Lessons from Israel's ancient offerings

Text Numbers 28 Time 24/03/13 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We come this week to Numbers 28, which begins an enumeration of the various sacrifices that Israel was to observe at this time. It is a sort of calendar of events. You get this calendar in various forms in Exodus (twice), Leviticus and Deuteronomy as well. Here in Numbers it is designed for the ordinary Israelite to know and the Levitical priests to carry out. We begin (1, 2)
The Lord said to Moses, Give this command to the Israelites and say to them: Make sure that you present to me at the appointed time my food offerings, as an aroma pleasing to me.
Now for us such a chapter is a little tedious and it is difficult to know what to do with it. When you come to a chapter like Romans 12 say, you know what to do. It begins
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.
What do you have to do? You have to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God you must not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Many parts of the Bible are not like that. They are things you need to know not that you need to obey. A lot of knowledge is like that. It's one of the things that makes school frustrating for some. Some children have a pragmatic approach. “Is it in the exam, miss?” is their only question. If it is, they just learn it. For others that is not enough. William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings in 1066 – yes, but what has that got to do with me today? Today we are going to learn about solving quadratic equations – but why do I need to know about that?
When we come to a chapter like this we can feel a bit like that. So let's start with this question
1. Why do I need to know about this?
Is it in the exam?” we may wonder. It is not something that you will be questioned on at the judgement, no. It is not something you need to know in order to become a Christian. However, it is not useless. It will do at least two things for you if you bother to spend some time on it.
1. It will make you thankful that you do not have to know this today
The instructions found here no longer have to be followed as far as the letter is concerned. We know that because there is no Temple any more and with the coming of Christ the need for sacrifices and feasts of this sort is over. He has fulfilled all that they were pointing towards in his own death on the cross.
As you can see, the sacrificial system was quite demanding. There were sacrifices to be made on a daily, a weekly, a monthly and an annual basis. All that has gone and we should be thankful that it has gone and that we no longer have to follow such a demanding ritual.
We should have the same attitude to a chapter like this as we might have when we see an old school exercise book or examination paper. Have you ever had that feeling? You see something like that and you look back and you remember how strange it all was when you started on it – learning to read, learning your times tables, the first class you took in chemistry or Latin or economics or what ever it was – and (if you have been successful in it) you think to yourself, I'm glad I haven't got to go through all that again.
So let's be thankful that we live today when all we have to do is to put our faith in Jesus Christ. There is no daily, weekly, monthly or annual sacrifice to be made. The only sacrifice truly needed has been made once and for all by Jesus Christ. It is enough and if we trust in him, then all is well.
2. It will give you an insight into what Christ has done and into how to live as a Christian
The second thing such a chapter will do is to give you some insight into what Christ did on the cross as all these sacrifices were designed to point forward to what he was going to do in what was then the future.
Further, although strictly speaking sacrifices have come to an end and the feasts no longer need to be kept, nevertheless there is a sense in which sacrifices are still to be made.
We have already quoted Paul's words in Romans 12:1
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship.
Also in Peter 2:5, Peter says
you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
And in Hebrews 13:15, 16 it says
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Not forgetting Philippians 4:18
I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
So we can ask secondly
2. What do these verses teach me about living as a Christian today?
1. These verses teach me about living as a Christian day by day
Numbers 28 begins with teaching about the need for daily sacrifices.
Say to them: This is the food offering you are to present to the Lord: two lambs a year old without defect, as a regular burnt offering each day. Offer one lamb in the morning and the other at twilight, together with a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil from pressed olives. This is the regular burnt offering instituted at Mount Sinai as a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the Lord. The accompanying drink offering is to be a quarter of a hin of fermented drink with each lamb. Pour out the drink offering to the Lord at the sanctuary. Offer the second lamb at twilight, along with the same kind of grain offering and drink offering that you offer in the morning. This is a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.
It was required then that offerings be made morning and evening every day. Isn't that a hint to us today too that morning and evening there should be some sort of sacrifice on our part and a remembrance of what Jesus has done for us? Our circumstances differ but here is a good pattern, surely. Certainly if a day goes by and there has been no sacrifice of praise, no recalling of the cross, then something is wrong.
2. These verses teach me about living as a Christian week by week
Verses 9 and 10 add that
On the Sabbath day, make an offering of two lambs a year old without defect, together with its drink offering and a grain offering of one-fifth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with olive oil. This is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.
One day a week was to be special. The regular daily offerings were to carry on but there was to be an additional offering, one twice what was given on ordinary days.
Again it is a hint to us that we ought to be marking time weekly. The old Sabbath has been replaced now by the new one that focuses on the resurrection of Christ. That principle though of marking the day in a special way remains. Today is a day to remember Christ and all he has done. It is a day to rededicate ourselves to God as living sacrifices in his service.
