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Monday, September 1, 2014

NUMBERS+—An Illustrated Summary of Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible by G. Campbell Morgan

"On every page of the God-breathed writings are many thoughts that stretch out like long, clear arms of light across the darkness, discovering things otherwise hidden and illuminating wider areas than those of the immediate context. They are searchlights. From a multitude of these, I have selected one in each chapter of Scripture, for at least one central thought in every chapter should arrest the mind and affect the life," wrote G. Campbell Morgan, a wise, warm-hearted, careful Bible teacher who conducted a classic 3-year chapter-by-chapter study called Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible. Here are the fruits of that timeless study—summarized, illustrated, and amplified—on all 66 books of the Bible (posted one book at a time, cumulatively).
Numbers 1:19 "As the Lord commanded Moses, so he numbered them." The book of Numbers records the wilderness experiences of the people of God. It mainly tells of a long discipline due to disobedience. Instead of the Israelites going straight up and possessing the land promised  them, their entry was postponed for forty years. The book of Numbers gets its name from two different numberings of the people, one at the beginning and the other at the close of the forty years. This first numbering was of the men of military age, from twenty years upward. The total was 603,550. This was the first movement in preparing the people to enter the land. The nation had been created as an instrument for carrying God's purposes. Its first mission was punitive. The peoples occupying the land of Canaan had become utterly corrupt, and it was necessary that they should be swept out. Since God intended the Israelites to be His instruments for this purifying process, they needed to be prepared for warfare. The census was the first step, but the reason for the preparation of this army must never be lost sight of. The story of the conquest of Canaan is not about the extermination of a feeble peoples by a stronger to possess territory. It is about the purification of a land so there might be planted in it a people from whom blessing would come to all nations (Genesis 12:3).

Numbers 2:2 "The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard." This whole chapter reveals the orderliness of the divine arrangements. The host of God was not a mob, lacking order. It was a disciplined company, and in these provisions for its encampment this fact is emphasized. At the center of everything was the tabernacle or tent of meeting, reminding the people that all their national life was centered in the God who had called them to Himself. Nearest to this sacred center is where the Levites pitched their tents because the nation's first obligation was the service and worship of God. On the east—that is, fronting the entrance—the standard-bearing tribe was Judah, with its symbol of a lion of gold on a field of scarlet (according to rabbinic tradition; the Scriptures do not tell us what each flag looked like). With Judah were Zebulun and Issachar. On the west, Ephraim's standard was a black ox on a field of gold. Associated with Ephraim were Manasseh and Benjamin. On the south, Reuben bore the standard on which was a man on a field of gold. Simeon and Gad were grouped with Reuben. On the north, Dan was the standard-bearing tribe, his symbol being an eagle of gold on a field of blue. With Dan were Naphtali and Asher. Thus the whole encamping of the people was beautifully symbolic of the unity and diversity of their national life within the presence and purpose of God.

Numbers 3:12 "I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of all the firstborn." In this and the following chapters, the service of the Levites is dealt with in detail. Although the Levites were numbered in the census, they were exempted from military service. This is a clear indication of the mind of God on the value of religious and spiritual work in national service. A fact often missed is that the Levites were representatives. The first divine arrangement was that the firstborn male in every family was to be consecrated to the service of God (Exodus 13:1-13). Now, in all probability for the sake of cohesion and order, one tribe was set apart to represent the firstborn sons of the nation. In this light recall that our Lord was the First-born and so a Priest according to the original divine arrangement, not according to the Levitical order. All those who are redeemed by Him exercise a priesthood that results from their birthright in Him and therefore have no need for any order of men to represent them in priestly work. In this way also the order of the Levitical priesthood is done away in Christ.

Numbers 4:49 "Everyone according to his service and according to his burden." This chapter gives a detailed account of how the Levites were assigned efficiently to manage the upcoming burden of transporting the tabernacle when on the march with the people. The three branches of Levi's family were the Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites. Moses and Aaron were Kohathites, whose duty as a tribal unit was to carry all the holy furniture with secured poles on their shoulders after Aaron and his sons covered each sacred piece from the holy place. Aaron's son Eleazar was in charge of these holy items on the march and was to personally carry the anointing oil and sweet incense. (Only these special items needed to be carried by hands and shoulders, meaning that the heavier and bulkier items carried by the other tribal units could be placed on wagons.) The Gershonites had the duty of carrying the curtains and tents that constituted the tabernacle itself. These items were under the charge of Ithamar, Aaron's other surviving son. To the Merarites were committed the boards, bars, pillars, and other things that formed the foundations upon which the sacred hangings rested. These also were in Ithamar's care. All these men, in fact, were caretakers of the House of God. To God every detail is sacred. Always remember that the men and women who take care of our houses of worship are rendering holy service.

