Archive for April, 2011

April 29, 2011

Complaining: Unattractive and Dangerous

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Numbers 13-14

Faith and Facts

On the brink of entering Canaan, Moses sent spies to do some reconnaissance about its land and people [1]. After forty days, even though the spies returned with a unified report – that the land was abundant and its inhabitants were formidable – their action plan was divided: Joshua and Caleb wanted to enter Canaan because they trusted God’s promise to give it to them [2], but the rest wanted to stay put because they feared its inhabitants [3]. Unfortunately, the fearful spies won the people’s hearts: That night all the members of the community … wept aloud … [and] grumbled … ‘If only we had died in Egypt! … Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?” [4]

Patience and Punishment

God had enough: “How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?” [5] Yet, just as He was about to strike them, Moses begged Him to uphold His reputation and “great love” by forgiving their rebellion again [6]. Although God relented and pardoned them, He did not let them off the hook. He forced them to wander in the wilderness for forty years and prohibited that generation – except Joshua and Caleb, who believed God “wholeheartedly[7] – from ever entering Canaan. Immediately, the faithless spies died and the people mourned. Upon seeing and hearing the consequences of their actions, they tried to reassert their faith, but their regret was too late and too shallow. Presumptuously, they tried to fight the inhabitants without their leader or God’s presence and, as Moses warned, they were driven out.

Prayer and Petition

Lord, Thank You for the recording the account of Your people in the wilderness. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, what happened to them “occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things” [8]. You long for us to trust in Your promises more than we trust in what we see. Yet, although we – as Christians – who should have the most beautiful and faithful hearts in the world – often have unattractive and faithless hearts when we complain and grumble about our lives. Help us to remember Your past provisions so that we are propelled to faith in our present and future circumstances – for just as You were faithful yesterday, You will be faithful tomorrow. Amen.

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[1] Numbers 13:17-20  |  [2] Numbers 14:7-9. See also Numbers 13:30 NIV 2011 (Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”)  |  [3] Numbers 13:31  |  [4] Numbers 14:1-3 NIV 2011  |  [5] Numbers 14:11 NIV 2011  |  [6] Numbers 14:13-19  |  [7] Numbers 14:24 NIV 2011  |  [8] See 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 NIV 2011

April 28, 2011

A 200-Mile Detour

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Numbers 10:11-12:16

review

In Genesis, we learned that God planned to use one family to redeem a special people for His glory. He promised to make Abraham and his descendants into a great nation by being their God and giving them a particular land. Thus, God blessed Abraham’s son Isaac, his grandson Jacob (“Israel”) and his great-grandsons (“the twelve tribes of Israel”). Although they settled in Canaan, they eventually moved to Egypt when famine struck their land.

In Egypt, as we saw in Exodus, although the Israelites were initially treated well, they were later enslaved. Therefore, God used Moses to display His power to Pharaoh and free His people from slavery in Egypt. Although the events of Exodus 1 span several centuries and Exodus 2 covers eighty years, Exodus 3-40 – as well as all of Leviticus and Numbers 1-10 – cover only a little more than a year (three months from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai and then about a year at Mount Sinai as God gave Moses the law and tabernacle instructions).

detour

Finally, when the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, “the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai” [1] and embarked on their journey to the Promised Land (Palestine). Yet, there were shorter ways to get from Egypt to Palestine than through the wilderness of Sinai. In fact, Sinai was about 200 miles out of the way – a painful detour for these foot-travelers! Thus, they “complained about their hardships” [2], and griped, “If only we had meat to eat!” [3]

Had they learned nothing in the past year, when God revealed Himself as the source of their freedom? Did they no longer wonder at His power and grace? Thus, His discipline fit their sin: “Now the LORD will give you meat … You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month — until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it — because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you … “ [4]

prayer

Lord, We confess that we are oftentimes shortsighted and obstinate, as we long for ease more than godliness. Although it is foolish to think that our lives would be better without You, we confess that we have wondered that. Forgive us and give us expansive memories to recall You as the sole source of life. Let us never forget Jesus. Amen.

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[1] Numbers 10:12 NIV 2011  |  [2] Numbers 11:1 NIV 2011  |  [3] Numbers 11:4 NIV 2011  |  [4] Numbers 11:18-20. See also Deuteronomy 8 (noting that the Israelites were to know God as Provider in the wilderness so that they would not be tempted to see themselves as Provider in the Promised Land).

April 27, 2011

Clouds and Trumpets

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Exodus 40:34-48 + Numbers 9:15 – 10:10

Tabernacle

In the final steps of preparing His people to enter the Promised Land, God placed a cloud over the tabernacle to remind them that He was near and present, guiding and guarding them: So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle … [and] in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels” [1]. He also told Moses to make two silver trumpets that would call “the community together” [2] – either the leaders to meeting or the entire nation to action.

Jesus

Thousands of years later, the high priest tore his clothes when Jesus identified Himself with the cloud because he knew that Jesus was claiming to be God among His people: The high priest said to him, ‘ … Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied. ‘ … From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy!’” [3]. Additionally, Jesus spoke as a trumpet in John’s vision of heaven: “I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” [4] and, when he looked to see who spoke, he saw Jesus, who said, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” [5]

Today

Today, we are not done with clouds and trumpets. Indeed, Paul wrote that we should “encourage one another” with the reminder that we will be called home by trumpets and gathered in clouds: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command … and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words” [6].

Prayer

Lord, Thank You for visible reminders of Your presence among us – whether by clouds and trumpets or, most ultimately, Your Son. As we journey through the wilderness of this life, prepare us for the Promised Land by increasing our hope in You so that we can obey You and endure to the end. Amen.

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[1] Exodus 40:38 NIV 2011  |  [2] Numbers 2:2 NIV 2011  |  [3] Matthew 26:63-65a NIV 2011  |  [4] Revelation 1:10 NIV 2011  |  [5] Revelation 1:17b-18 NIV 2011  |  [6] 1 Corinthians 10:16-18 NIV 2011

April 26, 2011

Why We Sin

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Numbers 5-6

Unbelief

All sins come from unbelief in the promises of God. Our sinful impulses are rooted in our lack of belief that God is willing and able to work for us in every situation of life so that all things turn out for our good. If we truly believed that God would keep and guard us, we would be free of anxiety, shame, apathy, regret, envy, lust, anger, impatience, hopelessness and pride.

Promises

As we have already seen, God assembled the Israelites together to prepare them to enter the Promised Land. Not only did He give them laws and priests, He also blessed them. He knew that they were about to embark on a dangerous journey across the desert, where many would die, be assaulted by enemies, face thirst and starvation, and meet division. Yet, before they set out, He went before them with a blessing. He told Moses:

Tell Aaron and his sons, “This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” [1]

Doubt

Since He knew the troubles that were before them, He wanted to impress upon them that He was the sole source of the only blessing that mattered. As He moved toward them, He wanted them to know that He would provide every good thing for them. Yet, as we will see, they would not believe His blessing. They would doubt Him and complain to Him and question Him. The entire book of Numbers would have been different if they had only believed in their hearts that He would bless them and keep them and be gracious to them and give them peace.

Prayer

Lord, Although we do not want to be like the Israelites, we confess that we oftentimes are. Our lives would be utterly different if we truly believed You. Yet, we constantly scramble to find happiness in sex or money or power. Father, forgive us and help our unbelief so that we can trust that You are the giver and source and author of the only blessing worth having – namely, our eternal salvation in Christ alone. Amen.

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[1] Numbers 6:24-26 NIV 2011

April 25, 2011

Towards a High View of God

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Numbers 3-4

His Majesty

How we think about God is the most important thing about us. In 1961, A.W. Tozer [1] lamented that “the low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians” had led to the “loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence.” He continued,

All the problems of heaven and earth … [are] nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him … [The mighty burden of our obligation to Him] includes an instant and lifelong duty to love God with every power of mind and soul, to obey Him perfectly, and to worship Him acceptably. And when the man’s laboring conscience tells him that he has done none of these things, but has from childhood been guilty of foul revolt against the Majesty in the heavens, the inner pressure of self-accusation may become too heavy to bear. The gospel can lift this destroying burden from the mind, give beauty for ashes, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.

His People

In preparing His people to enter the Promised Land, God called the Levites to be His priests: “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites” [2]. Although they were given tabernacle tasks, their primary role was to prepare the people to know God as exalted yet present. Thus, He placed the Levites in the middle of the camp around the tabernacle, which represented His presence.

God still prepares His people to know Him. He gives us the ability to discern truth about Him and ourselves. He gives us consciences that, although they are flawed in our fallen state, prepare us to know Him and hear and receive the good news of Christ. Today, He is present with us – not by tabernacle – but by His Spirit.

Prayer

Lord, We are oftentimes “self-confident, bustling” worshippers. Thank You for preparing us to know You – exalted in heaven yet present in us. Establish our hearts to have a high view of You so that we cling to the gospel of Christ. Amen.

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[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy. (All Tozer quotations taken from this work.)  |  [2] Numbers 3:11, 13 NIV 2011

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