Was God Unfair to Balaam?

The Lord told Balaam to go with the Moabite princes and, when he went, God was angry with him  Do you wonder if God was unfair to Balaam?

Today’s reading

Numbers 21-23; Mark 7:14-8:10

Selected Verses

And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.”  So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.   But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary.  Numbers 22:20-22

There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.  Mark 7:15

Reflections

The Lord told Balaam to go with the princes of Moab.  When he went, God’s anger was kindled against him.  Was God unfair?  On the surface it seems like Balaam got punished for obeying.

If this were true, it would make God’s direction contradictory and duplicitous.  We, who believe in a holy, just, and all-wise God, can never admit to such a possibility.   What is no doubt the explanation is that God was disciplining Balaam for an attitude of his heart to which we are not privy.  As we shall see later in our reading, Balaam wanted to curse Israel and would have done so had the Lord not restrained him.  Balaam was eager for the reward and the prestige of assisting the Moabites.

Think about it

Outward behavior can look quite upright and proper, but God looks at our hearts.  The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were focused on outward appearances of righteousness.  Jesus told them that it was not what was outside that defiles them but what comes out of their hearts.   He went on to elaborate, in verses 21-23,  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Balaam had several of these attitudes in his heart that day when the Lord opened his donkey’s mouth to speak to him.  How do I know?  Keep reading to learn how he would later find a devious way to trap and hurt the Israelites.

Beware of the sin lurking in your heart.  Confess and repent.  God could send you a talking donkey to get your attention.

 

When Leaders Fail

Does the failure of leaders in the Church prove that our faith is false?  Today we meet leaders who failed and what God did about it.

Today’s reading

Numbers 18-20; Mark 7:1-13

Selected Verses

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”  Numbers 20:12

 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”  And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!  Mark 7:8-9

Reflections

In both readings today, we find grievous examples of leaders abusing or misusing their authority for personal advantage.  Some who criticize biblical faith will point this out as evidence that our faith is erroneous because some characters in Scripture were inconsistent and hypocritical.

Moses failed as a leader by using God’s power to gain glory for himself.   In striking the rock to bring water for the people, he failed to show that it was God’s work and he took the credit due to God.  He paid the price of dying before the nation was able to go into the Promised Land.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees who, though they were highly esteemed for strict adherence to the law, created a legal loophole in order to avoid fulfilling their financial responsibilities to their parents. He told them they put their traditions above God’s law.

Think about it

All leaders are sinners, including Christian leaders.  This does not mean they should not be respected and followed when they lead us in God’s ways.  It does mean they need God’s grace and mercy just as much as other believers who have less visibility and prominence.  James warned would-be teachers that they will be subject to stricter judgment (James 3:1-2).  The fact that all Christian leaders sometimes fail to measure up to God’s standards and a few leaders fail grievously does not negate the truth of the gospel which announces that we are only saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Support godly leaders through prayer, proper respect, and encouragement, but do not follow them blindly.  They are able to err, and they may at times need to receive correction from those who follow them. Never assume any mantle of leadership lightly. If you are a leader, be mindful of your responsibility before God.

The Fearsome Presence of God

God teaches His people repeatedly that He is both fearsome and trustworthy. Will we ever learn that though awesome He is for us who know Him through Christ?

Today’s reading

Numbers 16-17; Mark 6:33-56

Selected Verses

And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone.  Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, shall die. Are we all to perish?”  Numbers 17:12-13

For they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  Mark 6:50

Reflections

As we have seen, God who created all things also maintains constant contact with His creation and with His creatures whether they are conscious of Him or not.  In both biblical history as well as my personal experience, it is evident that we easily forget that God is there all the time every day.  We grow comfortable with attitudes of pride and acts of presumption as if there were no God to whom we must answer. We turn to our own resources to solve our problems rather than seeking His guidance and power.

