Killing What Will Kill You

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

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!

Destroy Sin

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.

Going Deeper With God: It will take a little bit of effort, but try memorizing Titus 2:11-14 this week. Better yet, make sure you live it out.

If You’re Going To Speak For God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The power to call out a judgment on someone is subject to God alone, not the prophet’s feelings. Likewise, the power to bless someone is within the purview of God alone, not the prophet’s favor. If you or someone you know claim to have a prophetic word, then make sure that message is truly from God and not merely from human passion or opinion. Speaking for the Almighty carries a heavy responsibility and requires a very high bar.

God Speaks.jpeg.001

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 23:11-12, 25-26

Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!” Balaam answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?” …Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!” Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”

From our twenty-first century perspective, the interaction between the ancient prophet Balaam and King Balak is quite amusing. Balaam speaks for God, yet he is willing to moderate the message for money—he can be bought. And Balak seems to be willing to pay until his gets the prophecy he likes. Three times, in essence he tells Balaam, “no, that message from God is not the one I want. Let’s try another one!”

Of course, these men lived in a primitive time. They weren’t unintelligent, mind you, they just didn’t have access to the information you and I have. King Balak lived in a violent world, a survival of the fittest time, and the very real possibility of his nation (Moab) being wiped out by an invading nation (the Israelites) was a clear and present danger. So he was doing what he knew to do: get some insider information from the Divine and hope to goodness that information would save his skin—and his nation. As far as Balaam goes, he didn’t have the full revelation of God that we now do, so his information was often shaped by his circumstances rather than Scripture. That is not to excuse this prophet from pulling his prophetic punches for pay, it simply explains Balaam.

Now this story continues beyond Numbers 23, and ultimately Balaam gives in to the pressure to curse Israel. But he doesn’t do it directly through a verbal curse, but rather, he teaches the Moabites how to lure the people of God into sexual immorality. And in the process of God judging Moab through the sword of the Israelite army, this sometime-prophet of God is put to death. But at least in this chapter, he stays true to what God tells him by speaking only the Word of the Lord. And in the process, he leaves us with some helpful lessons for those who would speak for God today.

Here is one lesson: The power to call out a judgment on someone is subject to God alone, and it is not subject to the prophet’s feelings. Likewise, the power to bless someone is within the purview of God alone, and is not subject to the prophet’s favor or mood. In Numbers 23:8-9, Balaam responds to Balak’s efforts to influence a negative message:

How can I curse those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?

If you or someone you know claims to speak for God, then make sure that the message is truly from God and not simply from human passion or opinion. That is both a heavy responsibility and a very high bar.

Here is another lesson: God is not subject to human emotions. He will not be angry as quickly as we are—he is infinitely patient. Nor will he overlook sin like we do simply because we happen to like the sinner or are unwilling to speak a hard word. God see things at one and the same time with utter moral clarity and an unassailably just character yet with the eyes of a Father/Creator who longs to redeem his wayward creation through Fatherly discipline rather than remove them in Divine judgment. Yet the fact remains, God’s faithful love can never be separated from his fierce holiness, and his fierce holiness can never be separated from his faithful love. Here is how Balaam said it in Numbers 23:19-20,

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.

One final lesson: If you fancy yourself a prophet, your prophetic responsibility is to speak when God says to speak, and shut up when God is silent. Don’t fill the air with prognostications simply because you have a “calling” or because you have an opinion. Notice this exchange between the frustrated king and the resolute prophet in Numbers 23: 25-26,

Then Balak said to Balaam, “Then neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!”
Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”

Do prophets speak today? Of course, and we must be open to the prophetic word. But Scripture sets the prophetic bar very high, so let both the speaker and the listener beware. So whomever is going to speak for God, make sure it is God speaking, or keep quiet.

Going Deeper With God: Whether you have a prophetic word or simply what seems to be some relevant Scriptural advice, follow Balaam’s advice: just do whatever the Lord says!

