Numbers


Numbers 33-36 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  His instructions will provide a blessed future for us

I really don’t like going to the doctor, but sometimes I just have to do it.  A while back a doctor diagnosed me with pharyngitis, sinusitis and some other itis and then ordered a prescription of antibiotic to kill all the infection.  His most important instruction was that I will be certain to take all the medicine even when I started feeling better because we want to kill all the infection or it could return.  And really, when those with experience and authority give instructions to us, it’s wise to follow them.  Sadly, the Israelites just didn’t see it that way. 

@ Numbers 33
The Israelites had finally finished their 40-year trek in the desert and sat poised to enter Canaan, God’s Promised Land.  Through Moses, God gave a prescription of sorts to the Israelites for them to enjoy a healthy and productive life in Canaan.  “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel: When you cross the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the people living there. You must destroy all their carved and molten images and demolish all their pagan shrines. Take possession of the land and settle in it, because I have given it to you to occupy.” (51-53)  The instructions seem clear enough, take all the medicine, drive out all the people and destroy all their idols.

Like my doctor explained to me, God let the Israelites know what would happen should they fail to drive out all the people, “But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live.  And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them.” (55-56)  And as we know, that is precisely what happened to Israel.

Because they failed to drive out all the Canaanites and destroy all the idols, the Israelites’ everyday lives were slowly infiltrated by them, and this brought about their downfall.  Eventually, the Assyrians and Babylonians swept in and drove them out of their land.  What part of all do we not understand?

I’m happy to report that I have taken all my medicine so that not even a little trace of infection is left to grow and infect my body again. What we don’t destroy could destroy us. And so it is with sin.  How foolish it is to preserve something that we know to be sin simply because it seems so harmless, because it is too beautiful to let go of or because it makes us feel good.  There’s no such thing as a little bit of pornography, a little bit of stealing or a little bit of lying because eventually it will grow, spread and easily affect our entire lives.

The lesson we learn from the Israelites today is to follow all of God’s instructions, and then we can be assured that we will live happily and healthily in the land He has given us.

Moving Forward: Lesson learned! Taking all my medicine and following all of God’s instructions. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 16-20

Numbers 29-32 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: Just as He is faithful to His word, He expects the same from us

Sometimes it’s difficult to accept people at their word, particularly if we don’t know them very well.  In fact, if we’ve been taken a few times, it’s easy to become a little cynical when we’ve provided goods or service for someone in exchange for a promise to return with a payment.  When I’m asked to do this at my book table, I have to admit I sometimes hesitate for a second or two. That old spirit of suspicion creeps in, and I wonder if I’ll ever see the promised payment.  I’ve learned, however, sometimes for God’s people to be blessed, we have to put aside cynicism or preconceived ideas and just trust. 

@ Numbers 32
Moses understood this scenario all too well.  After leading this challenging group of Israelites for over 40 years and experiencing many disappointing responses from them, He was asked a favor, a request from the men of Gad and Reuben that involved trust. “The Lord has conquered this whole area for the community of Israel, and it is ideally suited for all our livestock.  If we have found favor with you, please let us have this land as our property instead of giving us land across the Jordan River.”(4-5)  Because Canaan was to be divided amongst the tribes of Israel, this request did not seem so unreasonable, except that the rest of the territory west of the Jordan had not yet been conquered!

Moses may have choked on his manna at this request as he offered this immediate response, “‘Do you intend to stay here while your brothers go across and do all the fighting?’ Moses asked the men of Gad and Reuben. ‘Why do you want to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the Lord has given them? Your ancestors did the same thing when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to explore the land…’” (6-8), etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  Moses ends with, “You brood of sinners, doing exactly the same thing!” (14)

Even a great leader like Moses was capable of jumping to the wrong conclusion on occasion. The men of Gad and Reuben had no intention of deserting their brothers before conquering the land.  They desired to leave their wives and flocks east of the Jordan while they joined their brothers in the battle for the rest of the territory. These tribes were true to their word and fought alongside their brothers until the land was conquered.

We can’t really fault Moses for misjudging the intention of these tribes.  As a whole, the Israelites had not lived over the previous 40 years in a manner that would develop trust in them, but giving others the benefit of the doubt rather than living with cynicism is a much more enjoyable way to live.  If we lose something tangible in the process, it’s good to remember everything in this life is fleeting.  On the other hand, if we live our lives in a way that builds trust in the hearts of others regarding us, this discussion is a moot point.  I’ve always told teenagers that their parents will trust them when given a reason to do so, and the same is true for us in our relationships.

Perhaps Moses was sensitive to the request of Reuben and Gad for another reason as well.  Why did these tribes desire to stop short of the Promised Land? Rich pastures and grazing land were a substitute for God’s intended blessing for them.  Some people just choose to live on the edge of God’s blessing, but then that’s a discussion for another day. 

Moving Forward: I choose to live my life today without cynicism towards others and to live with integrity so that others will know I am true to my word. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 11-15

Numbers 25-28 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He provides the best leadership to guide His sheep

Several years ago I started a new job, and I was the first person to hold the position.  There were no precedents to follow, no one to train me and a lot of what I did at the beginning was hit or miss.  Through the years I developed a job description and worked out most of the kinks and challenges.  In situations like this, it’s easy to take ownership, view it as my baby and become protective of it.

The time had come for me to move on and train someone else to fill the position.  Now I had to trust that the leadership would choose someone who would not harm the job that I had developed and worked so hard to make perfect.  As I trained the new employee, it didn’t take long for me to realize that this was a highly qualified person who would use the equipment and resources to an even greater degree of efficiency than I had done.  And that made my heart sing!  The work would not suffer and would move forward.  Today in our reading, Moses found himself in somewhat the same circumstance, released from a position that he had been the first to hold.

@ Numbers 27
God met with Moses on the mountaintop to show him Canaan, the land he would not enter because of his sin at Meribah.  The 120-year-old leader showed his true heart in his response to the Lord, “O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (16-17)

Even though Moses had not met Jesus yet, although one day he would do so on the Mount of Transfiguration, he had the compassion of Jesus who said, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)  Jesus had just been called a devil because He delivered a man from the demons that possessed him, but both leaders looked past their own situations and were concerned about the needs of others.

A wise Moses wanted God to choose his successor.  Two men, Joshua and Caleb, had both proven to be led by the Lord and to be worthy of leadership roles, and no doubt there were others who thought themselves worthy of the position.  Sometimes we desire to choose our replacements on the job or in the church; and as parents, we would even like to choose the spouses who will become central in the lives of our grown children. But how much better to leave it to our superiors or the leadership of the Holy Spirit, removing ourselves from the possibility of error.

Of course, God had chosen the perfect replacement for Moses, “The Lord replied, ‘Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him.  Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him to lead the people.’” (18-20)  Our public acceptance of those who follow us in any position provides continuity so the work will not suffer.  This requires a generous heart, without envy or selfishness, regardless of how much of ourselves we have given to it in the past.  This was the heart of Moses, “So Moses did as the Lord commanded.  He presented Joshua to Eleazar the priest and the whole community. Moses laid his hands on him and commissioned him to lead the people.” (22-23)

When we find ourselves in a situation similar to Moses, where we will pass on the baton to someone else to fulfill a role we have served, may we do so with a generous heart towards his or her success. In doing this, we will reveal a compassionate heart for those being served, trusting that nothing will suffer in the process.  That should make our hearts sing! 

Moving Forward:  I can serve Him with confidence today knowing that when He provides my next step, He also will provide my successor.  He’s very faithful that way. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 6-10

Numbers 21-24 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: Because He loves us so, He has provided salvation through His Son

After seeing hundreds of young lives receive salvation and a touch by His Spirit at camp one summer, we drove the 45 minutes home over the weekend to get refreshed, wash clothes and buy supplies for the next week of camp. This particular weekend my husband Tom was out ministering, but I stayed home with our children.  I got up one night to visit the bathroom, and when just about finished, I looked down at the floor and saw movement.  It was a snake.

The snake in my bathroom had to be reckoned with because this worn out body would not get needed rest for the week ahead with a snake in the house.  I prayed for His strength, woke up my 9-year-old son and loaded us up with shovels and hoes. We went after that 14-inch snake as though our lives depended on it, and got it!  Unfortunately, the Israelites’ snake encounter did not go as well for them. 

@ Numbers 21
The Israelites had just won a huge battle and defeated the Canaanites.  The Promised Land was within a few days reach after 40 years in the desert, but they became impatient.  They knew the journey ahead through Moab would be long, they were tired of manna, and they wanted to possess the land now.  They complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?’ they complained. ‘There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!’ So the Lord sent poisonous [fiery] snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died.” (5-6)  Oh…

“Then the people came to Moses and cried out, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.’   So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord told him, ‘Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!’ So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!” (7-9)  In a vulnerable moment after a great victory, the Israelites sinned, but a replica of the very thing that had caused them pain became their salvation.  In just a short time they went on to possess their land.

I don’t remember complaining about anything that summer weekend invoking a snake encounter to bring about correction from the Lord like the Israelites experienced.  I do know that I was worn out, somewhat depleted and a perfect target for the enemy who sends His fiery darts in weak moments.  It’s often after a great victory for the Lord, like the powerful camps we had experienced or the Israelites’ mighty victory, that the enemy brings his attack.  However, Jesus has already provided the remedy for us.

“And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)  Jesus became sin (2 Cor 5:21), became the very thing that was killing us so that we may be saved and have eternal life with Him.

And we may also look to Him for salvation from the enemy’s fiery attacks against the body, soul, and spirit.  The enemy did not win in my life that weekend, and we went on for yet another great week at youth camp, lives changed by the power of God.  When we turn our focus to Jesus, high and lifted up, whatever our fiery trial may be, He will bring victory. 

Moving Forward:  Jesus lifted up! I look to Him today for salvation and deliverance because He paid the price for me on the cross. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 1-5

Numbers 17-20 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He provides direction through our challenges.

Many great men in history whose exploits affected the destiny of millions found themselves at one time or another in dismal circumstances – George Washington experienced his Valley Forge, Napoleon met his Waterloo and Custer faced his last stand.  Without a doubt, the decisions we make when faced with a challenging situation will affect our future.  Just assuredly, discouragement, pride or anger will alter our desired response to our challenges.  In today’s reading, we find Moses at his Meribah. 

@Numbers 20
Moses had led the Israelites for almost 38 years after the scouts returned with their faithless report from their venture into Canaan. God had promised that those faithless Israelites would not enter the Canaan because of their doubt and only a few remained. Unfortunately, their offspring had inherited and mastered the art of grumbling and complaining.  Poised once again outside of Canaan in Kadesh at a place called Meribah, they complained to Moses, “Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink!” (5)  Moses met his Meribah.

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water.’” So Moses responded, “‘Listen, you rebels!’ he shouted, ‘Must we bring you water from this rock?’ Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out.” (7-11)  Moses spoke to the people instead of to the rock and struck the rock instead of speaking to it! Oh, Moses.

After 40 years, I’m fairly certain that an angry, disgusted Moses wanted to strike the grumbling people, but instead, he took it out on the rock.  God’s response was, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” (12) So sad.

Why do we sometimes feel the need to help the Lord out or assist the Holy Spirit with our own input, going beyond what He has directed us to do?  As with Moses, it always ends badly for me too.   When a situation angers us, it’s easy to go running at the mouth about it, shouting at others, “Listen, you rebels!” but God wants us to speak His Word in faith to the problem.

Sometimes we are tempted to draw attention to the small part we play in a solution that really only God can solve, “Must we bring you water?”  Moses and Aaron were tools in the hand of God to bring about the miracle of water coming from a cold, hard rock. They, of course, didn’t bring water out of anything.  May we never be so bold to take credit for what God has done.

God’s punishment to such a faithful and humble servant as Moses seems harsh, but this simple act of disobedience was far-reaching, even to us today.  We read in I Corinthians 10:4 that Paul considered that rock to be a representation of Christ.  Moses had already struck the rock to bring forth water at Rephidim, so to strike the rock again would imply that Christ’s death at Calvary, once crucified, was not enough.  Not good.  Our responses to the challenges we face may influence others in ways we can’t imagine.

Paul challenges us in verses 12-13 in that same chapter with these words of caution, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.  And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand.  When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”  We would think Moses, of all people, would have been one with sure footing, standing strong.  If someone like Moses can fail, it’s possible for us to fail as well.

God has offered us a way out of our challenging situations if we turn to Him for guidance and follow both His example in the Word and His leading in our hearts.  And of course, He really doesn’t need our two cents worth. 

Moving Forward:  Lord, may I follow your dictates today through any challenges I face, always certain that You receive all the glory for the victory. 

Tomorrow @ I Chronicles 25-29

Numbers 13-16 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He will provide all we need to step into our destiny

I remember when my granddaughter learned the word humongous while watching Sesame Street and used it with great excitement whenever she saw something she considered really large.  I thought of her this week as I read the story of the twelve spies.  The spies returned to the Israelite camp with a humongous cluster of grapes so large that two men had to carry it; but, unfortunately, all they remembered were the humongous giants in the land.

@ Numbers 13
“We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But…” (27-28)  The children of Israel stood at the threshold of their destiny to occupy their promised land and allowed the little three letter word but to keep them from it.  “‘…the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!…We can’t go up there against them! They are stronger than we are!’  So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites.” (28,31-32)

The names of all twelve men are listed in Chapter 13, but of those names, we only remember two of them.  The others are all very forgettable.  When we are positioned by God to step into His destiny for us, we can easily lose sight of it if we focus on the humongous obstacles that may be present instead of the humongous promise He has given to us.  Those grapes were huge and represented God’s promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, rich and abundant.

Joshua and Caleb were impressed by the grapes, not by the giants.  “They said to all the people of Israel, ‘The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!’” (14:7-9)

When we are on the edge of something wonderful that God has planned for us, we want to have the faith of Joshua and Caleb, not the fear and doubt of…of…whatever their names are.  God will never promise something to us that is impossible to attain.  Of all the Israelites standing in the camp on that day, only Joshua and Caleb entered the Promised Land to receive God’s humongous blessing. 

Moving Forward: I don’t want to miss all that God has for me because of obstacles that I perceive to be bigger than they really are.  I want to be Joshua and Caleb who saw the huge blessing God had waiting for them. 

Tomorrow @ I Chronicles 20-24

Numbers 9-12 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is with us even when our life is on hold

Waiting for the big move, waiting for the next step, waiting for the ship to come in … waiting, waiting, waiting.  When an airport gets backed up with planes ready to land, we find ourselves circling the airport in a holding pattern for what seems like an eternity.  The inconvenience of a late arrival is insignificant, however, compared to the possibility of running out of fuel while waiting for our opportunity to land.  In these moments, tempers often flare, and the stress factor is huge.  Sometimes life hands us a similar scenario – waiting to get to our destination but concerned that we’ll run out of gas, so to speak, before we arrive. Stressful.

“Sometimes the cloud would stay over the Tabernacle for only a few days, so the people would stay for only a few days, as the Lord commanded…Sometimes the cloud stayed only overnight and lifted the next morning. But day or night, when the cloud lifted, the people broke camp and moved on. Whether the cloud stayed above the Tabernacle for two days, a month, or a year, the people of Israel stayed in camp and did not move on. But as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on.” (9:20-22)  I can’t cut the Israelites much slack concerning their constant grumbling about their nomadic lifestyle.  I mean really, a tangible cloud to follow and know exactly where to go and when to go?  But I guess that holding pattern got to them at times, and waiting can add significant stress to our lives as well.

A few years ago I had my finger on the Delete key, ready to delete this blog.  My life was in a holding pattern, I felt I had little to say of importance, and I was running out of gas.  The Lord stopped me mid-strike on the key and directed me to blog each day about my daily Bible reading.  Even during the holding patterns of life, God has a purpose for us.  We can grumble and complain about our situation, but we are better served by focusing on Him and His intentions.  Perhaps the Israelites would not have spent the next 40 years on the road had they used their downtime to worship their God who guided them so clearly and desired fellowship with them instead of whining about almost everything.

“While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. They said, ‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t He spoken through us, too?’ But the Lord heard them. (Now Moses was very humble—more humble than any other person on earth.)” (12:1-3)  During one of their stops, the siblings of Moses got a little irritable and developed a critical spirit about their brother – not the right response to their holding pattern.  When we lose our focus on Him during these periods of waiting, it’s very easy to become self-absorbed, and what a price was paid by Miriam!

God was displeased by her critical spirit, and Miriam was stricken with leprosy and forced to live alone outside of the camp.  “So Miriam was kept outside the camp for seven days, and the people waited until she was brought back before they traveled again.” (15)  Can you imagine Miriam’s humiliation?  As one of Israel’s leaders, she was the reason Israel continued in a holding pattern.  Often, our attitudes and responses are what keep us on hold.

No matter how we look at it, waiting, waiting, waiting is difficult, but our response to it is what makes all the difference.  Focusing on God and finding our purpose while we are in our holding pattern will ensure that we are ready when that cloud begins to move.

Moving Forward:  So thankful today that He is with me in my holding pattern and that He has given me purpose.

Tomorrow @ I Chronicles 15-19

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