Yesterday, we mapped disappointment, discouragement, depression, and disbelief. All of these are dangerous, but maybe there isn’t any apparent sin. A spectator may not charge you with the “fowl mood,” but you know where you stand and more obviously God knows. Numbers 13-14 are the rest of the story. It is the fruit of the journey which led to disbelief. Once we enter the delirium of disbelief, sin is lying at the door.
We may arrive at disbelief in different ways or quicker ways, but once we pull in the shoddy town of disbelief we are in the Kadesh moment. Think of an umbrella. As long as I am properly aligned (under) the umbrella, I am protected. Disbelief is the moment, the half-step, out from under the umbrella. Eve caved to disbelief when she doubted the word of God. Cain was a resident of disbelief when he could not accept God’s rejection. David spent the night in disbelief when he figured no one would know. Peter’s disbelief was the door slam of denial. The children of Israel faced their own moment of disbelief when ten spies returned with the evil report. Instead of praising the blessing and fruitfulness of following God, they counted the giants and impossibilities and forgot the power of God. Their disbelief produced disobedience.
We commonly associate an infraction as disobedience, which it is, but consider the other dimension of disobedience. When God says go and do, but we stay and don’t, we are guilty of disobedience. It may seem impossible. We may see a lot of giants, but the command still stands, “Go! I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Someone said, “God has nothing worth having that is easy. There are no cheap goods in the heavenly market. Our redemption cost all that God had to give, and everything worth having is expensive.”
Some of the most disobedient people are not the ones living outside the church, but the ones seated inside the church. They know God has commanded. They know God has moved in their life, but they refused to comply because they are living in disbelief of God. The sad end of this Kadesh moment in Israel could be the sad story of your life if you live in disbelief. The Israelites voluntarily disinherited themselves from God’s blessing. You will not lose your salvation, but you can be disinherited from the blessings of peace, joy, and victory. Have you forfeited the spoils of spiritual warfare because of unbelief? If you are facing a moment of disbelief, get out as fast as you can. Don’t risk the possibility of being disobedient. The result is grim. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22).
The plans were big! Everyone was excited. You’ve done everything possible to prepare for this incredible vacation. You get in the vehicle and off you go singing through your favorite road trip playlist. Halfway through your day, the kid spits up french fries all over the back seat. Now you are driving with the windows down. The other kid complains about the windows being down, the car breaks down, the tow truck takes his time and charges his price, and now you will never make your hotel reservation. Before you realize it, all your aspirations have tanked. What was supposed to be is no longer a possibility? The frustrations can put you in a foul mood.
The people had left Sinai and their march was now organized with certain tribes in order and the Levites transporting the completed Tabernacle. They were a new nation! They were stepping out with a new identity ready to see God bring them into the Promised Land. The first steps of the day must have been exhilarating with expectation. Three days into the journey “the people complained” and the fire of the Lord burnt and consumed them. Clearly a disappointing turn to your upbeat start. Then the mixed multitude begins to realize they have eaten manna for nearly a year and they are getting a little tired of it. They remember how good they had it in Egypt. Discouragement creeps into the camp as Moses hears every man complain about the manna. So Moses does the right thing. He talks to God about it. How would you approach God if you were Moses? Maybe you would submit your resignation. Maybe you would suggest some alterations to their agreement. Moses? He asks God to kill him!
This is a clear indicator that depression has begun its stranglehold on Moses. The spiritual spiral they are descending hits rock bottom when God says He will provide meat for Israel for thirty days, and Moses immediately questions God’s ability. Disappointment turned into discouragement, which turned into depression, which became disbelief. This is fatal spiritually. Now there is no filter for your decisions. You are in a fog and in this delirium you act on impulse. God sends the quail and the people gather the prey for a day and a half and lay them out for preparation. It appears some could not wait any longer and began eating the quail inappropriately, “and while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague” (Numbers 11:33).
The next time you find yourself in a foul mood think of the results of the “fowl” mood the Israelites found themselves. How can you protect yourself from this “fowl mood”? Watch out for the words, “If only.” If only things could be different starts you on a journey from disappointment to discouragement to depression to disbelief. Watch out for the “fowl mood.”
Numbers 5-6 are an interesting pair of chapters, but reading them together is a must. God clearly expresses the need for the camp to be “disinfected” of anything less than pristine. You read of two very interesting ceremonies at the Tabernacle. They seem very different but they echo the same point. If the people want God to dwell with them and fulfill the big promise of being their God, they must be attentive to the hint of sin.
The first is a bizarre ordeal with a woman accused of infidelity. Her husband would bring her to the Tabernacle with a sacrifice and the accusation. The priest would create an unusual cocktail of holy water and Tabernacle dust for her to drink. If when she drank the concoction she would swell and become halt, then she was guilty and everyone would know it. However, if she drank the concoction and never developed any symptoms, then God has rightly acquitted her as innocent.
