ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude
Do you cast all your cares on God, knowing that he cares for you—and not only cares, but is competent to carry you all along the way? Do you know that God is sovereign over you—even the smallest details of your life are within his control? Whether you do or don’t does not diminish the fact that God is leading you all along the way. There is no question: God has taken charge of you.
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 33:38-39
While the Israelites were at the foot of Mount Hor, Aaron the priest was directed by the Lord to go up the mountain, and there he died. This happened in midsummer, on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year after Israel’s departure from Egypt. Aaron was 123 years old when he died there on Mount Hor.
Do you trust God to watch over every day of your life? Do you believe that he is involved even in the minute details of all your moments? Can you relax about tomorrow, knowing that it is securely in God’s hands? Do you cast all your cares on him, knowing that he cares for you—and not only cares, but is competent to carry you all along the way?
Whether you do or not doesn’t diminish the fact that God is leading you all along the way. There is no question: God is in control of you. Even the day of your death is foreknown by God, which means that you will not live a day longer, nor die a day sooner than what your Creator will permit. We see that in Numbers 33 when God invited the High Priest of Israel, Aaron, up to the mountain to take back the breath of life that the Creator loaned him on the day Aaron was born. And in a very real sense, in the realm invisible to the human eye, when it comes time for you to die, God will invite you to give back what he loaned you—the breath of life—and he will exchange it for eternal air that will never be reclaimed from your lungs.
Yes, when you wing your flight to realms of day, this your song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way. Praise his holy name!
King David offered this amazing insight about the Creator’s sovereign care over his life in Psalm 139:2-3, 7-12, 16,
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways…
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me…
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You…
And in Your book the days fashioned for me,
They all were written,
When as yet there were none of them.
As David prayerfully, worshipfully exclaimed, “such knowledge is too lofty for me!” (Psalm 139:6)
God is in charge of you, whether you are conscious of it or not. So why not practice awareness of the presence of God in your moment-by-moment life? It is better than carrying the weight of the world around on your shoulders!
Going Deeper With God:
Reprint the above verses taken from Psalm 139, and read them morning, noon and night every day this week. Practice awareness of God’s presence and declare his sovereign control over you. It is the best way to live.
ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude
When God allows you to determine how you will walk out your faith, just remember that what he permits is not always what he will bless. Never make a choice that sacrifices long-term blessing for short-term comfort. Stay alert if the choice is between better and best—and go for the best!
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 32:5-8, 13
The men of Gad and Reuben asked Moses, “If we have found favor with you, please let us have this land as our property instead of giving us land across the Jordan River.” But Moses responded, “Do you intend to stay here while your brothers go across and do all the fighting? Why do you want to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the Lord has given them? Your ancestors did the same thing when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to explore the land….The Lord was angry with Israel and made them wander in the wilderness for forty years until the entire generation that sinned in the Lord’s sight had died.”
This section begins the Israelites’ decades-long conquest of Canaan as they settle the Promised Land. God was giving them a land that geologically would provide a great deal of security because of its natural borders: the Jordan River on the east, the Mediterranean Sea on the West, the desert on to the south and the Lebanon Mountains to the north. Israel’s enemies would not have the easiest time physically invading the land.
Moreover, God himself had promised this land to their ancestor Abraham. Now it was time for the fulfillment of that promise; the land was theirs by divine decree. It was not their land by United Nations declaration or bilateral negotiation or some grand land for peace swap. God said it belonged to Israel—now and forever—end of story.
It had taken several hundred years for God to fulfill that decree. God had declared that the current occupants, the various tribes of the Canaanites, would have to leave, but interestingly, that time would not come until, as he had declared to Abraham, the sin of the Canaanites had reached its limit (cf. my devotional blog on Numbers 31 regarding the sin of Canaan). The inhabitants of the land had grown intolerably wicked, and divine justice demanded their expulsion, by any means necessary.
Canaan was now ready for conquest, and the Israelites were about to possess their promise, a land flowing with milk and honey. Some of the twelve tribes of Israel, however, didn’t want to go in. They didn’t want to take ownership of the land. They prefered to stay on the east side of the Jordan where there were lush plains of grazing land. From their pastoral perspective, this was the perfect place to feed their flocks, raise their kids and make a life.
Moses, however, didn’t take it kindly when the tribes of Gad and Reuben informed him of their hope to stay on the edge of the Promised Land. He charged them with being negligent in their duties to help expel the Canaanite nations on the other side of the Jordan River. He claimed their settling for the east would discourage the rest of the tribes forging ahead to lay claim to the west. He argued that they were simply repeating the same sin that kept their fathers out of the Promised Land. But after a good tongue lashing, he accepted their explanation for staying put as reasonable—not ideal, but reasonable. Yet even then, you get the feeling that Moses wasn’t totally comfortable with the idea, and his acceptance of their plan was couched in a severe warning about being unengaged in God’s mission for Israel in the years to come.
That’s the story. So what is the application for us today? Obviously there is a reason God included it in the Bible, so what are the take-away’s for us?
Perhaps there are many, but I will suggest this one: At times, God gives us a choice. Sometimes the choice is either this or that, and one is no better than the other. Then at other times, God says, “sure, you can choose, but what you want is less than my best.” So simply be aware that when God allows you to determine how you will walk out your faith, what he permits is not always what he will bless. At times God brings us to a place where the choice he allows us to make is not between good and bad, it is between better and best.
God’s deepest desire is to lead you to the best place a believer could ever hope for—but he gives you a choice. In that choice, don’t’ settle! Don’t surrender for second place. Don’t forfeit the potential for divine abundance because of a short-sighted desire for comfort and convenience. Don’t give up just shy of the thrill that awaits at the finish.
Too many Christians surrender to far less than what God has in mind for them just prior to the final push of obedience and sacrifice faith required to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey. I am not sure what that means for you today, but I know that the choice you and I will face today and every day as we walk out our faith is settling for the good when God wants to give us the best.
Don’t settle, God has a land of promise for you!
Going Deeper With God:
Is there an area of your life where you are tempted to settle for less that God’s best? Perhaps it is in waiting for a Christian spouse, or maybe the right job, or the resolution of a challenging problem or for the green light on a business opportunity. Sometimes it is perfectly clear that God he has not given you a choice in walking our his will for you. In that case, offer him 100% obedience and trust. But if he has given you options—a choice between this or that—be very careful: Don’t forfeit a future of blessing for comfort and convenience in the moment!
ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude
With the things we don’t understand about God, and with the things the world shudders at about God, keep in mind that we don’t always need to defend him. God is perfectly suited to defend himself. We ought to arm ourselves with as much knowledge as we can through study, but at the end of the day, God is infinite—in being, in wisdom and in power. And we are not. So let God be God, and lean into his loving but just character!
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 31:1-2,7,13-18
The Lord said to Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites.” …Israel fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man. …Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
What are we to do with the concept of holy war in the Bible? How are we to handle when the Lord unleashes vengeance upon a nation? It is beyond our modern sensibilities that what we have come to understand as a New Testament God of love would order the annihilation of an entire people in the Old Testament. And annihilation is too clean of a word: men, women and children were put to death—by the sword—among other “atrocities.”
Many have set forth scholarly and reasonable explanations for the concept of holy war, so I will allow you to explore those on your own should you desire to gain greater knowledge. I would simply say here, as I have often said in this journey through the Pentateuch, that context is everything. Keep in mind the progressive nature of what God is doing here: he is forming a people for himself. They have been called out from among the pagan nation, are being purged of the ungodly and brutal influences of those nations they have been among, and are now being fashioned into a nation themselves that is to be uniquely God’s and set apart in holiness for his sacred purposes. So God starts with where they are—a people without form and function—and be begins to give them both. Some of the laws and regulations that we read about are to be observed forever, some are for that time and place only, and some are for an indeterminate but definite period of time. Some of those Divine decrees won’t be needed once they are established in their Promised Land and a great many of them will go away entirely when the promised Messiah comes to establish the reign of God in the hearts of his people.
And that is precisely where the student of the Bible has to distinguish between the rigid letter of the law and the eternal principles of God.
Now what about this idea of holy war—which wouldn’t you agree after reading this account—is hell? At this point, it will be helpful to consider the following article from the NIV Student Bible. While it doesn’t soften the tragedy of holy war, it does supply some of the contextual reasons for it:
The Old Testament makes clear that the Canaanites were not being uprooted on a sudden whim. God had promised the land to the Israelites over 400 years before Joshua. He had called one man, Abraham, to found a nation of chosen people. He repeated those promises often (see Genesis 12:1–3; 15:5–18; 17:2–8; 26:3,23–24; 28:13–14) and finally called the Israelites out of Egypt to take over the promised land. Almost from the beginning Canaan was a vital part of God’s plan. Israel’s inheritance, however, meant kicking out the Canaanites. How could innocent people simply be pushed aside, or killed? In answer to this question, the Bible makes clear that the Canaanites were not “innocent.” Through their long history of sin, they had forfeited their right to the land. Four hundred years before Joshua, God had told Abraham that his descendants would not occupy the land until the sin of its inhabitants had “reached its full measure” (Genesis 15:16). Later, just days before the onset of Joshua’s campaign, Moses stated, “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you” (Deuteronomy 9:5). Historians have uncovered plenty of evidence of this wickedness. Canaanite temples featured prostitutes, orgies and human sacrifice. Relics and plaques of exaggerated sex organs hint at the immorality that characterized Canaan. Canaanite gods, such as Baal and his wife Anath, delighted in butchery and sadism. Archaeologists have found great numbers of jars containing the tiny bones of children sacrificed to Baal. Families seeking good luck in a new home practiced “foundation sacrifice.” They would kill one of their children and seal the body in the mortar of the wall. In many ways, Canaan had become like Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible records that God has patience with decadent societies for a time, but judgment inevitably follows. For Sodom and Gomorrah it took the form of fire and brimstone. For Canaan it came through Joshua’s conquering armies. Later, God let his own chosen people be ravaged by invaders as punishment for their sins. The judgment pronounced on Canaan seems severe, but no more severe than what was later inflicted on Israel itself.
