The Danger With Discontentment

1 Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him. Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company; put fire in them and put incense on them before the Lord tomorrow, and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, 10 and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? 11 Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?”

12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and they said, “We will not come up. 13 Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? 14 Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.” Numbers 16:1-14 ESV

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

Yet in today’s story from chapter 16 we have another occurrence of jealousy and rebellion. It seems that Korah, a grandson of Kohath, and a member of the tribe of Levi, decided that he wanted to be free to take part in the priestly responsibilities. As a Kohathite, he was part of the clan responsible for the transportation and care of all the vessels and utensils of the Tabernacle. They had been assigned that role by God.

“The duties of the Kohathites at the Tabernacle will relate to the most sacred objects.” – Numbers 4:4 NLT

According to God’s instructions, the Kohathites had a very specific role to play. And in order for them to do that job, Aaron, the high priest, and his sons had to prepare all the sacred objects for transport.

“When the camp moves, Aaron and his sons must enter the Tabernacle first to take down the inner curtain and cover the Ark of the Covenant with it. Then they must cover the inner curtain with fine goatskin leather and spread over that a single piece of blue cloth. Finally, they must put the carrying poles of the Ark in place.” – Numbers 4:5-6 NLT

Every item had to be carefully prepared according to God’s painstaking instructions. If Aaron and his sons failed to do everything just as God had commanded, it would have devastating consequences for Korah and the rest of his clan.

“The camp will be ready to move when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the sacred articles. The Kohathites will come and carry these things to the next destination. But they must not touch the sacred objects, or they will die.” – Numbers 4:15 NLT

“Do not let the Kohathite clans be destroyed from among the Levites! This is what you must do so they will live and not die when they approach the most sacred objects. Aaron and his sons must always go in with them and assign a specific duty or load to each person. The Kohathites must never enter the sanctuary to look at the sacred objects for even a moment, or they will die.” – Numbers 4:18-20 NLT

All the holy objects were to be covered with cloths to prevent the Kohathites from inadvertently touching them. And the larger items had poles inserted into the specially crafted rings that allowed them to be carried safely and securely without risk of death. It should have been considered an honor to carry these priceless objects that were essential for the worship of Yahweh. Yet, we learn that Korah was not content with the God-ordained role he and his clan had been assigned. He wanted more.

Driven by jealousy and a desire for greater prominence, he enlisted the support of others and, together, they incited a rebellion against Moses, along with 250 other leaders of the community, all prominent members of the assembly” (Numbers 4:2 NLT). It was a coup.

Korah appealed to other men in the camp to join him in his rebellion. He stirred up men from the tribe of Reuben by getting them to see that Moses had taken away the right of the firstborn of every tribe to serve God by replacing them with the sons of Levi. His argument was that every single Israelite was holy; not just Moses, Aaron, and the Levites.

He accused Moses of exalting himself above everyone else. He and his compatriots went to Moses and said, “You have gone too far! Everyone in Israel has been set apart by the LORD, and he is with all of us. What right do you have to act as though you are greater than anyone else among all these people of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:3 NLT).

Although Korah was from the tribe of Levi, he and his clan were not allowed to serve as priests, and he found this slight to be unacceptable. He viewed their role as “moving men” to be less-than-acceptable and more than a bit demeaning.

In his defense, Korah was basing his argument on a statement given by God when the people of Israel were still in Egypt.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 NLT

But what Korah failed to remember was that the entire nation had done irreparable damage to their holy status when they had been encamped at Mount Sinai. While Moses had been up on the mountaintop receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people had decided to turn their back on God and worship a newly constructed golden calf (Exodus 32). And as punishment for their sin, God had given Moses orders to execute all those who had taken part in the idolatrous festivities.

So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day. – Exodus 32:26-28 NLT

It had been the Levites who stood by Moses’ side and carried out God’s orders. As a result, Moses rewarded them for their show of faithfulness and obedience.

“Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” – Exodus 32:29 NLT

But Korah wasn’t satisfied with God’s will. He demanded that a new plan be put in place. Yet, Moses attempted to reason with his disgruntled kinsman.

“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?” – Numbers 16:9-10 NLT

Moses couldn’t understand why Korah considered himself and his clansmen as second-class citizens. Why was he unable to view their God-ordained role as vital and worthy of their best efforts? And Moses tried to warn them that their complaint was really with God, not himself or Aaron.

The Lord is the one you and your followers are really revolting against! For who is Aaron that you are complaining about him?” – Numbers 16:11 NLT

Korah was walking on thin ice. He was venturing into uncharted waters that would not bring him to a far-from-pleasant destination. And Moses attempted to reason with Korah’s compatriots, but they refused to listen to what he had to say.

“We refuse to come before you! Isn’t it enough that you brought us out of Egypt, a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us here in this wilderness, and that you now treat us like your subjects? What’s more, you haven’t brought us into another land flowing with milk and honey. You haven’t given us a new homeland with fields and vineyards. Are you trying to fool these men? We will not come.” – Numbers 16:12-14 NLT

The stage was set. The lines were drawn. Korah and his disenchanted companions stood their ground and refused to heed the warnings of Moses. They were done taking orders from Moses and Aaron. As far as they were concerned, it was their time to shine and they would not be satisfied until they were the ones calling the shots.

But they failed to recognize that their complaints had reached the ears of God. He had been listening to their arrogant demands and knew that their discontentment was ultimately directed at Him. And it’s interesting to note that the very people who were responsible for transporting the holy objects from the tabernacle were carrying resentment for the very one for whom the tabernacle had been constructed.

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.

 

Moving Day

11 In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, 12 and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. 13 They set out for the first time at the command of the Lord by Moses. 14 The standard of the camp of the people of Judah set out first by their companies, and over their company was Nahshon the son of Amminadab. 15 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Issachar was Nethanel the son of Zuar. 16 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Zebulun was Eliab the son of Helon.

17 And when the tabernacle was taken down, the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who carried the tabernacle, set out. 18 And the standard of the camp of Reuben set out by their companies, and over their company was Elizur the son of Shedeur. 19 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Simeon was Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai. 20 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Gad was Eliasaph the son of Deuel.

21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things, and the tabernacle was set up before their arrival. 22 And the standard of the camp of the people of Ephraim set out by their companies, and over their company was Elishama the son of Ammihud. 23 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Manasseh was Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur. 24 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Benjamin was Abidan the son of Gideoni.

25 Then the standard of the camp of the people of Dan, acting as the rear guard of all the camps, set out by their companies, and over their company was Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai. 26 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Asher was Pagiel the son of Ochran. 27 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Naphtali was Ahira the son of Enan. 28 This was the order of march of the people of Israel by their companies, when they set out.

29 And Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place of which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us, and we will do good to you, for the Lord has promised good to Israel.” 30 But he said to him, “I will not go. I will depart to my own land and to my kindred.” 31 And he said, “Please do not leave us, for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us. 32 And if you do go with us, whatever good the Lord will do to us, the same will we do to you.”

33 So they set out from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey. And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them. 34 And the cloud of the Lord was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp.

35 And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” 36 And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.” Numbers 10:11-36 ESV

The orders had been given. Detailed instructions had been carefully communicated to the people of Israel. They knew exactly what they would need to do when God decided it was time for them to leave Mount Sinai and, now, that time had come. Their encampment at the base of Sinai had been their home for almost a year, but God had never intended it to be their final destination. According to Exodus 19:1, they had arrived there two months after leaving Egypt.

Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai. – Exodus 19:1-2 NLT

Now, just ten days short of the one-year anniversary of their arrival in Sinai, they were instructed to pack up and leave.

