SOAP Journal – 23 March 2017 (Numbers 18:20)

Then the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel.”

Numbers 18:20

As God goes over the Terms and Conditions of the Levites’ service in the tabernacle with Aaron, God drops this statement in. A few verses later, God says something similar of the Levites (v 24), except that the Levites are given the tithes as an inheritance while Aaron and the priests are given God Himself.

Part of what catches my attention about the things that God says to the priests is the New Testament (NT) statement that believers are priests to our God. So everything that God says to the Old Testament (OT) priests gives me a moment’s pause while I evaluate whether or not the OT statement made has an NT analog.

Peter and Paul and the author of Hebrews all speak of an eternal inheritance that comes to those who believe. The author of Hebrews actually goes so far as to state that people of faith have often been poor and without possessions in this world, but had their eyes fixed on a better inheritance.

Which brings me to the application. The obvious observation is that the OT priests were not to have an inheritance among the Israelites, but would receive God as their inheritance instead (a far better deal, I think). But the application is a reminder that what is here in this world and this life is not my inheritance; not what God ultimately wants to give me. This is not to say that He will fail to meet my material needs — as the psalmist wrote, I have never seen the righteous forsaken nor the son of the righteous begging bread. Nor is this to say that I should not make sound financial decisions — God does want me to be a good steward of the resources He has entrusted to me. This is a reminder to hold all good things in open hands.

Houses and cars and everything else that the world sees as “necessary” to our lives (and, to be fair, some of it is necessary) can be taken away without notice. Job was a wealthy father when he woke up one day and a destitute husband bereft of his children when he lay down that night. And he had done nothing to deserve that. Everything I have — every good and perfect gift in my life — comes from the hand of God and God can take any or all of it back as it pleases Him. God wants to bless me in ways I cannot even imagine (and I have a vivid imagination), but He must first be my all. As Jesus put it, I must seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and then all the other things will be added to me.

Father of Lights, You have given me much and blessed me more richly than I could ever deserve. Thank You for all that Your generous heart has provided me and all that Your love has removed from me over the years. I do not always understand at the time, but I know Who does the giving and taking and I know that You are Good. Please work in me to increase the openness of my hand and to affirm in my mind and heart that You are my portion and inheritance.

Advertisements

SOAP Journal – 22 March 2017 (Numbers 17:10)

But the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.”

Numbers 17:10

This verse is the conclusion of a test devised and ordered by God Himself. He tells Moses that He wants to lessen the grumblings of the Israelites about Moses and Aaron being God’s appointees (v 5) and that the test He provides will sort the problem out. And it does. The end of this chapter and the beginning of the next are not grumbling about Moses or Aaron being in charge, but worrying about the people who come near the tabernacle dying, a concern that God addresses by drafting the Levites into service.

There are some things that I notice particularly as I read this verse.

First, this rod is no longer ordinary. This rod has become a sign. God takes the ordinary and makes it exceptional, just as He does with people. This rod was dead wood that God made live and bear fruit, just as He does with people. This rod was one of many that were in most ways identical except that God had chosen one and not chosen the others, just as He does with people for service to Him. And this sign is meant to be against the rebels, more literally the sons of rebellion. All of us are born into the rebellion against God and all of us must make the choice to lay down our arms and cease from our rebellion. All of us are dead, apart from God’s touch on us, and not one of us is fruitful unless God makes us so.

Second, the grumblings that were about Moses were against God. When I complain and grumble and am otherwise malcontent with the person whom God has chosen to complete a particular work, I am grumbling against God. That person is God’s choice. More than once, Jesus said to His disciples that they did not choose Him, but He chose them. If I am chosen by God for a particular work, then any complaints about me when I am faithfully and righteously discharging that work are complaints against God. It is entirely valid when people see me screw up and say so. I need to be accountable. But people’s complaints about how I do the work when I am diligently and faithfully doing as God has instructed are complaints against God. I am sure that there were people who complained about how Ezekiel prophesied and wished he was not lying in the street for over a year.

Third, Aaron’s rod is put back with the (ark of the) testimony. There were three things that were put into the Ark of the Testimony: the stone tablets with The Law (the Ten Commandments) written on them, a pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod. Taken together, these remind me that God has a standard of righteousness and that God will provide and that God will choose and demonstrate His Chosen One by bringing to life what was dead and making fruitful what was fruitless. This, in a box of acacia wood, is the gospel. God’s standard is perfect and unchanging; written in stone. But God will supply what is needed. What is needed is the Bread of Life; the Chosen One; the Messiah; the Christ. And God demonstrates His Messiah; His Chosen One by restoring to life those who were dead in their trespasses and making fruitful we who were fruitless by connecting us to the Vine. This gospel in a box might be a bit of a stretch, but it occurred to me as I read this passage and I thought I would jot it down for further consideration.

