Making God Central.
Numbers 1-2, Luke 16
Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses and Aaron: “When the Israelites set up camp, each tribe will be assigned its own area. The tribal divisions will camp beneath their family banners on all four sides of the Tabernacle, but at some distance from it. – Leviticus 2:1-2 ESV
As the Israelites prepare to make their way to the Promised Land, God prepared them in two ways. First, He had Moses take a census by tribe, to determine just how many men of fighting age were available. Then He gave them strict orders regarding how they were to make camp each night by tribe, surrounding the Tabernacle, which was to be kept at the center of their camp. He also instructed them how they were to march each day with two tribes leading the way and two tribes bringing up the read, with the Tabernacle safely placed in the center. God was to be kept at the center of their community at all times, whether they were camped for the night or marching by day. The Levites were exempt from mandatory military service so that they could protect and provide for the Tabernacle. Each night, they would be divided into groups of four, and they would set up their camps on all four sides of the Tabernacle, providing a protective barrier between the various tribes and God’s holy presence. The divine presence of God was not to be taken lightly or treated contemptuously. He was the key to their existence and their survival. Without Him, they would have been just another nomadic nation, attempting to survive in a harsh environment. It was God’s presence that provided the food they needed, the protection they required, the daily guidance they depended upon, and the power they would have to have if they were to conquer the enemies occupying the land of promise.
What does this passage reveal about God?
Our knows and understands the heart of man. He is fully aware that man will always be prone to disorder and disobedience. Faithful allegiance on the part of men does not come naturally or willingly. But God is always faithful. He guaranteed His presence among His people and ensured that they would remember that He was their King and that they were dependent upon Him for everything. The Tabernacle was not just a place of worship and sacrifice, it was a constant reminder of their dependence upon God. It was not enough to simply have Him in their midst. The Tabernacle provided the means by which they could be assured of His continued presence as they faithfully atoned for their sins through obedience to His sacrificial requirements. The Tabernacle and the Levites traveled at the center of their company, and it was to be the erected at the center of their camp at the close of each day. The physical centrality of God’s presence was to be a constant reminder of their need for God to be the spiritual focus of their lives as a people.
What does this passage reveal about man?
But men are easily distracted and prone to make other things the focus of their lives. We have seen how the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had made rule-keeping and ritualism the center of their religious world. It had become less about God than about their ability to keep a set of rules. The focus had become their own self-righteous efforts, rather than the holiness and righteousness of God. In Luke 16, Jesus gives a series of parables regarding money and wealth. Repeatedly, He uses the terms rich, poor, wealth, riches, and money. Jesus knew the high priority wealth and material things held in the economy of His day. For the Jews, wealth had become a sign of God’s blessing. Riches were a symbol of significance and worth. To be poor was considered to be a curse and a sign of God’s punishment. And yet, Jesus recognized that the people of God had made money their god. They had ignored the warnings found in the Proverbs regarding wealth. “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit” (Proverbs 23:4 NLT). “The trustworthy person will get a rich reward, but a person who wants quick riches will get into trouble” (Proverbs 28:20 ESV).
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had warned, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20 ESV). He knew there was a prevailing problem among God’s people of making money and the pursuit of it the central focus of their lives. They believed that wealth was the key to contentment. They believed money was the cure-all for all problems. But Jesus warned that material things could actually become a barrier between man and God. He said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13 ESV). Divided allegiance. There was nothing inherently wrong with money. But when men make it their god, it produces all kinds of problems.
Paul provides a wonderful commentary on the problem of making money our god. “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10 ESV). It is the LOVE of money that is the issue. We are to love God. Wealth can be a tool to accomplish God’s will. Material things can be instruments in the hand of the individual who loves God and be used to further His Kingdom.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
As a child of God, my true treasure lies elsewhere. The things of this world were never meant to be my focus. I was never intended to fall in love with the things of this world. John reminds us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15 ESV). I can’t love the things of this world and love God at the same time. That is divided allegiance. If I love this world and all it offers, I will fail to love God in the way He demands. I will fail to love others as He has commanded me to love them. My love of money will prevent me from loving God and man. Keeping God the central focus of my life is essential if I am going to live and love the way He intended me to. Had the Israelites failed to keep the Tabernacle at the center of their camp, they would have missed out on His presence and failed to experience His power. Had they neglected to set up the Tabernacle in the center of their camp each night, they would have squandered their only means of making atonement and receiving forgiveness for their sins. Nothing was to take the place of or become a higher priority than the presence of God. He had to remain the central focus of their lives. And the same is true for me today. I must constantly be on the lookout for anything and everything that I might be tempted to take the place of God as the central focus of my life.
Father, help me keep You at the center of my life at all time. Forgive me when I make material things more important than You. Forgive me when I mistakenly convince myself that more of anything, other than You, might make me happier, more content, more secure, or more significant. You alone are all I need. Anything else You graciously allow me to enjoy in this life, whether wealth or health, is a gift to be used for Your glory and the good of others, not to satisfy my own selfish desires. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men