Tag: Numbers

The Long, Long Awaited Promise

When Moses sent in his 12 spies, only two of them came back with a good report. Caleb and Joshua. Joshua took the mantle of leadership from Moses while Caleb was passed over for that role. But when the time came to send in spies again, Caleb was called on once more. And once more he believed the Lord.

40 years passed between these two incidences. 40 years.

After the first show of faith, Caleb was promised (Num 13:24) to inherit the land that his fellow spies didn’t believe God could give them, and then he had to wait. And wait. And wait.

This is how it can feel sometimes, isn’t it? we feel like God is leading us somewhere, we get a glimpse of our own “Promised Land” and then we are asked to wait. Doors close in front of us. I, myself, feel like this happened to me for about 4 years while God was preparing to bring me back into ministry. But while the wait for God’s faithfulness to come through often feels… long, He knows better than we do why the fulfilment of that promise will come when it does.

Israel had to wait through 400 years of prophetic silence for John the Baptist to show up on the scene and herald their long-awaited messiah. Abraham was shown told about the Promised Land — again — 400 years before his descendants would actually possess it WELL after his death.

What I am saying is that while the waiting is indeed the hardest part, it is worth it. When the fulfillment finally comes it is incredible to look back at the path you’ve come down and how thoroughly it has prepared you for what lies ahead.

Be blessed today, friends.

Joshua 12:7-15:12 | 085/365

Murder, Manslaughter, and Witnesses

It is interesting to me that God explicitly says that if someone murders another person. The definition of murder in the Bible is essentially the same one we use today. This is because the Bible is the basis for the Western justice system1. In this particular passage — Numbers 35 — we deal with the death of one person at the hands of another and how that is to be handled.

Someone could only be convicted of murder if there were at least two witnesses. No one dies on a he-said-she-said. And then, if someone was convicted of murder, the victim’s nearest relative would be responsible for carrying out the execution. And God was very clear, no murder can be allowed to live2.

But in the case of an accidental death, God gave the guilty (yes, they are still guilty, just not of murder) party the Cities of Refuge in which to flee. This is interesting to me. The Israelites do not have prisons per se, but God has created these sort-of minimum security towns where the guilty can serve out their “sentence”. Away from their tribe, their family, and their friends. They will live among the priests for a time. But with a very serious caveat. If they LEAVE the City of Refuge, they are now guilty of murder and are subject under the law to death.

God was deeply concerned with His people taking death seriously. We are made in the image of the almighty. We cannot allow ourselves to be flippant about this fact. Image-bearers of God should be respected and treated with all due care. What image-bearers do we not care about as a society? As individuals?

Numbers 34-36 | 070/365
  1. https://scholarship.law.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=2541&context=lawreview ↩︎
  2. This would be vociferously attacked by some today. God is perfect and holy. Not capricious and random. We cannot out-justice, out-mercy, or out-love God. ↩︎

Splinters & Thorns

Today’s devotional is a quick one. While the desire of Reuben and Gad to settle OUTSIDE of the Promised Land is a curious one, what stood out to me the most from today’s reading is the final two verses. Numbers 33:55-56:

55 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. 56 And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them.”

God is warning the Israelites that if they do not do what they are told, to totally set themselves apart the influences of the surrounding culture will contaminate them. The Canaanites will be like splinters and thorns. Irritants that will prevent you from ever feeling comfortable and settled. They will cause peace to elude you.

I wonder if maybe we need to hear this today. Jesus called us to be in the world, but not of the world1. How much influence do we allow the world to have on us? We are called into the mission field of our nations, our cities, our neighbourhoods, our workplaces/schools, maybe even our homes. But in which direction is the influence flowing?

It may not seem like it, but this is a life-or-death question. Because if we do not set ourselves apart for God, but rather allow the influences of this world to rule us, change us, and conform us… then the judgement of God out of which we were asked to lead others will be visited upon us. When our hearts grow cold and far from God, He will have no choice but to turn us over to the fate we have chosen through our rejection of Him.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58
Numbers 32-33 | 069/365
  1. John 17:14-16 ↩︎

Submission to the Lord’s Judgement

God decides it is time to visit His judgement on the Midianites. The tribes of Israel each prepare 1000 fighting men. 12,000 in total. This is far less than the total fighting personnel available. And they easily defeat the Midianites. All 5 kings fall in the battle. A sobering reminder of what could have been in the promised land if the Israelites had trusted God as prompted by Caleb and Joshua.

But it gets interesting when the soldiers return with the women and children as prisoners, or servants, or whatever the law allowed. Moses and Eleazar were furious and told the soldiers to kill the boys and any non-virgin women. But why?

The women part is pretty simple: these were the women who tried to draw their hearts away from God. And He had already pronounced His judgement on them. They could not be spared. They played a crucial part in the idolatry of Israel.

But why the boys? Because the judgement was carried out on the Midianites. And in that culture the boys passed down the lineage. So as long as these boys lived, so too did the Midianites. They had to die for God’s judgement to be completed. On an apologetic note, it is worth mentioning that these boys could well have been very young. Under the age of accountability. If so, I think it is reasonable that God visited an earthly judgement upon them, but then received them to Himself. They might well be in Heaven and we might expect to be able to talk with them when we get there.

When event like this come up in the Bible we like to get outraged, furrow our brows and click our tongues and say (to ourselves or others)… God should have done [your idea here].

Remember that God has an eternal perspective and knows everything. In fact, He knows MORE than everything, He knows everything that would have been, had circumstances been different. He can account for any counterfactual you can imagine. The takeaway is this:

You can’t out-justice God. You can’t out-mercy God. You can’t out-love God. If you and He disagree, you are the one who is wrong.

Mar 10 | Num 30-31 | 068/365

Are Women Entitled to Anything?

Why do this trio of sisters have to go to nomadic Israel’s equivalent of the Supreme Court to get a ruling on whether or not they can have their father’s inheritance? When reading accounts like this it can be easy to wear our modern lenses and wonder what is wrong with these weird, backward, chauvinists! But the fact is that God is trying to communicate with these people in a language they understand. The idea of a “tradwife” has recently gained some favour in the popular culture. It is essentially an embracing of the “homemaker” role. This is a role that was the primary role of women for centuries. And it’s easy to see why1; women tend to be more interested in people, and men tend to be more interested in things2.

This really only started to shift as modern life was made easier through the use of appliances, amenities and inventions. The advent of the vacuum cleaner, the dishwasher, the washing machine, indoor plumbing, and even the furnace have all made housekeeping some factor more streamlined than it was even 50 or 100 years ago, never mind 6000 years ago! The public school system only started in around 1600 and even then didn’t really gain mass tracking until some time in the 1800s.3 And even the advent of things like infant formula have given mothers the ability to be away from their children in a way that simply wasn’t feasible before. Add to that the invention of the birth control pill… and legal, on-demand abortion… and suddenly women had a level of control that they had never before known.

This is the world that we all know. And have know for the last 50+ years.

None of this was true back then. Couples had very little control over reproduction, children were taught and fed at home. Laundry would have been washed on rocks in running water. And keeping the home warm and the children safe meant someone had to be there to do those things. And this naturally fell to women who tend to be more disposed to childcare and so were home anyway. Men were out farming, and ranching, and killing things to eat. And as the workers, men were also expected to be the providers in a way that we tend not to expect in today’s dual-income families.

What does this have to do with today’s passage? Men were expected to provide. Be it father, husbands, or brothers. They were to take care of their families. So daughters would be taken care of by their husbands (and the inheritances of their husband’s fathers). Since men had an explicit duty to care for the women in their lives, the inheritances were given to them. But in this case there are unmarried, brother-less daughters and an inheritance to be given.

And the men in charge don’t know what to do about this. They can’t give this inheritance to… women!? Can they? The horror!

Here we see so clearly how God is trying to bring people along with a slow, steady, progressive revelation. He’s not tearing the whole system down, just redirecting the people’s effort toward something useful. Trying to help them understand Him using a framework they understand. He really is trying to be gracious. But ultimately God rules as we would today in our modern convenience culture. Of course the women can have their father’s inheritance. It is theirs.

So when you feel like God is being unfair toward women, remember that He is trying to bring change about in a hard-hearted people who can’t even stay faithful to the God who freed them from slavery. In some cases they can’t even stay faithful for 24 hours4!

Numbers 27-29 | 067/365

  1. I am not advocating for this role or position. I do not believe it is a necessary part of conservatism, nor do I believe that conservatism is the ideal socio-political position for the Christian to assume. Conservatism is only a good as what is trying to be conserved, and progressivism is only as bad as what it is trying to move toward. ↩︎
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19883140/ ↩︎
  3. 1800s in the US. It would take even longer than that in other parts of the world. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Elementary_school ↩︎
  4. Numbers 16:41 ↩︎

The Ultimate STD

Balaam refuses to curse Israel because the Lord is with them. All good, right? Well, Balaam is worried about them dolla-dolla bills, and they are on the line because he was unable to give the King of Moab what he was after. So he concocts a plot to draw the Israelites away from their God and — thus ‚ His protection (cf. Rev 2:14). His plan? To use the potent male libido against the Israelites. The King of Moab sent down women to seduce the Hebrew men and draw their hearts away from God.

Things get a little confusing here as the author doesn’t provide as many details as I would like to see attached to this story (unlike the census information in the following chapter, very robust and complete). So stick with me as I try to tease this out…

Some of the Israelites are engaging in ritual sexual intercourse with Moabites, Midianites, and other worshippers of Baal. This was… not great. So God tells Moses to round up the leaders who were sending their people astray. While there is some contention about what this word “leaders” means (some suggest “ringleaders”, others suggest that these are the leaders Moses appointed in Exodus 18:5 to watch over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens) but I favour the ringleader reading, only because it makes a clear differentiation between these leaders and the judges. So, Moses tells his judges (I think these are the men from Exodus 18:5) to gather up the ringleaders of this rebellion within their cohort of responsibility, kill them, and display their bodies before the people.

While that is happening, God has sent a plague to kill those who are engaging in ritual sexual intercourse and worship of the fertility god Baal. Hence the title of today’s devotional. One particularly egregious example of which is this fellow who take a Midianite girl right into his tent WHILE Moses and the leaders and discussing what needs to be done to address this situation. So Phinehas charges in and spears the guy — not like Goldberg, more like a javelin — and also the girl underneath him. They must have gotten right down to business. And with this decisive act, God was satisfied that the issue would be handled with due seriousness and decisiveness, so that he stopped the plague.

Of course, I also suspect that this was divine timing, because God’s plague had already done its work.

So what do we take from this?

I think we can see how rebellion tests leadership. How we (you, me, whoever) deal with open rebellion against the authority and responsibility God has given us will show what kind of leaders we are.

So grab your spears, people! Let’s go heresy-hunting! <- NO. DO NOT DO THAT.

But while I think the time for capital punishment has passed, we should still give rebellion its due weight. Do we stand by and allow things to occur right under our noses, or do we boldly step out and address it? Do we turn a blind eye to sin in the name of some misguided altruism, or are we willing to sacrifice a human relationship to preserve a divine one?

Satan wants to draw us away from God. It probably won’t be clear and obvious that he is doing so. Satan certainly will not be TELLING us that is his plan, but instead he is okay to play the long game and draw us away slowly. Don’t allow that to happen. Stand watch. Be on guard. Be prepared to fight. Keep your sword1 at the ready!

Numbers 25-26 | 066/365
  1. Sword of the Spirit, that is. ↩︎

A Fickle God?

Today’s devotional is more of an apologetic concerning one of the more confusing exchanges in the Old Testament. Balak, the King of Moab sends a contingent down to get the prophet Balaam. Apparently a well-known man among the leaders of the region, he was able to commune with the gods. One wonders what he did when dealing with gods who were NOT Yahweh. Since they do not exist and were unable to answer him in any meaningful way. I suspect he was able to give most people what they wanted, since the imaginary gods of the region wouldn’t put up much of an argument. Balaam could likely leave most of his customers feeling happy.

In this case, though, he is commissioned to speak a curse over the nation of Israel. He goes to the one true God and the reply is simple: don’t go with these men. Which is what Balaam conveys. However, Balak was not so easily dissuaded. He sent another, larger contingent of even more important people who offered Balaam even more money to come and pronounce a curse over Israel. What follows is my attempt to reconcile what seems to be a fickle God changing His mind with what we know should be a steadfast God who is immutable. We also need to consider the principle that Scripture Interprets Scripture. So we have to account for 2 Peter 2:15 & Jude 1:11 as well.

Balaam goes back to God after talking with the entourage and it seems God has changed His position, now saying, “If they come to call you, go”. But then when he does go with them, God puts an Angel is his path to block his way. We know that God doesn’t change His mind, and we know that Balaam was motivated by greed (Peter/Jude), so putting it all together, I think we get this:

  1. Balaam is told by God to not go with them.
  2. A great deal of money is offered so Balaam goes back to God.
  3. God says IF they come for you, you may go.
  4. Balaam goes to them before they can come to him.
  5. God shows Balaam the error he has made, yet offers grace.
  6. Balaam truthfully shares what God said, and so was denied his treasures.

