Deal Ruthlessly With Your Own Sin
The methodologies of the Old Testament have certainly changed, but the spiritual applications are still in play. We may not kill people today for their sin—thankfully—but the fact is, sin still kills. So we would be wise to deal with our sin in the most spiritually ruthless way before it wreaks its murderous havoc in our lives, the lives of our loved ones, and the lives of the spiritual community to which we belong! Early and often, we must kill the sin that will kill us by robbing us of divine blessing, character growth, and kingdom significance in this life, and perhaps even eternal life in the age to come.
The Journey // Focus: Numbers 25:1-4
While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”
The methodologies of the Old Testament might have changed, but the spiritual applications are still in play. We may not kill people today for their sin, but the fact is, sin kills, so it is wise for us to deal with that sin in the most spiritually ruthless way before it wreaks its murderous havoc in our lives, the lives of our loved ones, and the lives of the spiritual community to which we belong. And when the source of that kind of cancerous sin is an unrepentant person, dealing ruthlessly with that one through the process of discipline Christ provided for his church is not only the right thing to do, it is infinitely wise.
Of course, Numbers 25 is a tough chapter to read. The punishment for the sin that took place in this story was swift and brutal, but the sin was a gross offense to the holiness of God as well as a clear and present danger to the community of Israel. The Lord ordered the leaders who violated his clear command by engaging in sexual immorality and blatant idol worship to be summarily executed. And he sent a plague against those who similarly indulged as their leaders did, and before it ended, 24,000 of God’s own people had died. Obviously, this business of sin was deadly serious to God, even though today we have a tough time juxtaposing the love of God with the justice of God. God loves you, but he hates sin because he knows what that sin will do to you.
And of course, I am not suggesting that we return to the Old Testament way of dealing with gross sin. There is no indication in the Gospels or anywhere in the New Testament that the new covenant of grace instituted by our Lord suggested that we legislate the kind of capital punishment for violating the holiness of God that we routinely see in the Pentateuch. In fact, nowhere does it even suggest corporal punishment for sin. Yet clearly, Jesus, Paul and the writers promoted a swift and ruthlessly response to the cancer of sin on both a personal and a corporate level. In warning of the spiritual dangers that come from physical sin, Jesus said rather bluntly,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
Jesus was not promoting eye-plucking, but heart cleansing. In other words, kill sin before it kills you!
In dealing with the cancerous spread of sin within the spiritual community, Paul commanded the church at Corinth to put an unrepentant offender out of the fellowship:
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)
It is quite evident that nothing is more important to God than the spiritual and relational safety of his family—and sin of a gross nature must never be tolerated. Kill sin before it kills the community!
When we see how important moral purity is to our Father, both from his ruthless treatment of offense and offender in the Old Testament along with his stern warnings in the New, the wise and mature believer will take the same ruthless position against sin while taking a sensitive but serious posture toward the sinful. Moreover, rather than seeing these actions as simply the sternness of God, a wise believer will see them as his grace. Paul writes in Titus 2:11-14,
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
It is not a whole lot of fun to read Old Testament passages like this one and then talk about how we might apply them today. But beneath the seriousness of such sternness is the kindness of a Father who wants nothing but the best for his dearly loved children—which includes you and me.
We must learn to be grateful for the kindness and sternness of our God.
It will take a little bit of effort, but try memorizing Titus 2:11-14 this week. Better yet, make sure you live it out.
Find Ways to Bless Israel!
Even though imperfect, Israel is the eternal apple of God’s eye. And God himself has promised to bless you for blessing them. So find ways to bless Israel. How? Pray for the nation regularly. Support Christian ministries that serve them on Christ’s behalf. Go there if and when you can—tourism is a great boon to their economy and an emotional lift to their national psyche. And speak out on their behalf when they are being unfairly criticized. No matter how much the world hates Israel, it is best to be on God’s side on this one!
The Journey // Focus: Numbers 24:9-10
“May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam.
It is popular to bash Israel these days. For that matter, hatred for the Hebrew people disguised as righteous indignation has been the case from time immemorial. But hatred for the Jew and the Jewish state is particularly noxious these days, especially in the media and in the academe. These institutions are not shy about intimidating those who do business with Israel, or have invested in anything related. In fact, there is a growing movement known as BDS—Boycott, Divestment Sanctions—whose stated purpose is to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.”
But let the hater beware! Balaam’s words are as true today as they were thousands of years before Christ: May God bless those who bless Israel and may God curse those who curse Israel. There will either be blessings or cursings, depending on what posture one takes toward the people of God.
Of course, those who don’t accept the Bible as the Word of God don’t give a fig about the above quote, but this Divine blessing/curse is still in play. And at the end of the day, the Balak’s of this world will find that they are not fighting against Israel and their perceived mistreatment of the Palestinians (by and large, a red herring, in my opinion), they have been displaying their hatred for none other than God himself. And that is never a good thing!
Now this doesn’t mean that Israel can do no wrong. There are many Christians who seem to unthinkingly take that posture in their efforts to support the Jewish nation. The danger in treating Israel with kid gloves is actually something that even God didn’t do with his chosen people. When they were out of line, he called them out. When they abandoned obedience to his Word, God punished them. When they persisted in rebellion and idolatry, he sent them into exile. He even allowed the temple they built to house his glorious presence to be destroyed—twice.
As I have pointed out at previous times, God’s faithful love for Israel can never be separated from his fierce expectations of holiness from them. When Israel disobeyed, God sent punishment. So let’s be very careful in our love for God’s people that we don’t develop a wrong-headed kind of love for them. Blind Israelphile is no answer to anti-Semitism.
Likewise, we must never allow love for Israel to mean we turn a blind eye to the desperate needs of the Palestinians. They are human beings. They love their children as much as we do. They have hopes and dreams for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, too. And for the most part, they have been living under the oppressive and corrupt rule of their own leaders—and the results have been shameful. So when we have opportunity, all Christians should speak and act on the behalf of these oppressed. To do so, no matter who the oppressed are, brings a blessing similar to those who bless Israel,
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (Isaiah 58:9-10)
But never at the expense of Israel. Even though imperfect, they are the eternal apple of God’s eye. And God himself has promised to bless you for blessing them. Of course, there are those who will reinterpret the blessing as now applicable to all who are God’s people by faith in Jesus Christ, but I would remind you that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29), a verse that is clearly referring to God’s sovereign election of Israel.
So find ways to bless Israel. How? Pray for the nation regularly. Support Christian ministries that serve that nation and seek to build relational bridges to them on Christ’s behalf. Go there if and when you can—tourism is a great boon to their economy and an emotional lift to their national psyche. And speak out on their behalf when they are being unfairly criticized (fair warning: that won’t be a popular thing for you to do).
God’s eternal posture is one of uncommon favor toward Israel. Keep that in mind; it is best to be on God’s side on this one!
Pray for the health, security, prosperity and peace of Israel today.
Trying Writing Your Own Psalm of Gratitude
If you’re sharing a Thanksgiving meal with family or friends today, there’s a chance that something will run out: the gravy, the stuffing, or the pumpkin pie. Thankfully, there is something that will never run out at your celebration: God’s love for you! Psalm 107:1-2 says, “Oh, thank God—he’s so good! His love never runs out. All of you set free by God, tell the world!” So why don’t you do just that: tell the world, or at least those you are with today. Write an “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good” psalm, and then, like the psalmist suggested, tell everyone how grateful you are. It will do you, and them, a world of good.
Going Deep // Focus: Psalm 107:1-2
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say this!
If you are sharing a Thanksgiving meal with loved ones today, there is a chance that something will run out: the gravy, the stuffing, or the pumpkin pie. Thankfully, there is something that will never run out that will be present at your celebration: God’s love for you!
I like the way The Message version renders the psalmist’s call to gratitude: “Oh, thank God—he’s so good! His love never runs out. All of you set free by God, tell the world!”
It is true—and it is more than just christianese: God is good—all the time! That is the testimony of my life—and I have a feeling it is true of your life as well. Certainly, I ought to be proclaiming God’s goodness to anyone who will listen, and even to those who won’t, much more than I do. Add to that the fact that I am, on my best day, not so good, and on my worst day, frankly, pretty bad, only adds to the brilliance of God’s overwhelming goodness.
The New King James translation of the psalmist’s words are even more meaningful to me: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” Mercy—I can really relate to that. Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying: I’ll take either enduring love or enduring mercy—I can’t live without either one. Love and mercy are simply different facets of the same diamond we understand as the goodness of God.
But God’s mercy really speaks to me, and I’ll bet if you thought about, it, you would say the same. Someone said that mercy is not getting what you deserve. The truth is, you and I depend upon God’s mercy every single moment just to draw in the next breath, since the holy and righteous God has had every reason and right to annihilate us from the planet because of our sinfulness. Jeremiah said it well in Lamentations 3:22-23,
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
The entirety of Psalm 107 is simply giving one example after another of how God in his faithful love and enduring mercy has freed his people from what they deserve. And at the end of each example, the psalmist expresses the call to gratitude:
Oh, thank God, he is so good! His love never runs out!
I’ll bet you could write your own Psalm 107. In fact, that might be a good assignment for you on this Thanksgiving Day. And then, like the psalmist suggested, we should go tell the world. Now that’s a pretty tall order, so how about starting with the people with whom you will enjoy the holiday meal today? Write your psalm and share it with your spouse, your family, and your friends.
I am not sure how they will feel about it, but you will certainly feel pretty good. That’s what heartfelt gratitude to God for his faithful love and enduring mercy does.
Going Deeper With God:
Write your own Psalm 107—a psalm of gratitude—on this Thanksgiving Day. And then, like the psalmist suggested, go tell the world of how thankful you are. Or, you could start with the people at the holiday meal today. Write your psalm and share it with your spouse, your family, and your friends. It will do you a world of good.
WARNING: Speaking for the Almighty Carries a Heavy Responsibility
The power to call out a judgment on someone is subject to God alone, not the prophet’s feelings. Likewise, the power to bless someone is within the purview of God alone, not the prophet’s favor. If you or someone you know claim to have a prophetic word of either blessing or cursing, then make sure that message is truly from God and not merely from human passion or opinion. If you fancy yourself a prophet, your prophetic responsibility is to speak when God says to speak, and shut up when God is silent. Don’t fill the air with prognostications simply because you have a “calling” or because you have an opinion. Speaking for the Almighty carries a heavy responsibility and must clear a very high bar.
The Journey // Focus: Numbers 23:11-12, 25-26
Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!” Balaam answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?” …Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!” Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”
From our twenty-first century perspective, the interaction between the ancient prophet Balaam and King Balak is quite amusing. Balaam speaks for God, yet he is willing to moderate the message for money—he can be bought. And Balak seems to be willing to pay until his gets the prophecy he likes. Three times, in essence he tells Balaam, “no, that message from God is not the one I want. Let’s try another one!”
Of course, these men lived in a primitive time. They weren’t unintelligent, mind you, they just didn’t have access to the information you and I have. King Balak lived in a violent world, a survival of the fittest time, and the very real possibility of his nation (Moab) being wiped out by an invading nation (the Israelites) was a clear and present danger. So he was doing what he knew to do: get some insider information from the Divine and hope to goodness that information would save his skin—and his nation. As far as Balaam goes, he didn’t have the full revelation of God that we now do, so his information was often shaped by his circumstances rather than Scripture. That is not to excuse this prophet from pulling his prophetic punches for pay, it simply explains Balaam.
Now this story continues beyond Numbers 23, and ultimately Balaam gives in to the pressure to curse Israel. But he doesn’t do it directly through a verbal curse, but rather, he teaches the Moabites how to lure the people of God into sexual immorality. And in the process of God judging Moab through the sword of the Israelite army, this sometime-prophet of God is put to death. But at least in this chapter, he stays true to what God tells him by speaking only the Word of the Lord. And in the process, he leaves us with some helpful lessons for those who would speak for God today.
Here is one lesson: The power to call out a judgment on someone is subject to God alone, and it is not subject to the prophet’s feelings. Likewise, the power to bless someone is within the purview of God alone, and is not subject to the prophet’s favor or mood. In Numbers 23:8-9, Balaam responds to Balak’s efforts to influence a negative message:
How can I curse those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?
If you or someone you know claims to speak for God, then make sure that the message is truly from God and not simply from human passion or opinion. That is both a heavy responsibility and a very high bar.
Here is another lesson: God is not subject to human emotions. He will not be angry as quickly as we are—he is infinitely patient. Nor will he overlook sin like we do simply because we happen to like the sinner or are unwilling to speak a hard word. At one and the same time, God see things with utter moral clarity as well as an unassailably just character, yet he sees the wayward through eyes of a Father who longs to redeem through loving discipline rather than irrevocable judgment. Yet the fact remains, God’s faithful love can never be separated from his fierce holiness, and his fierce holiness can never be separated from his faithful love. Here is how Balaam said it in Numbers 23:19-20,
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.
One final lesson: If you fancy yourself a prophet, your prophetic responsibility is to speak when God says to speak, and shut up when God is silent. Don’t fill the air with prognostications simply because you have a “calling” or because you have an opinion. Notice this exchange between the frustrated king and the resolute prophet in Numbers 23: 25-26,
Then Balak said to Balaam, “Then neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!”
Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”
Do prophets speak today? Of course, and we must be open to the prophetic word. But Scripture sets the prophetic bar very high, so let both the speaker and the listener beware. So whomever is going to speak for God, make sure it is God speaking, or keep quiet.
Whether you have a prophetic word or simply what seems to be some relevant Scriptural advice, follow Balaam’s advice: just do whatever the Lord says!
He Is Ever Watchful!
While the Moabite king, Balak, is concocting his plan with Balaam to destroy God’s people, the Israelites are oblivious to this eminent danger. Yet God is ever watchful, protecting Israel by warning off Balaam from doing anything that would bring harm. While Israel slumbered, their God stood guard. That’s true for you, too. While you may stress over many things you can see, there are thousands more things you can’t see that would drive you insane if you only knew. But God knows, and while you sleep, he stands guard. Now if the Lord will keep you from what you don’t see, he will also keep you from what you do see. Either way, he is your Warrior God. And since God is in charge of your safety, why not give him all your concerns!
The Journey// Focus: Numbers 22:27-34
When Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff. Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam. “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!” “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?” “No,” Balaam admitted. Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him. “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.” Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I didn’t realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will return home if you are against my going.”
The story of Balaam and his donkey has to be one of the strangest and funniest yet most unusually instructive chapters in the Bible. Let me take those one at a time—strange, funny and instructive.
First of all, this account is a bit weird. We are not quite sure from just this chapter if Balaam is a true or false prophet. It appears that he was a man who actually heard from God, even though he was outside the community of Israel. He lived in a faraway place, and apparently was so famous for getting a word from the Lord now and again that the Moabite king would seek his favor. But from this and other chapters, we also learn that even while hearing from God on occasion, Balaam was far from perfect, for he was ultimately influenced by the possibility of more money and the potential for more fame:
They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. (2 Peter 2:15)
Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. (Jude 1:11)
But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. (Revelation 2:14)
All five of the Midianite kings—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba—died in the battle. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. (Numbers 31:8)
Now let me jump ahead and offer a thought that falls into the instructive nature of this story. No man or woman who speaks for God is perfect. Never forget that—especially in this day and age where prophetic voices fill the airwaves and compete for your financial allegiance. That doesn’t mean the message from an imperfect prophet is not from God—it may very well be. But for sure, just because a person claims to speak for God doesn’t guarantee that God is speaking through them. If you are listening to a so-called prophet, caveat emptor: let the listener have discernment. As was said about Balaam, it is hard to tell on the surface if those who claim prophetic standing are true or false. That is why you need to pray for discernment. That is why you need to stay grounded in the “more sure word of prophecy” — the Bible. And that is why you must get under the ministry of a local shepherd, where you can watch his or her life and doctrine closely.
Second, how humorous is this story? Really? A man talks to a donkey—and the donkey talks back: “The Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. ‘What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?’ it asked Balaam. Balaam shouted, ‘You have made me look like a fool!” Look like a fool—no kidding; the man is literally carrying on a conversation with a donkey. I suppose here is a case where a donkey made an ass out of a man. For reals, now look who’s saying “nay”.
“Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee?” And Balaam said, “Nay.” (Numbers 22:31, KJV)
Again, skipping ahead to the instructive observations to the story, among the many applications we could insert here, for sure, we can conclude that God has a sense of humor. If we step back and think about how he works in our lives, we would have to chuckle at the funny, sometimes ridiculous ways God has to use to get our attention. Learn a lesson from Balaam: Don’t make God get to the point where he has to use a donkey to get your attention. Listen the first time!
Third, the story is incredibly instructive in this over-arching sense: One of the most encouraging truths we can glean from Numbers 22 is not something that is actually stated in the chapter. It is happening all around it. You see, while Balak is concocting his plan with Balaam to destroy the people of God, the Israelites are oblivious to the eminent danger. Yet God is ever watchful, protecting Israel by warning off Balaam from doing anything that would bring harm. While Israel slumbers, their God stood guard.
And that is true for you, too. While you may stress and worry over many things you can see, there are thousands more things you don’t see that would drive you insane if you only knew. But God knows, and while you sleep, he stands guard. He is your strong tower, your shield, your defender, your warrior.
Now if the Lord will keep you from what you don’t see, he will also keep you from what you do see. Either way, he is your Warrior God. And since God is in charge of your safety, why not give him all your concerns!
What are you stressing over today! Give it to your Warrior God. He will fight your battle for you!