The application of this boils down to this: God chooses, people respond. We can respond by accepting God’s choice or by rejecting it. Acceptance results in life and fruitfulness and blessing. Rejection results in malcontent and complaining and, ultimately, death. Let me accept God’s choice — both when He chooses me for a work and when He chooses someone I would not. Both are equally unlikely choices.

Thank You, Father, for choosing me at all. Thank You for bringing me to life when I was dead. Thank You for making me fruitful when I was incapable of bearing fruit for You. Please keep me mindful that it is You and You choice and Your power that make that life and fruitfulness possible both in me and in anyone else You choose to accomplish Your work.

SOAP Journal – 21 March 2017 (Numbers 16:20-22)

Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.”

But they fell on their faces and said, “O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?”

Numbers 16:20-22

This exchange occurs during the rebellion of Korah. This Levite named Korah and a bunch of other pepole along with him decided that they were tired of Moses and Aaron being seen as unique. Korah and company somehow got it into their heads that Moses and Aaron thought that they were something special, instead of simply acting in obedience to God. God, after listening to these guys mouth off about Moses and Aaron, speaks this morning’s first verse.

God tells Moses and Aaron to put some distance between themselves and the Israelites. Judgment is coming and God wants those who have been faithful to be at a safe distance. As is so often the case, God speaks the words that will prompt action. Moses and Aaron hit the ground in immediate intercession.

And their intercession is effective. They appeal to God’s character; to Who He is and ask if God will be angry with everyone for one man’s sin. The answer, of course, is that He will not.

As the story progresses, Korah and his crew stand opposite Aaron and Moses and die pretty terribly. Korah and the leaders of this little insurrection are swallowed whole by the earth. The ground opens up and down those men go. Their followers — about 250 men who had been offering incense outside the tabernacle — were consumed by fire from the LORD. The metal from the censers those men had been using was pounded into sheets and applied to the altar as a reminder to the rest of the Israelites whom God had chosen to minister and whom God had not chosen.

This offers some application to me.

First, whom God has chosen, God has chosen. I cannot change the person whom God has chosen for a particular work. And, if I knew everything that person endures in the work, maybe I would not want to.

Second, I need to intercede; to go between those who need representation before God and the God Who wants to do good for them. A good friend of mine hypothesizes that God, in order to limit the influence Satan and his minions can have in this world, limited His own avenues of influence. My friend’s idea is that God erected a barrier between the physical world and the spiritual and made the only way of moving through the wall by invitation from the physical side. So God looks for people who have already invited Him to live within them and prompts us to pray; to invite God and His power into situations that need Him. Whether or not my friend is correct, my Master — Jesus Christ —makes intercession for me and every other believer all the time (Hebrews 7:25). And I should be doing as my Master does.

Father, thank You that Whom You have chosen You have chosen and no man can change that choice. Thank You for the privilege of prayer, though I do not avail myself of that privilege as often as I should. Please teach me to pray and to hear Your voice prompting me to intercede where You desire to act and show Yourself mighty.

SOAP Journal – 20 March 2017 (Numbers 15:14-16)

If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he [wishes to] make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, just as you do so he shall do. [As for] the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns [with you], a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the LORD. There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.

Numbers 15:14-16

The Israelites just rebelled and said they would not go into the Promised Land after ten out of twelve spies came back and reported that going into the land would be a mistake. It is not that they saw anything different than the two spies who came back and said that the Israelites should go in and conquer the land, but that they acted from fear, not from faith. The Israelites listened and decided not to go in and went so far as to start getting together an insurrection.before God put the kibosh on that. The Israelites realized that they had made a mistake and tried to go into the Promised Land, only to find out that delayed obedience causes as much trouble as disobedience. They lived out their fear and were routed by the inhabitants of the land.

It is that context that God gives Moses instruction about how things are going to happen when the Israelites do enter the Promised Land. God gives instruction about how certain kinds of offering were to be made and how much of the accompanying things was to be offered with those offerings. Then God added this morning’s verses.

God notes that the sojourner might see the Israelites doing as God commanded and decide that he, too, wants to follow God and live in obedience. It would not have been merely the obedience that the sojourner saw, but the blessing that resulted. In any event, the sojourner in question decides that he or she wants to make an offering. God preemptively quashes any notion of making Him (God) any more or less accessible to non-Israelites. God states that there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns [with you].

There is one Law; one acceptable way to approach God and be accepted by Him. The Law does not become more stringent for a non-Israelite and it does not become less so. The Law is the Law and does not alter itself to accommodate or bar anyone.

Immediately, this set of verses brings back to my mind the oft-repeated argument about how much of the Law applies to non-Jewish believers. And, thank God, the argument’s resolution (Acts 15) follows close on its heels. And there is something said in the resolution of the debate that rings of these verses. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are. (vv 7-11, emphasis added) Just as the way of approach under the covenant of the Law was singular, so, too, is the Way of salvation singular. God makes no distinction and plays no favorites. All who would come must come through Christ and His cross or not at all.