Numbers 5:17 "The priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water." These words occur in a section that emphasizes the necessity for purity within the camp. All who were in any way unclean were put outside. They were, for the time being, camp-followers only, shut out until their purification was provided according to the laws already given. Good inter-personal relationships were also a vital part of camp life, and to this end restitution was regularly made by all who had in any way sinned against their fellows. It is in this atmosphere that we find the careful, and to us at first, strange instructions for dealing with jealousy between husband and wife. The very fact of these instructions shows how important it is to God that in the interests of true national strength, family life be maintained at its strongest and purest. This ordeal of drinking bitter water has no similarity to the ordeals by fire and poison during the Dark Ages because the drinking of this water was perfectly harmless in itself. (The formula was ordinary water and dust from the tabernacle, along with non-acidic ink from natural elements such as carbon that could be easily wiped off from fresh writing on a scroll.) It only became proof of guilt by an act of God. If a woman who was guilty of infidelity drank this water, the tokens of her guilt would be quickly seen, not by any action of the water, but by the justice of God. If she was innocent, she would be free from suspicion before all and would be blessed.

Numbers 6:27 "So shall they put My Name upon the sons of Israel." The solemn act of pronouncing this blessing was a distinct part of Hebrew worship. It consisted of placing the Name of the Lord upon the people, that is, declaring His relationship to them. "So" indicates it was to be done this way and no other. The name itself is the Lord (Yahweh or Jehovah), signifying the infinite grace of God, by which He bends to meet the needs of His people. He becomes to them at all times exactly what they really need. The first sentence of the blessing, "The Lord bless you and keep you," does not describe the way or the nature of the blessing but fixes attention upon the fact that God is its source. The second sentence, "The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you," declares that God is both the source and channel of blessing—that through His activity it reaches His people. The final sentence, "The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace," is a declaration that one's personal experience of the blessing is from God Himself creating that experience. We know from further revelation that these words speak of the Trinity or God's tri-unity: God is one in essence yet three in Person (not 1+1+1 but 1X1X1). The Father is the Lord, the source of blessing. The Son is the Lord, the channel of blessing. The Spirit is the Lord, the creator of the experience of blessing. So the Lord has put His Name upon His people and has blessed us indeed.

Numbers 7:89 "He heard the Voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat." This is a brief statement of something that happened after the dedication and anointing of the altar. It was a great day, and all this longest chapter in the book is occupied with it and the generous offerings from the representatives of each tribe over the past twelve days in anticipation of it. When all was done, Moses entered the tabernacle. Here we read a clear statement that in his communing with God, Moses did actually hear a voice. The communications he received were more than subjective impressions; they were objective expressions. The place of the voice is definitely and carefully stated: it came "from above the mercy seat, which rested upon the ark of the covenant between the two cherubim." The ending words of the verse are "so He spoke with him." The Bible is quite literally the Word of God.

Numbers 8:2 "The seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand." The Hebrew word translated lampstand, menorah, appears first in Genesis 1:14 to describe the sun, moon, and stars. These are light-holders. So also was this golden stand that occupied a spot in the holy place directly opposite the table of show-bread, where twelve fresh loaves of bread were set out each week. Its light was given by the seven lamps branching from the stand, illuminating the loaves. The priests brought the fresh loaves in every Sabbath, laid them out on the table in two piles of sixes, and put frankincense on them as a symbol of the people's fellowship with God. Upon that table the light from the golden lampstand always fell. Thus were typified great principles of fellowship with God, which have their fulfillment in Christ. We who love Him have a table of communion, but it is well to remember that upon it the light is always shining. We have a right to that table only as we dwell in that light. The light comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit, but we are responsible to make Him welcome by keeping our lamps trimmed.

Numbers 9:18 "At the command of the Lord the sons of Israel would set out, and at the command of the Lord they would camp." This chapter brings us to the moment when everything was ready for the march to the promised land. The hosts of God waited only for the divine will. That was made known through the cloud. The first appearing of this cloud was in connection with the actual Exodus, and from then on was the appointed symbol and token of the divine presence. It is both mystic and revealing. There has been a good deal of speculation regarding the nature of this cloud. It is most obviously a supernatural manifestation indicating the presence and guidance of God. The people were only to move in obedience to the movement of the cloud. It was at once a beneficent and drastic provision. It lifted all responsibility from them, except that of simple obedience. They were not called upon to consider the time or direction of their march, but they were not allowed to object or delay. We no longer have any such visible means of guidance, but the guidance is as sure for us as for them. It comes from a life of maintained fellowship with the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. In proportion as that is maintained, there need be no place or time in which we may not discover what is the will of God for us.

