City of Refuge.

Numbers 35-36, John 9

“You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.” – Numbers 35:34 ESV

God dwelt among His people, and His very presence demanded that they live set-apart lives. His holiness and righteousness required that they live differently and distinctively, abiding by a stringent set of rules and regulations that governed their behavior and interactions with one another. And yet God knew their weaknesses and fully understood their incapacity to live up to His exacting standards. The entire sacrificial system was designed to deal with their ongoing struggle with sin. He even provided them with six cities of refuge, Levitical cities where someone guilty of unpremeditated murder could run for protection. There was no police force in those days, and it was the responsibility of the next of kin of anyone who had been murdered to bring about justice by executing the one guilty of murder. But God's holiness required that only those who were guilty of premeditated murder could be executed. To unjustly execute the innocent would have been as evil in God’s sight as to excuse the guilty. So He provided those who had committed murder accidently or impulsively a means of finding justice. They could run to one of the cities of refuge and receive a fair and unbiased trial. If they were deemed innocent of having committed premeditated murder, they could live in the city of refuge and enjoy permanent protection from the “blood avenger.” They were still guilty of murder, but their lives were spared. The city of refuge became their prison until the day that the high priest died. Then his death would serve as an atonement for their sin, providing them with release from their guilt and the right to live among their kinsmen again – innocent and free.

The ongoing presence of God was constantly in jeopardy due to the sinfulness of men. Yet He provided them with countless means by which they could receive restoration and assure His continued existence among them. It was God who set them apart. Without them, they would have been nothing. His presence provided them their distinctiveness. And it was their sin that threatened their uniqueness as His chosen people.

What does this passage reveal about God?

From the day that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God has been actively and aggressively seeking to restore order to the chaos created by their actions. Their sin brought disorder, disobedience and, ultimately, death into the world. It wasn't long after Eve listened to the lies of the enemy and convinced her husband to join her in rejecting God's word, that murder showed up on the scene. One of Eve's own sons would kill his brother. Death entered the scene. And disease would not be far behind it. Their bodies would undergo the inevitable effects of aging. Sin would increase. Rebellion against God would run rampant. And yet God continued to reach out to mankind, offering a form of refuge from the consequences of sin. In a real sense, God's choosing of Abraham made he and his descendants a “city of refuge” for mankind. The people of Israel would become a single source for God's abiding presence and divine protection from the guilt and condemnation of sin. It was among the children of God that men could find access to God. It was through the law of God that men could learn of the divine requirements and expectations of a holy God. It was through the sacrificial system instituted by God that men could find atonement for their sins and freedom from the penalty of death they so justly deserved. God had provided a city of refuge among the sons of men. And eventually, God would send His own Son as the ultimate and final means of refuge and escape from sin's destructive power and God's righteous judgment.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The Scriptures make it painfully clear that all men are guilty of sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9 ESV). “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). The law of God was given to show men their sin. Like a speed limit sign on the side of the freeway, the law was a constant reminder of man's proclivity toward disobedience and rebellion. Our guilt is unquestionable and undeniable. Every individual who has ever lived has stood condemned before a holy and righteous God due to the sinful nature passed down to them from Adam and Eve, which has been evidenced by their own sinful behavior. We are all guilty. We all stand condemned. And the very presence of disease and death in our world is an outward reminder of the reality of sin's devastating consequences.

In the gospels we read of Jesus' constant encounters with those who suffered from diseases and disorders of all kinds. In John 9, He meets a man who had been blind since birth. This man lived in a constant state of darkness. The disciples, like most of their fellow Jews, believed that this man's malady was due to either his own sin or the sins of his parents. They were partially right. His blindness was a result of sin entering the world and bringing with it disease and physical disorders. Like so many others, this man was suffering from the lingering effects of sin on God's creation. Jesus cleared up the confusion by declaring, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV). Jesus would prove to be a city of refuge for this man, providing him with a way of escape from the devastating consequences of sin's presence in our world. This man lived in darkness, but Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5 ESV). Jesus restored his sight. He freed him from darkness. He opened his eyes so that he might physically see, but even more so, that he might spiritually see. Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 ESV) and the man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” (John 9:36 ESV). Jesus answered, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you” (John 9:37 ESV). And the man believed.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

At this point in the story, Jesus made an interesting comment. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see many become blind” (John 9:39 ESV). This man had been given the ability by God to see the Son of God. He had been provided with the capacity to physically see so that he might spiritually see. And as a result, he found refuge from his guilt in the Savior. But there would be those who remained blind and ignorant of God's gift of salvation and healing through His Son. It is probably safe to assume that not everyone who was guilty of murder took advantage of the cities of refuge. They may have taken their chances on their own, assuming they could escape judgment and avoid the wrath of the blood avenger. But it was those who fled to the cities of refuge who found safety and protection. Not everyone who saw Jesus believed in Him. He makes it clear that there were those who remained blind and spiritually sightless, incapable of seeing that He was their only means of escape and their only source of refuge from the devastating consequences of sin. It is to Jesus that I must turn as my city of refuge in this sin-soaked, death-marked world. He alone can provide me with protection from sin's condemnation and provide me with an assurance of God's acceptance of my life and His ongoing presence in my life. He is my refuge.

Father, You have provided me with a refuge from the devastating consequences of sin in the world and in my life. You opened my eyes that I might see Your Son as my Savior. You gave me sight. You provided me with a place to run and find protection, forgiveness and, ultimately, atonement for my sins. Thank You. Amen

Our Ultimate Inheritance.

Numbers 33-34, John 8

So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” – John 8:21 ESV

The Israelites had traveled a long and winding road to get to the land of promise. Chapter 33 of Numbers recounts the circuitous route they took to arrive at the border of the land of Canaan. They had covered a lot of miles and committed their fair share of sins. An entire generation of them had died in the wilderness due to their disobedience and refusal to enter the land the first time they had had the opportunity. And more than 40 years later, as they stood once again on the border looking into the land promised to them by God, He had to remind them, “When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places” (Numbers 33:51-52 ESV). And He had to warn them, “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them” (Numbers 33:55-56 ESV). The land before them was to be their inheritance. It had been promised to them by God Himself. But without even reading any further, it would be easy to assume that these people were going to have a difficult time keeping God's commands regarding the land. They had a track record of disobedience and a knack for doing things their own way, rather than God's. They would eventually make it into the land, but things would not go well for them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

There is a real sense in which all of God's interactions with the people of Israel were a glimpse into the future. They were a foreshadowing of something yet to come. In a way, the events of the Old Testament were a temporary or partial outpouring of God's more complete plan to come. God's promises to them were real. His love for them was complete. But His plan was far more reaching than just their initial entrance into the land. God's call of Abraham extends far into the future, all the way to the coming of Christ and even into the distant future where He will return and establish His Kingdom on earth. As we are all prone to do, the Israelites focused on the hear and now. They were short-sighted, suffering from limited vision and looking only for the more immediate benefits of their relationship with God. Even by the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the Jews were still looking for a Messiah who would provide them with immediate relief from their subjugation to Rome. They wanted a king who would rule and reign like David of old. They were looking for a political Messiah, not a spiritual one. Even Jesus' disciples kept wondering when He was going to set up His earthly kingdom. They even argued about which one of them was going to get the privilege of ruling by His side. But God's plan was far greater than a short-term, earthly reign of yet another human king.

Jesus told the Jews of His day, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 8:21 ESV). His words confused them. They assumed He was threatening to commit suicide. But Jesus clarified His statement by saying, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:23-24 ESV). At that point, Jesus establishes the primary difference between the people of Israel and Himself. While He stood before them as a man, He was not one of them. He was “from above.” Jesus was “not of this world.” He was God. His Kingdom was not of this world. Later on in the book of John, we will read these words spoken from the lips of Jesus: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

But the Jews couldn't see beyond the reality of their present circumstances. There vision was myopic and limited. They were not looking for a future, yet unseen Kingdom, they were wanting an immediate kingdom that was of this earth and ruled by an earthly, human king. They had turned the grand plan of God into a petty, me-centered, now-focused, short-sighted plan that focused solely on their own selfish desires. They had long lost sight of the reality that God's plan had always been far more encompassing than their own selfish desires. He had allowed an entire generation of their ancestors die in the wilderness and lose out on the blessings of the Promised Land because of their unbelief. He had refused to allow Moses or Aaron to enter into the Promised Land because of their failure to treat Him as holy. The Jews of Jesus' day claimed that God was their Father, but Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me” (John 8:42 ESV). They couldn't recognize Jesus for who He was because He didn't fit their expectations. He was a spiritual Savior and they were looking for a political one.

They had lost sight of God's plan. In fact, Jesus even accused them of being children of Satan, not God. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is not truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me” (John 8:44-45 ESV). They had learned to listen to the lies of the enemy. And one of His greatest lies is to get us to believe that God's plan is all about us. He wants us to believe that we are the stars of the show and that God exists for our glory, instead of the other way around.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Seeing God's greater plan is difficult when we are constantly surrounded by the more immediate concerns of this temporal world. it is so easy to make it all about the here-and-now. When the Israelites were standing on the edge of the Promise Land, God told them there were going to have to remove all the nations that lived in the land. There was a long-term strategy to God's command. He was looking at the long-term health of the nation of Israel. But they would suffer from short-sighted convenience and compromise. They would refuse to do things God's way, and they would suffer the inevitable consequences. But I can do the same thing. By focusing on short-term benefits, I can lose sight of God's future-based promise. God's plan for the Israelites wasn't limited to getting them into the land. He wanted to make of them a great nation. But He also wanted to bring about a future descendant of King David who would rule and reign for eternity. God's plan for the Israelites went well beyond just the literal descendants of Abraham. He was going to bless ALL the nations of the earth through Abraham through a descendant of Abraham – Jesus Christ. I have to keep a future focus as I live in this present age. This is not all there is. God's plan does not culminate with or revolve around ME! There is more yet to come. God has more yet to accomplish. Jesus has work yet to complete. Jesus promised all those who would believe in Him eternal life. He said, “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51 ESV). That is a future promise. I must focus on that. The apostle Paul put it this way: “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:14 NLT). I have not yet arrived. God is not yet done. Jesus is not yet finished. My full inheritance has not yet been realized. But I eagerly await God's future fulfillment of His faithful plan.

Father, give me a future focus. Help me to keep my eyes on the prize. Don't let me make it all about me. Your plan is far greater than my own selfish desires and petty dreams. What You have planned for mankind is far greater than anything I could ever dream up. Help me to patiently and eagerly wait for the fulfillment of Your plan, instead of concocting my own. Amen

Get the Facts First.

Numbers 31-32, John 7

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. – John 7:24 ESV

I like the way The New Living Translation treats the verse above. “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” When we read the Old Testament, we sometimes struggle with understanding why God did things the way He did. There are those who see the God of the Old Testament as a completely different God than that as revealed in the New Testament. They struggle with the images of wrath and judgment, apparent legalism and harsh demands. But I would encourage us to listen to the words of Jesus: “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” What is it that God is revealing to us through stories like that found in Numbers 31? Why would God command the complete annihilation of a group of people; including every man, woman and child? If we're not careful, we could be quick to judge God and reach a false conclusion regarding His character and conduct. If it is true that God is holy, just and righteous, then all that He does is holy, just and righteous. Unlike the man-made gods of the Greeks, He is not capricious or prone to evil. He does not play tricks on people. He does not lie or deceive. There is a perfectly good reason for all that God does and all that He commands. But we must look beneath the surface. We must dig deeper to understand the nature of God and the purposes behind His ways.

What does this passage reveal about God?

If you recall, the Midianites were guilty of trying to bring a curse upon the people of God. They had hired Balaam, a prominent seer, to pronounce a curse on Israel. But God had thwarted their plans, using this pagan diviner to utter blessings on the people of Israel, rather than curses. But in order to earn his proposed payment, Balaam suggested to the Midianites that they use a different tactic to defeat the Israelites. He recommended that the Midianites use their women to secude the men of Israel into sexual sin and, ultimately, spiritual adultery. “While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove,some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people” (Numbers 25:1-4 NLT). But wait. These verses speak of Moabites, not Midianites. So why was God commanding Israel to destroy the Midianites? During this time there was a great deal of interaction between the various tribes and people groups living in the land of Canaan. They not only warred with one another, but they took each others women and shared one another's gods. The god, Baal, that the Israelites ended up worshiping was actually the primary god of the Canaanites. But the Midianites and Moabites worshiped this god as well. Each of these nations was guilty of unfaithfulness to their own gods. They were superstitious and quick to take on any and all gods, should they prove beneficial. The Midianites and Moabites were both guilty of seducing the Israelites and tempting them to violate their commitment to remain faithful to Yahweh alone. So God commanded their destruction.

