September 25, 2017

Scripture Reading – Numbers 25-28

The Book of Numbers is thirty-six chapters long; however, today’s reading, Numbers 25-28, sets the stage for the beginning of the end of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness.

Numbers 25 brings to our attention a wicked choice made by some in Israel “in Shittim” (25:1).   Shittim was the staging ground before Israel crossed the Jordan River and entered the long-awaited Promise Land.  We observe two spiritual lessons in Numbers 25; the first, Temptation of Sin.

The apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, warned believers: Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33).  So, it was with Israel; the people had become familiar with the sinful ways of their heathen neighbors and cast aside all moral restraint (Numbers 25:1-3).

Numbers 25:1-3 – “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. 2And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. 3And Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.”

Provoking the LORD to anger, some in Israel committed “whoredom with the daughters of Moab”, worshipped Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility represented as a bull, and ate meat offered to idols.

A second lesson we take from Numbers 25 is the Tragedy of Sin (25:3b-5, 9).  The sins of the people became so egregious they provoked God to anger and He demanded justice (25:3b-4).   Placing the responsibility for the sins upon the “heads of the people”, the LORD demanded they be slain and their bodies hanged in the sun as a warning to the nation.

As God’s judgment fell upon the nation, Moses demanded those who had sinned be slain (25:5) and purged from the people.  One sin led to another until one man openly sinned and “brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel” (Numbers 25:6).  Phinehas, the son of the priest Eleazar, and grandson of Aaron the late high priest, rose up and slew the man and the Midianite woman and God stopped the plague leaving 24,000 dead in Israel.  God commended Phinehas for his zeal and promised to honor him and his descendants (25:10-13).

Numbers 26 records a census of males, 20 years and older, taken of the twelve tribes of Israel before they crossed the Jordan River.  The census will be the basis of assigning each of the tribes their own geographical territory in the Promise Land (Numbers 26:52-56).  The Twelve Tribes of Israel are named in Numbers 26 (26:5-50).

Numbers 27 marks the end of an era and a changing of the guard for Israel when the LORD commands Moses, “Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. 13  And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered” (Numbers 27:12-13).

God reminded Moses why he would not be allowed to enter the Promise Land (27:14; 20:7-13) and Moses accepted the consequences of his sin by requesting the LORD “set a man over the congregation” (27:16).  Moses did not want the next leader of Israel chosen by a popular vote of the people; he wanted a man of God’s choosing and a man with a shepherd’s heart (27:17).

Numbers 27:17 – “Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd.”

After serving and leading the nation through the desert for 40 years, Moses was well aware Israel, like sheep, needed a leader with a shepherd’s heart.   Sheep are by nature vulnerable, unable to determine their own course, and lost without a shepherd.

The shepherd God chose was “Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit” (27:18).   Leaving no uncertainty that Joshua was God’s man (27:18), Moses confirmed him before “all the congregation” (27:19), challenged the people to honor him and “be obedient” (27:20).  Making certain “Eleazar the priest and all the congregation” knew God had chosen Joshua, Moses “laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the LORD commanded” (27:23).

Although one of the greatest men to ever live, Moses inevitably went the way of all flesh…  “thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered” (Numbers 27:13).  Miriam, Moses’ sister was dead.  Aaron his brother was dead.  Because he had sinned before all the people, Moses would die short of the Promise Land (27:14).

James reminds us the temporal reality of this earthly life, “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14).  The author of Hebrews writes, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

I close with a thought: Who will pull your plug?

In our adolescence, we dream and plan for careers, marriage and family.  In our young adult years, we make vocational choices and set goals.  However, one thing many of us are guilty of not planning… the inevitability of our death.

Wise men and women plan for the future.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith