Scattered Sheep and Shoddy Shepherds

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. Ezekiel 34:1-10 ESV

While every Israelite was personally responsible for their own sin, God placed blame on the nation’s leadership and held them culpable for the sorry spiritual state of the His chosen people. The civic and religious leaders of Judah had played an undeniable role in the nation’s demise. According to God, these powerful and influential men were guilty of using their positions of authority to mislead and abuse those under their care. Rather than serving as loving shepherds for God’s flock, they had used their God-given authority for personal gain.

Yahweh, the Good Shepherd, accused these men of fleecing His flock. When they should have been protecting God’s people, they had chosen to use their roles for personal profit and self-promotion. And God warns them that He will hold them responsible for their abuse of power.

What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? – Ezekiel 34:2 NLT

God is unsparing in His assessment of their crimes. Using the shepherding metaphor to full advantage, God accuses them of neglect, abuse, cruelty, and dereliction of duty.

“You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty.” – Ezekiel 34:4 NLT

But who are these shiftless shepherds? Throughout the Old Testament, the term “shepherd” is used to refer to kings, governors, priests, and even prophets. Since God is addressing His chosen people, His reference to shepherds would include the king and his royal court, as well as all the civic and religious leaders of Israel. Anyone in a position of authority would have been included in God’s indictment.

Earlier in his book, Ezekiel recorded God’s displeasure with the self-proclaimed prophets of Judah who were purporting to speak for God but were actually propagating false messages that contradicted the words of Ezekiel.

“…these prophets of yours are like jackals digging in the ruins. They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions.” – Ezekiel 13:4-6 NLT

The people viewed these men as spiritual leaders and took their words as having come from God. But their messages were nothing but lies, intended to deceive and designed to provide false hope. They were nothing more than snake-oil salesmen promoting a self-concocted product offering beguiling but completely bogus benefits.

But the prophets weren’t the only ones whom God held responsible. The priests also played a role in the nation’s spiritual freefall. The very ones who should have been promoting obedience and modeling faithfulness were guilty of gross misconduct and failure to fulfill their God-given role. The prophet Hosea recorded God’s stinging rebuke of the priestly order and His intention to punish them for their catastrophic abuse of power.

“My people are being destroyed
    because they don’t know me.
Since you priests refuse to know me,
    I refuse to recognize you as my priests.
Since you have forgotten the laws of your God,
    I will forget to bless your children.
The more priests there are,
    the more they sin against me.
They have exchanged the glory of God
    for the shame of idols.

“When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
    So the priests are glad when the people sin!
‘And what the priests do, the people also do.’
    So now I will punish both priests and people
    for their wicked deeds.” – Hosea 4:6-9 NLT

The prophet Malachi provides God’s clear explanation of the priestly role and His blunt assessment of those responsible for carrying it out.

“The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites…” – Malachi 2:7-8 NLT

As the spiritual leaders of His people, God held the priests and prophets responsible for the well-being of the flock. They were the teachers and truth-tellers, the guides responsible for leading and feeding the sheep of God’s flock. But they had dropped the ball. Rather than model righteousness and promote holiness, they had led the way in wickedness and unfaithfulness. When God had made His covenant with the tribe of Levi, setting them apart for their role as the priestly order, He declared, “they did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin” (Malachi 2:6 NLT). But all that had changed. Over time, the priests had become corrupt and used their God-ordained roles to promote sin rather than sanctification, and God would hold them accountable.

But there’s one more group of shepherds whom God must expose and excoriate. At the top of the leadership pyramid sat the king and all his royal counselors. As the designated head of state, the king was ultimately responsible for the well-being of the nation. His position as supreme ruler meant that the buck stopped with him. His role as God’s vice-regent provided him with great authority but it came with significant responsibility. The king was to serve as the primary example of submission to God. His power and authority had been delegated to him by God and it was to be used to provide protection and promote godliness. Yet, all throughout the history of the kings of Israel and Judah, there appears a recurring theme. The vast majority of the kings “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (2 Kings 15:9 NLT). They promoted idolatry, encouraged wickedness, and modeled unfaithfulness.

King David had encouraged Solomon, his son and heir to the throne, to remain faithful to God. His ascension to the kingship would require obedience to God.

“Observe the requirements of the LORD your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the LORD will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:3-4 NLT

Yet, Solomon had proved to be far from faithful. While he started out well, he ended his reign by promoting idolatry and causing the people to sin against God. As a result, God divided his kingdom in half, creating the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. And both kingdoms demonstrated a propensity for unfaithfulness. The sins of the kings resulted in God’s judgment of the people and their scattering among the nations.

“…my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. – Ezekiel 34:5-6 NLT

God accuses His shepherds of abandonment. Not only had they been the cause of their sin, but they had also done nothing to restore them to God’s fold when they had become scattered. And God declares His intention to hold these men responsible for their actions. And, more than that, He promises to step in and do what they should have done all along.

“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Good Leadership Doesn’t Just Happen

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. – 1 Timothy 5:17-25 ESV

Paul has already addressed the qualifications for elders earlier in his letter, but now he deals with the more practical realities of how Timothy is to interact with these essential church leaders. It’s interesting that he chooses to address elders immediately after giving Timothy advice on how to care for widows in the church. It would seem that, to Paul, both groups are important to the life of the church, and neither is to be overlooked or taken for granted.

It would be easy to forget about widows in the church because they tend to be out of sight and out of mind, even in society. Paul didn’t want that to happen in the church as well. And the same thing can be said of elders. Once a man is chosen to serve as an elder, it would be easy to overlook him and just assume that all is well and that his spiritual life is just fine. Paul didn’t want Timothy to take these men for granted and end up neglecting their needs or failing to show gratitude for the significant role they play in the health and well-being of the local church.

So, Paul tells Timothy to care for those men who voluntarily commit their time, talent, and energies to the oversight of the local church.

Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. – 1 Timothy 5:17 NLT

It would appear that these men were financially compensated for their work. As teachers and preachers, they could expect to receive a “double honor.” This may refer to the respect that came with their position as leaders and some form of financial remuneration to compensate them for their hard work on behalf of the church.

They were to be honored, respected, and cared for, especially those who carried the extra responsibility of preaching and teaching. It would make sense that, in the early days of the church, these men would have received financial compensation for the time they spent ministering to the spiritual needs of the body of Christ. It would appear that they may have been bi-vocational, holding down secular jobs and sacrificing part of their work hours to serve the needs of the church.

Serving as an elder, which would have included teaching, preaching, leading, and praying for the local congregation, would have been a time-consuming job. So, Paul encourages Timothy to ensure that these men are taken care of adequately. Quoting Deuteronomy 25:4, Paul compares the efforts of an elder to those of an ox used to tread grain. “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.”