Numbers 10:31 "You will be as eyes for us." This is an appeal Moses makes to Hobab, his brother-in-law. Just as they were on the eve of departing from Mount Sinai to go into the promised land, Moses sought to persuade Hobab to accompany them. His first appeal was, "Come with us and we will do you good, for the Lord has promised good concerning Israel." But Hobab said to Moses, "I will not come, but rather will go to my own land and relatives" (Numbers 10:29-30). Then Moses used the other method of appeal: "you will be as eyes for us." The words that immediately follow, "And they set forward from the Mount of the Lord," suggest that Hobab went with them. What is the difference between the argument that failed and the one that succeeded? However good the intention and however true the statement, the first appeal was to selfishness. It promised the man that he should gain something by going. The second was an appeal for help. It suggested that his knowledge of the wilderness would be of service, that he could do something for the whole company that would be of real value to them. Yes, the cloud was leading the way but all the people needed to keep their wits about them and walk wisely. A knowledgeable guide could help them keep up better with the cloud since he knew the pitfalls of the terrain. Is there not something here we do well to consider? We too are very prone to making our appeals to selfishness. Would not appeals that call to service and sacrifice to the heroic be far more forceful? That was how the Lord Jesus Christ based His appeals. He certainly desires us to come to Him that He may do us good, but He continues to call us to offer Him valuable service by serving others in ways that really matter.

Numbers 11:4 "The mixed multitude that was among them fell to intense craving." The mixed multitude was a perpetual source of trouble to Israel.  For an explanation of this multitude we must refer to Exodus 12:38. There the statement is simply made that "a mixed multitude" accompanied them on their journeys. They were merely camp followers. The fact of their presence then was apparently innocent and harmless. This issue proves it was far otherwise. They influenced the Israelites to feel dissatisfied with God's provision for their physical needs by audibly pining for the foods they ate in Egypt. The statement in Exodus shows that this mixed multitude was very wealthy, having "flocks and herds, including much cattle." Perhaps that accounted for the willingness of the people of God to permit them to accompany them. Not having true part or lot in the divine movement, however, they fell to lusting after the things of Egypt, and infected the people of God with the same unholy desire. What significant teaching there is in this story for the church of God! How often she has been defiled and weakened by the influence of camp followers! The mixed multitude that has no vital relation to Christ but that follows out of mere curiosity is a perpetual menace to the people of God. Better far a fellowship of souls all actually sharing in the life of Christ and loyal to His enterprise, though it be small, than a crowd of those who follow outwardly but in whose heart is a lusting for the things of evil.

Numbers 12:4 "The Lord spoke suddenly to Moses." That is an arresting statement. It marks an action on the part of God so definite and immediate as to highlight the importance of this story. It is an odd story of rebellion against Moses by an unlikely duo: his own sister and brother. The occasion was Moses' marriage to a Cushite woman, but that was not the reason for it. Miriam and Aaron used this opportunity to act upon deep feelings of jealousy that were lurking in their hearts. They resented Moses' authority, evidently desiring to share it with him in a larger degree. Sooner or later, if there is hidden evil, circumstances will occur in which it will be outwardly manifested. Stern and majestic was the divine method of dealing with this outbreak. The sudden summons of God brought these three people out from the host and into His immediate presence. Then in the plainest terms the Lord vindicated His servant Moses. Thus we are taught that God will not permit any interference with His appointments. To question the authority of those whom He appoints is to question His authority. Aaron immediately and humbly repented of their foolish sin, and pleaded with Moses on behalf of their sister. With great compassion, Moses entreated the Lord to heal Miriam. The cry was heard and after seven days, Miriam was restored. Surely He is ever a God ready to pardon. Nevertheless, the warning was solemn and severe, showing that rebellion is most reprehensible when manifested by those most highly placed.

Numbers 13:28 "Nevertheless." The Hebrew word used here essentially signifies, "No further!" It suggests that what has already been said is all that can be said in that direction and now what follows is supposed to give the true picture. The speakers are twelve Hebrew spies, reporting on their forty-day reconnaissance mission in the promised land. The report of those men so far had been entirely favorable concerning the land. They were convinced of its desirability and brought back evidence of its bounty. "Nevertheless" they had also seen the difficulties: the walled cities and the physical strength and large number of its inhabitants. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, immediately challenged this negative report but the majority asserted that they were like grasshoppers compared to their enemies. The remarkable fact about the majority report is they did not refer to God. The seem to have lost sight of Him completely. Human calculations are not wrong but become wrong when they do not take all the relevant factors into account, especially when they omit the chief factor. How constantly we all are in danger of making the same mistake! The way of God is revealed to us; we see it and recognize all its advantages. Nevertheless, we see the difficulties and become so preoccupied with them that we lose sight of God. Then our hearts fail us and fear paralyzes us, quite naturally: the foes massed against the people of God are always mightier than they are if they are called upon to act alone.

