Saturday, July 30, 2016

Saturday – Numbers 20 - Miriam, Aaron & Moses

It does seem like all good things must indeed come to an end. One of the most distinguished families in Israel's history began their last chapter in this chapter. Not to say that there won't be any more chapters about their lives and exploits, but for these three siblings, a long and wonderful success story begins to wind itself down.  Moses, Aaron and Miriam were looking at the sunset.

First, Miriam died. The same Miriam who had watched over Moses while he was floating in the Nile as a baby in a basket... the same Miriam who had led the women of faith in a triumphant song after the crossing of the Red Sea... that same Miriam, was gone.

Then, Aaron also died. In a very strange situation, God instructed Aaron and Moses to go up on Mt. Hor along with Eleazar, Aaron's son. There, God said, Aaron would die. And, he did. The position of high priest was passed on down to Eleazar on that day. So, only Moses remained. But, even Moses was on a downhill journey from this point forward.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday - Numbers 19 - The Famous Red Heifer

After so many deaths in the camp of Israel, just about everyone was unclean. Because of their uncleanness, the system of tabernacle worship was greatly, if not entirely, impinged. So, for the cleansing of the people, God instituted the famous sacrifice of a red heifer. 

Now, this was not a young bull (as was common among holy sacrifices), nor was it an offering on the brazen altar, nor was the blood taken into the tabernacle, nor did any part of the animal become meat for the priests.  This was something very different. The whole animal was slain and burned outside of the camp. The blood was sprinkled 7 times toward the door of the tabernacle, but the rest of the heifer was burned to ashes along with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet. And, unlike the other sacrifices that SANCTIFIED their handlers, the ones who made this sacrifice were UNCLEAN because of it. 

Additionally, it wasn't the blood that was most precious in this ritual; it was the remaining ashes (Numbers 19:9) which were kept outside of the camp.  So, in other words, this was not an atoning sacrifice (though atonement was certainly foundational to any meaning or significance of it). This was a restoration sacrifice. It was for the ceremonial cleansing of the body (Hebrews 9:13 & 11-16). 

Also in Hebrews, a comparison is drawn between the water-and-ash cleansing of the body and the water-and-blood cleansing of the conscience. Moses' law dealt with the visible body; the law of Christ deals with the invisible spirit (Ephesians 4:22-24).  Corporeal cleansing for a season of worship has its place, but incorporeal cleansing is necessary if we hope to worship God in Spirit now in the midst of a filthy world (John 4:23-24).  Which one of us isn't touched and defiled daily by the deadness of our own nature... not to mention the cursed mortality all around us?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thursday - Numbers 18 - Reaffirmation and Remuneration

After God had reaffirmed (in the eyes of the nation) the tribe of Levi as His ministers and Aaron's household as the priestly household, then He went about to reassure Aaron concerning his calling. Not only that, He also gave some specific instructions to Aaron that justified the practical remunerations that were proper for a sacred minister to accept.

God began this section by issuing directives concerning both the exalted responsibilities and the illustrious honor of the priests. And, both aspects of that office were important. From God's point of view, for Aaron to receive the respect without the duties would not have been fitting; and, for him to have had the responsibilities without receiving the reverence would not have been appropriate either.

Now, since the offerings that the general public brought to the tabernacle were given to God, it was imperative that God give permission and direction concerning what was to be done with those things.  God basically gave the priests (and in some cases all of the Levites) the rights and privileges to receive for themselves the gifts that had been given to God.  Notice however, that they (the holy ministers) were supposed to offer a portion of those tithes and offerings to God as well (Numbers 18:26) ... tithing from the tithes that they received. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tuesday - Numbers 17 - Almonds in One Night

After so much trouble and so many deaths over the power struggle of who-had-the-right-to-spiritual-leadership-in-Israel, God proposed a test to confirm His choice in the minds of the people. He evidently had two purposes in doing so. First, He wanted to affirm Aaron's rightful position as high priest. Secondly, He wanted to put the rest of the people in their proper place so that He wouldn't have to kill any more of them (Numbers17:10, Deuteronomy 32:39 & Ezekiel 33:11).

So, the test was a simple one. The 12 tribal chiefs all brought a rod to Moses, each one with his name engraved on it. Then, Aaron brought a rod to Moses for his tribe with his name engraved on it. That means Moses had 13 rods with the names of the heads of the 13 tribes on each rod individually. God commanded Moses to place those rods in the tabernacle overnight. He promised to cause the rod of His choice servant to blossom by morning.

Numbers 17:8 makes it abundantly clear, "The rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds." Wow! Not bad! Wisely, Moses took the 12 dead rods out to the 12 “secular" leaders for them to examine and to see that the rods with their names on them had remained unchanged. Then he brought out this spectacular almond tree that had spontaneously produced life and fruit in one evening. I'm sure there were doubting Thomases who insisted on seeing the name of Aaron on the rod-become-a-tree ... but, it was there. Just like the nail holes in the hands of the Savior after His resurrection ... the proof of Aaron's identity was there.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday - Numbers 16 - The Quick & the Dead

In the KJV, the opposite of being dead is being quick. In fact, the same word translated "quick" in II Peter 4:1 & I Peter 4:5 are translated "live" or "alive" in over 100 other NT passages. Now, in this chapter there are only two groups... the quick and the dead. Of course, the truth is that those are the only two groups in any situation, in any place, at any time in history or in eternity.

Here's the story. Jude 1:11 says that there were many people who died during the uprising led by Korah.   Korah had a legitimate place in God's program for Israel. He was a Kohathite. But, Korah got jealous. Along with a sizable number of leaders in Israel, he stood up in opposition his ordained leaders. His accusation against them was actually rather absurd: "You take too much upon you!" Perhaps Moses could have been accused of various faults, but this certainly was not a valid charge. Moses had just surrendered much of his responsibility to 70 elders.  Not only that, He had been responsible for setting up chiefs in every tribe (including the father of Korah’s primary collaborators; Dathan and Abiram - see Numbers 1:9 & 2:7). Above all of that, Moses had expressed his desire that all of Israel be exalted (Numbers 11:29).

Moses' initial response to Korah was rather mild. But then he prayed in angry imprecation for God to judge them (Numbers 16:15). God caused the ground to open up under Korah and his closest companions... swallowing everything and everybody close to him. Then, as the ground closed in over them, God killed (by fire) the 250 leaders who had joined Korah in his nonsense.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday - Numbers 15 - Rules for Later

Verses 2-3 direct our attention to God's grace. Even though God had just rejected the nation (because they had rejected Him), He immediately renewed His promises to them and His covenant instructions for the next generation. That is, while they were walking AWAY from the land, He began making plans for when they (their children actually) would possess it. God is SO good!

Now, in the middle of the new instructions concerning the addition of flour, oil and wine to the animal sacrifices (as well as the dough offerings from the first harvest in the Promised Land), God said something very interesting. In Numbers 15:22-26 God seems to lay out a sacrifice specifically directed at the exact national error which He saw on the horizon. Of course, this shouldn't be strange to us... that is exactly what Calvary is all about. Redemption was provided by God with a full knowledge of WHO would need it and WHY they would need it. God's grace is amazing and incomprehensibly generous!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday - Numbers 14 - Fatal Procrastination

This is a continuation of the last chapter. The 10 wicked spies (who had brought back a discouragingly negative report from the Promised Land) prevailed over Joshua's and Caleb's optimistic and faith-filled perspective. The people cried tears of despair and frustration. In fact, they cried all night! To them, they had come all that long way only to face an impossible situation. And, in their deep distress, they made a very foolish statement: "We would have been better off dying in the wilderness!" So, God took them up on that. Over the next 40 years, He let them die in that wilderness.

Now, as they complained and threatened mutiny, four men kept their heads on straight: Moses, Aaron, Joshua & Caleb. Nobody else stood for what was right. Not the newly appointed 70 elders; not the 12 princes of the 12 tribes... there isn't even any record of the Levites stepping in to support Moses here. But, hallelujah! Joshua and Caleb bravely preached a true message to the nation on that day (Numbers 14:8-9). Still, the people would have none of it (Numbers 14:10).  So, God intervened.

