Numbers - The Journey
Numbers – The Journey
After 40 years the Israelites were nearly home. The long-awaited land of Canaan, promised 500 years earlier to Abraham, was just across the Jordan River. But first, there was a not-insignificant matter to be resolved concerning the land rights of women who had no brothers. Would they be able to share in the family inheritance? And if they did, what would happen to their land if they married a man from a different tribe? Clearly, sharing in God’s promised land was the ultimate priority for every Israelite. For Christians today our inheritance awaits, promised to us by God, not an earthly inheritance but one that is kept in heaven for us “that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4). Are we just as eager to lay hold of this inheritance as we look to the end of our life’s journey?
Israel is near the end of their journey from Sinai to the promised land. The have already conquered some of the lands to the east of the Jordan River and they are poised to cross over the Jordan and begin the conquest to take the promised land of Canaan on the western side of the river. Then some of the tribes make a suggestion which at first seems innocuous, but it has the potential to discourage the rest of God’s people away from pursuing God’s plan to enter the promised land. In our walk of faith, and we move towards the promised land of eternal life, there are similar temptations to compromise. We forget what we’re aiming at, what our destination is, and we fall short. Even when we don’t realise it, often our compromises discourage others. In order to reach our heavenly destination, we must beware of being too pragmatic (“If it works, it must be right!”) and instead test ‘good ideas’ against the clear instructions of Scripture. We must keep our eyes fixed on our eternal destination. And we must do everything to encourage others to get there too.
Jesus told us to love our enemies, so how do we reconcile this with God specifically ordering the Israelites to annihilate other nations, as we have in today’s passage? There is no neat answer to this difficult question. But in this message Pastor Murray meets it head on. One thing we can be sure of is that God has not changed. And his abhorrence of sin means that his coming judgement of our generation is just as certain as it was for people 3500 years ago. The Christian life is an ongoing battle against sin and compromise. Holiness matters to God. Does it matter to you?
There are times in life when we have to pause and do a personal stocktake. A big decision? A change in direction? A risky choice? The Israelites faced one of these moments in their history as they camped on the edge of the promised land on the plains of Moab. The old generation had died and now a new generation had to decide whether to take on the scary challenge of conquering the Canaanites. As they regrouped under a new leader, God reminded them of His ongoing faithfulness. Would they trust and obey Him? Would they worship Him? As we face new challenges in our lives, will we?
Numbers 25 is the crazy story of a priest driving a spear through an adulterous, idol-worshipping couple, and in so doing, turning aside the wrath of God from the whole community of Israel. We learn that at the root of all sin is idolatry, that sin is serious and so making atonement for sin requires extreme measures. And so we are prompted to consider what idols we are yoking ourselves to, to confront sin in our lives and what it will take to cut sin off, but it also causes us to be amazed at what God has done for us in Christ, and to look forward to a new creation where we will no longer battle with sin.
There are times in life, especially when we are nervous or afraid, when we need to be reassured that God is with us. In today’s passage we see how God did this for the Israelites in a rather remarkable way – using a foreign king, a pagan clairvoyant and a talking donkey! God can use anyone or anything to make get His message across. And what a word it was! Through Balaam God assured the Israelites that He was their faithful God who would honour all His promises to them and bless them. The same God makes promises to us, His redeemed people, today. Are you facing difficulties? Is your faith wavering? Then this message is for you.
God’s gracious provision of an instant sin offering to cure the uncleanness of his people reminds us that in Christ we have one who cleanses us not externally and temporarily, but internally and eternally.
Throughout history there have been many famous examples of people who have openly defied God. When Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, he was actually defying God Himself. What God did to Korah and his followers is a frightening warning to anyone who would arrogantly reject His appointed leaders. Still today God is looking for people who will live holy lives, humbly submitted to His authority, and approaching Him in the only acceptable way – through the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest.
The people of Israel have brazenly rebelled against God by not going into the land. And we find ourselves asking, “Where to from here?” “After this kind of failure, how will God’s people continue in relationship with him?” Numbers 15 outlines a series of offerings they are to make and things they are to do once they enter the Promised Land which will remind them that not only did they start their journey because of God’s grace, but each step is taken only by God’s grace. We who have been saved by God’s grace through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus also fail and rebel. And likewise, we are only able to continue in relationship with God on the basis of his continued grace.
The end was almost in sight. The journey should have been over. A land “flowing with milk and honey” was theirs for the taking. Yet ten faithless men convinced the whole nation to rebel against their God who had been so good to them. He had saved them so powerfully from slavery, provided for them in the desert, entered into a personal covenant with them, and promised to give them the land of Canaan. They had witnessed these things with their own two eyes. But despite all this, they flatly refused to trust Him to take them into that land. So God consigned them to 40 more years in the desert. During those years more than half the population would die because of that catastrophic choice. What is God asking you to do? Are you being obedient?
Some people love to grumble. They always seem to find something to complain about. Yet we are all susceptible, if we’re not careful. The Israelites had begun their journey from Mt Sinai to the Promised Land. This was supposed to be the final, exciting push to “the land flowing with milk and honey”. Instead it became an epidemic of grumbling, spreading throughout the camp with even Moses, then Miriam and Aaron succumbing. No wonder God was angry with them. After all He had done for them, they became a restless mob of grumblers! In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul actually refers to this period as a warning to us today. When we think of all that God has done for us – saving us, caring for us, and leading towards our heavenly home – we should be the happiest, most thankful people in the world! Are we?
If you’ve ever been on a long car trip, you’ll know how stressful it can be. There’s planning and packing, checking the car, organising stops, keeping the children happy, and finally getting to your destination without incident. Life can be like that. And it was certainly true for the two million Israelites who were about to make the journey from Mt Sinai to the Promised Land. After 11 months of preparing, organising and getting final instructions from God, it was time to step out. How would they go? Over the coming chapters we’re going to find out. But what about our journey with God? Each of us will travel a different course and face different challenges, but will we grow closer to the God who calls us to trust Him as He leads us to our heavenly destination?