Get the Facts First.
Numbers 31-32, John 7
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. – John 7:24 ESV
I like the way The New Living Translation treats the verse above. “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” When we read the Old Testament, we sometimes struggle with understanding why God did things the way He did. There are those who see the God of the Old Testament as a completely different God than that as revealed in the New Testament. They struggle with the images of wrath and judgment, apparent legalism and harsh demands. But I would encourage us to listen to the words of Jesus: “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” What is it that God is revealing to us through stories like that found in Numbers 31? Why would God command the complete annihilation of a group of people; including every man, woman and child? If we’re not careful, we could be quick to judge God and reach a false conclusion regarding His character and conduct. If it is true that God is holy, just and righteous, then all that He does is holy, just and righteous. Unlike the man-made gods of the Greeks, He is not capricious or prone to evil. He does not play tricks on people. He does not lie or deceive. There is a perfectly good reason for all that God does and all that He commands. But we must look beneath the surface. We must dig deeper to understand the nature of God and the purposes behind His ways.
What does this passage reveal about God?
If you recall, the Midianites were guilty of trying to bring a curse upon the people of God. They had hired Balaam, a prominent seer, to pronounce a curse on Israel. But God had thwarted their plans, using this pagan diviner to utter blessings on the people of Israel, rather than curses. But in order to earn his proposed payment, Balaam suggested to the Midianites that they use a different tactic to defeat the Israelites. He recommended that the Midianites use their women to secude the men of Israel into sexual sin and, ultimately, spiritual adultery. “While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove,some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people” (Numbers 25:1-4 NLT). But wait. These verses speak of Moabites, not Midianites. So why was God commanding Israel to destroy the Midianites? During this time there was a great deal of interaction between the various tribes and people groups living in the land of Canaan. They not only warred with one another, but they took each others women and shared one another’s gods. The god, Baal, that the Israelites ended up worshiping was actually the primary god of the Canaanites. But the Midianites and Moabites worshiped this god as well. Each of these nations was guilty of unfaithfulness to their own gods. They were superstitious and quick to take on any and all gods, should they prove beneficial. The Midianites and Moabites were both guilty of seducing the Israelites and tempting them to violate their commitment to remain faithful to Yahweh alone. So God commanded their destruction.
On the surface, this story appears to paint God as a vengeful, angry, bloodthirsty deity. But God knows the heart of man. He fully understands that His people, the Israelites, whom He has called to live holy, set apart lives, will quickly succumb to the influences of these various nations unless something drastic is done. Coexistence was not an option. Compromise would be deadly. Not only had close contact with these people led to sexual sin, it had resulted in spiritual adultery; causing the people of Israel to break the very first commandment. They were to have no other gods before them. They were to worship God alone. So God required that they remove the source of temptation. Yes, it was harsh. It required the death of every man, woman and male child. But we must look beneath the surface. We must understand the heart of God if we are going to judge the actions of God. We must learn to trust the ways of God based on what we know of the will of God.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Even in Jesus’ day, there were those who could not see what God was doing. There was much debate regarding who Jesus was. John tells us that not even Jesus’ brothers believed in Him. The Jewish religious leaders were out to kill Him. Some viewed Him as a good man. Others were amazed at His ability to teach. There were those who were blown away by His miracles and questioning whether or not these signs were proof that He was the Messiah. For over three years Jesus had walked among them, performing amazing miracles and teaching new truths. He had healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, and even restored life to the dead. He had openly claimed to be the Son of God. He had talked of His Father’s Kingdom. And yet the people misjudged Him. They looked on the surface and saw an ordinary man who came from the nondescript region of Galilee. They didn’t know that He had actually been born in Bethlehem and that He was a direct descendant of King David himself. They viewed Him as an uneducated carpenter with nothing in the way of credentials to justify His role as a teacher or leader. They were quick to judge. But they didn’t know all the facts. They didn’t understand the will of God.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Ignorance of God’s will always leads to misunderstanding of God’s ways. Because we don’t really know Him and don’t understand His character, we are quick to judge His conduct. We love to hear about His grace and mercy, but we are turned off by talk of His wrath and judgment. But we fail to understand that God’s wrath and judgment are always directed toward sin. Because of His holiness, He cannot tolerate sin. He must deal with it. He must punish it. His righteousness demands it. The people of Jesus’ day loved that He could heal. They were attracted to His miracles, especially the ones that provided them with free food, like the feeding of the 5,000. The religious leaders couldn’t understand why He chose to heal on the Sabbath. They saw Him as a lawbreaker and heretic. But Jesus challenged them, “If on the Sabbath a man received circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?” (John 7:23 ESV). They didn’t get it. They were judging on the surface. And I can be guilty of the same thing. There are times in my life that I don’t understand what God is doing. I may even find myself getting angry at what I feel is the injustice of God. But I must be careful in my judgment of God. The prophet Isaiah gives us a powerful warning: “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” (Isaiah 45:9 NLT). I will not always understand the ways of God. But I must always trust the will of God. If I can’t, then I am assuming my God is untrustworthy. I am calling into question His integrity and doubting His divine sovereignty. God Himself reminds us, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT). I may not always understand the ways of God, but I can always trust the will of God. He knows what He is doing. He plan is perfect.
Father, I want to learn to trust You more and more with my life and to see what is going on in the world through the lens of Your faithfulness and sovereign control. You know what You are doing. I may not always understand it, but I have no right to question it. You are the potter, and I am the clay. Forgive me for my arrogance. Forgive me for my pride. Help me to see life through Your eyes and not my own. My perspective is limited. My viewpoint is too often flawed my by shortsighted vision. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men