Follow the Leader, 2

Dizzy Gillespie (1917 - 1993)

Dizzy Gillespie (1917 – 1993)

Numbers 10:1 – 10

In reading Numbers 9, we learn about the most basic principle of leadership. Who was in charge of the camp? Just who were the Israelites to follow? Clearly it was God’s intention from the beginning that He, no human agent, was to be their leader. God manifested His visible presence for the sole purpose of leading the people in the journey from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land. He would appear as a cloud and as a fire that the all the people could see and follow.

The principle of leadership demonstrated in chapter 9 was not, “whenever the Israelites stopped, the cloud stopped.” Instead, it was the opposite: whenever the cloud stopped the people were to stop. The basic principle of leadership was a simple one: lead and follow. If the cloud moved then the people were to move. If the cloud stopped, the people were to stop. It was never, ever to be the other way around. The movement of the cloud was undeniably the movement of the Lord:

At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. (Numbers 9:18 NIV)

Throughout the chapter this point is stressed. The cloud was no mere cloud. It was as it were, the very presence and voice of God that commanded the people to follow. There was no mistake or misunderstanding: Israel was to follow God.

And then comes chapter 10, which opens like this:

The Lord said to Moses: “Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out.” (Numbers 10:1, 2 NIV)

So, what do we make of this bit of added information? Were the people to follow the cloud or wait to hear a trumpet blast? The Israelites were to follow whom, the supernatural cloud or the human trumpeters?

Those are good questions, and they’re important for Christians to consider. Just who are we following? Can you be a good Christian and just “follow God,” without regard for the thoughts and opinions of other believers? Can you be a faithful “follower of Christ” and have no relationship with any church or body of believers? Is there such a person as the fabled “lone ranger Christian?” You’ve seen this Christian before. Perhaps you are he. He’s the one who talks all the time about God’s blessings, about how much he loves God, about how thankful he is to God, about how much he prays for others, and yet he never goes to church, never participates in any Christian-themed activities in his community, rarely if ever reads his Bible and outside of droning on and on about his so-called Christian faith, he gives no indication that he is actually in possession of that faith. Yes, the “lone ranger Christian” claims to be following God but has little or no use for the fellowship of other believers. Is that possible? Can you follow God without having any kind of meaningful association with the Body of Christ and other believers? God didn’t think so, and Numbers 10 tells us all about it.

What the trumpets represent

In the world of Christian thought, those two silver trumpets mentioned in the opening verses of Number 10 may represent any number of things, but essentially they were just that: two silver trumpet-like instruments that served a number of purposes in the camp of Israel. They were basically a way to communicate to the masses. For the Christian, though, they do represent something very important to his faith.

First, there were not one but two trumpets, one larger than the other. These trumpets indicated to Israel that God was communicating to them. The people saw the presence of God with their eyes in the form of a cloud and they heard Him in the trumpet blasts. These two trumpets remind us of the Word of God – the Old and New Testaments, through which God communicates to His people today. God is not saying anything new to anybody; He is not saying anything today that He hasn’t already said in His Word.

The Word of God – the Holy Bible – has become, sadly, the most abused, misused, and ignored book in the world. And it’s Christians doing the abusing, misusing, and ignoring! We need to be reminded of that which the psalmist knew so well:

The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever. (Psalm 119:160 NKJV)

The Word of God is the only source of inerrant, infallible truth available to believers. Although those words aren’t found in Scripture, they are important for you to know. The Bible is “inerrant,” meaning it is without error. It is “infallible,” meaning there is nothing false in it. In other words, the Bible is not wrong and it can never be wrong. You can depend on it for wisdom and direction at any time of your life. No matter your age, your location, your social standing, or your education, not only can you depend on the Bible, you need it. It’s food for your spirit. A Christian who neglects his Bible is starving himself. If you are a Christian, there is never a time when you don’t need to read and study your Bible!

And I know this, that whatever God does is final—nothing can be added or taken from it; God’s purpose in this is that man should fear the all-powerful God. (Ecclesiastes 3:14 TLB)

The more you read your Bible, the more you “fear” or stand in awe of God. That explains why so many Christians take God for granted; why they don’t stand in awe of Him: they aren’t in the Word nearly enough.

Second, the trumpets were to have been made of silver. The trumpets were precious and produced a perfect tone. Such is the Word of God. It is precious. It holds all the answers to all the questions you will ever have. A book like the Bible should never be ignored. When you are discouraged, the Bible should be the first place you look for encouragement. When you feel lost and in need of guidance, the Bible will give it to you. When you are lonely, you can find all the comfort you need in your Bible. Whatever lack you may have in your life, the Bible can supply it. It is precious and it is indispensable to the true believer.