An ox, as it pulled a stone wheel over the stalks of wheat to separate out the grain, was allowed to eat as it worked, providing it with an incentive to continue to do its job. In a similar manner, elders who worked hard on behalf of the body of Christ should be compensated and cared for, in order to reward and encourage them for their efforts. But the apostle Peter warned elders against doing their job for profit.

Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT

Elders were never to do their job for what they could get out of it. Ultimately, they were servants of God, and any compensation they received was up to the local congregation. They were not to demand payment for services rendered. To do so would have altered the nature of their role as selfless shepherds of the flock of Jesus Christ.

Paul also knew that, because elders served in a leadership capacity, they were going to be open to criticism and accusations. There would be those who disagreed with their teaching and disliked their leadership at times. That’s why Paul told Timothy to “not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19 NLT).

He was to give these men the benefit of the doubt, refusing to take at face value the word of one individual who might bring an accusation against an elder. If Timothy ever discovered that an elder had sinned, he was to confront them in private, and if that man proved unrepentant, he was to be reprimanded before the entire congregation, serving as a strong warning to the other elders and reinforcing the seriousness of their role as the spiritual leaders of the church. In all of this, Timothy was to act as an objective party, not showing favoritism or taking sides. While treating elders with respect and honor, he was not to side with them unfairly side or show them any form of favoritism.

Paul also warned Timothy not to be too hasty when appointing elders. To lay hands on a man, ordaining him for this highly important spiritual role, was a serious matter and was to be done soberly and carefully. To appoint a man to this high office, only to find out that he was unqualified, would be to share in his sin and shame. The one who placed an unqualified man in this important leadership position would be culpable for having put the congregation at risk.

So, Timothy was to be extremely careful when selecting men for the role of elder. But Paul knew that not all sins are obvious at first glance. There would inevitably be those cases where a man was appointed to the position of elder, only to find out later that he had some hidden sin in his life that disqualified him. It was going to happen and, when it did, Timothy would have to deal with it.

But there would also be cases in which a man’s good character might lie hidden and unseen. There would be those men in the church who were less obvious and whose good deeds were done behind the scenes, out of sight, and unrecognized by those in the congregation. That’s why it was so important for Timothy to choose carefully. The “obvious” candidates are not always the right candidate. He must look into the hidden character of each man being considered for the role of elder. As God told the prophet, Samuel, when he was looking for the next king of Israel, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT).

Finally, Paul gives Timothy some personal health advice. He was well aware that all of this could prove to be stressful and he knew that Timothy already suffered from some kind of chronic health issue. So, Paul recommended that Timothy “drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach because you are sick so often” (1 Timothy 5:23 NLT). Leading a church can be difficult and stressful. It is a huge responsibility and must be taken seriously. That’s why Paul pleaded with Timothy to take care of himself. He must be in good health if he is going to care for the body of Christ well.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Family Matters

1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows. – 1 Timothy 5:1-16 ESV

In the closing part of chapter 4, Paul gave Timothy three essential tasks to master if he wanted to be successful as a man of God. He must teach others, train himself to live a godly life, and he must use his life to typify what it means to love and serve God. Now Paul gets even more practical, giving Timothy concrete examples of how to apply what he is learning to everyday life within the body of Christ.

While Paul encouraged Timothy to never “let anyone think less of you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT), he also wanted his young protégé to refrain from arrogantly flaunting his position as a shepherd of God or treating those under his care with disrespect. He was to give special attention to his relationships with older men and women in the church, honoring them as he would his own father and mother by giving them the respect they were due. And Timothy was to look on the younger members of the church as his brothers and sisters in Christ, treating the younger men with dignity and interacting with the younger women in purity.

Paul wanted Timothy to know that being a minister of the gospel wasn’t just about disseminating information and doling out discipline to the unruly and unfaithful. Everything hinged on relationships. The church was a family, a God-ordained collection of individuals from all walks of life divinely joined together and commanded to care for, love, and support one another. Personality conflicts, disagreements, and each individual’s residual sin natures would tend to cause conflict within the local body of Christ. So, Timothy needed to know how to handle the practical side of ministry; that or people and the personal problems they bring to the table.

There are always constant needs within the church. In Paul’s day, widows were a significant concern because, in that culture, they tended to be overlooked and neglected. Women were often considered second-class citizens with few rights and privileges. Marriage was their safety net. Being a wife and mother was a necessity for most women, providing a roof over their heads, a source of respect within the community, and a means of making ends meet in a culture where jobs for women were few and far between. That’s why widows were especially vulnerable. They were viewed as having little value and were neglected by the culture at large. But Paul encouraged Timothy to care for those widows who had become part of the family of God.

He was to see to it that they were cared for, knowing that these women were looking to God as their help and source of hope. The church was to be the hands and feet of Christ, ministering to these women, and ensuring that their families were caring for them properly. When there was no family to meet their needs, Timothy was to make sure that the family of God stepped in and cared for them properly.

As usual, these cases are never cut-and-dried. There are always underlying circumstances that must be considered and dealt with. It would be much easier if we could just say, “Take care of the widows in the church,” but there are always insinuating circumstances that make our decisions a bit more difficult and a shade more grey than black-and-white.

Timothy was to consider all circumstances regarding widows. He had to factor in their age, existing family relationships, and most importantly, their character. Not every woman who was a widow was to be the church’s responsibility. Careful consideration was to be taken when investigating the needs of these women. In some cases, their families were to be confronted and held accountable for having refused to step in and care for their own. Obviously, there were cases where sons and daughters had chosen to neglect the needs of their own mothers. This was unacceptable and the church was not obligated to take on the responsibility.

Younger widows were not added to the “list” of those who received regular support from the church. It was still possible for them to remarry, have their own families, and access to a reliable means of support. It would appear from Paul’s statements that he expected the older widows who received care from the church to willingly dedicate their lives and service to the body of Christ in return for financial support. They evidently vowed to not remarry, instead dedicating themselves to the service of God and the church. Younger women, if added to this list, and then presented with the opportunity to remarry, would find it hard to live out that kind of commitment.

These verses deal with a very specific issue that was a real problem in the church in Ephesus. It is more descriptive than prescriptive. In other words, Paul is not establishing a binding rule or law for the church. These 16 verses should not be interpreted as the non-negotiable biblical requirements for caring for widows in the local church. But they do provide an insightful glimpse into the kind of careful consideration that must be applied by shepherds when caring for their flock.

The bottom line is that the church is to be all about relationships. It can be messy and, at times, difficult. There are always variables and certain circumstances that make decision-making anything but easy. There are many things to consider when dealing with people and relationships. We must often apply a careful combination of biblical wisdom and common sense.  We must do our homework, considering carefully and prayerfully what God would have us do, always striving to treat everyone with dignity, respect, and honor.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Help Wanted

1 This letter is from Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, appointed by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus, who gives us hope.

I am writing to Timothy, my true son in the faith.

