Joshua and the Psalms Man (Joshua 1:1-9; Psalm 1-2)

I fell in love with the Psalms when I was in high school. I didn’t understand their true depths, but I knew I felt better after read them. Since that time I have spent years reading, praying, singing and trying to understand them more deeply. They seem to have no limits to its depths.

For years I have known about the importance of Psalm 1 & 2. These two Hebrew poems set up the whole collection. What I had not known were their connection to Joshua 1. Thanks to the academic work of Seth Postell, former professor of Old Testament at the Charles L. Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies and current lecturer in Biblical Studies at Israel College of the Bible in Netanya, Israel, my eyes have been opened to see this amazing connection.

Joshua opens with the death of Moses as the mantel has been passed to his protégé – Joshua the son of Nun. He will lead Israel across the Jordan to the land promised hundreds of years before by his ancestor Abraham. Yahweh speaks to him directly:

Joshua 1:6-8, Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success (שבל) wherever you go (הלך). This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate (הגה) on it day (יומס) and night (לילה), so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous (עלח), and then you will have good success (שבל). (emphasis mine)

Let’s compare with Psalm 1:

Psalm 1:1-2, Blessed is the man/ who walks (הלך) not in the counsel of the wicked,/ nor stands in the way of sinners,/ nor sits in the seat of scoffers; bur his delight is in the law of the LORD,/ and on his law he meditates (הגה) day (יומס) and night (לילה)./ He is like a tree/ planted by streams of water/ that yields its fruit in its season,/ and its leaf does not wither./ In all that he does, he prospers (עלח). (emphasis mine)

Do you see it?

Let’s talk about Psalm 1 & 2 for a moment. As mentioned in the outset, these two poems are linked to share an important message. Let’s notice the similarities:

  • נתן – yields (1:3); makes (2:8)
  • הגה – meditates (1:2); plot (2:1)
  • דרך – the way (1:6; 2:12)
  • אבר – perish (1:6; 2:12)
  • ישב – sits (1:1; 2:4)
  • אשרי – Blessed (1:1; 2:12)

They have some matching words – so what?

They are bound together as an introduction to the Psalms. They speak about the blessed man (1:1) who is the Anointed Son of Yahweh (2:3, 7). The one God planted by streams of water (1:3) is the one He has set as His King (2:6). Both Psalms speak of the wicked (1:1) who plot and take their stand against Yahweh and His anointed (2:2). But the one who delights in the law of the LORD and meditates on his law day and night (1:2) will prosper (succeed, thrive), based on the success of the anointed of God, which is military success against the enemies of Yahweh (2:8). The heritage of the raging nations will be given to the anointed king and his people.

Are you starting to see it?

Even though Israel did not have a king at the time of Joshua, laws had already been given when time came (Deut. 17:14-20). He is the chosen of Yahweh who is to revere Him by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them. Just as Joshua was not to turn the right hand or to the left (Josh. 1:8), the same was spoken of Israel’s kings (Deut. 1:19-20). This was the key to prosperity and good success.

Joshua and the psalms man (Ps. 1:1) are royal, conquering figures. Joshua 1 opens by linking Psalm 1, which pulls in Psalm 2, to Israel’s new leader. Joshua is depicted as the anointed “king” who will conquer the enemies of Yahweh. In return, the good land of the opposing nations will be given to Joshua and the people. Joshua 1:5 and Psalm 2:2 speak of the enemies of the LORD who take their stand against (יעב) His conquering chosen leader. The Book of Joshua, as Psalm 1 & 2, foresee the conquering of the nations as judgment on the rebellious rulers who opposed the divinely chosen “king” of Yahweh.

However, the blessed and anointed of God has a responsibility. He must meditate on the law (Torah) everyday. It makes him wise and successful. Joshua and the man of Psalm 1, display the wise man who meditates daily on the will of God in Torah.

All of these point to the Anointed (Heb. Messiah) of Yahweh who would come into our world as the ultimate King. He conquers the greatest enemy of humanity – sin and death. And His name? Jesus, the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua (יהושוע). The Law of Yahweh never leaves Him, as He is the Word of God in the flesh (Jn. 1:1)! His whole earthly life was exemplified by following the will of the Father. In the end, His divine enthronement became the victory of the great enemy of God. But it did not happen by defeating physical armies on a battlefield. It happened on a cross. And rather than defeating the nations of the world, the Messiah provided a way for all the nations of the earth to be blessed and brought into the kingdom of God. A Promised Land is coming when Jesus descends once more. The rebellious nations of the world will finally be destroyed as the kingdom of God fully reigns. No more war. No more death. No more enemies. In its fulfillment, the kingdom will be a place of peace and justice. We will be in the presence of the great God King who saved us from our greatest enemies. Until then, we continue to meditate on the will of God day and night. Striving to be become the wise man who does not go the path of the wicked or join with those who would mock God. Rather, we worship the One enthroned in the heavens!

**All Scripture quoted from the English Standard Bible

**Blog resources: Adam as Israel by Seth D. Postell; Ancient Israel by Robert Alter; The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer

How Do I Process the Conquest? (Joshua 5-13)

When we move into the Book of Joshua, we find war, deception, the killing of women and children, destruction of cities and other things that trouble us. I mean, didn’t Jesus teach us to love our enemies and to do good to them? The Messiah is the God of the Hebrew Scriptures who took on human form in the New Testament. Did God change His character since the Old Testament conquest?

On the surface, it may seem this way. And while I will be first to say these things can be troubling, they also are not in contradiction to the nature of God.

A word we hear often in Joshua is the discussion of the devoted (herem – חרם) things for Yahweh (6:17). This was a call for total destruction – annihilating its population and its animals and even dedicating valuable items to the LORD’s treasury. Herem was not invented by Israel, as archeological evidence shows, it was practiced by the Canaanite nations. Also, it is highly unlikely it was ever acted upon. It was a brutal way of expressing the absolute separation from the pagan population. Once you get to Judges, you realize this separation never occurred.

