This week we begin to see a transition in Israel as great as when Yahweh God brought them out of Egypt. Their Promised Land lies just ahead…
DAY ONE – Numbers 21-24
In our broken world conflict is inevitable. Wars are fought as nations rise against each other. But it also happens on a micro scale between individuals, even family members. James gave us the reason for this: James 4:1-3 Where do wars and fightings among you come from? Don’t they come from your pleasures that war in your members? 2 You lust, and don’t have. You murder and covet, and can’t obtain. You fight and make war. You don’t have, because you don’t ask. 3 You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. By the time Israel was approaching the end of their long journey of forty years, other nations in that part of the world were already threatening to end Israel’s existence. Those who tried perished; it’s that simple, because Yahweh God was forging ahead with His own plans to save the world, and no one could stay His hand. An extreme example of this happened at Peor. Balak, King of Arad, was frightened out of his wits as he looked down from his heights at a people too numerous to be counted; their renown went before them. So Balak tried to hire Balaam, a seer/prophet to curse Israel; Balaam’s reputation was stellar, and he got results. But Balaam was a prophet of Yahweh God and could not just operate on his own. Twice Balak sent princes to hire the prophet, offering large sums of money; but Balaam refused on the grounds that Yahweh did not permit him to go. Yet because Balaam asked God a second time what He wanted the prophet to do, the Lord told him to go ahead but say only what he was given. Balaam went, and wound up having a conversation with his donkey, who actually saved his life from an angel of the Lord who blocked his way! And yes, the donkey talked to his master in a human voice. What follows are quotations from Balaam’s prophecies, uttered in three different locations, as King Balak became more and more frustrated and frightened. Each time the prophet built seven altars and offered sacrifices, and each time his prophetic utterance reaffirmed Yahweh’s full intentions toward Israel:
- Numbers 23:8-10 How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? How shall I defy whom Yahweh has not defied? 9 For from the top of the rocks I see him. From the hills I see him. Behold, it is a people that dwells alone, and shall not be listed among the nations. 10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, or count the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous! Let my last end be like his!”
- Numbers 23:19-20, 23 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good? 20 Behold, I have received a command to bless. He has blessed, and I can’t reverse it. 23 Surely there is no enchantment with Jacob; Neither is there any divination with Israel. Now it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, ‘What has God done!’
- Numbers 24:5-8 How goodly are your tents, Jacob, and your tents, Israel! 6 As valleys they are spread out, as gardens by the riverside, as aloes which Yahweh has planted, as cedar trees beside the waters. 7 Water shall flow from his buckets. His seed shall be in many waters. His king shall be higher than Agag. His kingdom shall be exalted. 8 God brings him out of Egypt. He has as it were the strength of the wild ox. He shall eat up the nations his adversaries, shall break their bones in pieces, and pierce them with his arrows.
And though Balaam’s utterances confirmed God’s blessings on Israel, Balaam himself is described by Apostle Peter as being among those who “walk after the flesh in the lust of defilement.” 2 Peter 2:15-16 forsaking the right way, they went astray, having followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of wrongdoing; 16 but he was rebuked for his own disobedience. A mute donkey spoke with a man’s voice and stopped the madness of the prophet. We must conclude that in the ‘madness’ of this broken world, God’s blessings and His Words must be sought by us; we must forsake our own folly to follow His plans for our life. For He is not a man, and He cannot lie. I will, then, receive His blessings and live in them; it is the only way.
DAY TWO – Numbers 25-28
Balaam could not change God’s blessings over Israel, so instead he ‘counseled’ Israel in how to get along with their new neighbors from Moab. As they remained in Acacia Grove for a time, men of Israel began to commit harlotry with the Moabite women. It started socially but grew into religious festivities in which Israeli men ate meals dedicated to Moabite gods, then joined in their indecent religious rites. It got so bad that one Israeli brought his Moabite lady right into Israel’s camp and took her into his tent. Offenders were hanged, and Phineas, Aaron’s grandson, took a javelin into the tent and thrust it through the man and the woman while they were thus engaged. His act stopped the plague that had already begun in the camp; yet 24,000 died in the process. For us it is difficult to comprehend the extreme circumstances that attended as Yahweh God sought to bring in His plan to save the world. Israel was just the ‘tip of the spear’ so to speak, of all that would come with the Kingdom of Heaven when Jesus made His appearance.
After the plague a new census was taken, and it was noted that the entire generation of those who came out of Egypt forty years earlier were gone, buried in the sands of Israel’s wilderness treks. Only Joshua and Caleb remained of the original congregation. As a result Moses began to retrain the new congregation who would soon enter their promised land and have a permanent home. Their first ‘need to know’ concerned the offerings and festivals that celebrated God’s Presence and rule in their midst. As that was being established, the matter of distribution of land was determined, so that the tribes and families would each have their own place of permanent dwelling. Note that Yahweh God always remained out of sight, in the background, visibly; but was always actually in the foreground, working through Moses, the priests, the elders and other chosen representatives scattered throughout the camp. The Theocracy was real, and it marked Israel as a unique nation among all the nations. They still are, to this day, in many ways. Their presence in the modern world creates the fulcrum from which God deals with all the other nations.
The New Theocracy that came in with Jesus is called the Kingdom of Heaven, or of God. From heaven God rules the affairs of men through the Holy Spirit and His Word. Visibility is limited to observation of His peoples, occasional signs and wonders, and the open proclamation of His great plans for earth’s future. We call this the Good News; we should call it God’s Good News to Mankind. And we should prayerfully consider that He is still in control of all of history, even before Adam and Eve. My prayer is that I will be a visible representative of His rule on earth, and that I will ultimately live by Him and for Him alone.
DAY THREE – Numbers 29-32
Remember the 24,000 who died in the plague after the people yielded to Balaam’s illicit counsel? Well, so did Yahweh God, and He instructed Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites for all that happened. So 12,000 Israelis, armed for war, went out against Midian and completely destroyed them, killing every male and plundering their nation. Balaam died too, God’s judgment on the wayward prophet. As to the plunder, all the Midianite women were taken alive, an alarming realization when the Lord reminded them that the pagan adult women were the stumbling block to Israel at Peor. That was quickly remedied, and only virgin girls were permitted to remain with Israel. Now it gets really interesting–Yahweh God oversaw the distribution of the plunder, something on this order…
- God’s portion was set aside first, in honor of His protection and provision for the people.
- Then the army’s portion was separated from what remained, and the warriors received their due.
- The priests and Levites were also rewarded for their part in the campaign.
- Finally, the latter half was distributed among the whole congregation, so that EVERYONE in Israel felt included in the campaign which was waged for the Lord.
In God’s family and in His order, everyone is cared for so that they recognize their place in the whole nation. Nobody is left out; nobody is left behind. It was discovered also that not one Israeli warrior died in the battle. Can’t we see that serving our Lord is a WINNING way in this world? It is as true now as it was then.
Israel was now ready to cross over the Jordan River into their promised land; the time was close. What interesting times those must have been, for both God and the people of Israel. Israel was chosen and cared for by God Himself, and the people underwent a great retraining program by Yahweh to disabuse them of their slave mentality and to make them aware of God’s plan to save the nations through them. Though they misunderstood the Lord’s purposes and continued to falter at every turn, Israel can be seen today in that same land they were given in the days of Moses, speaking the same language and still a part of our Lord’s overall strategy to save the world and have a permanent, eternal family for Himself.
DAY FOUR – Numbers 33-36
Rest. The travelogue of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness for forty years lists every trek they made and every place they camped. Of course, it was all by Yahweh’s leading and determination. When the cloud rose up they broke camp, and when it rested, they rested. So they learned from Yahweh the ebb and flow of life; and they also learned the price of rebellion. What could have been accomplished in less than a month took four decades, in order to prepare the second generations to inherit what the first generations rejected. In all of this, Yahweh God did not abandon His plans but patiently held them in abeyance until the right time. It is obvious now that the Lord will accomplish whatever is in His heart to do. Our learning curve may be contracted or stretched accordingly as we learn to obey and be thankful.
Borders. Who is to determine times and places? As Israel learned under the Theocracy, the Lord controls all that He does in order to fulfill His predetermined wishes–not capricious wishes, mind you, but carefully laid plans that include the salvation of all men and the exaltation of the worlds to come. So the borders of Israel were decided and established by God and announced to Moses to give to the people. Then their tribal allotments were specified, as were the future homes of the Levites. Not receiving an allotment, the Levites were to be given cities within every tribe’s jurisdiction in order to carry on Yahweh’s work among the nation. So the nation is numbered, they have enjoyed their first conquests and settlements, and they are poised for the great campaign that lies ahead. But Moses has one last and great task–the reeducation of the nation by giving them the ‘second law’–Deuteronomy. Their parents now gone, these 600 thousand-plus men with their families need their own opportunity to recognize and honor God’s covenant with the people. All of them under forty years, they mustn’t settle in without knowing surely that the Lord is God and that their welfare lies in their acceptance of His commandments and ordinances. It will all be repeated in their hearing, and Moses at 120 years will complete his leadership among them. Only then will they be ready for campaign.
DAY FIVE – Deuteronomy 1-3
These first three chapters of Deuteronomy are a history lesson. Moses recounts in brief what has transpired over the last forty years. An interesting side note to this history involves Seir, Moab and Ammon. Do we remember that the main objection the spies had to settling Canaan was the giants (Anakim) who were there? Well, Moses now informs the people that during their journeys, they were not permitted to set foot in any territory previously given to the descendants of Esau, or Lot. Mt. Seir, Moab and Ammon were territories already spoken for, and the urge to colonize areas that belonged to someone else was forbidden by the Lord. Interestingly, those lands also had been occupied at one time by giants who were left over from earlier days; but God destroyed the giants at the hands of those to whom he gave those lands. The implication is that giants weren’t new, nor were they impregnable. They had been defeated before, and they would be once again. Reminding the people why they had been consigned to their wilderness experience, Moses made it clear that he, too, would not be going into Canaan, would not be leading them any further than their current position, due to the fact that the Lord was angry with him on account of the people’s rebellions. Moses disgraced himself and the Lord when he angrily struck the rock to bring water. God certainly forgave him, but his future was permanently altered. Pleading with Yahweh was to no avail–Moses was told to not bring up again whether he would cross the Jordan into the promised land. It was not going to happen. So Joshua was prepared to take command of the people when Moses’ time was up. And now here they are.
We have seen as we have followed Israel from Sinai to this location that the Lord’s wisdom and power are synchronized in His plans. He proposes and He disposes. He explains and insists that His ways are the only ways that work. For us to question Him, complain against Him, rebel at His authority is so self-destructive, so not the way to respond! Because our Lord has our welfare at heart, to obey Him and follow Him in good faith and good humor is completely justified and makes absolute sense. As we contemplate Israel’s history and God’s divine leadership, may we conclude in our own heart to trust Him with our whole life so that we inherit the promises He has for us.