God is anything but tame, and following him is anything but safe! It is a risky adventure, this journey of faith. Of course, total surrender to God will lead to incomparable success, significance and satisfaction, both in this life and in the one to come, yet there is a dimension to God that the Israelites came to understand through their wilderness experience that we don’t fully understand in our day: God’s faithful love cannot be separated from his fierce holiness.
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 1:53
The Levites will camp around the Tabernacle of the Covenant to protect the community of Israel from the Lord’s anger. The Levites are responsible to stand guard around the Tabernacle.
God is anything but tame, and following him is anything but safe! Of course, following him in ruthless faith and loving obedience brings incomparable success, significance and satisfaction, both in this life and in the one to come. Total surrender to God will lead us to the pearl of great price—no doubt about it. Yet there is a dimension to God that the Israelites came to understand through their wilderness experience that we don’t fully understand in our experience: God’s faithful love cannot be separated from his fierce holiness.
Dorothy Sayers, a brilliant writer and Christian thinker, mournfully remarked of our dangerous tendency to downgrade the fierceness of God:
The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore—on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites. He referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners”; he assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb.”
Neither God the Father nor God the Son nor God the Holy Spirit can be de-clawed, tamed or even contained! No matter how people may try, he is still fierce in holiness, he is still the Lion of Judah, he is still the Spirit who convicts of judgment and calls to repentance.
As the Israelites broke camp in the wilderness to follow their leader Moses to the land of promise, what God had been instructing them about at the foot of Mt. Sinai now needed to be lived out in their daily journey of faith. They needed to be reminded that God’s fierce holiness was not just a theology; it was a reality. That is why the tents of the Levites, the keepers of the Presence of the Lord, were to be arranged in a way that encircled the tabernacle, the house of his holy presence, as a protective hedge.
But protection from what? The fierce holiness of the Lord is what. They had been sternly warned that treating the holy as common would lead to an outbreak of God’s wrath in the camp, so this camping arrangement was actually a measure of God’s preserving grace. The enduring lesson here is that the presence of God is both blessing and cursing in the camp of God’s people. It is a blessing for those who treat his holiness with a sense of awe; it is a cursing for those who do not cultivate respect for his glorious presence.
The last verse of this opening chapter, Numbers 1:54, says that in light of the gracious reminder provided in this camping arrangement, “the Israelites did everything just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” They obeyed—at least from the start. But in the later chapters, their initial respect for the Lord’s fierce presence turned to apathy, and they failed to maintain a sense of the utter holiness of God. And in Old Testament story after Old Testament story, we are reminded that the blessing of his presence can turn to a curse when his people disregard his fierce holiness.
Is there any positive take-away from this sobering devotional? Yes! God wants us to live in holy fear—fear that comes from a mature knowledge of God’s fierce holiness and a healthy respect for his right to lovingly rule our lives. This fear of the Lord is healthy, whether conscious or subconscious, because it promotes an attitude of belief in, love for and complete trust of God. It is that kind of fear that is the best motive for living in awareness of his fierce holiness, and it is the surest path to the blessings God longs to shower upon us.
So beware of the God, it will lead to unimaginable favor on the risky adventure of following after him!