Posts Tagged 'By the Numbers'



Those Graves of Lust

Graveyard

The people were soon complaining about all their misfortunes… (Numbers 11:1a NIV)

It sure didn’t take God’s people long to start complaining. It must be human nature to complain, because it didn’t make any sense. The people had seen with their own eyes the glory of God and had as one man signed on to God’s plan. You’d think after having been so close to the presence of God the people would have been a little more patient with their “misfortunes” and a little more reverent of their God. But no, they were “soon complaining.” We’re not told what those “misfortunes” were. Moses, in writing Numbers, didn’t list them. It’s likely they were numerous minor irritations; small aggravations that got under the skin of the people. Ever misplaced your glasses? Or your keys? Or your phone? Has your neighbor parked his car in your spot again? Has that colleague from work texted you once too often? Again? If these things have happened to you, then maybe you have an inkling of why the people complained.

Complaining in and of itself isn’t necessarily a sin. Sometimes the right kind of complaint can lead to improved circumstances in your life, your community, even your country. But Israel’s complaint was no small matter; it was a sin. In fact, it was a big sin made up two smaller sins: unbelief and ingratitude. The people had started to complain because they beginning to doubt whether God really would fulfill His promises. That kind of unbelief is a serious thing – to doubt God’s Word. And they had forgotten they how blessed and how favored they were. They had no gratitude for what the Lord had already done for them.

The grave of the unbeliever and ingrate is always a lot closer than he thinks. What started out as a small series of complaints turned into a gaping chasm of destruction from which the complainers would not escape. The steps from the place of privilege to the pit of doom may be very few, indeed.

“But if the Lord does a miracle and the ground opens up and swallows them and everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you will know that these men have despised the Lord.”

He had hardly finished speaking the words when the ground suddenly split open beneath them, and a great fissure swallowed them up, along with their tents and families and the friends who were standing with them, and everything they owned. (Numbers 16:30 – 32 TLB)

The fire burns

Moses was used to the murmuring and complaining of the people. This was not the first time he had to put up with it and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Here, though, we’re not told if Moses heard these complaints, but God did and wasn’t at all pleased.

…the Lord heard them. His anger flared out against them because of their complaints, so the fire of the Lord began destroying those at the far end of the camp. (Numbers 11:1b TLB)

Some scholars suggest it wasn’t the people who were consumed by the fire of God but just their possessions. That’s not what the text says, however. This complaining was a serious breach of faith between some of the people and God, and God takes that very seriously.

Thank God we Christians are living in an age of grace. Were it not so, there would be a lot of barbequed believers walking around! This incident isn’t a precedent, thank God, but it does serve to teach us an important lesson. God is highly displeased with those of us who continually criticize and complain, especially about Him, the church, and other believers. Some saints never cease to find fault and criticize the things and people of God and nothing He ever does is good enough for them. God wants us to be joyful and cheerful as we serve Him, not miserable and surly.

The sin of lusting

Verse 4 gives us a vital piece of information about who initiated the complaining:

Then the Egyptians who had come with them began to long for the good things of Egypt. (Numbers 11:4 TLB)

The biggest problems in Israel were caused, not by God’s people, but by “the Egyptians” who had left Egypt with the Israelites. Technically, these trouble makers may or may not have been Egyptians. The KJV refers to them as the “mixed multitude,” a group of people who couldn’t be sure what tribe they belonged to; they couldn’t declare or demonstrate their pedigree. Most of this “mixed multitude” were the products of mixed marriages; marriages between an Israelite and an Egyptian. That being the case, most of the “mixed multitude” had one parent back in Egypt. They were Egyptian enough to like the things of Egypt, but Israelite enough to want to go on the wilderness march to the Promised Land.

Unfortunately, the church today is full of people just like that. These people want to go to church and mix with Christians, enjoying the blessings of God. They want to live moral and good lives and they join the church because that’s what “good people do.” But during the rest of the week, they like to mix with the world, enjoying the things of the world. This causes a problem for them. At some point, they’re not sure where they belong. They have one foot in church and one in the world.

Those are the real trouble makers in every church. They are the complainers. They are they ones who are trying to have it all – they travel with the world and they travel with God’s people. You’ll find them in church on a Sunday, but not every Sunday, and you’ll see them at the banquets but never at a Bible Study or a work day. They’re not sure what they believe and are way too comfortable around unbelievers and often uncomfortable in church.

