90. A Final Recap

Meditations in Exodus: 90.  A Final Recap

Heb 3:5  “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house.”  

In many ways the story of the Exodus is the story of Moses. Yes, it is all about the deliverance and ups and downs of Israel, the forming of this embryonic nation, but behind all that is the presence and leadership of Moses. In this final study we will first recap the things that happened and then consider lessons  to be learned from this amazing story.

  1. Recap:

Part 1: Background – Studies 1 to 7 – Ex 1 & 2

The early life of Moses after a unique saving from death in his first months to live as a Prince of Egypt for the first forty years of his life until he rashly killed an Egyptian and had to flee Egypt and ended up looking after sheep for his next 40 years in Midian.

Part 2: Encounter with God – Studies 8 to 18 – Ex 3 & 4

After 40 years looking after sheep, Moses has an encounter with God at a burning bush on Mount Sinai where he is called to go back to Egypt and deliver Israel and take them to the Promised Land of Canaan.

Part 3: Returning with a Mission – Studies 19 to 25  – Ex 4 to 6

Moses’ return to Egypt, and meeting with the leaders of his own people – an inauspicious start.

Part 4: Into Battle – Studies 26 to 36 – Ex 6 to 11

The Battle of the Snakes, the first nine plagues: Blood, Frogs, Gnats, Flies, Livestock,  Boils, Hail, Locusts, and Darkness

Part 5: Wrapping it up – Studies 37 to 48 – Ex 11 to 15

Getting ready to leave, the Passover and tenth plague, leaving, being chased by Pharaoh, and the destruction of Pharaoh and his army.

Part 6: The Road to Sinai – Studies 49 to 60 – Ex 16 to 19

A time of early learning to trust God with trials by bitter water, no water, abundant water, learning to fight, and their arrival at Mount Sinai.

Part 7: The Divine Encounter at Sinai – Studies 62 to 75 – Parts of Ex 20 to 33

Meeting with God and receiving the Law, followed by an awful failure with the Golden Calf and much talk about the relationship with the Lord

Part 8: Sinai to Kadesh – Studies 76 to 81 – Num 11 & 12

Leaving Sinai  and travelling to Kadesh  with testings and failings

Part 9: The Events at Kadesh, and on – Studies 82 to 90 – Num 13 to 20

Israel’s refusal to enter the Land and being consigned to wander in the desert for forty years. Further failings and judgments and then travelling up the east side of the Dead Sea until arriving at the Plains of Moab opposite Jericho after having vanquished four enemies.

       2. Lessons:

i) Moses: Moses, as we said above, is the primary character who features throughout this period of time and the story of the Exodus. Brought up as a prince of Egypt we saw his fall and his period as a shepherd in the wilderness of Midian, a time when all self-confidence would have left him. This is then the man God chooses to deliver his people. As the apostle Paul wrote, God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.” (1 Cor 1:27,28) When will we learn what Isaiah learnt: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” (Isa 55:8) or what Samuel had to learn: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) It was not going to be by princely power, smart wisdom or even wealth that God’s people were delivered – and they are not today.

Associated with this we learn of the Lord’s calling. I believe the lesson that comes throughout the Bible is that God calls those to follow Him and do His bidding who He knows He can change and who have potential for great things. That means you and me.

 ii) Pharaoh: here is the epitome of human pride and foolishness, a man who hardened his heart by his self-centred and godless desire, reinforced by the occult, to withstood all of God’s persuasions that got tougher and tougher and more obvious as they went along. His eventual death was down to his own pride – and so it is with men and women today.

iii) Israel: Israel we would like to think well of, but cannot! Their self-centred concerns, and so often godless attitudes, sum up what the Bible calls Sin, and it is constantly there! Again and again the Lord provides for them and although we may consider a number of things they encountered to be trials or testings through which they should learn, they never learned the simple lesson – when in trouble ask God for His help! However if we are honest, Israel simply portray mankind as a whole, of whom we are a part. We, all of us, have this propensity to be self-centred and get it wrong, failing to seek God’s help at every turn. No, we are just like Israel and without Christ are just as bad.

 iv) God: On one side of the coin, the picture of God is scary. Here is a God of power and might, a holy God who holds people to account and when they fail to repent, brings judgment. However, the other side of the coin reveals a God who understands the frailty of those He calls and so perseveres and perseveres with them until they grow and mature. The fact that He did not wipe out the whole of Israel very early on in their life as a nation, simply reveals a God of immense grace and mercy. He is also seen as a God who draws near to His people, provides for them, blesses them and brings them all the guidance they need. i.e. He is a God who interacts with His people constantly.