Korah and his party in the wilderness rebelled against God’s appointed leader Moses.  They had time to repent but no inclination to do so.  They died an horrific death.  Then God gave them another sign of His choice of Aaron to head the priesthood by making Aaron’s staff to bud as the staffs of the other tribes remained dry sticks.

The people of Israel recognized that they were “undone” and that they were all in danger of perishing for their persistent rebellion.  God revealed His presence and taught them to fear Him.

When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified.  The Lord immediately reassured them that it was Him.  God again revealed His presence and taught the disciples to fear Him but also to trust Him.

Think about it

The lesson of God’s fearsome presence is one that the Israelites and the disciples would have to re-learn.  I suspect that you and I will have to re-learn it too.  Yet we who know Christ  have assurance and comfort that we are God’s own adopted children and that He is merciful and gracious to us.

Be aware of God’s presence in your life today.  He is fearsome, but He is on our side (Romans 8:31). Thank Him for His patience with us who must re-learn these lessons.

God’s Providence: it’s a mystery

The providence of God is evident, but is not predictable nor understandable, not fully. Can we live with the mystery by faith?

Today’s reading

Numbers 14-15; Mark 6:1-32

Selected Verses

Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say,  ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ Numbers 14:15-16

And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.  And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison.  Mark 6:26-27

Reflections

God threatened to destroy the entire nation of Israel for their rebellion and unbelief and to start over again forming a new nation with Moses.  In a rather unique and wise prayer, Moses appealed to God to spare them on the basis of what would result in greater glory for the Lord.  Certainly this was one of Moses’ best moments in which he showed more concern for God’s glory than for his own.  So God spared the guilty Israelites once again.

In our reading in Mark we come to the sad account of the hideous beheading of John the Baptist.  John died because he dared to stand up to corruption in high places.  It is not hard to surmise that Herod carried the guilty weight of this execution to his dying day.

In both of our readings the providence of God is evident but is not predictable nor understandable, not fully.  It is mysterious and complex.  Although they suffered discipline and forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Lord spared the guilty.  On the other hand, the bold and faithful John died a horrible death.

Think about it

God does not reveal all of His reasons for the providential circumstances He decrees for His children, but we see enough examples to know that it’s not about karma where every good dead gets rewarded and every bad deed gets punished in this life.

Are you perplexed about some inexplicable event?  Do not despair even if you never understand it before you reach glory.  Trust God that He has a wise plan and ultimately will resolve all things for our good and His glory in the age to come.

Belief or Unbelief: that is the question

Unbelief laughs, scorns, ridicules, and trembles. But unbelief can be overcome by a clear-eyed look at God, His power, and His promises.

Today’s reading

Numbers 11-13; Mark 5:21-43

Selected Verses

So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height.  And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”  Numbers 13:32, 33

And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was.  Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”  And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.  Mark 5:40-42

Reflections

Here we have two cases of overwhelming odds. Both cases involved life or death. The twelve spies entered into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land.  But ten of them only saw terrifying giants, walled cities, and invincible armies. “We cannot take this land,” they concluded. In the other case there was a twelve year old girl who had died. The friends and neighbors laughed when Jesus said she was only sleeping.

Unbelief is powerful. Unbelief looks only at what humans can or cannot do. Unbelief does not count on God’s power, loving kindness, or providence. Unbelief laughs, scorns, ridicules, and trembles.

But unbelief can be overcome by a clear-eyed look at God, His power, and His promises.

It appears that Jairus and his wife believed Jesus.  They entered with Him into their daughter’s room and in moments received her back from death. The Israelites persisted in their unbelief. Later, we shall see that they earned a sentence of death in the wilderness rather than enter the land they had been promised. It was a costly lesson.

Think about it

God doesn’t always raise the dead when we pray, but neither does He always “repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).  In God’s goodness, we often get far more than we deserve. Nevertheless, trust in Him will never be disappointed because He will make all things result in our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

What dead daughters and hostile armies do you face today? If God has promised to work, trust Him to do the impossible according to His wise will.

God’s Glory in Christ’s Power

God’s glory shines when His Son, Jesus, saves enslaved sinners, delivering, healing, and sending them to be His witnesses to other enslaved sinners.

Today’s reading

Numbers 8-10; Mark 5:1-20

Selected Verses

And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.”  And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.” Numbers 10:35-36

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. Mark 5:18

Reflections

It was a creepy scene.  Jesus unfazed met a demonic man in a cemetery.  Three times the man begged the Lord for something.  First, he plead with Jesus not to torment him.  Second, the demons through the man begged not to be sent out of the country.  Third, after being delivered from the demonic possession, he begged Jesus to allow him to be with Him.

What attitudes drove the man who begged these things from Jesus?

First, fear of torment. Despite being possessed by an unclean spirit, the demonic understood his guilt before the “Son of the Most High God.”  He could only beg for mercy because torment was what he deserved. Jesus had the power to torment him but He showed him mercy.

Second, dread of destruction. Jesus had power to send the demons to hell. Instead, He sent them into the pigs. The herd stampeded and drowned.  Legion was delivered.

Third, desire to be with Jesus. After deliverance, the now-healed man wanted to continue with the Lord. He sent the saved man back to his Gentile family and neighbors to tell them what God had done. So the man obeyed and returned to his people proclaiming to God’s glory what Jesus had done for him.  The response?  The people were afraid of Jesus but they marveled at the testimony of the formerly demon possessed man.

In our Numbers reading, God’s glory shone through the Israelites as He guided them on their journey to the Promised Land.  Like Legion, Israel saw God’s power to save His people from slavery in Egypt and then to lead them to their own land with freedom to serve Him.

Think about it

From Bible times right down till today, Christ’s power delivers, heals, and sends His people as His witnesses for His glory in every nation. Has this been your story, too?

The God who Quiets Terrified Sinners

God makes Himself known for His mercy and His power.  Have you seen how He quiets you in the midst of life’s storms and chaos?

Today’s reading

Numbers 7; Mark 4:21-41

Selected Verses

And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him. Numbers 7:89

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Mark 4:40-41

Reflections

From start to finish the Bible reveals a God who is in constant contact with His creation and in communication with humanity in particular.

In the tabernacle God gave a concrete picture of His love by giving Moses a plan for the Ark of the Covenant which included a gold lid upon which stood two cherubim of gold.  Between these cherubim was a space called “the mercy seat.”   At this place God spoke to Moses, and in future generations He would meet with the high priest on the Day of Atonement.  My study Bible notes say that the Greek term for the mercy seat (hilasterion) may be translated the “seat of propitiation.”  Propitiation refers to the process of satisfying just anger through a sacrificial gift or offering.  That is what God did when He offered His Son on the cross for sin (I John 2:1-2).

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took on human flesh and revealed the Father to us.  The disciples struggled at times to grasp who He was (and is).  On the sea they were terrified as He slept peacefully through a terrific storm.  They woke Him. He calmly quieted the storm but also rebuked them for their lack of faith.

Think about it

God makes Himself known for His mercy and His power.  He makes a sacrifice for the sins of all who believe in His Son and quiets His own just wrath.  He stilled the storm for the panicked disciples.  Do you know His quieting actions of mercy and power in your life?

Whatever terrifies you today, whether the mounting debt of failures you are amassing through everyday sin or the stress of  life’s storms bearing down on you, trust Him to see you through to the peace and joy He promises to His own.

Bear Fruit and Be Blessed

God wills that His people be blessed and flourishing. But God’s blessings depend on something else, something for which we are responsible.

Today’s reading

Numbers 5-6; Mark 4:1-20

Selected Verses

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

 The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:22-27

But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”  Mark 4:20

Reflections

God wills that His people be blessed and flourishing.  He gave a stirring benediction for Aaron to pass on to Israel.  But God’s blessings depend on the obedience of His people.  Sin and disobedience thwart God’s best gifts.  As Jesus taught in the parable of the soils, people must hear His word, hold it fast, and be careful to let it bear fruit in their lives.

