Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Temptation

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian. You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war.” So there were provided, out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, together with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. They warred against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every male. They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. And they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword. And the people of Israel took captive the women of Midian and their little ones, and they took as plunder all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods. All their cities in the places where they lived, and all their encampments, they burned with fire, and took all the spoil and all the plunder, both of man and of beast. Then they brought the captives and the plunder and the spoil to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the people of Israel, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.

Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the chiefs of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp. And Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves. Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work of goats’ hair, and every article of wood.”

Then Eleazar the priest said to the men in the army who had gone to battle: “This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded Moses:  only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean. Nevertheless, it shall also be purified with the water for impurity. And whatever cannot stand the fire, you shall pass through the water. You must wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean. And afterward you may come into the camp.”

The LORD said to Moses, “Take the count of the plunder that was taken, both of man and of beast, you and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the congregation, and divide the plunder into two parts between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation. And levy for the LORD a tribute from the men of war who went out to battle, one out of five hundred, of the people and of the oxen and of the donkeys and of the flocks. Take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as a contribution to the LORD. And from the people of Israel’s half you shall take one drawn out of every fifty, of the people, of the oxen, of the donkeys, and of the flocks, of all the cattle, and give them to the Levites who keep guard over the tabernacle of the LORD.” And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses…

Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, came near to Moses and said to Moses, “Your servants have counted the men of war who are under our command, and there is not a man missing from us. And we have brought the LORD’s offering, what each man found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and beads, to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD.” And Moses and Eleazar the priest received from them the gold, all crafted articles.  (Numbers 31:1-51 ESV)

Because Midian, at Balaam’s instruction, used their women to lead Israel into idolatry, Yahweh sends 12,000 of the army against them.  They kill all the men, including Balaam, but are enticed again by the women and keep them alive.  Moses instructs them to kill all the women who have been with a man and then explains how the rest of the spoils of war are to be distributed, some to the people who stayed back in camp and some to the Priests and the Levites.

The soldiers decide to bring an offering of gold from their plunder to atone for their sin in keeping the women alive.  They note that remarkably not one Israelite was killed in the battle, a sure sign that Yahweh was fighting for them and giving unusual protection.

Even when our motives are not the best God often graciously exceeds what we wanted to see happen.  It is important for us to recognize our wrong motives and give honor to Him for his goodness and grace toward us.

We undoubtedly struggle with Yahweh’s determination to kill all the other captives besides the immature females.  This is the unusual judgment He gives concerning the Canaanites and, in this case, the Midianites, because of their unnecessary desire to destroy Israel.  Only God has the right to determine who lives and dies and it was His judgment that this was the case for this particular enemy.  Their temptation of Israel would continue to exist and perhaps lead Israel astray.

We must deal decisively with temptation.  Jesus spoke in exaggerated terms when he said if your hand offends you cut it off (Matthew 5:30).   Nothing is more important than staying in relationship to God and following His commands.  They are the path to life away from destruction.

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Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Discipline

But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. And the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. Then the angel of the LORD went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.”  And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” And the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.

When Balak heard that Balaam had come, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, on the border formed by the Arnon, at the extremity of the border. And Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?”  Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” Then Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. And Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent for Balaam and for the princes who were with him.

And in the morning Balak took Balaam and brought him up to Bamoth-baal, and from there he saw a fraction of the people.  (Numbers 22:22-41 ESV)

When the messenger/angel of Yahweh does not take a form, being a pure spirit, he is invisible to Balaam.  Yet Balaam is supposed to be sensitive to Yahweh’s presence and he is not.  His donkey is more sensitive than Balaam is and reacts to the angel.  Balaam expresses little surprise when his donkey speaks and carries on a conversation with him.  Even then he is not sensitive to God’s doings.  So when he says he sinned because he did not know Yahweh was standing in front of him, he speaks correctly.  And of course it is evil in God’s sight to go with Balak’s men to try to curse Israel.  But again God wants this to happen to show Balak that God’s people are under His blessing.

When we go against our conscience and seek to justify wrong actions we are in for the discipline of God.  The harder we make our conscience, the harder the discipline must be to get through to us.  Balaam was hoping for some way to get the remuneration that Balak was offering (see 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11).  He was also guilty of abusing his animal.  Each is a self-centered action and merits discipline.

Has Balaam learned his lesson?  We’ll see that he has not.  Are you trying to stand against God’s discipline?  What is so appealing about your sin that you will not listen to or see God right in front of you?

Any area of your life not occupied by Jesus Christ is a bridgehead for Satan. [Stephen F. Olford]

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: Unintentional and High Handed Sin

“But if you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments that the LORD has spoken to Moses, all that the LORD has commanded you by Moses, from the day that the LORD gave commandment, and onward throughout your generations, then if it was done unintentionally without the knowledge of the congregation, all the congregation shall offer one bull from the herd for a burnt offering, a pleasing aroma to the LORD, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the rule, and one male goat for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the people of Israel, and they shall be forgiven, because it was a mistake, and they have brought their offering, a food offering to the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD for their mistake. And all the congregation of the people of Israel shall be forgiven, and the stranger who sojourns among them, because the whole population was involved in the mistake.

   “If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.  You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”  (Numbers 15:22-31 ESV)

There is sacrifice for only one kind of sin, and that is sin done without a “high hand,” that is, sin done without a hand of rebellion held up against Yahweh in deliberate despising of His authority.  Sins done unintentionally are those done in ignorance or at least with a giving in to weakness.  These kind of sins can be forgiven through offering of a sacrifice.  High handed sins will be punished by God if undiscovered by the community, or punished by the community if discovered, and death will be the penalty.