While You Sleep, God Stands Guard

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

While the Moabite king, Balak is concocting his plan with Balaam to destroy the people of God, the Israelites are oblivious to this eminent danger. Yet God is ever watchful, protecting Israel by warning off Balaam from doing anything that would bring harm. While Israel slumbered, their God stood guard. That’s true for you, too. While you may stress over many things you can see, there are thousands more things you can’t see that would drive you insane if you only knew. But God knows, and while you sleep, he stands guard.

God Guards.001

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 22:27-34

When Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff. Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam. “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!” “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?” “No,” Balaam admitted. Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him.  “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.” Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I didn’t realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will return home if you are against my going.”

The story of Balaam and his donkey has to be one of the strangest and funniest yet most unusually instructive chapters in the Bible. Let me take those one at a time—strange, funny and instructive.

First of all, this account is a bit weird. We are not quite sure from just this chapter if Balaam is a true or false prophet. It appears that he was a man who actually heard from God, even though he was outside the community of Israel. He lived in a faraway place, and apparently was so famous for getting a word from the Lord now and again that the Moabite king would seek his favor. But from this and other chapters, we also learn that even while hearing from God on occasion, Balaam was far from perfect, for he was ultimately influenced by the possibility of more money and the potential for more fame:

They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. (2 Peter 2:15)

Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. (Jude 1:11)

But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. (Revelation 2:14)

All five of the Midianite kings—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba—died in the battle. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. (Numbers 31:8)

Now let me jump ahead and offer a thought that falls into the instructive nature of this story. No man or woman who speaks for God is perfect. Never forget that—especially in this day and age where prophetic voices fill the airwaves and compete for your financial allegiance. That doesn’t mean the message from an imperfect prophet is not from God—it may very well be. But for sure, just because a person claims to speak for God doesn’t guarantee that God is speaking through them. If you are listening to a so-called prophet, caveat emptor: let the listener have discernment. As was said about Balaam, it is hard to tell on the surface if those who claim prophetic standing are true or false. That is why you need to pray for discernment. That is why you need to stay grounded in the “more sure word of prophecy” — the Bible. And that is why you must get under the ministry of a local shepherd, where you can watch his or her life and doctrine closely.

Second, how humorous is this story? Really? A man talks to a donkey—and the donkey talks back: “The Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. ‘What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?’ it asked Balaam. Balaam shouted, ‘You have made me look like a fool!” Look like a fool—no kidding; the man is literally carrying on a conversation with a donkey. I suppose here is a case where a donkey made an ass out of a man. For reals, now look who’s saying “nay”.

“Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee?” And Balaam said, “Nay.” (Numbers 22:31, KJV)

Again, skipping ahead to the instructive observations to the story, among the many applications we could insert here, for sure, we can conclude that God has a sense of humor. If we step back and think about how he works in our lives, we would have to chuckle at the funny, sometimes ridiculous ways God has to use to get our attention. Learn a lesson from Balaam: Don’t make God get to the point where he has to use a donkey to get your attention. Listen the first time!

Third, the story is incredibly instructive in this over-arching sense: One of the most encouraging truths we can glean from Numbers 22 is not something that is actually stated in the chapter. It is happening all around it. You see, while Balak is concocting his plan with Balaam to destroy the people of God, the Israelites are oblivious to the eminent danger. Yet God is ever watchful, protecting Israel by warning off Balaam from doing anything that would bring harm. While Israel slumbers, their God stood guard.

And that is true for you, too. While you may stress and worry over many things you can see, there are thousands more things you don’t see that would drive you insane if you only knew. But God knows, and while you sleep, he stands guard. He is your strong tower, your shield, your defender, your warrior.

Now if the Lord will keep you from what you don’t see, he will also keep you from what you do see. Either way, he is your Warrior God. And since God is in charge of your safety, why not give him all your concerns!

Going Deeper With God: What are you stressing over today! Give it to your Warrior God. He will fight your battle for you!

