March 8, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, March 8-14

March 8

Num. 25,  Mk. 15
Num 27, Col. 3


Numbers 25

The Moabites’ refusal to allow Israel to pass through their land, force Israel to  make a wide circle around the borders of Moab.  This means a walk of at least two hundred additional miles through wilderness, rather than on the good road through Moab. Therefore, Israel's friendship with the Moabites is surprising. Israel is encamped on the plains of Moab.  These plains are not in Moab.  They are just north of Moab, on the east bank of the Jordan, across the river from Jericho. Israel has been camped here for some time. During this time hostilities between Israel and Moab decline, and the Hebrews begin to form friendships with the Moabites.  Some of the Hebrew men  form relationships with Moabite women, and some begin to attend the Moabite religious festivals. These festivals are drunken orgies, which sometimes feature human sacrifices  in which infants and children are burned alive to the Canaanite god, Baal. The kings of Moab and Midian, notice the Hebrews participation.  On the advice of Balaam, they encourage it as part of a plan to destroy Israel from within.  Note the plan well, for the forces of evil still use it, and it is devastatingly effective.

The plan is to divide Israel against itself by seeding vice and idolatry into the people, and fomenting moral and ideological dissent. This will weaken Israel's faith and destroy her national identity. The goal is to make Israel become another Canaanite tribe which will gradually merge into Moab and Midian as friends. If Moab and Midian can accomplish this, Israel will not attack and destroy them as they did Arad in Numbers 21:1-3. The first part of the plan requires ensnaring Israel in sexual sins, and gradually luring them into the religion of Baalism. They believe Israel will gladly forsake the austere God of manna and sexual restraint for the Baal of drunkenness, gluttony, and sexual indulgence.  The daughters of Moab in Numbers 25:1 are a major part of this plan. 

Balaam urges this plan to the king of Moab (2 Pet. 2:15, Rev. 2:14). The king of Moab conspires with the king of Midian, and the two kingdoms launch a united effort to destroy Israel from within. The tragic events in Shittim are  the results of Israel falling for the scheme.

Midianite cooperation is clearly seen. The pagan woman brought into the Israelite camp in Numbers 25:6 was a Midianite.  Numbers 25:17 and18 clearly state that the Midianites, “vex you with their wiles, where with they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian.”

According to verse one, "the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.” This whoredom has a double meaning. First, it is physical fornication. Second, it is spiritual fornication. Israel belongs to God as a husband or wife belongs to his or her spouse. In marriage, a man and a woman take a sacred vow, or covenant,  "forsaking all others cleave ye only unto him/her so long as you both shall live.”  In the covenant with God, Israel has taken a sacred vow to forsake all idols, all gods, and all religions, and cleave only unto God. In a sense, Israel has become the bride of God. Idolatry, therefore, is spiritual adultery. It is committing whoredom with other gods. For this reason, the Bible often refers to Israel's idolatry as, "playing the harlot.” Verse one is clear that this harlotry with the Moabites is open and continuous among the Hebrews.

Verse three says Israel, "joined himself unto Baal Peor.” This means the people guilty of this sin consciously and intentionally give themselves too Baal as a person gives himself/herself in marriage.  It refers to becoming “one flesh,” and it refers to spiritual unity, which we may describe as a habitual self-identity. This is probably a slow, and almost imperceptible process at first.  A small compromise here, another there.  The Hebrews probably think they  are not abandoning God; they are just adopting some harmless Canaanite things, like their food.  After decades of manna, the rich feasts of the Canaanites must be severe temptations to the Hebrews.  But one compromise leads easily to another, and, soon the Hebrews are acting, worshiping, and thinking just like the pagans.  The result, of course; “the anger of the Lord was kindled against them.”  Today, too, Christians are adopting the ways and views of the secular world.  It is as though they are trying to be as worldly as possible, yet still be Christians.  They want the world’s clothes, the world’s music, and the world’s values, and they gladly bring them into their lives, and into the Church.  This chapter seems to warn us to be  different from the world.  “Friendship of the world is enmity with God.”

God’s judgment is swift and certain.  This time, instead of sending a plague, He tells the Israelites to punish the evil themselves.  There also seems to be the threat of a plague if the Hebrews refuse (vss. 8).  The result is the death of “twenty and four thousand,” and the reward of the zeal of Eleazar.  Clearly God takes sin very seriously.

Numbers 27

Verses 1-11 bring an issue to Moses. Presumably it has come to him as an appeal from the judges appointed over Israel at Jethro's suggestion. It involves the daughters of a man who has recently died without a son. His daughters want to know if what would have been his inheritance in Canaan can go to them.  Moses brings this to God in prayer, and God grants their request. It is significant that this occurs in the presence of Eleazar and the princes, or judges, of Israel. This assures widespread knowledge of the matter throughout the judges of Israel. God further defines the law of inheritance in verses 8 through 11.

Now God leads Moses to the top of Mount Abiram. This is the highest point in the plains of Moab and is also known as Mount Pisgah and Mount Nebo. The walled city of Jericho is visible to the north west on the other side of the Jordan River. From here Moses can see well into the Promised Land. But, according to the word of God in Exodus 17:7, Moses will not enter it at this time. This must be a crushing blow to Moses, yet he voices only concern for Israel. “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd.”

Of course, God has already thought of that. He has been training Joshua for the calling since his spying mission into Canaan. God tells Moses to set Joshua before Eleazar and before all the congregation of Israel. Moses is to charge him with leadership of the Hebrew people. Eleazar, the priest, will counsel Joshua as God speaks to Eleazar.

Moses will enter the promised land. He will go in almost 1,500 years later when our Lord is on the mount of Transfiguration. Until then he will be in a higher and better land than Canaan.  He will be with God in Heaven, the true Promised Land.

March 9

Num. 30, Mk. 16
Num 31:1-24,  Col. 4


Numbers 30

God still has much to say to Israel, and this chapter deals primarily making and keeping promises.  There are  situations in which vows are not allowed, and are, therefore, invalid if made.  Aside from them, a promise binds a person.  According to this chapter, in Israel a vow is legally and morally binding.

Numbers 31:1-24

Many wonder why Israel goes to war with the Midianites.  If we look back to Numbers 25 we see that Midian and Moab conspired to destroy Israel. How does a weak country conquer a stronger country? From within. Send vice into the country. Foster dissent. Divide the people against themselves in morals and ideology. This is what Midian and Moab intended to do to Israel. Numbers 25:6 says the Midianites “vex” Israel. The Canaanite woman brought into the camp of Israel in Numbers 25:6 was the daughter of a prince of Midian. She was probably sent there to seduce Hebrew men. The war with Midian, then, is a defensive war, a response to Median’s covert war on Israel.

Verse 14 tells us Moses is wroth when the Hebrews return from the war with captives and plunder. Moses has good reason for displeasure.  Remembering Israel's seduction by the daughters of Moab, Moses fears the Midianite women will lead the Hebrew men into idolatry again. He also fears that the Midianite boys, who witnessed the destruction of their homeland, might resent their conquerors for the rest of their lives. To allow them to grow up in Israel is to risk raising a large contingent of men who will hate Israel and want revenge. It would be extremely unwise to allow the presence of such a group. He knows the command of God was to vex Midian. This means to destroy the Midianites so they would never be able to entice Israel again. Instead, the soldiers have brought Midian home to Israel. They have invited temptation back into their camp. This is why Moses is displeased.  This is why such radical steps are taken to prevent future problems.

One of the points of this chapter is the death of Balaam (vs.16). Much of what has happened to Israel has happened on the advice of Balaam. 2 Peter 2:15 and Revelation 2:14 complete the story telling us the plot against Israel, and resulting events in the plains of Moab were his idea. Here he pays for his sin.

March 10

Num. 31:25-54,  Luke 1:1-38
Num. 32, 1 Thessalonians 1


Numbers 31:25-54 , see the comments on Numbers 25 and 31:1-24.

Numbers 32

The men of Ruben and Gad are herdsmen.  They see that the plains of Moab are good ground for flocks and herds. They request to be given the land for their possession. They also request to remain in their land and not go over the Jordan  to help conquer the Canaanites.  Their request angers Moses. He compares them to the ones who refused to enter Canaan, and died in the wilderness. The other Hebrews fought to win this land. They need to help their brothers win their land.  They agree to go with the rest of the Hebrews, and return to this land when Canaan is subdued.  Moses agrees, and makes a public proclamation of it.

March 11

Num. 35,  Lk. 1:39-80
Num. 36,  1 Thes. 2

Numbers 35

Chapter 33 recounts the journey from Egypt.  Chapter 34 sets the boundaries of the Promised Land.  Numbers 35 sets aside cities, and their surrounding land for the Levites. These cities will be scattered among the tribes, ensuring a Levitical presence accessible to all of the Hebrew people.  Six of these cities our cities of refuge to which a person involved in the death of another is protected from harm until he is brought before the judges. Verses nine through 34 give laws regarding cities of refuge.

Numbers 36

The book of Numbers closes with rules that keep the tribal and family inheritance intact.  The land is a heritage from the Lord, and is not permitted to pass out of the family’s possession.

At last the preparations are complete.  The people understand the Covenant of God, and the civil and social laws that accompany it.  The priesthood is established, and arrangements for its dispersement through out the land are furnished.  A council will decide how the land will be allotted, and the rules of inheritance are given.  A new leader, Joshua, is prepared to take the people into Canaan.  Before they go, Moses wants to address them again.  His addresses are recorded in the fifth book of Moses, Deuteronomy.

March 12

Deuteronomy 1:1-18, Lk. 2:1-39
Dt. 1:19-46,  1 Thes. 3

Deuteronomy 1

Verses 1-5 give Israel’s location.  She is on the plains of Moab, which is part of a great valley stretching to the eastern arm of the Red Sea, which is known today as the Gulf of Aqabah. The Sea of Galilee, Jordan River, and Dead Sea are all located in this plain.  It is not all level ground, of course.  Like most valleys, it contains everything from flat land to towering heights.  The plains of Moab are on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and Israel is camped several miles south east of Jericho, which is on the other side of the Jordan.

Deuteronomy contains the final addresses of Moses to Israel. The Hebrews have already conquered some of the local peoples, and Ruben and Gad have been granted possession of the area. This chapter begins a review the events and travels of Israel since leaving Egypt. The review continues to the end of chapter 3.  Since most of these events are reiterations of what has already been written in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, readers may want to consult the comments on relevant chapters.

March 13

Dt. 2:1-25  Lk. 2 40-52
Dt. 2:26-37   1 Thes. 4


Deuteronomy 2

The book of Deuteronomy records three “sermons”  preached to Israel by Moses.  Since Moses knows he will be taken in death soon, these sermons are the last words of advice from one of the greatest persons to walk the earth.  They are given in the ripeness of age, by a man who walked closely with God, who saw and experienced more in life than most people ever dream of, and who speaks and write for the single purpose of benefiting his hearers and readers.  His words merit serious reading on that basis alone.  Add to this the fact that Moses writes at the command of God, and that his thoughts and words are guided and given by God as Scripture for our learning, and we have not only the words of Moses, but the Word of God.  Here again is another, higher reason why we should give this book our kindest, serious, and humble attention.

The first sermon starts in chapter one and continues through chapter 4.  It begins with a brief review of Israel’s release from Egypt, and her travels to this point.  But Israel’s experience is not the point of the sermon.  The grace, guidance, patience, forgiveness and faithfulness of God is the point.  It is actually a review of the grace and guidance of God through the past forty years of Israel’s history.  The secondary point is Israel’s constant sin and lack of faith.  While God has offered love and grace, the people have murmured, worshiped idols, and conducted themselves like pagans.  If we try, we may find parallels in the Church of today, and even in our very own lives.

March 14

Dt. 3,  Lk. 3
Dt. 4:1-24, 1 Thes. 5


Deuteronomy 3

Verses 1-11 continue the account of victories against enemies, especially in the transjordan (land on the eastern side of the Jordan River).  Verse 12 begins to recount the allotment of the transjordan land to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh.   Joshua’s installation is retold in verses 23-28.

Verses 23-27 reveal Moses’ heart about his desire to go into Canaan. “I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon” (vs.25). The books of Moses, often called the Pentateuch, seldom record Moses’ personal desires or thoughts.  When they do, they usually record his prayers and intercessions for Israel, and his desire for the glory of God to be revealed in them.  Here we see Moses longing for something for himself.  And his desire is for something God will not give.  Moses, like the rest of us, must learn to be content with what God gives, and  learn that God’s grace is enough.  Moses seems to say he sinned because he was angry with the people.  He does not say his anger was sin.  He certainly had a right to be angry with the doubting and cowardly Hebrew people.  But he allowed his anger to cloud his mind, so that he did not follow the commandment of God, to the letter.  But, many whose sins are far more heinous than Moses’ are going into Canaan.  Why can’t Moses go?  The answer, because God  had to show the people of Israel, especially the judges/captains, the priests, and Joshua, that absolute obedience to His Word and Laws is required.  Anything short of complete obedience is a crime against Israel and against God, and God will punish the offenders.  Failure to punish Moses would invite corruption into the civil and religious leadership of Israel.  People in such positions would think, “if Moses got away with sin, surely I can, too.”  God wants them to know they will not get away with it.  Besides,  Moses is going to a greater Promised Land, for which Canaan is a mere shadow and symbol.  Moses is going to be with God.  Had he but known this, he would have gladly forgone a visit to Canaan.

Deuteronomy 4:1-24

Chapter four concludes the first sermon with an exhortation based on the review of events in chapters one through three.  Here Moses makes two main points.  First, in verse 3, he says, “Your eyes have seen what the Lord did.”  Moses is telling the people what they have seen and experienced.  Many are old enough to remember the slavery and deliverance.  Some remember the battles.  All but the infants remember at least part of the wilderness time.  So Moses, like the Apostle John is declaring that “which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled” (1 Jn.1:1)  As John was personally involved in the events of the life and ministry of Christ, the Hebrews are personally involved the events which are God’s ministry to them.   Moses is recounting Israel’s personal experience.  He writes in verse 35, “Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else besides him.

The second point is stated in two ways.  In verse 23 Moses says, “Take heed unto yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which He made with you.”  In verse 40 he writes keep the statutes.  In other words, be faithful to God.  You agreed to be His people, and to love and serve Him with your whole being.  He agreed to forgive your sins, bless you in this world, and love you as His own children, as only He can love.  He has kept, and will continue to keep the Covenant.  You keep it, too.