Numbers 14:8 "If the Lord delights in us, then...." These are the outstanding words of the minority report. They reveal the difference in viewpoint between the minority and the majority. Joshua and Caleb saw all that the others saw and more: they had clear apprehension of the goodness of the land; they were by no means blind to the formidable nature of the difficulties that stood between them and possession. But they saw God. They started with that vision and saw everything else in its light. Therefore, said Joshua and Caleb, the enemies were "as bread. Their protection is removed from them" (Numbers 14:9). Yet these men also saw that there was a condition and they named it: "if the Lord delights in us." In these words are surely a recognition of fact and a statement of responsibility. The Lord did delight in them: He had ransomed them from slavery, brought them to Himself, provided for all their needs, promised them this very land. What further proofs could they have of His delight in them? Nevertheless, they were in danger of placing themselves outside the benefits of that delight by their fear and rebellion. These things are written for our instruction. Every call of God to His people is a call to  those in whom He delights. Therefore they should know that no difficulties need daunt them. They are not called to meet them in their own strength. He will be with them in the path of obedience.

Numbers 15:38-39 "You shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue...to remember all the commandments of the Lord, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and eyes" This was a sign for the coming forty years of wilderness wanderings that the people brought upon themselves as punishment for violently rejecting Joshua and Caleb's God-honoring report. Notice, however, how this chapter begins: "When you come into the land" (Numbers 15:1). In the divine discipline of the people for their failure in faith, they were about to turn their faces from the land they might at once have possessed, yet here is a prophecy of the fulfillment of the divine intention. In the wilderness they were to live as those belonging to the land, even though for the time being they were excluded from it. The cord of blue would help the Israelites remember that then and after. Blue is symbolic of heavenly beauty and here served as a constant reminder that they were under the direct government of God—the one great fact they forgot when they permitted the difficulties of the way to fill them with fear. If some outward sign helps us to remember God's sovereignty over our lives, then let us use it but with this caution: that we not become so accustomed to it that we forget its true significance.

Numbers 16:5 "The Lord will show who are His and who is holy." This chapter gives the account of a strong and organized opposition to Moses and Aaron. In these words we have the appeal Moses made for a divine decision. The attitude taken up by those who organized the movement was plausible and popular. It was democratic in its expression: "All the congregation are holy, everyone of them, and the Lord is among them so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?" (Numbers 16:3). It was a plea for equal rights and independence of action. Moses wisely submitted the case to God, whose authority was indirectly being challenged by this direct challenge toward His appointed ministers. The answer was immediate and deadly. All that was left of the rebels were the smoking firepans they used to challenge Moses and Aaron's authority. The Lord directed that those firepans be beaten out into a covering for the altar as a witness against intruding upon divine service. The whole story shows how false may be the most popular movements. No man or woman has the right to serve in any way contrary to the revealed will of God. He sovereignly gifts people as He sees fit, and in His Word are principles that govern our duties and service in life. We sin against God when we rebel against authorities He has established.

Numbers 17:5 "The staff belonging to the man I choose will bud, and I will rid Myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites." Thus a supernatural sign was given to the people in vindication of Aaron's right to the position he held. It proved effective, for while the spirit of rebellion manifested itself in other ways, complaints against the rights of the God-appointed priesthood ceased from this time. The blossoming and fruit-bearing of Aaron's staff undoubtedly resulted from the direct and supernatural action of God. It taught both the people and the priests that blessings come not from anything inherent in themselves, but from the direct action of the Lord through them. As the staffs of the other tribal leaders were unable to bud, blossom, or bear fruit of themselves, so also was that of Aaron apart from this divine action. The same principle is true today. All our spiritual fruit comes from God. Its absence proves that we have no authority. Its presence proves that we have, but also that the authority is finally His and not our own. Bearing spiritual fruit will give us both a sense of authority and humility.

Numbers 18:7 "I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift." The closing verses of the previous chapter reveal that recent events had produced a spirit of dejection almost amounting to despair in the minds of the people. Such a mental mood was healthy in that it proved the people had profited by the severe judgments that had fallen upon them. To this troubled condition these words were now spoken to reaffirm the divine appointment of the service of the priesthood for the good of all. Neither people nor priests had done anything to merit this provision. It was wholly one of grace, a gift from God. Therefore it was not less but more important that they should recognize its worth, for that is how love operates. Love demands a loyalty more thorough than anything else. To hold in contempt any provision of divine love is a most heinous sin. Whatever ability to serve is granted to us by divine grace, it is most holy and sacred service, and therefore to be rendered with uttermost devotion.

