This week was full of action! At the beginning of the week we saw regulations set in place for Nazarite vows – a holy and sacred vow made to God. There were to be outward signs of the vow; no hair cutting (long hair on men was unacceptable in this culture, and having long hair http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8978313815155219024#editor/target=post;postID=6503105693114935195was a sign that a man was willing to bear society’s reproach for Jehovah) or eating food from grape vines (a symbol of natural joy). The person who made the vow was to be set apart.
Then we saw the implementation of the blessing which is heard at the end of many church services:
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: 25 The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: 26 The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. Num 6:24-26 (KJV)
We saw the tabernacle dedication gifts from the leaders and the consecration of the tabernacle. At the end of Chapter 7, we see:
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. Num 7:89 (ESV)
I am always awestruck by passages that remind me God spoke to Moses! Can you imagine the honor we will feel when we first hear the voice of the Living God? The people heard God speaking to Moses (but they didn’t hear words – we are told that they had heard thunderings), and yet they still complained! They knew that the Living God was with them in their travelings – and they heard Him speaking to Moses, yet their trust wasn’t great enough to keep from complaining about everything. How like them we are today! We don’t hear God in the physical sense, but we have His Word to guide us.
God reminds the people that they are to celebrate the Passover each year, and we see Him leading with a cloud and a pillar of fire. What a wondrous set of symbols! He knew what was happening in the wilderness. He knew when the camp should move or stay, and He made sure they could physically see how much He cared for them. And yet… they still complained!
At the commandment of the Lord they rested in the tents, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed: they kept the charge of the Lord, at the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses. Num 9:23 (KJV)
How well do we rest and journey by the commandment of the Lord? Do we listen to His voice and follow His commands, or do we just go our own way? Do we simply read through the Bible and go to church to “punch our card”, or do we read the Bible and reflect on God’s Word?
God begins to lead the people toward the Promised Land. They complain about food again – and God is angry. He gives them quail – more than they ever imagined they would see – and also strikes them with a plague. He both supplies and punishes. How loving He is to prove that He was completely capable of providing their wants AND needs, but showing them that they were disobedient in their lack of trust.
Moses sent scouts to check out the land. They were gone for 40 days. All the scouts told Moses how beautiful and abundant the land was. All but two said that the people inhabiting the land were too powerful for Israel to conquer. Only Joshua and Caleb said that they could conquer the land because they had God with them. As a result of their disbelief, God sentences the people to 40 years of wandering – one year for every day the scouts were gone – and promises that of the people over 20, only Joshua and Caleb will step foot into the Promised Land. Naturally, the people are now quite sad that they have been sentenced to the wilderness, and they tried to claim “yesterday’s blessing”:
And they rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, “Here we are. We will go up to the place that the Lord has promised, for we have sinned.” 41 But Moses said, “Why now are you transgressing the command of the Lord, when that will not succeed? 42 Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you, lest you be struck down before your enemies. 43 For there the Amalekites and the Canaanites are facing you, and you shall fall by the sword. Because you have turned back from following the Lord, the Lord will not be with you.” 44 But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed out of the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah. Num 14:40-45 (ESV)
Ever tried to “help God”? Ever tried to “take it back” and get back on track without accepting the consequences of your actions? That’s just what the people did, with disastrous results.
We saw a Mosaic prayer. It was a beautiful reminder that God has us in the palm of His hand and has cared for us since … forever! I found this verse particularly powerful:
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalms 90:12 (ESV)
Do you pray for wisdom? I know it’s not something that’s usually on my prayer list. Moses reminded God that our days are numbered by God Himself. He wanted to live in God’s peace, and not be consumed with God’s wrath. To do that, Moses knew that he would need wisdom.
Meanwhile, the people are complaining again. This time they plot to appoint a leader to return them to Egypt! How many times do we figuratively turn back to Egypt – from the perfect (and difficult to understand) ways of the Lord, back to the “charms” of sin? How many times have I been placed in a wilderness situation, allowed to wander about until I’ve learned the lesson that God has for me?
… and again they rebelled. This time it was Korah, Dathan and Abriam. Moses challenged them to come the next day to see who God would choose. God chose quite spectacularly! The earth opened around these three and swallowed them, their families and all their possessions. I think if I had seen that demonstration of God’s power, my lips would never again complain, but …
… again they complain – the very next day! God is very angry and sends a plague that kills 14,700 people.
We see Moses exhorting the people to worship God in Psalm 95.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 9 when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. Psalms 95:6-9 (ESV)
God then magnificently confirms Aaron and his descendants to be responsible for the priesthood. Aaron’s rod budded to show that he was God’s choice. His leadership had been questioned, and now God confirmed His selection. The budding of the rod was a type of Christ – from a piece of dead wood, God brought life and anointed the High Priest. Shortly after this, Aaron dies.
And unsurprisingly, the people complain again. This time, God brings a plague of snakes and many die. God tells Moses to make a brass snake image and tell the people to look at it for healing. Why a serpent?
The serpent is a symbol of sin judged; brass speaks of the divine judgment, as in the brazen altar Ex 27:2 and self-judgment, as in the laver of brass. The brazen serpent is a type of Christ "made sin for us"—Scofield's Study Notes
And finally, the people have something to sing about! All is well in their world – they are led to Beer, where God gives them water, and instead of complaining, they sing!
Lots and lots of travels … and then we find the story of Balaam.
Balaam was a prophet for hire. His type of prophet is referred to as “the way of Balaam” (2 Peter 2:15). The “error of Balaam” (Jude 1:11) is that he could only see morality through man’s eyes. He symbolizes false teachers who speak what the people want to hear, and the “doctrine of Balaam” (Rev. 2:14) refers to his suggestion that Balak corrupt the people with food sacrificed to idols and sexual sins. Balaam represents conformity to the world’s standards rather than God’s. But he was unwilling to curse the Israelites! After three tries, God tells Balaam that he can go to Balak, yet he puts an angel in his way. This shows God’s permissive will. We are all faced with choices, and some of the choices even seem “righteous” or “God’s way”. Upon closer examination we discover that the way we chose, although godly on the surface, is really selfish or self-willed. That’s what Balaam did. His travel to Balak is more self-serving than God serving (22:32)! When the donkey spoke, Balaam seemed unsurprised. Did you find that a little disconcerting? Lol. After the donkey incident, God tells Balaam to continue, but to only say what he’s told to say. Balaam stands up for God’s word and refuses to curse Israel.
Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you. Num 24:9 (ESV)
But now Israel is set into sexual sin with the Moabites. As a result, they also begin to worship Moabite gods. God’s response is to send a plague which killed another 24,000 people. One priest was very zealous in solving the problem, and God rewards Phineas with a covenant.
Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, 13 and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’ ” Num 25:12-13 (ESV)
A covenant of peace. What a wonderful promise God gave to His faithful servant.
God calls for a new census. Among the 601,730 men and 23,000 priests, the only people remaining of those who left Egypt were Joshua and Caleb. Joshua is commissioned by God.
We can learn a lot from the wanderings of the Israelites which can be applied to our own lives. Every time they stepped toward God, He showed them rewards. When they rebelled and turned their faith to other gods, He punished them. But even though Israel turned away over and over again, God kept His covenant to bring them into their land. We can always be sure that God will keep His promises, reward our good deeds (we have crowns and a home in heaven!) and punish our sins.
Are you enjoying your walk through God’s Word? Let me know how it has helped you in 2012. We can read the Bible in 2012 – together!