Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

As the book of Numbers opens, we find not only the historical records of administrative work for Israel; we see the grace of God. God knows His people, wants us to be with Him, redeems us, and calls us to His service.

Advertisements

Counted and Called

Posted: July 18, 2019 in Numbers, Uncategorized

Numbers 1-4, “Counted and Called”

Psalms – Matthew – John – Romans – Proverbs. What do all of those books have in common? They are the 5 most popular books to study on BibleGateway.com. Notice what’s not listed there (among many other books)? Numbers. It’s doubtful that the book of Numbers ranks very high on anyone’s list of Bible books to study, and it’s understandable as to why. When the first four chapters start with a bunch of names you can’t read, a bunch of numbers you don’t follow, and a bunch of lists of stuff to which you don’t relate, it’s tough to get into the book.

Though it’s understandable, it’s also the wrong way to look at the book. When we take a broader look at the book of Numbers, what we find isn’t a encyclopedia of boredom; we find a book that shows the tragic sin of Israel and the awesome grace of God. Those very things that seem so uninteresting at first help set the stage for a marvelous show of God’s grace and faithfulness. This was what Israel needed to be reminded of at the time, and it’s what we still need to know today.

A bit of background before we get started:

The Hebrew name is “In the Wilderness,” as taken from the first line in the first verse. It seems to be a better name than “Numbers,” (as adapted from the LXX) in that although the census of Israel plays a large role in the book (both beginning and end), the book isn’t only about numbers. It’s about Israel’s time in the wilderness, receiving the word of the Lord, rebelling against Him, and spending 40 years wandering due to their disobedience against God. “In the Wilderness” is quite apt!

The author is undoubtedly Moses, despite attacks from liberal scholars. Mosaic authorship was unchallenged throughout Jewish and most of Christian history, and there is no reason to deny it apart from bias. That’s not to say that others did not occasionally provide edits (Moses might not have easily written that he was the most humble man on the face of the earth – Num 12:3), but Moses is the primary writer for all the Pentateuch, including Numbers.

It was written no later than 1406BC (Moses’ death), and was likely composed over the course of many years as the Lord gave His various oracles and commands to Moses. Considering that Israel had 40 years of wilderness wandering, there was no lack of time for writing!

Why was it written? Perhaps three primary reasons: (1) It is instruction to Israel in preparation for the Promised Land. (2) It is a record of Israel’s disobedience & lack of faith upon arriving at the cusp of the Promised Land. God had worked in incredible ways among His people to bring them to that point, and they simply rebelled. God, in His holy righteousness, had to act. His judgment upon His people wasn’t something to take lightly, or let evaporate into history; it was something that needed to be remembered by all God’s people through all time. (3) In the midst of that judgment is grace! The book of Numbers is not a book of the destruction of Israel, but of the preservation of Israel. God had made a promise to Abraham regarding his descendants, and God was going to fulfill it, even when the people repeatedly showed themselves unworthy. God is that good – God is that faithful – God is that gracious.

So that’s the book, but what about the opening? There’s so much in these first four chapters that normally turns people off – why take the time to look at it today? Frankly, because we need it! What could easily be written off as boredom is actually a great demonstration of the love of God for us. God knows His people and has a plan for us to serve Him. That by itself is an act of grace! After all, apart from Jesus, we aren’t the people of God. Outside of Jesus, we don’t have any access to God. But through Jesus? Now we are His people – now we have been saved by Him, counted by Him, and called into His service.

We see it through the first four chapters of Numbers:

  • Chapter 1: God knows us, just like He knew the armies of Israel.
  • Chapter 2: God wants us, just like He arranged the camp of Israel.
  • Chapter 3: God redeems us, just like He used the Levites as a redemption for the nation.
  • Chapter 4: God calls us, just like He called each of the Levite clans for ministry service.

God knows you, and He wants to use you for His glory.

Numbers 1: The armies of Israel. (God knows us!)

1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying:

  1. Chronologically, this is precisely one month after the tabernacle was set up at the close of the book of Exodus (Exo 40:17). The year was ~1445BC, having a whole year of freedom from Egyptian slavery after the night of the original Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, and the march through the wilderness to the base of Mt. Sinai. God’s presence had visibly appeared on the mountain as He spoke the 10 Commandments, and the people were so frightened that they begged Moses to speak to God for them as their intercessor. Throughout the rest of that year, Moses relayed the words of God back to them, and they got to know the details of their covenant with the Almighty, and learned how God wanted them to worship Him. They built the tabernacle according to God’s desire to dwell among them in the camp, they had a priesthood ready to serve God on behalf of the nation, and they were almost ready to move out. But not quite yet…God had more to tell them in their preparations to leave, and that’s what takes place starting the 2nd month of the 2nd

2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male individually, 3 from twenty years old and above—all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies.

  1. God gave the command to count. Although this is technically a census, it’s a different kind of census than what we experience every 10 years in the United States. Here, we count everyone in the entire household; in ancient Israel, they counted only the males, and only the males of 20 years old & up. Why? Verse 3 says: they were numbering an army, counting “all who are able to go to war in Israel.” Even the census was preparation for the Promised Land. When the Hebrews left Mt. Sinai, it’s not like they would just waltz over to the Land and move in; it was already populated by the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, etc. Israel would have to go to war to inherit their possession, so the census wasn’t simply for the size of the nation, it was to number the available soldiers for battle.
  2. Question #1: Why count? Didn’t God already know how many men were in Israel? Of course He did…but information wasn’t the point; obedience was. Yes, the information would help Moses & Aaron & Joshua in their planning, but ultimately it was God who would go before them in battle and give them the strategies they needed, so the planning was all of to God anyway. What God needed from Israel was a habit of obedience, and that’s only built over time. Israel had already shown its tendency to rebel (just like all of us!), so the more opportunities they had to obey, the better.
    1. Say “yes” to the things God gives you to do. Even (and especially) the little things. The more we say “yes,” the easier “yes” becomes. We want our habit with the Lord to be one of obedience, rather than hesitation.
  3. Question #2: Why was it a sin for David to conduct a census of Israel (2 Sam 24), but okay in Numbers? What makes one set of counting right, and the other wrong? Several possible answers: (1) The Bible specifically says that David was being disciplined by God (2 Sam 24:1), and that provides crucial context for all of his actions. (2) David did it out of pride, getting puffed up in accomplishments & temporarily moving away from his absolute trust and dependence upon the Lord. (3) Moses didn’t command the census at Sinai; God did. This was personally commanded by the Lord, for the purpose of establishing Remember that God is omniscient – He knew everything that was going to happen to Israel, including how they would rebel against Him & how every one of the men counted in this census would die prior to entering the Promised Land (with the exception of two). By numbering Israel at Sinai, God could show Himself faithful to the covenant promises 40 years later at Moab, after this entire generation died off. Although 603+ thousand men (not including women) died in the wilderness, there were still be 601+ thousand Hebrew men at Moab ready to possess the land with Joshua. By ordering both the count now at Sinai & later at Moab, God could definitely demonstrate how He preserved His people. God is faithful.

4 And with you there shall be a man from every tribe, each one the head of his father’s house. 5 “These are the names of the men who shall stand with you: … [vss 5-15] … 16 These were chosen from the congregation, leaders of their fathers’ tribes, heads of the divisions in Israel.

  1. The tribal leaders were chosen by name. Specifically, God chose them by name. We may not have read them, but God called out each one individually.
  2. How marvelous is it that God knows us by name? He has the hairs on our heads numbered (something we’d never be able to count!) – He knows us so individually that He even knows how He knit us together in the wombs of our mothers. Like a songwriter intimately familiar with every lyric and tune crafted – like an author who treasures every one of his books – so the Lord knows and treasures us as His own creations. And because He loves us so, He doesn’t want anyone to perish in his/her sins. He desires all people to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4).

17 Then Moses and Aaron took these men who had been mentioned by name, 18 and they assembled all the congregation together on the first day of the second month; and they recited their ancestry by families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, each one individually. 19 As the LORD commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the Wilderness of Sinai.

[vss 20-43]

Reuben = 46,500

Simeon = 59,300

Gad = 46,650

Judah = 74,600

Issachar = 54,400

Zebulun = 57,400

Ephraim = 40,500

Manasseh = 32,200

Benjamin = 35,400

Dan = 62,700

Asher = 41,500

Naphtali = 53,400

44 These are the ones who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron numbered, with the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each one representing his father’s house. 45 So all who were numbered of the children of Israel, by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war in Israel—46 all who were numbered were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty.

  1. Total number: 603,550. This is in total agreement with the earlier number provided in Exodus 38:26, which itself was the detailed figure after the initial rounding of 600,000 Hebrew men mentioned in Exodus 12:3 of the night of the Passover. Again, remember that this is 603K Hebrew men (not ladies) all 20 years old & above (not children), and only of the 12 tribes of Israel (not including Levi or the mixed multitude along with them). Should the rest of the uncounted people be added, the total number of Israel easily exceeds 2 million people.
  2. Objection: “That’s such a high number for ancient people…too high to be believed! Where is the archaeological evidence for such a thing?” No doubt that the numbers are high, but large numbers don’t mean that the numbers are wrong. There are various ways certain scholars try to alleviate the problem (usually with a reinterpretation of the Hebrew word for “thousand”), but no method is without its problems. It’s better simply to take the numbers literally.
  3. It actually leads to a larger point: In light of what we know about God, the question really becomes: why should we not take the numbers literally? Remember this is the God who parted the waters, brought drinking water from rocks, and produced daily manna in the desert. This is the God who created the world, sent His Son for our sins, and conquered death. If He can do all that, how hard is it to lead 2 million+ people through the desert, and do it cleanly?
    1. Regarding the lack of archaeological evidence… Remember that God so provided for His people that their clothes & shoes did not wear out. He gave them daily bread, which eliminated the need for them to plant crops. In fact, God gave them everything they needed, when it was needed. From that perspective, we shouldn’t expect to find much archaeological evidence. God simply did not provide a lot of trash for them to leave behind!

47 But the Levites were not numbered among them by their fathers’ tribe; 48 for the LORD had spoken to Moses, saying: 49 “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor take a census of them among the children of Israel; 50 but you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the Testimony, over all its furnishings, and over all things that belong to it; they shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they shall attend to it and camp around the tabernacle.

  1. Levites excluded from the census by God’s command. Not that they would never be counted; only that they were not included in this initial count. The census of Chapter 1 established the baseline for the armies of Israel, but the Levites were not to be included in the army. They were to be numbered for service; not battle.
  2. God knows all of His people, and He knows what He has in mind for all of His people. If what God has for you is different than what He has for someone else, that’s a good thing…it means He knows you individually!

51 And when the tabernacle is to go forward, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall set it up. The outsider who comes near shall be put to death. 52 The children of Israel shall pitch their tents, everyone by his own camp, everyone by his own standard, according to their armies; 53 but the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the Testimony, that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the children of Israel; and the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony.” 54 Thus the children of Israel did; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so they did.

  1. The Levites alone were responsible for the tabernacle, something that is dealt with in great detail in Chapters 3-4.
  2. Verse 52 & following gives a bit of a preview of Chapter 2, describing the camp of Israel around the tabernacle, with the Levites in-between the rest of Israel & the tabernacle, guarding them from God’s wrath. God graciously put His presence in the midst of His people, but He was still very aware of their sin. Should they get too close, they would perish. The Levites were the safeguard between that, as the priestly tribe and the intercessors.
    1. We need an intercessor. Thankfully, we have one in Christ!

Numbers 2: The camp of Israel. (God wants us!)

1 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 2 “Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father’s house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting.

  1. The “standard” was the flag, thus God was telling the people to camp next to their own families in a systematic, orderly way.
  2. God is a God of order; not confusion. When chastising the Corinthians for their wild abuse of the spiritual gifts, Paul wrote them saying that “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace,” (1 Cor 14:33). Any time worship is wild, disruptive, or unorganized, then it’s unbiblical. We can be exuberant in our worship without being chaotic. Satan thrives on chaos; God is a God of order. There is order in His creation, as seen through the various laws of physics & the commonality among forms of life. There is order in His plan, as He systematically prepared Israel for Jesus, and revealed Him according to specific prophecy. There is even order within Himself, as He is Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) with the Son submitted to the Father and the Spirit proceeding from both. Why would there not be order in His church? Beware of wild worship, done under the excuse of “letting the Spirit move.” If the Spirit was truly moving among His people, He would be doing it in an orderly fashion…exactly as He said He would!