Numbers 19:9 "Water to remove impurity." This is a very interesting chapter because it tells of a new and special provision made for these people while they were moving from place to place. When in the course of such movement the camp was not pitched, and therefore the ordinary methods of the ceremonial law could not be observed, provision was made for ceremonial cleansing. This special water to remove impurity was made with ashes that came from a solemn ceremony during which a red heifer was sacrificed. The whole of it was to be burned, and as it burned, cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet were mingled with it. The water to remove impurity symbolized the need for constant cleansing, but also meant that there need be no postponement of such cleansing when the duly appointed place and method were not available. This points to the wonder of God's fulfillment in Christ. The infinite worth and merit of our Lord's redeeming work are available to us at all times and in all places. Let us never fail to apprehend this truth or to appropriate this grace.

Numbers 20:12 "Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land I have given them." Perhaps there is no story in all the Old Testament more searching for all who are called to lead the people of God than this of the failure of Moses. What he did was most natural, but that is where the wrong came in. If that sounds a hard thing to say, consider the story: the people grumbled against Moses again because they were temporarily without water, despite all the evidences of God's faithfulness to provide. Moses and Aaron went to the Lord and received instructions on what to do. Those instructions had in them no note of rebuke from God, but Moses added a harsh rebuke of his own to the people, speaking "rashly with his lips" (Psalm 106:33) with ugly actions to match. By this understandable manifestation of anger, the servant of God misrepresented God to the people. His failure was that his faith failed to reach the high degree that the situation required: Moses still believed in God and in His power, but not to the degree of treating Him as holy in the sight of His people. Right things may be done in so wrong a way as to produce evil results. As important as it is to deliver the Lord's message, we must do so in His tone, with His temper. That is where Moses failed, and for this failure both he and Aaron were excluded from the promised land.

Numbers 21:9 "When anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived." This was not because there was any healing virtue in the bronze snake, but because that look constituted obedience to a divine command. The people had grumbled yet again about their provisions. Because their words were particularly poisonous, "the Lord sent venomous snakes among the people...so that many people of Israel died (Numbers 21:6). The people quickly saw the justice in this and humbly entreated Moses to ask for deliverance, which he promptly did. God graciously responded, "Make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live" (Numbers 21:8). The principles revealed are of abiding application. Rebellion inevitably brings suffering and disaster. Repentance and faith lead to healing. This combination of God's righteous justice and mercy is seen most magnificently in Christ's atoning work. The benefit of His atoning work may be appropriated only by repentance and faith, whereby men and women turn to God from idols (1 Thessalonians 1:9) and commit themselves to Him through the One whom He has appointed (Acts 17:31). Thus in infinite grace He has made the way back to Himself and so to ultimate healing for all who look to His Son in obedient faith. To quote Jesus, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15).

Numbers 22:18 "I cannot go beyond the Word of the Lord my God, to do less or more." These words record a truth that Balaam knew. If he acted in accord with them, all would have been well with him, but he acted in response to the base motive of greed. Hence his disaster. We have no knowledge of who he was, except that he was the son of Beor and lived at Pethor by a river. He appears first as a man of understanding who realizes his limitations under divine sovereignty, as these words reveal. The story is startling. He was first forbidden by God to go on a mission as a prophet for hire to curse the oncoming Israelites. Then he was commanded to go. While attempting to maintain an external obedience to the supreme will of God, Balaam's heart was lusting after the riches offered him by King Balak of Moab. That is clear from 2 Peter 2:15, which describes Balaam as one "who loved the wages of wickedness." In all this we see the working of a perpetual principle. Man is compelled to work out what is deepest in him, while God is making possible the change of that deepest thing if it is evil. Yet circumstances are ultimately orchestrated by God for an outward manifestation of the true inward facts of life. Balaam truly loved the wages of wickedness so he was compelled to go forward, even though the sin of his action was revealed by divine intervention. He was attempting to compromise between loyalty to God's Word and rule—what he knew was true, and love of hire and greed—what he wanted most of all. Yet in the fullest sense he could not go beyond the Word of the Lord. By that he was held and compelled.

Numbers 23:11 "I took you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have actually blessed them!" This is what Balak said about Balaam's prophesying, and how true it was is evident as his four messages are considered. They constitute a remarkable unfolding of truth about the people of God. The first is a vision of the Hebrew nation as separate from all others. Its central words are, "Behold, a people who dwells apart, and will not be reckoned among the nations" (Numbers 23:9). It ended with a sigh that shows Balaam's deep conviction of Israel's high privilege: "Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like his!" (Numbers 23:10). Sadly, Balaam neither lived nor died like the righteous. His second prophecy celebrated the fact that the Israelites, being governed and guided by God, must be victorious. Its central statement is: "The Lord their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them" (Numbers 23:21). After the first prophecy, King Balak registered his shock at hearing blessing rather than cursing. After the second, he asked him to say nothing at all, but Balaam insisted he must utter all that God had to say. The story is a remarkable revelation of how completely a man is in the grasp of God. While Balaam was carrying out his deepest desire to work as a prophet for hire, he was absolutely prevented from saying anything that could harm the people of God. How unutterably futile is the pride that leads people to think they can escape the will of God! They may change their experience of God's power, but they cannot escape it.