In Hebrews 10:26-31 that author equates purposely leaving the faith and denying the gospel as such a deliberate sin for which there is no forgiveness.  It is someone who knows the power of the gospel and its truthfulness but who argues that it is false.  A true believer would never do that.  One who has been born again will persevere in faith.  Those who sin deliberately by leaving the truth signal that they were not saved to begin with.

We can perhaps see the difference between these two sins in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.  The prodigal yearns for freedom and adventure and leaves with his father’s inheritance, shameful to say the least, and spends it in profligacy, only then to realize what a fool he has been and how much his father loves him and is good, so he returns.  His older brother, on the other hand, despises his father and resents his forgiveness of his brother and refuses to come to the party.  Both treat the father shamefully, but the one does so from a heart that really loves and respects his dad, the other from a heart that is alienated from his dad and seeks to justify himself and his hurt at the father’s expense.

Israel had just sinned with a high hand, refusing to trust and obey God and attack Canaan in God’s power.  That generation must die and over the next 40 years does so.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Calming God

But Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O LORD, are in the midst of this people. For you, O LORD, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, ‘The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.”

   Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word.  But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valleys, turn tomorrow and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.”

   And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the LORD, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.  But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ I, the LORD, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”

   And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land—the men who brought up a bad report of the land—died by plague before the LORD. Of those men who went to spy out the land, only Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive.  (Numbers 14:13-38 ESV)

It seems odd to have Moses needing to calm Yahweh down from wanting to destroy His people, arguing that then the Egyptians would think Yahweh doesn’t have enough power to accomplish what He promised.  But undoubtedly it was important for the people to understand just how grave their sin was and how much Moses loved them despite their rebellious hearts.  It is also fascinating to see Moses’ jealousy for the honor of Yahweh’s name and his meekness as a humble servant of God, declining to take Yahweh’s offer to make of him a new nation.

Yahweh relents, though He does destroy the spies who brought the bad report.  But he explains to the people that they will spend a year in the wilderness for every day they were in Canaan spying out the land.  In 40 years every male who was counted as part of the army will die and the children they said would perish will instead be the ones who bring the people into Canaan.

When God tells us to do something He also gives us the power to accomplish it.  We cannot rebel without consequences.  He is a passionate God.  Jesus has taken our punishment, but we may need to be disciplined.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Power Settings

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, If any man’s wife goes astray and breaks faith with him, if a man lies with her sexually, and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband, and she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her, since she was not taken in the act, and if the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself, or if the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself, then the man shall bring his wife to the priest and bring the offering required of her…

   “And the priest shall bring her near and set her before the LORD. And the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD and unbind the hair of the woman’s head and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. And in his hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse.  Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, ‘If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while you were under your husband’s authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then’ (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) ‘the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your thigh fall away and your body swell. May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.’

   “Then the priest shall write these curses in a book and wash them off into the water of bitterness. And he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain. And the priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand and shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar. And the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and burn it on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water.  And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children.

   “This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, though under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when the spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife. Then he shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall carry out for her all this law. The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.”  (Numbers 5:11-31 ESV)

There are times when the purity in the camp cannot be determined except by a trial by ordeal.  In the case of a jealous husband who is suspicious that his wife has been unfaithful, Yahweh gives a test.  If the wife drinks the concoction described here and does not get sick, she is innocent.  Her husband’s jealousy is exposed as unfounded.  He is the uncleanness in the camp, not her.  If she is guilty her womb will swell, her thigh fall away and she will be childless, a consequence of her infidelity.

It may be argued that this was a very male-centric regulation.  What if the woman was suspicious of her husband?  Could she have him drink the potion?  But in another sense this was a protection for the woman.  Mere jealousy on the part of her husband would not justify mistreatment.  This provided a definitive test and protected her from wrongful accusations.

God is concerned for the just treatment of those who are in the position of little or no power.  He does not hold guiltless the one who abuses his power.  We must not abuse the power we have but always use it for the benefit of others, not ourselves.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Shaken, Not Stirred

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25-29, ESV)

Just as surely as God was speaking from Mount Sinai He is speaking from Mount Zion, the heavenly version, and our author cannot help but make one more warning.  Do Not Refuse Him Who Is Speaking!  He has spoken in His Son and there is no escape if we neglect this warning from heaven.

Expositing Haggai 2:6 and 21, in which Yahweh tells Israel, as He urges the rebuilding of the temple of Solomon after their return from exile, that He will shake the heavens and the earth, the author of Hebrews speaks of another shaking to come.  He shook the earth at Sinai.  But there is a shaking of the heavens that will yet take place as well.  God’s kingdom will upset the entire order of things in the cosmos.  This will be the last shaking because only earthly and temporary things can be so shaken.  They will be replaced by a kingdom that can never be shaken.

The Hebrews, and we ourselves, must worship this God who shakes heaven and earth in the way He deems acceptable, that is, through Jesus Christ.  There is none other than the Son through whom we must approach the Lord.  Failure to do so will be a devastating decision.  Our God is a consuming fire.

God doesn’t speak of judgment to torment us with the inevitable. When someone sets a trap to catch something or someone, he doesn’t announce it, put up a sign to warn him. And God has announced a day of judgment so that we might escape it, which means he has provided a way of escape. [John Walvoord]