What did the camp look like? The bulk of Chapter 2 describes it for us, but there have been different interpretations over the years. Some have thought that the camp was rather box-like. The problem is that it doesn’t account for the varying sizes of the individual tribes (which is specifically detailed in the Scripture. It seems more likely that the arrangement was linear, which would (interestingly enough) make it into the form of a cross. God is certainly at the center of camp, with the Levites and priests closest to Him & the tribes proceeding out on all four sides.

3 On the east side, toward the rising of the sun, those of the standard of the forces with Judah shall camp according to their armies; and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall be the leader of the children of Judah.” … [vss 4-8] … 9 “All who were numbered according to their armies of the forces with Judah, one hundred and eighty-six thousand four hundred—these shall break camp first.

  1. East group included Judah, Issachar, & Zebulun. 186,400 total fighting men, with this group being the first to break camp. (Again, the order of camp-breaking demonstrating God’s love of order.)

10 “On the south side shall be the standard of the forces with Reuben according to their armies, and the leader of the children of Reuben shall be Elizur the son of Shedeur.” … [vss 11-16] … 17 “And the tabernacle of meeting shall move out with the camp of the Levites in the middle of the camps; as they camp, so they shall move out, everyone in his place, by their standards.

  1. South group included Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. 151,450 fighting men, with this group being the second to break camp.
  2. Notice that the Levites move in the middle. Just like the Levites are in the center of camp, providing a barrier of intercession between the people and God, they do the same when the nation is on the march. The people always had a mediator between them and God, because a mediator was always necessary.
    1. It still is! We have ours in Christ: the one Mediator between God & man, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:5).

18 “On the west side shall be the standard of the forces with Ephraim according to their armies, and the leader of the children of Ephraim shall be Elishama the son of Ammihud.” … [vss 19-24]

  1. West group included Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. 108,100 fighting men, the third major wing to break camp.

25 “The standard of the forces with Dan shall be on the north side according to their armies, and the leader of the children of Dan shall be Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai.” … [vss 26-31]

  1. North (and final) group included Dan, Asher, Naphtali. 157,600 fighting men, the last to break camp.
  2. Loosely speaking, the tribes were arranged by the birth mothers of the patriarchs. It doesn’t quite work out, considering that Levi was in the middle, and space had to be made for Asher, but there seems to be a rough correlation.

32 These are the ones who were numbered of the children of Israel by their fathers’ houses. All who were numbered according to their armies of the forces were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty. 33 But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel, just as the LORD commanded Moses.

  1. Repeated total (603,550) & emphasis on the Levite’s exclusion from the census. God had set this tribe apart for something different, and He’d soon show what it was.

34 Thus the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses; so they camped by their standards and so they broke camp, each one by his family, according to their fathers’ houses.

Numbers 3: The Levite’s substitution (God redeems us!)

1 Now these are the records of Aaron and Moses when the LORD spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. 2 And these are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab, the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 3 These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he consecrated to minister as priests. 4 Nadab and Abihu had died before the LORD when they offered profane fire before the LORD in the Wilderness of Sinai; and they had no children. So Eleazar and Ithamar ministered as priests in the presence of Aaron their father.

  1. Before the general tribe is numbered, the house of the high priest was numbered: Aaron. He had four sons, two of which died (Lev 10). Why go through the story all over again? Because this warning wasn’t to be forgotten! We cannot take God’s holiness for granted!

5 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. 7 And they shall attend to his needs and the needs of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of meeting, to do the work of the tabernacle. 8 Also they shall attend to all the furnishings of the tabernacle of meeting, and to the needs of the children of Israel, to do the work of the tabernacle. 9 And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are given entirely to him from among the children of Israel.

  1. Aaron became the de facto leader for the entire tribe of Levi. Just as God called the leaders of the other tribes by name, so He did with Levi. As it was, Aaron needed the help! Taking care of the worship of Israel and the tabernacle was a lot of work, and it required more than 3 men (himself & his two surviving sons) to see it done. There was one tribe to do all the work in the tabernacle for 12 tribes…a large responsibility, and a huge privilege.
    1. May we never forget the privilege it is to be a part of the body of Christ! There are always ways to serve, and it’s not always easy to serve. But to be called to serve? Amazing! God has called each of us in different ways, and we’re all needed to participate.

10 So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall attend to their priesthood; but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”

  1. Strict exclusion…applied even towards the future kings. [Uzziah, 2 Chr 26:19]

11 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 12 “Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine, 13 because all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine: I am the LORD.”

  1. God personally chose the Levites. Why? Because of the sin at Sinai with the golden calf. Exodus 32:27–28, “(27) And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’ ” (28) So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day.” For all that showed themselves ambivalent to the Lord, one tribe showed themselves faithful and zealous for His name (as hard as the task was to do). Because of that, God set them apart for His own priesthood. 
  2. That’s why God chose Levi, but why did Levi need to be chosen at all? Because that was the price of Israel’s redemption at Passover. (Exo 13) Levi serves as the substitute for all the firstborn of all the nation. Instead of a mixture of all firstborn males from all tribes, only one tribe was chosen.
    1. The concept of substitution is central to the gospel! Why is it Jesus’ death at the cross and resurrection from the grave saves us? Because He substituted Himself for us. We don’t have to die, because Jesus died for us. Jesus paid our redemption price, so now there’s nothing left to pay. What we surrender to the Lord now, we surrender in grateful worship, love, and obedience!

14 Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai, saying: 15 “Number the children of Levi by their fathers’ houses, by their families; you shall number every male from a month old and above.” 16 So Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded.

  1. There’s a big difference between the Levitical census and the national census: the national census counted all the males 20 years old and above; the Levitical census counted even the infants. Why? It served a different purpose: redemption. Again, the national census counted the men available for the army; the Levitical census counted the males available for substitution in the eyes of the Lord.

17 These were the sons of Levi by their names: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 18 And these are the names of the sons of Gershon by their families: Libni and Shimei. 19 And the sons of Kohath by their families: Amram, Izehar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 20 And the sons of Merari by their families: Mahli and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites by their fathers’ houses.

  1. Introduces the major clans and divisions.

[vss 21-24]: Gershon numbered 7,500 – camped toward the west.

25 The duties of the children of Gershon in the tabernacle of meeting included the tabernacle, the tent with its covering, the screen for the door of the tabernacle of meeting, 26 the screen for the door of the court, the hangings of the court which are around the tabernacle and the altar, and their cords, according to all the work relating to them.

  1. Gershon responsible for the fabrics

[vss 27-30]: Kohath numbered 8,600 – camped toward the south.

31 Their duty included the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the utensils of the sanctuary with which they ministered, the screen, and all the work relating to them.

  1. Kohath responsible for the furniture & the veil. (Makes sense, considering that Aaron and Moses are descended from Amram within the Kohathite clan.)

32 And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest was to be chief over the leaders of the Levites, with oversight of those who kept charge of the sanctuary.

  1. This was Eleazar’s specific area of supervision. Ithamar would have different areas, detailed in chapter 4.

[vss 33-35]: Merari numbered 6,200 – camped toward the north.

36 And the appointed duty of the children of Merari included the boards of the tabernacle, its bars, its pillars, its sockets, its utensils, all the work relating to them, 37 and the pillars of the court all around, with their sockets, their pegs, and their cords.

  1. Merari responsible for the tabernacle structure.

38 Moreover those who were to camp before the tabernacle on the east, before the tabernacle of meeting, were Moses, Aaron, and his sons, keeping charge of the sanctuary, to meet the needs of the children of Israel; but the outsider who came near was to be put to death.

  1. The priests (and prophet!) camped in the east. Strict restriction!

39 All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron numbered at the commandment of the LORD, by their families, all the males from a month old and above, were twenty-two thousand.

40 Then the LORD said to Moses: “Number all the firstborn males of the children of Israel from a month old and above, and take the number of their names. 41 And you shall take the Levites for Me—I am the LORD—instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the livestock of the children of Israel.” 42 So Moses numbered all the firstborn among the children of Israel, as the LORD commanded him. 43 And all the firstborn males, according to the number of names from a month old and above, of those who were numbered of them, were twenty-two thousand two hundred and seventy-three.

  1. All the firstborn males from the entire nation was to be counted, because the Levites were to serve as the substitution for the firstborn in the eyes of God. The total count: 22,273…almost an exact match!
  2. Even so, “almost” isn’t good enough. Something had to be done to account for the other 273…

44 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 45 “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites instead of their livestock. The Levites shall be Mine: I am the LORD. 46 And for the redemption of the two hundred and seventy-three of the firstborn of the children of Israel, who are more than the number of the Levites, 47 you shall take five shekels for each one individually; you shall take them in the currency of the shekel of the sanctuary, the shekel of twenty gerahs. 48 And you shall give the money, with which the excess number of them is redeemed, to Aaron and his sons.” 49 So Moses took the redemption money from those who were over and above those who were redeemed by the Levites. 50 From the firstborn of the children of Israel he took the money, one thousand three hundred and sixty-five shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 51 And Moses gave their redemption money to Aaron and his sons, according to the word of the LORD, as the LORD commanded Moses.

  1. Since there was not enough Levites, an additional redemption price needed to be paid for each firstborn without a substitute. 5 shekels each = 1365 total shekels, thus every firstborn was accounted for.

Numbers 4 – The Levites’ service (God calls us!)

1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 2 “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the children of Levi, by their families, by their fathers’ house, 3 from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting.

  1. Although this might seem redundant from Chapter 3, it’s not. In Chapter 3, all the males from a month old were counted; this time the command was to count the men old enough to do the work of ministry. Specifically, those 30-50 years old.
  2. Why such a short time window? Scripture doesn’t say. Obviously, the physical nature of the work (hauling equipment, butchering sacrifices, etc.) required able-bodied men, but why not 20 year olds? If they could go to war in the other tribes, why could they not serve at the tabernacle in Levi? Perhaps that was a time of training – perhaps the extra maturity was required. Whatever the case, God allowed the Levites a twenty-year window for ministry, and that was it.

4 “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of meeting, relating to the most holy things: [vss. 5-14: How to break down the tabernacle…]

5 When the camp prepares to journey, Aaron and his sons shall come, and they shall take down the covering veil and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. 6 Then they shall put on it a covering of badger skins, and spread over that a cloth entirely of blue; and they shall insert its poles.

7 “On the table of showbread they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the dishes, the pans, the bowls, and the pitchers for pouring; and the showbread shall be on it. 8 They shall spread over them a scarlet cloth, and cover the same with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles. 9 And they shall take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand of the light, with its lamps, its wick-trimmers, its trays, and all its oil vessels, with which they service it. 10 Then they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of badger skins, and put it on a carrying beam.

11 “Over the golden altar they shall spread a blue cloth, and cover it with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles. 12 Then they shall take all the utensils of service with which they minister in the sanctuary, put them in a blue cloth, cover them with a covering of badger skins, and put them on a carrying beam. 13 Also they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth over it. 14 They shall put on it all its implements with which they minister there—the firepans, the forks, the shovels, the basins, and all the utensils of the altar—and they shall spread on it a covering of badger skins, and insert its poles.

15 And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is set to go, then the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. “These are the things in the tabernacle of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.

  1. The priests were to cover the ark, the table of showbread (with the bread still on it! Vs. 7), the lampstand, the golden altar. Everything was covered with a blue cloth (setting it apart from the rest), all were carried with poles preventing human hands from directly touching them.
  2. Only after the priests completed their work were the Kohathites allowed to even pick up the poles.

16 “The appointed duty of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest is the oil for the light, the sweet incense, the daily grain offering, the anointing oil, the oversight of all the tabernacle, of all that is in it, with the sanctuary and its furnishings.”

  1. Supervised by Eleazar, who later became high priest.

17 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 18 “Do not cut off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites; 19 but do this in regard to them, that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint each of them to his service and his task. 20 But they shall not go in to watch while the holy things are being covered, lest they die.”

  1. Guard the Kohathites: don’t let them even watch the items being covered!
  2. We cannot encounter God’s holiness without covering. Without the blood of Jesus, we have nothing, and face only the wrath of God.

21 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 22 “Also take a census of the sons of Gershon, by their fathers’ house, by their families. 23 From thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, you shall number them, all who enter to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting. 24 This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, in serving and carrying: 25 They shall carry the curtains of the tabernacle and the tabernacle of meeting with its covering, the covering of badger skins that is on it, the screen for the door of the tabernacle of meeting, 26 the screen for the door of the gate of the court, the hangings of the court which are around the tabernacle and altar, and their cords, all the furnishings for their service and all that is made for these things: so shall they serve.

  1. Gershom was also numbered ages 30-50 – this was the clan responsible for all the fabrics of the tabernacle.

27 “Aaron and his sons shall assign all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, all their tasks and all their service. And you shall appoint to them all their tasks as their duty. 28 This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of meeting. And their duties shall be under the authority of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.

  1. Each man was appointed to his duty, supervised by Ithamar, in his own priestly tasks. Eleazar seems to have been responsible for overseeing the items that were used inside the tabernacle; Ithamar responsible for the items on the outside. Every part of the tabernacle was supervised by priestly family.

29 “As for the sons of Merari, you shall number them by their families and by their fathers’ house. 30 From thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, you shall number them, everyone who enters the service to do the work of the tabernacle of meeting. 31 And this is what they must carry as all their service for the tabernacle of meeting: the boards of the tabernacle, its bars, its pillars, its sockets, 32 and the pillars around the court with their sockets, pegs, and cords, with all their furnishings and all their service; and you shall assign to each man by name the items he must carry. 33 This is the service of the families of the sons of Merari, as all their service for the tabernacle of meeting, under the authority of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.”

  1. Merari’s numbering & duty: carrying the structure of the tabernacle itself. Again, each assigned by name & all under the supervision of Ithamar. 
  2. Interestingly, nothing is said about the bronze altar of sacrifice or the bronze laver/washing station. Presumably, Merari carried these items as well.

[vss. 34-45] Moses & Aaron & the leaders of the congregation numbered the three clans of the Levites, counting all the males 30-50 years old who were capable of working with the tabernacle.

Kohath: 2,750

Gershon: 2,630

Merari: 3,200

46 All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses, Aaron, and the leaders of Israel numbered, by their families and by their fathers’ houses, 47 from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, everyone who came to do the work of service and the work of bearing burdens in the tabernacle of meeting—48 those who were numbered were eight thousand five hundred and eighty. 49 According to the commandment of the LORD they were numbered by the hand of Moses, each according to his service and according to his task; thus were they numbered by him, as the LORD commanded Moses.

  1. Total count: 8,580 male Levites who were 30-50 years old. That’s a lot of ministers! Many hands make light work, and surely the burden was made much lighter.
  2. Question: Considering that it didn’t take 8500 men to carry the tabernacle from place to place, what did the rest do? The Bible doesn’t say exactly – perhaps there was a rotating honor of service among families (Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist indicates this – Lk 1:8-9) – perhaps there was the ongoing duties of maintenance and repair in addition to the teardown, setup, & carrying. This much is certain: no one was twiddling their thumbs! When it comes to the service of God, there’s always something to do. The lack isn’t one of labor; it’s of laborers. 

Conclusion:

There is much detail in these first chapters, but don’t miss the main point in all the detail: God knows us, wants us with Him, redeems us, and calls us to service…and He does it all through Jesus! It doesn’t happen any other way.

Have you been counted by Him? Are you included in His number?

If so, are you serving Him as He has called you to serve? It might look different than how He’s called someone else, and that’s okay. Serve Jesus as He calls you to serve, and equips you to serve through the Holy Spirit.

When confronted by lies of the enemy, Paul stood in the truth of the gospel. Tell the truth, and trust God with the results.

Tell the Truth

Posted: July 14, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 24:1-23, “Tell the Truth”

Truth, sad to say, can be a rare commodity. When witnesses take the stand in a courtroom, the first thing that takes place is that they are officially sworn to tell the truth (the whole truth, and nothing but the truth) under penalty of perjury. Why? Because people have an innate tendency to lie. We might not have problems with basic facts, so to speak, but we don’t want to look bad in light of those facts, so we often try to spin things to our benefit to the point that we don’t necessarily “lie” outright, but we certainly did not tell the truth.

The truth, however (especially for the born-again believer in Christ!) is important. It is the grounding of our relationship with God, as Jesus is the Truth (being the Way, the Truth, and the Life – Jn 14:6), and it is when we know the truth that the truth sets us free (Jn 8:32).

That being said, we don’t live in a world that often presents truth. We face deception every day – something that makes sense when we consider that the devil is a liar, and the father of lies (Jn 8:44). He specializes in lies, trying stop lost people from seeing the truth of Christ, and trying to distract those who do believe in Christ with false doctrines. Other times, the work of the devil is more direct, and he comes after Christians with false accusations, putting us on the receiving end of a lie, just like he did with the apostle Paul.

What happened? Like in comic books or the serial movies of old, “when we last left our hero,” Paul had escaped an assassination attempt that had been approved by the Jewish priests in Jerusalem. It was quite the series of events which led to this point. Having wrapped up his 3rd missionary journey, Paul headed to Jerusalem, desiring to celebrate Pentecost, and to deliver a financial gift from the Gentile churches to the Christians in Jerusalem. Although he was divinely warned on several occasions of the troubles that awaited him in the city, Paul was convinced it was Jesus’ will for him to go…so he went, trusting God the entire way.

Sure enough, trouble erupted as some Jews from Asia familiar with Paul shouted out false charges against him, instigating a mob which nearly killed him. God saved Paul through the intervention of the Roman military commander Claudias Lysias, who (though he nearly had Paul illegally tortured) gave Paul a chance to speak to both the Jewish crowd as well as the Jewish religious authorities on different occasions.

Even though it was clear to Lysias that Paul committed no crime, it was also clear that Paul required Roman protection from a faction of the Jews who conspired to murder him (under the full knowledge and assistance from the priests). That’s when Lysias sent Paul to the city of Caesarea to see the Roman governor, Felix. Ultimately, it was God who had protected Paul, showing overwhelming force against the enemy, because His gospel will not be silenced!

That said, the enemy does not give up easily, and he tried another tactic to stop Paul from sharing the gospel: lies. False accusations had successfully started a mob in Jerusalem, so now false accusations would be raised in the court of Felix. If the Roman governor found Paul guilty, then he would either execute Paul himself, or give him back to the Jews & they could do with him as they pleased. Either way, problem solved…and all it would take was a few well-placed lies – something at which the devil excels!

If there is something every Christian can expect at some point, it’s spiritual attack. In this world, we will face tribulation (Jn 16:33) – in this world, we will face the lies of the accuser, the devil. Sometimes it comes in the form of the lies he and his demons whisper in our ears – other times, it comes as an outright attack from someone in front of us. How do we handle these things? We see it in this passage:

  1. The enemy will lie. Expect it.
  2. We tell the truth. Stay in it.
  3. We wait on the Lord. Surrender it to Him.

As Christians, we are going to be slandered and/or persecuted at some point. When faced with the devil’s lies, our tendency is to respond with anger and other worldly means. Don’t do it! Remember that Jesus has already defeated the devil. Stay in the truth, and trust God to see you through.

Acts 24:1–23

  • Accusations of the Jews (1-9). The enemy will lie…expect it.

1 Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator named Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.

  1. The “five days” were the five days after Paul’s arrival in Caesarea & escape from assassination. Considering that the conspiracy to murder Paul had the full involvement & buy-in from the chief priests and elders (23:14), it seems a rather brazen move for the high priest to come waltzing into the court of the Roman governor not even a week later. Amazingly, his work as an accomplice to assassination never even arises in the text, and it’s unknown if it was ever addressed at all. Here’s a man that almost got away with murder, and he has no problem showing his face to the highest Roman official in the land.
    1. If there’s one thing the devil has no lack of, it’s arrogant gumption!
  2. With the high priest & the other elders of Jerusalem was a “certain orator named Tertullus,” no doubt an attorney hired for the occasion. Whether the man was even a Jew is unknown. He had a Roman name, but then again, so did Paul (in addition to his Hebrew name, Saul). What we do know is that the high priest left nothing to chance when it came to the trial. He wanted Paul remanded back to his custody (or killed by Felix), so he employed the high-priced lawyers to make it happen. Courtroom dramas are often portrayed as the skilled attorneys versus the little guy, and this was no exception. Paul had no representation of his own – none that is, except the Lord Jesus & Jesus is enough!
  3. Who was this “governor,” Felix? From the historical record, he was a corrupt, scrupulous man. He served as the governor of Judea from 52-59AD, and was known to have an oppressive rule, even commanding the murder of the previous high priest, Jonathan. He persecuted the Jews in Caesarea, instigating rebellion against Rome, and was eventually recalled by Nero for incompetency and immorality. (IOW, he was the perfect fit for a Satanic attack against an apostle of Christ!)

2 And when he was called upon, Tertullus began his accusation, saying: “Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight, 3 we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. 4 Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us.

  1. This was (in part) customary flattery, but it was way over the top & flatly untrue. The Jews did notenjoy great peace and prosperity” under the rule of Felix, and behind his back, they considered him anything but “” Again, the Jews regularly rebelled against Felix and there was little but contempt between him and the people he governed. Yet when the priests wanted something corrupt, they probably thought it best that a corrupt man was in charge. So they laid it on thick. Again, this was customary for the times and largely viewed as meaningless, but expected. Even so, considering that it came from a supposed-representative of God, it was a blatant falsehood.
  2. Once again, this is often how the devil works. He lies, and he’ll lie even when being surrounded by a cloak of religion. How many people have been led to hell through the teaching of cults? How many people have been led astray by supposedly-Christian pastors who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing? How careful we need to be! We cannot let superficial things like titles, TV platforms, or even academic degrees sway us from the truth of Jesus and His gospel. Whatever credentials a person might have, if he/she is not upholding Jesus, we need to hold their words at arms’-length!

5 For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law. 7 But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands, 8 commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him.”

  1. Tertullus painted Paul in the worst possible light. He was a pest, a danger, a troublemaker, a traitor. Whatever needed to be said to convince Felix to find fault with Paul, that’s what the lawyer was going to say. Truth didn’t matter; only a judicial conviction did.
    1. When it comes to spiritual warfare, the devil operates with no-holds barred. He might use a grain of truth and a lot of lie – he might use nothing but lies – he might use the truth in such a twisted way that it’s unclear and still deceptive. The enemy doesn’t care what it takes, as long as it accuses Christians and/or causes our eyes to get off of Jesus.
    2. Be careful not to forget that the devil is the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10), and he (and his minions) will not hesitate to do it whenever he sees fit. He accused Job of selfish motives to God, and he accuses us in the same way. The very word “devil” literally means “slanderer,” and that’s exactly what he does. Sometimes he’ll lie about us in public (as he had the Jewish priestly attorney do with Paul); other times he’ll lie about us to us, whispering accusations in our ears, telling the truth about our sins but lying about the forgiveness and grace of Christ.
    3. The key to dealing with lies: identifying them as lies, and knowing the truth. How do we combat the accusations of the devil? We need to (1) always remember that the devil is a liar and deals with lies, and (2) know the truth of God’s word so well that the lies of the devil stand out like a sore thumb. The better we know Jesus and His word, the easier it will be to point out the lies and accusations of the enemy. It’s like when you see the hidden messages in certain logos (like the arrow in FedEx, or the A-to-Z with Amazon), you can’t ever not see them again – when you intimately know the truth of God’s word, then the lies of the enemy become blatantly obvious…you can’t not see them.
  2. There were three basic accusations against Paul: (1) He was “a creator of dissension,” meaning that he was dangerously seditious against Rome. Someone who disturbed the peace was a threat to the empire. (2) Paul was “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” This itself, in their mind, was divisive and dangerous. The word for “sect” is αἵρεσις, where we get the English word “heresy.” Out of all the religions that Rome had approved within the scope of its empire, this new thing regarding Jesus of Nazareth was not one of them…it was heretical. (3) Paul “tried to profane the temple” by bringing in a Gentile beyond the allowed limit. Considering that Rome had allowed the Jews permission to legally execute any Gentile who violated the temple boundary, the involvement of the Roman “commander Lysias” was an illegal interference with Jewish affairs. Tertullus basically said that this was not Roman jurisdiction, and that the Jerusalem priests had every right to deal with this as they saw fit. – Paul will deal with each of these accusations in turn. Not a one of them was a problem when compared with the truth!
  3. FYI: There is disputed text in vss. 6-8, which isn’t included in all English translations. Even if the wording was not original to Luke, nothing that is written here is contrary to the previous account in Acts, and it’s easily seen elsewhere.

