Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
For the next few weeks we will look at some of the lesser known Biblical accounts, and the lessons we can learn from them.
In Numbers sixteen there is a strange and terrifying event that unfolds. It has all the ingredients of a great movie. There’s rebellion, jealousy, vengeance, and drama but it’s so much more than a story. It’s history, and it’s been divinely recorded for our learning.
Korah seems to be the individual that starts a rebellion against God’s chosen leader, Moses. He hops up on his high horse and rallies together two hundred and fifty other leaders among the people. This group, no doubt, gave him the confidence to directly confront Moses face to face. He says, “You’ve overstepped yourself, Moses! Take a look around at the people you’re trying to lead. They are just as righteous as you, and God is in their midst!” Moses falls on his face, then says, “Tomorrow, God will make His stand with who He chooses.”
When morning comes, Korah and his fellow rebels bring incense to the Tent of Meeting to offer up to God. In the meantime, an intense conversation between God and Moses takes place. God, filled with righteous anger, is about to demolish every one of them in their tents, but Moses pleads with God to give them a chance. So, a warning is given to the people, “stay away from the tents of these evil men!” No sooner had the warning been given, the earth opens up and Korah and all those belonging to him are swallowed up by the earth. Fear spreads among the people as they were afraid for their lives, and who could blame them? God then strikes down the two hundred and fifty leaders with fire— the worship offerings still in their hands. What an account! Of course there are several applicable lessons for us, but here are just three.
God chose for His people who He wanted to be in the leadership positions. When Korah felt that he knew better, the consequences were fatal. May we never fall victim to the mindset that tells us that we know better than God. Our Lord wants us to live a certain way, and worship a certain way. When we make changes to His divine commands, just like Korah, we have overstepped our bounds.
How did so many band together with Korah? They were all mingling in the wrong crowd. Every one of those men made a choice. They chose to grumble and complain together, then they died together. It doesn’t matter how many people think the same way we do if that thinking isn’t Patterned after God’s thinking.
What drove these men to take such a stance? They were motivated by pride, discontentment, anger, greed, and self-righteousness. All of these attitudes are toxic for the church today, and all of them still lead to destruction.
While this account is a humbling reminder of God’s reaction to disobedience, there’s more to the story. Although Korah was out of line, his descendants would prove to be more upright (Numbers 26:11). They even go on to write some of the Psalms in the years to come, including Psalm 42. Your upbringing and roots do not have to dictate your eternity. Like Korah, we all have a choice. My prayer is that as these historical events are read we learn from them and press forward, more determined to be faithful children to a perfect Father.
“As the dear thirsts for water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
Moses was a murderer, Rahab was a liar,
David was an adulterer and to murder he did conspire,
Gideon and Timothy were timid, Peter a confirmed denier,
Paul wrecked havoc on the church, so full of hate and ire.
God, from time immemorial, has used the earthen vessel,
Sons of thunder or deceivers– like Jacob, who an angel did wrestle.
Just like Abraham and Isaac, very human if chosen and special
Barak, Samson, Jephthah, who with flaws their faith did nestle
From cover to cover, Scripture shows that God works through sinners
Preachers, prophets, kings and elders, saints and great soul-winners
It helps us who would serve today, to be better enders than beginners
To not let sin defeat us, to go from offenders to God defenders
Perhaps you have a sinful past or there’s guilt here in your today
A habit, sin, or weakness, crimes of deeds, thoughts, or what you say
Look back to men and women of old, they willed for they knew The Way
Conquer through Christ your old man, get busy, trust in God and obey!
Moses is remembered for his meekness, yet he also is the man who in indignation killed an Egyptian slave driver. He was afraid to lead, but what a leader he was with God’s help. In Exodus three, we see this man who has gone to hide among his father-in-law’s sheep as one who was ready for confrontation. Of course, at times this was good and at times it was not. What did Moses confront?
–Moses confronted his God. Receiving his Great Commission at the burning bush, Moses was introduced to the God who desired to work with him to accomplish some of the greatest feats of the entire Old Testament period. Moses learned just who his God was, a lesson that would continue the rest of his life.
–Moses confronted himself. He was a man with a bag of excuses, all of which he apparently pulled out to try and avoid the task God was handing him. He rightly saw his personal inadequacies, but he reluctantly began to see the Moses he could be in God’s omnipotent hand.
–Moses confronted his people. He had to go back to his hometown. Many of us would have a hard time being effective in that forum, but Moses had the gall to go. Did he have to face the two Hebrew men whose fight he had tried to break up, men who had either witnessed or at least heard about Moses’ murder? It must have been to go back and face his fellow country men, but he did it.
–Moses confronted his enemy. Rarely has an enemy been so formidable as Pharaoh was. His heart was hard to his very end. He was arguably the most powerful man on earth and as stubborn as he was strong.
–Moses confronted his faith. Hebrews 11 affirms the greatness of his faith. It was challenged and he did not possess a perfect faith, but inspiration proves that it was exemplary and memorable faith.
