Category Archives: Ministry

“Speak, For Thy Servant Heareth” (1 Samuel 2-3)

“Speak, For Thy Servant Heareth” (1 Samuel 2-3)

Scripture reading – 1 Samuel 2-3

Before she conceived, Hannah promised the LORD she would give Him her first born son. Her prayers were answered, and she gave birth to a son, “and called his name Samuel” (1:20). Hannah did not forget her vow, and when Samuel was no longer nursing (1:22-23), she took him to Shiloh, and presented him to the high priest (1:24-27). There she confessed, “I have lent [given, offered] him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord” (1:28).

1 Samuel 2  – Hannah’s Prayer of Thanksgiving and Praise (2:1-11)

After dedicating her only son to the LORD, Hannah prayed with a overflowing joy and thanksgiving. Her prayer was full of imagery, revealing a knowledge of the LORD that was both personal, and perceptive. The LORD had answered her prayers, and she exulted that He was her strength (“mine horn”), and salvation (2:1). She declared, the LORD is holy, and there is none like Him; He is a Rock, strong and mighty (2:2).

Though she had been mocked, and scorned by Elkanah’s other wife, she took comfort knowing the LORD was wise, and sovereign (2:3). He is to be praised, for by Him strong men are made weak, and the weak are made strong (2:4). He is sovereign over death, and life, and chooses whom He will bless, and who will be abased (2:6-8a). The LORD is the Creator, and Sustainer, and “the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them” (2:8).

When Hannah’s prayer of praise concluded, Elkanah, and his family went home to Ramah, leaving Samuel at Shiloh where he “did minister unto the LORD before Eli the priest” (2:11). He had been taught the Scriptures as soon as he could speak (Deuteronomy 6), and though a child, he exhibited his parent’s love, and passion for the LORD.

Year after year, Hannah returned to Shiloh, and there she found Samuel ministering “before the Lord, being a child, girded with a linen ephod” (2:18). As his loving mother, she “made [Samuel] a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.” (2:19). Eli prayed Hannah would be blessed, for her sacrifice, and rewarded for giving her son to the LORD.  “The Lord visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters. And the child Samuel grew before the Lord” (2:21), “and was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men” (2:26),

The Wickedness of Eli’s Sons (2:12-17)

Amid the backdrop of Samuel’s innocence, and service to the LORD, we are introduced to the sons of Eli the high priest, and read of them: “12Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord” (2:12).

How could this be? They were not only the sons of the high priest; they were by birth of the priestly order. Tragically, they were illustrative of “the sons of Belial,” godless, wicked, and immoral (2:12), and “they knew not the LORD” (2:12).

It has been observed that, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and surely it did for the sons of Eli. They grew up in the cloistered life of the priesthood, and did not fear, and obey the LORD’S Law and Commandments. They profaned the sacrifices and demanded for themselves, the choice portions of burnt offerings. They lacked restraint, taking portions of fat, which was forbidden in the Law (2:13-16). Their disdain for the LORD, and the sacrifices gave cause for men to abhor “the offering of the LORD” (2:17).

A Father’s Failure, and a Tragic Prophecy (2:22-36)

The Scriptures do not reveal how many years passed from the time Samuel began service in the Tabernacle, and the blatant wickedness perpetuated by the sons of Eli in the priesthood. Old and weakened, Eli heard of the wicked, immoral acts committed by his sons, but he did nothing to restrain them (2:22-24). His feeble attempt to reason with his sons fell woefully short (2:25), for they demonstrated calloused hearts with no respect for him as father, nor fear of the LORD. So great was their wickedness, the LORD determined He “would slay them” (2:25).

The LORD sent “a man of God,” a prophet to Eli, who foretold the imminent judgment that would befall his sons (2:27-28). The LORD rebuked Eli, admonishing him for putting his sons above His God (2:29). Eli’s lineage would be cut off, and die in their youth (2:31-33). “Hophni and Phinehas [Eli’s sons]; [would] in one day die both of them” (2:34).

1 Samuel 3 – The LORD Calls Samuel

The LORD never leaves His people without His Word, and though Eli’s sons had disgraced the priesthood, and caused the people to abhor the offerings of the LORD (2:17), He was preparing Samuel to be His servant, and prophet (1 Samuel 3).

