Posts Tagged 'Numbers'

Panic Podcast: The Everything Bible Study, Part 11b

As promised, on today’s podcast, we’re covering Numbers and Deuteronomy.

 

Panic Podcast: 3 Separated Men, Part 2

Good morning!  Thanks so much for dropping by this Monday. We’re going to be looking at a fellow named Caleb. His story is found in the Old Testament book called Numbers. May the good Lord bless us as we study His Word together.

 

Cities of Refuge

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It’s entirely possible that the author of Hebrews had Numbers 35 in the back of his mind when he wrote this:

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. (Hebrews 6:18 NIV)

The cities of refuge described in Numbers 35 are typical of the hope we have in Jesus Christ. It might well be that the prophet Isaiah somehow understood this:

And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. (Isaiah 32:2 AV)

How can “a man,” specifically Jesus Christ, be like a city? Let’s take a look these cities of refuge within the context of Numbers 35.

Looking after the Levites

Instruct the people of Israel to give to the Levites as their inheritance certain cities and surrounding pasturelands. These cities are for their homes, and the surrounding lands for their cattle, flocks, and other livestock. (Numbers 35:2, 3 TLB)

The last three chapters of Numbers are important because they make it as clear as possible the extent of the land that God gave to Israel. They serve to underscore the eternal nature of God’s gift. God gave the land to Israel as an eternal possession. There’s a lot talk today about who actually owns the land present-day Israel is sitting on, but regardless of what politician says what to whom, that land belongs to Israel and nothing is going to alter that.

And then there were the Levites. You’ll recall that when Israel left Egypt, God took the firstborn of all life in Egypt except for those of the Israelites. Later on, Israel found out they owed God their firstborn. He asked for the Levites instead; they would all belong to Him. The Levites were to be dedicated to the service of God, as such they had to be treated differently. All the tribes of Israel were given their allotment of land except for the Levites. They were given cities to live in all across the Promised Land. This scattering of the Levites is fleshed out a little more in Joshua 21, but for now there is a lesson to be learned. In this action, God is literally scattering the savor of the Levites’ ministry all across the land. These people were privileged to not only walk close to God by serving Him in His sanctuary, but they also walked among the people. The Levites were a living example and reminder of God’s Covenant, Law, and testimony before the people. They also served as a constant reminder of the intimate relationship of God’s written Law and the workings of His grace. We’ll see that six of the Levite cities were designated as places of refuge for the one who accidentally killed another. That manslayer could run into one of these cities and plead to God for mercy.

God’s righteousness

In this way the land will not be polluted, for murder pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for murder except by the execution of the murderer. You shall not defile the land where you are going to live, for I, Jehovah, will be living there. (Numbers 35:33, 34 TLB)

The joining together of God’s righteousness and His grace is illustrated in a powerful way in the cities of refuge. These two verses give us the principles behind these special cities. When a human being was slain, whether on purpose or by accident, blood was shed. This was something God took very seriously. Shed blood polluted or defiled the entire land. The only way to cleanse the land of that awful blight was by executing (shedding the blood) of the murderer. This was vitally important because of the nature of God’s special relationship with Israel. God would be dwelling in the midst of the land. The defilement of murder needed to be removed from the land; provision for legal expiation needed to be made, or it would be impossible for God to remain in the land.

In other words, capital punishment as designed by God, was not primarily meant as a deterrent or as an expression of man’s justice, but of God’s righteousness. The Israelites were to learn something about the nature of God and man in this law. Killing an animal was acceptable but murdering a human was not because a human being, not an animal, is created in the image of God. When someone murders another person, he is not only murdering that fellow human being, but he is murdering the image of God. That’s why the ultimate price has to be paid, because murder is the ultimate crime against both man and God.

God’s grace

So God’s righteousness would be satisfied with His law of capital punishment. This, by the way, goes back further than Moses, to the days of Noah. The one law God gave Noah after the Flood was this:

And murder is forbidden. Man-killing animals must die, and any man who murders shall be killed; for to kill a man is to kill one made like God. (Genesis 9:5, 6 TLB)

The New Testament reiterates the right of the state in cases like this Romans 13:

For the policeman does not frighten people who are doing right; but those doing evil will always fear him. So if you don’t want to be afraid, keep the laws and you will get along well. The policeman is sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for he will have you punished. He is sent by God for that very purpose. (Romans 13:3, 4 TLB)

But what about an accidental killing? God’s solutions were the so-called cities of refuge.

In all, there were six cities so designated, three on each side of the Jordan River. A person guilty of manslaughter, not murder, could find a place of safety and refuge in any one of these cities. The question naturally arises: A refuge from whom?

If a relative of the dead man comes to kill him in revenge, the innocent slayer must not be released to him for the death was accidental. (Numbers 35:5 TLB)

While this sounds like a “familial bounty hunter,” this relative figures prominently in Hebrew law and history. He is goel, the Avenger of Blood. He was the representative from the victim’s family charged with making sure justice was carried out against the murderer of the family member.

This Avenger of Blood was allowed to track down the murderer and deliver him to the authorities for execution. This was providing the testimony of two or three eyewitnesses could confirm the guilt of the murderer.

However, never put a man to death on the testimony of only one witness; there must be at least two or three. The witnesses shall throw the first stones, and then all the people shall join in. In this way you will purge all evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 17:6, 7 TLB)

Obviously the Avenger of Blood was not omniscient. He could be wrong. What if the person he was tracking didn’t kill the relative on purpose? That person, then, could find safety in a city of refuge.

These cities will be places of protection from the dead man’s relatives who want to avenge his death; for the slayer must not be killed unless a fair trial establishes his guilt. (Numbers 35:12 TLB)

…then the people shall judge whether or not it was an accident, and whether or not to hand the killer over to the avenger of the dead man. If it is decided that it was accidental, then the people shall save the killer from the avenger; the killer shall be permitted to stay in the City of Refuge; and he must live there until the death of the High Priest. (Numbers 35:24, 25 TLB)

Why was the accidental murderer required to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest? The legal guilt of the unintentional slaying was ultimately expiated in the death of the high priest. Remember, the high priest was both the mediator and the representative of the people, so his death represented the legal justification of the accidental murderer. The scales of justice were balanced, expiation fulfilled, and the slayer was now free to return to his own home.

It’s a picture of Jesus

God’s system of justice is perfect. But there is much more at work here. The cities of refuge are really a perfect picture of Jesus Christ. The Bible applies this picture of the city of refuge to the believer finding refuge in God on more than one occasion. Here’s one that’s familiar to you:

God is our refuge and strength, a tested help in times of trouble. (Psalm 46:1 TLB)

The points of similarity between the cities of refuge and Jesus are stunning:

Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are within easy reach of the needy person; they were of no use unless someone could get to the place of refuge. Jesus is “as close as the mention of His Name.”

Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are open to all, not just the Israelite; no one needs to fear that they would be turned away from their place of refuge in their time of need. All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Both Jesus and the cities of refuge became a place where the one in need would live; you didn’t come to a city of refuge in time of need just to look around.

Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are the only alternative for the one in need; without this specific protection, they will be destroyed. Jesus is the only hope for the one being pursued by the Avenger of Blood.

Both Jesus and the cities of refuge provide protection only within their boundaries; to go outside meant certain death.

With both Jesus and the cities of refuge, full freedom comes with the death of the High Priest.

You can see there are many points of similarity between the cities of refuge and Jesus Christ. But there is one, glaring, crucial distinction between the two: The cities of refuge only helped the innocent, but the guilty can come to Jesus and find refuge.

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:32 AV)

How To Inherit God’s Promises

Canaan

Numbers 33:50 – 56

The Israelites were so close to the Promised Land, they could look across the Jordan right into it. Up to this point in Numbers 33, Moses recalls the past for the sake of his people and of the inspired record he set down. If you were to read Numbers 33:1 – 47, you would be struck with the seemingly never-ending patience of God as He preserved His people during their travels, beginning with their Exodus from Egypt. The trip from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land should have been quick and simple. Thanks to the people’s rebellious, sinful attitudes, God forced them to turn back from the Promised Land and He made the walk around the desert for almost 40 years until that sinful generation died off. Essentially, God would start fresh with a new group of people entering into the Promised Land. During the 40 years, God preserved and put up with almost constant complaining, murmuring, often thankless people until He led them right back to where they started: the border of the Promised Land.

The Israelites learned a lesson, and so should we. The life we Christians enjoy in Christ, our “land of rest,” depends on the same grace of God. If you are serving the Lord, you may experience supernatural provision, happiness, and peace in the here-and-now thanks only to God’s grace. The children of Israel were often discouraged because of God’s will – their wilderness wanderings. God’s will may not always be exciting or something that you particularly enjoy either, but it is God’s will none-the-less and rather than “kicking against the goad,” it’s best for you to submit to His will and enjoy all that His grace has to offer. It’s a lot less work, a lot less frustrating, and a lot more rewarding experience.

They left the mountains of Abarim and camped on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. There on the plains of Moab they camped along the Jordan from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim. (Numbers 33:48, 49 NIV)

So here are, after four decades, Israel found itself standing on the plains of Moab, directly across from Jericho and the wonders of “the land flowing with milk and honey.” The Jordan River was the only thing between the people and the promise. The tens of thousands of Israelites were occupying an area of about five miles square; plenty of room for them to wait for the word to enter Canaan. Ronald Allen, in his commentary on Numbers, makes six keen observations of what was going on in Numbers 33. Of those six, two are worth noting here.

First, in the midst of Moses’ account of the Israelite’s travels, he abruptly pauses to mention something else:

While they were at the foot of Mount Hor, Aaron the priest was directed by the Lord to go up into the mountain, and there he died. This occurred during the fortieth year after the people of Israel had left Egypt. The date of his death was July 15, when he was 123 years old. (Numbers 33:38 – 40 TLB)

Moses was dying and he knew it. Much of this chapter may be regarded his obituary, written ahead of time by himself. In the midst of his obituary, Moses memorializes his brother Aaron. It’s a small point but a remarkable one that speaks to the character of both Moses and his brother. Moses, the reluctant hero, deliverer, and leader of a nation and his brother, Aaron, the nation’s spiritual leader, were both significant men of God and significant men in the history of Israel. They were not sinless. They were far from perfect. And, when God called them into service, Moses and Aaron had already lived half a lifetime; these were not young men. But they both rose to their callings. They both, no doubt, got more grief than they deserved, and yet both men kept on, walking the road God had put them on. Neither man would be allowed to enter Canaan, but they were men of God.

Secondly, as you read Numbers 33, there is absolutely no mention of the rebellion of the people; no mention of the 40 years of judgment and punishment. If all you knew about Israel’s history came from this chapter, you would rightly conclude that Israel marched faithfully, from one staging point to another, from Egypt to the Canaan. Why is that, do you suppose? In God’s records, the new generation had replaced the old one. As far as God was concerned, there had never been a previous rebellious and sinful generation. The people who arrived at the banks of the Jordan were regarded by God as the people who had left Egypt.

What do we take away from this? God’s will; His eternal purpose and plan for His people will always be realized, despite the loss and disappearance of an entire generation. Or, in other words, with or without your help or co-operation, God’s will is going to come to pass.

That Land of Promise, like all of God’s promises, could only be received and entered into by faith. Like the children of Israel, let’s take a few moments to look into the Promised Land.

What was it like?

From all the songs and hymns we sing, you might get the impression that Canaan Land was just like Heaven. In fact, it probably wasn’t. Canaan Land, far from being like a place, was like a Person: the Lord Jesus Christ. Think about this: Canaan was the following things.

A land of plenty

Remember how God Himself described the Promised Land:

So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8 NIV)

Remember what the spies saw when they spied out the Land:

When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. (Numbers 3:23 NIV)

They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.” (Numbers 3:27 NIV)

Canaan was everything God said it would be. Would it have been anything else? It was something – some place – God had given to them. God only gives good things to His people. Even during their time wandering around the desert, God was still giving them good things (whether they fully realized it or not!).

The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything. (Deuteronomy 2:7 NIV)

Even when you don’t deserve it, God will provide for you. What a foreshadow of what Jesus Christ does for His people.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 NIV)

A God-given land

Canaan was a piece of property God gave personally to His people. It was a Land of Promise for every Israelite to enjoy. All they had to do was receive it. Jesus Christ is a Person given to every human being:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned (John 3:16 – 18a NIV)

But just like the Promised Land, Jesus is a promise waiting to be claimed. Until the Israelites went in to possess the Land, it really didn’t belong to them even though God gave it to them. Until a lost soul reaches out in faith to possess the gift of God in Jesus Christ, He doesn’t belong to them, either.

How to possess the promise

Believe

If you, like the Israelites before you, want to “possess the land,” or possess the promises God has in store for you, you need to remember what a “promise” is. The promise of God must be accepted by the one God made it to. The promise He has promised man is eternal life in Christ Jesus. You must believe, not only in Him, but in what He accomplished for you. It was unbelief that kept Israel out of the Promised Land for 40 years and it is unbelief that keeps eternal life elusive to so many lost souls.

Possess

Canaan could not be claimed and owned by the Israelites until they were IN it. They had to claim it with their feet!

I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. (Joshua 1:3 NIV)

Don’t think this is another “name-it-and-claim-it” message, because it isn’t. Nobody can claim the promises of God until they are IN Christ. If you are in Christ, you will receive the promises of God in due time.

Confront

Sometimes, as in the case of Israel, possessing God’s promises may take a little bit of work.

“When you pass across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the people living there and destroy all their idols—their carved stones, molten images, and the open-air sanctuaries in the hills where they worship their idols. I have given the land to you; take it and live there.” (Numbers 33:51 – 53 TLB)

There may not be people in between you and your promise, but maybe you may have to deal with some sin in your life. Or maybe some doubt or faithlessness. Whatever you need to “drive out” in order to receive your promise, it will be more than worth the effort to do it. There is an enemy determined to keep you away from the promises God has given to you and you may have to deal with him, too.

A warning:  You may fail

God had given Canaan to Israel, but it wasn’t a done deal by a long shot. Failure was possible.

But if you refuse to drive out the people living there, those who remain will be as cinders in your eyes and thorns in your sides. (Numbers 33:55 TLB)

It’s hard to imagine, but living in disobedience to God’s revealed will can literally turn the blessings of God into small curses that make life hard for you. Israel had to do exactly what God told them to do, otherwise they would forever be plagued with aggravations and irritations all the years they lived in the land gave them.

How many Christians are genuine, true believers, yet live miserable lives because they are just slightly out of His will?

Disobedience is fatal

If failing to do all that God wants you to do results in you living a sub-standard Christian life, then outright, continual disobedience is deadly.

And I will destroy you as I had planned for you to destroy them. (Numbers 33:55 TLB)


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