Numbers 24:2 "And the Spirit of God came upon him." In this chapter we have the third and fourth of Balaam's prophecies. After the first and second, Balak moved Balaam to a different mountain outlook, hoping for a better outcome. We are told that Balaam, knowing it was the purpose of God to bless Israel, did not use enchantments this time. Another thing he did not do as before was seek the Word of the Lord. Perhaps Balaam was attempting to speak for himself to satisfy the greed  in his heart, but he could not escape. When he did not seek God, "the Spirit of God came upon him." Again he spoke only what God would have him speak. The third prophecy is a vision of a people victorious and prosperous. When he concluded, "Blessed is everyone who blesses you, and cursed is everyone who curses you" (Numbers 24:9), Balak flew into a fury and told Balaam to leave. But if he would, he could not. There was yet another Word of God to be proclaimed. Its keynote was, "There shall come forth a Star and a Scepter out of Israel," and it foretold the ultimate victory of God and His people. While the story of Balaam is full of solemn warning, the account of God's dealings with him and Balak is also very encouraging. Those who desired to curse were compelled to utter only words of blessing, and those specific prophecies remain as a testimony to God's people.

Numbers 25:12 "Behold, I give him My covenant of peace." From Numbers 31 and from the letter to the church at Pergamum we learn that "Balaam...taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to entice them to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication" (Revelation 2:14). Numbers 25 opens with the declaration that "the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab, for they called the Israelites to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people did eat and bow down to their gods." This was the work of Balaam. When he could not utter a curse against Israel, he taught King Balak of Moab how to seduce them from their loyalty. On the surface the invitation appeared to be pure neighborliness. The story here of Phinheas, the son of Eleazar (who succeeded Aaron as high priest), is of one man loyal to God and jealous for His honor. He dared to violate these false social niceties and visited one daring wrongdoer with swift and terrible punishment that halted the spread of plague and saved Israel. Action like that of Phinehas is not easy. It brings the man or woman who dares take it into grave peril, especially when it is directed against some popular movement. Yet to that man or woman is given God's "covenant of peace." There is no peace more worthwhile either for man or nation. The price of it may be conflict and a hazarding of ease and quietness, but it is peace indeed for it is in a right relationship with the principles of righteousness, and so with God.

Numbers 26:65 "Not a man was left of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun." With this chapter we begin the third and last section of this book of Numbers. In it we have a second numbering of the people to prepare them for possessing the land from which they had been excluded for forty years. Two men only of those who had come to the margin of the land were to enter it: Caleb and Joshua, the spies who constituted the minority, the men who had seen much more than enemies and walled cities because their vision of God had been unclouded. Loyal in heart to God, they shared the hardships of His people and had seen a whole generation of unbelieving men and women pass away. They had been preserved, an elect remnant and a living link with the great deliverance wrought by the Exodus. Thus we see God's continuity of purpose, notwithstanding the change of persons. It is always so. I may fail to enter in because of unbelief and disobedience, but the day of entry will come. Happy are those who walk with God into the accomplishment of His purposes. The secret of such a life is always the same: a clear vision of God. To lose that is to see all other things in a false light and either be lured by the deceitfulness of sin or filled with unworthy fears. To see God is to see everything in true light and be able to walk without stumbling.

Numbers 27:13 "When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people." The time had come for the Israelites to go in and possess the land from which they had been excluded so long. Moses was not permitted to enter with them. In a sad hour he failed to represent God truthfully to the people (chapter 20) and this was the punishment of that failure. There was no relaxing of this discipline even in the case of this man. Nevertheless there was great tenderness in God's dealing with him in these closing scenes, and Moses' greatness is marked by his humble acquiescence to the will of God. When commanded to ascend the mountain from which he would be given a view of the promised land before passing off the scene, his one concern was that the flock of God would have a good shepherd to lead them. He knew, as no other man knew, their weaknesses, and the necessity for one to lead them according to the will of God. The request was granted, and to Moses was given the joy and satisfaction of appointing his faithful assistant Joshua before all the people as their new leader. The account of Moses' death is given at the end of Deuteronomy, but these words bring the facts before us in this book, which is the book revealing the divine discipline of failing people. It serves to keep before us the fact that even the most faithful servants of God cannot escape the results of their failures in this life. The compensations of grace are found afterwards.
 To Moses was given the high privilege 
"To stand with glory wrapped around
On the hills he never trod, 
And speak of the strife that won our life
With the incarnate Son of God" (cf. Luke 9:28-31).

