Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Reading in Numbers This Week #3 (Chapters 12-19)

41Quqi3pMxL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_I am continuing to work through a discussion on the book of Numbers, with the commentary, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness, by Iain M. Duguid. Previous posts on Numbers can be seen here and here. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The rebellion against Moses begins in chapter 12 with his own family. Miriam and Aaron, because of jealousy over Moses' God-given position of leadership stir up trouble by grumbling about his "Cushite" wife. They are jealous that God speaks directly to Moses. Ironically, when God appears to them, they get a direct word of judgment from God. Miriam is stricken with a disease that makes her look like a corpse. The 2nd rebellion is much more severe and directed against God. As the 12 tribal leaders are sent to the land to scout it out they agree on the bounty of the land but disagree on their ability to take it. The majority emphasize the difficulties and do not mention God's promises or past saving acts. Joshua and Caleb urge the people that with God's help they can do it. The people reject Joshua and Caleb's advice and God judges them by allowing their expectation of death in the wilderness to come true. However, the children they thought would become the spoils of war would become the ones that God would bring into the land.

What is the cure for the grumbling that flows from envy? It is the cross. There God paid the price for your unworthy soul and for mine. There he purchased us back to be his servants, weak and feeble though we are. When we contemplate the greatness of his grace to us in the cross, we cannot doubt that he has our best interests at heart in the way he has brought our circumstances together, even though they are different from the circumstances of others around us. Numbers 12, 165

If you fear the Lord, you will be free from the fear of your enemies; if you forget God, you will inevitably fear men. Numbers 13-14, 170

The eye of faith recognizes that in this world, reality is not accurately measured whenever we are “humanly speaking.” This is God’s world, in which his Word and his promises must ultimately prevail. No matter how great the opposition, if the Lord is pleased with us, our future is assured. Numbers 13-14, 171

Chapter 15 interjects laws about sacrifice and clothing into the narrative. This is God's response to the people's decision not to enter the Promised Land. The sacrifices were to remind them of their privileges and responsibilities as the people of God. The privilege was to be in relationship with God and to enjoy relationship, protection and the blessings that went with that. The responsibility was to be the unique people of God, a people who followed their king and were a "nation of priests" to the world. The sacrifices reminded people of the exalted position they held by God's grace. To reject this was dangerous and subject to judgment because God has ordered creation to bring blessing to those who obey him. The harsh judgment on the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath was a judgment of treason on a man who publicly "shook his fist" in the face of God. Ultimately, obedience brings blessing, rebellion brings judgment.

Like the Israelites, we have false beliefs about God that we persist in doggedly in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary. Until these deep-rooted core beliefs are challenged, little real change is possible in our lives. That is why even when we recognize that our sinful patterns lead to painful consequences, we often find that we cannot change them. Numbers 15, 183

The motivating power of all sin lies in failing to believe God’s good purpose for us, which is for us to glorify him and enjoy him forever... Whatever we are pursuing when we sin, it is always something less than God’s good purpose for us. It is a functional idolatry of something other than the Lord. Numbers 15, 185

Having given the Lord’s people laws that demonstrate his mercy (15:1–21) and his justice (vv. 22–36), the final commandment in this section speaks of the Lord’s covenant faithfulness. The tassels were designed to remind Israel who they were by God’s grace, which in turn was the foundation for their call to obedience. Numbers 15, 194

In Numbers 16 and 17 the rebellion reaches its climax. Korah complains that Aaron is not the only one who should be high priest while Korah, Dathan and Abiram complain about the lack of positive results of Moses' leadership. Instead of defending himself Moses calls upon the Lord to vindicate him and to show who he has chosen for leadership. God answers the prayer quickly as the rebellious Levites are destroyed by the fire of God and the other rebels are swallowed up by the ground beneath them. This did not end the rebellion. Amazingly the people still reject God's leader Moses and thus, reject God. Plague breaks out in the camp and, amazingly, the two rejected leaders save the people as Moses intercedes for them and Aaron runs into the midst of the plague between the living and the dead to save them. Finally God gives the sign of the budding almond rod to show who was his real choice for leadership. The rods represented authority and God showed, by making Aaron's rod into a living likeness of the menorah, that Aaron's family, as high priest, would be the channel of the blessing of God's presence to the nation.

Those who desire to lead should be examined and tested, not just so their abilities and gifts can be discerned, but so others can discern as far as possible their hearts and motives. Character is far more crucial than knowledge or gifting, important though those are. Do such persons simply long for the prestige of the title of elder or pastor, or do they have a genuine desire to serve God and his people?.. It is a fearful responsibility to lead God’s people, and not one to be taken up lightly. Numbers 16, 203

Biblical leaders, however, serve because God has called them to that position and recognize that sometimes even those whom God has called may not see dramatic visible results. Numbers 16, 204

The Lord took Aaron’s dead stick and turned it into a miniature lampstand in the midst of the other twelve sticks, a sign of life and future blessing in the midst of the community. Numbers 17, 214

After the rebellion God gives direction to the people about tithing and holiness. These laws were, in many ways, a gracious promise that the people would have plenty and be able to give and that God would provide a way for their connection with him. The principle behind the tithe in chapter 18 was that all people belong to God and thus, the tribe of Levi become the "tithe" of the people to the service of God. In addition, the people were to tithe from their agricultural products to support the work of ministry and the ministers. There were multiple tithes in the Sinai Covenant to support the work of ministry, to provide for the poor and needy and even to have a big celebration of God's goodness (Deut. 14). The ashes of the red heifer (19) symbolically provided cleansing for the regular contamination of living in a world of sin, decay and death. Symbolically, the spotless heifer took on the death that sin caused as the penalty of contamination was taken by those that prepared the ashes. The ashes then provided, like confession, a "faithful and just" application of forgiveness.

The Lord is not only the inheritance of the priests and Levites but the inheritance of all of the saints as well...If we understand and remember these truths, it will be our delight to give generously to support those whom the Lord has called to serve him full-time. We will be overjoyed when we have an opportunity to meet the needs of the poor, and we will make it a priority to show hospitality and celebrate fellowship with the Lord’s people in his presence. That is the essence of all true Christian tithing and giving. Numbers 18, 238

Instead of redefining sin so that it no longer covers the things that we do, or pretending that sin doesn’t exist in our carefully sheltered world, it is far better to recognize the inevitable reality of our contact with sin and let that realization drive us back to God and to the cleansing he has provided. Numbers 19, 244

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