This does not always occur.  We could even say it frequently does not occur.  If we are honest, there are too many lapses in our hearing, holding fast, and bearing fruit.  The word gets snatched away because it never even penetrates our minds.  We have an immediate enthusiastic, but superficial, response which results in short term impact but long term death.  This is the result of shallow penetration of the truth into our hearts and minds.  Then come the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things that kill the potential fruit when the seed does take root and grow.  When we overcome these obstacles the seed will bear fruit and the blessing will be poured out.

Think about it

True blessing comes from God and it comes to those who hear the Word, hold it fast, and remain vigilant to let it bear fruit. Beware of the obstacles to fruitfulness. As Jesus told His disciples, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples,” John 15:8.   Real disciples bear fruit. They are blessed.  And that glorifies God as we were meant to do.

Eternal Family Ties

Does your human family have problems?  Rejoice, if you have been adopted into the Father’s family by the new birth, you are tied eternally to Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading

Numbers 3-4; Mark 3:22-35

Selected Verses

These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he ordained to serve as priests.  But Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord when they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests in the lifetime of Aaron their father. Numbers 3:3-4

And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:33-35

Reflections

Jesus’ human family members took Him to be insane.  “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind,’” Mark 3:21.  They tried to intervene and stop His teaching and ministry.  Perhaps they were afraid of embarrassment.  Maybe they meant well.  But they did not believe in Him (John 7:5).

In the case of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, their status as sons of the high priest did not exempt them from obedience to the law.  They seem to have presumed that they could veer from the commands of the law concerning offerings to God.  It cost them their lives.

Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”   This is good news for us.  It means that although we never physically saw Jesus nor are we related to Him through natural descent,  we are related to Him based on a common relationship to God, the Father.  He is the first born of many brothers (Romans 8:29).

Think about it

Spiritual bonds overshadow natural, family relationships .  Therefore, obedience to God is more important than blood ties.

Perhaps your human family has problems, conflicts, grudges, and even bitterness.  But if you have been adopted into the Father’s family by the new birth, you are tied eternally to Jesus Christ and to all who are His.  Rejoice!  And seek to bear the family resemblance today.

 

Is there a secret to the number twelve?

The Bible mentions the number twelve often. Can we know why? Or should we praise God  for His wisdom not yet fully revealed?

Today’s reading

Numbers 1-2; Mark 3:1-21

Selected Verses

These are those who were listed, whom Moses and Aaron listed with the help of the chiefs of Israel, twelve men, each representing his fathers’ house.  Numbers 1:44

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.  Mark 3:13-15

Reflections

Twelve tribes, twelve representatives, twelve apostles. It is hard to miss the repetition of the number “12” in the Bible even when you are not reading simultaneously in the Old and New Testaments, as we are.  There seems to be a certain kind of completeness in that number.

In our reading of Matthew, we saw this statement:  “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”  Matthew 19:28

So there is a connection between the twelve tribes and the twelve disciples (later called apostles).  Is this fully explained?  I haven’t found it yet.  I am okay with not knowing all of God’s reasons and purposes now or ever.  We should not attempt to go beyond what God has made clear in His Word.  He certainly lets us know all that we need to know for life and godliness.  As the Apostle Peter wrote:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3

Peter went on to point out that the apostles did not follow cleverly devised myths when they preached the good news of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:16).  Some have tried to make too much out of the secret meaning of numbers in the Bible.  It sounds a lot like cleverly devised myths.

Think about it

Even though God does not always reveal to us His reasons for the things He decrees, we can understand all we need to know to come to life in Him.  Perhaps when His kingdom comes fully we will know the reasons we do not yet understand.  On that day, we will have even more reasons to praise Him for His infinite wisdom.  Meanwhile, start now by faith praising Him for that wisdom.