We also know of those who were not put on herem, such as Rahab and her family and the Gibeonites. The world wants to use things like this to separate us from God. They want to display Yahweh as an impatient, angry and vindictive God. Rarely will they quote Exodus 34:6-7, which speaks of the true character of the God of Israel – merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Rarely will they discuss the goal of God’s nation – to bless the nations of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3). And certainly they will not recount the many narratives displaying these things.

I learned of some great 7 minute videos that help us to understand the conquest of Canaan. Dr. Lawson Stone does a good job explaining these difficult texts. He is a professor of the Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary who received his Ph.D from Yale University. In other words, he holds much greater credentials than I do.

Please watch and reflect.

**All Scripture usage comes from the English Standard Version

**Blog resources: Ancient Israel by Robert Alter; The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament

Circumcision of the Heart (Deuteronomy 30)

Leading up to Deuteronomy 30, the author lets us know the 2nd generation (those who left Egypt) would fail. Their continued disobedience eventually led to exile, which is what makes the opening verses so fascinating. Read 30:1-5.

Moses prophecies of the future of Israel. A time of restoration and redemption. The LORD will be merciful and bring His people back from foreign lands to the country of their fathers. But it is the next verse I would like for us to think about.

Deuteronomy 30:6, “And the LORD God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (emphasis mine)

But what is this circumcision of the heart? Of course, circumcision was the… gulp… removal of a male’s foreskin. This was to be done 8 days after birth. It was connected with the covenant (Gen. 17:9-14) and ones identity with Yahweh.

Yeah, but that is different than a circumcision of the heart. Absolutely! And that is the point. The Apostle Paul takes on this theme in his letter to the Romans.

Romans 2:25, For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 

Circumcision loses its value if one choses not to obey God. Remember, it is connected to the covenant Yahweh made with Israel. The fact that one is circumcised proves they know the Law and sin out of disobedience. In my last blog, we noted the people had no excuse for not knowing the LORD’s instructions. Yet, just because someone was circumcised didn’t mean they would live a life of trust in God. Paul references Jeremiah 9:25-26. The problem was the heart. The 1st and 2nd generation has put this dilemma on display. What they really need is a circumcision of the heart.

Romans 2:29, But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (emphasis mine)

Now we are getting somewhere. God’s Law is holy, righteous and good. Anyone who says differently is wrong! The apostle backs up that statement (Rom. 7:12). However, it doesn’t have the ability to change the heart and love Yahweh with every fiber of our being. This is why Jeremiah prophesied the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jeremiah 31:31-33, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (emphasis mine)

A new covenant! It is different than the one made at Sinai. It will not be made on tablets of stone, but the heart. The 10 Commandments did not empower Israel to follow God. In fact, they were breaking His 1st command before it came down the mountain. Through the new covenant, Yahweh will not only forgive sin but cast them out of mind (Jer. 31:34)!

So how does humanity come into this new covenant with God?

Through the sacrifice of Jesus (Lk. 22:20). The Apostle Paul said the Colossian believers had received Christ’s circumcision of the heart through their baptism (Col. 2:11-12). God doesn’t give more Laws, His gives the Spirit! Israel showed us more laws doesn’t change people. Moses longed for a day like this (Num. 11:29). You can read my blog on this verse here.

When would this happen?

Deuteronomy 30, as many passages, contrasts the giving of the covenant at Sinai and the new covenant. There will be another mountain moment with Israel. Here is an interesting question, can we know when the first one occurred? Yes. Study up on Exodus 19:1-3. Moses goes up on Sinai the 50th day, after leaving Egypt. This is the day Pentecost is celebrated. Fast forward to Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost. We find Sinai language in the opening verses – powerful wind and fire. Rather than Yahweh coming down to a single person – the Spirit comes down and fills many. All who repent and are baptized in Jesus’ name, will received the gift of the Spirit. Second Sinai! The Spirit has come, the new covenant in Christ, and God’s people are empowered with a desire to love God and follow Him. Read Paul’s writing in Romans 8 and Galatians 5:22-23.

Let’s turn back to Deuteronomy 30 for more climatic language. You guessed it, the story of Eden.

Deuteronomy 30:15-16, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” (emphasis mine)

Do you see it? The 2nd generation stands between the metaphorical tree of life and the tree of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). The Word of the LORD has spoken. Israel is given the good land to enjoy – it flows with milk and honey – yet they are commanded to not partake of certain things (Gen. 2:16-17). Like Adam and Eve, they must chose between good and evil and life and death. God’s Word is the means to what is good and preserves life. It is the way for humanity to return to a semblance of Paradise. Moses employs the people to love Yahweh and walk in His ways. Walking with God was something Adam and Eve enjoyed before the Fall (Gen. 3:8). Others after them were blessed with goodness and life because they had walked with God – Enoch (Gen. 5:22-24; Noah (Gen. 6:9); Abraham (Gen. 17:1). In Deuteronomy 30, keeping God’s covenant was the means of walking in his ways. It is a place of blessing – long life in the land for you and your offspring. In other words, they would be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land (Gen. 1:28).

They will fail, but the time would come when humanity would be able to live in love and obedience to Yahweh. The Messiah would bring the Spirit and circumcise the heart.

We are now in that time.

**All Scripture quoted from the English Standard Version

**Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer;

Blessings and Curses… Eden Again (Deuteronomy 27-29)

A popular theme arises as Moses comes into the final chapters of the Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy). There has been a heavy stream of retelling the Law and following out of a genuine love for Yahweh. Israel is reminded they were chosen and loved by the LORD before they knew Him. They had been delivered from oppression and slavery, and made His treasured possession. They were given signs and wonders so Israel would become a people who trusted Yahweh for what was good and walk in His ways.

