Reporting on the Promised Land

Text Numbers 13 Time 17/06/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Numbers 13 tells us how at this point spies were sent into the Promised Land to spy it out in preparation for their entry. Twelve men went in, one from each tribe. The operation took six weeks and when they returned all the spies agreed that the Promised Land they were about to enter was flowing with milk and honey. However, the disagreement came over whether they could take the land.
Once again, it seems rather remote from our situation and circumstances today in so many ways but the moment we stop and think about it connections are obvious. We also have been commanded to enter a Promised Land, a land full of good things, flowing with milk and honey and yet a place where fighting is necessary in order to occupy. I am talking about being a Christian and what is involved. How we handle this matter is very important.
1. Recognise the need to explore the Christian life and report back
The account we have here is also found in Deuteronomy 1. The main difference is that whereas in Deuteronomy we get the impression that this was instigated by the people, here in Numbers we are told that The LORD said to Moses, Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders. It was not only then something the people wanted to do but was done (3) at the LORD's command. This factor shows that when some people suggest that they should not have wanted to explore the land but should have simply trusted God for the future, they were wrong. It is a fatal mistake to suppose that human instrumentality means God cannot be involved. An obvious example would be the clearly very human way the Bible has been written. The fact that it is so human does not preclude God being its author any more than the very humanness of Jesus Christ precludes him from being God.
So, the people did indeed say Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to. (Deuteronomy 1:22) but it was by this means that God himself said to Moses, Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.
Those chosen were all leaders of the Israelites though not the people mentioned earlier in the book. They are listed in verses 4-15. None of them are ever mentioned again in Scripture, except for Joshua and Caleb. As ever, the Bible rings true to life. Most people who rise to some prominence in their lifetimes are soon forgotten.
Now their job was to go ahead, spy out the land and then bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to. There is a similar task to be done today by people with regard to the Christian life. Exploring comes naturally to most. Put a crawling baby down in a strange room and most will soon start to explore. The exploring instinct is in us all to a greater or lesser extent. We are not all Ranulph Fiennes or Bear Grylls but we like to look into certain things, to investigate, to explore. If you are a Christian, if you know what it is to be united to Christ and trusting in him then you have an obligation to look at your life and what is involved and report back to others. You need to be able to explain how to become a Christian and what it is like to be one. Obviously it is a job that some will be better at than others and those who are preachers have a special responsibility in this area but we should all be able to do it to some extent.
I think the trick is to learn from what others have said but to make it your own. So when you ask me about the route a person is to take to become a Christian, I would say that you know there is a God, although you keep trying to suppress the fact. That God is not silent but has spoken in his Word, the Bible. I would urge you to read the Bible or to listen to it being read. Listen to those who can explain how to be a Christian. Whatever happens, you need to think about all you've done and see your sins. Go to God and ask him to forgive you those sins and indeed all your sins for the sake of Jesus and the way he has died in the place of sinners so there can be forgiveness. Don't rest until you are sure all your sins are forgiven.
Or if you say, what is it like to be a Christian? I would say that there are great joys but there are difficulties too. It is not always easy but God will help you to fight against sin successfully if you look to him.
2. Consider how to explore the Christian life
In verses 17-20 Moses gives his spied a list of questions to answer. When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, Go up through the Negev (the southern desert) and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? He also said Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land. (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)
So their task was manifold – to see in general What the land is like. That included
1. Whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many.
2. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad?
3. What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified?
4. How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not?
Now something similar is needed today. There need to be evangelists and apologists and plain straightforward witnesses who can answer the questions people are asking about the Christian life. What is it like to be a Christian? Are the arguments for atheism and unbelief many or few, strong or weak? What is it like to be a Christian – is it a good thing or a bad thing? What is it like? Is it safe or is it dangerous? How does it work out? Is it easy to grow as a Christian or not? What features should one expect to see?
These are the sorts of things people want to know. Somehow we need to get them across. We need to deal with the arguments for atheism and unbelief, of which there are not that many and mostly quite weak. Also, the strength of indwelling sin – sometimes stronger than we think. We need to explain what it is like to be a Christian – what a good thing it is and how little there is to be said against it. We need to show what it is like. It is the safest way to live though inevitably it has its dangers. We must show how it works out. We must explain how Christians can grow in grace. We need to point out features such as growing holiness that one should expect to see.
Of course, we must do all this with one eye on the Christian life as it is being lived now and as it has been lived by believers in the past but also another eye on the Scriptures that set out so clearly how the Christian life is to be lived.
3. Consider the work of exploring the Christian life
Verses 21-24 describe how they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. It is difficult to be sure exactly where these places are. As instructed they entered the land in the south and went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt – there is some pride here. Hebron is 7 years older than a leading Egyptian city) We are told that when they reached the Valley of Eshchol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, I was so huge along with some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshchol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there.
They pretty much did what Moses commanded, it would seem. There was no fault there or any real differences among the spies. The real difference was in the way that things were reported. That suggests that for us too this is where the difference will often come. Undoubtedly, some talk about being a Christian who have never actually become Christians. You need to watch out for that. However, much more often the conflict will be between those who are Christians and either do or do not, as it were, report on the Christian life in the way they should. For various reasons believers can say misleading things about the Christian life and so cause harm.
Perhaps the bunch of grapes reminds us of the power of actually living as a Christian. A picture paints a thousand words they say and certainly to see a Christian living a truth out is likely to have more effect than any number of words.
4. Realise that there is a good and a bad way of reporting on the Christian life
We read in verses 25 and 26 that At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land. They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land.
We are told in verse 27 that They gave Moses this account: We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. They were unanimous on the matter of how good the land was. That is not surprising because it was.
In a similar way, I don't think I've ever heard someone arguing that it is ever better not to be a Christian. The verdict is unanimous – always better to be a Christian than not.
No, the conflict is over how one then describes becoming a Christian, as here. Here we see first how the majority say, yes, the land is very attractive But (28, 29) the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan. In other words, we can never live in this wonderful land because the inhabitants are too many and too strong for us.
It is only Caleb (and Joshua we learn elsewhere, born in Egypt as Hoshea – he saves but called 'The LORD saves' by Moses) who counteract this attitude. In verse 30 we read how Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it. However, they are countered by the others who say (31ff) We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are. These latter people spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, The land we explored devours those living in it. “They'll eat us alive!”. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them. Clearly gross exaggeration.
Now it is all too easy for Christians today to do something similar and so discourage people from ever thinking of coming to Christ.
Different people will be negative in different ways, of course. At one extreme there are people who say that there is no such thing as a free offer of the gospel. It isn't true that just anyone can come to Christ. You have to feel a sense of sin first and be burdened by it. Then you can seek him. But no, anyone can come. All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
At the other extreme are those who, while they say anyone can come, they also give the impression that it then all depends on us. We need to work hard to keep ourselves in the faith and to live the sort of life that is pleasing to God. Certainly we must work hard but it is God who saves us. We don't save ourselves.
Some just have a very negative way of talking about being a Christian. The emphasis seems to fall on how hard it is and the trouble involved rather than the joy it brings and the way God continually sustains. Are we negative in that way? We must be very careful that we are not. I think that is one of the main lessons of this passage – how a lack of faith can set back the work of God like nothing else. Let's not do that.

Oppostion to appointed leaders - common but wicked

Text Numbers 12 Time 10/06/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

We come next to Numbers 12. This chapter describes what happens next as God's people continue to travel through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land. What happens in this chapter is that Moses leadership is challenged by his brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam. God very clearly vindicates his servant by dealing with Miriam, though he shows her mercy too.
What we learn in this chapter is something about opposition to God appointed leaders, which, though common, is clearly a wicked thing. We want to say three things.
1. Expect opposition against God appointed leaders to arise from among God's people
1. Opposition to God appointed leaders can be prompted by all sorts of things
We read in verse 1 that Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. This is one of those tantalisingly brief verses that we sometimes find in Scripture that fill us with curiosity but that we can do little to delve into. Moses was married to Zipporah of Midian and had children by her. Whether she had died or not is not stated. Moses had taken a new wife, however, and Miriam and Aaron's problem was not with him having taken his wife but with the wife he had taken. This woman was a Cushite, a Nubian, who had no doubt come out of Egypt with others who joined the Israelites. The problem was possibly the colour of her skin. She was no doubt dark and African in appearance not Egyptian or middle eastern. More likely it was simply the fact that she was not an Israelite.
We don't need to spend too much time on this as it was clearly a pretext, an excuse for attacking Moses. People will complain against leaders for all sorts of reasons – his choice of wife, his taste in clothes, the care he drives, the sound of his voice, his pattern of life, the way his children are. Although sometimes this is backed up with some sort of biblical argument, more often than not such things are merely a pretext for something else.
2. Opposition to God appointed leaders usually finds its source in envy and jealousy
Verse 2 says Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? they asked. Hasn't he also spoken through us? The two verses don't really follow on from one another. What they reveal is that whereas Miriam and Aaron were ostensibly complaining about Moses marrying a Cushite woman, the real issue was whether Moses was a unique leader or not. The claim, they say, is that the LORD only speaks through Moses, which is not a claim ever made in fact. Their argument is that God has spoken through them too, which was true. They too were used by God. The way they have twisted it though is to say that Moses is too big for his boots and needs to realise that there are others on the same level as he is. He is not unique. This argument is clearly driven by envy and jealousy for, as we shall see, although God did speak through these others, he spoke through Moses in a unique way.
3. Opposition to God appointed leaders is always known to the Lord
Thirdly we have that ominous And the LORD heard this. When you express an opinion about a God appointed leader, it is good to remember who is listening. God himself knows exactly what you are saying and thinking. Never forget it. We should remember that they are God's appointments not ours, they are his servants not ours and he is listening to see what we say.
4. Opposition to God appointed leaders will not be prevented by humility on the part of leaders
In verse 3 we get a little note that says (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) This verse, whoever actually wrote it, is there just in case we misjudge the situation and assume that Moses was in the habit of throwing his weight around and this is what had upset Miriam and Aaron and caused them to attack him. Quite the opposite. Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. This reminds leaders who may be tempted to think that if they are humble enough then there is no possibility of their being criticised or denigrated. No, even someone who was as humble as Moses could not prevent his brother and sister attacking him and decrying him and saying that he had a wrong attitude and ought to give someone else a chance.
2. Recognise that God can use opposition to God appointed leaders to clarify issues
In verses 4-8 we read that At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you. So the three of them went out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, he said, Listen to my words.
It is a little like a court scene. God the Judge has the two of them before him. He then proceeds to explain something important to them. He says When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But he says this is not true of my servant Moses; no, it is different with him he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Now these statements serve both to clarify things and also to delineate the unique relationship between Moses and God. The words are quite carefully arranged in an almost poetic way.
At the heart of it is this this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. He is like Joseph in Potiphar's house – the one who deals with it all. Unlike the prophets who are given dreams and visions God speaks to Moses face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. With Moses God speaks with clarity, like I am speaking to you now.
Thus for Miriam and Aaron to say there was no difference between Moses and them was arrant nonsense. That was not the case.
It is those words that God spoke to Moses that we have preserved for us here in the Bible, in the first five books.
And so although it would have been better if Miriam and Aaron had not rebelled in the way that they did at least this incident served to clarify the unique position of Moses. Sometimes when leaders are attacked this happens and important truths are clarified. This is not to condone Miriam and Aaron in any way or anyone else either, of course.
3. See that it is a wicked thing to engage in opposition to God appointed leaders
There are four more things to say.
1. Opposition to God appointed leaders is a frightening thing
Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? Here is a man whom God speaks to face to face and yet here are these people complaining against him. What a fearful thing to do. I've told you before about that time when an older boy told myself and a friend off for doing something and we decided we were not going to take any notice of him and told him so. Then suddenly as we walked along there was the boy's father at his garden gate. “I told him to speak to you about it” he said, nearly frightening the life out of me. So be careful. If you speak against a preacher, a man of God. Do bear in mind that he is the Lord's anointed. If you ever dare to speak a word against the Son of God it can be forgiven but remember who he is. To rebel against the Bible itself, which is the Word of God is a dangerous thing indeed.
2. Opposition to God appointed leaders provokes the anger of God
It goes on in verse 9 The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. We should be in no doubt about God's attitude when the leaders he appoints are attacked. It arouses his anger. He is slow to be angry but angry he will be when people oppose his leaders. That is one reason why in the New Testament we are told (1 Timothy 5:19) Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. It goes on to say that elders who sin must be reproved before everyone, so that the others may take warning but clearly we must be very careful before we begin to bring an accusation against a God appointed leader.
3. Opposition to God appointed leaders deserves punishment
In this case we are told that When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam's skin was leprous - it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy (or whatever severe skin disease it was). It is not stated why it was Miriam who suffered and not Aaron. She seems to have taken the lead in this and Aaron followed. No doubt it was almost as tough for him to see his sister a leper and he being partly to blame as it was for her to have leprosy.
Straight away Aaron the High Priest pleads for Miriam (11, 12) he said to Moses, Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother's womb with its flesh half eaten away. In the face of this, all rebellion against Moses, who Aaron calls Lord, is at an end. They both know who is the true leader.
4. Opposition to God appointed leaders ought to be dealt with in a merciful way
Moses holds no malice against his brother and sister. Moses cried out to the LORD, Please, God, heal her! The LORD replied to Moses, If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back. So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back. After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.
It is a wicked thing to rebel against God appointed leaders and sometimes a punishment will be appropriate. What one longs for, however, is reconciliation and restoration as soon as possible. The sooner the better. Sometimes a period of exclusion will be necessary but it must not be longer than is needed. The leniency is seen in that Miriam should really have been excluded from the camp for 14 days but one week is seen to be enough.
Don't miss either that progress through the desert was delayed by a week because of the conduct of Miriam and Aaron. It is bound to slow us up if we rebel against elders God himself has appointed.

The Kindness and Sternness of God

Text Numbers 11 Time 03/06/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We are looking at the Book of Numbers and we come this week to Numbers 11. In Numbers 11 two incidents are recorded, the first quite briefly and the second at some length. Firstly in verses 1-3 we read of how the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, which led to the LORD sending down fire on them. It concludes (3) So that place was called Taberah, (it burns) because fire from the LORD had burned among them. Then in the rest of the chapter (verses 4-35) we have another incident recorded at greater length where the people again started wailing and complaining. This time the response is more complicated and there is more detail but towards the end we read how this time God struck them with a severe plague and in verse 34 a conclusion similar  in pattern to that found in verse 3 occurs. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, (graves of the craving) because there they buried the people who had craved other food.
So what we have here is first what happened in Taberah and then what happened in Kibroth Hattaavah, places on the route through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land. In the first case the people grumble and God sends fire, in the second they grumble and God shows them a mercy mixed with judgement but then, more obviously, sends a plague.
As we have often pointed out from 1 Corinthians 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come and from Romans 15:4  Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
What I want us to do then is to consider the kindness and sternness of God as seen here and to see what it has to teach us about how to live today. So I want to say two things, the first is fairly brief and the second is quite long.
1. Consider how stern God can sometimes be but do notice his kindness
First, in verses 1-3, we see an example of God's judgement by fire but with mercy.
1. Consider the sin of grumbling
One of the things that the people were often guilty of in the desert was the sin of grumbling. We have an instance here where, in verse 1, we read Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD. Now in Numbers and Exodus you get plenty of examples of this. The first example in the desert is at the Red Sea. In Exodus 14:11 they say "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Even back in Egypt they would moan and complain. In the desert it becomes something of a theme. It is a great sin to moan and complain and one that we must avoid. If we ever fall into it we must seek forgiveness.
2. Consider how sin arouses God's anger
We read next and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Now God's anger is not the same as human anger but there is something that links the two and we are told here that the moaning and complaining that went on made God angry. When people complain or moan, it always makes God angry.
3. Consider the sternness of God's judgement as seen here
The next thing we read is that Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. God sent down fire, like lightning no doubt, and it struck some people and they died. It was a clear act of judgement as sometimes happens when God strikes out at some sin in this person or that.
4. Consider the kindness of God as is also seen here
We also read (2) that When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. The same God who sent down fire also heard the request of the people through Moses their mediator and took the fire away. Even the fire itself only hit the outskirts of the camp so there was mercy from the beginning but here it is a clear act of kindness when he takes the fire away.
So four things. Do not sin – by grumbling or in some other way. Such sins make God angry. If you do sin God may send immediate and fierce judgement. Nevertheless, even in the very sternness of judgement do not be surprised to see marks of undeserved mercy.
2. Consider how kind God can sometimes be but do notice his sternness
After Taberah comes Kibroth Hattaavah. A similar pattern is found here in some ways but with much more detail and other matter.
1. Consider the sin of grumbling
One would have thought that such a display of judgement and especially in light of the mercy mixed in with it the Israelites would have given up their grumbling. But no, what do we read in verse 4? The rabble with them began to crave other food. This is the mixed crowd that attached themselves to the Israelites when they left Egypt and again the Israelites themselves started wailing and said, If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost - also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna! How quickly the slavery and suffering of Egypt is forgotten and suddenly it is remembered as a halcyon age when they wanted for nothing. How easy to opt a rosy glow on the past. What grumbling there was again. What makes this sin worse is the fact that daily God was sending bread from heaven for them.
In verses 7-9 we are given a brief note about manna, assuming we have already read Exodus 16 – it was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.
2. Consider how sin arouses God's anger
We read this time that The LORD became exceedingly angry. There is anger again; this time worse than before. As we have said, this is how God reacts to sin. He hates it. It angers him. He is never happy with it.
3. Consider how it troubles leaders too
In verse 10 we read that Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. We then read that not only was God angry but Moses was troubled too. This leads to Moses asking the LORD (11) Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? he asks in despair. Moses is a man, he cannot nurse children! (13) Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, Give us meat to eat! I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me - if I have found favour in your eyes - and do not let me face my own ruin.
Moses has clearly had enough and can't stand any more. He feels he is between a rock and a hard place, as they say. On one hand, the people are rebellious and sinful. On the other, God is angry with them. We will not say that Moses was right to be upset but it is surely understandable.
4. Consider the kindness of God to Moses
God's immediate priority is to do something to help the overworked Moses, which tells us something about God and his order of doing things. Moses is told to bring before God seventy of Israel's elders known to him as leaders and officials among the people. He was to Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. God says (17) I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.
Moses was finding it too much and so rather than berating him, God immediately provides him, very practically, with helpers,
5. Consider the sternness of God as is also seen here
Having spoken to Moses we might think God would then set about judging the people. Would he send more fire or would he send a plague or open the earth to swallow them or what?
Moses is instructed to tell the people to consecrate themselves in preparation for the next day when, they are told, you will eat meat. It goes on The LORD heard you when you wailed, If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt! Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. It sounds like their prayers have been answered. But no, there is more (19) You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month - until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it - because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, Why did we ever leave Egypt?
6. Consider how hard it can be to lead God's people
Woven into the narrative here is the way God deals with Moses. Hearing what God says, Moses is again concerned. 21, 22 But Moses said, Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, I will give them meat to eat for a whole month! Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them? But the reply is very obvious (23) The LORD answered Moses, Is the LORD's arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.
Perhaps the biggest problem leaders have is their lack of faith in the Lord. They are constantly underestimating is power,. They should not. Moses needs to learn here then as well as the people.
7. Consider how kind God is to those who lead God's people
At this point Moses goes out of the tabernacle where he has been speaking with God and (24) tells the people what the LORD had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the LORD we read distinguished him from them and came down in the cloud and spoke with him, then he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied - but did not do so again. We do not know exactly what this prophesying was like, only that it was an initial not a lasting thing.
In verse 26 we are told However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. Some are troubled over how seventy could be at the tent and yet two were missing but it may be that we should understand verse 24 as saying Moses brought together what appeared to be seventy of their elders. Certainly they did prophesy and yet were not with the others.
We read (27-30) that A young man ran and told Moses, Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp. Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses' aide since youth, spoke up and said, Moses, my lord, stop them! But Moses replied, Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them! Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp. This shows how meek and unassuming Moses was and where his heart lay. Moses was not perfect but he did see things very clearly and there is no suggestion that he craved power for himself.
8. Consider the sternness of God in its less obvious form
Having dealt with the leadership issue God now proceeds to deal with the people. We are told how (31, 32) Now a wind (Spirit it is) went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits deep all around the camp, as far as a day's walk in any direction. All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers (over 2,000 litres). Then they spread them out all around the camp (perhaps to dry them, as is common).
Sometimes it is God's way to judge people by giving them what they want. In the New Testament in Romans 1 (24, 26, 28, 29) Paul speaks of God giving people over. There they begin with one sin and are allowed to go onto more. Here it is that they are given what they want to excess. I think we can see this working out in our own society in so many ways. We see it most obviously in the materialism and the desire for so called sexual freedom that we have seen over recent years. What loathsome excesses we see on both fronts.
9. Consider the sternness of God in its most obvious form
Finally we read (33) But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. Some wonder if the plague was connected to the meat - a sort of food poisoning. Whatever the explanation we see again the wrath of God against sin. What a warning this passage is against going against God. There is a proverb “be careful what you wish for”. Perhaps it fits here.

On pilgrimage - things to remember

Text Numbers 10 Time 20/05/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
There are several things in Numbers 10. First, we have what we may call the Silver Trumpets rule explaining how silver trumpets were to be made for the use of the priests in calling the people together and other ways. Next we have a description of the tribes setting off On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year and the order in which they went. Finally, there are references to Hobab son of Reuel, to the ark and the cloud and to what Moses would say when they set out and when they halted.
As ever, it all seems rather far off both in terms of the time – so long ago - and the circumstances – trumpets and priests and deserts and the tabernacle and the ark and the pillar of cloud and so on. How can we connect?
The Apostle Peter begins his first letter like this Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, etc. The word he uses is the one used for a foreigner, a non-native who is only staying in a place, an exile from his homeland. This is our position as Christians. Yes, we are on earth. We live here but we do not belong here any more. But it is not our home. Heaven is our home. We are sojourners, exiles, strangers, pilgrims.
Now to that extent we can identify with the people here. They were strangers and exiles too. They had been redeemed from Egypt just as we have been redeemed from sin. They were on their way to the Promised Land just as we are on our way to heaven. Right now they were travelling through the desert where there was no permanent rest as we are too. Like them we are living by faith and surrounded by foes on every side. I think that if we look at the chapter in that light we will see things to learn.
1. Hear the trumpet calls to worship, to march, to fight and to rejoice in Christ
First we read that The LORD said to Moses Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out. These trumpets are not to be confused with the ram's horns that were sometimes blown. These silver trumpets were (8) to be blown by The sons of Aaron, the priests and this was to be a lasting ordinance for them and the generations to come. The trumpets were to be used for four different things.
1. To assemble the people before the tabernacle
3, 4 When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance to the tent of meeting. If only one is sounded, the leaders - the heads of the clans of Israel - are to assemble before you.
2. To announce that it was time to set out
5, 6 When a trumpet blast is sounded, the tribes camping on the east are to set out. At the sounding of a second blast, the camps on the south are to set out. The blast will be the signal for setting out.
3. When going into battle
9 When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies. We are familiar with the idea of bugles and trumpets in battles.
4. To mark sacrifices and festivals
10 Also at your times of rejoicing - your appointed festivals and New Moon feasts - you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the LORD your God.
Different signals were to be used for the different uses.
Now a great deal has changed since those times but the need for the leaders of God's people to put their silver trumpets to their mouths and sound the right signal remains. In particular those who preach the word to pilgrims must make a clear and certain sound that does at least four things.
1. To call the people to worship
The people were called by the trumpets to assemble at the entrance to the tent of meeting. I understand why bells are rung to call people to worship. There is something attractive and very English about it too. Canon F8 of the Church of England states that:
1. In every church and chapel there shall be provided at least one bell to ring the people to divine service. 2. No bell in any church or chapel shall be rung contrary to the direction of the minister”.
Bell or no bell, even when we come together there needs to be a further call to worship God. It is good for the minster to remind the people the purpose of gathering. This is why some begin with what they call “the call to worship”. Whether or not we do it like that, that note must be struck. Worship God, honour him.
2. To call on them to march
We are also giving marching orders. We are saying – get going or keep going as appropriate. The end is not too far away now. Keep looking to Jesus. Keep pressing on. Forgetting what is behind I urge you to strain toward what is ahead and to press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:3, 4).
3. To call on them to fight
The Christian life is not only a race or a journey but a fight too and the call to battle is always there, explicitly or implicitly. Remember how Paul urges the Corinthians to make sure that they speak what can be understood by people and make everything plain. If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, says Paul (1 Corinthians 15) who will get ready for battle? We have been speaking recently about the need to Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore we must put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
4. To call on them to rejoice over Christ our crucified Saviour.
The trumpets were also to be sounded Also at your times of rejoicing - your appointed festivals and New Moon feasts - you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. We no longer have to sound trumpets because there are no more feasts and no more sacrifices since Jesus made the supreme sacrifice of himself. However, the very fact that Christ has come and died should lead to rejoicing and preachers should take the lead in urging this.
2. Take note of these travel directions regarding direction, worship and weaker brothers
Next in verses 11-28 we are told how (11) On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law. This was 19 days after the census mentioned at the beginning of the book. The people had been at Sinai a whole year but now it was time to move and this was the sign. No doubt the trumpets also sounded and the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and travelled from place to place (the stages are described in the next chapter) until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. We also read that (13) They set out, this first time, at the LORD's command through Moses. We are then given the order in which they would travel as described earlier. Judah was first with Issachar and Zebulun. Next (17) the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and Merarites, who carried it, set out. After them came Reuben with Simeon and Gad. They were followed by the Kohathites ... carrying the holy things. The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived. The third tribal grouping was led by Ephraim with Manasseh and Benjamin. Finally, (25) as the rear guard for all the units, the divisions of the camp of Dan set out under their standard. With them came Asher and Naphtali. 28 This was the order of march for the Israelite divisions as they set out.
There are some obvious lessons here about living the Christian life.
1. Look to God to direct you
God is the only one who knows all things and the only one who loves as much as he does. Therefore, we should live as he dictates. Besides this ,he alone has the authority to dictate to us how to live. It is not right to put ourselves under some human leader who tells us where to live and what to think, like the Pope or the leader of a monastic community. No, by constantly going back to the Word and seeking to conform more and more to that and being sensitive to God's guiding so we seek his direction.
1 When he says rest then rest. That's how it was in Israel and how it should be with us. Unless there is some clear guidance otherwise, remain where you are – the same place, the same job, the same situation.
2 When he says rise then rise. Equally, if he moves you on gladly and willingly move on.
2. Keep worship at the heart of what you do
The mention of the tabernacle being at the centre even when they were travelling is instructive too. It was clearly given a priority in the travelling arrangements. It is so easy for worship to get pushed out of our busy schedules. It must not.
3. Don't forget the weak and the wandering
The divisions of Dan acted as the rear guard for all the units in case there was an attack from behind. We too know that our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour and so we must take care and watch out for the weak and needy too. Romans 15:1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. If someone is caught in a sin, we should be ready to help him out.
3. Follow this example of encouraging others to join us on the journey
So here are these redeemed people passing through a place where there was no real rest, surrounded by foes but living by faith. Their leader Moses (in verse 29) says to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, his father-in-law, who has been around for a while now, We are setting out for the place about which the LORD said, I will give it to you - a real statement of faith if I ever heard one - Come with us and we will treat you well, he says for the LORD has promised good things to Israel. At first Hobab answered, No, I will not go; I am going back to my own land and my own people. But (31, 32) Moses said, Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. This is not a lack of reliance on God on Moses part but a recognition that Hobab knew the area well and could be a real help to the people. If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the LORD gives us. His reply is not recorded but we know that his descendants lived in Israel and so he must have said yes.
How good are we at inviting others to join us? Sometimes we have hang ups over asking people to help and to share our blessings. Moses clearly has no such hang ups. Why should we? Let's say to all We are setting out for the place about which the LORD said, I will give it to you – heaven. Come with us and we will treat you well, for the LORD has promised good things to us. They may say no at first but persist in asking. Say Please do not leave us. We can even point out how they may help us (think of Jesus asking the Samaritan woman for a drink. We may feel nervous about this but surely such condescension is not wrong. If you come with us, we can say we will share with you whatever good things the LORD gives us.
4. Always follow God
Verses 33 and 34 speak about the ark and the pillar of cloud. So they set out from the mountain of the LORD it says (the only time Sinai is referred to in that way) and travelled for three days that is to Taberah. Then we learn that The ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. Also The cloud of the LORD was over them by day when they set out from the camp.
In a similar way, it is the privilege of the believer to follow Christ and to have the Holy Spirit upon him protecting him and keeping him. How thankful we should be for such a privilege.
5. Always begin and end with prayer
Finally, we have what has been called the song of the ark.
35, 36 Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, Rise up, LORD! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you. Whenever it came to rest, he said, Return, LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel. It is good to begin and end each day with prayer. In the morning we pray that the Lord will rise up and scatter our enemies for us. In the evening we pray that he will come to his people. Each day we are day's march nearer home. Always we must keep looking to God.