Numbers 32, Isaiah 55, 2 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 32, Isaiah 55, and 2 Thessalonians 3 today. This devotional is about Numbers 32.

Have you ever made plans based on something someone else promised they would do? For instance, have you ever signed a purchase agreement to buy a home because you had a contract to sell your home to someone else? 

Ever had that other person that you were counting on back out on their promise?

If so, then you know how painful it is to take someone at his word, make plans based on him keeping his word, then have to scramble when that person didn’t want to–or couldn’t–do what they said they would do.

That’s where Moses was here in Numbers 32 and why he was so mad (v. 14) at the Gadites and Reubenites in this chapter. For Israel to take the Promised Land, they needed their army at full strength. When the Reubenites and Gadites decided that they wanted to stay and occupy the land East of the Jordan (vv. 1-5), it seemed like a breach of trust, a refusal to do what all God’s people had believed God for and had agreed together to do. It looked to Moses like Kadesh Barnea, part 2 (vv. 8-10). Moses went so far as to call them “you brood of sinners” (v. 14) for not wanting to possess the land with the rest of the tribes of Israel.

People often make agreements and then break them without cause. Sometimes we cannot keep an agreement we’ve made because we have an illness or injury that makes it impossible or a financial setback that leaves us without the money we need to do what we said we’d do. In those cases, you haven’t broken your agreement; God allowed circumstances into your life that prevented you from keeping it. 

Other passages in scripture talk about what to do if you can’t keep an agreement you’ve made, but the basic principle of scripture is that God expects us to do what we’ve said we will do. 

When we decide to renege on an agreement we’ve made, we’ve acted contrary to the nature of our Father. He is faithful to his promises and always does what he said he would do. As we grow in Christlikeness, we should be more and more trustworthy and faithful to the promises and agreements we make to others.

Are you a man or woman of your word? When you say that you’ll do something, do you do it  even if it is costly? Is there something you said you’d do that you’re thinking about backing out of today?

Ultimately Moses brokered a deal that allowed these tribes to have the land they wanted outside the Promised land while still helping the rest of God’s people to inherit the land (vv. 16-22). If Gad and Reuben refused to abide by the new agreement, they would “be sinning against the Lord” (v. 23). So are you and I if we do not keep our word to others.

Numbers 24, Isaiah 47, 1 Thessalonians 2

Read Numbers 24, Isaiah 47, and 1 Thessalonians 2. This devotional is about Numbers 24.

Balak had a strange idea of what prophets do. He believed that any word a prophet spoke would become reality. His idea was that paying Balaam to curse Israel meant that Israel would be cursed automatically. Balaam told him repeatedly that he could only do what God empowered him to do (for example, verse 12), but Balak couldn’t understand. In verse 10 we read, “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.”

The theology behind Balak’s plan to curse Israel was that God exists to serve us like a cosmic vending machine. Put in the right coins, make your request, and out comes exactly what you want. Balak assumed that God would do whatever a “holy man” like Balaam asked.

It is comical to read this section and see Balak’s reaction to Balaam’s prophetic blessings.

But we act this way ourselves sometimes, too. We believe that God must answer our prayers the way that we want. We may say, “if it is your will” in our prayers but if it isn’t God’s will, that bothers us. One thing these chapters about Balak and Balaam teach us is that God Almighty is not under our control; he’s not there for us to control. He controls us and we submit to him and what he wills to do.

I think it is also important to point out that Balak wanted God to do something that was outside of his moral will. God had expressed his intention to bless Israel for generations. Asking God to do the opposite of what he said he would do in his word is a way of praying that God is never going to bless with yes. People do that today, too, ignoring God’s written word and asking him to do something that is contrary to it.

Do you have any of this kind of “Balak theology” in you? Balak was an unbeliever but we believers can slip into this kind of thinking, too. Ask God to give you a submissive heart to his will and learn how to pray in ways that are in concert with what he has already revealed about his will in his word.

Numbers 22, Isaiah 45, Acts 18

Read Numbers 22, Isaiah 45, and Acts 18 today. This devotional is about Numbers 22.

Israel was tantalizingly close to the Promised Land. The forty years of wandering was almost over and verse 1 says, “the Israelites… camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.” You know already that Jericho was the first city they defeated when they entered the land. So the events of this chapter and the ones that follow happen just before they received the land God had promised them.

God had blessed his people, enabling them to defeat the Amorites (v. 2) and to become a large nation (v. 3: “so many people”). Now the Moabites have come face to face with God’s people. Out of fear, they looked for a way to defeat Israel, but given that God was with them, what kind of “defeat” could they engineer? A military defeat was out of the question.

So they decided to try to win a spiritual war and found Balaam (v. 5). They asked him to curse Israel (v. 6) and Balaam asked them to wait overnight while he sought revelation from God. In verse 8 he said, “I will report back to you with the answer the LORD gives me.” The word “LORD” is YHWH, the covenant name of God for Israel; but why was Balaam using this name for God?

One reason is possibly that he himself was a worshipper of YHWH. Another answer is that he knew about many “gods” and that YHWH was Israel’s God so he waited for revelation from that God. It is hard to know from these chapters, but I think the answer is the latter.*  Balaam didn’t worship YHWH but he knew who YHWH was so he sought revelation from Israel’s God YHWH.

God did speak with Balaam and ordered him not to curse His people (v. 12). Balak sent a second delegation and asked Balaam to reconsider (v. 15). This time God gave permission for Balaam to go with them on the condition that he only speak the Lord’s word (v. 20). What happened next was strange; God had allowed Balaam to go (v. 20) but in verse 22 we learn, “God was very angry when he went.” Although Moses did not explain further, God’s anger at Balaam may have been anger at his eagerness to find a way to get paid for his prophecies against God’s people. In verse 22b Balaam encountered “the angel of the Lord” which refers to Jesus before he became a man. After the very unusual interaction with his donkey (vv. 23-34) Christ spoke to Balaam himself, directly and charged him again to “speak only what I tell you” (v. 35).

There’s more to this story that we’ll read tomorrow but here in this chapter we see God’s divine protection of his people. He would not allow his people to be cursed by an unscrupulous prophet.

Have you ever considered that maybe God’s enemies want to bring a curse into your life that only God knows about and that only he can prevent?

*See also Joshua 13:22 where Balaam was put to death for practicing divination.

Numbers 20, Isaiah 43, Proverbs 12:15-28

Read Numbers 20, Isaiah 43, Proverbs 12:15-28 today. This devotional is about Numbers 20.

It is hard to read about Moses’ life and not identify with him. He faced one challenge after another. At one time or another everyone was against him, including his own brother and sister. Yet, despite the challenges, he kept leading, kept praying for the people, kept faithfully doing what the Lord commanded him to do.

Here in Numbers 20 he faced another crisis—a familiar one—the lack of water. Of course the people complained about it (vv. 2-5) and Moses, as he did so often in the past, went to God in prayer looking for the answer (v. 6) this time with his prayer-partner Aaron. God commanded him to “take the staff” (v. 8) which he had once used to strike a rock and bring forth water. This time, however, the instruction was to “speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water” (v. 8).

On his way to do what the Lord commanded (v. 9), the pressure of all this grumbling may have finally gotten to him. He and Aaron gathered the people (v. 10a), but then Moses made a speech. He called the people “rebels” and asked “must we bring you water out of this rock?” Hopefully God was included in that “we” but that’s far from certain because Moses’s next act was not to obey God by speaking to the rock as he had been instructed. Instead, Moses smacked the rock twice with his staff (v. 11). God graciously provided the water, but Moses and Aaron were judged for Moses’ disobedience (v. 12).

What caused Moses to disobey? “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites” (v. 12b). It was a lack of faith in that moment—not a lack of faith in God to provide the water, but the lack of faith to demonstrate the holiness of God to the people.

Had Moses obeyed God’s command to speak to the rock, God would have been exalted and revered when the rock gushed forth. But by striking the stone with his rod, Moses was acting in anger not in faith.

In the ministry, it is hard not to get frustrated and even angry with people when they disobey God’s word. It’s also hard not to become angry as a parent when our kids disobey. But, when we correct someone who is disobedient, are we concerned about them learning the holiness of God or are we mad because they’ve challenged our authority, exhausted our patience, or just disrespected us?

Any of these negative responses is sinful because they don’t come from a sanctified desire to show those we lead–and the world–the greatness of God. When we act in anger toward a godly purpose, we’re not acting in faith; rather, we’re trying to coerce obedience through anger or manipulation.

Anger, coercion, and manipulation do not honor God. When we act in these non-faith-filled ways, we should expect that God’s discipline. God wants to purge us of our disobedient ways and teach us how to lead in faith rather than anger or fear or any other motivation.

Have you been dealing with someone in your life out of anger? Have you been trying to get someone to do right by doing wrong in disobedience to God’s commands? Ask the Lord for faith to trust him as you speak truth in love rather than speaking truth in anger. Then watch to see if God chooses to work through you.

Numbers 15, Isaiah 39, Galatians 6

Read Numbers 15, Isaiah 39, and Galatians 6 today. This devotional is about Numbers 15:37-41.

In these final verses of Numbers 15, God commanded the people of Israel to sew tassels to the corners of their garments. HIs command was for the people do this, “Throughout the generations to come.” This part of the command reminds the people of God that this is not a temporary, situational command but a lasting marker for the people of God.

But these tassels were not ornamental like the little rivets on your jeans are. Numbers 15:39-40 describes the purpose of these tassels: “You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.”

These tassels, in other words, were there to remind Israel not to sin particularly in the realm of sexual sins. At the very point of removing their garments, the tassels should have reminded them of God’s commands and that their covenants in marriage were made before God. It was one last emergency break before two of God’s people committed immorality. I wonder how many sins were stopped and marriages were saved by this simple reminder?

Of course, if someone doesn’t care about God, or really wants to sin, or has never read in God’s law what the purpose of those tassels was, the tassels will do no good. Rules and regulations can be safeguards to those who desire holiness and obedience but tassels are mere hassles to us when we decide to sin.

And we all sin in some way. Maybe we’ve never taken off our clothes to commit adultery, but there isn’t one of us who hasn’t ignored the voice of our conscience, a clear command of scripture, or some other safeguard that could have kept us from sinning.

Thankfully, God is merciful to those who call on him in faith seeking forgiveness. If this devotional reminds you of a specific sin you’ve committed, now is the time to change your mind. Seek God’s forgiveness and then seek to return to obedience to the Lord. It may require some painful conversations to make amends but God promises his mercy to those who confess and forsake their sins.

Numbers 11, Isaiah 36, Proverbs 12:1-14

Read Numbers 11, Isaiah 36, and Proverbs 12:1-14 today. This devotional is about Numbers 11.

EVERYBODY had something to complain about in Numbers 11:

  • The people of Israel complained about how hard it was living in the desert (11:1)
  • They also complained about the food that God graciously, faithfully, and miraculously provided for them (vv. 4-9).
  • Moses complained to God about what a burden it was to lead God’s people (vv. 10-15).
  • Even God himself had complaints, both with the ungratefulness of the people (vv. 1b-3) and also with the unbelief of Moses (v. 23).

There are legitimate complaints, of course. God certainly had legitimate reasons to complain. But let’s consider the roots of illegitimate–that is, sinful–complaining. What causes it? This chapter reveals some common causes such as:

  • Discouragement. Verse 1 says the people “complained about their hardships….” Often our complaining is really a symptom of discouragement about our lives in other areas.
  • Entitlement. This is the attitude that says, “I deserve better.” Verses 4-6 reflect this. The people completely ignored the fact that they were slaves in Egypt. “At least the food was good,” they said. Their diet in captivity caused them to feel that they should always eat that way, even on a long trip to a home where better food (“flowing with milk and honey”) was waiting for them.
  • Nostalgia: The people remembered the past fondly (v. 5a). They conveniently forgot that things “cost nothing” (v. 5b) because they were slaves.
  • Unthankfulness: God provided food for them and made it easy (vv. 8-9). He had liberated them from slavery in Egypt was taking them to a promised land. Yet they were so obsessed with their desire for variety that they felt no gratitude for God’s daily provisions.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

If you are a leader, people will complain to you. So how do you deal with complainers and complaining?

  • Pray for the complainers (v. 2). Admittedly, Moses’s prayer here was for the end of God’s judgment but praying for complainers–preferably before God punishes them for complaining–seems like a very good strategy to me.
  • Pray for the needs you see but cannot meet (vv. 10-15). The burden of leading God’s people and providing for them was too much for Moses. Instead of complaining to his wife or his brother or Joshua, he took his burden to the Lord. Again, a good strategy.
  • Pray for God to empower the leaders you already have. God told Moses in verses 14-16 that he would provide help for the leadership burden. But notice that the help God provided came from “Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people” (v. 16). The leadership Moses needed was already waiting for him. All they needed was God’s power (vv. 17b, 28-29).

God did punish some of the people for their complaining but he was mostly patient in this passage. He was patient with Moses’ unbelief and provided the month’s worth of meat that he had promised (vv. 18-19, 31) even though Moses threw a fit when God made the promise, as if God would require Moses to do something that only God himself could do (vv. 21-23). He also provided the elders of Israel to share the leadership load with Moses (vv. 24-29).

Complaining comes so naturally to us, doesn’t it?

And why do we complain? Because we think we deserve better—a better job, a happier life, a better spouse, more obedient children—whatever.

Complaining is a symptom of an entitled heart; it demonstrates a heart that envies others, that lusts after things God has not willed for us. It rises from a mind that is focused on what we don’t have but think we deserve instead of seeing all that God has already faithfully given to us.

Instead of complaining, let’s learn to ask God for the things that we want and need in life (see James 4:1-3) and to be thankful for all that God has done for us (Colossians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Numbers 7, Isaiah 32, Galatians 1

Read Numbers 7, Isaiah 32, and Galatians 1 today. This devotional is about Numbers 7.

Numbers 7:2 says that the leaders of each tribe of Israel made offerings to the Lord to be used by the Levities and priest in their Tabernacle ministry. Those offerings were, according to verse 3: “…six covered carts and twelve oxen—an ox from each leader and a cart from every two. These they presented before the tabernacle.”

The oxen in this gift were not given to be slaughtered for sacrifices; they were to pull the carts that were also part of this gift. This kind of utilitarian offering was not commanded by God so Moses might have been uncertain if it was even appropriate to receive them as offerings. God spoke up, however, in verses 4-5: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Accept these from them, that they may be used in the work at the tent of meeting. Give them to the Levites as each man’s work requires.’”

Te oxen and carts were useful and, therefore, a legitimate gift to the Lord for his work. Not every Levite needed them which is why the Lord said, “Give them to the Levites as each man’s work requires” (v. 5). Nevertheless, they were helpful to some of the Levites and, therefore, they were a thoughtful gift for the Lord’s work.

This is a reminder that people who serve the Lord in full-time ministry—pastors, church-planters, foreign missionaries, college and seminary professors, and others—need tools. Tools are an essential part of doing our work well for the Lord. I was away from my office when I wrote this devotional, but I was able to write it on a Macbook that our church purchased for me. I’m grateful that we have money in our budget for good tools; otherwise, the only productive time I would have would be time spent in my office.

I am involved in a few ministries outside of our church. My role is small and usually consists of me just giving advice. One of these ministries is frugal and spends money carefully and wisely. In terms of raw dollars, not a lot is spent of staff salaries or ministry expenses but in terms of percentages, a fair amount goes to those things. It would be an error, however, to think that the money spent on salaries and expenses is wasted. The people who receive pay offer valuable advice, guidance, leadership, and teaching. Without them, there would be no ministry, so paying them for their work and providing them with the tools they need is money well spent for God’s kingdom, even if it is not directly spent on the ministry’s core work. It is something to keep in mind when you choose which ministries to support and how that support is spent.

The men in this passage gave something they made to God’s work. As a ministry leader, I would honestly rather people gave money to the church so that we can decide whether to buy a certain kind of tool or what kind of tool we think will be most useful. But occasionally people buy stuff and donate it to the church. We’ve had people donate computers, projectors, couches and other kinds of furniture, and many other kinds of tools or materials that I can’t think of at the moment. Gifts like these–especially if they are things we actually need and will use (which is not always the case with donated stuff)–are a blessing to God’s work.

If you tithe faithfully to this church, thank you! Your obedience and generosity makes our ministries possible. If you are tithing but also have skills you can use here or see needs for physical things that you’d like to donate to the church, let this passage encourage you to contribute to God’s work in those ways.