In the second year after Israel’s departure from Egypt—on the twentieth day of the second month—the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle of the Covenant. So the Israelites set out from the wilderness of Sinai and traveled on from place to place until the cloud stopped in the wilderness of Paran. – Numbers 10:11-12 NLT

In Numbers 10, Moses indicates that the day came when the cloud of God’s presence ascended from above the tabernacle and made its way into the wilderness. And, as God had instructed them to do when the cloud moved, they began to break camp and move out in an orderly, prearranged manner.

the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. – Numbers 10:12 ESV

Due to the large number of Israelites involved in this mass migration, God had provided them with strict instructions regarding their movements. It was not to be a free-for-all, with everyone moving at once and according to their own agenda. With 12 tribes involved, consisting of what has been estimated as more than two million people, this was a major undertaking that required precision and careful planning. Tents must be taken down. Herds and flocks must be rounded up. The tabernacle must be dismantled and prepared for transport to the next destination. And, according to Numbers 10, the people went about their duties obediently. Everyone did their part and carefully followed the instructions of the Lord.

When the cloud made its way into the wilderness, the people knew it was time to move. At the sound of the two silver trumpets (Numbers 10:1), they had gathered together and seen the sight of the cloud making its way into the wilderness. God had made the decision to relocate their camp and move them close to their final destination: The land of Canaan.

Under normal circumstances, the trip to Kadesh-Barnea should have taken 11-days (Deuteronomy 1:2), but with the numbers involved and the need for an orderly and well-regimented evacuation process, it took them three days to arrive at the wilderness of Paran. The cloud had come to rest in that region, signifying that it was there that they were to set up camp.

“The Desert of Paran is a large plateau in the northeastern Sinai, south of what later would be called the Negev of Judah, and west of the Arabah. This forms the southernmost portion of the Promised Land, the presumed staging area for the assault on the land itself. The principal lines of assault on the land of Canaan are from the southwest, following the Way of the Sea from Egypt, and from the northwest, following the Way of the Sea from Phoenicia. Israel’s staging for attack in the Desert of Paran was a brilliant strategy. In this way they would avoid the fortified routes to the west, presumably under the control of Egypt. This unusual line of attack from the south would stun the inhabitants of the land. They would come like a sirocco blast from the desert, and the land would be theirs, under the hand of God.” – Ronald B. Allen, “Numbers.” In Genesis—Numbers. Vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

Verses 13-28 provide the details concerning the departure of Israel from Sinai. The tribe of Judah led the way, with each of the other tribes moving out according to a prearranged plan. Some of the tribes would have started the process long before the tabernacle was completely dismantled and ready for transport. And the lengthy procession would have stretched out for miles as the Israelites made their way into the wilderness, following the cloud of the Lord.

They marched for three days after leaving the mountain of the Lord, with the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant moving ahead of them to show them where to stop and rest. As they moved on each day, the cloud of the Lord hovered over them. – Numbers 10:33-34 NLT

God was guiding them, just as He had promised to do. He was leading them further away from Egypt and ever closer to their new home in Canaan. The land He had promised to Abraham as an inheritance would soon be theirs. But they would have to continue to follow His leading and trust Him for their provisions along the way. The journey would not be easy, but Moses knew that, as long as they followed God’s will, they would be blessed. He even tried to convince his brother-in-law to join them.

“We are on our way to the place the Lord promised us, for he said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised wonderful blessings for Israel!” – Numbers 10:29 NLT

It’s interesting to note that Moses asked his brother-in-law to serve as a scout or guide for the people of Israel.

“You know the places in the wilderness where we should camp. Come, be our guide. If you do, we’ll share with you all the blessings the Lord gives us.” – Numbers 10:31-32 NLT

Perhaps Moses knew that Hobab was familiar with the wilderness terrain and could help them choose the best places to camp. But this seems to contradict the idea that the cloud of God was to serve as their guide. It is unclear whether Moses’ request was out of step with the will of God. But he evidently convinced Hobab to join them. Judges 1:16 indicates that the descendants of Moses’ father-in-law were still traveling with the Israelites long after they made it into the land of Canaan.

When the tribe of Judah left Jericho—the city of palms—the Kenites, who were descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, traveled with them into the wilderness of Judah. They settled among the people there, near the town of Arad in the Negev. – Judges 1:16 NLT

Hobab and his family may have ended up traveling with the Israelites, but his services were not required. God was going to lead His people and He did so through the cloud that rested over the Ark of the Covenant.

They marched for three days after leaving the mountain of the Lord, with the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant moving ahead of them to show them where to stop and rest. As they moved on each day, the cloud of the Lord hovered over them. – Numbers 10:33-34 NLT

The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant at the head of the process and the cloud of the Lord hovered over the mercy seat on top of the Ark. All along the length of the process, the people could see the cloud rising up into the sky and know that they were headed in the right direction. And when the Ark came to rest, the people knew it was time to stop for the night.

Each time the Ark and the cloud set out, Moses would utter a prayer or blessing.

“Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” – Numbers 10:35 NLT

And when the cloud ceased to move and the priests set down the Ark of the Covenant, Moses would pronounce another blessing.

“Return, O Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel!” – Numbers 10:36 NLT

Moses knew that the people of Israel were completely dependent upon God. Without Him, this entire journey would be a disaster and any hope they had of conquering the land of Canaan would be hopeless. Little did he know what awaited them in the wilderness. In his mind, they were on their way to the land of promise and preparing to occupy the inheritance promised to them by God. But this chapter, marked by its description of the peoples’ orderly procession from Sinai, is setting up an unexpected disaster awaiting them in the days ahead.

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.

When God Leads, Follow

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Make two silver trumpets. Of hammered work you shall make them, and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for breaking camp. And when both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the entrance of the tent of meeting. But if they blow only one, then the chiefs, the heads of the tribes of Israel, shall gather themselves to you. When you blow an alarm, the camps that are on the east side shall set out. And when you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are on the south side shall set out. An alarm is to be blown whenever they are to set out. But when the assembly is to be gathered together, you shall blow a long blast, but you shall not sound an alarm. And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets. The trumpets shall be to you for a perpetual statute throughout your generations. And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the Lord your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies. 10 On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the Lord your God.” Numbers 10:1-10 ESV

God was leading His people. In chapter nine, Moses recorded how God had chosen to manifest His glory and presence in the form of a pillar of cloud that would rest over the tabernacle. It was to serve as a visual reminder of God’s presence among them and as a means by which God directed their journey through the wilderness.

…when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. – Numbers 9:21 ESV

But in the opening verses of chapter 10, Moses records a secondary source of divinely ordained directional aid: Two silver trumpets.

Now the Lord said to Moses, “Make two trumpets of hammered silver for calling the community to assemble and for signaling the breaking of camp.” – Numbers 10:1-2 NLT

“The last directions given at Sinai deal with the manufacture and use of two silver trumpets to co-ordinate the movements of the tribes on their march through the wilderness. Though they were to be guided by the cloud, more precise means of control were necessary if the people were to march in the tight-knit formations envisaged in chapters 2-3.” – Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries

From the moment God delivered the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, He had directed their path. He had gone before them, guiding their every step along the way, and providing for their every need. But they had to follow. They couldn’t veer to the right or the left. They couldn’t go off in another direction. If they did, they would suffer the consequences.

God’s leadership required faithful followers. It reminds me of the chorus of the classic old hymn, Where He Leads Me I Will Follow. It simply states, “Where He leads me I will follow; I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way.”

The people of Israel had spent nearly a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. During that time, God had given them His law and provided them with the construction plans for the tabernacle. He had given them the sacrificial system as a means of atoning for and receiving forgiveness for their sins. There at Mount Sinai they enjoyed God’s presence and provision, but Mount Sinai was not their final destination. They were not where God wanted them to be. So “In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran” (Numbers 10:11-12 ESV).

God led and the people followed. The trumpets blew and the people gathered to receive their marching orders. As the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, it signaled that it was time to break camp and follow wherever God led.

God had a purpose behind everything He did. In order to get the people of Israel all the way through the wilderness, He knew it was going to require much more than which direction to go. He could lead them, and they could follow – but they would have to follow according to His terms. Their following would have to include faithful obedience to His righteous rules and divine requirements. They would have to follow obediently.

God could have miraculously transported them straight to the promised land. He could have eliminated the need for a journey altogether, but instead, He took His time. He gave them rules of conduct. He painstakingly provided them with instructions as to how they were to live as they followed Him. The wilderness wanderings were going to be a time of testing, to see if they would live set-apart lives, faithfully following God’s prescribed plan for His people. God didn’t just expect the people to follow, but to do so faithfully. In other words, they had to follow according to His terms. They had to keep His laws. They had to celebrate His festivals. They had to keep the Sabbath. They had to regularly sacrifice for their sins. They had to deal with impurity in their midst. Their journey from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan was to be marked by obedience. When the silver trumpets sounded, they were to heed the call and follow God’s lead.

Following God requires faithful adherence to His commands. From our vantage point this side of the cross, it is sometimes easy to look back at the Israelites and wonder how they could have failed to realize just how good they had it. They seem to have been slow to comprehend just how blessed they were to have God’s actual presence living among them. They got to see incredible miracles and witness amazing acts of provision, such as manna that came from the sky and water that flowed from a rock. They wore sandals and clothes that never wore out. But in spite of all this, they continued to disobey Him by disregarding His commands.

The psalmist writes, “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness, and insulted him  in the desert! They again challenged God,and offended  the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:40-41 ESV).

But before we point our fingers in accusation and derision, we need to realize that their story is far too often our story. We too are on a journey. We’re walking through this life on our way to another “land” that God has promised to give us. He has chosen us as His own. He has given us the indwelling presence of His Spirit. He leads and directs us. He speaks to us through His Word. He has called us to live lives that reflect our unique standing as His children. He has demanded that we live holy lives. And yet, we struggle with faithfulness.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

For the Israelites, Mount Sinai held special meaning. It was there that they received God’s law. It was there that they were given His plan for the sacrificial system and the hope of atonement for sin. But they were not meant to stay there. They had to move on. They were on their way to somewhere else. For many of us as Christians, we bask in the glory of our salvation story. We camp on that day we placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and remain content to dwell on that special moment as the most significant day of our lives. But we must move on. We must recognize the fact that our salvation is the beginning, not the end. There is life to be lived – in Christ. He is to followed, not just believed in.

Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 ESV). There is a cost and commitment to following Christ. It is a daily event that requires faithful obedience to His will and His way.

Jesus had many followers when He walked this earth. But when things got tough, and they discovered that His journey was going to include suffering and even death, the majority of his followers fled. Believing in Christ was easy. Following Him would prove to be difficult and sometimes risky. His 12 disciples would learn this.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were thought to be faithful followers of God. But Jesus repeatedly condemned them for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He compared them to their ancestors who had killed the prophets of God because they didn’t want to hear the message of God. These men were followers of God in name only. They lived by their own set of standards. They put on a facade of faithfulness, but were actually blind to the will of God for their lives. Highly knowledgeable of God’s Scriptures, they were unable to recognize the Word of God standing in their midst. And they refused to acknowledge Him as their Messiah and Savior.

Following is not easy, especially when we are prone to going our own way. Even after salvation, we are constantly tempted to take our lives into our own hands and determine our own destiny. But God has a plan for our lives. He has a path for each of us to take. We are on a journey from salvation to our ultimate glorification. The Kingdom is to be our future home. Yet we find ourselves wandering through this wilderness called earth.

We are living in what Paul Tripp calls “the gospel gap.” Our salvation is in our past. The eternal Kingdom is in our future. And, for now, we live in that in-between time where our sanctification takes place. We are in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ as we faithfully follow His example of love, obedience, humility, and service. It is during our time on this planet that we are to live out our salvation in tangible and practical ways that emulate the nature of Christ. We do so by allowing the indwelling Spirit of God to powerfully flow through us, producing a lifestyle that is radically different than the world around us. Our faithful following of Christ is to result in our reflection of His nature to the world around us. It is as we walk with Him, living in obedience to Him, that we become increasingly more like Him.

The silver trumpets were to be used to call the people to action. Whether they were a signal for gathering, celebrating, traveling, or going to war, the trumpets were to be obeyed. God was leading and He expected His people to follow. He was declaring His will and they were to submit to it – willingly and faithfully.

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.

God of the Past, Present, and Future

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” Haggai 2:6-9 ESV

God has provided much-needed words of encouragement to His people.

Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:4 ESV

And He has reminded them that because He is a covenant-keeping God, they have no reason to fear. His presence among them is assured because He promised to never leave them or forsake them. God referred to the covenant He had made with their ancestors at Mount Sinai after He had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt.

“Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:3-6 ESV

It was on Mount Sinai that Moses had received the Ten Commandments from God, the divine code of conduct that was to regulate their behavior and determine their ongoing relationship with Him. God had set them apart as His own special possession, but He required that they conduct themselves in a manner that was in keeping with their status as His kingdom of priests and His holy nation. He expected them to keep the covenant agreement He was making with them. He would be their God and they would be His people, but that relationship required that they remain faithful to the covenant and obedient to live by all of its commands.

On the day that God had communicated His covenant commands to Moses, He had revealed Himself to the people in a formidable and unforgettable manner.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. – Exodus 19:16-20 ESV

And this dramatic display of God’s glory had left the people in a state of fear.

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” – Exodus 20:18-19 ESV

But Moses had assured them that God’s glorious display of His power and might was actually for their good.

“Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” – Exodus 20:20 ESV

It was God’s desire that His people live sinless lives, in keeping with His commands. But in order to receive His covenant blessings, they would be required to keep His covenant commands. Now, centuries later, the people of Judah were hearing from God once again. They had returned to the land of promise after nearly 70 years of captivity in Babylon, a punishment meted out by God because of their failure to keep their covenant agreement with Him. He had graciously kept His promise to restore them to the land and now He was reiterating His commitment to be their God and dwell among them. And God uses imagery that was meant to remind His people of Mount Sinai.

Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. – Haggai 2:6 ESV

Their ancestors had been given a sight and sound show intended to reveal the majesty and power of God Almighty.

…there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. – Exodus 19:16 ESV

when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off – Exodus 20:18 ESV

God was promising to reveal Himself with such power and might that it would shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the dry land. This dynamic imagery concerning God’s power can be found throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. King David put the cosmic significance of God’s power in poetic terms.

O God, when you went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,
    before God, the One of Sinai,
    before God, the God of Israel. – Psalm 68:7-8 ESV

Asaph echoed David’s words in his own psalm.

When the waters saw you, O God,
    when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
    indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
    the skies gave forth thunder;
    your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
    your lightnings lighted up the world;
    the earth trembled and shook. – Psalm 77:6-18 ESV

In Haggai 2:6-9, God is describing a coming day when the people of Israel will once again experience a powerful display of God’s glory. He will reveal Himself in a supernatural, earth-shaking demonstration of never-before-seen power and might. The prophets had spoken of a great day to come when God would shake the heavens.

