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.
Jesus ascends up into heaven before the disciples eyes, they stand amazed looking up into the heavens and have two angels address them saying; “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
These are momentous days! The early prototype church has watched Jesus ascend into heaven, they devoted themselves (men and women) to corporate prayer seeking God’s wisdom (vs14), they’ve had one of the original 12 exposed as the betrayer of Jesus and then everyone became aware of how he died in the field he obtained with the ‘reward of his wickedness’ (vs 18).
The prototype church need leadership. You can almost hear the questions; ‘What should we do now?’, ‘Jesus has left…and told us to wait’, news of Judas’ death was probably raising questions within the prototype community of faith concerning who they should replace him with…?
Peter stands up and points them back to the OT Scriptures (Psalms 69 & 109) seeking to explain what’s just happened with Judas. Seeking to help them to discern God’s will now and then Peter leads them off the back of those Scriptures and makes a suggestion that they should seek a man who has been a witness of Jesus’ to replace Judas (vs21-22).
The congregation of 120 disciples agree with Peter’s leadership proposal and they put forward two men who satisfied the requirements Peter had proposed (wonderful example of leadership, collaboration and followership).
Then wonderfully the church prays (vs24-25) that God would show them who He has chosen to replace Judas as one of the 12 apostles;
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”
Yes – to devotion to prayer
Yes – to dedication to Scripture for guidance for life
Yes – to leadership, collaboration & followership
Yes – to corporate faith-filled prayer and the desire for God to reveal His will
And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles (vs26)
They prayed and then cast lots, rolled the dice as it were! This was an accepted practice in the Old Testament (see Proverbs 16:33, Leviticus 16:8 & Numbers 26:55) and they had prayed and asked God to show them His will, and God can control the outcome of a cast lot – but seriously!
This is never repeated in the NT as a method for leadership appointment or decision making so what can we make from this?
After all they have done that is a great example for us to follow, throwing lots was actually the best they could do in the absence of Jesus and prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit! The Helper who was still to come, who is clearly involved in leadership appointments and deployment later in Acts 13:2 & Acts 20:28?
Dr Luke’s account of the early church has only just began but we are off to a rollicking start! What an example they are for us. Prayer, preaching, leadership saturated with God’s word, followership, more prayer and a desire to be lead by God… May we be like them individually and corporately!
And may we who have the help of the Holy Spirit, ask Him, be lead by Him and obey His leading in our everyday lives and churches!
Psalm 66:1 (in the NIV) declares!
Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!
Loud, exuberant, whole-hearted praise & thanks to God is always appropriate! A subdued, disengaged time of worship when the gathered church meets, or a worship-deficient personal life-style is just out of place with the reality of who our God is and what He has done for us.
Having re-built the wall, re-populated the city, renewed their faith and their covenant with God, having renewed their contributions to God’s house now it was time for praise and thanks.
Nehemiah and Ezra organise a praise party, a celebration of glorious praise befitting of the exhortation of Psalm 66:2.
Two great choirs are amassed to help in dedicating the city to God. A dedication that was to be full of gladness, thanksgiving, singing & musical instruments… The worship was lead by singers with Jezrahiah as their leader and the time of worship was so great, so gloriously magnificent that the ‘joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.’ (vs43)
Corporate worship is so important to God’s people. God gifts people with singing ability, with worshipful hearts, with skill on instruments and with leadership and the best use of those gifts is to cause God’s people to remember, to reflect and to thank God in songs of exuberant praise that are worthy of our magnificent God.
Oh, how I love to worship with God’s people in moments like this! May our praise, our thanks and our worship in church always reflect our magnificent God, who He is and what He has done for us. I urge you to bring your part every-time we gather – together making His praise glorious! Amen.
Jesus’ kingdom is an upside down kingdom. The first shall be last and the last first, the rich will be poor and the poor rich and those who lead God’s people are meant to serve rather than be served!
All round the world Leadership is prone to abusing its power for personal gain. But not Nehemiah! In stark contrast to those who had gone before him, Nehemiah as the appointed leader in Jerusalem while under Babylonian control, did not take for himself the taxes that he could have taken.
And what was Nehemiah’s reason for being so counter-cultural? Scripture tells us when it records Nehemiah saying; “But I did not do so (place heavy burdens on the people), because of the fear of God” (Nehemiah 5:15).
Friend, right believing leads to right behaving! Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, it helps us to see with an eternal perspective and helps us to live accordingly.
And good, godly leadership will follow Jesus’ example – serving those they lead, doing so willing as sacrificing servants because that is who Jesus was an is and he is our role model of what goofd relationship.
May we serve others wiith same dedication and upside down focus.
I love how the spirituality of the Bible is so practical. All through this chapter there are references to Nehemiah’s response to the opposition to rebuilding from both without and within God’s people.
The pattern that emerges is that Nehemiah’s first response was to respond to criticism/opposition, threats or doubt with prayer. We read of this in vs4 and again in vs9 which follow the pattern from Nehemiah 1:4, 2:4…
But what strikes me in Nehemiah 4 is the word; “AND”.
Some people are so spiritually minded that they are no earthly good! But this is not the spirituality of the Bible.
So with Nehemiah & God’s people they hear of the threats and the mocking of Sanballat & Tobiah and in vs4 they pray AND in vs6 we read “So we built the wall”.
Later in chapter 4:7-8 when Sanballat and Tobiah get angry at the news of the rebuilding, they plot together to come and threaten overthrow those rebuilding Jerusalem.
God’s people under Nehemiah respond to the threat; “so we prayed to our God” (vs9) AND “we set a guard as protection”. I love that!
They didn’t hear the threat and make a plan and then go to God when their plans had failed, no they went to God first in prayer AND they made a plan for protection.
This is attractive spirituality to me, it is trusting in, calling to God first but then it is thoroughly practical too, God gives us the facility of thought and the ability to make plans and it is not unspiritual to do so but is in fact us utilising the God-given talents we have.
So, when you face opposition and threats – whether they come in the form of internal monologue and doubts and fears (see vs10&12), or whether they come from doubt (vs10-11) or opposition from the outside, I urge you to respond first in prayer taking the trouble to the Lord AND then act, do what God’s told you to do, be decisive and use the ability and understanding God has granted you.
Making a plan with the resources you have is not to lack faith but to have faith believing that God has given you what you need to accomplish what He has planned for you.
So, don’t be immobilised but act (Nehemiah made a plan to arm the workers and to organise a strategy to gather if there was an attack, he posted watchmen by night).
Lastly, we read in this passage the crucial role that good leadership plays. There is a moment when Nehemiah stands up and counters the negativity that was draining their faith in God and says;
“Do not be afraid of them, remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, sons, your daughter ” (vs14)
Again, a wonderful balanced spirituality; “remember the Lord…AND fight!” (vs14). And because of these prayers AND action; ‘God frustrated their plan’ (vs15) as a result of their prayers.
PRAY AND ACT!
Jesus’ kingdom is an upside down kingdom. The King of kings came to serve rather than be served, the last will be first and the first will be last, the weak who lean on God become strong, the seemingly strong will in the end be shown to be weak, the repentant sinner is forgiven and the self-righteous pious one will be condemned…
In Mark 9:33-37 there is an almost embarrassingly honest conversation between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus has just been teaching them about His death and resurrection (Mark 9:31), they are afraid and don’t ask Jesus questions about this but end up discussing amongst themselves who’s going to take the lead when Jesus is gone, a discussion about which one of them is the greatest and therefore by implication should lead next.
Cringe moment! Jesus asks them; “What were you discussing on the way?” (vs33) Silence, you can hear a pin drop. Shame, awkwardness… Nothing else needed to be said in one sense, they knew He knew, they knew they were offside.
Jesus calls the 12 around Himself in the house and says;
“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Jesus turns the whole conversation about leadership upside down! Being a leader means being the ‘servant of all’, not being served by all. Being a leader in God’s kingdom means being like Jesus who came; “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
Being like Jesus means to value every person, from the littlest to the oldest, from the poorest to the richest, those you get along with easily to those who push every button you have. Receive them, serve them, love them – as you do you’re loving Jesus, loving the Father!
What a challenging passage for any leader! And what if you’re not a leader? Well you too are called to be like Christ, to not be self-centred but Christ-centred who will lead to you to be other-centred, will lead you to serve and value and love.
Help me Lord, help us to be like You more and more. For when we are, when we live out this upside down kingdom value, everything begins to feel and look right side up.
As this first letter to the Thessalonians comes to a close the Apostle Paul gives some a variety short instructions on a range of issues of what the transformed life and community of those who are following Jesus ought to be like.
Imagine all of these instructions, and all the more specific or focussed encouragements for right living through this whole letter (faith, hope & love, sexual purity & living with a biblical eternal perspective) being lived out! What an incredible church, a community of faith that would be.
When there is a long list of exhortations like this, one can get caught in ‘skimming mode’. You can’t possibly focus on so many things all at once. My encouragement is for you to read through the list and to ask the Holy Spirit to just take His heavenly highlighter as it were and highlight that which He wants to speak to you about today. Then meditate on those things, stop and ask the Holy Spirit to convict of wrongdoing maybe and or to encourage you as to the change that’s required in you.
So read through this diverse list, pray that our church would be all these things, but ask the Holy Spirit to highlight what He wants to work on in you at the moment and then take time to dwell on that, to hear what specifically needs correcting or changing. Then repent or make changes accordingly.
- Honour/respect leaders who’s job it is to at times admonish you (vs12)
- Live peacefully with one another in the church (vs13)
- Warn/admonish/correct gently those who are idle (vs14)
- Encourage those who are fainthearted (vs14)
- Support/help those who are weak or those without strength (vs14)
- Be patient with all! (vs14)
- Don’t take revenge on anyone (vs15)
- Always seek to do good to one another and to all people (vs15)
- Always rejoice (vs16)
- Always pray and do so without stopping (vs17)
- Always give thanks to God at all times as this is God’s will for you. (vs18)
- Don’t quench, don’t extinguish the work of the Holy Spirit amongst you (vs19)
- Don’t despise prophecy treating it as though it has no value (vs20)
- But test/examine/discern prophecies to know what to approve/act on (vs21)
- Hold fast only to that which is good in prophecies (vs21)
- Abstain/keep oneself from every form of evil (vs22)
May God who is the One who will sanctify us (make us more and more like Jesus), may God who is the One who will keep working in you to make you blameless on the Day of Jesus, may God who is the One who called you to Himself, may God produce the change that’s needed in you and in me. (vs23-24) Amen.