Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
THE LEVITES AS A PECULIAR PEOPLE. Numbers 1:47-54.
The Levites were a peculiar people among the thousands of Israel. Their peculiarities, like the Christians, lay in their relationship to God Himself. To be closely associated with Him will always make us peculiar in the eyes of others. Think of their—
1. Separation. They were—
1. Not numbered with the others (v. 47). God always makes a difference between the ordinary believer and those wholly devoted to Himself.
2. Chosen by God (chapter 3:12). He took them instead of the firstborn in Israel, so that each had a representative character. Every firstborn not represented by a Levite had to be redeemed (chapter 3:46-48). You see your calling, brethren, you who belong to the inner circle of His chosen ones. In Christ's stead, who is the Firstborn of every creature.
3. Given to Aaron (chapter 3:9). So are we, as His elect, given to Christ. Jesus revealed this thought when He said, "I have manifested Your Name unto the men which You gave Me out of the world." All that the Father has given Me shall come unto Me.
4. Claimed by God. "The Levites shall be Mine" (chapter 3:12). Peter, James, and John were the peculiar three among the Twelve, they seemed to drink most deeply of the Spirit of Jesus their Master, and so were owned by Him not so much as historians as teachers. Covet earnestly the best gifts.
2. Occupation. The work of the Levites was manifold. In these verses something of this variety is apparent. We see them as—
1. Overseers. "You shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle, over the vessels, and over all things" (v. 50). The chosen servants of God ought to take a general interest in everything connected with the work and worship of God. We must have a sympathetic concern for all that has to do with the service and honor of God.
2. Bearers. "They shall bear the tabernacle" (v. 50). The carrying of the things of the tabernacle was to them the "burden of the Lord." Not every professed follower of Christ is a burden-bearer. Paul understood this experimentally when he said, "I could wish myself accursed for my brethren's sake."
3. Ministers. "They shall minister unto Me" (v. 50). They were not the servants of the tabernacle, but of God. It is quite possible to be the willing servants of a Church, and yet not be ministering unto the Lord.
4. Demolishers. "The Levites shall take it down" (v. 51). When the pillar moved it was theirs to take the tabernacle to pieces. Those whose office it is to handle Divine things should know how to open up and rightly divide the Word of Truth. Dissection does not mean destruction in this case.
5. Builders. "The Levites shall set it up" (v. 51). They had at times to take the house board from board, but they could and did put it up again. They were no type of those destructive critics who can only pull down, but cannot build up. Those who cannot set the things of God's house in order had better let them alone.
6. Mediators. "The Levites shall pitch round about the tabernacle that there be no wrath upon the congregation" (v. 53). According to their position they were a channel of blessing or of curse to the people. Such are they who occupy the position of public teachers of the Word and will of God. Taking our true place before God and the people we may save many from the wrath to come. You are the salt of the earth. Ours should be the position of devoted ones.
7. Keepers. "The Levites shall keep the charge of the tabernacle" (v. 53). They were custodians of the Lord's treasure. At their hands He required every vessel and curtain, every board, pillar, and pin. Are we as His servants faithfully keeping all that the Lord has committed unto us. Has He not committed unto us the word of reconciliation? (2 Corinthians 5:19). Paul, almost with his dying breath, said, "O Timothy, keep what is committed to you." "I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
THE STANDARDS OF ISRAEL. Numbers 2.
The hosts of Israel were divided by Jehovah into four camps, and every camp had its own standard. The order in which they were to march when the pillar of cloud moved was also distinctly specified by the Lord. This arrangement has doubtless a deeply moral significance. The order was neither by birth nor according to numbers. Judah, who went first, was the fourth son of Jacob, and the camp that was to go last was the second largest of all. Just as all the vessels and sacrifices were full of spiritual meaning, so the various positions in the grand march of obedience to the call of God has likewise its spiritual lessons for us who are pilgrims and sojourners with Him. Perhaps the meaning of the names of the different camps and their moral connection with one another will afford us a clue into a truth, which to us may be profitable. The—
1. Standard of Judah. Judah went first (vs. 3-9). Judah means "Praise the Lord." It is surely meet that the praising camp should lead the way. Praise is perhaps the first sign of a soul truly right with God. It is only when we have apprehended our own needy and guilty state, and by faith laid hold on the mercy and all-sufficiency of Christ that we can praise the Lord with a sincere heart. Can we ever make progress in the Divine life if we have not first of all taken our stand beneath the banner of praise? Judah was made head of his brethren, and from him kings were to descend (Genesis 49:8-10). Praising Christians will always be princes among the people. The scepter of power shall not depart from them. Praise you the Lord.
2. Standard of Reuben. This camp came immediately after Judah. Reuben means, "Behold a son." Behold one in the full enjoyment of sonship. Reuben as a son sought to save the life of Joseph (Genesis 37:21), and offered his two sons as security for Benjamin. After praise comes the testimony of true sonship, "Behold a son. ' Who will believe that we are the sons of God if our lives are not bright with His praise? If the spirit of praise and adoration fills your heart, then may you expect others to take knowledge, saying, "Behold a son." Moreover, the great and blessed privileges of sonship can only be entered into and enjoyed by a thankful, trusting heart. Begin to praise and your testimony as a son will be felt and acknowledged by others. It becomes the sons of God to shout for joy.
3. Standard of Ephraim (vs. 18-24). Ephraim means "double fruitfulness." Abundant fruit is sure to come after praise and the perfect life of sonship. We praise not the Lord because we are not fruitful, instead of praising Him that we may be made fruitful. Under Jehoshaphat the people of Judah "began to sing and to praise," then the Lord set ambushes and gave them the victory (2 Chronicles 20:22). In our unbelief we will not bless the Lord until we see, although the Lord has said, "Believe, and you shall see." But the way into" double fruitfulness" lies through the full appreciation of our privileges as the sons of God. The branch must receive from the vine a branch's portion. Fruitfulness always implies fullness.
4. Standard of Dan (vs. 25-31). The meaning of Dan is judging. A judge is one seated in authority. The camp of Dan "shall go hindmost" (v. 31). The privilege of judging comes last of all. Is it not written that "the saints shall judge the world?" Are they not to "reign with Christ a thousand years?" Are we not to be made kings as well as priests unto God? And is it not said that "we shall reign on the earth? Yes, after Ephraim comes Dan, after fruitfulness comes exaltation and reward (Luke 19:17).
1. As sinners. Praise Him for the great things He has done for us.
2. As sons. Receive the great things He is offering to us.
3. As servants. Be fruitful in the work He has given us.
4. As judges. Expect the honor promised us. These four standards are also suggestive of—
1. Christ's birth, with its angelic songs.
2. Christ's life, "Behold the Man."
3. Christ's death and resurrection. Double fruitfulness.
4. Christ's coming again. Judging His people.
THREE CLASSES OF WORKERS. Numbers 4.
In the transporting of the tabernacle and all its belongings from place to place there was great division of labor. As we would think, the work of the Gershonites, looking after the curtains, &c., could have easily been done by a score of men, but for this task alone 2630 were set apart. This teaches us that no work done for God is small or trifling. The packing up of the holy vessels was done by Aaron and his sons (vs. 5-15). Consecrated hands must set in order holy things. The bearers of the tabernacle and its furniture were three families of the Levites, the sons of Kohath, of Gershon, and of Merari. Their work was—
1. The sons of Merari had charge of the foundation things. "Sockets, pillars, boards, bars, and pins" (vs. 31, 32). In setting up the tabernacle the sockets and pillars would be needed first. Foundation truths should always go first. This is the work of the evangelist. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, Jesus Christ." The silver sockets speak of redemption, because they were made of the ransom price given for the souls of the people. (Exod. 30:15). Yes, the redeeming Blood first.
2. The sons of Gershon had charge of the uniting things. "Coverings, curtains, and hangings" (vs. 24-27). The sockets and pillars may be strong, but they are naked and bare without the coverings and curtains, in fact, it was no tabernacle without the coverings. These may represent the work of the pastor, binding all together and beautifying with the coverings and hangings of order and doctrine. The coverings, &c., brought every pillar and board into union with one another. This is the work of the pastor making manifest the truth. "All one in Christ Jesus."
3. The sons of Kohath had charge of the approach things. "All the vessels of the sanctuary" (v. 15). The vessels placed in position indicate the way to God. No service could be done in the tabernacle without them. All was powerless until the work of the Kohathites was finished. This is the office of the teacher. These three gifts belong to the Church just as really as they belonged to the tabernacle. "He gave some evangelists, some pastors, and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11, 12). The office of a teacher is not only to expound the truth, but to do it in such a way as to lead into the very presence of God, and to maintain a holy life. Imparting the knowledge that puffs up is not fulfilling the work of a teacher. The true spiritual teacher not only points the way, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the truth and a holy example, leads into it.
2. Appointed them by the Lord (vs. 1-4). No man takes this work upon him, but he who is called of God, as was Aaron. Could you imagine others making other sockets, coverings, and vessels, and setting up another tabernacle. The whole thing could only be a sham and a mockery. Why? Because they would not be God's sockets, coverings, and vessels, and servants. What better are the evangelists, pastors, and teachers who ran without being sent, and who lay other foundations, and add to themselves teachers having itching ears, who will not endure sound doctrine? From such turn away. It is to His own servants the Lord delivers His goods (Matthew 25:14). Those occupying until He come, trade with His pound (Luke 19).
3. United. The Gershonites had no jealousy at all, although the sons of Merari commenced work before them, and took possession of the spot before they came. They all wrought under one guiding will, and for the honor and glory of one Lord. Their burdens were different, but their aim was one. "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit, it is the same God which works in all" (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). They sought the good of the Lord's house always. By each one using the gift entrusted to them as stewards we show the manifold grace of God (1 Peter. 4:10).
4. Rewarded. The Lord became to them their portion and inheritance (Deuteronomy 18:1, 2). "I am their possession" says the Lord (Ezekiel 44:28). Those who consecrate themselves to the work of the Lord will find their all in Him. "They that wait at the altar are partakers with the altar" (1 Corinthians 9:13). They that wait on the Lord are partakers with the Lord of His grace, mercy, and strength. "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter you into the joy of your Lord." Partakers of His life, of His work, then of His joy.
NAZARITESHIP. A CONSECRATED LIFE. Numbers 6:1-12.
Nazareth means separated or sanctified. Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Is there any profit in consecrating one's life to the service of the Lord? There are still many skeptics, even among the Lord's people, as to any good thing coming out of the Nazareth of a separated life. They seem to think that the better way is to sanctify the pleasures of the world instead of themselves. "O fools, and slow of heart to believe." There is much that we might learn from the vow of the Nazarite. It—
1. Was voluntary. "When either a man or woman shall separate themselves" (v. 2). The Lord does not compel us to consecrate ourselves to His service. Having saved us by His Blood, He leaves us to choose whom we will serve. But through the apostle the Holy Spirit beseeches us by the mercies of God to present our bodies a living sacrifice unto God (Romans 12:1).
2. Was entire. There can be no acceptable consecration to God that is not complete. It was a separation: 1. From all the fruit of the vine, "from the kernels to the husk" (v. 4). "Strong drink" is twice mentioned as if there were a double danger of his consecration being ruined through it. This warning is urgently needed today. 2. From the fashion of men. "No razor shall come upon his head" (v. 5). It is a shame for a man to have long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14), but he must just bear the shame. The separated man has nothing to be ashamed of. He will be peculiar, but he walks not as men. 3. From the presence of the dead (v. 6). The dead belong to another world, he must not pollute himself with any deadening thing. "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."
3. Was unto the Lord. "All the days of his separation he is holy unto the Lord" (v. 8). It was not to make himself odd, or to be talked about among his fellow men. He willingly gave himself that he might be wholly for the Lord. Through it was he not seeking a deeper acquaintanceship with God? Was he not acting on the principle taught in 2 Corinthians 6:17, 18, "Touch not the unclean, and I will receive you and be a Father unto you?" Paul was a Nazarite unto the Gospel of God (Romans 1:1).
4. Implies an open profession. "No razor shall come upon his head." His hair was a public testimony as to his character. The Nazarite could not be hidden. The consecrated life is a light which cannot be put under a bushel. Love is an open mark by which we are known as His disciples. No Christian is ashamed of his consecration any more than a sheep is ashamed of its owner's marks. The scissors of Delilah made havoc of Samson's Nazariteship.
5. Involves great self-denial (v. 7). The fruit of the vine may be very sweet, but he must not touch it. Even if his father, or his mother, or his brother, or sister die, he cannot go near to see them or to bury them. His natural inclinations must give place to the Word of God. These things were lawful for others, but not expedient for him. The separated life means, "Not my will, but Your be done." "If any man will follow Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross." It is a sacrifice, but it is well-pleasing unto God.
6. Meant a life of holiness. "All the days of his separation he is holy" (v. 8). While he lived a separated life he had this testimony, that he pleased God. Holiness then is a condition more than an attainment. Those who have separated themselves from forbidden things, and have yielded themselves into His hands to do His will are holy. When the separating vow is broken we cease to be in a state of holiness unto the Lord. Our consecration is defiled, and our Nazarite testimony is gone. "Be you holy, for I am holy."
7. Was easily marred. "If a man die suddenly by him, he has denied his consecration" (vs. 9-12). Coming into contact with the dead, even by accident, was enough to pollute his holiness in the sight of God. Do we realize how easily the crown of consecration honor may fall from our heads? How easily the Holy Spirit may be grieved, and the power of our testimony perish? It is in vain we go about with our unshorn locks in the sight of men, if in His holy eyes we have denied ourselves. Ichabod may be written over our lives. Take heed unto yourself (1 Timothy 4:16).
THE PRIESTLY BLESSING. Numbers 6:22-27.
Just as the blue of Heaven is bigger than the clouds of earth, so the riches of His blessing is greater than our need. But a very small cloud may hide the blue. The clouds rise from earth, and are changing and fleeting, the blue is eternal. His blessing, it makes rich.
1. The giving of the blessing. God has always plenty to give. It was given—
1. Through a mediator. "God spoke unto Moses, saying" (v. 22). Moses was to the people what Christ is to us, the medium of Divine blessing. There is none other Name under Heaven.
2. After atonement had been made (see Leviticus 9). He cannot bless us until we have been reconciled through the death of His Son. We must be born of God before we can receive the children's portion. First the Blood, then the blessing.
3. Richly. The name Jehovah is repeated three times, indicating that it was the blessing of the Triune God. This threefold blessing appears in the apostolic blessing—
1. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. The love of God.
3. The communion of the Holy Spirit.
God the Father the source of it, God the Son the channel cf it, God the Spirit the imparter of it. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
2. The nature of the blessing. It is infinitely deep and full. It implies—
1. Intimacy. "The Lord bless you." It was very personal, and suggests the knowledge of individual need. He commands his blessing, even life for evermore (Psalm 133:3). He knows your need.
2. Keeping. "Keep you." What a blessing to be kept from sin, from the fear of man and the dominion of the devil. Kept in nearness to Himself and in the power of His Spirit. The Lord is your Keeper (Psalm 121:3-5). Remember the Redeemer's prayer (John 17:11).
3. Light. "The Lord make His face to shine upon you." The light of His face is a glorious light, we see it in the face of Jesus. David prayed, "Make Your face to shine upon Your servant" (Psalm 31:16). In His light we see light clearly (2 Corinthians 4:4).
4. Favor. "Be gracious unto you." If we have the grace of God, we have within our reach the wealth of God. Having given us His Son, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who has ever used to the full the favor offered in Christ Jesus?
5. Fellowship. "The Lord lift up His countenance upon you." His own countenance upon you means the conscious enjoyment of His own personal presence. Blessed are all they, O Lord, that walk in the light of Your countenance. O to have the face of God ever beaming upon us; how it would blind our eyes to the attractions and alluring things of earth.
6. Peace. "And give you peace." Not only peace with God, this we have through atoning Blood, but the peace of God. God's own peace ruling and garrisoning our hearts, the peace of God which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:6, 7). "My peace I give unto you, let not your heart be troubled."
7. Likeness. "Put My Name upon the children" (v. 27). To put His Name upon us means to put His nature within us. The Name of Christ, the anointed One, is put upon us when we receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The filling of the Spirit is the door into the fullness of the blessing. "I will put My Name upon them, and I will bless them." Blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-5; Luke 24:50).
1. Jehovah the Father bless you and keep you.
2. Jehovah the Son make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you.
3. Jehovah the Spirit lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
THE CALL OF THE LEVITES. Numbers 8:1-14.
"Choose You for me, and make Your choosing mine,
Whatever Your love may unto me assign;
What work for You to do, where shall I go?
O my Lord, order You, I do not know;
I fear to choose self-pleasing scenes and things—
Choose for me, Lord, and give the peace it brings."
The Levites were the descendants of Levi, and were chosen by the Lord, instead of the firstborn, to do the service of the sanctuary. Let us look at what they were—
1. By nature. When the dying Jacob called his sons together to leave his last message with them he characterized Simeon and Levi as "cruel and self-willed" (Genesis 49:5-7). The best of saints God can make out of such rough and unpromising material. Such were some of us. "Walking according to the course of the world" (Ephesians 2:2). While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. He came not to call the righteous.
2. By grace. The same grace of God which brought salvation to us appeared unto them. By grace they were saved through faith. They were—
1. Called. "Take the Levites from among the children of Israel" (v. 6). They were called out from among the others as every Christian is. The calling out of the Church of God may be here prefigured. "The men which You have given Me out of the world." The elect according to grace.
2. Cleansed. "And cleanse them" (v. 6). "Such were some of you, but you are washed" (1 Corinthians 6:11). Washing implies impurity. It is the first necessity to fellowship and service. This washing was done for them (Hebrews 9:13, 14).
3. Sanctified. "Let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and make themselves clean" (v. 7). After we have been cleansed by the Blood of Christ, and justified freely by His grace, we are called upon to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh. Shave off every unfitting habit, and wash the spots of the world out of the clothes of our daily life, and walk worthy of the Lord, in all well-pleasing.
4. Atoned for. "Make an atonement for the Levites" (v. 12). Here they were taught that it was through substitution that the grace of God and the privileges of the believer comes. A sin-offering must be made, and could only be made through the sacrifice of life. Christ gave Himself for us, His soul was made an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10).
5. Consecrated. "Set the Levites and offer them an offering unto the Lord" (v. 13). After an offering had been presented to God for them, they themselves had to be presented to Him. Having been redeemed by His Blood, we are called upon to yield ourselves unto God (Romans 12:1, 2). You are not your own for you are bought with a price.
6. Owned by the Lord. "The Levites shall be Mine." They were His by choice, by grace and by blood; by love, favor, and life. A threefold cord not easily broken. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifies. Who is he who condemns? Chosen by the grace of the Father, redeemed by the Blood of the Son, claimed by the power of the Spirit. They shall be Mine. They shall be My sons to love Me, My servants to serve Me, My saints to worship Me.
THIRTY DAYS OF GRACE. Numbers 9:6-14.
In this chapter we see grace upon grace. The Passover was to be kept on the fourteenth day of the first month, but the question here is raised: If a man was not in a condition to observe that feast on the day appointed, was he to be debarred for a whole year? Some men found in this position were heard saying, "Wherefore are we kept back?" (v. 7). This was a new difficulty, and Moses deals with it as we should deal with all such when they suddenly spring up before us. He took it to the Lord. If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all liberally. The answer was plainly given. A special Passover feast was to be held on the fourteenth day of the second month. It was a special provision to meet a special case. Such is the riches of His grace, grace sufficient for every need.
Here the way of salvation is clearly taught.
1. Unfitness. "Certain men were defiled that they could not keep the Passover on that day" (v. 6). The cause of their unfitness to profit by the provision made by God on the fourteenth day of the first month was their impurity. They were not in a state to receive it. Such was man's condition at the giving of the law—God's first provision. Being already sinners, the law could not save them, but only help to show their sinfulness. By the law is the knowledge of sin. Unbelief unfits a man from receiving the benefits of Christ's redeeming death. The defilement was of their own making.
2. Confession. "Those men said, We are denied" (v. 7). They confessed their unfitness, and sought not to justify themselves. They presented themselves as ones disqualified because of their defilement, and begged for the mercy and grace that might reach their need and satisfy their souls. The grace of God, like a river, flows down into every open crevice, or like the light of the sun, it never refuses to enter, no matter how dark or dirty the corner may be, if only there is an opening toward it. If any man open the door, I will come in to him. Confession is the opening of the door. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us" (1 John 1:9).
3. Provision. "You shall keep the Passover on the fourteenth day of the second month" (vs. 9-11). Between the first and second Passover there were thirty days. These were days of grace. After that there was no possibility of receiving a Passover blessing for that year. This little Passover, instituted for the benefit of those who were disabled, is a beautiful little picture of the grace of God devising a plan of salvation for helpless sinful man. To help these men Moses was utterly helpless. He could only say, "Stand still, and I will hear what the Lord will command concerning you" (v. 8). Salvation is of the Lord. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. It is suggestive that this provision of special grace was for the defiled, or the man that was "afar off" on a journey, and so could not keep the great feast of Passover. The Gospel of His grace offers cleansing to the defiled, and to bring near to God those who were afar off (Ephesians 2:12, 13).
4. Warning. "But the man that forbears to keep the Passover shall be cut off from among the people" (v. 13). The Passover speaks of redemption: "Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us." To those who willfully neglect this there is nothing for them but a fearful looking for of judgment. It is counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and doing despite unto the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:26-31). To despise or neglect grace is to choose death. How shall you escape if you neglect so great salvation?
5. Invitation. "If a stranger will keep the Passover, so shall he do" (v. 14). Any stranger sojourning with them may become a participant of the blessing of this memorable feast. As it denotes, redemption by the Blood of the Lamb is offered to all who will come into the camp. How fitting all this is, as typical of the great salvation, through the Blood of the Lamb of God. "Let him that is athirst come, and whoever will, let him take" (Rev. 22:17). After you have come and token your part of this God-offered grace, you will be no more strangers, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God (Ephesians 2:17-19).
THE HOLY CLOUD. Numbers 9:15-23.
" He leads round, but He leads right,
All the way is in His sight;
Be it rough, or be it long,
Void of joy, or set to song,
Bringing much, or mite by mite,
He leads round, but He leads right.
He leads round, but He leads right,
Cloud by day and fire by night;
Morn by morn, let God arise,
Scattering all our enemies;
And will sing with evening light,
He leads round, but He leads right."
It did look like infinite madness that the children of Israel should be led "about by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea." It was indeed a roundabout way, but it was the right way, for God in the pillar of cloud led them. This holy, because divinely possessed, cloud was both a standing and a moving miracle, and a witness to the stability and mobility of God's dealings with His people. No storm could shake it, yet it moved as a guiding lamp for the feet of the pilgrims. Let us think for a little of its—
1. Origin. Of how this cloud was formed we have no account. Like the body of Jesus, it had a common appearance, yet there was a great mystery about it. God was in it. It was to the Israelites the visible body of the invisible God. Great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. The flesh of Jesus Christ was the visible body in which the invisible Father spoke and wrought. "The Father that dwells in Me, He does the works" (John 17:9, 10). Know you not that your body is the temple of God, and that God dwells in you?
2. Coming. "On the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered it" (v. 15). When all had been set in order, and everything yielded up for the service of God, then the cloud rested on it and took possession of it. It is so still with regard to our individual lives. When all is surrendered to Him for His glory He will find a dwelling place in us, and use us for His own Name's sake.
3. Character. "The cloud covered the tabernacle" (v. 15). This covering signified protection as well as possession. His presence is a covering presence. The same thought is here that we have in the atonement—covering. Covered by the wings of the Almighty. The Lord your keeper, the Lord your shade, hidden in His pavilion.
4. Significance. "The cloud covered the tent of the testimony" (v. 15). The tent, or tabernacle, was a testimony for God after it was covered with the cloud of His presence. We have only the form without the power until we are covered with the Holy Anointing One. It is His presence that makes the tent of our life a testimony for Him. Cloudless tents are very common, but very useless as witnesses for God.
5. Appearance. "The cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night" (v. 16). It had the appearance of fire until the morning (v. 15). During the absence of the sun the symbol of the Divine Presence took the likeness of fire. Is it not so now? During the absence of the Son of God the Holy Spirit takes the appearance of tongues of fire. This holy fire during the night of this world's unbelief is indispensable until the morning of His appearing. You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Acts 1:5).
6. Authority. The moving of the cloud is called "The command of the Lord" (vs. 17-20). A most impressive symbol of the Holy Spirit.
1. Where it abode they abode (v. 17). Their communion with God depended on their keeping in touch with the pillar of cloud. Walk in the Spirit, and abide in Him, then your fellowship will be unbroken.
2. When it moved they moved (v. 21). As they followed the moving pillar, so we must be ready to follow the guiding Spirit. To be led by the Spirit of God is an evidence of sonship (Romans 8:14).
3. As long as it tarried they tarried (v. 22). It was not theirs to decide how long they should stay in a place. To move without the cloud was just to move into a godless condition. To go into a new sphere without the Spirit of God leading is to get into a state of spiritual powerlessness and disobedience. Christian worker, remember that the moving of the Holy Spirit is the commandment of the Lord. Grieve Him not by impatience or fearfulness.
THE SILVER TRUMPETS. THE GOSPEL OF GOD. Numbers 10:1-10.
"Broken in heart! broken in heart!
He binds up our wounds;
My God, how tender is Your are,
Your word how sweet it sounds!
A broken heart, O trifle small
Beside the radiant skies!
Yet You, God, for my heart do call,
When I myself despise."
The blowing of the trumpets was, as it were, the voice of God to the people of Israel. He who has ears to hear let him hear.
1. The trumpets, or the Gospel. Blessed are they that know the joyful sound. Note their—
1. Number. "Make you two trumpets of silver." These two trumpets remind us of the Old and New Testaments, through which God has been pleased to speak to His people, and by which His call is still heard.
