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.
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.
Reading Numbers 1-4, it is clear that God is specific and detailed. The camp was set up in an evident ordered pattern with the Tabernacle, the symbol of God’s presence in the middle of it all.
Numbers 4 details the roles of various of the Levite clans who served beside the priests in the Tabernacle. God was specific and detailed; individuals and groups had specifically designated roles.
Eleazar (Aaron’s son) had a specific role concerning the oil and incense and other items used in the worship in the Tabernacle. God chose him specifically. Aaron and his sons were to “appoint them each to his task and to his burden” (Numbers 4:19), “according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying.” (Numbers 4:49)
So what! I hear you say. How does this have any impact in my life? We can always ask of any passage the following questions;
1. What can I/we learn about God?
2. What can I/we learn about people or faith?
3. What can I/we learn about myself?
4. And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?
What can I/we learn about God?
God is specific and ordered. God cares about details. We see this in the intricate design of creation and the human body. We also learn that God is holy, and the worship of him must be filled with reverence and awe, the sons of Kohath needed to work with special care to not touch the ‘holy things’ lest they die!
What can I/we learn about people or faith?
God gifts people, equips people uniquely and diversely for a myriad of specific God-given roles. We live in an age which esteems ‘freedom’ as the notion that one can choose to do and be whatever one wants to, self-determination is enshrined. But God as our creator, is purposeful in how He has made us in all our diversity of race, gender, personality & gifting. Ephesians 2:10 declares; “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Specificity, God-ordained purpose! Maybe freedom is more about discovering through Scripture and by the leading of the Holy Spirit what God has intended for us than it is about us self-determining who we are!
What can I learn about myself?
A prayer… “Lord, you commanded all these people with specific roles in ministering to You. How can I best live for Your glory and not my fulfilment? How can I better know Your design for me and the ‘good-works’ You have planned for me? Lead me, Lord, speak to me and help me to humbly embrace Your design as my loving LORD, Father & Creator.”
And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?
Spend time thinking about this prayerfully and then responding in whatever way God directs.
Learning to live with mystery is an integral part of the Christian life. The topics Paul has been writing about, election, human responsibility, God’s plan in redemption for the Jewish people and the Gentiles are hard to grasp fully.
God’s words to us recorded in Isaiah 55:8-9 are a helpful reminder of our limited capacity to grasp the ways of God;
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Moses counselled God’s people who were trying to wrap their heads around God’s actions in judging the nation of Israel for their sin in breaking His covenant with them saying;
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
Similarly, the apostle Paul, having written about the mystery of salvation history and having written to the Roman believers about how the majority of Israel has been hardened so that the full number of elect Gentiles will be saved. Having written about how God will do a new work in the future in Israel in which He will save all “Israel” somehow, in faithfulness to His covenant promises. Then after writing about these things, the apostle breaks out in wonder and worship at the mysteries of God’s ways;
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)
We are so limited in our understanding. If I am honest, I don’t even really know how the toaster I am about to use works! May we remember that, when we dive into the deep end of the mysteries of God’s ways in election and redemption history and what does it mean that ‘in this way, all Israel will be saved’? (vs26)?
Living with worshipful trust in the presence of mystery is essential for the believer. There will be lots of things, even in our little lives and the lives of those we love that will not be solvable to our limited understanding. May you, may I trust God and worship God in those moments, knowing and holding on to that which is clear in Scripture;
And this is what is clear; “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
- All things are from God; God is sovereign over all things
- All things are through God; God is both the creator, the author & the sustainer of all things (Colossians 1:15-17)
- All things exist for God’s eternal purpose of His glory being displayed and magnified in all things and by all people and all of creation forever and ever!
And, you and I are part of that good plan of God to glorify Himself. Election, grace and all of the mysteries of redemption history are part of that good plan to glorify Himself. What we can understand and what we can’t understand are all part of God’s plan. So even though we don’t understand it all, we can know with utter certainty that God will always be working in us and through all of creation for His glory and we can know that we who believe in Him are wrapped up in that grand plan and through it are blessed forever and ever!
So trust God and worship Him in the midst of mystery thanking Him for the clarity He has given us which is enough to worship Him forever with.
I love the remarkable inclusivity & certainty of Romans 10. Paul is determined to make two things abundantly clear;
1. That ‘everyone who believes’ (Romans 10:4), ‘everyone who believes in Him (Jesus)’ (Romans 10:11), that ‘there is no distinction’ (Romans 10:12) between various groups of people ‘for the same Lord is Lord of all’ (Romans 10:12), that God will ‘bestow His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13), for ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’ (Romans 10:13) will be saved!
It could not be clearer; the Gospel is the good news to whoever believes in Jesus. The Gospel is the most significant unifying force in the world! Nothing else unifies human beings in this way. We all have a common problem (sin), and God has made His solution to our problem available to everyone who will believe. Which leads to the second matter Romans 10 makes abundantly clear…
2. That everyone who believes in Jesus ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:9), the one who confesses this belief ‘is saved’ (Romans 10:10), such a person who believes in Jesus ‘will not be put to shame’, but God will respond to their faith by ‘bestowing His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13) for those who call on Jesus’ name ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:13).
What assurance! What confidence and clarity the apostle Paul is writing with. There is no uncertainty, no qualifying statements such as “if…” just absolute pronouncements of what God will do in response to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ.
No wonder Paul was not ashamed of this Gospel; no wonder he believed that it really was the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16). Do you share his conviction? The conviction that the Gospel is for all people and that you can share the Gospel with confidence knowing that anyone who simply believes in Jesus will be saved by Jesus from their sin and will be welcomed by God into eternal life with Him?
How assured are you of your salvation? God wants you to be assured and at peace if you have put your faith in Jesus if you have believed the Gospel that’s on display in the book of Romans. Do you battle wondering whether you genuinely are accepted by God or not? Read Romans 10 again and again, be fortified by the inclusivity and certainty.
Because it is clear that the Gospel is for everyone who will believe in Jesus, and because we have certainty regarding the power of the Gospel to save completely all those who believe in Jesus we can and should share the Gospel with an incredible confidence knowing that it is the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16).
People will not believe unless someone shares the Gospel with them (Romans 10:14-17), and it is the responsibility of every generation to reach their generation with the good news about Jesus.
So, who are you investing in relationally, reaching out to, living in proximity with so that you can share the Gospel with them? How will they be able to believe the Gospel without you sharing it with them at some stage? Remember that ‘faith comes by hearing’ the word of Christ (Romans 10:17) and God has placed you in the lives of people, in proximity to people who God wants you to share the Gospel with so that they can hear and believe.
Don’t hide behind the often quoted nonsense that says; “preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necesary”; when Scripture makes our words necessary! “It’s simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behaviour.” – Duane Liftin
The Gospel is the announcement about the good news of WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do and offer to all those who will believe in Him. That announcement, those words of life must be shared by people living out transformed lives which put that Gospel power on display through their lives, but the power to save people is the good news about Jesus not the good news about your behaviour.
May the Gospel’s clarity & certainty fortify us giving us the confidence to take up our responsibility to share it will all those God has sent us to in our everyday lives.