Stages of Life

Scripture Focus: Numbers 33:1-2
1 Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 2 At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey

Reflection: Stages of Life
By Erin Newton

Every life is marked by its stages. Stages of growing up. Stages of learning hard lessons. Stages of joy. Stages of grief. Stages of community and relationships. Stages of loneliness and isolation. Each stage has importance of its own.

The author of Numbers details the mile markers for each place the Hebrews went. Most landmarks are simple place names. They started here and went there. A handful of verses include more details, indicating more than a routine pitstop.

From the few verses that elaborate, we mark specific stages: the flight from Egypt after Passover, passing through the Red Sea, a water crisis at Rephidim, the death of Aaron at Mount Hor, and the plains of Moab where they were called to take possession of the land.

These events were important. Each event presented a new crisis whereby God would reveal his power and sovereignty. Other events, however, are not mentioned. This is a partial list, a reminder of a handful of important moments.

Throughout our lives, we look back and take stock of our life stages. Many of us talk about our childhoods and how each experience shaped us. Some talk about their lives by the stages of their child’s development. Some describe their life by their education, career, or achievements. Each stage anchors the ups and downs of life.

Why would God ask Moses to record these stages? Some of the events were already recorded in other books. Why should he remind the people again? Because something big, something hard, something terrifying was about to happen. The next step in their journey was a difficult path and remembering earlier stages gave them hope and assurance that God was with them.

It is good practice to take time and look back on your life. Mark the moments that feel life-altering. Rejoice in the stages you knew God was working. Be free to mourn the stages when God felt silent.

Many of God’s beloved saints went home last week and we mourn their loss. We feel the void in their ministry. Each of our lives are made up of a unique set of stages. We risk comparison but that is not God’s call. One faithful pastor reflected, “We only have to be faithful to the gifts and energy we have—to walk in the good works God has prepared for us to walk in. No one else’s.” (Chris Hutchinson) 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him, all you peoples.
For his loving-kindness toward us is great, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Hallelujah! — Psalm 117

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 33 (Listen 4:53)
1 Corinthians 7 (Listen 6:09)

Read more about The Sojourn of Sanctification
The desert sojourn is a transforming experience for Israel and this process of sanctification can be mirrored in the lives of modern believers.

Read more about Sojourn of Grace
Asaph’s Psalm 78 is a poetic filter through which to view Moses’ detailed record of the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness.

Faith of a New Generation

Scripture Focus: Numbers 26:2, 63-65
2 Take a census of the whole Israelite community by families—all those twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army of Israel.”
63 These are the ones counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest when they counted the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. 64 Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. 65 For the Lord had told those Israelites they would surely die in the wilderness, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

Reflection: Faith of a New Generation
By Erin Newton

We return now to the reason they titled the book, “Numbers.” The book opened with a census and now they count again. The author notes this generation was not part of the original group at Sinai. That generation died as a consequence of their rebellion.

A new generation grew up in the wilderness. Amazingly, the census total in Chapter 26 is only a few thousand less than the census total in Chapter 1—yet an entire generation was gone.

The pages between these chapters are filled with stories of rebellion, opposition, attempted mutiny, and disobedience. The earth opened and fire rained down. There were venomous snakes and a talking donkey. It was, to say the least, a tumultuous time.

The sins of the people resulted in a myriad of curses and disciplines. God did not turn a blind eye to corruption. There was a cost to their sin. Despite all the punishments, their numbers did not wither. The great nation promised to Abraham continued to flourish against the odds. Gordon Wenham highlights this truth, “God’s promises to the patriarchs may be delayed by human sin, but they are not ultimately frustrated by it.”

Delayed but not frustrated. These promises are not defeated by human sin because they are held and guarded by God himself. No human hand, no human sin, can thwart the promises of God.

The younger generation in the wilderness watched their elders rebel, complain, and sin until they were all gone. What could have been enjoyed by the elders passed on to the new generation.

There is hope and warning in this story. We cling to the hope of God’s steadfast promises. We observe and take to heart the warning that our sin can slow the progress of its fruition.

We do not know how the younger generation felt about entering the land without their elders. Perhaps they were encouraged to do things differently, to do things right. After watching the mistakes made by their parents or grandparents, they refined their faith and purified its practice.

Many young Christians today are openly critical of the faith of older generations. Young believers point to issues such as racism, hypocrisy, violence, political idolatry, misogyny, abuse, or apathy for the vulnerable.  

Identifying the spiritual and social flaws of the past is important. By such retrospection, new generations may follow God’s lead with faith refined. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let us make a vow to the Lord our God and keep it; let all around him bring gifts to him who is worthy to be feared. — Psalm 76.11

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 26 (Listen 7:47)
2 Thessalonians 3 (Listen 2:16)

Read more about Work, Ministry, and Generosity
The Park Forum is a bi-vocational ministry. We are so thankful for our donors who continue to make this ministry possible.

Read the Bible With Us
Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you.

Caring for the Dead

Scripture Focus: Numbers 19.11, 16
11 “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days.

16 “Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days.

Reflection: Caring for the Dead
By Erin Newton

There is, in fact, a sting to death. It is painful and cruel. It rends our hearts with each new loss. Within the mortal body was someone dearly loved. With a final embrace, a closing of eyes—we often seek to lay their bodies to rest with gentleness and care.

In the ancient world, such contact with the dead led to a week’s worth of impurity. Those defiled by contact with death could not enter the Temple until they were cleansed. Death could not reside within the presence of God. Death is the antithesis to a Creator God.

Numbers 19 details purification through the washing of water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer. The ash-mixed water with other cleansing agents was sprinkled on those defiled by contact with the dead. This law, combined with the natural trajectory of life, meant this practice occurred quite frequently.

Respect and care for the dead could not be avoided, even if the cleansing ritual was inconvenient. Even in death, each person is an image bearer of God. Each mortal body must be treated with dignity and honor.

When Jesus died upon the cross, Joseph of Arimathea requested his body so he could be buried before the Sabbath. John tells us that it was Nicodemus who brought the burial spices and helped wrap the body in linen. Joseph and Nicodemus willingly entered a week of impurity. We do not hear from them again.

It is fascinating to consider the crucified Lord, having been prepared for burial and causing two men to enter a state of impurity, would choose to join with his disciples three days after his death. This same God who declares the uncleanliness of death is now content to meet with them, dine with them, and let them touch his body. They are at no risk of defilement; Jesus is no walking corpse. He is alive.

The purity laws are always reversed with Jesus. No longer does the impurity of death or bleeding pass from one person to another. Now it is purity that moves from the Son of God to mere mortals. The ashes of a heifer could outwardly clean, but the blood of Christ does so much more (Heb 9:12-14).

How we honor our dead continues to reflect the value and dignity of each person. But no longer does death stand between our intimacy with God. Death has no victory.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Let me seek the Lord while he may still be found. I will call upon his name while he is near.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 19 (Listen 3:39)
1 Thessalonians 1 (Listen 1:27)

Read more about The Staggering Dead and the Glory of God
One day, as Lazarus and our dear Christ, himself…we will leave our grave clothes behind. That is the glory of God.

Read more about The Broken Power of Death
For those in Christ, death is a toothless predator, a limbless wrestler, who cannot hold us down for long.

Becoming Firstborns

Scripture Focus: Numbers 8.16
16 They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman.

Reflection: Becoming Firstborns
By John Tillman

Levites were set apart among those set apart. God makes covenants, within covenants, within covenants.

God promised Eve, and all humanity, that her son, the snake-crushing savior, would come. (Genesis 3.13-15) Within that covenant, God promised Abraham that his children, the Israelites, would bless the entire world, (Genesis 12.2-3) becoming a priestly nation. (Exodus 19.5-6) Within that covenant, God set apart the Levites.

God chose the entire tribe of Levi as the “firstborn” of Israel to be dedicated to him. Dedicating the firstborn to the Lord was common. Usually, an animal was sacrificed and the family would take the child home as normal. But two things are unusual. Levi was not Israel’s firstborn—Reuben was. Also, life for the tribe of Levi does not go on as normal. They serve and are set apart in a unique way. 

God routinely calls those born out of order or in the wrong family to be his and act as his firstborn. Hannah’s firstborn son, Samuel, was not a Levite (1 Samuel 1.24-28) but he served in the Tabernacle for life and God called him by name. (1 Samuel 3.10) Mary’s firstborn son, Jesus, was not a Levite but he was God’s son (Luke 9.35) and was made a priest for eternity. (Hebrews 6.19-20) Jesus sacrificed himself to create a new Tabernacle into which all of us are called. (John 2.19-22; 1 Peter 2.4-5)

Jesus, our high priest, is the “firstborn” of creation and from among the dead. (Colossians 1.15-18) He is the one at the center of all of the covenants. God’s covenants narrowed, becoming more and more exclusive, until Jesus. Then the covenant exploded in exponential expansion.

In Jesus, we join a ministry greater than the Tabernacle of Moses or the Temple of Solomon, or the Temple of Jesus’ day. All can now enter because the way has been opened. Despite being born in the wrong order and the wrong family, we are adopted through Jesus. Despite being unworthy, we are judged by the worth of Jesus. Despite being sinful, we are seen as sinless in Jesus. 

Jesus makes us his Levites—his priests and ministers. We are set apart in a unique way. Life does not go on as normal for us.

As servants of the snake-crushing priest, we have no battle to fight. Only a victory to announce.  We have no enemies to defeat. Only conscripted soldiers to set free.

We are set apart to proclaim that outsiders can become insiders and orphans can become firstborns.

Video:The Last Will Be First” — The Bible Project

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
God looks down from heaven upon us all, to see if there is any who is wise, if there is one who seeks after God. — Psalm 53.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 8 (Listen 3:37)
James 3 (Listen 2:38)

Read more about If You Can’t Say Anything Good
When we learn to control our tongues, we can bring great teaching, healing and joy to many.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
We need your help to support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world. Consider becoming a donor.

Are There Ashtrays in Your Elevators?

Scripture Focus: Numbers 5.5-8
5 The Lord said to Moses, 6 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty 7 and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged. 8 But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the Lord and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for the wrongdoer.

Reflection: Are There Ashtrays in Your Elevators?
By John Tillman

God’s law is clear. Harming others is sin against God. There is no way in which a person can be harmed that is not connected to sin. Thinking about systemic sin and harm to others always reminds me of ashtrays in elevators. 

If you happen to see an ashtray in an elevator, I’d recommend taking the stairs. That elevator is old.

When smoking was viewed as innocuous, even healthful, it was incorporated into every aspect of life. From the 60s to the 80s, ashtrays were a ubiquitous normality of architecture and design. They appeared on every surface like not-so-secret compartments with nifty little sliding, rotating, or opening panels. Like light switches, they were built into the walls of hallways, offices, and hospital rooms. They were in desks and bathroom stalls and above every urinal. Some cars had more ashtrays than seatbelts. Airlines installed them in armrests both in terminals and in planes. But most memorable to me, for some reason, were the ones in elevators. Not even for the brief time of riding in an elevator, could people do without an ashtray.

Even as society realized that smoking was literally killing people, this didn’t change. We clung to personal freedom in defiance of scientific revelations. It was only when we recognized that cigarette smoke was not only harmful to the smoker but to everyone else in the elevators and other public spaces, that smoking “rights” began to be curtailed.

Is smoking a sin? Perhaps. But sin is absolutely like smoking. 

In the individualistic West, we think of sin mostly as personal choices that only affect the individual. However, there are no sins that only harm ourselves. Sin is not just what happens inside our minds, souls, or bodies. Sin creates a transcendent cloud of tangible and intangible damage that may be physical, economic, or cultural. Sin poisons everyone in our atmosphere.

Like ashtrays in elevators, there are always systemic, tangible, widespread, societal enablements of sins, especially if we think of them as innocuous. Let’s examine ourselves with sober judgment.

Are there ashtrays in your elevators? What in your life indicates an enabling of sin?
What sins do you think of as innocuous? Are you using personal freedom as an excuse for actions which harm others?

What harm to others do you need to repent of? What support structures of sins need to be ripped out of the walls of your life?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 5 (Listen 4:39)
Acts 28 (Listen 4:56)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 6 (Listen 4:04), James 1 (Listen 3:26)
Numbers 7 (Listen 12:51), James 2 (Listen 3:32)

Read more about The Sins Behind Sexual Sins
Many times sexual sins are a symptom of other sins such as greed, selfishness, inequality, and oppression.

Read more about Seeing And Believing
What personal experience have we had with Jesus that points to a transformative experience in our lives today?