2. Nature. "Trumpets of silver." They were precious and sweet toned. The best of other books are but copper and tin compared with the Bible.
3. Unity. "Of a whole piece shall you make them" (v. 2). This is a most assuring characteristic of the Bible. Although both the Old and New Testaments are written by different authors at different times and circumstances, they are each of a whole piece. The One Spirit breathes through all.
2. The trumpeters, or preachers of the Gospel. "The sons of Aaron shall blow the trumpets" (v. 8). In the eighth chapter we see them—
1. Called (chapter 8:6). The first preachers of the Gospel were all called and chosen by the Master. No man can take this honor to himself (Romans 10:15).
2. Purified (chapter 8:7). They must be clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.
3. Consecrated (chapter 8:10). His choosing us should be followed with our complete self-abnegation for His sake. "I have chosen you and ordained you."
4. Commissioned (chapter 8:15). "Go you into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." This is the trumpeter's great commission.
3. The trumpeting, or preaching of the Gospel. No matter how good the trumpet may be, it takes the breath of a living man to sound it. The preaching of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit is the voice and call of God to the hearer. There may be a great noise where there is no voice or message from Heaven. The blowing of these silver trumpets had various degrees of significance. Through them we hear the following calls—
1. Atonement. "You shall blow with the trumpets over the sacrifices" (v. 10). How important this is. The preaching that is not connected with the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is not the preaching that He bids. It is vain blowing apart from the reconciling Blood of the Lamb.
2. Invitation. "When you shall blow with them, all the assembly shall assemble themselves at the door" (v. 3). Thus the trumpet call invited to the "door of the tabernacle." So the Gospel invitation is to all, and that they all might come to Him who is the Door of the sheep and the Way to the Father. "Come unto Me, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). "Unto you, O men, I call."
3. Progress. "When you blow an alarm then the camps shall go forward" (v. 5). The call of the Gospel is not only to salvation, but to advancement in the knowledge of God and growth in grace. "I press on toward the mark," says the apostle of the Gentiles. This note of the Gospel trumpet is greatly needed today. Let us go forward in a fresh consecration of ourselves, and in a new faith in God. Launch out into the deep.
4. Conflict. "If you go to war you shall blow an alarm, and you shall be saved from your enemies" (v. 9). With the progress of indifference and skepticism should come this sounding of the alarm, that we may "be remembered before the Lord," and fight the good fight of faith. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand. To us the armor of God means being invested by Christ. "Abide in Me."
5. Gladness. "Also in the day of your gladness you shall blow with the trumpets" (v. 10). It is a blessed work to preach the Gospel with a glad heart. The joy of the Lord is your strength. The weakness of many Gospel trumpeters is that they have no real gladness in the service of God. Their gladness comes when their work for Christ is over for the day. The testimony of such can only be as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. The power of love is lacking. Restore unto us the joy of Your salvation.
"The trumpet of Christ never sounds a retreat,
All bloodless His battles, yet by blood made meet:
Or be it danger, or be it defeat.
The trumpet of Christ never sounds a retreat."
A PILGRIM'S INVITATION. Numbers 10:29-32.
"The past now lies behind us,
On it be pardon sealed;
The present is around us,
The future unrevealed.
Or long, or short our lives be,
We place us in Your hand;
O Jesus, guide and guard us
Unto Your blessed Land."
Moses said to Hobab, his father-in-law, who had come from Median to visit him in the wilderness, "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, ' I will give it you.' Come you with us, and we will do you good." Those who by faith see that city whose Builder and Maker is God desire others to come and share the blessedness.
The Christian life, as a pilgrimage, may be aptly illustrated from this incident as we see them—
1. Pilgrims. "We are journeying." 1. Where from? From the house of bondage, from the slavery of sin and the dominion of the devil, from a life of misery and fruitlessness. 2. Where through? Through the wilderness of this world, still lying in the lap of the wicked one. The experience of each individual pilgrim may be vastly different, but all going on.
2. Pilgrims journeying to a land of promise. The Christian's land of promise is Christ Himself. All the promises of God are in Him. The Holy Spirit takes the things of Christ and shows them unto us. May our spiritual life grow up and journey on into an ever increasing likeness to Him, whom having not seen, yet we love. Heirs together with Christ. "I go to prepare a place for you."
3. Pilgrims animated by faith. "The Lord said, I will give it you." They believe His word and press on. The way may be rough or smooth, their feelings may be happy or wretched, but His word of assurance changes not. We walk by faith, not by sight. Believe, and you shall see. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. By faith Abraham sojourned (Hebrews 11:8, 9).
4. Pilgrims anxious for others to come with them.
"Come you with us." This is a day of glad tidings, we do not well if we hold our peace (2 Kings 7:8-10). The coming of others into the joy of salvation does not curtail but enlarges our own inheritance of blessing. There are many like Hobab, who are only friendly visitors, they attend Church, &c., but are not decided followers of the Lord. Bid them come. That Church or Christian is in a sad condition that has ceased to say, Come. "Let him that hears say, Come" (Rev. 22:17).
5. Pilgrims willing to help others. "We will do you good." The Christian Church is a brotherhood, a family, the "Household of God. "O how attractive it would be to those sin-sick, miserable, heart-broken onlookers if they could but see the love of God yearning in us for their good. It takes the love of Christ so to constrain us.
6. Pilgrims willing to be helped by others. "You may be to us instead of eyes." Hobab had an intimate geographical knowledge of the whole country that might have been helpful to the strangers. Many men of the world might be a great help to the Church if only brought into full sympathy with the Lord and His people. In seeking to win souls for Christ let us not attempt to belittle the gifts of those who may not yet see as we do. It may be helpful to point out to them, as Moses did, how their attainments and experiences could be helpful to the cause of God, and thus attain their highest value.
7. Pilgrims who often meet with refusals. "He said, I will not go, but I will depart to mine own land." Mine own land is often preferred to God's land of promise. Mine own little plot, self, to the great kingdom of our God and His Christ. The excuses for not going are very numerous and varied: "I don't like your company," "I intend to go some day, but not now," "I would go if So-and-so would go with me," "I am afraid that I could not hold on," "I am satisfied where I am," "I have married a wife, &c., I cannot come." Well, we are going whether you come or not.
THE ARK OF THE COVENANT. Numbers 10:33-36.
It is of the Lord's mercy that we should have any visible token of His great spiritual presence with His people. Look at its—
1. Character. It was—
1. An ark. A small box, roughly speaking about four feet long, two feet wide, and two feet deep, made of shittim wood (incorruptible), and overlaid with pure gold. Type of Christ in His twofold nature, incorruptible humanity and pure divinity. The ark, like Christ, kept the law and covered up all its requirements. Its lid, like the work of Christ, forming a seat of mercy for Jehovah in His dealings with the people.
2. The ark of the covenant. Because the law, God's covenant with the people, which they had broken, was here safely kept and greatly honored. Then His covenant with them was in the ark, now His covenant with us is in Christ. All have sinned, but all that the Father has given Him shall come to Him. The honor of God is safe in the keeping of His beloved Son.
2. Position. "It went before them." While it rested it stood right in the midst of the camp, when it moved it went before them. The Good Shepherd goes before His sheep (John 10:3, 4). He has gone before us through death into resurrection, "a three days' journey," from the mount of the broken law into the resurrection life. "The ark went before them in a three days' journey." The first day—yielding up all to God. The second day— death of self. The third day—rising in newness of life. 1. Consecration. 2. Crucifixion. 3. Resurrection.
3. Purpose. "To search out a resting place." Divine wisdom was needed to search out a resting place for man. Man by searching could never find this out. Christ's great self-sacrificing work was the searching out and the finding of a place where we can rest in peace before God. A resting place is man's great need. Weary, heavy-laden soul, here is a place where you can be relieved of your burdens, the place called Calvary. Come unto Me, and I will give you rest. Enter into My rest (Hebrews 4:5). Where the ark rested they rested. Where Christ has rested in the Father's word and will here also we can find rest unto our souls.
4. Power. "When the ark set forward Moses said, Rise up, Lord. When it rested he said, Return O Lord" (vs. 35, 36). The ark was the symbol of—
1. The presence of God. Without His presence it was only so much dead weight. What are all our forms of worship without the power? (Hebrews 13:5, 6).
2. Victory. "Let your enemies be scattered." When Christ, the ark of His strength, is with us the power of the enemy is broken. Greater is He who is with us than all that can be against us.
3. Blessing. "There I will commune with you" (Exod. 25:22). Resting where He rested means fellowship with Him and with one another." My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." Abiding with the ark the pillar of cloud overshadowed them (v. 34). ' Blessed with protection and with provision, for the manna accompanied the cloud. In His presence is fullness of joy, both now and evermore.
THE GRAVES OF LUST. Numbers 11.
"The scene was more beautiful far to my eye
Than if day in its pride had array'd it;
The land breeze blew mild, and the azure-arched sky
Looked pure as the Spirit that made it.
A murmur arose, as I silently gazed
On the shadowy waves' playful motion,
From the dim distant isle until the beacon-fire blazed
Like a star in the midst of the ocean."
The grave of a sinner is always nearer than he thinks. When the mixed multitude began to lust it was the breaking open of the chasm of destruction. The fire of the Lord burning among them (v. 3) is the blazing of a beacon-fire for us. The steps from the place of privilege down to the pit of doom may be very few (Numbers 16:32).
1. The sin of lusting. Unforbidden desires after forbidden things. Observe—
1. Who they were. "Mixed multitude" (v. 4). A crowd of different peoples and tongues among the Israelites. Mixing with the world of ungodliness is sure to lead to lusting after the things of the world. While in the world we are to be kept from the evil of it (John 17:15).
2. When they lusted. "We remember the fish, &c., which we did eat in Egypt" (v. 5). Thinking about the pleasures of the world will ripen into lusting when spiritual things are not so precious as before. "Hearken unto Me, and eat you that which is good." "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it" (Psalm 81:10-13).
2. The effect of lusting. Longing for the things of Egypt created in them—
1. A loathing toward God's provision. "Now our soul is dried away, there is nothing at all beside this manna" (v. 6). Although the manna from Heaven had saved their lives, it now becomes a thing despised as dry and common. When the gifts of God (Christ and His Word) become dry and uninteresting it is a powerful evidence that the heart is not right with God. Love of the world makes many cold. The manna tasted like fresh oil (v. 8). The Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit is always fresh.
2. A discouraging of God's servant. "Moses said, they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh to eat. I am not able to bear this people alone" (chapter 11:15). The great honor put upon Moses by the Lord is now felt to be a burden. God's servants are but human, and the worldliness of professing Christians makes their high position burdensome at times. Perhaps it was a little weakness on the part of Moses, for the meekest man on earth may at times fail (chapter 12:3). But that does not lessen the guilt of those grumblers that so grieved him. Mercy is given to the one, while judgment is meted out to the other.
3. The promise of God. He promises in answer to prayer—
1. To relieve the burden of His servant. "I will take of the Spirit which is upon you, and will put it upon them, and they shall bear the burden with you" (vs. 16, 17). Although seventy men were added to share the responsibilities of oversight it does not appear that any addition of spiritual power was given. No more was needed, because the spirit of wisdom and power given to Moses was enough. But note that every man added had to be endued with the Spirit. "Tarry until you be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).
2. To grant the petition of the rebels. "You shall eat flesh until it come out at your nostrils and be loathsome unto you" (vs. 18-20). God's blessings will never be meted out to suit the palate of lust. They got what they asked to such a degree that it became a curse. Those who lust after gold or pleasure may get and get to such an extent that they are devoured by them. The answer of their own prayers punish them. We may have good cause in eternity to praise God for unanswered prayers.
4. The terrible consequences.
1. The wrath of God. "While the flesh was between their teeth the wrath of the Lord was kindled" (v. 33). Having abundance of good things in this life is no evidence of the grace of God (Luke 16:25). It would appear from Psalm 78:30, 31 that many of them had grown fat eating the flesh of lust, but their fatness only marked them for the slaughter. My soul, grieve not at the prosperity of the wicked. Let me be now and ever satisfied with Christ, the true bread from Heaven.
2. The graves of lust. They called the name of the place Kibroth-hattaavah (graves of the lust). Every unholy lust is the digging of a grave. Lust brings forth sin, and sin when it is finished brings forth death. The grave is God's appointed place for lust. The flesh lusts against the Spirit, let it be crucified and buried with Christ. May the grave of Jesus become also the Kibroth-hattaavah of the flesh.
SPIRIT-POSSESSED MEN. Numbers 11:24-30.
"O Comforter, the Holy Spirit! Before You mortal may not boast; I grasp Your Name of Paraclete, But find You strong as well as sweet; But more—Your presence felt so near, The eyes of faith makes bright and clear; My glad heart bursts into song, By Your presence still kept strong."
