Saturday, April 30, 2011

Numbers 32 - Tribes of the Transjordan

LINK: Numbers 32

BACKGROUND

The Reubenites and Gadites wanted to settle in the land east of the Jordan (Gilead) because it was suitable for livestock, but Moses assumed they wanted to get out of helping Israel conquer the rest of the promised land. They assured Moses of their desire to help the rest of Israel settle, and Moses promised that they would receive it if they crossed over the Jordan to help with the fight. He also adds the half-tribe of Manasseh in this promise (32:33).

APPLICATION

Moses jumped to conclusions in the beginning of this chapter. He thought that they were not going to help the rest of Israel out and were being selfish in their desire to stay east of the Jordan. This is a challenge to me to always hear people (including my children) out and get all the facts before I jump to the wrong conclusion about their motives. How about you? Do you ever jump to conclusions without hearing people out?

PRAYER

Lord, thank You that You weigh the thoughts and motives of every heart. Give us discernment in how we deal with others when making important plans and decisions. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Numbers 30 & 31 - Vows and the Midianite War,

LINK: Numbers 30 & 31

BACKGROUND


Numbers 30 - Vows

A vow was a promise not to DO something. A pledge/oath was a promise to NOT DO something. This chapter covers the importance of making personal vows and when women can be released from them.
Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words. When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?  (Ecclesiastes 5:1-6) 

Numbers 31 - Judgment on the Midianites


The Midianites had led Israel into sin (25:16-18). You might recall that the Israelite men engaged in sexual relations with Moabite women as this was part of Canaanite fertility rites (Deuteronomy 23:17-18; 1 Kings 14:22-24; Numbers 25:2) that eventually led the Israelites into the worship of Baal and a man bringing a Midianite woman into his family and before Moses. The Midianites were closely associated with the Moabites, but the Moabites were kinsman to the Israelites through Lot. Midianites were related to Moses through marriage to Zipporah, the daughter of the priest of Midian, not kinsman.

There is no mention of an attack on the Moabites here even though they were involved with the worship of Baal Peor too. They were not allowed to wage war against their kinsman. The incident of Baal Peor is mentioned in Deuteronomy 4:3-4; Psalm 106:26-29; Hosea 9:10, and 1 Corinthians 10:8.

This "holy war" was led by the LORD Himself with the goal of total annihilation and taking of materials for Him.  The total annihilation included every Midianite soldier, the five kings, and Balaam the prophet (Numbers 22-24), but it did not include the women, children, and animals (31:9) until Moses reasoned that the women were just as responsible for the sin at Baal Peor. So, the non-virgin women and boys were killed.


REFLECTION


I made a silly vow when I was 21 years old that I struggled with fulfilling because it was a very impulsive vow! It kept me bound up in legalism for a long time. I should have heeded these words of Jesus:
Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, "You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord." But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, "Yes," yes or "No," no; anything beyond these is of evil.  (Matthew 5:33-37)

PRAYER


Lord, let our yes be yes and our no be no. Amen.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Numbers 29 - Review for a New Generation

LINK: Numbers 29


BACKGROUND

This is the continuation of the summary of the sacrificial requirement started in Numbers 28. This new generation needed this review and so do we! The sacrifices were rituals that continually reminded the people of the absolute necessity of shed blood as the basis for acceptance by God.

This is essentially a review of Leviticus 23. Here is a previous post if you need a refresher course on the significance of each of these feasts:


The Feasts of Israel


Also, refer to the Feasts Chart and the chart from yesterday's post.


REFLECTION/APPLICATION


The Feast of Trumpets, Feast of Tabernacles, and Day of Atonement were holidays that God provided as a time for the refreshment of the mind and body and renewal of one's commitment to Him.


How do you feel right now physically, mentally, and spiritually? If you feel tired and far away from Him so that you cannot hear His voice, maybe it is time for a "spiritual holiday." May I heartily suggest taking time to separate yourself from the daily grind to rest your body and renew your commitment to God very soon!


I recommend the article "How to Spend a Day in Prayer" and the book Wilderness Time: A Guide for Spiritual Retreat by Emilie Griffin for structure in doing this.