On the surface, this story appears to paint God as a vengeful, angry, bloodthirsty deity. But God knows the heart of man. He fully understands that His people, the Israelites, whom He has called to live holy, set apart lives, will quickly succumb to the influences of these various nations unless something drastic is done. Coexistence was not an option. Compromise would be deadly. Not only had close contact with these people led to sexual sin, it had resulted in spiritual adultery; causing the people of Israel to break the very first commandment. They were to have no other gods before them. They were to worship God alone. So God required that they remove the source of temptation. Yes, it was harsh. It required the death of every man, woman and male child. But we must look beneath the surface. We must understand the heart of God if we are going to judge the actions of God. We must learn to trust the ways of God based on what we know of the will of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Even in Jesus' day, there were those who could not see what God was doing. There was much debate regarding who Jesus was. John tells us that not even Jesus' brothers believed in Him. The Jewish religious leaders were out to kill Him. Some viewed Him as a good man. Others were amazed at His ability to teach. There were those who were blown away by His miracles and questioning whether or not these signs were proof that He was the Messiah. For over three years Jesus had walked among them, performing amazing miracles and teaching new truths. He had healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, and even restored life to the dead. He had openly claimed to be the Son of God. He had talked of His Father's Kingdom. And yet the people misjudged Him. They looked on the surface and saw an ordinary man who came from the nondescript region of Galilee. They didn't know that He had actually been born in Bethlehem and that He was a direct descendant of King David himself. They viewed Him as an uneducated carpenter with nothing in the way of credentials to justify His role as a teacher or leader. They were quick to judge. But they didn't know all the facts. They didn't understand the will of God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Ignorance of God's will always leads to misunderstanding of God's ways. Because we don't really know Him and don't understand His character, we are quick to judge His conduct. We love to hear about His grace and mercy, but we are turned off by talk of His wrath and judgment. But we fail to understand that God's wrath and judgment are always directed toward sin. Because of His holiness, He cannot tolerate sin. He must deal with it. He must punish it. His righteousness demands it. The people of Jesus' day loved that He could heal. They were attracted to His miracles, especially the ones that provided them with free food, like the feeding of the 5,000. The religious leaders couldn't understand why He chose to heal on the Sabbath. They saw Him as a lawbreaker and heretic. But Jesus challenged them, “If on the Sabbath a man received circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well?” (John 7:23 ESV). They didn't get it. They were judging on the surface. And I can be guilty of the same thing. There are times in my life that I don't understand what God is doing. I may even find myself getting angry at what I feel is the injustice of God. But I must be careful in my judgment of God. The prophet Isaiah gives us a powerful warning: “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” (Isaiah 45:9 NLT). I will not always understand the ways of God. But I must always trust the will of God. If I can't, then I am assuming my God is untrustworthy. I am calling into question His integrity and doubting His divine sovereignty. God Himself reminds us, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT). I may not always understand the ways of God, but I can always trust the will of God. He knows what He is doing. He plan is perfect.

Father, I want to learn to trust You more and more with my life and to see what is going on in the world through the lens of Your faithfulness and sovereign control. You know what You are doing. I may not always understand it, but I have no right to question it. You are the potter, and I am the clay. Forgive me for my arrogance. Forgive me for my pride. Help me to see life through Your eyes and not my own. My perspective is limited. My viewpoint is too often flawed my by shortsighted vision. Amen

The Bread of Life.

Numbers 29-30, John 6

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

Beginning in Numbers 28 and continuing through chapter 29, we are given a synopsis of the various public sacrifices that the people of Israel were required to make. There was a daily sacrifice of two lambs, as well as a sacrifice of two additional lambs each Sabbath day. One the first day of each month they were to sacrifice two bulls, one ram, seven lambs and one goat. Then, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a seven-day long festival, they were to sacrifice two bulls, one ram, seven lambs and one goat each day. During Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, they were to offer the same number of sacrifices. On the first day of the seventh month, they were to offer one bull, one ram, seven lambs and one goat. On the Day of Atonement, they were to offer the same thing. Then during the Feast of Booths, for eight straight days they were to offer their largest number of sacrifices:

Day 1– 13 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 2 – 12 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 3 – 11 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 4 – 10 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 5 – 9 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 6 – 8 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 7 – 7 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 8 – 1 bull, 1 ram, 7 lambs, 1 goat

And each and everyone of the sacrifices were to make “to the Lord.” They were to be a pleasing aroma to the Lord. They were to be offered to God as an atonement for their sins and in order to maintain a right relationship with Him in the days to come. There were many sacrifices because the sins of the people were many. There was never an end to the need for the making of sacrifices and the atoning for sins. It was to be a perpetual requirement on the people. UNTIL God instituted a better plan. There was a day coming when God would send His Son as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He would provide a permanent solution to man's sin problem.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In John 6, we read the words of Jesus stating, “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32-33 ESV). It is interesting to note that in the sacrificial system established by God for the people of Israel under the leadership of Moses, the sacrificial animals had to be provided by the people. They had to provide unblemished animals and offer them to God on their own behalf. But in the scenario that Jesus paints, He describes Himself as a sacrifice given by God for the people. Jesus uses some very strange language that confused His disciples. He spoke of Himself as the bread of life and said, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:50-51 ESV).

The language Jesus used was shocking to His hearers. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52 ESV). And rather than clarify His message, Jesus responds with more of the same: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:53-54 ESV). Of course, Jesus was not speaking of the literal consumption of His flesh and blood. He was referring to trust and belief in the coming sacrifice of His life on the cross for the sins of mankind. Just as we take in food, trusting that it will sustain us and supply us with life, so Jesus says that men will be required to “take in” His death on the cross, believing that it alone can provide them with forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. But it is interesting that this particular sacrifice was provided by God for us. God was going to do what only He could do. In the book of Hebrews we read, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

Until God sent His Son as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, the people of God were caught in a cycle of sin and sacrifice, sin and sacrifice. Their best efforts at remaining in a right relationship with God were temporary and incomplete. They had to bring their best animals and sacrifice them to God in order to stay off their own execution for their sins. But in the New Testament we read of God sacrificing His best in order to atone for the sins of mankind. Paul tells us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). God provided the singular and all-sufficient sacrifice of His Son – for us. In essence, the sacrifice of Jesus should be a “pleasing aroma” to us. This sacrifice was made for our benefit and for our consumption. And not only do we receive forgiveness from sin, we gain life – eternal life! Jesus told His listeners, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40 ESV). Jesus was offering a permanent solution to the problem of sin, through His shed blood and crucified body. And yet, the people of His day were more concerned with literal bread and their own sad, temporary lives. They had come to Jesus seeking more food because He had miraculously fed them the evening before. He had filled their stomachs with bread and fish, and they craved more. When Jesus spoke of bread from heaven that gives life to the world, they responded, “Sire, give us this bread always” (John 6:34 ESV). But they wanted real bread, not the metaphorical or spiritual kind. They were stuck on a temporal, earthly plane, and failed to see that God was providing for them an offering that would do for them what they could never do for themselves.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It amazes me to think that God made a sacrifice on my behalf. He sent His Son to die for me. In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the people had to provide their own sacrifice, and it could only forestall or delay the inevitable reality of death. It could prolong life on this planet, but not provide life in eternity. Their sacrifices were temporal and eventually, ineffective at sustaining life. But God's offering of His Son's body and blood provides life eternal. Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58 ESV). All I have to do is receive God's offering and believe that it is sufficient to pay for my sins and provide life more abundantly, both now and for eternity. Just as I eat bread and rely on it to sustain me, I must consume the sacrifice of God's Son and allow Him to provide me with life everlasting. God has made a sacrifice on my behalf. He has sent His Son to die in my place. No more lambs, goats, bulls or rams. Jesus offered Himself to God as a pleasing aroma, an acceptable sacrifice. And God offered His Son for me as a permanent solution to my ongoing sin problem. I live because He died. The sacrifice of Jesus by God was done for me, but not because of me. I didn't deserve it. I had not earned that kind of gift. It was while I was in the depth of my own sin and hopelessness that God sent His Son as an offering on my behalf. The Son of God became the Bread of Life so that I might have eternal life. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV).

Father, thank You for the gift of Your Son. Thank You for the offering of the Bread of Life so that I might have eternal life. You gave what was of most value to You in order that I might be restored to a right relationship with You. May I never take Your offering for granted. Amen

A Shepherd For The Sheep.

Numbers 27-28, John 5

Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd. – Numbers 27:16-17 ESV

I always find it fascinating how many times God chooses to use the metaphor of sheep when referring to His people. While that idea may conjure up an idyllic image of lush pastures filled with fluffy white sheep peacefully eating their fill of green grass, the real message behind the metaphor seems a bit less flattering. Sheep are not the brightest of animals. In fact, they are quite dumb, requiring someone to lead them and protect them. Sheep are herd animals with no built-in protection mechanism, other than flight. They are driven by their appetites. There are stories about flocks of sheep so intent on grazing that they literally walked off the side of a cliff one by one, so focused on feeding that they were oblivious to the danger. Sheep are easily led astray. Sheep are easy prey to predators. They spook easily and are prone to both disease and injury. And even a cursory reading of the Scriptures will reveal that so many of the characteristics of sheep really do apply to the people of God, including those in Moses' day all the way to the Christians living during the days of Paul's ministry. When Moses was informed by God that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his actions at Meribah, he asked God to appoint a successor. “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17 ESV). HIs concern was that the people not be “as sheep that have no shepherd.” Moses knew from personal experience that the people of Israel would be helpless and hopeless without someone to lead them. They had proven themselves to be driven by their passions, prone to wander, easily spooked, and susceptible to a herd mentality. They needed a strong leader who could help guide them and, when necessary, discipline them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God's people have always needed strong leadership, and all along the way, God had provided men like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Samuel, and Paul. Left to our own devices, and without strong godly leadership, we are always prone to trouble. Even Jesus saw the plight of the people of God in His day. “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36 ESV). God's people, His sheep, were in a sorry state. They were shepherdless and helpless. They needed someone to lead them. They needed a shepherd. And while they had no shortage of religious leaders, Jesus saw them as harassed and helpless. The Pharisees, priests, Scribes, and other so-called leaders of Jesus' day were guilty of the same sin as the “shepherds” in Ezekiel's day. Read what God had to say about those who were responsible for the care and leadership of the people of God during the prophetic ministry of Ezekiel. “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them” (Ezekiel 34:4-6 ESV).

God was not happy. His sheep were being neglected and even abused. He expected those men who had been given the responsibility of leading His people to take their role seriously and to lead according to His terms, not their own. God cared for His sheep and He expected those whom He had appointed as shepherds to act as His undershepherds, providing the same level of care and concern as He would.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Just as sheep are prone to wander, shepherds are prone to walk away from their God-given responsibilities. It is so easy for a shepherd of God's people to allow selfishness and self-centeredness to distract him from what God has called him to do. Far too often, the leaders appointed by God to shepherd His flock, ended up abusing their roles and neglecting those under their care. God puts a high value on good shepherding. It was written of David, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds;from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance.With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand” (Psalm 78:70-72 ESV). David was the kind of shepherd God was looking for. He had a heart like God's. He cared for God's people with the same passion that God had. He was far from perfect, but he was “a man after God's own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV). When it came to the people under his care, he was ready to do the will of Go. He understood that God's people needed to follow God's will regarding their lives. They needed strong direction and steady leadership. Without it, they would find themselves in trouble. And in time, after the death of David and the demise of the kingdom of his son, Solomon, the people would suffer under a long line of insufferably poor shepherds. So that by the time Jesus showed up on the scene, He would encounter a people who were shepherdless, helpless and hopeless. Even Peter would say of those who had come to Christ in his day, “Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25 ESV). Ultimately, God was going to have to send His Son, as the one true Shepherd, to rescue His sheep. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 14 ESV). Mankind has always been in need of a shepherd and God eventually sent the only one who could rescue them. Isaiah reminds us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus was the true Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who laid down His own life for the sake of His sheep. He sacrificed Himself so that His sheep might be safe and sound. There was a selflessness and humility about Jesus that should be reflected in my own life. His life is the ultimate model of what it means to be a shepherd. Paul tells us, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 NLT). Humility. Sacrifice. Submission. Obedience. Those are the characteristics of a shepherd of God. May I learn to shepherd as He did. May I be willing to lead by following His example.