Now these are massive lessons, I would suggest, and if you have managed to follow all these studies right through to the end you are to be congratulated because they have not always been highly enlightening. And therein is another lesson: not every page of the Bible is as enlightening as all others, yet we can learn something even from those that do not seem to inspire us. Inspired they may be but not every word is thrilling BUT it WILL be “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that (we) may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16,17) The only criteria, I have learned over many years of writing these studies, is that we need to pray both before and after what we have read, and THEN the word comes alive as we encounter Him and He opens it up to us. OK, what’s next?

Advertisements

89. Clearing the Way

Meditations in Exodus: 89.  Clearing the Way

Num 20:14,17,18  Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying… Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king’s highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory….. But Edom answered: “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”

We have endeavoured in this lengthy series to cover the whole of the story of the Exodus from the deliverance from Egypt to arriving at the border of he Promised Land. Now the final outcome shows that actually some of the land to the east of the Dead Sea and the Jordan river were given to the tribes of Gad and Reuben (see Num 32) and so technically they are about to enter the land that was to be theirs and so as we are in a transition stage, we will only cover it in basic outline form.

Kadesh Barnea, you will see from a map was in the far south of the Land, which is where Israel return to after the thirty eight years of wilderness wandering. To keep the story short we will simply summarise what follows:

  • To move north towards the Land they had to skirt Edom but the king of Edom refused them entry (20:18) and the Lord forbade them attack (Deut 2) so they moved south east and in the process…..
  • Aaron died on Mount Hor (20:22-29). They then skirted Edom and going north were attacked by the king of Arad (21:1-3) who they defeated.
  • There was then yet another time of grumbling and when a plague of snakes broke out against Israel, Moses provided salvation through a bronze snake (21:4-9).
  • As they approached the land of the Amorites that king refused them entry and fought them but was defeated by them (21:21-26).
  • The same thing happened as they travelled further north and they defeated the king of Bashan (21:33-35).
  • This brought them to the Plains of Moab, across the Jordan from Jericho. To the east were the Midianites who had heard all that had happened and were fearful and so follows the bizarre story of Balak who hired the seer Balaam to curse Israel. Every time he went to do this he encountered the Lord and ended up blessing Israel, much to the displeasure of Balak (Ch.22-24).
  • Failing in this, Balaam advised Balak to get his women to seduce the Israelite men to overcome them and lead them into idolatry, which is what happened (Ch.25), and God’s judgment on them was only averted when Phineas stepped in (25:6-18), although many still died by plague and the Lord decreed that Midian were to be destroyed (see ch.31).
  • This is followed by settling Reuben and Gad in the land east of the Jordan, subject to their soldiers continuing to help the rest take the rest of the Land (Ch.32). This is really the last historical incident recorded in Numbers.
  • Moses actual death is recorded, as we have noted previously, in Deut 34 which concludes the book of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch.

Thus we have observed the final historical events involving Israel as they come to the end of this forty year period of deliverance from Egypt and their travels until the point in time where they arrive on the Plains of Moab to the east of the Jordan, opposite Jericho, and prepare to actually enter the Land. They have arrived! We will in one final study recap all we have seen of their travels but for the moment we might ask ourselves what these final events, recorded above, say to us?

In the previous study we noted Moses’ failure in respect of the water from the rock but also noted that this did not stop him remaining fully active in his final year(s) as he led the people up to the point where there were to cross the Jordan and enter the Land. We usually think of Joshua as the great general who led Israel into the Land, but actually Moses had led them in the first stages. He had been their leader and seen them through the lands to the south and then east of the Dead Sea and he had been the one leading them to defeat Arad, then the Amorites and then Bashan and eventually the Midianites. i.e. he had led them through their first four battles, helping them gradually gain confidence in being a fighting force. He had had to overcome the spiritual battle over Balaam’s deception and he had had to preside over various administrative issues about ownership and settling the Land.

There is a portion of a psalm that we should perhaps consider at this point: The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”  (Psa 92:12-15)  This is the challenge for the believer in old age, and Moses sets an example for us to follow, being the perfect illustration of what this psalm says. For those of us of more mature years, will this be us? The writer to the Hebrews testifies, “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house.” (Heb 3:5) Will the same thing be able to be said of us when we are gone, that we have been a faithful servant of the Lord, who kept on to the very end? May it be so.

88. Moses’ Downfall

Meditations in Exodus: 88.  Moses’ Downfall

Num 20:10  Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?”

We need to identify first of all just when this all happened. In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.” (20:1) Now no year is mentioned, just a reference to “the first month” but in verses 22 to 29 of this chapter, warning of Aaron’s impending death is given. In Num 33:38 we read in respect of Aaron, “he died on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.” (Num 33:38) We have clearly jumped some thirty eight years forward. Israel have obviously done their wandering and the older generation has died off.  There is no record of the things that happened in that thirty eight year gap because it was a time of shame. At the beginning of this chapter Miriam dies and at the end of it Aaron dies (Num 20:27-29). In between, Moses future is determined by an event that had similarities to what had occurred some thirty eight years earlier (Ex 17:1-7).

So thirty eight years have passed and now we are told,  “there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron.” (Num 20:2) There is a real sense of deja-vu here: “They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Num 20:3-5) The only thing is that this is the NEXT generation. The previous generations have virtually all now died.

Moses falls down before the Lord and God’s glory appears to them (v.6). The Lord tells Moses to take his staff and speak to the rock and the Lord will bring water out of it, enough for everyone (v.7,8).  It is at this point that things go slightly differently from the time many years before: “So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” Num 20:9-11)

Note Moses’ language: “you rebels” and “must we bring water out”. And then he struck the rock twice instead of speaking to it. Yes, water comes out, but that’s not the point. The point is that Moses is supposed to be the Lord’s representative and only do what the Lord tells him to do. Clearly Moses is utterly frustrated by the Israelites. It may be all the worse for him because thirty eight years have passed and the next generation are getting ready to enter the Land and then the same thing happens all over again! He has not handled it well. So we find, “the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (v.12) Psa 106 records, “they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.” (Psa 106:33)

A great deal is yet to happen, as is spelled out in the remaining 16 chapters of Numbers (which we will only summarise) and indeed the entire book of Deuteronomy is to be written by Moses yet, but eventually we read of his death on his own on Mount Nebo, overlooking the land in Deut 34:1-8.

So how can we sum up this? Moses overstepped the mark on this occasion and for that he was not allowed to enter the Land. Why? Perhaps to show to Israel that even someone as great as Moses is answerable to the Lord and has to be held to account. Yes, the reality was that he was now 120 years old when he died and had spent the first forty years of his life as an Egyptian Prince, the second forty years of his life as a Midianite shepherd, and then the final forty years of his life as the shepherd of Israel. That last role had involved delivering them out of Egypt, taking them to Sinai, then up to the Promised Land,  but then just looking after them for nearly forty years in the wilderness before finally taking them up the east side of the Dead Sea until they were ready to cross the Jordan near Jericho to enter and take the Land. There on the plains of Moab he gave Israel a reminder of all that had happened over these past forty years, and then gave them detailed instructions about entering and living in the Land, which we now have as the book of Deuteronomy.

Commentators often disagree on dating the time of Moses life and so also of his death, but it is possible (if not probable) that from the time of striking the rock to dying on Mount Nebo was only about a year or so. If that is so, then his final year was a very active and very fruitful time. One hundred and twenty is a good age to die and he was more active in guiding Israel through the territories up the east of the Dead Sea and instructing Israel that most people would be in their sixties! No way does he let this restriction imposed on him by the Lord limit his ongoing service as the Shepherd of Israel.

In fact, I find this quite a challenge. If the Lord told me He was disciplining me and so all my hopes and aspirations were to be cut short (as happens when we find ourselves with a terminal illness) how will I feel about the months left to me? Would I sulk (I hope not) or would I seek to be as fruitful as Moses was? (I hope so). Part of our reply would also depend on how we coped with our own failure, if it had been like Moses and our shortened lifespan was a disciplinary act of God.

Indeed, how we learn to live with our failures is a big part of many of our lives. When we have blown it (and I have on more than one occasion) will we sink into a self-centred morass of gloom and doom, or will we receive the grace of God and get up and say, “Lord, please yet do what you need to with me, but please continue to use me.” We can yet be fruitful for that is always the Lord’s intent for us, even after He has had to pick us up and set us going again after some failure.

I think one of the greatest examples of this that I have observed in my lifetime was the life of Charles (Chuck) Colson, indicted and imprisoned for his part in the Watergate Affair when working for President Nixon. Through this he came to the Lord and went on to found Prison Fellowship  and was greatly used in a teaching ministry. His failure was able to be used by the Lord to bring a new son to glory. Failure was not the end, and it was clearly not so for Moses. May it not be so for you and me.

87. A Sign for the Rebellious

Meditations in Exodus: 87.  A Sign for the Rebellious

Num 17:10  The LORD said to Moses, “Put back Aaron’s staff in front of the Testimony, to be kept as a sign to the rebellious. This will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die”

In the previous chapter we observed the plague that was coming as God’s judgment after the Lord had threatened to judge all the people for their grumbling, but as the priests interceded for them, the Lord had mercy on them and the plague was stopped. We marveled at why the Lord had not finished completely with this people. It might be helpful to itemize again the order of the things that had recently happened:

  • They arrived at Kadesh on the border of the Promised Land (Num 13), spies had gone in and ten of the twelve brought back a bad report that swayed the nation who then refused to enter the Land (Num 14).
  • Because of this the Lord decreed that the whole of the nation over the age of twenty would die in the wilderness in the coming years and the younger generation would only enter when the older generations had eventually died out. (Num 14:29-35)
  • Subsequent to this, presumably still at Kadesh but it may be later, Korah and at least 250 community leaders had risen up against Moses and Aaron and had been destroyed when the earth swallowed them up (Num 16).
  • Incredibly this was followed by the people grumbling against Moses (16:41) and when the Lord sent plague against them, it was only stopped by Moses getting Aaron as High Priest to make atonement. (16:46-50)

Thus we arrive at a point of time when Israel are consigned to a life in the desert, have been on the verge of being wiped out by the Lord for their ongoing rebellious attitude, and are teetering on the brink of existence. What will they do? What will the Lord do? How can they carry on?

Our verse above explains what follows as the Lord’s activity seeking to end their grumbling so that they will not yet be destroyed. The Lord proposes a strategy whereby His will and the sanctity of the priesthood will prevail. Observe:

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and get twelve staffs from them, one from the leader of each of their ancestral tribes. Write the name of each man on his staff. On the staff of Levi write Aaron’s name, for there must be one staff for the head of each ancestral tribe. Place them in the Tent of Meeting in front of the Testimony, where I meet with you. The staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout, and I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites.” (Num 17:1-5) It is very simple. Each tribal leader is to present their staff with their name on it – and Levi’s will have Aaron’s name on it. These staffs are to be put in the Tent of Meeting overnight and whoever’s staff buds by next morning will be the one chosen by the Lord. That will put an end to all the grumbling about who is a leader and who is not. This they do (v.6,7)

What follows is amazing: “The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Testimony and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.” (v.8) It is undoubtedly a miracle because it not only budded, but leaves had formed AND blossom AND fruit appear on it.

Moses takes all the other staffs and gives them back to their owners – unchanged! – and the Lord tells him to put Aaron’s in the Tent as an ongoing reminder to everyone that Aaron, the high priest is His chosen on. (Num 17:9-11) The impact on the leaders and the people is instructive and obvious: “The Israelites said to Moses, “We will die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the LORD will die. Are we all going to die?” (v.12,13)

Now, interestingly, they are not given an answer, or at least one is not recorded. What is recorded is Aaron, his sons and his future sons, and the Levites being appointed to serve in the Tabernacle for the centuries to come.  The Lord is very specific: “You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that wrath will not fall on the Israelites again.” (Num 18:5) The priesthood is to be the means of the salvation of the Israelites by providing atonement for them whenever they sin (stated elsewhere). The rest of the chapter is about how they are to be provided for, not ever having land of their own. Chapter 19 is all about killing and burning a red heifer, a cow, outside the camp and using its ashes as a cleaning agent in water whenever uncleanness occurs. It is simply a law about maintaining or regaining cleanliness. In other words the whole emphasis swings away for a couple of chapters away from the failures of Israel to the Lord’s provision for them of a priesthood which they have already seen can stand in for them and preserve them when, in reality, they deserve death.

The whole affair of the staffs, and the laws that follow establishing the priesthood, clearly speak of the Lord’s grace that is doing everything it can to preserve this foolish people. We may wonder about this because they are a people condemned to die in the wilderness – well the older generation at least – but what we have here are the Lord’s actions to head off further folly which could contaminate the younger generation. The Lord’s intent is for that younger generation to grow up in the wilderness, to learn from it all, and be ready to go in and take the Land when the older generation has died off. All we have been reading about has been the Lord’s activity, working to help bring that about. How amazing!  This is the God of grace and mercy with whom we have to deal. Praise and worship Him!

86. Saved by Mercy

Meditations in Exodus: 86. Saved by Mercy

Num 16:41  The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the LORD’s people,” they said.

I finished the previous meditation with the following: What more can one say. It is like coming to the end of some great film full of action and suddenly, ‘The End’.  Silence. It is over, but you are left there, standing and wondering. Why were these men so foolish as to mess with God? The death of Korah and company by what appears a limited earthquake or even sink-hole followed by fire, must have been devastating. Yes, Moses had clearly been the Lord’s instrument but the magnitude of what happened was so great that surely there must have been no question that this was an incredible act of God. I finished as I did because it struck me that this is how it must have been, total silence  and horror, but if it was it was short lived.

“The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the LORD’s people,” they said.” (v.41) What was it about this people that made them so blind? Well we said it then and we’ll say it again – Sin. Modern Christianity so often says little about Sin but it is the reason for the Cross. It is inherent in every single person. Before we came to Christ we were held by its power. When we came to Christ he not only justified us, forgave us, cleansed us and adopted us, but he also put his own Holy Spirit within us, power to overcome, power to change us, but without Him we would be the sort of people Paul demonstrates in Romans 7 when he speaks of his old life saying, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:18,19)  Because of this the apostle John wrote, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) And if we’re still wondering remember Paul said, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers.” (2 Cor 4:4) There can be no other explanation why these people – the whole community – grumbled against Moses.

Moses and Aaron must have either been outside the Tabernacle or they still used the tent of Meeting outside the camp because we read, “But when the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the Tent of Meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron went to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and the LORD said to Moses, “Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” And they fell facedown.” (v.42-45) The crowd come to have it out with Moses and turn towards the tent at which point the pillar of cloud appears over it – the Lord has come, He has heard and yet again He tests Moses with His proposal to destroy this people. In fact clearly plague has started to appear in the people (v.46b) so Moses and Aaron fall face down in prayer for a third time.

But the role of the priesthood is to intercede for the people and stand between them and God and so we read, “Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with fire from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started.” So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah. Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, for the plague had stopped.” (v.46-50)

The people with their attitude have forfeited the covenant and are in blatant rebellion against God. It is not an unintentional thing (remember the Law we considered recently) but wilful and purposeful. They don’t care. They are the chosen people of the earth, they have been called to be a blessing to the earth, to reveal God to the earth, to be receivers of His blessings and demonstrate His goodness to the world but instead a bunch of them rebel and when terrible judgment falls on them, the rest grumble against God’s servant. How incredible, how bizarre!

But why didn’t God just strike all of them down in a second, for He could have? The answer must be in what followed. The fact that Aaron stepped in with his priestly role with an act of atonement must have been what the Lord was wanting. The lessons are strong and clear. Blatant sin warrants death but even then where there is an intercessor, God will hold back and give another chance for no other reason than He is merciful. Yes, He is! There is no reason why He should hold back at this point. He is almighty God, Creator of the Universe. He has made a perfect world and mankind have thrown it back in His face, so to speak. He could have just wiped out and utterly destroyed the earth. He has the power and might to do that; we are but ants to Him and you and I tread on ants with little thought. Why hasn’t God wiped out this rebellious anthill? Be very clear: we have done nothing to deserve mercy; that is the thing about mercy it is given for no reason other than God chooses to.

Again we fall back to the Lord’s words through Ezekiel: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) and “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ezek 33:11) THREE times the same message which perhaps the apostle Peter picks up on when he writes, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

We have emphasised again and again in these studies the battle that is going on to bring this people through to a place where they can truly be a light to the rest of the world but it is hard work in the face of their constant failures. On the one hand with the human race we have a people made in the likeness of God so often revealing His grace (theologians call it ‘common grace’) so good things are seen in us, but all the time there is this struggle, because of free will, with this propensity to be self-centred and godless. It is an incredible battle that is going on and the only reason we are still alive is the mercy of God. Do a Moses and Aaron and fall on your face and worship the One who is holy, the One who is all powerful, the One who sent His Son to satisfy justice on your behalf, to spare you for no reason other than He wanted to!  That is mercy. We didn’t deserve it but we got it.

85. Insurrection

Meditations in Exodus:  85. Insurrection

Num 16:1,2   Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites–Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth–became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council.

I have used the word insurrection here, because whatever way you look at this, it is a rebellion, a mutiny and an uprising – and it is almost unbelievable. I say unbelievable because not long back Aaron and Miriam had taken a similar stance and Miriam had suffered disgrace and leprosy for a week by way of punishment. You will note a footnote at the end of verse 1 that suggests the alternative that says these four men – Korah, Dathan and Abiram and On – ‘took men’, they got others to side with them; in fact 250 men, men who were community leaders. This is a disaster, it is a challenge to Moses leadership and his authority before the Lord.

They say to Moses and Aaron, You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” (v.3) i.e. what makes you so great? What a bunch of idiots! Have they been deaf and blind for the last two years, have they not seen Moses role opposing Pharaoh in Egypt, have they not seen Moses’ leadership role in the desert, did they not see Moses going up and down the mountain talking to the Lord and receiving the Law?  What is wrong with these people?  It is called pride and pride blinds you to the truth. I have to confess I have been attacked three times in my leadership roles throughout my Christian life by those who wanted to take the role of leader from me so they could lead.

Moses’ response to this challenge to his leadership is to again fall on his face in prayer (v.4) and having listened to the Lord (assumed), “he said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers and tomorrow put fire and incense in them before the LORD. The man the LORD chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!” (v.5-7) There is an implication behind all this that Korah who is a Levite (and Levites looked after the Tabernacle) wants to be upgraded to a priest and so Moses says, “Very well, you want to be a priest and your followers want to be spiritual leaders? OK, tomorrow morning act like priests and bring censers with fire and incense in them and we’ll see what God does, who He chooses.

But then he confronts Korah with this specific charge – “you do the work of the Lord’s tabernacle… but now you are trying to get to the priesthood as well. It is against the Lord you… have banded together” (v.8-11) That makes it quite clear. Then “Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. But they said, “We will not come! Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert? And now you also want to lord it over us? Moreover, you haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you gouge out the eyes of these men? No, we will not come!” (v.12-14) What world had they been living in? How had their memory changed Egypt from a place of harsh slavery to being “a land flowing with milk and honey”? They dig in!

This angers Moses and he talks to the Lord: “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.” (v.15) He then reiterates his instruction to the men to bring censers next morning  which they do (16-18)  The glory of the LORD appears (v.19) and “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” (v.20,21)

So here we have a third time the Lord makes a statement for Moses to react against, a test if you like. Moses rises to it: “But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, “O God, God of the spirits of all mankind, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?” (v.22) Good call Moses!  “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the assembly, `Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.” (v.23,24) Moses goes to them and warns the assembly (v.25-27) He addresses the people: “Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.” (v.28-30) It can’t be made any plainer.

The judgment is devastating: “As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!” And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.” (v.31-35) It is utterly conclusive. There is a little follow on. The bronze censers of the 250 men were collected up by Aaron’s son and hammered into a sheet to cover the altar as a reminder for future generations that such a thing should never ever happen again.

What more can one say?  It is like coming to the end of some great film full of action and suddenly, ‘The End’.  Silence. It is over, but you are left there, standing and wondering. Why were these men so foolish as to mess with God? Sin. It’s there in every one of us and Satan comes to tempt us so that the Sin in us rises up and leads us into ever greater folly. May we learn.

84. Accidental or Purposeful Sin

Meditations in Exodus: 84. Accidental or Purposeful Sin

Num 15:32-34   While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him.

Something I have rarely heard preached about, and yet is one of the most important key features, especially of the early life of Israel, is the battle that went on for the minds of the people for them to remain a pure people who were to remain a light to the rest of the world, a nation who revealed the Lord and all His love and goodness to the earth. That was what was supposed to happen. God had made mankind to work in a particular way and any deviation from that produces human breakdown, e.g. over eating produces obesity which produces other health problems. Of course at the Fall, Adam and Eve had opened the door for sin to enter the world and every person was thus born with a propensity to self-centred godlessness. To help Israel counter that propensity, the Lord gave them to Law.

We now come to an incident that needs considering in context. Israel have just failed to enter the land and then we find at the beginning of this chapter,The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `After you enter the land I am giving you as a home and you present to the LORD offerings made by fire….” (15:1-3)  and we then see the Lord giving further instructions on how to present offerings (v.3-16) This is followed by, The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `When you enter the land to which I am taking you and you eat the food of the land, present a portion as an offering to the LORD.” (v.17-19) which is the start of a new section of law about how to deal with failure (v.19-26).  Now I have underlined the key reasoning behind these laws, apart from what they say, which is to emphasise the Lord’s intent to eventually bring these people into the land. That is still top of His agenda and their initial failure has not detracted from that.

Now it is in the context of this ‘law of failure’ that the Lord then speaks about unintentional and defiant failure. There IS a difference. But if just one person sins unintentionally, he must bring a year-old female goat for a sin offering. The priest is to make atonement before the LORD for the one who erred by sinning unintentionally, and when atonement has been made for him, he will be forgiven. One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether he is a native-born Israelite or an alien. BUT anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.’ ” (v.28-31)  Notice the threefold emphasis on the word ‘unintentionally’. When such a person brings their offering in repentance they will be forgiven. This is contrasted with the person who sins ‘defiantly’, i.e. intentionally or blatantly or purposefully. This person cannot repent for they are just rebellious.

Now it is at this point that we are given an illustration of what this means because a man is caught ignoring the rule to rest and do no work on the Sabbath (v.32,33) Now this is the first time such a thing has happened and so they hold him in custody wondering what to do with him (v.34). So then we read, “Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.” (v.35,36)

The severity of this terminal judgment indicates the importance laid on holding the people together and maintaining a law-abiding people. Elsewhere I have called terminal judgments, ‘judgments of the last resort’. Nothing else would do at this point to make the point: this is a nation called to stand out in the world and reveal the goodness of the Lord’s design for the earth. God’s plan, which He has just shown is still in place, is to take this holy people into the Promised Land and there be with them to bless them as they keep to the Law and reveal an alternative way to live to the rest of the people on the earth.

This people have three times at least affirmed the covenant with God – all of them – and so now when one man turns round and blatantly shows that he doesn’t care about the laws, he has forfeited the right to be part of Israel, but for the sake of the nation, he cannot just be expelled and banished for that would be the same as any lesser punishment that would say it really didn’t matter. No, death is the judgment of last resort. In no other way will the message be conveyed.

Almost as an aside – and it is a thought I’ve never had before – if you were an Israelite and you didn’t like the idea of being part of this law-keeping society, you could always sneak out of the camp and go and live in some other country. Staying in the nation required you to abide by the covenant. Because this appears very negative it is worth pondering briefly on how this worked out in the high points of Israel’s life when they were truly seeking the Lord and obeying Him in all things. I always cite the incident of the Queen of Sheba coming to Solomon in 1 Kings 10 and how she was overcome by the extent of God’s goodness to them, the wealth and the quality of life they had. There are other such incidents in the life of Israel but tragically even Solomon fell off the rails and ended up in a bad place, as did so many of the other kings. The Old Testament is a testimony to the goodness of God and the folly of mankind – even with Him in their midst. Oh yes, we need our salvation!