On to the application.

First, I am not to alter God’s prescribed method of salvation one bit. Access to the Father is through Christ or not at all. I cannot make the message more seeker friendly or, as one more recent appellation has it, seeker-sensitive. God will always have those who seek Him. And those who would worship Him must worship Him on His terms. This also means that I am not to make God any less accessible.There are folks who put blocks in the way of those who are seeking God. While I am not permitted to soften the message or the requirements of salvation, I am also not permitted to make them more strict. God’s Way of salvation is through Christ and His cross and I cannot change that. Not even if I wanted to.

Second, there is only One Way to the Father. There was only one way under the covenant of the Law and there is only One Way under the covenant of grace.

Third, I should be living out my faith in such a way that others see God’s blessing on me and want to follow the God I love. While material blessings are wonderful and totally legitimate — the patriarchs were all wealthy men —these are not the blessings that I think will attract most Westernized people. Our society is so agitated and malcontent, that contentment given by God is tremendously attractive. So many people are on anti-depressants that joy is attractive. So many struggle with anger issues that the peace that passes all understanding must blow their minds. Westernized society is so focused on the self that true selflessness would stand apart without even trying. The list just keeps going. All of these (and more) are blessings from God which the church in Westernized society is sometimes too quick to dismiss. These blessings in my life — if I live my life openly and honestly — will draw others to the God I love and Who has blessed me with riches that cannot be earned by working more or getting “the right job” or finding “the right person” or any of the things with which Westernized society tries to replace God.

Father, please cause me to live in such a way as brings You glory and puts Your greatest blessings on display. Please make me mindful that there is One and only One Way to You and that all of us must enter by that Door or not at all.

SOAP Journal – 16 March 2017 (Numbers 14:19)

Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.

Numbers 14:19

Chapter 14 continues the account of the people’s response to the report that came back from the Promised Land. Caleb and Joshua came back and said that the Israelites should go take the land while the other ten discouraged the Israelites. Things go from bad to worse in chapter 14. Discouragement leads to grumbling and outright rebellion. The Israelites go from being scared of the people then living in the Promised Land to planning a coup and a return journey to Egypt.

Things escalate to the point that Moses and Aaron fall on their faces in the midst of the people — presumably to pray for them — while Joshua and Caleb are tearing their clothes in mourning for the rebellion of the Israelites. And it is into this situation that God inserts Himself. His proposed solution? Kill everyone in Israel except Moses (and presumably the other three standing with him) and make a new nation out of him. Moses falls back on intercession and pleads with God not to malign His reputation among the nations. Instead, Moses asks God to forgive the Israelites in the same way that He (God) has forgiven them since they left Egypt up until that moment. God agrees and the thing that Moses points out in his intercession — that God forgives, but does not leave sin unpunished — is what God acts on. God forgives and does not destroy the Israelites — which would have been no less than they deserved — but does cull the nation of those who acted from fear instead of faith.

This gives me some big things to mull over.

First, I need to examine myself and see which side I am standing on: those who respond in faith or those who respond in fear. Those who respond in faith enter into God’s promises. Those who respond in fear do not.

Second, I should be interceding. Moses frequently puts himself between God and the Israelites and the Israelites are nothing but a headache to Moses the entire time. But God gave Moses a heart that cared for those wayward sheep. Have I been given such a heart? If no, I should ask for that heart to be formed in me, because it is the heart of God.

Father, please form in me Your heart toward people. May I begin to care for them as a shepherd for his sheep. Please also examine me and see if I respond in faith or fear. If in faith, thank You for having worked that in me and please continue me in it. If in fear, please bring me to the place where I am so aware of Your perfect love that fear is cast out. Thank You for being loving and forgiving and still just.

SOAP Journal – 15 March 2017 (Numbers 13:30-31)

Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.”

Numbers 13:30-31

In Numbers 13, God tells Moses to send in spies to examine the Promised Land before the Israelites go in and take possession of it. Twelve spies are sent in. One report of facts comes back, but two different interpretations of the facts are put forward.

In verse 30, Caleb gives one interpretation of the facts. He considers everything he has seen — a land flowing with milk and honey, fortified cities, strong people, and giants living in the land — and speaks from the position of faith. His interpretation of the facts is: We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it. He saw the same giants and strong people and fortified cities as the other ten spies. He also saw God wipe out the Egyptian army in the sea. He looked at his God and his problem and his God won out. No contest.

In verse 31, the other spies give their account. They saw the same things that Caleb saw and spoke from a position of fear. Their understanding of the facts is: We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us. These individuals had seen God wipe out the Egyptians in the sea; had seen all the firstborn in Egypt die in a single night; had seen God to mighty things on their behalf. What they had seen was not enough to inspire them to trust God. They looked at their problem and their God and their problem won out.

It has been said that the man who says he will succeed and the man who says he will not succeed are both right. The same held true for Caleb and the other spies. What Caleb said was true: we will surely overcome it. What the other spies said was also true: they are too strong for us. Forty years after this event, Caleb will be among those who enter into the land he said they would surely overcome and they not only overcome it, but Caleb goes in and puts a beat down on giants in the hill country at the tender age of 80. Caleb is right. He will overcome. His faith carries his day.

The other spies had been defeated by the people in the Promised Land before they had even lifted a finger to fight. Their fear carried the day.

These are two of the most powerful responses I can have to any situation: faith and fear. I can look at what is before me and remember Who is before me and trust in Him and His love for me and His power. Or I can look at what is before me and fear it. I confess, there are things in my life right now that inspire fear. Despite that fear, my God is in those things and He has never done anything but good for me.

Let me respond to the frightening thing before me in faith; with trust in the God Who loves me and wants to conform me to the image of His Son.

Father, thank You for Your love and that You are already in every moment of my future from now until my last breath this side of Heaven and beyond. Thank You for having brought me safe thus far — as the hymn goes — and that You have promised to see me Home. Please increase me feeble trust until I can say with Caleb that I will surely overcome the giants and fortified cities and strong men of war in my spiritual life.

SOAP Journal – 14 March 2017 (Numbers 12:5-8)

Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, He said, “Hear now My words: / If there is a prophet among you, / I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. / I shall speak with him in a dream. / Not so, with My servant Moses, / He is faithful in all My household; / With him I speak mouth to mouth, / Even openly, and not in dark sayings, / And he beholds the form of the LORD. / Why then were you not afraid / To speak against My servant, against Moses?”

Numbers 12:5-8

The context for this exchange is that Miriam and Aaron had been grumbling about Moses’ Cushite wife and how God had talked to them, too. There are a few questions that the context brings up, such as why Moses married a Cushite woman when he was already married to Zipporah and when God spoke to Miriam (there are plenty of recorded cases of God speaking to Aaron). Moses does not defend himself or his position. Instead, God calls all three of these siblings out to the tabernacle and has a little sit down with them. This morning’s verses are that sit down.

The first thing I notice is that this is God speaking. It was Moses who was challenged and Moses who was attacked, yet it is God Who answers the challenge and the attack. Miriam and Aaron grumbled against Moses and God answered their grumbling. I do not need to defend myself when I am serving God and being faithful in that service. My focus needs to be on pleasing my Master  – God – and not on worrying about what people have to say about me.

Next, I notice that God outlines how He interacts with people. He mentions that He would interact with a prophet – His usual spokesman to the Israelites – in visions and dreams. There is a way that God will usually do things. This is not to say that He is in any way limited to this one way, but rather that He tends to do things in predictable ways so that we understand that it is Him doing the thing. We human beings are nothing if not creatures of habit. And God knows this. So He tends to do things in very similar ways so that we recognize Him at work. Isaiah and Ezekiel both begin their ministry with a vision of the LORD. The patriarchs almost all had direct dealings with God and received promises from Him. The same is true for me as a believer. My experiences are common to many other believers. We have gone through many of the same valleys and climbed many of the same mountains, because God tends to work in very similar ways to produce the same outcome. My experience is not entirely unique.

Then God points out that Moses is a break in the pattern. While God normally speaks to prophets in visions and dreams, He talks with Moses openly, and not in dark sayings. There is no interpretation required in how God speaks to Moses. God just deals the hand open. God goes so far as to say that Moses beholds the form of the LORD. Moses has not seen the face of God – no one can – but he has gotten as close as humanly possible. This leads to a question: Why then were you not afraid / To speak against My servant, against Moses? There should be a healthy respect for those who hear from God and do His work faithfully . This is not to say that they are sinless or cannot be wrong – Moses was prevented from entering The Promised Land because of an outburst of temper causing him to do God’s work in a way that God had not prescribed – but that faithful servants of God need my support and prayer. Moses needed help. He asked for help just before this. Everyone who serves God faithfully will need help. Back to God’s question. I should have a healthy fear of causing problems when dealing with someone who is doing God’s work faithfully. I should be looking for ways to help, not to hinder or aggrandize myself. Moses did not even defend himself.

Let me focus on serving God and know that my experience will not be completely unique. There are nail-scarred footprints leading the way when I focus on following God and being faithful to Him and His calling in my life. Let me seek to be a help to those who are already serving God faithfully and to have a healthy fear of getting in the way of what God is doing in and through another’s life and ministry.

Thank You, Father, that You lead us and that we never walk any road that You have not walked before us. Thank You for those who serve You faithfully. Please work in me to make me a suport for them and a help wherever I can be.