During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree. Verse 25. We have waited for this moment for a very long time. This is the land the LORD had given to Abraham, and this is the life the LORD had envisioned for Abraham. And in this chapter, it is done!
This chapter is therefore celebrating the faithfulness of the LORD. Solomon is ruling over a peaceful Israel from the Euphrates River to Egypt. The LORD has fulfilled His promise to Abraham. Check the vast land under Solomon and you will be impressed with the level of achievement. This is what God meant. There are moments in life when the saint stops to take stock of his life. It is a joy and also very humbling to see the faithfulness of the LORD.
Look back at Solomon’s request for wisdom. Look again at what the LORD gives Solomon. There is a bigger picture that the LORD is looking at. Israel and the LORD’S promises to Solomon’s ancestors. Solomon’s request for wisdom fits straight into the LORD’S long-standing plan. How fast the LORD answers prayer like this!
The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. Verse 20. Again we are looking at the fulfillment of the LORD’S promise to Abraham. Out of Abraham’s seed, we have people as numerous as the sand of the seashore. Israel is a miracle nation. Remember how Isaac was born. The many that came out of that seed now occupy and control vast portions of land nearly as good as the original plan.
Here is a good picture of the LORD restoring humanity’s fortunes of Genesis chapter 1 verse 28. We have seen prosperity. We have seen the fruitfulness of the womb. We have also seen a shadow of dominion. These are good times under the shadow Son.
You would wish the Bible ended here. But between this point and our time, today, are millennia to look at. In the meantime, Israel is basking in the glories of blessings, for which we remain eternally grateful to the LORD. Indeed He has remembered His servant Abraham. His children now live peacefully in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hallelujah! Amen.
If there is change of heart, the LORD would restore them. We can see the generosity of the LORD in this promise. Moses is speaking prophetically but importantly as a man who has seen history unfold. History is laid bare before him. He can see Israel default but he can also see the possibility of restoration.
Circumcision would be circumcision of the heart. Then the LORD would rain showers of blessings on the repentant community. The promise to make them more numerous than their ancestors is a reference to the blessing of increase. The land would not fail but produce abundantly. The blessing of prosperity is further highlighted by the success of agricultural activities.
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. Deuteronomy 30 verse 11.
So in view of Deuteronomy 28, we can all see the options.
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. Deuteronomy 30 verse 15.
On one side is life. On the other side is death and destruction. The exam is simple. The test is passable. The options have been fully unpacked in chapter 28. What is your choice?
Chapter 28 goes together with chapter 27. Having declared the curses for disobedience (failure) in chapter 27 the pages now turn to the blessings for obedience.
As an isolated work chapter 28 is a detailed revelation of Genesis 1 verse 28. The LORD’s special gift to humanity was the blessing of increase, fruitfulness (prosperity) and dominion. After the flood the LORD sought a fresh start with man and the same blessing was bestowed on Noah in Genesis chapter 9. After the scattering at the Tower of Babel (Shinar) the LORD singled out one man, Abraham, to whom the same blessing was repeated. This special gift would pass on from Abraham to Isaac and then from Isaac to Jacob. Genesis 49 gives us details of the same blessing now to the nation that came out of Jacob. Deuteronomy 28 is an expansion of that same blessing.
Study the chapter carefully and you will see how obedience results in increase (fruit of the womb), prosperity (economic boom) and dominion (you shall be the head and not the tail).
The fruitfulness of both the womb and the crop of the field are direct references to the blessing of increase and prosperity. Conspicuously missing in real manifestation is the blessing of dominion. We do however have hints of it when the LORD promises to elevate Israel above her enemies. References to political authority tend to hide the real dominion that the LORD wished for His people. Only in Jesus Christ do we truly begin to rule as per the original plan.
As an expansion of Genesis 1 verse 28, this chapter keeps alive the triad blessing. It is the same blessing that the LORD restores fully in Revelation 22 – the last chapter of the Bible. And according to Revelation 22 verse 5, “they will reign for ever and ever”. The man who was created to rule will once again have dominion but for now we have hints of the same in this chapter. But disobedience is still a problem and the blessing that had been reduced into a contract or covenant would give us a long list of consequences for disobedience.
Going up verse 15 we find a very long list of curses. The graphics used are truly powerful. We can see for ourselves and relate to some of these misfortunes. Life without God can be rough. It’s a decision that man makes. It’s a decision that the LORD doesn’t want man to make.
Chapter 28 is famous for its blessings. They are sweet. But it’s the curses which are scary. Of the 68 verses in the chapter only 14 verses talk about the blessings – representing about 21% of the total. The structure of the chapter tells the story of humanity.
Christianity is simple – represented by the first 14 verses. This is God’s will. But life under disobedience is very complex. Look at many verses that cover the curses! Look at the confusion! This chapter is explaining Genesis in High Definition. After the fall man has to get back to God. Then this confusion isn’t there. It speaks to us on the need to reflect on important items of life. Life without God is unsatisfying and very frustrating (verses 15 to 68).
The visuals are very powerful. Using graphics to explain biblical truths isn’t a modern invention. Running through these verses is like watching a PowerPoint presentation. In Genesis 3 man has to sweat for a living. Deuteronomy 28 gives us powerful graphics for this sad state of affairs. There is a curse on the works of my hands. The land or ground will produce very little. I will build a house but fail to live in it. The list is long.
These curses have the effect of reducing man to a nothing. He is no longer in charge of his destiny. He can no longer rule over his own destiny. 1 plus 1 should give us 2 but not for a fallen man. Nothing works. To rule is to have rules that function in a prescribed way in order to achieve a known objective or result. With the fall of man (disobedience) rulership is wiped out. Rules are broken. Rules demand that clouds pour down rain but when rules are broken the clouds feel free to drop anything but rain. What a chapter!
The law is to be kept permanently. The choice of stone as print material speaks of perpetuity of the law. It’s meant to last. It endures. Israel must erect symbols to keep her reminded of the central role of the law. It represents the terms of the covenant between Israel and God.
Verse 1 talks of Moses and the leaders while verse 9 talks of Moses and the Levitical priests. The entire leadership structure was involved. It emphasizes the need for leadership in the worship of the LORD.
The laws are to be recited publicly and loudly. Like in chapter 26 verbal declarations of the laws of God form an important part of prayer. Here in chapter 27 each declaration is terminated by an ‘Amen’. It means that the worshipper must be in agreement with the law of the LORD as they pray. How does the Lord’s Prayer conform to this thought here? In the declaration that ‘your will be done’, the saint is basically reciting the law as the law embodies the will of the LORD.
“You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Amen. Can this be prayer? Yes. Powerful? Yes. Sensible? Yes. Verbally declaring the law of the LORD and saying amen to it is truly powerful.
Verse 26 summarizes the declarations. “Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
The scripture gives us an understanding that curses need not necessarily be statements pronounced by some sorcerer or evil man seeking to cause harm to the saint. Curses come with failure to uphold the law of the LORD. We may look back at the story of Balaam with a better understanding. Balaam could pronounce curses but against Israel these would have been empty words. The saint living in obedience can receive bad words but these would be completely empty and devoid of power. Real curses against the saint come with disobedience.
The regulations concerning the first fruits and tithes reveal an attitude of thankfulness expected of Israel. But there is actually more. An Israelite man is commanded to recite the history of Israel before the LORD. They needed to know at all times who they were and where they came from.
The declarations constitute prayer before the LORD. The main lines here tell us what should be important in prayer.
Firstly is the declaration that we have settled in the land of promise. We are confirming that the LORD has fulfilled His promises to us. The basket full of fruits is the evidence. Make your prayer personal and close to your heart. This seems to be the message. The saint today cannot be short of words before the LORD. We can reflect on our own lives by reciting key moments in our journey. There was a moment when I wandered about with an application letter. The monthly income is the evidence of the LORD’S blessing over my life. Indeed there isn’t a man who isn’t guilty of receiving free gifts from the LORD. There is so much evidence for an easy conviction. This should make thanksgiving easier.
Secondly, there is an admission that the LORD has provided an increase and caused fruitfulness. He began by providing the ground (land) and went on to provide fruitfulness. Every decent prayer involves a deep appreciation of the LORD’S involvement in our day-to-day activities.
Thirdly and probably the impossible part is the prayer of confession.
Then say to the Lord your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. Deuteronomy 26 verse 13.
In our culture confession is often encouraged but in the negative. But the scripture encourages us to confess in the positive, mainly. It takes huge courage to complete the confession in this chapter. Many of us would chock almost immediately through these lines. Indeed that is the purpose of prayer. A prayer session that doesn’t find you wanting and fails to leave you awe-struck is clearly lacking some important components.
The chapter closes with a call to obedience. It’s a condition in the contract – the covenant.
The opening statement emphasizes the need for justice in the community. As stated, justice is convicting the guilty and acquitting the innocent. Injustice on the other hand would be convicting the innocent while acquitting the guilty. Our society is guilty of the latter.
For cases that deserved beating, the guilty would be flogged no more than 40 lashes. We are reminded of the flogging that the LORD Jesus suffered. You would guess he received the maximum number of lashes possible. The Apostle Paul received this kind of punishment on several occasions. 2 Corinthians 11verse 24.
The New Testament has several references to this chapter.
Verse 4 was referenced by the apostle Paul to indicate the need for workers in the LORD’S field to be supported. “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain”
Verses 5 and 6 are probably the subject of an argument that the teachers of the law and Sudducees presented to Jesus. It’s about seven brothers married to one woman – technically made possible because of the regulation in this chapter. Matthew 22 verse 25.
We may think of this law as one meant to protect the woman. Loss of a husband meant loss of support and personal worth. It also meant loss of wealth as property was largely held by men. A detailed look at laws like this would reveal a deeper sense of justice. The law was sensitive enough to understand the peculiar circumstances that the woman found herself in. It is beautiful!
Hitting a man below the belt disqualifies one from the boxing match. A woman who literally seizes an assailant ‘below the belt’ in an attempt to rescue her husband suffers the worst punishment – amputation of her hand. The severity of the punishment points to the sanctity of sexuality. It must be treated as such – not even when there appears to be a justification for crossing the boundaries. That is what makes pornography such an evil. It desecrates the sanctity of sexuality by exposing what should not be exposed.
Rules on divorce are meant to discourage jokers from having a free ride. The union between a man and a woman is serious and is meant to last. Animal-like behavior where you marry and feel very free to divorce and remarry (the same divorced woman) again displeases the LORD.
We have more laws on social interactions. A newly married man should have time with his wife. A period of one year suggests care beyond matrimonial duties of a man to his wife. Commercial transactions should reflect the righteousness of God. Interestingly, the LORD is said to have interest in these transactions. The LORD is pleased when a good is done and it follows that unrighteousness in these interactions displeases the LORD.
Laws on social interactions are extended to labor laws. Poor workers who depend on a daily income for survival must be paid promptly. During harvest, deliberately leave pickings so that the fatherless and the widows can survive on the pickings left behind.
By this chapter the LORD seeks to extend His generosity to the needy via the saint. It is obvious: Like begat like. Like our heavenly father, we should possess a sense of responsibility towards one another. The major complaint against the Old Testament law isn’t that it is old and outdated, rather that it is too holy. But the cross gives us help to pass this very tight exam
This is for men. Castration or any other form of deformity on the private parts leads to exclusion from the sanctuary. Deformity doesn’t represent the perfection that the Sanctuary should stand for. Deformity in the life-giving systems represents deformity in life itself thereby misrepresenting the intentions of the perfect LORD.
Like deformity, birth from an improper union between man and woman misrepresents the original plan of the LORD, hence the exclusion from the place meant to project perfection. It looks unfair on the ‘innocent’ siblings. It also looks unfair on us that we have to suffer exclusion based on the sin of Adam. For others, maybe, but for me the exclusion will be justified on account of my own sins. It is this very unfair situation that the LORD addresses when He comes down as man, so that none of us is excluded on account of ‘this’ sin. Belief in the LORD Jesus therefore serves as a channel out of a scandalous situation.
The situation for Ammonites and Moabites is easily understood. They represent peoples opposed to the purposes of God. But this exclusion is not cast in steel and concrete. A Moabite who embraces and respects the commands of the LORD may break this curse. The story of Ruth stands out. It’s a story of a Moabite woman who turns to Israel’s God and actually becomes the human ancestor of the LORD Jesus.
From the story of Ruth we can tell that the moment the gate-valve opens, water flows. The gate-valve is man’s rebellion against God. Open the gate-valve and the restrictions all disappear at once. The rules are softer on Edom and Egypt. While many remember Egypt for the enslavement of Israel, it is the choice of Egypt by the LORD to host the young nation of Israel which shines brighter.
Again as with monthly periods for women, men’s nocturnal emissions are a sign of uncleanliness. It has something to do with life processes. After the fall, the factory produces children in the wrong image – in the image of man and not the image of God. The process is seen as dirty because of the end product. It points us to a need for a better life-giving process. The symbolism here is powerful. We can reflect on the call to be born-again as an answer to the imperfect life-giving process.
It is interesting that while uncleanliness such as uncovered human excrement may host diseases, it is not the reason the saint should have for seeking cleanliness. Of first importance is the fact that the LORD hates uncleanliness. Sin is always an offense against the LORD. It may affect the sinner himself and or others, but firstly it is rebellion against God.
Prostitution is an old occupation. The LORD has words about it. The LORD is not to be worshipped with sinfully obtained wealth.
If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. Deuteronomy 23:24 NIV
It may appear like an instruction to steal except steal only what you need. No. It points to the need for one not to overstay their welcome. It’s an instruction not to overdo a good. Care-givers must not be abused to the point where they begin to regret helping out. It’s a call for balance in our social interactions. Even a good speech becomes bad when it is too long. I’ll end here.
We have more laws for the community. By looking at these laws we can see the heart of the LORD. It’s a picture of perfection. One is required to be a brother’s keeper.
“A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.” Deuteronomy 22 verse 5.
The message is simple: don’t delete the dividing lines between the genders. The LORD hates perversion. Don’t diminish the dignified view of sexuality. Know and respect the difference. When boundaries are compromised both men and women feel less restricted. Men no longer know what it means to be men and motherhood is simply an event. Gender roles no longer matter. Consequences are many: same-sex marriages, poor parenting and an endless list of problems. The root cause is a lack of respect for God’s design.
These laws are amazing! They project perfection in other areas such as conservation. You cannot define responsibility until you have read Deuteronomy chapter 22. My driving should not endanger other motorists, plants and animals included.
A lot of space is reserved for marriage, sex and relationships. A man must respect the woman by not violating her virginity and dumping her. He is commanded to keep her, regardless. A man must not abuse his physical strength by raping a woman. Sexuality must be respected by all. The woman who ‘agrees’ to be raped is as guilty as the rapist. Both must be stoned to death.
The standards demanded by the LORD are very high because the LORD is holy and His people must equally be holy.
There is a special process for the community of God’s people to declare themselves innocent of murder. This is in an event of a murder case where the murderer is not known. We can sense the seriousness with which the LORD looks at every murder case. Human life belongs to the LORD. It also gives us a chance to look at how the LORD looks at leadership. It is about taking responsibility.
The LORD knows exactly what has happened. Both the killer and the circumstances of the killing are known to the LORD. Yet the LORD ordains this very much human ‘hit or miss’ process of exoneration for the town closest to the murder case. The key thought is that the community must take care of its own people and take responsibility when there is failure and a murder occurs.
We have human processes that are operated in nearly total ignorance. The LORD is ok with it. We don’t have to know everything.
The regulations concerning female prisoners of war provide an insight into the high standards of justice demanded of Israel. Later in the scripture, a pagan nation would describe Israel’s kings as being merciful. The LORD imposed on Israel a justice system that reflected the heart of the LORD, even in the imperfection of state governance.
Stoning a rebellious son to death appears harsh but he is a law breaker. By being rebellious he dishonors his parents. He has sinned against the LORD hence the heavy penalty. While many sins are committed against yourself, spouses, children, friends, companies, communities, governments, races, nature or even humanity at large, sin is always an offense against the LORD. It is always serious. The need for genuine repentance cannot be over-emphasized.
Yet one may wonder why the LORD seems to like the death penalty for just about any serious offense. It doesn’t become any easier when you consider the fact that the same LORD is very serious about every life. Even when the killer is not known, the elders of the community nearest to the scene of crime must exonerate themselves in repentance.
Could it be that we are looking at the same workspace from different angles? Regardless, we can guess the gravity of sin and begin to appreciate the mind of the LORD over sin. The chapter closes with references to the crucifixion process. “If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” Verses 22 and 23. Are we looking at Calvary?
This chapter discusses a couple of key activities before Israel engages an enemy in battle. The Christian walk is often described as a battlefield. The saint today should reflect on the importance of preparedness for warfare.
Firstly, the priest stands up and declares victory based on the fact that it is the LORD that grants victory. It’s a powerful starting point in any spiritual warfare. The LORD is fighting for Israel so the military strength of the enemy is not important. The LORD will supply the victory while both courage and strategy are supplied by the military.
Secondly, the military officers speak to the troops. “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it.” The message is clear. Go and fight knowing that failure is not an option – very powerful military rhetoric. How do we face our own battles? Riskless, lazy and objectless. This is my sorry testimony. This scripture left me red-faced.
Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” We are reminded to keep away from individuals who discourage us. In the victory equation, man supplies courage and strategy while the LORD supplies the victory.
Israel is to exercise mercy by enslaving conquered peoples instead of killing everyone. But this token of kindness is for other peoples, other than the Canaanite group who should be destroyed completely. We already know the reasons.
The LORD provides 3 cities for escape in case one kills his neighbor unintentionally. These are appropriately called cities of refuge. The psalmist drew on this concept when he referred to the LORD as his refuge. You escaped deserved punishment or undeserved punishment by making good your escape to one of the cities of refuge. The LORD required them to be located within reachable distance.
We can indeed reflect on salvation and note that it is truly available and reachable.
We get the picture that Israel would occupy the land in phases. Initially only a portion of the Promised Land would be occupied, but as the nation expanded more land would be occupied. It is at this point that the LORD commands Moses to set up more cities of refuge.
To the suspect the city of refuge was like life itself. In other sections of the holy script we learn that the cities of refuge served other purposes in the justice system. For example, if the community accused you of murder, you had chance to escape to one of these cities until justice was established.
King David referred to the LORD as his refuge in moments of great fear because of false accusations. But we also know of times when the king was genuinely guilty. One does well to reflect on the need to think of the LORD as his refuge in both circumstances. The command to locate these cities near enough for an escape on foot reminds us of the closeness of the LORD to each one of us – just a prayer away.
Taking care of priests (ministers), whose job is it? I guess your answer is as good as mine. This chapter gives us an answer. I cannot believe it but I actually failed this simple exam.
The Levites will not receive their share of land. The sanctuary system will sustain them via the various food offerings made to the LORD. It would appear like Levi is getting paid for services at the Sanctuary. The reality however is that the LORD is generously sharing with Levi at the Sanctuary.
The thought that the LORD is Levi’s inheritance is interesting. The LORD is speaking to a community that understood exactly what this meant. The saint today may want to reflect on this fact and reconsider their opinion on their offerings. It calls for a sense of duty to understand that my giving is sustaining a life of a minister. I’m doing God’s work! I’m doing what the LORD should be doing. That is the required understanding of the term ‘doing God’s work’. There is a blessing attached to it.
Israel is to remain separate from the evil practices of the nations whose land they are about to inherit. It’s a reminder for the saint to stay separate – embracing the values of the kingdom whose king and head is Christ. Occult practices such as sorcery, together with its associates, are singled out for mention.
Again a look at life today reveals a much more complicated host of occult practices that the saint should notice and avoid completely. Reading of stars and the whole host of astrological applications are modern occult practices. It’s a powerful trend that makes pastors want to prophecy in the same manner as pagan astrologists.
Moses looks to the future and speaks about another prophet. Israel would be privileged to host another prophet in the manner of Moses. The only prophet meeting this description is the LORD Jesus Christ. Other great prophets like Elijah and Isaiah pointed to the Christ and not themselves. The Christ had to be born of man to satisfy Israel’s demand for a human representative. They had indicated to Moses at Horeb that the LORD’S presence was too much for their comfort.
Again you want to understand Moses’ thought here. He wasn’t thinking of a prophetic office. There wasn’t one. It depended on the LORD’S call and timing. For sure Joshua wasn’t that prophet. There still remained this vacancy. The LORD filled this space temporarily – in time and space, to warm the office until the real prophet would arrive. And each of the office warmers pointed to the real office bearer who the LORD would send. It is a privilege to live in a time when we can look at all these things and see them in their right context.
In ordinary life examples are mere pointers and need not be expensive nor accurate. The Bible is different. Models are at a different level. They represent the worship of the Almighty God. Care is required. Both the worshipper and the objects of worship should be of the highest quality possible.
There was a limited list of animals that could be used in worship. They needed to be physically sound. The demand for perfection makes worship in the Old Testament nearly impossible. It is a pointer to a perfection that is possible only under the Cross.
What follows next is similar to a church disciplinary procedure. We can draw general principles from here. Firstly, a human investigation is initiated. Facts are required. Secondly we have human judgment to punish or not to punish based on findings. While the LORD knows exactly what has or hasn’t happened, we humans don’t know. We can only know after an investigation. An investigation is therefore a godly process in the church.
From here we can tell that a normal Christian response like ‘let’s leave it in the hands of the LORD’ may sound spiritual but is actually a lazy and ungodly response to a sin situation in the body of Christ. An investigation is required. With the Cross comes a new process which reflects the grace available by underlining restoration as opposed to immediate extermination by stoning.
The Community of God’s people would require/need a justice system. A human structure is envisioned with the godly establishment of priests at the head. Justice is a godly and divine function.
The chapter closes with instructions on kingship. We can reflect on Solomon’s failures and see how he broke many of the rules for kingship. He married many women and accumulated too much silver and gold. No wonder he failed!
The chapter focuses on 3 important festivals: the Passover, the festival of Weeks and the festival of Booths.
Actually, the Passover isn’t a festival but an event. The Passover event happens during the festival of Unleavened Bread. It kick-starts the seven days of unleavened bread – the festival that celebrates Israel’s freedom from slavery. Man is not in a position to remember the goodness of the LORD by himself, so these festivals are memory aids. These events give man a chance to reflect on the LORD’S salvation.
Second is the Festival of Weeks – also called the Festival of the Harvest. “Let man rejoice”, this seems to be the main point here. Let man celebrate the provisions of the LORD. Celebrating the blessings of the LORD goes with giving. It is a natural reaction flowing out of a grateful heart. In the New Testament the Festival of Weeks is called Pentecost. It’s during this period that the Holy Spirit descended on the church, in fulfillment of scripture – Joel 2 verse 28. When read in the context of Joel chapter 2, the Festival of Weeks takes on a wider application which involves general fruitfulness. When you think of the original mandate of increase, fruitfulness and dominion, the Festival of Weeks anticipates fruitfulness of the Spirit within the saved soul. This is so beautiful!
The picture we get is that of a huge party of a happy heavenly community, responding in gratitude for the many gifts that the LORD has given. During this period of giving the LORD decided to bless mankind with the gift of the Holy Spirit!
Third is the festival of Shelters or Booths or Tabernacles. By this festival Israel is drawn back to her experiences in the wilderness. To think of it as negative memory is to miss the point that the focus is on the LORD’S many deliverances. We should not forget. So every year these 3 events must be observed. What comes to mind when you think of the LORD Jesus and His disciples taking shelter under open heavens in the Garden of Gethsemane? The bible has very nice coincidences!
Chapter 16 closes with a call to worship the LORD exclusively. No Asherah poles or other pillars of worship beside the altar of the LORD. The LORD demands pure worship. This passage speaks to us on the need to appreciate that the worship of the LORD is exclusive. We cannot mix.
Note. You may want to check references to these feasts in the Gospel of John. They convey a truly wonderful experience in the light of salvation. The prophet Joe makes mention of a special harvest from the LORD. And then he quickly switches to yet another even more special harvest. Joel 2 verse 28 points to the day of Pentecost – the Festival of Weeks or Harvest. The special gift or harvest is the Holy Spirit. You may want to read verse 28 of Joel 2 for an expanded understanding. It is truly wonderful!
The LORD repeats the regulations regarding the sabbatical year. Deuteronomy is highlighting key events and key themes for Israel. This chapter is about rest for the indebted and the enslaved.
The overall concept of Sabbath is captured by different concepts in the various Sabbaths that Israel observed. We have the seventh day, the seventh year and the seven-by-seventh year observed as the year of jubilee. This chapter focuses on the seventh year. The important concept here is freedom. Rest is a better word as it expands our appreciation of the concept of Sabbath.
Interestingly, the LORD envisions a people without debt because of abundance of blessings. Today the saint may look at this section for encouragement. We may starve for other reasons but it can never be due to failure by the LORD to provide. The grace to prosper materially is there for us all. None should be enslaved but this perfection is only in design. This idealism is long gone and Moses now applies himself to the realities on the ground. The poor will always be there – for one reason or the other, sadly.
The LORD warns against wickedness of thought. It is a hard one. One shouldn’t fail to help because they fear the debtor won’t pay back. In case of failure the LORD promises to pay back – kind of. Generosity is encouraged. It is the blessing of the LORD that the generous heart is never needy! Irony.
Three categories of help areas can be identified: your brother, the poor and the needy. More often than not, the poor and needy are one and the same. But it does happen that the needy are not necessarily the poor. They also need our help. A rich man in hospital needs help though he is not exactly poor. He is needy. And the brother? Well, that is you and me. At some point in our lives we all need help.
Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to the foreigner residing in any of your towns, and they may eat it, or you may sell it to any other foreigner. But you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. Deuteronomy 14 verse 21.
Ceremonial laws were flexible. Others could indulge while Israel was specifically forbidden. We can tell from here that ceremonial laws were ‘second-layer’ laws. We know that first-layer laws were absolute and universal. Murder was murder regardless of the sinner. However, ceremonial laws did serve a purpose and the LORD demanded obedience.
This chapter begins with an instruction to Israel concerning a pagan practice of mutilating oneself for the dead. This scripture is in line with the main instruction to ‘don’t do as they do’. Today the saint may have to look at events and ceremonies that have pagan origins and decide based on these instructions.
We have food laws that may appear strange to the New Testament reader. Generally the LORD forbade the consumption of animals which had certain general features. Dirty animals like pigs do not represent the required holiness. Birds and animals of prey are forbidden as they thrive on death.
Feeding habits as well as appearance or behavior of animals that appear to misrepresent the beauty of creation are specifically singled out for exclusion. We may also think of these ‘less appealing’ animal traits as representing something to be hated and therefore resisted. A pig’s dirty environment should be a constant reminder of man’s need to stay clean. His hatred for ungodly conduct should be enhanced by his hatred of dirt that the pig so amply represents.
The instruction to eat the tithe may sound contradictory but the thought to share and ensure that priests are covered still remains. Importantly the chapter retains the thought that tithe is a moment of celebration rather than a moment of sadness because of ‘loss’ on that part of the giver. It conveys the thought that the giver must have joy in separating tithe for the LORD. It’s a beautiful picture the LORD gives that eventually our gifts are meant for our enjoyment. Let there be no pain as we give to the LORD.
The man by whose hand the LORD battled the Egyptian gods knew the battle wasn’t over. The gods would still show up and display their power here and there. Israel should not be misled. As Moses was used by the LORD to perform miracles, so false prophets would be used by the gods to perform signs in order to entice Israel.
This chapter speaks to us who are living in a ‘see/believe’ world. It is not a world in which truth is embraced. The visible, be it virtual or real, becomes more important. How we feel and what we see become the standard measure for truth. Moses speaks to such a world in very clear terms. False prophets must not be believed even when their predictions come true.
Moses seems to be saying that the LORD would allow challengers to arise. By their dark magical powers they can perform big signs. The signs they perform, big or small, should not misled God’s community into believing them. Israel is commanded to reject these prophets and completely destroy them. The equivalent today would be to completely reject and have absolutely nothing to do with the false prophets and their teachings.
The New Testament expands on this command by showing us how to know who the antichrist is. We know them by their fruit. The saint is commanded to examine the fruit. It shouldn’t take long. If only the saint asked a couple of questions, she would have found out that the innocent looking man wasn’t even a believer in the first place. Just check the fruit.
The LORD is calling His people to a point of faith. What they have received is good enough even when satan puts up a ‘good’ show.
Canaanites had several gods worshipped in different locations: high mountains, hills and under spreading trees. Objects of pagan worship included: altars, sacred stones, Asherah poles and idols.
These must be destroyed; not accommodated. The LORD is not to be worshipped this way. There is one place of worship. The LORD is to be worshipped from there. The saint may want to reflect on pagan worship systems and seek to distance himself from such.
You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. Verse 31.
Immorality is intrinsic to pagan worship systems. Child sacrifice (mentioned here) in addition to sex shrines was a normal form of pagan worship. The LORD orders the demolition of symbols and actual pagan worship objects. They are detestable to the LORD.
Today brothels operate as businesses but in the Old Testament sex shrines were places of pagan worship. Contrary to popular opinion, illegal sex isn’t a call of nature we must answer, rather a pagan worship system meant to defy the living God. It’s never an innocent happy moment between two people.
This pagan worship system now exists in many versions: adultery, pornography, same sex marriages, fornication, sex with animals, sex plays, sex movies, sex media, sex toys, sex talk, sex stories, sex clothing… No wonder the world is confused.
Verse 8 gives us the reason why Moses is highlighting key events. The nation needs encouragement to move into Canaan. They had seen how the LORD defeated the powerful Egyptian army at the Red sea. The current challenge should be nothing!
The saint does well to stand still and reflect on the many deliverances of the LORD and use the testimony to overcome doubt. Now we can see why the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Israel needed a testimony for the battles ahead. Some battles that saints face are for purposes of creating a stronger faith for bigger challenges ahead.
We have a very rare glimpse of life in Egypt during this time. They watered the crops using a technology that involved use of their feet. Canaan would be different. The rainfall pattern is such that agricultural activity could be sustained throughout the year without irrigation. This unique climatic environment is a special gift to Israel. If Israel obeys, the LORD would sustain this climate for them.
Israel is warned to watch for enticement by foreign gods. Similarly, the Christian walk exists in the midst of temptations and one needs to watch their walk. Israel needed to be wary of enticement. The word ‘enticement’ suggests active factors operating in opposition to the godly purposes of the LORD. There is a world out there constantly tempting saints to derail and follow other gods.
Verse 26 is important for Israel as it defined what constituted a blessing. There is also a mention of a curse. A curse operates in the absence of a blessing. A blessing is God’s special gift to man. The chapter has given us an example of a good climate for Israel as a special blessing. Look around your life. Check on all the good things that nature has provided. They are a blessing from the LORD to enrich your experiences.
Chapter 9 begins with a difficult section. Canaan is sinful and because of their sinfulness they will be destroyed. Israel is equally stiff-necked but they will inherit the land. What is the difference? Well, when Israel sinned (the golden-calf sin – referenced here) there was someone to intercede for them. Canaan had none. There are few lines in the entire holy script as clear in highlighting the importance of mediation as chapter 9.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. First Timothy 2 verses 5 to 6.
So really both sinful Israel and sinful Canaan deserve the death penalty – save for mediation in the case of the former and lack of it in the case of the later. How grateful we are for the cross!
The rest of the chapter narrates Israel’s wickedness to prove the point that Israel is as sinful as Canaan. The golden calf idolatry was a copy-paste act of defiance drawn from the Canaanite pagan worship book. It is worse because Israel has seen so much of the LORD’S presence and intervention to start thinking of alternatives.
At Kadesh Barnea Israel’s doubt and outright rejection of the LORD’S leadership is referenced. How can they forget that? It is here that the sentence of 40 years in the wilderness is pronounced. It is a clear-out exercise.
Not least important is Moses’ reference to the strength (military prowess) of ‘Canaan’. It points to the fact that indeed the battle wasn’t for Israel but for God. The bad spies were right. The enemy was strong. But they were wrong in their assessment of the LORD. They belittled the LORD. It was another form of idolatry that reduces God to a mere god (like any other). The LORD, as a god to Israel was then put in the ring with the Canaanite gods and this small god lost the battle. So they thought of a return to Egypt as a better option. An election was called to elect another leader for the purpose. The LORD wasn’t pleased at all. A clear-out exercise was decreed – 40 years it was. 40 years of wilderness experience.
The parallel with the NT events is beautiful. The 40 days and 40 nights that Moses spent interceding on behalf of Israel may point us to think of the 40 days and 40 nights that the LORD Jesus presumably spent pleading for lost humanity.
The chapter is famous for the LORD Jesus directly quoted from it.
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4 verse 4. NIV.
Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8 verse 3. NIV.
We know this is important. Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years. It was a deliberate decision by the LORD Jesus to choose the wilderness for His fasting. A synagogue or even the Temple itself in Jerusalem was always a good option for prayer and fasting. The 40 days of fasting in the wilderness for Jesus parallels the 40 years of wilderness that Moses refers to here.
Jesus is hungry just like Israel. But unlike Israel the LORD Jesus submits and honors the LORD. Israel on the other hand fails the test. The LORD who performed mighty acts in Egypt could have easily provided abundance in the wilderness. It was a deliberate decision to subject Israel to starvation. Will they trust the LORD under these circumstances?
The LORD Jesus had it within Himself to perform a miracle to feed himself. The comparisons are sharply visible. In Jesus is the seed of Genesis that stands tall and defeats the enemy by submitting to the one and only true God. The saint does well to reflect on this victory and domesticate it in daily walk with the LORD.
The immediate context however is that Israel failed to trust the LORD and instead longed for the ‘meat’ and the supposed good times of Egypt. Fast-forward to our time we need to ask if we are coming out good on this test. It is very much a deliberate decision by the LORD that you have a life that you have. Will you trust the LORD God in these times or is there fear that you are longing for the ‘good times’ of the unbelieving world? The human mind can be stupid. You may have to re-educate it by challenging its statement on ‘good times’. Which good times? There are no good times out there.
This chapter digs deeper into our own lives. The more we reflect on it the more inadequate we feel. And you always feel there is more to it!
The chapter opened with a call to remain faithful – a requirement for long life and increase. It is a call that the LORD Jesus appears to be making in telling off the devil by quoting from this chapter. The closing lines are yet another call to choose life and not death.
The instruction to totally destroy ‘Canaanite peoples’ may sound strange. But if you have taken the journey through Exodus and Numbers you discover that the LORD did the same to sinful Israel. The 600,000 men at the start of the journey were not the same as the 600,000 that ended the journey. All of them fell in the wilderness except for Joshua and Caleb, in an act of punishment.
It’s a point that emphasizes the original declaration that man died when he sinned. The physical death being referred to here is representative of separation from God. When that happens, is there a need for one to live in the physical? The LORD says no. But today by grace we understand our continued existence as yet another chance to find life in Christ Jesus.
Moses references God’s universal name as he encourages Israel to remain faithful. It’s that special combination again – justice and compassion combined. How these combine in one is a mystery fully unpacked by the cross but still too complicated for human consumption. We do well to pray for the grace of understanding.
While this chapter encourages faithfulness, it also unearths the key concept of salvation. Yes, it is a choice we make because of the LORD’S compassion in being the first to show us love, regardless. The reality of the LORD’S compassion is easily reflected in the saint’s daily walk with the LORD. Many would agree to having received many blessings they did not earn. This is generosity.
There is still out there a life that the LORD hates. The saint is reminded here to have the same attitude. Hate sin. Resist it. Run away from it. There are places the saint should never go to. There are items of fashion that the saint should never buy and let alone wear. There are choices the saint should never make. Deuteronomy is speaking to us today in a language that we very well understand.
It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. Verse 3.
Needless to mention, but Moses takes the trouble to emphasize the point that the LORD interacts with each generation in the present. The reality of the LORD’S presence is each generation’s special gift. So we find the LORD repeating the blessing to each generation that comes. The saint does well to reflect on this fact with expectation. The LORD speaks to each generation in the present tense.
So even here the LORD is speaking to a different generation. The 10 commandments are rehearsed to a generation that didn’t experience Horeb. An easy pick from here is an increased emphasis on the worship of the one true God of Horeb. Look at the 10 commandments again. It is top-heavy. The first set of commands relate to an exclusive relationship with Israel’s God. The second and last section is descriptive in nature – describing what it means to worship the LORD exclusively. It manifests the true colors of the relationship with God.
Moses reflects on people’s fear at Horeb. It is good that people have a healthy fear of the LORD here, but this fear has introduced layers of reporting between Israel and God. The LORD wants every single one of them to experience glory but they instead ask for an ambassador. So for now Moses will hear and explain to them. It wasn’t God’s initial plan. It represents failure.
So we have the sanctuary system setup to have a kind-of physical representation of the presence of God. It isn’t a very good start.
Hidden in the opening lines of this chapter are references to the original mandate for Israel. It should stand out as a nation to be admired. The LORD wants to have a model nation, a people whose shape and appearance reflects or has an appearance of the purposes of God. Moses points to this concept by projecting a positive tone about Israel’s prospects. It’s what Jehovah wants.
But we have cracks in the implementation of the grand plan. Moses warns the people of the consequences of failure. It has happened before. It will happen again, should the surviving nation ignore the wonderful laws and regulations. Of first importance is Israel’s worship of the one and only true God that they experienced at Horeb. Moses uses his own situation to remind Israel of the LORD’S fury.
Moses is very much aware of Israel’s potential to sin. He looks to the future and knows the consequences of sin. The LORD who scattered mankind at Shinar (at Babel) will scatter Israel. The LORD who is punishing Canaan will wipe out Israel. What is important for Israel is faithfulness. This message must be passed on to future generations. They should know about God’s high standards.
Israel is going to overthrow stronger nations. It’s a fact that Moses wants the people to know. But importantly this fact should serve as a constant reminder that the battle is the LORD’S. It should bring humility and a sense of dependency.
Moses reflects on the defeat of king Og of Bashan. We are looking at key events without any specific order as the man of God takes us down memory lane. Yes these are memories but importantly Moses highlights for us the role that the LORD plays. It is for our faith.
The conquered land is given to Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. The long awaited promise is being fulfilled.
Probably after the defeat of Sihon and Og Moses sits down Joshua for a word of encouragement. Joshua has seen a very successful military campaign and Moses uses it as a model and an example of things to come. The saint does well to reflect on the many blessings of the LORD in order to overcome coming difficulties. The best way to be ‘still’ before the LORD is to flood your mind with memories of the many victories of the LORD.
The conquest of the Amorite territory is so sweet that Moses begins to petition the LORD for mercy. He wants to experience life in the new conquered territories. Who wouldn’t want to? He had spent all his life dreaming of this moment. Even now, the plunder alone, and the many cities taken over by Israel are pointing to greater things for the rest of the Community. But the LORD won’t listen. The decision is final. Moses is to go exactly as planned.
The prayers that proved so successful for others could not bring about change in his own circumstances. Moses is forbidden from even talking about it. It can be shocking that the LORD brings healing by the saint’s prayer on others, but the same prayer fails to bring healing on the saint himself! So strange!
Verse 1: “and we spent a long time wandering about in the hill country of Edom.”
The term wandering about doesn’t sound great but that’s the right term. The conquest of Canaan was meant to be a speed campaign going by the way the LORD dealt Egypt. The roadmap was clear but now the Community found itself wandering about.
There is a comment that the LORD kept on opposing them until he had destroyed them all. Won’t it be right to guess that the well documented difficulties that Israel faced in the wilderness were an act of judgment on the nation?
Verse 7 is interesting. Moses says Israel had not lacked anything in those 40 years. We know the Community had suffered from critical water shortage on a couple of occasions. In fact it was one of these moments that led Moses to sin and receive the same punishment as the rest of the Community.
Could it be that Moses is referring to a different type of abundance? It is a possibility. Israel’s doubt had made the ever-present provisions from the LORD disappear. We can read into this remark with the thought that it is Israel’s ungodliness which was responsible for the difficulties they experienced. We also know that not all difficulties were invited. The uninvited difficulties were an opportunity for the LORD to bless the Community. It does matter how we look at difficulties.
The overriding view appears to be this: that the LORD is in charge of events. The wandering in the desert wasn’t aimless. It was a ‘clear-out’ exercise. The battle against Sihon wasn’t won on Israel’s military strength, but it is an act of divine generosity.
We have another problem from Zelophehad’s daughters’ inheritance. Yes, it’s good that they got an inheritance. But what happens if they marry outside the tribe? The inheritance would be lost to other tribes. These concerns are brought before Moses and the leaders of the Community.
The LORD responds by agreeing with the concerns raised. A solution is required. In His dealings with man the LORD seems to move at man’s pace. We know the LORD did know about this problem the long before it cropped up. But man didn’t know. We cross the bridge when we get there.
If you saw a quarter moon one night, the LORD would agree with you that indeed the moon is a ‘slice’. If again after seeing a different shape you concluded that the moon changes its shape, the LORD would again agree with your observation because that is what you have seen. The LORD is like a father moving at a five-year-old child’s pace.
So our child has seen the other side of the moon. So with the latest version, changes are made to the law. The daughters are free to marry anyone but within the clan. This is important for the saint today. The saint today has property of more value than land. Who the saint marries would decide whether they lose the property or keep it. When the church insists that daughters of the kingdom marry within the kingdom, the wisdom is that we need to protect the one most important property we have – salvation.
Numbers ends here.
Indeed it has been a book of numbers. The important number hasn’t changed, though. It was 600,000 at the start. It remains 600,000 at the end. But the content of the box has completely changed.
Six hundred thousand at the start and the same at the end means the nation hasn’t at all increased in number. The Abrahamic blessing of increase has stalled. That is what the two censuses have revealed – one at the start and the other at the end.
Numbers has been about the number of years it has taken them from Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab, across from Jericho. It has also been about the numbers lost during the many rebellions in the many years of travel.
Chapters 13 and 14 stand out as defining moments. We have also counted other moments of rebellion followed by renewed laws in an attempt to re-educate the errant community.
Numbers has been about the name itself. It is accounts – the business of numbers. We have accounted for the losses (not so much the gains as we have seen little of that). We have lost Aaron and Miriam. And we are also ready for Moses’ last speech in Deuteronomy – before his death.
We have seen the other important figures in terms of numbers of animals required for this and that sacrifice. These have been important for Israel to connect back to her God.
God’s watch over Israel is highlighted in the story of Balaam. But there appears to be more to Balaam’s story. The universal declarations about the nature and character of the LORD via Balaam’s mouth are unparalleled in scripture.
The donkey talking to Balaam and the LORD putting words in Balaam’s mouth are an indictment on the nation that was birthed to do that very task.
We have a long list of stations along the way. It displays for us a picture of difficulties. Rebellion is always packaged with physical consequences.
Moses would pass on the two offices he occupied to Joshua and the priest Eleazar. Leadership of the State would go to Joshua with Eleazar the priest providing spiritual guidance on behalf of the nation.
A new generation begins to settle in the Promised Land. The land has reduced in size. We guess this is yet another change in number that the book has ably accounted for. The instruction to Zelophehad’s daughters to only marry within the tribe (in order to keep their inheritance) may be applied to the need for Israel to keep her marriage with the LORD intact otherwise her inheritance would be lost.
The book of Numbers ends unceremoniously because it is not the end. It is one piece in a very long story of God’s people. The ‘end’ opens the way for Moses’ last speech to the nation. So next is the book of Deuteronomy. It is the last book in the Torah.
This book is about numbers. One figure has reduced significantly. It is the size of the Promised Land. The LORD’S promise to Abraham saw us looking at a much bigger portion of land. In this chapter we have seen a much reduced portion of land. Later we shall see that the land that Israel eventually and actually occupied is much smaller.
We can learn one thing: the promises of the LORD are always bigger than our human capacity. What we eventually achieve is less than what the LORD offers. What is on display in your life is actually less than what the LORD has given!
Take a look at the names of leaders. Joshua is commissioned to lead the community in matters of the state, while matters relating to Sanctuary worship are left in the hands of Eleazar the priest. It’s a new cast. It reminds us of the many difficulties encountered in the wilderness. It is a moment one stops to count the losses. The leadership team at the start of the long trip is completely gone.
We do well to remind ourselves of the LORD’s name. “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Exodus 34 verses 6 and 7.
It is a fatal mistake by mankind to want to diminish the name of the LORD by ignoring the justice part of the LORD’s character. Indeed the LORD is one.
We should be grateful to the LORD for this chapter. It gives us a summary of the long trip from Egypt to the boundary of the Promised Land. The LORD had commanded Moses to put it in writing. The LORD is concerned about history. Future generations must hear about the miraculous works of the LORD. What is true about the Bible is that men were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the scriptures – but only generally true. Huge portions were written in response to a direct command from the LORD to record these historic events.
Verse 4 explains that the LORD had brought judgment on Egyptian gods. So we can look back and appreciate the choice of signs against Egypt. For example, we can see that the sign of complete darkness was a sign to defy the Egyptian sun-god.