The problem with sin

The “mixed multitude” lusted for the things back in Egypt – the food, especially. What started out as discontent among a few soon spread throughout the population. Now, a whole lot of Israelites were growing discontent with, well, just about everything associated with the journey to the Promised Land.

While it sounds innocent enough – just complaining about the lousy food – this was a serious problem which rippled up the ranks to the very top.

First, they weren’t happy with the food and that led to loathing God’s provision.

But now our strength is gone, and day after day we have to face this manna! (Numbers 11:6 TLB)

This manna wasn’t take out from the local hamburger joint! It was something God specifically cooked up for His people. The manna was supposed to give the people of God everything they needed – all the sustenance they needed to get from Sinai to Canaan. It wasn’t a permanent fix, it was temporary until they took possession of a land flowing with “milk and honey.” All they had to do was just eat the manna for now, but keep their eyes of the prize.

But they couldn’t do it. Their dislike for the manna was really a loathing toward God’s blessing; His provision. Really, what the Israelites were doing was not complaining about the manna but telling God He didn’t know what was good for them; that they knew better than He did. This manna from Heaven saved their lives! But now it had become so commonplace the people lost all gratitude for it. It’s a bad thing when the gifts of God become boring and uninteresting, and it’s powerful evidence that the heart is not right.

Second, all this complaining led to the discouraging of God’s servant. Moses was a great man; great because he trusted God, but he wasn’t made of stone! In time the constant grumbling among the people got to him; it wore the poor guy out and he ended up lashing out to God.

If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now; it will be a kindness! Let me out of this impossible situation! (Numbers 11:15 TLB)

God’s servants are only human and the great honor of leading God’s people soon became an awful burned to Moses. It happens, sometimes. There isn’t a pastor or elder who takes his position seriously who hasn’t felt just like Moses did here. Fortunately, it passes, but it always leaves a scar.

God’s promise

Moses shouldn’t have said what he said to God, and he’d admit it if you could ask him. Moses made a mistake – not in complaining to God – but in thinking he was the only one who was bearing the burdens of his people. God never asked him to do that. Fact is, God was having not only to bear with His people, but also with Moses. In His grace, God gave Moses a solution that would last down to the days of Jesus:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Summon before me seventy of the leaders of Israel; bring them to the Tabernacle, to stand there with you. I will come down and talk with you there, and I will take of the Spirit which is on you and will put it upon them also; they shall bear the burden of the people along with you, so that you will not have the task alone.” (Numbers 11:16, 17 TLB)

There’s a great lesson here for every pastor, elder, and church leader. Don’t shoulder the burden alone. You were never meant to. And for rank and file believers, the same truth holds. No Christian was ever meant to bear their burdens alone, either. God gave Moses 70 elders to help him. God gives you friends and family members who are believers to help you, too. However, something needs to be pointed out. The tradition of the 70 elders continued to the time of Jesus. They became the Sanhedrin. And these 70 elders made the decision to put Jesus to death. It’s fine to “take advantage” of the people God leads into our lives to help us and share His wisdom with us, but ultimately our hope must be in God.

That was God’s promise to Moses. But He also made a promise to the people.

And tell the people to purify themselves, for tomorrow they shall have meat to eat. Tell them, ‘The Lord has heard your tearful complaints about all you left behind in Egypt, and he is going to give you meat. You shall eat it, not for just a day or two, or five or ten or even twenty! For one whole month you will have meat until you vomit it from your noses; for you have rejected the Lord who is here among you, and you have wept for Egypt. (Numbers 11:18 – 20 TLB)

This promise puts a whole new spin on a famous verse we like to quote:

And he will give thee the desires of thy heart. (Psalm 37:4b AV)

It cuts both ways. Be careful what you lust after. God may give it to you.

Terrible consequences

But as everyone began eating the meat, the anger of the Lord rose against the people and he killed large numbers of them with a plague. (Numbers 11:33 TLB)

The people sinned in treating God and His provision with contempt and arrogance. God takes such behavior seriously. What we witness here in Numbers is an immediate judgment of God. Psalm 78 gives us the results of lust in graphic terms:

They ate till they were gorged—he had given them what they craved. But before they turned from what they craved, even while the food was still in their mouths, God’s anger rose against them; he put to death the sturdiest among them, cutting down the young men of Israel. (Psalm 78:29 – 31 NIV)

Imagine killing yourself with God’s blessings. Christians do it all the time but they don’t notice it’s happening. We can be sure that God still judges the sins of His people. Salvation isn’t hanging in the balance, but when we believers treat God badly and crave the wrong things, we will reap the results of our lustings. Remember what Paul wrote:

Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:31, 32 NIV)

The Ark of the Covenant

raiders1

Numbers 10:33 – 36

So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp. Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Rise up, Lord! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.” Whenever it came to rest, he said, “Return, Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel.”

The day finally came for Israel to leave Mount Sinai. The journey to the Promised Land was to begin with a three-day trek. Even though the people had been standing still for eleven months, they had come a long way from the unruly, disorganized, rag-tag group of slaves and families that escaped the misery of slavery in Egypt. Now they were ready for the journey, the battles along the way, and most of all, the people were ready for victory. Their first victory was this successful three-day trip. Three days might not seem like a long time to you, but to Israel the end of the third day was cause to celebrate. They stayed together. All of them. Don’t forget, by some estimates there were upwards of 3 million Israelites. These old people, children, infirm folks, young children, adolescents, men and women somehow, by a combination of God’s grace, Moses’ leadership, and the people’s grit and determination, managed to trudge through the desert for three days, remaining in formation. Not a person was left behind; not a child wandered away.

It was an accomplishment, for sure. But we shouldn’t be too surprised. The people had, after all, the token of God’s great spiritual presence. I’m not referring to the cloud and the fire. I’m referring to the Ark of the Covenant. What was it? What purpose did it function? Does it really kill Nazis? There’s a lot funny ideas surrounding this box, so let’s take a closer look at it. The Ark of the Covenant was:

An ark

Really, it was a relatively small box, about four feet long, two feet wide, and two feet deep. But why do we call it an “ark?” The word “ark” comes from the Old English arc, which came from the Latin arca, meaning, “chest.” That Latin word is related to another one, arcēre, meaning “to defend” or “to hold off.” So this was a small chest used in defense and in holding off something or some one.

This ark was made of a special kind of wood that would not rot – it was incorruptible – and it was overlaid with pure gold. It must have been something to behold, not because it was particularly spectacular, but because it was golden box! It was precious. It must have been beautiful.

It was also a type of Christ. In other words, in some way designed by God, the ark of the Covenant somehow teaches us something about our Lord. The ark foreshadowed Christ. In the material used, wood and gold, we learn something of Jesus Christ’s two-fold nature: human (incorruptible wood) and divine (pure gold). One box, two materials. One Savior, human and divine. Our Lord’s human nature, like the special wood of the ark, remained incorruptible; sinless. Our Lord’s human nature is everything ours should have been and could have been had Adam not sinned. As a man, Jesus Christ was perfect. He was sinless. His human nature remained perfect. As God, Jesus Christ was also perfect, just as the gold that covered the wood was absolutely pure. Even as He walked this earth as a man, He was all God; totally divine. While the Bible teaches the Son of God laid aside some of His divine attributes temporarily, it teaches that He remained God.

The ark was a beautiful box that kept the Law even as that same Law found its place of fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The lid that closed up the ark was like the work of Christ, forming a seat or platform of mercy for God in His dealings with His people.

The Law that God gave the people, which they had already broken, was safely kept inside the ark and, from this point onward greatly honored by the people. Back then, God’s Covenant with His people was kept in a box, today His Covenant isn’t in a box, it’s in a Person: Jesus Christ.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23 NKJV)

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. (John 6:37 NKJV)

We’re no better than those ancient Israelites. We break God’s law all the time – we are all sinners who still fall short of God’s glory – and yet Jesus is somehow able to say with a straight face: “I will by no means cast [you] out.” That’s a significant statement; a declaration you can count on and rejoice over.

Its position

The text tells us that as the Israelites marched on, the ark “went before them.” It was given the place of prominence and the people followed it, but when it rested, it sat in the middle of the camp.