May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace. – 1 Timothy 1:1-2 ESV

Timothy was Paul’s disciple. He had evidently been led to the Lord by Paul during one of his missionary travels to Lystra. During Paul’s second missionary journey, Timothy accompanied him to the cities of Troas, Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth. Timothy was a part of Paul’s third missionary journey to the city of Ephesus and was sent by Paul to minister on his own in the region of Macedonia. This young man also made it to Rome while Paul was there under house arrest. He was well-traveled and well-respected by Paul, having earned the apostle’s trust.

Paul had sent him to the city of Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering when he received this first letter from Paul. Timothy had evidently written Paul, sharing his desire to return to his side and accompany him in his ministry. But Paul was going to break the news to Timothy that he was needed right where he was. In fact, verse three tells us that when Paul and Timothy went to Ephesus on that third missionary journey, Paul went on to Macedonia, leaving Timothy behind with a job to do.

When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. – 1 Timothy 1:3 NLT

By this time in the story of the spread of the Gospel, there were churches all over that area of the world. The Good News was spreading fast and people were coming to faith in Christ at an incredible rate. The problem was that there were too few men equipped to minister to the large numbers of churches springing up. There were infant believers everywhere and no one to lead and feed them.

Despite his zeal and high capacity for work, Paul couldn’t do it all. Much of his time had been spent in prison or under house arrest. He couldn’t be everywhere at once, and there were no seminaries churning out pastors and teachers. There were no schools raising up and equipping elders for the local churches. Yet there seemed to be no shortage of false teachers and ill-informed individuals with potentially destructive viewpoints on a wide range of topics. So, Paul turned to Timothy. Yes, he was young and inexperienced, but he was needed. Knowing that this young man was probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by the task at hand, Paul reminded him what the true purpose of all biblical instruction should be.

The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. – 1 Timothy 1:5 NLT

Paul’s letters to Timothy have less to do with the teaching of doctrine than the defense of it. The content is practical, not theological. Paul wants Timothy to know how to encourage the believers in Ephesus toward true life change, marked by a love that manifests itself in daily life. Paul is looking for practical expressions of love. He knows that there are three things that will prevent that from happening in any believer’s life: An impure heart, a conscience that is burdened by shame, and a lack of trust in God.

This is basic stuff. It trumps a head full of theology and doctrine every time. But Paul warns Timothy, “some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions” (1 Timothy 1:6 NLT).

Somewhere along the way, they had become obsessed with things that were not resulting in increased faith and love. Debating had replaced serving. Controversy had become more popular than showing mercy and expressing love to one another. Paul had warned the elders in Ephesus, “some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following: (Acts 20:30 NLT). He went on to say that these “false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29 NLT).

The main problem seemed to have revolved around incorrect teaching regarding the law of Moses. There were those who were presenting their interpretations of the law and its application to the lives of believers, and their instructions were wreaking havoc on the health of the church. Their focus was not on increasing the love and faith of the people of God, but on being seen as experts on the topic at hand.

Paul told Timothy, “they want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently” (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT). These individuals were cocky and confident, assured that their view was the right one. And all this discussion and debate was causing confusion and conflict within the church. Paul reminded Timothy that love should be the primary motivation for any teacher of the Word of God. Teaching that does not edify and instruction that does not increase faith is misapplied and misses the point. Debating doctrine is useless if it fails to foster more love for God and others. If it doesn’t produce increased devotion to and dependence on God, it’s a waste of time.

That is why the church at Ephesus needed Timothy, and the church today needs men and women who understand that increasing the love and faith of the people of God is the primary responsibility of those who teach the Word of God. Knowledge alone is not enough. It produces pride. Doctrine by itself is insufficient. It can become sterile and little more than head knowledge. Theology, even that which is sound and biblically based, is incomplete if it does not result in more love and greater faith.

Paul was in need of assistance, so he turned to his young protégé, Timothy. This relatively inexperienced spiritual novice was a work in process, but he represented the next generation of spiritual leadership for the rapidly growing church. Paul knew that the future health of the body of Christ would require new leadership. One man could not keep up with the explosive growth of Christianity. There were too many fledgling congregations popping up all over the place and not enough qualified men to lead them. So, Paul took it upon himself to train and prepare the next wave of missionaries and pastors who would minister to the flock of Jesus Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

No Shortcuts to Holiness

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that we have met: 15 how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time. And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers. 16 And when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” 18 But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” 19 And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” 20 But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. 21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him.

22 And they journeyed from Kadesh, and the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. 23 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, 24 “Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up to Mount Hor. 26 And strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron shall be gathered to his people and shall die there.” 27 Moses did as the Lord commanded. And they went up Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron had perished, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.  Numbers 20:14-29 ESV

The Israelites were nearing their final destination and as they approached the borders of Canaan, God was cleaning house. Chapter 20 opens with the death of Miriam. But the end of the chapter records the death of her brother, Aaron, the high priest of Israel. He too was disciplined by God for his part in the affair at Meribah. God had accused both Aaron and Moses of treating Him disrespectfully before the people.

“Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” – Numbers 20:12 ESV

While Moses had been the one to strike the rock three times in anger, Aaron had done nothing to stop his brother from disobeying God’s command. God had clearly communicated His orders to both men.

“You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.” – Numbers 20:8 NLT

But Moses and Aaron were fed up with the constant bickering and complaining of the people. Despite what God had ordered them to do, they were going to use this God-ordained miracle as an opportunity to teach the people a lesson.

Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill. – Numbers 20:10-11 NLT

Moses, speaking on behalf of himself and his brother, tried to leave the impression that they were the ones who would meet the Israelite’s needs by providing water from the rock. In essence, they tried to rob God of glory. Then, by striking the rock rather than speaking to it, Moses violated the command of God. And God would hold both men accountable for their actions.

It was on the southern border of the land of Edom that God delivered the devastating news to Aaron and Moses.

“He will not enter the land I am giving the people of Israel, because the two of you rebelled against my instructions concerning the water at Meribah.” – Numbers 20:24 NLT

In a rather sobering ceremony atop Mount Hor, Moses took the priestly robes off of Aaron and gave them to Aaron’s son, Eleazar. It appears from the text that Aaron did not get to live out the rest of his life wandering in the wilderness, but died on top of the mountain while Moses and Eleazar looked on. They descended the mountain without him and the people of Israel mourned his death for 30 days.

Now Moses was alone. For nearly 40 years he had led the people of Israel with the help of his brother and sister, but their deaths had left him with the sole responsibility of getting the people of Israel to the land of Canaan. But Moses knew that he was never going to set foot in the land because of his role in the affair at Meribah. Like Aaron, he would be denied access to the land of promise and breathe his last breath in the wilderness.

But Moses continued to fulfill the duties God had given to him some four decades earlier. He mourned the loss of his brother but then set about leading the people of Israel to the border of Canaan. To do so, he had attempted to take a shortcut through the land of Edom.

Edom was located on the southernmost border of Canaan and was occupied by distant relatives of the Israelites. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the firstborn son of Isaac and the twin brother of Jacob. When Esau had been cheated out of his birthright by Jacob, he decided to relocate his family to another part of Canaan.

Esau took his wives, his children, and his entire household, along with his livestock and cattle—all the wealth he had acquired in the land of Canaan—and moved away from his brother, Jacob. There was not enough land to support them both because of all the livestock and possessions they had acquired. So Esau (also known as Edom) settled in the hill country of Seir. – Genesis 36:6-8 NLT

Once there, Esau’s descendants prospered and developed a thriving kingdom. During the four centuries that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, the Edomites lived under a long line of kings (Genesis 36:31) and enjoyed a measure of peace and prosperity.

So, when Moses sent emissaries to the king of Edom seeking permission to pass through their territory, he expected a favorable response.

“This is what your relatives, the people of Israel, say: You know all the hardships we have been through. Our ancestors went down to Egypt, and we lived there a long time, and we and our ancestors were brutally mistreated by the Egyptians. But when we cried out to the Lord, he heard us and sent an angel who brought us out of Egypt. Now we are camped at Kadesh, a town on the border of your land. Please let us travel through your land. We will be careful not to go through your fields and vineyards. We won’t even drink water from your wells. We will stay on the king’s road and never leave it until we have passed through your territory.”– Numbers 20:14-17 NLT

The kingdom of Edom covered a large swath of land and without the right of safe passage through its territory, Moses and the people of Israel would be forced to take a much longer route around it. But no matter how hard Moses pleaded, the king of Edom refused to grant access to their land. He even threatened them with war if they tried. He even “mobilized his army and marched out against them with an imposing force” (Numbers 20:20 NLT). 

Rejected by their own kin, the Israelites were forced to reverse course and take the long detour around Edom. What’s interesting to consider is that the Israelites had always been led by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. God had used these two phenomena to guide His people throughout their four-decade-long journey. So, was Moses’ attempt to go through Edom an unauthorized decision on his part? Had the cloud led him to this point or was the negotiations with Edom something he had come up with on his own? Was Moses trying to shorten the distance to Canaan by taking an unauthorized path through the land of Edom?

It seems unlikely that God would have chosen to use the Edomites to help His chosen people reach the land He had promised to provide for them. These two nations remained in constant conflict with one another long after Israel conquered and occupied the land of Canaan. And the book of Obadiah describes God’s anger against Edom for the way it took advantage of Israel’s later misfortunes when the Babylonians conquered them and left the land desolate and depopulated.

“Because of the violence you did
    to your close relatives in Israel,
you will be filled with shame
    and destroyed forever.
When they were invaded,
    you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
    and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
    but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.

“You should not have gloated
    when they exiled your relatives to distant lands.
You should not have rejoiced
    when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune.
You should not have spoken arrogantly
    in that terrible time of trouble.
You should not have plundered the land of Israel
    when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have gloated over their destruction
    when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have seized their wealth
    when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have stood at the crossroads,
    killing those who tried to escape.
You should not have captured the survivors
    and handed them over in their terrible time of trouble.– Obadiah 10-14 ESV

The Israelites received no assistance from their distant relatives and were forced to travel southeasterly toward the Arabian desert. This unexpected setback must have disappointed Moses and it’s clear from the next chapter that it left the people of Israel far from pleased.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. – Numbers 21:4 ESV

God was not done teaching them the lessons they needed to learn. They were not yet ready to enter His rest. So, God continued to purge their leadership and purify their hearts in preparation for the day when He would lead them into their promised inheritance.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Faith Over Facts

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel. And these were their names: From the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph; from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu; 10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi; 11 from the tribe of Joseph (that is, from the tribe of Manasseh), Gaddi the son of Susi; 12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli; 13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael; 14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi; 15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi. 16 These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.

17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, 18 and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, 19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes.

21 So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. 22 They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster that the people of Israel cut down from there. Numbers 13:1-24 ESV

After a brief seven-day delay in which Miriam was punished for attempting to lead a coup against her own brother, God led the people to Kadesh-Barnea. They were now on the edge of the land of Canaan. This had been their destination all along. It was the place that God had promised to give them as their inheritance and now they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, ready to cross over and begin their conquest of the land.

But before they could enter into the land that God had promised to give them, He instructed Moses to select one man from each of the twelve tribes and send them on a clandestine mission to spy out the enemy’s strength and to verify the agricultural quality of the land itself.

“Go north through the Negev into the hill country. See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.”  (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.) – Numbers 13:17-20 NLT

According to Moses’ account of this event, recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, the sending of the spies had actually been the peoples’ idea.

“But you all came to me and said, ‘First, let’s send out scouts to explore the land for us. They will advise us on the best route to take and which towns we should enter.’

“This seemed like a good idea to me, so I chose twelve scouts, one from each of your tribes. They headed for the hill country and came to the valley of Eshcol and explored it. They picked some of its fruit and brought it back to us. And they reported, ‘The land the Lord our God has given us is indeed a good land.’”  – Deuteronomy 1:22-25 NLT

They petitioned Moses to send in spies and God went along with the plan. But it appears that God had a different agenda than the people did. Their reason for sending in spies was to determine whether there was any hope of defeating the nations that already occupied the land. But God agreed to send in spies so that they might give witness to the truth concerning the abundance and fruitfulness of the land. 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. The conquest of the land was not up for debate.

So,the spies went and they saw. And when they returned they reported the facts just as they had witnessed them. They even brought back physical evidence of the land’s long-rumored fruitfulness: grape clusters so large that they had to be carried on a pole between two men.

When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs. – Numbers 16:23 NLT

But the 12 men who went in to spy out the land returned 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 was an abundance of well-armed people living in fortified cities. And they were far stronger than the Israelites. But in reporting what they had seen, these men 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. From day one, He had warned them that the land would be 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 had never told them that this was going to be a cake-walk. But He did assure them of their victory – as long as they obeyed Him.

But it seems that, of the 12 spies, only Caleb and Joshua believed God. They saw the same things the others had seen. They didn’t 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 would 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 “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!”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Painful Price of Pride

1 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

10 When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. 11 And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us because we have done foolishly and have sinned. 12 Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.” 13 And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” 14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” 15 So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. 16 After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran. Numbers 12:1-16 ESV

Moses was the God-appointed leader of the nation Israel and Aaron, his brother, had been set apart by God to serve as the high priest. And even when God had agreed to provide His chosen leader with administrative assistance, God poured out His Spirit on 70 men who would serve directly under Moses. They were not to replace him or to assume they served on an equal standing with him. These men were supposed to assist Moses in his oversight of the nation, wisely administering justice and handling disputes among the people so that Moses would not become overwhelmed.

