A Sacred Trust: Standing Between the Dead and the Living (Numbers 16)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 15-16, Psalm 49, and Luke 5. Our devotional is from Numbers 16 .

The drama in Numbers 16 serves as a warning to any who sow discord and usurp the spiritual leadership of a congregation.

We are not told the reason for the rebellion, but given the assertions made against Moses and Aaron, we can venture pride leading to discontentment was the root issue.  Three men are named as leaders of the rebellion with the ringleader one named Korah, a Levite, but not a priest (Numbers 16:1). Incredibly, these three men were able to engage two hundred and fifty others, “princes…men of renown”, to join their band (16:2).

While the criticism of the rebels appeared sincere in motive and spiritual in nature, (“Ye take too much upon you”), their object was not for “they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron” (16:3).  Notice how the rebel’s veiled criticism of Moses and Aaron grew to open derision (16:3).  The object of the rebels was not to relieve Moses and Aaron; instead, they aspired to the dignity and duties of the priesthood (Numbers 16:10).

When Moses heard the criticism of the rebels and saw the crowd gathered against him, “he fell upon his face” (16:4); a visible sign of humility.  Rather than a hasty diatribe against his critics, Moses deferred to seek the LORD saying, “Even to morrow the LORD will shew who are his, and who is holy” (16:5).

On the next day, Moses called an assembly of the rebels and warned, “ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi” (16:7).  Two of the rebels refused to come before Moses (16:12) and sent an accusation that he had failed the nation in not leading them into “a land that floweth with milk and honey” (16:14).  The charge against Moses was a lie and stoked his anger (16:15) for it was the people, not Moses, who rebelled and turned away from the land the LORD had promised as an inheritance.

The LORD’s judgment against the rebels fell swiftly when “the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed [the rebels] and their houses…[who] went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the congregation” (16:31-33).  As the congregation fled from the LORD’s judgment, “there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense” (16:35). Unfortunately, the LORD’s judgment against the rebels did not quench their influence and on the next day another 14,700 were slain (16:41-50).

There are many lessons and cautions we might derive from Numbers 16.  One is, while this passage is instructive, it does not suggest the LORD must always swiftly judge the critics of His ministers.

I have known too many pastors who aspire to pedestals and presume to be above accountability.  The same might be said of some in the church who are all too eager to level veiled criticisms at spiritual leaders and not give them the respect due their office.

Pastors are far from perfect and some engaged in ministry lack the Biblical qualifications of the pastor\shepherd (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9); however, those ministers who are qualified and faithful should be honored for their sacrifices and endeavors.  After all, as purveyors of the Gospel of Jesus Christ they stand “between the dead and the living” (16:48).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Are You Standing at A Spiritual Crossroads? Trust in the LORD! (Numbers 13-14)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 13-14, Psalm 48, and Luke 4. Our devotional is from Numbers 13-14 .

Numbers 13:1-2 1  And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2  Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan…”

The fate of a nation rested in the hands of twelve leaders, one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, chosen by Moses and charged with the responsibility of spying out the land (13:4-15) the LORD had promised Abraham would be an inheritance for his chosen seed (Genesis 12:1, 7; 13:14-17).

Forty days passed while Moses and the nation waited to hear the report of the land.  Returning with “a branch with one cluster of grapes ”that was so full of fruit the men “bare it between two upon a staff” (13:23-25), the twelve confirmed the land was all the LORD had promised saying, “surely it floweth with milk and honey” (13:27).

The spies report; however, did not conclude on a good note: “Nevertheless 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) along with the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites and Canaanites” (13:29).

Realizing the obstacles the nation would face, the hearts of the people melted with fear until Caleb, one of the twelve spoke and said, “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it” (13:30).

Take a moment and reflect on the charge Moses had given the spies (13:17-20).  Their responsibility was to spy out the land; not assess Israel’s ability to take the land.  Focusing on obstacles and not the promises of the LORD, ten of the spies sowed seeds of doubt 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).