At the most precarious moment for Israel's godly leaders, the glorious presence of God was manifested there in the wilderness of Paran. For the second time on record (Exodus 32:10), God offered Moses the privilege of being a "Noah" for Israel. He threatened to wipe out the nation and to start all over with just Moses.  But, instead of taking advantage of that proposal, Moses interceded once again for the people. He prayed to God for mercy for Israel. In fact, while they were still in rebellion against the Spirit, Moses talked with God about His reputation in the earth. While Israel was still in their sin, Moses quoted God's own words back to him (Numbers 14:17-18 from Exodus 34:6-7) and pleaded for pardon yet again for his followers.  And, God did pardon them.  He forgave the people and did not kill them all there.  He did kill the 10 evil spies immediately on that day.  And, He turned the people away from Canaan and promised them that they would die in the wilderness because they had refused His grace.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thursday - Numbers 13 - Nevertheless

Here is an amazing quote from God, "Send thou men..." God was the one who called for spies to go into Canaan. Now God knows everything. Never forget that. God knows everything... past, present and future. God knows everything and everybody. He knew that the spies would turn the people against their mission. Yet He commanded Moses to send them in anyway. In the context of the rebellion of the citizenry that had recently arisen, I gather that the ten (10) wicked spies did not turn the people's hearts toward unbelief. They just served as revealers of the doubts and fears that were already there. In a way it was surely merciful for God to allow the true lack of character of the nation to be evidenced before they actually got into the land and had to face the very real dangers of warfare without the necessary faith and confidence to do the job.  They were His people.  He was indeed watching out for them by unveiling their debilitating fears before the heat of the battle was upon them; before it was too late.

So, God told Moses to send men into the land to spy. Among the 12 spies who were selected, there are two who stand out (and 10 who have been virtually forgotten).  Caleb (from Judah) and Joshua (from Ephraim) were two great and godly men who served as spies. Obviously their impact was permanent. Even a passing glance at Jewish history reveals that their two tribes became (by far) the most dominant of the 12.  In fact, when civil war divided the nation, the two new nations become known by the names of these two tribes; Ephraim in the north and Judah in the south.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tuesday - Numbers 12 - Family Problems

It doesn't seem like Moses had done anything to merit the jealousy and sibling rivalry that suddenly arose in the hearts of Aaron and Miriam. True, they didn't like his wife. Also, God had just divided Moses' authority among 70 other leaders (but did not include Aaron and Miriam in that redistribution). Moses had just demonstrated a few weaknesses, although there's no reason to think that others would necessarily have known about it. Certainly the nation had just been through a couple of traumatic trials. But still, why should any of those things have caused Miriam and Aaron to turn on their own brother. What bad thing had he ever done to them?

One thing is for sure, despite Moses' actual flaws, God had chosen him as the leader of Israel and God stood behind His selection. Miriam's treasonous usurpation earned her a temporary case of leprosy. Even with Aaron and Moses interceding for her to be healed, God refused to grant her amnesty until she had been shamed for 7 days for her insubordination. Meanwhile the manifestation of God's presence above the tabernacle had moved on. After God defended Moses vehemently, He left (Numbers 12:7-9).

One has to wonder why Aaron didn't get leprosy too. Perhaps there was a connection to Moses' previous hesitation to lead without Aaron's companionship and assistance (Exodus 4:14-16). 

Monday – Numbers 11 - Problems

When Moses was up on Mt. Sinai getting the Decalogue, the people rebelled against God. Before that, there were problems when they ran low on water ... before that, when they got to the Red Sea... before that, when Pharaoh took away their straw. It seems like when the people finished one thing and were waiting on the next... they tended to get distracted, especially if there were inconveniences in conjunction with the lull.

When the people finished the whole process of building, initially using and moving the tabernacle ... they lost focus. They started complaining. Understandably, God wasn't pleased and some of the people were taken. Sadly, their death was not enough to motivate everyone else to straighten up. Dissatisfied with the manna, they complained to Moses. They literally cried because they didn't like their (FREE) food. And, when Moses heard them whining, he complained to God about the burden of having to lead such an exasperating group of people. He was so annoyed that he asked God to kill him (Numbers 11:15).

As a result of this whole sad mess, the first Sanhedrin was formed. God allowed Moses to delegate much of his burden of responsibilities to a group of 70 Jewish elders.  And, this move was none too soon either.  It seems that the toll of leadership was beginning to wear on Moses. Not only was he all too happy to pass off some of His responsibility to the 70 elders, he would have been happy to see anybody take part of his burden (Numbers 11:29). 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday - Numbers 10 - Trumpets & Traveling

The Jews were tuned in for the sound of a trumpet too. Of course, they heard it over and over. God had Moses order the construction of two solid silver trumpets.  Every time the Spirit moved then those trumpets were used to communicate to the nation that it was time for them to move too.  There were also other circumstances where the trumpets were used to convey messages to the people. Different sounds meant different things. The priests were in charge of blowing the trumpets to call the tribal chiefs for meetings, for national assemblies, to go to war on feast days, the first day of each month, over certain sacrifices and for the various stages of dismissal to march. It seems that there was probably quite a variety of sounds that meant different things for the people.