Numbers 28:2 "You shall be careful to present My offering, My food for My offerings by fire, of a soothing aroma to Me, at their appointed time." In this chapter and the next we have a repetition of the laws concerning the great religious celebrations of the nation. This repetition is an orderly statement covering the whole year, set forth anew on the eve of their entering upon possession of the land. First we find the religious rites connected with the smaller time divisions: days, weeks, and months. Then we have those associated with the year: the springtime feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost; and the autumn commemorations of Trumpets, Day of Atonement,  and Tabernacles. The highlighted text, "You shall be careful to present My offering" covers the whole ground. "Offering" translates the Hebrew word korban, which refers to a gift that secures admission. In the Middle East it is called the face offering. That helps us understand the meaning of these religious rites: they recognized the relation of men and women to God and their need for Him every day, every week, every month, every year. Because all time is arranged for in the context of face time with God, so to speak, so also is all activity.

Numbers 29:39 "These you shall present to the Lord at your appointed feasts (besides your vowed offerings and your freewill offerings)." This is a summary statement. The observances that sanctified the year were far more than a recognition of certain religious principles; they were means of positive and direct dealing with God Himself. For that reason all were sacrificial: the necessity for expiation of sin was perpetually recognized. A glance over the whole ground shows an increase in the number of sacrifices. Daily, one lamb in the morning and one in the evening was offered. Weekly (on the Sabbath), two lambs were offered in addition to the daily offering. Monthly, two young bulls, one ram, and seven lambs were offered, again in addition to the daily offering. That increase is most marked in the great yearly feasts. All this is significant. We need God, and to gain what we need, we must condition all our days by our approach to Him through the putting away of sin. The one perfect sacrifice is provided in Christ. We must never begin a day, week, month, or year without appropriating by faith the value of that sacrifice. Only thus have we right of access to God and hope that life will be what it ought to be.

Numbers 30:16 "These are the statutes that the Lord commanded Moses between a man and his wife, and between a father and his daughter." At first it may seem this chapter has little application to our modern civilization, but it is actually a series of enactments based upon a fundamental principle of human society. The chapter is concerned with vows, principally those of women. The vow of a man is declared to be binding: from it there is no release. In the case of women this is not so. If a woman living in her father's house makes a vow, her father has the power to forbid it, thus releasing her. If he does not do so, then the vow is binding. In the case of a woman living with her husband, the husband has similar power. If he does not exercise it, then his wife's vow is binding. In the case of a widow or divorcee, if her vow is made during her widowhood or while she is divorced, it is binding. If it was made when she lived with her husband and he forbade it, she is released. If he did not, then it is binding upon her. What do these detailed enactments mean? They are of utmost importance in maintaining the unity of the family. In no family must there be two supreme authorities. Here, as always in the divine arrangement, the headship is vested in the husband and father. Were this otherwise, it is easy to see how religious vows would cause discord and disruption in family life. The measure in which a society departs from this biblical ideal is the measure of its insecurity and vulnerability.

Numbers 31:14 "Moses was angry with the officers of the army." This is a chapter of terror, recording an avenging by the order of God. Moses was angry with the officers, not because of the severity of the judgment they had executed on Midian and Moab for causing the Israelites to stumble in Numbers 25, but because they failed to carry out that judgment completely. Here we touch again on the history of Balaam, who was justly numbered among the slain (Numbers 31:8). This man, who under divine compulsion blessed when he intended to curse, had yet wrought the most terrible evil in Israel. We are told it was his counsel that led the Moabite and Midianite women to seduce the Israelite men (Numbers 31:16). The holy seed was polluted so the judgment upon the polluting people was terrible. Again, this is a chapter of terror but it is wise to recognize that there is a false pity which is essentially cruelty. True love makes no terms with evil and is able, in circumstances of stern necessity, to adopt stern measures and carry them out without relenting.