A Sneak Peak at Mercy and Grace

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Let’s just admit that we are no different than the complaining Israelites. It is human nature. The Hebrews grumbled in the Old Testament, the Jews griped in the Gospels, the new community complained at the launch of the church in Acts, and before the day is out, the odds are hovering around 100% that you will get grouchy over some inconvenience related to God’s silence or slowness or lack of provision in your life. Me too! Unfortunately, original sin rewired us from gratitude to griping. Not to excuse or diminish the sin of complaint in any way, but thank God for mercy and grace that covers our fallen, shallow, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately faith.

Boy crying in grocery cart.

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 21:5-9

They spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

Same song, umpteenth verse: the Israelites are tested, they fail. They run into hardship, they complain. They are delivered by God’s mighty hand one minute, the next they are blaming him for abandoning them. Over and again in Numbers, we see this sad story of shallow, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately faith displayed by the people of God toward their God and his leader. And over and again, the Lord patiently puts up with their whining and complaining.

Now before we cluck our tongues at their weak and wishy-washy spirituality, let’s just admit that we are no different than the Israelites. It is human nature. The Israelites grumbled in the Old Testament, the Jews griped in the Gospels, the new community complained at the launch of the church in Acts, and before the day is out, the odds are hovering around 100% that you will get grouchy over some inconvenience related to God’s silence or slowness or lack of provision in your life. Me too! Unfortunately, we are just wired that way.

But thank God, here in this story we have a sneak peak at the mercy and grace of God that sustains us every single moment of our day. In the case of the griping Hebrews, God’s patience wore thin and he sent punishment upon them in the form of poisonous snakes. And they paid a painful price. Interstingly, however, when they called out to him, he provided immediate relief. Rather than going through a sacrificial ritual to remove their guilt and sin, God gave the Israelites a way to simply look to an uplifted cross and be healed from the iniquity that was leading to their deaths.

That was mercy! God removed from them what they deserved: just punishment. That was grace: he healed them even in their sinful, rebellious state. Mercy—not getting what we deserve. Grace—getting what we don’t deserve. That is God.

Even in the Old Testament, God was planning for a time when his Son would be lifted up on a pole to pay the once-and-for all full price for our sins. And all we would have to do, could do, would be to look to him and receive our salvation.

That is mercy: we deserved punishment, eternal judgment for our sin. But God placed our punishment on Jesus, who knew no sin. (2 Corinthians 5:21) He became sin on our behalf, so that we could become righteous before God. That was grace: we got redemption, the forgiveness of our sins through his grace. (Ephesians 1:7). Due to no righteousness of our own, through Jesus we received grace—God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Thank God for mercy and grace. You and I would not be here if not for that!

Going Deeper With God: Offer a prayer of humble gratitude to God today for his mercy and grace.

The Danger of Trying to Help God Out

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God doesn’t need our help; just our cooperation. When we try to perfect his work, we end up taking his glory for ourselves, and that is always a dangerous path to tread. We must simply let God be God, and trust him to bring glory out of our situations in his way and in his time. Wherever you need God’s help—with a difficult spouse, a rebellious child, a harsh boss, an irritating co-worker—let God be God. He will do a much better job than you!

You Are Not God

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 20:7-12

The Lord said to Moses, “You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.” So Moses did as he was told. He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the Lord. Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!”

I feel for Moses on this one—I really do. Put yourself in his sandals: he’d led these rebellious, complaining, sin-prone Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness up to this point in the most miraculous way possible. He had mediated the ten plagues, parted the Red Sea, negotiated a daily supply of manna, strategized victory over enemies, delivered the Ten Commandments and clearly wore the approval of God on his shining countenance. Yet the people continued to complain about his leadership and doubt God’s record of provision.

Now they were complaining about having no water. And they were blaming Moses. And they were blaming God. And they were so misguided in their emotions that they actually talked about how glorious it had been for them during their slavery in Egypt. They were a difficult bunch, to put it nicely.