To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (John 10:3, 4 NKJV)

The Shepherd is Jesus, and we are the sheep. Like the ark did, so Jesus does: He goes on before us. Just think about what that means. First, you are never alone! Do you realize what that means? It means that no matter where you are, no matter how many people have abandoned you, Jesus never will.

I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20 NKJV)

That’s a promise you can count on. Others may come and go during your life, but Jesus Christ is the Constant you can depend on.

Second, Jesus already walked where you are walking. Think that temptation you’re enduring is unique to you? Think again. Jesus already went through it. Ever thought the despair you’re feeling right now is something God could never understand? You couldn’t be more wrong.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NKJV)

Lastly, think about this. What is the fear all men dread? Throughout the world, in every age and in every culture, fear of death is the ever-present fear that hangs over everybody’s head. Jesus went before you to the grave. And He rose again. Interestingly, our Lord’s journey from the grave to His resurrection took three days, the same number of days the Israelites traveled in our text.

I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:2, 3 NKJV)

It’s purpose

The ark had a purpose in leading the Israelites: it was to lead them to a “place of rest.” God, through the ark, was caring for His people. God, through Jesus, is doing the same thing for us today. He cares for you. He knows what’s best for you. It takes wisdom – God’s wisdom – to look after somebody like you; somebody who likes to wander off and get lost in the tall grass, somebody who doesn’t look after his spiritual self. It takes God, through His Son, to find that place of peace and rest that you can’t find.

Come to me and I will give you rest—all of you who work so hard beneath a heavy yoke. Wear my yoke—for it fits perfectly—and let me teach you; for I am gentle and humble, and you shall find rest for your souls; for I give you only light burdens. (Matthew 11:28 – 30 TLB)

Ultimately, Christ’s work on the Cross was His searching out and finding that place of rest where we can find peace in God’s presence.

He abolished the Jewish Law with its commandments and rules, in order to create out of the two races one new people in union with himself, in this way making peace. By his death on the cross Christ destroyed their enmity; by means of the cross he united both races into one body and brought them back to God. So Christ came and preached the Good News of peace to all—to you Gentiles, who were far away from God, and to the Jews, who were near to him. It is through Christ that all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are able to come in the one Spirit into the presence of the Father. (Ephesians 2:15 – 18 GNB)

Where the ark rested, the people rested.

It’s power

We all remember that great scene in the move, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when the ark of the Covenant melted those Nazis. Is that the kind of power the ark held? Let’s take another look at what we call, The Battle Cry of Moses:

Rise up, Lord! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you. (Numbers 10:35 NIV)

As we have seen, the ark of the Covenant had a practical function. It held the Law and it led the people as a token of God’s presence. The people had the cloud and the fire doing that, but the ark taught them the Law was kept by God for them; it reminded them, visually, that it was His Law, not Moses’. But in God’s plan, the ark symbolized His Son. In three big points, let’s look at that:

(1) The ark as a symbol of God’s presence. If this were not the case, the ark would have been a gold box, nothing more. It would have been dead weight.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5b, 6 NKJV)

That’s Jesus the author of Hebrews was writing about in those verses. Like the ark, Jesus Christ is proof of God’s presence in our lives. He’s always there, the living Word of God. He’s always with us. His power helps us. He keeps us safe. But Jesus – the embodiment of God’s mighty power – is just dead weight if we have no faith in Him. If we treat our Lord with contempt or if we simply ignore His presence, He can do nothing for us.

(b) The ark brought victory. Moses cried, “May your enemies be scattered.” This is some powerful language here; Moses is literally cursing God’s enemies. There was supernatural power in the ark; although probably not the kind of power we saw in the movie. It certainly did serve to bring the faith of Moses and the people of Israel into focus. It kept their thoughts on God.

The power of Christ is like that. He focuses our faith on Him and on God’s Word. But the power of Christ is more than that. His strength has defeated the enemy. The power of Satan has already been nullified by the power of Christ. That’s why John could write a verse like this:

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4 NKJV)

But you have to believe that. And you have to live like you believe it. Satan is still running around trying to convince Christians that he has some power. He doesn’t. Truth is, the only power Satan has over you is the power you give him.

