Be sure your sins will find you out

Text Numbers 32 Time 12/05/13 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Do you like to listen to the news? I tend to listen to a bit in the morning or at other odd times and then watch the TV at Ten. My interest varies. Some of it is very interesting, other bits not so. I tend to find most of the economics and a lot of the politics a bit boring. I suppose it's the human interest stories that I find most interesting.
As you know, for some time now the news has been full of stories about celebrities being arrested and often charged with crimes of sexual abuse and not just celebrities but others too. It all started with Jimmy Savile and then there was Stuart Hall and then ten or more others who all deny the accusations. Every now and again the news introduces or popularise a new word or phrase. Last year it was omnishambles, pleb and green-on-blue. There's also second screening when you, say, watch TV with a laptop and game changer. The one arising from the Savile enquiry and related news items is “historical allegations”. That is to say, the allegations all concern things that happened in the past, sometimes the very distant past. At least one accusation goes back to the 1960s.
I draw attention to this because it reminds us that even though a crime may have occurred a very long time ago, it is still a crime that may lead to a punishment, event though it may occur many, many years, even decades, after the event. It is a reminder of a well known Bible phrase found here in Numbers 32. It is in the second part of verse 23 - and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.
The phrase occurs as part of a sentence that has to do with a very specific set of circumstances but it is one of those cases where a general rule is stated, one that has an application in many different situations and circumstances.
The story in Numbers 32 concerns The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks. They see that the lands of Jazer and Gilead are suitable for livestock and so they go to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and explain that the area which had just been won was suitable for livestock, and as they had livestock, they say If we have found favour in your eyes … let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.
The problem with this was that for the conquest of the Promised Land itself it was necessary for Israel to be at full strength. Moses raises this issue. As far as Moses was concerned this was the discouraging attitude of the spies al over again- (12) not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly was faithful then. This is why the Israelites had ended up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Moses is quite harsh with them (14, 15 And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel. If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the wilderness, and you will be the cause of their destruction.)
The Reubenites and Gadites protest their innocence, however, promising leave their families in situ but arm themselves and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place. We will not return to our homes they say (18, 19) until each of the Israelites has received their inheritance. We will not receive any inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan, because our inheritance has come to us on the east side of the Jordan.
Moses is mollified at this but warns them sternly. He then gives orders about them to Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun and to the family heads of the Israelite tribes in line with their promise. They again make it clear (31, 32) Your servants will do what the Lord has said. We will cross over before the Lord into Canaan armed, but the property we inherit will be on this side of the Jordan. So the Gadites, the Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh are given the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan - the whole land with its cities and the territory around them. We are told how they built up various places as fortified cities, and built pens for their flocks and rebuilt various other places and drove out Amorites there. One man Jair gets a special mention as does another man Nobah.
The phrase we want to focus on then is in 23b. Moses is happy with the arrangement whereby they work alongside others in the conquest and then return to their land later But he wants them to be very aware if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. They must do as they have promised. Moses does not spell out any specific consequences but he wants them to be sure about something - your sin will find you out. Moses clearly believes that God will not allow it to turn out any other way. This is a universal law clearly. And so we say tonight
1. Are you aware of your sin and your propensity to sin?
In this chapter the Reubenites and Gadites had not sinned in the way that Moses thought they might. But they had sinned in other ways, no doubt. And we are the same. We all stumble in various ways. We have all sinned as the Bible tells us and fall short of the glory of God. We have all gone astray like sheep. The proverb asks Who can say, "I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin"? And as Ecclesiastes 7:20 answers Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.
God has drawn a line and said that we must not cross it and yet we have crossed it many times. He has put up the target and said that is where to aim and we have failed to reach it. The pass mark is 100% and we have again and again failed to reach it. We have failed to put God first, we have not worshipped him as we should, we've misused his name and given not time to his worship. Think of your rebelliousness and your grasping ways and your lust and impurity and your hatred and anger, your dishonesty and greed. All these sins are ours and more.
And it is not only that we have sinned in the past but who knows what we might do in the future? Okay, in the past you may have taken some small thing that wasn't yours but what if in the future you turned to robbing banks or get involved in major fraud? You may say “never” but do not presume you would never do such a thing.
There was a case in 2003 where a man called Warren Brown of Norman, Oklahoma was arrested. FBI spokesman Gary Johnson said that Brown, 41, was the pastor of Bible Baptist Church, 3786 N. Porter Ave, in Norman. FBI agents also said Brown was a suspect in up to six more hold ups at banks or credit unions. "We received some tips the night before last that he (Brown) was a person who matched the description from the surveillance pictures," Johnson said. "They also said Brown drives a green minivan (which matched the description of the vehicle the robbery suspect drove). But (our informant) did not have any knowledge that Brown was the robber, just that he looked like him."
Anyway they decided on surveillance of Brown and discovered him robbing a bank. They were eventually able to convict him for a series of bank raids and he went to prison and served his time.
A little while after his imprisonment he wrote a letter in which he said
What I did was wrong! In no way will I attempt to shift the blame for my actions. I, and I alone, take full responsibility for every decision and action that I have made. In no way will I attempt to rationalise my wicked behaviour. Over the last few months I have pondered the hurt, the loss, and the trauma that I have caused to so many. My behaviour is shocking to me and to all who know me. If you had asked me years ago, "would you ever rob a bank?", I would have told you that is impossible. I thought I was incapable of such reprehensible behaviour - even now, after the event has transpired, I still cannot imagine how I could do such a thing! Everyone who knows me will tell you that I am not in anyway a violent person.”
In a similar way you may have lusted and hated but you imagine that you could never commit adultery or murder someone. Would you ever commit adultery? Would you ever murder? Perhaps the best answer is to say please God, I never will and to turn away from lust and hatred which lead to adultery and murder. We all sin and we all have a propensity to sin.
2. Have you realised the power of sin to find out its perpetrators?
So we all sin and we are all liable to sin. Now the thing about sin that is highlighted here is its power to find you out. There is something about sin, says Moses, that always leads you back to the owner. We use it as an every day phrase. Someone has not done his studying and in the exam he is found out; someone has been messing about instead of working and then the boss or an inspector arrives unannounced.
There are any number of illustrations of the idea. From the school kids who miss a school event to go to a rock concert only to find their faces on the front of the local paper at the concert to any number of hapless burglars who almost want to be caught – one cuts himself badly and leaves a trail of blood all the way back to his home around the corner, another snatches a handbag and runs to hide only to find he has run into the local police station and yet another who tries to steal an alarm clock from a shop under his coat only to have it go off as he heads for the door.
There's the boy who sneaks out at night and leaves something under the bed clothes so that when his parents check they will think he is in bed. One night he puts the lampstand in there. When his father comes into the room he flicks the switch and the lampstand lights up under the bedclothes.
I heard of a taxi driver picking up a fare one night and being surprised that the man asked for his own address. Rather than expressing surprise he thought he would just learn what he could. It turns out that the man was having an affair with the taxi driver's wife.
I read a story of a police woman going through an old file and matching a fingerprint from a bottle with a murder suspect eight years later. The whole story of how fingerprints have led to otherwise undetectable crimes being detected is a fascinating one. The same is true of DNA. After the discovery of DNA matching police went through their files and again and again you heard of people who had apparently got away with it being prosecuted.
My favourite illustration of this is a story that my wife's sister Catrin tells. One day my father-in-law had a little bit of cement work done in front of the fireplace in his study. It was only a small job and I think he did it himself. Cement takes a little while to set and so he left it to do something else and came back later. When he came back there was a footprint in the cement, a little girl's footprint. And so he asked the girls which one of them had done it. Was it you Eleri? No. Was it you Fflur? No. Was it you Catrin? No. Well, let's see. I want each of you to come and place your foot in the print and see which one of you it was. What I like about this story is that even then Catrin didn't realise she'd been rumbled. She was only 6 or so to be fair. And so first Eleri tried. No it wasn't her. Then Fflur. It wasn't her. And then Catrin – it was like Cinderella in reverse – a perfect fit!
There are things that give us away – our footprint, our fingerprint, our blood, our DNA; a photo, an eye witness, a light comes on, an alarm sounds. God has built these things in to our lives so that we may learn this lesson or principle. You know that when you touch something with your hands you leave evidence. It is almost impossible to walk through a room without leaving some trace that modern forensic science can detect. In many places now there is CCTV. Every time you use the telephone or the internet you leave evidence of your presence.
Above all that, God is watching. He sees everything. He knows the actions and words and thoughts of every person. Nothing at all can be hidden from him. One day it is all going to be brought out into the open. In Revelation 20 John says
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

It is all there. Your sin will find you out
3. Are you convinced that your sin will certainly find you out?
What Moses says is Be sure your sin will find you out. What you have to face is that even if your sin is never discovered in this life it will eventually find you out.
Some think God is too high and mighty to be bothered about us and our sins but he is not. You may think that the day of judgement will never come. But it will. Sometimes people simply forget their sins and suppose that if they have forgotten them then God has too. No he hasn't. Some know that God is love and so they think it will all be alright in the end. No, it won't. Be sure your sin will find you out. Like a heat seeking missile, like a guided rocket, your sin will find its way back to you.
Have you ever lost something and had it sent back to you by post? Some kind soul has seen your name and address and sent back whatever was lost. Sin is like that. It knows your address and will come winging back to you one day. You won't lose it easily even if you want to.
4. What are you going to do to escape from the consequences of sin?
So here it is. Sin, like mud, sticks. There is no getting away from it. What hope is there for us? There is just one way to remove the stain of sin and that is to trust in Jesus Christ. If you trust in him then all your sins will be removed. When you are in Christ you will either not sin or if you do then wherever sin finds you, you can answer it with the blood of Christ. Moses doesn't talk about that here, of course, but that is the great message of the Bible for us all. Trust in Christ and be forgiven.

A call to thankful, generous giving

Text Numbers 31:25-54 Time 05/05/13 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

We looked last week at Israel's victory over Midian described in Numbers 31:1-24. We come this week to the remaining verses of the chapter and the aftermath of the battle. Once again we are reminded why this book is called Numbers. There are lots of numbers in this section – 675,000; 72,000; 61,000, 32,000; and half those numbers - 337,500; 36,000; 30,500 16,000; and a thousandth 675, 72, 61 and 32. There is again a little bit of maths here for those who are interested in that sort of thing.
But what does the chapter have to teach us? What do we learn here? It is really a reminder of the subject of money and possessions and particularly of the need for thankful, generous giving to God. Looking at these verses we can discern at least four general principles that have wide application.
1. Recognise the principle of careful accounting
In verses 25 and 26 it says that The LORD said to Moses, You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured. A great deal of plunder had been gathered in this battle, not only goods but animals and people too. Normally in wars that did not happen. Normally each man grabbed his own plunder. In this case, however, there was to be giving to the Lord's work out of the plunder. This giving was to be done proportionately. Whether this was then to be a law for the future is not clear but certainly it was a law at this point and one that was fulfilled.
It may seem a strange point to make about giving but the first thing in this area is that we should be aware of what we have to give. I am not very good on money matters and may be you are the same but there is a responsibility on all of us, especially household heads, to have some idea of what money is coming in, in order that we may consider what we give to the Lord in the right way.
From time to time then we need to look at this matter and consider what we are earning and, subsequently, what we are doing with what comes in. A day is coming when we will all be judged and that judgement will include the way we have used all the good gifts God has given us in one way or another.
This applies not just to individuals and families but in churches and in the state too. We want civil government at local and national level that is open and above board when it comes to money matters and where due care is taken to use money wisely. We want church officers who give a careful accounting too. We are thankful to God that we have officers who make sure everything is done decently and in order, especially where financial matters are concerned.
2. Recognise the principle of fair distribution
Now in the first instance the plunder was to be divided between those who fought in the battle and those who did not. 27 Divide the spoils equally says God between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community. This became a principle that was reinforced in David's time (see 1 Samuel 30). Here is another general principle then – that of fair distribution. One may have thought that the soldiers would get more but no they were only acting on behalf of others and so there is a fair distribution. Obviously it is not minutely fair in that there were only 12,000 soldiers and a lot more others who were not soldiers. There was a distribution if wealth nevertheless,
This is a difficult subject as it is often difficult to decide what is fair distribution. It is certainly something that civil government should be concerned about, however, and in the church too we must be eager for fairness as far as that is possible. In families the principle will be borne in mind too.
3. Recognise the principle of proportionate giving to the Lord and his work
Verses 28-47 talk about tribute to the Lord from all this plunder. And here a distinction is made.
First (28, 29) From the soldiers who fought in the battle, they were to set apart as tribute for the LORD one out of every 500, whether people, cattle, donkeys or sheep. This tribute from their half share was to be given to Eleazar the priest as the LORD's part. So there was a sort of tax on the live plunder.
Then (30) From the Israelites' half, they were to select one out of every fifty, whether persons, cattle, donkeys, sheep or other animals. Give them to the Levites, who are responsible for the care of the LORD's tabernacle. So at a higher rate there was another tax and again it was all to go to the Lord's work.
The actual figures are then given with regard to the plunder remaining (some of the plunder no doubt would have been lost by death on the march home, including feeding the army) - 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man. When those figures are split in half they come out at 337,500 sheep, 36,000 cattle, 30,500 donkeys. When one in every 500 is selected that means Eleazar would receive 675 sheep, 72 head of cattle, 61 donkeys and 32 women, who no doubt worked as temple servants. When one of every 50 is taken that means that the Levites would receive … well, the figures are not given but it must have been 10 times as many - 6,750 sheep, 720 head of cattle, 610 donkeys and 320 women, who again worked no doubt as temple servants.
People always say that giving should be a tenth or tithe but clearly it was not always a tenth. The important principle is not tithing but the principle that giving should be proportionate. The more you have, the more you ought to give. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:12 the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
4. Recognise the principle of giving over and above what is required
The final part of the chapter tells us (48, 49) how the officers who were over the units of the army - the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds - went to Moses and said to him, Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing. This was quite a remarkable thing. It is almost unheard of in history. It was quite something to go out to battle with so few soldiers but now they return and there have been no casualties – perhaps even more remarkable. Exodus 30 reveals that when a census is taken of soldiers then a ransom price of half a shekel per person needs to be paid. Much later in 2 Samuel 24 we read of David taking such a census and being punished by a plague. The idea seems to be present from early on that numbering soldiers is a dangerous thing as it can lead to pride and trust in man instead of in God. A payment needs to be made to avoid that.
From 12,000 soldiers, 6,000 shekels would be required but what we read in verse 50 is that the officers say So we have brought as an offering to the LORD the gold articles each of us acquired - armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings and necklaces - to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD. We then read that these crafted articles accepted by Moses and Eleazar the priest was presented as a gift to the LORD and weighed 16,750 shekels – way over the required amount, getting on for three times as much. This material was brought … into the tent of meeting as a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD. It acted as an atonement price and as a reminder to Israel of this great victory.
And so when we think of giving to the Lord there is the principle first of careful accounting and proportionate giving and we must decide what we will regularly give.
1 Corinthians 16:20 states clearly
On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
1 Corinthians 9:7 says
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
However, 1 Corinthians 9:6 also says
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously
and so even when we have decided in a certain amount there is nothing to stop us giving more as these people do here. As long as such thing is done voluntarily without any conversion and humbly without ostentation it is a wonderful thing and to be emulated. Special mercies in particular merit such honour to God and doing good on the behalf of others.
Let me close with some words from Spurgeon (spoken in 1871 on Nehemiah 8:10 & 12: 42, 43)
It is well to feel that whatever good your gift may do to the church, or the poor, or the sick, it is twice as much benefit to you to give it. It is well to give, because you love to give; as the flower which pours forth its perfume because it never dreamed of doing otherwise; or like the bird which quivers with song, because it is a bird and finds a pleasure in its notes; or like the sun which shines, not by constraint, but because, being a sun, it must shine; or like the waves of the sea which flash back the brilliance of the sun, because it is their nature to reflect and not to hoard the light. Oh, to have such grace in our hearts that we shall joyfully make sacrifices unto our God.”