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 1-4 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  He has promised victory to all who serve in His army

Numbers!  Math was my least favorite subject in school, and I must admit that I approach an entire book entitled Numbers with fear and trepidation.  While the book opens with the numbering, or census, of the Israelites, Numbers is really not so much about math at all but is more so a story about a group of people at the threshold of incredible promise, their response to that promise and God’s undeniable patience with them through it. 

@ Numbers 1
At the opening of Numbers, the Israelites had escaped from Egypt, traveled south to the area around Mt. Sinai and were camped there for almost eleven months. During that time, through His spokesman, God built a nation and established the nation’s purpose by renewing His Abrahamic covenant with Moses.  He set up the nation’s constitution by providing the laws needed to govern.  And most importantly, He gave the guidelines for the construction of the Tabernacle, providing the means He would use to fellowship with His people.  When we think about the time spent in Sinai in light of this agenda, a great deal was accomplished in a very short time.

Now at the beginning of Numbers, God is ready to advance His people to their new home.  He directed Moses to count the men, “A year after Israel’s departure from Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the Tabernacle in the wilderness of Sinai. On the first day of the second month of that year he said, ‘From the whole community of Israel, record the names of all the warriors by their clans and families. List all the men twenty years old or older who are able to go to war.’” (1-3) This directive from the Lord alone must have served as an indication to the Israelites that war was ahead for them.  Moses needed to know how many troops he had for the battles that were ahead, and we should note that this directive did not ask for volunteers.  It was all men over 20, all hands on deck, stand up and be counted and be all that you can be! The army was formed and ready to possess the land!

Similarly, when we give our hearts to the Lord, we automatically become a part of His army, and there isn’t a separate sign-up sheet for active duty.  Just as the enemy of God’s chosen people fought them on every front even before they entered their land, our enemy will fight to keep us from entering the territory God has for us.  If this isn’t the case, why has God provided all our tools for battle in Ephesians 6:13-17?

The Israelite army totaled 603,550, a strong military by any standards, but by the time they reached the battleground, only 2 had survived the journey.  As we read their story over the next several weeks, we will learn how they became casualties on the way to the Promised Land.

We, however, need not be dismayed or discouraged by their outcome because we have reinforcements they did not have in the way that we do, “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness… Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity…No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Romans 8:26,35,37)  And my personal favorite is, “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 KJV)

Numbers is more than a census, more than a page in Jewish history.  It paints a picture of God’s patience with us, and on occasion, it also portrays how not to serve in the army of the Lord.  Sometimes He just needs to draw a picture for us… 

Moving Forward:  Suited up according to Ephesians 6 and ready to rumble!

Tomorrow @ 1 Chronicles 5-9

Leviticus 7-9 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He has cleansed us to serve Him in the priesthood

The soon return of the Lord was a daily conversation in my home when I was young.  My mom would often go to a window, look up at the clouds and say, “One of these days we will see Jesus coming in the clouds, and we will rise to meet Him in the air.” When she said this, I imagined grabbing onto her skirt for all I was worth so that I could go with her.  Over time I learned that it would be my own blood-bought commitment to the Lord that would give me rise.  The same was true in Old Testament times – no one got a free ride into the presence of the Lord. 

@ Leviticus 8
The process for priestly ordination was lengthy and detailed.  Although Aaron the High Priest was from Levitical lineage, he was instructed by Moses to follow the process of cleansing for priestly duties.  His sons, also priests, were not exempt from this cleansing because of who their father was and what he had done.  They, too, were submitted to the same cleansing that would make them worthy instruments of service for God, “So Moses followed the Lord’s instructions, and the whole community assembled at the Tabernacle entrance.  Moses announced to them, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded us to do!’  Then he presented Aaron and his sons and washed them with water.” (4-6)

The Tabernacle was then anointed with oil throughout, and sacrifices were offered for the forgiveness of sins for the priests and another for the congregation.  A third sacrifice was offered for the ordination of the priests, and in this ceremony, blood was applied to the right earlobe, the right thumb and the right big toe.  The ceremony had become very personal for Aaron and his sons at this point.

Scripture does not elaborate on the significance of this blood application, but most believe it speaks for itself.  The blood on the right earlobe was symbolic of the dedication of the priests to hear and listen to God’s Word.  The blood on the right thumb represented a willingness to do His work, and the blood applied to the right big toe was a commitment to walk in His ways and commands.  All priests were to follow this ordination process, even lefties like me, because it demonstrated total commitment to God.

With the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, this ritual is no longer necessary because we have a new High priest, the Lord Jesus.  Those who have had His blood applied to their lives are now part of a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6)   A whole new process is in place, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting Him.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)

By the personal acceptance of His sacrificial blood to our lives, we may now enter His Holy presence just as Aaron and his sons did, no need grabbing hold of another’s coattail. As part of His royal priesthood, we are qualified to serve Him with sincere hearts by listening to His Word, and fully trusting Him when doing His work and following His ways.  Sometimes we just don’t fully understand what His supreme sacrifice has accomplished in our lives.  We are His royal priests, and we have ministry to do!

Moving Forward: Ever mindful of my ministry role, I will keep my life cleansed and pure, listening to His voice, doing His work and following His ways. 

Tomorrow @ 1 Kings 19-22

Exodus 37-40 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He stirs and moves the hearts of many to accomplish great feats 

@ Exodus 39
“And so at last the Tabernacle was finished.”(32)  Whew!  What a building project!  After detailed instructions from God regarding the building and furnishing of every part of the tabernacle, it was finished!

“So the people of Israel followed all of the Lord’s instructions to Moses.  Then Moses inspected all their work.  When he found it had been done just as the Lord had commanded, he blessed them.”(42-44)  Does it seem plausible that after months of defiance and disobedience, the Israelites would do anything just as the Lord had commanded?  Evidently, the Lord’s warning that His presence would not go with them into Canaan after the golden calf incident had made an impact.  Now, their obedience to His detailed instructions brought blessing from Moses.

How did this once stubborn, grumbling group of people ever accomplish such a feat as the building of the Tabernacle?  I remember the Sunday School song from long ago, “When we all pull together, together, together…how happy we’ll be.  For your work is my work and our work is God’s work…” I don’t mean to oversimplify this monumental task, but really, that’s how it got done!  They joined their efforts to God’s plan and the work began:

After the instructions were given, “The whole community of Israel left Moses and returned to their tents.  All whose hearts were stirred and whose spirits were moved came and brought their sacred offerings to the Lord.  They brought all the materials needed for the Tabernacle…Their contributions were more than enough to complete the whole project.” (35:20-21;36:7)  So committed were they to the building project that they brought more than what was needed for the completion of the Tabernacle.  Hearts stirred, spirits moved.

Then the construction began.  Imagine the assembling of the curtains around the Tabernacle:  10 curtains of finely woven linen, embroidered with cherubim, each 42 feet long by 6 feet wide, joined together and 11 curtains of goat-hair cloth, each 45 feet long by 6 feet.  This involved teamwork!  As a seamstress, I couldn’t handle one curtain of that size by myself much less ten of them.  It took many hands weaving, embroidering, sewing and working together just to accomplish this one single detail of this elaborate master plan.  “When we all pull together, together…”

The lesson here is obvious to us.  It’s incredible what can be accomplished in our homes, workplace and churches when our hearts are stirred and our spirits are moved to give all that is needed, joining our efforts to His grand design to get the job done. Given the Israelites’ history of disobedience to God yet their ultimate success in building the Tabernacle, we should be able to accomplish just about anything if we put His mind to it and pull together. 

Moving Forward:  I respond to His stirring and moving in my heart and join my efforts with those of others to accomplish His plans for my home, my work and my church. 

Tomorrow @ 1 Kings 5-9

Exodus 33-36 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He reveals Himself to us through His goodness

I have a friend who works for the FBI.  I’ve come to understand that most individuals who work for this part of our government are not involved in high-level espionage and intrigue like we see in the movies. However, when I ask him a government-sensitive question, the standing joke is, “I can tell you, but then I’ll have to kill you.”  Some things are just better off left alone.  This exchange is not so unlike a conversation that Moses shared with God in our reading today.  Fortunately, Moses made it out alive.

@ Exodus 33
“Go up to [Canaan] this land that flows with milk and honey.  But I will not travel among you, for you are a stubborn and rebellious people.  If I did, I would surely destroy you along the way.”(3)  Of all the names that God could have called the Israelites at this point, stubborn and rebellious or stiff-necked seem rather tame after discovering their idolatrous dancing frenzy of worship to a golden calf.  Many other names come to mind for me, but then I remember how God viewed rebellion in I Samuel 15:23, “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.”  Very apropos, indeed!

Because of their sin, God would not travel to Canaan with them. “When the people heard these stern words, they went into mourning and stopped wearing their jewelry and fine clothes…As [Moses] went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and hover…When the people saw the cloud…they would stand and bow down in front of their own tents.” (4,8,10)  Their repentance, humility and reverence captured God’s attention, and the appeal for mercy by Moses on their behalf captured His heart.  He forgave them and promised to go with them to Canaan.  He loved them!  He just couldn’t help Himself.

“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” (11)  Instead of the visions and dreams through which God had spoken to others in the past, God’s conversations with His friend Moses were more personal, more directed.   But Moses revealed that he wanted even more when he asked God to show him His glorious presence (18).  According to the original Hebrew, he wanted to see God’s significance or weight – His Glory, His Power, His Character – the whole deal!  Apparently, Moses had momentarily lost his mind!  What was he thinking?  He was thinking he wanted more!

God was so very kind to Moses in His response, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh…But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” (19-20)  But this warning was different than the bantering with my FBI friend.  Moses was not going to see the face of God because he just couldn’t handle it.  He would see the after, the weight, the more of God’s glory through His mighty acts to come.  Amazingly, Moses did see God many centuries later on the Mount of Transfiguration through his visit with the visible Christ, the glory of God.  More of God’s goodness!

@ Exodus 34
“The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out ‘Yahweh! The Lord!  The God of compassion and mercy!  I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.  I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.  I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty.’  Moses immediately threw himself on the ground and worshiped.” (6-8)  Like Moses, we can’t help but fall on our knees in worship when His Presence overwhelms our space. He reveals His very nature to us through His compassion > His mercy > His unfailing love > His faithfulness > His forgiveness > His justice.  In these moments, these glorious moments, we see the more of Him! 

Moving Forward:  Show me your glorious Presence, Lord.  I don’t deserve it, and I’m not certain I can bear it, but I join with Moses – Show me more! 

Tomorrow @ I Kings 1-4

Exodus 29-32 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He longs for us to know Him as our God. He desires to live with us.

@Exodus 29
“Then I will live among the people of Israel and be their God, and they will know that I am the Lord their God.  I am the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I could live among them.  I am the Lord their God.” (45-46)  God wants relationship, plain and simple.  He wants to live with me, not just visit occasionally, or send cards and emails.  He wants to live with me – laugh at my bed head in the morning, hover over my devotional time, go to work with me, be the center of my other relationships and watch me drool in my sleep. Whether or not anyone else in the world wants to be with you or with me, we need to understand that He does!

Before Jesus came to die for our sins, there was a long, detailed process to follow in order for sinful man to fellowship with our magnificently Holy God.  These chapters in Exodus detail the purification, sanctification, ritual sacrifice, fragrant incense, anointing and much more that were required to secure relationship with Him.  Why all these instructions and details to follow? I’m sure there are many reasons that my mind doesn’t understand, but if God could not even look at Jesus on the cross as He bore our sin, how could He ever live with the Israelites in their sin?  Atonement for sins had to be made.  From verse 45, we understand that he wanted His people to know that He was their God.  He wasn’t just someone they happened upon, stumbled over by accident or met along the way.  He wanted them to know Him through an intentional connect.

The death and resurrection of Jesus changed the process that God requires, but not the outcome He desires. Our Holy God is now able to live with us through our acceptance of the ultimate sacrifice of His Son.  However, I believe He still desires that we know He is our God, not just someone we happened upon, stumbled over by accident or met along the way.  With our busy lives and commitments, it is easy to treat Him like a casual acquaintance rather than the One who lives with us, sleeps and wakes with us, the One with whom we are intimate.

What a heartbreaking moment for God – while sharing with Moses the very details of this intimacy, those He longed to live with were dancing around and worshiping a golden calf.  What was Aaron thinking? Every time I read this account, I am amazed that Aaron, a priest of the Most High God, wasn’t immediately toast.  Moses interceded to God for Aaron and the people, and God allowed His mercy to supersede His punishment.  “So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.” (32:14)

Fortunately for us, we have Someone interceding for us, “Because Jesus lives forever, His priesthood lasts forever. Therefore He is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through Him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.” (Hebrews 7:25)  Hallelujah!  Mercy allows Him to live with us and also enables the intimacy with us He so desires.  When Someone wants us this much, how could we ever choose a substitute? 

Moving Forward:  My heart is full of His love for me today – His patient, merciful love.  I approach this day knowing that He is God and so thankful that I can spend the day with Him. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Samuel 20-24