The trumpeters

The sons of Aaron, the priests, are to blow the trumpets. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you and the generations to come. (Numbers 10:8 NIV)

Those two trumpets Moses was to fashion out of silver, as beautiful as they may have been, weren’t of much value without somebody to blow into them. That would be the job of the priests, the sons of Aaron. It’s interesting that these priests were the first preachers; the first ones to proclaim the Word of the Lord to the people. These were not ordinary men:

They were called to this specific task, Numbers 8:6

Take the Levites from among all the Israelites and make them ceremonially clean.

Not just any Israelite could do what the Levites, specifically the sons of Aaron, could do. They had to be called by God and set apart by God. While all believers are called to read and study the Word of God, and all believers are called to take the Gospel – their faith – to the lost, only those called to preach it should be preaching it. The job of the pastor is not just for anybody who takes the notion that it might be a career they’d enjoy.

And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? (Romans 19:15 NIV)

They were purified, Numbers 8:10

Handling the Word of God – preaching and teaching it – should only be done those who whose lives have been purified by the Spirit of God. It’s not that preachers are perfect people. Far from it! We have Paul’s testimony on this –

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15 NIV)

Notice the tense: Paul didn’t write “I was the worst of the lot,” he wrote, “I am the worst.” He had a realistic view of himself, but he also knew that he had been forgiven and set free from sin.

The trumpeting

This is the proclamation of God’s Word to the people. It is essentially the preaching of the Gospel. No matter how wonderful the trumpet may have looked, it took the breath of a living man to make it produce sound. The preaching of the Gospel must be done in anointing of the Spirit of God. Without that anointing, preaching is all merely “sound and fury signifying nothing…the words of an idiot.”

Think about these points:

[The trumpets were to be sounded] at your times of rejoicing—your appointed festivals and New Moon feasts—you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the Lord your God. (Numbers 10:10 NIV)

This is important. All good preaching needs to be connected to the atoning work of God in Christ. Without that, a sermon is just a good talk. That’s not to say a “good talk” isn’t a good thing. It can be. But a “good talk” never saved a soul. It can be encouraging and uplifting, but in the end, a “good talk” is like a Chinese food – it tastes good, but doesn’t stay with you very long.

When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance to the tent of meeting. (Numbers 10:3 NIV)

The Word of God draws people. Or it should. Nobody should be coerced into being a part of the Body of Christ. The Word of God is not just for some, but for all.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 NKJV)

The Word of God to those who love God is like honey to bees. It makes you wonder why anybody who passes themselves off as a Christian doesn’t desire to be in fellowship with other Christians as part of the Body of Christ.

When a trumpet blast is sounded, the tribes camping on the east are to set out. (Numbers 10:5 NIV)

The call of the Gospel is not just to salvation but to progress. A Christian should always be growing and maturing in their faith – he should never be caught standing still.

So I run straight towards the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above. (Philippians 3:14 GNB)

Moving ahead in the faith is vital because standing still leads to falling behind and falling behind for the Christian can be deadly. But sometimes going deeper into the faith will lead to conflict –

When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. (Numbers 10:9 NIV)

Can you imagine going into battle against an oppressing enemy in your own country? That doesn’t seem right, somehow. And yet it may happen. When you least expect conflict, conflict will arise and that’s when you need to press on in the power of the Word of God.

So be careful. If you are thinking, “Oh, I would never behave like that”—let this be a warning to you. For you too may fall into sin. But remember this—the wrong desires that come into your life aren’t anything new and different. Many others have faced exactly the same problems before you. And no temptation is irresistible. You can trust God to keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it, for he has promised this and will do what he says. He will show you how to escape temptation’s power so that you can bear up patiently against it. (1 Corinthians 10:12, 13 TLB)

Look carefully at the words Paul used. “He has promised” to help you fight temptation. Well, where is this promise? It’s in the Word of God! “He will do what he says.” Where did God say what He will do? In the Word of God! “He will show you how to escape.” Where does God show you how to escape? In the Word of God! There’s no getting away from the absolute necessity of knowing God’s Word! It’s not enough just to own a copy. You need to crack it open and read it and study it.

And the best place for this to happen is your local church, surrounded by other like-minded believers, being taught by a leader called and anointed by God to such a task.

There is no such thing as the “lone ranger Christian.” At least not for very long. John Donne wrote these words:

No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.

If you are running around claiming to be a Christian, you had better be “a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” If you aren’t, you can’t be a Christian for too long because you’re following the wrong leader, probably going in the wrong direction, fooling nobody but yourself.

If you are a Christian, pressing on in your faith, fellowshipping with the saints, reading and studying the Word, hang in there and be strong and trust God to do what He says He will do for you.

The trumpet of Christ ne’er sounds a retreat,

All bloodless His battles, yet by blood made meet;

Or be it danger, or be it defeat,

The trumpet of Christ ne’er sounds a retreat.

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