The Lord does not deal with all in the same way. Moses prayed that he might be relieved from the "burden of all the people," and the Lord granted him according to his request (vs. 11-17). Paul prayed that the thorn in the flesh might be taken away, but instead of that he got grace sufficient to bear it (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), and to glory in it. In the one case Moses was the loser (v. 17), in the other Paul was the gainer. Let us take good heed how we treat our thorns and our burdens. From this portion we may learn—
1. The possibilities of a believer's life. On Moses there rested a spiritual influence enough for seventy men (vs. 24, 25). Is there any limit as to the measure of wisdom and power God is able to communicate to a meek and faithful servant? The Spirit was given to Christ, our great High Priest, without measure, so that this holy anointing oil might flow down to the skirts of His garments—the whole body of His people.
2. Spirit-possessed men are separated men.
"Gather the seventy and set them round about the tabernacle" (v. 24). These men were called out, set aside, and their names written (v. 26) before the Holy Spirit was put upon them. The one hundred and twenty in the upper room were separated and set aside for this definite purpose before they were all filled with the Spirit. Come you yourselves apart at God's bidding, and you shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon you.
3. There are degrees of Spirit filling. "The Lord took the Spirit that was upon Moses, and gave unto the elders" (v. 25). After this Moses would not have the same measure of the Spirit upon him. This was not needed, because he had not the same amount of work to do. The measure of our Spirit-filling depends much upon the measure of our faith and service for the Lord. The Lord does not give His penny to idlers in the market place. Carey's motto was good, "Attempt much for God, and expect much from God."
4. Spirit-possessed men cannot be hid. "Eldad and Medad prophesied in the camp, and there ran a young man and told Moses" (vs. 26, 27). The power of the Holy Spirit is fire from Heaven, it cannot be hid. If it is put under a bushel, then so much the worse for the bushel. Christ could not be hid. When He lives in us by the Holy Spirit there is no hiding of Him. When those who have hitherto been dumb for Christ begin to prophesy it is sure to create some excitement. "There ran a young man and said Eldad and Medad do prophesy." There is nothing like the mighty power of the Holy Spirit to make young men run, and to waken them up out of the sloth of spiritual indifference. When a man gets endued with the Spirit his life will tell.
5. Spirit-possessed men are not to be hindered.
"Joshua said, my lord Moses forbids them; Moses said, Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets" (vs. 28, 29). Perhaps Joshua himself was that young man who was so suddenly startled by this innovation as to run with the tidings of it. Such men are needed, and Moses' gladness at the hearing of it shows the largeness and meekness of his unenvious heart. Every Spirit-filled man rejoices in others being endued with power from on high for Christ and His kingdom's sake. "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets," as all might be (1 Corinthians 14:5). The Holy Spirit has been given that every believer might have this power, and the command is, "Be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18).
JEALOUSY AMONG THE LORD'S SERVANTS. Numbers 12.
"Save me, O my God, from fretting,
Sin of all other sins begetting;
Grant that I may understand
All is 'neath Your ruling hand.
Save me, O my God, from fretting,
Subtle weaver of sin's netting;
Others may be great, I low,
Grace give to Your will to bow."
Jealousy is cruel as the grave. It is a sad sight to see the Lord's people looking on one another with the self-conceited eyes of envy. Godliness with contentment is great gain. See here its—
1. Origin. "Because Moses had married an Ethiopian woman" (v. 1). In this connection it is significant that Miriam's name is mentioned first, as she doubtless first kindled this fire of sedition. The Ethiopian woman being raised to a place of great honor seemed to stir up her envy. Does it make us fretful when some brother of low degree is lifted into prominence in the cause of Christ? Are we more ready to find fault than bless God for it?
2. Form. "Has the Lord spoken only by Moses? has He not spoken also by us?" (v. 2). This was a question as to the receiving of the favor of God, and their fitness to take the lead in His word. When there is pride and discontent in the heart it will soon break out in faultfinding. Am I not the servant of God as well as he? A sparrow is under the same care as an angel, but their character and the purpose of their lives are very different. A geologist knows the difference between granite and sandstone, so may any schoolboy, but that does not make him a geologist.
3. Subject. "They spoke against Moses. Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which are upon the face of the earth" (v. 3). Moses makes no attempt to vindicate his own name. He is conscious that his commission is from God, and he leaves Him to deal with the offenders. What can be more cruel than jealousy? It is so terribly soul-blinding that it will charge the meekest men on earth with vanity and presumption. Dissatisfied and envious Christian workers are not infrequently found throwing such stones at those who are more used of God than they are. Take heed to yourself.
4. Treatment. "The Lord spoke suddenly unto Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, Come out you three, and hear now My words" (vs. 4-8). Suddenly the Lord appears for the defense of His servant Moses. He honors and justifies him before their faces as more than an ordinary prophet, as one to whom He could speak mouth to mouth and face to face (Exod. 33:11). God will always compensate His tried servants for their faithful silence. The way into open reward is through a shut door (Matthew 6:6).
5. Guilt. "The anger of the Lord was kindled against them" (v. 9). Those who are jealous of others in the Lord's work should be reminded that they have a jealous God to deal with (Nah. 1:2). He will avenge the wrongs done to those who abide in the secret of His presence. The Lord looks upon the heart. Is your heart right with God in this respect? Be sure this sin will find you out.
6. Results. The evidence of His wrath upon them is seen in that it—
1. Produced impurity. "Miriam became leprous" (v. 10). The sin of the heart soon manifested itself in outward impurity. Fault-finders and backbiters will soon be found outside the service of God. When Christian workers become envious and ambitious, look out for an outbreak.
2. Interrupted fellowship. "Let her be shut out from the camp seven days" (v. 14). The spirit of jealousy quickly withers up the spirit of communion. It is an impurity within that unfits for fellowship with God and with His people. This is a law that is unalterable. The lack of brotherly love grieves the Holy Spirit, and so the spirit of prayer and worship is lost, and the soul has to go outside the enjoyment of all holy things. Beware how you speak about the Lord's servants. This is a solemn question asked by Jehovah, "Were you not afraid to speak against My servant?" (v. 8). To his own master he stands or falls.
3. Hindered progress. "The people journeyed not until Miriam was brought in again" (v. 15). The whole camp was kept back through her sin. Those who sin in the high places of the Church are great hindrances to the advancement of the cause of Christ. One fly may spoil the ointment, one Achan may cause defeat to the whole army of God, one sin will hinder growth in grace, mar the testimony, and make the life unfruitful. "Search me, O God, and try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23).
THE FOLLY OF UNBELIEF. Numbers 13 and 14.
The carnal mind is enmity against God, and until the mind is changed toward God His grace and faithfulness will never be appreciated. They may spy the beautiful land, but it is only with blinded eyes. They may hear of its goodness and glory, but only with deaf ears. Until the heart is right with God all is wrong. Unbelief toward God as naturally flows out of the carnal heart as waters down the hill. No amount of evidence in itself (for the Israelites had abundance) will ever change the human mind. "It is the Spirit that quickens." Unbelief—
1. Measures difficulties by human strength. "We be not able, for they are stronger than we" (v. 31). "Grasshoppers in their sight" (v. 33). Those who go to work without God have only an arm of flesh to lean on, in face of terrible obstacles in the way to their possessing Divine blessings. How can a helpless sinner ever overcome all the giants of evil within, and all the walls of habit that has been built about them? Measure these by your own powers, and well may you say, "We be not able" (Numbers 13:31). It is good when the sinner makes this confession, but sad when Christians do. There are high blessings in God's Word offered to His people: perpetual peace, joy, strength, victory. Like Nehemiah we must measure all difficulties with "the God of Heaven." "Lo, I am with you always."
2. Makes void the Word of God. They said "It is a land that eats up the inhabitants thereof" (chapter 13:32). God had said that it was "A good land and a large, flowing with milk and honey" (Exod. 3:8). Here is a contradiction. Unbelief always contradicts God, because it can only judge by appearance. "He that believes not God has made Him a liar." God's Word promises pardon, peace, paradise to all that believe on Jesus. But the unbelieving heart thinks that the religion of Jesus Christ eats up the subjects of it, because worldly pleasures are no more sought after. God says "Look and live." Unbelief says "Work and live." God's Word says wisdom's (Christ's) ways are ways of pleasantness. Unbelief says we would need to give up all pleasure to walk in them (Hebrews 4:2).
3. Despises the provision of God. "They brought up a slander upon the land" (chapter 14:36). "Yes they despised the pleasant land, they believed not His Word" (Psalm 106:24). The good and fruitful land was God's provision for them, but they saw no beauty in it to desire it. Christ and His precious promises are God's provision for the sinner, yet how often He is slandered and despised, wounded also in the house of His friends. You bring a slander upon the land when you profess to be a Christian, and walk not accordingly. You despise the pleasant land when you trust more to your own goodness than to Christ. You reject God's provision when you pray to be excused (Luke 14:18).
4. Dishonors God Himself. "And the Lord said, How long will it be before they believe Me?" (chapter 14:11). When Eve believed the serpent she discredited the Lord. When you believe your own evil heart you disbelieve God. What has God done for them? "He had forgiven them from Egypt until now" (v. 9), been gracious to them all the way, still they doubt His sure Word of promise. What has God done for you? Where are many that used to trouble you? Has He not been gracious to you from the cradle? What are you doing now? Rebelling, disowning, and dishonoring. Unbelief drove the nails into His hands and feet. Unbelief pierced His heart. If you are despising His mercy you are crucifying Him afresh. What dishonor to doubt Him that cannot lie. "He who sins against Me wrongs his own soul" (Proverbs 8:34).
5. Is the source of sin and sorrow. "And all the people wept and murmured" (chapter 14:1-4). How readily man believes an evil report, how slow to let "God be true." Those who disbelieve God will weep and wail. Unbelief excludes God, and so prefers darkness to light, sorrow and misery to peace and joy. Have faith in God, and He will wipe away all sad tears. Unbelief shuts out the guiding Spirit, and cries, "Make us a captain" (v. 4). O how foolish when man refuses to be blessed of God! Jesus said to the disciples, "Why are you sad?" Just because they "believed not the Scriptures." Why so much sadness in the world? Because God is not believed. The young man went away sorrowful. These shall go away into everlasting punishment. Beware of false reporters.
6. Presumes to succeed without God. "They presumed to go up, nevertheless the ark of the Lord departed not" (vs. 40-45). The foolish virgins came knocking when the door was shut. Samson said "I will go and shake myself, and he knew not that the Lord was departed from him" (Judges 16:20). I called and you refused, now I will laugh at your calamity. This is the presumption of almost every unbelieving sinner; they hope to get the blessed possession in the end, although they do not believe God's Word. But if they will not take salvation in God's way they will never possess it in their own. Some went to gather manna on the seventh day and found none (Exod. 16:27). Too late.
7. Incurs the sentence of death. "As I live, says the Lord, your carcases shall fall in this wilderness" (chapter 14:28, 29). How awfully solemn. "He who believes not shall not see life," etc. (John 3:36). "The day you eat thereof you shall surely die." They could not enter in because of unbelief. Take heed lest you fall after the same example of unbelief. "He who believes not shall be damned." God is merciful, but God is not to be trifled with. The punishment of the unbelieving is as certain as the blessedness of the believing (Matthew 25:46).
THE TRIUMPHS OF FAITH. Numbers 13 and 14.
If we believe that God has spoken, then we should believe all He says. But, alas! this is not so. Many say they believe the Bible to be all it pretends to be, and yet how few of its offers are accepted, how few of its promises believed. "I will show you my faith by my works." Can you show me yours without them? Without faith it is impossible to please God. God is better pleased with faith than works. In truth, faith is a work. "This is the work of God that you believe." We notice here seven actions of faith. It—
1. Confirms the promise of God. "We came to the land, and surely it flows with milk and honey" (chapter 13:27). This is just what God had said about it. "Faith sets to its seal that God is true." Those who prove His Word will find it faithful. God promises peace in believing, and also rest. If you cannot say that you have found these you dare not say you believe God, else you make Him a liar. The submissive will and God's Word can never differ, they are always and altogether at one. Although our experience has not yet attained, faith must ever keep far ahead of experience. When Christ is believed, God is honored, because the soul being justified justifies God.
2. Exhibits the proofs of God's faithfulness. "They went and showed them the fruit of the land" (chapter 13:26). They brought into the wilderness (v. 3) that which the wilderness could not produce. Every believer ought to manifest to the world fruits that are contrary to it. When they saw the boldness of Peter and John they acknowledged that they had been with Jesus. Every believer's life ought to be a witness to the truth of God's Word. The grace of God can turn barrenness into marvelous fruitfulness. Every Christian whose life manifests the fruits of God's promises condemns the unbelieving. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Galatians 5:22). These make a wonderful cluster from the heavenly Eshcol, but, alas 1 how few seem to carry them.
3. Advocates present possession. "Let us go up at once and possess it" (chapter 13:30). Unbelief always puts off for a more convenient season. If God has made us a promise, why should that promise not be ours at once? God's desire that we should possess it is seen in the promise He makes. This is the promise which He has promised— eternal life, present possession. Lay hold of it at once. He promises rest from labor, and rest in labor (Matthew 11:28, 29). Not only in Heaven, but now. Are you enjoying it? If not, go up at once and possess it. The land of promise is there before you. If you have faith you will possess. Faith values the present, because it knows future blessedness depends upon it.
