Numbers 27-28

A Passion For the People

“Let GOD, the God of the spirits of everyone living, set a man over this community to lead them, to show the way ahead and bring them back home so GOD’s community will not be like sheep without a shepherd. – Numbers 27 :16-17 MSG

After all his years of faithful service, Moses was going to find himself unable to go into the Promised Land. As a result of him striking the rock in anger in the wilderness of Zin (Numbers 20), Moses was going to be denied entrance into the land. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have always thought of this as unfair punishment. Here was a guy who had led the people of God for four decades. He had put his life on the line on more than one occasion. He had stood before Pharaoh and demanded the release of the people of Israel. He had done everything God had commanded him to do. And now, because of one momentary lapse of judgment, he was going to be denied access to the very place he had been longing for all those years. But according to Moses’ own pen, his crime was more than just a fit of uncontrolled anger, it was considered rebellion against God. God told him, “…you rebelled against my command to show me as holy before their eyes over the water” (Numbers 27:14 NET). Rather than listen to God, Moses did things his way. He was angry and put out with the people of God. He showed his anger by striking the rock and in doing so, He disrespected and disobeyed God. This was a serious crime in God’s eyes. He was God’s chosen leader and as such, he could not lead the people of God while dishonoring God with his actions. So God made the decision to deny Moses entrance into the Promised Land.

Now, if I had been Moses, I would have responded in anger, resentment, disappointment, and even a fair amount of self-pity. I would have complained. I would have argued. I would have presented a long list of positive character traits and accomplishments that stacked the deck in my favor. I would have reminded God of all the good things I had done on His behalf. Or worse yet, I would have sulked and said, “Fine, then I’m done here. Find somebody else to do Your dirty work.” But Moses did none of those things. He continued to lead. He continued to obey. He did not defend himself or argue with God. He accepted the decision of God. And He continued to care for the people of God. When God reminds Moses that He is going to die in the wilderness (Numbers 27:13) because of his sin, the first words out of Moses’ mouth reflected his care for the people of God. “Let GOD, the God of the spirits of everyone living, set a man over this community to lead them, to show the way ahead and bring them back home so GOD’s community will not be like sheep without a shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17 MSG). Moses was more concerned for the people of God than he was for himself. He was the consummate shepherd. In spite of all the hassles the people had given him over the years, Moses loved them, and he wanted to make sure that they were properly cared for. So he asks God to appoint a man who will lead them, guide them, and care for them like a true shepherd. Moses’ greatest fear was that the people would be left without a shepherd. Aaron was already gone. And there was no one left to lead.

In Moses we see the true heart of a shepherd. Self-sacrificing and other-oriented. He cared more for the people of God than he did for himself. He did not have time for a pity party. He was too busy worrying about the care of his flock. Now, lest we paint Moses to be some icon of virtue and selflessness we could never succeed in emulating, the book of Deuteronomy reminds us of his humanness. Moses was desperate to go into the land. He had waited for it all his life. He even asked God for a reprieve. He prayed that God would change his mind and allow him to at least be able to cross over and see the land first hand. “O Sovereign LORD, I am your servant. You have only begun to show me your greatness and power. Is there any god in heaven or on earth who can perform such great deeds as yours? Please let me cross the Jordan to see the wonderful land on the other side, the beautiful hill country and the Lebanon mountains” (Deuteronomy 3:24-25 NLT). But God denied his request. And once he reconciled himself to the fact that he would never enter into the Promised Land, he determined to put the needs of the people of God first. Their well-being became his focus. The church of God needs more servants of God like Moses. Men and women who will put their own needs last and the care of the flock of God first. We live in a selfish, self-centered society where sacrifice is rare and servanthood is in short supply. May we be like Moses and learn to put our own needs behind the needs of the people of God.

Father, raise up for men and women like Moses. And may I be one of them. May I continue to learn to put the needs of others ahead of my own. Teach me to serve selflessly and willingly. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Numbers 25-26

A Passion For God’s Honor

“Through Phinehas, and because of his passion for my honour, my wrath has been turned away from the children of Israel, so that I have not sent destruction on them all in my wrath. – Numbers 25:11 BBE

Chapter 25 of the book of Numbers contains a watershed moment. It is a pivotal point in the lives of the Israelites and in their relationship with God. They stand on the brink of the Promised Land, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness – their punishment for having doubted God and listening to the negative report of the spies (Numbers 14:26-31). Here they are, ready to enter the land they have been waiting for all these years. God has just ordained a blessing on their behalf out of the mouth of Balaam, when their enemies were trying to get them cursed (Numbers 24). And while this was happening, the people were busy aligning themselves with the daughters of Moab. The Expositors Bible Commentary has this to say about this important point in time:

The issue is that of apostasy from the Lord by participation in the debased, sexually centered Canaanite religious rites of Baal worship—that which would become the bane of Israel’s experience in the land. This chapter is an end and a beginning. It marks the end of the first generation; it also points to the beginning of a whole new series of wicked acts that will finally lead to Israel’s punishment…

The whole scene is reminiscent of what happened when the Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. While God was blessing them with the giving of the Law, the people were busy creating a golden calf that they could worship. In other words, they were turning from God and turning to another god. And here they were doing the same thing all over again. Verse two makes it clear that this was not just about sex, it was about religion. “It started when the women invited the men to their sex-and-religion worship. They ate together and then worshiped their gods” (Numbers 25:2 NLT). Rather than remain set apart as God had commanded, the people were intimately joining themselves with the people of the land. They were violating the commands of God in order to enjoy the sensual and sexual pleasures all around them. I am sure there was all kinds of justification going on. “We’re just trying to fit in!,” some probably said. “We’re being ecumenical!,” others claimed. “We don’t want to be judgmental do we?,” a few might have asked. Rationalization reigned and the people brought dishonor on the name of God. So God brought a plague on them. He ordered the execution of all those who led in this rebellion against His authority. But this thing was so out of hand that one of the Israelites had the audacity to bring one of the Midianite women into camp, right in front of Moses and the people as they weeped in front of the Tabernacle. He took her straight into his tent. No shame. No remorse. But he was totally controlled by his sensual desires.

But one man took action. His name was Phinehas. We are told that Phinehas couldn’t stand by and watch this happen. So he took his spear in his hand, ran after this man, followed him into his tent, and speared the man and the Midianite woman through with the same spear at the same time. His actions halted the plague that God had sent on the people. And God acknowledges that it was the actions of this one man that spared the lives of the people of Israel. “Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest has turned my anger away from the Israelites by displaying passionate zeal among them on my behalf. So I have stopped destroying all Israel as I had intended to do in my anger” (Numbers 25:11 NLT). The actions of Phinehas were motivated by a passionate zeal for God. He was not going to let the name of God get dragged through the mud. The literal translation is ““he was zealous with my zeal.” The repetition of forms for “zeal” in the line stresses the passion of Phinehas. The word “zeal” means a passionate intensity to protect or preserve divine or social institutions. Phinehas didn’t just stand by and watch. He acted. He couldn’t contain himself. And the Israelites are fortunate he couldn’t contain himself. Because it was his quick response that saved their lives.

Where is the Phinehas of today? Where is the man or woman who will be zealous with the zeal of God for His people and His name? We live in a day where the church is having an affair with the world. We are in love with the things of this world. Rather than being salt and light, we tend to cozy up with society, trying to fit in, rather than stand out. We have been set apart by God. But many of us would rather blend in. We have become intimate with the world, borrowing their ways and worshiping their gods – the gods of pleasure, power, prosperity, materialism, and popularity. We have become callous to the sin in our midst. Rather than speak up, we look the other way. And God is looking for those who will step up like Phinehas and stand up for the honor of His name. Phinehas was a priest for God. He was of the tribe of Levite and of the family of Aaron. He was doing exactly what a priest was to do. He was protecting the name of God and interceding on behalf of the people of God. He was looking out for the spiritual well-being of the nation. Ignoring sin does not make it go away. Turning our eyes to the sin in our midst doesn’t turn away the wrath of God. Like Phinehas, we need to see the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God. We are His priests today. We are to stand up for His honor in a world where His name is trampled in the dirt each and every day. God is looking for those who will be zealous with His zeal.

Father, I want to be a Phinehas. I want to have his passion and zeal for Your honor and name. I want to be appropriately appalled at the sin I see among your people – including myself – and take action. I want to be someone who stands up for Your name. I don’t know what that looks like right now, but I ask that You would show me. Open my eyes to the sin in our camp and show me what the right response should be. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Numbers 24

God is Faithful!

“Even if Balak were to give me a palace filled with silver and gold, I am powerless to do anything against the will of the LORD.’ I told you that I could say only what the LORD says! – Numbers 24:13 NLT

Balaam is under a lot of pressure. He is being offered an opportunity to get rich quick and all he has to do is pronounce a curse on the people of Israel. As soon as he does, Balak will reward him with wealth beyond his imagination. The only problem is that God has told him not to do it. God has demanded that Balaam not say anything that God Himself hasn’t told him to say. So up to this point, Balaam has only been able to bless the people of Israel. And his potential benefactor is getting a little miffed. Each time Balak has asked Balaam to curse Israel, Balaam has sought God. But this final time he doesn’t even bother, because he seems to know what the answer will be. Instead he goes to a place in the wilderness where he can look down on the many tents of Israel camped below him. Then the Spirit of God came on him and he was given an oracle directly from God. It was really a continuation of the oracle he had given earlier. It is interesting to note that these three oracles, recorded in chapters 23 and 24, contain a repeat of the imagery given to Abraham in the covenant that God had made with him many years before. God had promised to give Abraham three things: A land, a seed, and a blessing. God reaffirmed this promise over and over again, not only to Abraham, but to Isaac and Jacob. God was always reminding His chosen people that He would be faithful to keep His covenant promises. And now, through the mouth of Balaam, this non-Israelite diviner, God reaffirms His promises yet again.

The seed promise – “Who can count Jacob’s descendants, as numerous as dust? Who can count even a fourth of Israel’s people? Let me die like the righteous; let my life end like theirs.” – Number 23:10 NLT

The land promise – “See, Israel comes up like a she-lion, lifting himself up like a lion: he will take no rest till he has made a meal of those he has overcome, drinking the blood of those he has put to death.” – Numbers 23:24 BBE
The blessing promise – “Like a lion, Israel crouches and lies down; like a lioness, who dares to arouse her? Blessed is everyone who blesses you, O Israel, and cursed is everyone who curses you.” – Numbers 24:9 NLT

God was going to bless Israel, in spite of all the odds stacked against them. God was going to fulfill His covenant promises. No army, prophet, or pagan diviner was going to be able to stop the people of God because they were backed by the power of God. Balaam knew he was powerless to pronounce a curse because God was not going to allow it. All the money in the world couldn’t buy a curse on Israel if God didn’t allow it. This should give us hope as the people of God. He is faithful. He keeps His promises. And He is also in control. There is nothing anyone can do to the Church of God if God does not want it to happen.

The people of Israel had no idea any of this was happening in the wilderness surrounding them. They had no way of knowing that an enemy king was offering large sums of money to a diviner in order to get him to curse them. They were just going about their business unaware of the potential threat that was out there. But God was on their side. He was watching. And the same is true for us today. We have no idea the spiritual battle being waged against the Church. There are those who wish to destroy Christ’s bride. They are scheming and planning, trying to come up with ways to destroy the Church, from without and from within. But God is in control. He is faithful. He is watching and protecting. He is going to keep His promises. He is going to finish what He began. The enemies of God’s people, like Balak, will ultimately walk away disappointed. Because God is going to win in the end.

Father, thank You once again for reminding me of Your faithfulness. Give me the faith to be able to say what the Psalmist said, “I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalms 56:11 NLT). Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Numbers 22-23

A Reckless Path

“The angel of the LORD asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.‘” – Numbers 22:32 NIV

Balaam’s donkey. This is one of those memorable, if not seemingly improbable, stories from the pages of Scripture that catch your attention. Here you have a prophet named Balaam, who was evidently a worshiper of Yahweh. When the Israelites enter into the territory occupied by the Moabites, Balak, their king, sends for Balaam in order to get him to put a curse on the people of Israel. He offers him great wealth in return for his service. But God warns Balaam not to go and not to put a curse on the people of Israel. But evidently, Balaam is having a hard time with God’s decision. And so is Balak, the king, because he receives news that Balaam refused to come help, he sends another delegation to beg Balaam to reconsider. Their message? “Please don’t let anything stop you from coming. I will pay you well and do anything you ask of me. Just come and curse these people for me!” (Numbers 22:16-17 NLT). Balak was willing to pay Balaam anything to get him to curse the people of God. But once again, Balaam refused to go against the word of God. But he is willing to ask God one more time if it might be OK if he curses the people. This time God tells Balaam he can return with the servants of Balak, but he is only to say the words that God gives him to say. It seems that this change in circumstances leaving Balaam under the impression that God might be changing His mind. Balaam appears to believe that he still might come out of this a rich man, because the text tells us that God is not happy with Balaam – even after giving him permission to go with the servants of Balak. “But God was furious that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the LORD to stand in the road to block his way. As Balaam and two servants were riding along” (Numbers 22:22 NLT). God was angry with Balaam. Why? Because he was greedy and was hoping to make money by cursing the people of God. He was a prophet who desired to make a profit by disobeying God. Over in the book of Second Peter we read, “They have wandered off the right road and followed the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. But Balaam was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice” (2 Peter 2:15-16 NLT). Balaam’s problem was greed. He was attempting to use religion or spiritual things as a means of gain. God permitted Balaam to go with the servants of Balak, but only in order to test him. God knew his heart.

God sends an angel with a sword to block Balaam’s way, but he is blind to this divine encounter. Maybe he was so blinded by greed that he was unable to see the servant of God standing right in front of him, sword in hand. But Balaam’s donkey saw the angel and refused to go forward, much to his master’s chagrin. Balaam is so spiritually insensitive that he doesn’t even seem to react to the fact that his own donkey is talking to him and he is actually having a conversation with the animal! So God finally had to open Balaam’s eyes so he could see just how perilous the situation was that he was in. The angel tells Balaam, “I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me” (Numbers 22:32 NLT). The actual translation might be “the path you are taking is a reckless one.” Balaam was being tempted to go against the revealed will of God – all for a little financial gain. That’s a dangerous place to go for anybody. At that point Balaam seems to repent. “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will go back home if you are against my going” (Numbers 22:34 NLT). But notice that the only sin Balaam confesses is not knowing that the angel was standing in his way. He pleads the sin of ignorance. But he never really confesses his greed. Balaam offers to turn back, but that was an empty offer, because God had already told him the path he was taking was a reckless one. It was wrong. He was greedy. His whole reason for going with the servants of Balak was to hopefully figure out a way to fulfill the request of the king of the Moabites and make himself rich.

