Numbers: The Weakest Link

Unknown.jpegDo you remember playing the game, “Red Rover,” when you were a kid on the playground?  I used to love playing that game when I was in elementary school.  If you were deprived of this experience as a child, let me summarize.  Two teams are selected and stand opposite each other.  All of the team members join hands and form a line as long as their arms will extend.  The game begins as one team calls out to someone on the opposing team, telling them to run over and try to break through the line.  The team chants, “Red rover, red rover, send Johnny right over!”  Little Johnny takes off running as fast as he can, crashing into the arms of the other team while trying to break through the line.  If he is successful, he chooses someone from that team and takes them back to his side.  If he fails, he is forced to become part of the other team.  The whole point of “Red Rover” is to show the principle that your team is only as strong as its weakest link.

In many ways, this is a fitting illustration to use to describe the nation of Israel in the book of Numbers.  They are like two opposing teams standing in two lines facing each other.  The names of the teams are the Faithful and the Faithless.  The “faithful” describes those who were full of faith in God, who trusted in His character and believed His promises.  The “faithless” doubted God’s Word and relied upon their own wisdom.  We really see this displayed in Numbers 13 and the example of the twelve men who were sent to spy out the Promised Land.  They go in and explore the land for a period of forty days.  Upon their return, the spies give their report to Moses and Aaron as they stand before all the people.  They tell the congregation of Israel about the giants they saw in the land and all of the heavily fortified cities.  Such a report arouses great fear among the Israelites.  Two of the spies, however, saw things differently.  Their names were Joshua and Caleb.  What the majority saw as obstacles, Joshua and Caleb saw as opportunities for the Lord God to show Himself strong on behalf of His people.  Unfortunately, the other spies provoke the whole congregation to fear and disbelief, and they are even ready to stone Moses.  Because of their unbelief and lack of faith, they are forced to spend the next forty years wandering around in the wilderness.  Those who were faithless outnumber those who were faithful, and the consequences are heartbreaking.

There is a lesson here that runs throughout the whole book of Numbers.  A lack of faith will leave us in a spiritual wilderness.  In fact, the word ‘wilderness’ is used some 48 times in the book of Numbers.  Most of the events of the book are set in the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula where the people have to wander around until the unbelieving generation dies off.  God wants His people to walk by faith, not by sight.  The lesson from Numbers can be summed up in the question, “Will I trust the Lord, no matter what?”  Even when we face obstacles like giants and fortified cities, we trust God.  We live in a world that is filled with challenges, and life gets extremely difficult at times.  But the message of Numbers, as well as the message of the whole Bible, tells me to place my faith in Christ.  Fear and failure will dog our steps, but what we perceive as discouraging obstacles are merely opportunities for God to show Himself strong on our behalf, and it is all for His own glory.

(Adapted from Ken Baugh’s “Big Idea” in the introduction to Be Counted: Living a Life that Counts for God, by Warren W.  Wiersbe, 1999.)

Leviticus: God is Present

img_1904Our reading plan has brought us to the book of Leviticus, something that I know you are all thrilled about.  I know that it doesn’t make for easy reading, but Leviticus is rich truth that shows us something very important about God and ourselves.  Certain themes are especially prominent in the book.  First, God is present with His people, which is a direct result of the Tabernacle having been constructed.  Second, because God is holy, His people must also be holy.  Third, since people are sinful and ritually unclean, they cannot expect to come close to or dwell near a holy God.  Contact between a sinful person and the holiness of God will result in death.  Thus, atonement for sin through the offering of sacrifice is of extreme importance.  In this way, Leviticus confronts us with our need for the gospel.

To begin with, Leviticus reveals the truth that God is present with His people, which is a direct result of the Tabernacle having been built.  The book of Exodus ends with the glory cloud of God filling the newly constructed Tabernacle.  This was significant, because it signified that God now dwells with His people in the tent of meeting.  However, access into God’s immediate presence is restricted by man’s continued sinfulness.  God’s presence was manifest in the Holy of Holies, but no one could enter but the High Priest, and he could only do so once a year on behalf of the people.  A thick veil separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sanctuary.

A second theme that is prominent in Leviticus is the holiness of God and His desire for His people to be set apart.  Because God is holy, His people must also be holy.  Leviticus 11:45 says, “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”  People have been uniquely created by the Lord God, and His original design for creation involved man reflecting His image to the world.  Sin has marred the image of God in man, necessitating God’s gracious act in redemption.  God wants His redeemed people to imitate His character.  In Leviticus, holiness is both inward and outward, reflected both through attitudes and actions.

The third theme that emerges in Leviticus is necessary atonement.  Since people are sinful and unclean, they cannot expect to come close to a holy God who demands perfect holiness.  Therefore, atonement for sin through the offering of sacrifice is of utmost importance.  Since Israel failed to live up to God’s righteous requirements as reflected in His Law, a means of atonement was essential so that their moral failures could be pardoned.  The word ‘atonement’ used throughout the book means to cover or to purge.  The death of a sacrificial animal in the place of the guilty lawbreaker “covers” or protects the sinner from the wrath of God.

Essentially everything in the book of Leviticus anticipates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The sacrifices and rituals foreshadow God’s redemptive plan in Christ to remove the guilt and penalty for sin through His substitutionary death on the cross.  His death provides the full and final atonement for sin.  Of all the sacrifices in the Old Testament, not a single one could permanently and effectively remove the curse of sin.  They served as a reminder to the worshiper of the painful price of sin, and they provided only a temporary covering.  That’s why they had to be repeated over and over again.  The high priest of Israel had to frequently appear with blood on behalf of the people.  Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.  Christ came to die once for all for our sin.

Hebrews 9:24-28 says,

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.  Nor was it to offer Himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then He would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world.  But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with win but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.”

Christ’s death doesn’t cover our sin–it cleanses it once for all.  It is the risen and glorified Jesus who now makes us holy and clothes us in His own righteousness.  He is both our sacrificial Lamb and faithful High Priest.  Because of His finished work, the gospel says that we can draw near to God through faith in Jesus.  We can come to God because God came to us.

Exodus: Rescue & Redemption

The book of Exodus is the second book of Moses and it records the deliverance of the people of Israel from their Egyptian oppressors.  In Genesis, the story centers around the patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Exodus will center around Moses, the man God called to be Lawgiver and leader of His people.  The theme of Exodus is necessary deliverance, and you cannot have deliverance without a deliver.  The book of Exodus reveals to us the truth that God is faithful to deliver His people out of what enslaves them.  He is a Redeemer, and our only hope of rescue is found in Him and His gracious work on our behalf.  God brought His people out of Egypt so that He might bring them into their inheritance in fulfillment of the promise He made to Abraham.

The story of the Exodus involves God calling Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.  God would bring His people out by His mighty hand and outstretched arm.  He would pour out judgment on the Egyptians through ten plagues, the last of which involved the death of the firstborn.  God gave His people specific instructions to slaughter a lamb and apply its blood to the doorposts of their houses so that they would be spared from the plague.  When the destroying angel saw the blood that had been applied, he would “pass over” the household.  God wanted this passover observance to be kept in Israel for future generations.  It was not the life of the little lamb that spared the people from judgment, but the death of the lamb.  In this way, the Passover Lamb is a picture of Jesus Christ and His work of redemption.  Only as Christ our Passover Lamb died in our stead can we be saved from God’s judgment on sin.  Some people who claim to admire the life and teachings of Jesus don’t want His cross, and yet it is His death on the cross that paid the price of our redemption.  There is no Christianity without the cross.

Most of the book of Exodus records the giving of the Law to Israel through Moses, as well as the construction of the Tabernacle.  God redeemed and rescued His people so that they might live obedient lives of worship.  His Law was an expression of His perfect and righteous character, revealing how short they themselves came to live up to it.  Their redemption was on the basis of His grace, not their goodness.  God wanted His people to know that He is their God, and they are His people.  The Tabernacle reveals His desire to dwell among them and be their God.  However, their sin separated them from Him.  Thus, God had to make special provision through a priesthood and a sacrificial system in order for their sins to be temporarily covered.  This system would remain in place until the perfect Lamb of God would one day come and fulfill the righteous demands of the Law.  In this way, both the Passover Lamb and the Tabernacle serve as beautiful pictures of the work of Jesus Christ on the sinner’s behalf.  When reading the book of Exodus, remember that He is both our perfect Lamb and faithful High Priest!

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