Keep in mind with the things we don’t understand about God, with the things the world shudders at, that we don’t always need to defend God. He is perfectly suited to defend himself. We ought to arm ourselves with as much knowledge as we can through study, but at the end of the day, God is infinite—in being, in wisdom and in power. And we are not.
Let God be God, and lean into his loving but just character. In the final analysis, God will be—and already is for that matter—justified in all his ways.
Going Deeper With God:
If the reading today shakes you—and if you are ever shaken by the things you don’t fully comprehend about God—take a moment to prayerfully reflect on Hebrews 10:35, “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” Even when you don’t understand, you can trust in a God who is never evil, is always kind, but is too deep to always explain himself.
ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude
Making a vow while invoking the name of a deity was common in the ancient world. It is common in our day, too. God didn’t and doesn’t want his people to do that. He isn’t just any old god. He wants us to elevate his name. He is the Lord God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, the Great I AM. His name is holy, and we must never profane it by treating it at any time and in any way as common.
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 30:2
A man who makes a vow to the Lord or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do.
Making a vow while invoking the name of a deity was common in the ancient world. It is common in our day as well. Someone might casually blurt out, “I swear to God” or “by God” or something similar to impress upon the listener the seriousness of that oath. The problem is, when one swears an oath by the name of the Almighty, it is usually on the spur of the moment or in a fit of emotion, and it is usually done unthinkingly and it is not going to be dependable.
God didn’t want his people to do that. He wasn’t just any old god. And he wanted them to elevate their God’s name. He was the Lord God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, the Great I AM. He was holy, and he took his holiness so seriously that he demanded his people eat, sleep, breathe and live 24/7 as his holy people. In fact, they were not to casually utter his name—to do so would be to profane it; to treat it as common. He even put that prohibition in the Top Ten of all his Commandments:
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. (Exodus 20:7)
Was Israel’s God serious about his people honoring his name? You bet! And here is a shocking example from Leviticus 24:10-14,
One day a man who had an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father came out of his tent and got into a fight with one of the Israelite men. During the fight, this son of an Israelite woman blasphemed the Name of the Lord with a curse. So the man was brought to Moses for judgment. His mother was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan. They kept the man in custody until the Lord’s will in the matter should become clear to them. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take the blasphemer outside the camp, and tell all those who heard the curse to lay their hands on his head. Then let the entire community stone him to death.
God was deadly serious about his name being profaned. He still is. Obviously, we don’t execute people for misusing it, but he is still the Lord God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, the Great I AM. He is no less Yahweh today than he was in ancient Israel. He is still holy, and he still takes his holiness so seriously that he demands that we eat, sleep, breathe and live 24/7 as his holy people.
So as it relates to casually and unthinkingly uttering his name, don’t. And one of the ways to implement that kind of respect for the name of the Lord relates to this business of invoking his name in making an oath. To honor his wishes that he clearly expressed to the Israelite, keep the following in mind:
- If you are making a vow and tempted to invoke his name to demonstrate how serious the oath is, never do it in the emotion of the moment. Never make it must rashly. Stop, think about it, know exactly what you are saying, what you are promising. Remember, if you invoke God’s name, you are putting his character on the line in your oath.
- If you make a vow using his name, it must be fulfilled. Sorry, but you committed to it, and you chose to use God’s name as your earnest money. That is serious business, so that is why you must first clearly think it through before you do it. God will hold you to it.
- If you make a vow by swearing to the name of your God, remember this: you did not make it by uttering the name of any old god, this was the Lord of the Universe you brought into the agreement. And even if you or the one to who you pledged didn’t take it seriously, God did.