The second ceremony involved a rare vow called the Nazarite vow. This showed that God was not only a “thou shalt not” kind of God but also a God who invited his people to live a life of deeper devotion. He truly wanted them to know Him intimately and this vow would have consecrated the individual for this exploration. They were restricted from anything fermented during the time of consecration. Then the instructions develop an entirely different standard when they were restricted from grapes, husk, kernel, vine or anything related to the fruit of the vine.
Both of these scenarios illustrate God’s desire for his people to avoid the appearance of sin. It is fair to believe that a woman would hardly be accused of infidelity if she was never in a position where that accusation could be substantiated. By avoiding the appearance of evil, she would never need to bear such an accusation. The Nazarite, whose vow was for strict consecration, would not be able to discern whether there was any fermentation in some grape juice. God’s instruction was to avoid any contact on the grounds of uncertainty. In other words, avoid any possibility of tainting yourself with sin.
The message of Numbers 5-6 insists we do not play around with or get close to sin. Have nothing to do with it! Charles Spurgeon wrote a great devotional in his Morning and Evening collection on this principle. Here is what he said:
Worldly conformity, in any degree, is a snare to the soul, and makes it more and more liable to presumptuous sins. Moreover, as the Nazarite who drank grape juice could not be quite sure whether it might not have endured a degree of fermentation, and consequently could not be clear in heart that his vow was intact, so…things doubtful…are wrong to us. Things tempting we must not dally with, but flee from them with speed. Better be sneered at as a Puritan than be despised as a hypocrite. Careful walking may involve much self-denial, but it has pleasures of its own which are more than a sufficient recompense.
Who is your favorite sports star? Is it a quarterback or a pitcher? Who gets the most praise for a win or the most criticism for a loss? Typically the quarterback or the pitcher. We tend to glamorize these positions on the team, but the truth is they are only one-ninth or one-eleventh of the team. Without the rest of the team, they are useless.
The Levites were the consecrated family in Israel. Instead of taking the firstborn of every family in Israel, God arranged the Levites to represent all the firstborn in all the nation. Their proximity to God was an honor. The Levitical family was arranged around the Tabernacle as a buffer between the glory of God and the people. They were tasked with the responsibility to serve God especially with the transportation of the Tabernacle. The sons of Gershon were responsible for transporting the curtains and coverings. The sons of Merari transported the frame and structure of the Tabernacle. The sons of Kohath transported the furniture. Compared to the sons of Aaron, their responsibilities could seem inferior, but it’s only our selfish human nature to glamorize certain positions.
Instead of glamorizing a certain gift, glory in your privilege to serve God as He created you. In your church, you may doubt your usefulness because you aren’t someone you consider “more important,” but your place is vital in the body! Paul reminds you of your importance based on the fact: God chose you and placed you in this body. “Now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body” (1 Corinthians 12:18-19)? God has set you in the body. If you don’t fulfill your part, then the whole body suffers.
In Psalm 84:10, the worshiper says, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God.” Rejoice in the privilege to serve God regardless of the details. He doesn’t need any of us, but His glory is magnified when He uses the foolish things to confound the wise and the weak things to confound the mighty things of this world (1 Corinthians 1:27).
“My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
As a teacher begins a new school year, some of the most important lessons of the year come during the first week. No, for the most part, it does not have much to do with the “three R’s” of education. However, these vital points of instruction actually make or break the classes educational quality. What are these most important points of education? They teach the young ones how to walk in line. At first glance, you probably doubt the importance of these points of procedure, but do not be fooled. They surprisingly establish the environment for learning. Training the children’s basic deportment in the classroom and in transition around the school essentially conditions the atmosphere to eliminate all distractions and maximize the teaching potential.
The Israelites are about to learn how to walk in a line, literally! They are going to learn how to sit at their desk…well, more like how to live in the camp, but the concept is the same. They have sat at the base of Mt. Sinai and learned how to worship God, now they will grow in their discipline as a nation while they learn to walk with God. They are a kindergartner of a nation, so God is going to show them how to walk and live. He will “whip them into shape” in order to eliminate all distractions and maximize their learning potential.
As you read through all the numbers and organization, consider your own life. Are there some distractions you could eliminate? Are there some extraneous activities that clutter your life so you can’t hear God clearly? Are you a little haphazard in the way you walk with God? Maybe you’re that kid who is lost in their own world and left behind in the lunch room? Or maybe you are the mischevious child always looking for a way to dash to the playground? Paul echoes the lesson of Numbers: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Is your life characterized by “order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5)? The Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land. They will engage the enemy and live in maturity! Their success or failure pivots on their awareness of God’s presence and protection. Their survival depends on their appreciation of God’s provision and patience.
All of this is learned in the wilderness. Get in line. Answer “here” to the roll call. Class is about to start!