Numbers 32:6 "Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here?" In these words Moses revealed the wrong principle motivating Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. They desired to settle and prosper on the wrong side of the Jordan, apparently to escape the responsibilities of war. Moses, by his speech and action, brought them to promise to share in those responsibilities with the rest of the tribes, but the whole story is one of failure. It was a wrong desire on the part of the tribes making the ignoble request. God's clearly stated purpose was that they all go over the Jordan River to the promised land. These tribes desired compromise and succeeded in getting it. In the case of Moses it is noticeable that we have no account of his seeking divine guidance, as he had so consistently in other matters. His own first conviction was against granting the request. He pointed out it was of the same spirit their fathers manifested forty years ago that resulted in their long and weary discipline. Moses even said, "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). Nevertheless, urging their plea and promising to cross the Jordan to help in the coming conflict, the compromising tribal leaders won Moses over. Later events prove the wrong of that decision. This whole event teaches us that no selfish desire for early and easy realization of peace and prosperity should ever be permitted to interfere with the revealed will of God. Peaceful settlements on the wrong side of the river are the inspiration and causes of conflict in coming days.

Numbers 33:52 "You shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places." This was the distinct command of God to a people whom He had wondrously led and prepared by delivering them from slavery in Egypt and disciplining them for forty years in the wilderness. They were soon to come into the land He appointed for them. They were His people, and the purpose of their coming into that land was to manifest His character and carry out His program. Their possessing the land was to help preserve the nation until the Deliverer of all the nations should come, but first they needed to cleanse the land from people who had become utterly polluted and corrupt. Every trace of their worship was to be swept away, wherever found. No false pity or selfish motive was to leave any corrupting influence behind. This unequivocal command to drive out all was based upon the tenderest regard of God for the well-being of His chosen people, and through them the whole human race. To tolerate what God has condemned to destruction is to retain what will prove to be a source of continual difficulty and suffering. Notice the high cost of failing to deal with spiritual cancer: "As I thought to do to them, so I will do to you" (Numbers 33:56). Blessing from God depends upon obedience to His will.

Numbers 34:13 "This is the land that you are to apportion...to the nine and a half tribes." In this chapter we have arrangements for the positive side of the purpose for which the people were to be brought into the land. They really were to take possession of it and so realize its resources and their own national life. On display is divine care through divine choice and arrangement. The division of the territory was based upon the comparative needs of the tribes and God's perfect knowledge of their characteristics. Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh had no part in this particular division. Thrice it is stated "they have received." They made their own choice and now it was ratified. Long after, they were the first to be captured and carried away. While the arrangements for the territorial division were divine, human instruments were appointed to carry them out: Eleazar, the high priest; Joshua, the new leader; and the princes of the tribes, one being Caleb. Both Joshua and Caleb reaped the rewards of their fidelity. How wonderfully this story illustrates the order and beauty of divine government, and the blessings that come from faithfulness and obedience!

Numbers 35:11 "You shall select for yourselves cities to be your cities of refuge." The provision of these cities of refuge illustrates the mercy and justice of God. These people were naturally fierce and vindictive. The law of God had made life sacred, and the punishment for taking it declared long ago in these words: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed since in the image of God He made man" (Genesis 9:6). Yet it was possible that in the taking of human life, there might be extenuating circumstances, such as self defense in war or other situations. For premeditated murder, no city of refuge was provided for the murderer, but for accidental manslaughter, such provision was made. These cities were not provided that men and women might evade justice, but that justice might be carried out. It is possible to do unjust things in the name of justice. It was against such a possibility that these cities were provided. The fact that a man-slayer reached one of these cities did not protect him or her from investigation, but instead made it obligatory. Thus the man or woman had an opportunity to explain what happened, and the nation the opportunity to seek just action. The wrong of taking human life was marked in the case of the man-slayer who was not found worthy of the death penalty in that he or she had to remain in the city until the death of the high priest. This demonstrates the strict and impartial justice of God in all His dealings with sin. While sin cannot be excused, the sinner is never to be punished unjustly.

Numbers 36:7 "No inheritance of the sons of Israel shall be transferred from tribe to tribe, for each shall hold to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. " This word was uttered in connection with the inheritance of women, which was justly provided for in Numbers 27. The issue was raised again by the heads of the tribes after God expressed His intention in Numbers 34 for each tribe to have its own land in perpetuity. It was possible that women who had no brothers and thus stood to inherit might marry men out of other tribes. Therefore it was enacted that women in this situation marry only within their own tribe. This fulfilled the divine purpose that the settlement in the land be sustained and orderly for the good of all. Thus closes the book of Numbers, which could also be called the book of the Wilderness. The Hebrew nation was on the eve of entering the promised land. The actual history is resumed in the last chapter of Deuteronomy. It is impossible to study Numbers without taking sober note of the people's failure. It is a record of sustained stubbornness and folly, yet we are guarded from judging the people harshly when we notice God's patience and faithfulness toward them. Throughout, the progress of a divine movement is manifest. More than a history of the Hebrew people we are reading a revelation of the sure procedure of God in working out His redemptive purposes in human history. The first movements were recorded in Genesis, the central work was accomplished by the Son of God, and the final victories are yet to come.

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