The takeaway is this: if God has given you an answer, don’t go back to Him again a if He is some kind of slot machine that might provide a different outcome if you only ask again. God will let you do your thing if that’s what you really want… but is it?

Numbers 22-24 | 065/365

The Tale of the Bronze Serpent

This particular episode in Numbers is a fascinating one, I think, especially considering this incident with the snake statue is cited by Jesus himself immediately before the most famous verse in all of Scripture, John 3:16. So the question becomes: what’s with the snake idol? And why did God choose that as the thing to bring healing?

The funny thing is that the snake as a form, I think is only to remind the people of what caused this issue. The actual healing is the cool part of this. It seems at first blush like some weird voodoo magic thing. But — as I love to highlight — our God is super practical.

Turns out that when a snake bites you (depending of course on how much venom was injected) your body will try to fight off the venom by itself, but typically people will freak out, which raises their heart rate. Not good. And the temptation might also be to try and get somewhere or do something, which also would bring the heart rate up. Also not good. So what does our practical God do?

He tells the people to look upon (רָאָה) the snake. This word means to gaze upon, to consider, to ponder. This is God having the people stop, focus, slow their circulation rate and let their bodies work to heal the poison. Now it’s certainly possible that God also provided some miraculous intervention, and while I do not discount this, I also don’t think it’s necessary.

I think this is a good reminder of what an amazingly practical God we serve, and how he has designed us from the beginning with thoughtfulness, foresight, and care.

Numbers 19-21 | 064/365

Lack of Faith is Rebellion

12 scouts are sent into the promised land, all 12 agree that the land is incredible and rich in resources. But only one, Caleb of the tribe of Judah thinks they can actually take the land. When 10 of the other scouts start spreading a bad report about the trip and telling all the people of Israel that they people are giants who will crush them like grasshoppers, Joshua joins Caleb in saying that with God in their side, they can take the land.

But the people refused to be convinced. Rather than acknowledge that God delivered them OUT of the powerful nation of Egypt and can therefore deliver them INTO the smaller, less powerful land of Canaan… they leave God out of the calculus entirely!

WE can’t do it. WE are like grasshoppers. WE will die. WE. WE. WE.

It feels crazy to me after witnessing all they had in Egypt, after being led around by pillars of smoke and fire, they still don’t have faith in God to provide for them! And when God has called us into something and has asked us to trust Him and we know it, to refuse is rebellion. And rebellion is sin.

If you know God is calling you into something, even if it’s scary or unknown, do it. He won’t lead you astray. And you may just find that it will turn into the blessing of a lifetime! If you don’t, not only are you missing out on God’s best, but you are rejecting His gift and His goodness. You are in rebellion against God.

Whose will be done?

Mar 3 | Num 14-15 | 062/365

Rabble Rousers

In Numbers 11 we see a group of discontents bad-mouthing God’s provision. They wanted more than manna, they wanted meat! “If He truly loved us, He would give us what we WANT, not merely what we need!” and this sentiment spread among the people. We have very little trouble becoming self-focused. We are actually quite good at it.

If I’m being honest, I don’t really understand why they needed God to provide above what he had already given them, we know they had herds and livestock, and we know in the case of AT LEAST Peace Offerings, they ate those animals.

In either case, God decided to give the people what they wanted. I’ve heard it said that “God is a gentleman”, in that He will not force His will upon you (my Calvinist brothers and sisters would disagree, so for their sake, maybe I’ll just say it’s explained by “tension”). Essentially this means that if we do not come before God and pray, “let Your will be done”, then He will — with great sadness — give you over to the desires of Your heart and let your will be done.

Such is the case here. God sent the Israelites an exceptional amount of quail. And they caught it and ate it and they were fat and satisfied… until it made them sick. And more than that, the instigators DIED as a result of this tainted bird.

Don’t spit on God’s provision. He has giving you what you need to accomplish His will. Be satisfied with what you have and steward it well. If you do, then He will continue to trust you with more and more. But if you chose to complain about what God has done, don’t be surprised if He stops giving you gifts that you don’t appreciate anyway.

Mar 2 | Num 11-13 | 061/365