January 1: Numbers 7, 8
Chapter 7 recounts the offerings each tribe brought when the finished Tabernacle was initially set up and dedicated to the Lord (see Exodus 40). Of special importance were the wagons given to the Levites. These were necessary for transporting the various parts of the Tabernacle.
However, the sacred furniture that belonged in the holiest place was to be carried by hand, using poles. This task was left to the Kohathites to whom no wagons were given.
The accounting of the various offerings given to the Levites by the clans of Israel is rather remarkable. Since the Levites were “dedicated to the Lord” they were completely dependent upon the other tribes for their support. They were not to take any though for their own sustenance, but rather trust fully in God and in his commands. Each tribe brought their offering on a successive day, with the dedication expanding to cover a full 12 days.
The extensive offerings of gold, silver, animals, flour, oil, and other items were to be “used in the service of the tent of meeting” (7:5). This meant both the care and upkeep of the Tabernacle and the daily needs of the Levites.
At the end of the chapter we read of Moses entering the Tabernacle, the tent where God would meet with man, and he heard the very voice of God. No longer on the mountain, now God was speaking to his people from among them.
Chapter 8 goes on to describe just what the Lord told Moses as he spoke to him in the Tabernacle.
God’s message to Moses concerned the setting up of the seven lamps as well as reiterating the fact that the Levites now belonged to God. They were to be specially cleansed in order to serve before him. An elaborate cleansing ritual, with specific offerings and washing being involved, was designed both to signify that those serving the Lord needed to be pure themselves, and also to separate the tribe of Levi from the rest of the people as holy unto the Lord.
Prayer: Father, reading about your demands that those serving you needed to be pure and holy reminds me that, as a Christ-follower, I too am a believer-priest called to serve you in holiness, love and truth. Lord, help me to take my own sin seriously, and, as well, to rest completely in the finished work of Jesus Christ for my cleansing and acceptance before you, for in this you are truly pleased, Amen.
January 2: Numbers 9, 10
Chapter 9 records two very important elements in the ongoing lives of God’s people. First, God commands that Passover be observed every year according to the specifics previously given (see Exodus 12).
A question arose among those whose daily tasks included dealing with the dead animals. Were they so unclean that they could not participate in the Passover? It is interesting that God told Moses that even those who were ceremonially unclean because of contact with a dead body, as well as those travelling, should still celebrate Passover.
Additionally, anyone who fails to keep Passover was to be cut off from the people. The severity here of the punishment certainly underscores just how important Passover was for God’s people. It was a celebration as well as a remembrance, and it played an essential part in Israel’s understanding of their relationship with God and his faithfulness to them.
The second half of the chapter describes the method God would use to guide his people as they journeyed to Canaan. In the Old Testament, God would often allow himself to understood as physically presence by means of cloud, wind, smoke, or fire. We have already seen God as the fire in the burning bush in Exodus 3, and as the cloud that filled the Tabernacle (Exodus 40). Now we read that God’s presence would be demonstrated through a covering cloud above the Tabernacle by day, and a covering fire at night. When the cloud or fire would move, God was indicating that the people should follow.
Chapter 10 at last presents the first movement of Israel from Mt. Sinai as them begin their journey to the land God had promised them. The call to prepare for the journey was administered by means of the blowing of two silver trumpets built for that purpose. The use of trumpets to announce the presence of God or his desire for the people to follow him is well attested in the ancient world. As well, the New Testament declares that when Jesus returns, he will be preceded by the “trumpet of God” (1 Thess 4:16).
Finally, in the second year of Israel’s encampment at the base of Mt. Sinai, the trumpet sounded and the cloud began to move. The people started off by stages on a journey that was to take much longer than they anticipated due to their disbelief in the power and promises of God. All along the way we will find that God tested his people, and sadly, we will find that they failed the tests. Rather than trust and obey, they whined, grumbled (see chapter 11!), and even sought to return to Egypt. Consequently, God consigned them to decades of aimless wandering until finally bringing them across the river into the promise land.
Prayer: Father, I understand that today we celebrate the Lord’s Supper instead of Passover. I also confess that I too often don’t think deeply about the price you paid for my release from sin and the eternal punishment I deserved. Thank you Lord, for drawing me to you in love, and cleansing my soul so that I might live with you forever, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
The Well: Year #2: Jan. 5-9
January 5: Numbers 11, 12
As the nation of Israel moved toward Canaan they suffered several trials, and too often their reaction was to grumble. In all, there are ten reported instances where the people grumbled against God. In each case God was testing them, seeing if they would trust him. In these episodes we see both God’s discipline and his compassion and we are reminded that these are two primary characteristics of great fathers.
In chapter 11 the issue is food. While God has provided the manna, the people long for meat. Among them was a group – the “rabble” of vs. 4 – who incited the people to cry out to Moses complaining that they were better off in Egypt. This was tantamount to saying they preferred the gods of Egypt to the one true God. In other words, their hearts were not devoted to the God who had delivered them, and neither did they trust their God to provide for them as they travelled. It was this that brought about God’s anger.
Moses, sensing the great tension that was building, cries out to God that he is not up to the challenge presented by such a great number of rebellious people. He even goes so far as to ask God to take his life rather than leave him to deal with an overwhelming leadership task. But God has a better idea. He instructs Moses to commission 70 of the elders of Israel to oversee the people. To empower these men God grants them a measure of the Holy Spirit evidence by their ability now to speak the truth of God with power.
To solve the meat problem God sends in tons of quail, but he also sent a plague upon those who incited the people to complain and rebel in their hearts against their God.
Chapter 12 is a stern reminder that it is especially bad when those placed in positions of leadership rebel against their God. In this case it appears that Aaron and Miriam became jealous of Moses’ exalted position as God’s spokesman. Their question in vs. 2 is actually a statement that God does not speak only through Moses, but as well through others, and perhaps them. They coveted the position Moses held.
Once again, God comes down and allows himself to be experienced as visibly present, in the form of a cloud. From the cloud he speaks, describing the means whereby he communicates to his people. He does so through visions and dreams through prophets. But, to highlight Moses’ unique position, God declares that with him he speaks face to face, mouth to mouth. Thus, rebellion against Moses is seen as rebellion against God’s intimate friend and chosen spokesman.