Balaam ends up blessing Israel, much to the consternation of Balak. So at this point he seems to be following the command of God. He even tells Balak, “Can I say anything except what the LORD tells me?” (Numbers 23:12 NLT). God tells Balaam to bless Israel instead of cursing them, and he does. Balak continues to plead that Balaam would change his mind. There is a battle going on and Balaam is caught in the middle. He has to choose between obeying the word of God or giving in to the temptation to disobey the word of God and enjoy the pleasures of this world.

But isn’t that the temptation we all face each and every day? We have the word of God clearly communicated to us through the Scriptures. We know we are to obey it. But the enemies of God make tempting offers, promising us riches, wealth, and material blessings if we will only disobey God. It reminds me of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Satan spent the entire time trying to get Jesus to disobey His Father and offered Him recognition, fame, power and wealth in return. So what will Balaam do? Will he continue to obey God? Or will he give in the temptation to sell out and cash in? Stay tuned. We’ll see the rest of the story tomorrow.

Father, I don’t want to go “the way of Balaam,” but so often I do – giving in to the temptations of this world to profit by disobeying You. The temptations are real and they are powerful. But You are faithful and worthy of my obedience. Give me the strength to not only hear You, but obey You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Numbers 20-21

Meribah 2.o

“This place was known as the waters of Meribah, because it was where the people of Israel argued with the LORD, and where he demonstrated his holiness among them. – Numbers 20:13 NLT

Meribah. That name had a special significance to the people of Israel – for both good and bad reasons. It was at a place called Meribah that God first did a miraculous sign by providing them with water out of a rock. All the way back in Exodus 17, we have recorded this first encounter with “the rock.” This time they were fairly early on in their wilderness experience and they came to the wilderness of Sin. There was  no water for them to drink. So the people did what they were always prone to do – complain. So Moses did what he was prone to do – go to God. And God instructed him to take the rod he had used before Pharaoh and strike a particular rock. When he did, water gushed from the rock. In the book of Corinthians, Paul tells us something significant about this rock. “…and all of them drank the same miraculous water. For they all drank from the miraculous rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4 NLT). Now there was a legend that the rabbis taught that said the rock actually traveled with the people of Israel, so that when we come to the passage in Numbers 20, we encounter the very same rock that Moses struck in the wilderness. But I think that what Paul is telling us is that the rock symbolized Christ. It was He who was with them all the time they were in the wilderness, providing life-sustaining water for them. In fact, when God told Moses to strike the rock back in Exodus 17, that word means to “strike, beat, scourge, ravage, slay, or wound.” It is the same word used when God “smote” the firstborn of Egypt. It paints a picture of the scourging and beating of Christ at His trials and crucifixion. Jesus would become the source of living water. During His encounter with the Samaritan woman  Jesus told her, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water” (John 4:10 NLT). Just a few chapters later in the book of John, Jesus tells the crowds, “If you are thirsty, come to me! If you believe in me, come and drink! For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water will flow out from within” (John 7:37-38 NLT).

In chapter 20 of the book of Numbers, we have not a retelling of the story of Meribah, but another Meribah. This is one of those “deja vu all over again” type of experiences. Meribah means ” argument” or “strife.” Both places get their name from the actions of the people of God, because they argued or quarreled with God both times. The second time, God instructs Moses to take the rod again, but this time He specifically tells Moses to SPEAK to the rock – not strike it. Back in Exodus 17, His instructions were to strike the rock. But now He was simply to speak to it. But in his anger, Moses disobeys God and strikes the rock twice. The water gushes out, but Moses incurs the wrath of God. Think about it. If what Paul says in 1 Corinthians is true – that the rock is a representation of Christ, then Moses is taking out his anger on Christ. The first time Moses struck the rock, it was a representation of the death that Christ must suffer in order that we might have life. But from that point forward, Christ’s life-sustaining power was available for the asking. There was no need to “beat” it out of Him. He had provided before and He would provide again. All Moses needed to do was ask. But instead He struck the rock in anger. This action would prevent Moses from entering the Promised Land.

This is a tough passage. It seems as if Moses and Aaron got too severe a punishment from the hand of God. But in his commentary on the Old Testament, Matthew Henry sheds some helpful light on this passage. “First, They did not punctually observe their orders, but in some things varied from their commission; God bade them speak to the rock, and they spoke to the people, and smote the rock, which at this time they were not ordered to do, but they thought speaking would not do. When, in distrust of the power of the word, we have recourse to the secular power in matters of pure conscience, we do, as Moses here, smite the rock to which we should only speak, Secondly, They assumed too much of the glory of this work of wonder to themselves: Must we fetch water? as if it were done by some power or worthiness of theirs. Therefore it is charged upon them (v. 12) that they did not sanctify God, that is, they did not give him that glory of this miracle which was due unto his name. Thirdly, Unbelief was the great transgression (v. 12): You believed me not; nay, it is called rebelling against God’s commandment, ch. 27:14. The command was to bring water out of the rock, but they rebelled against this command, by distrusting it, and doubting whether it would take effect or no. They speak doubtfully: Must we fetch water? And probably they did in some other ways discover an uncertainty in their own minds whether water would come or no for such a rebellious generation as this was. And perhaps they the rather questioned it, though God had promised it, because the glory of the Lord did not appear before them upon this rock, as it had done upon the rock in Rephidim, Ex. 17:6. They would not take God’s word without a sign.”

Disobedience, unbelief, and seeking glory for themselves. That was their sin. And it is the sin of many of us today. We disobey God because we do not believe God. And when we do obey, we do it in order to get the glory for ourselves. But God would have none of it from Moses and Aaron, and He will have none of it from us. He will provide, but He will have us obey. He will provide, but He will get the glory. He will provide, but He will expect us to believe. To trust Him. God is holy and demands that we treat Him as such.

Father, thank You for reminding me of Your holiness. You expect me to obey. You expect me to believe. You expect to get the glory due Your name. You won’t share Your glory with me. Forgive me for not showing you the respect you deserve. Forgive me for robbing You of glory. Forgive me for my unbelief. You have always provided. You deserve nothing but my utmost respect. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Numbers 19

How Much More the Blood of Christ?

“But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself from uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD; the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean. – Numbers 19:20 NASB

I am always amazed at the level of detail and intricacy found in the laws given to the Israelites by God. It can become confusing and a bit overwhelming at times as you read about the various sacrifices outlined by God in order for the people to maintain their purity before Him. It had to be intimidating for the people of Moses’ day. Just trying to remember and keep all these rules and regulations would have been a daunting task. And there were different sacrifices for different situations. Chapter 19 outlines the sacrifice necessary to cleanse someone who finds himself defiled by having touched or been in the vicinity of a dead body. There was an elaborate and very specific right or ritual to be followed in order for that person to be cleansed. If they didn’t follow it, they would remain defiled and cut off from the camp. Not only would they be removed from fellowship, they would be cut off from the Tabernacle and any ability to offer sacrifices for their sins. So this was serious stuff.

So God tells them to sacrifice a red heifer – one without defect and that had never worn a yoke. It was to be slaughtered outside the camp, then some of its blood was to be sprinkled on the Tabernacle in order to cleanse it from defilement. The body of the heifer was to be burned completely, along with some cedar wood, hyssop, scarlet yarn. The ashes were to be gathered and stored in a clean place outside the camp. Those ashes would play a critical role in the cleansing of anyone defiled from having touched or been in close proximity to a dead body. The ashes were placed in clean water, then sprinkled on the defiled person on the third and seventh days of his uncleanness. Then on the seventh day he was to bath and wash his clothes. That same water was to be sprinkled on the Tabernacle and all its furnishing, because when one of the Israelites became defiled, it defiled the Tabernacle itself. And if you think about it, with people dying on a regular basis because of disease, old age, and other natural causes, it would have been easy to find yourself defiled. So this regulation was one that was probably put into use quite frequently. Through no fault of your own, you could find yourself defiled and in danger of being cut off from the people of God. But fortunately, God provided a way to receive cleansing. And it involved the shedding of blood. The life of an unblemished animal had to be sacrificed so that the defiled person could receive cleansing.

There is a lot of obvious symbolism here. The unblemished red heifer represents Christ. He was the unblemished sacrifice for our sins. The hyssop, cedar wood, and scarlet yarn were all used in the cleansing of a leper. They may also represent the hyssop branch that was use to offer wine to Christ on the cross (John 19:29), the wood of the cross on which He was hung, and the scarlet robe which was placed on Him at His trial (Matthew 27:28). The blood speaks of Christ’s blood shed for us. But all this symbolic imagery was but a shadow of what was to come. While the mixture of water and ashed could cleanse a man on the outside, it did nothing about the inside. He would be outwardly clean, but inside, he could still be full of sin and corruption. Such was the inadequacy of this system. It was incomplete. It could not completely wipe away sin and guilt. Additional sacrifices would have to be made. More blood would have to be shed. More ashes and water would need to be sprinkled. At no point could the people of God know that their sins were completely and permanently forgiven. You could be cleansed from defilement and accidently stumble upon a dead body minutes after your purification. And so you would have to start the process all over again. Because these sacrifices were but a type of what was to come. The book of Hebrews tells us that these regulations were a picture of what was to come in Christ. They were an imperfect glimpse into the perfect cleansing that Christ would offer. “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:13-14 NIV). The Message paraphrases those verses this way: “If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out” (Hebrews 9:13-14 MSG). Inside and out. That’s difference. That’s the key. Christ came to provide cleansing that goes to the core of who we are. He came to purify our hearts, not just our actions. He came to cleanse us from the sin that permeates our very being. We aren’t just defiled by sin, we are sinners. Our very nature is sinful. We have a sin nature and it separates us from God. Jesus Christ came to give us a new nature. He didn’t just sprinkle us, He transformed us. And we are daily being transformed into His likeness as the old vestiges of our sin nature are slowly but surely removed. He is cleansing us inside and out.

Father, thank You for reminding me that Your Son’s sacrifice for me was permanent. It never has to be repeated. And He has provided a way for me to be cleansed inside and out. His blood covers me. I have a new nature. I don’t have to sin. I do not have to be defiled by exposure to the death that surrounds me daily. He is removing my sin nature from me each and every day. And He has cleansed me not just externally, but internally. What a wonderful thought. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Numbers 17-18

Stop Your Belly Aching.

“What will happen next is this: The staff of the man I choose will sprout. I’m going to put a stop to this endless grumbling by the People of Israel against you. – Numbers 17:5 MSG

The Israelites had become first-class, professional whiners. They could grumble with the best of them. Over and over again since the day they left Egypt, they had found reasons to complain – about everything from the food to the leadership of Moses. Most recently, it was God’s decision to only have the Levites serve as priests in the Tabernacle. God had given them the responsibility that was supposed to belong to the first-born male of every tribe. The Levites were to serve in their place. But the people decided they didn’t like this plan. So God destroyed those who led the rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Then God brought a plague against those who blamed Moses and Aaron for the deaths of their friends. Only Aaron offering an atoning sacrifice spared more people from dying that day.

In light of all the complaining, God comes up with a plan to bring it to a close once and for all. He knew that they were not done yet. It was just going to be a matter of time before the people got stirred up again about something. So God tells Moses to gather a rod, probably from an almond tree, from each tribe and write the name of the prince or head of each tribe should be written on the rod. These were then placed in the Tabernacle before the Lord. The next day Moses went in and discovered that only the rod with Aaron’s name on it had born fruit. Miraculously, overnight this barren rod had budded, blossomed, and born fruit. It had gone through an entire growth season in one evening. And it was just a rod, not planted in dirt or watered in any way. God clearly showed the people that He was picking Aaron and his sons to serve Him as priests. Case closed! No more reason to complain.

Or maybe not. Because immediately after this, the people crank up their whining again. This time it was about their physical well-being. They said, “We are as good as dead. Everyone who even comes close to the Tabernacle of the LORD dies. We are all doomed!” (Numbers 17:12-13 NLT). Instead of praising God for what He had just done with the almond rod, they were thinking about themselves. They were so busy pitying themselves, they had no time to think about the God in their midst.

But isn’t that what we do? We can get so consumed with our dissatisfaction with our lot in life that we fail to see the miracles of God taking place all around us. We whine and moan, and spend all our time grumbling to God that we never do see all that He is doing around us. Yet God patiently endures our rejection of Him. He continues to shower us with His grace and unmerited favor. We turn our backs on Him, but He never turns His back on us. He is faithful, even when we are unfaithful. He provides us with leadership, direction, sustenance, and everything we need to survive in this hostile environment. Yet we continually turn our backs on Him. Or worse yet, we end up fearing Him rather than feeling loved by Him. Like the Israelites, we live as if God is out to get us, not bless us. We view Him as a cosmic kill-joy, not a loving Father who wants to meet our every need in Christ. Sin is ultimately self-centered. It always has been. It ends up being all about me. And when I focus on me, I lose sight of Him.

Father, forgive me for all the times I complain and grumble, and fail to see the miracles You are doing all around me. Open my eyes that I might see You more clearly. Help me to better understand just how loving and kind You really are. I am surrounded by Your grace, but I tend to miss it because I focus too much on me. I want to make You the center of my life, my thoughts, and my day. To put You where You alone belong. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Numbers 16

He Took His Stand.

“He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. – Numbers 16:48 NASB

The story of the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness is a fascinating one, filled with plenty of twists and turns, plot changes and story lines. It is easy to read this chronicle of the lives of the people of God and wonder how they could be so slow to learn. How could they refuse to obey God after all He has done for them? Why would they continue to whine, complain, and moan about their lot in life when the God of the universe is leading them, providing for them, and revealing Himself to them day after day? But the truth is, we have the Spirit of God living within us and the Word of God made available to us and we still struggle with obedience and belief. So we probably shouldn’t be too quick to judge the Israelites harshly.

Yet in today’s story from chapter 16 we have another occurence of jealousy and rebellion. It seems that Korah, a grandson of Kohath, and a member of the tribe of Levi, has decided that he wants to be free to take part in the priestly responsibilities. As a Kohathite, he was responsible for the transportation and care of all the vessels and utensils of the Tabernacle. They had been assigned that role by God. But Korah was not content. He wanted more. And he appealed to other men in the camp to join him in his rebellion. He stirred up men from the tribe of Reuben by getting them to see that Moses had taken away the right of the firstborn of every tribe to serve God and replaced them with the sons of Levi. His argument was that they were all holy, not just Moses, Aaron, and the Levites. He accused Moses of exalting himself above everyone else. He and his compatriots went to Moses and said, “You have gone too far! Everyone in Israel has been set apart by the LORD, and he is with all of us. What right do you have to act as though you are greater than anyone else among all these people of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:3 NLT).

Moses proposes a test. He tells them to gather at the Tabernacle and to bring incense to burn before the Lord. God appears and tells Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the entire congregation because He is going to destroy them all. God is going to wipe out everyone. But Moses and Aaron intercede. They plead with God to spare the people and not punish them all for the sins of a few. God responds by telling Moses to separate the people from the rebels. Then He opens up the ground and literally swallows Korah and his compatriots alive. The amazing thing is that the people blame Moses and Aaron for the deaths of these men. They rise up against Moses and Aaron even though the deaths of Korah and his fellow rebels was a sign from God to validate Moses’ leadership. “By this you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things that I have done––for I have not done them on my own” (Numbers 16:28 NLT). Once again, God determines to destroy the Israelites for their rebellion, but Moses and Aaron intercede again. God has already begun a plague among the people that is quickly spreading, killing them instantly. Moses sends Aaron out among the people with a censer and fire on it from the altar. In order to stop the wrath of God from wiping out the people, Aaron must make atonement by waving the censer in their midst. So Aaron ran into the midst of the assembly and TOOK HIS STAND between the dead and the living. And the plague was checked. In doing so, Aaron prefigures the role that Christ played when He took His stand between us and death. He made atonement for our sin and stopped our inevitable destruction. At the risk of His own life, Aaron took his stand among the sinners and pleaded their case by making atonement for their sin. He interceded. He stepped into the gap. He met the need that they could not meet on their own. He satisfied the righteous wrath of God. That is exactly what Christ has done for us. At one time, all of us were rebels, living in open rebellion against God. We were under a death sentence. And we could not save ourselves. So God sent His priest, Jesus Christ, to intercede for us by offering His life as a fragrant aroma to God. Jesus took His stand between death and us. He stopped the inevitable and made possible the unbelievable – eternal life.

Father, forgive me for rebelling against You so often. I sometimes refuse to listen to You. I choose to go my own way. I sometimes think I know better and reject Your will. But I don’t live under a death sentence. Because of Jesus Christ, I am forgiven. I am alive and have eternal life secured for me. I don’t get what I deserve. Instead, I get what I don’t deserve – eternal life. Thank You Christ for taking a stand for me. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Numbers 14-15; Psalm 90

Worst-Case-Scenario Syndrome.

“Their voices rose in a great chorus of complaint against Moses and Aaron. ‘We wish we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!’ they wailed. ‘Why is the LORD taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and little ones will be carried off as slaves! Let’s get out of here and return to Egypt!’ – Numbers 14:2-3 NLT

We all suffer from it on occasion – worst-case-scenario syndrome. The symptoms are easily recognizable: fear, doubt, a growing sense of panic, and visions of all kinds of disaster happening – one bad thing leading to another. Usually it starts with a fairly pedestrian situation, one that is negative, but not catastrophic, but before we know it, we have conjured up images of mishap and mayhem. Our minds begin to play tricks on us, causing us to imagine all kinds of negative outcomes as we try to assume what is going to happen next. We start playing out a variety of circumstances in our heads, wondering what it going to happen if…

That’s exactly what the Israelites suffered from in this story – as they stood on the edge of the Promised Land, weighing out the two different reports given by the 12 spies who had come back from their walk through the land. All the people heard was bad news: giants, fortified cities, and certain defeat. Then they started blowing it all out of proportion and making conclusions that were NOT based on fact. Instead of trusting God, they decided to trust their very fertile imaginations. Listen to what they said. “God has brought us here to kill us! Our women and children are going to become plunder! We need new leadership! We need to return to Egypt!” In a matter of minutes these people had turned some bad news into disaster. They had whipped themselves into a frenzy of fright and faithlessness. Suddenly, the God who had freed them from slavery in Egypt through a series of miraculous plagues, and who had cared for them all throughout their journey to the Promised Land, was too weak to take care of them anymore. Their troubles were too much for their God. And the symptoms of worst-case-scenario syndrome began to appear throughout the camp.

Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua beg the people to trust God and not rebel against Him. But the people respond with fear and anger. They even want to stone these four men. They can’t handle the truth. They don’t want to listen to what Moses and these other men have to say. So God intervenes. He determines to wipe out the entire group and start all over again just with Moses. But Moses intercedes. He begs God to reconsider. He appeals to God’s love for His own glory and name. He reminds God of His lovingkindness and righteousness. “Please pardon the sins of this people because of your magnificent, unfailing love, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt” (Numbers 14:20 NLT). God listens and relents. But the people who rebelled will never live to see the Promised Land. They will die in the wilderness, where they will wander for 40 more years, until that generation dies out. Only Caleb and Joshua will live to enter the land – because they believed.

When we face difficult times, it is easy to succumb to worst-case-scenario syndrome. It’s almost natural. We begin to doubt and fear. We blow things out of proportion. Our vision gets blurry. Our memory gets sketchy. We tend to forget things – like God’s history of goodness in our lives. We become weak and prone to fear, instead of faith. Worry replaces worship. Even little things get blown out of proportion. And the result is rebellion. We refuse to believe God, trust God, obey God, and so we fail to see the power of God in our lives. And we miss out on the blessings. Like the Israelites, we stand on the edge of the promises of God, but never get to enjoy them. But there is a cure for worst-case-scenario syndrome. It’s trust. Trust is putting our belief into action. It is stepping out and relying on God’s goodness. It is trusting in His power even in the presence of problems. God doesn’t promise us a life free from problems. But He does promise to see us through them. He promises us strength. He promises us joy and contentment. He promises us His presence. He will see us through.

Father, I suffer from worst-case-scenario syndrome far too often. Forgive me for doubting You and allowing my mind to run away with me. You have never given me a reason to doubt You, but I do it on a regular basis. May I learn to trust You more and more and lean on your unfailing goodness. Give me the strength I need to face life’s problems with a calm assurance of Your power and trust in Your promises. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Numbers 12-13

Faith Over Facts.

“But Caleb tried to encourage the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it! But the other men who had explored the land with him answered, “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are! – Numbers 13:30-31 NLT

After a short delay by God in order to punish Miriam for some jealousy issues over Moses’ leadership role, God leads the people to Kadesh-Barnea. They are now on the edge of the Promised Land. This has been their destination all along. It is the place He had promised to bring them and now they are here. But before they go in, God has them send in twelve spies. According to Deuteronomy 1:22, this was actually the peoples’ idea. They petitioned Moses to send in spies and God appears to go along with the plan. But I think God had a different agenda than the people did. Their reason for sending in spies was to determine if this thing was doable. God was sending in spies to give witness to the truth concerning its abundance and fruitfulness. In other words, as far as God was concerned, this was a fact-finding mission. This was not a specially formed committee to determine or decide whether or not to go into the land. That was not an option.

But the spies went and the spies saw. And when they returned they reports the facts just as they saw them. They even brought back physical evidence of the land’s long-rumored fruitfulness: grape clusters so big you had to carry them on a pole between two men. But the 12 men came back with two different opinions about the land. The majority affirmed its fruitfulness, but also said it was filled with giants and an abundance of well-armed foes living in fortified cities. Their conclusion? “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31 MSG). Everything they said was true. The land was filled with giants. There were an abundance of well-armed people living in fortified cities. And they were far stronger than the Israelites. But they had left out one important fact: God was on their side, and He had promised to give them this land. He had never told them it was going to be easy. He had warned them from day one that the land was filled with other inhabitants (Exodus 3:8, 17). He had told them that they would have to remove those inhabitants from the land. But He was going to give the victory. “For my angel will go before you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, so you may live there. And I will destroy them” (Exodus 23:23 NLT). God never told them that this was going to be a cake-walk. But He did assure their victory – as long as they obeyed Him.

But it seems that only Caleb and Joshua believed God. They saw the same things the others had seen. They did not deny the fact that there were giants in the land and fortified cities occupied by well-armed people. But their conclusion was very different: “Let’s go at once to take the land, we can certainly conquer it!” (Numbers 13:30 NLT). We can do this! In spite of the odds, we can accomplish what God has told us to do. Faith can trump the facts. We can trust God because He promised us this land! It is as good as ours!

Every day we are faced with all kinds of facts that seem to contradict the faithfulness of God. Unpaid bills, financial uncertainty, illness, relational problems, job pressures, etc. We look around us and wonder if this is what God really promised us. And we lose heart. We let the facts determine our faith, instead of the other way around. We give in and give up. We fail to step out in faith in the face of the overwhelming facts and watch Him work. God did not tell us the Christian life was going to be easy. He just promised to be with us. He gave us His Holy Spirit. He provided us with His Word. And He assured us of victory. We will have trials. We will face enemies. We will run into the “giants” in the land. But God will go ahead of us. He will provide for us and protect us. We will still have to do battle, but He assures us of victory in the end. Like Caleb and Joshua, we must say, “We can do this, because God is with us!”

Father, You are with us. And even though the facts seems to sometimes be stacked against us, You have promised us victory. You are more powerful than our enemies. You are faithful. You will not leave us or forsake us. You will not ask us to do anything without providing the strength to do it. Help us to be more like Caleb and Joshua. May we see the facts, but not allow them to determine our faith. Problems are just an opportunity to watch You work! Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men