4. Laments the folly of unbelief. "Joshua and Caleb rent their clothes" (chapter 14:6). Jesus who had all power to save, weeps over impenitent Jerusalem. When a man has discovered the infinite grace of God the unbelief of others seems awful madness. Those whose eyes are opened to spiritual and eternal things are those whose eyes must often weep for others. Those whose hearts have been broken by the love of God will have their hearts often pierced by those who despise Him. Only those who believe God can know the folly and sin of doubting Him. When faith is low sorrow for sin will be shallow, whether in the Church or the individual. If we had the faith of Christ, then we would have somewhat of His sympathy.
5. Rests exclusively in the Lord. "If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into the land, and the Lord is with us, fear them not" (chapter 14:8, 9). Faith does not overlook the difficulties (chapter 13:28), but contrasts them with the promise and power of Jehovah. Unbelief excludes God in its reasonings. Faith says is anything too hard for Him. Those who trust in Him have sure success, for they have: 1. His pleasure: "delight in us." 2. His promise: "He will bring us." 3. His presence: "with us." 4. His power: "He is able." Here we see how the bewildered sinner may have deliverance, not by looking at the great sins, or evil habits, or other huge obstacles, but by accepting His promise and leaving all to Him. By faith Abraham obeyed, by faith Peter walked on the sea, by grace are you saved through faith.
6. Follows God always and everywhere. "Caleb has followed Me fully" (chapter 14:24). God ever justifies fully, and always, and everywhere, those who continually trust in Him. This is the life of faith. Faith in God is an act, but it is the act of a once sealed fountain broken open and flowing on continually, and rejoicing to flow, and reckoning this the work of its existence. It mattered nothing to Caleb how numerous the giants, or how high the walls. His heart was stayed on God. We need fear no evil if indeed we can say "He leads me." Those who follow fully will suffer persecution—"stone them" (v. 10), "burn them" (three Hebrew youths), "crucify Him." But greater is He who is for us.
7. Inherits the promises. "Him will I bring into the land" (v. 24). This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Such are not sent empty away, "Today shall you be with Me in Paradise." "He who honors Me I will honor." Faith accepts the promises which are the title deeds of Heaven offered by God to bankrupt sinners. There is much land yet to be possessed —"high lands," "sunny lands," "happy lands." "Believe, and you shall see." Here is a sunny slope on the hillside of spiritual privilege. "You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You." In Psalm 37 five of Canaan's happy fields are promised to the faithful followers (vs. 3, 4, 5, 7, 11, 34). God is faithful.
THE SIN OF PRESUMPTION. Numbers 14:39-45.
"Deep is the sea, and deep is Hell, but pride mineth deeper;
It is coiled as a poisonous worm about the foundations of the soul.
If you expose it in your motives, and track in your springs of thought,
Complacent in its own detection, it will seem indignant virtue."
It has been said that "Wise men presume nothing, but hope for the best; presumption is hope out of her wits." In this portion of Scripture we have a solemn example of the foolhardiness of attempting to do work for the Lord without His presence with us.
1. Who they were.
1. Pilgrims from Egypt who had been saved by the power of God.
2. Followers of the Divine pillar, who had again and again witnessed the wonder working of Him who dwelt therein.
3. Murmurers who had refused to accept the report of the two faithful spies, and who desired to make themselves a captain and return to Egypt (v. 4).
2. What they did. When they heard that the Lord had, because of their unbelief, sentenced them to forty years wanderings in the wilderness (v. 34), they said, "Lo, we be here, and we will go up." In doing so they went—
1. Against the Word of God. "Wherefore do you now trespass? It shall not prosper" (v. 41). What was their duty and privilege yesterday becomes disobedience today. God had said, "In this wilderness they shall die." They said, "We will go up." But now it was in their own strength. Vain effort.
2. Presuming on the past mercies of God. "Lo, we be here." We have been preserved and brought through to this point. "We will go up." It is in vain we lean on past favors and experiences when by our sin we have grieved the Holy Spirit. Murmuring is sure to lead to failure.
3. Without the presence of God. "They presumed to go up, nevertheless the ark of the Lord departed not out of the camp" (v. 44). If we go contrary to God's Word we must go without His presence. Without Me you can do nothing. The Lord is with you while you be with Him in His will and purposes (2 Chronicles 15:2). Except Your presence go with us, carry us not up hence.
4. Thinking that a formal confession would satisfy God. "We will go up, for we have sinned" (v. 40). Confession without the submission of the will to the mind of God is ardent hypocrisy. Sin may be felt, yet not forsaken. Unless the moth has been hopelessly scorched with the flame at its first contact it will seek it again.
3. What they experienced. "The Amalekites came down and smote them, and discomfited them" (v. 45). In their self-confident effort they only gained for themselves—
1. Disappointment. They did not reach the place which the Lord had promised. They had built their hopes on a foundation of sand.
2. Defeat. The enemy overcame them. The foes of the soul are numerous and powerful. He who trusts his own heart is a fool. Without the armor of God we cannot withstand the wiles of the devil.
3. Disgrace. I use this word advisedly, "Out of favor." Conscious of having lost the favor and presence of God. This is a most alarming discovery to a true child of God. Out of favor with God means also dishonored among men. Miserable backslider.
4. Death. Many were smitten. In a spiritual sense presumption is always accompanied by the smiting blight of death. Pride goes before a fall. "Uzziah was marvelously helped until he was strong"—strong in self-confidence. The wages of the sin of self-trust is death to all fruitfulness for Christ.
4. What they teach us. These things which happened to them are examples to us (1 Corinthians 10:11). There is here a solemn warning to the—
1. Christian worker. Beware of godless effort, of hoping to succeed in Christ's work without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit with you and in you. Except the Lord build the city they labor in vain who build it.
2. Self-righteous. Beware of seeking the heavenly inheritance, the land of promise, without first making sure that God is with you by His Word and promise.
3. Formalist. Beware of trusting formal prayers and confessions while the revealed will of God stands opposed to your character and purposes (vs. 41, 42).
4. Procrastinating. Beware of depending on a late repentance. Those Israelites found that the eleventh hour for them was too late. Their last effort was a fatal one. The ark did not always rest in Jordan. If one thief was saved at the eleventh hour, the other perished. Here again, "Beware of the sin of presumption." For this sin there was no sacrifice appointed (Hebrews 6:4-6).
THE DESTRUCTION OF KORAH AND HIS COMPANY. Numbers 16.
"When You see passion in me burn,
Upon me, Lord, Your meek face turn;
Such vision, giving me of faith,
So touching me with Your soft breath
That I shall not impatient be,
But find myself conformed to You."
Pride goes before a fall. When envy enters the heart it soon becomes a hotbed for the rank weeds of discontent, impatience, and presumption.
1. See the sinners. The three leaders of this rebellion against Moses and Aaron the saint of the Lord (Psalm 106:16) were Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; their followers were 250 princes, famous men of renown. Great men are not always wise. The voice of the people is frequently the voice of the devil. Korah seems to have been the ringleader. His name means Ice, and he answers to his name. Only a man with an icy, cold heart and frozen feelings could have acted such an ungracious part toward the "meekest man on the face of the earth." Where love is thin faults are thick. When professing Christian workers become icy in their manner, you may soon expect them leading the opposition. Such icebergs are a terrible danger to Gospel ships.
2. See their sin. It was very great, and was the growth of time, as all great sins are. A backslider is one who is sliding back, slowly it may be, but surely, into the mire of open sin. The down grade from uncharitableness leads to the engulfing of the whole character in the pit of iniquity. Its—
1. Root was unbelief. They had ceased to believe that Moses and Aaron were still the special representatives among the congregation. Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief. Begin to doubt God's will, and you begin to fall.
2. Branch was envy. "Wherefore lift you up yourselves above the congregation?" (v. 3). The Lord had lifted Moses and Aaron up, but it was they that were lifting themselves up. It was Socrates who said, "Envy is the daughter of pride, the beginner of secret sedition, and the perpetual tormentor of virtue." This witness is true.
3. Blossom was presumption. "You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them" (v. 3). As if all the people were as gracious and saintly as Moses and Aaron. Their sin is ripening. There is a growing blindness to the good in others, and to their own sinfulness.
4. Fruit was death. Lust brings forth sin, and sin brings forth death, just as surely as night follows day.
3. See them separated. "Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them" (vs. 21-24). It is an ominous sign when the representatives of a government are called out from among a nation. The calling out of Lot meant the destruction of Sodom. The calling up of the Church indicates coming judgments (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Jeremiah 51:6; Rev. 18:4).
This separating reminds us that—
1. There are two classes. Those for God and those against Him. The wheat and the tares, growing together now, but must finally be separated.
2. A separation is needed. God will not judge the righteous with the wicked. Before God could accomplish His purpose with Sodom Lot had to be dragged outside. Separation is needed now if we, as the followers of Christ, would escape the judgment of the world through lust (2 Corinthians 6:17).
3. God is righteous. In calling for a separation He shows His special regard for His own. "Come out of her, My people." Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? None perish that trust in Him.
4. See them swallowed up. "The earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up" (vs. 31-35). The means of vengeance are always at the hand of God. The powerful opposition is easily overcome when the arm of God is made bare. The judgment of these gainsayers (Jude 11) was—
1. Unexpected. "The ground cleave asunder that was under them" (v. 31). Their foundation gave way. They have no standing in the judgment (Psalm 1:5). Only the ground between them and the pit, instead of the promise of God.
2. Sudden. "They went down alive into the pit" (v. 33). He who hardens his neck, having been often reproved, shall suddenly perish, and that without remedy. They say, Peace, peace, then suddenly destruction comes.
3. Complete. "They, and all that appertained to them, went down" (v. 33). God's destroying work is as perfect as His saving work. "How shall you escape if you neglect so great salvation?"
THE ROD THAT BUDDED. Numbers 17.
"O Lord, my God, You change not,
Nor deed of kindness e'er does blot;
I, too, through Your so tender ruth,
Have come to know this precious truth.
Your heaviest rod upon me laid,
To bud and blossom You have made;
And still Your rod, like growing thing,
Fragrance and fruit from You does bring."
The rod that budded is a most delightful type of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. In His calling. Like this rod He was set apart, and the name of the High Priest put upon Him.
2. In His life. Like this rod He was common in appearance, no beauty to be desired, a root out of a dry ground.
3. In His death. Like Aaron's rod, He was laid up with others. "On either side one, and Jesus in the midst." Lifted up on the Cross, and also for the judgment of God.
4. In His resurrection. Like the rod He budded and blossomed and brought forth fruit.
5. In His ascension. Like the rod He is laid up again before the Lord for a testimony. He is in the presence of God for us.
There are other lessons that might be learned from this most fruitful theme, truths applicable to the Christian life and testimony, for as He is, so are we. The story of the occasion of these rods may be read in the preceding chapter, in the rebellion of Korah and his company against Moses and Aaron. See here the—
1. Demand of God. "Take twelve rods, write you every man's name upon his rod, and lay them up, where I will meet with you" (vs. 1-3).
1. This is a call for representatives. Every rod represented a tribe. Is our Lord not pressing His demand today for representatives when the Korahs and the princes of the world are challenging the ministry and power of the Gospel?
2. Each representative had to be entirely yielded up. Each rod was to be "laid up before the testimony" (v. 4). Put in the holy place, in front of the veil. Those who would have the Divine impersonation stamped upon them must be wholly yielded up to Him. Not every one that says Lord, Lord, shall enter into the fullness of blessing exhibited in Aaron's rod.
2. Evidence of being chosen of God. The chosen of God will always be self-evident. "Behold the rod of Aaron budded, blossomed, and yielded almonds" (v. 8). This thing was done in secret, but it could not remain a secret. Light and life manifest themselves. This evidence was twofold.
1. Life. This life was the gift of God. The gift of God is eternal life. If we have been made alive unto God, then we may be assured that we are the called of God, as was Aaron. Partakers of the Divine nature.
2. Fruitfulness. "It yielded almonds." Fruit is the evidence of abundance of life. If we have been born again like the rod of Aaron, whose natural life had died and given place to his new life, it is that we might bring forth fruit unto God. Did not our Lord say "I have chosen you and ordained you to bring forth fruit," and that like the fruit on this rod, "your fruit should remain?" (John 15:16). But you say only one out of the twelve yielded up rods were chosen. Yes. But which was chosen? The one with the High Priest's name on it (v. 3). It does not matter by what name you consecrate yourself, if it is not in the Name of Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, the evidences of God's choice will not be seen in your life. Put His Name upon your life, and lay it up before Him for His honor and glory, and as surely as Aaron's rod budded will your life bud and blossom and yield fruit. But note further—
3. Position of testimony for God. It was to be—
1. Kept in His presence. "The Lord said, Bring Aaron's rod again before the testimony to be kept" (v. 10). If its life and fruitfulness are to remain, it must be kept in nearness to Him who is the source of its life and fruitfulness. The application of this is simple, yet sublime. The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, no more can you, except you abide in Me (John 15:1-6). The secret of abiding fruitfulness is being kept in nearness to the life-giving One. In His presence is fullness of joy.
2. As a witness. "To be kept for a token against the rebels" (v. 10). It is so with the living Christ now before the throne of God (Acts 17:30, 31). It is so with every spiritually resurrected soul. They are witnesses against the rebels who believe not the word of the Gospel. The believer's life, like the works of Noah, are intended to condemn the world (Hebrews 11:7). As this living and fruitful rod was an evidence that God had chosen Aaron, so the life of the Christian is a token to the ungodly world that the Father has sent His Son to save it (John 17:21). Kept in His presence for the enjoyment of His love, kept there for a witness to the power of His grace. He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him.
AARON AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF CHRIST. Numbers 18.
"I seek retreat from all this empty noise,
Mere human words, in books that have no end;
In the one Book supreme I still rejoice,
O Lord, more mighty fire—touched preachers send!
Send seers who know Your voice and follow Thee
To height and depth, not sham'd of Jesus' Blood.
O give us, Lord, these more and more to see,
Your words still their predestin'd heavenly food."
In Aaron we have a deeply impressive type of the priestly character of our Lord and Savior. Like Christ he—
1. Was sent of God as a Revealer. His name means "Enlightener." He was chosen by God to speak out His mind and will in the ears of Pharaoh. It was of him the Lord said, "I know that he can speak well" (Exod. 4:14). Christ came to reveal the Father's will. He could speak well. "Never man spoke like this Man." I am the Light of the world.
2. Had charge of all the holy things. "I have given you charge of Mine offerings, and of all the hallowed things" (v. 8). Christ indeed had charge of the offering and all the hallowed things of God. He came to give Himself an offering and a sacrifice to God. All things are now in His hand, because He is the Son of Man. The keys of Heaven, earth, and Hell are hanging at His belt.
3. Had a special anointing. "Unto you have I given them because of the anointing" (v. 8). "This precious ointment—symbol of the Holy Spirit—was poured upon his head, and ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, and went down to the skirts of his garments" (Psalm 133). This running down of the holy oil indicates an overflowing measure of fullness. The Holy Spirit was given to Christ without measure, and because of this anointing the Lord was able to finish the work given Him to do. He lived and moved and had His being in the Holy Spirit as the Man Christ Jesus.
4. Had the privilege of eating in the holy place. "In, the holy of holies shall you eat it" (v. 10, Hebrews ). He had meat to eat that others knew nothing of and could not enjoy. In the secret place of God's holy presence His soul was abundantly satisfied. "I delight to do Your will, O God." My meat and My drink is to do the will of Him that sent Me. This is holy food, eaten in the most holy place. O my soul, as one hidden with Christ in God do you feed on this hidden manna? The finest of the wheat is found in the secret of His presence.
5. Redeemed the unclean. "The firstborn of man, and the firstling of unclean beasts, shall you surely redeem" (v. 15). It is most significant that man is classed with unclean beasts in need of redemption. The cow or sheep were reckoned holy, not needing to be redeemed (v. 17). Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. It was not an example the unclean needed, but a Redeemer. Redeemed with the precious Blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7).
6. Had many servants given him. "Behold, I have taken the Levites; to you they are given as a gift for the Lord" (v. 6). The Levites were given to Aaron by the Lord as co-workers together with him for the Lord. Many have also been given to Christ by the Father as the fruit of His sufferings, and as co-workers for the honor of His great Name. "Holy Father, keep through Your own Name those whom You have given Me" (John 17:11).
7. Had his seed blessed in him. "The holy things I have given you, and to your seed with you, in a covenant of salt forever" (v. 19). All spiritual blessings are ours in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). "He shall see His seed, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands. He shall see the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:10, 11). Of His fullness have all we received, and you are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). Having delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32).
8. Found his part in God Himself. "The Lord spoke unto Aaron, saying, I am your part and your inheritance" (v. 20). Like Aaron Christ had no earthly inheritance among the people. Not where to lay His head, although He was Heir of all. "This is the heir, come let us kill Him." Like Mary, having chosen the better part, the best part was given Him. To our Lord, the Father Himself, was His exceeding great reward. Glorify You Me with Your own self (John 17:5). The Lord is my portion says my soul. Choose the better part, that shall never be taken from you (Psa 73:26).
THE RED HEIFER. Numbers 19.
The ordinance of the heifer was appointed by God (v. 2). Like the plan of salvation it doubtless would be misunderstood by many. The offering must be according to the mind of God. He Himself appoints it. Jesus Christ, the great Sacrifice, was also, after God's own heart, "The Lamb of God." God only has the right to say what and how much He will accept as an atonement for man, or as a cleansing for the defiled. It is not a question of how much a man will give, but what will God accept. His terms are alone just. The whole scene shows us Christ and His salvation.
1. The sacrifice, or the character of Christ. "The heifer was to be without spot or blemish, and one upon which never came yoke" (v. 2). Christ offered Himself without spot unto God, and as a Lamb without blemish (1 Peter 1:19). Men tried to find a blemish in God's Lamb that they might reject Him, yes they rejected the "Holy One" and "the Just, "although they found no fault in the Man. Man in the pride of his heart still tries to get God in a fault. The yoke speaks of the curse. "Cursed is the ground for your sake." But the yoke of sin never was on Him as a bondage. Sin never fettered His life, though sorrow often filled His heart.
There must be no leaven in the meat-offering. He "was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26).
2. The slaying, or the death of Christ. "Bring her without the camp and slay her" (v. 3). Without spot, and yet without the camp, seems strange. Holy, yet treated as unclean. As a substitute it must be dealt with as vile, yet to be accepted of God it must be intrinsically spotless and blameless. So was it with Christ, without spot, yet treated as the vilest, slain without the gate as the chief of sinners. He was despised and rejected of men. God was well pleased with Him, yet He hid His face from Him without the city. The great truth here is substitution, the just One suffering for the unjust to bring us to God.
3. The consuming, or the offering of Christ. "Burn the heifer, her skin, her flesh, and her blood" (v. 5). All must be consumed, and all that was burnt was given to and accepted by God. It was a whole burnt-offering, yet in the place of the sin-offering, wholly devoted to God. Here we see Christ offering Himself, every part and power of His being are all laid down, and all accepted by God. Sometimes the offerings were flayed (skinned), typifying outward imperfection. But Christ's outward and inward life were all pure, and all given to God. We fail in thought, word, and deed, but He fails not. "The cedar, hyssop, and scarlet were cast into the burning" (v. 6), implying that the greatest (cedar), the smallest (hyssop), and vilest (scarlet) may be accepted in this offering.
4. The ashes, or the virtues of Christ. The ashes were to be gathered and laid up in a clean place: "It shall be kept, it is a purification for sin" (v. 9). The ashes were all that remained. The clean place may have a reference to the "new tomb" in which Jesus was laid. They are spoken of in the singular: it. The result of Christ's death is one whole "purification for sin," the alone remedy, divinely appointed, and on the ground of death. These ashes were to be kept, set apart for the unclean. What a gracious provision, what good news for the defiled and unclean! So God is still keeping mercy for thousands.
5. The denied, or the need of Christ. "He who touches the dead shall be unclean" (v. 11). Death is the work of sin. Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. Therefore a touch was, and is, enough to make a man unclean in the sight of God. If a man touches the work of sin he has become unclean. He who offends in one point is guilty of all. Who has not touched or come in contact with the fruit of sin? This impurity must be met with by the ashes, the fruit of the death of the holy One. All have sinned, all need the purifying merits of Christ's death. Only the defiled had any claim upon the ashes; only sinners have claim on the Savior. Your impurity is your warrant to come to the fountain opened.
6. The sprinkling, or the acceptance of Christ.
"The ashes and running water shall be put in a vessel, and sprinkled upon him that touched" (vs. 17, 18). The slaying of the sacrifice or the keeping of the ashes was not enough, there must be contact, and that through the water of the Word. The Spirit takes the things of Christ, and shows them, and applies them. The unclean must have faith in the ashes, or in the God who appointed them, or he would not receive them. So must there be faith in the finished work of Christ. The sprinkling is the imparting to the sprinkled all that the ashes mean—righteousness, acceptance, and cleansing from all sin The running water may represent the moving of the Spirit through the Word, revealing and applying the great salvation.
7. The unbelieving, or the neglecters of Christ.
"But the man that shall not purify himself shall be cut off" (v. 20). And that man will have himself to blame for it. The effectual provision is free and within the reach of all. In despising or neglecting the ashes he despises God, and "cut off" from all communion and hope will be the doom of every Christ neglecter. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" Nothing that defiles shall enter in. The unwashed would defile Heaven. The neglecters are "cut off" equally the same as the rejecters, and the "cutting off" is but the consequence of natural unfitness. "All that believe are justified from all things" (Acts 13:39).
THE SIN OF MOSES, AND ITS FRUITS. Numbers 20:1-13.
"Speak gently to an erring one,
E'en if a deed of shame be done;
For else you but exasperate,
Perhaps turn anger into hate."
Let him that is without sin cast the first stone. Judge not that you be not judged. Troubles seem to come in crowds. In this chapter three sad events are recorded: 1, The death of Miriam (v. 1). 2, The transgression of Moses (v. 12). 3, The stripping of Aaron (v. 28). Three results of unbelief. With respect to Moses we shall look at—
1. The circumstances connected with his sin—
1. The place. Back to Kadesh where they had been thirty-nine years ago when they sent to spy the land, where many doubted and brought the doom of forty years wanderings upon them. Beware of old sins and barren places in your experience.
2. The condition of the people. Discontented and faultfinding. "They strove with Moses," and murmured against the providence of God (vs. 3-5). This is always a source of intense trial to the faithful man of God.
3. The humility of Moses. "Moses and Aaron fell upon their faces" (v. 6). Not as before the people, but before the Lord, and His glory appeared unto them, and a way of deliverance was revealed. "You shall bring forth to them water out of the rock" (v. 8). Moses could not make the water, but at his bidding it was to come.
2. The nature of his sin. "You shall speak unto the rock (v. 8). This was his commission, but instead of speaking he smote the rock twice (v. 11). When water was to be brought from the rock the first time, God commanded Moses to smite the rock (Exod. 17:6). That Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), and so in the purpose of God He could only be smitten once, "He suffered once." Further blessing or fresh outpourings of His fullness comes to us by asking: "Speak you unto the Rock." We have here an incidental evidence of the carefulness of Jehovah about those things which were typical of His coming Son. The teaching in the types is the teaching of the Holy Spirit. These things are spiritually discerned. In this sin of the servant of God there was—
1. Disobedience. God said speak, but he smote, and that twice over, as if there were impatience also in the act. Perhaps he was allowing himself to be guided more by his past experience than by the fresh Word of God. This is always a danger to the servants of Christ. The means used and blessed yesterday may not be the God-appointed means today. Wait on the Lord.
2. Selfish passion. "Hear now, you rebels." It is quite true that they were rebels, but calling them such names in these circumstances did not improve matters. His spirit was provoked, so that he spoke unadvisedly with his lips (Psalm 106:33). The best of men are but men at the best. The meekest man on the earth was not proof against pride. Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
3. Presumption. "Must we fetch you water out of the rock" (v. 10). It is very grieving to God when we seek our own glory while doing His work. Note how different it was with Peter and John in connection with the healing of the lame man mentioned in Acts 3:12. "Do you wish me to show you the way of salvation?" said a preacher to an anxious soul. Such me's are apt to be magnified by the seeker so as to hide the Master. Without Me you can do nothing. It is the Spirit that quickens.
There are two things that we must not forget in dealing with the sin of Moses: (1) That he himself tells us of it. He does not seek to hide from the eyes of others his own failings. For the glory of God and our good it is recorded. (2) That his failure through unbelief (v. 12) did not alter the faithfulness of God. "The water came out abundantly" (v. 11). The unbelief of some does not make the faith of God of none effect. As Christians we all come short of what we might be, but He abides faithful. Bless His Name.
3. The fruit of his sin. It—
1. Dishonored the Lord. "Because you believed Me not, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel" (v. 12). The Lord's Name is profaned by the unbelief and self-glorying acts of His people. "I will be sanctified in you before the heathen" (Ezekiel 20:41).
2. Shut him out of the promised possession. "Therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them" (v. 12). Servant of God, one sin may shut you out of the enjoyment of a great privilege, one small cloud may hide from your gaze all the blue of Heaven. This is why many of the Lord's people are hindered from entering into the fullness of blessing and power in their service for Christ, there is sin in the camp. They could not enter in because of unbelief.
3. Is a solemn warning to us. Boast not yourself. It is possible to be calm and clear like the placid pool, and yet not be clean at the bottom, so that when the stone of slander or calumny is suddenly cast in the whole may become polluted. Cleanse You me from secret faults, and keep me in the hollow of Your hand.
THE DEATH OF AARON, PREFIGURING THE DEATH OF CHRIST. Numbers 20:23-29.
On seeing a butterfly just escaping from its chrysalis an anonymous writer has said:
"Why lovely insect do you stand,
And wave your quivering wing;
As half afraid you were aloft
On fields of air to spring?
But now has reached your slender form
A sunbeam warm and bright,
And instant you have upward sprung
Towards the source of light."
The Christian never dies, 'tis only a rising up to the source of his life and being, lost in the brightness of His presence. Aaron in his calling and priestly character is a well-known and full-orbed type of Jesus Christ our Great High Priest. It is just what we might expect that he who resembled our Lord so closely in his life and work would also be like Him in the cause and manner of His death. Aaron's death was like Christ's, in that—
1. He knew of it beforehand. The Lord revealed to Aaron that he was to be gathered to his people (vs. 23, 24). Jesus knew the time and manner of His death long beforehand. Even the prophets had spoken of it. "My time is not yet." He came not to be ministered unto, but to give His life a ransom. On the mount of glory they spoke of His decease (Luke 9:31).
2. It was sudden. Aaron went up Mount Hor for the purpose of dying. No time of sickness is hinted at. It would seem as if he had been cut off suddenly. "The Messiah shall be cut off." "They marveled that He was dead already." The soldiers expected Him to linger on for a while in His dying, but reproach broke His heart (Psalm 60 20).
3. It was because of sin. Aaron was cut of! from entering the promised land "because he rebelled against My Word" (v. 24). Sin was imputed to him, and for sin he died. Christ died for sin, but not His own. The Lord laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. He bore our sins in His own body, in His very soul, which was exceedingly sorrowful even unto death, and which He poured out as an offering for sin.
4. He murmured not in prospect of it. It is most significant that through all this trying time Aaron's voice is never heard. Like the great Antitype he opened not his mouth. He for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross. No murmur ever escaped the lips or ever found conception in the heart of Jesus. Nevertheless, not My will, but Your be done.
5. He died on a mount. "Take Aaron and his son and bring them up unto Mount Hor" (v. 25). It was to him a solemn climb, leaving all others behind him, to see their faces no more on earth. Jesus set His face like a flint to go up to Jerusalem, although He knew it was to accomplish the decease referred to by Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. A handful of corn on the top of Mount Calvary, destined to fill the whole earth (Psalm 72:16).
6. He was stripped. "Moses stripped Aaron of his garments" (v. 28). Christ also was stripped, and even to His shame. "They parted My garments among them, and for My vesture did they cast lots." This they did that the Scripture might be fulfilled, both in type and prophecy.
7. Two were with him in his death. There were only three on that mount when Aaron died, one that was exalted through his death and one who was not (v. 28). On Mount Calvary, when Jesus died, there were other two with Him, Jesus in the midst, and on either side one. One was also blessed and exalted through His death: "Today shall you be with Me in Paradise." It may not be lawful to compare the other unbelieving thief to Moses, but, like Moses, he was shut out because of unbelief (v. 12).
8. His work was continued after he was gone.
"His garments were put upon Eleazar his son" (v. 28). His son perpetuated the work begun by his father, and this by the commandment of the Lord. Aaron's mantle fell on Eleazar, as afterwards the mantle of Elijah fell on Elisha, and as further down the course of time the Spirit that possessed the Lord Jesus Christ fell upon His heirs in the upper room that they might continue the priestly work of intercession after His departure. He has made us kings and priests unto God. Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministered in his stead (Deuteronomy 10:6). We beseech you in Christ's stead be you reconciled to God. This is our priestly work. May the holy anointing be upon us for it.
THE BRAZEN SERPENT. Numbers 21:1-9.
"THE soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way." Those who follow the Lord because they know it right, but love Him not, are sure to grow weary. A rebellious heart makes it hard to follow. Sin always causes the compassing instead of going straight up to possession. It is the walk of life that brings out what we really are. Dissatisfaction is sure to lead to rebellion. If the heart is not satisfied in God it will wander elsewhere. Backsliders, beware. Notice three things about Israel—
1. Their sin. It was threefold. It was a sin against—
1. God Himself. They spoke against God (v. 5). All sin is against God. We speak against God when we grumble about His providence, when we refuse to submit willingly to His workings. We speak against God when we show more sympathy for the worldling than the Christian, more interest in the things of this life than the life to come. When we prefer the pleasure of the flesh to the profit of the soul. He who is not for Me is against Me.
2. The servant of God. They spoke against Moses (v. 5). Those who hate Christ cannot love His people. "They persecuted Me, they will also persecute you." It is not desirable that we should be well spoken of by those who speak against our God. The measure of our oneness with Him will be the measure of our suffering for Him. If the blessings of Christ fall upon us because of our identity with Him, why not His reproaches. If I am spoken against by those who speak against Christ they bare witness that I am like Christ.
3. The provision of God. "Our soul loathes this light bread" (v. 5). The heart that is at enmity with God will loathe His bread. Christ is His bread for the world, but the world does loathe Him as light bread, just fit for children and sick people, but not for strong men in the battle of life. Many in their pride treat Christ as not sufficient for them, they want something else, and thus despise the provision of the grace of God.
2. Their sorrow. This sorrow that works repentance is seen in their—
1. Confession. They came and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord" (v. 7). True sorrow will lead to true confession. There is little hope for the sinner until he makes this confession, "Father I have sinned." When sin is seen as against the Lord it makes it exceeding sinful, and when this is believed confession comes easy and natural. For a man to believe that he is a sinner against God, and not to confess his guilt, is just proving his determined enmity against Him.
2. Petition. "Pray unto the Lord." The despised servant now becomes the intercessor. The persecuted becomes the pleader for the persecutors. In the evil day they send for Daniel. The way of access is still through Him who is our Leader and Commander. Without being asked the Lord Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them." Stephen also made intercession for the transgressors. When men are truly sensible of their guilt, then are they conscious of their need of a Mediator.
3. Affliction. It was only when the Lord sent serpents among them (v. 6) that they came to themselves. The rags and poverty of the prodigal made him think of his father's home. The fiery serpents of trial and trouble have brought many to confession, when these have been sent of God. But the venom of the old serpent's bite has gone deeper down than this, into the veins and arteries of a sinful humanity. Man is a poisoned being, his moral nature even at its best is a polluted and a condemned thing. For this there is but one remedy. Regeneration. Christ crucified.
3. Their salvation. It was—
1. Divinely appointed. The Lord said, "Make you a serpent," etc. (v. 8). This provision, like the incarnation and death of Christ, could never have been suggested by man. Man can invent no remedy for sin any more than the condemned criminal could invent a plan whereby the law can be set aside and himself justified. He who condemns must justify. Salvation is of the Lord. By a serpent they have been bitten, by one in the form of a serpent they must be healed. Through man came death,
by man also came the justification of life. The Man Christ Jesus who was made in the likeness of sinful flesh.
2. Divinely suitable. "Set it upon a pole and every one that is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live" (v. 8). This serpent was lifted up for every bitten one. It was within the reach of all. The means of application was possessed by all that had eyes to look. If they had eyes that could see the tents and the hills, then with the same eyes could they see their salvation. If men have faith to believe in others, then with that same faith they can believe unto salvation. Christ has been lifted up high above every one else as the Friend and Savior of men. "Look unto Me, and be you saved" (Isaiah 45:22).
3. Divinely effectual. "Any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived" (v. 9). None looked in vain. None perish that trust in Him. "Any man." It mattered not how many serpents had bitten him or how few; it mattered not whether he was rich or poor, the promise of God was, "He who looks shall live." The same God has said, "He who believes in Him has everlasting life." And this salvation is as real today as the serpent-healing of old. It is not the means that saves, but the God of salvation. They believed God and looked, and He healed all their diseases.
BALAAM'S PARABLE. THE PRIVILEGES OF GOD'S PEOPLE. Numbers 23:18-24.
It is rather a puzzle to grasp the character of Balaam; his moral nature looks like a tangled skein. He reminds one of Bunyan's Mr. Face-both-ways. He seems to be typical of those who have a great deal of spiritual knowledge, but who are more of a hindrance than a help in the Lord's work; large-headed but cold-hearted professors, who talk much religion, but who keep company with the ungodly (chapter 31:8). God may use the mouth of a Balaam just as He may use the mouth of his donkey. He who can make an donkey to speak may make a false prophet to discern wondrous things, and to say much that is most true and precious, although they themselves are utter aliens to the experience of them. This second parable of Balaam's opens with a clear vindication of the faithfulness of God. "God is not a man that he should lie." Then he sees the people of God as a—
1. Forgiven people. "He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob" (v. 21). Blessed are they whose sins are forgiven (Romans 4:7, 8). Your sins are forgiven for His Name's sake (1 John 2:12). It is God who justifies (Romans 8:33).
2. Delivered people. "God brought them out of Egypt" (v. 22). Out of the house of bondage, out from the rule of Pharaoh. He has saved us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10); from the power of darkness (Colossians 1:13); from sin (Romans 6:18); from this present evil world (Galatians 1:4).
3. Joyful people. "God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them" (v. 21). Well may we be joyful in our King. All power in Heaven and earth is His, and He has said, Lo, I am with you always. Rejoice in His presence, in His light and love, in His power and faithfulness. It will be well with the cause of Christ when the ungodly hear the shout of the King of Glory in the midst of His people. When the Gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit there will be heard the unmistakable shout of the invisible but ever-present King of Saints.
4. Protected people. "There is no enchantment against Jacob" (v. 23). The character of God's people is proof against all gossiping conjurers. The well-springs of the Christian's life and enjoyments cannot be poisoned by the enemy. They live in the presence of Him who will not listen to the envious talebearer. Miriam and Aaron may speak against Moses, but it is only to their own hurt. His goodness is great to them that fear Him (Psalm 31:19).
5. Witnessing people. "It shall be said of Israel, What has God wrought?" (v. 23). Their separated life was a witness for God. The riches of His grace is seen in His kindness towards us. In turning our captivity He has filled our mouth with laughter and our tongue with singing. What has God wrought? He has done great things for us whereof we are glad (Psalm 126:1-3).
6. Courageous people. "Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion" (v. 24). This fearless king of beasts is the chosen emblem of Christian courage. There are many who crouch as a lion, but few who rise up for the truth as it is in Jesus, and spring upon those evils which are robbing the Church of her life and power. Men after John Bunyan's Mr. Great-Heart are much needed at the front (Proverbs 30:29, 30).
7. Victorious people. "He shall not lie down until he eat of the prey" (v. 24). Behold, the lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed, and the lion's whelp shall share the spoil (Genesis 49:9). We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Let not your soul lie down to rest until you eat the joy of victory over all your sins and over all your circumstances. All His own shall yet be "more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37).
SEEING BUT NOT POSSESSING. Numbers 27:12-17.
"As the sunshine in the clouds, As the foam-bells in the floods, As the fragrance in the flower, As the dew-mown grass's dower; You do, Lord, in love assuage Trouble's sorest, keenest edge."
The keen edge was taken off Moses' disappointment when God in love gave him a sight of the land into which he was hindered from entering because of the sin he committed in rebelling against the Word of the Lord. Moses, as representing the law, could not bring the people into the promised land. What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God has accomplished in the sending of His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). The law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. We shall take note of his—
1. Assuring vision. "The Lord said unto Moses, Get you up into Mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given" (v. 12). If Moses could not enter the land, he had his faith confirmed by sight that the good and pleasant land was there. It was—
1. A land of blessing. Often spoken of, but as yet unpossessed, and typical of the exceeding great and precious promises given us in Christ Jesus, of which many Christians have heard much, but how few have taken full possession.
2. A land beyond. Moses saw it from Mount Abarim. Abarim means regions beyond. He had a very clear and greatly enlarged vision afterwards from the top of Pisgah (Deuteronomy 34:1-3). O how great are the "regions beyond" of Christian possibilities in the present life. Truly the land is great, but God was the Giver. All are yours, and you are Christ's (1 Corinthians 3:22, 23).
2. Melancholy failure. "When you have seen it you shall be gathered unto your people, for you rebelled against My commandment" (vs. 13, 14). He failed because of—
1. Unbelief. He rebelled against His word by smiting the rock instead of speaking to it (Numbers 20:8-12). How often in spirit have we done this same thing? The Lord has said only believe, but we have imagined that something more was needed, some worldly wisdom or fleshly energy to give emphasis to His word. Our smiting instead of speaking only serves to reveal our unbelief. There are many blessings into which we cannot enter because of unbelief.
2. God-usurping pride. God charges him with refusing "to sanctify Me before their eyes" (v. 14). Moses said, "Shall we fetch water from the rock for you?" For the moment he stepped into the place of the Lord, and robbed Him of His honor before the eyes of the people. All pride and self-exaltation is an attempt to dethrone the Lord. Self-interest will always shut out the Lord from the enjoyments of the fuller Christian life. Ponder deeply the words of our Lord when He said, "Father, I thank You that You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes" (Matthew 11:25).
3. Magnanimous action. "Moses said, Let the Lord set a man over this congregation, which may lead them, and bring them in" (vs. 15-17). If he cannot enter into the land himself he is most anxious that the others should. He is intensely desirous that his successor should be more successful in this matter than himself. This prayer of his reveals—
1. An entire submission to the will of God. No grumble escapes his lips. If the honor of leading the people into the possession offered them is not to be his, then "Good is the will of the Lord." He did not fall into that other common sin of getting huffy, a plague that sometimes breaks out among Christian workers, affecting both preachers and people alike.
2. A deep interest in the people of God. He would be thankful to know that others were to inherit more than himself, if the Lord was to be glorified in it. In the good land of promise, the unsearchable riches of Christ, freely given us in Him, there is enough to make a satisfying lot for every child of God. O that all Christian leaders were as anxious as looses to see the people of God entering into their inheritance in the Lord. But, like Moses, we must first at least see the land for ourselves before we can be really concerned about the enriching of the children of God with the fullness that is in Christ for them. Yet blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A HEAVEN-SENT LEADER. Numbers 27:18-23.
Moses has just had intimation of his removal through death, and the Lord singles out Joshua as the one who was to take his place and fill up his part. God buries His workmen but carries on His work. There are some things mentioned here in connection with the call of Joshua that might help us to search our hearts as preachers or teachers of the Word of God, and to see whether we as the servants of the Lord are after this Divine order. He was—
1. Called by the Lord. The Lord said, "Take you Joshua, and lay your hand upon him" (v. 18). This position was not his own choosing until the mind of God was unmistakably plain. It is His to thrust out laborers into the field. Pray you the Lord of the harvest.
2. Filled with the Spirit. He was doubtless one of the seventy who shared the Spirit of power that rested on Moses (Numbers 11:17). But by the laying on of the hands of Moses he was filled with the spirit of wisdom (Deuteronomy 34:9). All Christians have a measure of the Spirit, but all are not filled with the Spirit. In the times of the old dispensation all did not get the offer of this filling, but now God wishes none to be without it. "Be you filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18).
3. Honored by the Lord's representative. "You shall put some of your honor upon him" (v. 20). The honor which God put upon Moses was shared by him. This honor have all the saints. Did not a greater than Moses say, "The glory which You gave Me, I have given them?" (John 17:22). The spirit of Elijah does rest on Elisha. Endued with the power of the Holy Spirit is the token that we are in the true apostolic succession.
4. Accepted by the Lord's people. "That all the congregation may be obedient" (v. 20). They answered Joshua, saying, "According as we hearkened unto Moses, so will we hearken unto you" (Joshua 1:16, 17). The power of God by the Spirit means having authority, and such authority that the children of God will recognize as from above. When a man speaks in the power of the Holy Spirit others will be conscious that they are hearkening to the Divine voice. As they would listen to Jesus, so will they listen to such.
5. Guided by Divine light. "He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him, after the judgment of Urim before the Lord" (v. 21). The Urim signifies "lights," and denotes the wisdom that comes from above (1 Samuel 28:6). He was emphatically "taught of God." This is another mark of a Heaven-sent teacher; he does not depend on the wisdom of men. He is frequently found consulting the Urim of the Holy Scriptures. The strength of his yeas and nays comes from these. His difficulties and all perplexing problems are settled in the light of this Urim.
6. Successful in his work. "They shall come in, both he and all the children of Israel with him" (v. 21). He was called and empowered to bring the people into the land of promise, and he brought them in without fail. His promise was fulfilled. "As I was with Moses, so will I be with you" (Joshua 3:7). His presence always secures success. If God is to work in us and through us that which is pleasing in His sight, then we must in spirit, soul, and body be perfectly yielded up to Him. The secret of true and lasting success lies in His will being done in us. There is no higher attainment than this, and it may be yours, and yours continuously.
A CALL FOR UNITED EFFORT. Numbers 32:1-33.
The children of Reuben and the children of Gad sought their inheritance on this side of Jordan. But Moses said, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall you sit here? (v. 6). From this chapter we may learn that—
1. All the Lord's people have a common cause. Though there were twelve tribes, yet were they all brethren (v. 6). The weakening or strengthening of one was the weakening or strengthening of the whole. So is it in the cause of our Lord and Savior. "I have called you friends." "Are you not all brethren?" Ought not each one to be interested in whatever concerns the kingdom of God?
2. Putting self-interest first is a great danger to the Lord's work. "The Reubenites said, Let this land be given your servants for a possession, and bring us not over Jordan" (vs. 1-5). They saw that the land of Jazer and Gilead was just such as they wanted, so they desired there and then to settle down and let the others look out for themselves. It is a melancholy sight to see Christians settling down in the knowledge of salvation, or in the enjoyment of the doctrine of the higher Christian life, and falling out of the ranks of aggressive workers.
3. Selfish interest discourages others. "Wherefore discourage you the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land?" (v. 7). There are different ways by which we may discourage our brethren in the pursuit of a deeper and more enlarged experience of the fullness of God in Christ. We may do it by bringing a slander on this good land through our own unbelief and poverty-stricken lives as Christians, or by magnifying the difficulties in the way of entering into the possession of it (Deuteronomy 1:22-28), or by our own self-complacent indifference to their spiritual growth in grace.
4. Seeking the good of others is helping on the cause of God. "Shall your brethren go to war, and shall you sit here?" (v. 6). It is a great privilege to be able to help our brethren into their rightful inheritance in Christ. In these present days there is an intense longing in the hearts of multitudes of the Lord's people for an enlargement of the coasts of their spiritual experience. It is a question if ever there was a time when there was a more crying need for pure Bible teaching. There may be much sermon preaching without the commanding power of the revealed mind of God as contained in the Scripture of truth. As the days go on it may be that teachers of the Word will be in greater demand than evangelists.
5. Doing nothing is a sin against the Lord. "If you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out" (v. 23). The sin of idleness, or of neglecting to do our part in the great campaign of the Church's work, is a sin against the Lord that will be sure to find us out. It betrays itself in cowardliness, indifference, worldliness, and finally in open sin. Why stand you here all the day idle? Do you say no man has hired us? Has not the Lord hired you in purchasing you with His Blood?
6. Devotion to the interests of the kingdom of God secures present blessing. "If you will go armed before the Lord until He has driven out His enemies, this land shall be your possession" (vs. 20-22). The sons of Reuben and of Gad were to have their possession this side of Jordan on condition that they passed over and helped their brethren into their lot of inheritance. The reason why many Christians have not entered into a soul-satisfying portion in this present life is because they have ceased to help others. There is no class of the disciples of Jesus so happy as the workers. Those workers, of course, who are not seeking now their own, but the good of others at the command of the Lord. "Bear you one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).
"Pleasure is only half pleasure unshared,
O, forth then, my brother, share your!
Pleasure when shared is a treasure prepared,
Excelling anything drawn from the mine."
HOW TO INHERIT GOD'S LAND OF PROMISE. Numbers 33:50-56.
As the children of Israel were often "discouraged because of the way," so there are still many who are weary and tired seeking the better land of promise offered in Jesus Christ His Son. It is a land of rest and refreshing that can only be entered into by faith. Let us think again of—
1. The character of the land. The land of Canaan is not so much a type of Heaven as it is of our present inheritance in Christ Jesus. It was—
1. A land of plenty. "The Lord your God brings you into a good land. A land of brooks, of fountains, and depths. A land of wheat, barley, and vines, of oil, olive, and honey. A land wherein you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack anything in it" (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). What a figurative description of the fullness of Christ! O the depths of His riches (Philippians 4:19).
2. A God-given land. "The land which the Lord your God gives you" (Deuteronomy 8:10). "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son." He has given us His Son, and in Him all the riches of His grace. The unsearchable riches of Christ. What a gift! "All are yours, and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Corinthians 3:23).
3. A land offered to all His people. The land of promise was for every Israelite. There was in it an ample portion for every individual. There is enough in Christ for every Christian, yes, for every creature under Heaven. Whoever will may take the water of life freely.
2. The way to possess the land. There had to be—
1. A believing of the promise. It is called the land of promise. The promise of God had to be accepted, His word must be trusted. This is the promise which He has promised us, eternal life, and this life is in His Son. This is the work of God that you believe. They could not enter in because of unbelief.
2. An entering into it. The land could not be inherited by them until they were in it. They had to claim it with their feet (Joshua 1:3). We must be in Christ before we can become heirs of God. We are accepted in Christ, and here Christ is made of God unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. You are complete in Him, perfectly filled up, abundantly satisfied. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul. He is the lot of mine inheritance. My cup runs over (Psalm 16:5; 23:6).
3. A driving out of the enemy. "Then shall you drive out all the inhabitants of the land" (vs. 52, 53). The enemies that would hinder our souls from entering into the full possession of our inheritance in Christ are very numerous and subtle, often feigning to be friendly. No quarter was to be given. Every native had to be driven out. Every thought must be brought into captivity to Christ, and every desire of the flesh subdued.
3. The warning against failure.
1. Failure is possible. "If you will not drive out the inhabitants" (v. 55). It is to be feared that multitudes of the Lord's people fail here. They enter the land, that is, they accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, but they fail to drive out the old man with his lusts.
2. Compromise is dangerous. "Those which you let remain shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides" (v. 55). The enemy must have no place in the camp of the saints. Give no heed to the reasoning of the carnal mind, let not your eye spare them. These questionable things that at times act as thorns in the conscience, bringing discomfort, or as pricks in the eye, hindering from seeing things in their true light, drive them out. Bring out the Agags. Compromising with the evil within, or with the world without, mars the soul from enjoying its possessions in Christ.
3. Disobedience is fatal. "If you will not drive them out, moreover it shall come to pass that I shall do unto you as I thought to do unto them" (v. 56). That is, if you will not put away every evil thing out of your life, and be obedient to the word and will of the Lord after you have come to Him for justification and life, the joy of salvation and the blessings that are in Christ will lose all their preciousness and attractiveness to you. You will be driven out of the enjoyment of spiritual things in heavenly places. You cannot serve God and mammon. If you be willing and obedient you shall eat the good of the land, but if you refuse and rebel you shall be devoured.
THE CITIES OF REFUGE. Numbers 35.
Doubtless the apostle had these cities of refuge in his mind when he wrote these words in Hebrews 6: "We have a strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." So the cities of refuge are typical of the hope set before us in Jesus Christ. "A man shall be an hiding place." As such they were—
1. Appointed by God. "The Lord spoke unto Moses, saying," etc. (v. 1). Him has God exalted to be a Prince and a Savior (Acts 5:31). "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." A prophet chosen out of the people.
2. In charge of the Levites (v. 6). The Levites had charge of the holy things in connection with the worship of God, and may represent the ambassadors for Christ, into whose hands the Gospel of salvation has been committed, as taught in 2 Corinthians 5:20.
3. Set apart for manslayers. "Which you shall appoint for the manslayers" (v. 6). O Israel, you have destroyed thyself—a manslayer. The man who commits sin is a manslayer. All have sinned, all are in need of a place of refuge. How many are killing themselves unwittingly?
4. To be entered in haste. "That he may flee thither" (v. 6). There is great danger in delay. Death may overtake the sinner before he reaches the refuge that is in Christ. Escape for your life. Behold, now is the accepted time. I flee to You to hide me.
5. A protection against a lawful avenger. "Cities for refuge from the avenger" (v. 12). The avenger of the murdered one had the authority of God to kill the murderer outside the cities of refuge. The avenger fitly represents the law, which cannot save, but has power to kill. By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.
6. In convenient places. "Three cities on this side of Jordan, and three in the land of Canaan" (v. 14). Within easy reach of all, and were located in conspicuous spots, so that they might be easily seen at the distance. The Gospel of Christ is to be preached to every creature. "Wisdom cries without, she utters her voice in the streets, she cries in the chief places of concourse" (Proverbs 1:20-26). "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29).
7. Open for all. "For every one that kills any person" (v. 15). The stranger as well as the children of Israel had the privilege of the refuge. The salvation of Christ is offered to all. There is room enough in this atoning death for every guilty, trusting soul. If any man thirst let him come unto Me. By Me if any man enter in he shall be saved.
8. For all those who were sorry for their deeds.
These cities afforded no shelter to the willful murderer. "He shall surely be put to death" (v. 16). They were appointed for those who had killed unawares, and the man who had killed his neighbor unawares would certainly be a very sorrowful man. The death of Christ, apart from repentance and faith, cannot shelter the guilty soul. Repent, and believe the Gospel.
9. Places of justice and judgment. "The congregation shall judge between the slayer and the avenger of blood, according to these judgments" (v. 24). There is a very solemn thought here. To become our refuge Christ must take our place. The just judgments of God were meted out to Him, and the question of sin eternally settled. So that He is now a just God and a Savior. "I have betrothed you unto Me in righteousness" (Hosea 2:19).
10. Abiding places for the slayer. "He shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest." This is a precious thought. The life of the slayer who had fled to the city for refuge Was henceforth connected with the life of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil (v. 25). As long as the high priest lived, he lived in the place of safety. As long as Christ our Great High Priest lives, we shall live by Him. Because I live, you shall live also. Abide in Me. The language of David is very beautiful in this connection. "Abide you with me, fear not; for he who seeks my-life, seeks your life; but with me you shall be in safeguard" (1 Samuel 22:23).