Father, make a shepherd like Your Son. Give me the heart of David and the passion to feed and care for Your sheep, even if it requires the ultimate sacrifice of my life. Don't let me become selfish and driven by my own desires. Constantly remind me that I am Your shepherd and have been given the responsibility of caring for Your sheep. Amen

Truly Spiritual Worship.

Numbers 25-26, John 4

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. – John 4:23 ESV

What does it mean to worship God? In our day and age, worship has become synonymous with an event held on Sunday morning or evening that involves a mixture of music and message. In essence, we have made worship a noun, rather than a verb. In fact, often speak of having been to “worship.” But what did God consider true worship to be? Was it the keeping of a set of rituals or rules? Was is what took place in the Tabernacle when the priests offered the sacrifices on behalf of the people? It is interesting that God referred to their attempts at worship in some fairly less-than-flattering terms:  “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). Worship had become an event or an occasion, rather than an expression of the heart.

In the story of Phinehas, revealed in Numbers 25, we once again discover the people of God disobeying the expressed will and commandments of God. It presents the nature of the problem in fairly graphic terms: “The people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1 ESV). Against God's expressed command to separate themselves from the nations living in the land, the people of Israel began to interact with their neighbors in a very intimate and immoral way. After having wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they found themselves, yet again, standing on the border of the Promised Land – waiting to enter in and take possession. And yet, they also found themselves succumbing to the temptations of their enemies. The Moabites, who had attempted to defeat Israel by hiring a seer to curse them, decided to try another plan of attack. If they couldn't curse them, they would join them. They found the Israelites exceptionally vulnerable in the sexual and spiritual integrity areas. Not only did the Israelite men willingly have sexual relationships with the Moabite women, “the people ate and bowed down to their gods” (Numbers 25:2 ESV).

Rather than worship God alone, they began to worship the false god of the Moabites. “So Israel yoked himeslf to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel” (Numbers 25:3 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God wanted more than lip-service. He desired their heart-felt worship of Him alone. He demanded it. Over in the gospel of John, we read of Jesus‘ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. This woman was a social outcast because of her immoral lifestyle. But she was also a spiritual outcast from the nation of Israel, because she was a Samaritan. The Jews considered these people to be racial half-breeds and religious compromisers. When the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and deported, a small remnant of people were left in the land. These people ended up intermarrying with the nations around them. When the Jews were restored to the land years later, they refused to have anything to do with these people, viewing them as religious heretics and virtually sub-human. And yet they worshiped Yahweh just as the Jews did, but from a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim. So when Jesus and the Samaritan woman find themselves engaged in their rather awkward and unusual conversation, it naturally turned to the topic of worship. For her, the only difference between herself and Jesus was their place of worship. For her, like many today, worship was an event that took place at a specific location. But Jesus quickly clarified that "the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 ESV). As far as Jesus was concerned, neither the Jews or the Samaritans were worshiping God correctly. He was looking for “truly spiritual” worship. God wants to be worshiped from the heart. It is not an event, but an attitude that flows from within the spirit of the individual. Jesus was letting her know that the time was coming when the true worship of God would be motivated and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Through Jesus' death on the cross, men and women would have a new capacity to worship God truly and truthfully, because of the transformative presence of the Spirit of God. Jesus' discussion with her regarding living water was a reference to the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual who would place their faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV). God would provide man with the ability to worship Him in spirit and truth, internally and with integrity. But it would also manifest itself externally.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In the story of Phinehas we a picture of the people of God living in relationship with God falsely and unfaithfully. They were giving their time and attention to false gods. They were disobeying the revealed will of God. And God dealt with them harshly for their sin against Him. He commanded that every man who had "yoked" himself to the false god, Baal, should be killed. And in the midst of all this, one of the men of Israel had the audacity to parade his Midianite mistress in full view of God and the entire nation of Israel. No remorse. No repentance. No fear. All while the people of God were weeping in the entrance of the Tabernacle. So Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron the high priest, “rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly” (Numbers 25:7-8 ESV). He saw what was going on and he dealt with it. As a result, God’s plague against the people was stopped. And God clarified exactly why Phinehas' actions brought an end to God's judgment on the people. “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy” (Numbers 25:11-12 ESV). God literally says, “Phinehas was zealous with my zeal.” The word “zeal” means a passionate intensity to protect or preserve divine or social institutions. This man cared about the things of God. He cared for the reputation of God. He desired to protect the honor of God. He wanted to preserve the spiritual integrity of the people of God. And God says that his actions “made atonement for the people of Israel.” By sacrificing the lives of the guilty couple, he satisfied God's righteous judgment. Their sin was punished by death, and God was free to end the plague and pardon the people. In a real sense, Phinehas worshiped God that day. He worshiped Him in spirit and truth. His inner zeal for God's holiness showed up in a determination to follow the will of God faithfully and truly.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There is a zeal required of all of us who claim to be followers of Christ and children of God. Our worship of God is to show up in spiritual, yet practical ways. The zeal of Phinehas for the things of God caused him to step out and risk all for God. He dealt with sin in a drastic manner, because he saw sin as a slight to God's character and a blight on the honor of God's people. It's interesting that when the disciples returned and found Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman, they were shocked. They wanted to know why Jesus, a good Jew, would be talking to a woman, and a Samaritan at that. Then they changed the subject and asked if Jesus had eaten yet. His response threw them for a loop. “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32 ESV). Then because they were confused by this statement, He clarified His words by saying, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). Ultimately, the worship of God comprises obedience to God. Jesus found nourishment and refreshment simply doing what God had called Him to do. His obedience brought glory to His Father and sustenance to His own soul. Jesus' entire life was characterized by His worship of God, and not just when He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath or to the Temple to sacrifice. His life was a living sacrifice to God. Paul encourages us to live with the same attitude. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1 NLT). Whole-hearted, Spirit-led obedience to the will of the Father. That is the kind of worship God desires from each of us.

Father, help me to learn how to truly worship you. Don't let me get satisfied with simply going through the motions, or offering you some kind of lip service. I want my worship of You to be continual and from the heart, not just the head. May I learn to be zealous for Your zeal like Phinehas. Amen

The Blessing of Israel.

Numbers 23-24, John 3

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. – John 3:17 ESV

Balaam, a pagan seer or diviner, had been hired by Balak to curse Israel. He had been offered riches and honor in exchange for his services. But no matter how much Balaam might have wanted to earn his wages, God would not allow him to bring a curse on Israel. On three different occasions, Balaam and Balak built altars and offered sacrifices in order to ascertain God's will regarding Israel's future. But each time God reconfirmed His commitment to and covenant with Israel. The amazing thing is that, in spite of Israel's track record of complaining, stubbornness, faithlessness and even rebellion, God remained faithful to them. God would not allow Balaam to curse them. But why? Because God had greater plans for Israel than simply the possession of the land. God's divine strategy went well beyond the conquering of the land of Canaan and the establishment of a kingdom ruled by earthly kings. Three different times and much to the chagrin of Balak, Balaam pronounces blessings on Israel. And each time he opens his mouth, Balaam is given a word from God that reconfirms the original promise He made to Abraham concerning a land, a seed and a blessing. “Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel?” (Numbers 23:10 ESV). God had promised to make Abraham's descendants as numerous as the sands on the shore or the stars in the heavens, and He had brought it about. Balaam predicts that Israel will be successful in battle, “As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain” (Numbers 23:24 ESV). God was going to give them victory over their enemies and reward them with the land He had promised them. Finally, Balaam warned Balak that to attempt to curse Israel was not a wise thing to do. “Blessed are those who bless you [Israel], and cursed are those who curse you” (Numbers 23:9 ESV). God had promised to bless the nations through Israel. God had set them apart for that purpose. No one was going to be able to stand against them. God had a purpose for them that could not be stopped by man.

What does this passage reveal about God?

There is something going on behind the scenes in the story of the people of Israel. We tend to read the Old Testament as ancient history, and attempt to find life lessons we can apply from these sometimes confusing accounts of God's interactions with the Israelites. But while the stories of the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the conquering of the land, and the rise of the kingdom of Israel can make fascinating reading, there is far more to the story than we sometimes understand. Balak's attempt to curse Israel was ill-fated from the beginning, because God was with them. Even Balaam saw the futility in what Balak was trying to do. “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?” (Numbers 23:8 ESV). As long as God had a plan and a purpose for the people of Israel, no one would be able to curse them or eliminate them. Many have tried over the centuries. And while Israel has suffered greatly at the hands of her enemies, God has continued to keep His hand on them. Because God is not done with them yet. Even after Israel conquered the land of Canaan and began to grow, their own sinfulness and rebellion would eventually cause God to punish them by allowing them to be defeated and deported into exile in a foreign land. But God would remain faithful. He would eventually return them to the land. He would restore them to favor and reconfirm His covenant with them. In time, Jerusalem, the city of God, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians, would be rebuilt and reoccupied by the people of God. The Temple of God would be reconstructed and the sacrificial system reinstituted. And then would come the birth of Jesus, a descendant of David and the Messiah of Israel. Even Balaam unknowingly spoke of His coming. “I see him, but not now; I behold him but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17 ESV). God's purpose for the people of Israel was ultimately to provide a Savior from among them. God was preserving Israel because He had a plan to provide salvation for the world through Israel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). From the moment He called Abram out of Ur, God had a long-term strategy to accomplish His divine will concerning all of mankind. He chose to do it through a particular man, using rather peculiar methods, and in a highly persistent manner.

What does this passage reveal about man?

All throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see individuals who are constantly attempting to thwart God's plan. Balak would fail in his bid to curse Israel. The Pharisees would fail in their attempts to trick Jesus. Yes, they would eventually succeed in having Him crucified, but what they didn't know was that His death was always part of the plan. They were simply pawns in God's divine strategy to bring salvation to mankind. Most men are blind to what God is doing. Even Balaam had to have his eyes opened by God. He made this point clear in several of his prophetic oracles. “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes covered” (Numbers 24:3-4 ESV). God gave Balaam the capacity to see His divine will. He was able to recognize that the people of Israel were not just some rag-tag group of nomadic desert dwellers. They were God's instrument destined to accomplish God's will. But even today, so many fail to see what God is doing. They fail to recognize that Jesus was God's chosen instrument to accomplish His divine will regarding the salvation of man. John tells us, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21 ESV). Jesus came into the world to provide salvation for the world, but He was rejected by most – even His own people. The people loved the darkness rather than the light. They preferred the ways of this world over the will of God. And as long as we remain blind to God's greater plan, we will tend to view this world from a limited perspective, believing that the real point of life is all wrapped up in the hear and now.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There is always a temptation to live with my eyes focused on the temporal rather than the eternal. I can get so wrapped up in this life, that I can lose sight of the fact that Jesus came to provide me with eternal life. As the old hymn so clearly states, “This world is not my home, I'm just a-passin‘ through.” As I study and read the Scriptures, I must constantly remind myself that God has a greater purpose in mind. He blessed Israel because He wanted to be a blessing through Israel. And God is not done with Israel. He has more that He is going to accomplish through the people of Israel before all is said and done. Because He has a bigger plan and a higher purpose than any of us will ever fully realize – until He is done. Then we will know. Then we will see clearly. It will all make sense to us. But in the meantime, we must constantly remind ourselves that God's plan is bigger than we realize. We must focus on the bigger picture, not just the little chapter in the story we call our life. God's plan included Israel, but it was about far more than just Israel. God's plan includes me, but it is about far more than just me. God is blessing me so that I might be a blessing to others. God has saved me so that I might spread the news of His gift of salvation to others. I am a part of God's grand plan of redemption for mankind. May I never forget that He is the center of the story, not me.

Father, never let me forget that Your plan is greater and grander than I could ever imagine. Keep my eyes focused on the bigger picture of Your redemptive plan for mankind. When Israel made it all about them, they lost focus. They became arrogant and self-centered, and mistakenly viewed You as existing for their glory, rather than the other way around. Don't let me make that same mistake. Your plan is bigger than me. Your story includes me, but is not all about me. Amen

Spiritual Blindness.