(c) The ark was where God and man met together. For this point, we need to look at a verse in the book of Exodus:

And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee… (Exodus 25:21, 22 KJV)

This is what theologians refer to as the “theological relevance” of the ark. It really was much, much more than a gold box; much, much more than a symbol. It truly was the one place on earth where God met with man.

Can you see why we say the ark of the Covenant foreshadows Christ? That simple, gold box tells the whole story of the unsearchable mystery of the person of Jesus Christ in a way we may understand. The ark was not merely a repository of unimaginable power that could melt Nazis. It’s a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. (Colossians 2:9 KJV)

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.

By The Numbers, 6

BeFunky_www-St-Takla-org--17-Garments-of-the-Priests-and-Levites.jpg

LESSONS FROM A LEVITE

Numbers 8:1 -14

Who were the Levites? Simply put, the Levites were part of the tribe of Levi. Numbers 8 deals with the cleansing of the Levites. Just as Numbers 6, the Nazarite chapter, dealt with the Nazarite vow and how the Nazarite was to live in light of that vow, so this chapter will tell us all about the Levites and how they were to live in light of their calling.

According to Numbers 8:15, this is what the Levites were to be doing:

After you have sanctified them and presented them in this way, they shall go in and out of the Tabernacle to do their work. (Numbers 8:15 TLB)

What kind of work did the Levites do in the Tabernacle? What kind of service did they render to the Lord? Was it a cold, legalistic, formulaic, liturgical kind of service? No, not at all! To think that is to completely miss three important facts. First, the Levites did their work in a place where God dwelt. Stop and think about that. These special people worked in the presence of the One who had promised to bless His people; the One who was leading them and feeding them; the One who was going to lead them into a land He promised to give them. A God who treats His people with such care and compassion could never be treated in a distant, robotic fashion. Second, to think that the Levites were only concerned about laws and movements and words dictated by mere rote is to miss the significance of Numbers 7:89 —

When Moses went into the Tabernacle to speak with God, he heard the Voice speaking to him from above the place of mercy over the Ark, between the statues of the two Guardian Angels. (TLB)

We’ve never heard the audible Voice of God. I haven’t and I’m reasonably sure you haven’t either. Of course, He speaks to us everyday as we pray or read and meditate on His Word, but Numbers is talking about the audible Voice of God. How would you react if you actually heard God speaking to directly to you? Wouldn’t you be a little more reverent? Wouldn’t you stand still and pay attention? The Levites did their work in the very place God spoke to His people. And finally, the first four verses of Numbers 8 is all about light.

Tell Aaron that when he lights the seven lamps in the lampstand, he is to set them so that they will throw their light forward. (Numbers 8:2 TLB)

The Levites would do their work in the warm glow of God’s divine presence and voice, not in the darkness and shadows of a cold, hard room.

Not just anybody could serve the Lord like this, only the Levites could. What made them so special? Let’s find out.

Levi the misfit, Genesis 49:5 – 7

Simeon and Levi are two of a kind. They are men of violence and injustice. O my soul, stay away from them. May I never be a party to their wicked plans. For in their anger they murdered a man, and maimed oxen just for fun. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce and cruel. Therefore, I will scatter their descendants throughout Israel (TLB)

Levi was special. So special that his dying father, Jacob, called him and his brother “men of violence and injustice.” They were wicked, angry, scheming murders. Yet Levi’s descendants were given the singular blessing of acting as priests of God. In Levi and his descendants we see the grace of God. Yes, members of Levi’s family were scattered in Israel, but this was because they would, in time, be the priestly tribe. It was an act of God’s grace that took a social misfit and cruel person like Levi and made him the head of the priestly tribe!

But Levi is not the exception to the rule. In the New Testament, God’s grace is explained for us to understand:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NKJV)

Jesus didn’t die for the righteous, He died for the sinner! That’s who God calls and uses even today: the misfits, the troublemakers, the drunkards, the murderers.

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen… (1 Corinthians 1:27, 28 NKJV)

God surprises us by using people we might just pass over. Remember this:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NKJV)

God’s grace: How He works

God’s amazing grace sees a man, not as he is, but as he will be. Such was the case with Levi’s descendants, and such is the case with each one of us. God’s grace is always reaching out and calling the sinner to Himself. Consider again the Levites. They were:

Called, verse 6a

Take the Levites from among all the Israelites… (NIV)

The situation with the Levites was a little different than that of Nazarites. Remember, becoming a Nazarite was up to the individual Israelite. He or she would decide whether or not they wanted to become a Nazarite and for how long. But it was God who called the Levites to serve Him; it was God who decided who be His priests. The Levites prefigured the election of the Church; a body of “called out” believers – people called out and set apart from the rest of the world.

It’s an interesting trait of the Bible: many things in the New Testament are foreshadowed in the Old. In both the case of Levites and Nazarites, we see how God works with people. He calls and we respond.

Cleansed, verse 6b

…make them ceremonially clean. (NIV)

Those whom God calls, He prepares. The Levites had to be made clean, which implies they were not. The Levites had to be made both spiritually and personally prepared to do the work to which they were called. Only a holy people could engage in a holy work. Of special note is that this washing or cleansing was done for them; they didn’t do it themselves.

And the sinner doesn’t clean himself up, either.

For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13, 14 NKJV)

This cleansing of the spirit is what God does for us. This act of God on our behalf is a practical reality, however, for it gives us a position and standing before God. In other words, while the Levitical priests were washed so that they could serve in the tabernacle, the sinner is washed by the blood of Christ so that he can stand in God’s presence completely justified. This is a profound change that took place at the moment of conversion. In addition, each and every born again believer now has a Divine power whereby he is enabled “to serve the living God.” What that means is this: not a single believer is able to serve God in his own strength any more than a single sinner is able to save himself.

Sanctified, verse 7

Do this by sprinkling water of purification upon them, then having them shave their entire bodies and wash their clothing and themselves. (TLB)

The Blood of Christ cleanses us. He purifies us because this is something nobody can do for themselves. This is God’s grace at work. But that doesn’t let us off the hook any more than the Levitical priests were absolved of any responsibility for cleaning themselves. Just as they had to wash themselves, so we have to work at staying clean as we walk through our lives. There’s sin all around us and we must be on our guard against letting it taint us. We have to take care to “shave off” any habit that might endanger our relationship with Christ. That’s our part of the sanctifying process.

Atoned For, verse 12

Next, the Levite leaders shall lay their hands upon the heads of the young bulls and offer them before the Lord; one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. (TLB)

Here’s something else no human being can do for themselves: make atonement for their sins. In very graphic fashion, the Levites learned that forgiveness of sins was made possible only through the process of substitution. Those offerings were given in place of the Levite.

It is only through substitution – Christ’s substitution for us – that we may be forgiven our sins and made ready to receive God’s grace. Jesus Christ was our “sin offering.” He was our substitute on the Cross. He was punished so we could be spared punishment.

But it was the Lord’s good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief. However, when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again, and God’s program shall prosper in his hands. (Isaiah 53:10 TLB)

Consecrated, verse 13

Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. (TLB)

This is an interesting verse. Once an offering had been given to God for the Levite, the Levite himself had to be given to God. It’s no different for the Christian. Having been redeemed by the Blood of Christ, it’s up to us to yield ourselves to God.

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1, 2 NET)

Like or not, we belong to God. We were bought with the Son’s Blood. This may rub some of the more independent-minded believers the wrong way, but it is true, nonetheless.

You do not belong to yourselves but to God; he bought you for a price. So use your bodies for God’s glory. (1 Corinthians 6:19b – 20 GNB)

That last phrase, “use your bodies for God’s glory,” perfectly describes what real consecration is.

Onwed by God, verse 14

In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine. (NIV)

The Levites were God’s property by His choice. They were His by grace. They were His by blood. Choice, grace, and blood. A three-fold cord cannot be easily broken.

A rope made of three cords is hard to break. (Ecclesiastes 4:12b GNB)

All these verses teach us the truth that God’s servants, be they Levitical priests or born again believers, must be pure in heart and sacrificial in spirit. God initiates the work in His people, but it’s up to us to keep it going. In the end, though, God demands undivided loyalty. The Levites were handpicked by God from among the population of Israel to serve Him. Christians have been handpicked by God out of the whole world to serve Him, too. And we belong to Him. Chosen by God. Saved by grace. Bought by the Blood of Jesus. Yes, the rope of three cords is not easily broken.

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. (Romans 8:33 NIV)


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