Numbers 36

A Future Perspective and A Corporate Concern.

“Just as the LORD had commanded Moses, so the daughters of Zelophehad did. – Numbers 36:10 NLT

The book of Numbers ends on a seemingly strange note with the story of the five daughters of Zelophehad. According to the law of inheritance, these women would be given the land of their father Zelophehad, since they had no brothers. But the tribe of Manasseh brought up a potential problem to Moses. Since these women were going to inherit the land of their father upon his death, what would prevent them from marrying a man from another tribe and the land then transferring ownership from one tribe to another? In other words, what would happen if the heiress to her father’s property married someone from a different tribe? In that case the land of their father would become the property of another tribe and the tribal allotments would become
intermixed and confused.

God had a solution to this problem, but this chapter raises another interesting question: Why did God have Moses end the book of Numbers with this story? Why was the entire book concluded with a story about the daughters of Zelophehad? I think it has to do with a couple of things. First of all, the book of Numbers is about the future. From the very outset, it has been a history of the people of Israel and their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, but the real focus was not on the past or the present, but the future. As the book closes, the concern behind the question that the tribe of Manasseh raises has to do with the future. They seem to understand that this is a long-term situation. The land they are all inheriting is not just for those who are living at that time, but for future generations. There is a future aspect to this matter that causes them to be concerned and speak up.

The other issue is that this is not about the individual. While it was wonderful that these daughters were going to be able to inherit the land of their father, it ultimately was not about them. It was not even just about their tribe. It was about the people of God. And God’s concern was for the corporate well-being of His people. If these women had been left free to marry whoever they wanted to, the allotment of the land could have been potentially altered with dramatic consequences for the future. One tribe could have ended up with more land than another. Jealousy and fighting between the tribes could have resulted. So God comes up with a plan by which the daughters are free to marry, but within certain constraints. They had to marry someone from within their own tribe.

In our world of independence and self-centered philosophy, this concern for the corporate good is foreign to us. It’s all about me! I have to do what is best for me. The thought of sacrificing for the team is unheard of these days. Even our sports stars are all about themselves. Self-promotion and self-preservation are the norm. But God reminds us that it isn’t all about us. It is about the family of God. And while we are to live in the moment, we are to keep our eyes focused on the future. If not, we can develop a live-for-the-moment mentality that sacrifices the future for pleasures of today. The daughters of Zelophehad weren’t willing to do that. They did just as Moses directed them. They obeyed. They understood that God had their best interests and the interests of the people of God in mind. And they lived with their eyes on the future. Which is what each of us is called to do as children of God. It isn’t all about me and my happiness. This is about the people of God. This is about the future. Any sacrifice God calls me to make is for the good of the team.

Father, it has always been about the future for You. You have the end in mind. I can get caught up in the here and now and lose sight of the finished work You have in mind. I can also become so self-focused that I forget that You have a plan for the people of God as a whole. It is not all about me. Give me a future perspective and a corporate concern that allows me to listen to You instead of my own selfish desires. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 35

A Place of Refuge.

“These cities are for the protection of Israelites, resident foreigners, and traveling merchants. Anyone who accidentally kills someone may flee there for safety. – Numbers 35:15 NLT

The cities of refuge. God instructed Moses to set aside six different cities, spread throughout the land of Canaan, and designate them as cities of refuge. Occupied by Levites, these cities were strategically placed and easily accessible from all parts of the land. Their purpose was to provide a safe-haven to anyone who had accidently committed murder.  In other words, if an Israelite inadvertently and unintentionally caused the death of a fellow Israelite, he could flee to one of these cities and seek refuge from the avenger. It was up to the relatives of a murdered individual to seek vengeance. This “blood avenger” (Numbers 35:19) was not just free to kill the murdered, he was obligated to do so (Numbers 35:19, 21). It was his duty. He was called the “avenger of blood.”

But in order to prevent the blood avenger from taking the life of an innocent man, the cities of refuge were established. If a man accidently killed someone else, he could run to one of these cities and hide. As long as he was there, he was protected from the blood avenger. It was up to the residents of the city (mostly Levites) to help determine whether this individual was a manslayer or murderer. If it was determined that he had killed the other premeditatedly and intentionally, he was to be handed over to the blood avenger who could seek retribution. But if it was determined that the death was unintentional and accidental, then the “manslayer” would be allowed to stay in the city of refuge until the high priest died. In essence, the city became his prison. If he ever left, he would be guilty of violating his sentence and the blood avenger could seek his death. All of this sounds very barbaric to us, but you have to remember that Israel had no police force for carrying out justice or enforcing laws. Murder was wrong and justice must be served. Killing someone accidently also had to be dealt with, but in a different manner. So that is why these cities were established. God was protecting the innocent.