3. These verses teach me about living as a Christian month by month
In verses 11-15 we have something alluded to elsewhere in the Bible but not laid down like this. It is made clear that also On the first of every month, when the new moon appeared, they were to
present to the Lord a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. It goes on With each bull there is to be a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with oil; with the ram, a grain offering of one-fifth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with oil; and with each lamb, a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with oil. This is for a burnt offering, a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the Lord. Similarly With each bull there is to be a drink offering of half a hin of wine; with the ram, a third of a hin; and with each lamb, a quarter of a hin. This is the monthly burnt offering to be made at each new moon during the year. Besides the regular burnt offering with its drink offering, one male goat is to be presented to the Lord as a sin offering.
Now we less often think about the passing of the months but here too is an opportunity to remind ourselves of Christ's death and to commit ourselves afresh to the Lord and his service. We don't follow the phases of the moon these days but we have system of months ("moonths") that gives us a similar reminder of the passing of time. Let's seize this opportunity. The end of a month is a good time to reflect and consider and prepare for the new month ahead.
4. These verses teach me about living as a Christian and relying on Christ's death on the cross
16-25 On the fourteenth day of the first month the Lord’s Passover is to be held. On the fifteenth day of this month there is to be a festival; for seven days eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do not do any of your ordinary work. Present to the Lord a food offering consisting of a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. With each bull offer a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with oil; with the ram, one-fifth; and with each of the seven lambs, one-tenth. Include one male goat as a sin offering to make atonement for you. Offer these in addition to the regular morning burnt offering. In this way present the food offering every day for seven days as an aroma pleasing to the Lord; it is to be offered in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. On the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do not do any ordinary work.
Passover and the feast of unleavened bread actually begins this week. It is often at the same time as Easter. The Easter festival – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and so on is a mere human invention. The only real successor to Passover is the Lord's Supper, the Last Supper being a Passover meal. Passover was designed to point forward to Christ's death on the cross, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The way to honour that feast now is as Paul intimates in 1 Corinthians 5. In verses 6-8 he rebukes the Corinthians fir their boasting and says
Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Christ the Passover Lamb has been slain so we must keep the feast. In Jewish homes at this time of the year they have a good Spring clean. They get rid of any trace of yeast in the house – crumbs at the back of the fridge or down the sides of the sofa. They then eat only matzos – unleavened bread – for a week. Paul says that as Christians we must get rid of the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness and eat the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. That is the way we keep the feast today. As we rely on what Christ has done on the cross, we seek to be sincere and true and to serve him.
4. These verses teach me about living as a Christian and relying on the Holy Spirit
26-31 On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the Lord an offering of new grain during the Festival of Weeks, hold a sacred assembly and do not do any of your ordinary work. Present a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram (in Leviticus it is the other way round for some reason) and seven male lambs a year old as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. With each bull there is to be a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with oil; with the ram, one-fifth; and with each of the seven lambs, one-tenth. Include one male goat to make atonement for you. Offer these together with their drink offerings, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its grain offering. Be sure the animals are without defect.
The Feast of weeks takes place 50 days after Passover and is also known as Pentecost. It is a festival of firstfruits, when the first fruit of the crop was harvested. The first fruits when the Holy Spirit was first poured out 50 days after Jesus' death were the 3000 converted in Jerusalem through the preaching of Peter. As with Passover we cannot make the sacrifices commanded here – there is no Temple – and we are under no obligation to keep these feasts in any formal way. We must remember, however, that the Spirit has now come and just as the first fruits were brought in through him so it will be always and to the end. We stand in continual need of the Spirit to work. Pray for it, long for it daily.
So here are some lessons to learn from the offerings made by ancient Israel. Amen.

A Leader and a Future for God's People

Text Numbers 27 Time 17/03/13 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I would like us to look this evening at Numbers 27. If you look at the chapter you will see that there are really two main things here. The first is to do with Zelophehad's daughters and their inheritance in verses 1-11c and the second is to do with Moses's imminent death and the appointment of Joshua as the new leader of God's people.
On the face of it there might seem to be very little to learn from a passage like this but in fact there are at least two important things to learn at least. So I want to make two main point today
1. If you are a believer you have a future
As you know the Duchess of Cambridge, the wife of Prince William, is due to give birth in a few months time. Rumour has it that the Duchess is expecting a girl. If that is the case when the girl is born she will be an heir to the throne. Even if she then has a little brother she will still be next in line because the current government recently brought a bill before Parliament that has changed an age old law that said that it was males who came first in line to the throne then females. So, for example, when Henry VII died, it was his son, Edward, who became the next monarch, not his older sisters Mary and Elizabeth. They had to wait their turn, which they did have, after him. When our present Queen came to the throne following the death of her father, it was because she had no brother, only a sister. So today there is no distinction between males and females, previously males took precedence over females. Of course, one can imagine a situation where females were ignored completely so that no woman ever became Queen, there were only Kings. I am talking about kings and queens but the same rules can be applied to any succession or inheritance situation.
Biblically, the pattern appears to be males first then not no females but females second. That is the pattern we see here in Numbers 27:1-11. There we are told about The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, who belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. They have already been mentioned in anticipation in 26:13. There were five of these daughters, their names ... were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah. They are unmarried. If they had husbands it is clear that things would be different. We are told how They came forward and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, (3) Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. In other words he does not deserve to have his name forgotten and his possessions passed on to someone else nit in his family. Because there were no sons they were concerned that the inheritance would pass to others and his name be lost. They say Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives. In other words, where there are no males why can't females inherit instead?
So we are told that because this was a new question (verses 5ff) Moses brought their case before the Lord, and the Lord said to him, What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them. We do not know how God spoke but Moses was under no illusion as to God's will, it was that females in a family should not be ignored but, where there are no males, should inherit instead. And so it became a rule in Israel. 8-11 Say to the Israelites, If a man dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance to his daughter. Further If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to have the force of law for the Israelites, as the Lord commanded Moses. The order then is sons, daughters, brothers, uncles, nearest relatives. Israel was not the only one in the ANE to have such a law but theirs was given by God. It was like this in our law for many years too though there is no longer any order of males then females. In Israel the reason for males taking precedence was no doubt so that land didn't pass outside the family as would be the case if a woman married. This story here shows what to do where there are no sons.
The thing to learn here, though is not to do with land rights or women's rights. Rather we need to see that, as one writer puts it, “Even if the parents were judged for their sins, the children might still have a future in the Lord, through his grace and mercy.” (Duguid). God has promised the land to this second generation and the daughters of Zelophehad are here staking their claim.
The encouragement here is to stake our claim too. God has promised that all who trust in Christ will be forgiven and inherit heaven – male or female. If you trust in him you will be forgiven and you will go to heaven. Take God at his word. Believe and act in faith! IF you do, you have a future indeed.
2. If you are a believer Jesus is your leader
We don't read about Moses death until the end of Deuteronomy but here in Numbers we are told (12-14) Then the Lord said to Moses, Go up this mountain in the Abarim Range (we know from Deuteronomy that it was Mt Nebo) and see the land I have given the Israelites. After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honour me as holy before their eyes. (These were the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.)
Moses was going to die, like Aaron and Zelophehad and others of their generation. So who would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land? We read 15-17 Moses said to the Lord, May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, he is thinking of a military leader one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd. A leader is needed.
18-21 So the Lord said to Moses, Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. This seems to be a lesser from of communication with God, less direct. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.
Finally. we read (22, 23) Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.
I am sure I have said to you before that it is Joshua, the one who has the same name as Jesus, who leads Israel into the Promised Land not Moses, the one through whom the Law was given. Law won't lead you to heaven but Jesus can. He is the Good Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd and the great Shepherd, the one who leads his people safely home. In him is the spirit of leadership. He can lead us all the way through this life and safe into the world to come. He will not die like Moses and his generation but ever lives to pray for his people. He is our guide, our Captain, the one we must always look to. Earthly leaders have their importance but far more important than any of these is Jesus our Lord and our King, the Captain of our salvation. How important it is that we always remember this now and forever.
So two simple things then if you are a believer you have a future, a glorious future in Christ. If you are a believer you have a leader in Jesus Christ, a leader who will never let you down, a leader who will lead you all the way.

Learning from the second census - a new generation for God

Text Numbers 26 Time 10/03/13 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We are looking at the Book of Numbers and we come this week to Chapter 26 where we have described for us the second census. The reason that this book is called Numbers is because we have several sets of numbers in it and this is one of them. Just as Chapter 1 gives the numbers for the first census so in this chapter we have the numbers for the second census.
The statistics are beginning to appear for the last UK government census. It is not easy to organise such things and it takes quite a bit of time and money. Governments find it useful, however, to have accurate information on population and similar matters in order to plan for the future. In the UK the census is every ten years but while the Israelites were in the desert it was 40 years between the first and the second census, time enough for a whole generation to die out pretty much.
Unlike a UK census these censuses were not concerned to number every single person but one would guess that there were about two million present both times. With smaller numbers and everyone being in one place, it was easier to conduct than ours are but it would not have been that easy. What I want us to do this evening is to look at this second census and what we are told about it and draw out a number of lessons.
1. Learn about continued obedience to God
We read (1-4) that
After the plague the LORD said to Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, Take a census of the whole Israelite community by families - all those twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army of Israel. So on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them and said, Take a census of the men twenty years old or more, as the LORD commanded Moses.
The book begins with a similar command. Then it was Moses and Aaron, now it is Moses and Eleazar. In each case the command was obeyed and we also must obey God's commands, whether it comes one or twice or a thousand times. He must be obeyed in every generation.
2. Learn about God's providence
For each of the tribes a figure is given as was done in Chapter 1. In all cases the figures change up or down sometimes quite radically. Simeon decreases by a third and in the case of Manasseh there is a 60% increase.
The figures in the two chapters are
1:21 The number from the tribe of Reuben was 46,500. 7 These were the clans of Reuben; those numbered were 43,730.
Reuben's decline is explained in verses 8-11
The son of Pallu was Eliab, and the sons of Eliab were Nemuel, Dathan and Abiram. The same Dathan and Abiram were the community officials who rebelled against Moses and Aaron and were among Korah's followers when they rebelled against the LORD. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them along with Korah, whose followers died when the fire devoured the 250 men. And they served as a warning sign. The line of Korah, however, did not die out.
1:23 The number from the tribe of Simeon was 59,300.
4 These were the clans of Simeon; there were 22,200 men.
We do not know why there was this drastic drop but it may have been the plague following the idolatry and adultery at Baal Peor.
1:25 The number from the tribe of Gad was 45,650.
18 These were the clans of Gad; those numbered were 40,500. A decrease again.
1:27 The number from the tribe of Judah was 74,600.
22 These were the clans of Judah; those numbered were 76,500.  An increase here.
1:29 The number from the tribe of Issachar was 54,400.
25 These were the clans of Issachar; those numbered were 64,300. Another increase.
1:31 The number from the tribe of Zebulun was 57,400.
27 These were the clans of Zebulun; those numbered were 60,500. An increase.
1:33 The number from the tribe of Ephraim was 40,500. 1:35 The number from the tribe of Manasseh was 32,200.
34 These were the clans of Manasseh; those numbered were 52,700. 37 These were the clans of Ephraim; those numbered were 32,500. These were the descendants of Joseph by their clans.
A 60% increase for Manasseh and a significant decrease for Ephraim.
1:37 The number from the tribe of Benjamin was 35,400.
41 These were the clans of Benjamin; those numbered were 45,600. Increase (third highest). Half the sons missing though – died out?
1:39 The number from the tribe of Dan was 62,700.
42 These were the descendants of Dan by their clans: through Shuham, the Shuhamite clan. These were the clans of Dan: 43 All of them were Shuhamite clans; and those numbered were 64,400. One clan yet an increase nevertheless.
1:41 The number from the tribe of Asher was 41,500.
47 These were the clans of Asher; those numbered were 53,400. Increase (second largest)
1:43 The number from the tribe of Naphtali was 53,400.
50 These were the clans of Naphtali; those numbered were 45,400. Decrease.
In Chapter 1 the total number was 603,550 and now we read (51) The total number of the men of Israel was 601,730. Not a huge difference over all then.
The number range is even greater than before - from as few as 22, 200 to as many as 76, 500 (85,200 for Joseph). The sheer variation is a reminder of God's providence. A single couple may produce many grandchildren and great grand children, etc, or they may produce very few or none. When God comes in judgement it can make a vast difference. The main factor here is God's providence in ability to conceive, live birth, later longevity and his powerful judgements.
We can also say here
1. Learn about God's sovereign power
At the very least God's call for another census of his people was another reminder of who was in control, who was the sovereign power. It wasn't Moses. He would soon die. It wasn't Joshua. Indeed it wasn't anyone from that rebellious older generation. It was God himself.
The sovereignty of God is one of those truths we need to keep coming back to, reminding ourselves who is in control.
2. Learn about God's love
God is not just like a sovereign commanding his people to stand up and be counted, he is also like a shepherd counting his sheep, like a mother or father checking that everyone is present. This census speaks of his love for his people as a company and as individuals. It reminds us of the Book of Life itself where the names of all the elect are found.
The love of God is a fundamental truth never to be forgotten.
3. Learn about God's faithfulness
The second census was also a reminder of God's continuing covenant faithfulness. God had made his covenant with Abraham and then with Isaac and Jacob. When Jacob went down into Egypt they numbered about 70. They weren't a nation or people just a rather large family. Now some 400 or so years later they were a people, a nation about two million strong. It was a testimony to God's faithfulness over the years. They were once not a people but now they were the people of God. And despite their being in the desert some 40 years and being very rebellious, they were still an entity. That faithfulness continues to this very day and is something we can always count on. He will never fail his people. He keeps all his promises.
3. Learn about God's purposes
1. Recognise that there is fighting to be done
You notice that not everyone is counted in this census but only those twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army of Israel. In the Ancient Near East 20 was a typical military age. There was fighting to be done. The Canaanites were not simply going to stand aside as Israel marched in and took their land. They would need to fight and even in this book we read about fighting, although the real fight begins in Joshua and Judges. Now, of course, today God's nation does not advance by means of physical fighting. However, there are spiritual battles to be fought and the New Testament often takes up that picture to speak about living the Christian life. Paul urges us in Ephesians 6 to put on the whole armour of God which he carefully describes and speaks of fighting the good fight of faith or using weapons that are not the weapons of this world but that can demolish arguments and pretensions and so on.
So here is another important reminder. We are in a war and we need to be ready to fight. The Christian life is not a picnic it is a battleground. Be on guard. Quit yourselves as men.
2. Realise that there is an inheritance to be won
In this second census the allotment in the Promised land is also very much in mind. See 52-56
The LORD said to Moses, The land is to be allotted to them as an inheritance based on the number of names. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one; each is to receive its inheritance according to the number of those listed. Be sure that the land is distributed by lot. What each group inherits will be according to the names for its ancestral tribe. Each inheritance is to be distributed by lot among the larger and smaller groups.
The land would soon be divided by lot – random then to a certain extent but taking into account the size of the different tribes. We too today have an inheritance to receive – not just in heaven but also here on earth, not property but the blessings of walking with Christ day by day.
Remember your God given inheritance in Christ. Be thankful for it.
3. Never forget your need of God's grace
The other thing to note here perhaps is that these now 601,730, as we said on Chapter 1, represent about two million. Some scoff at these large numbers and point out that Sinai is a desert area anyway. It is impossible they claim that so many could have come from just 12 men and try to explain it by saying that the figures are wrong or that thousand just means “unit” (eg of 500). They also raise questions over how many could be sustained in such a place. But they are forgetting the power of God and the miraculous way he provided the water and quails and manna that the people were enjoying at that time. They forget that, as Calvin says, “the intention of the Spirit is to represent to our eyes the incredible power of God in a conspicuous and signal miracle”. If we forget that not only will we get nothing from this passage but we will also fail to live by faith as we are expected too. Israel's problem was that they found it so hard to simply depend on God. We find it hard too but it is our only hope.
4. Learn about serving God
In verses 57-62 we have the Levites dealt with separately. The reason given is that they received no inheritance among the other tribes. They were not involved in the ordinary fighting but they were required to encamp around the tabernacle and guard it. Whenever they would move it was the Levites job to take down the tabernacle, to carry it and then to re-erect to wherever they came next.
Again it is all a very long time ago in a very different setting but again there are lessons we can learn.
The very existence of a priesthood was a reminder of the need of mediation. Yes, God desired their worship but they could only draw near in the ways he had set down and through the High Priest Aaron and the help of the Levitical priesthood. Now just as the tabernacle is fulfilled in Christ so the priesthood is fulfilled chiefly in Christ. He is the One Mediator between man and God. The only way to the Father is through the Son. At the same time whereas in Israel the priests came from only one tribe not all twelve in Christ every believe, man or woman, boy or girl, is his own priest and can come to god through Christ himself. Further we all benefit from those who minister the Word to us in Christ (those who guard the worship and serve, those who in Paul's words Romans 15:20 – engage in the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God) for which we should be thankful.
Perhaps we can also note the history of the tribe of Levi. You may remember that it was Levi and Simeon who in an attempt to avenge their sister committed a bloodthirsty claim against the Shechemites. This had led to the prophecy that they would be scattered in Israel. In Simeon's case that was fulfilled in Israel in that their towns were scattered throughout Judah. As for Levi, it was perhaps because they rallied to Moses at Sinai when Israel was in rebellion that they were made priests. Certainly they were made the priestly tribe (rather than the eldest in each house being priest) which is a great privilege but later involved being scattered in Israel as they had to live in priestly towns all over the country. There was some pride, perhaps, in being a Levite, there was some humiliation too, given the history. Being a Christian is like that too. Yes, it is a glorious thing but it begins by confessing your sin and humbling yourself before God.
5. Learn about God's mercy and severity
The final verses say (63-65)
These are the ones counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest when they counted the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. For the LORD had told those Israelites they would surely die in the wilderness, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.
The severity of God is clear here then but also his mercy. Despite everything a new generation has been raised up, the one that under Joshua would soon enter the Promised Land.