9 And the Jews also assented, maintaining that these things were so.

  1. Don’t miss this part. The priests and elders agreed with the lies against Paul, knowing that they were lies. They might have truly thought Paul to be a plague and a pot-stirrer, creating dissension among the Jews – but they would have known for certain that he hadn’t profaned the temple. That was the initial lie told of Paul by the Jews from Asia, and the Jewish priests repeated it in front of Felix. There wasn’t proof of it then, and there wasn’t proof of it now. The priests & elders knew it to be a lie, yet they said it anyway.
  2. This is the essence and the original context of the 9th Commandment: Exodus 20:16, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” We normally summarize this as “You shall not lie,” but the original context is specific to not bearing “false witness,” i.e. committing perjury. We should not testify about someone wrongly, and to misrepresent them in any way. It’s wrong to do it by accident, and it’s certainly wrong to do it purposefully. It’s what chief priests in front of Felix did – it’s what the devil and his demons do with us; it shouldn’t be what we do to one another.
    1. May we be careful to avoid false witness! We bear false witness when we spread rumors of others – we bear false witness when we misrepresent the position of someone who might oppose us – we bear false witness when we engage in outright lies. Those are the tactics of our enemy, whereas our God only tells the truth because Jesus is the truth. May our words reflect the character of Jesus; not the devil!

The devil lies. It’s a simple fact, and something we must expect. It amazes me when Christians (including myself!) are shocked that the world lies so freely about us. It shouldn’t be a shock at all; it’s the first tactic out of the devil’s playbook. From the very first instance he is introduced in the Scripture, the devil (as the serpent) engaged in lies and deception. Why would we think he changes? The lies of the devil worked then, and they often work now, so he keeps doing it. So we need to simply expect it, and be ready for it.

As for Paul, he wasn’t taken by surprise. He knew that he would be faced with lies & false accusations, and he was ready with the truth.

  • Paul’s defense (10-21). We tell the truth…stay in it.

10 Then Paul, after the governor had nodded to him to speak, answered: “Inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself,

  1. Although at first glance, this might also appear to be undue flattery, there was a big difference with Paul’s statement here, than what was said by Tertullus. Here, Paul was courteous, but not a brown-noser. Paul didn’t lie, nor needlessly flatter the governor’s ego. What Paul said was nicely-put, but true. Felix had been governor for “many years,” either in the chief position over all Judea, or serving in a subordinate position in Samaria. This meant that Felix was not totally unfamiliar with Jewish customs or the growth of Christianity (something which is pointed out in verse 22). Felix would have seen for himself that Christians were peaceful people, despite the lies that were told about them by the Jews who persecuted them. The truth about Christians (as a whole) was easily observable.
    1. Let your character and your actions be your defense! If your love of Christ is seen in your life, then your record will speak for itself in the face of lies.

Addressing sedition…

11 because you may ascertain that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me.

  1. Think about the time-frame: Paul said that there were “no more than 12 days” from the time he arrived in Jerusalem, to the time he stood on trial in front of Felix. Within that timeframe, Paul: (1) met with the church elders including James, making a plan to participate in the vows of other Jewish Christians, (2) waited almost 7 days to return to the temple, (3) was beaten, arrested, faced trial before the Sanhedrin, (4) transported overnight to Caesarea, and (5) waited nearly another 5 days for the current trial. Those were jam-packed days…there wasn’t enough time to stir up an insurrection! Paul barely had time to coordinate with the Christians fulfilling their Jewish vows…he certainly didn’t have time to instigate any trouble at the temple. No – all these things were done against him, and Paul was not guilty of sedition.
  2. Additionally, nothing said by the priests could be proven (something which he addresses in detail in verses 19-20). Paul told the truth, and it was their word against his.

Addressing his involvement with the gospel…

14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.

  1. On this, Paul was guilty. He pled “no contest,” in that he was 100% guilty of the gospel! Yes, he followed “the Way” (the original term for Christianity, as Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” – Jn 14:6). Yes, Paul worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yes, Paul believed everything written in the Old Testament (“in the Law and in the Prophets”), including all of the prophecies that points to Jesus as being the Messiah/Christ of Israel. So yes, Paul was guilty…guilty of the gospel.
    1. How wonderful it is to be accused of being a Christian! For the world, it might be an insult (“you Bible-thumper fundamentalist!”); for us, it’s music to our ears! For the man or woman who truly knows Jesus as the Son of God crucified for our sin & risen from the dead, there is no shame in His name; there is power, glory, and the salvation of God. When the world accuses you of being a Christian, take heart…you’re doing something right!
    2. The problem comes when the accusation does not When the world looks at us and assumes we’re one with them, that’s the true tragedy. As born-again Christians, people who have been redeemed by the Lord Jesus & filled with God the Holy Spirit, our lives ought to be transformed, and we should look different from the rest. Why wouldn’t we? Before we met Jesus in faith, we were dead in our trespasses & sin; now we are alive and made into new creations. We are inherently different from the world, so why would we look like them? If we do, it means we’re living more like them & less like Jesus. It means that although we might look to Jesus for fire-insurance from hell, we aren’t looking to Him as our Lord, fearing & worshipping Him as God. And that’s a huge problem, indeed.
    3. We sometimes ask ourselves the question: “If you were accused of believing the gospel of Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” – perhaps the better question is this: “Would you even be accused?” Not everyone has an extroverted personality that shouts their faith loudly, and few people are as bold as a Paul or a George Whitefield or a Spurgeon, DL Moody, or Billy Graham…but even those with a quiet personality can still have an evident faith. Would your friends and co-workers even consider the possibility you might be a Christian? If not, there’s a problem…and it’s something you need to work out with Jesus.
  2. Paul gladly acknowledge being a follower of “The Way,” but he makes an important clarification. The Way of Christ is not a “sect” or heresy; it is the truth! Was it a division from Judaism? It depends how you look at it. If one looks at the religious traditions that arose from Jewish culture over a period of centuries, and interpreted through the opinions of the many rabbis…then yes, Christianity divides from that. Yet if you look at the Scripture itself, then no – absolutely not! The Way of Christ is the fulfillment of everything taught in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise given by God to Adam and Eve of the Seed of the Woman coming forth to crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15) – the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that through him, all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:3) – the fulfillment of the promise to Moses that God would raise up another Prophet like him, who spoke the true word of God to the nation (Dt 18:18) – the fulfillment of the promise made to David that the royal house God built him would last forever (2 Sam 7:13), and the fulfillment of 300+ other prophecies throughout the Scriptures speaking of the Messiah of God. (If anyone was being divisive in terms of religion, it was the priests in their rejection of most of the Old Testament & their rejection of the Messiah!)
    1. Beloved, know this: we who have faith in Jesus have faith in the truth! We do not follow a religion made by men – we do not carry on traditions for traditions’ sake; we believe in, and know a living person who Himself is the truth of God. This is no heresy; this is the absolute truth!

15 I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.

  1. Again, Christianity is a fulfillment of the Hebrew promises – even the ones rejected by the Sadducean priests, but affirmed by the Pharisaical elders (remember, they were divided on the resurrection). Paul gladly affirmed the future resurrection. Keep in mind, this is the key issue that caused all the ruckus in his earlier hearing in front of the Sanhedrin. When he knew he wasn’t getting a fair trial, he claimed his Pharisee-heritage and said he was being judged because of his belief in the resurrection, to which all the Pharisees in the room immediately took his side. Now Paul brought it up again, in front of the high priest who had to remain silent in front of the Roman governor.
  2. That said, the resurrection is the key issue. We have proof that Jesus is the Son of God because He is risen from the dead (Rom 1:4). And because Jesus is risen, we know that we will rise (1 Cor 15:20). With that in mind, we’d better be sure which resurrection will be ours: the just or the unjust. Objection: “Wait a minute! There are two resurrections?!” Yes – Jesus taught this explicitly: John 5:28–29, “(28) Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice (29) and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” The Bible is clear: all people will rise from the grave. Those who have faith in Jesus in this life take part in the initial resurrection/rapture when Jesus calls us home and we meet Him in the air (1 Ths 4:16-17). That’s the first part of the first resurrection, and things are on hold until after the Great Tribulation and Millennial Kingdom when those who have faith in Christ during that time (and have died) are raised from the dead just prior to the final judgment (Rev 20:5-6). All of that is the resurrection of life/resurrection of the just. The second resurrection is what takes place after that time, when all people throughout history who have died without faith in Jesus are raised from the dead to face the judgment of God. That’s the resurrection of condemnation/of the unjust, and they immediately go from life to what the Bible calls the second death as they are cast into hell and its lake of fire (Rev 20:13-15). All people will be raised; when they are raised and for what destiny they are raised is what differs.
    1. Here’s the good news: you can be certain of the first resurrection! You can be 100% sure that you will be included in the resurrection of the just and that you will be received by Jesus as one of His own. How? Become one of His own today! Turn away from your sins, believing upon Him as the Son of God & Savior of the world, and He will grant you the promise of eternal resurrected life!

16 This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.

  1. The resurrection was Paul’s motivation for righteousness. As it should be for us! After all, when we live with the knowledge that we could see Jesus at any moment, it changes the way we act. Think about it: for any one of us, this Sunday morning could be your last Sunday morning on earth. Life is fleeting (at best!), and anything could happen between now and walking out the door. Besides that, there is also the possibility that Jesus Himself could return at any time, and if we’re not resurrected from the dead then we’ll be raptured from this life. Either way, we could see Jesus at literally any time. How would you live your life differently if you knew you’d be seeing Jesus this afternoon? What kind of conversations would you have at lunch? What openness might you have with your faith? What potential arguments would be so important that they’d be worth fighting over? Knowing we’d see Jesus changes everything. And it should! But we need to realize that this is not a hypothetical situation…this really could be us today. Jesus could call us home at any moment through death or rapture. So keep your conscience clear! Live “without offense toward God and man.” Keep your accounts with people short, and keep your love of God long, living every day like it’s the day you’ll see Him.
  2. Interestingly, what Paul said here basically repeats what he said in front of the Sanhedrin at the opening of that trial (23:1), for which the high priest Ananias had him illegally struck on the mouth. Once again, Ananias had to stay silent & couldn’t do anything about it, but listen. 

Remember, there were three charges against Paul: (1) sedition against the Roman government, (2) being a ringleader of Christians, and (3) profaning the Jerusalem temple.

Addressing the event at the temple…

17 “Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, 18 in the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult.

  1. Felix had already been told the priestly point-of-view, which was filled with either misrepresentations or outright lies. Now Paul got his turn, and he told the truth. Paul hadn’t come to bring harm to his nation; he came to bless it! Throughout his 3rd missionary journey, Paul received financial offerings from the Gentile churches to bring to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and that (along with Paul’s desire to celebrate the feast of Pentecost) brought Paul to the city at the time. And neither was he profaning the temple when he arrived…quite the opposite! Paul wasn’t with Gentiles in the temple, but with Jewish Christians. Paul himself was participating in a Jewish ceremony, being purified along with other Jews for a vow in which he joined. Paul wasn’t starting a fight or a ruckus at all; he was just there to worship. It was others who created the “tumult” in the temple…Paul was totally innocent, having acted above reproach in the city.

19 They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me. 20 Or else let those who are here themselves say if they found any wrongdoing in me while I stood before the council,

  1. There was a key problem with the accusers of Paul who were standing before Felix in Caesarea: none of them were eyewitnesses! Remember that it was the Jews from Asia (probably Ephesus) that accused Paul of bringing Greeks into the temple (22:27-28); the priests and elders didn’t get involved until after Paul was already in the custody of the Roman commander Lysias. They hadn’t seen the riot begin, nor had they seen Paul in the temple with any Gentile/Greek. All they knew is what took place after Lysias commanded the Sanhedrin to convene to figure out what happened the day before in the temple. Without the actual accusers, the priests had no case in the eyes of Rome, at least regarding the event in the temple. By this one single fact, Paul undercut the entire argument of the priests and elders!
    1. Isn’t it amazing what the simple truth can do? When faced with false accusations and lies, we don’t need to panic. As long as we’re living our lives with a clear conscience before God, all we need do is stay in the truth. Truth will always be revealed, and some point or another.

21 unless it is for this one statement which I cried out, standing among them, ‘Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day.’ ”

  1. This was the one thing the priests and elders had witnessed, and if this was all they had against Paul, then it was a matter of theological debate; not Roman law and a question of imprisonment/death. It was a matter of life and death for Felix & all who heard the gospel…it just wasn’t a matter of Paul being on trial. As far as the civil case against Paul was concerned, there was nothing to it & it should have been dropped at that moment.