So what does all this have to do with us? What lessons can we learn from this chapter? Well, the cities of refuge are a picture of Christ. He provides shelter for the sinner from judgment. We all stand guilty before God. We are condemned sinners, and as such, we deserve judgment. Yet God has provided a place of refuge, a place where we can run and seek shelter and protection from the blood avenger. Rather than having to fear condemnation, we find protection in Christ. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NLT).

In the case of someone seeking refuge in one of these cities, if they remained there until the high priest died, they were forgiven for their sin. They walked away free and clear. The death of the high priest had atoning value just as Jesus death for us atones for our sins. No one could accuse this person once the high priest had died. And we stand as unaccused and uncondemned because of what Christ has done for us. “Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? Will Christ Jesus? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and is sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, pleading for us” (Romans 8:33-34 NLT).

We can take refuge in Christ. He is our high priest and He has died for us. His death has set us free once and for all. “God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. So God has given us both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promise with confidence. This confidence is like a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain of heaven into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the line of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:17-20 NLT).

Father, You have provided Your Son as my city of refuge. I have run to Him and He has died in my place. His death atoned for my sins and as a result, I stand uncondemned before You. I was once guilty, but now I am forgiven. Thank You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 33-34

Occupy the Land!

“…you must drive out all the people living there. You must destroy all their carved and molten images and demolish all their pagan shrines. Take possession of the land and settle in it, because I have given it to you to occupy. – Numbers 33:52-53 NLT

They’re almost there. The day they’ve been waiting for so long is about to arrive. The people of God stand on the edge of the Promised Land and are just days away from entering it. It has been a long time in coming. There has been a lengthy (40 year) delay, but now it’s time to enjoy what God had promised so long ago, way back in the land of Egypt. But as with most things associated with God, the blessing is tied to a requirement. He has one last instruction to give them before they enter and occupy the land. And it is a pretty significant requirement. They must drive out all the people who are living there. On top of that they have to destroy all their idols and pagan shrines erected to the gods of the land. They’ve got to smash every idol they find. In other words, they’ve got to clean house before they set up house. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? But if you’re the least bit familiar with the story of the Israelites, they didn’t exactly follow God’s instructions to the letter. They took a few liberties. It’s almost as if the enemy (Satan) was standing there just like he was in the garden of Eden, asking the question, “Surely, God has not said…”

I can just hear Satan whispering in their ears, “You don’t have to get rid of ALL the idols, just most of them.” Or maybe he worded his temptation this way, “You might want to leave one of the pagan shrines intact, just in case Yahweh doesn’t come through for you.” And as far as ridding the land of all its occupants, Satan probably did his best to convince the people of God just how politically incorrect and insensitive this kind of thing could come across to the rest of the people in the region. “You don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with your neighbors, do you?”

And God seemed to know that the people would have second thoughts about His command, so He warned them what would happen if they failed to obey.”But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live. And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them” (Numbers 33:55-56 NLT). Disobey me, God says, and you will live to regret it. This is not a suggestion, but a command. God expects them to do what He says. He has a good reason for what He is asking them to do. He knows exactly what will happen if they choose to disobey Him. And its not good. If they fail to remove the land’s occupants, they will become a constant threat and a thorn in their side. They will not learn to live amicably together. Cleansing was critical for spiritual survival.

In his commentary on the book of Numbers, Dr. Thomas Constable has this to say, “The repetition of ‘all’ (Numbers 33:52) stresses the importance of completely clearing the land of its inhabitants and their religious paraphernalia. God wanted to clean up the land spiritually and to make it a ‘holy land.’ The land was a gift from God to His first-born son, Israel (Numbers 33:53). God warned the Israelites what would happen to them if they were not completely obedient (Numbers 333:55-56). The Canaanites would be a constant source of irritation to them, and God would deal with His people as He planned to deal with the Canaanites.”