It was a tragic time in Israel, for “the word of the Lord was precious [rare] in those days; there was no open vision [no prophet]” (3:1), and the “lamp of God” in the Tabernacle was neglected, and “went out…where the ark of God was” (3:3).

Although he was a child, the LORD was ready to speak directly to Samuel (3:2-6, 3:7). Three times the LORD called to Samuel while he slept, but Samuel did not know it was the voice of the LORD. Eli comprehended the LORD was calling upon the young boy, and instructed him, “Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth” (3:9).

When the LORD called upon Samuel the fourth time, he answered as he had been instructed, and the LORD revealed the tragedy that would soon befall the house of Eli, and his sons (3:11-14). Samuel was stunned by the revelation the LORD had given him, and “feared to show Eli the vision” (3:15). Eli, however, demanded he reveal all the LORD had shown him, and Samuel told him everything, “and hid nothing from him” (3:18a).

Samuel’s reputation grew throughout Israel, and the people realized there was a prophet among them, and “the LORD was with him… all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord” (3:19-20).

Though Eli, and his sons had failed the LORD, Israel knew there was a prophet in the land, for “the Lordappeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (3:21).

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Evil Companions Corrupt Good Morals (Numbers 25)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 25

“Times have changed,” is an oft repeated adage; however, read the Scriptures and you will be reminded mankind has not changed! The sinful depravity of our world today is not to be outdone by ancient civilizations. When a people, and a nation reject God’s Law and Commandments, they inevitably unleash the abhorrent lusts of the flesh, and a precipitous moral decline follows. Few nations turn back from the brink of destruction, and escape the suffering and humiliation of God’s judgment.

Numbers 25 brings us to Shittim, the staging ground for Israel to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land (25:1).

Shittim became the setting of a tragic event, for it was here that “the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab” (25:1). After the suffering, and toil of wandering in the wilderness for forty years, how could Israel, break her covenant with the LORD, and not only commit adultery with the heathen, but also worship and offer sacrifices to their gods? (25:1-3)

We read, “3And Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel” (25:3). Baal-peor was the place where Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility was worshipped. The Moabites, Midianites, and Ammonites all worshipped Baal (closely identified with Moloch). Portrayed as a bull, the Canaanites sacrificed their sons and daughters to Baal, and committed all manner of sexual deviancy in worshipping the idol.

God’s wrath was “kindled against Israel” (25:3), and He commanded Moses, “Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel” (25:4).

The sins of the people was egregious, and God’s judgment was swift (25:4-5) as He placed the responsibility of the sins upon the “heads [leaders] of the people,” and demanded they be slain, and their bodies hanged in the sun as a warning to the people (25:5).

One Israelite was so brazen, that he “brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman (the daughter of a Midianite tribal chief) in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel” (25:6).  Phinehas, the son of the high priest Eleazar, rose up and slew the man, and the Midianite woman, thrusting them both through with a javelin (25:6-8). God’s judgment fell upon Israel, and 24,000 perished (25:9).

Reminded that nothing escapes the notice of God, the LORD acknowledged Phinehas’ zeal for righteousness, and established a perpetual, binding covenant of the priesthood with him and his lineage (25:10-13).

So tragic was the sin committed at Shittim, that the names of the couple slain by Phinehas were recorded (25:14-15), and the LORD commanded Moses, “Vex the Midianites, and smite them” (25:17).

A closing thought: I could draw out several spiritual lessons from today’s Scripture reading; however, I limit myself to one: Be not deceived [led astray; drawn away]: evil communications [companions; associations] corrupt [ruins; destroys] good manners [morals] (1 Corinthians 15:33).

The Scriptures do not reveal how the men of Israel came to worship the god of Baal, and to commit whoredom. We can be certain, however, that the proximity of the “daughters of Moab” (25:1), provided the Israelites not only a familiarity with them, but also a tolerance of their wicked ways (25:1-3).

Today’s church is in desperate need for young men like Phinehas; men who have a love for God, and a zeal for godliness.

Will you commit yourself, and be a 21st century Phinehas?

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

“God is not a man, that he should lie.” (Numbers 23-24)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 23-24

The dynamic conversation between Balak, king of Moab, and Balaam continues in today’s Scripture reading. Hearing Balaam had arrived in Moab, Balak went out to see the seer and was anxious to have him curse Israel (22:26-41). Balaam warned the king, “the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak” (22:38). Balak, however, was undeterred, and led Balaam to Kirjathhuzoth, and after offering oxen and sheep, invited him to look out on the plain where Israel was encamped (22:40-41).

Numbers 23 – Balaam’s Prophecies, and Balak’s Rage

Balak was willing to do all that Balaam asked, and the king built “seven altars, and…offered on every altar a bullock and a ram” (23:1-2). Balak then stood by his burnt offerings, and waited for the prophet to speak. Instead of cursing, Balaam prophesied saying, “Lo, the people [Israel] shall dwell alone, And shall not be reckoned among the nations [Israel would become a distinct nation, and with its own land]10Who can count the dust of Jacob, And the number of the fourth part of Israel? [Israel would become a great population] (22:9-10a).

Balak was incensed, and rebuked Balaam saying, “What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether” (22:11).

Not yet ready to accept that Balaam could not curse Israel, the king invited him “to the top of Pisgah,” and once again “built seven altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar” (23:14). Balaam withdrew to seek the LORD, and Balak stood by his burnt offerings (23:15-17). When Balaam returned, Balak asked, “What hath the LORD spoken?” (23:17b).

Rather than curse Israel, Balaam’s second prophecy focused on God’s character, and the prophet revealed He is immutable [unchanging]: For “19God is not a man, that he should lie; Neither the son of man, that he should repent: Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (23:19

God’s promises are sure, for whom the LORD has determined to bless, He will bless (23:20-21a). He is omnipresent, and His presence assures His people victory (23:21b-22). The LORD is also a shield, and Israel would not be harmed (23:23). Balaam prophesied, because the LORD is with Israel, His people would “rise up as a great lion…and drink the blood of the slain” (23:24). 

Balak loathed the blessings Balaam had heaped upon Israel, and he challenged the prophet, “Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all” (23:25). Balak then commanded Balaam a third time to look upon Israel, and curse the people (23:27-30).

Numbers 24 – Balaam’s Third and Fourth Prophecies

For a third time, Balak built seven altars, and offered seven bulls and seven rams (23:29-30), but Balaam could not curse Israel, for he “saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, [and] he set his face toward the wilderness” (24:1). Lifting up his eyes towards Israel, Balaam “saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him” (24:2). Balaam prophesied (24:5-9), 5How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, And thy tabernacles, O Israel!” (24:5).

Balak was furious, and protested, “I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times. 11Therefore now flee thou to thy place” (24:10-11a). Before departing, Balaam took up a fourth prophecy (24:15-19), and prophesied, “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (24:17). This prophecy was partly fulfilled when Israel was established as a kingdom, and David reigned. However, it was the birth of Jesus Christ that was marked by “a Star out of Jacob” (24:17, 19; Matthew 2:2). 

Balaam concluded his prophecies, and foretold the fall of three kingdoms: The Amalekites (24:20); the Kenites (24:21-22); and the Assyrians (24:23-24). Balaam and Balak went their ways; however, the Scriptures reveal how Balaam will be slain in battle, with several kings of Midian (31:8).

A closing thought: “19God is not a man, that he should lie” (23:19).

I have known many liars, and have seen that the bent of human depravity is for men to believe lies, before they will accept and embrace God’s truth. What a blessed security to know God keeps His promises, and His Word is sure! To quote the apostle Paul, “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4a).

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Look, and Live! (Numbers 21-22) (part 1 of 2)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 21-22

Numbers 21 finds Israel near the end of that nation’s forty-year sojourn in the wilderness. The vastness of Israel’s population was such that neighboring nations feared the congregation. One king, Arad the Canaanite, fought against Israel, taking some of the people as prisoners. The people called on the LORD, and vowed, “If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities” (21:2). The LORD heard Israel’s promise, and gave them a great victory over the Canaanites, and the people “utterly destroyed them and their cities” (21:3).

In spite of their great victory over the Canaanites, Edom’s refusal to allow Israel to pass through their land soon found the people discouraged (21:4). Like their parents before them, they began speaking against God, and Moses, saying, “Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread” (21:5).

The LORD’S judgment was swift, and “fiery [poisonous] serpents” bit the people, and many died (21:6). Moses, evidencing the humility and meekness of a leader who had borne much, prayed for the people when they confessed, “we have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee” (21:7). The LORD heard Moses’ prayer, and commanded him, “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live” (21:8).

Moses obeyed the LORD, and fashioned “a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (21:9). The significance of this event was identified by Jesus in His conversation with Nicodemus (John 3). The LORD revealed the “brass serpent” was a type, a pre-incarnate symbol, of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus revealed to Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: [15] That whosoever believeth in Him [Jesus Christ] should not perish, but have eternal life.  [16] For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:14-16).

The brass serpent, suspended on a pole, was the object God provided for Israel to look to and live. Some 2,000 years later, Christ would be suspended on the Cross, and all who look to Him find healing – the answer for the “wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). The invitation to Israel to look, and live, is an invitation for all sinners: Look to the Cross, and with eyes of faith, believe Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and raised from the dead. Look, and Live!

1 John 5:11-13 – “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12  He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 13  These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

LOOK and LIVE!

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

The Deaths of Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 20)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 20

Though not stated in the Scriptures, the events recorded in Numbers 20 marked the fortieth year of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness since the people departed Egypt. Fulfilling God’s judgment, the desert had become a graveyard for the children of Israel who were twenty years old, and older when they refused to cross over into the Promised Land. Entering upon the fortieth year, a whole generation had perished, and with the exception of a few, only two of that generation (Joshua and Caleb) would enter the land God had promised His people.

I have experienced times of sorrow and disappointments in life that washed over me like the waves of a storm, testing my heart, soul, and strength. Numbers 20 was certainly a time like that for Moses. That great servant of the LORD, one with whom He spoke “face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10), experienced in this chapter the deaths of his sister Miriam (20:1), and his brother Aaron (20:25-29; 33:38).

Miriam’s Death (20:1)

The death of Miriam, the oldest of three siblings (her brothers being Aaron and Moses), garnered little more than a passing mention. We read in the Scriptures, “1Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there” (20:1).

Israel had been at Kadesh before (13:26), for this was the place where they had made the fateful decision to turn back thirty-eight years earlier. It was at Kadesh where we read, “Miriam died there, and was buried” (20:1). There is no mention of a season of mourning, or a memorial service. Simply, and abruptly, Miriam died and was buried (20:1).

Rebellion Arose in the Hearts of a New Generation (20:2-13)

An old adage goes, “Like father, like son,” and so it was seen once again at Kadesh. Their fathers before them had rebelled, and the new generation encamped on the border of Canaan, took up the same pattern of sin, and “chode [quarreled] with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!” (20:3)

Did the people wish to die? Of course not! Their quarrel with Moses evidenced not only their lack of respect for him as the leader of the nation, but a spirit of rebellion that was expressed in their murmuring, and complaining about a lack of water. It was indeed, a place that was destitute (20:4-5); however, it was not their destination! They must need pass through this desert place, to make their journey to the Promised Land!

Moses and Aaron left the congregation, went to the door of the Tabernacle, and “fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them” (20:6). The LORD then directed Moses to take the rod in hand, assemble the people, and speak to the rock with the people watching. He promised, “it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink” (20:8).

Moses obeyed the LORD, but he had become exasperated with the people and their sins, and rebuked them in anger. Rather than speak to the rock as he had been commanded (for he had many years before struck the rock once), he “lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also” (20:11).

Some might observe, “all is well that ends well”; however, that was not the case. You see, God is not only interested in the outcome, He is also invested in the process. He had directed Moses to speak to the rock, but he had chosen to strike the rock, not once, but twice in anger. Why is that an important lesson? Because the rock was a type, a representation of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

The judgment of God seems severe, but God is jealous of His testimony, and His servants had failed to obey Him. The LORD had not received the glory for the water that burst forth from the rock (20;12). Moses and Aaron had sinned against the LORD in the sight of all the people, and their lack of faith (“ye believed me not,” 20:12), was the catalyst for God’s determination: “ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” (20:12).

The Edomites Refused Israel’s Passage Through Their Lands (20:14-21)

I will address the Edomites refusing Israel safe passage through their territory at a later date. Remembering the Edomites are descendants of Esau’s lineage; he was the brother Jacob, and the son of Isaac. There was a familial connection between that nation and Israel. Edom, however, refused Israel’s request, and forced that nation to take another route.

Aaron’s Death (20:22-29)

Unlike Miriam’s death, the passing of Aaron, the High Priest, and brother of Moses, was attended by both ceremony, and mourning. We read, “Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount. 29And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel” (20:28-29).

Aaron, like the best of men, was far from perfect; however, he was the man God had chosen as the first High Priest of Israel. When Eleazar came down from the mount wearing the garments of the High Priest, and Aaron was not with Moses, the people mourned his death for thirty days. So it is with every generation, and with all men and women. Your days, like my days, are numbered.

Psalm 90:12 – 12So teach us to number our days, That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

“A tithe of a tithe,” and a Cleansing from Sin (Numbers 18-19)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 18-19

Numbers 17 addressed the establishing of Aaron, and his sons as the priestly lineage, while Numbers 18 outlines the duties of the priests and Levites, and the care and support of their families.

With the rebellion of Korah, and the men who followed him still fresh (Numbers 16), it was prudent for the LORD to address Aaron regarding the sins of his “father’s house” (remembering that Korah was of the tribe of Levi, 18:1). The honor of the priesthood, and the sins committed by the tribe of Levi, were to weigh upon Aaron, and his sons.

The tribe of Levi was chosen by the LORD to assist the priests in their duties; however, they were not to usurp their authority, nor approach the “vessels of the sanctuary and the altar,” lest they die (18:2-3). None, but the priests, were to “keep the charge of the sanctuary, and the charge of the altar” (18:5-7).

Numbers 18:8-20 – The Care and Support of the Priests

You will notice the mention of “heave offerings,” throughout this passage. What were they? They were a portion of the sacrifices that were brought by the people, and set aside by the LORD for the priests (Exodus 29:27-28). The heave offering was specifically the right shoulder of a cow, ram, or goat that had been sacrificed (Leviticus 7:34; Numbers 6:20). The first-fruits of the harvest were also designated heave offerings (Numbers 15:20-21). The needs of the priests, and their families were met through the heave offerings (18:9, 11-13), and was to be eaten “in the most holy place,” that being the court of the Tabernacle (Numbers 18:10).

Numbers 18:21-24 – Provision for the Levites

Like the priests, the Levites would not have an inheritance in the Promised Land (18:21). Rather than being engaged in securing land, their focus was to be upon “the service of the Tabernacle of the congregation” (18:21). While the children of Israel were occupied tilling their lands, and caring for their flocks and herds, the Levites were supported by “the tenth (or the tithe) in Israel” (18:21), “given to the Levites to inherit” (18:24).

Numbers 18:25-32 – The Levites were to give a tithe of a tithe.

Lest any should believe those in ministry do not have an obligation to pay their tithe, we find the Levites, after receiving the tithes of the congregation, were to take off the “tenth part of the tithe” (18:26). The tithe of the tithe, was “the LORD’S heave offering to Aaron the priest” (18:28). What did the LORD require to be given as the tithe? “The best thereof” (18:29).

Numbers 19 – Purification Offering for Uncleanness

The offering of a red heifer (a female cow) was to be brought by those deemed unclean by reason of coming in contact with death (19:11). Death, being the consequence of sin (Romans 6:23a), demanded sacrifice, and the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22).

A man who touched the dead body of a man (which was necessary for those preparing a body for burial), was deemed unclean for seven days (19:11). The LORD knew what men of that day did not know: The pollution by a dead body was not only a spiritual lesson, (“For the wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23), but also a practical one. Even the tent in which a man died was considered unclean seven days (19:14), and any open vessels in that tent were considered unclean (19:15). What an amazing revelation! Long before microscopes revealed the dangers of harmful bacteria, the LORD was protecting His people from contamination.

Because the sacrifice of the heifer was for “uncleanness,” the heifer was led outside the camp of Israel, sacrificed, and burned (19:5). The priest that sacrificed the heifer, and the Levite that burned it, were to wash their clothes and bathe, and were deemed unclean until even (19:7-10).

Lesson: Death is an ever present, inescapable sorrow (Hebrews 9:27). We who have trusted Christ as our Savior have an eternal hope, for He has borne the burden of our sin by His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead. He Lives!

1 John 1:7b, 9 – “… The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin… 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

He Stood Between the Living and the Dead (Numbers 16-17)

He Stood Between the Living and the Dead (Numbers 16-17)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 16-17

Today’s Scripture reading continues a succession of rebellions that followed Israel since the people refused to trust God, and enter the Promised Land. Incredibly, the rebellion recorded in Numbers 16 arose from the Levites, the tribe the LORD had chosen to serve Him, and assist the priests with worship and sacrifices.

Numbers 16 – A Rebellion in the Tribe of Levi

Three men, and two hundred fifty princes, renown leaders of the people, conspired to challenge the priestly leadership of Aaron, and his sons. “Korah…and Dathan and Abiram…took men: 2And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown” (16:1-2). Emboldened, after having colluded in secret, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram “gathered themselves against Moses and against Aaron” (16:3a), and railed against them, saying “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” (16:3).

Ponder the assertion made by the rebels. Their words were a direct attack upon the leadership the LORD had ordained for Israel. Their flattery of the people, saying “all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them,” was either delusional, or a lie intended to court the favor of the people.

Moses’ response to the rebels, proved he was a “meek man,” for he “fell upon his face” (16:4), and determined to put the matter of the rebellion before the LORD (16:5). Remembering the rebellion was led by men who were Levites, Moses directed Korah, the principal rebel, and his cohorts to bring censers the next day to the Tabernacle, and the LORD would make known whom He had chosen to serve Him (16:6-9). Numbers 16:10-11 reveals the seed of the rebellion was a resentment of Aaron and his sons, for Moses questioned Korah, “Would you seek the priesthood also?” (16:10)

How did the rebels respond? Rather than receive the rebuke, and humble themselves, they scorned Moses. Dathan and Abiram, when summoned to appear before Moses to answer for their part in the rebellion, refused, and mocked him as though he had failed the people as a leader (16:12-14). Provoked by their rebellion, Moses cried to the LORD, “Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them”(16:15). (What pastor, after serving a congregation faithfully, has not felt the same sorrow when some he served murmured against him?) Moses summoned Korah and his company to appear before the LORD with their censers the next day (16:16-17).

The next day, “Korah gathered all the congregation against [Moses and Aaron] in the door of the Tabernacle…and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the congregation” (16:18-19). When the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, “separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them” (16:21), those men “fell upon their faces” and cried out to the LORD, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?” (16:22).

Guided by the LORD, Moses, with the “elders of Israel” following, sought out Dathan and Abiram, and implored the congregation, “Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men [Korah, Dathan, and Abiram], and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins” (12:26).

The people removed themselves from the usupers, as the rebels stood in the doors of their tents with their families (16:27). Raising his voice to the congregation, Moses let it be known that should “the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up” (16:30), the people would know those rebels had “provoked the LORD” (16:30). Suddenly, even as the words fell from the lips of Moses, “the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up…and they perished from among the congregation” (16:32-33). The people, also fearing the earth might swallow them up, fled as the LORD sent fire upon the two hundred and fifty men who had joined in the rebellion (16:34-36).

Rather than brokenness, and remorse, the next day some of the congregation came together and accused Moses and Aaron saying, “Ye have killed the people of the LORD” (16:41). Suddenly, the presence of the LORD descended on the Tabernacle, and He commanded Moses to separate from the people, that He might “consume them as in a moment” (16:45).

Fearing the wrath of the LORD, Moses commanded Aaron to take a censor and go quickly among the people, “and [make] an atonement for the people” (16:47). The drama of that moment was captured in this: [Aaron] stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed (16:48).

Fourteen thousand and seven hundred perished, not counting the two hundred and fifty who had perished with Korah (16:48-50), but the LORD in His mercy spared the congregation.

Numbers 17 – Aaron’s Role Confirmed by an Almond Blossomed Rod

Numbers 17 addresses the challenge to Aaron, and his son’s role as priests. The matter was solved in a manner that forever answered the question of spiritual leadership in Israel, and confirmed the priesthood would be that of the lineage of Aaron and his sons.

I close with two verses that should serve as a sobering reminder to all believers.

Hebrews 10:30–3130For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Count Your Days, and Your Blessings! (Psalm 90)

Count Your Days, and Your Blessings! (Psalm 90)

Scripture reading – Psalm 90

We depart from the Book of Numbers, to consider Psalm 90 for today’s Scripture reading. Psalm 90 is a prayer of intercession, and a song of praise that was authored by Moses, and is therefore the oldest of the Psalms. Certainly, it would have been one of the psalms heard in the Temple, and sung by the people when they assembled in the wilderness before the Tabernacle.

Scholars generally place Psalm 90 about the time Israel rebelled, and turned back from the Promised Land (Numbers 13-14). The context is most likely when the people began murmuring against the LORD, and He threatened to “smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them” (Numbers 14:11-12). Moses implored the LORD to spare the congregation (Numbers 14:13-19), and I believe Psalm 90 memorialized that occasion.

Psalm 90 – Great is the LORD!

The Lord had proven He was the refuge for Israel (90:1), the Creator (90:2a) who set the foundations of the mountains, and “formed the earth and the world” (90:2). He is the God of eternity (90:2b), and the absolute Sovereign of Creation (90:2). What is man? He is temporal, and dust (90:3).

When I was young, I could not fully grasp the meaning of Psalm 90:4. Moses wrote, “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (90:4). I have come to know all to well the fleeting of time, and life itself. A lifetime, or even a generation passes, and it seems “as a watch in the night” (90:4), and our lives are “soon cut off, and we fly away” (90:10).

Lest one be tempted to wallow in self-pity, and sorrow for the years that are past and cannot be reclaimed, Moses states a principle that should guide believers: So teach us to number our days [to make them count], that we may apply [give; attain] our hearts [understanding; i.e. thoughts] unto wisdom (90:12).

How different your life would be, if you knew the year, day, the hour, God has appointed for your death (Hebrews 9:27)! Many things that consume your thoughts, and your time would suddenly prove trivial. Moments to which you give little thought, and opportunities that seem routine, might suddenly be savored, if not treasured. Every day is a gift of God’s loving grace, and should be numbered and treasured.

Set aside pettiness, and be grateful for the day God has given you. Pray with Moses: “Let the beauty [grace, and favor] of the Lord our God be upon us: And establish thou [LORD] the work of our hands upon us; Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.” (90:17)

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

The Fearful and the Faithless (Numbers 14-15)

The Fearful and the Faithless (Numbers 14-15)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 14-15

The children of Israel were discouraged, and afraid after hearing the “evil report” of the ten spies. They had reported the land of Canaan was all God promised it would be, but was also “a land that eateth up the inhabitants…33And there we saw the giants…and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (13:32-33).

What happens when believers turn back from the challenge of stepping out in faith, and trusting God?

The tragic answer to that question is found in Numbers 14. The congregation of Israel, after rejecting Caleb’s desperate call for faith (13:30), returned to their tents and “lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night” (14:1).

Fear turned to rebellion, and “the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!” (14:2). Their murmuring against the LORD and His leader, soon turned to an accusation that God had meant them evil, and brought Israel out of Egypt only to allow them to “fall by the sword,” and that their wives and children “should be a prey” (14:3).

Fear and murmuring suddenly turned to a plan of insurrection, and the people determined to choose a leader, and “return into Egypt” (14:4). Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in an act of humiliation (14:5), and Joshua and Caleb, the spies who had faith to trust God, “rent their clothes” (14:6). Joshua and Caleb pleaded saying, “The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. 8If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. 9Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for …the Lord is with us: fear them not” (14:7-9).

The people had intended to stone Joshua and Caleb, but the “glory of the LORD appeared in the Tabernacle” (14:10). He would have afflicted the people in His wrath, and disinherit them as His people (14:11-12). Moses reasoned, and pleaded with the LORD to not give Israel’s enemies cause to say He had had slain them because He was not able to bring them into the Promised Land (14:13-16).

Moses appealed to the LORD, and reviewing His attributes, said, “18The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation” (14:18). On the basis of His divine character, Moses prayed to the LORD, “19Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now” (14:19).

The LORD heard, and heeded Moses’ prayer, but God is also just, and would not allow Israel’s rebellion and faithlessness to go unpunished (14:20-23). The faithless spies were slain for the “evil report” they had brought against the LORD (14:22-23, 36-37). God determined the whole congregation would be turned away from Canaan, and the people would “be wasted in the wilderness” (14:23, 25, 32-34). All of Israel, twenty years and older (with the exception of Caleb and Joshua), would die in the wilderness because they had murmured against the LORD (14:24-32, 38).

Moses then announced God’s judgment, “and the people mourned greatly” (14:39). With remorse, the people rose early the next day and were determined to go up, and to cross over into the Promised Land (14:40). Moses warned they would “not prosper…for the LORD is not among you” (14:41-42).

Without the LORD presence, power, and protection, Israel’s presumption was doomed, and many of Israel were slain (14:44-45).

Numbers 15 – The Difference in God’s Judgment for Sins Committed Out of Ignorance, and Deliberate Sins

Numbers 15 marks the beginning of Israel’s tragic forty years of wandering in the wilderness (Numbers 15-21). The sacrifices were instituted as not only Israel’s obligation, but also that of the “strangers” that journeyed with Israel.  The “strangers,” people not of the lineage of Abraham, were to do as Israel, for there was “one law and one manner” (15:15-16).

There were sacrifices for sins “committed by [out of] ignorance” (15:24-29), meaning unknowingly. There was the question of willful, or presumptuous sins. The punishment for those sins was “that soul shall be cut off from among his people” (15:30-31).

Soon after that law was instituted, a man willfully broke the law, and gathered sticks on the Sabbath (15:32-33) for his own purposes and as an act of public rebellion. Given the seriousness of his actions, the man was taken “in ward” (custody), and Moses and Aaron sought the mind of the LORD. The LORD directed that all the congregation would put the sinner out of the camp, and stone him (15:34-36).

To serve as a lasting reminder, the LORD decreed the children of Israel were to wear about the fringes of their garments a blue ribbon, bearing tassels. The tassels were to serve as a visual reminder to “remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and…40That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God. 41I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God” (15:39-41).

Believer, choose to be faithful, trusting, and obedient to the LORD!

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

“Blessed is the Man that Trusteth in the Lord” (Numbers 13)

“Blessed is the Man that Trusteth in the Lord” (Numbers 13)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 13

Absolved of her sin, and cured of leprosy, Miriam, the sister of Moses, was reunited with the children of Israel. The nation continued its journey, and “pitched [their tents] in the wilderness of Paran” (12:16). The events recorded in today’s Scripture reading are among the most dynamic in Israel’s forty years of wanderings in the wilderness.

The LORD commanded Moses, “2Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel” (13:2a). Let us pause, and reflect on God’s directive to Moses, and those whom He would have spy out the land and its inhabitants. They were men (not women, children, or novices). They were men, chosen out of each tribe, “every one a ruler… [and] heads of the children of Israel” (13:2-3). They were respected leaders, and men of influence. The Scripture records the names of the men, and the tribes of origin from which they came (13:4-16).

Following the LORD’s commands, Moses gave the twelve men their marching orders: “Spy out the land of Canaansee the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many…[and] the land…whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds” (13:17-19). Moses challenged the spies to come back, report on the land, and “be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes” (13:20).

The spies departed, and were gone for forty days (13:25). When they returned, they brought with them “a branch with one cluster of grapes” that was so laden with fruit the men “bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs” (13:23).

Two reports were given, and the first confirmed the land was all that the LORD had promised Israel: “We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it” (13:27).

The second report, was an aspersion, a slander, a defaming of God’s promises, and stirred the hearts of the people with fear. The spies reported: “28Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there” (13:28).

Moses had challenged the men to “be ye of good courage,” but the sight of the enemy had dispelled their faith, and filled the void in their hearts with fear. Here is a great lesson:

Fear is not only a sign of weak faith, but it is also given to exaggeration. The fear of the spies eclipsed their faith!

Caleb, a leader of the tribe of Judah, spoke up, and “stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it” (13:30). In Numbers 14, Joshua added his own voice to Caleb’s challenge and urged the people, “8If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey” (14:8).

Ten of the spies sowed doubt among the people saying, “We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we…we saw giants…and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (13:31-33).

Where Caleb and Joshua saw opportunity, the other ten spies saw insurmountable, frightening obstacles. What made the difference in their observations?

I suggest the difference was twofold: Focus and Faith. Caleb and Joshua did not focus on the size of the obstacles, but on the size [greatness, and faithfulness] of their God. Their faith was not in their abilities, but in the Person and promises of the LORD. Israel’s enemy was not giants, or the nations that were living in the land (13:28-29, 32-33).  Israel’s enemy was her lack of faith in God.

Are you facing giants?  Have you allowed fear and faithlessness to take hold of your heart and thoughts?

Believer, God has the solution to every problem you face, and the resources to help you achieve every goal in His will!

Jeremiah 17:7-8 – “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. [8] For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith