Tag Archives: Numbers

Through the Bible, February 20

Reading: Numbers 26:1-4, 63-65; 27:15-23; 32

Summary: Wandering Officially Ends

Previously at Mt. Sinai God had Moses conduct a census of the people. It counted males 20 years old and over of all the tribes (except Levi).  Now after the plague at Peor, God instructs a second census to be taken.  This census confirmed that all of the unfaithful generation who had sinned at Kadesh had indeed died in the wilderness.  The punishment was complete.

Several events begin to play out that look toward the entrance into the Promised Land.  These include the selection of Joshua as Moses’ successor and a special request from two of the tribes.

Devotional Thought:

Outlive Yourself

That’s a nifty little trick, isn’t it? It isn’t living longer than you could or should, but making sure your influence and that to which you have dedicated yourself outlives you.

So how does that work?

Two ways: First, by dedicating yourself to something bigger than you.  If your life is all about getting what you want, satisfying self, and aligning all of life’s circumstance to your liking then you’ve set your sights way too low.  As a matter of fact, a more unworthy pursuit of life would be hard to find.

Here’s the best advice I can offer–and it’s not even mine: “But above all pursue his kingdom  and righteousness” (Matt. 6:33; NET).  No bigger, better, or higher pursuit could be found for anyone’s life.

Second, help someone else along that same path.  Some people call it mentoring.  Call it what you will, it’s about doing what you can to make sure there is at least one person who will continue pursuing the purpose and goal of your life.  And so, you outlive yourself.

Moses’ concern, knowing that his time was limited, was that the Lord’s people “not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Num. 27:17).  The needs of the Lord’s people would outlive him.

God’s answer was Joshua.  He would immediately be designated as a leader like Moses.  He would receive the Lord’s commands and would himself lead them out and bring them in.

This principle is not only applicable to designated, recognized, “out-front” leaders.  In what capacities do you specifically serve God as you pursue his kingdom and righteousness?  Bible class teacher, parent, friend, ministry leader, business man or woman, community volunteer, a specific professional career?

That list is virtually endless, but it’s important to identify what you are doing.  And then, ask, “Who is my Joshua?”  If you don’t have one, find one.

Through the Bible, February 19

Read: Numbers 22-25

Summary: Balaam

No more curious figure and odd events are found in the Bible than those related in connection with Balaam.  Here was a man not even from among the Israelites, yet in communication with God, hired by a scared king to bring calamity on this massive horde of people traveling toward his home, who carries on a conversation with his donkey, and who fails miserably in his stated intention to die a righteous man.

It’s not until later that we learn of Balaam’s role in Israel’s sin at Peor and his death by the sword of Israel (Num. 31:8, 16).

Devotional Thought:

Balaam’s Cat

The options are numerous relative to removing a feline’s hide.  In other words, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

King Balak preferred the direct approach.

His problem was an imposing and approaching mass of Israelites (headed for their promised land) who had already defeated the kingdoms of Arad, Amor, and Bashan (Num. 21).  He did not want Moab to be next.

Seeing these other king’s failures on the battlefield, he decided on a spiritual approach.  He hired the services of the one man whose reputation was that of being a man of great spiritual capacity and influence (Num. 22:6).  This man, he believed, could influence Israel’s God to curse them.

But no, he could not, and Balaam knew that.

But the king had offered such an enticing ransom that he determined to find a way to accomplish Balak’s desire but not by doing it Balak’s way.

Somehow, by “Balaam’s advice” Israel “began to whore with the daughters of Moab” and offer sacrifices to their gods (Num. 31:16; 25:1-2).  This grave sin brought God’s wrath on Israel (see Num. 25:3-9).  Balak’s objective was reached (even though Moab was not saved) though Balaam found a different way to skin that cat.

The direct approach doesn’t always works.

Satan knows that and he also knows we tend to think that as long as we don’t renounce God, then all is good.  Satan prefers a more subtle, indirect method of removing this feline’s hide.

He well knows that friendship with the world is enough to make us God’s enemy (Jas. 4:4).  Consequently his efforts are directed at fostering that relationship in us, a much more likely prospect than our renouncing God.  But in the end the results are same result.

Through the Bible, February 18

Read: Numbers 20-21

Summary: Wandering Nears Its End

Relatively few details are given concerning the events of the 40 years of wandering.  Remember that punishment didn’t begin until following the incident with the twelve spies (Num. 13-14).   Though few in number, some important things do happen: Moses’ sin that will prevent his entrance into the promised land, the fiery serpents (to which the New Testament twice refers–1 Cor. 10:9; John 3:14), and the deaths of Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron.

Devotional Thought:

Don’t Be Angry

Moses led Israel to the promised land, just not into the promised land.  That might seem too harsh a punishment for his brief indiscretion at Meribah (Num. 20:2-13).

Regardless of how we might feel about it, God thought otherwise.

God appears to be making an emphatic point.  Moses’ big mistake at Meribah, according to God, was that he did not “treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel” (Num. 20:12; NASB).  That sounds very similar to God’s words to Aaron after his sons, Nadab and Abihu, were consumed by fire from the Lord while acting as priests.  “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored” (Lev. 10:3; NASB).

In both instances failure to carefully follow God’s will by leaders was a failure to show God to be holy.  That, God will not tolerate.

Further, Moses’ actions were prompted when the people “aroused his temper, and he spoke rashly” (Psalm 106:33; NET).

Our anger rarely serves God’s purpose.  “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be…slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:19-20).

“Anger issues” are more than an emotional blip or a social faux pas.  Our anger runs counter to the righteousness of God.  Moses paid an awful price when he failed to control his own spirit at Meribah.  Whatever price our anger might exact, will be too much.

Through the Bible; February 17

Read: Numbers 16-17

Summary: Korah’s Rebellion

Has there ever been a greater leader of people among men than Moses?  Yet, his leadership was challenged.  The incident with Korah demonstrates how great leaders are not necessarily popular. Their focus is on what is right and what is needed, not just what people want.

This rebellion and its aftermath show that not only is Moses God’s choice of leader, but how challenging it is for people–even His own people–to do His will and follow Him.

Devotional Thought:

Parenting Tips From Moses

Being well liked, and being a good leader rarely mix.

The gap between being popular and doing what is right and best from a leadership position can be miles wide; many miles.

Being well liked usually is achieved by providing for others what they want.  Many political positions are filled solely on the basis of promises to do just that.  That’s why our government suffers a persistent leadership crisis.  We could sure use some unpopular leaders.

We need look no further than Moses for proof of this fact.

Look closely at the incident with Korah.  He was not a rabble-rousing ne’r-do-well.  He and those with him were respectable and respected men. Their sympathizers were many.  Even after God acted dramatically and definitively–the earth opening up and swallowing these men, their families, and all their possessions–the people still grumbled against Moses’ leadership (Num. 16:41-42).

Being a good leader does not necessarily equate with being well liked.

Parents please take note.  Being a parent is being a leader for your children.  To make being liked by your child a priority in your relationship with them is a mistake, a huge mistake.  And fearing that you may not be liked for a decision your make on their behalf is about the worst possible motivation.

That is not to say you cannot have a close and loving relationship with them.  Far from it.  But to believe that child is going to know what is really best and is always going to like and appreciate the decisions you make is utter foolishness.  So why let their wishes and desires and wants be the final say in what happens?

Be the leader.  Be the parent.  Be willing to be unpopular.

Had Moses been motivated by the desire to be popular and well liked, he would never, ever have become an admired, loved and respected leader.

Parents, please take not.

Through the Bible, February 17

Read: Numbers 13-14

Summary: The Twelve Spies

Along with the sin of the golden calf at Mt. Sinai, failure to take the land as God commanded and being persuaded by the ten unfaithful spies are the two signature failures of the people in the wilderness.  On both of these occasions God considered exterminating the whole nation and raising up another after Moses (Ex. 32:10; Num. 14:12).

Amazing isn’t it?  They were prepared, after all they had experienced and witnessed, to select a leader other than Moses who would take them back to Egypt!  Nowhere else is Moses’ role as mediator demanded more than now as God’s wrath burns against unfaithful Israel.  He does forgive them, but their punishment is severe.

Devotional Thought:

To Know, or Not

To know, or not to know?

Yes, Shakespeare has Hamlet asserting that “being” or “not being” is the question. Perhaps.  Sometimes, though, it is whether to know or not know.

Have you ever wondered why God told Moses to send men to spy out the land of Canaan (Num. 13:1-2)?  It certainly wasn’t for God’s benefit.  And what good did it do for them to know how strong and numerous these natives were?  Would not knowing have been better?

The knowledge gained by this dozen agents of espionage proved damning in the hands of 83% of them.

Four decades later, the children and grandchildren of these same people also stood on the brink of this land promised to Abraham’s heirs, but they did what their parents would not do.

Why the difference?  Is it because now the current occupants are no longer strong, entrenched and menacing?  No, they are still “nations greater and mightier than yourselves” (Deut. 4:38).  The information about them has not changed.

God says He did what He did with the people in the wilderness in order to test them and learn what was in their heart (Deut. 8:2).   That’s why the spies were sent.  The knowledge they gleaned provided the test for what was in their heart.  They failed.

So: to know or not to know?   What is in our hearts is far more important than what is in our heads.

Two people faced with the same set of circumstances will not respond in the same way.  One may cower in fear while the other rises boldly to meet the challenge.  One may complain of their misfortune while the other thrills at the challenge, knowing they can only become stronger and better with God to help them overcome.

Really, knowing or not knowing is not the question.  Neither is being or not being (sorry, Hamlet). The question is trusting or not trusting.

Through the Bible, February 15

Read: Numbers 9:15-23; 10:11-12:16

Summary: From Mt. Sinai to Kadesh

A lot can happen in a year.  That’s just about how long it’s been since the people of Israel arrived at Mt. Sinai from Egypt–eleven months actually.

Much has been written about their time at Sinai; Exodus 19-40, Leviticus 1-27, and Numbers 1-9.  They are leaving the mountain as a different people than had left Egypt; they now have a law, a religious system complete with priesthood, tabernacle, sacrifices and feasts, and they have a covenant relationship with God.

Finally, it’s time to leave and begin the trek toward the land Jacob and his sons left over 400 years earlier to go down into Egypt.  But, as when they had left Egypt, it doesn’t take long for the problems to commence.

Devotional Thought:

Do You Have It?

To what do you aspire spiritually?

I’m not speaking here about heaven as your ultimate goal.  I pray it is, but I have something else in mind.  What words would you want to be used to describe you?

Think about it.  Be specific.  List them in your mind or even on paper.  I’ve got time–I’ll wait while you think of what those words might be.

Now, does “meek” appear on your list?  If it does, how quickly did it come to mind?  Was it a while after you started and all other “obvious” words were exhausted?

The truth is meekness is not a high priority for us.  It’s almost like an added feature on a new vehicle.  It would be nice to have, but far from necessary, and easily discarded especially if the finances aren’t there.

That’s not God’s way of looking at it.   Being a quality of Christ (2 Cor. 10:1), it is that which evokes God’s blessing (Matt. 5:5), is a necessary requisite to even “receive” God’s word that can save our souls (Jas. 1:21), and stands shoulder to shoulder with readily desirable attributes like compassion, kindness, humility, forgiveness, and even love (Col. 3:12).

And think about Moses.  Here is a man with no equals as a leader, in faithfulness, and in terms of the nearness of his relationship with God (Num. 12:7-8).

And just what is it about Moses that is singled out as that quality he possessed which  exceeded every other person on the face of the earth?  Meekness (Num. 12:3).

Do we need to return to our list of spiritual aspirations and perhaps make an adjustment?

Through the Bible, February 13

Read: Exodus 23:20-33; 31:1-11; 35:4-29; 40:34-38; Leviticus 10:1-7; 26:1-46; Numbers 6:22-27; 9:1-14

Summary: Miscellaneous Incidents at Sinai

Several additional interesting and important events and statements took place while the people stayed at Mt. Sinai.

Today’s reading relates several of these.

Devotional Thought:

Walk Erect

Did you ever study about homo erectus in school?  According to the evolutionary hypothesis that is supposedly the stage of human evolution in which this hominid (pre-man) first came to walk upright.  It means “upright man.”  The theory has them showing up around 1.8 million years ago.  Interesting that the Bible specifically has the very first man walking (upright I’m supposing) with God in the garden (Gen. 3).  There’s more than a slight discrepancy between God’s word and much scientific hypotheses–but you already knew that, and that’s not really our point here.

Actually, the basic idea is true, spiritually speaking.  About God’s liberating His people from Egypt, Leviticus 26:13 says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves.  And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.”

Does that not sound precisely like Jesus’ offer to those who “labor and are heavy laden”   (Matt. 11:28)?

One hymn pleas, “Oh heart bowed down with sorrow…” and another exclaims “burdens are lifted at Calvary” and yet another, “He took my burdens all away up to a brighter day.”

God frees us from the bondage of our sin and lifts the weight of guilt and remorse.  He binds up what was wounded and heals our broken heart.  He truly does make of us an “upright man.”

In the final verses of the Old Testament, the last prophet, Malachi, looks ahead to this marvelous work of God and paints a vivid picture of stark contrast to the one bowed under sin’s weight.  “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2).

Through the Bible, February 9

Read: Exodus 20:22-21:32; Leviticus 25, 27; Numbers 5

Summary: The Law of Moses

Though all of the books from Genesis to Deuteronomy are called the books of Law, the actual commandments and rules that comprise the Laws of Moses are found scattered amongst other instructions and events that take place at Mt. Sinai as recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Much of this is repeated prior to entrance into Canaan–after 40 years of wandering is completed–and is found in Deuteronomy.

Today’s reading is a sampling of some of these various laws.  These will give us a taste of the Law that regulated the life and behavior of Israel as God’s people.

Devotional Thought:


Do you like rules?

Something in us wants to say no.  Rules are so limiting and so restrictive.  The impede freedom and are just a burden.  Right?

Are they really?

Imagine trying to play a game with no rules.  Say, something as simple as children playing tag.  Someone has to be “it.”  And they chase others who run away until one of them is tagged, and now that child is “it.” But what if these rules were suddenly gone?  There would be no game, would there?  There would also be no fun.

What if anyone at any time could just walk into your home and take whatever they wanted?  That would be infuriating.  If someone does that now, they are in violation of the law–that is, the rules–and can be punished.  With no laws (rules) there is no protection or security.

What if you hopped in your car and began to drive down the street or highway.  But there are no lane indications and people are just driving all over the road.  There are no speed limits and so even in town people are driving at excessive rates of speed.  At intersections there are no stop signs or stoplights and so every car just tries to force its way through.  With no rules for driving it is mass confusion and very dangerous.

What if language had no rules?  The very fact that I, as the author, can put together letters to form words and words to form sentences and then supply punctuation markings that you, as the reader, can easily decipher allows for written communication.  And not just that, but provided the author is talented enough to also inspire, convey beauty, arouse emotions, call to action, shape thinking, or whatever else he or she may choose to do.

Rules provide the framework that allows for protection, peace of mind, security, efficiency, safety, utility, order, and even joy and fun.

God’s law, as given through Moses at Mt. Sinai can be tedious reading.  It can also be difficult for modern readers to understand given the difference in time and cultures.  Be sure, though, to know that God’s rules do all of the above and more.

“Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me” (Psalm 119:175).

My Delight is the Lord, May 7

It Could Happen

May 7, Saturday: God’s Story (2)

 Scripture Reading: Numbers 25:1-18

Is it a desire to be accepted? Is it a wish to fit in? Why do we tend to act like people around us; do what they do, value what they value, and practice what they practice? Israel’s sin at Baal-Peor is among their most infamous. Twenty-four thousand died because of it. Phinehas is immortalized for his drastic response to this sin’s public display (vv. 8, 12-13).  Some might think it overkill (sorry, I really did not intend that pun), but God said that had he not so acted with godly jealousy, that the entire nation might have died (v. 11).  How very easy it is for us to move so very far away from God in such a very short time. This wasn’t a gradual slide, it was a nearly immediate rebellion. Don’t say, “It could never happen to me.” Be on your guard; always and earnestly.

Questions to Ponder:

  • How is the sin described in v. 1?
  • What did Israel do? (v. 3)
  • What did Moses instruct the judges of Israel to do? (v. 5)
  • How are Phinehas’ motives described? (v. 11)

My Delight is the Lord, May 6

I Don’t Always Know

May 6, Friday: God’s Story (1)

 Scripture Reading: Numbers 22:1-23:12

I have a confession; I can’t always figure out the Bible. Like, why was God angry with Balaam (22:22) when he was doing what God told him to do (22:20)? My not knowing is OK. Not that I’m satisfied with ignorance, but I know that’s what I’m dealing with here. The deficiency is in me, not in God or His word. Some would prefer a “fake it till you make it” approach. That might work in some settings, but not with God. That’s disingenuous. Ok, it’s dishonest. Why we would be compelled to act like we have God all figured out and His word fully mastered is beyond me. Not that there isn’t sufficient clarity for us to know God and His will. There is truth to be accepted, believed, and obeyed. One truth is that God is beyond our full comprehension. If we act like He’s not, we’re disregarding that truth. Our ignorance is a reality, but it’s not an excuse.

Questions to Ponder:

  • Was Balaam an Israelite? (22:5)
  • How did Balaam refer to God? (21:18)
  • What lesson can we learn from Balaam’s donkey? (22:30)
  • What intent did Balaam express? (23:10)