The Israelites left Rameses and camped at Sukkoth. Between Sukkoth and the plains of Moab, Israel camped and decamped dozens of times. The lengthy list of stoppages tells its own story. But at last Israel is here.
The LORD repeats Israel’s mandate: destroy and possess. More appropriately, destroy then possess. Destruction needed to be complete. As history would have it, they didn’t destroy it completely. Instead they mixed in. The bad influences of Canaan infiltrated the Community of God’s people. But that is for later history.
Possession was important but only after destroying. The saint today is warned that you cannot have a clean walk with the LORD without completely destroying sinful elements in your life. As someone has said, you cannot escape a swarm of bees with honey in your hands.
When you read the Bible in pieces (which is very bad), you get the temptation to think that the LORD was cruel in ordering Israel to destroy Canaan completely. But if you have been through the book Exodus and Numbers you know that Israel suffered the same punishment each time she sinned. In fact the same punishment was awaiting Israel, just in case. The generation receiving these instructions is very different from the one that we started with in Exodus.
The consequence of sin is always death. This brings us to a point of understanding and appreciating the value of the cross. How grateful we should be for one who died on our behalf – the LORD Jesus.
We do have a hint here regarding the events of Judges. The LORD promises to punish Israel for any holiness failures – the same punishment that Canaan is about to suffer.
Israel begins to occupy the land. Three tribes request that they settle on the eastern side of the Jordan. But fearful of another rebellion Moses makes them promise that they would accompany their brothers into battle west of the Jordan.
Moses is very much aware of the potential trouble that this request might bring. He reminds the tribes of another rebellion that accounted for a mass clear-out. He knows very well that possession of the LORD’S promises hinges on obedience. The saint today does well to reflect on these pages with a sense of godly fear. The LORD’S promises are not an easy pick for just about everyone. Obedience is key.
One might want to reflect on Moses’ angry reaction with a question. Was he concerned that Israel’s military strength would be less by the two and half tribes? Indeed this appears to be the reason but why was he worried when the battle was actually the LORD’S. We want to believe the LORD fought for Israel.
His reference to the rebellion of chapters 13 and 14 may suggest his worry was elsewhere rather than on diminished military strength. Israel’s weak faith was fragile enough to be a factor in the battles ahead. They needed to feel humanly strong enough to take on the military campaigns on the western side of the Jordan.
The chapter may also raise a point in our direction to consider fellow saints even as we decide to settle. Have they settled or will they settle like we have? The point seems to be that the battle continues until my neighbor also settles. The comfort of a member of the household of faith is as important as my own comfort. It is a call to prayer for all saints, particularly those in troubled situations.
Moses has one more task before transitioning into glory in death. Midian must be destroyed.
There is one important pick from this chapter. We have more details about Balaam. We know that immediately after Balaam’s triumphant display of integrity, the scripture recorded for us yet another downer as Israel engaged in sexual immorality. Now we know who was behind the sexual immorality that rocked the nation of Israel. Balaam must have regretted (shortly after) turning down the handsome bribe from Barak.
The last time we saw Balaam, he stood tall having refused to take a handsome fee. He had been hired to curse Israel. We know the curse was going to be fruitless. As Balaam had put it; there is no divination against Israel. The LORD had put words in Balaam’s mouth – the same way He had put words in a donkey. When the power of the LORD had waned off, Balaam returned to his usual self. He sought to curse Israel but this time using a working formula. Sexual sin is always a working formula for diverting men’s attention from their LORD to satan.
The working formula was this: tell Midian chiefs to lead Israel into sexual sin. In this way Israel would destroy herself as the LORD would not tolerate sin. It is this sin of Balaam and others that attracted punishment on Midian and Balaam himself.
So chapter 31 is a record of Midian’s punishment. It is a record of Balaam’s punishment. Importantly it is a record of success for God’s community. Midian is destroyed completely. The plunder is shared as guided by the LORD.
We can look back at the story of Balaam with a couple of highlights.
Firstly, a sin situation isn’t purposeless. Israel’s sexual immorality had the destruction of the nation for a purpose. Even today the evil one knows how to get the saint destroyed – just cause him to sin. It is a time bomb planted in the saint’s life.
Secondly when divinations and witchcraft fail, the enemy turns to vanity and sinful self-gratification. This is always a working formula for destroying saints. Empty words don’t work.
But really chapter 31 has more. It’s a high point for Israel. It looks like we are off to a very good start. Looking at the sheep from the plunder, there was so much of it to go round the entire community – one sheep per man! Israel is enjoying herself. They are inheriting material wealth they didn’t work for, exactly as the LORD had said.
The aim of these instructions on vows seems to be an encouragement to treat one’s relationship with the LORD very seriously. The LORD isn’t an inanimate object like a stone that you can easily paint in different colors at will. So vows must be made seriously.
Another easy pick from this chapter is the order of authority expected in the community of God’s people. An unmarried woman living under the roof of her father is actually free to make vows to give or abstain from something. If a check by her father confirms that she has made a ‘good’ vow, then she remains under the vow and the conditions thereof. The exception though is that her father may cancel the deal and the LORD doesn’t hold the young woman accountable under these circumstances.
It provided another layer of safety for women regarding vows. A man’s role in God’s creation is to take responsibility while the woman’s role is to share responsibility with a man in her life. The measure of grace given to her regarding decision-making is one of shared accountability. Therefore her father or her husband can cancel her vows – and the LORD is agreeable. She, therefore, honors the LORD by obedience.
A Christless society is very unforgiving on men! Many are left in ruins as a consequence of a bad decision here and there. Judgment is often very harsh. The thought of one (father or husband) who can cancel and reverse stupid decisions for women is very cool.
These instructions may easily lead one to think of a possible denial of a right to honor the LORD. No. Emphasis is on the special privilege of the young woman or a married woman to have her vows revoked by another. Men didn’t have this chance. If a foolish decision came out, the man suffered the consequences all by himself. The lack of recourse for men in case of stupidity in decision-making leaves us with a need for mediation. A very foolish decision isn’t a good enough reason for one to die. Mediation is available. It is easy to see the cross in these lines.
We have a continuation of instructions on regular festivals. We have three festivals in this chapter – all in the seventh month. The chapter begins with the festival of Trumpets, then the festival of Atonement and lastly the important festival of Tabernacles (shelters or booths). The requirement to blow trumpets may sound strange but not entirely meaningless. It’s the blowing of trumpets that brought down the walls of Jericho. We can think of it as a declaration of the LORD’S victory in a month we can call as the Sabbath month, because of its many Sabbath events.
Again we see whole burnt offerings at these events. The animals are specially selected as food for the LORD – in whole burnt offerings. The regularity of these requirements paints for us a picture of the need for constant fellowship with the LORD. These offerings rank top. They are most holy.
The festival of tabernacles or the festival of shelters reflects the wilderness experiences. Israel is commanded to observe this festival as a way to appreciate the LORD’S presence with them in times of difficulties in the wilderness. But it’s not the difficulties that are important here but the many deliverances. The mathematics in the numbers of offerings during the festival of shelters seem to have a deeper meaning. However here the focus is on the burnt offerings. The two chapters seem to focus on burnt offerings. By these sacrifices the LORD is drawing us closer to Himself in fellowship.
During this month a total of 219 animals are sacrificed. Only 10 animals out of 219 are presented as sin offerings. The rest are offered as burnt offerings – a food offering to the LORD, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. We can see only less than 5% of these sacrifices can be considered as sin offerings. The rest are an act of deep worship put forth by the nation. Could it be that the LORD expects less repentance because saints are more drawn to him than to the world? All animals are male and without defects. Isn’t this telling us more about men’s role in leading mankind back to the LORD in real worship?
The saint is reminded of the need to be fully focused on his relationship with the LORD. It is the real reason for these festivals.
We have a rundown of important offerings to the LORD. There are two burnt offerings per day. This is pleasing food for the LORD. But we have seen this before! Why this duplication? The nation about to enter Canaan is very different from the nation that received these instructions at Mount Sinai. Besides, the many failings along the way are a good reason to repeat these instructions. In essence these instructions are literally like critical safety instructions. We have seen how deviations and violations are fatally punished.
We may also notice that after each failure the LORD repeats these laws – in the hope that man begins to see them as life. Instead of us viewing them as repetitions we do well to view them as yet another opportunity for a new page, a new start with the LORD. The apparent repetitions are a constant reminder of the LORD’S loving patience. So to a new generation these instructions are a brand new page for a people judged by their times – nothing for old time’s sake.
The Sabbath sacrifices are repeated with increased emphasis on their observance. Every first day of the month is to be observed with burnt offerings – in addition to daily sacrifices. If the first day of the month falls on Saturday, the thought here is that three offerings are expected: the daily offering, the Sabbath offering and the first-day-of-month offering. All these are burnt offerings – food for the LORD. Here is the thought: what must be done must be done. Righteousness is required at all the points: point A, point B and point C. Success at point A doesn’t guarantee success at the other points.
The Passover isn’t exactly a festival but an event. It kick-starts the festival of Unleavened Bread. The saint is reminded of the generosity of the LORD in saving Israel. The Cross comes into picture. How can we forget?
The festival of Harvest is a reminder of the LORD’S watch over the community in providing essentials for life. Today we celebrate this festival daily, in praise and thanksgiving – in all circumstances.
Two items are covered in this chapter. First we have the daughters of Zelophehad. He had no sons. The daughters stood disadvantaged under land inheritance regulations. Their case also presented a gap in the regulations. Who takes over Zelophehad’s land? Moses is clearly at a loss. He goes to the LORD for guidance.
The daughters are commended by the LORD. While the scripture answers a lot of questions there are many items that are subjected to man’s input. In this case the daughters of Zelophehad have a rare opportunity to interact with the LORD on a matter that was close to their hearts. As a consequence Moses is commanded to revise the regulations. It is an example of rare courage. Importantly, it is an example of the LORD’S generosity in allowing man (daughters) to direct and shape life’s outcomes.
All this time the LORD is making laws. Moses is simply communicating them to the people. Zelophehad’s daughters remind us of the LORD’S intention to cooperate with man over man’s destiny. The LORD’S reaction to the daughters request is a huge encouragement to individuals who feel that prayer is one way to participate in shaping one’s destiny.
It is also refreshing to see the daughters do what men had lamentably failed to do – ask. Just ask. The LORD doesn’t like complaining. Men should not complain. Men must learn to ask. The daughters had a request to make and the LORD heard them. They didn’t complain.
Secondly the LORD takes Moses on a trip to see for himself the vast land that the LORD had given to Israel. He was never going to step his foot on it. Like Aaron Moses sinned by dishonoring the LORD in front of the people in the desert of Zin. Now Moses concerns himself with matters of state leadership. He is looking to the future. Who is going to take over from him? How I wish I got clear instructions like Moses? Joshua is hand-picked by the LORD to succeed Moses.
The LORD has reasons for selecting Joshua. He had the spirit of leadership within him. He is not picked for his prophetic prowess or indeed for his military experience. He had all these qualities in good measure. He is picked for having a leadership spirit within.
The second census is taken of men 20 years and more. This is a completely new generation. None of the men numbered in the first censers were alive at this moment. The LORD had cleared house. Now a new generation was ready to move into Canaan.
At the first count Simeon numbered 59,300. At the second count Simeon numbered 22,200. The figures are telling us a story of diminished fortunes for the tribe. We can reflect on Simeon’s blessing in Genesis chapter 49 and see how it has played out right before our eyes.
Chapter 26 is about a census but more importantly the chapter gives us some prophetic reflection of key moments in the history of the nation. Diminished numbers for Simeon is representative of diminished numbers for the nation. It is an invitation to look at key moments that account for these poor figures. We are far from Abraham’s blessing of increase.
The first line begins by referencing the latest rebellion. Korah together with Abiram and Dathan have been singled out for a rebellion that further reduced Israel’s numbers. Nadab and Abihu were among the casualties.
603,550 (chapter 1) at the start and 601,730 nearly after 40 years is not a good sign at all. It’s like the LORD stopped time. Nearly the same number enters Canaan. The LORD has a way to bring us back to the same point!
The instruction to allocate land by lot is to ensure fairness and maintain order. But is was actually a complex process as we see a seeding process where large portions are given to larger tribes. We now understand why Simeon got what we can call as portions of land within Judah because the tribe was very small by this time.
A combination of Moabite women and Israel’s unfaithfulness is the main subject here. Sexual infidelity is an outward manifestation of spiritual infidelity – clearly on display here.
Israel has quickly forgotten her LORD. We want to suspect we have the same formula as in Exodus. When Israel substituted her LORD with a golden calf, the result was revelry and wild conduct – pagan indulgence without moral restraint.
Idolatry is always the first step. Idolatry and then adultery. It is always the same formula. One must first forsake his God and after that you have the physical manifestation of sin. The LORD’S response is swift. The penalty of sin is death. 24,000 people die before Phinehas’ quick action saves the day.
The LORD is happy with Phinehas’ zeal. This is so strange. The LORD is happy that someone moved quickly to stop mass murder, but this is murder by the LORD Himself! It is the mystery of Mercy and Justice combining once again. Justice nearly got its way! But mercy prevailed eventually. Importantly these lines point us to the cross. It took the death of one important sinner for peace to reign again. He carried our sins; then Zimri and Cozbi don’t have to die in their sexual sin.
24,000 is an important number in the book of numbers. Deaths. It represents yet another wave of deaths as a result of sin. The wages of sin is death. We hear it very loudly in this book.
The chapter starts with Balaam’s third message. We have a total of 7 messages and 5 of them are in this chapter.
Balaam is momentarily so possessed by the Spirit of God that he likens himself to one who hears the very words of the LORD. He has seen. He has heard. Now he communicates the messages – statements reminiscent of patriarchal blessings.
In anger (and frustration) the king orders Balaam out of his presence. Regardless of the dismissal, Balaam has time to deliver 4 other messages.
At this point Balaam stands tall as a man of godly integrity. He has despised the promised rewards in order to honor the LORD, at least on the face of it. Balak’s big bribe hasn’t moved him to sin, at least for now.
In Balaam’s 4th message we find a messianic prophecy. In the immediate context we find references to Judah’s blessing of the scepter. But it’s in the distant shores of time that we see the real fulfillment of Balaam’s prophecy. Jesse’s son was a pretender star foreshadowing the real star, the LORD Jesus Christ.
The 5th, 6th and 7th messages speak of Israel’s conquest of Canaan and beyond. It actually represented the lands that roughly can be likened to the vast lands that the LORD had given to Abraham.
Balak must have had enough of Balaam at this point. “Then Balaam got up and returned home, and Balak went his own way,” verse 25. And the chapter ends.
The king of Moab (Balak) has three sets of altars built, at three different locations, from which he hopes Balaam can curse Israel. Instead of cursing Israel Balaam pronounces a blessing on the nation of Israel. Like a donkey, Balaam is simply a conduit of God’s message. He cannot say anything else.
The first set of seven altars are erected at Bamoth Baal. From there Balaam is able to see part of the Israelites down in the valley (Chapter 22). The first prophecy or oracle comes from this place: “How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?” Numbers 23 verse 8.
Having failed to secure a curse on Israel, Balak shifts camp. Perhaps the results would be different from a different location. Another set of seven altars is setup. From here Balaam gives us his second prophecy:” God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? Numbers 23:19 NIV. It is from the mouth of this witchdoctor that we hear these great declarations concerning the character of God.
It is difficult to guess what this incident meant to Israel at the time. But for Israel shortly after this and for us today, we can look back and appreciate the LORD’S tender-loving watch over Israel. The LORD using a donkey and a witchdoctor to speak, is indicative of Israel’s failure. It is Israel that should have stood up to make these declarations about a God they had experienced in person. It is even more damning of Israel that a pagan prophet should be wishing to have a life and privileges that Israel hardly appreciated.
Verses 19-24 contain some very deep declarations the saint today needs to reflect on regularly. There is no witchcraft against Israel. There is no misfortune against Israel…these are great foundational statements concerning the saints. Israel stood protected from witchcraft. All these transactions were happening without Israel knowing about them. The LORD was busy at work on the mountain, contending with Balak and directing the witch Balaam…even making the donkey speak! May the LORD contend with your enemies today!
Angry Balak cannot stand this anymore. He orders Balaam to neither curse nor bless Israel. The project has failed. But we still have another location and another set of seven altars. This takes us into chapter 24.
Arad is completely destroyed as an answer to Israel’s prayer. How does this prayer stand in the light of Israel’s standing order to destroy Canaanites? The prayer is positive in the sense that it aligns with the LORD’S stated purpose. It’s a prayer that the LORD was always going to answer. The prayer is negative in the sense that it reflects doubt. The LORD didn’t need incentives from Israel to act on what was purposed long before they even started off from Egypt.
The book of Numbers gives us a sad feeling because of the high frequency of low moments. Here again we have Israel complaining about hardships in the wilderness. We do agree that the nation faced multiple problems but it’s the way they reacted which brought them trouble.
The complaining is easily understood. It is almost always happening with this community. It is the nature of the punishment and the nature of the ‘solution’ which are very strange. Because the solution is clearly outside the normal remedial measures at the Sanctuary, we suspect it belongs to ‘special symbols’ meant to highlight the unique nature of the cross. But with what we now know, we can read into these events with the cross in mind. The snakes represented the evil that was destroying Israel. It would take the same evil to be lifted up at the cross for mankind to be saved. Indeed at the cross the LORD Jesus became sin and carried our punishment. All who look to the cross find Salvation.
They traveled to Moab, passing and stopping at several other points. Verse 14 and 27 give us a picture that the narrator incorporated material from other existing sources of the time. From this base Israel would go on to defeat the Amorites and occupy their land. Bashan with its king, Org was also defeated and the land occupied by Israel. It looks like a great start! But the Ammonites were too strong. So even here you can easily tell that the LORD grants victory according to the measure of our faith. Israel half-believed and therefore Israel half-conquered.
Miriam dies at Kadesh. It’s been a very long trip for her. We all remember the young Miriam cooperating with God to save baby Moses out of the Nile. She later on led the women in a praise song as the nation left Egypt. Next we shall mourn the death of Miriam’s brother Aaron – the High priest. But we have a couple of items in between.
The nation on the move once again encounters water problems. The LORD provides for the people but only at a huge cost to both Moses and Aaron. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses says and does stuff that brings them the same punishment as the rest of the people. God’s standards are rigidly high!
The land of promise is nearly there but we have Edom in between. Ancient hostilities between the two brothers (Jacob and Esau) are renewed. Frightened Israel must take another route. We would expect Israel to easily sort out Edom having seen what the LORD did to Egypt. But years of doubt and importantly the recent issues of spies have left Israel devoid of faith and confidence. So the approaching military machinery of Edom was enough trouble to make them detour.
A life of constant doubt, a life of short memory, a life of lack of appreciation of the mighty works of the LORD, a life of fear even when the presence of the LORD is visibly present, it is a life that poorly prepares the saint for real battles. Faith isn’t a light switch you easily turn on or off at will. It must be developed over time as we live a life reflecting the victories of the LORD over battles on a daily basis. These could be battles in small things like telling the truth or saying thanks to the LORD for a meal provided.
The message Moses sent to Edom reminds us of Jacob sending messages to Esau as they prepared to face each other. In a moment of great fear Jacob had turned to the LORD in prayer and the situation was saved. But this Jacob has transformed into doubt and fear. He no longer knows the character of his God.
The chapter opens with some very strange instructions. Moses is commanded to arrange a red cow which Eleazer has to burn completely outside the camp. The instruction is a unique procedure for producing water and ash for purifying one who comes in contact with a dead body.
The picture we get here is that death is to be feared. Rather than a peaceful transition into eternity, death represents a darkness that Israel should be afraid of. Throughout the Torah death presents a consequence of sin. It is a separation from one’s God and not exactly a return to one’s maker, as we understand it today.
So having formulated the cleansing material, now the holy script turns its attention to details of application. Again we see that you still needed to purify yourself even if a contact with death was purely accidental. Here is the point: electricity will shock you even when you unintentionally touch it. The holiness of the LORD is something like that. It is part of the LORD’S nature. The worshiper should be aware of this holiness at all times.
An emphasis to stay pure underlines the need to seek life. It’s a reflection of a search for life which Adam lost in the garden. We can see it as an attempt to awaken man to the realities of death that the LORD pronounced on sinful Adam. So man is encouraged to seek life and that is only made possible by the life-giver Himself. It’s the work that the LORD models here but completed by the same LORD at Calvary.
Again we see the detailed rituals as pointing to the cross. The color of the cow and the quality of the animal all point to the need for a perfect process. The details are too much and truly difficult to keep. But that gives us a picture of what it takes to draw closer to the LORD. It never came on the cheap. How grateful the saint should be for the work at the cross!
Probably because of recent events, Korah’s rebellion, the LORD repeats the roles of the priests and the Levites concerning the sanctuary. The Levites will take care of the entire Sanctuary but the core components of the sanctuary are reserved for Aaron and his sons.
We see layers of responsibility. For any violations in the inner chambers, Aaron is to bear responsibility. These rules are needed as the LORD is determined to ensure that the unfortunate events of Korah’s rebellion and the subsequent deaths are not repeated.
We can clearly see the reason for the law. While traffic rules are meant to encourage order on our roads, the law here serves a very different purpose. Finally it is the only reason the saint should have for keeping the law. The LORD doesn’t want people to die. Sin brings death. The law is meant to prevent death. In his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul states: “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Looking at how easily the LORD pronounces the death sentence for just about every sin, we easily understand what Paul meant. The law is repeated endlessly in these pages to ensure that people don’t die. Who can claim that the Holy Spirit doesn’t warn them each time they sin?
Then we have details of gifts from the LORD to Aaron as he works in and around the sanctuary. The main point we easily see is that the LORD is sharing with Aaron. The LORD’S portion is burnt while Aaron’s portion is consumed by Aaron and his sons. The gifts of the LORD are holy. It points to the generosity of the LORD.
The Lord said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites. Numbers 18 verse 20.
The saint today may draw on this statement to think of material possessions as less important compared with his or her relationship with the LORD. He is our portion – our everything. With this thought you can go on and have property but you will know its place in your life.
In this very short chapter, the LORD is doing one thing: confirming His choice of Aaron as the High priest. A simple but miraculous test of approval is devised. Staffs from tribal leaders with identity markings are placed before the LORD. Aaron’s staff is selected.
The hope is that the matter of leadership is settled. But these lines show us more. The LORD is equally unhappy about the deaths. Again it is hoped that by settling the issue of leadership more deaths would be avoided. This is the merciful side of the LORD. It is the work of salvation. But salvation from what? In this case, it’s salvation from rebellion which is the real cause of deaths.
The approval process is very interesting. It is not an aptitude test nor a skills test. It is best described as an official communique – the LORD’S work of election. The staffs presented before the LORD are not CVs. The LORD qualifies the called. They go on to produce fruit. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, for the saint today.
Now this feels like it. Chapter 15 feels out of place given the absorbing events in chapters 13 and 14. With chapter 16 normal business resumes. It’s Korah’s turn for insolence. The holy script hasn’t given us detailed reasons why Korah and his friends opposed Moses and Aaron. I think we can guess.
Moses is executing the commands of the LORD faithfully and it’s these commands that have landed him in deep trouble. The more faithful you become the more removed you are from normal human existence. You become the target of opposition. The uprising is meant to remove Moses from his post as leader of the people. The humble Moses leaves it in the hands of the LORD. Who wouldn’t feel for Moses?
It appears Moses’ view of Dathan and Abiram (fellow rebel leaders) was that these two men had been wrongly influenced by the Levite Korah. Moses attempts to clear the air by dialogue. But Moses is shocked by their response. The problem was bigger. It wasn’t just the Levites.
Dathan and Abiram respond very rudely. The LORD responds in anger and wants to clear the rot – an entire community. But Moses and Aaron intercede and only the ring leaders and their families are punished. The earth opens and swallowed Korah and his friend. The end is swift and horrible!
The community reacts in anger against Moses and Aaron for ‘killing God’s people’. The LORD’S latest reaction is wholesale clear out and doesn’t even wait for Moses’ opinion. Moses knows the consequences and quickly dispatches an aged Aaron to intercede. The plague is stopped but only after 14700 deaths. What a sad situation!
It is very clear that the role of an intercessor had become more important. The need for one to stand in the gap for Israel was anticipated here. It points to the cross and how Calvary stands between the dead and the living. The real High priest would stand between life and death – not with a censer but with his own blood.
Chapter 15 begins with details on special gifts to the LORD in the land of promise. Any special gift should be made together with a grain offering. Based on regulations concerning grain offerings of Leviticus Chapter 2, you want to conclude that the same rules apply regarding grain offerings. Only a handful was used and the rest was given to Aaron and his sons. The picture of the LORD’S generosity is beautifully painted here. Whenever the LORD is worshipped, man is blessed. Indeed the worship of the LORD blesses the saint.
Again we see how the LORD distinguishes between the rich and the poor. Any sacrifice from the herd attracts a bigger amount of flour while smaller animals – usually given by less rich people – require smaller amounts of flour. The underlying idea stresses the importance of responsibility. With more comes more responsibility. All were stewards before the LORD. The rich as well as the poor poured equal worship regardless of size of sacrifice.
The LORD provisions a way for escaping punishment when the community or individual sins unintentionally. But there appears to be no way for a defiant sinner. Now we can understand the connection between chapters 14 and 15. We came to chapter 15 and thought we just skipped some pages! The story that was flowing nicely, painfully though, was rudely interrupted by what we would consider as repeated instructions. But it’s still one story being told. Here Israel is the defiant sinner. There is simply no way out for them. The LORD will cut them off one by one until an entire generation of sinners is wiped out. Only if there was a mediator!
These pages are looking forward. Moses could only do so much. His mediation role had been stretched to its limit. Under these conditions the thief who had deliberately and willingly chosen a life of crime would not receive forgiveness. The thief who admitted his crimes and accepted a death penalty had no chance at all. Jesus is that man who is higher than Moses – the LORD God Himself who alone could stoop down and save the situation. The forgiveness shown at the cross exemplifies it perfectly! Many of us still receive forgiveness for the sins we intentionally commit. I’m grateful to the LORD for this.
Then we have the story of a Sabbath law breaker! The LORD commands that the law breaker is stoned to death. Again we can see that we are being reminded of Israel’s sin and what it should mean. Israel has just broken the Sabbath. The rest in the land of promise is the Sabbath that Israel has just rejected.
The tassels on their clothes are not a fashion situation but a reminder of the LORD’S COMMANDS. It is a fitting way to end the chapter and also reflect on the events of chapters 13 and 14.
We have a very low point here. You thought the golden calf experience was bad enough, but here we are again! Some things never change. The people reject the Promised Land on account of fear and instead plan to elect another leader, in place of Moses, for a return trip back to Egypt. We are yet to hear from the LORD.
In the meantime there is real ‘mutiny’ in the camp. Confusion follows confusion. Moses is fast losing grip on the proceedings. The people are thinking of stoning their leaders!
By now we know very well what to expect from the LORD under these circumstances. Moses is ordered to step aside so that the entire community is cleared. A fresh start with Moses was always an option. But Moses intercedes. Moses appeals to the revealed name of the LORD. The nation is saved but only in part.
You would understand why Moses is described as being very humble. Israel had been very rude to both the LORD and His servant Moses. A thought to destroy them and restart with Moses wouldn’t be such a bad idea to many of us – a very much needed break. But this is Moses. Through him the LORD displays His generosity while at the same time maintaining justice. Remember the LORD’S name: both compassionate and gracious yet punishing sin.
Then we have the famous statement: “So tell them; “As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say:” Numbers 14 verse 28. Whenever quoted, this statement rings with positivity and encouragement. It isn’t so in the original context. The LORD had heard the people wish they had died in Egypt or even in the wilderness, instead of dying at the hands of the Canaanites in battle. Such was their doubt and fear. This statement is a history changer in that the LORD granted their wish to die in the wilderness. Consequently, Israel would spend 40 years on a trip that would have lasted under 14 days. The military charge into Canaan is called off and the people must wonder about in the wilderness until everyone counted in the first census dies.
We have more drama before the chapter ends. Israel quickly realizes her sin and attempts to correct the situation, not by repentance, but by going ahead with the mission – yet another sin. What a chapter!
The book reaches its climax here. What we have next are chapters through the rest of the 40 years of less grace, less faith and less generosity as the LORD clears out the dead and bad wood. But there is a generation that is taking over. So the LORD will repeat laws, generosity and care for the sake of the new crop. It is a mixed menu but very instructive. The saint does well to remember that the LORD does carry a big whip with Him each time He visits. As these very pages will tell us later, the LORD doesn’t change!
The LORD orders Moses to send out 12 spies to explore the land. Approximately two years after leaving Egypt, Israel is now ready to take possession of the land the LORD had given to Abraham.
The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever… Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” Genesis 13 verses 14 to 15 and verse 17.
In this chapter the LORD once again invites Abraham – now as Israel, to ‘look around’. Finally Abraham can take possession of the land. But not until the usual drama of unbelief and rebellion. How different things are now! Abraham had responded by settling at Mamre and building an altar to the LORD there. From this base Abraham would go on and defeat four powerful kings whose land was equivalent to what Israel was about to inherit. Now his children respond in fear and doubt.
Chapter 13 is key in deciding the length of the journey, as we shall see shortly. We shall see how a journey of 14 days ended up being a journey of 40 years. The book of Numbers is about explaining these strange numbers.
In these lines we can see how fear and doubt transform human perception. Because of fear and doubt, the land that was reported to be productive suddenly became a bad land that consumed its inhabitants. The more they focused on the enemy the more diminished they became in their own sight. What you look at in the moment of decision determines your destiny. If only they looked at the LORD who helped them defeat a far more superior Egyptian army at the Red Sea, the outcome of their faith was going to be very different. Today the saint has the word of the LORD to enrich their CV as they face battles. All mountains become small, as we look at the greatness of the LORD.
Miriam and Aaron oppose Moses. On the face of it the reason for the opposition seems to rise from Moses’ marriage to an unnamed African woman. We already know that Moses was married to Zipporah who gave him two sons named Gershom and Eliezer. At this stage Moses was above 80 and probably Zipporah was dead. We have very little information on the first family. The mention of the Cushite (Ethiopian) wife for Moses here is motivated by the jealous incident detailed in this chapter.
Both Aaron and Miriam began their argument with a reference to God’s grace over Moses. He wasn’t the only one that the LORD had spoken to, so they said. There is no reference to the law as the basis to oppose Moses’ marriage to the Cushite woman. What we see here is the usual (and typical) family resentment of a brother’s choice for a wife. We would suspect that Miriam led the opposition, based on women’s natural reaction in these issues, hence her being singled out for a stronger rebuke from the LORD.
In chapter 11 we saw the community in uproar over food. Now we have issues right within the top leadership team. Moses doesn’t protest to the LORD but instead it’s the LORD who moves in to protect and save the situation. It had been a trying moment for the nation in transit. We would suspect that there was a lot of resentment for Moses since he was the conduit for all the strict instructions from the LORD to the people. Today those who champion the LORD’S will and purposes do well to reflect on this passage. They suffer the wrath directed at the LORD. Man’s angry and sinful reaction against God is often directed at the subjects of the kingdom.
Chapter 12 is therefore a continuation of trouble for the nation. In fact it is these chapters in the middle of the book that define the book of Numbers. In the introduction we had wondered why the population of six hundred thousand men at the start was still six hundred thousand men after 40 years. At Kibroth Hattaavah in chapter 11, the community suffered loss as the LORD struck the nation with a severe plague. We can call it loss number one. We are still counting. The book of Numbers is actually about accounting for the various key numbers.
Jerusalem will be attacked but her attackers will eventually be destroyed. Is this information the sealed scroll that Isaiah is talking about? Yes, perhaps. But there is more for the people to understand.
These people worship the LORD in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. There are consequences for this poor relationship with the LORD.
Then the prophet talks about a time when the LORD’s voice isn’t a secret anymore. Even the deaf will hear it. The humble will rejoice in the LORD. The LORD will have restored everything.
The Book of Revelation talks about several sealed scrolls. We guess these scrolls are sealed against the wicked. But the LORD Jesus Christ spoke plainly to His followers. He was a Shepherd whose voice they understood clearly. He has continued to speak to His followers by the written word and by the Spirit of the LORD. Consequently, they keep His name Holy – no fake worship!
So you easily know where you stand: Keep His name holy, acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob; stand in awe of the God of Israel; gain an understanding of the ways of the LORD; no longer complain about the instructions of the LORD. Then you are born-again!
A time for vain worship is here; but also here is the time for the humble who keep holy the name of the LORD. Isaiah is written for all time to a people that must look at it and decide their position.
The first section deals with Israel’s drunken leaders. It reflects poor judgment, lack of direction, and general drunkenness of the mind. Nothing is normal. They are proud for nothing but the LORD will humble them with an attack from someone stronger.
Judah is equally wicked. Her prophets and priests are so drunk that they stagger. In their drunken state, they feel they are too educated to listen to the basics. They are tired of God’s dos and don’ts – too many instructions via the prophet.
Then God responds: “Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people.” Verse 11. It refers to a time of exile when Jerusalem would be destroyed and people would be forced to listen to a foreign language while in exile. This lesson won’t be ignored.
The Spirit of the LORD speaks softly to an individual’s spirit. The expectation is that you respond with a child’s faith. Don’t laugh about it – pretending wisdom and knowledge. The LORD may use a stronger voice that you won’t miss.
Isaiah speaks to people who feel they have it all under control. All is covered. Money, connections, political power, or position; all can give false security to an individual. “It cannot touch us,” so they think.
But the LORD says, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.” Verse 16b. Isaiah has offered an alternative; it is perfect and can be trusted. We can rely on it. The New Testament reader knows the scripture is referring to the LORD Jesus Christ. He is the Cornerstone. You can trust him for perfect stability.
Can we understand this message? The bed is too short and the blanket too narrow! Think about it and you will discover there isn’t any substance in what we have trusted. It is scary that we are hanging on a single thread that is about to give up. But see! There is a tested stone in Zion – the LORD Jesus Christ. He can be trusted.
An individual can see God’s perfect plan for them and appreciate the wisdom from above. Only in Christ do pieces come together!
The LORD promises to punish Israel’s enemies. But they can make peace with the LORD and avoid this punishment. The compassion of the LORD speaks loudest.
Israel is the vineyard of the LORD. He watches over it day and night. Granted, but what about Israel’s suffering? The word discipline hasn’t been used but it has been described. Israel would be gathered from exile. The exile was Israel’s payment for her sins.
The chapter uses the name Jacob for Israel to keep us reminded of the Abrahamic promise. And here we have it beautifully repeated: “Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit.” It follows the cleansing of the land and of a people of God – a time when no Asherah pole shall remain standing.
Then the LORD laments the failure of the wicked to make peace with the LORD. They are a people without understanding; so their Maker shows them no compassion. It is a different story for the scattered remnant. The LORD will gather them one by one and bring them to the place of worship.
The gathering of God’s people is varied both in time (one-by-one) and space (Assyria and Egypt). The LORD’s servant must understand God’s heart for the lost. The lost must appreciate the compassions of the LORD and know they are in and not out. They can still make peace with the LORD and avoid punishment. They can come back to a place where they belong.
So central to the Christian belief system is chapter 26 that you feel you are reading one of the Pauline letters.
The LORD is coming from His heavenly place to punish the people of the earth for their sins. But before that, there is the ‘little while’ until God’s anger is over. Let the saint go into his house and shut the door behind him. It is time to hide as trouble circles.
The prophet is speaking directly with less imagery. Murderers and what they represent will be exposed. This is nothing other than judgment day! The LORD will have revived those long dead. Their bodies will have come back to life. Verse 19.
We were in pain and agony. Part of the pain is the saint’s desire for God – for God’s rule in a world of extreme wickedness. “Even in the land of righteousness, people still do wrong.” Regardless, “we follow your will and put our hope in you; you are all that we desire.” Even for his close walk with the LORD, the prophet still needed the completeness that only comes from the LORD’s glorious coming.
While the saint hides, the wicked have it easy. The LORD is kind to the wicked yet they never learn to do what is right. They never know that the LORD will punish them.
The prophet prays that the LORD puts His enemies to shame. Let them see just how much the LORD loves His people. Of course, the day comes when the LORD makes it all clear.
Isaiah toggles between his current circumstances and the extreme future that the LORD allowed him to see. But nothing is confusing anymore. The prophet has spoken plainly and clearly. He has talked about global wickedness in his references to the earth. He has also talked about the suffering of the remnant until the coming of the LORD – the famous ‘little while’ has its first steps in the Old Testament.
The resurrection of the dead, so prominent in the New Testament, is strongly rooted here. The future is here. The LORD will give victory to His people – in installments for ours and Isaiah’s troubling times. But this chapter has also clearly pointed to the final victory when the LORD reigns in glory.
When you see what Isaiah has seen, praise flows naturally.
The LORD has shown Isaiah the future. The plans of the LORD haven’t failed. Instead, the LORD has faithfully carried out the plans He made long ago. The enemy and the oppressor are destroyed. But the saints are safe under the care of the Almighty.
What the saints have waited for has come to pass. They rejoice at the coming of their savior. A new government is in place. And the LORD prepares a banquet for His subjects. It is a celebration!
The Sovereign Lord will destroy death forever! He will wipe away the tears from everyone’s eyes and take away the disgrace his people have suffered throughout the world. The Lord himself has spoken. Verse 8.
The saint may need reminding that they are reading Isaiah and not the Book of Revelation! Yes, the scripture is talking about the same thing! And it is gloriously beautiful! You easily understand why the prophet praises the LORD.
The key lines in this chapter are that the LORD will punish wickedness; and that the LORD takes care of His own. How the saint waits for a time when death, disgrace, and general frustration are removed from the face of the earth!
Probably the world news will be about the saint: he wasn’t so foolish, after all.
Probably tired of sampling individual peoples for judgment, and having a fruitless search for righteousness among the world’s peoples, groups, and nations, Isaiah visits the entire earth. The LORD God gives him the vision for the entire earth – Entire humanity and its habitat under the judgment of the Creator God. And it’s not good news!
Wickedness isn’t a localized problem. It has a global scope. So is judgment. So is the compassion of the Creator God. In the midst of judgment, Isaiah sees global righteousness. It is the kingdom of the Branch, Immanuel – the son born to us.
From the ends of the earth, we hear singing: “Glory to the Righteous One.” Verse 16. It should be every saint’s album – a single sung constantly. Heaven heard the saint and reported it in this chapter!
But Isaiah is still worried about the rest.
The world has defined vulnerability as follows: laypeople; workers and not owners; nobodies and not celebrities; beggars and not bankers; have-nots and not haves. But when the LORD shows up, all these lines disappear. Only the rule of the Christ in an individual’s life matters.
Verse 1 suggests a decimation of the earth – the physical host of humanity. It has consequences on the guests – great and small alike. We get the picture of physical destruction in a single swipe both in time and space. It is actually different from judgments on individual persons or groups of peoples.
Verse 6 may suggest otherwise – a curse consuming the earth. We know the reason: “they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.”
The vision is complex but we can still ponder a couple of key thoughts: “so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion that it falls – never to rise again.” And “they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.” So we have destruction from which the earth never recovers. We also keep our thoughts on the everlasting covenant that humanity has broken.
The mention of “the powers in the heavens” is interesting. They are punished together with the kings of the earth. But on Mount Zion is the glorious rule of the LORD Almighty – remember the vision of the son with the government on His shoulders. Definitely the Branch, Immanuel, or as we shall see later, the servant. Isaiah 42, 52, and 53.
Probably the Book of Revelation is repeating the same thought as Isaiah when it talks about the 24 elders. We cannot be shocked as we are looking at the ‘everlasting covenant’. Nothing changes!
The LORD announces the destruction of Tyre and Sidon. Pride is the reason. They are godless. The Creator God doesn’t exist in Tyre and Sidon. They are commercial centers whose wealth is down to trade, commerce, and industry. Work hard, deal wisely, and schedule your moves properly. That is all you need to succeed. It is a world without the LORD God.
But the LORD has decreed disaster for Tyre.
Tyre’s destruction is one against the ‘run of play’. The sea won’t believe it. When the LORD acts, rules of success stand in amazement. How can this happen? It defeats logic. Tyre shouldn’t fall! But it happens because the LORD has decreed. No stability is stable enough to hold its own when the Creator God decides.
Seventy years look like a figure-of-speech but historic references may confirm these time-based events. Israel had her own seventy years under foreign rule. Could it also refer to the sabbatical period of the Torah? Could it be a reference to the need of rest in the LORD Jesus Christ that the concept of Sabbath seems to so strongly project?
Regardless, the chapter ends with the mention of the worship of the Creator God. It follows the same pattern that we have seen with every judgment. The purpose is the same. Could I salvage value out of punishment? Can I still get back my lost children? Will they see it and return to me? You would guess the Creator God is longing for a moment of restoration.
Let restoration be the last word – even for the lost!
Save for the New Testament, the vision or visions of this chapter are an impossibility. They seem to combine images from different movies to explain one point: the LORD’s servant, presented as Eliakim, will have the key to the house of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
The New Testament reader knows only the LORD Jesus Christ fits this description. But then we see this same peg cut down and the confusion increases. If this peg is anything close to the son or the branch of earlier chapters, aren’t we looking at an everlasting government of righteousness?
Of course, that would be the trouble of looking at multiple images and trying to figure out what it all means. And flying into the future and back into the present at the same time doesn’t make for a good ride. Regardless, we can look at a couple key lines.
Men and women take on loose talk and loose living. It all means nothing because and regardless, we shall all die. The LORD detests it and the warning is strong. Be serious and weep in repentance! But alas, there is joy and revelry. Aren’t we looking at our own attitude towards the warnings of scripture?
Therefore, the LORD decrees zero forgiveness. Sad. We can look back at all this with a heavy heart and sink into the brokenness of the spirit within. We can repent. We can have a new page! We can also take the warning that a time comes when the loving key shuts the door that no man is permitted to open.
Three prophecies: Babylon, Edom, and Arabia. Babylon is more interesting. The lines in this chapter appear to describe Belshazzar’s fall at the hands of the Medes. They are eating and drinking. They feel safe. But suddenly disaster strikes. God’s people can rejoice!
What does Babylon’s fall mean to the saint? Well, a time comes when the oppressor is destroyed. And to the Babylonian by heart? Whatever goes up must come down! The LORD is behind it all – operating through enemy and ally alike. Working through elements of nature as well as through human activity.
So significant was the fall of Babylon that the Book of Revelation repeats these words: “With a mighty voice he shouted: ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’ She has become a dwelling for demons and a haunt for every impure spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.’” Revelation 18 verse 2
Eventually, all evil will be punished. Babylon’s sin is idolatry manifesting itself as pride. “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Daniel 4 verse 30.
The message is fully unpacked by the New Testament: “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” Revelation 18 verse 4b.
Nothing has changed. The message still remains. Come out of your sinful existence and receive your salvation. Know that Babylon will one day be destroyed. The LORD has decreed.
There can be a temporal relief. Ask the question again and the same fate still awaits the wicked. The LORD will punish wickedness. Come out of her and be separate! The prophecy against Edom warns against complacency when the LORD gives temporal relief or success. Don’t mistake it for approval or for a permanent presence of ‘enjoyment’.
Isaiah’s visions go out to the international community. Yes. The peoples of this world receive their fate – but it is all to do with the Creator God’s decision. The time is rigidly fixed.
“And we thought they were our best hope, that they’d rescue us from the king of Assyria – them the Egyptians and the Cushites.
What have we depended on for help during moments of crises? Money? Friends? Connections? Family? Intelligence?
The LORD God comes in and warns humanity against putting trust in things other than the LORD Himself. And a time comes when human pillars are removed. The LORD wants the saint to see just how worthless it is to trust in things other than the Creator God.
Yet a man cannot live without leaning on something. We cannot stand by ourselves. The future is uncertain. Planning is always, and must always be part of our design. We always want to feel secure. But who is providing that security? A blessing from the LORD or the provider of the blessing?
None of the above. Isaiah seems to point to something else. And it’s not blessing-centered. Is it not the LORD Himself behind the troubles that humanity is facing? Egypt and Cush will have their own punishment and the LORD has decreed it.
Yes, it is the LORD God but never a blessing-centered solution; not as we think of it. The absence of conflict and or the presence of material means to avoid crises.
He is the Prince of peace but never the peace we know. He is the River of Life but never the life we know. Yet it is everything we have desired; everything we have wanted; everything we need – the desire of ages. The LORD God is what we have always needed. And we often miss it.
He is the Peace we always seek in peace deals. He is the satisfaction we desire in our pursuits. He is the dad we have always needed and seek to have in humans. Won’t the fall of our pillars – Egypt and Cush remind us of the real deal?