PRAYER


Lord, thank You that You think of absolutely everything! You thought of the fact that Israel would need reminders of You daily, weekly, and throughout the year. Lord, help us to come away with You on a regular basis not only during our daily devotional time, but also for extended times throughout the year in order to give 100% of our focus totally to You so that we might renew our relationship with You. I pray for each of us to be able to schedule a time to do that sometime this year. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Numbers 28 - Offerings

LINK: Numbers 28

BACKGROUND

Many offerings were required. First there were the daily burnt offerings that had been commanded at Mount Sinai (Leviticus 1). We will talk about the reasons why they were given tomorrow. They were a tribute to the LORD.

Next there were the Sabbath offerings. It consisted of the regular burnt offerings above and two lambs a year old, and drink and grain offerings.

Then there was the "enhanced" burnt offering every first of the month. Two young bulls, one ram, and seven male lambs a year old were given with a grain and drink offering.

In addition, there was the New Moon festival offerings and the offerings for the appointed feasts.

I am going to make this simple and put a chart from The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament that maps out the offerings for Numbers 28 and Numbers 29.



REFLECTION

Jane, from China, and I met today and discussed Romans 12:1-8.  We particularly zeroed in on verses 1 and 2:


Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
She asked me to explain this whole concept of a "living sacrifice."  I said that in Old Testament times, when they offered the animal sacrifices, the animals were already dead; but we are the sacrifices, and we are very much alive with a will of our own.  So, it is a daily choice to surrender our will to His. The good news is that you do not have to go through all that daily ritual with all the killing of animals. The perceived bad news is that WE must be the sacrifices, and you know what they say about living sacrifices: they are always trying to crawl off the altar!  They did not have that kind of problem with the Old Testament sacrifices because they were deader than a doornail.

The challenge is placing us and our will on that altar of fire. It can sometimes be uncomfortable and painful, but in the end, our wills are burned away, and only the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God remains! That is our daily decision, and it is a whole lot easier and less bloody than the Old Testament way!

So hop on that altar and allow God to burn away your will. I guarantee that you will be consumed in the fires of God's love!

APPLICATION

Keep reading and daily offer up your will to Him! I try to pray Romans 12:1-2 daily.

PRAYER

We offer ourselves up as a pleasing sacrifice to You because of the mercy that You have extended to us in Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Numbers 27 - God's Care for the Daughters and the Appointment of a New Leader

LINK: Numbers 27

BACKGROUND


God loves women, and he wanted the daughters of Zelophehad to be provided for if there were no sons. He is good.

The second part of this chapter is about God's man to continue leadership of the Israelites, Joshua. He was a man who had the Spirit and was to be a shepherd to the sheep of Israel.

REFLECTION


This passage tells me how important it is to raise up leaders. You may be in a leadership position right now. It is never too late to pray about who will take your place, listen to God, select God's choice, and start developing them as leaders so you can work yourself out of a job!

My desire is to raise up women who are leaders of other women in discipleship. I just had the most encouraging time with a woman today. Two years ago, she realized she had gifts in this area, and she asked me to come alongside her and mentor her. Shortly after meeting with her, she started meeting with someone for discipleship, but that woman was too busy. It was somewhat discouraging, but we kept praying and listening to God together.

This last year, she started meeting with someone, and she was able to learn more about discipleship by dong a Bible study with a college student. It was not a natural fit, but she still grew in her ability to disciple.

Two weeks ago, she told me that she felt led to encourage some women via email after spending time in Isaiah 43. Today she told me that as a result, one of the women responded to that email and asked if they could start meeting. Then, another woman in her Bible study asked her to start meeting. On top of all that, the girl that was too busy two years ago asked if they could start meeting again!

It is so encouraging to see women grow in their ability to lead others!
And the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men (and women!) who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)
APPLICATION

Who are you training up and investing in today? If you don't know how to do that, you might want to find a "Moses" to help you!

PRAYER


Lord, thank You for Moses' fine example of leadership and leadership development. May we listen to Your voice about who can help us develop as leaders and who we can invest in to help too. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Numbers 26 - Recounting Israel

LINK: Numbers 26

BACKGROUND


The census is repeated because almost 40 years had passed since the last one. Of those counted every man and woman over 20 years - except Caleb and Joshua - had died. Therefore, a new generation would be fighting the wars during the conquest of the Promised Land. More than 38,000 people (16:49; 25:9) had been killed by God's judgments. You can see that the clan of Pallu is singled out in 26:8-10 as those who had rebelled during Korah's rebellion (16:1). Despite the losses due to judgments, the total number was 601,730! That is a miracle. :)

Following the recounting, they cast lots to determine where the different tribes would settle in Canaan. This was done so that no tribe would grumble about the quality of their land. This was probably by the Urim and Thummin of the high priest (Exodus 28:30).

The Levites had no territory. This is why they were not numbered in the census.

REFLECTION


Moses and Eleazar took a census in Numbers 26, and we will read that David numbered Israel in 1 Chronicles 21. God told Moses and Eleazar to do it, but Satan moved David to number Israel.

Outwardly, they were both doing the exact same thing: taking a census of Israel. Inwardly, there were different things going on. David was doing it because of the security he put in his wealth and power and Satan capitalized on David's pride. Moses and Eleazar were doing it because it was part of God's plan for the future, and God told them to do it.

There is a key, simple principle here: If the Lord tells you to do something, by all means, do it! If He does not tell you to do something, do not do it; even if it seems good and beneficial on the outside and for the Kingdom! God knows your inside motives. He also knows the plans He has for you (Jeremiah 29:11).

I have seen, over and over again, people do good things for God or try to build ministries in the flesh versus having God direct them toward doing it. This includes me! I have learned the hard way that a course of action may be good, but if God does not direct it, it is not His best plan, and He will not bless it. In fact, it may result in His discipline.

How do we know God's best plan? This requires cultivating a heart that is in tune and listening to the Lord's direction and whispers on a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis.

My desire above all else is to be so in tune with God that I hear His voice and respond in obedience to it and learn to discern between God's voice and the voice of the enemy. In 1 Chronicles 21:1, Satan moved David's heart. How much he wants to foil the plans of those who God wants to use for His glory! So, along with that desire to hear God's voice is an awareness when you have that desire, you become a target of the enemy. So, putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-19) should be a part of our daily devotion!

APPLICATION


Is it your desire to cultivate a listening heart to the Lord's direction for your life? It takes time, but it is time well spent. Do not forget to "armor up" in the process too.

Spend some dedicated time, with pen and paper in hand, listening to the Lord. 

PRAYER


I have already had this hymn as a prayer, but I love it so much. "Take time to be Holy" talks of that communion with God. I give it to you for your prayerful meditation.

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.

Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Numbers 25 - The Seduction of Israel and the Jealousy of God

LINK: Numbers 25

BACKGROUND

The Moabites could not accomplish much with Israel by war, but they took a more manipulative tactic by seducing them into idolatry. (And of ALL people, Balaam was the one who suggested they do it! See Numbers 31:16 and Revelation 2:14!) It started out with sexual immorality with Moabite women. Sacred prostitution was common in Canaanite culture. This eventually led down the slippery slope to the worship of the Moabite gods.

God is a jealous God, and he wanted all the guilty men killed. Amid God's judgment, Zimri brought a Midianite (descended from Midian, son of Abraham, by Keturah, Genesis 25:1, 2.) woman into the camp (probably for sex). In a zealous response for God's honor, Phinehas killed them both. By doing so, he made atonement for those God was killing as a result of their idolatry, and the plague was stopped.

God honored Phinehas and his descendants because he was, per many translations, "zealous" for God's honor. The New American Standard Bible says that he was "jealous with [God's] jealousy among them,'" and I think that gets more to the heart of the Hebrew word.

Because of this incident, the Israelites were to treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them, and we will see this in Numbers 31.

REFLECTION


For you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)

You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God. (Exodus 20:5)


Other than the two references above, this incident in Numbers 25 is the first time God mentions "my jealousy" in connection with an incident of idolatry. So, I think this is very significant.

The Hebrew word for jealousy in 25:11 is qana'. It expresses a "very strong emotion whereby some quality or possession of the object is desired by the subject . . . zeal for one's own property"
(The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament).

The central meaning relates to "jealousy" in the marriage relationship. God is, essentially, Israel's husband and idolatry is spiritual adultery. Adultery in the human marriage relationship was punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10). The same was true in the spiritual relationship between God and His people. Sadly, we will see spiritual adultery committed repeatedly as we continue to make our journey through the Old Testament.

A few years ago, Oprah made some comments about God jealousy that has caused an uproar. She obviously does not understand what the jealousy of God means. We often look at it in human terms and see jealousy as a humanly negative emotion. It is not so with God.

Here is a clip of what Oprah said:

God Being a Jealous God and Oprah


God is not jealous OF Oprah, but He is jealous FOR Oprah. He wants her whole heart for her benefit!

The Scarlet Thread and New Testament Link

Paul said:
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. (2 Corinthians 11:2) 
He was exhorting the Corinthians to let nothing distract them from pure, unadulterated devotion to Christ in this passage.

APPLICATION

Is there anything that is leading you into spiritual adultery? Are you purely devoted to your one Husband?

PRAYER

Lord, rip out the idols in our lives so that we might be simply and purely devoted to You. Help us not to relax our standards in order to satisfy our desires. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Numbers 23 & 24 - The Oracles of Balaam

LINK: Numbers 23 & 24

BACKGROUND

Balaam asked Balak to build seven altars. This was a sacred number among many of the nations and religions at that time.

There are five major poetic oracles from 23:7 - 24:24. God met Balaam and gave him a message for Balak. He could only speak what God had given. Here is the division of the oracles:
1) 23:7-12 
2) 23:13-26 
3) 23:27-24:14 
4) 24:15-19 
5) 24:20-25
See if you can summarize the gist of each one.

Balak's plot backfired because Balaam blessed Israel and foretold that Israel would be prosperous.

The Scarlet Thread of Redemption


"A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel." (24:17)

This refers to the coming Messiah, Jesus. It is believed to be the prophecy that led the Magi to travel to Israel in search of the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1, 2). Imagine that, a sorcerer predicting the Messiah. God is so sovereign; He can use anyone to accomplish what He has purposed.


REFLECTION


I love this story because it tells us that God is in control! 

God was sovereign because He reigned even over a pagan king and pagan sorcerer. He is constantly at work to accomplish His purposes.

God is sovereign in our lives as well. I remember being with my Bible study leader in college doing ordinary day to day activities. She would often point out God's sovereignty in the little things. As a result, I got in the habit of "being on the lookout" for His sovereignty too. Consequently, I try to pass this on to the women I am investing in. I often say, "God was sovereign today; mark it on your calendar!"

I know sometimes it is difficult to see Him at work in our present lives, but "marking it on your calendars" by keeping a journal of "Sovereignty Sightings" really helps us see His sovereignty in our past to help us believe that He is in control in the present and future.

APPLICATION


You might like to try journaling about two examples of God's sovereignty in your life over the past few months. Remember them and keep them for future reference.

It is also helpful to do a timeline of your life to see His sovereign foundations. I was amazed that when I first did this exercise, I saw how He has used even the most painful things for His glory. 

Here is a copy of the handout I use for this exercise: 

Time-line Reflection Questions

PRAYER


We praise You today for Your sovereignty. Help us to be mindful that You are sovereign in our lives. Open our eyes to see Your hand in the ordinary. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Numbers 22 - Balaam and the Donkey

LINK: Numbers 22


Numbers 22:1 - 36:13 covers the second approach to the Promise Land. The old generation had died, and the new generation was on the edge of entering. There were neighboring nations that were standing in the way. Numbers 22-25 is the story of Balaam and the Moabites.


BACKGROUND


Balak, king of Moab, was terrified of Israel after he had seen what they had done to the Amorites. Actually, he had nothing to fear because the Moabites and Ammonites were descendants of the sons of Lot, Abraham's nephew (Genesis 19:26-37). Consequently, the Israelites would have not attacked their kinsmen, but he responded in fear.

In that fear, Balak invited Balaam, a diviner or prophet, to rain curses down on Israel. His city, Pethor, is believed to be near the Euphrates River and close to the city of Mari. Archaeological discoveries in Mari have revealed that there was a cult of prophets and seers. One of the roles of the prophet was to pronounce curses on enemies. Before Balaam could do that, he had to contact Israel's God.


God appeared to Balaam and told him not to go. God had revealed himself to unbelievers before: Abimelech, king of Gerar (Genesis. 20:6-7), Pharaoh (Genesis 41:25).  Next year, we will read about God revealing Himself in dreams and visions to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:1-18). Even though Balaam did not want to go, Balak persisted, and God told Balaam to go and bless Israel instead of curse.


So, why, if God gave him permission to go, was God angry and why did the Angel of the LORD (a theophany of the Lord) block Balaam's path? 2 Peter 2:15 says that Balaam "loved the wages of unrighteousness." Commentators believe God was not angry with Balaam's going but with the motive behind his going, perhaps greed rather than the glory of Israel's God? God had instructed Balaam to "do only what I tell you to do." Apparently, Balaam was not doing that, and he needed a "course correction."


The LORD caused the donkey to speak, and Balaam did not get who it was until the LORD opened his eyes and gave him spiritual perception to see the Angel of the LORD. He responded by falling on his face, repenting, and listening to God's rebuke. Again, he was told, ". . . speak only what I tell you."



REFLECTION


How often do we hear God's voice and set out on a course of action but not listen to His voice along the way? I do it more often than I probably realize. I had a house guest last week who said, "We would all be better off to listen to God more and speak about God less."  Good words.

May we all be sensitive to the voice of God and speak and do only what He tells us.


APPLICATION



Take some time to surrender your plans and purposes for today and listen to His voice. Do not be afraid. He will speak. Just listen and obey. He makes it very simple.

Remember God Guides.


 PRAYER



Lord, what would you have us do today? For the glory of Your name. Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Numbers 21 - A Snake on a Pole

LINK: Numbers 21

BACKGROUND

As the Israelites marched to the Promised Land, they experienced opposition from the Canaanites, Amorites, and Bashanites, and God gave them victories; but these victories were certainly soured by the Israelites constant complaining!

In order to go around Edom (21:4), Moses went along the route to the Red Sea, but the people grew impatient and spoke against God and Moses by complaining about the water and food. Bad idea. God sent poisonous snakes that bit the people, and they began to die until the people admitted their sin and asked Moses to pray. So, Moses prayed, and the Lord told Moses to make a snake and put it up on a pole so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and live. The desert of Sinai has a variety of snakes. A bite by a poisonous snake often meant a slow death with intense suffering.

The Scarlet Thread of Redemption

There is a fuller and deeper meaning to the bronze snake. In John 3:14-15, Jesus said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life." Jesus explained that just as the Israelites, by faith, looked at the pole for healing from physical sickness and death, we can be saved from the spiritual death that is a result of sin's poison by looking to Jesus' death on the cross and believing, by faith, that Jesus is the way to eternal life.


REFLECTION


The whole wilderness wanderings story and the numerous incidents of complaining cause me to evaluate areas of my life where I might be whining and/or complaining. As a follower of my husband and the leaders over me at my church, am I a weight to my leaders with my griping and complaining or am a I a wing, making their job as leaders easier?

I have been in situations where everything that came out of certain people's mouths were complaints and criticisms. As a leader, it was not fun! I feel Moses' pain.

As a parent, I want to teach my kids to be supportive followers. We have had this motto in our household since they could first understand words: "Weavers are not Whiners."

We have basically had zero tolerance for whining and complaining with our kids. It does not mean that they cannot appeal and question decisions and call us on things they see in our lives, but we have tried to teach them to do it in a respectful way that honors and glorifies God. We have seen this modeled by Moses in Numbers 11:10-15. We want to teach our kids to be good followers.

Israel did not have a good heart attitude in their constant questioning of and complaining about Moses' (and ultimately God's) leadership.

According to the Life Application Bible, Psalm 78 gives several reasons for the Israelites' complaining:
  1. Their spirits were not faithful to God (78:8)
  2. They refused to obey God's law (78:10)
  3. They forgot the miracles God had done for them (78:11)
This was the 7th and final complaint by the Israelites in the book of Numbers. The other incidents of complaining were 11:1, 11:4, 14:1-4, 16:3, 16:41, 20:2, 3; and 21:5. Whew! I'm glad that's over!

APPLICATION

How are you doing in the whining and complaining department these days? How are you doing in the areas where you are following? Are you a wing or a weight to your leaders?

Meditate on a review of Israel's history from the slavery in Egypt to David's reign in Psalm 78. This was told over and over again to each generation so that they would not forget God and his faithfulness. Have you forgotten God's faithfulness?

Do you have a journal of God's faithfulness in your life? This is one of the top five reasons I have kept a journal for over 30 years. It is a written record of how God has "brought me safe thus far" and been faithful through thick and thin.

Next time you doubt or want to complain about what God has not done in your life, recall what he has done by writing it down. Then, end with a time of grateful thanksgiving!

PRAYER

Lord, help us to follow You with our whole heart knowing that You are a faithful God who we can follow without complaint, knowing that You have our best interest at heart. 

Thank You that we can look up to Jesus as our suffering servant who paid the penalty for our sin so that we might be whole and healed from the poison of our sin. We pray this in His name. Amen.

Here is a Michael Card song called "Lift up the Suffering Symbol" regarding the bronze snake:

They grew tired of bread form heaven
And of Moses and of God
They longed to live the life of slavery once again
So they muttered and they grumbled
And they whimpered and they whined;
With each faithless word,
sank deeper into sin

He took the pen of pain once more
To write upon their hearts
The lesson they had been so slow to learn
But writing in the sand, the fiery serpents came to call
With a holy message and a bite that burned

Chorus:
Lift up the suffering symbol
And place it high upon a pole
Tell the children to look up and be made whole

So Moses made a metal snake,
And nailed it to a pole
Sent out the saving word so they would know
That the symbol of their suffering was now the focus of their faith
and with a faithful glance, the healing power would flow

In time the brazen serpent became an idol in the land
And they left the living God to worship clay
When they forgot their suffering
Soon true faith had disappeared
So some idolize a brazen cross today

Chorus(X4)

Tell the children to look up and be made whole

P.S. Isn't it funny that we ended up talking about snakes two days in a row?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Numbers 20 - Death, Disobedience, and Not "Picking Up the Snake"

LINK: Numbers 20

BACKGROUND

This was the 40th year of the wilderness wandering of the Israelites. We don't know what happened between the second year when Israel was sentenced to wander for 40 years (14:34) and the death of Miriam.

Even after 40 years, the Israelites were still complaining to Moses and Aaron! This time it was about the lack of water. Moses and Aaron's response was to fall face down before the LORD. Then, the glory of the LORD appeared, and they were instructed to take the staff and speak to the rock at Meribah. Moses took the staff just as the LORD commanded, but he did not speak to the rock and stuck it instead. The LORD was not pleased, and his words were swift to Moses and Aaron:
Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites,you will not bring this community into the land I give them.  (20:12)
Ancient Levant routes
By Briangotts at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons
Following this, Edom refused to let Israel pass through their territory along the king's highway. The king's highway was a route that passed from the Red Sea (Gulf of Aqabah) north to Damascus via the Edomite city of Sela (later known as Petra). See the red line on the map. 

Note that Moses appealed to the Edomites as brothers (20:14) because they were descendants of Esau who was Jacob's brother (Genesis 36). Moses' petitions were to no avail, and Israel turned away and departed from Kadesh and arrived at Mount Hor which is believed to be Jebel Harun, northwest of Petra. Since Moses did not take the king's highway, he probably went north up the Arabah fault to the southeast corner of the Dead Sea so he could bypass Edom. Here are pictures of the King's Highway.

They climbed Mount Hor where Aaron died and his garments were transferred to his son Eleazar. Remember Aaron was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of what happened at Meribah earlier in this chapter. Israel mourned for 30 days.


REFLECTION

Moses and the Rock

I had a long talk with God during my walk this morning knowing that I would have to comment on Moses and the rock. I do not have answers. I have always struggled with the fact that Moses lived such an exemplary life of service to God only to see one impulsive act exclude him from entering the Promised Land. It has always seemed so harsh and unfair! I'm sure most of us would say "Give the guy a break!"

My friend Brian and I wrote a song in college (really it was mostly Brian's song, and I added a few words and variations here and there) about it. One of the lines went like this: "Moses, never touched the land/Doubting in his heart, the purpose of God's plan."

