Faithlife Sermons

Idols of the New Generation: Numbers 25, 31

Chris Funkhouser
Torah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  48:17
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Each generation experiences the allure of idol worship, but it leads to God’s punishment unless mortification & atonement are present.

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Idols of the New Generation

Have you ever seen Herr funeral home's painted grass during the winter? It is painted green to hide the death below.

Background: In Num 20-21 we noticed that a transition was occurring in the midst of God’s people in the wilderness. Miriam and Aaron passed away and the high priesthood passed to Eleazar, Aaron’s son. The generation of rescued slaves who refused to trust in God’s promises and take the land God had given them is now dying off and their children are taking leadership and being prepared to enter the Land of Promise. Already God has defeated enemies through this new generation and last week we looked at how unbeknownst to Israel at the time a pagan seer was prophesying blessing over them. God has every intention of blessing this people and giving them the land he promised first to Abraham so many centuries before. However in Num 25 the new generation jeopardizes their future by worshiping a pagan god, bringing judgment on themselves. We are left with an implicit question, “will this generation also lose out on God’s promise because of their rebellion?”

Main Point: Each generation experiences the allure of idol worship, but it leads to God’s punishment unless mortification & atonement are present.

Outline: So our outline for today is simply the three parts of the main point: 1st the allure of idolatry, 2nd God’s punishment, and 3rd atonement through mortification.

1. Allure of Idolatry (25:1-3a)

Grass is greener in Moab or Israel (1-2) I mentioned last week when we were examining Balaam’s failure to curse Israel at Balak, the king of Moab’s request that Balaam gave a final strategy to Balak to have the womenprostitutes of the Baal cult to seduce the men of Israel and thus lead them astray in idolatry. Of course that is exactly what we see happening in the first verses of Num 25. It is quite common in Scripture for idolatry to be linked to sexual immorality. If you consider the heart of the idolatry that allures the Israelites here it seems to be based around sex, food, and maybe security (since the people already had cities and position in the land). Isn’t it a touch ironic that Israel is allured away with what Moab has that they feel like they don’t have, while just the chapters before Moab was hiring a seer to curse the people because Moab feared Israel because of God’s clear blessing on the people? Coveting or jealousy often triggers our idolatrous behavior. We see what other people have and perceive that their lot in life is better than ours, and so we set our hearts on the thing we discern makes them happy and make it an idol. We look across fences and see bright green grass, but we do not realize that it is simply green spray paint covering the death of winter in their lives. So the Israelites look at the Moabites and want what they have, and the Moabites look at the Israelites and want what they have. So many people in our celebrity crazed culture look to famous people and wish they could have their success, but when you hear many of them talk they desire the quiet life their fame has forfeited for them. No matter who you are and what you have there is someone you wish you could have what they have. Tim Keller defines idolatry, “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” Of course the modern allures we face in our culture are not often masquerading by the names of “gods”. But we find the power, control, comfort, or approval we so desire in all manner of ways including: wealth, self image, fitting in to a social groupclass, our families, being thought well of my others, and many more! So let me ask you this diagnostic question for you to genuinely answer for yourself, “What is so central and essential to you life that if you lost it, life would not feel worth living?”

Yoked themselves to Baal (3a) It is significant that the idolatry of Israel is said to have “yoked” Israel to Baal. The word comes from common agricultural language of the day, when you “yoked” an animal to the plow you were integrally connecting the two things so that it put a weight on the animal. They have tethered themselves to this false god. So our idolatry like theirs connects us to things in this world in such a way that our love for the think is clear. We have treated a created thing in a way that only the Creator is to be treated. In fact we have cheated on our Creator with the very creation that he created and is supposed to be a reflection of his glory. It is important for us to understand what the false gods of Scripture represent. Because we know that there is only one God so what are all these “false gods” that we read about throughout Scripture and hear about in the world around us both historically and now. Sometimes the gods that are falsely worshiped are simply manifestations of people’s faulty thinking or needing something to make a figurehead for the needs they have. It is no mistake that almost every system of false gods has a god of fertility and a god of the sun, and death etc. People needed something to cry out to when the crops were not growing, or when sickness came. However we know that at least some of the time there are spiritual forces behind these gods, of course all of them are created beings and not gods, but still spiritual realities exists behind these idols often times. Which is why Paul says in, (1 Co 10:20) "No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons." So idolatry is a form of self-enslavement! We make this created thing our ultimate goal and then when we fail to get it we are destroyed or when we do get it we are disappointed and have to run on to the next idolatrous pursuit.

So the allure of idolatry leads to

2. God’s Punishment (25:3b-9, 14-18, 31:1-20)

Anger of LORD kindled (3b-5) When the Lord’s anger is kindled a plague appears to begin among God’s people, though it is not specifically mentioned until v.9 when it is stopped. There seems to be some discrepancy between the judgment God tells Moses to conduct and what Moses communicates on. Some believe this is another failure of Moses, others believe that Moses is communicating the intention of Yahweh to impale those who were responsible. It is impossible to know since we are not given that information, but it does not seem that God is angered at Moses for disobedience and in fact he speaks through Moses on behalf of Phinehas in vv10f. The main point is that idolatry of God’s people against God angers the Lord. Enough that leaders of Israel who are allowing this kind of sin to go unchecked are to be killed and shamed for it. We greatly minimize the affect of our sin and idolatry, but one of the points this text has for us is to show us the serious affects of covenant breaking with God. You and I are supposed to see ourselves in the text as the covenant-breaking people of God.

Jealousy of Phinehas kindled (6-9) However in the midst of a covenant breaking people and weak leaders who have failed to protect the people from the sin in their midst, there is one who feels the appropriate emotions for the LORD and does what is necessary to stop the plague and provide atonement. Num 25:6, tells a story at the height of the sinful idolatry when an Israelite man brought a Midianite woman to his family in full sight of all Israel. Then proceeded to take her into “chamber”. While Israel as a whole seemed frozen in shock at this bold sin, the grandson of Aaron, Phinehas took a spear entered the chamber where they were most likely fornicating and thrust the speak through the two of them at once. Phinehas courageous actions stopped the plague of the LORD after it had killed 24,000 people. We will come back to Phinehas later. The idolatry of Israel had led to the death of 24,000 people before someone stood in the gap to prevent the spread of punishment. But that is not all the punishment that will come from this event.

Patience with Midian came to an end (14-18, 31:1-20) In the final verses of this chapter Moses is told to “harass the Midianites and strike them down,” for what they have done. The answer to that command comes in Num 31 in what is one of the harder texts for our modern sensibilities in the Torah. But to understand it rightly we need to get that Midian had deliberately began a war not simply with Israel but with Israel’s God, Yahweh. They had been living in rebellion to Yahweh for a long time. Then they sought a seer, Balaam to curse God’s people. Then they plotted to destroy them from within with their temple harlots. God is extraordinarily patient with sinners, but his patience will come to an end for every sinner and sinful people. The destruction of the Midianite people and the others of the Canaanite region have caused many a person sleepless nights wrestling with how the slaughter of all these people could square with the God of the Bible. The issue again and again comes back to a faulty view of ourselves and our sin against a holy God. God is the Father and King of every created thing and thus every created thing answers to his rules. So eventually judgment will be meted out to those who do not submit themselves to their Father/King. Often times God’s judgment is declared unloving, but real love always has limits on it. If you genuinely love someone you do not get to treat them however you want without limits. Parents are not showing love to their children when they load them with unbearable burdens, or if they neglect them because of their own selfishness. Husbands & wives who fail to honor their covenant obligations are not loving the other well. There are thousands of ways that we can see that real love has expectations of deep-seated mutuality. God’s patience ended with the destruction of Midian, everyone except the young girls who had never been with a man. Everyone else God could not be patient with any longer. As difficult as the Canaanite punishment of the OT is, the punishment still to come is even worse. Jesus describes hell in Mk 9 as a place of “unquenchable fire.. where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” A day is coming where every one of God’s created children of the race of Adam will stand before his throne and answer for the way they have lived in response to God. Either you will plead some merit of your own or you will throw yourselves on the mercy of God based on your relationship with Christ. Those who depend on their own works will suffer extraordinarily for their sinful rejection of God and the merciful salvation he offered in his Son.

New Generation: For a moment when the new generation in the wilderness started to ascend to leadership they looked like they were going to be different than there fathers and mothers, Every generation fails to earn God’s promises! We are no different, we cannot earn God’s promises, we can only receive them as a gift From Jesus Christ the only man to ever earn God’s favor fully & finally!

So the allure of idolatry leads to God’s punishment unless there is

3. Atonement through Mortification (25:10-13)

Jealous for God’s glory (10-11) Phinehas was rightly jealous. We sometimes struggle with how God can be rightly jealous, because our jealousy is almost always sinful. However even in earthly relationships there is at least one time when jealousy is an appropriate emotion. How sinful would it be for a husband to know that his wife was stepping out on him if he did not experience jealousy? The marriage covenant is such that no other party is welcome and therefore jealousy when it happens is a right emotion. That is exactly the context of jealousy in this passage. Israel is cheating on their covenant marriage partner God with Baal a false god. God is jealous and so is Phinehas on behalf of God. So when you set your hearts affection on power, wealth, beauty, or control instead of God; God is deeply jealous for your affections. We should be jealous for God’s glory in our own lives, in the lives of our family and and our church and the world around us. Like Phinehas we should want our own heart to rightly love and worship God alone.

Atonement through killing cancerous traitor (8, 13b) 25:13b says, “because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.” So how did Phinehas one of the priests of Israel make atonement for God’s people? Was is through sacrificing a lamb, goat, or bull and taking its blood in into the Holy of Holies, or burning it on the altar? No in this case Phinehas made atonement for God’s people by cutting out the cancer that was leading the people into sin. Zimri and Cozbi where sinning blatantly in front of all the people and Phinehas impaled them for their sin causing the wrath of God in the midst of the people to stop. (Mk 9:42–47) “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. "And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. "And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. "And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,"

Points of application.

What is so central and essential to your life that if you lost it, life would not feel worth living?

If the answer to that question is anything other than Jesus Christ alone, receive this counsel from Jesus in (Mt 10:28–33) "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. "But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. "Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, "but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."

So are you willing to sever ties with idols that are choking your relationship with God so that you can have greater joy with God in this life and the life to come?

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