Caleb urged the people “go up…we are well able”(13:30); however, ten of the faithless spies urged, “we be not able to go up”(13:31).

What made the difference in their assessments?  The report given by Caleb and Joshua was different from the other spies in two aspects: Focus and Faith.

FocusCaleb and Joshua focused, not on the size of the obstacles, but on the promises of the LORD.  They reported, the land was all He promised it would be… “surely it floweth with milk and honey” (13:27) and “we are well able to overcome it” (13:30).

FaithCaleb and Joshua’s faith was in the LORD.  They challenged the people, If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land… 9  Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land…the LORD is with us: fear them not” (Numbers 14:8-9).

Israel’s failure to take possession of the land was not due to giants or the heathen nations that dwelled in the land.  Israel’s impediment was her lack of faith in the LORD.

What about you? Are you facing giants? 

The LORD never fails to keep His promises; however, the fear of man and faithlessness has deprived many of His blessings (Jeremiah 17:5).

Jeremiah 17:7 – “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Be Careful: “Evil Communications Corrupt Good Manners” (Numbers 11-12; 1 Corinthians 15:33)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 11-12, Psalm 47, and Luke 3. Our devotional is from Numbers 11-12.

Three days into their journey from Mt. Sinai, an old pattern of sin returned and the people of Israel began to complain (Numbers 11:1).  The LORD’s “anger was kindled” (11:1) and His wrath poured out as fire from heaven beginning with the outskirts of the encampment.

Why the “uttermost parts of the camp” (11:1), meaning the outlying areas, and not the center of the encampment?  I suppose that is where one will always find the grumblers—on the fringe, far from the LORD and neglecting His service.

There arose a spirit of discontentment, a covetous spirit and its source was “the mixt multitude” (11:4).  Who were they? They were non-Hebrew, most likely poor Egyptians who departed with Israel hoping greater opportunities might be found by casting their lot in with the children of Israel. The sinful attitudes of the “mixt multitude” infected the children of Israel who wept asking, “Who shall give us flesh to eat?” (11:4)

Complainers and grumblers are a cancer among God’s people and soon the Hebrews began to “remember the fish…cucumbers, and the melons” they did eat in Egypt (11:5).  They became dissatisfied with God’s provision (11:4-5) and their lusts romanticized their unrealistic memories of Egypt (11:5).

Lamenting the complaints of the people (11:10), Moses felt overwhelmed.  Rather than seeing the complaints of the people as an offense to God, Moses accused the LORD of afflicting him saying, “Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant” (11:11a).  In his despair, Moses’ questioned the LORD (11:11-15).

God was angry and gave the people the meat they demanded (11:31-32) and the people gorged themselves until they became sick (11:33).  The root issue of the people’s complaints was not that they were hungry.  The core issue was they had rebellious hearts and “despised the LORD” (11:20).

The sorrow Moses suffered in Numbers 11 was great; however, Numbers 12 brought a more grievous wound when his sister and brother, Miriam and Aaron, challenged his leadership and authority as God’s spokesman (12:2).  Notice the initial complaint was against the wife of Moses (12:1); however, the narrative reveals that criticism was not the real issue.  The heart issue was the envy and jealousy they held against Moses and his leadership before the LORD and the people. 

Moses’ response to criticism is instructive.  We read, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (11:3).

It is probable Moses was aware of Miriam and Aaron’s contentious spirit and, being “very meek”, would have overlooked their transgressions; however, the LORD determined to confront and punish them while commending Moses’ unique relationship with the LORD (12:6-8).

I close with two observations based on my life experiences.

1) I have found when adversaries are unable to fault or attack your position, they often criticize a deeply personal area of your life.  For Moses it was the race or nationality of his wife.

2) Criticisms are often a smoke screen concealing deeper issues.  While complaints should drive us to search out our hearts for faults, we should remember initial criticisms are seldom the real issue. (Numbers 12:1)

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

You Are Never Alone! (Numbers 9-10)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 9-10, Psalm 46, and Luke 2. Our devotional is from Numbers 9-10.

The first chapters in Numbers are a record of Moses leading the tribes of Israel out of Egypt, instructing and organizing them into a nation dedicated to the God of heaven.

Numbers 1-4 chronicles a census of the tribes of Israel. Numbers 5-6 state the specifics for addressing disease and sin among the people.  Because worship and sacrifices were central to Israel’s life as a nation, the Tabernacle of the LORD was located in the heart of the encampment (Numbers 7).

Numbers 9 establishes the Passover as an observance of the nation, serving as a perpetual memorial to the LORD for delivering Israel out of Egypt (Numbers 9:1-14).  

Assuring His people, He would never abandon them, the tribes of Israel were comforted by a reminder of the Lord’s presence in their midst; a cloud overshadowed the Tabernacle in the day and a fire was present at night (9:15-16).  Making it clear the LORD alone dictates the “starts and stops” of His people, the people followed the movements of the cloud and fire in their journey (9:17-23).

Friend, I would be remiss if I failed to remind you that, though the LORD no longer leads His people with a cloud or fire, He does lead, direct and guide His people by His Word and the wooing of His Spirit.

Paul challenged New Testament believers that we should derive spiritual lessons from our study of His dealings with Israel.  Paul writes, “Now all these things happened unto them [Israel in the wilderness] for ensamples [a pattern]: and they are written for our admonition [warning]…”

Understanding the LORD was Israel’s guide during her journey through the trials and temptations of the wilderness, we find comfort in this promise:

1 Corinthians 10:13“There hath no temptation [trial; test] taken you but such as is common to man [i.e. many others have faced the same]: but God is faithful [trustworthy; true], who will not suffer [permit; allow] you to be tempted [tried or tested] above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape [i.e. pass through], that ye may be able to bear it [endure].”

What a blessed promise!  While the cloud by day and fire by night served Israel as a reminder of God’s presence, He has given us His Word and promise that He will tenderly care, protect, strengthen and be with us.

Whatever test or trial you may face, be assured, God is faithful and you are never alone!

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

The Calling and Dedication of Ministers (Numbers 7-8)

Today’s Bible reading and devotional is Numbers 7-8.

The early chapters of Numbers are a record of God, through the faithful leadership of His servant Moses, transforming a people who had known slavery for 400 years and disciplining and organizing them into a body that will become a nation.

Numbers 7 records the dedication of the Tabernacle, the altar, instruments and vessels employed in sacrifices, and the sacrifices brought by the tribal leaders (Numbers 7:1-89).

Numbers 8:1-4 takes us into the inter-sanctum of the Tabernacle that was veiled from all but the high priest and known as the “holy of holies”. Within this sacred place there was a golden altar, a table, and a golden lampstand with seven candles.

While Aaron and his sons were dedicated to serve as priests, the tribe of Levi was consecrated to assist the priests and serve the people when they came to worship and offer sacrifices (Numbers 8:5-26).  The leaders of the tribes put their hands on the Levites identifying them as the substitute who would serve the LORD on their behalf (8:9-18).

Consider the spiritual lessons we might take from today’s scripture reading.

1) The LORD requires those who minister before His people to be a holy, consecrated people.  Although none are perfect or sinless, the church should hold its ministers, pastors and teachers to the highest standard knowing God would not require less (1 Timothy 3:1-13).

2) Whether a Nazarite or a Levite, the privilege of serving the LORD required consecration and sacrifice.  God requires no less of those who serve Him today.

Romans 12:1-2 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

I close today’s devotional with a prayer for the LORD to bless you, a prayer know as the Aaronic Blessing:

Numbers 6:24-26 – “The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: 25  The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: 26  The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Here Comes the Bride!

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 3-4, Psalm 45, and Luke 1. Our devotional is from Psalm 45.

The heading of Psalm 45 identifies this psalm as “A Song of Loves” that was sent to the chief musician and set to a tune for worship. The tune is identified in the setting as “Shoshannim”, meaning “Lilies”.

Psalm 45 appears in the first reading as a love song composed by a king for his bride; however, the fact verse 6 states, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre” (45:6) and the song was used in worship means its application rises above that of a love song composed for a bride.

Hebrews 1:8-9 quotes Psalm 45:6-7, identifying the “Son” as Jesus Christ; therefore the bride of Psalm 45 is the Church, the bride of Christ.  What a wonderful thought!  As a groom loves his bride, even so does Christ the King love His bride, the Church.

Notice the idyllic description of the Church and the manner of people her members ought to be: “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness” (Psalm 45:7).

As a godly groom anticipates his bride to save herself, a virgin and morally innocent; so it is the duty of believers to be pure and holy in the sight of the King of kings and Lord of lords (Psalm 45:10-17).

Romans 12:1-2 –“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

God is ever faithful and His promises never fail. (Numbers 1-2)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 1-2, Psalm 44, and Mark 16. Our devotional is from Numbers 1-2.

Our Bible Reading Plan, this 1st day of March 2019, bring us to the Book of Numbers.  The author of Numbers is Moses and the opening verse (Numbers 1:1) gives us the exact chronological timeline for events found in its pages:  “first day of the second month, in the second year after they [the Twelve Tribes of Israel] were come out of the land of Egypt” (1:1).

The Book of Numbers traces the journey of the Twelve Tribes of Israel from Egypt, through the wilderness, to the threshold of Canaan, the land God promised Abraham for an inheritance.  The book derives its name from the fact it records three separate census counts of Israel during her sojourn in the wilderness.  Admittedly, one can get lost in the details enumerated in Numbers 1-2; however, there is an important truth concealed in the verses:  God is faithful and remembers and keeps His promises!

God charged Moses and Aaron to take a census of the men of Israel, twenty years and older; men who are identified by their tribe, father’s name and own name, and described as “able to go forth to war” (1:1-4).  These are the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the offspring of the twelve sons of Jacob the Old Testament patriarch whose name God changed to Israel, who was the son of Isaac who was the son of Abraham.

The thousands numbered in these verses are a testimony God remembered His covenant with Abraham whom He called out of ancient Ur (modern-day Iraq), commanding him to leave his country and kindred and journey to a land God promised would be an inheritance for his lineage (Genesis 12:1-3).  God promised Abraham would not only be father to a great people, but also “all families of the earth be blessed” through him (a promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ as our Savior Redeemer – Genesis 12:3b).

Thirteen tribes (Numbers 1:5-15) are named; however, two tribes descended from Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh – Numbers 1:10, 32-35) and the priestly tribe of Levi was excluded from the census because of their dedication and service to the LORD (1:47-54).

The LORD had set the tribe of Levi apart for Himself in lieu of the first-born from every tribe and family being set apart for the priesthood (Numbers 3:12-13).  The Levites were charged with the responsibility of the tabernacle and the vessels used for worship and offering sacrifices (Numbers 1:50; 3:8).  When the nation was on the move, the Levites were responsible for taking down the tabernacle and erecting it (Numbers 1:51, 53).  Numbers 2 gives the organization of the encampment by tribe.

I close today’s devotional reflecting on two lessons. The first, the tabernacle was located in the center of the encampment serving as a constant reminder of not only God’s presence, but also the privilege of access the people enjoyed in worshipping, sacrificing, and serving the LORD (1:53).

The second lesson is how the people obeyed the LORD’s commands:  “And the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses: so they pitched by their standards, and so they set forward, every one after their families, according to the house of their fathers” (2:34).

Friend, is worshipping and serving the LORD central to your life or have you relegated Him to Sundays only?

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith