Numbers 25 is a very strong story of God’s wrath. “The people began to whore with the daughters of Moab”. In other words, they were playing loose and free with God’s commandments. Their personal desires and satisfaction became more important than their obedience to God. “The people ate and bowed down to their gods….Israel yoked himself to Baal”. By their willingness to shack up with women from a godless people, they were pulling themselves away from God. Things do get in the way of our walk with God. It matters who we hang out with and how we live.
The result of those very poor choices was severe. “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel”. That isn’t where you want to be – on the other side of the table from God. He tells Moses to “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord”. God is serious. He is never willing to have us put anything else in His place. Idols or foreign Gods are never ok. Moses has the leaders kill every man who had yoked himself with a Midianite woman. Not just confront and rebuke, but kill. Then “the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel”.
Everyone was at the tent of meeting mourning what was happening when “one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation”. Can you spell blatant disregard for God’s command here? This guy is either oblivious to what is happening or so full of himself that he doesn’t really think any of it applies to him. So he just brings the woman right into town in front of everyone. “Phinehas the son of Eleazar….saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly”. Seems pretty bold, and some would say even cruel, doesn’t it?
But because of his actions, “the plague on the people of Israel was stopped”. You see, this sin had set a plague free that was killing the Israelites. And while Moses and Phineas and the other priests were at the temple interceding with all the people, this guy just ignores it all focused completely on himself. The fact is “those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand”. By the time Phineas took action, God’s wrath had already spread. God told Moses, and the people that Phineas “was jealous with my jealousy….he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel”. His actions saved the people, as extreme as they may seem. Sin matters to God. We need to be sure we are focused on on what we want, but what God demands.
Numbers 24 has Balaam telling Balak what is going to happen after the third request to try and get him to curse God’s people. “When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness”. Balaam sought God and was up high overlooking the valley. There he saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. “And the Spirit of God came upon him” and he spoke of what God showed him in his vision. It isn’t what Balak wanted to hear.
Balaam begins by describing the beauty of God’s people and their situation. Then he says “God brings him out of Egypt and is for him….he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows”. Oops, that isn’t what Balak wants to hear at all. “Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam” and he claps his hands together to wake him up from his vision. Balak had a desired outcome. “I called you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have blessed them these three times”.
Things could have gone a couple ways here. Balaam could have cowered in fear and done something stupid. But he stands right up to Balak knowing full well he was in the wrath of the king. He reminds Balak exactly what he had told the guys that were sent to bring him. “If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of my own will. What the Lord speaks, that will I speak”. Balaam wasn’t going to be bought, and he sticks to those guns at least.
It would have been easy for Balaam to cave and give in to Balak’s demands. He knew exactly what Balak wanted. And while he seemed to skate along the edge for a good portion of the time they were together, he doesn’t give in to the king’s demands. This time he really gets connected with God and sees clearly what God’s plan is. And he faithfully delivered that message. But he went further and tells Balak what will come in the future not only with his kingdom, but with all the kingdoms that will stand in Israel’s way. They will dispose of them. God will help them be victorious on their journey. What God has planned, man will not interrupt. Balaam tells it straight and then went back to his place.
Numbers 23 has Balak trying to get his way with Balaam. We already know that Balaam is on thin ice with God after God told him not to go to Balak. But they build seven altars and sacrifice seven bulls and Balaam goes to God. Guess what? God tells him the same thing again. In spite of Balak’s desire that he curse the Israelites, God says no. “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced”? At least he is smart enough to not go against God’s direct direction. “Must I not take care to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth”?
Balak doesn’t like the answer so he pushes Balaam to try again. “Please come with me to another place, from which you may see them. You shall see only a fraction of them and shall not see them all. Then curse them for me from there”. Maybe if Balaam can’t see as many of God’s people at once he’ll cave to Balak’s wishes. So he goes off to meet with God after sacrificing another seven bulls and rams. And God doesn’t change His direction at all. God sends him to Balak to say no.
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it”? God isn’t influenced by what we want. And Balaam is at least smart enough to know that he better obey Him. It gets worse for Balak. Balaam says “I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it”. Balaam is not going to give in to what Balak wants.
So Balak tells Balaam to give it one more try. If at first you don’t succeed, and the next time God says no, well Balak is still going to have Balaam try again. So they move to the top of Peor that overlooks the desert and Balak builds seven altars and offers a bull and ram on each yet again. Peor is where the temple of Baal was located. Balaam has created the environment to go before God for a third time per Balak’s request and get direction. Next chapter we’ll see what God says and how Balak reacts
Numbers 22 gives hope to all of us. God uses a donkey to deliver a message to one of His priests. If He can speak through a donkey, I’m sure He can speak through you and me! Moses has led God’s people to victory over every kingdom that has resisted them, and now “Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear”. The people of God were moving closer and closer to Moab and king Balak is concerned about how to contain them. So he sends his men to get Balaam, a man of God who lived nearby.
“Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me”. Balak has a direct request for the prophet. And with his men he sent fees to pay Balaam for doing what he wanted. Mistake number one is being a prophet for hire. God doesn’t work that way. Balaam does the wise thing and seeks God. “God said to Balaam, You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed”. Hands off God’s people Balaam. Balaam gives them this message to take back to the king. “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more”. But they persist and after returning to the king empty handed, they are immediately sent back with more money and to try harder.
So Balaam goes back to God a second time. Second big mistake – he continues to entertain this as an option even though God clearly said no the first time. This time Balaam believes God tells him it is ok to go with them, just not to say anything. Did God change his mind? Nope, but God is going to use this to test and reveal the wickedness of the prophet’s heart. Balaam gets up and goes with the men to return to Balak and “God’s anger was kindled because he went”. That’s a bad place to be. “The angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary”. Balaam is riding his normal mode of transportation – his faithful donkey which “saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand”. God had hidden this from Balaam, but the donkey saw what was about to happen.
“The donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field….. she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall….she lay down under Balaam”. Three times the donkey sees God’s angel ready to kill Balaam and takes action to save him. Each time “Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff”. After all, things weren’t going as expected. Balaam was on his way to see the king and this donkey kept going off course. But then “the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times”?
That had to get his attention – a talking donkey. God reveals to him exactly why the donkey had been doing what he did and in fact saving his life. Balaam confesses his sin and repents and only then is able to continue his journey after hearing God’s direction for him a second time. As Balaam comes before the king, he makes it clear to Balak that only “The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak”. Balaam isn’t going to make random statements for the sake of the king. He realizes the importance of his mission.
Numbers 21 has Moses leading the people on their journey toward the Promised Land. They need to pass through some other people’s territory, the first being Canaan. “The Canaanite, the king of Arad….heard that Israel was coming….he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive”. We see in this chapter that Moses leads the people through three different territories and has to address an enemy which will not cooperate and allow them safe passage. This nation captured some of God’s people.
“Israel vowed a vow to the Lord and said, ‘If you will indeed give this people into my hand, then I will devote their cities to destruction’”. They are in trouble again, and just like most of us when things get tough, they cried out to God. Then an amazing thing happens. “The Lord obeyed the voice of Israel”. God not only heard their prayer and plea but immediately took action and gave over the Canaanites and their cities to destruction. It was short lived as very soon “the people spoke against God and against Moses….there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food”. They had food, they just didn’t like it.
God truly doesn’t like complaining. He quickly took action against the very same people He had just saved from destruction. Their memory is so short. “The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died”. Predictably, they come running to Moses and say “We have sinned….Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us”. And equally as predictable “Moses prayed for the people”. He was a patient leader. God tells him how to save his people so “Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live”.
They continue on their journey and come across two more enemy kings who decide they want to do battle rather than allow them safe passage. Poor choice, and you’d think given the history with others they would have made a different one, but people tend to let ego get in the way of logic far too often. God is with them and tells Moses “Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people, and his land”. If God is for us, who can be against us, at least successfully. Moses defeats and destroys two more kingdoms as they continue their journey. God’s hand continues to be upon Him and His leadership. His biggest challenge is not the enemy from outside, but his own people and their attitudes.
Numbers 20 is a rather harsh chapter. Moses and Aaron have led the people into the wilderness of Zin, and “Miriam died there and was buried there”. That had to be a difficult thing for Moses as his wife is put to rest. But the people are focused on a different issue – they have no water. So Moses doesn’t really have much time to mourn his loss. “There was no water for the congregation….the people quarreled with Moses”. Here we go again. This people has been in difficult situations before, and God has always provided, but once again they lose sight of that history.
God gives Moses some very clear instruction on how to address this problem, which actually seems quite overwhelming on the surface, that is until you realize that God has all power in His hands. “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water”. Seems like a pretty simple solution. Get everyone together and tell the rock to give some water. Why didn’t I think of that? The truth that we see over and over in scripture is that God will provide whatever is needed to accomplish His will. There is never a shortage.
It seems pretty clear what Moses is to do here. “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock”. On the surface the problem was solved. Water came out abundantly. But there is a problem. Moses did not obey God. Rather than speaking to the rock, he struck it twice. Water was released but God was not pleased. “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them”.
That is a severe penalty for disobedience. Moses has led the people for decades and now he is being banned from ever entering the Promised Land because of this one act of disobedience. God takes obedience seriously – far more than we tend to believe I think. God moves more quickly with punishing Aaron. He tells Moses to “strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron shall be gathered to his people and shall die there”. The power of the priesthood is passed from Aaron to his son and Aaron dies right there on the mountain. God is serious about obedience. Are you walking in obedience to the things you know He expects from you?
Numbers 19 has a couple of important topics that Moses and Aaron had to communicate to the people of Israel. The first was a law that God told them about. “Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come”. So why the detail here? Well, it all has significance:
- Red — signifies the bloody nature of sin, and the blood of Christ which is required to pay for it
- No blemish — the very nature of Christ.
- Upon which never came yoke —Christ was not forced to carry our burden of the penalty of sin but did so of His own choice. There was nothing that held Him to that but His own love for us
Eleazar is the priest that is tasked with the red heifer sacrifice. Why? He was the second in command as priest which made him something like the main assistant. It was a task assigned him rather than Aaron because it made him unclean for a while. Aaron, as high priest, needed to be kept clean from defilement so he could handle the tasks in the temple. So Eleazar was selected as the one who would minister this particular offering knowing that for a period of time he would not be able to assist in any of the holy things.
There are a couple laws provided around people who were dead:
- “Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days
- This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean seven days”
There was a complete set of steps a person had to go through to be restored in these cases. It took a week, but God is clear that we are to be separated from death.
“If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord”. The penalty for not dealing with this was to be cut off and potentially put to death. We know that the wages of sin is death. We have to cleanse ourselves from the price sin carries – because if we don’t address it we will die spiritually and be separated eternally from God. We have to get right by confessing our sin, turning from it, and running to the saving grace of Jesus on the Cross. Are you cleansed from the penalty of sin in your life?