In all of Paul’s response, what did he do? He stayed in the simple truth. Having expected the lies of the devil, Paul told the truth before God and even gave testimony to the truth of God in Jesus. Beloved, this is how we combat the lies of the world around us! We don’t succumb to the same tactics as the enemy – we don’t lower ourselves to his level – we don’t fight dirty with fleshly means; we stay in the truth of God, living the truth of God, believing the truth of God. How did Jesus fight the lies made against Him? He opened not His mouth (Isa 53:7). That’s not to say that we always need to remain silent as Jesus was silent (He was fulfilling prophecy, after all, and did confront the lies of the Pharisees on other occasions – Mt 23); but we certainly don’t take up the strategies of the world & our enemy. Jesus was confident in the truth of God, and the lies of the world held no power over Him – Paul was confident in the truth of God, and easily responded to the lies of his foes. We too, can be confident in the truth & not be dragged into the mud by the lies of the world. God knows the truth, so if you know the truth, then you know God knows you. And that itself is enough!

At this point, the priests made their case (through the expected lies) and Paul made his case (relying on the truth). What next? It was all up to God and His sovereignty.

  • Felix’s response (22-23). We wait on the Lord…surrender it.

22 But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.”

  1. Luke writes that Felix had a “more accurate knowledge” of Christianity (“the Way”), to which AT Robertson rightly observes, “more accurately than what?” Answer: than the expectations of the priests in front of him. Ananias & the Jewish elders perhaps thought that Felix was going to be a pushover, simply remanding Paul back to their custody & allowing them to handle this themselves, especially if Paul and the “sect of the Nazarenes” (in their terminology) was thought to be a threat. What they didn’t anticipate was that Felix actually knew something about Christianity (something which Paul anticipated). How Felix learned about Christianity and how much he knew is something that is unknown, but he obviously knew enough to see through much of what the priests were trying to pull over him.
    1. It’s a good reminder that we don’t know everything that God is doing behind the scenes. Whenever it looks like the enemy might have the upper-hand, we need to remember that God is omniscient; Satan is not. God knows the plans and schemes of the devil, and God easily works around them, all to His own glory.
  2. Question: Did Lysias ever come? There’s no record of this happening. Perhaps he saw no need, considering he already gave his testimony in a written letter. Perhaps Felix never sent for him, despite his statement in verse 22. Felix wasn’t a man known for his honest dealings with the Jews, so it’s quite possible he said just enough to shut everyone up and get them out of the room.

23 So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.

  1. There may not have been a verdict given in the Roman court, but this much was true: Felix obviously did not see Paul as a threat. This was not a man he feared spreading sedition or stirring up division, not if Paul was a man he allowed to have freedom of movement and visitations. If Felix truly thought Paul to be capable of those things, Paul would have been locked in chains in the dungeon in solitary confinement, but that wasn’t what happened. Felix gave Paul a tremendous amount of freedom, if not any judicial vindication setting him physically free to leave.
  2. Was Paul still jailed? Yes, officially. But again, he had as much liberty as could be allowed a prisoner of Rome…and God used it in wonderful ways! Paul was confined in Caesarea, but his pen was used to send letters to Christians around the empire. The books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon are all thought to have been written during this time, and we still benefit from these letters today…none of which might have been written if not for Paul’s loose imprisonment. God allowed Paul to stay in Caesarea, but God used Paul in mighty ways for the ministry of the gospel!

How important it is for us to trust in the sovereignty of God! To know that God has all things in His hand is crucial for the Christian, especially in times of trial and uncertainty. Think about Paul: he was faced with lies from his enemies, he responded with the truth of God, and yet he was still (officially) under arrest. Shouldn’t he have been freed upon telling the truth? Wasn’t there an injustice done by his remaining in custody? Yes, on both counts. But…God allowed it. Paul told the truth, but he surrendered the results to God. God had a perfect plan in work, and Paul trusted God to see it through.

Our problem is that we don’t often trust God to see it through. Sure, we might respond calmly with truth in the face of lies, but when we don’t get our expected result, that’s when we start digging in our heels and fight dirty. No – we need to surrender to the Lord, trusting God to work His way in His time. Would Paul eventually take some action? Yes, but surely after much prayer and much time to know the will of the Lord for him. Often, we don’t give God that kind of time & trust.

Give it to Him! Surrender those things to the Lord, trusting that He is sovereign & good.

Conclusion:

Once again, Paul was faced with spiritual attack, having to counter lies of the enemy. He had faced it on the mission field, faced it again in Jerusalem, and now had to endure it all one more time in front of the Gentile Roman governor. Even now, it wouldn’t be the last time. Spiritual attack is a constant for those actively involved in ministering for the Lord Jesus (in any capacity!), and lies are one of the devil’s favored tactics. Yet Paul didn’t panic or resort to worldly defenses. He had the truth of God and the gospel of Christ, and that was all he needed. Paul stayed grounded in the truth, and trusted God to do what God willed to do with the rest.

Christian, when was the last time you came face-to-face with lies? Maybe you heard a perversion of the gospel when some well-dressed people came knocking on your door – maybe you heard the whispered accusations of Satan as you struggled with some of the promises in the Bible – maybe you even heard things that seemed to be good, but too good…truth twisted to the point that you weren’t sure if it was even Biblical. Or maybe, just like Paul, you had false accusations thrown in your face and you were forced to defend yourself. The enemy is going to lie, in some shape or form…it’s just something we need to expect.

When shoved by lies, stand in truth. Live your life above reproach so that your record speaks for itself – know the truth of the written word of God, so you can recognize deception when you see/hear it. Most of all, stand firm in the gospel truth of Jesus! Of any accusation, let the one you be guilty of is faith in Jesus Christ! Stick to Jesus as the truth, and have faith in your Sovereign God to work things from there. Our heavenly Father knows us, loves us, and does not abandon us in our trial. When we stand firm in the truth of Jesus, we can be sure we’re also standing on the rock of God, and He’s got everything under control.

Give It To God

Posted: July 11, 2019 in Leviticus, Uncategorized

Leviticus 27, “Give It To God”

Promises, promises. Have you ever made a pie-crust promise? It’s a promise that is easily made, yet easily broken. Those are bad enough when about minor issues like dates/appointments; they are far worse when it comes to issues of true commitment. When we give our word, we need to keep it. There was a time in our culture when a man’s word was his bond, and a handshake was as strong as a written contract. Those things might be passé in our culture, but they ought to be present among Christians. Jesus said that we are to let our “yes” be “yes,” and our “no,” “no” – and anything else is from the evil one (Mt 5:37).

If it is important to keep our word with one another, how much more is it to keep our word with God? After all, there is none more important than Him! He is our Father, our Creator, and the one who loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son for us that we might be saved. Of everyone we know, if there is any one Person to whom we need to keep our word, it’s the Lord.

Sadly, that’s not the case for many. Books could be filled with stories of fox-hole conversions and jailhouse Christians. There are men and women who promised to give their lives to Jesus at a time of crisis, yet instantly reneged as soon as the crisis was over. More than that, there are many born-again Christians who promised to dedicate certain aspects of their lives to God, or forever change some certain habits, or give their time, talents, and treasure to the Lord at the local church – but at some point, all the promises faded away. They were words spoken in a moment; nothing more.

How does God see those things? How do we deal with those things? That’s what the book of Leviticus addresses as things close in Chapter 27.

Remember that although the book in English is titled “Leviticus,” (it has a different name in Hebrew), it isn’t solely about the Levites or Levitical priesthood. There is much in the book that deals with the priests, but it’s far more than a ministry handbook; it is a book given to the entire nation of Israel that addresses their worship of God, and the relationship God expects with them. He called His people to be holy, as He is holy, and it was seen in many ways. There was:

  • Holiness in the various sacrifices, showing all the ways people could offer their worship to God.
  • Holiness in the priests, showing how God consecrated/set them apart for ministry
  • Holiness in the habits of the people, including everything from their diet, to their cleanliness, to their morality, showing how God set them apart from the nations around them
  • Holiness in their feasts and freedoms, showing how they trusted God alone as their Provider – the One who gave them their freedom, their land, and everything they possessed.

Most recently, God gave Moses a fitting end to this book which outlined covenantal expectations between a people and their Sovereign Ruler: a list of blessings and curses. If the Hebrews kept the law of God, rightly fearing Him & worshipping Him, then God would bless them immensely. They would have no poverty, sickness, or lack of protections. However, with rebellion came curses as God Himself would set His face against Israel as an enemy. The key: stay humble, and repent at the first sight of sin (rather than digging yourself deeper into it).

That makes for a fitting end to the book, so why is there an additional chapter? Chapter 27 serves as a bit of an appendix, providing a bit of necessary information that wasn’t earlier addressed. That itself, begs some important questions: Did Moses not see the need for this information? Did God forget about all of this until the last minute? No. Because all the Bible is given by inspiration of God, we can affirm that this was always meant to be a part of Leviticus, and it comes at the appropriate place.

Again, consider the immediate context. When thinking about the covenantal blessings and curses, it seems only natural for people to promise God their best, so they can experience the best God has to offer. What happens when someone promises too much? What if, in a well-intentioned moment of devotion to the Lord, you promise something that is impossible to fulfill? Would you then face the wrath of Almighty God, coming under all the punishments of the curses? Would your formerly good moment and hoped-for act of worship become your undoing and your end?

This is where the appendix comes in. This is the God-ordained solution to the God-foreseen problem that would be faced by His people. God knew that the Israelites would easily find themselves in a trap of their own making, so He gave them the advance answer of how to address it.

How to do it? In a word: redemption. What they promised to the Lord, they could potentially purchase back. It would cost extra, and it certainly wasn’t ideal – but in times of need, it could be done. If they found themselves over their head, God was still merciful to them, demonstrating His own goodness.

It’s not just the Israelites. We can all find ourselves over our heads in what we promise to the Lord. We start out with good intentions, but trip up along the way. When we do, does it mean that God will forever reject us, and place us under His wrath? No – not when we belong to Jesus! In Jesus, we are the ones who have been redeemed, so we forever belong to God. But even in our screw-ups, we can turn to our God of mercy, who demonstrates His goodness to us, being fully aware of our failings.

Leviticus 27 breaks down into two main sections:

  1. Things we can give. Give God what you promise.
  2. Things we can’t give. Don’t take what is His.

Keep in mind, we don’t need to make vows to the Lord, but when we do, we need to be good to our word. Trust God with what you’ve given Him, and most of all, rejoice in your own redemption!

Leviticus 27

  • Things we can give. (27:1-25) Give God what you promised.
  • Redeeming people (1-8)

1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When a man consecrates by a vow certain persons to the LORD, according to your valuation,

  1. What was a vow of consecration? Scholars debate the issue, as it isn’t seen too much in the Old Testament literature. The Hebrew text itself seems to talk about a special vow of some sort – something that is out of the ordinary that would present a person back to God in special service. By itself, word for “vow” (נֶ֫דֶר) could refer from anything ranging from personal service, to that of a Nazarite, to the special cases of Hannah & Jephthah. It’s the word/idea of “consecrates” that sets it apart. This word (פָּלָא) refers to being extraordinary: either from the perspective of being wonderful, or surpassingly difficult, with “difficult” being the context here. NASB tries to bring this out: “When a man makes a difficult vow…” The idea is that this wasn’t the ordinary vow a person might make, such as “God, when you answer this prayer, I’ll give you this item,”; it was more like the soldier on the battlefield might say, “Lord, if you save my life, I’ll give myself back to you! Everything I have will be yours, including all my family and all my possessions. Just get me out alive!”
    1. Something like that might be said in the heat of the moment, but it’s something that God remembers. We might not take our words and promises seriously, but God does. He holds us to a higher standard than we hold for ourselves. We ought to be careful with what we promise!
    2. Keep in mind: it isn’t that the promise is bad; it’s the lack of intent to fulfill it. It’s one thing to say we surrender our lives to Jesus; it’s another thing to do it. We need to do it.
    3. One other thing: surrendering our lives to Jesus isn’t necessarily the extraordinary; it’s the basics of discipleship. Matthew 16:24–25, “(24) Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (25) For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” It’s about surrendering everything we have to Jesus, letting Him be Lord over our lives, where He calls the shots; not us. It’s only in this sort of surrender do we find salvation.
  2. As for the Israelites, what would this sort of specialized difficult vow look like on a practical level? Some believe that this vow referred to service at the tabernacle, but only to non-Levitical sanctuary service. Since no other tribe than Levi was able to serve in the sanctuary/temple, then the other 11 Hebrew tribes would have to pay a vow, if they wanted to dedicate themselves to the Lord in a special way. Initially, that makes sense until we consider the case of Samuel. Remember that his mother Hannah dedicated him to the Lord when he was still a baby in her womb. Yet Samuel was not from the tribe of Levi, but Ephraim (1 Sam 1:1), and he served in the temple from when he was a boy. Clearly there was some way for people to serve out vows of dedication, though there isn’t much indication that it happened too often. It would seem that most people paid the valuation to God, redeeming themselves out of service.

3 if your valuation is of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old, then your valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 4 If it is a female, then your valuation shall be thirty shekels; 5 and if from five years old up to twenty years old, then your valuation for a male shall be twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels; 6 and if from a month old up to five years old, then your valuation for a male shall be five shekels of silver, and for a female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver; 7 and if from sixty years old and above, if it is a male, then your valuation shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels.

  1. The valuations differ for age & sex. Most scholars believe this reflects the ancient market prices for slaves & the individual’s relative ability to pay. Not that the payment was cheap! A single shekel was about the average monthly wage for an ancient Hebrew. Thus, 50 shekels was around 50 months’ wages (over 4 years). Although these vows were welcomed and allowed, they were not commanded by God, and they certainly were not to be made lightly!
  2. It needs to be emphasized that the varying prices do not reflect value of individual people in the sight of God. Some might question why the valuation for men is consistently higher that that of women, but that has only to do with the ability of a person to pay (men being more able to pay than women); it has nothing to do with how valuable men and women are to God. In God’s sight, biological sex makes no difference. We are all equally loved by God, equally in need of forgiveness of sin, and equally provided for by Jesus. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Gal 3:28).
    1. Besides, if we truly want to talk price, then shekels are far too small! The price on our heads have already been set: we are valued at the blood of Christ! (1 Pet 1:18-19)

One addendum to the list…

8 ‘But if he is too poor to pay your valuation, then he shall present himself before the priest, and the priest shall set a value for him; according to the ability of him who vowed, the priest shall value him.

  1. Accommodations for the poor. No one was left out. Even the poorest of the poor could still make a special difficult vow to the Lord if he/she so chose; they would just need to get a valuation from the priest in order to know how much to repay.
  2. Again, it needs to be emphasized that although this sort of vow is allowed, it’s not commanded. No one would force the poor man to make a difficult vow to the Lord he could not repay, nor would anyone else in Israel be forced to do so. It would simply be available to someone as an act of devotion and worship unto God. When done rightly, it would be done with a pure heart and joyful anticipation of being able to return either service or sacrificial financial offering to the Lord; only when done wrongly would it be a burden.
    1. What is your attitude with worship – with gifts – with sacrificial service? Is it a blessing or burden? If it’s the latter, something’s wrong. Maybe you initially committed to it with a good attitude, only to run into difficulties along the way. Or (to be honest), maybe you committed to it with little forethought, as a pie-crust promise to the Lord. In either case, both are resolved through prayer, humility, and reliance upon God’s grace.
  • Redeeming animals (9-13)

9 ‘If it is an animal that men may bring as an offering to the LORD, all that anyone gives to the LORD shall be holy. 10 He shall not substitute it or exchange it, good for bad or bad for good; and if he at all exchanges animal for animal, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy.

  1. The idea is that once the animal is chosen, it’s chosen. You can’t take back the “better” one for yourself. Those who attempt to do so, lose both animals to the Lord. The gift of a clean animal to God was a permanent one.
  2. Keep in mind this is all voluntary. All up to the point that a Hebrew actually brought the animal to the tabernacle, that Hebrew had the chance to choose the animal, or decide whether to give anything at all. But once the person arrived for worship, what was to be given was permanent, and it was to be intentional.
    1. Give God what you want, but be honest about your promise. e. Ananias & Sapphira… Acts 5:3–4, “(3) But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? (4) While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”” Like the Hebrews of old, no one forced Ananias and Sapphira to give any land to God through the apostles, much less having an expectation of giving 100% of the proceeds. Yet if they said that was what they were going to do, that’s what needed to be done. The commitment was their own, they lied about it, and they paid an awful price.
    2. God doesn’t force anything from our hand. He is not a demanding dictator, nor a nag for more money or service. But if we choose to give Him something, then we need to be honest with that choice & cheerful with our gift. It is to be an act of worship; not obligation…and certainly not deception!

11 If it is an unclean animal which they do not offer as a sacrifice to the LORD, then he shall present the animal before the priest; 12 and the priest shall set a value for it, whether it is good or bad; as you, the priest, value it, so it shall be. 13 But if he wants at all to redeem it, then he must add one-fifth to your valuation.

  1. Clean animals had to be given, without the opportunity of purchasing them back by the giver. Unclean animals, on the other hand, could be redeemed. It wouldn’t be cheap, but it could be done. 20% was added to the valuation of the beast, but if the worshipper wanted that animal back badly enough, they could acquire it.
  2. Why would someone want to offer an animal that was unclean? Remember that uncleanness referred primarily to dietary issues; not necessarily value to the culture. A camel was considered unclean to eat, but was valuable to the people.
  • Redeeming property (14-25)

14 ‘And when a man dedicates his house to be holy to the LORD, then the priest shall set a value for it, whether it is good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall stand. 15 If he who dedicated it wants to redeem his house, then he must add one-fifth of the money of your valuation to it, and it shall be his.

  1. How would someone dedicate a house? Good question! It would seem that a Hebrew might have given his home to a local priest or Levite, or perhaps sold it to someone else and gave the proceeds to the tabernacle/temple. (Neither this, nor the dedication of the fields would be done in the wilderness; it was only possible once Israel took possession of the land.) If it was the home itself that was given, then it could be redeemed through the 20% additional purchase.
  2. The 20% redemption price served as a powerful deterrent from making rash vows. Imagine gifting your home of $200,000 to a local church, and only being able to purchase it back at $240,000. You might think twice about gifting it in the first place! If there was any possibility you might require that house again, you would think very carefully before proceeding with the gift. When it comes to our vows and commitments to the Lord, God wants us to think carefully! He doesn’t want a pie-crust promise made in the heat of the moment, and a temporary swell of emotion. Emotions are wonderful when it comes to worship, and we should worship the Lord with all we are & with all we have, but our emotions can also lie to us and lead us places we don’t want to go. Along with our emotions, we need to worship the Lord with our minds, and that includes thinking through our commitments to Him. Commitments that are carefully considered are commitments that are kept. 

16 ‘If a man dedicates to the LORD part of a field of his possession, then your valuation shall be according to the seed for it. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver. 17 If he dedicates his field from the Year of Jubilee, according to your valuation it shall stand. 18 But if he dedicates his field after the Jubilee, then the priest shall reckon to him the money due according to the years that remain till the Year of Jubilee, and it shall be deducted from your valuation. 19 And if he who dedicates the field ever wishes to redeem it, then he must add one-fifth of the money of your valuation to it, and it shall belong to him.

  1. The land already belonged to God, so it couldn’t really be given to the Lord. (He was the one giving it to Israel, remember? If God gave it to them – and temporarily at that! – they couldn’t give it back to Him.) What could be dedicated to God was the future harvest that came from the land. Thus, the value of the land was its capacity for farming.
  2. Additionally, there was a sliding scale for a time limit. Remember that whenever land changed hands in Israel, it always reverted back to the original family/clan every 50 years in the year of Jubilee. The same applied to land/harvest dedicated to the Lord through the tabernacle. Its value varied according to future production and time until the Jubilee.
  3. Even so, there was still the 20% fee. Once it was dedicated to the Lord, the land (harvest, house, animal, etc.) all increased in value. Question: Why? The Bible doesn’t specifically say, but the simple answer is this: once given to God, God makes all the difference. It wasn’t a matter of God requiring a financial profit. (How exactly does anyone enrich the Almighty Creator and Owner of the Universe? He already owns everything; we can’t make Him richer than He already is.) It’s a matter of something acquiring value because of its association with the Lord. Whatever is touched by God increases its value.
    1. Like the old poem/song “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” when we receive of the work of the Living God through Jesus Christ, our value increases infinitely!

20 But if he does not want to redeem the field, or if he has sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed anymore; 21 but the field, when it is released in the Jubilee, shall be holy to the LORD, as a devoted field; it shall be the possession of the priest.

  1. The land worked differently than the people or animals, due to the Jubilee release. Without redemption, the land belonged forever to the Lord, via the priest. What was initially given to a clan of Israel would forever remain with the Lord as a offering devoted to Him.

22 ‘And if a man dedicates to the LORD a field which he has bought, which is not the field of his possession, 23 then the priest shall reckon to him the worth of your valuation, up to the Year of Jubilee, and he shall give your valuation on that day as a holy offering to the LORD. 24 In the Year of Jubilee the field shall return to him from whom it was bought, to the one who owned the land as a possession.

  1. Exception: a field purchased by an individual & dedicated to the Lord, but land that wasn’t part of his original family possession. This would be released to the original family during the Jubilee, rather than remaining with the priest. There was no reason for an unrelated family to be punished due to the commitment of someone else. The dedication of the land was to be an act of worship unto God, but God also had a covenant commitment with the rest of the nation – one that He would honor, as a testimony to His own glory.

25 And all your valuations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs to the shekel.

  1. It’s a bit of a random side-note, but a necessary one. For all the talk about shekels, a standard needed to be established as to what a shekel was actually worth. The “gerah” was the smallest standard of money used by the Hebrews, and 20 comprised a shekel. These transactions couldn’t be manipulated by corrupt priests or moneychangers declaring that a shekel weighed more on the inside of the tabernacle than on the outside; God Himself set the standard, and it ensured fairness for all.
  2. Of course, Israel wasn’t always faithful to abide by this. The corrupt Sadducean priests of Judea twisted this to their advantage when not allowing Roman coinage to be used for worship, forcing Jews to exchange their coins through moneychangers (who worked at a profit). Jesus famously condemned the practice, not once, but twice (Jn 2, Mt 21).
  • Things we can’t give (27:26-33). Don’t take what is God’s.

26 ‘But the firstborn of the animals, which should be the LORD’s firstborn, no man shall dedicate; whether it is an ox or sheep, it is the LORD’s. 27 And if it is an unclean animal, then he shall redeem it according to your valuation, and shall add one-fifth to it; or if it is not redeemed, then it shall be sold according to your valuation.

  1. The firstborn already belonged to the Lord. This was part of the Passover. God purchased His people out of Egyptian slavery through the death of the firstborn, with Israel’s firstborn being spared by the blood of sacrifice. As a result, Israel was to always remember God’s work in this way: Exodus 13:14–15, “(14) So it shall be, when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ that you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (15) And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’” The dedication of the firstborn was a constant reminder to Israel of their own purchased redemption by God, so this was never an animal that could be offered to the Lord. They could choose the 2nd born or any other, but the 1st had a specific purpose.
    1. Why would anyone offer to God what God was already going to receive? When I give my daughter dinner, it’s an act of provision, but it isn’t seen as an additional present/gift. That’s what she was getting anyway. When you get paid at work, it isn’t a gift from your boss; it’s what you were owed. Likewise with the firstborn from Israel. That couldn’t be a “gift” to the Lord, because it was going to Him anyway.

28 ‘Nevertheless no devoted offering that a man may devote to the LORD of all that he has, both man and beast, or the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted offering is most holy to the LORD. 29 No person under the ban, who may become doomed to destruction among men, shall be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death.

  1. Although these categories sound totally opposite from each other, they actually go together. The word used for “devoted” and “ban” are exactly the same (חֵ֫רֶם). Depending on the context, it either refers to something devoted to the Lord, or something that is under the penalty of absolute destruction by the Lord. Laird Harris writes, “The word for “devoted thing” (ḥērem v.28) has a curious double usage. It refers to the totally holy and the totally evil.” The concept is often found in the book of Joshua, where certain cities in the Promised Land were “under the ban,” meaning that all the spoils of war belonged to God, and were not to be claimed by the Hebrews at all. Here, the context is split. On one hand, it refers to things previously devoted to God, and on the other, it refers to people “doomed to destruction.” Either way, these items are likewise already claimed by the Lord. They cannot be further dedicated to Him, and there is no opportunity for their redemption.
  2. How glad we are to be one, and not the other! When Jesus purchased us through the blood of His own redemption, we became dedicated/devoted to God, totally holy unto Him. None can purchase away, none can snatch us out of His hand (Jn 10:28-29).
    1. Question: Can anyone truly be doomed to destruction? No one knows when his/her final opportunity to receive of the grace of Jesus might be, but there can come a point where someone’s heart is so hardened to the Lord, that God allows them to perish in their hardness. Even if that time doesn’t come until someone’s last breath, once that breath is breathed, that’s it. At that point, it’s too late.

30 And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s. It is holy to the LORD. 31 If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. 32 And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. 33 He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.’ ”

  1. As with the firstborn, the “tithe” also belonged to the Lord. This is the first mention of the word to the nation of Israel (although the first usage of the word was used with Abraham and Melchizedek – Gen 14:20), and it refers to a tenth. More instruction regarding the tithe will be given in Numbers & Deuteronomy. At this point, the concept is assumed among Israel, and it clearly stated that it is considered “holy to the LORD,” fully belonging to God. It was something to be given, no matter what, and did not come under the concept of the special / extraordinary vow.
  2. Even here, it was possible to redeem a tithe, although it was limited to that of the field; not of the flock. We have a difficult time understanding how to redeem a tithe, because our concept is purely financial currency-based. The Hebrews’ understanding of the tithe was harvest & livestock-based. We wouldn’t give 10% of our income, only to purchase it back with an extra 20% (why give $100, only to pay $120 to receive back our initial $100?), but the Hebrews might do it if there was an extra need for food for themselves or their flocks. If they gave several bushels of grain, they might purchase those bushels back with the extra 20% valuation if there was a need of some sort. Again, it was still financially painful & thus discouraged, but it could be done. 
  • Conclusion (27:34)

34 These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai.

  1. Final summation of Leviticus.

Conclusion:

The book of Leviticus is a book of holiness – of dedication – of worship. It’s a book telling the Hebrews how to relate to this gracious God who put them into a covenant relationship with Him. Their response to this good God is fear, worship, love, and obedience. And, as the book comes to a close, sometimes that worship was expressed through special vows of dedication. Some things could be given to the Lord, other things weren’t – but whatever was given was to be given from the heart, fully committed to Him. Were there going to be times when a person’s desire overstepped his/her ability? Sure…and our merciful God had ways of addressing it. God didn’t make it easy (because He didn’t encourage the practice!), but God did give them a way to bring their vows back in line with what they could do.

Do we, as New Testament Christians, have to vow anything to the Lord? No…but then again, we are already to give Christ all that we have! When we surrender ourselves to follow Jesus, we give Him our entire lives. Everything we have belongs to Him, so when it comes to giving, we’re just giving Him what we already said we would.

That said, when we make commitments to Christ, they are commitments we should keep. If we say we’re going to serve, we need to serve. If we say we’re going to pray, we need to pray. No Christian is forced into any legalistic habit, but what we ought to do what we say. We need to let our yes be yes, and our no, no…especially when it comes to Christ!

The good news for us is that when we fail (and we inevitably will!), our God is merciful! This is the reason Jesus died on the cross for us. Of all the promises we make unto God, the best promises are the ones He makes unto us, and the word from Jesus is simply this: “It is finished!” Our redemption price has been paid, and we are treasured in the sight of God our Heavenly Father! Our opportunity to serve Him is simply the icing on the cake.

As Leviticus wraps up, God warns His people away from sin, promising them blessings for obedience and curses for rebellion. We have good reason to walk in holiness & to stop digging our holes of sin!

Stop Digging!

Posted: July 4, 2019 in Leviticus, Uncategorized

Leviticus 26, “Stop Digging!”

What’s the first rule of holes? Stop digging. If you don’t want to keep going down, stop throwing dirt around in a shovel. It’s simple enough when digging a hole for a post of some sort; it’s a bit more difficult when digging one for yourself. Especially when talking about the spiritual holes we dig when we engage in consistent sin – we might understand the need to stop digging, but it can be truly difficult to get ourselves to stop.

Thankfully, the Christian has something the rest of the world does not: the power of Christ within us! By ourselves, we may not be able to stop digging, but by the power of the Holy Spirit given to us through the grace of Jesus, we can. We can stop our course of sin, and start walking again in fellowship with our God.

What God calls us to do as New Testament believers, God also called Israel to do as His Old Testament nation. He warned them away from sin, calling them to a life of humility, repentance, and faith – something that would be impossible in themselves (as seen through history!), but made possible through their constant dependence upon Him. Sadly, it wasn’t the way the history of Israel played out, but it was certainly available to them by the grace of God.

At this point in the book of Leviticus, the third book of Moses is almost at an end. The whole of the Hebrews’ religious life has been described in its pages: there were the many sacrifices that emphasized shedding of blood for the atonement of sin – there was the holy consecration of the priests, as a people chosen by God’s grace to be dedicated to Him – there was the instruction of holiness and morality, showing God’s people what was & was not honoring unto Him – there were the festivals and freedom, when the people came together to worship and celebrate the newness of life given by His grace. All in all, the people of Israel had been instructed how to live according to the example of the God who dwelt among them: they were to be holy as He is holy, ever dependent upon His grace through the shed blood of sacrifice.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is no different than New Testament Christianity. Certainly the dispensation of time has changed, and the way that God has revealed Himself, but the core aspects are the same. We, as God’s people, are to live holy lives testifying of our holy God, being ever dependent on the grace and work of Jesus who shed His own blood as a sacrifice for our sins. Without Jesus, we have nothing; with Jesus, we have everything. (This is why we must believe upon Him to be saved!)

With that in mind, all of this instruction has now been given to Israel throughout the book of Leviticus, as they were told how to live out their covenant relationship with God. Now what? Now the ramifications of the covenant are listed. Just as civil contracts include sections detailing what happens if the contract is violated, so ancient covenant agreements included the same. What happened with obedience – what happened with disobedience? What were to be the benefits, and what were to be the consequences? All of this is laid out in Leviticus, as the book comes to a close.

Chapter 26 is laid out logically, along the lines of typical ancient covenant agreements…with one difference. There is a command, a promise (blessings), the consequences (curses) – all of which are normal…but there is also a hope provided – a provision of restoration. Why the difference? Because we worship a God of grace! God does warn and implore His people not to sin, but there is also the availability of grace when we do, available through repentance and faith.

Christian: we have been called to worship God in obedience & warned away from rebellion, but we have an Advocate for when we fail, available to all through repentance and faith. Jesus is our Covenant King, but He is also our Giver of grace. Stop digging your hole of sin, and start relying on the power of Christ!

Leviticus 26

  • The command (1-2). Who will we worship?

1 ‘You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God. 2 You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the LORD.

  1. It all begins with a simple, short command: worship God! Don’t make idols – don’t bow to false images. Instead, rest in God’s work and worship Him as He revealed Himself to be. These are basically two sides of the same coin: don’t worship idols; worship God. That’s about as short & sweet as it gets. Why such a short command?
    1. First, because this section of the book is the conclusion of everything else that preceded it. (Never forget to keep the context in mind!) For 25 other chapters, God gave Moses the other commands to Israel, and this fell on the end of all those things.
    2. Second (and more importantly), because this was the foundation of all the rest. If Israel got this command wrong, it didn’t matter what other commands they obeyed. Just think about the 10 commandments (itself a summary of God’s covenant with Israel): much of the 10 commandments could be kept (on a surface level), while the people still rebelled against God. It is good to honor one’s parents (5th Commandment), but even atheists can honor their parents and still go to hell. If we don’t first and foremost worship God alone, then we have no foundation for anything else in God.
    3. Jesus made precisely this point when summarizing the entirety of the law with the Great Commandment: Matthew 22:35–40, “(35) Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, (36) “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (37) Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (40) On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”” The first commandment: love God; the second commandment: love others. Without the first, the second is meaningless. (And without the second, the first is toothless.)
      1. Before we go any further tonight, you need to ask yourself this first fundamental question: do you love and worship God, as God has revealed Himself to be (through Jesus Christ)? If not, it doesn’t matter how “obedient” you might believe yourself to be in other areas, you are still in rebellion against Him.
    4. About the command itself, what was an idol? (Literally!) The Hebrew word refers to “worthlessness, nothingness” – idols are nothing less than products of vain imagination. So God tells them to not make “nothings,” with no exceptions. Be it carved of wood, engraved in stone, or comprised of any other false representation of the Creator God, don’t do it – don’t bow to it – don’t worship it. Why? Because they already had a God, and that God isn’t “nothing;” that God is. He is the “I AM,” YHWH.
      1. We are not to worship nothings & vanities – we aren’t to worship false representations of God or diluted representations of Jesus. We aren’t to bow before anything that is not actually the Creator God (be it pictures, statues, saints, or false ideas). Our worship belongs to God alone, and we know God by knowing Jesus.
    5. How to worship God rightly? Rest (obedience) and reverence (fear). For God to tell Israel to “keep My Sabbaths” was for God to tell them to find their rest in Him, obeying what He commanded. They weren’t to seek to please other gods, or offer sacrifices to idols; they were to worship God as He showed them how to worship Him – by fully trusting in Him alone to provide (something that would have been underscored in Ch 25 as God taught them about the Sabbath years and Jubilees). Likewise, they were to “reverence [His] sanctuary,” to ascribe to Him the holiness, fear, and worship He deserved as they came to His tabernacle with the sacrifices. They were not to take their relationship with God for granted, but they were to always see Him for who He is: the Almighty Creator & their Covenant King.
      1. We have been given so much grace in Jesus! May that never be an excuse for us to take Him for granted. We also need to rest in His work, walk in His ways, fearing and revering Him as the Almighty God He is.
  • The promise (3-13). Why should we obey?

3 ‘If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, 4 then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 5 Your threshing shall last till the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last till the time of sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.

  1. Notice the “if” of verse 3. God’s blessing was promised with obedience, and it would only come if they obeyed. Question: why was God’s blessing conditional? It seems so foreign to our ears today, with the common understanding that God loves us unconditionally. However, although the idea is common, it’s incorrect. There is a huge condition on God’s love for us: our faith in Christ! Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (Jn 3:16), and we can only love God because God loved us first (1 Jn 4:19), but there is a massive difference between being loved as a general part of God’s creation & being loved as God’s own son/daughter. All humans are loved in the sense that we are made in the image of God, and God does not desire that any of us perish (2 Pet 3:9), but only those who are in Christ Jesus are loved as His children. It is only at that point that we have been given the spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15) – it is only at that point that we can say that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:39). The condition of faith is something that must be fulfilled if we are to be experience the blessings of a covenant relationship with God.
  2. Beyond this, even as our initial salvation (our justification) is based on the condition of faith, our ongoing relationship (our sanctification) is also based on the condition of obedience. God’s desire for us as born-again believers is to experience abundant life and grace in Christ, but we cannot experience that when we choose to live in a lifestyle of rebellion. Just think of your own earthly relationships: How can you expect any sort of intimate relationship with your spouse, if you’re constantly arguing with him/her? How can you expect any trust from your children, if you’re always working against them? These people may love us unconditionally as family members, but our fellowship with them can easily be broken by our own actions. Likewise with God. Someone can be saved, but still experience a block in his/her relationship with Jesus because of sin. The gift of His grace is conditioned only on faith, but the many ongoing gifts of His blessings are often based on our obedience.
    1. Be careful not to get the wrong idea. We have no guarantee from the Scripture that if we obey, we will be financially or physically blessed. The claims from the health/wealth preachers are totally invalidated by the examples of both Jesus and the apostles (who all suffered greatly, though they were obedient). As New Testament believers, we have a different covenant with God than Old Testament Israel. Our covenant is for spiritual abundance; their covenant was tied directly into physical promises.
  3. 1st blessing: abundant harvest/food. If Israel obeyed, they’d be certain to eat to the full! Never would they have to worry about famine or an unfruitful agricultural season. God would give them what they needed in abundance. – Most of us do not live according to an agricultural economy, but we can imagine what kind of enticement this would have been for a nation of farmers and shepherds! Yes, they’d have still be in the fields six days per week, but they’d never have the same worries as the other nations – they’d never have to fret over a lack of rain, or disease among the crops. God would be their provider. 

6 I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid; I will rid the land of evil beasts, and the sword will not go through your land. 7 You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you. 8 Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you.

  1. 2nd blessing: Abundant peace. Wild animals would let them alone, as would the wild nations around them. Considering what we know about world history & how many times power changed hands among the many empires of the ancient near east, consider what Israel could have been spared, if they had obeyed!
  2. 3rd blessing: Abundant power. In the rare cases where the “sword” did approach Israel, God promised them overwhelming military strength. They would be able to have handfuls of Hebrews put armies “to flight.” Brief times of obedience and faith in the history of Israel saw this come to pass: Gideon & his 300 caused a Midianite army that numbered as a swarm of locusts to flee (Jdg 7) – Jonathan & his armorbearer defeated an entire garrison of Philistines (1 Sam 14) – David’s sole defeat of Goliath caused the entire army of Philistia to run away (1 Sam 17). None of these instances were based on the might of Israel; they were based on the might of God working among Abundant power was available to God’s people, if they only walked with Him.

9 ‘For I will look on you favorably and make you fruitful, multiply you and confirm My covenant with you. 10 You shall eat the old harvest, and clear out the old because of the new. 11 I will set My tabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you. 12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.

  1. 4th blessing (and best!): Abundant life with God. God would “multiply” the people, dwell among the people, and “walk among” the people. What God first gave to Adam and Even, He offered to give to the nation of Israel: unfettered fellowship with God, where He would walk in their midst. Even if the walking wasn’t literal and incarnate (such as when the preincarnate Christ walked with Adam in the cool of the day), the fellowship was just as intimate. If the people obeyed God, worshipping Him, then they would have an incredible relationship with Him – something better than all the food, all the gold, and all the power in the world!
  2. There is nothing better than abundant life with God! This is when we experience life on earth closest to as it will be in heaven – this is when we experience life as God meant it to be. And this is what is available to every believer in Jesus! John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” The devil comes to kill, but Jesus came to give life, and the life that He gives is something that cannot be matched!
    1. The question is if this is the sort of life we experience with Jesus. The abundant life isn’t the financially prosperous one (Jesus didn’t promise a “get rich quick” scheme); it’s one where we live in the constant awareness of our heavenly Father, constant fellowship with the Son, constant power of the Holy Spirit – it’s one in which we walk in His leading, worship with readiness, and have His good news dripping off our lips. Is this what you experience? If not, why? This is what Jesus came to give, so it isn’t His fault if we don’t experience it; it’s ours.

13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright.

  1. What was Israel’s guarantee that God would give all of this? His own power. They had already seen Him in action in the past, so they could know He would act in the future. Remember that this was the generation that had personally witnessed the plagues of Egypt, the Passover, and the Red Sea. In fact, they were barely a few weeks to months removed from those things. If any generation of Israel knew the power of God, it was this one! God had freed them, so God could bless them.
  2. BTW: Why did God free us from sin? So that we would not be “slaves,” but rather “walk upright.” We are not free from sin that we might engage in more sin; that is only to enslave ourselves all over again. Instead, we are free, that we might use our freedom to glorify God – to walk in His holiness by His power & in His grace.
  • The consequences (14-39). What happens when we rebel?

14 ‘But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, 15 and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant,

  1. Notice the direct contrast with verse 3. There, the question was posed if they would “walk in My statutes and keep My commandments.” Here, the opposite is presented. If those same commandments, statutes, and judgments were broken, then there would be terrible results. If they did the opposite of obedience, God would do the opposite of blessing.
  2. Again, is God’s love for us in Christ conditional? No! But our ongoing relationship with Him is. We can break our fellowship with God. We cannot spit in His face and expect abundant life. There are natural and spiritual consequences that surely follow.

16 I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you.

  1. Consequence #1: no health. People often think that they can endure all kinds of trials, if they at least have their health. To Israel, God promised them that would be one of the first things to go. Sinful disobedience would result in disease, and they would suffer both physically and emotionally (“sorrow of heart”). That’s not to say that every sickness in the Bible is a sign of divine punishment, but it isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
    1. This is true even in the New Testament. Case example: Ananias & Sapphira who sinned against the Holy Spirit unto death (Acts 5). Paul even wrote to the Corinthians about their abuse of the Lord’s Supper, how it caused many of them to be sick, and even died as a result (1 Cor 11:30). Again, we need to be careful not to take a promise to Israel and make it a blanket-statement for the church, but we also need to remember that God has not changed.
  2. Consequence #2: no power. Originally, the promise for blessing was that a handful of Israelites would thwart hundreds & thousands of enemies; the consequence for disobedience was easy defeat for Israel. They would be subjected to enemy rule, and they would be cowardly in the face of the battle.
    1. Spiritually, something similar could be said for New Testament believers. When we walk in disobedience, we experience more and more spiritual weakness. The Christian who makes a habit of giving into temptation finds temptation harder & harder to resist.

It doesn’t end here. This is just the first of 5 cycles of disobedience & consequences. God would repeatedly give Israel the opportunity time and time again to repent, with escalating consequences every time they did not.

18 ‘And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. 19 I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.

  1. Seven times more.” This is a phrase often repeated throughout Chapter 26. God gave the scenario of Israel sinning, with consequences to follow & an implied opportunity to repent. If they didn’t do it (“if you do not obey Me”), then there would be more consequences & the curses would escalate. Things would get worse & worse every time, as God turned up the heat to get their attention.
  2. In this case, God promised He would “break [their] pride.” Specifically, their pride was found in their agriculture. The land was, after all, a “land flowing with milk and honey,” where massive grape clusters could be found (Num 13:23). Instead of abundance, they would have agony in their harvest. Although abundance of harvest was promised by God for obedience, Israel’s disobedience would cause the promise to be stripped away. (Not unlike the curse experienced by Adam! – Gen 3:17-18)
    1. There are two ways to reform a clay pot: mold it while it’s still soft, or break it after it’s been hardened & start again. Sometimes, we need to be broken so that God can start anew. It’s a painful process, but God will do what is necessary if it brings us to repentance.

21 ‘Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me, I will bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins. 22 I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, destroy your livestock, and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate.

  1. Seven times more,” again! The escalation would continue as Israel’s rebellion continued. There was a way to break the cycle (humility & repentance), but as long as they were unwilling, then God would continue to act.
  2. Instead of peace from animals, they would have terror from wild beasts. Although lions & other threatening carnivores are not seen in Israel today, they were apparently common at one point. God promised that these animals would ravage the homes of Israel, killing not only livestock, but even the children of individual families. (One would think that this alone would be enough to cause sinful people to stop, but sadly, it continues.)
  3. Worse than that, they’d be assaulted by God Himself. The word used for “plagues” is different than the word found throughout Exodus for the Egyptian plagues. This word speaks of a “blow, wound, or slaughter.” IOW, it wasn’t only wild animals that would inflict horror on the Hebrew homes; it was God. 

23 ‘And if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary to Me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I will punish you yet seven times for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant; when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I have cut off your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall bring back your bread by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

  1. Seven times” again! Yet even more escalation. Like Paul wrote to the Romans (Rom 1), God often gives people over to the consequences of their sin. It isn’t only with the unbelievers that He does this, but His own people.
  2. Notice how it could have been avoided. The people had the chance to walk with God, but instead chose to “walk contrary” to Him. The result was that God did the same back to them. All of these consequences came as a result of breaking “covenant.” If they had only obeyed, then they could had avoided things like disease, defeat, and despair from times of famine.
    1. This is easier said than done! “Just obey, and be blessed” sounds almost too simple to be in the Bible…yet here it is. What gives? (1) We need to always remember the distinction between the covenant made with Israel, and the covenant Jesus makes with the church. Theirs had (and still have) immediate physical ramifications when they were living in the land given them by God, with God ruling over them as their King. Ours is a spiritual covenant with Jesus, which one day will have physical results in the Millennial Kingdom. (2) No obedience is possible without faith in Christ! “Just obey” is totally outside our abilities, because we are sinful people. But when we are in Jesus, everything changes. Now we are cleansed by Him & empowered by the Spirit. Now we can obey Him, in a way that we couldn’t before, and yes, when we obey we experience the blessings of abundant life. 

27 ‘And after all this, if you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, 28 then I also will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.

  1. Yet even more escalation: “seven times.” This will be the worse yet. Notice God’s personal involvement: “I, even I, will chastise you.” Although God had spoken of His involvement earlier, by this point it will take place in such a way that no one could deny it. 

29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars, and cast your carcasses on the lifeless forms of your idols; and My soul shall abhor you. 31 I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas. 32 I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it.

  1. Cannibalism, desolation, destruction…total horror! The basic idea is that God promised to wage war against His own people. What they saw enemy nations do to other people was nothing compared to what God would do with His own, if they continued in rebellion against Him (which, historically they did).
  2. Question: Is this too much? No! This is righteous judgment. What is the penalty for national treason? Why is it any different when the whole nation appointed by & formed by the grace of God commits treason against Him? This isn’t overkill; it’s just enough. The problem is that we’ve become so accustomed to sin that we have difficulty recognizing righteous judgment when it is displayed.

33 I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste. 34 Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall rest— for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it.

  1. The ultimate punishment: exile. What God promised to give them, God would take away. And again, it was a good & righteous thing. The people would suffer, but the land would rest. This is exactly what happened. 2 Chronicles 36:20–21, “(20) And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, (21) to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.”
  2. Exile is still the ultimate punishment, and that’s exactly what people experience in hell. Although God sees those in hell (Rev 14:10), those who are there are forever excluded from God’s personal presence & favor. They will never be received into glory, forever remaining where there is darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth. It is a horrendous thought, and one that God does not desire for anyone.

36 ‘And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; the sound of a shaken leaf shall cause them to flee; they shall flee as though fleeing from a sword, and they shall fall when no one pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as it were before a sword, when no one pursues; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall waste away in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; also in their fathers’ iniquities, which are with them, they shall waste away.

  1. This is what happened during the 70 years of Babylonian Captivity. Not everyone among Israel would die in the conquest of the land. Some would live, but they would live in despondency, knowing what was lost. (Just like those in hell.)
  2. What happens when people steadfastly refuse to turn to God, despite His repeated acts of discipline and judgment? Eventually their hearts become hard, and they waste away in iniquity. Again, this is something from which we can be spared, but we need hearts softened to the call of Christ.

Put it together: there was a command to worship, a series of promised blessings for obedience, and a series of consequences for rebellion. That’s it, right? Wrong. What God gives to Israel is something other kings did not give to their covenant people: a chance to be restored!

  • The hope (40-45). How can we be restored?

40 ‘But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me, 41 and that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt— 42 then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land.

  1. For all of the terrible consequences that would come upon people, it could all change! What would make the difference?
    1. Confess their own sin.
    2. Confess God’s righteousness.
    3. Confess their need to change: “uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt.
  2. What’s the result? Restoration! God would “remember” His covenant. Not that He over “forgot” it, but that He’d reinstate it to what it was. The people did not have to be forever exiled from God. Confession & repentance brought the hope of restoration.

43 The land also shall be left empty by them, and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them; they will accept their guilt, because they despised My judgments and because their soul abhorred My statutes. 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God.

  1. The land still gets its rest, and the people will have to serve out their sentence. Sometimes we get the idea that once we’re forgiven, we’re automatically exempt from every consequence. That’s not necessarily the case. We can have forgiveness from God, while still experiencing consequences on earth. It doesn’t mean He’s abandoned us; it just reality.
  2. Even so, God’s covenant with Israel cannot be forgotten! “I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them…” Those who claim Israel has been abandoned by God to be replaced by the church have to skirt the plain meaning of passages such as these. A temporary blindness has come over Israel today, but God’s word to them remains true…

45 But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.’ ”

  1. God will always honor His word & promises! What He spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God intended to keep in the days of Moses, of David, of Solomon, and yes, even the days of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Zephaniah. God allowed the nation to go into captivity, and God brought them back out again according to His word and promise.
    1. Praise God that His promises are true! If God did not keep His word to Israel, how could we trust His word to us?
  2. What is the end result of these things? God is worshiped by Israel as their God, because God is the Lord! Again, how would it come to pass? Through confession, repentance, and faith. When they stopped digging holes & started turning to God anew. 
  • Conclusion

46 These are the statutes and judgments and laws which the LORD made between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.

  1. Quick summary of the book.

Conclusion:

God laid it all out on the table: the blessings and curses for His people. If they walked in obedience, they would live in abundance of life with the presence of God among them – if they continually walked in rebellion, they would lose it all. Even so, there was always an invitation to repent! At any time, they could turn back to God and find that God honors His word. He promised a covenant to the descendants of Abraham, and His promises are good! The key for Israel was for them to repent sooner, rather than later…to stop digging their hole of sin & start relying on the grace and power of God.

It is no different with us. In this age, we are the people of God, called and commanded to worship Him alone. We too, have reason to obey: to experience the abundance of life promised us by Christ! And when we don’t, we too are disciplined by our loving heavenly Father, who sometimes allows us to face the consequences of our actions. But thankfully, we also have the hope of change, also through confession (repentance and faith). Again, the key: stop digging sooner, rather than later! Stop the course of sin, and start relying on the grace and power of God.