Miriam bears the brunt of the punishment God metes out, and is stricken with leprosy. Had Aaron shared her fate he would have been rendered unfit for priestly service and this would have impacted the whole nation negatively. But Aaron does plead with Moses, who then pleads with God for her healing. But God intends to teach an important lesson and Miriam’s leprosy last for 7 days during which she must live in isolation.
Prayer: Father, it is clear from these chapters that you hate both idolatry, and the complaining and selfish ambition that can lead up to it. Forgive me Lord, for the idol factory that is my own heart, that continues to place importance in things this world offers rather than spend my energies on those things with eternal value. I love you Lord, and want to live this day, and every day, in a manner that promotes your glory, through Jesus Christ, my Lord, Amen.
January 6: Numbers 13, 14
Finally the people of Israel have come near to Canaan. They are camped at Kadesh and from there 12 men are dispatched to enter the land and bring back a report as to its inhabitants and its fertility.
The men found a land that lived up to its billing, flowing as it were, with milk and honey. The fruit was large and plentiful. However, so were the clans who lived there. After 40 days the men returned to the camp with their report.
The majority report gave rave reviews of the land, with its fruit and fertile valleys. But they also said they had run into the sons of Anak, also known as Nephilim. We first ran into these men in Genesis 6 where they represent the epitome of human strength and independence. The presence of these mighty men, along with all the other clans convinced the majority that any plans to invade Canaan would only be met with disaster.
The minority report was much different. Both Caleb, from the tribe of Judah, disagreed with the majority and implored the people to invade and occupy the land God had promised to them. However, his voice was soon drowned out by the other spies.
In chapter 14 a wholesale rebellion breaks out against God and against his leaders, including Caleb and Joshua. The people clamor to return to Egypt where they at least had food to eat and water to drink.
In response, Caleb and Joshua faced the crowd and once again declared that their best option was to trust the Lord, and move forward in his power. To fear the people of the land was to rebel against the Lord who had promised to be with them, to fight their battles for them, and to deliver them safely into the land long before promised to Abraham.
But the mood of the people was strongly against God and those who remained faithful to him. Just as the crowd began to pick up stones to stone the men, the glory of the Lord appeared, and the voice of God began to speak to Moses.
In an interesting conversation between God and Moses, God offers to wipe out the people and start over with Moses. But Moses does not fail the test. Knowing God’s promises, Moses refuses to go down another road other than the one God has brought them down. Moses pleads with God to show his power, as he has promised, and pardon the people for their iniquity.
God grace is demonstrated in his determination to remain Israel’s God. Yet, the generation that rebelled will experience his judgment. God declares that none of those who say the miracles in Egypt, and now have refused to enter the land will ever enter it! Caleb and Joshua alone will be the exceptions. From this point on, the people’s lives will be lived under the shadow of their own disobedience, and the result will be a very difficult period of years.
Prayer: Father, it is clear that you want me to trust the promises you have made to me in Jesus Christ. Yet Lord, I must confess that at times I feel like I can get along without you. Forgive me gracious Father, and increase my belief that what you have for me is always my best option, because of your love for me that never, ever will go away, because of Jesus, Amen.
January 7: Numbers 15, 16
Coming abruptly on the heels of Israel’s refusal to enter the land, chapter 15 turns the subject back to the idea of sacrifice for sin. Leviticus 1-7 present the basic offerings the people of Israel were to offer in dealing with issues of sin and guilt. Here we find offerings that are much more specific and special in that they relate more to the desire of individuals for spontaneous, grateful response to the goodness of their God.
For example, the call for “fine flower” in vs. 4 speaks to a luxurious kind of flour rather than the ordinary, everyday flour. The point is that these sacrifices were to be of the very best supplies available.
Another interesting element in these sacrifices is the emphasis on a “pleasing aroma” to the Lord (see vs. 7, 10). The usual odor of animal sacrifices, with their fat, would have been heavy, somewhat acrid, and very pungent. Here we find that offering a pleasing aroma to God is more the point. It is all about bringing him pleasure.
Vs. 22 begins a new section dealing with unintentional noncompliance with the law of God. Given that no one could keep the law perfectly, these sacrifices were necessary. The lesson here is that even unintentional sins constitute breaking the law and so must be covered by sacrifice. Quite different is the crime committed with “high hand”, a phrase signifying proud intentionality. This person is sinning knowingly, and proudly, and such rebellion against God is to be judged harshly and swiftly with excommunication. Those who do not want God will no longer be numbered among his people.
Chapter 16 records just such an intentional rebellion against God by Korah and some of the Levites. His rebellion against Moses was an attempt to usurp Aaron’s position and power as high priest as well (vs. 10). As well, those who joined in the rebellion were also counted guilty before God and paid with their lives.
It is important to note that God does not overlook the sin of his own people. While there are great advantages of being in the community of God, it is not liberty to offend his holiness or rebel against his law.
Prayer: Father, the story of Korah’s rebellion reminds me that I sometimes challenge what you ask of me, and even doubt your love for me when adversity comes my way. O Lord, help me to run to you, and not away, when trials present themselves, so that I may find strength to help in time of need, as you have promised me in Jesus, Amen.
January 8: Numbers 17, 18
Following the rebellion of Korah God moved to demonstrate miraculously that he had chosen Aaron and his line to be the priests. He commanded Moses to take a wooden staff from each tribe, and write the name of the tribe on the staff. Then, the tribe chosen by God would be recognized when their rod sprouted.
It is true that a stick broken from a tree can still sprout. But these staffs were long dead, and even shaved to become a walking stick. They were long past the point of being able to sprout. Thus, there could be no cheating. Only God could bring forth a sprout from a dead piece of wood.
On the next morning, when Moses entered the Tent of Meeting he found that Aaron’s staff had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed, and even produced almonds! God had once again displayed his choice in spectacular fashion. Never again would anyone question the role given to the tribe of Levi, and the house of Aaron.