Yet, this chapter introduces a new form of leadership struggle that rose among the people and it started with those who were closest to Moses – his own family. It seems that his brother and sister took issue with a marriage arrangement he had agreed to with a Cushite woman. There is some debate as to the identity of this woman, but it would appear that she was of a foreigner of Ethiopian descent. It could be that Moses’ first wife, Zipporah, had died some time during the last year, and he then married this Ethiopian woman. But whatever the circumstances, Miriam and Aaron took issue with the marriage and used it as an excuse to question Moses’ qualifications to lead the nation.

They saw the marriage as evidence of Moses’ lack of discernment and questioned whether he was really hearing from God. In fact, they claimed to be on an equal standing with Moses when it came to divine insight.

“Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” – Numbers 12:2 NLT

Miriam was older than Moses and had been the one who helped secure his safety when Pharaoh had ordered the murder all the male babies born among the Israelites living in Egypt (Exodus 1:15-16). Miriam had arranged with the daughter of Pharaoh to have the infant, Moses, nursed by one of the Hebrew women, who just happened to be her own mother (Exodus 2:7-9). Exodus 15:20 refers to Miriam as a prophetess of God, and Micah 6:4 lists her as one of the three individuals whom God appointed to lead the nation of Israel from Egypt to the land of Canaan.

“For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.” – Micah 6:4 ESV

But in Numbers 12, Miriam attempted to convince her brother, Aaron, to join her in staging a coup against Moses. It seems rather odd that she would target Aaron for participation in this little insurrection because he was already second-in-command and served as the high priest of the people. Even before Moses had successfully led the people of Israel out of Egypt, Aaron had served as his second-hand man. God had appointed him as Moses’ mouthpiece.

“What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he speaks well. And look! He is on his way to meet you now. He will be delighted to see you. Talk to him, and put the words in his mouth. I will be with both of you as you speak, and I will instruct you both in what to do. Aaron will be your spokesman to the people. He will be your mouthpiece, and you will stand in the place of God for him, telling him what to say.” – Exodus 4:14-16 NLT

But Miriam and Aaron had decided that they were just as qualified as their brother to serve as the de facto leaders of Israel. After all, they too had been born into the tribe of Levi and had every right to serve in a leadership capacity. And it didn’t help that Moses was a very humble individual who had no desire for the limelight. Of his own admission, he was far from charismatic or overly eloquent.

“O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” – Exodus 4:10 NLT

His lack of self-esteem made him an easy target for Miriam’s attacks. She believed that Moses had been a poor choice by God and the Cushite marriage agreement had proven Moses’ lack of discernment. But God disagreed with their assessment and ordered the three siblings to meet Him at the tent of meeting, located just outside the camp.

And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words…” – Numbers 12:5-6 ESV

God wanted a word with these dissatisfied siblings and, when He was done, they were going to wish they had never opened their mouths against Moses. The first thing God cleared up was His divine right to choose whomever He wanted as His leader. Miriam may have been a prophetess of God, but that did not put her on equal footing with Moses. In fact, God seems to be taking a dig at Miriam’s prophetess status when He states, “If there were prophets among you, I, the Lord, would reveal myself in visions. I would speak to them in dreams” (Numbers 12:6 NLT).

Miriam had experienced no dreams or visions from God. Her demand for equal status was a figment of her own overactive imagination and over-inflated sense of self-worth. And to make sure she understood the vast difference between His relationship with her and the one He shared with Moses, God declared:

“Of all my house, he is the one I trust. I speak to him face to face, clearly, and not in riddles! He sees the Lord as he is.” – Numbers 12:7-8 NLT

That had to have hit Miriam like a brick to the forehead. God’s words stung and burst the bubble of her own sense of self-importance. And, to make matters worse, God demanded to know why she had shown no fear to criticize Moses. Who did she think she was?

Having stated His case against Miriam and Aaron, God departed from them. But He left an unsettling reminder of His displeasure. When Aaron turned to look at Miriam, he was shocked to discover that her entire body was covered with leprosy. And fearing that he was next, he called out to Moses to intervene on their behalf.

“Oh, my master! Please don’t punish us for this sin we have so foolishly committed.” – Numbers 12:11 NLT

The sudden and unexpected sight of his sister covered with leprosy must have reminded Aaron of another day when something similar had happened to Moses. Back when God had called Moses to be the chosen deliverer of the people of Israel, He had given him a series of signs that were intended to prove to the people of Israel that Yahweh had sent him.

“Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. – Exodus 4:6-7 ESV

Now, more than a year later, Moses and Aaron were staring at their sister, Miriam, whose entire body was covered with this hideous disease. But this time, there was no quick fix. Moses desperately pleaded for her immediate healing.

O God, please heal her—please.” – Numbers 12:13 ESV

But God refused to grant his request. Instead, He graciously announced that her punishment would not match the gravity of her crime.

“If her father had done nothing more than spit in her face, wouldn’t she be defiled for seven days? So keep her outside the camp for seven days, and after that she may be accepted back.” – Numbers 12:14 NLT

In essence, God is declaring that Miriam had defiled herself through her actions. And while God could have left her to suffer from the hideous effects of leprosy for a lifetime, He mercifully restricted her period of suffering to only seven days. But she would be required to spend the entire time on the outskirts of the camp, suffering the indignity of the disease and the social stigmatization of ceremonial impurity. She was to be treated as unclean and unwelcome among the people of God – until God had healed her. And during the seven days of her punishment, the entire nation of Israel was forced to delay their journey to the land of promise. Everything came to a halt because Miriam had decided to question the will of God and the authority of His chosen leader. And this painful punishment from God should have served as a powerful reminder to the entire nation that no one was immune to God’s discipline against disobedience. Even the sister of Moses.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

An Appetite for Disobedience

16 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone. 18 And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19 You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20 but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’” 21 But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ 22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” 23 And the Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord»s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.

26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp. Numbers 11:16-30 ESV

Moses was feeling a bit overwhelmed by his responsibilities as the leader of Israel. From the very first moment he had introduced himself to them as their God-appointed deliverer, he had run into opposition. Even when he had successfully led them out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, they proved to be far from compliant and quick to complain. He had been forced to deal with their rebellion at Sinai, when they had begun to worship the golden calves while he was on the mountaintop receiving the Ten Commandments from God.

They were incessantly complaining about everything, from the quality of the food to the scarcity of water. There were those who questioned Moses’ leadership skills and tried to displace him. There were others who tried to mount an insurrection and orchestrate an immediate return to Egypt. Hardly a day went by when Moses wasn’t having to deal with a disgruntled Israelite or face another round of searing criticism. And he had reached the limits of his patience. So, in a state of frustration and self-pity, he decided to turn in his resignation to God.

I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!” – Numbers 11:14-15 NLT

But God wasn’t going to let Moses off the hook quite so easily. He had more for His servant to do. And God was aware that the Israelites were stubborn people who could be disobedient, disrespectful, and ungrateful. Even on a good day, they were difficult to manage. But when things didn’t go the way they expected or desired, they could be virtually ungovernable and intolerable to deal with.

