God Doesn’t Wink At Sin

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The fact that the Kingdom of God is a party doesn’t mean the God of the Kingdom winks at sin. He doesn’t! Not because he is a killjoy, not because he can’t wait to punish our misdeeds, not because he is an angry deity—not at all. Scripture is abundantly clear that God is benevolent, merciful and kind, all because love is the DNA of God. But let us never forget that true and pure love cannot turn a blind eye to sin. That is why God always confronts sin where it exists, punishes it when he must, but mostly, forgives it where his people acknowledge through confession and repentance.

Atonement

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 29:7-11

Ten days later, on the tenth day of the same month, you must call another holy assembly. On that day, the Day of Atonement, the people must go without food and must do no ordinary work. You must present a burnt offering as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. It will consist of one young bull, one ram, and seven one-year-old male lambs, all with no defects. These offerings must be accompanied by the prescribed grain offerings of choice flour moistened with olive oil—six quarts of choice flour with the bull, four quarts of choice flour with the ram, and two quarts of choice flour with each of the seven lambs. You must also sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering. This is in addition to the sin offering of atonement and the regular daily burnt offering with its grain offering, and their accompanying liquid offerings.

The fact that the Kingdom of God is a party (see yesterday’s devotional thoughts on Numbers 28) doesn’t mean that the God of the Kingdom winks at sin. He doesn’t! Not because he is a killjoy, not because he can’t wait to punish our misdeeds, not because he is an angry deity—not at all. Scripture is abundantly clear:

  • God loves for us to experience joy: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
  • God is reluctant to punish sin and ready to show mercy: “Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! (Micah 7:18-19)
  • God is fundamentally loving and kind in character and action: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15)

Yes, God is all of those—benevolent, merciful and kind, because love is the DNA of God—but let us never forget that true and pure love cannot turn a blind eye to sin. That is why God always confronts sin where it exists, punishes it when he must, but mostly, forgives it where his people acknowledge and repent of it:

God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth.  But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. (1 John 1:57-10)

In Numbers 28-29, God lays out not only days of celebration but days of confession as well. He made it possible for his people to party—to remember his goodness and provision, and to repent—to acknowledge their impurity and be cleansed from it. Throughout the law Moses delivered to this new nation, God’s holiness took center stage. God is holy, and he expected his people to honor his holiness by following his guidelines for both public worship and daily living. And when there were missteps, he provided sacrifices to atone for their sin through offerings “to purify yourselves and make yourselves right with the Lord.” (Numbers 29:5) In fact, he set up a singular day of the year, called the Day of Atonement (Numbers 29:7), where he commanded his people to cease all their normal activity to fast, wait upon him and make sacrifice for the remission of their sins.

Since we live in a new age as followers of Christ where we are not required to offer sacrifices for sin or to set aside an entire day for confession, repentance and cleansing, that is, a Day of Atonement, it is easy for us to forget how deadly serious sin truly is. So let us never forget that sin destroys. It corrupts our nature, it corrodes our relationships—with God and one another, and it kills—both the abundance of God in this life and eternal life in the next:

For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a)

But let us likewise never forget the Good News that provision for the bad news of sin was made by a benevolent, merciful and lovingly-kind God, both through the temporary sacrifices in under the Old Covenant and permanently through the true Day of Atonement through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ:

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year.  For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. …For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. (Hebrews 10:1-4, 10)

No, God doesn’t wink at our sins. How could he wink at what would separate us relationally and eternally from his love? He doesn’t wink at sin, but he certainly washes us clean from it: “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) Yes, the wages of sin is death. That is the bad news; but the Good News is,

But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23b)

Thank God for the true Day of Atonement!

Going Deeper With God: Get a hymnal or go online and slowly, absorbingly read the words of the old hymn, “Nothing But The Blood.” Once you have done that, I think the only response will be to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving up to God.

The God Who Loves A Party

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Everyone loves a party—including you, and most importantly, including God. And while we, as New Testament believers, aren’t required to celebrate the Old Covenant feasts and special days, I say why not repurpose your parties. How? Include God in them. In fact, make God the center of attention at the next get together you have, and then have fun!

God's Party

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 28:1-2

The Lord said to Moses, “Give these instructions to the people of Israel: The offerings you present as special gifts are a pleasing aroma to me; they are my food. See to it that they are brought at the appointed times and offered according to my instructions.

I apologize if the title sounds a bit irreverent. I don’t mean any disrespect. But as I read the Bible, I see a God who loves to celebrate—and the way he celebrates is through the special days and feasts he commanded his people to observe. Yeah, God parties through you.

Note that he didn’t send out party invitations; he commanded them: “These are the instructions to the people of Israel.” (Numbers 28:1) Following that, throughout this chapter, there are several “you must’s” that God gives the Israelites: Numbers 28:3,5,7,9,12,14,15,16,19,22,23,26. The high point of the “you must’s” has to be the command to celebrate the Passover:

On the fourteenth day of the first month, you must celebrate the Lord’s Passover. (Numbers 28:16)

Again, note the “you must celebrate” as well as “the Lord’s Passover.” It’s the Lord’s party and you are commanded to enjoy it. Apparently, God was deadly serious about having fun—in the most worshipful way.

Once more, let me say that I mean no irreverence here. But the truth remains, God wants his people to party. Not in some sort of fleshly way, not to indulge our base nature, not like a good deal of the partying that goes on in our culture—through meaningless activity. No, this was partying with a purpose. And here is the rub: the celebrations were to remind the people of how good their God was. As the generations passed from one to the next in Israel, these feasts and special days were to be a perpetual reminder that Yahweh was a God worthy of celebration.

Of course, self-denial and privation were and are to also be a part of the worship life of God’s people, but do you realize that much more space is dedicated to feasting than fasting in the Bible. God wants you to enjoy him, and there is nothing more enjoyable than remembering who he is, how he has led you, met all your needs, guided you to a good place all along the way, and how each satisfying moment in the journey of faith as you have followed him as his dearly loved child has given way to a higher level of satisfaction in him than the previous. And ultimately, each feast points forward to the day when this life will be done, and the most indescribable pleasure will be finally and fully realized through unending life in the eternal feast of God. That, my friend, is party-worthy!

Everyone loves a party—including you, and most importantly, including God. And while we, as New Testament believers, aren’t required to celebrate the Old Covenant feasts and special days, I say why not repurpose the parties you have throughout the course of your life. How? Include God in them. In fact, make God the center of attention at your next get-together, and then have a lot of fun.

It’s worshipful—and it makes the God who loves to party happy indeed!

Going Deeper With God: Why not reframe your attitude toward parties, and make them parties with a purpose. Put God at the center of the next one you throw, and you will have the time of your life.

What Makes A Leader Great

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The great leader is truly a servant of the people. Unfortunately, too many in leadership today—in government, in business, in the church—are not public servants. They may run to get elected or selected based on what they will do for their constituents, but soon after getting into power, their main purpose seems to be doing whatever they can to stay in power. But the good heart of a godly leader cares about the health and happiness as well as the success and significance of the people they serve in the present moment, in the journey forward, and in the season after the leader’s time is up.

Lion Heart

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 27:15-17

Then Moses said to the Lord, “O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

What makes a great leader? Charisma? Skill? The right look? The ability to move people to achieve the vision of the leader or the mission of the community they lead? An impressive record of throttling the competition? Improving the company’s financial bottom line? Likeability?

Most, if not all, of the aforementioned qualities and benchmarks are good, but I would submit to you that what sets a leader above all the rest is the addition of this one attribute: they shepherd the people with a passion for their wellbeing, present and future. In other words, they are not in it for themselves, and they are not in it for the moment. They truly care about the health and happiness as well as the success and significance of their people in the present moment, in the journey forward, and in the season after the leader’s time is up.

The great leader is truly a servant of the people. Unfortunately, too many in leadership today—in government, in business, in the church—are not public servants. They may run to get elected or selected based on what they will do for their constituents, but soon after getting into power, their main purpose seems to be doing whatever they can to stay in power. People are no longer theirs to be served, but to be used to further the aspirations of the leader, the board of directors, the stockholders and the powers that be.

Jesus had some different thoughts about leadership, didn’t he? He told his disciples, “Jesus called his disciples together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Simon Peter, one of the twelve disciples, a guy who didn’t mind pushing his agenda forward before his transforming encounter with Christ, said, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3). He went on to say, “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:5-6)

Of course, Jesus and Peter were both referring to spiritual leadership, but nonetheless, their exhortations show us God’s ideal for all human leadership. Regardless of the venue, this is the leadership of which God approves: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:4)

In the account of Numbers 27, Moses is overlooking the promised land, gazing upon what he would never attain in this life. God had called him up to the heights of this mountain range, and there the Almighty, the giver of the breath of life, informed this faithful leader that he would take Moses’ breath from him. Moses’ work was coming to an end. As indispensable as he had been in leading Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, establishing them as a nation under the law of God, he was dispensable. God was, after all, the true leader of Israel and Moses was only the human instrument in God’s hands. He would not lead them into the Promised Land; another leader would.

But rather than being fearful, upset, or even curious about his life’s end, Moses’ concern was for the people he had shepherded all these years. He wanted to make sure they had a worthy leader; one who would protect and guide the people, who would shepherd the flock so they wouldn’t be scattered, who would ensure they came into the promised fullness of God.

Over the forty years in the wilderness tending his father-in-law’s sheep, and over the past forty years tending to the people of Israel as they wandered in the Sinai wilderness, Moses had truly developed a pastor’s heart. Even in the face of his own death, he was still pastoring his people.

That is the good heart of a great leader, for in his heart, he always carries his people.

Going Deeper With God: Pray for your leaders—your boss, your president, your pastor. Ask God to give them the godly heart of a good leader.

You Come To My Census

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

You matter to God, too. Your name is recorded in his book, and in his mind. You are ever before him. And the census of the Israelites means that God is in charge of where you came from—your history was watched over each step of the way, and even the bad parts have been leveraged for your good and his glory. Whenever you read a census, or are tempted to skip it, remember that it is reminding you that you matter to Someone very important who is working out the details of your life according to his good purpose. You might even say that you come to God’s census!

Standing-out-in-a-crowd-1024x597

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 26:1-4, 64-65

After the plague the Lord said to Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by families—all those twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army of Israel.” So on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them and said, “Take a census of the men twenty years old or more, as the Lord commanded Moses.” …Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai.  For the Lord had told those Israelites they would surely die in the wilderness, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

When you read through the Old Testament, especially the first five books, what we call the Pentateuch or the Books of Moses, you will need to endure, or get to enjoy, depending on your perspective, several genealogies that tell the story of how the family of man in general and the people of God, Israel, in particular came to be and how they got to where they were. Reading them may not be the most exciting assignment in your journey through God’s Word, and writing devotionally about them is a bit of a stretch as well. Don’t believe me? Just try it.

Yet within these long lists of names that mean very little to us today, there is much meaning for us today. For one thing, when God called for Moses and Eleazar to take a second census of the Israelites, we are seeing a God whose people mean something to him. Each name, each family and each tribe are recording in God’s book, and in God’s mind. These real, live human beings were not just a jumble of names like we see in the phone book, they mattered to God—each of them. And if they mattered to God, we matter to God.

You matter to God, too. Your name is recorded in his book, and in his mind. You are ever before him. And the census of the Israelites means that God is in charge of where you came from—your history was watched over each step of the way, and even the bad parts have been leveraged for your good and his glory. Whenever you read a census, or are tempted to skip it, remember that it is reminding you that you matter to Someone very important who is working out the details of your life according to his good purpose. (Romans 8:28) Yes, you come to God’s census!

For another thing, these genealogies remind us that God is a God of history and he is over history, which makes history His story! God is in control. You may lose sight of that, but not a single day goes by in the macro world and in the micro world of your life that he doesn’t see and that he is not redeeming as a page the will make up the epic story of God. Each day when you awaken, remind yourself of that. When you go to bed at the end of that day, reflect on the fact that the past twenty-four hours, no matter what they looked like to human eyes, were repurposed for God’s glory. All of the days in human history are alike in that each of them have come to his census.

Finally, this particular census, as with all of them, reminds us that God fulfills his word—both words of blessing and words of judgment. In this case, God judged the Israelites rebellious unbelief when they refused to go into the Promised Land because of a negative report from the ten spies. So God said to them, “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.” (Number 14:30) Now decades later, in this census, we see that God had fulfilled his word of judgment (“For the Lord had told those Israelites they would surely die in the wilderness, and not one of them was left,” Numbers 26:65a) as well as his word of blessing (“…except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun,” Numbers 26:65b).

God watches over his—it is his story. He fulfills his word—make no mistake about that. And God keeps a close eye on you, too—and that should be of great comfort to you. Yes, when you read a genealogy in Scripture, just stop for a moment to realize, you come to God’s census. Make sense?

Going Deeper With God: Re-read the sixty-five verses of Numbers 26—every single one of them—and rejoice at each name that God cares about you.

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.

On This One, It’s Best To Get On God’s Side

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Even though imperfect, Israel is the eternal apple of God’s eye. And God himself has promised to bless you for blessing them. So find ways to bless Israel. How? Pray for the nation regularly. Support Christian ministries that serve them on Christ’s behalf. Go there if and when you can—tourism is a great boon to their economy and an emotional lift to their national psyche. And speak out on their behalf when they are being unfairly criticized. No matter how much the world hates Israel, it is best to be on God’s side on this one!

Israel-1

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 24:9-10

“May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam.

It is popular to bash Israel these days. For that matter, hatred for the Hebrew people disguised as righteous indignation has been the case from time immemorial. But hatred for the Jew and the Jewish state is particularly noxious these days, especially in the media and in the academe. These institutions are not shy about intimidating those who do business with Israel, or have invested in anything related. In fact, there is a growing movement known as BDS—Boycott, Divestment Sanctions—whose stated purpose is to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.”

But let the hater beware! Balaam’s words are as true today as they were thousands of years before Christ: May God bless those who bless Israel and may God curse those who curse Israel. There will either be blessings or cursings, depending on what posture one takes toward the people of God.

Of course, those who don’t accept the Bible as the Word of God don’t give a fig about the above quote, but this Divine blessing/curse is still in play. And at the end of the day, the Balak’s of this world will find that they are not fighting against Israel and their perceived mistreatment of the Palestinians (by and large, a red herring, in my opinion), they have been displaying their hatred for none other than God himself. And that is never a good thing!

Now this doesn’t mean that Israel can do no wrong. There are many Christians who seem to unthinkingly take that posture in their efforts to support the Jewish nation. The danger in treating Israel with kid gloves is actually something that even God didn’t do with his chosen people. When they were out of line, he called them out. When they abandoned obedience to his Word, God punished them. When they persisted in rebellion and idolatry, he sent them into exile. He even allowed the temple they built to house his glorious presence to be destroyed—twice.

As I have pointed out at previous times, God’s faithful love for Israel can never be separated from his fierce expectations of holiness from them. When Israel disobeyed, God sent punishment. So let’s be very careful in our love for God’s people that we don’t develop a wrong-headed kind of love for them. Blind Israelphile is no answer to anti-Semitism.

Likewise, we must never allow love for Israel to mean we turn a blind eye to the desperate needs of the Palestinians. They are human beings. They love their children as much as we do. They have hopes and dreams for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, too. And for the most part, they have been living under the oppressive and corrupt rule of their own leaders—and the results have been shameful. So when we have opportunity, all Christians should speak and act on the behalf of these oppressed. To do so, no matter who the oppressed are, brings a blessing similar to those who bless Israel,

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (Isaiah 58:9-10)

But never at the expense of Israel. Even though imperfect, they are the eternal apple of God’s eye. And God himself has promised to bless you for blessing them. Of course, there are those who will reinterpret the blessing as now applicable to all who are God’s people by faith in Jesus Christ, but I would remind you that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29), a verse that is clearly referring to God’s sovereign election of Israel.

So find ways to bless Israel. How? Pray for the nation regularly. Support Christian ministries that serve that nation and seek to build relational bridges to them on Christ’s behalf. Go there if and when you can—tourism is a great boon to their economy and an emotional lift to their national psyche. And speak out on their behalf when they are being unfairly criticized (fair warning: that won’t be a popular thing for you to do).

God’s eternal posture is one of uncommon favor toward Israel. Keep that in mind; it is best to be on God’s side on this one!

Going Deeper With God: Pray for the health, security, prosperity and peace of Israel today.

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!