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
    and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    in the day of his fierce anger. – Isaiah 13:13 ESV

All living things—the fish in the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals of the field, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the people on earth—will quake in terror at my presence. Mountains will be thrown down; cliffs will crumble; walls will fall to the earth. – Ezekiel 38:20 NLT

All of this imagery points to a future day when God will bring about a divine intervention of global and cosmic proportions. His Son will return to earth again and bring about the culmination of the divine plan for the redemption of all things. The author of Hebrews was quoting Haggai 2:6 when he wrote:

“Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. – Hebrews 12:26-27 ESV

God is going to do far more than simply shake the heavens and earth. He is going to destroy and remake them. The prophet Isaiah referred to this great day when he recorded the following promise from God:

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness. – Isaiah 65:17-18 ESV

And centuries later, the apostle John was given a vision of this coming day, which he recorded in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4 ESV

Haggai is recording a promise from God that spans the centuries and looks far into the future when God will bring about the final phase of His grand redemptive plan for mankind and all creation. Yes, He wanted the people to complete their task of rebuilding the temple. But He also wanted them to understand that their faithfulness to do so was to be based on His faithfulness to fulfill all that He had promised to do. God had far more in mind than they could have ever imagined or believed. Their return to the land and the restoration of the temple was but one chapter in the divine narrative God had in store for His chosen people. Their ongoing existence was guaranteed because God had great plans for them. It would be through His chosen people that the Chosen One would come. His Son would be born a descendant of Abraham and a rightful heir to the Davidic throne. The Son of God would be the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. In His first advent, Jesus offered His life as a ransom for many. But in His second coming, He will as King of kings and Lord of lords, and rule and reign on the throne of David in Jerusalem. And in that day, a new temple will exist that will far outshine the glory of the structure that Solomon had built. And God provides His guarantee of this future reality.

“The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:9 ESV

The people of Haggai’s day had a job to do. They had a role to play. It was their responsibility to rebuild the temple. That’s why God commanded them, “Work, for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4 ESV). They were to be obedient and complete the task assigned to them by God, knowing that He would do His part and fulfill every promise He had made concerning their present and the future.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A History of Rebellion, Not Righteousness

 13 “Furthermore, the Lord said to me, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stubborn people. 14 Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’ 15 So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain was burning with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. 16 And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against the Lord your God. You had made yourselves a golden calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded you. 17 So I took hold of the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes. 18 Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger. 19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also. 20 And the Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him. And I prayed for Aaron also at the same time. 21 Then I took the sinful thing, the calf that you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small, until it was as fine as dust. And I threw the dust of it into the brook that ran down from the mountain.

22 “At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. 23 And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.

25 “So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 26 And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, 28 lest the land from which you brought us say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.” 29 For they are your people and your heritage, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm.’ – Deuteronomy 9:13-29 ESV

If the Israelites still harbored any remaining thoughts that they somehow deserved God’s good favor, Moses was about to deliver the crushing blow. He had made it clear that God was not giving them the land of Canaan because they deserved it, but because He was keeping the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God was going to remove the Canaanites from the land because they were an evil and idolatrous people who desecrated the land with their unbridled immorality.

But Moses let the Israelites know that they were no better than the Canaanites. It was not as if they were a spiritually superior people who lived morally upright lives and had somehow earned the right to take possession of the land because of their faithfulness to God. No, it was quite the opposite, and Moses had already delivered the painfully truthful news that God’s provision of the land had nothing to do with their worthiness or righteousness.

“Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.” – Deuteronomy 9:6 ESV

They were stiff-necked and obstinate, stubbornly refusing to bow the knee to God and live according to His commands. And they had been that way from the beginning. Which is why Moses goes all the way back to Mount Sinai and the occasion when God gave the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel. He remembered that fateful well and looked back on it, not with nostalgia, but with a certain amount of anger and resentment at the way the people had treated God. Their actions that day had placed Moses in a very difficult position. He had found himself in the awkward place of having to mediate between a holy, angry God, and the very people he had helped to deliver from slavery in Egypt.

While Moses had been on the mountaintop receiving the Ten Commandments from God, his fellow Israelites, with the help of his brother, Aaron, had been busy worshiping a false god they had crafted out of gold. During the 40 days that Moses had been on top of the mountain, they had begun to question everything about their circumstances. And they had somehow forgotten the incredible demonstration of God’s power they had witnessed as His glory had descended upon Mount Sinai.

Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently.  As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:17-19 NLT

There was no doubt that God was there. His presence was unmistakable. His power was on display. And even when Moses ascended the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, the fire never died down, and the smoke remained. The mountain never ceased to shake. And yet, the people became unimpressed and unwilling to wait to see what God was going to say to His servant, Moses. Tired of waiting, they took matters into their own hands.

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 32:1 NLT

And it was that fateful decision that Moses recalled.

“So while the mountain was blazing with fire I turned and came down, holding in my hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. There below me I could see that you had sinned against the Lord your God. You had melted gold and made a calf idol for yourselves.” – Deuteronomy 9:15-16 NLT

Notice what Moses says: “So while the mountain was blazing with fire….” The presence of God was still visible. God had not gone anywhere. And Moses was descending the mountain holding the very commandments of God, “inscribed with the terms of the covenant.”

“Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 NLT

And the people had eagerly and enthusiastically agreed to the conditions of the covenant, giving their word that they would obey

“We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” – Exodus 19:8 NLT

But that commitment had not lasted long. Before Moses could make it back down the mountain, the people had turned their backs on God. They had come up with the bright idea to make their own gods. And when Moses had seen what had taken place in his absence, he was filled with surprise and anger.

“How quickly you had turned away from the path the Lord had commanded you to follow!” – Deuteronomy 9:16 NLT

They had been in the early days of their journey from Egypt to the promised land and had already chosen to forsake God. And Moses, sensing the anger of God against His people, had chosen to intercede with God on their behalf. He began a 40-day fast, during which time he sought to persuade God to refrain from wiping out the people of Israel for their wickedness.

“I feared that the furious anger of the Lord, which turned him against you, would drive him to destroy you. But again he listened to me.” – Deuteronomy 9:19 NLT

God spared the people and even allowed Aaron to live, in spite of the role he had played in the peoples’ rebellion. God showed mercy. He showered the people with His undeserved favor. And it all goes back to the covenant He had made with Abraham. God had made two promises to Abraham. One was that He would make of Abraham a great nation. The second was that He would bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham. And so, God was going to keep His covenant commitment, not because of the Israelites, but in spite of them.

And Moses reminded the people that Mount Sinai had not been an aberration. It was just one of many occasions in which the people of Israel displayed their stubbornness and rebellion. Moses recalled Taberah, Massah, and Kibroth-hattaavah – three other less-than-flattering moments from Israel’s not-so-distant past that illustrated their propensity to rebel against God. And he brought up that infamous day at Kadesh-barnea, when the first generation of Israelites had refused to enter the promised land, causing God to send them into the wilderness where they would die as punishment for the rebellion.

Moses had pleaded with God to spare them. He had appealed to God’s covenant faithfulness.

“Please overlook the stubbornness and the awful sin of these people, and remember instead your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 9:27 NLT

But notice that Moses did not offer up a single example of Israel’s worthiness or righteousness. What they deserved was God’s wrath. Moses knew that. So he appealed to God’s unwavering faithfulness to keep His commitments. He had promised to make of Abraham a great nation, and He had fulfilled that promise. But God had also promised to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham. And that promise had not yet been fulfilled. But, in time, it would be. And God would continue to bless the people of Israel, not because they deserved it, but because He was going to use them as the means by which He brought the solution to man’s sin problem into the world. And the apostle Paul wrote of this coming fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham.

God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say “to his children,” as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says “to his child”—and that, of course, means Christ. – Galatians 3:16 NLT

God was going to bring to earth the source of true righteousness, and He would do it through a people marked by unrighteousness. God would eventually offer the sole means of salvation through a people who deserved His wrath. He would bring about redemption through a nation that would eventually murder its own redeemer.

The people of Israel had a long history of rebellion, not righteousness; but God would eventually make righteousness available through them in the form of His Son, the sinless Savior of the world.

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.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson