Numbers: The God to follow
Several years ago, Tami and I had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala and the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. I wanted to see Tikal for a variety of reasons. First, its this amazing site full of old ruins. Most importantly, as a Star Wars Geek, its the location for the rebel base. In fact, I took a picture of me imitating one of the scenes. (PICTURE) Hey if you're a nerd own it!! But, the most memorable moment came at what's referred to as temple 5. It has a staircase. Actually it's more like a ladder that will allow you to climb to the top. (PICTURE 2) When I got to the top, I freaked out. I had never been afraid of heights up until that point. As my size 14 skis poked against that ledge, I wondered how safe that temple really was. I didn’t question whether the temple could hold me, it has been around of thousands of years. But the circumstance of being so high up, diverted my attention in a thousand what ifs. It’s the same in our relationship with God. I think as followers of Jesus we know that he's good, we know that has all power, but when we find ourselves in circumstances and challenges, we so easily forget. I believe that theirs something inside each of us that longs to live with a greater boldness, but how? It’s here that I believe the book of Numbers has much to teach us of how we can live with greater boldness in our lives.
This morning we’re continuing on in this series called, “His Story: Discovering the God of Scripture.” We’re moving book by book through each of the books of the bible and what they teach us about the character of God. We’re looking today at the book of ’m not talking about a phone book. In fact, the book of Numbers in the Hebrew means “In the wilderness.” It tells the story of the nation of Israel as they prepare to enter into the promised land. Along the way, they are confronted with a very important choice, “Will they trust God and obey or cower in fear?” Their decision brings devastating consequences. At the core, really lie this question of who do we believe God to be and will we do what he asks, no matter the risk? So if you have your Bible, I want to look at . Its here that Israels wandering takes a decided turn, so let’s read together.
These passionate pleas come right in the middle of Israel’s wandering. Its here that Israel must make a decisive choice. To give you a sense of that journey and the overall flow of the book, here’s another video from our friends at The Bible Project.
As we try and wrap our arms around the book, I believe that this scene in reminds us that Numbers is about the story of a fearless God and a fearful people. Just as the nation of Israel, we will be confronted with daily decisions of where we will place our trust. I think the first thing this passage teaches us is that,
1) Fear of circumstance debilitates obedience
Verse 5 opens with the word “then.” In the verses before it, these twelve spies were called out from among all the tribes of Israel and we’re sent to spy out the land of Canaan. In , these spies gather together and give their report to Moses and the nation. “And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.” In other words, they freaked out. Yes, the land was everything that God said it was, but when they saw the obstacles, they had forgotten everything God had said. Just a few verses earlier in verse 2, God gives Moses the command that He was to appoint the spies because He was giving it to the people of Israel. Now, instead of looking to God’s promise, they looked only to the challenge. The nation of Israel joins in. In 14:1, we learn that they wept all night. They began to grumble saying, “Why is the Lord abandoning us, why is he not showing up? It’s here that we pick up our story.
In verse 5, Moses and Aaron fall on their faces before all of Israel. Some have argued that this was Moses, conceding to the will of the people, but that seems unlikely given his rebukes and challenges with the people. In the same way, Joshua and Caleb rip their clothes. Its a sign of mourning and grief. They were mourning because the people were forgetting God. They were forgetting his call, his power, and his grace. Moses knew that God hadn't abandoned the people and He was about to show up- it going to be pretty. It’s like those terrifying moments as a kid when Mom sends you to your room and utters those dreadful words, “Wait till your father comes home.” Rather than trusting him, they simply threw their hands in the air and wished they died in the wilderness.
Joshua and Caleb call the people to a new perspective in verse 7-8. The people ask what are we going to do, they ask, what is God going to do? These men remind the people that If the Lord delights in us he will bring us into this land and give it to us. This word for delight in the Hebrew carries with it this sense that God is delighting because of the obedience of His people. Consider the words of the prophet Samuel in . “And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.”” Why is rebellion like divination? Its because we are essentially setting ourselves up as God. We’re assessing the situation in our own power rather than God. We’ve set ourselves up as master. The converse is also true and lie at the heart of the call of Joshua and Caleb., “The clearest expression of our faith is when we choose to obey God even when it doesn’t make sense.”
It’s no mystery that the world we live in is full of obstacles and challenges. Circumstances, difficulties, even our own frailty would seem to threaten God’s work and grace in our lives. Along the way, we might be tempted to shrink back or make subtle accommodations rather than following him. A young couple doesn’t know how they'll make ends meet so they move in together. We’re tempted to lie on our taxes, so we can get a few bucks back. Joshua and Caleb reminds that when that happens, the most important thing we can do is trust who God is. How? In the verses that follow, I believe Joshua and Caleb give us some practical instruction on how we can do just that. He calls us to
2) Keeping perspective in fear
Again, I think of myself at the top of that large temple. I get to the top and I look out and all of a sudden I realize I am high up. In fact, these size 14 skis are larger than the ledge. I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I start to picture myself tumbling down to the bottom. Suddenly, I started to get kind of dizzy and I almost toppled over. The more I think about that, the more I realize that where I place my confidence has everything to do with where I am looking. Joshua and Caleb challenge the people with two powerful commands that remind us of how we can keep perspective in the midst of these challenging situations.
I think the first is that we Count the cost of disobedience. In verse 9, He calls the people, “Only do not rebel against the Lord.” This word for rebel means to revolt or start a coup. They are making quite a statement here. They’re saying that when the Lord asks us to do something and we refuse, it isn't a weakness of character or nerve, its an act of rebellion. King Saul in a moment of weakness, offers a brash and hasty sacrifice. What the prophet is telling him is that when we choose to disregard God’s command and do our own thing, we are essentially reenacting the sin of the garden. Scripture tells the stories of people who tried to defy God in their fear- Saul, Jonah, Judas, and Ananias and Saphira- and the consequences were devastating. Though God is a God of grace, he is gracious enough to let us face consequences.
I think the second thing that we must do and find perspective in fear is to Trust God’s promise. Joshua and Caleb also call the people to not fear the people of the land because they are bread for us. If I were going to put Ryan’s paraphrase here, it would be don’t be afraid of these guys because their just a bunch of cupcakes next to God’s power. They’re kind of like the Oakland Raiders- they think they’ve got it all together but God’s not on their side. Their protection is removed from them and the Lord is with us. He’s saying who cares how big they are, have we forgotten how big God is!? Friends there is no circumstance that God can’t redeem, no illness that he can’t heal, you can never wander so far from God that you’ll never find your way. Can you imagine what might happen if we began to live from that place? Rather than tossing and turning at night, we fell to our knees because we knew that God was faithful. Rather than compromising we realized that we are more than conquerers through him who loved us!
I think the question that the book off Numbers leaves us with is, “Will I fear God more than my circumstance and do what He’s asking?” I love these words from John Wesley, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” I want to be one of those men that lives in fearless confidence and obedience to God’s goodness. We do that when we trust and follow Him.
Today we come to the celebration of what we call communion or the Lord’s table. Here at Grace we participate in this celebration because we need reminders. ate in this celebration because we need reminders. Reminders of what’s true. In , you have this crazy story. The people of Israel are grumbling against God and complained that God had abandoned them. So the Lord sends these fiery snakes that bit the people. We’re told that many die. They repent. God tells Moses to build a bronze snake and to place it on a pole and whoever sees it will live. This symbol of death becomes about life.Reminders of what’s true. Perhaps there is no greater remedy to fear than to reflect on what this table means. tells us that on the night he was betrayed he took bread and he broke it. He says, this is my body that’s given for you. He’s saying I’m laying down my life because I don’t want you to wander anymore. I can take care of the past, I can deal with your future. In that gruesome act called the crucifixion, he takes my place and he dies.. for me. Friends if you want to know how far God will go to find you, theres no better picture than this bread. He hasn't abandoned you in that circumstance because He already abandoned his life for you on the cross.
In the same way, He took the cup. He said this cup is the new covenant in my blood. He's saying, I’ve bought you- you're mine. Being right with me isn’t about the things you do, but what I’ve done. Now that I have bought you, follow me. Maybe today that’s turning aside from an addiction, confessing a sin, you maybe its saying Lord I’ll follow you wherever you lead.
Friends, today its time to stop letting fear dominate our lives. God can provide bread in the wilderness, water from a rock, life from this dead man, and rise from the dead forever proving he is the was and is and is to come. Everything else is just a cupcake. I want to invite you to do business with God. Take a piece of bread, take a cup of juice, and as you do reflect on the fact that God has set you free. Now He invites us to follow Him.