Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Blessed, Not Cursed

And Balaam said to Balak, “Build for me here seven altars, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.” Balak did as Balaam had said. And Balak and Balaam offered on each altar a bull and a ram. And Balaam said to Balak, “Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go. Perhaps the LORD will come to meet me, and whatever he shows me I will tell you.” And he went to a bare height, and God met Balaam. And Balaam said to him, “I have arranged the seven altars and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.” And the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” And he returned to him, and behold, he and all the princes of Moab were standing beside his burnt offering. And Balaam took up his discourse and said,

   “From Aram Balak has brought me, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains:   ‘Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!’   How can I curse whom God has not cursed?    How can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?   For from the top of the crags I see him,  from the hills I behold him;  behold, a people dwelling alone,  and not counting itself among the nations!  Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel?  Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!”

And Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.” And he answered and said, “Must I not take care to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?”

And Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place, from which you may see them. You shall see only a fraction of them and shall not see them all. Then curse them for me from there.” And he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.  And he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar. Balaam said to Balak, “Stand here beside your burnt offering, while I meet the LORD over there.” And the LORD met Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and thus shall you speak.” And he came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the LORD spoken?” And Balaam took up his discourse and said,

   “Rise, Balak, and hear; give ear to me, O son of Zippor:   God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.   Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?  Behold, I received a command to bless:   he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.   He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel.  The LORD their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them.  God brings them out of Egypt and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.  For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel; now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, ‘What has God wrought!’   Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up  and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain.”

And Balak said to Balaam, “Do not curse them at all, and do not bless them at all.” But Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘All that the LORD says, that I must do’?” And Balak said to Balaam, “Come now, I will take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there.” So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, which overlooks the desert. And Balaam said to Balak, “Build for me here seven altars and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.” And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.  (Numbers 23:1-30 ESV)

Balaam, despite his desire to receive a stipend from Balak, will not or cannot speak but what Yahweh tells him, so instead of cursing Israel he continues to bless them.  Balak gets credit for continuing to try.  One more attempt will be made.

Interestingly, in the process of blessing Israel, Balaam prophesies that God is not a man that he would lie or change His mind.  This very clearly tells us that in passages where it is represented that Yahweh seems to change His mind, that is in fact not happening.  Rather, Yahweh is spoken of anthropopathically, in psychological terms like a man, in order to communicate the effectiveness of human prayers or human repentance.  But His mind is ever the same in all situations.

And God will never curse His people or allow them to be cursed.  He identifies Himself with us.  We are His people and He is our God.  The curses of others will not and cannot materialize.  We belong to Him.

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Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Tasting God

Then the people of Israel set out and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho. And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. And Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” So Balak the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

   So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message. And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the LORD speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam.  And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” And Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, ‘Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Go to your own land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” So the princes of Moab rose and went to Balak and said, “Balaam refuses to come with us.”

   Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these. And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Let nothing hinder you from coming to me, for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’” But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God to do less or more. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the LORD will say to me.”  And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.  (Numbers 22:1-21 ESV)

Balak is convinced that his military might alone cannot win him the day against Israel.  But with spiritual help from the seer Balaam he might be able to defeat Israel, so he offers money for Balaam to curse Israel.  However, Yahweh tells Balaam the people are blessed, so Balaam initially refuses.  Yet Balaam wants the money bad enough that he keeps going to Yahweh for permission and Yahweh tells him to go.

Who is Balaam?  He obviously has a relationship with Yahweh and an ability to hear from Him, like a true prophet, yet he is greedy for wealth and willing to sell himself for profit.  What a shame that a man with such an intimate relationship with Yahweh feels so impoverished.

What about us?  What are we valuing above our relationship with God?  Do you feel that your relationship to Him is not fulfilling?  Why?  This should surely be a source of concern for you and God for sure wants to address this with you.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8)

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: Learning God

While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses.

   The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD your God.”  (Numbers 15:32-41 ESV)

Obeying God is paramount.  Here is a man who with a “high hand” is deliberately disobeying the command not to work on the Sabbath.  He is showing he does not trust Yahweh to provide for him if he doesn’t work seven days a week.  A public execution is required with all participating to demonstrate the seriousness.

The people need daily reminders of how important it is to obey Yahweh.  The ESV Study Bible remarks, “In the ancient world, tassels were worn by nobles and other high-class people. In Israel they are to be worn by everyone as a mark of their status as the chosen people.”  Every Israelite is royal in God’s eyes but still no one may follow after his or her own heart like the ten spies did.  They must not be like prostitutes who will do whatever they need to to get what they want.

We need reminders also, and accountability from those around us who follow Jesus.

God has rescued us to be our God and to make a people holy to the Lord.  We are responsible to know what it is He requires of us.  I would not be a good husband if I did not pay attention to what my wife needs in our relationship.  Why would we think we don’t have to study God to know what is the right way to relate to Him?

In the choir of life, it’s easy to fake the words, but someday each of us will have to sing solo before God.

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: God’s Sustaining Presence

On the day when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings and had anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils, the chiefs of Israel, heads of their fathers’ houses, who were the chiefs of the tribes, who were over those who were listed, approached and brought their offerings before the LORD, six wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for every two of the chiefs, and for each one an ox. They brought them before the tabernacle. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Accept these from them, that they may be used in the service of the tent of meeting, and give them to the Levites, to each man according to his service.” So Moses took the wagons and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service. And four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder. And the chiefs offered offerings for the dedication of the altar on the day it was anointed; and the chiefs offered their offering before the altar. And the LORD said to Moses, “They shall offer their offerings, one chief each day, for the dedication of the altar.”…

  This was the dedication offering for the altar on the day when it was anointed, from the chiefs of Israel: twelve silver plates, twelve silver basins, twelve golden dishes, each silver plate weighing 130 shekels and each basin 70, all the silver of the vessels 2,400 shekels according to the shekel of the sanctuary, the twelve golden dishes, full of incense, weighing 10 shekels apiece according to the shekel of the sanctuary, all the gold of the dishes being 120 shekels; all the cattle for the burnt offering twelve bulls, twelve rams, twelve male lambs a year old, with their grain offering; and twelve male goats for a sin offering; and all the cattle for the sacrifice of peace offerings twenty-four bulls, the rams sixty, the male goats sixty, the male lambs a year old sixty. This was the dedication offering for the altar after it was anointed.

  And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.  (Numbers 7:1-89 ESV)

To dedicate the tabernacle the tribes of Israel brought carts and bulls for use by two sons of Aaron, Gershon and Merari, because they needed transportation for the components of the tent.  Aaron’s son Kohath could not use a cart because the holy furniture had to be carried on foot by poles resting on their shoulders.

The tribes also brought dishes of gold and silver to be used in the tabernacle and animals to offer in sacrifice to God to dedicate and anoint the altar of sacrifice at the tabernacle.  When Moses received all these things and went into the tent and the most holy place within the tent, Yahweh spoke to him from above the ark of the covenant between the cherubim.  This simulated what occurs in heaven, the tabernacle being a replica of the heavenly temple, and signified that Yahweh was pleased to “dwell” among Israel.

The offerings brought by the chiefs of the tribes were very practical and useful for the ministry of the Tabernacle.  But Moses did not immediately receive them, doing so only after Yahweh had instructed him to do so.  People will make offerings at times with pure motives and at times with impure.  The latter must be watched for.  Enrichment is often a play for influence.  God will have none of that.

We, the Body of Christ, are collectively God’s temple, and individually we are temples of the living God.  When our “temple” is pure and we come in the merit of Jesus’ sacrifice to God’s throne in heaven, like Moses He hears us and is pleased and He makes Himself known to us.  He dwells with us in the person of the Holy Spirit and makes His presence known to us and through us.  Perhaps some of us hear His actual voice, others sense His words in our hearts, still others may receive what He wants us to know in mental pictures.  As we move toward our own Canaans, toward the purposes for which God has redeemed us, we need to know His presence with us.  Nothing less will sustain us.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Touching the Ark

The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting. This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things. When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles. And over the table of the bread of the Presence…they shall take a cloth of blue and cover the lampstand for the light…over the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue and cover it with a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles…all the vessels of the service that are used in the sanctuary and put them in a cloth of blue and cover them with a covering of goatskin and put them on the carrying frame.

  And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry.

   “And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil, with the oversight of the whole tabernacle and all that is in it, of the sanctuary and its vessels.”

  The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.”

  …All those who were listed of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chiefs of Israel listed, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come to do the service of ministry and the service of bearing burdens in the tent of meeting, those listed were 8,580. According to the commandment of the LORD through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying. Thus they were listed by him, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 4:1-49 ESV)

God has Moses number the Levites by their three clans, those who are ages 30-50 and can serve to carry the tabernacle.  They can only carry the parts and furniture of the tabernacle when Aaron and his sons have first wrapped them and put in the poles through the rings in the sides of the furniture.  This is to prevent them from dying because Yahweh will not allow anyone but the priests to touch or see the holy articles.

The priests alone, also, can deal with the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil.  What goes on in the tent portion of the tabernacle, the holy place segment and the most holy place segment, is hidden from view except to the priests alone.  This guards the sanctity of the sanctuary and highlights once again the absolute holiness of God.

Israel is learning how essential it is to approach God as He commands.  Later, when David tries to move the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and one of the men touches the ark as it slides off the cart (it is not being carried by the poles through its rings), the man is killed (2 Sam 6).  Israel has forgotten.

We too might forget.  Like David we might be carried away with desire to serve God and choose ways to do so that are not in agreement with His teachings and principles.  It is worth examining all that we do as a church, a family, and an individual, that we deem service to God, to make sure that it is not being done according to the human-ingenuity way of doing things and God’s way.  David was sincere but sincerely wrong in the way he did things and unnecessarily delayed what God in fact wanted him to do.  He should have checked with the Lord.