So, God instructed Moses to choose 70 men from among the elders and leaders of Israel. These hand-picked individuals would serve as Moses’ assistants and provide him with much-needed help in managing the day-to-day affairs of the nation. To ensure their capacity for godly leadership, God promised to anoint them with His Spirit. And to prove to the people that these men had been appointed by God, they would receive the gift of prophecy.

“Prophesying here does not refer to prediction or even to proclamation but to giving (in song or speech) praise and similar expressions without prior training (see the comparable experience of Saul in 1 Sam. 10:9-11)” – Eugene H. Merrill, “Numbers.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, pp. 215-58.

Their ability to prophesy would testify to their status as God’s chosen messengers. These men were already recognized as leaders among their people, but now they would be seen as God’s messengers and Moses’ co-administrators.

“They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone.” – Numbers 11:17 NLT

Having dealt with Moses’ complaint about feeling overworked and overwhelmed, God turned His attention to the peoples’ criticism of the cuisine. They had expressed great displeasure with God’s culinary skills, citing their distaste and disgust for the manna He had provided. They were sick of it and demanded a change in diet. They wanted meat.

“Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” – Numbers 11:4-6 NLT

So, God informed the Israelites that He was going to give in to their demand.

“Purify yourselves, for tomorrow you will have meat to eat. You were whining, and the Lord heard you when you cried, ‘Oh, for some meat! We were better off in Egypt!’ Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will have to eat it. And it won’t be for just a day or two, or for five or ten or even twenty. You will eat it for a whole month until you gag and are sick of it. – Numbers 11:18-20 NLT

The old adage, “Be careful what you wish for” applies here. In demanding that God give them meat to eat, the people were rejecting the provision of God. They had turned up their noses at the manna He had graciously and miraculously provided. Driven by their physical appetites and controlled by their senses, they had dared to question God’s goodness and began to dictate that their own will take priority over His. They knew what was best.

And God promised to fulfill their wish – in abundance. For a solid month, they would consume nothing but meat. Their chosen diet would soon become repugnant to them. They would come to the point where they longed for the manna of God but would only find more meat on the menu. And this novel 30-day diet plan was God’s way of punishing them for their rejection of Him. This was not about food choices but about their unwillingness to submit to God’s will for them. At the heart of their demand for meat was their rejection of God’s entire redemptive plan for them.

“For you have rejected the Lord, who is here among you, and you have whined to him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’” – Numbers 11:20 NLT

God was attempting to move them forward – toward Canaan – but they were constantly looking backward – toward Egypt. They refused to trust God’s plan for them. They disliked His chosen path for their lives and wanted to return to the “good old days” of Egypt. But their memories were clouded and their faith had been contaminated by a fear of the unknown and the unpleasant. Their journey to the promised land had not turned out to be a walk in the park. It had been a year since they left Egypt and there were still wandering in the wilderness with no clear end in sight. But the blessings of God required obedience. If they wanted to enjoy His presence, power, and provision, they would have to trust Him. They would have to submit to His will. But for the next 30 days, they would have to submit to His discipline in the form of a meat-only diet.

But when Moses heard what God planned to do, he immediately questioned the logic and logistics of it all. He couldn’t fathom how God intended to provide enough meat to feed that many people. Even if they slaughtered all their livestock and emptied the rivers and streams of every fish, they wouldn’t have enough meat to feed all the people for a month. So, Moses informed God that His plan was impossible. But God reminded His doubting deliverer that He was fully capable of carrying out His plan.

“Has my arm lost its power? Now you will see whether or not my word comes true!” – Numbers 11:23 NLT

God didn’t tell Moses how He was going to accomplish His miracle of the meat. All Moses needed to worry about was selecting the 70 men and bringing them to the tabernacle for their anointing by the Spirit. Which Moses did. And God fulfilled His promise, pouring out His Spirit upon the men whom Moses had chosen and empowering them to prophesy. For some reason, two of the men never made it to the tabernacle. Yet, even though they had remained in the camp, the Spirit of God descended upon them, and they too experienced the gift of prophecy. And when Joshua heard about these two men, he demanded that Moses put a stop to what he believed to be an unauthorized display of divine power. Yet, Moses refused to do so, instead expressing his desire that every single Israelite would receive the same anointing of God.

“Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!” – Numbers 11:29 NLT

For whatever reason, Eldad and Medad had stayed behind in the camp. Yet they had been chosen by Moses and were therefore anointed by God. Their proximity to the tabernacle was not essential to their calling. Their distance from the rest of the 70 men had no impact on their eventual anointing by God. Sixty-eight men ended up prophesying at the tabernacle while two prophesied in the camp. But all 70 displayed the Spirit’s power and God’s approval of their role as His servants. And Moses wished that all the people of Israel could experience that same degree of divine endorsement.

While the people would not receive the anointing of the Spirit, they would have a different kind of blessing poured out upon them. God was going to fulfill His promise of meat on a grand scale. And Moses and the rest of the Israelites would learn that God’s arm had not lost is power – to provide and to punish.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Lamps, Levites, and Leadership

Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and say to him, When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.” And Aaron did so: he set up its lamps in front of the lampstand, as the Lord commanded Moses. And this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold. From its base to its flowers, it was hammered work; according to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the Levites from among the people of Israel and cleanse them. Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of purification upon them, and let them go with a razor over all their body, and wash their clothes and cleanse themselves. Then let them take a bull from the herd and its grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, and you shall take another bull from the herd for a sin offering. And you shall bring the Levites before the tent of meeting and assemble the whole congregation of the people of Israel. 10 When you bring the Levites before the Lord, the people of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites, 11 and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that they may do the service of the Lord. 12 Then the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, and you shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the Lord to make atonement for the Levites. 13 And you shall set the Levites before Aaron and his sons, and shall offer them as a wave offering to the Lord.

14 “Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. 15 And after that the Levites shall go in to serve at the tent of meeting, when you have cleansed them and offered them as a wave offering. 16 For they are wholly given to me from among the people of Israel. Instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the people of Israel, I have taken them for myself. 17 For all the firstborn among the people of Israel are mine, both of man and of beast. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I consecrated them for myself, 18 and I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel. 19 And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel, that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary.”

20 Thus did Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the people of Israel to the Levites. According to all that the Lord commanded Moses concerning the Levites, the people of Israel did to them. 21 And the Levites purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes, and Aaron offered them as a wave offering before the Lord, and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them. 22 And after that the Levites went in to do their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron and his sons; as the Lord had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them.

23 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. 25 And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. 26 They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.” Numbers 8:1-26 ESV

Chapter seven recorded the joy and generosity of the people of Israel at the dedication of the tabernacle. The entire chapter is a list of all the gifts the various tribes brought to the dedication. And Moses painstakingly records the exact nature of each tribe’s contribution, revealing that they all gave equally. This occasion was spread out over 12 days, with the various sacrifices for each tribe taking up the better part of the day on which they made their presentation. So, for almost two solid weeks, there was the giving of gifts, the burning of sacrifices, and the atonement for the sins of the people. This would have been a remarkable celebration. And it ended with Moses going into the tabernacle to meet with God, where “he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim” (Numbers 7:59 ESV).