God wanted to clean up the land spiritually and make it a holy land. That reminds me of what God wants to do with my life. He wants to clean it up spiritually and make it holy. He is about removing anything and everything in my life that would defile or defeat me. He wants to clean house. But I tend to want to hang on to certain remnants of my past. I want to give the enemy some footholds in my life where he can live at peace. I want to keep some of the idols that were there before God came to occupy the land. I find the idols comforting. They bring me a little bit of peace and assurance. But God wants to purge my life of any vestiges of the past. He wants to make all things new. To receive all the blessings the Promised Land had to offer, the people had to obey God fully. The same thing is true for us today. To enjoy all the blessings out new life in Christ offers, we must obey God fully. God makes this clear in His Word.

“…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception.” – Ephesians 4:22 NLT

“Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire.” – Colossians 3:9 MSG

“The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So don’t live in darkness. Get rid of your evil deeds. Shed them like dirty clothes. Clothe yourselves with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light. We should be decent and true in everything we do, so that everyone can approve of our behavior. Don’t participate in wild parties and getting drunk, or in adultery and immoral living, or in fighting and jealousy. But let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you, and don’t think of ways to indulge your evil desires.” – Romans 13:12-14 NLT

God is looking for change. He wants us to purge and purify. To rid the landscape of our lives from any and all vestiges of the past. If we do, we will be blessed. If we don’t, we will always find ourselves doing battle with past enemies and tempted to worship former idols. Cleansing is the key to blessing.

Father, show me the idols in my life that I have left up. Open my eyes and help me see any enemies I have left occupying the landscape of my life. I want to clean house. I want to enter the land of Your promise and enjoy all the blessings You have in store for me. But I know I have some house cleaning to do. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 32

Be Sure Your Sins Will Find You Out

“But if you fail to keep your word, then you will have sinned against the LORD, and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. – Numbers 32:23 NLT

This chapter contains one of those verses we’ve all heard before, but probably never knew where it came from. We’ve probably found ourselves using part of the verse without even knowing the context or the real meaning behind it. “Be sure your sins will find you out!,” are words that have probably flowed from our lips in one form or another. And if we’re parents, they were more than likely directed at one of our kids. So this morning as I read through chapter 32 of Numbers, I was a little surprised to see these familiar words in their original context. I had forgotten (if I had ever known) just why these words were first spoken by Moses. As the people of God prepared to enter the Promised Land, the land of Canaan, Moses is approached by the tribes of Reuben and Gad. They have a lot of flocks and have noticed that the land east of the Jordan has some great pastureland. So they make a request to Moses asking him for permission to remain on the east side of the river instead of crossing over with everyone else to the actual land of promise. Moses is flabbergasted by their request. It is eerily reminiscent of the time 40 years earlier when the people refused to enter the land, but instead listened to the bad report from the spies. That decision resulted in God’s wrath and punishment. Now 40 years later, that generation has died off and their descendants stand on the brink of entering the land. When Moses hears their request to settle outside the land of promise he is incensed. “Are you trying to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the LORD has given them? This is what your ancestors did when I sent them from Kadesh–barnea to explore the land” (Numbers 32:7-8 NLT). For Moses, this is deja vu all over again. He reminds them what happened to the last group of people who made this kind of decision.

But the Reubenites and Gadites assure Moses that they are not abandoning the people of God or attempting to persuade them from entering the land. They simply want to take advantage of the better pastureland on the east side of the river. They are willing to fight alongside their brothers and assist them in conquering the land of Canaan until every tribe has a possession in the land. They will not settle east of the Jordan until that happens. This assurance calms Moses’ fears, but he still issues them a warning, “But if you don’t do what you say, you will be sinning against GOD; you can be sure that your sin will track you down” (Numbers 32:23 MSG). Moses expects them to keep their word and reminds them that if they don’t, their sin will be against God, not the people. And God will remember their sin. God would deal with them severely if they broke their commitment.

In the end, these tribes did hold up their end of the bargain (Joshua 4:12-13, 22), but their plan was not necessarily God’s plan. It was motivated by greed and self-interest that overshadowed the promise that God had made to provide them with an abundant land on the west side of the Jordan.  Like Lot, they were attracted to what looked good physically and materially. Rather than wait for what God had promised, they chose what they could see with their own eyes. There seems to be an assumption on their part that there might not be any land on the west side of the Jordan useful for raising flocks. So they selfishly put their dibs on the land outside of Canaan. This decision, while approved by Moses, would prove to be a problem in the years to come. Distance from the other tribes would end up producing misunderstanding and disunity later (Joshua 22). It also created a hole in the defensive lines of the Israelites. This area was often the first to experience invasion, and Israel would lose control of it several times in her later history (2 Kings 15:29).

So what’s the point for me? First, that there is truth to the adage that my sins will find me out. They will track me down. They will ultimately come back to haunt me. I need to take my commitments and my sins seriously because God does. Also, I need to look closely at the motivation behind my decisions. Why am I doing what I am about to do? Am I being motivated out of selfishness and greed? What will be the long-term ramifications of my decision if it is wrongly motivated. My sins will find me out. So will my selfish decisions. And both can have a tremendous impact on others.

Father, I know that my sins are forgiven because of Christ’s work on the cross, but it does not change the fact that my sins have ramifications. So do my decisions. Help me to see the motivation behind my decisions. Am I being motivated by greed and selfishness? If so, expose it and help me to see it. I want to continue to learn to trust you instead of just relying on what I can see. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 30-31

The Fight of Faith

“Take vengeance on the Midianites for leading the Israelites into idolatry. After that, you will die and join your ancestors. – Numbers 31 :2 NLT

This is a difficult chapter. As I read it this morning I was struck by the seeming violence and barbaric nature of the scene it portrays. Something about it jars our modern-day senses as we read about an entire civilization being wiped out, of innocent women and children being slaughtered. It seems reminiscent of the tribal warfare and genocide taking place in remote places around the world and chronicled in the media. Yet this is the story of the people of God doing the will of God. In reading this story we run the risk of being repulsed by the violence and becoming judgmental of a God who would justify such actions. Or we can become callous and insensitive to the very real battle the people of God found themselves in as they attempted to live as a people of faith in the midst of a fallen world. Either extreme is wrong. Many have rejected the God of the Old Testament as a blood-thirsty god who slaughtered indiscriminately and almost joyfully. Others have reduced the details surrounding the lives of the Old Testament characters as simply moralistic stories that have lost their vitality and any sense of reality. These were real people living real lives and having to fight real battles. The fight of faith was real.

To understand what was going on, we have to step outside of our modern context. We have to immerse ourselves in the culture into which the Israelites were entering as they prepared to take possession of the land. This was not Disney Land. This was a hostile environment inhabited by pagan people groups who were vehemently opposed to Israel and their God. The NET Bible makes the following comment regarding the nature of the war that God commanded Moses to wage against the Midianites: “The command in holy war to kill women and children seems in modern times a terrible thing to have been done
(and it was), and something they ought not to have done. But this criticism fails to understand the situation in the ancient world. The entire life of the ancient world was tribal warfare, necessitating warfare. God’s judgment is poured out on whole groups of people who act with moral abandonment and in sinful pursuit.”

The Midianites had led the people of Israel into sin. We read about it in chapter 25. The Midianite women had seduced the men of Israel into sexual immorality and idolatry. They had convinced the people of God to turn their backs on God. They were a moral threat, not necessarily a militaristic threat. But that is what made them dangerous. They would destroy the people of God from within, without ever having to raise a sword. So God commanded that they be destroyed. Otherwise their presence would be a constant threat to the spiritual well-being of the people of God. The danger was real and the solution was sobering. God was not going to tolerate the potential threat. He was willing to get rid of it. But the people of God were more tolerant. Even when they had defeated the Midianites, the men of Israel brought back the women and children. Moses reacted with disbelief and anger. “Why have you let all the women live? These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD’s people” (Numbers 31:15-16 NLT). The men of Israel were willing to live with the Midianite women in their midst, even though they posed a threat to their safety. They were the very women who caused them to rebel against God to begin with.

God called the people to action. He demanded that they deal with the threat to their spiritual safety. And they did. This was an act of faith. In fact, every battle the Israelites fought was an act of faith. They were not a warring people. They had been slaves. For the last 4o years they had been wandering vagabonds. They had no military training. They had never fought a battle before. So to form an army and fight against the Midianites was an act of faith. And God rewarded their faith. It is interesting that the preceding chapter outlines the sheer numbers of sheep, goats, and bulls the people were required to offer in sacrifice to God each year. Then this chapter outlines the number of sheep, cattle, and donkeys the people took as plunder from the Midianites.

675,000 sheep

72,000 cattle

61,000 donkeys

It seems that the sacrifices were all about faith. They were to offer to God their best, even thought it cost them dearly. The battle was all about faith, trusting God to lead them in an endeavor they had no skills for. But the result was the reward of God. He repaid their faithfulness with abundance. God gave them back far more in the way of livestock than they ever had to give to Him. He was testing their obedience. He wanted to see if they would step out in faith and obey what He told them to do. And He is asking us to do the same today. He is asking us to sacrifice, even when it seems costly. He is asking us to do battle with the things in our lives that threaten us, to remove things that tempt us to rebel against Him. If we will, He will reward us. He will bless us.

Father, Your Word is full of not-so-subtle reminders of the need for faith in my life. I doubt You. I disobey You. But You ask me to trust You and to step out in faith and do what You command me to do. You have a reason for Your requirements. You know what is best. May I learn to trust You more and disobey You less. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 29

An Expensive Proposition

“Sacrifice these to GOD as a congregation at your set feasts: your Whole-Burnt-Offerings, Grain-Offerings, Drink-Offerings, and Peace-Offerings. These are all over and above your personal Vow-Offerings and Freewill-Offerings. – Numbers 29 :39-17 MSG

Reading through chapter 29, I was struck by the sheer number of offerings required by the people of Israel to make. This chapter only covers the seventh month, which was the seventh month of the ecclesiastical year, but the first month of the civil year. When the people came into the land this would be the time of year when they had the most leisure time, because it would fall between the harvest and seeding time. So God seemed to fill it with a wider array of sacrifices and solemn occasions. But in this one chapter alone you have outlined the observances for the Feast of Trumpets on the first day of the month, the Day of Atonement on the tenth day, and the Feast of Booths on the 15th day. In that one month alone the people would sacrifice the following animals:

Bulls: 73

Rams: 17

Male Lambs: 120

Male Goats: 10

That doesn’t include all the other sacrifices that were to be made at various days of the month on an annual basis. In fact, if you look at chapters 28 and 29, it would appear that the yearly offerings, made at the peoples’ expense, without taking into account a vast number of voluntary vow and trespass offerings, would have added up to: goats, 15; kids, 21; rams, 72; bulls, 132; lambs, 1,101. So the total of animals sacrificed at public cost would have been an incredible 1,241. Then if you take into account the huge quantity of lambs slain at the Passover each year, the number goes out the roof. According to Josephus, the Jewish historian, in the time of Christ, the number of lambs sacrificed at Passover in a single year would have been in the vicinity of 255,600. That is an incredible amount of animals.

Think of the cost to the people. These were not there runts of the litter they were sacrificing, but the best. They were to be without blemish. They were the best they had to offer. In an agriculturally based system, this was an expensive proposition. And it was mandatory. No options. No excuses. So what’s the point? What does all this blood and sacrifice have to do with us? In The Expositors Bible Commentary, Ronald Allen says this:

“As we, the modern readers of Numbers, think scripturally, this overwhelming emphasis on sacrificial worship has one intent: to cause each reader to think of the enormity of the offense of our sin against the holiness of God, thus driving the repentant sinner to the foot of the Cross. All sacrifices—whether of the morning or evening, of Sabbath or New Moon—have their ultimate meaning in the death the Savior died. Apart from his death, these sacrifices were just the killing of animals and the burning of their flesh with attendant ceremonies. After his death, sacrifices such as these are redundant—indeed, offensive—for they would suggest that something was needed in addition to the Savior’s death. But before his death, these sacrifices were the very means God gave his people in love to help them face the enormity of their sin, the reality of their need for his grace, and—in some mysterious way—to point them to the coming cross of Savior Jesus.”

Thousands of lambs could never add up to the one sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. But they can reveal the incredible cost of sin. And that sin required a payment. The shedding of blood. “In fact, we can say that according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified by sprinkling with blood. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 NLT). We have forgiveness of sin. And we do not need to offer any more sacrifices. Jesus Christ accomplished it all with the sacrifice of His life in our place. No more blood needs to be shed. No more lives need to be sacrificed.

Father, thank You for reminding me of the costliness of sin. The sheer numbers of animals sacrificed is staggering, and it was all done in order that the people of God might have fellowship with You. But You gave Your Son so that I might have unbroken fellowship with You. His death paid for my sins. His sacrifice satisfied my debt. Never let me take that for granted. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

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
kenm@christchapelbc.org

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
kenm@christchapelbc.org

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
kenm@christchapelbc.org

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
kenm@christchapelbc.org