A warning against seduction and a call to zeal

Text Numbers 25 Time 03/03/13 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
For the last few weeks we have been looking at Numbers 22-24 and the story of how Balak King of Moab tries to bring down a curse on the Israelites by engaging the help of Balaam. However, try as he might to curse the people, Balaam can only call down blessing on them. The fact is that God's people are blessed and nothing can take that blessing away, It is a very comforting message designed to encourage us.
But before we run away with the idea that nothing then can go wrong we are confronted in Chapter 25 by another disastrous episode in the story of Israel in the desert. Thankfully, it is not just a story of sexual immorality and idolatry, though it certainly is that. It is also the story of a heroic act of zeal by Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, that stands as a great example for us and is remembered later in Scripture, in Psalm 106:30, 31
But Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was checked. This was credited to him as righteousness for endless generations to come.
So there are really two main things here
1. A warning against seduction
1. Be warned against the danger of seduction
Israel, I remind you, is at this point about to enter the Promised Land and yet they seem, spiritually, as far from God as ever.
While Israel was staying in Shittim, we are told the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor.
This does not appear to be a case of so-called sacred prostitution. There were and still are sometimes situations where in paganism prostitution was practised in connection with idolatry. The idea there is that by means of sexual union with a person dedicated to a particular fertility God crops could be improved. Rather, here it seems that proximity to Moab at this time led to some of the Israelite men beginning sexual relationships with some of the Moabite women. These women then invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. And so these Israelites ate in the temples and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor. The phrase means something like “they entered into intercourse with the Baal of Peor”.
So there was both adultery and idolatry. Both the second and the seventh commands were openly being broken. This raises a warning for us first of all then against being seduced into such things.
We live in a society where adultery and other forms of sexual immorality are not considered to be particularly sinful by some and yet the Bible is very clear that sexual union is something that is to be confined to the marriage bed. Idolatry is also common in our day. People make idols of money and possessions, of living the good life as they put it. How careful we ought to be, especially when we consider what happens to these people here.
2. Be warned that God judges the adulterer and the idolater
We read at the end of verse 3 And the Lord’s anger burned against them. We read in verses 4 and 5 that
The Lord said to Moses, Take all the leaders (or perhaps a literal reference to the heads) of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, (not to be buried was a great shame to a person) so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel. So Moses said to Israel’s judges, Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor.
Now, of course, we are not living under Moses and so death would not be appropriate for such sins but let's be clear that just as God's anger burned against the people then so it burns now and just as those sins deserved death then so they do now, although the procedure now would be to put such a person out of church membership until there was a clear sign of deep and genuine repentance.
So we say beware of sexual sin and of idolatry. Such sins make God angry and they deserve punishment. In your relationships with members of the opposite sex there must always be the utmost propriety. There is a lot of talk at the moment about men making inappropriate advance to women in the work place. A Christian must never be guilty of such things. You don't need me to remind you either that if you use the Internet you need to be very careful indeed.
Let me give you some statistics
1 By the end of 2004, there were 420 million pages of pornography on the Internet.
2 There are an estimated 100,000 websites offering illegal child pornography.
3 They say there 68 million search engine requests for pornography every day, ie 25% of total search engine queries.
4 Nearly half the Christians questioned in a survey said pornography is a major problem in the home,
There is not only the Internet but what young people are doing with their 'phones and other devices. It is quite frightening. We all need to be very careful indeed.
At the same time idolatry is an equally strong temptation. This is more difficult to demonstrate but take these facts for an example
1 As of June 2011, 3.2 million households in the UK were in financial difficulty, with some form of debt action being taken against them or with three months of outstanding monthly payments. If that figure is accurate it's astonishing: about one in ten households! There is possibly some good reason for the debts in some cases but in most cases it is probably an inordinate love of money or of possessions that has led to this crisis.
2 On average Britons spend £898 a year on holidays. The average British family will also spend around £800 on Christmas each year.
3 An article I saw from 2011 said that in a lifetime Britain's Mr Average will spend 10,585 hours in the pub and 11 years in front of the TV. Each year he will spend £570 a year on designer clothes, £1,144 on beer, more than £2,000 shopping online, £2,189 on gadgets and £417 eating out.
4 Meanwhile Mrs Average will spend 8.5 years of her life shopping, will spend more than £43,000 on cosmetics and in a lifetime will spend £103 a year on shoes.
Now these are just statistics but they do raise fundamental questions about how we spend our time and money and about where our hearts are. Don't be seduced by the world all around us.
2. A call to zeal
1. A call to see how blatant sin can be
Then in verse 6 we read that right in the middle of all this
an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
Never was vice more daring says Matthew Henry.
A footnote in verse 14 and 15 tells us that
The name of the Israelite ... was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family. And the name of the Midianite woman … was Cozbi daughter of Zur, a tribal chief of a Midianite family.
(The Midianites lived among the Moabites at this time). This footnote reveals that these two were people of high standing in their communities. That fact did not deter Phinehas.
Another footnote appears in verses 16-18
The Lord said to Moses, Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them, because they treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the affair of Peor and their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who as we shall see was killed when the plague came as a result of Peor.
This sin had repercussions.
The sin was public and blatant and showed an utter disregard for everyone else. What they went into the tent to do is clear from the way they die together, as we shall see. We see many examples of this sort of thing today, where people do not simply sin but flaunt their wickedness. This is part of the argument with the homosexual lobby. It is not enough that homosexuality be allowed. They want to parade it before all as a legitimate activity. There is also something of a reaction against hypocrisy so that this becomes almost the only sin. You hear people confess the most wicked sins and then say "at least I'm honest about it".
2. A call to zeal against such sins
This was an outrageous act then. However, it provoked a most zealous response. Never was virtue more daring says Matthew Henry. We read in verses 7 and 8 that When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of then - through the Israelite and into the woman’s body. Presumably Phinehas had been appointed as an executer. It is a pretty horrific moment and rather bloody but it made a difference. We are told that it was Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped. By that stage (9) some 24,000 had died but it was brought to an end by this act of zeal.
It is a reminder of what happened back in Chapter 16 when another plague came from the Lord and
Moses said to Aaron, Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the Lord; the plague has started. So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped.
Phinehas is commended for his act of atonement in no uncertain terms.
10-13 The Lord said to Moses, Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honour among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honour of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.
There was something God-like about this act the LORD says. God made sure that Phinehas was ever remembered for this courageous and God honouring act. The covenant of peace is not entirely clear but it was probably simply a promise to protect Phinehas from any act of revenge from the family of Zimri or of the Moabite woman. The promise of a perpetual priesthood is much clearer.
So how should we see it in our day. Do we have a mandate here for killing people who blatantly flout God's law? Are the abortion clinic assassins right? Should we just go out and kill certain people?
Well, no we need to keep in mind that there have been changes since Moses' time and especially since the coming of Christ. Killing people is not the thing to do. Do you remember that incident related in Luke 9:53-56? We read that some Samaritans did not welcome Jesus,
because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.
No the lesson here is not about killing people. Rather, it is a grand example of zeal for the LORD and his honour and a case of doing what opposes sin and breaks it for the glory of God. That is the sort of zeal we need in our day.
Now how it works out today is more difficult to pin down. What we are talking about is a zeal for God that is fearless, zealous for God and that seeks only God's glory. It is not a matter of killing anyone but of saying the right things at the right time. For a pastor it is seeing that a wicked person is removed from the membership in a timely way. For individuals it may be dealing with that blatantly wicked person at home or in work by blowing the whistle as we say. Whatever happens we must be more zealous for God and his glory than for our own safety or honour, ready to stand up for him.

Balaam's Further Oracles: God's Blessings and Curses

Text Numbers 23:25-24:25 Time 24/02/13 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We have begun to look at the fascinating story of Balaam and his oracles. You remember that it is Balak King of Moab who decides that to protect himself from the power of Israel he needs to have a curse put on them. And so with great difficulty he hires Balaam son of Beor to do this. However, although Balaam is willing to do this for money all the prophecies he gives are genuine God given prophecies and so he finds himself unable to curse Israel. To Balak's great frustration every time Balaam opens his mouth to curse Israel he blesses them instead. In 23:25, after the first two oracles have been given, we find Balak saying to Balaam Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all! In his defence Balaam says Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?
One would think that Balak and Balaam would have seen there was no way forward and given up but no. Like Satan himself, they press on hoping against hope that somehow they can inflict damage on Israel. Yet the very opposite happens. It is worth noting that God's enemies will stop at nothing. They are so determined to oppose him that even common sense is not enough to make them stop. They blindly go on in their evil ways and continually seek to oppose the Lord … but to no avail.
What I want us to do tonight then is to look at Balaam's final oracles. First, we have two further oracles regarding Israel and then a short series of oracles regarding other peoples whose history would have an effect on Israel.
1. Consider Balaam's third oracle and his confidence that God will bless his people
Balaam has made clear the situation but Balak is not willing to give in. Perhaps he thinks that the problem is location. If they just try it from another angle, all will be well. So we read (27-30)
Then Balak said to Balaam, Come, let me take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there. And Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor.
We do not know where this was again but it is likely that the place was connected with the god Baal and his worship. It was a place
overlooking the wasteland. Balaam said, as before Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
At the beginning of Chapter 24 we read
Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as at other times, but turned his face toward the desert. When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him and he uttered his oracle:
So instead of going apart as he had previously this time Balaam stays where he is. Previously he used his divination tricks but God had over-ruled and spoken nevertheless. This time God speaks directly through Balaam. Also, for the first time he is in a position where he can see all the Israelites.
What he says can be divided in to three parts
1. The introduction (3, 4)
The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
He emphasises that he is not speaking is own words but the very words of God. That is why they must be listened to.
2. The statement of abundant blessing (5-7)
How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel! Like valleys they spread out, like gardens beside a river, like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from their buckets; their seed will have abundant water. Their king will be greater than Agag; (Agag is an Amalekite name and the Amalekites are one of their great enemies at this time) their kingdom will be exalted.
The language is very poetic then and it speaks of great blessing on Israel and how they will one day have a great king to lead them. They are in the desert now but all the imagery of fertility and abundance and blessing.
3. The conclusion (8, 9)
In the closing verses of the oracle he speaks of their past, present and future. In the past
God brought them out of Egypt; and now they have the strength of a wild ox. They devour hostile nations and break their bones in pieces; with their arrows they pierce them. Like a lion they crouch and lie down, like a lioness - who dares to rouse them?
As for the future, he says May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed! This latter part reflects what God had earlier promised to Abraham their forefather.
There is no question then that God will bless his people, as we have seen. Nothing can stop that blessing.
All this while Balak has been getting angrier and angrier with Balaam, just as Balaam got angrier and angrier with his donkey, you remember, the donkey that God spoke through. So we read (10, 11)
Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times. Now leave at once and go home! I said I would reward you handsomely, but the Lord has kept you from being rewarded. He refuses to give him the promised money.
Balaam replies (12, 13)
Did I not tell the messengers you sent me, Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the Lord - and I must say only what the Lord says?
As bad as he undoubtedly was there has been an integrity about Balaam that we do not see in Balak. It is often the way.
The main thing to take in once again here, however, is the inevitably of God's blessing on his people , which will go on down through the ages.
2. Consider Balaam's fourth oracle and the promise of Messiah
In verse 14 Balaam says
Now I am going back to my people, but come, let me warn you of what this people will do to your people in days to come.
And then Balaam gives a fourth oracle. This is different to the previous ones in that it is not requested but given spontaneously. He begins mush as he did in the previous oracle (15, 16)
The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
It is again directly from God then and this time is prophetic in the more obvious sense in that it speaks of the future.
Balaam says (17-19)
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong. A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city.
Who is this him that Balaam sees? A future person who is called A star ... out of Jacob; a sceptre ... out of Israel. It is predicted that for all Balak's efforts this one will crush the foreheads of Moab, not only that but the skulls of all the sons of Sheth too (a reference to nomadic tribes of the area) and Edom or Seir. The prophecy is that Israel is not only strong now but will grow strong. A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city. This points quite clearly to David who did know victories like those described here. It points further than that to David's Son Jesus, the one who speaks of himself in Revelation 22:16 in these terms - I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.
So here on the lips of this pagan we have these wonderful words about the coming Lord Jesus. It foreshadows the way that when Jesus did eventually come, his death seemed to signal the end but the tables were again gloriously turned for good.
3. Consider Balaam’s final oracles regarding others associated with Israel's history
Having spoken of the crushing of the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth and of Edom being conquered while Israel would continue to grow strong Balaam adds prophesies about three other people groups.
1. The Amalekites
We read next (20) Then Balaam saw Amalek and uttered his oracle: Amalek was first among the nations, but he will come to ruin at last. Amalek was first perhaps in being the first to attack the Israelites as they came into the Promised Land. Their ruin is predicted, a ruin that came to completion in the time of Saul and David who knew great victories over this people.
2. The Kenites
This is another of the nomadic tribes linked with other nations including Israel itself at times. In verses 21, 22 we read Then he saw the Kenites and uttered his oracle: Your dwelling place is secure, your nest is set in a rock; yet you Kenites will be destroyed when Asshur takes you captive. The Assyrians would one day destroy these Kenites.
3. Others
23, 24 Then he uttered his oracle: Ah, who can live when God does this? Ships will come from the shores of Kittim; they will subdue Asshur and Eber, but they too will come to ruin. This may refer to the Philistines but may be to others who knew victories over Assyrians and Hebrews but who themselves would be subdued in the end.
All these words remind us that God is the Lord of history. He is in charge of what happens to nations. All of them are entirely in his hands. God not only brings his blessings on his people as he chooses but he also brings curses on nations when and where he chooses.
25 Then Balaam got up and returned home and Balak went his own way. This was the end of the relationship but not the end of the story. In the chapter that follows we read how despite their blessed state Israel was eventually worn down by the Devil's strategy on the plains of Moab.