The methodologies of the Old Testament have certainly changed, but the spiritual applications are still in play. We may not kill people today for their sin, but the fact is, sin kills, so it is wise for us to deal with that sin in the most spiritually ruthless way before it wreaks its murderous havoc in our lives, the lives of our loved ones, and the lives of the spiritual community to which we belong!
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 25:1-4
While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”
The methodologies of the Old Testament might have changed, but the spiritual applications are still in play. We may not kill people today for their sin, but the fact is, sin kills, so it is wise for us to deal with that sin in the most spiritually ruthless way before it wreaks its murderous havoc in our lives, the lives of our loved ones, and the lives of the spiritual community to which we belong. And when the source of that kind of cancerous sin is an unrepentant person, dealing ruthlessly with that one through the process of discipline Christ provided for his church is not only the right thing to do, it is infinitely wise.
Of course, Numbers 25 is a tough chapter to read. The punishment for the sin that took place in this story was swift and brutal, but the sin was a gross offense to the holiness of God as well as a clear and present danger to the community of Israel. The Lord ordered the leaders who violated his clear command by engaging in sexual immorality and blatant idol worship to be summarily executed. And he sent a plague against those who similarly indulged as their leaders did, and before it ended, 24,000 of God’s own people had died. Obviously, this business of sin was deadly serious to God, even though today we have a tough time juxtaposing the love of God with the justice of God. God loves you, but he hates sin because he knows what that sin will do to you.
And of course, I am not suggesting that we return to the Old Testament way of dealing with gross sin. There is no indication in the Gospels or anywhere in the New Testament that the new covenant of grace instituted by our Lord suggested that we legislate the kind of capital punishment for violating the holiness of God that we routinely see in the Pentateuch. In fact, nowhere does it even suggest corporal punishment for sin. Yet clearly, Jesus, Paul and the writers promoted a swift and ruthlessly response to the cancer of sin on both a personal and a corporate level. In warning of the spiritual dangers that come from physical sin, Jesus said rather bluntly,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
Jesus was not promoting eye-plucking, but heart cleansing. In other words, kill sin before it kills you!
In dealing with the cancerous spread of sin within the spiritual community, Paul commanded the church at Corinth to put an unrepentant offender out of the fellowship:
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)
It is quite evident that nothing is more important to God than the spiritual and relational safety of his family—and sin of a gross nature must never be tolerated. Kill sin before it kills the community!
When we see how important moral purity is to our Father, both from his ruthless treatment of offense and offender in the Old Testament along with his stern warnings in the New, the wise and mature believer will take the same ruthless position against sin while taking a sensitive but serious posture toward the sinful. Moreover, rather than seeing these actions as simply the sternness of God, a wise believer will see them as his grace. Paul writes in Titus 2:11-14,
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
It is not a whole lot of fun to read Old Testament passages like this one and then talk about how we might apply them today. But beneath the seriousness of such sternness is the kindness of a Father who wants nothing but the best for his dearly loved children—which includes you and me.
We must learn to be grateful for the kindness and sternness of our God.