This was a joyful celebration because God had accepted their gifts and was in their midst.  And it was followed by the dedication of the Levites. These men were the literal “stand-ins” for the people. God had chosen them to serve Him in place of the firstborn males of the people. At one point, God had commanded that all the firstborn males were to be dedicated to His service. This was due to the fact that He had spared all the firstborn Hebrew sons on the night the Death Angel passed through the land of Egypt.

But later, God chose to use the Levites as substitutes for the firstborns of Israel. The male descendants of Levi would serve in their place. So on this day, the people were commanded by God to lay their hands on the heads of the Levites, transferring the sole responsibility of serving God onto the members of this one tribe. In essence, the Levites became living sacrifices, dedicated to God’s service.

But this chapter opens with a brief, yet important command from God concerning the golden lampstand. At first glance, these verses appear out of place. They don’t seem to fit the context. But upon closer examination, they begin to make sense.

God commands Moses to have Aaron light the golden lampstand within the tabernacle. The design for this vital tabernacle fixture was given much earlier and provides important details that will help explain the inclusion of verses 1-4. God had been very specific about the lampstand’s construction.

“Make a lampstand of pure, hammered gold. Make the entire lampstand and its decorations of one piece—the base, center stem, lamp cups, buds, and petals. Make it with six branches going out from the center stem, three on each side. Each of the six branches will have three lamp cups shaped like almond blossoms, complete with buds and petals.  Craft the center stem of the lampstand with four lamp cups shaped like almond blossoms, complete with buds and petals. There will also be an almond bud beneath each pair of branches where the six branches extend from the center stem. 36 The almond buds and branches must all be of one piece with the center stem, and they must be hammered from pure gold. Then make the seven lamps for the lampstand, and set them so they reflect their light forward. – Exodus 25:31-37 NLT

Notice the emphasis on the almond buds, blossoms, and petals. There are four separate references to this particular flower. The lampstand was to resemble a budding almond tree, which was the first tree to blossom and bear fruit in the spring. So, the lampstand was to be a visual symbol of life and fruitfulness, but also of light.

With the lampstand having been lit, God then instructed Moses to set apart the Levites. An elaborate ceremony was conducted to consecrate the Levites and to remind the Israelites that this one tribe had been chosen by God to serve as their substitutes.

“Of all the people of Israel, the Levites are reserved for me. I have claimed them for myself in place of all the firstborn sons of the Israelites; I have taken the Levites as their substitutes. – Numbers 8:16 NLT

God wanted to make it perfectly clear that the Levites had been given the sole responsibility of mediating before God on behalf of the people of Israel.

“I have claimed the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons of Israel. And of all the Israelites, I have assigned the Levites to Aaron and his sons. They will serve in the Tabernacle on behalf of the Israelites and make sacrifices to purify the people so no plague will strike them when they approach the sanctuary.” – Numbers 8:18-19 NLT

As part of the ceremony of consecration, the Levites “purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes” (Numbers 8:21 NLT).

After that the Levites went into the Tabernacle to perform their duties, assisting Aaron and his sons. So they carried out all the commands that the Lord gave Moses concerning the Levites. – Numbers 8:22 NLT

The lampstand was lit, the Levites were cleansed, and their ministry in the tabernacle on behalf of the people began. But fast-forward to chapter 16 and there you will find recorded a rather dark moment in Israel’s history. It took place as they continued their journey from Egypt to Canaan and it involved a significant rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. A small group of individuals, jealous of the power wielded by Moses and his brother, decided to stage a coup. Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On “incited a rebellion against Moses, along with 250 other leaders of the community, all prominent members of the assembly” (Numbers 16:3 NLT).

Their argument was that Moses and Aaron were nothing special because the whole nation had been set apart by God.

“You have gone too far! The whole community of 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 the rest of the Lord’s people?” – Numbers 16:3 NLT

Moses responded to their demand for equality and equity with a challenge.

“Tomorrow morning the Lord will show us who belongs to him and who is holy. The Lord will allow only those whom he selects to enter his own presence. – Numbers 16:5 NLT

Korah and his companions were declaring themselves to be on equal standing with Moses and Aaron. They felt like they were being slighted and treated like second-class citizens. But their complaints were ill-founded and unwise. They were actually questioning the will of God. And what makes this scene so fascinating is that Korah was a Levite. In fact, Moses points out this very fact when he states, “Korah, you and all your followers must prepare your incense burners. Light fires in them tomorrow, and burn incense before the Lord. Then we will see whom the Lord chooses as his holy one. You Levites are the ones who have gone too far!” (Numbers 16:6-7 NLT).

It seems that Korah and his cohorts were dissatisfied with their God-ordained role as servants in the tabernacle. They wanted power. They were looking for something more prestigious and worthy of honor. In fact, they wanted to be priests, just like Aaron and his sons. So, Moses confronted them for the insubordination that had led them to stage an attempted insurrection.

“Now listen, you Levites! Does it seem insignificant to you that the God of Israel has chosen you from among all the community of Israel to be near him so you can serve in the Lord’s Tabernacle and stand before the people to minister to them? Korah, he has already given this special ministry to you and your fellow Levites. Are you now demanding the priesthood as well? The Lord is the one you and your followers are really revolting against! For who is Aaron that you are complaining about him?” – Numbers 16:8-11 NLT

But despite Moses’ words, Korah and his companions remained unrepentant. They “stirred up the entire community against Moses and Aaron, and they all gathered at the Tabernacle entrance” (Numbers 16:19 NLT).

At this point in the story, the glory of God appeared before the people and the Almighty declared His intent to destroy the entire nation for its rebellion.

“Get away from all these people so that I may instantly destroy them!” – Numbers 16:21 NLT

But Moses and Aaron interceded on behalf of the people and begged God to spare them.

“O God,” they pleaded, “you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Must you be angry with all the people when only one man sins?” – Numbers 16:22 NLT

As a result, God determined to wipe out the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned. So they went down alive into the grave, along with all their belongings. The earth closed over them, and they all vanished from among the people of Israel. – Numbers 16:32-33 NLT

But the story doesn’t end there. Even after this tragic event, the people continued to rebel against the leadership of Moses and Aaron.

But the very next morning the whole community of Israel began muttering again against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the Lord’s people!” – Numbers 16:41 NLT

In response to their continued insolence and rebellion, God sent a plague that left 14,700 people dead. Had not Aaron interceded, purifying the people with incense, even more people would have died.

The next thing God commanded Moses to do was to have each tribe bring a staff with the name of their tribe inscribed on it. They were to place these staffs inside the tabernacle in front of the Ark of the Covenant. God ordained this to be a final affirmation of leadership.