God's plan was for the water to come forth out of the rock with just words, much like how He created the heavens and the earth - by His word. PERIOD. Just as we have learned thus far in our readings, His instructions were to be followed in every detail because He was holy; no variations were to be carried out. Moses was a leader and model to the Israelites. He disobeyed God's specific instructions and even indicated that he was part of the water coming out of the rock by proclaiming "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" There was no "we." It was only God who could bring water out of the rock.


James 3:1 says, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." God's standards for Moses were very high (see Luke 12:48). So, he could not be let off.

Moses Not Choosing to Conflict with the Edomites

There is a practical life lesson in Numbers 20 when Moses chose to go another way toward the Promised Land rather than engage in a battle with the Edomites.

The timing of this passage was so providential because it comes on the heels of a discussion that I had with a friend on the way back from the beach yesterday. We were talking about when to engage in confrontation and when to just let it go (Proverbs 19:11). She used this really great analogy of a snake on the ground, and how if we pick up a snake, things can get pretty messy. She said that sometimes, she has to tell herself, "Don't pick up the snake" when it comes to potential conflict in relationships. I loved her word picture. I know some of you are conflict avoiders and run away from snakes all the time, but some of us (like my friend and I) are not conflict avoiders, and we need to learn this principle! The tricky part is to know when it is important for us to pick up the snake and when it is important for us to leave it be. We concluded that it required much prayer and listening to God!

In this situation, Moses chose not to pick up the snake.

The Life Application Bible says this about his choice:
Moses tried to negotiate and reason with the Edomite king. When nothing worked, he was left with two choices – force a conflict or avoid it. Moses knew there would be enough barriers in the days and months ahead. There was no point in adding another one unnecessarily. Sometimes conflict is unavoidable. Sometimes, however, it isn’t worth the consequences. Open warfare may seem heroic, courageous, and even righteous, but it is not always the best choice. We should consider Moses’ example and find another way to solve our problems, even if it is harder for us to do.  (Life Application Bible, p.248)
APPLICATION

Are you following God's way in every detail? Where are "little compromises" sneaking in that inhibit your witness to those who are following you?

Are you one to pick up the snake or run away from them? Here is a wonderful tool to help you evaluate when to engage in conflict and when to "pick up the snake": The Slippery Slope

Where do you usually land on the slope in relationships?

PRAYER

Lord, how good it is that we can learn from both Moses' good and bad choices. Help us to learn from his life the things that You desire for us to learn today. We pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Numbers 17-19 - Priests and Levites

LINK: Numbers 17-19 
(read this over the next two days)

BACKGROUND

Numbers 17 - Aaron's priesthood was confirmed by the budding rod. This was a miraculous confirmation after the challenge in Numbers 16. 

Numbers 18 - The primary duties of the priests and Levites were reiterated. The Lord was their inheritance. Therefore, they would receive no allotment from Joshua when they entered the Promised Land. They would receive tithes from the people as their source of income.

Numbers 19 - Contact with a dead person was a special defilement. The Red Heifer was a special sacrifice for such a defilement.

REFLECTION

I liked this convicting reflection from The Daily Walk (February 2008):
Imagine for a moment that God has told you that you will no longer be permitted to hold down a paying job or own property. Instead, you are to spend your full time in His service, and your compensation will be whatever your countrymen give to the Lord. Would that comfort you or concern you? 
According to 18:20-21, those were basically God's instructions to Aaron and his descendants. Your local church today is in many ways a faith ministry like the priesthood of Aaron. You, like the Israelites, have been commanded to support the work of the Lord so God can be magnified in your community. Which word best describes your giving habits to your church: a comfort or a concern to those ministering to you? Now read Acts 20:35 and enjoy a blessing this week. 
APPLICATION

It is more blessed to give than to receive. 
(Acts 20:35)

What is your conviction about giving to the Lord's work?

PRAYER

Lord, help us to remember our local church and give to the work of the ministry there by our prayers and our giving. Bless our pastors today and thank You for their service. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Numbers 16 - Korah's Rebellion

LINK: Numbers 16

BACKGROUND

Here we have another rebellion similar to the one by Miriam and Aaron in Exodus 12, but this one is led by Korah who leads Dathan, Abiram, On, and about 250 other "men of renown" among the people of Israel.

Their complaint: "We are ALL holy. Why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" It is interesting to note that Aaron was one of the complainers in Exodus 12, but he has now become the recipient of the complaints along with Moses.

Korah was a descendant of Kohath from among the sons of Levi. Therefore, his tribe had a very important role that God spelled out very specifically (Numbers 4). Somehow, that was not enough. Perhaps Kohath thought that the Aaronic priest would have the same perks as the Egyptian priesthood for this was the only priesthood in which Kohath would have been familiar. In Egyptian culture, the priest had great wealth and political influence. He might have thought that Moses and Aaron had similar ambitions, but Moses defended his innocence vehemently (16:15). Moses was the leader only because God had appointed him as such. He was a humble servant of God and not after power, money, or control.

Similar to the situation with Miriam and Aaron in Numbers 12, Moses allowed the Lord to do the judging, knowing that the rebellion was not against him but against the Lord. The Lord was angry, but Moses and Aaron prayed that God would not wipe out the entire congregation because of the rebellion of a small group of men. Moses did not need to defend his God-given position. God swiftly adjudicated and the earth swallowed the usurpers up and Dathan and Abiram's families. (Sorry for you compassionate readers. This can be hard to swallow.) Interestingly enough, Korah's family was not entirely wiped out (Numbers 26:11).

Fire also destroyed the 250 men who joined the revolt as they offered up their incense. Then, the LORD instructed Moses to instruct Eleazar to hammer the censers into sheets and cover the altar of sacrifice as a memorial that established the Aaronic priesthood for the future. This would be a lasting reminder for future challenges to the priests.

You would think that such a devastating experience the day before would have silenced the people forever, but the next day they blamed the deaths on Moses and Aaron! Again the LORD was swift in judgment by sending a plague. Again, Moses interceded by telling Aaron to recover his censer and light incense to make atonement for them. He averted the plague but not before 14,700 people had already died.

REFLECTION

Poor Korah. If only he had been content in the special purpose God had designed specifically for him! He had the important job of being a tabernacle assistant. The priests could not function without him doing this job.

So often, we can look at other people and desire the notoriety and influence that their gifts, talents, and abilities produce. Yet, God has designed each of us for a specific purpose and no gifts are better or more important than another (See 1 Corinthians 12). We were all designed to fit together as one bold and beautiful body of Christ. When we all function according to how we were created and designed, people do not see the individuals, they see Christ's body! There is no room for jealousy and competition when we see it in that light.

When we look at another person's "garden," it can lead us to inappropriate greed and ambition. I have seen over and over again in ministry where people want to be leaders or teachers, and this was not in their gift mix. They spent many years thinking that their worth was wrapped up in their role in a position of power and competed and jockeyed for position and influence when God had already made them worthwhile and wanted them to function in their gifting and abilities. What a waste of time and energy. What a diversion from true kingdom purposes!

God has designed us and made us for a very special purpose, and we need to keep seeking God's face on what that might be rather than rebelling against God's will and wasting our time and energy comparing ourselves to and competing with others in the body of Christ.


New Testament Cross-Reference

When Jude is talking about the danger of false teachers, he mentions Korah:

Woe to them! they have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion. (Jude 11)


We have already studied Cain, and we will get to Balaam in Numbers 22-24. All three of these stories illustrate attitudes of pride, selfishness, jealousy, greed, lust for power, and disregard of God's will.

What lessons we can learn from them to apply to our own lives!

APPLICATION

Are you comparing yourself to others and not being content in God's special purposes for you? Meditate on 1 Corinthian 12 and the functioning of the gifts within the body.

Do you know your S.H.A.P.E. (Spiritual Gifts, Heart Passions, Abilities, Personality, Experience)? Here is a test you can take online to help you begin to assess this: http://hillsdalefmc.net/grow/spiritual-gifts-and-s-h-a-p-e-survey/ 

It might be a start to understanding more about God's design for you!


PRAYER


Thank You Lord that You have designed us for a special purpose. Help us to be content in that purpose rather than desire what others have. Thank You that we are all part of a body and You have made us all to work together for Your glory! Help all our ambition to be only for YOU! Amen.