Numbers 20

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” – Numbers 20:12

In Numbers chapter twenty we find what seems to be a shocking and seemingly unfair punishment for Moses. Moses has been God’s appointed leader for Israel for many years at this point. He went before Pharaoh and asked for Israel to be released from their slavery in Egypt. He led the people in their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, even though the people rebelled and were afraid to enter the land. Moses then leads the people for another forty years of wandering in the desert because of their disobedience in not entering the land. Moses has seen it all with his fellow Israelites. Moments of great worship and joy to the Lord, but also great rebellion against the Lord by the people.

Once again here in chapter twenty the people rebel against God and complain to Moses about the lack of water. Have these people learned nothing about how God has provided for them? Yet, again they complain and come to Moses for help. Moses at this point must feel like a parent that deals with the same problems with their kids over and over and over again. Moses finally snaps and has had it with his people. Moses goes before God and gets instruction to “speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water.” However, Moses, out of frustration, calls the people rebels, hits the rock with his staff twice, and then takes credit for the water that flows. Moses has not followed God’s instruction and as punishment God tells Moses that he will not enter the Promised Land. Israel’s great leader will not enter the land that he has been leading to people towards. This must have been a terrible disappointment for Moses. Moses did not listen and acted on his own out of his frustration with the Israelites.

We can become frustrated with many things in life. Life has a way of throwing things in our path; often times we just want to deal with it in our own way instead of taking it to God and seeking His wisdom. I think we will find that the more we try and do things our way, the more and more frustration will end up growing. When we take the time and bring things before God and seek His wisdom, and then follow His wisdom, we can see the bigger picture in life. Moses took his own path and it ended up costing him the chance to see the great Promised Land; what will it cost us when we try to handle things our way and not God’s way?

Numbers

The Lord spoke to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man
or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the
Lord as a Nazirite.”
– Numbers 6:1-2

In the book of Numbers we get introduced to a specific vow that either a man or woman of Israel could make. This is a vow of commitment to the Lord that could either be made by the person themselves or by their parents when the child was young. In Scripture we see three examples of this vow in Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. This is a vow that could be a commitment of 30 days or up to a lifetime. There were three requirements for someone who would take this vow: (1) they must abstain from wine and fermented drink, (2) their hair could not be cut, and for a man his beard could not be shaved, and lastly, (3) touching a dead body was prohibited. These vows were to raise up a group of people that would be totally committed to God. This was a public commitment that would be known not just to the Nazirite but also to the people around them. The length of their hair and beard would draw attention and the Nation would know the commitment they had made.

Today we do not take quite the same vow to God. However, much like our call to be holy, we are expected to have a certain level of commitment to God and be different in the same way as a Nazirite. As mentioned before, these people stood out as different. We can apply this to our lives in the sense that we, as believers, should be dedicated, set apart, committed and separated to God. Do we stand out as different to the community around us because of the commitment to God that we have?

The Nazirites were willing to give up something in order to better commit their lives to God. Paul in Philippians 3:8 says, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” Paul wanted to be closer to Christ than to anything else in this world. Our desire should be the same; this world has nothing to offer us, while Christ has everything to offer us. All He wants is a commitment from us to live differently and as those with hope in this dark world.

Leviticus

“Be holy because, I, the Lord your God, am holy.” – Leviticus 19:2

Leviticus can be one of the hardest books to read when reading through the Bible. All the instructions, rules, and standards being mentioned can be hard to keep up with and follow. However, it is important to remember that the things mentioned in Leviticus play a large role in the story of redemption that flows throughout the Bible.

The call to be holy first causes us to think about what being holy means. In the Hebrew, holy is defined by being pure, set apart, and free from defilement and unclean things. God is holy; He is pure and set apart from sin. God cannot be around sin. God is calling His people now to be holy just as He is holy. That is why as you read through Leviticus over and over you will see phrases that say, “don’t touch this because it is unclean, or don’t do this because it is unclean.” If the Israelites do happen to touch or do something that is unclean, then there is a purifying process one must go through in order to make them clean again.

Sacrifices also play a large role in the regulations of Leviticus. God knows that His people will sin and fall short of the rules and standards He is setting. The various sacrifices allow the people to make an offering to the Lord to acknowledge how they have failed to be holy because of their sin. The death of animals would serve as a sign to remove the guilt and punishment from the individual. These sacrifices showed that the cost of sin is death and that people were unable to redeem themselves. Over and over, day after day, sacrifices would be offered for the people’s failures.

However, Christ would put an end to this practice. God knows that mankind will never be able to keep His holy standards. Reading through Leviticus reminds us of this difficulty. Christ comes to earth to live the holy, clean, and pure life that we cannot live. He is the perfect Lamb of God for a sacrifice. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is the one final sacrifice that removes the power and guilt of sin. It is in the death of Christ that true forgiveness is found. The death that comes with sin is defeated in Christ, and now when God looks at us He sees believers as holy because of Jesus Christ. The message of the cross flows through Leviticus and the entire Old Testament. The Bible is God’s story of redemption for His imperfect people.

Tabernacle

Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. – Exodus 25:8-9

If you are up-to-date on the Bible Reading Challenge, you have just finished up a rather large section in Exodus. Starting in chapter twenty-five God speaks His instructions for the place of worship for the Israelites, the tabernacle. He describes the Ark, table, lamp stand, the outer curtains, the altar, the courtyard, the basin, inner curtain, the holy of holies, and much more. It can seem very tedious as you read through it all, but I encourage you to take note of all that God is describing to the people.

The Nation of Israel will now have a place to worship and make their sacrifices to the Lord. This is also the place where God will dwell with His people. God would show Himself as a cloud over the tabernacle. This was a sign to the people that God was with them. They could look toward the tabernacle and find strength in the Lord. The tabernacle was built to move from place to place as Israel wandered through the wilderness. It wouldn’t be until the time of Solomon that God would have the people build a permanent building for worship. In Jerusalem they would build the temple, which would become God’s dwelling place among the people again.

Within the tabernacle, and the eventual temple as well, there was the holy of holies, or the most holy place. This place was where God dwelled. Only once a year a priest would enter the holy of holies and offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people. This place was separated by a great curtain. If you remember, during the death of Jesus on the cross, Scripture mentions that this curtain was torn in two. God wouldn’t be kept just inside the holy of holies; His Spirit was now going to be inside His people. That is why Paul tells the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The barrier (curtain) that was between God and man has been removed; we have His Spirit inside us and we can boldly approach Him. We don’t need a priest to go before God for us. We have His Spirit and we can bring our requests and cares before our loving God who dwells among us and in us. As the Israelites found strength in seeing the cloud above the tabernacle, we find strength and encouragement in knowing that we have God’s Spirit living within us.

Isaac

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had
spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him,
whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.
– Genesis 21:1-3

We learn in Genesis 12 that Abraham was 75 years old when God first gave His promises to Abraham. In Genesis 15, the promise is again made that Abraham will have a son to be his heir and begin the promised great Nation. Genesis 16 tells us that Abraham is 86 years old when Ishmael is born. However, he would not be the promised son from God. Finally in Genesis 22, at the age of 100, Isaac is born to Sarah and Abraham. The long-ago promised heir has been born.

Think about the life of Isaac. He was the fulfillment of a promise made 25 years before, his birth. There was great joy and excitement in the family with the birth of Isaac. However, in the next chapter, God puts Abraham to the test. He tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to God. We do not get much reaction from Isaac in this story. He questions where the sacrifice is, not realizing it’s him. He is lying on the altar with his father holding a knife over top of him. Talk about a traumatic experience! Yet, Isaac will see the Lord protect him and provide a sacrifice.

Isaac grows and marries Rebekah. Isaac, while being a man of faith, also had his failures. Much like his father, Abraham, Isaac lied about his wife Rebekah and told Abimelech she was his sister, to protect himself. Drama always seems to follow this family. Isaac and Rebekah have twin boys, Jacob and Esau. Similar to the relationship between Isaac and his brother Ishmael, Jacob and Esau didn’t have the healthiest relationship. It didn’t help that Isaac had his favorite, Esau, and Rebekah had her favorite, Jacob. The drama goes on and Esau gives up his birthright as the first born to Jacob because he is hungry and trades his birthright to Jacob for soup. Then Rebekah and Jacob plot against Esau and Isaac, and get Isaac to give his blessing to Jacob instead of Esau. Isaac lived a life that would give any screen writer plenty of material to write about!

Yet through all this, God is working out his plan of providing a great Nation and the family line into which Jesus will enter the world in. Through it all, God is preparing salvation for His people in the long-awaited Messiah. The call of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is a preview of the sacrifice that God will later make of His one and only Son, Jesus. This is the story that Genesis continues to build toward.

The Genealogy of….

“This is the account of Shem…” – Genesis 11:10

“This is the account of Terah…” – Genesis 11:27

“A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the Son of David,
the son of Abraham.”
– Matthew 1:1

As you are reading Scripture, there are numerous times in which you will come across a passage like the ones found above. If you are like me, many times you probably skip over them or just read through them very fast. However, these family trees help develop the themes that go through the entire Bible.

One negative theme is the struggles Israel has with the nations surrounding them. The family line of Noah’s son Ham grows into some of Israel’s greatest enemies of the Old Testament; these nations will cause many problems for the nation of Israel. The family trees show the beginning of many of the struggles in the Old Testament. One of the more famous divisions within a family tree is Ishmael and Isaac, the sons of Abraham. The nation of Israel traces its roots back to Isaac, while the Islamic faith traces its line back to Ishmael. That is a division, though, that cannot be discussed in a brief devotional.

However, there is also a positive encouragement that comes through understanding the family trees. The theme of redemption that flows through Scripture began in the Garden with the promise that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the snake. The Old Testament focuses on this seed, Adam and Eve to Abraham, the man to whom God promises a great Nation.  The Old Testament is continually reminding its readers where it is within this family line. Often for the nation of Israel there were times of great struggle and pain, but there was always hope – hope in a family tree that would provide salvation and ultimate victory. A line that goes from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Jacob to David and eventually to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the seed that was promised to come to destroy the power of sin in our lives. As you read those family trees, think about the hand of God protecting and providing hope when it seemed like there was none.

Tower of Babel

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. – Acts 2:5-6

In Genesis 11 there is an odd story that at first might seem out of place, considering the other stories around it. This event takes place many years after the flood, since the earth has been repopulated. However, the people again have turned their backs on God. This is a theme presented throughout Genesis and the Bible: man’s failure. In this account, mankind has not spread out over the earth as God wanted. They have settled in an area and decided to make a great name for themselves (not God). They are going to build a great city and a great tower that reaches to the heavens. This city would become Babylon, a city which causes great problems for God’s people.

God is not pleased with the building of this city and tower, so He comes down and confuses their languages. Now they are unable to communicate with each other, and their projects fail. The earth now has different languages and the people gather with those who speak a similar language to theirs. The world becomes divided by nations and languages.

However, just as the theme of man’s failure runs through Scripture, so does the theme of God’s redemption. In Acts chapter 2 the nations and languages are gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost. The Disciples are gathered and the Holy Spirit comes upon them and they begin speaking in other languages as the Spirit enables them. The Disciples begin to preach the Gospel – the Good News about Jesus Christ – to all nations, and thousands are saved. The message of the cross is unifying the division that goes back to Genesis 11. Revelation 7 looks toward the future and describes every nation, tribe, people, and language standing before Christ and worshipping Him. What an amazing story of redemption this is!

An Awakening

Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. – Judges 1:18-19

This semester, as I’m sure I have already mentioned, I am studying church history. It has been amazing to see how the church has spread out from its small beginnings in Jerusalem. The church has seen many struggles over the centuries but also has had many great moments. This semester I have a task of writing about one of the great revival moments in the church: the Great Awakening in the American Colonies.

We all know the story of the Pilgrims and other groups coming to America for religious freedom. However, as time passed people grew away from the Christian faith that had been so strong earlier. There are even estimates that during this time only a fifth of those in Massachusetts professed to be Christians. Church attendance was falling and people cared less about living a transformed live for Christ.

It was during this time that people like T.J. Frelinghuysen, Gilbert Tennent, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards began their public preaching ministries. These preachers had a passion for teaching God’s Word and seeing people change their lives in Christ. During the Awakening, thousands upon thousands came to an understanding of their sin and their need for Jesus. This event had a great impact on America. It is thought that America’s deep-rooted Christianity developed out of this Great Awakening.

It was interesting as I was reading about the spiritual condition of the American Colonies and I couldn’t help thinking that many would describe today’s America in the same way. We certainly can see people turning away from Biblical truth. Another aspect of that time was that even the people that went to church really didn’t care about living a life honoring to God. Church was just a show for them.

Israel faced the same ups and downs throughout the book of Judges. Israel would mess up and cry out to God for help and God would send a Judge to save them. The church and Israel, although different, often needed an awakening from God. God wants to use us for that awakening. All the preachers from the Great Awakening didn’t set out to start the awakening, instead they just did what they knew God would want them to do, and then that grew into something great. Do we need an awakening in our lives, our churches? How does God want to use us?

The Second Coming

“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming
at an hour you do not expect.”
– Luke 12:40

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

Toward the end of November and the beginning of December the debate begins about the proper time for setting up Christmas decorations. There are some who think it is right to wait until after Thanksgiving, while others will say you have to wait until December. Then you have those on the extreme side of the debate who think once November comes then it is time to start decorating. Or there is always that one family that leaves their lights on all year long (full disclosure, we were that family one year). There is one thing all these people have: anticipation about the Christmas season. They are all looking forward to it; some just get ready sooner.

As believers we can find joy in the first coming of Jesus, when He came as a baby to live a life we couldn’t and free us from our bondage of sin. However, we are also called to be anticipating the Second Coming of Christ. When this is going to happen is unknown to us. But we are called to live our lives in a way that expects Jesus to come at any moment. As believers we can anticipate this coming similarly to how we get ready for Christmas. There can be some believers who always seem ready; they always have their lights on. The Second Coming is always on their minds. Or you have others that only think about Jesus coming again when things are terrible around the world, or when they hear a message about His coming again. Then lastly, there are believers that don’t give much thought at all to the Second Coming.

Scripture tells us to always be ready because it could happen at any moment. What does this mean? Do we walk around always looking to the sky? We are to live our lives in a way that matters for an eternal purpose. How would our priorities change if we always kept the Second Coming in the front of our minds? Would we act differently? Would we treat people differently? Would we spend our time differently? Our task is to live for God and remember what matters, making disciples and spreading the Gospel. Enjoy the life we have but remember that there is something even greater that is to come, and it is that life that we prepare for even now.

For Such a Time as This

“…And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom
for such a time as this?”
– Esther 4:14

The Book of Esther is filled with evidence of God’s sovereignty over everything. What that means is, God is in control over the things that happen. The interesting thing to make note of, is that the name of God is never mentioned in this book. His imprint and direction, however, are all over it.

The book takes place in the Persian Empire where some Israelites stayed even after the exile was over. In Chapter one, King Xerxes is throwing a party and asks the Queen to join him. She refuses, which displeases the King and he removes her as Queen. The King now needs a new Queen and he participates in the very first season of the Bachelor, Its true! Women are gathered from around the kingdom, but there is one who stands out among all the others: Esther. The King is pleased with Esther and makes her his new Queen.

Over the course of the book, the King is tricked into issuing a decree to kill all the Jews. Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, gets word of this decree and brings it to the attention of Esther, hoping that she can get the king’s attention and reverse the decree. It is during this discussion that Mordecai delivers his famous line, “…for such a time as this…” What he means is that this is the very reason she, a Jew, has been named Queen. God has placed her in this time and place to save her people. To make a long story short, she does speak with the King and the Jews are allowed to defend themselves and they are not destroyed. I encourage you to read the whole story this week.

Esther was in the right place at the right moment. God in His sovereignty had placed Esther as the Queen of a foreign nation. There are some amazing “just so happened” moments in this book, but what those moments really are is God’s control in action.  God in the same way has guided our lives and placed us in situations and areas where He wants us to be. The job you have, God has placed you in the lives of those co-workers. The neighborhood you live in, God has place you in the lives of the neighbors around you. Faith, God has placed you at Faith Fellowship to be useful to Him in ministry. When we start to look at our lives in this context we realize that God has a purpose for us. We want to see God work; well, He wants to use us in the places He has placed us. For me personally, I am a basketball coach. I know God has placed me with these teams for a deeper purpose than just basketball. I’m a bus driver for KidZone, and I know God has placed me there for a deeper purpose than just driving kids to and from school.

Do we see the deeper purpose in where God has placed us? For such a time as this God has placed us by His design and for His purpose.