The second generation are as Adam and Eve before the Fall (10:39). Now Moses stresses the importance of obeying God when they come into the Promised Land. Many attempts have been made to help them remember – parents continually reminding their children, writing it on their homes, literally binding them on their arms and foreheads with leather straps (6:6-9); special observances (16:1-17); their future kings having a written copy to lead the people (17:18-20); setting up stones with plaster with God’s laws on them (27:1-4).

bible-archeology-altar-of-joshua-amphitheater-between-mt-gerizim-ebal
Israel reading the blessings from Mt. Gerizim and the curses from Mt. Ebal

But I want to focus on the blessings and curses associated with the instructions of Yahweh. When we get to chapters 27-30, the author hints at the outcome of the 2nd generation. There was a ceremony that was to take place when the people came into the land (27:11-13). On Mount Gerizim, half the tribes were to recite the blessings of obedience in a loud voice. On Mount Ebal, the other tribes were to recite the curses. Fascinating to say the least. But that isn’t why we are here. The author doesn’t write out the blessings – only the curses. Why? It seems to stress that Israel will fail to be obedient to God’s covenant and therefore will not enjoy its blessings.

However, chapter 28 begins with written blessings of those who faithfully obey the Word of Yahweh. And we find the language of the Garden of Eden.

Verse 3-4, 8: Blessed shall you be in the field… the fruit of the groundthe land that the LORD your God is giving you. Genesis 1:29-30, And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (emphasis mine)

Verse 4: Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb. Genesis 1:28 says God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply…” (emphasis mine)

Verse 4: Blessed shall you be the fruit of your cattle… herds… flock. Genesis 1:30, And to every beast of the earth and every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life… (emphasis mine)

Verse 12: Bless all the work of your hands. Genesis 2:15, The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (emphasis mine)

After the author dedicates the first 14 verses to the blessings of obedience, he then gives 54 verses to the curses. It dominates the chapter. Once again, we are given a clue that things will not go so well with the 2nd generation. Yahweh becomes even more detailed in 31:16-18, 27. They will not enjoy the blessings of Eden, that is, the Promised Land. Israel, like Adam and Eve, will fail and experience curses similar the Fall – affliction and exile from God’s good land (Gen. 3:16-24).

Is there any hope?

Seriously?

  • Resetting creation (the Flood) didn’t do it (Gen. 6-9).
  • The chosen family of Abraham hadn’t done it (Gen. 12).
  • Even after being delivered from slavery and bondage – made a special nation of God – given a covenant and promise – even witnessing the mighty wonders and signs of Yahweh – the 1st generation failed.

Now the 2nd generation has an opportunity to fulfill God’s mission to the nations and be blessed. They watched their faithless parents die in the wilderness. They know the stories and are loved by Yahweh. Yet, we find out they will fail too.

Thank God for chapter 29!

Just as in Eden (Gen. 3:16), we discover a future promise in the midst of the curses.

Deuteronomy 29:1, These are the words of the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb. (emphasis mine)

The word besides (בד ל מן) literally means “from to alone.” Moses is not talking about a renewal of the covenant, but in addition to the one made at Sinai (Horeb). It introduces the theme of a future new covenant. One that will be brought by the Messiah when He crushes the head of the snake (Gen. 3:16) by His death on the cross (Lk. 22:20)! Look at your marginal notes in your New Testament. It’s writers quote Deuteronomy 29-34 as foretelling the coming of Jesus! In fact, the New Testament quotes the book of Deuteronomy more than any other in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Jesus resisted the temptation of the snake using passages from Deuteronomy (Matt. 4:1-11) and it was His second most quoted “Old Testament” book (10x – Psalms 11x). This is where Paul taught righteousness is by faith (Rom. 10:6-8, 19; Deut. 30:12-14) and circumcision of the heart was the means for true obedience (Rom. 2:29; Deut. 30:6). Paul tells believers not to seek revenge (Rom. 12:19; Deut. 32:35). And get this, that we should expect Gentiles (non-Jews) to be added to the people of God (Rom. 15:10; Deut. 32:43). You get the idea. My next blog will be dedicated to the future blessing found in Deuteronomy 30.

What’s the point?

This is not a book about the past. It speaks forward to us and the One who finally came. It is a message of hope! Don’t skim through its pages, really absorb its message for us.

**All Scripture quotations comes from the English Standard Version

**Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer

The Law of Eden (Deuteronomy 1-10)

When we hear the word “Law” our minds are taken to a modern day definition, which is generally negative. We think of strict rules intended to control others or to take away their (our) fun. Don’t get me wrong, we like modern laws when they keep someone else in check, but not so much when it affects us. And when it comes to God’s Law, we often believe their only purpose was to demonstrate we are sinners. That isn’t to say it doesn’t, but neither was it intended to be seen in a negative light.

Let’s define Law. It is the Hebrew word Torah (תורה). It means divine instruction of the will of Yahweh. That is different than the way we normally think of the word.

Deuteronomy was written so Moses could explain the law (1:5). The first generation did not trust Yahweh (Ex. 14:11; Deut. 1:32) and was doomed to die in the wilderness and not allowed to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:12). So Deuteronomy was given to prepare the second generation to possess the land of promise. The Law was designed to teach them how to live in the land, and what may shock you, the Law was a way of restoring what was lost in the Garden of Eden. What!? The language of Genesis 1-3 fills this book. The first generation ended up like Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:19, 23-24).

Deuteronomy 1:19-38 recounts the incident with the 12 spies and Israel’s failure to believe the LORD your God (1:32). Suddenly, Moses begins speaking about the next generation through the language of Eden.

Deuteronomy 1:39, As for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. (emphasis mine)

Do you see it? What was the one tree Adam and Eve were forbidden to partake? The tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 1:9, 17; 3:2-5). Metaphorically they are depicted as not parting of the forbidden tree.

What is the point? The second generation were as Adam and Eve before the Fall. They were still trusting God to provide the good land. By the way, did you notice how many times Deuteronomy refers to the Promised Land the good land? Just as Genesis 1 refers to the created world as good. The first man and woman were placed in the Garden (Gen. 2:8), so the Creator will once again place the second generation in the Promised Land. Even it’s description is Eden like.

Deuteronomy 8:7-10, For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills (compare with Gen. 2:9-14), a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing (compare to Gen. 1:11-12, 29; 2:16), a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper (compare 2:11-12). And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. (emphasis mine)

And what was one of the blessings of possession of the good land? They would greatly multiply (6:3; 8:1; 13:17), as Adam and Eve would be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28).

And get this, when God gives them the land they will receive rest (3:20; 12:10 – נוח), the same word in Genesis 2:15, when the Creator placed Adam and Eve in the Garden. The Hebrew verb is “the act of resting or settling upon something or giving rest.” The Promised Land is seen as a return to Eden, though not fully restored.

More? The second generation was taught, as the first, to listen to the statutes and the rules Moses is teaching them that they may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you (Deut. 4:1). The Law was a symbol of life, which means disobedience symbolizes death. Adam and Eve were told the day they disobeyed the Creator’s law, eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would experience death (Gen. 2:17). All they had to do was trust God and live. The Promised Land is filled with everything Israel would need and more. Yahweh’s instructions were wise and would cause the other nations to sit up and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (4:5-6) There is something different about the Hebrew concept of Law and our English definitions.

However, Moses gives a stern warning about idolatry. The LORD is a jealous God (4:24). It shouldn’t surprise us Moses included the incident with the Golden Calf (9:13ff). Worshipping idols was a breech of covenant – the Ten Commandments (4:13; 5:6-21). If they return to idols they will face the consequences of the Fall – exile (4:25-27). Even so, the merciful God will not leave them or destroy them off the face of the earth. He does not forget His part of the covenant (4:31), and if they will seek Yahweh again, they will find Him (4:29).

Why follow the instructions of God? Why not live on our own knowledge of good and evil? Israel’s story is similar to our own. We too are saved by God’s grace, or what the Hebrew Scriptures refer to as steadfast love (hesed – חסד). Can you see the story of Jesus and our salvation in these verses?

Deuteronomy 9:4-5, Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you. ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land.‘ whereas it is because of the wickedness of the nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you… (emphasis mine)

Sound familiar?

Paul quotes another Old Testament verse to say “None is righteous, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10) He points to Abraham to say he was not justified by works in order to boast before God (Rom. 4:1-3).

Wait a minute, then how are we justified? The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (a means of appeasing wrath and gaining the good will of the offended person) by his blood, to be received by faith (Rom. 3:22-25)

Abraham was justified by faith and saved by God’s grace.

Israel justified by faith and saved by God’s grace.

We are justified by faith and saved by God’s grace.

Now watch this. Deuteronomy 10 gives the proper response to the grace of God:

  • Fear the Lord, walk in His ways, love Him, serve Him with all your heart and soul, and keep the commandments (10:12-13)
  • Love the sojourner – foreigner – stranger – alien in the land (10:19).
  • Another way of saying, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Sound familiar?

Deuteronomy 11 is a call to love Yahweh and obey His will because they had seen His mighty works. Remember, Moses is addressing the second generation. They were only children when they saw the powerful works of God. But now they were responsible to share God’s great acts grace to those who had not seen with their own eyes. Thankfully, they would not be left without a witness. The generations to follow, even to our own, will see in the words of Scripture.

Why do we obey God’s Word? “To go to heaven?” “To stay out of hell?” Even for Israel, it wasn’t based on their goodness. It was faith – trust in God. We obey God’s Word because of the goodness, grace, mercy, redemption, love, deliverance, blessings, faithfulness, covenant, presence and even jealously and discipline of the LORD. We obey because God’s Will is wise and good.

God’s Word is a return to Eden. We must not allow the world to tempt us to discard the instruction of God, as the snake in the Garden. We hold to the Creator’s view of the sanctity of life, what constitutes sexual immorality, caring for the poor, loving the foreigner, etc. We follow them, not for fear of being struck down, but out of extreme trust that God wants to bless us. We all stand before our own tree of knowledge of good and evil to determine if we trust our Creator and Redeemer or our own concept of good and evil. Only one leads to blessings and the other a curse.

The Bible Project just put out a new video on “Reading Biblical Law” which is excellent. Let me also encourage you to read another article to boost your love and appreciation for the instruction of Yahweh. It is called Love & Grace: Moses’ Torah of Prayer by Bobby Valentine.

*All Scripture quoted from the English Standard Version

*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; Lexham Theological Wordbook

Balaam and the Coming King (Numbers 22-24)

The story of Balaam was one of my childhood favorites. Who doesn’t like a guy with a talking donkey? It makes me laugh every time. A grown man’s donkey starts talking (never happened before or after) and he gets in an argument with the animal. How funny! Over the years this story has taken on even greater meaning to me.

The narrative of Balaam spans over three chapters, yet we know very little about the man. Nevertheless, the LORD will use him to reach back to the past and predict a future of cosmic proportions.

The story plot: Balak, king of the Moabites, heard about the Israelites defeating King Og and the Amorites. He is fearful because of the sheer size of the people of Israel. His plan was to bring a well-known prophet (not of Yahweh) to pronounce a curse on God’s people. You have heard of chemical warfare; this was prophetic warfare. In this war, Balaam ends up a double agent in a spiritual battle. Every time he tried to curse Israel he ended up blessing them.  Finally, Balaam pronounces a curse of Moab! This is just one of the many bizarre themes in this narrative.

Let’s begin with the repeating stories of Balak and Pharaoh. John Sailhamer makes the connection from Exodus 1.

  • Pharaoh and Balak were both kings of large and powerful nations.
  • Pharaoh and Balak were threatened by the size of Israel (Ex. 1:9; Num. 22:5).
  • Pharaoh and Balak tried to stop Israel from entering the Promised Land (Ex. 1:10; Num. 22:6).
  • Pharaoh and Balak made three attempts to counteract Yahweh’s blessing on His people (Ex. 1:11-22; Num. 23-24).

Let us take a closer look into the three attempts and how they also parallel:

  • Pharaoh put taskmasters over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor (Ex. 1:11-14). The more they oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread. Balak’s first attempt to curse Israel through Balaam had the same outcome (Num. 22:8-10).
  • Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all male children born (Ex. 1:15-21). It ended with the midwives telling Pharaoh, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before a midwife can get to them.” (Ex. 1:19). A similar description is seen in Balak’s second attempt. Balaam says, “God brought them out of Egypt;/ He is like the horns of a wild oxA people rise up like a lioness;/ They rouse themselves like a lion.” (Num. 23:22, 24).
  • Pharaoh ordered every Hebrew son born to be thrown into the Nile (Ex. 1:22). Balak’s third attempt ends in a reversal of Pharaoh’s decree. Water will flow from his buckets,/ and his seed will be by abundant water(Num. 24:7) The author uses irony to show a reversal of Pharaoh’s evil command. Where Pharaoh used water to destroy Israel, Yahweh will bless the seed with buckets of flowing wate

There is more – much more. Look at the use of the word seed (זרע) in describing Israel (24:7). Do you remember the first time this word appears in Scripture? That’s right, Genesis 1. My blog on Make Leviticus Great Again (Part 3) gives a better understanding of the word and its usage.

What Pharaoh and Balak were trying to do violated the principle set up in Genesis 1. In creating man and woman, God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth.” (Gen. 1:28) Even after the Fall, the Creator wants to bless humanity. A Seed would rise up and restore the blessing. Pay close attention to the prophecy:

Genesis 3:15, I will put hostility between you and the woman,/ and between your seed and her seed./ He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. (emphasis mine)

We are being primed for a climactic ending. God’s original plan for humanity was to bless, not curse. Yet, the people of the earth failed over and over again. Finally, Yahweh chose the family of Abraham to bring the promised Seed (Gen. 12:1-3) to bless all the nations of the earth. Pharaoh and Balak represent seed of the snake trying to destroy the Seed of woman bringing back the blessings of Eden. Do you see this?

It gets better when we look deeper into the oracles of Balaam!

Balaam’s 2nd oracle: God brought them (plural) out of Egypt;/ He is like the horns of a wild ox for them. (Num. 23:22)

Balaam’s 3rd oracle: God brought him (singular) out of Egypt;/ He is like the horns of a wild ox for them. (Num. 24:8)

These are almost identical but with one very important difference. The first speaks of Israel (23:24) and the second of a great king and his kingdom (24:7). A future king! And, he leaves another clue about this coming king:

Numbers 24:9, He crouches, he lies down like a lion/ or a lioness – who dares to rouse him?

Have you figured it out? Let’s look back to the prophecy of Judah.

Genesis 49:9, He crouches; he lies down like a lion/ or a lioness – who dares to rouse him?

Is your mind blown? This is the same prophecy verbatim of the coming King of Judah – the Lion of Judah – the Messiah (Rev. 5:5)! You can learn more about Judah here.

But that’s not all! I’m starting to sound like an infomercial, but trust me, it’s bigger. In Balaam’s final oracle, we find these words:

Numbers 24:17c, He will smash the forehead of Moab/ and strike down all the Shethites. (emphasis mine)

What does that make you think about? Go back up and read Genesis 3:15 again. You may be thinking, “Ok, this is about Moab, not the snake.” Look again, the sentence before tells us who will smash the head of Moab.

Numbers 24:17b, A star will come from Jacob,/ and a scepter will arise from Israel.

NOW do you see it? Some believe this has a double meaning – David, the future king of Israel (II Sam. 8:2 – defeated Moabites making them lie on the ground) and the Messiah (Matt. 2:2 – the star that rose at His birth; Rev. 22:16 – the bright morning star).

The One coming is also a scepter that would rise up from Israel – a king! A scepter is a symbol of authority. This too could be applied to David and the Messiah. But, I want to look at the Hebrew word for star (כוכב) one more time. It is a word that shows the imagery of a king (Isa. 14:12; Ezk. 32:7).

Let’s summarize: Balaam was given oracles, from Yahweh, of a star and a scepter that would rise up from the seed of Israel. This Seed would be a greater king of an exalted kingdom. He would be as fierce as a lion and crush the head of the one who would curse the people He wants to bless.

Spiritual warfare between the seed of woman and the snake continues today. The God of Israel would not allow Balak, or Pharaoh, to curse His people. And neither will the Father allow His children to be cursed and destroyed by the enemy. The Seed of the woman has come and protects and cares for God’s people.

Romans 8:31-39, …If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything! Who can bring accusation against God’s elect?… Who is the one who condemns?… Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ?… No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; Faithlife Study Bible (Logos)

I Hate Snakes! (Numbers 21:4-9)

I am not sure when or where my fear of snakes began, but I cannot think of a time when I didn’t greatly dislike these slithering creatures.

Even as a kid I remember trying to put my hand on a picture of a snake in our families old World Book Encyclopedia volume 17 (S). I couldn’t do it. Some of my worst nightmares as a child, and even adult, have been of snakes under my bed. I have killed a few of them over the years, but it wasn’t pretty. My weapon of choice – a long shovel. With my right arm extended and my body turned in the opposite direction (in case I needed to run); I always aim for the head.

Whether it is fear, bad body placement or just terrible aim, I never seem to hit my target. Usually it takes about 20 plus swings before the snake is dead. Only half of those actually make contact. But the deed is eventually done and the world is a better place.

Now let’s move into the most terrifying narrative in Numbers.

Israel began complaining against Moses and Yahweh (a broken record). The typical stuff – “we were better off in Egypt” – “there is no food or water” – blah, blah, blah. They even referred to God’s manna as wretched food! You know something bad is about to happen.

Numbers 21:6, Then the LORD sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died(emphasis mine)

The Israelites were the original cast for Snakes on a Plain. Not plane – plain. It is my worst nightmare. Stephen King couldn’t write anything worse. The people of Israel might agree.

Numbers 21:7, The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you. Intercede with the LORD so that He will take the snakes away from us.” And Moses interceded for the people.

I would have been the first to reach Moses and begin begging for mercy. Again, I am amazed by Moses’ patience and leadership. And once again, I am blown away by Yahweh. A holy God who has done nothing but provide one miracle after another to provide for these ungrateful people.

The LORD told Moses, verse 8, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” (ESV)

Why not send the snakes away? The author wants us to sit up and take notice. Something is different. All along the way, Yahweh has tried to develop faith within these people. It was something they all lacked – even Moses had his struggle.

Before we go further, we need to step back from the narrative to see the bigger picture. When is the last time we read about a snake and a pole? Actually, you may remember it more as a staff that turned into a snake.

Yep, that story. Yahweh tells Moses to throw down his staff and it turned into a snake. He then could grab it by the tail and it go back to a staff. This is enough to let me know I could never be Moses.

Once again we find repeating narratives in the Pentateuch.

  • Snakes (Ex. 4:3) and Leprosy (Ex. 4:6)
  • Leprosy (Num. 12:10) and Snakes (Num. 21:6)

Let’s look back to account of the staff and snake in Exodus 4. Many think of it as a sign from God to Pharaoh. While that is true, it was meant for Israel.

Exodus 4:5, “This will take place so they will believe that Yahweh, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” (emphasis mine)

In Exodus 4 and in Numbers 21, it was necessary for God’s people to respond in faith to the sign – to look on the sign in faith to find deliverance.

Exodus 4:30-31, Aaron repeated everything the LORD had said to Moses and performed the signs before the people. The people believed, and when they heard that the LORD had paid attention to them and that He had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped. (emphasis mine)

In their misery, Yahweh gave Moses a sign for the people to respond in faith. But the greater hyperlink is discovered a few hundred years later. Jesus looks back to Numbers 21:

John 3:14-15, Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life(emphasis mine)

The Commentary Critical Notes and Explanatory on the Whole Bible put it best back in 1871:

“The venom of the fiery serpents, shooting through the veins of the rebellious Israelites, was spreading death through the camp – lively emblem of the perishing condition of men by reason of sin. In both cases the remedy is divinely provided. In both the way of cure strikingly resembled that of the disease. Stung by serpents, by a serpent they are healed… having at a distance the same appearance. So in redemption, as by man came death, by Man also comes life – Man, too, in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3), differing nothing outward and apparent from those who, pervaded by the poison of the serpent, were ready to perish. But as the uplifted serpent had none of the venom of which the serpent-bitten people were dying, so while the whole human family was perishing of the deadly wound inflicted on it by the old serpent, “the Second Man”, who arose over humanity with healing in His wings was without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. In both cases the remedy is conspicuously displayed; in the one case on a pole, in the other on the cross, to ‘draw all men unto Him’ (Jn. 12:32). In both cases it is by directing the eye to the uplifted Remedy that cure is effective; in the one case the bodily eye, in the other the gaze of the soul by ‘believing in Him’… Both methods are stumbling to human reason. What, to any thinking Israelite, could seem more unlikely than that a deadly poison should be dried up in his body by simply looking on a reptile of brass? Such a stumbling-block to the Jews and to the Greeks foolishness was faith in the crucified Nazarene as a way of deliverance from eternal perdition… As one simple look at the serpent, however distant and however weak, brought an instant cure, even so, real faith in the Lord Jesus, however tremulous, however distant – be it but real faith – brings certain and instant healing to the perishing soul.”

Take a moment and reflect on these narratives before going to God in prayer.

*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated

*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer

History Repeats Itself! (Numbers 20)

Lest we forget, the Pentateuch is made up of repeating narratives within different settings and sometimes different people or groups. This is not a book of individual accounts – it is a literary masterpiece! Hyperlinks are strategically placed throughout pointing to the past (Gen. 1-3), and future Messiah. Repeated accounts are ways an author will underline, bold or highlight a theme.

Numbers 20 begins with whiny Israelites!. They are losing their minds (again) over the water situation. Despite the fact Yahweh has provided every step of the way, they continue to question Moses’ leadership and even God. As before, Moses goes before the LORD to ask for water. As usual, Yahweh provides. But something happens.

Numbers 20:10-11, Moses and Aaron summoned the assembly in front of the rock, and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring water out of this rock for you?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff, so that a great amount of water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

You get the idea Moses is having a bad day. In his defense, he has lasted much longer than I would. Which is why this next statement is so surprising:

Numbers 20:12-13, But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me (לא אמן ב אני) to show My holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah (lit. quarreling), where the Israelites quarreled with the LORD, and He showed His holiness to them. (emphasis mine)

Don’t get side tracked trying to figure out which command Moses disobeyed. Was it striking the rock instead of speaking to it (v. 8)? Was it strucking it twice? The author provides the only answer we need to know – because you did not trust me to show My holiness in the sight of the Israelites. That’s it. Plain and simple. Moses revealed a doubt that God’s will would quench the thirst of such rebellious people. Faith/trust in Yahweh is a major them of the Pentateuch.

John Sailhamer picks up the repeating pattern from Numbers 14. It is the narrative of the spies reporting on the Promised Land. We find the people complaining (14:1-4) and the LORD responding (listen carefully):

Numbers 14:11, The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people despise Me? How long will they not trust in Me (לא אמן ב אני) despite all the signs I have performed among them? (emphasis mine)

Do you see it? And because the people had not trusted God they were not allowed to go into the Promised Land (14:23). Soon after Israel was defeated in battle against the Amalekites (14:39-45).

Back to Numbers 20. What happened after the people complained and Moses failed to trust God?  Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land. And get this, the people are turned back by the Edomites (20:20). Now do you see the repeated narrative?

  • Complaint of the people (14:1-4; 20:2-5)
  • Israel and Moses’ lack of faith (14:11; 20:12)
  • Not allowed into the Promised Land (14:23; 20:12)
  • Defeated by their enemies (14:39-45; 20:14-20)

What is the point? Trust God! Faith is where God’s blessings prevail. We are justified by faith and not by works (Gen. 15:6). Paul places hyperlinks throughout his letter to the Romans to prove this point (Rom. 4:1-5, 13-25). We are not saved of our own goodness and perfection. We are saved by the life and sacrifice of Jesus (Rom. 5:6-11). He is the new Adam who overcame temptation, testing and sin (Rom. 5:12-21). By faith, one passes through the waters to become a new humanity and with a new way of living (Rom. 6:1-14). We are a people who have been liberated from the slavery of sin (Rom. 6:15-23).

Romans 10:8-11, This is the message of faith that we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. Now the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame

Our faith is not that Yahweh will conquer a land with giants or even that He will bring water from a rock. Our trust is in Jesus’ death and resurrection to save us. It is when we lack faith we are defeated by the ultimate enemy – Satan. Let me conclude with the words of the song Faith is the Victory by Yakes and Sankey:

To him that overcomes the foe White raiment shall be giv’n

Before the angels he shall know His name confessed in heav’n;

Then onward from the hills of light, Our hearts with love aflame;

We’ll vanquish all the host of night, In Jesus’ conquering name.

Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!

Oh, glorious victory That overcomes the world.

*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Fausset and David.

The Red Heifer (Numbers 19)

One of the interesting aspects of God’s laws are the details, what some consider boring. To be honest, it can painstakingly comprehensive. Numbers 19 doesn’t disappoint:

  • A red heifer without defects, blemishes and never used for common labor (v. 2).
  • The heifer is taken outside the camp (unlike other sin offerings) and slaughtered before the high priest (v. 3).
  • The priest is to dip his fingers in its blood and sprinkle toward the tent of meeting seven times (v. 4).
  • The red heifer is burned – skin, flesh, blood and dung (v. 5).
  • The priest is to take cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet yarn, to be thrown into the fire consuming the heifer (v. 6).
  • The priest was to wash his clothes and take a bath before coming back into the camp (v. 7).
  • A man who is clean is to gather up the ashes of the heifer and put someone outside the camp in a clean place (v. 9).
  • The ashes will be used with water for impurity for Israel as a sin offering (v. 9).

Holy cow! (see what I did there) Are you serious!? There is a lot of things going on here. Rest assured, this wasn’t busy work. Everything had a purpose. Let’s start with what led up to this chapter.

Chapter 18 dealt with the duties of the priests and Levites. A theme develops, warnings, about doing wrong and dying (18:3, 7, 22, 32). Sin, defilement and death is the theme of the red heifer. The author intended these two chapters to go together.

After reading the long list of details in preparing the red heifer, we are given two examples of how the ashes and water were used.

  • Purification for someone who came in contact with a dead body (19:11-13).
  • Purification after being in a tent with a dead body (19:14-22).

Have you picked up how often laws were given about being around dead things?

  • You can’t go near dead bodies (Lev. 21:11);
  • Being defiled by a dead body would make someone unclean for Passover (Num. 9:6);
  • A dead body was not allowed to hang on a tree all night (Deut. 21:23),
  • Etc., etc., etc.

You get the idea. I don’t believe any sane person likes being around death, and the Law took dead things very seriously. The question is why? We will get to this soon.

There have been many interpretations about the heifer being red. Some believe it represents the sinfulness of humanity (i.e., Isa. 1:18). Some believe it represents the color of the blood of sacrifice. And there is even those who teach the color represents humanity. The Hebrew word for red (אדס) is the word for humanity (אדס). Therefore, they believe the red heifer represents Jesus’ suffering for sinful humanity, which is definitely a part of what is happening. The problem is the author doesn’t tell us out right.

BUT, there are clues.

We discover something interesting in verse 17, which was the second example. The ashes are not called ashes (אפר), as in verse 9, the author uses the word powder (עפד) or dust. Let you mind begin to tap into Genesis 2-3 as we continue. The other is the word used to describe the water in verse 17 –  running (‘ח) water. We have actually talked about this word before, it means “life, living”. Suddenly the ashes and the water have been elevated. What is it about death, dust and life that should draw us back to creation and the Fall?

Genesis 2:7, Then the LORD God formed man out of the dust (אפע) from the ground and breathed the breath of life (‘ח) into his nostrils, and the man become a living (‘ח) being.(emphasis mine)

The Creator took the dust of the earth to form man and breathed life into him!

This was Yahweh’s blessing upon humanity. Adam was placed in the garden of Eden and given EVERY good tree of the garden but one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequences for doing so were laid out – death (Gen. 2:17). I think everyone knows what happened next. Now watch as dust and life were transformed after the Fall.

Genesis 3:19, You will eat bread/ by the sweat of your brow/ until you return to the ground,/ since you were taken from it./ For you are dust (עפד),/ and you will return to dust (עפד).” (emphasis mine)

Genesis 3:24, He drove man out and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life (חי). (emphasis mine)

The ashes of the red heifer represent the return to dust, which was the consequence of sin. Like the sacrifice of the red heifer, Adam and Eve were taken outside of the garden – banished. The Fall was the ultimate defilement of God’s good creation and blessing to humanity. This is why death was such a big deal. This is why Yahweh gave so many instructions surrounding dead bodies. It did not mean someone had sinned if they had come in contact with something dead, but as a reminder that death is defilement, impurity and the enemy of humanity. It was not a part of the Creator’s plan for us. Death is not in the LORD’s DNA. Death is a curse, therefore, life was a blessing. And the focus of the first covenant of Yahweh was life!

The red heifer was a reminder of the importance of dealing with sin. It must be cleansed by living (‘ח) water. It isn’t a coincidence this account is similar to the purification of Israel after their sin with the golden calf.

Exodus 32:20, Then they took the calf they had made, burned it up, and ground it to powder. He scattered the powder over the surface of the water and forced the Israelites to drink the water. (emphasis mine)

Now watch this: the writer of Hebrews makes a connection with the red heifer. It speaks of the Messiah who came and, through His death/sacrifice, entered into the most holy place for humanity.

Hebrews 9:13-14, For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offer Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God(emphasis mine)

Do you see it? The blood of Christ brings more than outward purification – it inwardly cleanses the conscious (the part of humanity that determines right and wrong). The death of Jesus inaugurated the new covenant (Heb. 9:15) which came with the promise of forgiveness of sins and the law written on our hearts (Jer. 31:31-34). No more bloody sacrifices of the red heifer! Through the death of Jesus we are cleansed from dead works which defile and separate humanity from God. Like the red heifer, Jesus was taken outside to suffer for our sins (Heb. 13:12). More importantly, we serve the living God. Life and death. Dust and living water. Jesus is the greater, better way. In Him we are redeemed from the curse – death!

I Corinthians 15:54b-57, Death has been swallowed up/ in victory./ Death, where is your victory?/ Death, where is your sting?/ Now the sting of death is sin,/ and the power of sin is the law./ But thanks be to God, who gives us/ the victory/ through our Lord Jesus Christ!

*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; Word studies from The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew English Lexicon of the Old Testament and Lexicon Theological Wordbook.

007 (Numbers 13-14)

Growing up I was a big James Bond fan. This was during the era of Roger Moore as 007. Maybe it is his last name, or just the one I remember as a kid, but he is my favorite Bond thus far. Honestly, they were all good (with the exception of Timothy Dalton). But the real intrigue was the character of a spy. They all had these really cool gadgets.

Numbers 13 tells us about Hebrew spies. As we noted in the last blog, it has been an exhausting journey in the wilderness, but they are finally within reach of the Promised Land. This has been a long time coming, as prophesied hundreds of years before.

Genesis 12:1, The LORD said to Abraham:/ Go out from your land,/ your relatives,/ and your father’s house/ to the land that I will show you./ I will make you a great nation,/ I will bless you,/ I will make your name great, (emphasis mine)

Yahweh sends out spies into the land of Canaan. Unfortunately, most of them lost focus of their mission. It wasn’t to determine if they could conquer the land. And get this, the spies were not God’s idea. Later on, Moses gives the people a history lesson of this day and provided more details.

Deuteronomy 1:21-22, “See, the LORD your God has se the land before you. Go up and take possession of it as Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Then all of you approached me and said, ‘Let’s send men ahead of us and bring us back a report about the route we should go up and the cities we will come to.” (emphasis mine)

What God had told them was true. It was a land that flowed with milk and honey (13:27). This is exactly what Yahweh had told Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:8). After the golden calf incident, the LORD told Moses He still planned to give Israel the land that flowed with milk and honey (Ex. 33:3). Even in Leviticus, yeah that crazy book, God reiterates the promise (Lev. 20:24). The fact that the spies reported these specific characteristic of the land should have heightened their trust in God. They even brought back samples, for crying out loud!

However, ten of the spies gave negative (דבה) reports (v. 32). A word that means “evil, defamation, whispering.” They are double agents, if you will. They were supposed to represent the God of Israel, but they ended up representing the gods of the nations. In essence, they were saying these pagans were more powerful than Yahweh. How could they after all they had seen? (14:11) And it wasn’t just the ten spies who lacked trust – it was the whole community (14:1-4). The LORD is ready to destroy the people (14:12)… again. Moses intercedes for them (14:13-19). There is one aspect of his intervention I want to point out.

Numbers 14:18-19, “The LORD is slow to anger and rich in faithful love (hesed – חסד), forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation. Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love (hesed – חסד), just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now.” (emphasis mine)

Sound familiar? It is a hyperlink. We alluded to it in my blog on the Glory of God, and given after the incident of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32). Moses asked Yahweh to reveal more about Himself. He wants to experience God’s glory. Things were not going well. The people deserved justice, which meant death for breaking covenant. But the LORD doesn’t destroy them. They are given a new set of stone tablets and Moses gets the gift of a lifetime – a partial glimpse of the God’s glory and the proclamation of His name.

Exodus 34:6-7, Yahweh – Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love (חסד) and truth, maintaining faithful love (חסד) to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the father’s wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation(emphasis mine)

Now does the verses in Numbers sound familiar? Moses is appealing to the character of Yahweh given to him at Sinai! And it is the very thing that allowed Israel to live.

Numbers 14:20, The LORD responded, “I have pardoned them as you requested.” 

Even though Israel had been unfaithful, Israel’s God was rich in faithful love (חסד). The Hebrew for faithful love relates to loyalty within a relationship. In relation to the concept of love, it demonstrates God’s faithfulness to His people. It is the covenant Yahweh made with Israel. The psalmist says 26 times, His love (חסד) endures forever in Psalm 136. It is one of the most powerful words in Scripture and used of God’s act of redemption, mercy and forgiveness. Yahweh will be faithful to the covenant He made to Israel, even when they are not. They have tested the LORD 10 times already (14:22)! The number 10 is used figuratively to mean “too many” (Gen. 31:7). The point: they were habitually testing Yahweh. It is by grace, faithful love, God had delivered them from Egyptian slavery (Ps. 136:10-15). And now, by His grace, they will not be wiped off the face of the planet. Yahweh is true to His character.

What are we to learn from all of this?

We are people of the wilderness.

How many times have we rebelled against God? How many times have we questioned His plans? How many sins have we committed? At least 10, that is, too many. We cannot appeal to our goodness. We deserve death (Rom. 6:23). Like Israel, we have been disobedient, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature children under wrath (Eph. 2:2-3). We can only appeal to God’s character – grace! The Seed that came through this sinful people not only spoke words of grace, but He was/is grace! By Yahweh’s mercy and great love for us, He made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! (Eph. 2:4-5) That is the only way!

At the end of Numbers 14 something interesting happens. The people are ready to take the land without the help of God (14:39-45). Suddenly they become brave. Yet, they were told to go back into the wilderness where they would wander for 40 years before giving the land to the next generation.

They were told “no.” But the people still got up the next morning to take the land. It was a complete rout. They tried to gain God’s blessings without Him. It couldn’t happen.

Can we be the same way? We attempt to “get to heaven” or “not go to hell” based on our goodness. Rather than trusting God, we try to conquer the land of blessing alone. We believe it is about us and our goodness. We are justified by faith/trust in God and not our own works (Rom. 4:2-5). Paul sums it up best:

Ephesians 2:8-9, For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not of works, so that no one can boast. 

Some people are still trying to obtain blessings on their own. God says “no”! Many in our world believe they will be saved by being “good people.” Even some Christians still believe it is up to them, by following God’s Word perfectly – perfect doctrine, perfect morality, etc. It will be a complete rout. It is impossible. Understanding grace should not lead us to a life of seeing sin flippantly or as if it doesn’t matter. Grace should humble us. We have been freed from a greater slavery than Israel – a freedom to walk in a new way of life (Rom. 6:1-4). We are not perfect but we have been made perfect by Jesus Messiah. We too continue our wilderness journey until the Day of the Lord. We should grow in faith and cultivate the fruit of Spirit of God in our lives. One day the Promised Land will arrive, but it will not happen of our own goodness.

*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; word studies from the Lexham Theological Wordbook, The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament and The Lexham Glossary of Literary Types