–Moses confronted his penalty. At the end of his journey with a stubborn and disobedient, yet chosen, people, Moses took too much on himself. He disobeyed God and failed to properly glorify him. Consequently, he was denied the Promise Land. The result of his sin was separation; for him, it was from the physical land of promise. For the disobedient who fail to repent, it will be from the spiritual land of promise. We all confront the fact that our sin has consequences.
Moses was a man who talked to God as friend talks with friend. He was an imperfect man and even occasionally an impetuous man. Yet, he was a successful man in part because of his willingness to confront. May we be so bold!
If you were to ask the typical Bible student what the consequences of Israel’s following the foolish counsel of the ten negative spies, you might hear talk of the wilderness wandering or the fact that God denied them the Promised Land. This was truly, from a physical standpoint, the most visible result of their faithlessness. Yet, looking closer, the Israel of that generation lost much more. They teach us today what not to do in doing the Lord’s work.
–They lost proper perspective. Who did Israel send to Canaan? Every tribe sent a “leader among them” (Num. 13:2; lit., “An exalted one; a king of sheik; captain; chief”). Also, who was Israel? They were not a people chosen of God because they were the biggest, strongest, or fiercest nation, but because God loved them (Deu. 7:7)! But, when Israel goes into Canaan, they walk by sight (Num. 13:28,32) rather than faith. They saw the giants, not the God who made them. They saw themselves as grasshoppers (Num. 13:33), not God’s people! They saw by fear and not by faith.
So often, today, we set our aim too low because our perspective is skewed. We launch out as far as we can see and go no farther. This hamstrings our budgets, our goals for evangelism, and the extent of our involvement in needed works. If we focus solely on ourselves, we become latter day followers of the Israel described in Numbers 13.
—They lost sight of their purpose. Why had they left Egypt? At the bush, God told Moses (Exo. 3:8,17), and Moses, between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai, told Israel (Exo. 13:5). From the days right after their exodus from Egypt, Israel knew she was journeying toward Canaan. Certainly, she was prone to get sidetracked, as when Aaron led the calf-building project (Exo. 32) and when the people periodically, bitterly complained (Exo. 15-17). But, they ultimately plodded up to the precipice of the Promised Land. They camped at the corner of Canaan. This was where they were going. What happened? A few challenges, formidable as they might have seemed, derailed them. Rather than occupy the land God promised them, “They said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt'” (Num. 14:4). How exasperated with them God must have been!
Do we get like that today? Our purpose for being on this earth, to win souls (Mat. 28:19), help our brethren get to heaven (Jas. 5:19-20), help people in need of it (Jas. 1:27), and save ourselves (Acts 2:40), can get lost in the shuffle of career success, material gain, worldly acceptance, and even the material rather than the spiritual concerns within the local work of the church. Why are we here?! That determines where we go from here!
—They lost the sense of their identity. They were God’s special people. He had covenant with them and they with Him (Exo. 24). They were God’s children. Exodus 6:7 captures succinctly God’s sentiment toward Israel, where God says, “And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God.” Nobody could defeat them. Nobody stood a chance before them. They were the hands and feet of God on the earth. No army stood a chance against them. They could have recalled Egypt as “Exhibit A” of this (Exo.. 15:4; Heb. 11:20). Instead, when they looked in the mirror of fear, they saw themselves as grasshoppers.
Christians are God’s people. We are the Lord’s army (Eph. 6). Can you think of fighting for a more powerful ruler? We are the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12; Col. 1:18). Can you think of a healthier, stronger organism? We are branches of His vine, and the Father’s the farmer (John 15). No drought, pest, or conditions can keep us from being weighed down with fruit for Him! Yet, we have got to conquer the cricket concept if we want God to be pleased with us!
We are able to do more for the Lord, and we are able to do it better. But, this requires our enthusiastic, wholehearted participation in the work of the church. Don’t let the giants of time, apathy, inaction, and distraction turn you back. Through Christ we can do all the things He’s already commanded us to do! On to the milk and honey!
Joshua and Caleb were positively optimistic. They surveyed the situation and saw the taking of Canaan as a no-lose situation (cf. Num. 14:7-9). But have you stopped to consider what made them so optimistic? When the majority was cursed with a pessimistic spirit, these men saw looming victory.
They were optimistic about the land (7). They didn’t just refer to it as the land, but as a good land. They saw it not just as a “good land,” but an exceedingly good land. The Hebrew word translated “exceedingly” means “power and strength.” The idea is that it’s exceptional. It’s the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:5, that “you shall love the Lord your God with all….” The word is a word with great depth and the word God used to describe His view of creation in Genesis 1:31, which was “very” good. A passion that strong can’t be faked or contrived! They saw such potential in Canaan.
They were optimistic about the labor (9). Their faith led them to the optimistic conclusion that the Canaanites were their prey and that those native people’s protection was removed from them. They repeatedly admonished Israel not to fear them. Someone has said, “Fear wants to give your present to your past so you don’t have a future.”
They were optimistic about the Lord (8). He was the heart of their optimism. Joshua and Caleb mention His name three times in encouraging the people to take possession. They say that the Lord is with them and is pleased with them. To act with the assertion that the Lord is on our side is the height of optimism. They weren’t fooling themselves. God had already said He’d be with them, and they could look into the past and see His assistance and provision.
We have the same reasons to see this life with the same level of optimism. We don’t have a physical territory to inherit, but we still have a heavenly inheritance. Hebrews 9:15 tells us it’s eternal. Our labor is different, but we still should be optimistic about the battle with the enemy (Heb. 2:14-15). We live in a different age, but we serve the unchanging God (Mal. 3:6). A.W. Tozer has said, “He is immutable, which means that He has never changed and can never change in any smallest measure. To change he would need to go from better to worse or from worse to better. He cannot do either, for being perfect He cannot become more perfect, and if He were to become less perfect, He would be less than God.” All of this should give us the fuel for optimism however dark or doubtful the situation seems!
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was formed in 1958 for technological advancements and has been responsible for so many of the gadgets and conveniences we enjoy today. They use a variety of means to “both advance knowledge through basic research and create innovative technologies that address current practical problems through applied research” (darpa.mil). SRI International, one of the agencies DARPA partners with, “has taken inspiration from the giant mound of insects, to create their own swarms of tiny worker robots that can put together mechanical assemblies and electronic circuits” (Michael Trei, dvice.com). The military has given thought to using these robots to rebuild and repair, even in the midst of battle. Who can foresee where this technology may show up in our daily lives?
People can be incredibly brilliant and innovative. There is no limit to our imagination and invention. Yet, this (and many other examples) points up to God in at least two ways. First, our intelligence points to an intelligent designer. Moses informs us that we are made in the very image of our Creator (Gen. 1:26-27). Second, our brightest developments and designs are drawn from what God’s created world. Solomon once admonished, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest” (Prov. 6:6-8). They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. How ironic that in a world growing more unbelieving, mankind keeps paying tribute to the wisdom and power of the One who made it all.
One of the more interesting Hebrew words in the Old Testament is the word translated “meditate” in passages such as Psalm 1:2. הָגָה (“Haga”), most often found among the poets and prophets, has a wide range of meaning depending on derivation of the root word. Elihu uses the word to speak of the “rumbling” of God’s voice (Job 37:2). Moses uses the word to speak of a “sigh” (Ps. 90:9). Isaiah uses the word to speak of the “moaning” of a dove (38:14) and “growling” of a lion (31:4). The occult mediums “whispered” and “muttered” their incantations (8:19) (Harris, et al, TWOT, 1999, n/p). Yet, the word is often used to speak of a low voice within, pondering and rehearsing what God’s Word has to say and what it means. This is how David and Joshua use the term in speaking of meditating day and night on God’s Word (cf. Jos. 1:8). It is possible that in carefully considering God’s Word, the student would rehearse or mouth the words of God as they contemplated and looked into it. One lexicography renders it “to read in an undertone” (Koehler, et al, HAL, 1999, n/p).
How one studies the Bible is very personal, but for it to have value and assist us in living the way God wants us to, there has to be a process in place that takes us beyond mere reading to comprehension and then on to application. Meditation upon the Bible seems a vital part of this. When is the last time in your personal Bible reading that you memorized, rehearsed, and meditated upon what you read that day? Do you revisit in your mind what you read earlier, pondering meaning and relevance in your attempt to live as God wants you to live? Have you found yourself returning to its truths again and again, convicting yourself of needed changes and improvements in your Christian walk?
Meditating upon God’s Word will build your reverence of it, your conviction that it as modern and relevant as today’s sunrise, and your view of it as the inspired, authoritative Word of God. It will bind your mind and heart to the mind and heart of God. It will help you elevate your thoughts and consider the bigger picture of eternity and not just the mundanity of earth. It will have you singing with David, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97).
Prayer is a very personal exercise, a life built between an individual and God. Thus, these suggestions may of themselves feel intrusive or foreign to some. However, through the years, I have heard many express some difficulty in knowing how to praise God or what to say in praise to Him when in prayer. Leah, in naming Judah, was the first to articulate the idea (through his name), “I will praise” (Gen. 29:35). Moses resolved the same at the head of his song in Exodus 15:2. The remaining six times the phrase appears, the psalmist pens the words (Ps. 22:22; 35:18; 69:30; 109:30; 145:2; 146:2). Twice in the Psalms we learn that “praise is becoming” (33:1; 147:1). In fact, it makes little sense to make the case for the importance of praise to anyone who professes a belief in God and has seen His blessings and assistance in his or her life.
Having said all of that, what are some specific things one can praise God for in the exercise of prayer?
Obviously, this is just a primer list of ideas. Contemplate God, His nature, His work, His personality, and you will have an ever-growing, ever-changing, and ever-deepening “praise component” to your prayer life. It is good to thank Him and petition Him, but take sufficient time to exalt Him by infusing your supplications with praise to Him! As David urged Asaph and his relatives to proclaim, “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised” (1 Chr. 16:25a). Amen!