In response to this, Moses initially did what a good spiritual leader is supposed to do: he went to God. He an Aaron walked into the Tabernacle and fell flat on their faces before the Lord. And God graciously revealed his glorious presence to them once again. But not only that, but once again, God also provided a plan to reveal his greatness to the people by providing water from a rock. Moses was to call the people together and demonstrate to them once again the glory of the Lord and his gracious supply.

That is where Moses lost it. He called the people together, and understandably, he angrily yelled at them for their rebellious distrust of God. To make his point, he struck the rock rather than simply speak to it as the Lord had commanded. Moses’ emotions got the better of him, and instead of simply letting God do the supernatural in the most natural way, he thought he would help God out with a bit more dramatic flair.

Graciously, God still granted water from the rock, and both people along with livestock were rescued. Moses saved the day! But wait, Moses disobeyed the clear instruction of the Lord. And for that, God’s harsh punishment was to ban Moses from entering the Promised Land with the Israelites. Now to us, this seems like disproportionate punishment for a single, understandable sin, but God is God, he takes sin seriously, and he had his reasons for denying Moses what he had worked forty years to accomplish.

Now I suspect you think God was too hard on Moses. Me too. But we don’t know the whole story, so we will have to trust God on this one, since he never makes mistakes, and he is always kind, but his ways are too deep for us to always understand. I suspect, however, that one of the deal breakers in this incident was that in striking the rock, Moses took glory to himself rather than deflecting it to God. And God will not—let me repeat, will not—share his glory with another:

I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. (Isaiah 42:8)

But wait—there’s more to this story. Fast forward to Luke 9 and you will see that through the grace of God, Moses actually got to experience the Promised Land in a way that the original entrance into Canaan could not compare—not by a long shot:

Jesus took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.  They spoke about his departure, [literally, his exodus] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:28-31)

Now how cool is that! Moses, who had taken God’s glory from himself, and received the just punishment for it, now appeared in God’s glorious splendor inside the Promised Land. Moreover, he spoke with God the Son about a true and better Exodus, the deliverance for the entire human race from the ultimate bondage of sin and death through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Moses got to experience in far greater fashion than what he was originally denied.

So let me suggest a couple of polar opposite applications here from this interesting story: First of all, God doesn’t’ need our help; just our cooperation. When we try to perfect his work, we end up taking his glory for ourselves, and that is always a dangerous path to tread. We must simply let God be God, and trust him to bring glory out of our situations in his way and in his time. Wherever you need God’s help—with a difficult spouse, a rebellious child, a harsh boss, an irritating co-worker—let God be God. He will do a much better job than you!

Second, if and when you blow it, taking God’s glory for yourself, and taking the consequences that follow, it will be painful. But look for God’s grace. As John Newton said, “We serve a gracious Master who is able to overrule even our mistakes even our mistakes to His glory and our own advantage.” Don’t step on God’s lines, but when you do, hold out for grace.

God’s doesn’t need your help! He wants your cooperation!

Going Deeper With God: If there is an area of your life where you have been treading on God’s role, back off, repent and trust!

The Ashes of the Red Heifer

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

While some have manufactured eschatological mystery over this esoteric teaching about the ashes of the red heifer, simply put, this ritual required a ceremonially clean person to sprinkle a ceremonially unclean person—one who had touched a dead body—with water mixed with the heifer’s ashes, sprinkling them with a hyssop branch. But while this unusual ritual had meaning in the context of ancient Israel, more importantly, it was a powerful prophetic photograph of a better way that God had in mind to purify us once and for all through the cleansing power of Christ’s blood — thank God, the real and permanent answer to our defilement.

Red Heifer

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 19:9-13

The ashes of the red heifer will be kept there for the community of Israel to use in the water for the purification ceremony. This ceremony is performed for the removal of sin. …This is a permanent law for the people of Israel and any foreigners who live among them. All those who touch a dead human body will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves on the third and seventh days with the water of purification; then they will be purified. But if they do not do this on the third and seventh days, they will continue to be unclean even after the seventh day. All those who touch a dead body and do not purify themselves in the proper way defile the Lord’s Tabernacle, and they will be cut off from the community of Israel. Since the water of purification was not sprinkled on them, their defilement continues.

Holy Cow, this is a strange one! Right up there with the lost Ark of the Covenant, there is much mystery surrounding the Ashes of the Red Heifer among those who traffic in the apocalyptic. In a nutshell, the cultic belief concerning this one is that the original ashes of the red heifer have been preserved since Old Testament days, and the reappearance of these ashes is needed to institute the sacrifices of the rebuilt temple—the third temple that many believe will be physically rebuilt at the time of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

As I said, holy cow! Indeed, this is a strange belief that has absolutely nothing to do with how the end times will play out. But apocalyptic authors, whose tribe have certainly increased in modern times, are certain to get a lot of miles out of this manufactured mystery as they fabricate their junk eschatologyand sell a few books, to boot.

Nevertheless, what are we to make about this teaching on the ashes of the red heifer? Allow me to offer a few observations. First, among the many unusual rituals God established for his people, this one is arguably one of the strangest. Unlike any other sacrificial animal, this animal was to be slaughtered, not sacrificed, and burned in its entirety. The Asbury Bible Commentary on this chapter summarizes it as follows:

Then the heifer was totally incinerated while the priest watched (Numbers 19:5). The red hide of the heifer symbolically added to the quantity of blood, as did the red cedar wood and scarlet wool (Numbers 19:6). Thereafter the ashes of the heifer were stored outside the city (Numbers 19:9), ready to be mixed with water and sprinkled on anyone who had become ritually impure due to corpse contamination (Numbers 19:17-19). The whole ritual is described as a purification from sin (Numbers 19:9).

Now think about this in a practical way before we consider the theological implication: Israel was a new nation in an ancient, war-scarred, barbaric world, fighting their way through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. There was a lot of death. Many Hebrews died, and of course, a whole lot more of their enemies died. There was also a great deal of death among the community of Israel from natural causes, and likewise, as punishment for their rebellion, upwards of two-million Israelites would die off during their forty years of wandering.

In a very practical sense, death was a reality of life. A a consequence, there was contamination from the bodies of the dead. And since God is a God of life, death and handling of the dead brought spiritual defilement that required separation from the holiness of God. While it may seem a strange way to deal with the dead, God ordered his people to handle corpses through this ritual practice as a way to keep his people distinctly his, set apart as holy unto himself. In this, God graciously gave the Israelites a way to deal with their dead, as every culture in every era must do, in a way that satisfied the needs of a community to grieve their loss and initiate the process of closure while at the same time recognizing the requirements of a holy God who cared enough about their loss to provide a process for their grief.

Yet theologically, this ceremony for dealing with the dead pointed to a more powerful death—the death of Jesus Christ. While in the situation described in Numbers required a ceremonially clean person to sprinkle the ceremonially unclean person or thing with the water of cleansing (water mixed with the ashes, sprinkled with a hyssop branch), the cleansing power of the blood of Christ is specifically contrasted as a much more effective and permanent answer to our defilement:

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14)

Indeed, how much better is Jesus’ death as a cleansing agent that arguing over some manufactured mystery about the ashes of a red heifer. 1 John 1:7-9 reminds us, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I’ll take the blood of Jesus Christ any day.

Going Deeper With God: Think about 1 John 1:7-9. Now, how grateful for you that Jesus is your perfect, one-for-all sacrifice? Why don’t you tell him that!

A New Sheriff In Town

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Over and again, we find in the Old Testament that the Israelites needed protection—from God himself. His utter holiness could not tolerate even the smallest of sins. So the Levitical system of priests and sacrifices was instituted to keep God from destroying them. But in the New Testament, a new sheriff shows up, Jesus, who is all the people of God will ever need to keep them safe—from their own sin and from a holy God.

Jesus High Priest

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 18:5-7

The Lord said to Aaron, “You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelites again. I myself have selected your fellow Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord to do the work at the tent of meeting. But only you and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.”

To begin with, I am thankful that I don’t live under the Levitical system, where I (and I am quite sure, you as well) would need to be protected from the Holy Presence of God. We simply don’t think of the righteous wrath of God like that, but in the days of the Exodus, God had to make it plainly clear to the Israelites that he was holy, and that certain violations of his holiness meant death for both priest and people if they violated that holiness. Thank God for Jesus, our Great High Priest who bore the full measure of God’s righteous wrath on the cross.

Yes, at just the right time, Jesus showed up and changed it all. There’s a new sheriff in town, friends, and we don’t need to protect ourselves anymore. Jesus will do it!

So with that in mind, since you are a believer in Jesus Christ, or at least I assume, I am going to fast-forward past this section and point you to the book of Hebrews, where we find the New Testament’s reinterpretation of the Old Testament Levitical system. Hebrews 7:15-16,19 says,

Jesus, a priest like Melchizedek, not by genealogical descent but by the sheer force of resurrection life — he lives! — ‘priest forever in the royal order of Melchizedek’ … Jesus! — a way that does work, that brings us right into the presence of God, is put in its place. (The Message)

You will have to read this whole chapter, slowly and absorbingly, I might add, plus several chapters surrounding this one to grasp what the writer of Hebrews is getting at, but here is the gist of it: He is going to great lengths to remind his readers that Jesus is all they will ever need! He is the all-sufficient, indestructible one, our Great High Priest.

The problem was, the Hebrew believers to whom he wrote were facing increasing hostility for their faith in Christ, and some of them were being tempted to fall back in line with the old Levitical system. So the writer sets out to convince them of the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Old Testament system of priests and sacrifices. One of his strongest arguments was that even way back before God gave these instructions to Moses, the father of the Hebrew faith, Abraham, even gave tithes to Melchizedek, a type of Christ, thus proving Jesus is greater than the Hebrew system.

Throughout this entire letter, the writer makes a splendid and convincing case for Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest. Among the many things that he teaches about the priesthood of Jesus, here are three that ought to encourage you today:

First, as a high priest, Jesus is on your side. Hebrews 6:19-20 says, “We have this hope [in Jesus] as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.”

Knowing that Jesus is on your side gives you an incredible emotional and spiritual strength to live the victorious Christian life, especially during trying and tempting times. And while you may not think about it much, he actually protects you from the utter holiness of God—a holiness that cannot tolerate even a single, “small” sin.

Second, as a high priest, Jesus will provide the power for you to stay the course. Hebrews 7:25 says, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

You ever wonder what Jesus is doing now? That verses clearly says he is continually before the Father, representing your cause. What a thought—Jesus is your personal intercessor making sure the Father, rather than punishing you as you deserve for the sins you have committed, is granting you everything you need to stay faithful and live victoriously.

And third, Jesus is more satisfying than any other temporary fix that you might be tempted to trust. Hebrews 9:27-28 says, “And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people.”

Trusting in any other religious system, even the Levitical system of sacrifice, would be settling for an infinitely distant second best. In fact, if you were to put your trust in any other, you would be relying on a system that frankly cannot do a thing to give you eternal life. And it was never intended to do so. Rather, it was intended to show that ultimately, it was only Jesus who could save!

Do your realize what good news this is? Jesus is your personal high priest, and it doesn’t get any better than him. You need fear neither the power of sin nor the righteous wrath of God. So bring your broken, sin-prone, unworthy life to him, he has made you and keeps you perfect through his once-for-all sacrifice.

Going Deeper With God: Here is a prayer that I would invite you to offer today: Lord, how awesome that you ever live to intercede for me. What encouragement and strength that brings to my spirit. I offer up my gratitude to you, O faithful High Priest. You are worthy to be praised.