As an enduring reminder, Moses commanded that Aaron’s staff be kept as a reminder to all those who might think of rebelling against what God had commanded.
In chapter 18 we find an extensive listing of the duties of the Levites at a time when there seemed to be large scale mistrust of the way ministry in the holy meeting place of God was being carried out. God makes it very clear to the Levites: “you are to bear the iniquity connected to the sanctuary and your priesthood.” They were put on notice that the tasks assigned were to be completed precisely as ordered by God.
The great lesson of this chapter is that those in positions of spiritual leadership are never to abuse their privileges. Neither are they to abuse their power or position. They are to serve the Lord with pure hearts and pure motives. The last verse of the chapter vividly portrays just how serious God takes spiritual leadership.
Prayer: Father, today I pray for your strength and wisdom to surround the leaders of our church. Lord, keep them true to your Word, and prayerful in their decision-making as they seek to know your will and lead us in it. Thank you for caring about your church and giving us gifted and godly leaders. Bless them mightily I pray, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
January 9: Number 19, 20
Given the seriousness of the priestly task it follows that they must first be cleansed themselves before ever attempting to render service to a holy God. The offering of the red heifer may seem strange to us since our culture has never appreciated the idea of animal sacrifice. Nevertheless, it was commanded by God himself and thus, was to be understood as important and meaningful.
In contrast to other sacrifices, this one uses a female. The heifer is also slaughtered, not sacrificed, and killed outside the camp rather than at the holy altar. The burning of the sacrifice left ashes which were then used in the waters used for cleansing.
This cleansing water is then to be used in the case of those who touch a dead body, or find themselves in a tent when someone in it dies. In order to once again become ceremonially clean, the cleansing water with the ashes was to be used to ceremonially cleanse them from the stains of death.
The principle here underscores the fact that death is an invader into the otherwise normal course of life. It is the great enemy of the living, and it affects all those around it. The law of God was configured to be a constant reminder that death was the tragic result of sin. Wherever it encroached on the living there needed to be cleansing from its stains.
Chapter 20 presents the death of Miriam and the tragic disobedience of Moses himself. Once again the Israelites find themselves at Meribah in need of water. Forty years before, in Rephadim, Moses has spoken to the rock and from it flowed fresh water (see: Exodus 17).
As before, the pressure on Moses and Aaron is great as the people assemble themselves to confront God’s leaders. Again they declare they would have been better off staying in Egypt, and once again God intervenes in Moses’ behalf and instructs him as to how to handle the situation.
Before, in Exodus 17, the situation had been that of a court room with God as the defendant. The people were bringing charges against God. Yet, he associated himself with the rock and took the blows of Moses on himself rather than let them fall on the people who so justly deserved them for their complaining and rebellious hearts. The result was clear, fresh water.
But now God tells Moses simply to speak to the rock. Why? Simply because God need only bear the blows meant for his people once! Yet, Moses in anger hits the rock. The water flows, but Moses’ future is changed. His misdirected actions will now mean he will not be allowed to enter Canaan. It is interesting that the charge against him is simple unbelief. He did not believe God would act according to his word.
Prayer: Lord, I admit this punishment seems a bit harsh, but only if I forget just how holy and great you are! Any sin against you is worthy of death, and I shudder to remember that it is only your gracious acceptance of me in Jesus Christ that prevents me from knowing your wrath. I certainly deserve it, but I am so very thankful that, in Christ, I am wrapped in your love and accepted as your child. Thank you Lord, for your grace! Amen
The Well: Year #2: January 12-16
January 12: Numbers 21,22
Numbers 20 was a picture of great disobedience and despair. With chapter 21 the picture begins to brighten for Israel.
The chapter charts the course the nation travelled as they once again made their way to Canaan. The text makes it clear that they went far to the east in order to skirt Edom. This brought them into the region of the Amorites, and eventually to the plains of Moab.
Israel conquered city after city as God gave ruler after ruler into their hands. When Sihon, king of the Amorites, refused to grant them passage through his land, the armies of Israel defeated him and took possession of his kingdom.
It appears that during their wandering in the wilderness, Israel was settled for some years in the cities they conquered. Though under God’s judgment for their unwillingness to enter the land initially, it is clear that God was still for his people. His covenant faithfulness is apparent even during the years of discipline.
Chapter 22 begins the three chapter saga of Balaam, a pagan prophet and an expert diviner. It appears that Balaam was very well-known for his ability to examine the entrails of animals and predict the future. In a very real sense, these chapters set him out as the pagan counterpart of Moses.
Apparently, Balaam considered the God of Israel to be just another deity whom he could manipulate with certain rituals and pagan acts. But, over the course of this short story, he encounters the one true God and learns that he is unlike any other pagan power.
The story begins with Moab’s king – Balak – recognizing that Israel’s victory over the Amorites means Moab could well be next. He realizes there is no way to stop Israel militarily so he decides to fight on the spiritual level. He enlists Balaam to curse Israel, and manipulate their God so as to eliminate the threat.
The seeming inconsistency in vs. 22 (God’s anger) is best understood this way. God had instructed him to go and only do what God said, but God knew Balaam’s real intention was to curse Israel. Thus, his anger was stirred.
The donkey story is perhaps Scripture’s ultimate argument against paganism. What the pagan prophet intended was against the will of God, and the angel was there to stop him. But the learned prophet was blind to the truth of God, while the lowly donkey was not. Not until the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes could he see the reality before him.
In the end, Balaam is seen to speak only what God puts in his mouth. What the donkey knew all along, he now understands.
Prayer: Father, this story reminds me that my eyes once were blinded by my own pride and sin. Yet, in your love, and through your Gospel, the Spirit has opened my eyes to my brokenness and as well to your gracious salvation in Jesus Christ. For this I am so grateful, and only ask that you would empower me to live for you in a way that is worthy of the love you have shown, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
January 13: Numbers 23,24
These two chapters give the four oracles of Balaam. What we find now is that the God who could put words in a donkey’s mouth will now put his words in a pagan prophet’s mouth.
After engaging in pagan sacrifices, Balaam is met by God who gives him the message he will announce to Balak.
The first oracle is simply an announcement that the blessing of God on Israel cannot be revoked. Those who God has blessed need not fear any other power. This is a source of great encouragement to those of us who are dwelling in the refuge of the cross.
Not only has God blessed Israel in terms of security, but also in terms of prosperity. They are an expansive people whose power is great. Balaam certainly is not delivering what Balak wants to hear, but rather is being forced to speak what God has put in his mouth.
The second oracle explains the source of Israel’s unique blessing, and is again a word God has put into the pagan prophet’s mouth.
The reason Israel is blessed with a blessing that cannot be revoked through spiritism is that their God is the Lord. Nothing can move him from his decree. Whatever he has spoken will come to pass, and whatever he ordains will be accomplished. He has proven his mighty strength by delivering them from Egypt. No amount of divination or curse can in any way derail the plans of Israel’s great God.
Chapter 24 gives the last two oracles of Balaam. The third oracle continues the pagan prophet’s declaration of the beauty and strength of Israel. Rather than curse the people, it is clear to Balak that Balaam can only bless them.
Balaam declares that he is a man whose eyes are now opened, certainly a reference to the donkey incident. He now sees the greatness of God and hears the word of God. Now he can see the royal beauty of God’s people Israel, and offers the command that “blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.”
At this Balak’s anger is aroused, but Balaam can only deliver more bad news. In his last oracle he predicts what Israel will do to the surrounding nations.
Of special note is vs. 17 which is a specific prophetic announcement of the coming of a “star” our of Jacob, a seeming prediction of Messiah’s coming. That such a prediction could come from a pagan prophet is yet another testimony to the fact that our God will bring about his plans, and neither the opposition of his enemies, nor the disobedience of his people will derail it one bit.
Prayer: Lord, the words you put in Balaam’s mouth were beautiful! O Lord, help me to speak wonderful things about your love and your power and your holiness, through my live and my lips, so that those in my world may know that you are my God, and I am your servant, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in me, Amen.
January 14: Numbers 25,26
Now that Israel was settled in the cities of the Amorites, they once again began to fraternize with the idolatrous peoples surrounding them. Throughout their history, Israel was extremely susceptible to the influence of their idolatrous neighbors. It was for this reason that God commanded them not to intermarry. Yet, time and time again it was intermarriage that led to shameful practices among God’s people. Today, the same danger exists when believers marry unbelievers, and it is for this reason that the New Testament is clear: we are to marry only those who are “in Christ.”
God’s judgment on idolatry here was to be a sign to the people. Later, when they entered Canaan they would be surrounded by idolatrous, pagan peoples. They needed to understand just how seriously God demanded their necessary devotion to him.
Not only did God judge his people for their idolatry, but he also commanded Moses to destroy the Midianites. In a sense, idolatry was a cancer on the land, and God intended to use Israel as his scalpel to cut it out.
Chapter 26 at first appears to be only another long list of the people of the various tribes of Israel. And certainly it is this. God instructed Moses to number the people. But he was intending to do much more than merely register the total number of those able to participate in battle.
The end of the chapter gives an interesting detail. Remember, when the nation refused to enter the land for fear of the inhabitants, God declared that none of that generation’s fighting men would ever be allowed to enter the land. In fact, one of the grand purposes of the years of wilderness wanderings was to insure that they all died before God allowed the people to enter the land.
In the final section of chapter 26 we read that, of all the fighting men who were first listed by Moses at Sinai decades before, only Caleb and Joshua – the faithful spies – remained.
Now God could lead his people across the Jordan, and into the land of promise, going before them and delivering the peoples of the land into their hand.
Prayer: Lord, time and time again the story of Israel is simply the story of your faithfulness. Thank you Father, for being faithful to me even though I am often faithfless. I confess my weaknesses, my doubts, my laziness, and my pride. O Lord, create in me a deeper faith that understands and rests in your love, your truth, and your faithfulness to me, because of Jesus Christ my Savior, Amen.
January 15: Numbers 27,28
Chapter 27 speaks to the interesting situation encountered by one family in the tribe of Manasseh. Through the years they had come to the place where there no longer remained a male heir. So, the daughters came to Moses and asked that their father inheritance be transferred to them. This seemed right to Israel’s leader, and so another statute came into being.
This incident highlights two things. First, the situation in Israel was that women could not inherit land. But now that is changed with Moses’ statute. But the second thing is even more important. The problem was not really one of gender but of participation in the land as an inheritance of each Israelite family. The promise of God to the people of Israel demanded that each family “inherit” what was promised. Moses’ announcement that, in certain situations, an inheritance could be transferred to a daughter insured that lack of a male heir would never hinder a family from participating in the promised inheritance.
The remainder of the chapter takes up the necessary business of appointing Moses’ successor. God’s judgment on Moses’ disobedience in the wilderness of Zin meant that, while he would be allowed to view the promised land from Mount Nebo in Moab, he would not cross over into the land. This necessitated the selection of someone to lead the people across the Jordan and into Canaan.
It is interesting that God announces Joshua as being a man “in whom is the Spirit.” This is most probably a reference to the Spirit-endowed leadership character that Joshua had developed over the many years he served as Moses’ assistant.
The transition was publicly demonstrated as Moses laid his hand on Joshua. The ritual of laying on hands symbolizes the hand of God now being on Joshua. In the same way that Levites were designated as under the hand of God, so also now Joshua was to be seen by the people as God’s “hand picked” leader. The custom continues even today as elders and pastors are seen to be under the hand of God as they are set apart with the “laying on of hands.”
Chapter 28 begins a re-education of the people regarding specific offerings and sacrifices. Remember, many of those now preparing to enter Canaan had been born after Sinai, and needed a refresher course on the demands of God in the law.
These laws on holiness, worship and vows serve to remind us as we read this story that it is more than just the travelling stories of a wandering nation. First and foremost this is a story of God gathering and guiding a people meant to be his own. What distinguished Israel was never their military prowess. It was always that they were to be holy unto God.
Prayer: Lord, it is good for me to be reminded that who I am is more important than what I do for you. First you want my heart to be both holy and wholly devoted to you, and then from that heart you want me to live out your love and truth. Father, help me to understand that what you ask of me is always my best option, for you truly love me, and know what is best. Help me live for you today, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
January 16: Numbers 29, 30
Chapter 29 takes up instructions for the sacrifices to be offered during the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths.
The feast of Trumpets, taking place in the seventh month, later came to be the time of the New Year in the Jewish calendar known as Rosh Hashanah, or the “head of the year.” In addition to the festive blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, the priests were instructed to offer several specific sacrifices to the Lord.
The Festival of Trumpets leads right into the Day of Atonement, known as Yom Kippur, making the beginning of the seventh month a hectic time in Israel. The Day of Atonement was a day of confession and celebration of God’s faithfulness in covering the sins of the nation. This is the most solemn of Israel’s holy days, and required fasting rather than feasting.
Today the Day of Atonement is still the most holy day for Jews. Men fast during the day, and lie prostrate in their synagogues in a posture of repentance for the sins of their families and their people. But for those who are “in Christ” the Day of Atonement was completely fulfilled by Christ on the cross when he made lasting and eternal atonement for the sins of all those who believe.
The festivals of the seventh month continue with the Feast of Booths. With the Feast of Trumpets on the first day, the Day of Atonement on the tenth day, the Feast of Booths (sometimes known as the Feast of Tabernacles) completes the busy season of celebration and reflection.
Each of the days of the Feast of Booths has its own schedule and its own necessary sacrifices. The verses here seem redundant, but they were to be read each day so that to read them was to enter into the very essence of the day.
Chapter 30 deals with the issue of vows. Along with the previous chapter, these instructions are inserted into the story as a demonstration of hope. Once they entered the land, these instructions would form the backbone of Israelite life.
Vows were promises to God and were not to be made rashly or frivolously. Vows were commitments made, and those making them needed to be very careful before doing so. In this chapter we see vows made by women, and the ways they were to be entered into, and the ways they could be released.
Prayer: Gracious God, today as I read more about the laws and rules under which Israel was asked to live as your people, I am more and more grateful for your grace, and for the Law of Christ that has set me free from the law of sin and death. Thank you for free me to live in delight rather than mere duty, and to love you from my heart knowing that you have secured my eternal freedom, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
The Well: Year 2 January 19-23
January 19: Numbers 31,32
Chapter 31 picks up the story line from chapter 25 where, because of the treachery of the Midianites, God commands Moses to strike them down as enemies. This will be Moses’ final military campaign, which in reality is a holy war against the enemies of God. It is important that we read this, not against the backdrop of our ethical understanding of today but rather within the standards of the day in which the text stands. This does not mean we are arguing for a moral relativism, or are trying to edit the morality of the Bible. Rather it means we must observe the radically different conditions that existed in the rugged ancient world, and recognize that, in this instance, God had every right to rid the area of those whose sin deserved death.
The biggest shock in this chapter comes when we hear Moses’ disapproval at the sparing of the women and children. This confronts our minds today and poses horrible questions to us. Yet, again we must understand the context. These were the women Balaam used to seduce Israel and bring about the tragedy of Peor, including the terrible plague that had cost Israel so many lives. The further presumption was that only those young girls who had never participated in the wicked orgiastic worship of Baal were to be spared.
While the story here presents our modern sensibilities with shock, we must remember and admit that not all the particulars are given to us here, but God and Moses know them all. It was God’s intent to cut away a severe spiritual cancer from the land, one that had already shown it ability to infect Israel. Further, he intended to use his people as the spiritual scalpel.
Chapter 32 recounts the request of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh to take as their inheritance the fertile land east of the Jordan river. This land was well-suited to the raising of livestock and these tribes considered that it would not be necessary for them to cross over into Canaan to find land.
Their request set of Moses’ recollection of the unfaithful spies who refused to enter the land 40 years before. It appears that those requesting to settle east of the Jordan were not as aware of the story as Moses wanted them to be (since they would have been either very young or not yet born at the time) so he reiterates the poignancy of the story. Moses’ intent is to impress on the men the seriousness of what they are asking.
In reply, the men of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh prove their nobility. They will leave the wives and children behind and go to war with all Israel, returning only after the battles have been won and the land made suitable for the other tribes to settle in their inheritances. This demonstrates that the years in the wilderness have accomplished their purpose. All Israel is now ready to enter the land, fight the battles, and claim the promised land.
Prayer: Father, I admit there are times when I don’t understand your ways. Lord, help me to hold on to your promises, and trust your sovereignty, even when the answers I seek aren’t easy to find. O God, you are God, and I am your servant! Help me to trust you more in the dark days, because of your faithfulness, and because of the love I have come to know in Jesus, Amen.
January 20: Numbers 33,34
Chapter 33 appears to be a compilation of Moses’ own notes that give a rough account of the various legs of their long journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab, overlooking the promised land. From this we also understand that Moses was continuously writing long the way. It is most probable that the whole Pentateuch – the first 5 books of the Bible known often as “the books of Moses” – was written during the 40 years of wandering.
At the end of the chapter we find the Lord’s instructions to the people. They are to cross the river, enter the land, and begin immediately to drive out all the inhabitants. It is extremely important to understand just how God viewed Canaan. It was his land! It was the inheritance of his people, and therefore was never to be a land polluted by paganism and its idolatrous practices. But, at the time of Israel’s entrance, Canaan was anything but pure. It was drenched with wickedness, as though the sin of the people had leached out into the land and corrupted it. This is how God saw it. So, the first necessity was to utterly cleanse the land of the sinful “leaven” that, in God’s view, made the place unfit as a dwelling place for his people. It is only against this backdrop can we make sense of the utter destruction God commanded be carried out against the Canaanite inhabitances of the land.
At the end of the chapter God describes the danger that will come upon Israel if the fail to utterly dispossess the Canaanites from the land. If they allow some to remain, the result will be as “barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides.” As we will see, this is exactly what happened. Israel grew weary of war and, having destroyed the major clans and their armies, left it to the individual tribes to drive out the remaining families. But this never was accomplished. Idolatrous peoples became neighbors with Israel, and time and time again God’s people fell into idolatry. Eventually, over many generations, God’s people became indistinguishable from their pagan neighbors, and God had to keep the word he gave them in this chapter, vs. 56. He had no choice but to drive his own people out of the land as punishment for their sin that was now leaching out and polluting God’s land.
Chapter 34 finds the people of Israel settled on the high plains of Moab, able to look across the Jordan river to the land of Canaan. In order to encourage them, the Lord reiterates the boundaries of the land gift he is giving to them. The language is covenantal. That is, it is like the land grant treaties of the day, where the Great King pronounces the boundaries of the land he is giving to those he wishes to honor. The description here will encourage the people, and also provide a sober reminder that the God they are called to worship is the God who has now fulfilled his promise of both protection and provision.
Prayer: Father, these ancient stories continue to remind me just how great you are, and how faithful you are to your people. Lord, in Jesus Christ, you have also adopted me into your family, and have promised me an eternal inheritance. Help me, Father, to live a life worthy of your faithfulness, and may my heart always be faithful to you, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
January 21: Numbers 35,36
Because the Levites were “holy unto the Lord” they were not apportioned a part of the land as their inheritance. The Lord was their inheritance. Yet, it was obvious that they would need cities in which to live.
The answer, given here in chapter 35, is the setting up of cities throughout the land in which the Levites were to settle. Every tribe was to set aside cities, including the pasture and fields surrounding them, for use by the tribe of Levi.
Included in these Levitical cites would be six “cities of refuge” into which a person could flee after having unintentionally taken a life. These cities would be protected places where vengeance could not be taken. The rest of the chapter explains the various ways the cities of refuge were to be used.
The city of refuge is a unique element of the Mosaic law that shows the just heart of God. While Israel’s God cannot allow sin to go unpunished, it is also true that he has a heart of justice that seeks to protect the innocent.
Chapter 36 brings this amazing book to a close, but does so in a curious way. Previously, Moses had commanded that the inheritance of a man dying without male heirs would pass to his daughters. Now, after some thought, the problem arises that, if these daughters marry outside their clan, the land will pass from its original tribe to the new tribe.
When the men of Manasseh brought this problem to Moses he agreed with them and created a new statute. Daughters who received their father’s inheritance could marry freely, but only within their tribe. Thus, the land originally given to the tribe would remain within the tribe.
Numbers has been a fascinating study in the complexities that went into bringing Israel to the borders of Canaan, and preparing a new generation to enter in. Rules regarding their living and worship have been reiterated. Problems have been solved, and it only remains for the hearts of the people to be reinvigorated spiritually. This will be Moses’ job, and his final sermons to the people are compiled together in the his final book, Deuteronomy, in which he repeats the core principles of the Law to those who have been born since Sinai.
Prayer: Gracious God, today as I live in my world, it seems so complex, and often trying. Yet, as I read your word, I am reminded that you love to take care of your people, and you are both a great provider and protector. Lord, as I take on this day, help me to walk in your strength, content to do your will, and joyful to be your child, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in me, Amen.
January 22: Psalm 69, 70
Next to Ps. 22 and 110, this psalm is the most cited by New Testament authors. The psalm appears to be a telling of the things that those who are truly zealous for God’s house can expect to experience.
The Psalm begins with a familiar theme. The author – David – is despairing over the presence of those who hate him unjustly. He is almost under water as the floods sweep over him. His only hope is to cry out to the Lord.
The reason he is hated? Only that his zeal for the house of God has made him an outcast. This must be understood as his zeal to protect the testimony of the God of Israel against those who would indulge in compromised worship and encourage others to join them.
It appears the David has fasted and mourned, according the commands of God dealing with the various festivals, and has only been mocked by his contemporaries. In today’s terms, he has become a punch line for being faithful to God.
He turns to his God for answers and deliverance knowing that God understands his plight. David can find no comfort or comforters except in his God. In the end, it is in praise that he finds hope, for the Lord is near to the humble and hears the cry of the needy.
Psalm 70 is a plea from David for God to deliver him from imminent danger. He calls upon God to defend him, to turn back those who seek to end his life. As the king, David must have made many enemies, and it seems he was always fearing for his life. These psalms of desperation make up much of the Davidic contribution to the book of Psalms. Yet, David doesn’t end his psalms in the same sense of despair with which he begins.
In this case, he reminds himself that those who seek God will ultimately be glad to have done so. Those who find refuge in the Almighty will be saved, and will forever exclaim, “God is great!”
Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, your goodness to me is too often lost on me. I confess I can go through a day, caught up in the complexities of my life, and forget how wonderful you are, and how well you have provided for my soul. You are a great God! Help me, Lord, to see the ways you constantly bless my life, and even more, help me to grow a greater heart of gratitude for all that you are to me, through Jesus Christ, my Lord, Amen.
January 23: Psalm 71,72
Psalm 71 is a beautiful personal reminder that our God cares for us intimately, and will never desert us. It is written by someone who came to know and trust God early in life, and now has reached old age. The Psalm is best read as though the author is reminding himself of God’s faithfulness so that he can walk through current challenges with calm assurance.
That there is an immediate need for deliverance and reassurance is made clear in the opening verses. Some sort of danger in closing in and the author is, as is his habit, running to God in search of refuge. The life pattern here is one of faithfulness in times of trial, and the current circumstance will not break the pattern.
The author considers that God is his only hope, and thus calls out to him. God has been faithful to him since his youth and his trust now has only been made stronger over time. This theme is brought forward time and time again in the psalm.
In the end the author believes God’s faithfulness will see him through. When the battle is over, he will be praising God for his protection. As well, he will be faithful to his faithful God, and spread the news of God’s trustworthiness, power and provision among the peoples.
Psalm 72 is from Solomon’s quill and its form and vocabulary are distinctive. Having read so many psalms of David, you will immediately notice the difference.
The psalm is an elaborate prayer to God asking him to enable the king to live and act righteously on behalf of the people of Israel. At first it may seem arrogant and even presumptuous for Solomon to ask such lofty things of God for himself. Yet, we must remember that both David and Solomon understood their role as king. They were God’s ruling representatives. As well, they were to be models of God to the nation.
Solomon asks God to give him discernment and wisdom so that his reign can be both just and righteous. He takes up the responsibility to defend the cause of the poor, deliver the needy, and overcome the nation’s enemies. He acknowledges that the tasks set before him as king will demand divine strength and provision.
It is clear in the remainder of the psalm that Solomon’s desires to expand and fortify the kingdom, and cause Israel to prosper will depend on the blessing of God. Sadly, there came a point in his life, however, after God had granted him great power and privilege, that he allowed his heart to be turned away from following the Lord. While God’s blessings on him brought prosperity to the people, it would also be true that God’s judgment on his sin would bring a division in the kingdom.
Prayer: Father, it is once again made clear to me that you are the source of all good things, and that you love to shower your people with blessings. Yet, I so often forfeit the best by allowing my own selfish desire to direct my behavior. Lord, help me to liberate myself from my sinful desires that I might find the greater joy of obedience to you today, so that your glory may shine through me, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
The Well: Y2 Jan. 26-30
Jan.26: 2 Kings 1,2
The second book of Kings takes up right were the first left off. Wicked king Ahab has died in the north, and his son Ahazaiah has taken the throne, and immediately faces war with Moab. Yet, war would not prove to be his worst enemy.
As a result of a fall, the king is near death. At this point the story reaches the real point it was meant to tell in the first place. Whenever a new king ascended the throne there was a real chance for reform in the religious practices of the realm. In the southern kingdom, kings would often sweep away the pagan idols and the immoral practices that attended them. But in the north there never was a godly king. This story demonstrates just how far the rulers in the north had gone.
Ahaziah demonstrates his idolatrous heart by sending messengers to inquire of an idol rather than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. The story hits its dramatic peak in the reaction of God who, through Elijah, delivers a message of judgment to the king. In retaliation, the king determines to capture Elijah. But, once again, it is fire from heaven that displays God’s power. On Mt. Carmel it was the sacrifice that was consumed. Here we see the heavenly fire destroying those who would contend with God’s prophet.
Chapter 2 brings an end to the ministry of Elijah, this great prophet. At the same time, we see the handoff of the mantel – literally – to Elisha.
Apparently God had made it known widely that Elisha’s life was coming to an end. Just how this happened we are not told. What we do know is that God sent Elijah on a specific journey, first to Bethel, and then to Jericho, and finally to the banks of the Jordan river.
At each step along the way Elijah tests Elisha’s commitment, suggesting that he no longer accompany Elijah on the journey. But each time Elisha refuses to part from the aged prophet. Finally, on the banks of the Jordan, God validates Elisha in the same manner as he had previously for both Moses and Joshua. For Moses, the Red Sea was parted; for Joshua it was the Jordan when the people of Israel entered the land.
Now, symbolically showing that Elijah was “passing over Jordan” – a metaphor for death even today in many of the songs known as “spirituals” – God splits the river’s waters and Elijah and Elisha cross over together.
The episode by which God takes Elijah up to heaven in a chariot once again brings the heavenly fire into play. The faithfulness of Elijah is rewarded with a miraculous home-going, as the other prophets watch.
The chapter ends with Elisha retracing the journey back across the Jordan, parted with the mantel of Elijah, and executing a validating miracle done through him in both Jericho and Bethel. God’s power now rests with him.
Prayer: Father, the story of Elijah reminds me just how necessary it may be for me to stay true to you, and rest in your promises, even when I find myself opposed by all around me. Certainly if you are with me, I am not in the minority! Lord, today help me to be both winsome and bold, humble yet courageous, that it may be evident that you are my God and I am your servant, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
Jan. 27: 2 Kings 3,4
In these two chapters we are treated to several miraculous events brought about by the Lord through his prophet Elisha. We must remember that this period in both the North and the South was a time when the worship of God had largely been pushed aside. It was a very dark period, very similar to the times of the Judges.
Yet, God continued to display his glory in ways that demonstrated his love for his people, and as well, for those non-Jews who extended kindness to his people.
The story of the three kings who intended to make war against rebellious Moab is a study is knowing what to ask for. They went out on their own counsel, and soon discovered that their mission was in peril due to a lack of water. So, the sent to Elisha, asking him to entreat God for water. Elisha’s reply is telling: God will send you water, but that is a very “light” thing. He will also give you the victory.
So often in our praying we ask for the logistic rather than the strategic. If they had first prayed for God’s will and blessing on their endeavor, then his affirmative answer to that would have included all the necessary components, like water. So also in our praying. If the strategic occupies our minds and prayers, then the little things will fall into place as well.
Chapter 4 describes a series of miraculous interventions on the part of God, displayed through Elisha, by which the mercy of God was shown to a widow, an old woman, and the school of the prophets. Elisha’s prophetic position is validated through the multiplication of oil, the bearing of a son in old age, and the purification and multiplication of food.
It is apparent that Elisha’s ministry is primarily to the common folk. There is a clear comparison in 2 Kings between the affairs of the Kings, primarily their wicked acts and battle field exploits, and the ministry of God’s prophet to the people. The picture is clear. The political leadership of both Israel and Judah have become corrupt for the most part. They are concerned only with their power and prestige. But, through his prophet God is attending to the people, showing great mercy and kindness.
These stories are meant to remind us that, even in the darkest days, God’s plans are right on schedule. God has never been without a witness to his greatness and glory. He has always had his remnant of faithful people among whom he has always raised up the necessary leadership. The same is true today. God’s plan to radiate his gospel to all the world through the church is unstoppable.
Prayer: Lord, there are times when I feel like you’re not involved in my life to the extent I would like. But when I ponder it, I come to realize that my selfishness too often skews my view of you, and of what you should be doing. Forgive me Lord, and help me to see that all you bring my way is ultimately for your good, and for your glory, if I will be trust you in all things, and obey your Word, through the power of the Holy Spirit who abides in me, Amen.
Jan 28: 2 Kings 5,6
Perhaps the most well-known story from the life of Elisha is his miraculous healing of the Syrian commander, Naaman. It is important to remember that Naaman was a foreigner. This is one of the examples found in the Old Testament that points to the eventual fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that through his seed – Christ – all the nations would find the doorway open to the blessings of God.
During a previous raid on Israel, a young Jewish girl had fallen into the hands of King Ben-Hadad’s field marshal, Naaman. This important commander had a serious and incurable skin disease and was, therefore, declared a leper. (See Leviticus 13 for a reminder that “leprosy” was a term used to describe many different diseases of the skin). She suggested that her master seek out Elisha and, being out of other options, Naaman complied.
Elisha does not speak with him directly but instead sends his servant who directs Naaman to wash in the Jordan seven times. Though at first rebuffed by what he considers both a disrespectful and disgusting order, Naaman washes and comes up clean. As will become apparent in the New Testament, leprosy comes to be a symbol of sin, and as such, is spoken of as being “cleansed” rather than “healed” in most cases.
Naaman is filled with joy and gratitude, and attempts to reward Elisha for the mercy God has shown. But, in a clear representation that the grace of God cannot be bought, Elisha refuses. He does, however, allow him to carry back a load of Israelite dirt. When Naaman is asked by his master to bow to idols, he will be doing so in the soil of the one true God. There is some sense here that Naaman became a secret believer, but we can’t be sure. The story continues with Gehazzi’s greed being met with God’s wrath, and reminds us that, while grace is never bought, it is also never to be sold.
Chapter 6 presents the episode of the floating axe head, and several events detailing the various attempts by Syria to conquer the people of God. In each case, God provides both provision and protection to his people through his prophet Elisha.
The miracles done by God through Elisha stand out as unique. Floating axe heads, and the ability to know what the Syrian king is saying in his private chambers remind us that our God sovereignly superintends everything. As the angelic messenger would later tell young Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
It should also be noted that Elisha’s miracles are not a result of his own actions. He does not participate in rituals or rites to move God’s hand. Rather, it is clear that the power comes from God, in God’s time, and with God’s message. It is God, not Elisha, that accomplishes the miraculous. The prophet is merely the spokesman for God.
Prayer: Father, I know that you are still working miracles because I see them around me when a child is born, or a sinner is saved by grace. And while we no longer see them coming through human instruments, it is comforting to know that you are still sovereign, and are working all things out for the eternal good of your people, of whom I am privileged to be a part, through the gospel of Jesus, Amen.
Jan 29: 2 Kings 7,8
When Syria besieged Samaria, the result was a complete lack of food. Starvation was imminent. Yet, Elijah, speaking for God, promised that food would be plentiful and cheap on the next day.
Once again, God delivered his people with a mighty hand. But this time is was through God’s deceiving the enemy into believing they were being attacked by the Hittites and the kings of Egypt.
Interestingly, the news that the enemy army has fled is left to poor lepers to communicate. These who are the most outcast of society are given the opportunity to bring the good news which, at first is doubted, but in the end God’s protection and provision for his people is once again displayed.
Chapter 8 brings the story back to the Shunammite woman whose son had been brought back to life in chapter 4. Now, with God’s judgement on the horizon via a coming famine, Elisha tells her to leave her home to live where she can find sustenance. When the famine ended, she returned only to find her land had been appropriated to another. Once again, God’s mercy to the woman is seen in the restoration of her property.
The rest of the chapter contrasts the mercy of God to the weak with the abuse of power and position by the strong. Elisha at last fulfills God’s word to Elijah (see: 1 Kings 19:15-17) and is involved in regime change in both Damascus and Samaria. We meet a second Ahaziah (see chapter 1) but this time he is a king in the southern kingdom of Judah. But, being the son-in-law of wicked Ahab of the north, he only did evil in God’s sight.
Prayer: Father, it is evident you have a special love for those whom society looks down on. You are near to the weak and broken, and your mercy never plays favorites. Lord, help me to see this world through your eyes, to turn away from prejudice, and to be a fountain of your gospel grace to all I encounter, by your grace and for your glory, Amen.
Jan. 30: 2 Kings 9,10
Years before, Ahab had turned Israel into a fully pagan nation, complete with idolatrous worship and immoral practices. Now, through a series of kings descended from him, Israel was in even worse shape.
It must be remembered that God considered Canaan to be “his land.” It was where he had made his name to dwell. When his people first crossed the Jordan and entered the land, he used them as a scalpel to rid the land of the cancer of wickedness. Now, however, it was his own people who had polluted the land, and the house of Ahab had played a major part in it.
In order to show his just nature, God now determined to punish the house of Ahab for its wickedness. Jehu was selected, and anointed king. His first actions were to kill both the king of Israel and the king of Judah, who were part of Ahab’s house.
Next came the demise of Jezebel, exactly as Elijah has prophesied in 1 Kings 21:23). From this we learn that, while time may pass, God’s word will always be fulfilled.
Chapter 10 continues the mission Jehu to rid the kingdom of the stain of Ahab and his descendants. But of greater importance was his determination to eliminate the worship of Baal.
Baal was the territorial god of the ancient Canaanites. When the united nation of Israel under Joshua had entered the land, they went about in the power of the Lord to defeat the major armies of Canaan. After years of battle, with the greatest powers defeated, they tired of war, and went each to their own parcel of land to build houses, plant crops, and live in peace. But they had failed to utterly drive out all the remaining remnants of the Canaanite peoples.
As a result, the worship of Baal continued. And, over time, idolatry crept into Israel and by the time of Jehu, had become the prominent practice in the North.
While Jehu would go on to be less than godly, his greatest achievement was to wipe Baal out from Israel. Yet, because he did not also tear down the counterfeit centers of worship dedicated to the golden calves in Bethel and Dan, the blessing of God continued to be removed from Israel.
Prayer: Father in heaven, it is shockingly clear that you have no patience for idolatrous worship. And Lord, while today we don’t have idols of wood and stone, I do know there are things in my life that too often turn my head away from humble worship of you. Today, Lord, focus my heart and mind on you, and on the good things you have blessed me with. And help me to find joy obeying you, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.