Who hasn’t felt the pain of being misrepresented or misunderstood? Many leaders have known the uncomfortable feeling of not being trusted or feeling confident in your leadership slip or even being challenged. Added to the pain and pressure of such moments are your own internal struggles and doubts which only get amplified by the enemy.
Times of pressure, moments when there are delays, setbacks or significant obstacles often heighten these dynamics. The context leading up to Numbers 17 was that God’s people had grumbled against God and His appointed leaders for bribing them out of Egypt, they had doubted and feared rather than trusted God, there had been internal leadership squabbles and outright rebellion and questions raised continually about who should lead.
In moments like these, it is often inappropriate and ineffective, trying to vindicate yourself. Managing the perceptions of others is not only exhausting; it is impossible in the long run. In a wise, lucid moment the apostle Paul reflecting no doubt on some situations from his own life and ministry said this with fatherly wisdom;
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’.” (Romans 12:19)
RT Kendal reflecting on this passage advises that we often want to vindicate ourselves, take revenge, make our point, and we could choose to do so, but that is very unwise. It’s like God then says; ‘Oh you want to vindicate yourself! Go ahead and try but you’ll mess it up and end up sinning.’ Rather Kendal says God’s wisdom is to leave vengeance and the desire to vindicate oneself to Him and to His timing.
In Numbers 17, we see God doing exactly what Romans 12:19 promises He will do, as He vindicated Aaron’s ministry as head of the priesthood in a remarkable, public and miraculous way! God’s intent was to stop the discontent & grumbling which doesn’t help those leading or those following;
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. 4 Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.”
The key thing to notice here is that this is God’s initiative, God stepped in to vindicate Aaron, to silence the discontent. Moses and Aaron were not trying to vindicate themselves (although no doubt they were glad for what God was doing) – God did it. God chose how, and God chose when it would happen – and so it was effective. A right reverence returned to the camp, respect for those God had appointed (vs12).
Remember, when we try to vindicate ourselves, we are likely to mess it up! Not the least because we should be slow to think that we have an accurate perspective on ourselves, our own heads and hearts or the situation we find ourselves in.
Wisely, Paul was cautious about judging himself as he wrote to the Corinthians, some of whom were challenging his leadership;
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)
So, if it is God’s prerogative to vindicate, what ought you to do if you feel unjustly treated, misrepresented, falsely accused…?
Three things come to mind in sequential order:
- Lament – “A passionate expression of sorrow and grief” – Christina Fox. The Psalms are full of this processing raw emotions to God and leaving it with Him.
- Forgive – Because we have been forgiven much because this is the only pathway to health and not bitterness & because it honours God.
- Leave it to God – Remember that Jesus died without being vindicated! As did many of the heroes of the faith. Vindication is hardly ever on our time scale and is quite likely to be only seen in full at the return of Christ.
Discontentment is dangerous. The anthem of our age is self-determination. You can be whoever or whatever you determine!
The deep root of this is often nothing less than discontentment with the way God’s created you (sex, shape, temperament, etc.), gifted you and where God’s placed you.
But the story of Scripture is filled with God’s glorious and detailed design for people’s lives. Right from Adam and Eve, Moses, Aaron & Miriam, all those filled with a spirit of skill (Exodus 28:3) the different tribes of Israel with various assignments and roles and the family of Aaron the priests. We could go on through Scripture, finding the same pattern repeated.
However, it is hard to find anyone in Scripture who is on a personal journey of self-determination or self-discovery. But, Scripture records countless people discovering who they are in God and finding their purpose within His purposes for them.
In Numbers 16, God had chosen Moses & Aaron and given them leadership over His people (Exodus 3-4). God had also chosen Korah (part of the Levites set apart to minister in the tabernacle see Numbers 1:47-54) for a specific role.
But Korah was discontented. Possibly even jealous of Moses & Aaron’s role. His discontent festered to the point that he shared it, spread it and raised a rebellious rabble against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:1-3).
Discontentment is hardly ever a private thing. Discontentment often fixates on one thing emphasising it at the expense of other things that are also true. Korah effectively said we are all equal; “all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them” (Numbers 16:3). And that was true, God’s people were all equally set-apart for God, and yet God had assigned specific roles to individuals, including Moses and Aaron.
Korah accused Moses and Aaron of appointing and exalting themselves as leaders over God’s people. But was Korah not present when God’s people similarly moaned at Moses in Numbers 14 and wanted to appoint their own leader to take them back to Egypt & God? When God then appeared and killed the ten spies? Was Korah not aware of when Aaron & Miriam had opposed Moses? And God had spoken to them saying; “Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:8) and Miriam became leprous? Discontentment blinds us to what we know.
Discontentment robs us of joy and empties of us of thanks to God. Korah was part of the Levitical tribe appointed to serve in the ministry of the tabernacle – they had a significant role to play in helping the whole people of God to worship. But his discontentment had blinded him to this honoured special role and robbed his joy, making him ambitious and jealous.
And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?” (Numbers 16:8-11)
Discontentment closes our ears to reason. Moses reminds Korah of the special place and role God had assigned to them and pointed out that their discontentment is actually directed at God, not Moses or Aaron!
But Korah would not relent and assembled his rabble against Moses the next day by the tent of meeting (vs19). And then…
What happened next is like a Sci-Fi movie which is hard to get one’s head around. God appears in His glory (vs19) and then warns others to step back from these rebellious ones (vs23-26). And then the earth opens up and swallows them all alive and fire comes down from heaven and consumes the 250 offering their incense (vs31-36)!
Discontentment is dangerous.
In what ways are you prone to being discontent? What do you grumble about regarding who you are, what you’re good at?
Psalm 139:14 declares that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ by God and Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s workmanship! God has perfectly formed us for an assigned purpose/role; “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Note that it is God who made us, it is God who shaped us perfectly for His own God-assigned roles in life that are good. We do not self-determine according to Scripture.
So, may we learn the secret of contentment! Discontentment is dangerous, but godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6).
Take to God any discontentment you have harboured and repent of it.
If you have imbibed the poisonous modern thoughts of self-determination then repent of those.
Ask God to help you accept how He has made you and the roles in life He has assigned to you. Ask God to help you find joy and contentment in these so that you will know great joy and God will be glorified.
God judged the ten spies who had brought the bad report, and so they died instantly – a sign of God’s judgement. Then, despite Moses’ telling that generation that they would not enter the Promised Land, some still attempted a conquest to enter into it (Numbers 14:39-45)!
Unsurprisingly, this unauthorised rebellious attempt without God or Moses failed, and they were beaten back from the Promised Land to a place called Hormah by the Amalekites & Canaanites.
These were painful days. Just over a year before, they were singing songs of God’s deliverance (Exodus 15), they were in a place of faith and expectation of the imminent fulfilment of God’s promises to give them the Promised Land.
Now they were camped in the Wilderness of Zin at Kadesh-Barnea, most likely feeling bummed out – defeated & dejected. They would never enter the Promised Land, their sin of unbelief and their fear had robbed them, a life-time of Wilderness wandering awaited them.
And then God does what can seem a strange thing. He gives them some instructions (similar to the instructions for worship recorded more fully in Leviticus 1-7) for their worship and sacrifices. But why now?
After-all these instructions can’t be fulfilled by the nomadic people in the Wilderness of Zin. They don’t have vineyards for wine production or fields for grain or much livestock for offerings. So why give them? And why now?
Twice God repeats the words; “When you come into the land…” (Numbers 15:1&17).
God speaks with certainty – it’s not “if” but “when”. But God is speaking to a whole generation to whom these instructions do not apply! These are instructions for their children, the next generation who will inherit the Promised Land. So why give it now?
I believe God wanted these people to know that their children would not die in the Wilderness – like they said they would (Numbers 14:3). But that instead, they would inherit God’s promises, and they would worship God in that future moment as God had instructed this current generation to do (Leviticus 1-7). God is faithful; not one of His promises falls to the ground.
So, although they had lost all that God intended to give them. As parents, they could know that God would be faithful to His promises to bless their children.
These words from God, remind me of God’s words to a later generation who also disobeyed God continually. Until God eventually sent them away into exile in Babylon. And yet again, even while sending them into exile, God promised that He would bring them back to Jerusalem after 70yrs had passed. Even in judgement, God is faithful and merciful, pointing to future hope in His faithfulness.
God is slow to anger and abounding in love, but sin is serious and has serious consequences. However, through everything, God is always faithful to His people and His promises.
You and I only have one precious life. I urge you to use every moment of it to honour and obey God, confident in His exceeding goodness and faithfulness. After all, if this is how God treats those who He is displeased with. Then how much more will He reward and bless those who live to please Him?
At the end of the chapter God instructs His people to wear tassels on their garments to help them; “remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.” (Numbers 15:39-41)
God’s desire is for a people who live for Him, obeying His commands, living holy lives, set apart for Him & in relationship with Him – their God.
Numbers 13-14 are a sombre moment in the story of the Bible. A moment that the book of Hebrews reflects on over and over again, warning believers in Jesus to not be like these Israelites.
Israel’s unbelief and grumbling against God, so provoked God that eventually, God said; “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:11-12)
In His righteous anger, God declared that He would blot out His people and start again.
However, fortunately, God’s people had a leader who knew how to pray! And because He prayed, God relented. God didn’t wipe out the whole nation in an instant. Instead, God punished the 10 spies who brought a false report and then also punished the generation that didn’t believe – so that they never entered into their inheritance.
But in the midst of all of this, God also made a promise that wicked generation’s children – they would inherit the Promised Land.
So how did it come to pass that God relented, changing His mind by not instantly wiping out this generation? Moses prayed, and in his prayer, we can learn some things that we can imitate in our prayers;
- Moses Prayed for God to the Glorified: Moses prayed that God would protect the glory of His name, His glory. Moses urged God not to destroy His people because if He did, that would be misunderstood or derided, by the onlooking nations (Numbers 14:13-16). Moses called on God to act for the sake of the fame of His name.
- Moses Prayed based on who God is: As Moses prays, he recalls the encounter he had with God. When God revealed Himself by passing before him speaking the words that Moses now quotes in his prayer (see Exodus 34:6-7). God is the one who is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, who forgives sin yet remains just and righteous as the judge of the earth.
- Moses Prayed appealing to the Immutability of God: When Moses prayed; “As You have promised”(vs17) he was appealing to the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God. Moses knew that He could stand on the promises of God since God could not lie and would not change. And then in vs19 when Moses asks God to pardon His people, He asks God to merely continue being gracious to the people of Israel just as He had been consistently from their deliverance from Egypt to the present. Moses’ prayer is founded on the confidence of who God is, how God has acted in the past and in that God can not change (God is immutable).
- Moses Prayed that God would Forgive: On the back of these prayers for God’s name to be glorified, these prayers that appeal to the nature of who God is & how God has acted in the past Moses then makes his appeal and asks God to be gracious and merciful, Moses asks God to pardon His people (vs19).
And because Moses prayed, God changed His mind. Our Father God loves it when we pray when we come to Him, confident in the relationship that we have with Him through faith in Jesus. God loves it when we pray asking with confidence because of what we know about Him, WHO He is and HOW He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture and through our very own encounters of Him.
Why not use this structure that Moses prayed with to help form some of your prayers?
- How can you pray for God to be glorified in this situation?
- How does WHO God is, connect with this need/prayer?
- How does God being immutable help you pray with confidence now?
- Bring your request to God on the basis of these three things.
In Numbers 9, the people of God have been out of Egypt for just over a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. At this moment, just before they set out into the Wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land, God establishes a rhythm of worship and God provides an observable fulfilment of His promise to Moses.
Exodus 33:15-16 records how God promised that His presence would always be with His people, and how Moses implored God to make His manifest presence always known amongst His people;
And he said to him, “”If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”” (Exodus 33:15-16)
Accordingly, God’s people were then neatly arranged in an orderly fashion. They had assigned roles & responsibilities. God had given specific instructions on the details of worship centred around the tabernacle, and in Numbers 9, we read of two pillars that were God’s answer to Moses’ request recorded in Exodus 33:15.
The pillars of cloud and fire hovering over the tabernacle signified God’s presence in the midst of His people. God’s presence was right there at the centre of the elaborate arrangement of the twelve tribes, the focal point. God was quite literally at the centre of their lives! Worship of God was central to their lives, God’s presence being with them was central, it was paramount to them.
Also in Numbers 9-10 we read about a rhythm of worship and remembrance (Passover and other feasts like the Day of Atonement) all established by God. These rhythms continuously reminded God’s people of their need of Him, of how God had delivered them & provided a way for them to be forgiven.
Now, we don’t live in tents arranged around a tabernacle in a desert, and we don’t have pillars of cloud and fire. However, just as they were arranged with God at the centre of everything. Just as their lives had a rhythm that God established, ensuring that He was not just physically but mentally at the centre of their lives. We too are wise, when we arrange our lives around God. We are wise when we arrange our lives around regular corporate rhythms of worship. Gathering together as the people of God (the church), drawing near to Him together, in repentance forgiveness and worship.
We live in an age of impossible busyness, where the habit and the rhythm of gathering on a Sunday every week is being pushed out to the periphery for many! In South Africa, small towns used to have church buildings at the centre. Church buildings are right there on the main street or in the centre square of the town. The assembly of God’s people for worship was central to the rhythm of life, and this centrality even had a physical manifestation. Today, the church building has been replaced by the mall, the soccer stadium, the TV…
Moses’ plea that God be at the centre, that His presence never leaves us – seems forgotten. It is commonplace for people to treat gathering as a church for worship on a Sunday as an occasional thing.
For many believers, if their lives were a camp, the tabernacle/Sunday worship would no longer be at the centre! Gathering for church on a Sunday is just no longer central to their lives, their thinking or their regular rhythms! Corporate worship as God’s people has slipped on the list of priorities for many so that it is now lower on the list of priorities than family, recreation, rest…
But this is not how God meant it to be! This is not what Moses pleaded for in Exodus 33. God is meant to be at the centre of our personal lives, our families, and gathering for corporate worship as a whole church is God’s way and wisdom.
The writer to the Hebrews urges us as believers to not give up the habit, the rhythm of meeting together as the church, because that rhythm puts God at the centre of our lives, it demonstrates what we believe (Hebrews 10:24-25).
I urge you to consider your life, your choices, your regular rhythms & your priorities. If your life were a camp, would it be obvious that God & the gathering with His people for worship was the centre of your life? Is your life arranged around the gathering of the saints or is Sunday worship or Small Group something you occasionally do when there isn’t anything else more pressing? We can not replace the gathering of the saints for corporate worship, the word of God & fellowship with private times of worship and PODCAST or VODCAST sermons.
God’s people have always for millennia arranged their lives around the rhythm of their gathering for worship together, God’s presence has always been central to the life of the believer – is it yours?
Don’t do this because you feel you HAVE TO, but because YOU WANT TO, or if you can’t say at present you want to make it your regular rhythm to gather with the church for worship then at least acknowledge that it is the WISDOM OF GOD and a command of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) and so re-prioritise your life, your weeks and weekends and put God at the centre again and your heart will be melted in His presence so that in time it will once again become what you want to do.
Hidden treasure sometimes lies in everyday things. And, hidden within Numbers 7-8, which preoccupies itself with the provision for the tabernacle’s worship and consecration of the Levites to serve in the ministry of the tabernacle, is a gem of a pattern easily overlooked.
Seven times it is recorded that “the LORD spoke to Moses” (or some similar phrase). It is striking how in passages like this, it is so accepted as usual for God to be speaking to Moses, and yet I find myself wanting more information!
How? How did Moses know it was God speaking? Was it an audible voice? Was it through Moses’ conscience…?
What we know is that Moses quite literally followed God, daily followed God’s guidance it seems. It appears as though Moses had an acute sense of what God was saying to him at any time.
More than this, we also know that Moses can not be sidelined as an extra-ordinary example because;
- Joel 2:28-29 promised that a day would come when God’s Spirit would be poured out on all people young and old, on women and on men.
- Jeremiah 31:33-35 also promised a day to come when we would all know the Lord from the least to the greatest
- And because Jesus said; My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
The way Moses lived and lead with the constant refrain of God’s words directing him should be a provocation to all Christ Followers but should not feel unattainable in light of passages like the ones quoted.
So I urge you today to STOP and to ask God to speak to you for your day. God can and does speak in many varied ways:
- Through creation all around us
- Through Scripture
- Through other people (encouragement, prophecy…)
- Through an “inner sense” or picture/impression that lines up with Scripture’s general revelation
- Through a peace or unease in our spirit/conscience
- Through something that happens or something we experience
- Through something written, sung, painted…
- Through dreams
“The LORD said to ___________ (fill in your name)”. What’s God saying to you?
Moses lived with the constant leading & directing of God. So why not make space for God to speak to you and choose now to obey His leading.
Unjust accusations. Who hasn’t felt the powerlessness of allegations made or words spoken that are not true? What a horrible feeling to not be able to clear one’s name or to alter people’s ill-formed impression of you.
Lingering doubts, on the other hand, can gnaw away at us. We might want to trust the person in question but we can’t ignore our suspicions even though we know they are not verified with proof.
These are the types of situations God’s gracious but foreign and strange command to Moses covers in this passage.
Imagine your husband has suspicions regarding you that you can’t disprove. Imagine you have doubts about your spouse that gnaw away at you and are damaging your relationship.
This strange Old Testament practice of the ‘test for adultery’ made a way for the husband to either remove doubts and suspicions or to have the truth revealed. Yet, it also made a way for their spouse to be cleared of suspicion or to face the consequences of their sin.
In this process, we see God’s protection for both the husband and the wife. If she is not guilty she will be vindicated; shame will be cleared, suspicion gone. If she was guilty but had been deceptive, the guilt will be exposed, which then protects the husband.
Sin is always hurtful; it damages relationships. He will be hurting her if he continues to suspect her falsely, hurting her by not trusting her. She would be hurting him if she had sinned and been deceptive. This process instituted by God sought to provide a way of dealing with sin, with accusation or with the doubts due to sin or potential sin.
It is worth noting that both men and women caught in adultery would have both been guilty! It is not just the woman but both who would have been sentenced to death for their serious sin. (Deuteronomy 22:22)
Adultery, as with all sexual sin, is very serious in God’s eyes. So, we ought not to set our moral thermostat by the culture of our day but let it be re-sensitised by the Word of God. From this, we also learn that there are no secrets before God; God knows the secret sins that no one else knows about. God, who sees all will ultimately judge all.
The passage ends affirming that the one who asked his wife to consent to the ‘test for adultery’ will be innocent of any wrongdoing for being jealous and needing confirmation or alleviation of his doubts, whereas the guilty one would then bear the consequences of that sin.
A strange yet gracious and no longer relevant practice instituted by God to remove suspicions & to clear the innocent with God as the witness but also to deal with sin.
What can we learn, what ought we to do?
God cares for relationships. God wants clarity in relationships, clear air, suspicions removed. So talk openly and honestly with each other. God defends the innocent and vindicates them. Sin is damaging to relationships! The covenant of marriage really matters. God punishes sin, so repent of sin and be forgiven and set free to sin no more, to hurt no more but to please God.