“Buds will sprout on the staff belonging to the man I choose. Then I will finally put an end to the people’s murmuring and complaining against you.” – Numbers 17:5 NLT

The next day, when Moses entered the tabernacle, “he found that Aaron’s staff, representing the tribe of Levi, had sprouted, budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds!” (Numbers 17:8 NLT).

God had settled the debate once and for all. He had reconfirmed the priestly role of Aaron and his sons. He had dramatically reminded the Levites of their status as His servants. And He had warned all the people of their need to submit to His divine will. Everyone had a part to play. No one was to covet the role of another. There was to be no disunity or jealousy. Every priest, Levite, Nazirite, and citizen of the nation of Israel was expected to live in submission to the will of God – no questions asked, no complaints registered.

And even the Levites were informed that the length of their service would only last 25 years. Once their service was complete, they were to relinquish their duties to another. God’s will and the holiness of God’s people was to be the highest priority of all involved.

“Chapter 8 deals with two issues: lamps and Levites. Both the proper setting of the lamps and the distinction of the Levites from the community are further elements in the purification of the nation in preparation for the holy task God had prepared for her. . . . May one suggest that as the lamps were to be properly focused on the bread of the Presence, so the Levites were to have their proper stance within the community as well?” – Ronald B. Allen, “Numbers.” In Genesis—Numbers. Vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Abuse of Authority

1 He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
    will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
    but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
He who loves wisdom makes his father glad,
    but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
By justice a king builds up the land,
    but he who exacts gifts tears it down.
A man who flatters his neighbor
    spreads a net for his feet.
An evil man is ensnared in his transgression,
    but a righteous man sings and rejoices.
A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
    a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.
Scoffers set a city aflame,
    but the wise turn away wrath.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool,
    the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
10 Bloodthirsty men hate one who is blameless
    and seek the life of the upright.
11 A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
    but a wise man quietly holds it back.
12 If a ruler listens to falsehood,
    all his officials will be wicked.
13 The poor man and the oppressor meet together;
    the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
14 If a king faithfully judges the poor,
    his throne will be established forever. 
– Proverbs 29:1-14 ESV

This chapter continues the collection of wise sayings compiled by the officials of King Hezekiah (Proverbs 25:1). We know from 1 Kings 4:32, that Solomon “composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs.” Hezekiah’s royal scholars were assigned the task of finding additional proverbs written or edited by Solomon so that they might be added to the original collection. And while there appears to be no clear categorization of these supplemental proverbs, there does appear to be an underlying theme. Since the men who gathered and curated them were working for the king, the proverbs they chose to add have a distinct leadership tone to them.

They reflect an emphasis on the need for godly wisdom at the highest levels of administrative power.

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan.Proverbs 29:2 NLT

All of these proverbs can be applied on a broad scale and are not solely applicable to kings and other authority figures. But it almost appears as if the men who collected these sayings were purposefully concentrating their efforts to find those proverbs that would make the greatest impact on their employer: The king.

A just king gives stability to his nation,
    but one who demands bribes destroys it. – Proverbs 29:4 NLT

The sheer number of references to rulers and kings would seem to indicate that there was a concerted effort to choose those proverbs that might influence King Hezekiah to rule wisely and ethically. It was to their benefit that the king behave in a manner that was in keeping with the will of God.

If a ruler pays attention to liars,
    all his advisers will be wicked. – Proverbs 29:12 NLT

If a king judges the poor fairly,
    his throne will last forever. – Proverbs 29:14 NLT

In a way, these men were acting as unofficial counselors to the king by providing him with advice in the form of these Solomonic sayings. As the king read each proverb, he would have been positively impacted by the wisdom found in them. And while many of these sayings have a positive tone to them, there are some that could easily come across as veiled criticism. Hezekiah’s officials must have realized that, with each negative proverb they included, they were at risk of offending their employer. But verse one would have reminded the king that criticism carried just as much weight as a compliment.

Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism
    will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery. – Proverbs 29:1 NLT

These proverbs have universal application and appeal because all of us long for power in some form or fashion. Any thought of being weak and powerless is naturally repulsive to us. And the truth is, we all wield some kind of authority over someone or something else. The question is – how do we handle power when we have it? Are we fair and just or do we display our power with pride, arrogance, and in an abusive manner?

Authority is a divine concept and God holds those in authority responsible for their actions. God gave Adam and Eve special responsibility to steward His creation. Abraham was given authority by God to serve as the progenitor of a great nation. And Moses was given authority to lead those very same people out of captivity and into freedom. The prophets were given authority to act as God’s spokespersons and proclaim His word to His rebellious people. God gave the disciples authority over demons, disease, and even death.

But all authority can be abused. We can utilize our positions of power or influence for good or bad. A parent can abuse their child, using their authority to destroy the heart and soul of the one they are to nurture and love. A boss can abuse their responsibility, taking advantage of his employees, and overworking them while he underpays them. Politicians and rulers can abuse their authority, ignoring the needs of their constituents in favor of maintaining their party’s power and their own position.

The godly care about the rights of the poor;
    the wicked don’t care at all. – Proverbs 29:7 NLT

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about authority and this chapter is no exception. It reminds us that godly leadership is the best form of leadership because it produces positive benefits for its constituents (verse 2). But ungodly leadership produces pain and heartache for those who must bear up under it.

According to God, the kind of leadership or authority He is looking for is just, fair, compassionate, and caring. In other words, God expects those with authority over others to practice His brand of leadership. He wants them to lead the way He leads. That means we must lead through love. We must discipline on occasion, but always out of love. We must judge at times, but never in an unloving manner. We must guide and direct those under our care with love and not with anger.

Fools vent their anger,
    but the wise quietly hold it back. – Proverbs 29:12 NLT

Authority is a huge responsibility. Ultimately, those in authority will be held responsible by God for their actions. There’s no place for pride, selfishness, greed, or self-gain.

Those who hold positions of authority exist for the good of others. They hold the welfare of others in their hands, whether they lead a nation or a family. But ungodly, unethical leaders can use their influence to stir up trouble and cause dissent.

Mockers can get a whole town agitated,
    but the wise will calm anger. – Proverbs 29:8 NLT

People who hold positions of authority but who lack godly wisdom can be dangerous. They lack insight and are incapable of seeing the world the way God does. They view their power as a right and a privilege and fail to understand that they are no better than the people they oppress and abuse.

The poor and the oppressor have this in common—
    the Lord gives sight to the eyes of both. – Proverbs 29:13 NLT

Because they have no fear of God, they do not realize that He watches over the helpless, hopeless, innocent, and powerless. He will hold those in authority responsible for the manner in which they rule, judge, lead, care for, and protect those under their care. And anyone who holds a position of authority is wise to recognize and constantly remind themselves that God is the ultimate authority. He is the one who is in control of all things. All others report to Him. They owe their positions to Him. They get their right to rule from Him. So they should rule well and lead wisely. They should use their god-given authority responsibly.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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