Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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Feasting with God #53 – Israel, the Lioness in the Wilderness

Feasting with God #53

“Israel, the Lioness in the Wilderness”

 

Text: Numbers 23:18-24

18And Balaam took up his discourse and said,
“Rise, Balak, and hear:
            give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
19God is not man, that he should lie,
            or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
            Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
20Behold, I received a command to bless:
            he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
21He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob,
            nor has he seen trouble in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them,
            and the shout of a king is among them.
22God brings them out of Egypt
            and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
23For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
            no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
            ‘What has God wrought!’
24Behold, a people!  As a lioness it rises up
            and as a lion it lifts itself;
it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey
            and drunk the blood of the slain.”

God has been very strict with his people as they wandered through the wilderness.  Even a toe out of line, and his discipline was upon them.  At the same time, they felt his grace as well, for even though they grumbled, he continued to provide them with miraculous food and victory over enemies.  But it may have been difficult for them to see the big picture—why was God doing things this way? why did he demand this or that sort of behavior? why did he provide this or that specific blessing?  Well, now Moses gives us a glimpse into the perspectives of outsiders.

Balak, king of Moab, saw how Israel was coming and conquering all the surrounding nations, and sought a way to remove the threat.  He sent Balaam to lay a curse on them.  But Balaam, being warned by an angel (and by his donkey; Num. 22:22-41), had to tell Balak that the Israelites could not be cursed by him, because God had predestined them for a higher purpose.

Leading Israel through the wilderness, through such a difficult terrain and such mighty effort, God was directing them toward a goal: yes, they would take the land of Canaan, but if that were all, then the dispute would be between men and nations.  Balak could then certainly have come to God and said, “Why should they have this land.  Why not I?  I could obey you, and not grumble against you.”  And God would be left in his court to weigh the options between different men for who should have the right to a scrap of land.

And this is going on in the world right now.  How tumultuous isn’t the land of Palestine—the Israelis think it is theirs, because God promised it to their forefathers; the Muslims think it is theirs, because their Qur’an claims that it was given to them, to replace the Jews; and the Christians believe it is theirs, or that they should restore it to the Jews, because of some strange, worldly readings of New Testament passages.  But God isn’t worried about some parcel of land.  God “has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.”  His people, under his care and guidance, are an unstoppable force, accomplishing his purposes.  “God brings them out of Egypt / and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.”  He charges forward toward his goal, so that this magnificent people is like “a lioness” rising up: “it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey / and drunk the blood of the slain.”  The nation of Israel would, under God’s might, accomplish his purposes for them.

And his purpose culminated in this: the blessing God pronounced on Israel was all rooted in the original promise given to Abraham their forefather: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).  Through Abraham’s descendants would come a blessing for “all the families of the earth.”  But those who pronounced a curse against God’s people (such as what Balak wanted to do) would be excluded from this blessing.  And this blessing came about in Abraham’s offspring: “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).  The people of Israel themselves, “not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:13-16).  Thus the true, full Promised Land, is the one provided by Jesus Christ, who died to win it for us, and ascended, declaring the purpose: “I go and prepare a place for you, [and] I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).

Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us to the heavenly place you have prepared for us.  Through your death, it is ours.  Forgive us our sins, therefore, and clothe us in your righteousness, so that we may take possession of our heavenly Promised Land.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #50 – Why Not This Other Land?

Feasting with God #50

Why Not This Other Land?

The Destruction of Korah and His Rebellion (Num. 16:31-35)

 

Text: Numbers 16:13-14

13“Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flow­ing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? 14Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards.  Will you put out the eyes of these men?  We will not come up.”

It seems like the entire 40-year journey through the wilderness was nothing but complaining, complaining, and more complaining from the Israelites. Now, some from the tribe of Reuben and from the tribe of Levi rose up with a party of 250 men to overthrow Moses.

Notice how they complained. In the first promise God made about the Promised Land, he said, “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8).  The description of this Promised Land certainly made it sound appealing.  So these Reubenites certainly wanted such a land.  But how they specifically wanted this fulfilled was in the land of Egypt itself.  Moses brought them out of Egypt at the Lord’s direction, and they complained, “you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey”!  Because they didn’t get what they wanted, they complain that they would prefer slavery in Egypt to the promise of God.

Compare how Jesus was received: on Palm Sunday he rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, and the people shouted joyfully, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9).  They recognized him as the Lord’s true prophet, the Son of David, the one who would bring salvation—much in the same way that the Israelites were pleased to follow Moses, another true prophet of the Lord, in all his directions and in his overthrow of the Egyptian enslavement.

If we track what Jesus did the following week in Jerusalem, he cleansed the temple, cursed a fig tree, made the chief priests and elders look like fools, told parables that called attention to the people’s unbelief and wickedness, stated that the people should pay taxes to Caesar and the oppressive Roman government, demonstrated the ignorance of the Pharisees, pronounced woes upon the Pharisees and Sadducees, lamented over Jerusalem and foretold the destruction of the temple and the end of the world, and declared that judgment would come upon the unbelievers. In short, Jesus made a lot of people angry, because he wouldn’t tell them what they wanted to hear.

Likewise, Moses, under the Lord’s direction, prescribed worship and laws for the people, focused the Israelites away from their selfish wishes and toward lives lived to God. The Reubenites probably had the added complaint that this man from the tribe of Levi (Moses) was leading them, those who were of the tribe of the oldest brother Reuben.  They thought that they should be the ruling tribe, that they should have that right.  They accused Moses of trying to blind them to what was really happening: “Will you put out the eyes of these men?”

We hear the same complaints today. “The Bible isn’t a science textbook.”  “The God of the Old Testament was hateful and unmerciful.”  “The Bible promotes slavery.”  All these complaints ultimately come down to one: “God isn’t telling me what I want to hear.”

We have been promised a greater land than the physical region given to the nation of Israel. Our Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, will surpass anything we can conceive.  On this earth we are wandering as through a wilderness.  What madness could overtake us to look at what is promised and instead say to God, “Why not give us this as our Promised Land instead?”  Let’s not be so arrogant to think that we know what God should give us.  Instead, simply have quiet, receptive faith.

At the end of the week that began with Palm Sunday Jesus was betrayed by those he had angered and brought to his death. But praise the Lord!  That death was used by God as the means to accomplish the things he had promised.  Although people want certain earthly things (the overthrow of this or that government figure, certain rights or authority, the message and teaching we want to hear), God provides far greater things.  Through the death of his Son, he accomplished our eternal salvation, won for us a heavenly inheritance as sons of God.

Faith in this Savior, the reception of God’s grace for the eternal life won for us, that is the single greatest blessing we should seek from God—Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Through patient faith in God, he blesses us eternally, and also temporally, in ways we may never even expect.  Have confidence in the blessed fact that God loves us and will care for us as he sees fit in his omniscience and omnipotence.

Dear Lord, we trust in your promises, and we know that you will fulfill them for us. Let us not be distracted by other things, our selfish wants and lusts.  Instead, lead us to ever stronger faith in you, not pride or arrogance of ourselves.  You have promised us eternal life on account of your Son’s sacrificial death and glorious resurrection from the dead.  Give us what you have promised.  We ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #49 – An Exceedingly Good Land

Feasting with God #49

“An Exceedingly Good Land”

Text: Numbers 14:6-11, 21-23

6And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes 7and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy out, is an exceedingly good land.  8If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.  9Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”  10Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.  But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.  11And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me?  And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them…?  21But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers.  And none of those who despised me shall see it.”

“Well, that was dumb.”  I remember thinking that when, as a student in Sunday School, I first learned about Israel’s wandering in the wilderness.  40 years of suffering and yearning and hungering could have been avoided, if only they had trusted in God.  They made a really dumb mistake.  Joshua and Caleb even tried pointing out how little they  had to worry about: “And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”  St. Paul repeats this concept in the New Testament: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Joshua and Caleb tried to tell the Israelites, “God has promised this land to us: with him on our side, we’ll eat our enemies alive!

But their message of hope was met with intense hostility: “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.”  Human nature was taking over.  Rather than trust God, believe his promises, and stop relying on themselves, these men preferred to fear, and, blinded by that fear, wanted escape.  They thought that Joshua and Caleb were leading them into certain death.

But it really was dumb.  As God himself said, “And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”  These people had seen the miracles Moses performed; they had witnessed the ten plagues firsthand; they had been given water from a rock and received miraculous quail and manna from heaven.  Nevertheless, even after all these things, they thought, “Sure, God did that, but he can’t do this.”  Because of their unbelief, they were cursed to wander through the wilderness for 40 years, while the rebellious generation died out and a new, believing generation rose up in their place.

Think again of Paul’s encouragement to rely on the Lord: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and as proof, he goes on: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will ne not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32).  Like the Israelites, we have witnessed the providence of God already: to them he gave deliverance, nourishment, grace; to us he gave his Son the Deliverer, the Nourishment of his Word and Sacraments, and the Grace of Salvation and Eternal Life.  For the Israelites, what they had already received should have assured them that they would receive what was promised.  For us, what we have already received should assure us of what is promised.

Israel’s 40-year sojourn through the wilderness is one inspiration for the season of Lent—a 40-day sojourn through repentance.  At the end of Israel’s journey, they came to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.  At the end of our Lenten journey, we come to Easter, the Resurrection, a time of joy for God’s eternal gifts overflowing from the empty tomb.  As Israel’s voyage brought about the death of the old, sinful generation and the rising of the new, faithful generation, our voyage of repentance puts to death the Old sinful Adam of our flesh and gives rise to the new man made in the image of Christ.  Lent should be a spiritual exercise in letting go of our selves and our doubts and our fears, placing our trust wholly into the arms of God.  Humble yourselves this season, and be like the father of the child with an unclean spirit, falling before Jesus and crying out: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).  Our God is faithful to forgive and to give us promised salvation.

Lord, we believe; help our unbelief!  Keep us from being overcome with the weight of the world, and instead help us to cast all our cares on you, and be assured that you have borne all our burdens and will give us every good thing.  Lead us to daily repentance and sorrow over sin, so that daily we might receive your forgiveness, all on the basis of the passionate death of your dear Son, and his glorious resurrection from the dead.  In his name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.