Bottom line: Don’t swear to an oath and invoke the name of the Lord. Follow Jesus’ advice found in Matthew 5:33-37,
The law of Moses says, ‘You shall not break your vows to God but must fulfill them all.’ But I say: Don’t make any vows! And even to say ‘By heavens!’ is a sacred vow to God, for the heavens are God’s throne. And if you say ‘By the earth!’ it is a sacred vow, for the earth is his footstool. And don’t swear ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the capital of the great King. Don’t even swear ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Say just a simple ‘Yes, I will’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Your word is enough. To strengthen your promise with a vow shows that something is wrong.
Break the habit of uttering the name of the Lord your God unthinkingly in your conversations. Don’t use him name casually in making promises, as if that somehow adds credibility to what you are committing to do. A simple “yes’ or “no” will do!
Elevate his name; reverence it. After all, he is still the Lord God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, Yahweh, your Great I AM!
Going Deeper With God:
Listen to how you use God’s name in your conversations throughout the day. Although you might never use it as a curse word, do you flippantly use it in your prayers, just as you would a punctuation mark, or as something so common as an “uh” or in a text message as an OMG. Stop—God’s name is holy!
ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude
The fact that the Kingdom of God is a party doesn’t mean the God of the Kingdom winks at sin. He doesn’t! Not because he is a killjoy, not because he can’t wait to punish our misdeeds, not because he is an angry deity—not at all. Scripture is abundantly clear that God is benevolent, merciful and kind, all because love is the DNA of God. But let us never forget that true and pure love cannot turn a blind eye to sin. That is why God always confronts sin where it exists, punishes it when he must, but mostly, forgives it where his people acknowledge through confession and repentance.
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 29:7-11
Ten days later, on the tenth day of the same month, you must call another holy assembly. On that day, the Day of Atonement, the people must go without food and must do no ordinary work. You must present a burnt offering as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. It will consist of one young bull, one ram, and seven one-year-old male lambs, all with no defects. These offerings must be accompanied by the prescribed grain offerings of choice flour moistened with olive oil—six quarts of choice flour with the bull, four quarts of choice flour with the ram, and two quarts of choice flour with each of the seven lambs. You must also sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering. This is in addition to the sin offering of atonement and the regular daily burnt offering with its grain offering, and their accompanying liquid offerings.
The fact that the Kingdom of God is a party (see yesterday’s devotional thoughts on Numbers 28) doesn’t mean that the God of the Kingdom winks at sin. He doesn’t! Not because he is a killjoy, not because he can’t wait to punish our misdeeds, not because he is an angry deity—not at all. Scripture is abundantly clear:
- God loves for us to experience joy: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
- God is reluctant to punish sin and ready to show mercy: “Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! (Micah 7:18-19)
- God is fundamentally loving and kind in character and action: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15)
Yes, God is all of those—benevolent, merciful and kind, because love is the DNA of God—but let us never forget that true and pure love cannot turn a blind eye to sin. That is why God always confronts sin where it exists, punishes it when he must, but mostly, forgives it where his people acknowledge and repent of it:
God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. (1 John 1:57-10)
In Numbers 28-29, God lays out not only days of celebration but days of confession as well. He made it possible for his people to party—to remember his goodness and provision, and to repent—to acknowledge their impurity and be cleansed from it. Throughout the law Moses delivered to this new nation, God’s holiness took center stage. God is holy, and he expected his people to honor his holiness by following his guidelines for both public worship and daily living. And when there were missteps, he provided sacrifices to atone for their sin through offerings “to purify yourselves and make yourselves right with the Lord.” (Numbers 29:5) In fact, he set up a singular day of the year, called the Day of Atonement (Numbers 29:7), where he commanded his people to cease all their normal activity to fast, wait upon him and make sacrifice for the remission of their sins.
Since we live in a new age as followers of Christ where we are not required to offer sacrifices for sin or to set aside an entire day for confession, repentance and cleansing, that is, a Day of Atonement, it is easy for us to forget how deadly serious sin truly is. So let us never forget that sin destroys. It corrupts our nature, it corrodes our relationships—with God and one another, and it kills—both the abundance of God in this life and eternal life in the next:
For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a)
But let us likewise never forget the Good News that provision for the bad news of sin was made by a benevolent, merciful and lovingly-kind God, both through the temporary sacrifices in under the Old Covenant and permanently through the true Day of Atonement through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ:
The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. …For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. (Hebrews 10:1-4, 10)
No, God doesn’t wink at our sins. How could he wink at what would separate us relationally and eternally from his love? He doesn’t wink at sin, but he certainly washes us clean from it: “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) Yes, the wages of sin is death. That is the bad news; but the Good News is,
But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23b)
Thank God for the true Day of Atonement!
Going Deeper With God:
Get a hymnal or go online and slowly, absorbingly read the words of the old hymn, “Nothing But The Blood.” Once you have done that, I think the only response will be to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving up to God.