Based upon the sound of the trumpets, Judah's quarter was dismissed to strike camp and to march forward behind the Ark of the Covenant (Numbers 10:33). Then, after the Gershonites and Merarites moved forward with the Tabernacle loaded onto their wagons, with another blast the group under Reuben would follow after them. In the middle of the line, the Kohathites carried the tabernacle furniture. Lastly Ephraim's quarter proceeded with Dan's group bringing up the rear.

Friday - Numbers 9 - Passover

The original Passover marked the exit of the Israelites from Egypt.  Several times we have encountered commands concerning the annual Passover feast. Here we find the record of the first observance of the celebration exactly one year after the actual exodus from Pharaoh's land (Leviticus 23:5; Exodus 12:6 &18).  

They were still in the wilderness of Sinai. They had not yet moved along from Mt. Sinai. Now, as it happened, some of the people were unclean according to the rules that had been set by God and Moses concerning the touching of a corpse.  It seemed to them that they were at an impasse.  How could they obey God if there were two commandments that contradicted each other? They were required to observe the Passover and they were required not to do so... due to their uncleanness. So, God made a provision for individuals under those kinds of circumstances. They were required to celebrate the Passover one month later in more or less a smaller and more private manner (Number 9:10-11). However, except for those who were unclean (or traveling in a distant region), there were not to be any delays or postponements in the observance of this ritual. So, April 14th was Passover and May 14th was the makeup date. By God's injunction, failure to celebrate Passover was supposed to be a fatal error (Numbers 9:13). Of course, for us, the full meaning of Passover is just as important.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thursday - Numbers 8 - A Special Tribe

From above the Ark of the Covenant, God instructed Moses concerning the sanctification of the tribe of Levi. Their purpose, practical function and spiritual position had already been described and established; it was time to insert them into their proper office. God ordained that specific sacrifices be made in order to commence the service of the tribe.

After the light of the candlestick was lit, Moses was to sanctify and dedicate the Levites in preparation for their ministry. The prescribed ritual went like this: they were supposed to shave their bodies, wash their clothes and be anointed with holy water.  Then there were several offerings that had to be offered.

A meat offering, a sin offering and a burnt offering accompanied the offering of the Levites themselves to God. The tribe of Levi became a living sacrifice to God. God claimed them for Himself. According to Him, He had a right to them because He had spared the firstborn Jews while He killed all of the eldest offspring in Egypt. Of course, God being who He is... and, God doing things the way He customarily does them... He gave the tribe to Aaron and to his sons (Numbers 8:19). He gave! God is a giver!  He gave what (or who) He took on the same day that He had received them.

Since the other tribes were not allowed to come close enough to God to assist the priests, the Levites would do it for them. Each Levite would have a 25 year ministerial carrier ... including (it seems) the first five years which were probably set aside for training and preparation (compare Numbers 8:24 to Numbers 4:3, 23, 30, 35 & 39). All of these ministers were to be forced into retirement at the age of 50.  Well, semiretirement would be a better description. They still had access to the tabernacle complex and were servants to their fulltime brothers who were still young enough for the primary tasks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tuesday - Numbers 7 - The Chiefs' Offerings

Once all of the preparations for worship and service had been completed, the princes of each of the 12 tribes (excluding Levi) brought six covered wagons and 12 oxen to the tabernacle as a gift to be used in the ministry of the holy things. These wagons became the possessions of the Levites. So, very practically, Moses assigned 2 of the wagons to the Gershonites to use in transporting the tabernacle cloth and the other four wagons to the Merarites for them to use in transporting the framework of the tabernacle. The Kohathites received none because they had been commanded by God to carry the furniture on their shoulders.

Each tribal chieftain offered a silver plate, a silver bowl; both of them full of flour mingled with oil (to be used as a meat offering), a golden spoon full of incense, burnt offerings (one young bull, one ram, one lamb), a sin offering (one goat), and peace offerings (two young bulls, five rams, five male goats and five lambs). Each tribal head offered the same offering on their designated day, beginning with Judah and following an order based upon the new camping layout as it was ordered in Numbers 2.

So, by my count, there were 36 young bulls, 72 rams, 72 goats and 72 lambs (for a total of 252 animals in all) given by the tribal heads for the dedication of the altar of God.