forever. If he doesn’t, he is to be released with no more debt to his owner, he and his family. However, if his master provided him a wife during his slavery from among other slaves he owned, the man cannot take his wife with him out of slavery.

If a man cannot pay a bride price for his daughter but a man wants her as his slave so he can marry her as a secondary tier wife (concubine), the woman is protected. If the owner divorces her he cannot sell her to a foreigner but she must come under the law of manumission after six years as before stated. He is breaking faith with her (failing to keep his covenant vows of marriage) and cannot mistreat her. If someone buys a woman as a wife for his son, she must be treated as a daughter. And if she is one among other wives he must nevertheless continue to provide for her in every way or else she is free to leave with no debt.

Though we might say these laws perpetuate slavery, the real implication here is that Yahweh will determine how we conduct our lives and His concern of love for those who fall into this dilemma bodes the prospect that slavery may one day be abolished. It has been abolished in nations whose populace is majority Christian (though not without a great degree of conflict), but still remains an issue in too many countries. In our own country the laws contained here in the Law of Moses should have taught us how to treat slaves and did eventually lead us away from slavery out of love for fellow humans.  It is to our shame that some among us argued for the maintenance of slavery and the regarding of those enslaved as sub-human.  The slavery we practiced in no way reflected the law of Moses.  There was no provision for release from slavery after 6 years though, in fact, many slaves became followers of Jesus and thus brothers and sisters.

John Woolman was born at Northampton, N. J., in 1720, and died at York, England, in 1772. He was the child of Quaker parents, and from his youth was a zealous member of the Society of Friends. His “Journal,” published posthumously in 1774, sufficiently describes his way of life and the spirit in which he did his work; but his extreme humility prevents him from making clear the importance of the part he played in the movement against slaveholding among the Quakers.

My mind is often led to consider the purity of the Divine Being and the justice of his judgments, and herein my soul is covered with awe.  Many slaves on this continent are oppressed, and their cries have reached the ears of the Most High! Such is the purity and certainty of His judgments that He cannot be partial in our favor.  In infinite love and goodness He has opened our understandings from one time to another concerning our duty towards this people, and it is not a time for delay.  Should we now be sensible of what He requires of us, and through a respect to the private interest of some persons or through a regard to some friendships which do not stand on an immutable foundation, neglect to do our duty in firmness and constancy, still waiting for some extraordinary means to bring about their deliverance, it may be that by terrible things in righteousness God may answer us in this matter.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Eighth Command

God does not endorse the abolition of private property or ownership. If there were no private ownership, there could be no stealing, but “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15, ESV) stands as an endorsement of private ownership. God speaks of things belonging to Him. All that we have is, in one sense, on loan from Him for He owns it all. But by extension, it becomes “ours” and we are responsible for caring for it.

There are many ways to steal. Laban “stole” Jacob’s wages by not “paying” him what he said he would (Genesis 29:15-20). Jacob had already stolen Isaac’s blessing from Esau (Genesis 27:1-46). Potiphar’s wife “stole” Joseph’s reputation by lying about his actions (Genesis 39:7-20). Saul stole Samuel’s priestly prerogative by offering a sacrifice in Samuel’s absence (1 Samuel 13:8-14). Ahab stole Naboth’s vineyard by arranging his death and then seizing his property (1 Kings 21). The Pharisees robbed their parents by declaring their possessions “Corban” (devoted to God) so they would not have to provide support for their parents (Mark 7:11-13).

We rob and steal in many of these same ways. We don’t declare taxable income on our tax forms, use company items for personal purposes, copy copyrighted material, spend money for personal pleasures when we owe creditors. 1 Corinthians 6:10 declares that thieves shall not inherit the kingdom of God. The thief has denied God’s way of acquiring necessities – honest work. Either he will not trust God to provide his needs or he is selfishly lazy and finds it easier to take what others have worked for. Such a person does not know the love, grace and ownership of God.

What is the positive aspect to this negative command, “You shall not steal”? Ephesians 4:28 gives it to us and gives us what our motive should be as we seek to counteract the temptations to theft:

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (ESV)

Generosity made possible by honest labor is the motive opposite to stealing. The thief does not stop being a thief when he stops stealing. He stops being a thief when he starts giving to others from the fruit of his honest work. As we find ourselves tempted to take what belongs to another we should seek to respond in just the opposite way. We should become overly scrupulous about what is not our own, seeking to avoid all appearance of evil. If we have stolen we must make restitution and become generous givers instead of takers.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Helping Our Leaders Lead

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”  (Exodus 17:8-16)

There will always be those who feel they must destroy the “danger” that is the people of God. This has been the conflict through the ages that Yahweh said would happen, the serpent and his “seed” in conflict against the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Amalek is and has been guided by evil principles and so much so that God has determined that this is a people who needs to be blotted out. God made all nations and He alone has the right to make such a determination.

If Israel had any question that Moses was God’s appointed leader for them, that should have been erased by this event, where only when Moses’ hands were raised in prayer for Israel did they prevail. But that Moses cannot do this alone should also be evident. Others must play their parts, like Aaron and Hur and Joshua. The same is true of all leaders and those they lead today. We must know whether they are chosen by God and we must aid them in our common task. Who is your God-appointed leader? What is your God-appointed responsibility to “hold up” his or her hands?

See John Maxwell’s “9 Ways to Lead Your Leader

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: What You Were Meant to Do

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”  (Exodus 3:7-12 ESV)

Yahweh has a task for Moses.  He wants Moses to go to Pharaoh and somehow bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, bring them to this very mountain on which Yahweh has appeared to Moses, Mt. Horeb or Sinai as it is known.  God wants Israel to return to the land of the Canaanites, a place they left 400 years earlier under Jacob’s and Joseph’s leadership during famine, but that is now flowing with richness and abundance.

Moses, who was ready some 40 years ago to slay an Egyptian and mediate the conflict between Hebrews, no longer sees himself as leadership material.  “Who am I,” he asks.  God does not answer with how gifted Moses is or how special, or what a great leader he will be, though none of those things are wrong.  He answers with, “I will be with you.”  No matter how gifted we are or special, what is required for successfully serving Yahweh is Yahweh’s determination to make us successful and accomplish His purposes.

Yahweh has seen Israel’s suffering and is ready to respond.  It may bother us that He saw Israel’s suffering 40 or more years before and is only choosing now to act.  But He knows the right time and His response is genuinely motivated by His compassion for His people.  He hears our cries.  In His wisdom He responds when He responds, having laid out for Abraham 400 years earlier that this would be the timing for Abraham’s offspring to be enslaved in Egypt.  He sees the bigger picture so we must trust Him with the timing.

In one scene from the movie Superman, Clark Kent is upset after a football game in which he was reduced to being a manager. He possesses supernatural powers yet must hide them from peers who don’t accept him because he is not a star, only a team manager. Kent’s father slips an arm around the soon-to-be Superman and says, “Son, you are here for a special reason. I don’t know what that reason is, but I know one thing—it’s not to score touchdowns.”

Knowing what God has called you for is more than knowing your abilities and gifts.  It is listening to Him as He speaks into your soul what He wants you to do.  Maybe it is correcting something grossly amiss.  Maybe it is encouraging people who have no one in their corner.  Maybe it is providing leadership where there is none.  The point is, what He calls you to do He will equip you to do and be with you in the doing.