Numbers 21-22, John 2

Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like. – John 2:23-25 NLT

The people of Israel suffered from spiritual blindness. They had the physical capacity for sight, but far too often they were plagued by an inability to see what God was doing. It was this spiritual blindness that caused them to repeatedly complain about their situation and question God's will for their lives. Even after all God had done for them, they continued to reveal their inability to see and appreciate His divine plan for them. In Numbers 21, this spiritual blindness would result in God's discipline in the form of poisonous serpents. The antidote was for Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole in the midst of the camp. When an Israelite was bitten, they would have to look on the bronze serpent to receive back his life. Jesus would refer to this real-life occasion as a foreshadowing of His own death on the cross. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 ESV). There was more involved than simply seeing. Salvation required believing. Even in Moses' day, the people who looked on the bronze serpent had to believe that doing so would bring life instead of death. Those who refused to see and believe would experience death.

In the story of Balaam found in Numbers 22, we have another example of spiritual blindness. Balaam was a pagan seer or diviner who had been hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to bring a curse on the people of Israel. God spoke to Balaam and ordered him NOT to go with the king's emissaries and NOT to curse Israel. Initially Balaan obeyed. But when Balak's representatives showed back up offering great wealth in return for his services, God gave Balaam the freedom to make his own choice. Driven by greed and hoping to figure out a way to eventually curse Israel and cash in, Balaam chose to go with the officials from Balak. He was spiritually blind and chose wrong. The seer was unable to see God's will and, as a result, God was angry. On his way to meet Balak, Balaam is visited by an angel of the Lord. And interestingly enough, the text tells us three different times that “the donkey saw the angel of the Lord” (Numbers 22:23 ESV). But Balaam was blind to this divine encounter. This famous diviner couldn't see that God was about to take his life for his disobedience. And it wasn't until God opened his eyes that Balaam truly saw the danger of his circumstances.

What does this passage reveal about God?

As we have seen time and time again through the story of God's interactions with the people of Israel, He was always in control of each and every circumstance. In this case, God knew the plans of Balak and He knew the heart of Balaam. God was in complete control of the events surrounding this story. While Balaam was blind to the will of God, God knew exactly what was going on within the heart of this greedy pagan diviner. Just as God spoke through a donkey, God would speak through this flawed man.

We see in the stories recorded by John in his gospel that spiritual blindness was still a problem in Jesus' day. Yes, people could see all that Jesus was able to do. They were amazed that He could turn ordinary water into extraordinary wine, but they were blind to the spiritual significance of these events. John tells us that these signs manifested His glory. They revealed His divine nature and gave proof of His having been sent by God. And the disciples believed in Him. They saw what He was able to do, and they believed in Him. But what was it they believed? At this point they were spiritually blind to the real nature of His divine calling. They believed in His power, but they did not yet understand that His real mission was to involve His own death for their sins.

What does this passage reveal about man?

After Jesus' miracle of turning the water into wine and His cleansing of the Temple, John records that “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23 ESV). They believed, but theirs was not a saving faith. They believed that Jesus was a special individual with special powers. He was able to do things that they had never seen done before. They were attracted to His ability to perform miracles. But interestingly enough, John goes on to say, "But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like” (John 2:24-25 NLT). John uses a play on words in the Greek. The people “trusted” Jesus, but He didn't “trust” them. He knew their hearts. He knew that their belief was spurious. Like Balaam, they were blind to the reality of what God was doing. Balaam appeared to be doing the will of God, but his heart was evil, his intentions were impure. Jesus knew the people who “believed in his name” were simply attracted to the sensational nature of His miracles and signs. Such is the case with so many today. They see Jesus as a miracle worker. They view Him as some kind of life coach who can them enjoy everything from improved health to a better marriage. But they fail to see that Jesus came to give them eternal life, not just a slightly better version of the life they had been living. He came to free them from sin and restore them to a right relationship with God. He came to die so that they might be made holy in God's eyes. But many remain blind to that reality. Like Balaam, they remain unable to see what God is doing around them and what He intends to do within them. As Jesus would say of His own disciples, they have eyes, but do not see, and ears, but do not hear.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Spiritual blindness requires divine healing, just as physical blindness did in Jesus' day. I need the Spirit of God to open my eyes so that I can see what God is doing in and around me. I need Him to remove the scales from my eyes so that I can fully comprehend His divine will. Otherwise I will tend to see what I want to see. Or I will view life as through a foggy lens that prevents me from seeing accurately and truly. Even though he was a seer, Balaam could not see what God was doing, until God opened his eyes. Even as a child of God, I cannot see God's divine will unless He opens my eyes. But when I see, I must also believe. I must believe that God is in control. I must believe that God is faithful and worthy of my trust. I must believe that God has my best interest at heart – all the time – regardless of how things may appear. I must believe that what God says, He will do. What He promises, He will fulfill. What He begins, He finishes.

Father, open my eyes so that I can see what it is that You are doing in this world. Don't let me view life and my circumstances from my limited perspective. Don't allow me to walk around in spiritual blindness, seeing only what I want to see, but missing out on Your will for my life. I want to see and believe. I want to develop a divine perspective that allows me to view the world and all that is taking place from Your point of view, not mine. Amen

Belief and Obedience.

Numbers 19-20, John 1

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12 ESV

In this section of the book of Numbers, the events have been fast-forwarded, bringing us to the close of the 40 years that God had said the people would spend wandering in the wilderness as a result of their failure to enter into the land of promise. Their disbelief had caused them to disobey, and brought God's divine discipline. Now they found themselves headed back to the border of the land of Canaan In the four decades that had passed, the older generation had slowly died off. But they had successfully passed on their sinful characteristics to their children. “Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!  Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle?  And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink’” (Numbers 20:2-5 ESV). For Moses, this had to have had an eerily similar feel to the events that had taken place years before when the people had arrived in the wilderness of Sin. There the people had also complained about the lack of water and God had graciously given them water from a rock. Now decades later, the people are complaining again. Same people. Same God. Same problem. But their problem was NOT a lack of water. It was a lack of faith in God. They believed in God. They knew He existed. They couldn't deny the reality of His existence. But they could disbelieve the validity of His will for their lives. Notice how many times they question, “Why?”

Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness?

Why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?

They didn't like their circumstances. In fact, they wished they had died when God had stricken their ancestors with the plague 40 years earlier. They thought they would be better off dead than living in the will of God. It wasn't that they failed to believe in God. It was that they failed to believe that He knew what was best for them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In the book of John, there is powerful imagery used to convey Christ's coming into the world. He is portrayed as light and He entered into the darkness of this world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV). “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9 ESV). Light speaks of His purity, truth, and righteousness. Jesus was the Son of God. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). He was God incarnate – God in human flesh. He was Immanuel – God with us. God revealed Himself to man in human form. The Light of God penetrated the darkness of human sin and hopelessness. “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV). And yet, John tells us, the world did not know him. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). They couldn't deny His existence, but they refused to believe that He was God's will regarding their salvation. Just as in the days of Moses, God revealed Himself to man. He made His presence known, but mankind refused to believe that God knew what was best. Only a handful of people in Jesus' day seemed to recognize Jesus for who He claimed to be. Andrew told his brother Simon, “We have found ‘the Messiah’ (which means Christ)” (John 1:41 ESV). Philip told Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). Nathanael said to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV). God had revealed Himself to men through His Son, and only a handful of individuals seemed to believe that Jesus represented the will of God for mankind.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Belief requires obedience. It didn't matter how much the people of God said they believed in the Law of God, as long as they failed to obey it. It didn't matter how much Moses believed in the reality of God if he was unwilling to obey His word. Later on in the gospel story, we know that there came a time when Nathanael, Andrew, Philip and the rest of the disciples were forced to put their belief into action by answering Jesus' invitation to follow Him. They were going to have to take a risk and obey. If they truly believed He was who He claimed to be, they would need to prove it by leaving everything else behind and following Him – in spite of their doubts and fears. In the book of Numbers, we see Moses having to deal with the disbelief of the people once again. They find themselves lacking water and so they lash out at Moses and question the will of God for their lives. And as He had done before, God miraculously provided water from a rock. He commanded Moses to "tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV). But instead, “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice” (Numbers 20:11 ESV). Not only that, Moses prefaced his actions with a small speech: “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10 ESV). Moses was angry. He was put out with the people. He was tired of their whining and complaining. We get an insight into what was going on in Moses' heart from Psalm 106. “They angered him at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips” (Psalm 106:32-33 ESV). Moses was angry, and in his anger, he failed to listen to what God had told him to do. Rather than “tell the rock,” he struck it. He simply did what he had done decades earlier. But that was not what God had commanded Him to do. He disobeyed God's command. Yes, Moses believed in God, but he failed to obey the word of God. “And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them’” (Numbers 20:12 ESV). Sounds harsh, doesn't it? But God was making a point with Moses and Aaron. Moses' actions in front of the people, motivated by anger and characterized by a failure to listen to the word of God, treated God with contempt. Moses failed to do God's will, God's way.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

John writes, “He came to his own,  and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13 ESV). Most of the people failed to receive Jesus as the Son of God and their Messiah. They could see Him, but they would not believe in Him. But those who did receive Him and believed in His name, they became children of God. They received the gift of eternal life through the Son of God. They believed and obeyed. They heard the Word and received it. They recognized Jesus as “the Lamb of God, whotakes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). Their belief in Jesus as the Son of God took the form of obedience to the will of God. They accepted God's plan for their lives and willfully submitted to it. It really doesn't matter how often or how vigorously I claim to believe in God, if I fail to accept His will for my life. It doesn't matter how vocal I am about my faith in Christ, if I fail to listen to and obey His commands regarding how to live my life. Belief and obedience are to go hand in hand. They are inseparable. Disobedience and disbelief are also inseparable. To disobey is to reveal our disbelief. We doubt God's will. We disbelieve that He knows what is best. We think we know better. Moses did it his way and suffered the consequences. The people of Israel complained about their lot in life, and in doing so, revealed their lack of faith in God. They failed to trust the One in whom they said they believed. And that tendency is a constant threat for every follower of God today.

Father, I want my faith in You to show up as trust in You. I want my belief in You to reveal itself by obedience to You. Never let me separate those two. Amen

Our High Priest.

Numbers 17-18, Luke 24

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. – Luke 24:44-45 NLT

As a result of the rebellion of Korah, God brought a plague among the people of Israel. It was only the quick action of Aaron, as he atoned for their sins, that prevented the complete destruction of the people of Israel at the hands of God. He intervened and interceded on their behalf, and God spared them. As a result, God reconfirmed His selection of Aaron and his sons as His chosen representatives. The budding of the rod of Aaron was a divine sign of God's choosing of Aaron and the tribe of Levi as His servants. They would belong to Him. Only the Levites could serve as guards over the Tabernacle and only Aaron and his sons could serve as intercessors with God on behalf of the people. With their jobs came great responsibilities and great blessings. They were to be holy and set apart unto God. They received no inheritance in the land, but God provided for them from the gifts that were given to Him as a part of the sacrifices of the people. They received from God what was holy. They ate the best of the best. But they had to very careful not to profane or desecrate the things of God with their lives. God warned them, “You, your sons, and your relatives from the tribe of Levi will be held responsible for any offenses related to the sanctuary. But you and your sons alone will be held responsible for violations connected with the priesthood” (Numbers 18:1 NLT).

These were ordinary men who had been given an extraordinary responsibility. They were the literal keepers of the spiritual flame of Israel. They maintained the Tabernacle and everything in it. They protected it and transported it. Aaron and his sons, as the priests, were responsible for offering sacrifices on behalf of the people, atoning for their sins and providing a means for them to remain in a right standing with God. But their work could never fully remove the guilt of sin. They could never provide full atonement for the sins of the people. But the priesthood and the sacrificial system as outlined in the Old Testament was a foreshadowing of something greater to come. “They serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven. For when Moses was getting ready to build the Tabernacle, God gave him this warning: ‘Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain.’But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises” (Hebrews 8:5-6 NLT).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God's plan for the Tabernacle, the sacrificial system and the priesthood was temporary system that represented a far greater future reality. It was imperfect because it involved sinful men. Aaron and his sons were sinful and flawed just like every other Israelite. In order for them to perform their duty as priests, they first had to be purified. They had to have their own sins atoned for. And the writer of Hebrews tells us, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office” (Hebrews 7:23 ESV). But God's plan was far greater than that of the Tabernacle and the earthly priesthood. He had already determined a better means of atoning for the sins of man. And it would involve His own Son. This had been God's plan all along. After His resurrection from the dead, Jesus gave His disciples two separate Bible lessons where He “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45 ESV). For the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV). Jesus unpacked all the writings of Moses and the prophets, showing how He had been foreshadowed and predicted. Everything had been pointing to Him. The entire sacrificial system was but a shadow of things to come. The priesthood as practiced in Moses' day, served as a glimpse of something greater to come. “He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven.  Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins.  The law appointed high priests who were limited by human weakness. But after the law was given, God appointed his Son with an oath, and his Son has been made the perfect High Priest forever” (Hebrews 7:26-28 NLT).

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man would need a greater High Priest. We would require a greater means of atonement. The sacrificial system as practiced by the Jews in the days of Moses and even into the days of Jesus, would never fully eradicate the sins of men. Because man's capacity for sin was endless, so was the need for constant sacrifice. There was never a point at which they were totally forgiven and completely free from the guilt of their sin. If nothing else, the law and the sacrificial system were a daily reminder of the ever-present reality of sin and guilt. No one could keep the law perfectly, so therefore no one was sinless. And the constant capacity to sin required the constant need to sacrifice in order to atone for those sins. But Jesus came to put an end to the madness. He was the High Priest who came to deal with sin once and for all. “He did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice. And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:25-28 NLT).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

My sins have been paid for. My atonement has been accomplished once and for all. I can now stand before God as righteous in His eyes. All because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross on my behalf. I have been set free. I am no longer a slave to sin. I have the capacity to live differently and distinctively, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. My righteousness is not of my own making, but has been given to me by Christ Himself. He bore my sins and gave me His righteousness. He died so that I might live. When I read the Old Testament, I must look for Christ. I must see His image and understand that all God did was pointing to His Son's ultimate arrival on the scene. The Old Testament is as much about Christ as the four Gospels. Prior to His ascension, Jesus took time to teach His disciples and point out all that the Old Testament Scriptures revealed about Himself. The story of the Bible is the story of God's ultimate redemption of mankind through the saving work of Jesus. Like any story, it has a beginning and it has an end. In the story recorded in Luke, we see Jesus departing from His disciples, ascending up into heaven. But we know that's not the end of the story. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 ESV). He has gone, but He will someday return. His work as priest is complete. But His job as King is not yet finished. I look forward to the day when God closes the final chapter in His great book of redemption.

Father, thank You for the priestly work of Your Son. Thank You that Your plan didn't stop with the sacrificial system. Reading through the book of Numbers reminds me of just how sinful we men can be. It reminds me just how hopeless we are without You. Your standards are high. Your expectation of holiness is unachievable. But You provided a better way. You provided the ONLY way. You sent Your Son. He paid for our sins. He died in our place. He satisfied Your just requirement that sin's price be paid for through death. He gave His life so that we might live. Amen

Rebellion Against God.

Numbers 15-16, Luke 23

And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. – Numbers 16:31-33 ESV

Yesterday we talked about the ever-present danger of doubt in the life of the follower of God. Doubt has a way of turning into disobedience, and disobedience against God is nothing more than rebellion against His Word and His will. In chapter eight of Numbers we see this pattern lived out in the lives of Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On. These men were descendants of Levi and, as such, they were responsible for the care and upkeep of the Tabernacle of God. God had set them apart as His servants and their jobs were essential to the spiritual well-being of the people of Israel. But they were dissatisfied with things as God had planned them. They wanted more responsibility. They wanted a greater role. They doubted God's order of things and demanded a restructuring of responsibilities and duties. The pointed their fingers at Aaron and Moses, exlaming, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:3 ESV). Like Miriam in chapter 12, these men expressed their doubt in God's preordained order and it led to their open disobedience and rebellion.

Moses is surprised and shocked. He asks them, “ is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together” (Numbers 16:9-11 ESV). Moses makes it clear that their beef was with God, not Aaron. Their rebellion was God-directed. They didn't like things the way God had set them up.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was incensed. As a holy, righteous King, He was unwilling to tolerate the open rebellion of these men, so He warned Moses, "Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” (Numbers 16:21 ESV). God was so angry. And His anger was so great that He was willing to wipe out not only these men but the entire congregation as well. While the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram was more pronounced and obvious, the reality was that the entire congregation was guilty of rebellion against God. But Moses and Aaron interceded and begged God to spare the congregation and punish the ring leaders. So God allowed Moses to warn the people and have them separate themselves from Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Then His judgment fell, with the ground itself opening up and literally swallowing the men and their entire families. Not only that, the fire of the Lord wiped out the 250 men who had aligned themselves with Korah, Dathan and Abiram and sided against Aaron and Moses. God would not tolerate rebellion among His people. He knew it to be like a cancer that, if left unchecked, would spread among the people. So He eradicated it in a powerful way.

What does this passage reveal about man?

And yet, amazingly, we read, “on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the Lord’” (Numbers 16:41 ESV). Once again, the disbelieve that what had happened was God's will. And they openly rebel against God's representatives. So as before, God warned Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the people because He was about to destroy them. But Moses intercedes yet again, telling Aaron to take his censer and "carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun" (Numbers 16:36 ESV). God was bringing judgment on the people, and Moses' quick thinking and Aarons' immediate response spared the lives of many. In spite of their efforts, 14,700 people died that day – at the hand of God. There would have been even more, had not Moses and Aaron acted. Their rebellion was a sin against God, and only the atoning work of Aaron, the high priest, was able to satisfy the righteous judgment of God against them. Doubt is inevitable and, if left unchecked, it will always result in disobedience and rebellion against God. Mankind is prone to unfaithfulness, even those who call themselves followers of God. Disobedience is in our nature. The risk of rebellion is a constant reality for each of us.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In the gospel of Luke we see the people of God once again rebelling against the will of God. He had sent His Son as the Savior of the world. But Jesus didn't come as they had anticipated He would. He failed to meet their expectations. Rather than a conquering king on a white horse, followed by a powerful army, He was a carpenter from the small hamlet of Nazareth and accompanied by a rag-tag group of disciples. Rather than revere Jesus, the religious leaders found Him revolting. They longed to rid themselves of His presence. They arrested Him and dragged Him before Pilate, the governor, for trial and, ultimately, execution. Even Pilate found Jesus to be innocent of any wrong doing. He tried repeatedly to release Him, but the people demanded His crucifixion. And they got their wish. Their rebellion against God's resulted in the death of the One whom God had sent. They doubted God's Word and rejected His will. Writing more than 750 years before the events of the crucifixion, the prophet Isaiah predicted, “But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). God sent His Son to deal with our rebellion. But rather than snuff us out, He provided a means by which we could be healed and made whole. He payed the debt we owed, He suffered the death that was meant for us. He took on the penalty for our rebellion against God.

Father, prior to Christ coming into my life, I was a rebel against You. I was a law breaker and fully deserving of death. But rather than wipe me out like You did Korah, You gave me a way out through Jesus Christ. He died in my place. He suffered for my rebellion. My sins nailed Him to the cross. My bore my guilt and took on the penalty for my sins. And I can never thank You enough. Amen

The Unattractiveness of Ungratefulness.

Numbers 11-12, Luke 21

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” – Numbers 11:4-62 ESV

Complaining, grumbling, dissatisfaction, and discontentment. These are all common characteristics of the human race. Even the people of God have been known to whine and moan about their lot in life on occasion. The book of Numbers records the journey of the people of Israel as they made their way from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan – the land promised to Abraham by God. And just three days into their trip, the people of Israel began to complain about their misfortunes. They moaned about how difficult their lives were. They had grown lazy during their stay at Mount Sinai, and now there were having to put effort into following God. No more sitting around camp while Moses did all the work up on Mount Sinai. Getting to the land of promise was going to take work on their part and, as a result, they complained. The source of their complaint was a "strong craving." They desired something they didn't have. They coveted something that was missing in their lives. The people wanted something that God had not chosen to give them. And they showed ingratitude for what God had provided. This is a danger for every child of God in every generation. God had led them and fed them. He had provided manna for them to meet their physical needs. But in their opinion, it lacked flavor and spice. They wanted more! They preferred the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlics of Egypt. Never mind the fact that their meals in Egypt were eaten as slaves. They wanted MORE than what God was providing. When it came to their well-being, they knew better than God. Their complaining revealed and underlying belief that they had been better off in Egypt. Their grumbling exposed their doubt in God's love and wisdom regarding their lives.

What does this passage reveal about God?

So God gave them what they desired – in abundance. He gave them meat in the form of quail. “Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, ‘Why did we come out of Egypt?’” (Numbers 11:18-20 ESV). God gave them exactly what they craved and, in time, it would prove loathsome. They would grow sick of it. Not only that, what would initially appear as a blessing from God would end up being a curse. “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague” (Numbers 11:33 ESV). The psalmist would later write of this watershed event. “But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave then what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them” (Psalm 1-6:14-15 ESV). God graciously gave them what they didn't deserve: meat. But He also justly gave them what they DID deserve: judgment. Sometimes God allows us to have what we crave, even though He knows it is not what we need. But He also allows us to learn the painful lesson that the things for which we crave tend to bring us disappointment and dissatisfaction. There is a natural human tendency to want more. We are naturally greedy and think the answer to all our problems lies in getting more of what we already have or somehow gaining access to what we believe is missing.

God had graciously provided for the people of Israel. He had chosen them, freed them, guided them, clothed them, fed them and led them. He had agreed to dwell among them – in spite of them. He had provided a means of receiving atonement and enjoying forgiveness of their sins. He had promised to bring them to a land of abundance where they would live in homes they didn't build, harvest crops they didn't plant and enjoy the safety of cities they hadn't constructed. All He had asked was that they follow Him, trust Him and believe that He knew what was best for them. But they craved more. They knew best.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We must always be careful to mistake as God's blessing the accumulation or acquisition of the things we crave for and lust after. A bigger house is not necessarily what God desires for us. More money could just as easily end up being a curse and not a blessing. Any time we crave what we do not have, it is a sign of dissatisfaction and discontentment with what God has already given us. Discontentment can spread like a cancer among God's people, robbing them of vitality and joy, and causing them to doubt God's goodness. We see in the story of Miriam and Aaron another brand of discontentment. They didn't like the fact that Moses was the sole spokesman for God. They were jealous and dissatisfied with their status as second fiddles to their brother, Moses. So they complained. And their complaint revealed a deep-seated distrust in God's sovereign will. In speaking against Moses, they had spoken against God. They revealed their belief that they knew better than God. “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed” (Numbers 12:9 ESV). Desiring greater glory for herself, Miriam ended up with leprosy instead. Her craving resulted in a cursing by God. She would eventually receive healing, but also carry with her a painful, yet powerful lesson on the danger in testing rather than trusting God. For seven long days she would find herself expelled from the people of God. Rather than enjoying a greater role as a leader of the people, she would find herself shunned by them – a reject rather than a ruler.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the book of 1 John, we read these sobering words: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life— is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17 ESV). Loving the world more than we love God is a constant temptation for us as His children. We can so easily view what this world has to offer as the solution to our problems and the source of missing satisfaction. More of anything that this world has to offer will always fall short of what God has already done for us. Yet when we crave more than what He has already given, we reveal our ingratitude and expose our desire to be our own god. Peter would remind us that, “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10 ESV). But as we saw with Miriam and Aaron, it isn't always about money and material things. They desired power and more significance. They were discontent with their roles and desired greater visibility and more recognition. They were unwilling to serve where God had placed them. They craved more. They desired something different.

When Jesus came He exposed the status quo of His day. The rich were looked on as icons of virtue. The poor were seen as suffering at the hand of God for their sins. But Jesus taught that the poor were blessed and the rich would find it difficult to enter into His Kingdom. Their love for and dependence upon materialism and money would prove to be a formidable barrier to faith. They were placing their hope in the wrong things. The poor, who had nothing, would find it far more easier to trust in God, because they had no other options. Their need would prove to be a blessing. In Luke 21, we see Jesus preparing His disciples for life after His death and departure. He reveals to them what the end times will look like. Some of what He tells them will happen during their lifetimes. But much of it has yet to occur. But regardless of the timing, He warned them, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36 ESV). They were not to allow the things of this world to distract them from the reality that there is something more yet to come. The people of Israel had been promised a land of abundance. Yet they became distracted with thoughts of more – NOW. Unwilling to wait for the future outcome of God's promises, they demanded His blessing according to their terms and their timing. They became weighed down with the cares of this life and took their eyes off the promise of God. I can do the same thing. I can find myself craving more of what this world has to offer and fail to recognize that God's promise is not about me building a kingdom in this world, but enjoying the blessings of His Kingdom in a new world.

Father, thank You for this powerful reminder. And forgive me for loving and craving the things of this world. Help me see past their illusion and recognize their inability to deliver what they promise. Only you can provide me with joy, contentment, and satisfaction. More of what this world has to offer is not the answer. Help me to realize the truth of the statement that godliness with contentment is great gain. Amen

Followers of God.

Numbers 9-10, Luke 20

In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. – Numbers 10:11-12 ESV

God led His people. From the moment He set them free from captivity in Egypt, He had directed their path. He had gone before them, guiding their every step along the way and providing for their every need. But they had to follow. They couldn't veer to the right or the left. They couldn't go off in another direction. If they did, they would suffer the consequences. God's leadership required faithful followers. It reminds me of the chorus of the classic old hymn, Where He Leads Me I Will Follow. It simply says, "Where He leads me I will follow; I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way." The people of Israel had spent nearly a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. During that time, God had given them His law and provided them with the construction plans for the Tabernacle. He had given them the sacrificial system in order to provide a means of atoning for and receiving forgiveness for their sins. There at Mount Sinai they enjoyed God's presence and provision, but Mount Sinai was not their final destination. They were not where God wanted them to be. So "In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran" (Numbers 10:11-12 ESV). God led and the people followed.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had a purpose behind everything He did. In order to get the people of Israel all the way through the wilderness, He knew it was going to require much more than which direction to go. He could lead them, and they could follow – but they would have to follow according to His terms. Their following would have to include faithful obedience to His righteous rules and divine requirement. They would have to follow obediently. God could have miraculously taken them straight to the Promised Land. He could have eliminated the need for the journey altogether, but instead, He took His time. He gave them rules of conduct. He painstakingly provided them with instructions as to how they were to live as they followed Him. The wilderness wanderings were going to be a time of testing, to see if they would live set-apart lives, faithfully following God's prescribed plan for His people. God didn't just expect the people to follow, but to do so faithfully. In other words, they had to follow according to His terms. They had to keep His laws. They had to celebrate His festivals. They had to keep the Sabbath. They had to regularly sacrifice for their sins. They had to deal with impurity in their midst. Their journey from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan was to be marked by obedience. God's leading was going to require the people's faithful adherence to His commands.

What does this passage reveal about man?

From our vantage point this side of the cross, it is sometimes easy to look back at the Israelites and wonder how they could have been so slow to realize just how good they had it. They seem slow to comprehend just how blessed they were to have God's actual presence living among them. They got to see incredible miracles and witness amazing acts of provision, such as manna that came from the sky and water that flowed from a rock. They wore sandals and clothes that never wore out. But in spite of all this, they continued to disobey Him by disregarding His commands. The psalmist writes, "How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness, and insulted himin the desert! They again challenged God,and offendedthe Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 78:40-41 ESV). But before we point our fingers in accusation and derision, we need to realize that their story is far too often our story. We find ourselves on a journey. We are walking through this life, headed to another "land" that God has promised to give us. He has chosen us as His own. He has given us the indwelling presence of His Spirit. He leads and directs us. He speaks to us through His Word. He has called us to live lives that reflect our unique standing as His children. He has called us to live holy lives. And yet, we struggle with faithfulness. "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV).

For the Israelites, Mount Sinai held special meaning. It was there that they received God's law. It was there that they were given His plan for the sacrificial system and the hope of atonement for sin. But they were not meant to stay there. They had to move on. They were on their way to somewhere else. For many of us as Christians, we bask in the glory of our salvation story. We camp on that day we placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and remain content to dwell on that special moment as the most significant day of our lives. But we must move on. We must recognize the fact that our salvation is the beginning, not the end. There is life to be lived – in Christ. He is to followed, not just believed in. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24 ESV). There is a cost and commitment to following Christ. It is a daily event that requires faithful obedience to His will and His way.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus had many followers when He walked this earth. But when things got tough, and they discovered that His journey was going to include suffering and even death, the majority of those who had been following fled. Believing in Christ is easy. Following Him is difficult and sometimes risky. His disciples would learn this. The religious leaders of Jesus' day were thought to be faithful followers of God. But they were repeatedly condemned by Jesus for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He compared them to their ancestors who had killed the prophets of God because they didn't want to hear the message of God. These men were followers of God in name only. They lived by their own set of standards. They put on a facade of faithfulness, but were actually blind to the will of God for their lives. Highly knowledgeable of God's Scriptures, they were unable to recognize the Son of God standing in their midst. And they refused to acknowledge Him as their Messiah and Savior.

Following is not easy, especially when we are prone to going our own way. Even after salvation, we are constantly tempted to take our lives into our own hands and determine our own destiny. But God has a plan for our lives. He has a path for each of us to take. We are on a journey from salvation to our ultimate glorification. Heaven is our ultimate home. But we find ourselves wandering through this wilderness called earth. We have been given an inheritance that includes a permanent home in His heavenly Kingdom. But in the meantime, we are living in what Paul Tripp calls "the gospel gap." Our salvation is in our past. Heaven is in our future. And we live in that in-between time where our sanctification takes place. We are in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ as we faithfully follow His example of love, obedience, humility and service. It is on this planet that we are to live out our salvation in tangible, practical ways that emulate the nature of Christ by allowing the indwelling Spirit of God to powerfully flow through us, producing a lifestyle that is radically different than the world around us. Our following of Christ is to result in our reflection of Christ to the world around us. It is as we walk with Him, living in obedience to Him, that we become increasingly more like Him.

All of this reminds me of another great hymn from my past: Footprints of Jesus

Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling,

Come, follow Me!

And we see where Thy footprints falling

Lead us to Thee.

Footprints of Jesus,

That make the pathway glow;

We will follow the steps of Jesus

Where’er they go.

Though they lead o’er the cold, dark mountains,

Seeking His sheep;

Or along by Siloam’s fountains,

Helping the weak.

If they lead through the temple holy,

Preaching the Word;

Or in homes of the poor and lowly,

Serving the Lord.

Though, dear Lord, in Thy pathway keeping,

We follow Thee;

Through the gloom of that place of weeping,


If Thy way and its sorrows bearing,

We go again,

Up the slope of the hillside, bearing

Our cross of pain.

By and by, through the shining portals,

Turning our feet,

We shall walk, with the glad immortals,

Heav’n’s golden street.

Then, at last, when on high He sees us,

Our journey done,

We will rest where the steps of Jesus

End at His throne.

Father, I want to follow You faithfully. I want to live a life that reflects the character of Christ. I want my walk to match my talk. And it all begins in my heart. I can fake following you, but You know my heart. I can go through the motions, and fool those around me, but You know what is really going on inside of me. Help me to die to self and live for You. I want to daily take up my cross and die to my will and my way, so that I might more faithfully walk according to Your way. Amen

From Joy To Tears.

Numbers 7-8, Luke 19

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." – Luke 19:41-42 ESV

In chapter seven of Numbers, we see the joy and generosity of the people of Israel at the dedication of the Tabernacle. The entire chapter is a list of all the gifts the various tribes brought to the dedication. And Moses painstakingly records the exact nature of each tribe's contribution, revealing that they all gave equally. This occasion was spread out over 12 days, with the various sacrifices for each tribe taking up the better part of the day on which they made their presentation. So for almost two solid weeks, there was the giving of gifts, the burning of sacrifices, and the atonement for the sins of the people. This would have been a remarkable celebration. And it ended with Moses going into the Tabernacle to meet with God, where "he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, and it spoke to him" (Numbers 7:59 ESV).

God had accepted their gifts and was in their midst. This was a joyful celebration. And it was followed by the dedication of the Levites. These men were the literal "stand-ins" for the people. God had chosen them to serve Him in place of the first-born males of the people. At one point, God had commanded that all the first-born males of the people of Israel were to be dedicated to His service. This was due to the fact that He had spared all the first-born Hebrew sons on the night the Death Angel passed through the land of Egypt. But because of the sin of the people in worshiping the golden calf, God had chosen the Levites to serve Him instead. So on this day, the people were commanded to lay their hands on the heads of the Levites, transferring the responsibility of serving God from the first-borns on to the Levites. In essence, the Levites became living sacrifices, dedicated to God's service. Paul reminds believers that we are to live with the same mindset: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had gone out of His way to ensure that His presence would be with the people – in spite of their sinfulness. He had given them ample proof of His power, His ability to provide, and the benefits of living as His people. He had freed them from slavery in Egypt. He had given them the Tabernacle as a dwelling place for His presence. He had provided the sacrificial system as a means of atoning for their sins and receiving His forgiveness. He had given them manna from heaven and water from a rock. He had guided them all along the way through a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of could by day. When they had sinned at Mount Sinai and worshiped the golden calf, rather than destroy them, God had forgiven them and allowed the Levites to serve as substitutes for the first-born. God had been generous, merciful, gracious, kind, forgiving, and incredibly faithful – in the face of the people's faithlessness. And over the coming years, their track record for faithlessness would prove to be abysmal. They would consistently fail to follow God faithfully – from the first moment they laid eyes on the Promised Land to the day they would find themselves headed into exile and back into slavery as a result of their rebellion against God. And Yet God would remain faithful to His covenant and unfailing in His love.

What does this passage reveal about man?

If we fast-forward to the time of Jesus, we find the people of God living in the Land of Promise, worshiping Him in a magnificent Temple rather than a temporary Tabernacle. They have long-since returned to the land after years in exile. But they are living under the rule of Rome. There is a dark cloud hanging over the land. They have no king. The man who calls himself the king of the Jews is a puppet king appointed by the Romans. King Herod, the self-proclaimed king of Israel, was not even a Jew, but an Edomite. He was a tyrant and a madman, who owed his allegiance to Rome, not the God of Israel. The spiritual climate in Israel was not good. The religious leaders were little more than self-righteous autocrats who lived by their own self-manufactured code of ethics. Jesus would commonly refer to them as hypocrites. These men were the spiritual elite of the day, but were little more than religious charlatans who mislead the people and who would reject Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah.

In spite of all that God had done for the nation of Israel over the centuries, they had continued to rebel against Him, while claiming a false sort of allegiance to Him. They had come to believe that their very existence as descendants of Abraham was their ticket into God's favor. They still expected their Messiah or King to show up any day, but they were looking for a military leader who would set them free from the tyranny of Rome. They longed for a political savior, not a spiritual one. So when Jesus appeared on the scene, He didn't meet their requirements. He wasn't what they had been expecting, so they rejected Him.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus arrival should have been a day of celebration for the people of Israel. When Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah that day in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He read the words, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV). Jesus was announcing the fact that He truly was the long-awaited Messiah. But the freedom and victory He came to bring was not from political oppression, but from sin and death. Jesus was God's appointed representative to bring the one thing the people of Israel needed more than anything else – permanent atonement and forgiveness for their sins. He came to restore the people to a right relationship with God once and for all.

And while there was a brief, yet seemingly enthusiastic welcome upon His arrival in Jerusalem that day, the shouts of "Hosanna!" would soon turn to screams of "Crucify him!" When He failed to reveal Himself as the conquering king and liberator from Roman rule, the people would turn their backs on Him. And while His arrival should have been a time of joy and excitement, for Jesus it was actually a time of weeping and sadness. Luke records that he wept over the city of Jerusalem. He knew that they were going to reject Him as their Messiah. He also knew that the city was doomed to destruction in just a matter of years. Their might city and the Temple of God they revered would both be destroyed in 70 A.D. Jesus sadly predicted, "they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:44 ESV). As in the days of Moses at the dedication of the Tabernacle, God was in their midst. Immanuel – "God with us" – was standing amongst them and they failed to see Him for who He was. The very presence of God was there, but they were blind to God's goodness, grace, mercy, and love. And it brought Jesus, the Son of God, to tears.

How often do I fail to recognize the presence and power of God in my own life? How many times have I neglected the very presence of God in my life by refusing to listen to and obey the voice of His indwelling Holy Spirit? God has proven His power, provision and presence in my life time and time again, and yet I can find it so easy to doubt Him, disobey Him, and determine to ignore Him – turning what should be days of rejoicing into times of sadness and tears. I don't want to overlook or miss out on the presence of God in and around my life. He is there. But I must look for Him. I must focus on Him. I must faithfully trust in Him.

Father, You are faithful. There is no doubt about it. You are gracious, kind, loving, patient and consistently present in my life. Help me to see You more clearly. Help me to listen to You more closely and obey You more willingly. Each day of my life should be a celebration of Your goodness, grace, presence and power. Amen

All Things Are Possible With God.

Numbers 5-6, Luke 18

But he said, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." – Luke 18:27 ESV

It was literally impossible for the Israelites to maintain their holiness and purity before God. Sin and sickness, both inevitable outcomes of living in a fallen world, were going to be a constant part of their lives. And because God dwelt in their midst, the ramifications of their sinfulness and sickness were serious. Disease and disobedience both separated the people from God. The very existence of disease was a direct result of the entrance of sin into the world. Ultimately, disease and decay would lead to death. God gave Moses strict instructions about what to do with those who found themselves suffering from sickness or disease. They had to be removed from the camp. This was not an indication that their sickness was due to a specific sin they had committed, but a recognition that sickness was the inevitable byproduct of sin's presence in the world. God expected His people to remain pure, both spiritually and physically, if they wanted to enter into His presence. But as always, God provided a means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with Him, in spite of sickness or sin.

God even expected the marriages of His people to be pure and above reproach. He provided Moses with detailed instructions regarding how to determine whether a woman was guilty of adultery. It is interesting that in the "test" God provided, the hidden sin of the woman, when revealed, would result in sickness. In this case, her sickness would be proof of her sin. It is also interesting to note that the resulting sickness attacked the very organs that had been used to commit the sin in the first place. There is much about this passage that is inexplicable, but it is clear that God was dealing with sin among His people in a powerful and pronounced way. This "test", when witnessed by others, would more than likely prove to be an effective deterrent to further adultery in the camp.

In the closing part of chapter 6, God gives Moses a blessing to pronounce over the people. "The Lord bless you and keep you;the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26 ESV). This simple, yet profound blessing reminds us that, ultimately, it was up to God to bless the people. It was up to God to maintain His presence among them by dealing justly with the sins committed by them. It was up to God to provide them with peace, when their repeated sins and inevitable exposures to sickness would leave them alienated from God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God alone is the instigator, arbiter and maintainer of the relationship He has with mankind. It is He who seeks us and not the other way around. Left to our own devices, man will always seek a god of his own choosing. Man will tend to make his relationship with his god based on his own performance and acts of self-righteousness. In His dealings with the rich young ruler, Jesus clarifies that obedience to a set of rules is not enough. God is more interested in the heart than any human efforts aimed at good behavior. The rich ruler was convinced that he could somehow earn favor with God (i.e. eternal life) through some form of works. Of his own admission, he was a rule-follower and a commandment-keeper. But Jesus knew that he had a love affair with wealth. His money had become his god. So when Jesus challenged him to see all that he had and give the proceeds to the poor, the man walked away sad and dejected. Luke clarifies that the "was extremely rich." Then Jesus drops the bomb shell that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:25 ESV). This went against everything the disciples believed. In their society, wealth was thought to be a sign of God's blessing. So the disciples were shocked to hear Jesus' words and asked, "Then who can be saved?" (Luke 18:26 ESV). Jesus gives them an answer they would have never expected. "What is impossible with man is possible with God" (Luke 18:27 ESV).

It is God who saves, not man. It is God who does for man what man could never do for himself. Jesus was the solution to man's persistent problem regarding sin, sickness and death. Jesus came to deal with the ramifications of sin, replacing the punishment for sin with peace with God, turning the inevitable outcome of death into the unbelievable reality of eternal life. God would do the impossible.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man has always lived with the delusion that life can be lived apart from God. Even those who long for God, believe that He is little more than an objective to be pursued, a giver of gifts whose favor must be earned. They make God the means rather than the end. He becomes the resource to get what they really want: peace, prosperity, contentment, happiness, fulfillment, and significance. It is why man can make a god out of anything that even remotely seems to promise those things. But we can't earn favor with God. And we can't turn God into some kind of divine lottery ticket that we hope will grant us our heart's wildest desires. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus paints a picture of two individuals who represent much of mankind. One is the self-righteous Pharisee who views himself as above reproach and head-and-shoulders above his contemporaries in terms of his spirituality. The other is the humble tax collector who, painfully aware of his sin, calls on God to show him mercy.

It was impossible for the people of Israel to live up to God's exacting standards. They would and did continually fail. But God had provided a means of atoning for their inevitable sins and dealing with the inescapable reality of sickness. It is interesting to think about the fact that sickness was hard to hide. Skin disorders and diseases would inevitably reveal themselves to the rest of the faith community. And as soon as the sickness became apparent, it had to be dealt with. But sin can remain hidden for a long time, unobserved and not obvious to the faith community. Sin was like a cancer that was hidden, undetected among the people of God, slowly spreading and infecting the body over time.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God's call to holiness is impossible – without His help. I cannot save myself. But not only that, I can't sanctify myself. I can't live up to God's exacting standards and high expectations – if I try to do it in my own strength or if I attempt to rely on my own self-manufactured righteousness. Reading through the book of Numbers simply reminds just how holy our God really is. It reminds me just how far each of us falls short of His goal of holiness and righteousness. But with God, all things are possible. He can do for us what we could never have done on our own. He provided a Savior when I couldn't save myself. He provided the Holy Spirit to empower and guide me, when my strength was inadequate and my sense of direction was nowhere to be found. I was blind and He opened my eyes. I was sick and He healed me. I was sin-ridden and He cleansed me. I was condemned to death and He has given me eternal life. All things are possible with Him.

Father, thank You for being a God of the impossible. Nothing is too difficult for You. My life is a testament to Your goodness and grace. Any good that I do and any righteousness I display are Your doing, not mine. Like Paul, I say, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13 ESV). Amen

Servants of God.

Numbers 3-4, Luke 17

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty." – Luke 17:10 ESV

The Levites were God's chosen servants. They were His handpicked replacements, intended to stand in for all the first-born males who were to be dedicated to God each year. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, after having received the Law from God, he discovered the people worshiping the golden calf. Moses issued a call to the people, saying, "Who is on the Lord's side? Come to me" (Exodus 32:26 ESV). It was the sons of Levi who came to his aid. He commanded them to strap on their swords and act as God's hand of judgment upon the people. They obeyed and, as a result, nearly 3,000 Israelites died that day. In recognition of their obedience, Moses ordained them to the service of the Lord, "each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day" (Exodus 32:29 ESV).

These men, the Levites, would remain God's chosen servants. They served as guards over the tabernacle and all it contained. They served as carriers of all the materials that made up the tabernacle, transporting it from one camp to another during all the days they spent wandering in the wilderness. But they also served as redeemers. Each Levite was a substitute for another Jewish first-born male. God had intended for every first-born male from every family to be dedicated to his service, but the incident with the golden calf changed all that. Instead, God would allow the Levites to redeem the lives of the firstborn, serving in their place. These men were the consummate servants. They served God and they served men. They dedicated their lives to the ministry of the tabernacle. They played an integral role in the worship of God, ensuring that the tabernacle remained pure and holy, and helping provide a constant dwelling place for God and His presence during all the days they spent in the wilderness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Our knows and understands the heart of man. He is fully aware that man will always be prone to disorder and disobedience. Faithful allegiance on the part of men does not come naturally or willingly. But God is always faithful. He guaranteed His presence among His people and ensured that they would remember that He was their King and that they were dependent upon Him for everything. The Tabernacle was not just a place of worship and sacrifice, it was a constant reminder of their dependence upon God. It was not enough to simply have Him in their midst. The Tabernacle provided the means by which they could be assured of His continued presence as they faithfully atoned for their sins through obedience to His sacrificial requirements. The Tabernacle and the Levites traveled at the center of their company, and it was to be the erected at the center of their camp at the close of each day. The physical centrality of God's presence was to be a constant reminder of their need for God to be the spiritual focus of their lives as a people.

What does this passage reveal about man?

While God had been giving His Law to Moses, the people had been busy rebelling against Him and revealing the depth of their unfaithfulness to Him. Their own sin made their first-born sons unqualified to serve Him. But the sons of Levi had remained faithful. They had willingly stepped up and done what needed to be done to cleanse the sin from the midst of the people and satisfy the just demands of a holy God. So God made these men His servants. He dedicated the sons of Levi as permanent ministers in His tabernacle and among His people. Once again, in spite of man's sin, God provided an acceptable solution. When He could no longer accept the firstborn males because of their sinfulness, He allowed the Levites to act as substitutes, redeeming the lives of those who were unacceptable for service.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The Levites were set apart by God. They had specific responsibilities and duties that were essential to the worship of God. Their roles were vital to ensuring that God's presence remained with the people. The tasks they had to perform were not glamorous or prone to make their fellow Israelites jealous. They were guards of the holy things of God. They were porters and packers, making sure that the tabernacle of God, which housed the presence of God, traveled along with the people of God. In the book of Luke, Jesus gives an interesting commentary on servants. He asks His disciples, "Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly,  and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?" (Luke 17:7-8 ESV). Jesus goes on to say, "Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?" (Luke 17:9 ESV).

Within this same passage, we see Jesus telling His disciples to beware of temptation. He assures them that it will come, but to make sure that they are not the source of temptation. Instead, they are to rebuke a brother who sins. If he repents, they are to forgive him. And even if this brother sins against them seven times in a single day, and each times repents, they must forgive him. As servants of God, the disciples were being asked to do what He expected of them. Humbly and expecting no form of thanks. They were to obey, remembering that they were "unworthy servants" who served a holy and worthy God. There is to be a humility to the servant of God. There is also to be a gratefulness. When Jesus healed the ten lepers, only one returned to express praise to God. He didn't deserve healing, but he knew enough to acknowledge the One who provided it. Humility and gratefulness are the marks of a true servant of God. The Levites served without fanfare and probably received little in the way of thanks. Their roles were difficult and they had no choice in the matter. They were expected to do what God had assigned them to do. And they had to do it well – without complaint, in humbleness, and grateful for the opportunity to serve a holy, mighty God. That is the way I should live my life as a servant and son of the Most High God.

Father, Your Son came to serve, not be served. May I live with that same attitude of sacrifice and selflessness. I want to serve You faithfully and well, humbly and gratefully. Thank You for choosing me to serve You and Your people. Continue to show me how to do it with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen

Making God Central.

Numbers 1-2, Luke 16

Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses and Aaron: “When the Israelites set up camp, each tribe will be assigned its own area. The tribal divisions will camp beneath their family banners on all four sides of the Tabernacle, but at some distance from it. – Leviticus 2:1-2 ESV

As the Israelites prepare to make their way to the Promised Land, God prepared them in two ways. First, He had Moses take a census by tribe, to determine just how many men of fighting age were available. Then He gave them strict orders regarding how they were to make camp each night by tribe, surrounding the Tabernacle, which was to be kept at the center of their camp. He also instructed them how they were to march each day with two tribes leading the way and two tribes bringing up the read, with the Tabernacle safely placed in the center. God was to be kept at the center of their community at all times, whether they were camped for the night or marching by day. The Levites were exempt from mandatory military service so that they could protect and provide for the Tabernacle. Each night, they would be divided into groups of four, and they would set up their camps on all four sides of the Tabernacle, providing a protective barrier between the various tribes and God's holy presence. The divine presence of God was not to be taken lightly or treated contemptuously. He was the key to their existence and their survival. Without Him, they would have been just another nomadic nation, attempting to survive in a harsh environment. It was God's presence that provided the food they needed, the protection they required, the daily guidance they depended upon, and the power they would have to have if they were to conquer the enemies occupying the land of promise.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Our knows and understands the heart of man. He is fully aware that man will always be prone to disorder and disobedience. Faithful allegiance on the part of men does not come naturally or willingly. But God is always faithful. He guaranteed His presence among His people and ensured that they would remember that He was their King and that they were dependent upon Him for everything. The Tabernacle was not just a place of worship and sacrifice, it was a constant reminder of their dependence upon God. It was not enough to simply have Him in their midst. The Tabernacle provided the means by which they could be assured of His continued presence as they faithfully atoned for their sins through obedience to His sacrificial requirements. The Tabernacle and the Levites traveled at the center of their company, and it was to be the erected at the center of their camp at the close of each day. The physical centrality of God's presence was to be a constant reminder of their need for God to be the spiritual focus of their lives as a people.

What does this passage reveal about man?

But men are easily distracted and prone to make other things the focus of their lives. We have seen how the Pharisees of Jesus' day had made rule-keeping and ritualism the center of their religious world. It had become less about God than about their ability to keep a set of rules. The focus had become their own self-righteous efforts, rather than the holiness and righteousness of God. In Luke 16, Jesus gives a series of parables regarding money and wealth. Repeatedly, He uses the terms rich, poor, wealth, riches, and money. Jesus knew the high priority wealth and material things held in the economy of His day. For the Jews, wealth had become a sign of God's blessing. Riches were a symbol of significance and worth. To be poor was considered to be a curse and a sign of God's punishment. And yet, Jesus recognized that the people of God had made money their god. They had ignored the warnings found in the Proverbs regarding wealth. "Don't wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit" (Proverbs 23:4 NLT). "The trustworthy person will get a rich reward, but a person who wants quick riches will get into trouble" (Proverbs 28:20 ESV).

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had warned, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19-20 ESV). He knew there was a prevailing problem among God's people of making money and the pursuit of it the central focus of their lives. They believed that wealth was the key to contentment. They believed money was the cure-all for all problems. But Jesus warned that material things could actually become a barrier between man and God. He said, "No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Luke 16:13 ESV). Divided allegiance. There was nothing inherently wrong with money. But when men make it their god, it produces all kinds of problems.

Paul provides a wonderful commentary on the problem of making money our god. "But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, andwe cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs" (1 Timothy 6:6-10 ESV). It is the LOVE of money that is the issue. We are to love God. Wealth can be a tool to accomplish God's will. Material things can be instruments in the hand of the individual who loves God and be used to further His Kingdom.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

As a child of God, my true treasure lies elsewhere. The things of this world were never meant to be my focus. I was never intended to fall in love with the things of this world. John reminds us, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15 ESV). I can't love the things of this world and love God at the same time. That is divided allegiance. If I love this world and all it offers, I will fail to love God in the way He demands. I will fail to love others as He has commanded me to love them. My love of money will prevent me from loving God and man. Keeping God the central focus of my life is essential if I am going to live and love the way He intended me to. Had the Israelites failed to keep the Tabernacle at the center of their camp, they would have missed out on His presence and failed to experience His power. Had they neglected to set up the Tabernacle in the center of their camp each night, they would have squandered their only means of making atonement and receiving forgiveness for their sins. Nothing was to take the place of or become a higher priority than the presence of God. He had to remain the central focus of their lives. And the same is true for me today. I must constantly be on the lookout for anything and everything that I might be tempted to take the place of God as the central focus of my life.

Father, help me keep You at the center of my life at all time. Forgive me when I make material things more important than You. Forgive me when I mistakenly convince myself that more of anything, other than You, might make me happier, more content, more secure, or more significant. You alone are all I need. Anything else You graciously allow me to enjoy in this life, whether wealth or health, is a gift to be used for Your glory and the good of others, not to satisfy my own selfish desires.  Amen

A Future Perspective and A Corporate Concern.

Numbers 36

Just as the LORD had commanded Moses, so the daughters of Zelophehad did. – Numbers 36:10 NLT

The book of Numbers ends on a seemingly strange note with the story of the five daughters of Zelophehad. According to the law of inheritance, these women would be given the land of their father Zelophehad, since they had no brothers. But the tribe of Manasseh brought up a potential problem to Moses. Since these women were going to inherit the land of their father upon his death, what would prevent them from marrying a man from another tribe and the land then transferring ownership from one tribe to another? In other words, what would happen if the heiress to her father's property married someone from a different tribe? In that case the land of their father would become the property of another tribe and the tribal allotments would become intermixed and confused.

God had a solution to this problem, but this chapter raises another interesting question: Why did God have Moses end the book of Numbers with this story? Why was the entire book concluded with a story about the daughters of Zelophehad? I think it has to do with a couple of things. First of all, the book of Numbers is about the future. From the very outset, it has been a history of the people of Israel and their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, but the real focus was not on the past or the present, but the future. As the book closes, the concern behind the question that the tribe of Manasseh raises has to do with the future. They seem to understand that this is a long-term situation. The land they are all inheriting is not just for those who are living at that time, but for future generations. There is a future aspect to this matter that causes them to be concerned and speak up.

The other issue is that this is not about the individual. While it was wonderful that these daughters were going to be able to inherit the land of their father, it ultimately was not about them. It was not even just about their tribe. It was about the people of God. And God's concern was for the corporate well-being of His people. If these women had been left free to marry whoever they wanted to, the allotment of the land could have been potentially altered with dramatic consequences for the future. One tribe could have ended up with more land than another. Jealousy and fighting between the tribes could have resulted. So God comes up with a plan by which the daughters are free to marry, but within certain constraints. They had to marry someone from within their own tribe.

In our world of independence and self-centered philosophy, this concern for the corporate good is foreign to us. It's all about me! I have to do what is best for me. The thought of sacrificing for the team is unheard of these days. Even our sports stars are all about themselves. Self-promotion and self-preservation are the norm. But God reminds us that it isn't all about us. It is about the family of God. And while we are to live in the moment, we are to keep our eyes focused on the future. If not, we can develop a live-for-the-moment mentality that sacrifices the future for pleasures of today. The daughters of Zelophehad weren't willing to do that. They did just as Moses directed them. They obeyed. They understood that God had their best interests and the interests of the people of God in mind. And they lived with their eyes on the future. Which is what each of us is called to do as children of God. It isn't all about me and my happiness. This is about the people of God. This is about the future. Any sacrifice God calls me to make is for the good of the team.

Father, it has always been about the future for You. You have the end in mind. I can get caught up in the here and now and lose sight of the finished work You have in mind. I can also become so self-focused that I forget that You have a plan for the people of God as a whole. It is not all about me. Give me a future perspective and a corporate concern that allows me to listen to You instead of my own selfish desires. Amen


A Place of Refuge.

Numbers 35

These cities are for the protection of Israelites, resident foreigners, and traveling merchants. Anyone who accidentally kills someone may flee there for safety. – Numbers 35:15 NLT

The cities of refuge. God instructed Moses to set aside six different cities, spread throughout the land of Canaan, and designate them as cities of refuge. Occupied by Levites, these cities were strategically placed and easily accessible from all parts of the land. Their purpose was to provide a safe-haven to anyone who had accidentally committed murder.  In other words, if an Israelite inadvertently and unintentionally caused the death of a fellow Israelite, he could flee to one of these cities and seek refuge from the avenger. It was up to the relatives of a murdered individual to seek vengeance. This "blood avenger" (Numbers 35:19) was not just free to kill the murdered, he was obligated to do so (Numbers 35:19, 21). It was his duty. He was called the "avenger of blood."

But in order to prevent the blood avenger from taking the life of an innocent man, the cities of refuge were established. If a man accidentally killed someone else, he could run to one of these cities and hide. As long as he was there, he was protected from the blood avenger. It was up to the residents of the city (mostly Levites) to help determine whether this individual was a manslayer or murderer. If it was determined that he had killed the other premeditatedly and intentionally, he was to be handed over to the blood avenger who could seek retribution. But if it was determined that the death was unintentional and accidental, then the "manslayer" would be allowed to stay in the city of refuge until the high priest died. In essence, the city became his prison. If he ever left, he would be guilty of violating his sentence and the blood avenger could seek his death. All of this sounds very barbaric to us, but you have to remember that Israel had no police force for carrying out justice or enforcing laws. Murder was wrong and justice must be served. Killing someone accidently also had to be dealt with, but in a different manner. So that is why these cities were established. God was protecting the innocent.

So what does all this have to do with us? What lessons can we learn from this chapter? Well, the cities of refuge are a picture of Christ. He provides shelter for the sinner from judgment. We all stand guilty before God. We are condemned sinners, and as such, we deserve judgment. Yet God has provided a place of refuge, a place where we can run and seek shelter and protection from the blood avenger. Rather than having to fear condemnation, we find protection in Christ. "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1 NLT).

In the case of someone seeking refuge in one of these cities, if they remained there until the high priest died, they were forgiven for their sin. They walked away free and clear. The death of the high priest had atoning value just as Jesus death for us atones for our sins. No one could accuse this person once the high priest had died. And we stand as unaccused and uncondemned because of what Christ has done for us. "Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? Will Christ Jesus? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and is sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, pleading for us" (Romans 8:33-34 NLT).

We can take refuge in Christ. He is our high priest and He has died for us. His death has set us free once and for all. "God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. So God has given us both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promise with confidence. This confidence is like a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain of heaven into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the line of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:17-20 NLT).

Father, You have provided Your Son as my city of refuge. I have run to Him and He has died in my place. His death atoned for my sins and as a result, I stand uncondemned before You. I was once guilty, but now I am forgiven. Thank You. Amen


Occupy the Land!

Numbers 33-34

…you must drive out all the people living there. You must destroy all their carved and molten images and demolish all their pagan shrines. Take possession of the land and settle in it, because I have given it to you to occupy. – Numbers 33:52-53 NLT

They're almost there. The day they've been waiting for so long is about to arrive. The people of God stand on the edge of the Promised Land and are just days away from entering it. It has been a long time in coming. There has been a lengthy (40 year) delay, but now it's time to enjoy what God had promised so long ago, way back in the land of Egypt. But as with most things associated with God, the blessing is tied to a requirement. He has one last instruction to give them before they enter and occupy the land. And it is a pretty significant requirement. They must drive out all the people who are living there. On top of that they have to destroy all their idols and pagan shrines erected to the gods of the land. They've got to smash every idol they find. In other words, they've got to clean house before they set up house. Sounds simple enough doesn't it? But if you're the least bit familiar with the story of the Israelites, they didn't exactly follow God's instructions to the letter. They took a few liberties. It's almost as if the enemy (Satan) was standing there just like he was in the garden of Eden, asking the question, "Surely, God has not said…"

I can just hear Satan whispering in their ears, "You don't have to get rid of ALL the idols, just most of them." Or maybe he worded his temptation this way, "You might want to leave one of the pagan shrines intact, just in case Yahweh doesn't come through for you." And as far as ridding the land of all its occupants, Satan probably did his best to convince the people of God just how politically incorrect and insensitive this kind of thing could come across to the rest of the people in the region. "You don't want to get off on the wrong foot with your neighbors, do you?"

And God seemed to know that the people would have second thoughts about His command, so He warned them what would happen if they failed to obey."But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live. And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them" (Numbers 33:55-56 NLT). Disobey me, God says, and you will live to regret it. This is not a suggestion, but a command. God expects them to do what He says. He has a good reason for what He is asking them to do. He knows exactly what will happen if they choose to disobey Him. And its not good. If they fail to remove the land's occupants, they will become a constant threat and a thorn in their side. They will not learn to live amicably together. Cleansing was critical for spiritual survival.

In his commentary on the book of Numbers, Dr. Thomas Constable has this to say, "The repetition of 'all' (Numbers 33:52) stresses the importance of completely clearing the land of its inhabitants and their religious paraphernalia. God wanted to clean up the land spiritually and to make it a 'holy land.' The land was a gift from God to His first-born son, Israel (Numbers 33:53). God warned the Israelites what would happen to them if they were not completely obedient (Numbers 333:55-56). The Canaanites would be a constant source of irritation to them, and God would deal with His people as He planned to deal with the Canaanites."

God wanted to clean up the land spiritually and make it a holy land. That reminds me of what God wants to do with my life. He wants to clean it up spiritually and make it holy. He is about removing anything and everything in my life that would defile or defeat me. He wants to clean house. But I tend to want to hang on to certain remnants of my past. I want to give the enemy some footholds in my life where he can live at peace. I want to keep some of the idols that were there before God came to occupy the land. I find the idols comforting. They bring me a little bit of peace and assurance. But God wants to purge my life of any vestiges of the past. He wants to make all things new. To receive all the blessings the Promised Land had to offer, the people had to obey God fully. The same thing is true for us today. To enjoy all the blessings out new life in Christ offers, we must obey God fully. God makes this clear in His Word.

"…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception." – Ephesians 4:22 NLT

"Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire." – Colossians 3:9 MSG

"The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So don’t live in darkness. Get rid of your evil deeds. Shed them like dirty clothes. Clothe yourselves with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light. We should be decent and true in everything we do, so that everyone can approve of our behavior. Don’t participate in wild parties and getting drunk, or in adultery and immoral living, or in fighting and jealousy. But let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you, and don’t think of ways to indulge your evil desires." – Romans 13:12-14 NLT

God is looking for change. He wants us to purge and purify. To rid the landscape of our lives from any and all vestiges of the past. If we do, we will be blessed. If we don't, we will always find ourselves doing battle with past enemies and tempted to worship former idols. Cleansing is the key to blessing.

Father, show me the idols in my life that I have left up. Open my eyes and help me see any enemies I have left occupying the landscape of my life. I want to clean house. I want to enter the land of Your promise and enjoy all the blessings You have in store for me. But I know I have some house cleaning to do. Amen